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This article is written by Saurabh Dwivedi of 9th semester of Bharati Vidyapeeth New Law College Pune


Social media platforms have transformed how individuals communicate and connect with one another with the rapid growth of the internet and social media, online hate speech and extremism have become increasingly prevalent concerns. This article aims to assess the legal framework governing these issues and explore the challenges and implications of regulating online hate speech and extremism.


Hate speech, Extremism, Awareness, Free expression, Internet


The internet has revolutionized communication and provided a platform for global interaction. However, it has also facilitated the spread of hate speech and extremist content, posing significant challenges to society. Governments and international organizations are grappling with the task of creating effective legal frameworks to address these issues while upholding freedom of expression and protecting individuals from harm.

The goal of India’s laws against hate speech is to keep its many ethnic and religious groups from fighting. “on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste, or any other ground whatsoever, Section 153A of the Indian penal code prohibits citizens from creating disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill-will between different groups of people,” the laws allow a citizen to seek punishment for anyone who shows disrespect to the citizen.

Hate Speech vs. Freedom of Speech: Striking the Balance[1]

The debate surrounding hate speech and freedom of speech has long been a contentious and complex issue, challenging societies to strike a delicate balance between safeguarding individual liberties and protecting vulnerable communities from harm. As societies evolve, the question of where to draw the line between these two fundamental principles becomes increasingly pressing.

At the heart of this discussion lies the concept of freedom of speech, a cornerstone of democratic societies. It is a cherished right that allows individuals to express their opinions, voice dissent, and participate in public discourse. The freedom to express ideas, even those considered controversial or offensive, fosters a vibrant marketplace of ideas, enabling progress, dialogue, and the challenging of prevailing norms.

However, the line blurs when speech crosses into the territory of hate speech. Hate speech, by definition, involves language or expressions that incite violence, discrimination, or hostility against individuals or groups based on attributes such as race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. It goes beyond mere disagreement or offense, seeking to marginalize, intimidate, or dehumanize targeted communities.

The harmful effects of hate speech are well-documented. It can fuel discrimination, deepen societal divisions, and incite violence. It undermines the very fabric of inclusive societies, eroding trust, and perpetuating a cycle of prejudice and hatred. In the digital age, where information travels at lightning speed and reaches vast audiences, the impact of hate speech can be amplified, causing significant harm on an unprecedented scale. Recognizing the need to protect individuals and communities from the harmful effects of hate speech, many countries have enacted laws and regulations to mitigate its spread. These legal measures, while important, present a delicate challenge. Striking the right balance between curbing hate speech and preserving freedom of speech is crucial to avoid slipping into the realm of censorship or stifling dissent.

Determining what constitutes hate speech is a complex task, often subject to interpretation and cultural context. Some argue for a more permissive approach, suggesting that countering hate speech should rely on social norms, education, and fostering dialogue rather than legislation. Others advocate for stricter measures, calling for laws that explicitly define hate speech and its boundaries.

Efforts to combat hate speech should focus not only on punitive measures but also on proactive strategies. Promoting media literacy and critical thinking skills can empower individuals to discern and challenge hate speech. Encouraging open and respectful dialogue can bridge divides and foster understanding. Supporting marginalized communities and amplifying their voices can help counter the impact of hate speech by promoting empathy and inclusivity.

Ultimately, finding the right balance between hate speech and freedom of speech is an ongoing and complex endeavor. It requires a nuanced understanding of the evolving nature of communication, the cultural contexts in which speech occurs, and the potential consequences for targeted communities. By actively engaging in dialogue, fostering empathy, and promoting responsible speech, societies can navigate this challenge and cultivate an environment where both freedom and respect thrive.

Hate speeches in India

The truth is that hate speech is not covered by any of the country’s laws; instead, only restrictions on specific expressions and speech forms are mentioned. According to the Law Commission of India’s 267th Report, “an incitement to hatred particularly towards a group of persons characterized in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and the like” is the definition of hate speech. To put it another way, “any written or spoken statement, sign, or visible depiction within a person’s hearing or sight with the intent to provoke fear or alarm, or incitement to violence” is what is meant by the term “hate speech.” The Black’s Law Dictionary defines hate speech as “speech that has no other meaning than to convey hatred towards any group, such as a specific race, especially in circumstances when the communication is likely to cause violence.” This definition comes from the Black’s Law Dictionary. In India, most hate speech and fake news are about a person’s caste, gender, or religion, which are all sensitive topics for the majority of us. In addition, the Indian Penal Code, the Information Technology Act, and the Criminal Procedure Code all contain numerous acts and rules that do not adequately address these issues. The current regulation should be orchestrated and bound together. In addition, in order to deal with the increasingly prevalent online forms of hate speech, the draft intermediary guidelines must be amended.

Laws and regulations on hate speech in India

The legal framework in India pertaining to online hate speech and extremism encompasses various provisions from different legislations. The Indian Penal Code (IPC) includes sections such as 153A, 295A, and 505 that address hate speech, actions promoting enmity between groups, and statements creating hatred or ill-will between classes. These provisions aim to maintain harmony, protect religious sentiments, and prevent the spread of animosity[2].

