On hate speech

On Scroll, lawyer and research associate Siddharth Narayan examines the laws and remedies applicable in the case of hate speech, with reference to HRD minister of state Ram Shankar Katheria and beyond:

Sections 295A and 153A constitute serious offences – cognisable and non-bailable, carrying a maximum punishment of up to three years. If the speech in question is made at a time when the Election Commission has announced the election dates and official campaigning has begun, then a conviction under section 153A can be used to disqualify a candidate for indulging in a corrupt practice under sections 123(3) A of Representation of Peoples Act. In addition, “promoting enmity between classes” in connection with an election is an electoral offence under section 125 of the same Act.

Despite these protections in law, politicians continue to spout hate speech, while the same laws – 153A and 295A in particular – are often used to harass and intimidate artists, dissenters and academics. The irony is hard to miss. The most striking example is that after all the explicit hate speech made by Shiv Sena leaders in its mouthpiece Saamna, especially in and around the period of the 1992-’93 communal riots in Mumbai, there have only been two convictions by trial courts, and that too, of party members near the bottom of the hierarchy.