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Hate Speech: A Threat To Freedom Of Speech And Expression

A fundamental component of a functional democracy is the ability of all citizens to engage in the country's political and social activities. In a healthy democracy, there is adequate freedom of speech, opinion, and expression in all forms - verbal, written, broadcast, and so on. The right to freely express one's thoughts, beliefs and opinions through speech and writing, as well as through the use of images, photographs, and other media, is known as freedom of speech.

Hate speech, on the other hand, is any kind of expression that seeks to harm an individual or a group by inspiring hatred or violence based on characteristics including race, religion, ethnicity, sex, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and others. Free speech is typically referred to as freedom of speech or freedom of expression, but hate speech deliberately targets a person or group of people for criticism.

Due to the tight connections between hate speech and freedom of expression, the delicate balance between the two has not been achieved despite several attempts. Democracies all over the world guarantee the right to freedom of expression, but there needs to be a fine line drawn when it comes to hate speech so that one person's rights do not infringe upon another's dignity or rights.

There have been several attempts in India and throughout the world to uphold the right to free speech and stop hate speech, thus it is important to assess past initiatives and take new ones. Additionally, through making use of references to international human rights, this paper will provide light on the prohibition of hate speech.

Freedom of Speech & Expression

The concept of free speech has its beginnings long ago. Greeks brought it into existence originally. They used the word "Parrhesia," which is a synonym for free speaking or being candid. In the fifth century B.C., this phrase first occurred. It has taken a long time for nations like France and England to declare this freedom to be a fundamental human right

In 1689, the right to free speech was included in the English Bill of Rights as a constitutional right. Also, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens was adopted by the French during the time of the French Revolution in 1789. On December 10, 1948, the UN General Assembly enacted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including freedom of speech and expression in Article 19.

Similarly, International organisations like the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and others guarantee free speech. In accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), everyone has the right to freely seek, receive, and communicate information and ideas of any sort, regardless of frontiers, using any kind of medium of their choosing, including oral communication, writing, print, visual art, and other media. In India, Article 19(1)(a) of the constitution grants this privilege.

According to Part III of the Indian Constitution, there are six fundamental rights: the right to equality (Articles 14-18), the right to freedom (Articles 19-22), the right against exploitation (Articles 23 and 24), the right to freedom of religion (Articles 25-28), educational and cultural rights (Articles 29 and 30) and the right to constitutional remedies (Article 32). Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression, but only to Indian citizens, not to foreign people.

According to Article 19(1)(a), one has the freedom to express their opinions in any way, including by writing, speaking, gesturing, or any other form of expression. The rights to communicate and to spread or publish one's opinions are also included. The option not to speak is equally protected under the right to free speech. According to the Supreme Court of India, engaging in sports is an expression of one's identity and is therefore a kind of free speech.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that raising the flag of one's country is likewise an expression of this right. Under this Article, freedom of the press is implied. Since this right is useless if others are not allowed to know about it or listen to it, it also involves the right to access information. In addition, the SC determined that the right to free expression is an inherent right that supplements the right to life (Article 21).

These two rights are interconnected rather than distinct. Any citizen's right to free expression may be restricted equally by the state's actions and inactions. Therefore, it will be a breach of their fundamental rights if the State does not ensure this freedom for all classes of citizens. The ability to transmit, publish, and market information is part of the freedom of speech and expression. Both creative and commercial speech and expression are protected under this freedom.

Freedom of speech and expression is significant because democracy only functions effectively when individuals are free to voice their thoughts and, when necessary, criticise the government. People's voices must be heard, and their complaints must be addressed. People's voices must be heard in a real democracy not just in the political sector but also in the social, cultural, and economic sectors.

Democracy is in danger if the aforementioned liberties are not present. The government will then grow overly strong and begin to prioritise the interests of a select few over those of the wider population. Then, the country may convert into an autocratic nation. People would submit to dictatorship or authoritarianism silently if the right to free expression and the freedom of the press were severely restricted.

People would feel constricted in such a situation and might suffer to express their opinions. The importance of this right in the Indian context may be grasped by noting that the Preamble itself guarantees all people the freedom of thought, speech, religion, faith, and worship. However, there are censorship laws in effect in the majority of nations (even liberal democracies), with the majority of them being to defamation, hate speech, etc.

