‘If Something Is Said With a Smile, Then There Is No Criminality’: Delhi HC on Hate Speech

The high court was hearing a plea by CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat, who had sought FIRs against Union minister Anurag Thakur and BJP MP Parvesh Verma for their alleged hate speeches in Delhi.

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New Delhi: The Delhi high court on Friday, March 25 sought to know from Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat what was “communal” in the speeches delivered by Union minister Anurag Thakur and BJP MP Parvesh Verma against whom she has sought lodging of a first information report (FIR) for their alleged hate speeches ahead of the February 2020 riots.

According to The Indian Express, Justice Chandra Dhari Singh, during the hearing, observed that if something is said with a smile, then there is no criminality, but if something is said offensively, then there may be criminality.

“Was that an election speech or speech in ordinary time? If any speech is given during election, then it’s a different thing. If you’re giving a speech in the ordinary course, then it is instigating something,” said the judge, adding, “If you’re saying something with a smile then there is no criminality, if you’re saying something offensively, then criminality.”

“Because we are also in democratic…you also have the right to speech and all these things…,” Justice Singh said.

The court reserved its verdict in the plea.

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Karat had challenged a trial court’s August 26, 2021 order that dismissed her plea seeking an FIR against the two leaders. The trial court had said that the complaint was not sustainable without the prior sanction of the competent authority – the Union government.

The CPI(M) leader had claimed in her complaint that Thakur and Verma had sought to incite people as a result of which three incidents of firing took place at two different protest sites in Delhi.

The complaint had sought FIRs under various sections, including 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.), 153-B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration) and 295-A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) of the IPC.

It had also sought action under other sections of the IPC, including 298 (uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation).

The maximum punishment for the offences is jail term for seven years.

Karat had approached the court after her written complaints to the Commissioner of Police and the station house officer, Parliament Street, failed to elicit any response.

The CPI(M) leader had mentioned that at the Rithala rally in Delhi, Thakur, the minister of state for finance and corporate affairs, had on January 27, 2020 egged on the crowd to raise an incendiary slogan, ‘shoot the traitors’, after lashing out at anti-CAA protesters.

In the complaint, she had mentioned that Verma had on January 28, 2020, allegedly made incendiary comments against the anti-CAA protesters in Shaheen Bagh.

Ahead of the Delhi assembly elections, in January 2020, Thakur was seen leading a crowd with the slogan “Desh ke gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko,” a chant inciting listeners to shoot “traitors to the country”. The rally, which was held at the Rihala constituency, was also attended by Union home minister Amit Shah.

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Journalist Prashant Kumar had also shared a tweet of the video.

Verma had called the Shaheen Bagh protesters “rapists and murderers”, and said that the people of Delhi should act now (and vote for the BJP) and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah “would not save them later”.

“The people of Delhi know that the fire that was set in Kashmir a few years ago, and the mothers and sisters of Kashmiri Pandits were raped, that fire then was set in UP, in Hyderabad, in Kerala. Today that fire has been set in a corner of Delhi [Shaheen Bagh]…That fire could reach the houses of Delhi at any time; it could reach our houses. The people of Delhi need to think through their decision,” he had said.

The Election Commission had also issued notices to both Thakur and Verma for their controversial remarks at two election rallies in Delhi.

In February 2020, the riots in the northeastern part of Delhi killed 53 people and injured over 200, who sustained serious injuries due to gunshots, sharp-edged weapons, stone-pelting and even falls from buildings during the violence.

(With inputs from PTI)