Jaipur: Seven former civil servants have filed an application in the Supreme Court in the case against Sudarshan News for its controversial programme ‘UPSC Jihad’, which claimed to “expose” a “conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims in government service”. The programme is part of a series titled ‘Bindas Bol’ hosted by Sudarshan News editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke.
This move comes two weeks after the Supreme Court had refused to impose a pre-telecast ban on the show on August 28. The show had been scheduled for August 28 but the Delhi high court had stayed its broadcast. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting then issued a statement on September 9, allowing Sudarshan News to go ahead with its show.
In the intervention application drawn by Gautam Bhatia and filed by the advocate on record Anas Tanwir, the intervenors urged the apex court to issue an authoritative ruling to specify the scope and meaning of “hate speech”.
The seven former bureaucrats – IAS (retd) Amitabha Pande, IFS (retd) Navrekha Sharma, IFS (retd) Deb Mukharji, IAS (retd) Sundar Burra, IAS (retd) Meena Gupta, IAS (retd) Pradeep K. Deb, and IAS (retd) Ardhendu Sen – have submitted that they are all members of the informal collective known as the Constitutional Conduct Group.
The court had earlier indicated that it would consider the balance between the freedom of speech and the right of every citizen to fair and equal treatment. The intervenors have also sought that the apex court distinguish between offensive speech and hate speech, so that citizens, implementing authorities, and courts receive clarity on speech that is protected and speech that falls outside such protection.
Article 19(1)(a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression.
“The constitutional protects offensive speech but does not protect hate speech. Penal provisional such as sections 153A & 153 B of the Indian Penal Code must be interpreted in a manner that keeps the distinction between the two intact,” reads the plea.
While submitting a representation to the home minister and the I&B minister on September 1, 91 members of the Constitutional Conduct Group had raised that the programme “would generate hatred against the largest minority of the country and was based on demonstrable falsehoods about the supposed growth of the Muslim representation in the civil services and had the potential to divide the civil administration of the country on religious lines”.
The plea stated that the hate speech “targets an individual’s social standing by virtue of his/her membership of certain groups in a manner that leaves them vulnerable”.
The intervenors also tried to draw a distinction between offensive speech and hate speech by citing examples.
“Criticism, mockery and ridicule of respected and revered religious or cultural figures may be offensive but it is not hate speech. Calling for a boycott of the members of a religious or cultural community or implying that they are violent by nature or unpatriotic by virtue of their community affiliation is hate speech,” they say.
“The mockery of religious beliefs or traditions may be offensive but it is not hate speech. Accusations of dual loyalties towards members of any faith – and suggestions of treachery by virtue of belonging to that faith – constitutes hate speech.”