HATE SPEECH

SC's decision to review old 'Hindutva' judgements could change Indian politics for the better

A seven-judge bench must decide whether Justice Verma’s 1995 rulings on Hindutva have the potential to cause grave harm to secular, democratic politics.

The Supreme Court is likely to soon review a set of controversial rulings, called the Hindutva judgements, that exonerated the Shiv Sena's Bal Thackeray and Manohar Joshi from charges of indulging in hate speech.

The court said on January 30 that a constitution bench must expedite a long-pending case involving hate speech in which the Bharatiya Janata Party's Abhiram Singh has sought to use these Hindutva judgements  in his defence.

In 1996, when Singh's case first came up for hearing in the Supreme Court, a three-judge bench had said that Justice JS Verma’s rulings on Hindutva the previous year had the potential to cause grave harm to secular, democratic politics, and referred the case to a larger, five-judge constitution bench. This bench has now referred the matter to an even larger, seven-judge bench, urging it to expedite the case and review the Hindutva judgements.

This is a hugely welcome, if belated, move because the Hindutva judgements are deeply flawed and have encouraged the further use of hate speech as a vote-getting tactic. This violates Section 123 (3) of the Representation of the People Act, which prohibits "corrupt" election practices, including canvassing for votes in the name of religion.

Justice Verma's rulings came in response to cases filed against Bal Thackeray, the founder of the Maharashtra-based nativist Shiv Sena, and his party colleague Manohar Joshi, Maharashtra's chief minister at the time, for violating this section. The petitioner had filed a case against Thackeray for exhorting a Mumbai crowd in November 1987 to vote for a Hindu candidate and to teach Muslims a lesson. "Anybody who stands against the Hindus should be worshipped with shoes," Thackeray had said. "Under every mosque there is a Hindu temple. They should bear in mind that this is a country of Hindus."

Similarly, the petitioner filed a case against Joshi for railing against Muslims to a huge crowd in Shivaji Park in central Mumbai in February 1990 and promising to turn Maharashtra into a Hindu rashtra. "Hinduism is in danger because minorities have raced ahead by cornering all privileges and patronage of the government," Joshi said.

Given that the two politicians used the most direct language that left no room for interpretation, Justice Verma should have held both Thackeray and Joshi guilty for straightforward violations of Section 123 (3). Instead, Justice Verma exonerated them and justified this based on his views about religious texts and tenets. In his rulings, he observed, among other things, that Hindutva was a "state of mind, a way of life" synonymous with Indianisation and did not therefore constitute narrow, fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry. In relation to Manohar Joshi, Justice Verma said that he had not appealed for votes in the name of religion but had only expressed his hopes for the state.

The rulings, delivered in December 1995, suffer from several flaws, but two are particularly glaring. First is the fact that the rulings ignored a Supreme Court judgement handed down five months earlier, in July, ruling that judges should not undertake theological explorations of Hinduism while interpreting Section 123 (3).

Second is the fact that the rulings glossed over the political and historical context in which the two Shiv Sena leaders made their speeches. The BJP's Ram Janmabhoomi movement to demand the construction of a temple in Ayodhya at the site of a 16th century mosque was in full swing, leading up to the party president LK Advani's rath yatra, an election tour on a chariot, in 1990. While setting off, Advani described the tour as a crusade for Hindutva and against "pseudo-secularism".

In 1996, the BJP's Abhiram Singh cited Justice Verma's Hindutva judgements, as they came to be known, to defend himself in the Supreme Court while appealing against a Bombay High Court verdict that had found him guilty of violating Section 123 (3). The High Court had set aside Singh's election to the Maharashtra assembly in 1990, saying that not only had he appealed for votes in the name of Hinduism, but that this appeal had also endangered communal harmony.

The Sangh parivar also gloated about the judgement. "The Supreme Court has fully and unambiguously endorsed the concept of Hindutva which the BJP has been propounding since its inception,” said an editorial in the Organiser, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Samiti’s official publication, in January 1996. The BJP’s 1999 election manifesto lauded the court for finally endorsing “the true meaning and context of Hindutva as being consistent with the definition of secularism.”

But what Justice Verma’s pronouncements did was to destroy the heart of Section 123 (3) and to embolden demagogues to use hate speech to win votes. The most flagrant example was a speech delivered by the BJP's before the 2009 general election in Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh, in which he was accused of claiming to be the only saviour of Hindus in the country and  swearing on the Gita that he would “cut off the hands that are raised against Hindus". Gandhi was arrested and spent almost three weeks in jail, but he claimed the tapes of his speech were doctored and the court controversially exonerated him four years later.