The pillar of a democratic nation is the freedom of speech and expression. This freedom is seen as the primary need of liberty and is crucial to the efficient operation of the democratic process. In the hierarchy of rights, it has a favoured position, protecting all other rights.

Hate Speech

The emergence of hate speech is by no means a new phenomenon. It has long been viewed as a stain on democratic norms. But because social media is mostly unregulated, users are dispersed and anonymous, making it challenging for the states to police hate speech while maintaining freedom of expression, the use of social media to propagate hate speech in recent years has exacerbated these worries.

The development of several platforms, particularly social media, has caused hate speech to not only grow but to also become more disgusting and repulsive. Hate speech encourages discrimination against a particular group, particularly against social groups that are marginalised from mainstream society, such as minorities or persons of a certain race or ethnicity

 Hate speech also encourages or promotes violence, anger, and jealously against a particular minority group. Therefore, hate speech is a form of speech or expression that is intentionally inflammatory and used to disparage a group of people or their purported membership in a certain social group through colour, caste, sex, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, etc. Also, the context of the speech is crucial in determining whether a specific instance of speech qualifies as hate speech or not.

Specifically, an expression is deemed to be as hate speech if it contains:
  • Personal and aggressive language that is likely to elicit retribution right away;
  • Words that are intended to provoke future violence, such as those that refer to genocides, physical bullying, and other types of hate crime;
  • Threatening or intimidating words meant to be carried out in the near future;
  • Libel or Slander - both are sorts of defamation, with libel being able to occur in any medium while slander is vocal; and
  • Hostile Workplaces - locations of employment where harassment or abuse is encouraged.

The term "hate speech" is used by the United Nations in its "Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech" to refer to any speech, writing, or behaviour that criticises or uses derogatory or discriminatory language with reference to an individual or a group based on who they are, such as based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, or other identity factor. There is no legal definition of hate speech in India.

Nevertheless, as an exception to the right to free speech, some legal restrictions in some laws forbid some types of expression. Sections 153A, 153B, 295A, 298, 505(1), and 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code specifically state that it is unlawful to use words, signs, or any other visible illustrations to "promote disharmony, enmity, hatred, or ill-will" or to "offend" or "insult" someone based on their race, caste, ethnicity, culture, language, region, or any other factor. This might be considered the definition of hate speech.

Hate speech has a negative effect on society as well as the victims. It can cause victims to have a long-lasting sense of alienation and psychological inferiority, which affects their ability to make independent decisions for themselves-a fundamental aspect of democratic beliefs. Victims could also be coerced into adopting a certain point of view espoused by the opposing community.

In society, hate speech breeds intolerance and animosity among distinct groups, which can lead to intergroup animosity and even bloodshed. It may be humiliating and dividing, which has an effect on social cohesion and causes long-term pressures on relationships between communities. It questions the fundamental tenet of democracy-that societies should be free and open.

Hate Speech versus Free Speech

The idea of hate speech and the right to freedom of expression sometimes overlap; however, from a legal standpoint, there is a very narrow line that divides both types of communication. Hate speech and free speech are similar i.e. both free speech and hate speech concern the expressing of ideas and emotions, yet they differ from one another, and that difference is important.

Free speech (with certain restrictions) permits individuals to publicly express their opinions and views. Contrarily, hate speech disregards relevant restrictions and calls for harm or violence against others.

Effect on Society:
In most cases, free speech promotes the development of society. Despite potential divides, the ultimate result is still advantageous and supports sound social progress. Hate speech, in contrast, fosters unneeded divisions within a society because of its aggressive nature, which might further contribute to the decline of the community.

Impact on Oneself:
Due to their caution in not going too far, those who exercise their right to free speech typically do not face societal consequences. However, persons who use hate speech and openly make homophobic, racist, or other types of discriminating statements, harm not just other people but also themselves. People who make fun of others, for instance, often face backlash and are penalised socially.

Free speech promotes discussion by offering opposing viewpoints respectfully and generously, but hate speech promotes violence by purposefully insulting the other side and endorsing discriminating behaviour.

The principles of free speech prohibit the marginalisation of people. Hate speech targets minorities by spreading harmful statements, whereas free speech defends minorities by promoting tolerance and valuing the variety that each group contributes.

