State impotent, why can’t citizens pledge to not vilify others: SC on hate speeches

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday orally observed how many contempt actions could it take against people in connection with hate speech, why the petitioner has to first move the apex court, and “why cannot the citizens of this country take a pledge to not vilify others” as it wondered “what kind of pleasures we are deriving by making these speeches”.

It observed that the menace of hate speech is a vicious circle which is going on because the state is impotent, powerless, and doesn’t act in time.

A bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and B.V. Nagarathna termed hate speeches as a “vicious circle”, while adding that fringe elements make these utterances and people should restrain themselves from doing so.

Citing speeches of former Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, it said that people from remote areas used to gather to hear them. Justice Nagarathna observed: “Now fringe elements from all sides are making these statements and we are now asked to take contempt action against these people.”

The bench queried the parties on how it could curtail “intellectual deprivation” which comes from lack of knowledge and education. She added, “How many contempt after contempt we can take against these people. That’s why I asked the other day, how the apex court will deal with this. Why do you (petitioner) start with the apex court? Should not there be some restraint on speeches else we will not become the India we desire for.”

Justice Nagarathna stressed: “Why cannot the citizens of this country take a pledge to not vilify others and what kind of pleasures we are deriving by making these speeches”.

The top court made these strong observations while hearing a contempt petition against various state authorities including Maharashtra for failing to lodge FIRs against people making hate speeches.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pointed out a hate speech made in Kerala against Hindus and Christians and questioned that petitioner Shaheen Abdullah, a Kerala resident, has selectively pointed at hate speeches in the country but been silent on speech made in his state, and also cited alleged statement made by a DMK spokesperson against Brahmins. Mehta further questioned, why has the petitioner not made them party in the contempt petition.

The bench referred to those speeches and said “every action has equal reaction” and stressed, “we are following the Constitution and orders in every case are bricks in the structure of rule of law”.

It added that it is hearing the contempt petition because states are not taking action in time and added, “This is because the state has become impotent, powerless and does not act in time…..”

Mehta immediately retorted: “Can’t say that about any State but Centre is not. The Centre has banned PFI (Popular Front of India). Please issue notice to the State of Kerala so that they can respond to this.”

After hearing detailed submissions, the apex court allowed an intervention application, filed by an organisation which had held rallies in Maharashtra.

The bench noted that they are saying things which are denigrating and demolishing the dignity of others on a regular basis, and queried counsel: “Do you have the right to break the law of land? If you break the rule of law of the land it will befall on your head like a tumble of bricks..”.

Advocate Nizam Pasha, appearing for the petitioner, submitted that 50 rallies were held in Maharashtra in the last four months where hate speeches have been made.

The top court issued notice to Maharashtra government and scheduled the matter for further hearing on April 28.

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( With inputs from )

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