Supreme Court directs authorities to take immediate action against hate speech without waiting for complaint

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The order from the apex court of the country came only two days after United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticized India’s rising incidents of hate speeches. 

Afnan Habib | 

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NEW DELHI — The Supreme Court on Friday called for action against people delivering hate speeches irrespective of religion and directed the governments and police authorities to take immediate action in such cases without waiting for formal complaints.

The Governments of the NCT of Delhi, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh were instructed to submit a report to the Court outlining the steps taken in response to the crimes associated with hate speech that occurred within their respective jurisdictions. 

The order came only two days after United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticized the country’s rising incidents of hate speeches. The top Court issued the order in response to a petition from journalist Shaheen Abdullah, who documented incidents of hate speech directed at Muslims at various assemblages in the three states. 

The petition asking for immediate action to address the “growing menace of targeting and terrorizing the Muslim Community in India” was being heard by a bench comprising Justices KM Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy. “What have we reduced God to,” asked the Court while hearing the plea.

Calling the trend of hate speeches “very unfortunate,” the Court said, “The Constitution talks about developing scientific temper, but hate speeches are being made in the name of religion and this is tragic.” The Court also warned that respondents’ failure to comply with the order would be considered contempt. “The respondents (police chiefs of the three states) will pass suitable orders to ensure action is taken against individuals, regardless of any religion they may belong, so that the secular character of the country is preserved.”

In response to a statement made by a member of parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who had called for a social boycott of Muslims, the bench said, “These statements are certainly very strong for a country that professes to be a democracy and religion-neutral. You are saying that anything said to be offensive, regardless of the guarantee of freedom of free speech, there should be some action.” 

The bench clarified that its directions were not restricted to hate speeches against a particular religion, and hate speeches were also made against Hindus. “We think both sides are indulging in such talk. Courts should come down upon all who engage in such speech.” 

The order observed that “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.” 

Directions issued by the SC:
1: Respondents 2 to 4 (Govts of Delhi, UP & Uttarakhand) will file a report as to what action has been taken in regards to acts as are the subject matter of this writ petition within their jurisdiction.

2: Respondents 2 to 4 shall ensure that immediately, as and when any speech or any action takes place which attracts offenses such as Section 153A, 153B, 295A, and 506 of IPC etc, without any complaint being filed suo motu action be taken to register cases and proceed against the offenders in accordance with law. We make it clear that any hesitation to act in accordance with these direction will be viewed as contempt of Court and appropriate action shall be taken against the erring officers.

3: Respondents 2 to 4 will issue directions to the subordinates so that appropriate action can be taken at the earliest. We further make it clear that such action be taken irrespective of the religion of the maker of the speech, so that the secular character of Bharat as envisaged by the Preamble is preserved.


Afnan Habib is a freelance journalist based in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir. He tweets at @afnanhabib_