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Panel to define offences of speech, expression


A panel constituted by the Union Home Ministry to suggest reforms to the British-era Indian Penal Code (IPC) is likely to propose a separate Section on “offences relating to speech and expression.”


GS-II: Polity and Governance (Freedom of Speech, Government Policies & Interventions, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of such policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is “Hate Speech”?
  2. Events that lead to the Formation of the Committee
  3. Existing legislations to control freedom of speech
  4. Recommendations of T. K. Viswanathan committee

What is “Hate Speech”?

  • In general, “Hate Speech” refers to words whose intent is to create hatred towards a particular group, that group may be a community, religion or race.This speech may or may not have meaning, but is likely to result in violence.
  • BPRD Definition:
  • The Bureau of Police Research and Development recently published a manual for investigating agencies on cyber harassment cases that defined hate speech as a “language that denigrates, insults, threatens or targets an individual based on their identity and other traits (such as sexual orientation or disability or religion etc.).”
  • In one of the Law Commission of India’s reports – hate speech is stated as an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and the like.

Events that lead to the Formation of the Committee

  • Earlier in 2018, the Home Ministry had written to the Law Commission to prepare a distinct law for online “hate speech” acting on a report by a committee headed by former Lok Sabha Secretary General who recommended stricter laws.
  • The committee was formed in the wake of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, that provided punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services being scrapped by the Supreme Court in 2015.
  • In 2019, however, the Ministry decided to overhaul the IPC, framed in 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) after seeking suggestions from States, the Supreme Court, High Courts, the Bar Council of India, Bar Councils of States, universities and law institutes on comprehensive amendments to criminal laws.
  • As there is no clear definition of what constitutes a “hate speech” in the IPC, the Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws is attempting for the first time to define such speech.

Existing legislations to control freedom of speech

Under the Constitution (Fundamental Rights)

Article 19 of the Constitution– Freedom of Speech and Expression is guaranteed to all the citizens of India. However, the right is subjected to reasonable restrictions in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.


Under Indian Penal Code

  • Sections 153A and 153B of the IPC: Punishes acts that cause enmity and hatred between two groups.
  • Section 295A of the IPC: Deals with punishing acts which deliberately or with malicious intention outrage the religious feelings of a class of persons.
  • Sections 505(1) and 505(2): Make the publication and circulation of content which may cause ill-will or hatred between different groups an offence.

Under Representation of People’s Act

  • Section 8 of the Representation of People’s Act, 1951 (RPA): Prevents a person convicted of the illegal use of the freedom of speech from contesting an election.
  • Sections 123(3A) and 125 of the RPA: Bars the promotion of animosity on the grounds of race, religion, community, caste, or language in reference to elections and include it under corrupt electoral practices.

Recommendations of T. K. Viswanathan committee

The T. K. Viswanathan committee, constituted by the Centre, has recommended introducing stringent provisions for hate speech:

  • It was of the opinion that it was more effective to insert the substantive provisions in the IPC instead of the IT Act, since the IT Act was primarily concerned with e-commerce regulation.
  • It has recommended amendments in CrPC to enable each state to have a State Cyber Crime Coordinator (Sec 25B) and a District Cyber Crime Cell (Sec 25C).
  • The offensive speech should be “highly disparaging, abusive or inflammatory against any person or group of persons”, and should be uttered with the intention to cause “fear of injury or alarm”.
  • The committee also expressed the desirability of having guidelines in place to prevent the abuse of provisions by investigation agencies and to safeguard innocent users of social media.
  • Insertion of Section 153C to prohibit incitement of hatred through online speech on grounds of religion, caste, community, gender, sexual orientation, tribe, language, place of birth etc.
  • Section 505A was proposed to be inserted by the Law Commission to prevent causing of alarm, fear, provocation of violence etc. on grounds of identity.
  • It was clarified that the need for intent has to be established.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023