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Millennium Post

Consigning hate to dust, but how?

Holding hate speeches of public leaders as criminally offensive and meriting punitive action, the Supreme Court has come up with a landmark, if not contentious, ruling, which is likely to soothe and flare quite a few nerves. Hate speeches, despite confusion over their definition, have indeed become a menace to societies, as the apex court as rightly observed. In this light, hate speeches, inciting passions and perpetuating religious, caste, region or ethnicity-based discriminations, and resorted to ritually by demagogues of every hue and political affiliation, have been the bane of political dialogues for a long time now. Not only have hateful passions been allowed to fester, but they have been actively exploited by political and religious leaders of different denominations. In fact, Indians have carried on with the legacy of divide and rule left by our one-time colonial masters, quite deftly, ripping apart the sociocultural fabric and laying open the delicate fault lines. Despite having laws in place, governments, both at the union and state levels, have not been able to contain hateful demagoguery. In fact, state has actively colluded with hate-mongers thriving on religious and communal tensions, finding political sustenance and relevance by exploiting sentiments of others. Effective regulation of hate speeches would, therefore, clean up the system of its rogue elements, which gain political traction by bringing to surface buried communal passions. In a pre-election scenario, this is not only important, but, in fact, is one of the ways to ensure that communally charged violence in the run up to the polls is discouraged and systematically curbed.

Even as the Law Commission decides whether or not political parties indulging in hate speeches should be de-recognised or not, what needs to be taken into account is this: where exactly to draw the line? The cloudiness of the definition notwithstanding, existing laws, while sufficient as far as penile measures are concerned, are nevertheless not clear on how to distinguish a politically progressive but radical public speech from blatant rabble-rousing. In fact, there could not be a blanket law that covers every aspect of sociopolitical utterances, differentiating between well-argued but unorthodox academic or intellectual pitches (in both writing and speech) and empty, baseless rhetoric meant to draw up the battle lines. In other words, guidelines can only be passed by the legislature to comprehensively and holistically engage with laws and issues as delicate as this one. Political maturity of an evolved democracy lies in allowing all kinds of voices to be heard and then letting the people decide which one to give credence to. Curbing hate speeches should not become an excuse to block right to free speech.
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