The Supreme Court on Wednesday took serious exception to hate speeches saying these will end the moment politics and religion are separated and politicians stop using religion in politics.
Terming hate speeches a "vicious circle", the top court said these utterings are being made by fringe elements and people should restrain themselves from doing so.
A bench of justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna referred to speeches of former prime ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, saying people from remote areas and every nook and corner used to gather to hear them.
"Major problem arises when politicians are mixing politics with religion. The moment politics and religion are segregated, this will end. When politicians stop using religion, all this will stop. We have said in our recent verdict also that mixing politics with religion is dangerous for democracy," Justice Joseph said.
Wondering as to how many people can courts initiate contempt action against, the bench said why cannot the people of India take a pledge to not vilify other citizens or communities.
"Everyday fringe elements are making speeches to vilify others including on TV and public forums," the bench said while hearing a contempt petition against various state authorities including Maharashtra for failing to register FIRs against those making such speeches.
When Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pointed out a derogatory speech made in Kerala by a man against a particular community and questioned that petitioner Shaheen Abdullah has selectively pointed out the incidents of hate speeches in the country, this triggered sharp exchanges between the court and Mehta.
He also pointed out a statement made by a DMK leader and said why has the petitioner's counsel not made him and those states party in the contempt petition.
The bench referred to those speeches and said "every action has equal reaction" and emphasised, "We are following the Constitution and orders in every case are bricks in the structure of rule of law. We are hearing the contempt petition because states are not taking action in time. This is because the state has become impotent, powerless and does not act in time. Why should we have a state at all if it is silent?"
Mehta then said, "Can't say that about any state but the Centre is not. Centre has banned PFI. Please issue notice to state of Kerala so that they can respond to this."
As the court asked Mehta to continue with his submissions, he said, "Please do not do this. This will have wider ramification. Why are we shying away from looking at the clip? Why can't the court allow me to play the video clip of the speeches? Why Kerala can't be issued notice and made a party to the petition. Let us not be selective. I am trying to show the clip which is in public domain. This court could have taken suo motu cognisance of these speeches."
The bench replied, "Let us not make this a drama. This is legal proceedings," and added, "There is a method to see the video clip. This applies to all equally. If you (Mehta) want, you can include it in your submission."
The hearing of the contempt petition saw some strong observations from the court in which it said, "Hate speeches are like a vicious circle. One person will make it and then another will make it. When our Constitution was founded, there were no such speeches. Now there are cracks coming up in the idea of fraternity. There has to be some restraint. Some sought of mechanism needs to be developed by the State so that we can curb this kind of statements."
Justice Nagarathna said, "We need to look where we as a country are going. There were orators like Jawaharlal Nehru and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the midnight speech. People from remote areas and every nook and corner used to come hear these leaders. Now fringe elements from all sides are making these statements and we are now asked to take contempt action against these people."
She said that how can a court curtail "intellectual deprivation" which comes from lack of knowledge and education.
"How many contempt after contempt we can take against these people. That's why I asked the other day, how the apex court will deal with this. Why do you (petitioner) start with the apex court? Should not there be some restraint on speeches, else we will not become the India we desire for. Why cannot the citizens of this country take a pledge to not vilify others and what kind of pleasures we are deriving by making these speeches," she said.
The top court, which allowed an intervention application filed by an organisation "Hindu Samaj", which had held rallies in Maharashtra, told its counsel, "Statements are being made by some people, which the vast majority of the community do not subscribe to. They are saying things which are denigrating and demolishing the dignity of others on a regular basis. Statements are made like 'Go to Pakistan'. People of other communities chose this country. They are like your brothers and sisters. We are trying to say that don't go to that level."
The bench, chiding the counsel for speeches in such rallies, said, "Do you have the right to break the law of the land? If you break the rule of law of the land it will befall on your head like a tumble of bricks. If you want real development of the country and want it to become a superpower, then we need to have respect for the rule of law and then only we can make our country a better place to live in."
Advocate Nizam Pasha, appearing for the petitioner, said that hate does not have any religion and he is here for vindication of rights.
"We are not whataboutery and anyone can come with a grievance. Names of hate speech givers are coming again and again. Court can call for a status report on action taken by the states against hate speeches", he submitted and referred to the data and speeches made in different states.
Pasha said that 50 rallies have been conducted in Maharashtra in the last four months where hate speeches have been made.
Additional Solicitor General SV Raju, appearing for the Centre, said that according to the law laid down by this court, if there is a cognisable offence made out, State cannot object and is bound to register the FIR.
The top court posted the matter for further hearing on April 28 and sought response of the Maharashtra government on the plea.
On Tuesday, the top court had said abjuring hate speech is a fundamental requisite for maintenance of communal harmony in the country, and asked the Centre what actions have been taken after the lodging of FIRs in hate speech cases.
Observing that merely registering complaints is not going to solve the problem of hate speeches, it reminded the Centre on the need to take action against persons making such statements.
Holding that the Constitution envisages India as a secular nation, the top court on October 21 had directed the Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand governments to come down hard on cases of hate speech, and registering criminal cases against culprits without waiting for a complaint to be filed.