Can the Supreme Court fix India’s hate speech problem? (Scroll)

In multiple instances, court has said it is difficult to curb hate speech, often due to lack of action by authorities and, sometimes, due to gaps in the law.

Hate Watch


The Supreme Court of India on February 2 highlighted fundamental problems when it comes to curbing hate speech. It bemoaned the fact that authorities were not taking any action against instances of hate speech despite orders from the apex court.

“You ask us to be embarrassed again and again by getting an order [and nobody taking action],” the bench remarked orally when a lawyer wanted to argue an application to prohibit a Hindu Jan Akrosh Morcha rally in Mumbai on February 5, on the grounds that this rally would be platforming anti-Muslim hate speech.

In another hearing on February 20, the Supreme Court highlighted a different problem. Staying action against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal for a speech from 2014, the court said that the provisions of the law covering hate speech were very broad and open to misuse.

These instances highlight problems with the implementation of the hate speech law in the country. In several instances, given inaction by governments, petitioners have to directly approach the highest court in the country for any action to be taken on hate speech. However, even that does not guarantee any result. On the other hand, existing provisions are often misused against innocuous speech as a way to target the critics of the government.

Before the court

Presently, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice KM Joseph is hearing a clutch of at least 12 petitions relating to regulating hate speech. These petitions deal with separate incidents of hate speech, such as meetings held in various parts of the country in 2021, where calls to take up arms against Muslims were made as well as speeches given in Delhi calling for Muslims to be boycotted and lynched.

Petitions have also been filed for communal television programmes, such as a 10-part series by the Hindi television channel Sudarshan Newsin 2020 on “a conspiracy to infiltrate the civil services by Muslims”.

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