The Law Commission of India on 23 March 2017 submitted its Report No. 267 titled Hate Speech to the Union Government for its consideration.
Why the Law Commission of India took up this matter?
• In the Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan Vs Union of India (AIR 2014 SC 1591) case, the Supreme Court of India had asked the Law Commission of India to examine issues related to hate speech including its definition.
• The court also directed the commission to submit its recommendations to the Parliament to strengthen the Election Commission to curb the menace of hate speeches.
• Against this backdrop, the Law Commission of India has undertaken a study of laws restricting hate speeches in India.
Legal backing to “Freedom of Speech” Principle
• Freedom of Speech and Expression is one of the most significant rights guaranteed in the Constitution.
• However, this right has been subjected to reasonable restrictions enunciated under Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.
• The reasonableness of this restriction is subject to several tests.
• Laws that seek to prevent speech that marginalise the vulnerable sections of the society strive to harmonise the freedom of expression with the right to equality.
• In order to protect the vulnerable sections from discriminatory attitudes and practices, it is necessary that forms of expression that have the potential of inciting hatred and violence are regulated.
• The Commission recommended that the anti-discrimination should take into account the harmful effect of speech on the rights of the vulnerable group.
• The Law Commission also advised that the several factors need to be considered before restricting a speech, like, the context of the speech, the status of the victim, the status of the maker of the speech and the potential of the speech to create discriminatory and disruptive circumstances.
• After a thorough examination of the issue and an analysis of the international legal framework, the Commission proposed amendments to the Indian Penal Code by the insertion of new sections after section 153B and 505A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
• The commission also advised the government for adoption of certain other strategies to encourage harmony among different groups of the society like sensitising and educating the public on the responsible exercise of speech.