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Supreme Court Directions on Hate Speech
Oct 27, 2022
In today's edition of our Current Affairs, we will discuss the crucial directions of Supreme Court on Hate Speech. The topic's relevance to the UPSC CSE syllabus is mentioned below:
For Prelims: Supreme Court, Hate speech, Section 295 A of the IPC, Section 153A, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.
For Mains: Section 295A & others, Origins of the law, Rangila Rasool case.
Recently the Supreme Court directed the authorities to take “immediate” suo motu action against any hate speech, by lodging criminal cases without waiting for formal complaints, bringing Section 295 A of the IPC again in highlights.
In India, there is no formal legal framework to deal with hate speech. Comment.
About Section 295A & others
As there is no formal legal framework for dealing with hate speech in India, a set of provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), loosely defining hate speech and deal with offenses against religions:
Section 295A of the IPC is one of the main provisions in the IPC chapter to penalize religious offenses.
Any deliberate and malicious to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs are defined and punished under the Section 295A, such as:
Offenses to penalize damage or defilement of a place of worship with intent to insult the religion (Section 295);
Trespassing in a place of sepulture (Section 297);
Uttering, words, etc, with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person (Section 298);
Disturbing a religious assembly (Section 296).
Such acts shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with a fine, or with both.
The state often invokes Section 295A along with Section 153A, which penalizes the following:
Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.
Doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony.
Section 505 of the IPC punishes statements conducing to public mischief.
Section 66A of the Information Technology Act: Punishing sending offensive messages through communication services is added when such speech is made online.
Note:According to the 267th Report of the Law Commission of India:
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.
Origins of the Law
Section 295A was brought in 1927, during colonial rule.
The antecedents of Section 295A lie in the “communally charged atmosphere of North India in the 1920s”.
The amendment was a fallout of an acquittal under Section 153A of the IPC by the Lahore High Court in 1927 in Rajpaul v Emperor, popularly known as the Rangila Rasool case.
Rangila Rasool Case
Rangila Rasool was a tract brought out by a Hindu publisher, making disparaging remarks about the Prophet’s private life.
The cases against the first pamphlet, filed under Section 153A, were dismissed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, questioning whether targeting religious figures is different from targeting religions.
When a second likewise piece was published, the magistrate convicted the publisher under Section 153A, and the Lahore High Court held that a “scurrilous and foul attack” on a religious leader would prima facie fall under Section 153A, although not every criticism.
This debate in interpretation prompted the colonial government to enact Section 295A with a wider scope to address these issues.
In 1957, the constitutionality of Section 295A was challenged in Ramji Lal Modi v State of Uttar Pradesh.
In a 1960 ruling, in Baba Khalil Ahmed v State of Uttar Pradesh, the Court held that the “malicious intent” can also be determined from external sources, apart from speech.
In 1973, in Ramlal Puri v State of Madhya Pradesh, the Court held said the test to be applied is whether the speech in question offends the “ordinary man of common sense” and not the “hypersensitive man”.
In Baragur Ramachandrappa v State of Karnataka, a 2007 decision of the Supreme Court, “a pragmatic approach” was invoked in interpreting Section 295A.
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