Updated: Sep 18, 2021
Bloomsbury recently announced its contentious decision to withdraw the book ‘Delhi Riots 2020: The Untold Story. This was followed by a Twitter storm that involved people raising profound questions about freedom of expression and the nature of public discourse around the book. ‘Left-Fascists’ were blamed for applying pressure on the publisher and the decision has been called an attack against free speech in India as the authors have not been given a chance to publish their book based on the political alignment of the authors. On the other hand, the side against the publishing of the book has labeled the book as ‘hate speech' and as ‘right-wing propaganda ' as the book has been endorsed by Kapil Mishra, who has been blamed for the instigation of the Delhi riots. Moreover, it has been claimed to blame ‘Islamic Jihad’ for the riots.
The term ‘hate speech’ is being heavily misused in order to shut down ideologies that certain sections of people oppose. It is the harrowing conflict between the left and right-wing that causes each side to be blind to their faults. Hate speech is a controversial idea, especially when it is juxtaposed with free speech. Often, self-proclaimed free speech activists, label opinions they do not approve of as ‘hate speech’. It is this very idea that blurs the line between the concept of freedom of expression and hate speech.
There has been a growing debate concerned with whether the freedom of expression should be an absolute right or not. The belief that one should be able to say whatever they wish to has been argued against with equal intensity as the very idea of it is considered unconstitutional. Right to freedom is a very comprehensive domain whereby citizens are entitled to be free vis-a-vis their actions, movements, and speech. However, this freedom does not constitute hurting the sentiments of a community or inciting violence.
Rights and duties walk hand in hand and expressing one’s opinions or views through speech is the right of every individual but when it hurts the sentiments of a community and provokes irrational behaviour, it should be against the law. This applies to the defaming of the left-wing by the right and vice-versa. Hateful behaviour is not an excuse to justify the same actions from the other side of the political spectrum, it only renders the laws in the constitution futile and acts as a catalyst to chaos all over the nation.
This brings us to the need for defining hate speech. Essentially, hate speech is defined by the UN as “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor.” While this gives us a basic definition, the idea of where the line is to be drawn still remains unclear.
In India, there are laws marking a boundary to free speech. Under Article 19(1)(a) of the I.P.C, the right to freedom of speech and expression is a birthright. However, Article 19(2) expressly states reasonable restrictions against free and unadulterated speech, and under section 153A, hate speech is regarded as a criminal charge. The Supreme Court has held that our commitment to freedom of expression demands that it cannot be suppressed unless the situations created by allowing the freedom are pressing and the community interest is endangered.
Freedom of speech cannot be curbed when the population chooses to dissent or when someone speaks their mind in a way that is not appreciated by a larger section of society. Every citizen of the country has the right to express, except when it demeans someone else’s existence.
So, when Bloomsbury chose not to publish ‘Delhi Riots 2020 :The Untold Story’, it was not a sign of curbing freedom of speech, as the book was not banned and the book can be self-published. Bloomsbury India stated that it strongly supports freedom of speech but also has a deep sense of responsibility towards society. Freedom of speech does not mean that it is the duty of another person to listen and hence, questioning a publisher’s choice does not undermine the author’s right to speak.
However, there is an increase in conformation within society. Ideas need to be debated, opinions need to be different, this is essential to the existence of a democracy.
Hate Speech does not entail each and every idea that you do not agree with.
CHATTERJI, U. (31, August 2020). Why is Free Speech Different from Hate Speech . Retrieved from The Leaflet: https://theleaflet.in/why-is-free-speech-different-from-hate-speech/
Poruthiyil, P. V. (2020, March 08). What 'Hate Speech' Really Means, and How the Term Is Being Misused. Retrieved from The Wire: https://thewire.in/rights/hate-speech-sangh-parivar-protests
Tripathi, S. (2020, August 24). Bloomsbury India dropping 'Delhi Riots 2020' doesn't amount to a ban on the book. Retrieved from Livemint: https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/features/bloomsbury-india-s-refusal-to-publish-delhi-riots-2020-doesn-t-amount-to-a-ban-11598239449689.html
Verma, A. (2020, July 11). Should Freedom of Speech and Expression have limits. Retrieved from ipleaders: https://blog.ipleaders.in/should-freedom-speech-expression-limits/