Hate speech laws in India
The Constitution of India and its hate speech laws aim to prevent discord among its many ethnic and religious communities. The laws allow a citizen to seek the punishment of anyone who shows the citizen disrespect "on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever". The laws specifically forbid anyone from outraging someone's "religious feelings". The laws allow authorities to prohibit any means of expression which someone finds insulting.
The Constitution of India does not provide for a state religion. Article 25(1) states, "Subject to public order, morality and health and to the other provisions of this Part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion". Article 19 gives all citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression but subject to "reasonable restrictions" for preserving inter alia "public order, decency or morality". Article 28 prohibits any religious instruction in any educational institution wholly maintained out of state funds. Article 51A(h) imposes on every citizen the duty to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform.
Laws restricting the freedom of expression
India prohibits hate speech by several sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and by other laws which put limitations on the freedom of expression. Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure gives the government the right to declare certain publications “forfeited” if the “publication ... appears to the State Government to contain any matter the publication of which is punishable under Section 124A or Section 153A or Section 153B or Section 292 or Section 293 or Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code”.
Section 153A of the penal code says, inter alia:
- Whoever (a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or (b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquility, . . . shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
Enacted in 1927, section 295A says:
- Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [citizens of India], [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both.
In 1932, some Muslim clerics denounced a young woman physician named Rashid Jahan, and threatened her with disfigurement and death. She and three others had published a collection of Urdu short stories called Angarey in which they had robustly criticized obscurantist customs in their own community and the sexual hypocrisies of some feudal landowners and men of religion. Under section 295A, the authorities banned the book and confiscated all copies.
In 1933, police arrested Dr. D'Avoine under section 295A for publishing his article "Religion and Morality" in the September 1933 issue of the magazine Reason. The trial judge found that the article's purpose was consistent with the purpose of the magazine, namely, "to combat all religious and social beliefs and customs that cannot stand the test of reason and to endeavor to create a scientific and tolerant mentality among the masses of the country". The trial judge Sir H. P. Dastur found that the article had no malicious intent and did not constitute a violation of section 295A.
In 1957, a Supreme Court petition challenged a previous decision by arguing that IPC 295A violated freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(A) of the Constitution. Ramji Lal Modi had been sentenced to 12 months imprisonment and fined under IPC 295A, he had published an article and a cartoon which was considered offensive to Muslims. The petitioner also argued that the offence of insulting religious beliefs can be committed if there is no danger of public disorder. The Supreme Court upheld the previous decision by stating that IPC 295A should be limited to "aggravated form of insult to religion when it is perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class" and that Article 19 (1)(A) allows "a law imposing reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression in the interests of public order".
On 2 August 2006, two religious groups in Ahmedabad complained to the police that their religious sentiments were hurt because a garment-maker had printed text from the Hindu and Jain religions on clothing. The police filed the complaint as a matter under section 295. In December 2006, a complaint was filed against cricketer Ravi Shastri for hurting the religious feelings of Hindus by allegedly eating beef during a Test match in Johannesburg, South Africa. In 2007, the authorities charged ninety-one-year-old Maqbool Fida Husain with hurting religious sentiments by painting Bharat Mata as a naked woman. In March 2007, a newspaper editor BV Seetharam was arrested under the Sections 153A, 153B, and 295 of the IPC for allegedly promoting religious hatred. He had written articles criticizing the public nudity of the Digambara Jain monks. In May 2007, a Buddhist group in Maharashtra's Amaravati district said their religious sentiments were hurt, and filed a complaint against Rakhi Sawant, an actress, because she posed in a bathtub against a statue of Lord Buddha. In September or October 2007, police in Pune arrested four Bangalore-based software-engineers for posting on the Internet an obscene profile of Chhatrapati Shivaji, a sixteenth-century Maratha warrior king, clad in female underwear.
In February 2009, the police filed a complaint against Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha, the editor and the publisher respectively of the Kolkata-based English daily The Statesman. The police charged Kumar and Sinha under section 295A because they had reprinted an article from The Independent by its columnist Johann Hari. Titled "Why should I respect oppressive religions?", the article stated Hari's belief that the right to criticise any religion was being eroded around the world. Muslim protestors in Kolkata reacted to Hari's belief by violent demonstrations at the offices of The Statesman.
Mumbai Facebook arrests
In November 2012, Maharashtra Police arrested Shaheen Dhada (21) for questioning the total shutdown in the city for Bal Thackeray’s funeral in a Facebook post, and also her friend Renu Srinivasan (20) for liking her post. Although no religious issue was involved, the two were charged under Section 295 (A) for hurting religious sentiments, apart from Section 66 (a) of the Information Technology Act 2000. The exact comment posted by Shaheen Dhada was:
With all respect, every day, thousands of people die, but still the world moves on. Just due to one politician died a natural death, everyone just goes bonkers. They should know, we are resilient by force, not by choice. When was the last time, did anyone showed some respect or even a two-minute silence for Shaheed Bhagat Singh, Azad, Sukhdev or any of the people because of whom we are free-living Indians? Respect is earned, given, and definitely not forced. Today, Mumbai shuts down due to fear, not due to respect.
Reacting to this incident, Independent Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar said, “This incident shows the misuse of the IT Act rules as put together by Minister Kapil Sibal. I am mystified by our government’s approach both to the internet and to the millions of Indians using it. It does not adhere to the values of our republic and democracy. This matter needs to be addressed urgently.” Chandrasekhar has battled against growing internet censorship in India, using his position in the upper house of Parliament to challenge legislation that chokes digital freedom. Chandrasekhar has filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in Supreme Court challenging the IT Rules.
The two women were later granted bail on a surety of 15000 (US$230). Their arrest was strongly criticized by a number of the citizens, including the Press Council of India chairman Markandey Katju. An internal inquiry by the Maharashtra Police deemed the arrests wrongful and indicted four police officers linked to the arrest.
Bangalore Writer Arrest
Yogesh Master, a Bangalore based writer was arrested on August 29 over his derogatory remarks on Lord Ganesha, in his Kannada novel Dhundi, which was released on August 21. He was later released on bail. A complaint was lodged at Police Station by various Hindu groups who blamed him of blasphemy and hurting religious sentiments. Yogesh, in his novel Dhundi: The story of a forester becoming Ganapathi wrote that Ganesha was born due to Parvati’s illicit relationship. This had outraged the public at large.
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