Laws against hate speech in India

Definition of hate speech

Hate speech is an effort to marginalise individuals based on their membership in a group. Using expression that exposes the group to hatred, hate speech seeks to delegitimise group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society. Hate speech, therefore, rises beyond causing distress to individual group members. It can have a societal impact. Hate speech lays the groundwork for later, broad attacks on vulnerable that can range from discrimination, to ostracism, segregation, deportation, violence and, in the most extreme cases, to genocide. Hate speech also impacts a protected group’s ability to respond to the substantive ideas under debate, thereby placing a serious barrier to their full participation in our democracy.

Laws prohibiting hate speeches in India:

Section 124A of Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘IPC’) makes sedition an offence punishable, i.e., when any person attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law. (See: Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955)

Sections 153A and 153B IPC makes any act which promotes enmity between the groups on grounds of religions and race etc. or which are prejudicial to national integration punishable. The purpose of enactment of such a provision was to “check fissiparous communal and separatist tendencies and secure fraternity so as to ensure the dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation”. Undoubtedly, religious freedom may be accompanied by liberty of expression of religious opinions together with the liberty to reasonably criticise the religious beliefs of others, but as has been held by courts time and again, with powers come responsibility.

Section 295A IPC deals with offences related to religion and provides for a punishment upto 3 years for speech, writings or signs which are made with deliberate and malicious intention to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of any class of citizens. This Court in Ramji Lal Modi v. State of U.P., AIR 1957 SC 620, has upheld the Constitutional validity of the section.

Section 298 IPC provides that any act with deliberate and malicious intention of hurting the religious feelings of any person is punishable. However, Section 295A IPC deals with far more serious offences.

Furthermore, Section 505(2) IPC provides that making statements that create or promote enmity, hatred or ill-will between different classes of society is a punishable offence involving imprisonment upto three years or fine or both.

The Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955, which was enacted to supplement the constitutional mandate of abolishing ‘untouchability’ in India, contains provisions penalizing hate speech against the historically marginalised ‘dalit’ communities. Section 7(1)(c) of the Act prohibits the incitement or encouragement of the practice of ‘untouchability’ in any form (by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise) by any person or class of persons or the public generally. Similarly, intentional public humiliation of members of the ‘Scheduled Castes’ and ‘Scheduled Tribes’ is penalized under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

Section 123(3) of the R.P. Act, provides inter-alia that no party or candidate shall appeal for vote on the ground of religion, race, caste, community, language etc. Section 125 of the R.P.Act further restrains any political party or the candidate to create feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of citizens of India by making such an act a punishable offence.


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