There is no one attire, cuisine or culture that comes to mind when someone asks us to define India. That has been the rich preserve of this country since at least a millenia.
But, as all tides turn, the challenges to the harmonious existence of this composite sub-continent, home to over a billion people, with its hundreds of languages, each with a dozen dialects and a thousand cultures, are being challenged like never before.
This time the danger to this vibrant society lurks not at the borders. The challenge comes from the purest, most meaningful expression of life- art. Art, the ornament that sews and embellishes the torn corners of differences of the metaphorical fabric, that is the human race, and makes us one people, is abhorrently being used to divide the society.
The artistic licence that was used to challenge any creative or cognitive limitations humans posed on to themselves, that was used to connect us with our visceral emotive conscience, has become the weapon for instilling and inculcating hate in society.
One would have thought that the 20th-century-Goebbelian misadventure would have been the didactic force preventing people from driving themselves to hate or violence. However, with the on-going spree of hate-propagating cinema, we can indeed imply that humans never learn from history.
INDIA AND THE HISTORY OF COMMUNAL HATE
India has had its fair share of communal violence, both pre and post independence. The British Raj and the succeeding Indian state have made provisions to tackle these challenges arising out of occasional communal bigotry. Time and again, the need for legal handling of inter-community and intra-community hate has been ascertained and applied by governments.
The 1920s were particularly rife with communal violence in British India. Malicious and provocative attacks through literature on religious and sacred aspects, deities and prophets, became the order of the day.
The scurrilous pamphlet of ‘Rangila Rasool’ published by Mahashe Rajpal, the Vichitra Jiwan and several such publications, predominantly by Arya Samajis led to widespread unrest among the Muslim Community.
This unprovoked attack on the revered Holy Prophet of Islam resulted in an unfortunate string of riots and communal violence. After a lot of deliberation, the judiciary and the legislature saw the need for improvising on its dealing with communal crimes.
Therefore, the infamous cases of Rajpal v Emperor and Kali Charan Sharma v King-Emperor in 1927 led to a positive addition of Section 295A under the IPC, filling the gaps unattended to by Section 153A. Let’s dive in deeper to understand the legal handling of hate in India.
LEGAL PROVISIONS CHECKING HATE
It is important to note that the Indian Penal Code does not explicitly define communal crimes as a separate category. Instead, it addresses various offenses that can be committed with communal or religious motives.
The prosecution and punishment for these crimes are determined based on the specific sections of the IPC under which the offenses fall. In this article, we will deal with a handful of sections (153A, 153B,295A, 298 and 505) under the IPC that deal with hate speech and promoting enmity between classes.
Section 153A: It is a cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable offence that penalizes words spoken or written and actions performed that are prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony in society.
Section 153B: It is a cognizable, non- bailable, non-compoundable offence that penalizes imputations and assertions regarding any class of persons based on their race, religion, place of residence, language, caste or community which is, in turn, prejudicial to national integration.
It aims to check any hatred, ill-will or enmity that arises from disseminating assertions or rumours classifying people’s faith and allegiance to the constitution of India, or advocating denial of their rights as citizens of India based on any of the aforementioned criterion.
Sections 295A and 298: Chapter XV covers sections 295 to 298, which deals with the ‘Offences relating to Religion’.  Both, section 295A and Section 298 punish any ‘deliberate’ and ‘malicious’ acts that insult religions or religious feelings.
While Section 295A is a more serious attempt, ergo, ‘to outrage’ a class of persons by insulting their religious feelings, Section 298 punishes an attempt to merely ‘wound’ such sentiments of any person. 
Consequently, an offence under Section 295A is cognizable, non-bailable, non-compoundable with a maximum imprisonment for 3 years. However, an offence under section 298 is non-cognizable, bailable, compoundable with a maximum imprisonment for one year. Notably, the state of Andhra Pradesh treats an offence under section 298 as cognizable.
Section 505: It deals with offences relating to statements conducing to public mischief.  Clause 2 specifies that making, publishing or circulating statements or reports with alarming news or rumours to create rift between communities is punishable with a maximum term of three years. 
Despite such elaborate legal provisions in place, the Gandhian dream of a tolerant, multicultural India seemingly fades away with each Friday celebrating the box office success of hate in the form of propagandist art.
CONSEQUENCES OF THE KERALA STORY
The Kerala Story is exactly the kind of hate these legal provisions aim to tackle. While the Hon’ble Supreme Court has lifted the ban on this movie to give space to the Freedom of Expression of the filmmakers, nevertheless the content of the movie makes its hateful agenda abundantly clear.
The anti-minority dialogues, classifying Muslims as ‘the other’ with oft-cited dreary stereotypes regarding the community makes the movie’s release in an already divisive environment perfect for the opportunists to milk its dire consequences for political gain.
The audiences were found sloganeering against the Muslim Community. Several parents took their impressionable teenage-daughters for the movie to make monsters out of young Muslim boys through the movie.
Well-curated, malicious, hyperbolic representation of humble statistics concerning a local issue of religious conversion and terrorism vis-a-vis the ISIS, followed by staggering ownership of such movies by the public is the perfect recipe for an impending disaster.
In Hitler’s own words, “All propaganda has to be popular and has to accommodate itself to the comprehension of the least intelligent of those whom it seeks to reach.” This movie checks all the boxes for Hitler’s ‘big lie’ to do its job.
