Former Supreme Court judge, Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman, expressing concerns over the rising hate speech in the country, criticized the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) not only for their silence over such incidents but also for endorsing them.
At a virtual inauguration of a law school on January 14, in Mumbai, Justice Nariman, expressed his concerns over Article 19, for freedom of speech, and the “colonial” sedition laws.
He said that the country has reached a stage where stand-up comedians and students are booked under sedition laws, for merely criticising the government, completely defying the purpose of Article 19, which contains the difference between democracies and dictatorships.
“Article 19(1)(a) is the single most important and cherished human right, which is the right to freedom of speech and expression. Unfortunately, of late, we have had in this country, young persons, students, stand-up comedians, and the like, all being booked for freely criticising the government of the day under sedition laws which are really colonial in nature and have no place under our Constitution,”.
Further, he pointed out that although people have been booked under the laws of sedition, for being critical of the ruling BJP, those who have actually delivered hate speeches, and called for the genocide of a community, remain untouched.
“You have persons giving hate speech, what is called ‘fighting words’, actually calling for the genocide of an entire people, and we find the great reluctance somehow of the authorities to book these people,” he said referring to the event in Haridwar where Hindutva seers delivered hate speeches against Muslims and called for genocide against them.
Although complaints were registered with the police against hate speeches delivered at the Dharma Sansad in Haridwar, no arrests were made for almost a month until the Supreme Court interfered.
Justice Nariman said that the ruling party took little to no action against those who abused the law but have themselves endorsed it, time and again.
“Unfortunately, we have the other higher echelons of the ruling party not only being silent qua hate speech but otherwise endorsing them.”
“Not only is it unconstitutional but it happens to be a criminal act. It is criminalised in sections 153A and 505(c) of the IPC. In fact, unfortunately, though in practice a person can be given up to 3 years’ imprisonment, this never happens because no minimum sentence is prescribed,” he said.
Justice Nariman on sedition laws and UAPA
Justice Nariman, over various occasions, has criticised the “colonial” laws of sedition and sections of the UAPA. He is of the view that it is essential to amend certain laws, to allow enough freedom to citizens.
“I would exhort the supreme court to not send sedition law cases pending before it back to the Centre. Governments will come and go it is important for the court to use its power and strike down 124A and offensive portion of UAPA, then citizen here would breathe more freely,” he had said at a virtual meet held to commemorate the 109th birth anniversary of former Supreme Court judge, late Viswanath Pasayat.
He is of the opinion that the UAPA is a draconian act as it has no anticipatory bail and has a minimum of 5 years imprisonment.
“This act is not under scanner yet. This too has to be looked into along with the sedition law,” he stressed. He also added that the effect of this sedition law and UAPA has a chilling effect on journalists.