'Hate Speeches From All Sides Will Be Treated Alike' : Supreme Court

Awstika Das

18 Aug 2023 10:08 AM GMT

  • Hate Speeches From All Sides Will Be Treated Alike : Supreme Court

    Hate speech, whether be it from one side or the other, will be treated alike and dealt with under the law, the Supreme Court orally said on Friday. A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti was hearing a batch of petitions seeking action against hate speeches, including a recently filed plea seeking action against calls made by several groups for the social and economic boycott...

    Hate speech, whether be it from one side or the other, will be treated alike and dealt with under the law, the Supreme Court orally said on Friday.

    A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti was hearing a batch of petitions seeking action against hate speeches, including a recently filed plea seeking action against calls made by several groups for the social and economic boycott of Muslims following the Nuh-Gurugram communal violence in Haryana. Today's hearing was adjourned until Friday, August 25 since the division bench had to hear a batch of pleas challenging the Bihar government's decision to conduct a caste-based survey.

    "We have that Bihar matter. We cannot hear both that matter and this today. We will take this up on Friday," Justice Khanna said, right at the outset, before adding, "I also went through the Tehseen Poonawalla guidelines. I hope they are being complied with."

    At this point, a counsel interjected. He spoke about the provocative slogans raised by members of the youth wing of the Indian Union Muslim League during a July rally in northern Kerala. "In this rally, they raised the slogan 'death to Hindus'."

    In response, Justice Khanna categorically stated that the hate speech law would apply irrespective of the identity of the perpetrator -

    "We are very clear. Whether it be one side or the other side, they have to be treated alike. If anyone indulges in anything which we know as 'hate speech', they will be dealt with as per the law. Something we have already expressed our opinion on. This does not need to be repeated."

    Advocate Nizam Pasha chimed in, "We would also hope that there are no sides to hate."

    The counsel who raised the issue about the Kerala rally protested. He exclaimed, "No, no there are sides."

    Pasha replied, "I am hoping that there are no sides, and that all of us are on the same side, assisting this court."

    The counsel attempted again. "[Pasha] is not assisting properly. He is not bringing full facts before this court," he argued.

    With this brief exchange, the court adjourned the hearing. Justice Khanna also instructed the counsel wishing to file their written submissions to submit them one day before the day of the next hearing. 

    After stressing the need for stakeholders to collaborate to find an enduring out-of-court solution to the problem of hate speech on an earlier occasion, the court suggested a plan of its own during the last hearing: a committee formed by the Director General of Police of each state that would assess both the content and veracity of hate speech complaints and issue appropriate directions to the investigating officer or the chief of the jurisdictional police station. This committee would meet within specified timelines when they are apprised of any instance of hate speech and also periodically review the progress in all ongoing cases according to the suggestions floated by the bench.

    This is the latest in a series of attempts made by the top court to actively prevent hate speech in the country. After mulling over the idea of directing the police chief of every state to form such committees for each district or a cluster of districts, the bench adjourned last Friday’s hearing in order to allow the central government some time to consider its suggestion.

    Notably, the court also permitted the aggrieved petitioners to concurrently approach the nodal police officers appointed in terms of the 2018 Tehseen Poonawalla judgment in which it had issued guidelines to prevent mob lynching.


    Earlier this month, Nuh in Haryana witnessed communal violence, which eventually spread to the neighbouring Gurugram in Delhi NCR. In response, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal announced protest marches throughout the national capital region. Fearing that these rallies would lead to large-scale violence, Shaheen Abdulla filed an interlocutory application in the Supreme Court in the pending hate speech matter, urging the court to urgently intervene. In February, the Supreme Court had passed directions in his petition to the State of Maharashtra to prevent hate speeches in ‘Sakal Hindu Manj’ rallies.

    Even while refusing to pre-emptively stop any rallies or protest marches after considering the application in a special hearing on August 2, a bench led by Justice Sanjiv Khanna urged the authorities, including the police, to ensure that no violence breaks out in these events, and that there are no instances of hate speech. The bench also directed the authorities to use CCTV cameras, where installed, and make video recordings of the rallies in sensitive areas wherever required, and preserve all videos and surveillance footage. The order reads:

    “We hope and trust that the State Governments, including the police authorities, will ensure that there are no hate speeches against any community and there is no violence or damage to properties. Wherever required, adequate police force or paramilitary forces will be deployed. Further, authorities including the police will take use of the CCTV cameras where installed or make video recordings in all sensitive areas wherever required. The CCTV footage and the videos will be preserved.”

    On August 4, when the matter was taken up again, the court issued a call to action to stakeholders to find an enduring solution to the problem of hate speech. Highlighting that the difficulty lay in implementing and executing the law on hate speech, Justice Sanjiv Khanna suggested appropriately sensitising the police forces to ensure that victims of hate speech could access meaningful remedies without having to come to the court.

    Less than a week later, the petitioner was back in the apex court with a plea seeking action against calls made by several groups for the social and economic boycott of Muslims after the communal clashes in Nuh and Gurugram in Haryana. According to the application, despite the court’s order, more than 27 rallies were organised across various states in which incendiary speeches were openly delivered urging for the social and economic boycott of Muslims. Not only this, extremist groups also escalated rhetoric with calls to kill Muslims, the applicant claimed. Some Hindutva groups and leaders delivered such hate speech, Abdulla has further alleged, in the presence of the police. The plea states:

    “…Such rallies that demonise communities and openly call for violence and killing of people are not limited in terms of their impact to just those areas that are presently dealing with communal tensions but will inevitably lead to communal disharmony and violence of an unfathomable scale across the country.”

    Abdulla’s application – mentioned by Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal on August 8 seeking urgent hearing – has sought action against the police officers who participated in these rallies and meetings, on grounds of their failure to prevent hate speech. The applicant has further prayed for directions to the concerned state police to explain the action taken by them against instances of hate speech.

    Recently, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders Brinda Karat and KM Tiwari have also sought to be impleaded in this case. The politicians have expressed concerns about the demonstrations held by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal at various locations across Delhi. The applicant has alleged:

    “Recently leaders of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal, etc. have incited people against Muslims in the name of Hinduism at public meetings held in various places in Delhi. People were instigated against constitutional values and secularism in the name of Hinduism. There have been continuous calls for economic and social boycott of Muslims. These speeches are clearly an offence under several various sections of the Indian Penal Code such as 153A, 153B, 295A, 505(1), etc. But unfortunately, neither stringent action is being taken against such people by the police and administration nor are such meetings being stopped.”

    In related news, the Delhi High Court Women Lawyers Forum sent a letter petition to Chief Justice DY Chandrachud over videos of such hate speeches being circulated on social media. Signed by 101 female lawyers, the letter petition has urged the Supreme Court to direct the Haryana government to take steps to prevent incidents of hate speech, ban videos of such speech in accordance with the law, and take immediate action against those found responsible for committing such acts.

    Case Details

    Shaheen Abdullah v. Union of India & Ors. | Writ Petition (Civil) No. 940 of 2022

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