'Prevailing Climate of Hate': SC Tells Govt to Take Suo Motu Action on Hate Speech or Face Contempt

'This is the 21st century. Where have we reached in the name of religion? Contempt will be initiated if the authorities fail to act,' the top court said.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday, October 21, called on the Union and state governments to take suo motu action against hate speeches without waiting for a complaint to be filed, irrespective of the religion of the person who makes such speeches.

Taking a strong note of the “prevailing climate of hate in the country” and the alleged total inaction of the authorities in such cases, the apex court warned of contempt charges against those officials who fail to act in such instances.

“This is the 21st century. Where have we reached in the name of religion? Contempt will be initiated if the authorities fail to act,” NDTV quoted the division bench of Justices K.M. Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy as saying.

The court was hearing a plea by one Shaheen Abdullah, who had moved the court seeking directions to the Union and state governments to initiate a credible probe into hate speeches across the country. Abdullah sought the directions of the top court to check the “growing menace of targeting and terrorising (of) the Muslim community in India”.

In response, the court ordered law enforcement officials in Delhi along with Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments to file action-taken reports on hate speeches in their jurisdiction so far. It said, according to NDTV, that the state of affairs in India was “shocking for a country that is supposed to be religion-neutral”.

“The constitution of India envisages Bharat as a secular nation and fraternity, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the country are guiding principles enshrined in the Preamble. There cannot be fraternity unless members of the community drawn from different religions or castes are able to live in harmony,” the court said, according to Livelaw.in.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who appeared as counsel for the petitioner, drew the attention of the court to a recent gathering of Hindutva organisations in Delhi where West Delhi MP of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Parvesh Verma along with others made hate comments against members of the Muslim community. Verma, for his part, had called upon the Hindu community to resort to a “total boycott” of “these people” in a veiled reference to Muslims.

After Sibal thanked the judges for their “stern order” against hate speeches, they said, “We feel the court is charged with the duty to protect fundamental rights and also protect and preserve the constitutional values in particular the rule of law and the secular democratic character of the nation.”