When it comes to liberal democracy, the first thing that strikes us is the number of individual rights that our Constitution has gifted us since the Independence. Amongst these, freedom of expression is the most celebrated and debated one. If we look into its definition, any publicly made vilification directed against a group of people pertaining to an identifiable race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation and can lead to fear and alarm is considered hate speech.
Sparking hatred against a community through public speaking or Twitter has led to incitement of hostility and distress in a particular stratum of society. Often, these speeches promote dehumanisation of an entire community and development of xenophobic tendencies, causing psychological harm to members of the targeted group. This results in breaking down of community relations as well as causing of threat to law and order.
The integration of hate speech under the divine protection of Article 19 (1) has been a point of contention from time immemorial. Although, clause (2) of the very same article clearly mentions the safeguards under which restrictions can be imposed if there is a threat to the security of the state, to the friendly relations with foreign states, public tranquillity, decency and morality, to the fame of an individual or community and to the sovereignty and integrity of India in order to circumvent the exploitation of this fundamental right.
Despite this, many political heads have made incendiary speeches over the course of time, with the most recent example of speeches being made by Kapil Mishra, MP Parvesh Varma and MP Anurag Thakur. Their speeches or comments turned out to be one of the reasons behind the massive riots that took place in the northeastern part of Delhi at the end of February 2020.
Freedom of expression is a sacred power that very few nations enjoy to the fullest in the current global scenario. Justifying the act of spreading hatred by arguing about the existence of a thin line between freedom of speech and hate speech is an absurd argument, as the line is quite visible and wide, wide enough to be seen by the makers of our Constitution who also mentioned imprisonment as a punishment under IPC Section 295A, Section 153, Section 505 A.
There has always been a difference between advocating a certain viewpoint or expressing dissent and provoking people to fight using violence. Being a democracy doesn’t mean that people have the right to say whatever they wish to, regardless of how unpleasant, impolite or indecent it could be for a particular community. Thus, we should not consider it a violation of an individual’s right to free speech since an individual is highly responsible for maintaining peace and harmony in a society.