“At what point an expression of view becomes anti-national is debatable”, Sanjay Kishan Kaul J.
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“At what point an expression of view becomes anti-national is debatable”, Sanjay Kishan Kaul J.

Murali Krishnan

Things sure get interesting if sitting and former judges along with Senior Advocates are brought under a roof for a symposium, more so if the topic of discussion is a contemporaneous one like ‘hate speech’.

A Symposium on Hate Speech conducted by the Centre for Governance Communication, National Law University, Delhi saw the participation of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and S Muralidhar, Senior Advocates Gopal Subramanium and Anup Bhambani and the Law Commission Chairman BS Chauhan among others.

The Speakers dealt with various issues concerning hate speech including misuse of sedition provisions, impact of technology on hate speech, and importantly the distinction between free speech and hate speech.

Below are some snippets:

Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul

The Madras High Court Chief Justice did not hold back. Referring to the recent hullabaloo over what is anti-national, Kaul J. said that what is national and anti-national is debatable. In that context, Kaul J. said that tolerance levels are going down and people are becoming less receptive to another point of view.

Regarding the impact of public and media discourse on judiciary, Kaul J. said that it does impact judiciary.

Justice S Muralidhar

The sitting judge of Delhi High Court gave some interesting insights into the wide variety of possibilities that hate speech entails.

He then said that the current provision regarding sedition is one of the most misused laws.

“Police is only too ready to charge cases of sedition. Misuse of law of sedition is too alarming”.

Justice Muralidhar also spoke extensively on the pronounced role that technology has come to occupy in the field of speech.

“Today, hate can be spread easily with the help of digital world. And most importantly, you can do it anonymously…

Technological changes are swamping law. A huge challenge before courts is how to deal with electronic evidence.”

He said that from the experience on bench, it was clear that prevention of hate speech was a difficult proposition and only a “take-down” order was the option.

“But by then the damage would have been done”, he added.

Interestingly, Justice Muralidhar also spoke about private entities controlling speech.

“Government is not the only body which controls free speech, corporates do it and internet is controlled by corporates.”

He advocates a higher threshold for “what is considered as hate speech” so as to prevent abuse of law concerning hate speech.

Gopal Subramanium

Subramanium was his usual self, dealing with a wide range of issues concerning hate speech. He started by pointing out that Justice BS Chauhan, the current Law Commission chairman, had himself authored a judgment in 2014 on hate speech asking the Law commission to consider the issue since the court could not legislate.

Subramanium brought this up and did not hold back in his criticism.

“Author of the judgment on hate speech who referred the matter to Law Commission is now the Chairman of Law Commission”, he said.

He also spoke about the damning effects of hate speech on various groups and concluded by saying that,

“Any government which promotes hate speech has no place under the Constitution”.

Justice BS Chauhan

Justice Chauhan spoke about the history of the controversial provision of IPC – Section 124A.

“It was not there in the original draft prepared by Lord Macaulay but was later added by the British”, he said.

Speaking about post-independence development, Justice Chauhan said that the provision had been struck down by two High Courts, Punjab & Haryana High Court and Allahabad High Court before it was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Regarding his own judgment in the Pravasi Bhalai case in which he had referred the case concerning hate speech to Law Commission for effective implementations of hate speech laws, Justice Chauhan had this to say:

“It was a question of implementation… When I delivered the judgment, I did not know I would be in Law Commission.”

Besides the above, Senior Advocate Anup Bhambani, journalist Rishi Majumdar, and counsel at Access Now, Peter Micek were other speakers at the Symposium.

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