The long and the short of hate speeches in India!
Criminalisation of Indian politics is nothing new. For a considerable time it has received a lot of flak not only from media, but also from the civil society. Though, not much has been done to cleanse the system but what is worth noting is that a lot of effort has been put in terms of creating awareness among people to vote against anyone who has a criminal background. Whether it succeeds or not is debatable but at least an effort is made towards de-criminalising Indian politics. Amidst all this, an interesting yet equally damaging issue is getting completely neglected. And that is to do with those who have attained the status of hero by delivering hate or extremely provocative speeches.
Most of the ambassadors of hate speeches get away due to the lack of passable laws that demarcates hate speeches from that of freedom of speech! This freedom of abusing the freedom of speech gets celebrated in India while world over the case is quite different. There are laws that clearly demarcate freedom of speech from hate speeches. In Australia, the Racial Discrimination Act, 1975 forbids hate speech on several grounds. Similarly, in Brazil, giving hate speech is a crime with no right of bail being given to the accused! In Europe, the Council of Europe created the European Commission against racism, anti-semitism and intolerance against Muslims. Even in the erstwhile racist country like Germany, Volksverhetzung aka hate speech is a punishable offense and can lead to up to five years of imprisonment. The Iceland’s laws go a step further and also include expressing hatred publicly as crime. Even New Zealand and Switzerland prohibits hate speech under human rights. Same is the case with UK, where the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits expressions of racial hatred. Even the US prosecutes cases of provocation. And Canadian law does not even spare its media. When a Canadian magazine published an article arguing on the rise of Islam and its threat to Western values, the magazine was put on trial. In June 2008, actress Brigitte Bardot was fined with $23,000 in France for provoking racial hatred by criticizing a religious ceremony. In India, there is no specific law dealing with hate speech per se, but few IPCs prohibit speeches which promote disharmony and insult any religion or religious beliefs. The concern with hate speeches is that it has both a short term and long term impact on the society. In the short run, it can raise the adrenalin of some of the uneducated, naive and vulnerable sections of society. They even tend to get carried away with a feeling of being in the limelight and by virtue of hating the other perceive that the path to mitigate their predicaments is just this. In the long run, these remarks hamper the affiliation of fraternity, the pillar of harmony and principles of democracy.
The biggest challenge is to define a hate speech and then to identify all possible sources of hate speech. And believe me, it is just not confined to a few political leaders alone, but also envelopes almost anybody and everybody, in the current scenario. What we need is stricter laws and more than that an effective judiciary to put those laws into effect. If in 1999, Mr. Bal Thackeray was debarred from casting his vote or contesting any election for six years for his provocative speeches, why can’t we do the same for others too? Or even more? If de-criminalisation of Indian politics is a national imperative so is the arrest of the rise of hate speeches, provided the intent is to unite the country irrespective of religion, region and sect and not to divide it forever!