The Supreme Court has been seized of the problem of hate speeches for a while now but finds itself in a fix in the absence of clear government guidelines.
The court has time and again expressed concern over the effect of hate speeches on society but failed to extract actionable guidelines from the Centre or state governments. In the absence of clear rules, police register first information reports but fail to act against the hate-mongers.
Three Supreme Court benches have heard petitions in the past three weeks seeking directions to governments to effectively curb the menace.
On September 21, a bench of Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy expressed anguish over hate speeches in televised debates and asked the government why it was “standing by as a mute witness”.
It sought the government’s response within two weeks, especially its stand on the recommendations of the Law Commission. But the government did not comply, or its response would have been known when another bench headed by Chief Justice UU Lalit and also comprising Justice SR Bhat took up a different petition on hate speeches on Oct 10.
The second bench could do nothing but reiterate grave concern over hate speeches and ask petitioner H Mansukhani from Mumbai to give details of the instances and steps taken during the investigation.
The CJI’s bench said while it may agree with the petitioner that hate speeches are sullying the atmosphere in the country, the court needs specific instances and cannot act on vague submissions. The matter will now be heard on November 1.
On the same day, another bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli asked the Delhi and Uttarakhand Police to specify steps taken to curb hate speeches on a petition filed by Tushar Gandhi, seeking action against those accused of such speeches at the so-called ‘Dharam Sansad’ in Haridwar and North Delhi in December.
The bench also asked Attorney General R Venkataramani to formulate his views on the issue and posted the matter for hearing after four weeks. On September 21, Justice Joseph expressed indignation when he said the problem will go on “unless there is an institutional mechanism to deal with it”.
He asked the government to consider the Vishakha case where the top court had laid down guidelines to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace. The legal paradox is that the police register FIRs on hate-speech incidents but refrain from acting against the hate-mongers if they are close to the ruling party.
The latest case is in Delhi where it registered an FIR against the organisers of an event at Dilshad Garden but did not act against the perpetrators, BJP MP Parvesh Verma and the party’s Loni MLA Nand Kishor Gurjar.