27 February 2020
New Delhi: A plea in the Supreme Court has sought implementation of the 267th Report of the Law Commission of India to curtail hate speech during election campaigns as "offensive speech has real and devastating effects on people's lives and risks their health and safety".
"It is harmful and divisive for communities and hampers social progress," said the petitioner, BJP leader Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay in the plea.
In the petition, he contended not only in Parliament and Assembly elections, but even in local body elections, hate speech is made to support a particular party and candidate, "which is against the basic dictum of a 'sovereign socialist secular democratic republic'" as per the Indian Constitution.
Upadhyay contended that hate speech severely affect fraternity, dignity of individuals, unity and national integration and also offends the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution's Articles 19 and 21.
He also contended that hate speech has "potential of provoking individuals to commit acts of terrorism, genocide, ethnic cleansing etc. Such speech is considered outside the realm of protective discourse. Offensive speech has real and devastating effects on people's lives and risks their health and safety".
In 2014, the apex court observed that the existing set of laws would solve the problem of hate speech to a limited extent and asked the Law Commission to make recommendations to the Parliament to strengthen the Election Commission "to curb the menace of 'hate speeches' irrespective of, wherever made".
The commission on March 23, 2017, submitted the report, which the petitioner pointed is yet to be implemented.
The petition said: "Political speeches often assume a divisive tone in order to exploit social prejudices for electoral gains. However, this discourse must take place in an environment that does not foster abusive or hateful sentiments."
Citing the harmful and divisive nature of hate speech for communities, the petition said there is no provision to challenge the corrupt practice of candidates, who lost the election. "Thus, the appeal on the grounds of religion, race, caste, community or language etc. and promotions of feelings of enmity between different classes cannot be questioned even by way of election petition," said the petition, seeking the the apex court issue direction to the Centre to implement the Law Commission report.