Hate Speech can’t be permitted in the name of Freedom of Speech: Madras HC

The Madras High Court on Tuesday, 9th July, dismissed a petition intended to quash the eight FIR’s against pro-Tamil activist Thirumurugan Gandhi for making acrimonious speeches against the Centre and the Tamil Nadu Government.  The government stated ‘the constitution does not permit such utterances in the name of freedom of speech and expression’.

Thirumurugan Gandhi

T. Gandhi, the petitioner is the founder of May 17 Movement, a nationalist movement based in Tamil Nadu that works for worldwide Tamil Nadu people. Their most prominent work is campaigning for the rights and justice for killings of the Eelam Tamils (Sri Lankan Tamils) who were affected by the Sri Lankan Civil War. Gandhi has been accused of inciting violence against the government several times.

Development of the case On July 2018 T. Gandhi spoke at the 38th United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) about the May 2018 Thoothkudi Massacre in Tamil Nadu. On 9th August, 2018 he was detained by Bangalore authorities on his return to India and handed over to Chennai police. He was produced in court the next day and charged under Section 124-A (sedition), 153-A(1) and 153-b (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race etc.) of the IPC claiming that his speech instigated hatred amongst several people and could cause law and order problems.  He was again brought to court on 24 August 2018 for the criticism of corporate influence in a facebook video. Lastly, on 26th August Gandhi was booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

The court justifies its judgment. The court concluded that the speeches made by Gandhi, prima facie appeared to have objectionable content. Explaining the difference between free speech and hate speech the judge observed that free speech is the foundation of a democratic society. It is due to this exchange of ideas, dissemination of information and debating different ideas to form one’s own opinion without any restraints is the basic idea of a free society.

However, the constitution itself prescribes for restrictions on this freedom under Article 19(2). It enables the legislature to impose certain restrictions on its citizens on several grounds such as sovereignty and integrity of India, public order decency and seditious statements.

The judge’s views.

The presiding Judge, Justice Anand Venkatesh observed that, ‘any speech which disrespects another citizen on grounds of religion, race place of birth, residence, language, caste or community, is forbidden and becomes punishable under Indian Penal Code (IPC) and various other laws.’ The judge said that the responsibility attached to free speech should not be forgotten.

Freedom of speech is the privilege of a democracy as it has the ability to change the course of a nation but such extremist views create discord amongst various communities. Such statements should be forbidden and punishable as they not only causes enmity amongst people, it also a misuse of this great privilege.