Kar HC |No precise legislative definition of what ‘hate speech’ is; Since Parliament has not yet thought it appropriate to legislate on the concept of ‘hate speech’, Court cannot interfere by issuing directions

Karnataka High Court: A Division bench of B.V. Nagarathna and M.G. Uma, JJ., dismissed a petition filed to call for records from the respondents with respect to any action taken by them in connection with the offences and violations specified in the petition, direct the respondents to take action in accordance with law against the media houses and political leaders who have done and continue to violate the law in impunity.

This present public interest litigation was filed by an unregistered organization called ‘Campaign against Hate Speech’, (CAHS), secondly by a social anthropologist, a former Professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru while the third petitioner is stated to be an accomplished researcher based in Bengaluru who is engaged in the work and analysis of issues pertaining to human rights and social justice.

Petitioner’s counsel, Harish B. Narasappa contended that the complaints have been made in the background of COVID-19 which has engulfed the world including India and in the context of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic there had been inciteful and irresponsible speeches and reports made by certain political personalities and also in media accusing certain sections of the society. He submitted that the said acts of inciteful speech and utterances in media, social media as well as by the political personalities amounts to hate speech.

Additional Advocate General, R. Subramanya countered the aforesaid arguments by stating that the writ petition was not in public interest at all and if any of the complainants had filed complaints by following the provisions of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 and the same have not been acted upon, they have a remedy under the provisions of CrPC itself.

Additional Solicitor General for India M.B. Naragund, stated that it is not a public interest litigation but a “publicity interest litigation”.

The Court while dismissing the petition explained that some of the prayers were vague and the interim prayers which have been sought cannot be sought by filing a writ petition invoking Article 226 of the Constitution. The Court suggested that there were enough protection of substantive and procedural law to the aggrieved persons who think or consider certain speech to be hate speech to seek their respective remedies. Therefore, there is already a voluminous bundle of rights and remedies created in various enactments for aggrieved persons to complain against what they consider to be hate speech.

In the present scenario, since the Parliament has not yet thought it appropriate to legislate on the concept of ‘hate speech’, in this writ petition, in the absence of there being any definition of ‘hate speech’ as such, this Court in exercise of its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India cannot issue directions merely on the basis of impact of hate speech on the society in general or certain sections of the society in particular.

Further, relying on A.K. Roy v. Union of India (1982) 1 SCC 271, the bench held that it would be inappropriate for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India to direct either the Parliament or the State Legislature. [Campaign against Hate Speech v. State of Karnataka, 2020 SCC OnLine Kar 540 , decided on 13-05-2020]

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