Hate speech undermines individual dignity and threatens national unity: Supreme Court rulings
Several Supreme Court verdicts underline the damage caused to social harmony by such remarks
The apparent delay in bringing criminal charges against perpetrators of hate speech in Haridwar and Delhi is despite Supreme Court rulings that hate speech is an affront to dignity in “the matter of thought , expression, belief, faith and worship” and threatens the unity of the nation as a whole.
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“The unity and integrity of the nation can neither be ignored nor flouted, because acts which promote or are likely to promote division, alienation and schematism directly and indirectly impinge on diversity and pluralism, and when they have the objective and intention of disturbing public order or undermining the dignity of the targeted groups, they must be treated in accordance with the law”, observed the Supreme Court in its judgment of December 7, 2020 in the case Amish Devgan.
Intent of the preamble
The court reminded the government that the Preamble of the Constitution consciously associates brotherhood, ensuring the dignity of the individual, the unity and the integrity of the nation.
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He stated that the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation are linked, one in the form of the rights of individuals and the other in the form of the obligation of individuals towards others to ensure the unity and integrity of the nation.
Hate speech not only “insidiously weakens the virtue and superiority of diversity, but reduces and leads to demands, depending on the context and the occasion, for the suppression of freedom of expression and speech on the basis of the reasonableness”. By making threats to liberty and the liberty of others, the Supreme Court has said, hate speakers challenge the unity and integrity of the nation.
Loss of dignity
In the Sabarimala case, Judge D.Y. Chandrachud noted that “religious creeds and beliefs secure a wider acceptance of human dignity and freedom, but when conflict arises between the two, the quest for human dignity , freedom and equality must prevail”.
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Judge Sanjiv Khanna, in the Amish Devgan case, defines “dignity” as “the basic right as a member of a society in good standing, one’s status as a social equal and bearer of human rights and constitutional rights”.
Participatory equality in interpersonal relations between citizens and between the state and citizens promotes “self-esteem”.
“The loss of dignity and self-esteem of members of the target group contributes to disharmony between groups, erodes the tolerance and open-mindedness that are essential for a multicultural society committed to the idea of equality. It affects an individual as a member of a group,” Judge Khanna wrote.
Dignity is one of the individual rights that form the fundamental linchpin of collective harmony and the interest of a society, the Court said in its judgment in the Charu Khurana case.
The court in Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan vs Union of India draws on the Supreme Court of Canada decision which establishes three criteria for determining hate speech: First, courts must objectively apply the prohibition of hate speech. The question for courts to ask is whether a reasonable person, aware of the context and circumstances, would view the expression as exposing the protected group to hatred.
Second, the legislative term “hatred or “hate or contempt” must be interpreted as being limited to the extreme expressions of emotion described by the words “detestation” and “defamation”.
Third, the courts must focus their analysis on the effect of the expression in question, namely whether it is likely to expose the targeted person or group to the hatred of others.