As the BJP gears up for a bruising 2014 election campaign to have Hindutva icon Narendra Modi elected prime minister, the court's decision could help limit intemperate appeals to voters on the basis of religion.

 

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BULLETIN BY 

The incredible engineering that can save your life in a car crash

Indian roads are among the world’s most dangerous. We take a look at the essential car safety features for our road conditions.

Over 200,000 people die on India’s roads every year. While many of these accidents can be prevented by following road safety rules, car manufacturers are also devising innovative new technology to make vehicles safer than ever before. To understand how crucial this technology is to your safety, it’s important to understand the anatomy of a car accident.

Source: Global report on road safety, 2015 by WHO.
Source: Global report on road safety, 2015 by WHO.

A car crash typically has three stages. The first stage is where the car collides with an object. At the point of collision, the velocity with which the car is travelling gets absorbed within the car, which brings it to a halt. Car manufacturers have incorporated many advanced features in their cars to prevent their occupants from ever encountering this stage.

Sixth sense on wheels

To begin with, some state-of-the-art vehicles have fatigue detection systems that evaluate steering wheel movements along with other signals in the vehicle to indicate possible driver fatigue–one of the biggest causes of accidents. The Electronic Stability Program (ESP) is the other big innovation that can prevent collisions. ESP typically encompasses two safety systems–ABS (anti-lock braking system), and TCS (traction control system). Both work in tandem to help the driver control the car on tricky surfaces and in near-collision situations. ABS prevents wheels from locking during an emergency stop or on a slippery surface, and TCS prevents the wheels from spinning when accelerating by constantly monitoring the speed of the wheels.

Smarter bodies, safer passengers

In the event of an actual car crash, manufacturers have been redesigning the car body to offer optimal protection to passengers. A key element of newer car designs includes better crumple zones. These are regions which deform and absorb the impact of the crash before it reaches the occupants. Crumple zones are located in the front and rear of vehicles and some car manufacturers have also incorporated side impact bars that increase the stiffness of the doors and provide tougher resistance to crashes.

CRUMPLE ZONES: Invented in the 1950s, crumple zones are softer vehicle sections that surround a safety cell that houses passengers. In a crash, these zones deform and crumple to absorb the shock of the impact. In the visual, the safety cell is depicted in red, while the crumple zones of the car surround the safety cell.
CRUMPLE ZONES: Invented in the 1950s, crumple zones are softer vehicle sections that surround a safety cell that houses passengers. In a crash, these zones deform and crumple to absorb the shock of the impact. In the visual, the safety cell is depicted in red, while the crumple zones of the car surround the safety cell.

Post-collision technology

While engineers try to mitigate the effects of a crash in the first stage itself, there are also safe guards for the second stage, when after a collision the passengers are in danger of hitting the interiors of the car as it rapidly comes to a halt. The most effective of these post-crash safety engineering solutions is the seat belt that can reduce the risk of death by 50%.

In the third stage of an actual crash, the rapid deceleration and shock caused by the colliding vehicle can cause internal organ damage. Manufacturers have created airbags to reduce this risk. Airbags are installed in the front of the car and have crash sensors that activate and inflate it within 40 milliseconds. Many cars also have airbags integrated in the sides of the vehicles to protect from side impacts.

SEATBELTS: Wearing seatbelts first became mandatory in Victoria, Australia in 1970, and is now common across the world. Modern seatbelts absorb impact more efficiently, and are equipped with ‘pre-tensioners’ that pull the belt tight to prevent the passenger from jerking forward in a crash.
SEATBELTS: Wearing seatbelts first became mandatory in Victoria, Australia in 1970, and is now common across the world. Modern seatbelts absorb impact more efficiently, and are equipped with ‘pre-tensioners’ that pull the belt tight to prevent the passenger from jerking forward in a crash.

Safety first

In the West as well as in emerging markets like China, car accident related fatalities are much lower than in India. Following traffic rules and driving while fully alert remain the biggest insurance against mishaps, however it is also worthwhile to fully understand the new technologies that afford additional safety.

So the next time you’re out looking for a car, it may be a wise choice to pick an extra airbag over custom leather seats or a swanky music system. It may just save your life.

Equipped with state-of-the-art passenger protection systems like ESP and fatigue detection systems, along with high-quality airbags and seatbelts, all Volkswagen cars have the safety of passengers at the heart of their design. Watch Volkswagen customer stories and driver experiences that testify its superior German engineering, here.

Play

This article was produced on behalf of Volkswagen by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.

×

PrevNext