Further, Hitler notes ”The whole educational system, theatre, film, literature, the press and broadcasting – all these will be used as a means to this end.” I leave it to the reader, as to what this ‘end’ for a 21st-century-India is.
LEGITIMISING ISLAMOPHOBIA, ONE STEP AT A TIME
Incitement to violence cannot be the sole test for determining whether a speech amounts to hate speech or not. Even speech that does not incite violence has the potential of marginalising a certain section of the society or individual. These ideas need not always incite violence but they might perpetuate the discriminatory attitudes prevalent in the society.
Thus, incitement to discrimination is also a significant factor that contributes to the identification of hate speech. Indisputably, offensive speech has real and devastating effects on people’s lives and risks their health and safety.
It is harmful and divisive for communities and hampers social progress. The recent increase in discrimination against Muslims, is a direct and possibly intended consequence of such cinema. Only recently, on June 4, 2023, two co-drivers of a bus were suspended in Uttar Pradesh for halting the bus “for few extra minutes” to let two passengers finish the Islamic prayer.
This is not an isolated incident of Islamophobia. In the otherwise tranquil state of Uttarakhand, the spectre of Islamophobia has led to unrest created by the Hindu majority leading to several local Muslims vacating their houses and fleeing to avoid the much anticipated violence, after two girls were allegedly attempted to be kidnapped by the members of the minority community.
To add to this inglorious trend, Maharashtra has been witnessing continuous anti-love Jihad rallies to punish Muslim men dating Hindu women.
Several such anti-Muslim rallies have been witnessed in many parts of the country, every now and then, with certain state governments even promising to introduce a bill to punish Love Jihad, or the alleged religiously-profiled grooming and eventual conversion of Hindu girls through romantic endeavours.
However, in most of these ‘Love Jihad’ cases, the consent of the female is proven. Nevertheless, the bigotry is far from over at such proofs alone.
Such movies are legitimizing anti-minority attitudes one step at a time. The judiciary has time and again asked the Centre to check hate speech and anti-minority attitudes. However, it is worrisome when even the democratically elected Prime Minister of the nation endorses each of these hate promoting movies.
In view of the above, the Law Commission of India has suggested new provisions in IPC required to be incorporated to address the issues elaborately dealt with in the preceding paragraphs. Keeping the necessity of amending the penal law, a draft amendment bill, namely, The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2017 to insert a new section 153C (Prohibiting incitement to hatred by using grave words or actions) and section 505A (Causing fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases) has been proposed to the government.
In addition to hate speech being a concern of public order alone, the said additions would widen the horizon by punishing a mere attempt to make a community feel fearful, thereby, restoring the dignity of the community and upholding their Right to Life and Personal Liberty.
These suggestions have till date not been taken up by the Government of India. However, in 2023, the Supreme Court was informed that the Centre has plans to bring in comprehensive legislative amendments to the criminal laws to deal with the issue of hate speech.
The rampant hate-instilling cinema in India speaks volumes of how far away we are from the aspirations of our freedom fighters. As India plunges in this dark age of bigotry, we must fight for social and legal means necessary to repair the wounded soul of India.
The task of restoration of these values of peace, inclusiveness and acceptance falls on the able shoulders of India’s youth. Let’s vow to fight hateful fiction in the garb of truth with well-researched facts and statistics along with time-tested love and unity among our people. I would like to end this appeal to uphold humanity with author James Baldwin’s powerful summation of hate – “Hatred, which could destroy so much,never failed to destroy the man who hated, and this is an immutable law.”
- S.Karthik Varun, M Kannappan,’A Critical Analysis on Sec. 295A of IPC and its Punishable Qualifications’ (2018)119 International Journal of Pure and Applied Mathematics, 1205.
-A.I.R 1927 Lah. 590.
- AIR 1927 All 654 a.
- The Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Act 45 of 1860).
- Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945. Mein Kampf. Boston :Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
- Law Commission of India, 267th Report on Hate Speech (Marchl, 2017).
- Anon, “UP bus driver suspended for waiting for two passengers to finish offering namaz”” scroll.in (Last Updated on 7 June, 2023 ) <https://scroll.in/latest/1050423/up-bus-driver-suspended-for-waiting-for-two-passengers-to-finish-offering-namaz> (Visited on 8 June, 2023).
- Anon, ‘Uttarakhand news: Threatening posters in Purola force some Muslims to leave town’ Livemint (Last updated on 6 June, 2023) <https://www.livemint.com/news/india/uttarakhand-news-muslim-traders-find-threatening-posters-on-shops-asking-them-to-vacate-immediately-11686070926600.html> (Visited on 8 June, 2023).
-Nayonika Bose, Zeeshan Shaikh, Alok Deshpande,” 4 months, 50 rallies in Maharashtra, one theme: ‘Love jihad’, ‘land jihad’ and economic boycott” Indian Express ( Last Updated 30 March, 2023)
- Rintu Mariam Biju, “Planning Criminal Law Amendments to deal with Hate Speech” Livelaw (Last Updated on 13 January, 2023) <https://www.livelaw.in/top-stories/centre-told-supreme-court-that-it-will-bring-amendment-to-crpc-to-deal-with-hate-speech-218919?infinitescroll=1> (Visited on 8 June, 2023)