A committee constituted by constituted a committee for suggesting amendments to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860 will now attempt to define 'hate speech' and also propose a separate section on ‘offences relating to speech and expression’.
The Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws is expected to submit its report soon.
Several "hate speech" cases are pending in the courts across the country even as there is no clear definition of it in IPC 1860. Several such cases were lodged in 2019 during the Delhi riots.
The Bureau of Police Research and Development recently defined hate speech, in a manual for investigating agencies on cyber harassment cases, as a "language that denigrates, insults, threatens or targets an individual based on his or her identity and other traits (sexual orientation, disability or religion etc.)," according to an exclusive report published in The Hindu.
But one of the members of the committee, GS Bajpai, the Chairperson of the Criminology Centre at National Law University, Delhi, questioned who would decide what constituted a "hate speech". "Legally criminal sections are invoked if a speech leads to violence or disturbance of law and order. But we will refrain from using the term 'hate speech' as it is loaded; merely criticising someone is not hate speech," Bajpai told The Hindu.
Earlier in 2018, the Home Ministry had written to the Law Commission to prepare a distinct law for online 'hate speech', acting on a report by a committee headed by former Lok Sabha secretary general TK Viswanathan. The committee recommended stricter laws against hate speech.
The committee was formed after the Supreme Court in 2015 scrapped Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which provided punishment for sending offensive messages through communication services
The committee proposed inserting Sections 153 C (b) and Section 505 A in the IPC for incitement to commit an offence on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe. It proposed punishment by up to two years imprisonment, along with a Rs 5,000 fine.
In 2019, however, the ministry decided to overhaul the IPC 1860, and the Code of Criminal Procedure 1973 by seeking suggestions from the states, the Supreme Court, High Courts, bar councils, universities and law institutes.
Before the Viswanathan panel, the Bezbaruah Committee, constituted by the Centre in February 2014 in the wake of a series of racial attacks on people from the Northeast, had proposed amendment to sections 153C and 509A of the IPC.
Section 153C mandates five years imprisonment and a fine for promoting or attempting to promote acts prejudicial to human dignity. As per section Section 509A, any kind of racial insult through word, gesture or act is punishable by three years of imprisonment or a fine.