Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Hate speech: Supreme Court says sad state of affairs, reiterates State needs to initiate a process

The Supreme Court has spoken out against the falling standards of political discourse in the country.

It said India is a land of great orators like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It further said that the era has long gone and hate speeches by fringe elements have occupied centrestage.

A bench comprising Justice KM Joseph and Justice BV Nagarathna said it is a sad state of affairs as the country is now witnessing hate speeches from all camps which has led to a vicious cycle of action and reaction.

Justice Nagarathna bemoaned that the people are heading nowhere. She nted that the country had great orators like Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee and recalled the midnight speech for which people came from rural areas. The judge lamented on fringe elements from all sides making these statements.

Justice Nagarathna added that intolerance also survives because of lack of knowledge and education.

Adding to what Justice Nagarathna said, Justice Joseph said the fringe elements say things which are denigrating. He added that most peoples’ dignity is demolished on a regular basis by statements like “go to Pakistan.”

Justice Joseph added everyone who is in India chose to be in this country and are like brothers and sisters as taught in the oath at schools.

The bench made these observations while responding to arguments by Hindu Samaj counsel who claimed right to hold religious procession.

The Hindu Samaj moved the Court seeking intervention in the batch of pleas seeking that steps be taken against hate speech incidents.

The Court was dealing with a plea pertaining to hate speeches being made in Maharashtra by Hindu right wing leaders.

The Hindu Samaj was represented by Advocate Vishnu Jain, who said that they have a right to hold religious processions.

Justice Nagarathna said that the right to hold procession is fine but what is done in the procession is different.

Justice Joseph said tolerance is not putting up with somebody but accepting the differences.

Advocate Jain responded by stating that his client believes in that.

The petitioner was represented by Advocate Nizam Pasha who said that there have been some 10 rallies in Maharashtra which involved hate speech.

The bench questioned the petitioner’s counsel on which of those would specifically be in contempt of the Court’s judgment in Tehseen Poonawalla case in which Court had evolved a legal mechanism to tackle hate speech.

Justice Nagarathna said that rushing to the Supreme Court for each and every case of contempt would not be practical and she called for self-restraint from citizens.

Justice Nagarathna wondered if there should not be a restraint on speech? She said that why cannot citizens of this country take a pledge to not vilify others and what kind of pleasure are we deriving?

Advocate Nizam Pasha said that one order calling for status report etc goes a long way in nudging the authorities to act.

In his turn, Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta highlighted instances of hate speech against Hindus in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and insisted the Court should consider the same as well and not limit itself to Maharashtra.

The Solicitir General said that the Centre found some statements which should be added to this petition.

He added that a DMK leader has said if you want equality you should butcher all Brahmins. The SG presented a clip from Kerala which says Hindus and Christians should prepare for final rites and said the Court should have taken suo motu cognisance.

Justice Nagarathna said sadly there are cracks in the idea of fraternity.

The petitioner counsel said that such submissions cannot befit the office of the Solicitor General and we cannot engage in such whataboutery. SG Mehta persisted with his arguments on the clip from Kerala.

Justice Joseph said that there is a method to see this as it applies to all of them equally and asked the SG to include it in his submission. 

Justice Joseph said that hate speech is a vicious cycle and people will react. State will have to initiate a process, said Justice Joseph.

The Court then asked Maharashtra to file its response to the petition.The SG however insisted that notice should be issued to Kerala as well.

Cutting the debate short in the court, the bench said it would not like to turn this into a drama and reminded the parties that this was a legal proceeding. The bench then posted the case for further consideration on April 28.


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