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Blasphemy Vs Hate speech

Context

The article emphasises the importance of distinguishing between hate speech and blasphemous content (whether in speech or writing) in order to maintain the credibility of a democratic free society.

Relevance

GS Paper 1: Society – Social empowerment, communalism, regionalism and secularism

Mains Question

What exactly is “hate speech”? Examine its societal impact. Do you believe the current legal and constitutional measures have been effective in containing it? (250 Words)


Indian legislation

  • There is no formal legislation in India against blasphemy (disrespect shown to God or something holy).
  • However, the closest equivalent to a blasphemy law is Section 295(A) of the IPC, which punishes any speech, writings, or signs that insult citizens’ religion or religious beliefs “with premeditated and malicious intent” with a fine and imprisonment for up to three years.

Section 295 (A): Historical Perspective

  • India, a predominantly Hindu society, had no legislation against blasphemy until 1927. However, in 1927, a satire with obscene (indecent) parallels to the Prophet’s personal life was published, which offended the Muslim community.
  • However, the former High Court of Lahore ruled that the author could not be prosecuted because the writing did not incite animosity or hostility between any communities.
  • As a result, the offence did not fall under Section 153(A), which dealt with public order.
  • However, this incident prompted a call for legislation to protect the sanctity of religions, and thus Section 295(A) was enacted.

SC decisions on IPC Section 295 (A)

  • Ramji Lal Modi case (1957): A 5-judge Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the legality of Section 295(A) in this case, drawing a distinction between Article 19(2) and blasphemy Section 295. (A).
    • The Supreme Court reasoned that, while Article 19(2) allows reasonable limits on freedom of speech and expression for the sake of public order, Section 295(A) punishes blasphemy committed with the malicious intent of offending the religious sensibilities of any class.
    • As a result, the Supreme Court noted that Section 295A did not cover all types of insults, but only “intentional insults.”
  • Superintendent Central Prison, Fatehgarh vs. Ram Manohar Lohia Case, 1960: The Supreme Court stated that the link between the speech spoken and any public disorder caused as a result of it must be close in order to recover Section 295(A) of the IPC.

About Hate Speech

267th Report of the Law Commission of India: Hate Speech It defines hate speech as an incitement to hatred directed primarily at a specific group of people based on their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, or other characteristics.

Statistics on hate speech incidents

  • According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, there has been a significant increase in cases of promoting hate speech and fostering animosity in society.
    • According to the data, while there were only 323 cases registered in 2014, there will be 1,804 cases in 2020.

The IPC defines hate speech as

  • IPC Sections 153A and 153B: Punishes acts that incite enmity and hatred between two groups.
  • Section 295A of the IPC: Deals with punishing acts that intentionally or maliciously offend a group of people’s religious feelings.
  • Sections 505(1) and 505(2) of the IPC make it an offence to publish or circulate content that may incite ill will or hatred between different groups.

There is a need for separate blasphemy and hate speech laws.

  • Broad application of Section 295(A): The wording of Section 295(A) is far too broad. As a result, it cannot be stated that intentional disrespect for religion or religious sensibilities is always tantamount to (equivalent to) incitement.
  • Section 295(A) hate speech statutes: The Supreme Court has stated that the goal of hate speech statutes in Section 295(A) is to prevent prejudice and ensure equality.
  • Loopholes: However, there is a significant disparity between this interpretation (of Section 295(A) and hate speech) and the actual wording, which allows the law to be exploited.
  • Using restraint: While insulting religion or religious figures may be disputed or condemned, it should not be legally prosecuted.
    • Reason: Because hate speech laws are based on the distinction between criticising religion and encouraging prejudice or aggression against individuals or communities based on their faith.

Conclusion

  • Failure to articulate the distinctions between criticism and premeditated hate speech undermines the fair use of Section 295(A) and makes defining and penalising the actual crime of hate speech more difficult.
  • Blasphemy laws that prohibit religious criticism in general are incompatible with the principles of a free and democratic society, and thus no screening of discourse (debate) and dissent should take place. Blasphemy legislation is also incompatible with the United Nations Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As a result, the only viable solution that walks the fine line between protecting faith and questioning hate speech is to keep blasphemy in the statutes while decriminalising it.

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October 2022
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