In general, free speech is more humanitarian since it seeks to respect each person's dignity. As a result, this is promoted in a variety of social agency contexts, including schools and workplaces; and hate speech is more closely related to hate crimes since it encourages material about abusive conduct. For instance, it was claimed that certain mass murders were preceded by hate speech. While the border between free expression and hate speech may be narrow, hate speech's effects almost always result in animosity and violence amongst individuals.

A recent incidence of Hate Speech in India:

On December 25, 2022, at Karnataka's Shivamogga, Pragya Singh Thakur, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Bhopal, told a gathering, "Keep weapons in your houses. Maintain the sharpness of the knives used to cut vegetables. Not sure when a circumstance will develop. Everyone has the right to self-defense. If someone breaks into our house and attacks us, we have the right to retaliate.

Just like how knives cut vegetables, it will also chop mouths and heads." This became controversial since she indirectly called for the execution of Muslims. Given how divisive the subject is, it is remarkable that there is no consensus on what constitutes hate speech. It is generally acknowledged that hate speech is any speech that encourages violence against members of specific racial, religious, or ethnic groups.

Today, Hate speech includes the love jihad narrative, mob vigilantism in the name of cow protection, anti-conversion laws, and the language and symbols used by Hindutva organisations to appeal to their members. The Hindutva worldview is regularly used to influence the contemporary Indian political landscape through the use of made-up myths, and hate speech is a means of disseminating these lies to a broad audience.

I think the recent wave of violence, which was especially sparked by hate speeches, was an attempt to divide society permanently into two communal blocks. This alone is sufficient to show how hate speech plays a part in Indian politics and how politicians exploit it. So, in the name of self protection, MPs like P.S. Thakur is targeting Muslims and promoting disharmony, enmity, hatred towards them.

It is a negative sign for a secular nation like India that the volume of hate speech has risen in recent years. After all, a secular nation like ours must avert hate speech at all costs otherwise this may divide the nation and its people.

Hate Speech: A Threat to Free Speech

Although hate speech is nothing new, it has maybe been given a boost by the internet, which has made it possible for threats, conspiracies, and lies to travel quickly throughout the globe. There is evidence that hate speech affects society. Through online and offline mode, hate speech targets vulnerable populations including religious minorities, people with disabilities, LGBT people, and other minority groups. It also has an impact on young girls and boys, women, and men. The Internet and social media have created a wide range of brand-new platforms for opinion exchanging.

Exercising free speech is a fundamental right in every democracy, both for the general people and the media. At the same time, discussions and arguments test us since hate speech is constantly and widely spread on new platforms. Hate speech has the potential to induce fear and is the reason for individuals withdrawing from public discussions these days.

Hate speech may be extremely damaging to women and girls who engage in free speech (public debate). They are targeted out; some are made fun of, treated to language that is sexually explicit, and even threatened with rape and other forms of violence. The majority (opponents) begins spewing hate speech towards these women because they are women (weak as per them) and still are using their right to free speech, and that too criticizing the majority. Once this occurs, women as well as men hesitate to participate in public discourse in the future.

So, they don't want to put themselves or their family unnecessarily at risk. Free expression is thereby suppressed in this manner. It is important to realise that once hate speech starts, the freedom of expression will stop. Many people engage in hate speech under the guise of enjoying their inalienable rights, which breeds mistrust and terror. It is important to recognise that everyone has access to liberty.

The freedom of those individuals is taken away if, in the name of free speech, a hate speech is offered that marginalises particular groups of people. Hate speech further marginalises social strata, ethnic and religious communities who are already in a minority. Recent instances of prominent politicians speaking in public were blatant attempts to incite violence, which resulted in widespread bloodshed.

Addressing and Tackling Hate Speech

The virtues of tolerance, inclusiveness, variety, and the basic foundation of human rights norms and principles are all denied by hate speech. Those who are the targets may be subjected to violence, abuse, and discrimination in addition to social and economic isolation. Expressions of hatred that go uncontrolled may even be detrimental to society, peace, and development by creating the conditions for conflict, tension, and human rights abuses, including atrocity crimes.

Therefore, addressing and rebuking hate speech is essential. It needs an all-encompassing strategy that involves society as a whole. To guarantee that individual rights are upheld and group rights are not impeded, it is necessary to handle Hate Speech. In order to combat hate speech, a concerted effort must be made to address its underlying causes and motivators.

