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Former IAS, IFS officers move SC in Sudarshan News case, seek ruling on scope of ‘hate speech’

The petitioners say accusations of dual loyalties towards members of any faith — and suggestions of treachery by virtue of belonging to that faith — constitute hate speech.

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New Delhi: Seven former civil servants have filed an application in the Supreme Court in the case against Sudarshan News for its controversial programme that seeks to “expose” a “conspiracy to infiltrate Muslims” into the Indian civil services.

The programme is part of a series called Bindas Bol, hosted by Sudarshan News editor-in-chief Suresh Chavhanke.

The applicants before the court are IAS (retd) Amitabha Pande, IFS (retd) Navrekha Sharma, IFS (retd) Deb Mukharji, IAS (retd) Sundar Burra, IAS (retd) Meena Gupta, IAS (retd) Pradeep K Deb, and IAS (retd) Ardhendu Sen. They submit that they belong to an informal collective known as the Constitutional Conduct Group.

In their application, filed through advocate Anas Tanwir, the group says that the Supreme Court needs to “issue an authoritative ruling setting out the scope and meaning of ‘hate speech’ so citizens, implementing authorities and courts of the first instance received clarity on speech that is protected, and speech that falls outside the scope of protection”.

It points out that Sections 153A and 153B of the Indian Penal Code deal with hate speech, but the application of these provisions “has been uneven, and in many cases, these provisions are applied in a manner that is inconsistent with the guarantees under Article 19(1)(a)”.

Article 19(1)(a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression.

The petition also gives examples to distinguish between offensive speech and hate speech, asserting that the Constitution protects the former but not the latter.

“Criticism, mockery and ridicule of respected and revered religious or cultural figures may be offensive, but it is not hate speech,” it says. “Calling for a boycott of the members of a religious or cultural community, or implying that they are “violent by nature” or “unpatriotic” by virtue of their community affiliation, is hate speech.”

The petition adds, “Accusations of dual loyalties towards members of any faith — and suggestions of treachery by virtue of belonging to that faith — constitutes hate speech.”

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Cannot pre-sensor a TV show: Govt

The Supreme Court is hearing a petition filed by advocate Firoz Iqbal Khan, who had submitted transcripts of the show in the court to contend that it would be derogatory to Muslims entering the profession of civil services.

He has also submitted that the contents violate the Programme Code under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995, together with the Code of Ethics and News Broadcasting Standards Regulations.

The Supreme Court had, however, refused to impose a pre-telecast ban on the show on 28 August. It issued a notice to the Centre, the Press Council of India, the News Broadcasters Association and Sudarshan News. The case will come up for hearing on 15 September.

Acting on complaints over the promo, the I&B ministry had also issued a notice to Sudarshan News, asking it for clarifications about the content of the show in context of the Programme Code enshrined in Cable Television Network Rules, 1994.

The show was to be originally telecast on 28 August, but the Delhi High Court stayed the broadcast of the show the same day. It also refused to lift the stay on the show on 29 August.

The HC had opined that the power to decide whether the broadcast was permissible lay with the competent authority under the Central government.

It, accordingly, directed Sudarshan News to reply to the Central government’s notice by September 1 and granted 48 hours to the authority to decide the issue after giving an opportunity to the channel and its editor-in-chief, Suresh Chavhanke, to present their case.

The Modi government then allowed the show last Thursday. The Information & Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry said it cannot pre-censor a programme, or stop it from being telecast.

“If only, when the programme is telecast and any violation of law is found, action can be taken,” the order states.

The Delhi High Court then, last Friday, also refused to stay the broadcast of the show.

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  1. Nice article. How about speech delivered on Fridays after prayer targeting particular community? Can we categories them as freedom of expression or hate speach?

  2. We have got it wrong all along. India is not looking for secularism. When the Indian constitution (rightly or wrongly, is another matter) and some Government policies distinguish its citizens by caste and religion, how can India ever be a secular Nation. We can’t expect politicians to define secularism (religion) and maintain harmony in the plurality of religions in India and absolve religious leaders and the public at large in the process. This tolerant pluralism is multilateral and unilateral.

    In religious matters it should simply mean that every religion should be free to pray to its God in a manner each wants – that is assuming that every religion has a God and every one professing that religion wants to pray. In effect, (religious) secularism should simply mean that each religion accepts each of the other religion on as is where is basis.

    The leaders of these various religions should repeatedly announce to its followers that “there is not only one way (their own) to reach GOD but there are many ways. What the other religions follow are also paths that lead to GOD. Those who practice religions other than ours are also believers of God”. Tell the followers that there is only one God with many names…call it/he/she by any name. Teach the kids this in Schools of all types. All politicians, self-styled “activists” of all types and THE MEDIA should convey this message always and all times. Why is this NOT done? Why are these people especially the activists and the media not seeing it this way?

    I am afraid we are doing this all wrong. It is THAT simple. Just one slogan… “Your GOD is as good as my GOD”. Then, there will never be any hate speech on religious ground!!!!

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