By Ram Puniyani
06 June, 2013
Mahatma Gandhi, who laid down his life for communal harmony, who was murdered because he was espousing the cause of building bridges of amity between different religious communities had a statuette with three monkeys. One of the monkeys in this puts his hand on his mouth, signifying that we should not speak evil. While those following the path of peace and amity talk of uniting the different religious communities, those who trade in the politics in the name of religion, base their politics on hatred for others and regularly spew poison against other communities. This hate speech of theirs’ incites violence and widens the gulf between the diverse religious communities. One concedes that the political parties and political groups need to be criticized for their policies; this is different from talking evil about other ‘religious community’. This ‘Hate Speech’ is the cannon fodder of the practitioners of communal politics. They know that in short term ‘Hate other’ politics can pay rich dividends on the electoral arena.
The most recent case of Varun Gandhi, no blood relation of the great Mahatma, but great grandson of another die hard messiah of communal peace Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, is very disturbing for many a reasons. Varun Gandhi indulged in Hate speech in the public meeting, in 2009. While speaking in Pilibhit he talked of cutting the hands of others, and many such abominable things. He was caught on camera and cases were lodged against him. Despite all the evidence in place he has been exonerated in the court as all the witnesses in the case have turned hostile, have changed their version. One is reminded of the Gujarat’s Best Bakery case, where also they were lured by money or frightened by the threats, most of the witness turned hostile. Tehelka sting operation later revealed as to how the BJP workers had managed to frighten or lure away the witnesses. India does not have the witness protection act, which is one of the demands of social activists, working for getting justice to the victims of violence. In Zahira Sheikh case again the culprits were released by the lower court.
The Varun Gandhi case draws our attention to the witnesses turning hostile once again. Again this time Tehelka has exposed how the witnesses were ‘managed’. At another level such an exoneration of the guilty Hate speakers will pave the path of such people spreading hatred in the society. There is another aspect also which has got attached to the issue. Recently Akbaruddin Owaisi of All India Majlis-e Ittihad al-Muslimeen was arrested and is facing the court case for his anti Hindu speech. Which is as it should be? The guilty must be punished to ensure that such acts are not repeated. At the same time Praveen Togadia also delivered a ‘tit for tat’ Hate speech. Only a mere FIR, has been filed- no arrest-no further action so far. On one hand some action is taken and that too is not fully followed up. Just to recall Togadia is old player in this game but only once he was put behind the bar, so he continues to spew poison most of the times.
As such Indian Constitution is very clear about the matters of ‘Hate speech’. India prohibits hate speech as per several sections of the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and by other laws which put limitations on the freedom of expression. Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure gives the government the right to declare certain publications “forfeited” if the “publication ... appears to the State Government to contain any matter the publication of which is punishable under Section 124A or Section 153A or Section 153B or Section 292 or Section 293 or Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code”. India is also signatory to the The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which states that "any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law" We must remember all communities have a diverse section of individuals. The Hate speech also presents the ‘other’ community’ as a uniform one, which is not true. That apart when J.B. Desouza a retired civil servant and ardent follower of the values of Indian Constitution filed a case against Bal Thackeray for his inflammatory speeches in the wake of post demolition Mumbai violence, he also had to draw a blank, as the implementation of the law is mired with many a weaknesses.
As such while predominant culture of India has been that of amity and peace, the ‘Hate other’ speech, portraying religious communities as uniform monoliths, began more with British rule, who in pursuance of the policy of ‘divide and rule’ introduced the communal historiography and encouraged the communal elements to speak and propagate against the other community. They had chosen Hindu and Muslim as the major communities for their divisive politics. Some core points were picked about the practice of others religion and they were picked up to spread the divisive politics. Eating pork, eating beef, music in front of the mosque, spread of Islam, destruction of temples etc were those ‘themes’, which were communalized and around which ‘Hate speech’ was built up. With Advani’s Rath Yatra (Chariot procession, a political move with religious imagery) these points came up again in a big way, the temples destruction point was taken up to the maddening heights and during Rath Yatra the symbolic use of these issues spread the hatred, hatred led to violence and as the Rath Yatra proceeded the series of acts of violence followed the trail of Yatra.
Today there are many who are subtly using this divisive propaganda. Many a web sites and emails, which circulate and have a long chain, are doing the same damage to amity of the society. Subrahmaniam Swamy is another politician who has been indulging in this hate speech on regular basis, but no action against him here in India. In response to one of his ‘hate articles’ which was full of venom for Muslims, while in India no action was taken his visiting professorship was withdrawn by the University in US. Even now many of his video clips are circulating which instigate hatred. Such things have by now become part of social common sense and we tend to ignore it. But surely, these videos and speeches are a big blow to our National Integration. The Varun Gandhi case also shows the vulnerability of our legal system, where the guilty are getting away, after having reaped the ‘benefits’ of their vile speech.
At global level the propaganda by US media in the wake of 9/11 WTC attack, the hatred for Islam and Muslims has been constructed and many an instances are picked up to subtly jack up ‘hate other’ propaganda leading to ‘hate crimes’. In recent times UK has also been seeing a rise in Hate crimes, the latest pretext being the murder of drummer Lee Righby in Woolwich. These are harrowing times where the values of amity are being attacked and the divisive notions are increasing in intensity.
Javed Akhtar in one of his lively poems writes. Bhul ke Nafrat Pyar ki koi baat karein (Let’s Forget hate and talk of love). One wishes we take this vision seriously. While on one hand these negative things, the Hate speech by Varun Gandhis, Owaisis and Togadias are there, there are also many a friends in the society who have been taking out peace marches and singing the songs peace and spreading the message of harmony in different parts of the country. It is friends like these who will lay the foundation of national integration overcoming Hate, Hate speech. It is time that we as a society reject those who are harping on hatred for the ‘other community’.
Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades. He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD.