Preliminary Findings on Online Hate Speech and the Law in India

Hate speech is a serious concern in the Republic of India. However, Indian law does not use the phrase “hate speech.” Different forms of what may arguably be called hate speech are covered in different ways by various Indian statutes.  

This briefing paper outlines preliminary issues that we noted while conducting a detailed study of hate speech laws in India. It teases out some of the major concerns that arise in the context of both online and offline hate speech, especially speech as potential incitement to violence. 

We begin this paper by discussing hate speech as incitement to violence in India, and then move on to outlining the current legal framework used to cope with hate speech. Since the legal framework has led to the chilling of legitimate speech, this briefing paper discusses the tension between freedom of expression and hate speech laws.  Further, it examines the impact of hate speech law, followed by strategies other than criminalization that are used to respond to online hate speech in India. We focus on state-led approaches as opposed to non-state actors’ efforts at tackling the problem of hate speech.