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Section 153A of the IPC: its use and misuse

GS Paper 2

 Syllabus: Functions and Responsibilities of the Union and the States


Source: IE

 Context: The SC granted interim bail to a Congress leader (Pawan Khera) arrested for alleged hate speech (booked under Section 153A of the IPC) by Assam Police.


Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC): What the law says?

  • It penalises (with imprisonment up to 3 years/fine/both) promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and committing offences against the maintenance of peace.
  • The provision was enacted in 1898 and was not in the original penal code. In 1969, the offence was amended (made cognisable – arrest without a warrant) to enlarge its scope to prevent communal tensions.


The application of the law:

  • Hate speech laws have been invoked under different regimes to crack down on criticism of public functionaries and to arrest individuals.
  • For example, a Marathi actor was arrested (booked under Section 153A of the IPC) last year, for a Facebook post allegedly defaming an NCP leader.
  • According to the NCRB data, the rate of conviction for Section 153A is very low. In 2020, 1,804 cases were registered (six times higher than in 2014), however, the conviction rate was 2%.
  • Also, the registration of multiple FIRs across different states drains the resources of the accused to secure legal representation.


Safeguards against misuse:

  • Section 153A requires prior sanction (before the trial begins, not at the stage of preliminary investigation) from the government for initiating prosecution.
  • In the Arnesh Kumar v State of Bihar case (2014), the SC laid down a set of guidelines. For instance, the police cannot automatically arrest a suspect before investigation for crimes that carry a punishment of less than seven years.
  • In 2021, the SC ruled that the state will have to prove intent (to cause disorder or incite people to violence) for securing a conviction under Section 153A.


Conclusion: Hate speech strikes at the foundational values of society. However, the suspected unlawful speech should be evaluated using the standards of reasonableness.


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