All religions must feel assured about coexisting: HC

Coming down heavily on hate speech, the Bombay High Court, on Friday, said in a secular country like ours, every religion must feel assured that they can live peacefully with the citizens of other religions. The HC further said that the government must bring in some ‘stringent’ rules to ensure that the right to free speech isn't misused.

A bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice Madhav Jamdar pronounced a strongly worded judgment while disposing off a PIL, seeking action against an AIMIM supporter, who had put up objectionable content on his social media handles, which could have created disharmony between Hindus and Muslims.

The bench noted that such cases of hate speech are on a rise with people missing their right to free speech.

"People may exercise some degree of restraint on their liberty of free speech and expression, particularly during these testing times. The right cannot be exercised to sow seeds of hatred and to create disharmony among religious communities," CJ Datta said in his judgment.

"Since inflammatory posts have the potential of disturbing public peace and tranquility, strong action ought to be taken against those responsible to uphold the high values aimed at by the Constitution," the chief justice added.

The judges further said that there has been a trend these days, wherein people are misusing their rights with bad faith.

"In a secular country like India, the citizens of different religions should feel assured that they can live in peace with persons practicing other religions. Regrettably, a trend is clearly discernible that in the name of exercise of a right, the liberty of free speech is being abused with bad faith," CJ Datta observed.

"Every citizen should exercise this right rationally and in an orderly manner for legitimate exercises, including fair and constructive criticism as well as for upholding the preambular promise of securing fraternity, assuring the dignity of every individual and the unity and integrity of India," the bench added.

The bench noted that the Constitution makers had visualised ‘a stable society providing sufficient scope for exercise of the right of free speech and expression.’

"However, those exercising such a right must not remain oblivious that the exercise cannot rise above national interest and interest of the society. In the guise of exercising the right, no form of

insult to any group or community disrupting public order ought to ensue," CJ Datta held.

The judges further opined the state must bring in some stringent laws to regulate such hate speech. "Notwithstanding the provisions of law in vogue, it is time that the State introduces a regime of conduct with stricter norms but satisfying the test of reasonableness to deal with rapid rise of absolutely avoidable, uncalled for and unwarranted inflammatory posts on the social media," the chief justice ordered.

As far as the PIL is concerned, the bench said the Information Technology (IT) law provides for appointment of a nodal officer, who could look into any hate speech, flagged by citizens. The bench further said that social media platforms too must ‘regulate their affairs.’

"We leave it free to the social media platforms to regulate their affairs and make such exclusion as would be desirable for strong reasons of public policy of India and the integrity of the

state," the bench said while disposing of the PIL.

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