“Where have we come to in the name of religion, what have we reduced religion to, it’s tragic,” an anguished Supreme Court observed Friday, as it asked three states, including Uttar Pradesh , to crack down harshly on those who hold hate speech, calling outrageous for a country that is religiously neutral.
Believing that the Constitution of India envisioned a secular nation, the court ordered Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to promptly file criminal charges against violators without waiting for a complaint to be filed.
The top court warned that any delay by the administration in taking action on this “very serious matter” will be met with contempt from the court.
A bench of judges KMJoseph and Hrishikesh Roy also issued opinions in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand on the petition filed by journalist Shaheen Abdullah.
“We are in the 21st century! Article 51A (basic duties) says that we must develop a scientific temperament. Where have we come to in the name of religion, what have we reduced religion to, it is tragic” , Judge Joseph said, distressed.
“The statements are certainly very shocking for a country that wants to be religiously neutral,” he added.
A number of leaders, including lawmakers from the ruling BJP, have been accused of hate speech and some are even facing prosecution for their remarks. “The Constitution of India envisions Bharat as a secular nation and a brotherhood ensuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the country is the guiding principle enshrined in the preamble.”
“There can only be brotherhood if members of the community from different religions or castes in the country are able to live in harmony. The petitioner points out that there are appropriate provisions such as Sections 153A, 153B, 505 and 295A of the Indian Penal Code. It expresses its concern that no action was taken even after this Court was seized of the case and the transgressions have only increased,” the bench said.
The court said action must be taken against those who use hate speech, regardless of their religion, to preserve the secular fabric of the nation.
“Respondents 2 through 4 (all three states) will file a response on what action has been taken for highlighted speech. They should ensure that as any (hate) speech or action has place without any complaints being filed, suo motu action is taken in such cases in the future without waiting for complaints.
“Respondents will instruct their subordinates to take appropriate action and such action will be taken regardless of religion against the person who utters such hate speech so that the secular character of this country as envisioned in the preamble be maintained,” he said.
Petitioner Abdullah asked the higher court to also direct the Center and the states to initiate an independent, credible and impartial investigation into incidents of hate crimes and hate speech across the country.
Lead Counsel Kapil Sibal, representing Abdullah, referred to a recent incident of hate speech in Delhi. Sibal said the petitioner filed several complaints but no action was taken. These events happen every day, he said.
At this point, the Supreme Court asked the lawyer-politician, “On a lighter note, when you were Attorney General, did you come up with anything?” Sibal withdrew saying there was no consensus on this issue.
He referred to a speech delivered by BJP MP Parvesh Verma against a community. Verma reportedly called for a “total boycott” of this community.
“Please see this statement, it was a BJP leader asking to boycott them. What are they spreading? We keep coming to court. Police are also present in such events,” Sibal said.
When the Supreme Court asked whether Muslims also utter such hate speech, Sibal said that action should be taken against anyone who utters hate speech and they (Muslims) should not be spared either. .
In his petition, Abdullah also sought to invoke the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other strict provisions to combat hate crimes and hate speech.
He alleged that the Muslim community was “targeted and terrorized” by the participation of members of the ruling political party in hate speech.
“The spread of hatred against Muslims and other minorities is accelerating and becoming all the more profound in its impact due to the support, direct or indirect, given to radical disbelievers, who engage in acts of hate crimes , physical violence as well as community-based speeches by the ruling political party,” he said in the petition.