Realizing that freedom of speech and expression is a defining characteristic of a diverse and democratic society is essential. While limiting hate speech is necessary, this shouldn't come at the expense of free expression or lead to totalitarian government control. As a result, it is important to guarantee a balance and create a system of checks and balances.

The United Nations plays a significant role in curbing hate speech throughout the globe. Hate speech must be confronted and put an end immediately by the UN. Silence and apathy serve as signals for the promotion and legitimization of hate speech. The United Nations should prioritise combating hate speech as one of its top priorities. Preventing armed conflicts, atrocities, violence, terrorism, violence against women, serious human rights abuses, etc. is the main objective of the UN agenda in fighting hate speech.

The United Nations should focus on preventing free speech from escalating into anything violent or harmful rather than trying to restrict freedom of expression or hate speech. Recently in 2019, Strategic Plan and Action was created by the UN to combat hate speech while supporting the noble ideal of free speech or freedom of expression. This action plan's measures are implemented with consideration for international human rights standards, particularly with regard to the freedom of expression and opinion.

The following concepts serve as the foundation for the United Nations strategy to combat hate speech:
Everyone has a moral obligation to condemn hate speech, and everyone and everything-including governments, the corporate sector, media, Internet companies, religious leaders, educators, young people, and civil society-has a critical role to play in eradicating this epidemic. Importantly, in order to properly grasp its dynamics and prevent hate speech, it is first necessary to track and analyse it.

Limiting hate speech might help lessen its effects since it can serve as an early warning sign of violence (including atrocity crimes). Additionally, the government and UN should assist a new generation of digital citizens who are equipped to identify, reject, and combat hate speech in this age of the internet.

Media and information literacy is a crucial tool for increasing our resilience to hate speech in the digital age. It gives citizens the ability to evaluate information and cultivate a feeling of accountability for their online behaviour. Fostering awareness and comprehension of human rights and freedom of speech is essential to developing digital citizenship.

Human rights education and social & emotional learning are effective methods to address and combat negative societal norms and behaviours, even in times of crisis. Additionally, addressing the problem of hate speech from the standpoint of education entails enhancing educational policies and programmes with particular methods to confront and oppose hate speech.

The following proposals were made by the regional consultation on "Expression, Opinion, and Religious Freedoms in Asia" held in Jakarta in 2015:

To ensure that all groups and communities are treated equally, it is necessary to update and improve the current anti-discrimination laws.

Laws that criminalise inciting to hatred that might lead to hostility, violence, or discrimination should be passed. They shouldn't be employed to suppress dissent or the lawful exercise of one's right to free expression.

Fighting hate speech is a team effort. It has to be debated on a bigger stage, like the United Nations. Responding to this threat should be the responsibility of all responsible governments, regional organisations, and other global and local players.

The cornerstone of democratic administration is the freedom of speech and expression. This freedom is seen as the primary need of liberty and is crucial to the efficient operation of the democratic process. In the hierarchy of rights, it has a favoured position, protecting all other rights. It is undoubtedly true that this freedom is the mother of all others. Hate speech can be aimed towards somebody based on their sexual orientation, disability, religion, or ethnicity.

It may have detrimental effects on people, communities, and society as a whole. But even so, it's critical to make a statement and demonstrate that this is intolerable. So, appropriate rules and regulations should be implemented to prohibit hate speech in our nation. Also, there must be proper awareness amongst people regarding free and hate speech.

I would also want to state that in my opinion, to tackle the rampant trend of hate speech, the United Nations, the governments of all nations (internationally), and the judiciary and legislative bodies of India are essential to work together. The Supreme Court should take strict action against hate speech and the crimes that follow it. The present BJP-led government appears to have a tilt towards Hinduism and Hindutva.

And as a result, many BJP MPs and MLAs have given hate speech in recent years, which has led to prejudice and violence in various regions of the nation. So, Politicians, groups and organisations, influencers and other participants in public discourse must behave responsibly and proactively to combat hate speech. Hate crimes and violent acts will increase over time if no action is taken against them now. Freedom of speech and expression will be restricted as a result, and the largest democracy may even be in jeopardy.

There won't be any human unity. Further, our nation will become split. So, values like non-violence, equality for everyone, peace among all people, and love ought to be protected, promoted, and treasured around the country.

Our motto should be "Spread Love, Not Hatred."

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