The Sudarshan News case which is currently being heard in the Supreme Court is raising important questions about the nature of hate speech and the role of democratic institutions in protecting communities from the same.
Recently, Suresh Chavhanke, editor-in-chief of Sudarshan News, announced an expose of “Muslim infiltration” of civil services, calling students passing out of Jamia’s Residential Coaching Academy (RCA) and clearing the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) as “Jamia ke Jihadi” and the phenomenon of Muslims in the civil services as “UPSC Jihad”.
The channel and this show, known as Bindass Bol, received widespread opposition, especially from teachers, students, and alumni from Jamia Millia Islamia University, and former members of the civil services.
Advocate Shadan Farasat has been representing three students from Jamia Millia Islamia who filed the petition regarding this show in front of a bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, Indu Malhotra, and KM Joseph.
The Supreme Court stayed the telecast of the show on September 15 and suggested that this case has Constitutional implications on hate speech and freedom of speech.
On September 21, Advocate Farasat said to the Supreme court that there is an “affirmative responsibility” on the State to ensure that rights emanating from Articles 14 & 21 of the Constitution for a citizen are not violated, as reported by the legal website LiveLaw.com. He argued that hate speech laws were clearly applicable to this show and made a case for restraint on telecasting of the remaining episodes, especially since Sudarshan News had not shown any inclination to change the content of the show in front of the Supreme Court.
The hate speech included statements which implied that Muslim candidates are “infiltrating” into the category of OBC, calling for the banning of Urdu, and that Muslims were doing a conspiracy to “capture” Hindustan. Advocate Farasat said that if ‘Muslims’ were replaced by ‘jews’ it would become clear that this hate speech.
He argued that the show’s content was a violation of Article 14 and Article 21. To show the violation of Article 14, he built on three main arguments. Firstly, the show demeans the right to equality of employment. Secondly, it creates an image of Muslims not being worthy of public life in the country and strikes at the core of dignity of the community. Thirdly, there is affirmative responsibility on everybody of the state to protect the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution.
He argued that hate speech has a strong impact on the right to life under Article 21. He gave the examples of Nazi Germany, Radio Rwanda which sparked the fire in the Rwandan Genocide and the media campaign against Rohingyas in Myanmar, arguing that hate speech had led to genocide and violence against the community that was being targeted in the speech.
He argued that the case was not due to the mere grievance of one individual but was of constitutional importance and hence warranted interference under Article 32 and stressed on the need for a nuanced and guarded judicial approach so that the Court was able to curb hate speech but at the same time not create precedence for the curbing of freedom of speech.