Seven former bureaucrats on Monday moved the Supreme Court against Sudarshan News’ communal show titled “UPSC Jihad” that claimed to unveil an alleged conspiracy behind how Muslims have infiltrated the civil services, The Wire reported. The short video featuring Noida-based Sudarshan News TV head Suresh Chavhanke, was part of a series titled “Bindas Bol”.

In the intervention application filed by advocate Anas Tanwir, the petitioners said the Supreme Court needs to issue an authoritative ruling that defines the scope and meaning of “hate speech”. They also sought that the top court distinguishes between offensive and hate speech, so that citizens, implementing authorities and courts have clarity on speech that is protected and speech that falls outside such protection.

The plea pointed out that Sections 153A and 153B of the Indian Penal Code deal with hate speech, but the application of these provisions “has been uneven”, adding that in many cases the provisions are applied in a manner that is inconsistent with the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution, according to The Print.

“The constitution protects offensive speech but does not protect hate speech,” it added. Penal provisional such as sections 153A & 153 B of the Indian Penal Code must be interpreted in a manner that keeps the distinction between the two intact.”

The petitioners also drew a distinction between offensive and hate speech by citing examples. “Criticism, mockery and ridicule of respected and revered religious or cultural figures may be offensive, but it is not hate speech,” the plea said. “Calling for a boycott of the members of a religious or cultural community, or implying that they are ‘violent by nature’ or ‘unpatriotic’ by virtue of their community affiliation, is hate speech.”

The petitioners in the case are: former bureaucrats Amitabha Pande, Navrekha Sharma, Deb Mukharji, Sundar Burra, Meena Gupta, Pradeep K Deb and Ardhendu Sen. The bureaucrats submitted that they were all members of the informal collective known as the Constitutional Conduct Group.

The petition came two weeks after the Supreme Court had refused to impose a pre-telecast ban on the show on August 28 based on an “unverified transcript of the clip”. The programme, Bindaas Bol, was to be originally telecast on August 28, but the Delhi High Court stayed the broadcast on the same day and later refused to grant any relief in connection with the case. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting then issued a statement, allowing Sudarshan News to go ahead with its show.

The show

In its promotional clip, released on August 25, Chavhanke had claimed that the number of Muslims appearing for and clearing the Union Public Service Exams had suddenly increased recently. “How has the number of Muslim IPS [Indian Police Service] and IAS [Indian Administrative Service] officers increased recently?” he had asked. “What will happen if ‘Jamia ke jihadi’ rise to positions of authority in the country?”

The video was fiercely criticised by police officers, journalists and activists. The Indian Police Service Association denounced the video as communal and irresponsible journalism. The Indian Police Foundation and several other people demanded strict action against Chavhanke.