“Where have we reached in the name of religion, what have we reduced religion to is tragic,” an anguished Supreme Court observed on Friday, as it asked three states, including Uttar Pradesh, to crack down hard on those making hate speeches, calling them shocking for a country that is religion-neutral.
Holding that the Constitution of India envisages a secular nation, the court directed Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to promptly register criminal cases against the offenders without waiting for a complaint to be filed.
The apex court warned any delay on the part of the administration in taking action on this “very serious issue” will invite the court’s contempt.
A bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy also issued notices to Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand on the petition filed by journalist Shaheen Abdullah.
“This is the 21st century! Article 51A (Fundamental Duties) says we should develop a scientific temper. Where have we reached in the name of religion, what have we reduced religion to is tragic,” a distressed Justice Joseph said.
“(Such) statements are certainly very shocking for a country that is to be religion-neutral,” he went on to add.
A number of leaders, including lawmakers of the ruling BJP, have been accused of making hate speeches and some are even facing cases over their utterances. “The Constitution of India envisages Bharat as a secular nation and fraternity; assuring the dignity of the individual and unity and the integrity of the country is the guiding principle enshrined in the Preamble,” the bench opined.
“There cannot be fraternity unless members of community drawn from different religions or castes of 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. He voices his concern that no action has been taken even after this Court has been approached in the matter and the transgressions have only increased,” the bench said.
The court said action must be taken against those making hate speeches, irrespective of their religion, to preserve the secular fabric of the nation.
“Respondents 2-4 (the three states) will file a response as to what action has been taken for the speeches highlighted. They shall ensure that as and when any (hate) speech or action takes place without any complaint being filed, suo motu action is taken in such cases in future without waiting for complaints.”
“Respondents will issue directions to their subordinates for appropriate action and such action will be taken irrespective of religion against the person who delivers such hate speech so that the secular character of this country as envisaged in the preamble is maintained,” it said.
Petitioner Abdullah has moved the top court also seeking direction to the Centre and states to initiate an independent, credible and impartial probe into the incidents of hate crimes and hate speeches across the country.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Abdullah, referred to a recent incident of hate speech in Delhi. Sibal said the petitioner made several complaints but no action was taken. These events are happening every day, he said.
At this point, the apex court asked the lawyer-politician, “On a lighter note, when you were Law Minister did you propose anything?” Sibal wriggled out, saying there was no consensus on this issue.
He referred to a speech delivered by BJP MP Parvesh Verma against a community. Verma was alleged to have called for a “total boycott” of that community.
“Please see this statement, it was by a BJP leader asking to boycott them. What are they propagating? We keep coming to the court. Police are also present in such events,” Sibal said.
When the top court asked if Muslims also make such hate speeches, Sibal said action should be taken against all who make hate speeches and they (Muslims) should also not be spared.
In his petition, Abdullah has also sought to invoke the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other stringent provisions to curb hate crimes and hate speeches.
He has alleged the Muslim community is being “targeted and terrorised” by the participation of members of the ruling political party in delivering hate speeches.
“The spread of hate towards Muslims and other minorities gets accelerated and becomes all the more far-reaching in its impact as a result of the support, directly or indirectly, extended to radical miscreants, who engage in acts of hate crimes, physical violence as well as communally charged speeches by the ruling political party,” he said in the petition.