The Indian Information Technology (IT) Act plays a crucial role in regulating online speech, including hate speech. It places responsibility on intermediaries, such as social media platforms, to remove content violating the law within a specified time frame after being notified. This provision aims to ensure that online platforms actively participate in curbing hate speech and extremist content.

The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) provides the necessary legal procedures for the arrest of individuals involved in hate speech offenses. This provision enables law enforcement agencies to take appropriate action against those who engage in activities promoting enmity or hatred.

Additionally, the Representation of People’s Act (RPA) has provisions such as Section 8, which prevents individuals convicted of misusing freedom of speech from contesting elections. Sections 123(3A) and 125 of the RPA prohibit the promotion of animosity based on race, religion, community, caste, or language during elections. These provisions contribute to maintaining a fair and inclusive electoral process.

The Indian legal framework acknowledges the importance of balancing freedom of expression with the need to protect individuals and maintain social harmony. However, challenges persist in effectively enforcing these provisions due to the vastness of the internet and the rapid dissemination of information. Cooperation between law enforcement agencies, online platforms, and civil society is crucial to ensure the successful regulation of online hate speech and extremism.

Moving forward, continuous evaluation and refinement of the legal framework, along with robust implementation and awareness campaigns, are essential. It is imperative to strike a delicate balance that upholds freedom of expression while safeguarding individuals from the harmful impact of hate speech and extremist ideologies.

Case laws

Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015)[3]

‘Shreya Singhal v. Association of India’ AIR 2015 SC 1523 The landmark case is very important to the Indian legal system. Shreya Singhal v Association of India rotates around the basic right of ‘The right to speak freely of Discourse and Articulation cherished under Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India, which challenges the sacred legitimacy of segment 66A of the Data Innovation Act 2000. In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the Supreme Court of India overturned section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which protected freedom of expression by allowing for the arrest of individuals who posted allegedly offensive content on social media or the internet. The High Court in Shreya Singhal v. Association of India likewise held that the Segment was not saved by prudence of being a ‘sensible limitation’ on the right to speak freely under Article 19(2).

Sukumar v. State of Tamil Nadu (2019)[4]

In this case the court held that hate speech on social media platforms is not protected by the right to freedom of speech and expression.

Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India (2014)

In this instance, the petitioners felt that the existing laws against hate speech were insufficient, so they asked the state to enact more stringent rules and take immediate action against those who spread hate speech. However, the Court stated that the problem of hate speech would be significantly reduced by enforcing existing regulations. The problem of hate speech needed to be looked at more closely by the Law Commission of India. Consequently, in March 2017, the Commission presented its Report No. 267 to the Indian government for consideration after considering the laws and various statements regarding hate speech.

S. Rangarajan Etc vs. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989)

According to the Supreme Court’s decision freedom of expression cannot be restricted unless the resulting situation poses a threat to the community or the public interest, and this risk must not be remote, speculative, or improbable. There ought to be a strong connection between the expression in question and that.

Subramaniam Swamy v. Union of India (2021) In light of established law that says restrictions should be precisely tailored and not excessive, arbitrary, or disproportionate, arguments were made in this case about whether the restrictions on free speech imposed by Sections 499 and 500 of the IPC were reasonable. Subramanian Swamy proposed declaring unconstitutional six Indian Penal Code 1860 provisions for violating Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Judicial interpretation on hate speeches[5]

According to the Supreme Court’s decision in S. Rangarajan Etc. vs. P. Jagjivan Ram (1989), freedom of expression cannot be restricted unless the resulting situation poses a threat to the community or the public interest, and this risk must not be remote, speculative, or improbable. With the articulation being referred to, there ought to be a nearby and direct connection.

The Supreme Court decided in Arup Bhuyan v. State of Assam (2011) that a single act could not be punished unless the offender used violence or encouraged others to use violence.

Concerns were raised regarding Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which relates to the fundamental right of free speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. In Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015), the Court distinguished between discussion, advocacy, and incitement, ruling that the first two were the essence of Article 19(1)(a).


The rapid growth of the internet and social media has facilitated the spread of hate speech and extremist content, posing significant concerns for societies worldwide. Governments and international organizations are grappling with the task of creating effective legal frameworks that address these issues while upholding freedom of expression. Regulating online hate speech and extremism is a complex and multifaceted task. While there is a need for legal frameworks to combat these issues effectively, any measures adopted must strike a careful balance between freedom of expression and the protection of individuals from harm. Cooperation between governments, international organizations, and online platforms is vital to ensure a comprehensive approach that addresses the challenges associated with the evolving online landscape. Moving forward continued dialogue and innovative solutions are necessary to safeguard the internet as a space for free expression while curbing the spread of hate speech and extremism.

[1] https://www.ohchr.org/en/stories/2012/10/striking-balance-between-freedom-expression-and-prohibition-incitement-hatred

[2] https://www.hindustantimes.com/opinion/indias-laws-on-hate-speech-need-change-101655908130254.html

[3] https://indiankanoon.org/doc/110813550/

[4] https://www.casemine.com/judgement/in/560901c3e4b014971115770b

[5] https://blog.ipleaders.in/hate-speeches-news-inefficient-regulatory-framework/#Recent_cases


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