Hate speech – An overview

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The freedom of speech including the legislations governing it has been one of the most contested topics over generations. Hate speech refers to the speech or expression which may disparage or injure a person's reputation on the basis of alleged membership in a social group identifies by the accredits such as colour, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disabilities (mental or physical), and others. This is often rooted in, and generates intolerance and hatred and, in certain contexts, can be demeaning and divisive. Hate speech is also defined as a public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group.

The laws of some countries describe hate speech as speech, conduct, writing, gestures that incite violence or prejudicial actions against individuals or a group on the basis of their membership in the group. The law may identify a group based on certain characteristics. In some countries, hate speech is not considered as a legal term. Additionally, in some countries, including the United States, much of what falls under the category and definition of "hate speech" is constitutionally protected. In other countries, a victim of hate speech may seek redress under criminal law, civil law, or both.[1]

In contemporary times, the meaning of hate speech has travelled beyond mere offensive talk. It encompasses speech that is derogatory, insulting, discriminatory, provocative or even one that it incites and encourages use of violence or which results in violent backlashes. As a result, the harmony and order of the society can be disturbed. But most importantly, hate speech can become a particularly heinous type of hate crime causing direct physical and psychological harm to the victims of the hate speech or crime. Rather than prohibiting hate speech, international laws take a different approach. It prohibits the incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence. This incitement is a very harmful form of speech, because it deliberately and explicitly aims at triggering discrimination, hostility and violence, which may also lead to terrorism or atrocity crimes. Hate speech that does not reach the threshold of incitement is not something that the international law requires States to prohibit. It is important to note that even when not prohibited, hate speech may to be dangerous.

Regulation of Hate speech in India

The hate speech laws in India aim to prevent clash among its many religious and ethnic communities. The laws allow a citizen to seek the punishment of anyone who shows the citizen disrespect. The laws specifically forbid anyone from outraging someone's "religious feelings". The contrast between speech that "shocks, offends and disturbs", and hate speech is important because it allows us to separate offensive expressions from those that attack the very ideology of equal citizenship.[2]

The Constitution of India, provides the right to freedom of speech and expression under the Article 19(1)(a). However, under article 19(2), the constitution also provides for the reasonable restrictions against free speech in the interests of integrity and sovereignty of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Hate speech also constitutes a criminal charge under the Section 153A, which is the offence of promoting communal disharmony or feelings of hatred between different racial, religious, language or regional groups or communities. Section 153B of the Indian Penal Code categorises the offence of promoting religious, racist, community, linguistic or caste hatred or incites any caste, religious or any other disharmony or enmity within India, through any speech either in written form or spoken. Section 298 of the IPC, similarly, classifies the offence of uttering words with the deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person. Likewise, Section 505 of the IPC, criminalises the act of delivering speeches that incite violence. Sections 295A and 509A also have similar provisions.[3]

Online Hate speech

Hate speech has always resulted in censorship throughout history. The definition of hate speech has been ambiguous, but usually narrow and tailored to the interests of the ruling power of the State. The definitions of “hate speech” typically depend on the moral and cultural ethos of any society. When societies have been well-defined, for example through geography, it was relatively easier to reach a consensus on such a definition. This was because that definition would only be enforced in a certain area by an enforcing authority that was known and respected by everyone in that area. The rise of the internet, a global means of communication, and other online platforms has stripped away many such geographical boundaries. While this has led to rapid technological growth through the cooperation of people from all over the world, it has also set up very peculiar questions of law and its enforcement. The very definition of “hate speech was made even more ambiguous when made applicable to anything written on the internet, since it could be created by anyone, anywhere in the world, posted to a server anywhere in the world, and be accessed by anyone, anywhere in the world.[4]

The expression of conflicts between different groups within and across societies in an online mode can be referred to as Online hate speech. This occurs through many social media platforms as well. Social media can be defined as an internet-based platform on which people comment their views and which also acts as a source for sharing and discussing information. It mixes the three aspects viz. technology, telecommunications and social interactions and gives a platform to communicate through photos, texts, movies and music. Online hate speech is a vivid example of how the Internet brings both opportunities and challenges regarding the freedom of speech and expression while also defending human dignity.


The regulation of Hate speech has become of utmost importance in today`s times. There are many ways to counter hate speech in the Media through Ethics and Self-regulation. Some of them include- encouraging conflict sensitive reporting and multicultural awareness campaigns, regulation the social media, ending impunity against hate crimes etc. It is of utmost necessity to give legal aid to the victims of Hate speech under the various provisions of the constitution.