By Sikandar Azam

As we are preparing to celebrate the 75th Independence from the shackles of what we may call slavery, we fall short of restructuring a just society for the citizens. No doubt, we formulated and of course adopted the Constitution soon after Independence, guaranteeing equal rights to all citizens irrespective of their faith, ethnicity or gender. This constitutional provision of equal rights for all in the country leaves no room for discrimination or hate against any individual or group. But in practice what we see is that hate rules the roost. They defend hate speech in the name of right to free speech. But it remains a fact that free speech does not mean acknowledging hate speech. While we do and should defend free speech as a right, we must reject hate speech; for, it is of great consequence that there is a sharp distinction between free speech and hate speech.

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud of the Supreme Court of India raised this issue while presiding over the 11th convocation of Gujarat National Law University (GNLU) at Gandhinagar virtually on August 6. He said being accepting and tolerant of others’ opinions does not mean one should accept hate speech. Underlining the need to incorporate into our being the theory attributed to Voltaire, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it,’ Justice Chandrachud said, “Making mistakes, being accepting and tolerant to the opinions of others by no means translates to blind conformity, and it does not mean not standing up against hate speech.”

Hate speech, in behaviour, speech or writing, is an intolerant act against an individual or group. There are numerous cases of violence and riots occurred in recent years as a result of provocation dished out in organised gatherings or via social media. Islam forbids hate speech because it is against the basic principles of Islam which call for peace and love, which go in a long way in creating an amicable society. It forbids hate speech as the basis of humanity.

One of the elements of hate speech is the unchecked dissemination of false and fake news. Islam wants humans to convey only true news without manipulating the truth. People often see some social media users quickly spread the word which contains prevarication. Islam condemns those who speak untruth and hateful words. A believer should check and crosscheck and search for the truth of information before saying it; for, rumours can lead to social chaos. The Qur’ān (49:6) said: “O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.”

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