October 2, 2022

Supreme Court on Hate Crimes and Freedom of Expression and Speech

The supreme court had the occasion to speak on hate crimes and freedom of expression and speech in the case of ‘Tahseen Poonawalla v. Union of India (2018), when a writ petition was preferred before the court against the mob lynching on the suspicion of cow slaughtering. Below written words are from the said judgment.

“Hate crimes as a product of intolerance, ideological dominance and prejudice ought not to be tolerated; lest it results in a reign of terror. Extra judicial elements and non-State actors cannot be allowed to take the place of law or the law enforcing agency. A fabricated identity with bigoted approach sans acceptance of plurality and diversity results in provocative sentiments and display of reactionary retributive attitude transforming itself into dehumanisation of human beings.

Such an atmosphere is one in which rational debate, logical discussion and sound administration of law eludes thereby manifesting clear danger to various freedoms including freedom of speech and expression. One man’s freedom of thought, action, speech, expression, belief, conscience and personal choices is not being tolerated by the other and this is due to lack of objective rationalisation of acts and situations.

In this regard, it has been aptly said: –

“Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; When this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved and tyranny is erected on its ruins.” –Benjamin Franklin

Plurality of voices celebrates the constitutionalist idea of a liberal democracy

Freedom of speech and expression in different forms is the élan vital of sustenance of all other rights and is the very seed for germinating the growth of democratic views. Plurality of voices celebrates the constitutionalist idea of a liberal democracy. That is the idea and essence of our nation which cannot be, to borrow a line from Rabindranath Tagore, broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls of caste, creed, race, class or religion.

Pluralism and tolerance are essential virtues and constitute the building blocks of a truly free and democratic society. It must be emphatically stated that a dynamic contemporary constitutional democracy imbibes the essential feature of accommodating pluralism in thought and approach so as to preserve cohesiveness and unity. Intolerance arising out of a dogmatic mindset sows the seeds of upheaval and has a chilling effect on freedom of thought and expression. Hence, tolerance has to be fostered and practised and not allowed to be diluted in any manner.

In S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram and others[1], K. Jagannatha Shetty, J., although in a different context, referred to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in Handyside v. United Kingdom[2] wherein it has been held thus in the context of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR):- “The courts supervisory functions oblige it to pay the utmost attention to the principles characterizing a democratic society.

Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of such a society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man. Subject to Article 10(2), it is applicable not only to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population. Such are the demands of that pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no democratic society.”

Reference

Tahseen Poonawalla v. Union of India, (2018)


[1] (1989) 2 SCC 574

[2] 1976 EHRR 737, at p. 754