The Law Commission of India released a report on Friday that proposed new laws in order to further curb hate speech. Headed by former Supreme Court judge BS Chauhan, the report suggests making incitement to hatred as well as causing fear, alarm or provocation to violence punishable offences.
The report argues that Indian law defines as well as penalises hate speech haphazardly. For example, Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code makes “promoting enmity between different groups” a crime, 153B penalises expressions prejudicial to national integration, and 295A and 298 control speech that could wound religious feelings. Section 505, in turn, deals with public mischief and the spreading of rumours.
This, says the report, means that there is no “water tight compartment to deal with the various acts relating to hate speech which generally overlap”. As a solution, the report proposes two amendments to the Indian Penal Code.
The first would deal with an incitement to hatred. It says:
“Who ever, on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe –
(a) uses gravely threatening words either spoken or written, signs, visible representations within the hearing or sight of a person with the intention to cause, fear or alarm; or
(b) advocates hatred by words either spoken or written, signs, visible representations, that causes incitement to violence
shall be punishable with imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine of up to Rs 5,000.”
The second proposed amendment would curb speech that causes fear, alarm or is a provocation to violence. It says:
“Whoever in public intentionally on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, sex, gender, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe uses words, or displays any writing, sign, or other visible representation which is gravely threatening, or derogatory:
(i) within the hearing or sight of a person, causing fear or alarm, or;
(ii) with the intent to provoke the use of unlawful violence,
will be punished with imprisonment of up to one year and/or a fine up to Rs 5,000.”
In 2014, while hearing the Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan vs Union of India case, which concerns hate speech made by politicians, the Supreme Court had referred the issue to the Law Commission and asked it to come up with guidelines to prevent such provocative statements from being made.
The Law Commission is an advisory body to the Union Ministry of Law and Justice and its recommendations are not binding on either Parliament or the Union government.
Overall, the report takes a broad view of what constitutes hate speech. It rebuts the limited view that only speech that incites violence needs be restricted, arguing that “even speech that does not incite violence has the potential of marginalising a certain section of society or individual”.
The document also takes into account the spread of internet access in India, accusing it of promoting “incitement to discrimination”.
The report says: “The anonymity of the internet allows a miscreant to easily spread false and offensive ideas. These ideas need not always incite violence but they might perpetuate the discriminatory attitudes prevalent in society.”