Gag Reflex

Lessons in how not to deal with online hate speech

01 October 2012
Protests in Azad Maidan this August, which were triggered by gory and misleading images circulated online.

THE FIRST AMENDMENT to the Indian Constitution, passed in 1951, allows the government to impose “reasonable restrictions” on a citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression, in order to protect “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence”.

The means to impose these “reasonable restrictions” are described in several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc). Section 298 of the IPC makes punishable words uttered “with the deliberate intent of wounding religious feelings”; section 504 addresses “intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace”; section 153 makes punishable speech acts that lead or could have led to rioting; section 295A could land you in jail for three years over “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings”; section 153B permits the punishment of speech acts that question any social, religious or linguistic group’s allegiance to the Constitution of India or that such a group be denied Constitutional rights.

Similarly, several sections of the CrPc give the state power to restrict movements or actions deemed likely to disturb public order. The most commonly applied is section 144, which allows a magistrate to “direct any person to abstain from a certain act” if such orders are likely to prevent violence; the same section empowers the magistrate to disallow a citizen to enter a specified area for upto two months, with a provision for state governments to extend such bans to six months. Section 95 of the CrPc empowers state governments and police to seize “any newspaper, or book, or any document” deemed to violate the statutes of the Indian Penal Code mentioned above.

Shivam Vij is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi. He is a fellow with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, Washington DC.

Keywords: censorship Internet twitter Facebook hate speech freedom of speech and expression