The need for a distinction between blasphemy and hate speech

  • IASbaba
  • August 3, 2022
  • 0
Indian Polity & Constitution, Social Issues
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What is Blasphemy and Hate Speech?

  • Blasphemy is the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for God.
  • Hate Speech is an abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group or an individual, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Laws in India

Section 295 (A) of IPC

  • As far as laws in India go, there isn’t formal legislation against blasphemy.
  • The closest equivalent to a blasphemy law is Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which punishes any speech, writings, or signs that with premeditated and malicious intent insult citizens’ religion or religious beliefs with a fine and imprisonment for up to three years.
  • The legality of Section 295(A), which had been challenged in the Ramji Lal Modi case (1957), was affirmed by a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court.
  • The apex court reasoned that while Article 19(2) allows reasonable limits on freedom of speech and expression for the sake of public order, the punishment under Section 295(A) deals with aggravated form of blasphemy which is committed with the malicious aim of offending the religious sensibilities of any class.

How has the legislation been interpreted?

  • In the case of Superintendent, Central Prison, Fatehgarh vs Ram Manohar Lohia the Supreme Court stated that the link between the speech spoken and any public disorder caused as a result of it should have a close relationship for retrieving Section 295(A) of IPC.
  • By 2011, it concluded that only speech that amounts to “incitement to impending unlawful action” can be punished.
  • That is, the state must meet a very high bar before using public disturbance as a justification for suppressing expression.

Should there be a difference between blasphemy laws and hate speech laws?

  • The wording of Section 295(A) is considerably too wide.
  • The Supreme Court has said on several occasions that perhaps the goal of hate speech statutes in Section 295(A) is to prevent prejudice and ensure equality.
  • Unfortunately, there is a huge disparity between this interpretation and the actual wording due to which the law is still being exploited at all levels of administration.

Are hate speech cases rising?

  • As per the data given by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there has been a huge increase in cases registered promoting hate speech and fostering animosity in society.
  • The data reads that while there were only 323 cases registered in 2014, it had increased to 1,804 cases in 2020.
  • This is because section 295(A) is now usually used to penalise religious dissent, satire, and any comedic content with religious references.
  • Many cases show how regulations don’t draw a line between criticism and premeditated hate speech.
  • Failing to articulate these distinctions diminishes fair use of the Section and makes it more difficult to define and penalise the actual crime of hate speech.

Source: The Hindu

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