The Supreme Court on Monday observed that there is a growing consensus around hate speech and stressed there is no scope for hate crimes on the basis of religion in a secular country such as India.
"There cannot be any compromise on hate speech at all," the top court said and added that it is only if the State acknowledges the problem of hate speech that a solution can be found.
It also said that it is the primary duty of the State to protect its citizens from any such hate crimes.
A bench of justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna said, "When action is not taken against hate crimes then an atmosphere is fostered which is very dangerous and it has to be rooted out from our lives. There cannot be any compromise on hate speech at all."
The top court was hearing a plea of a Muslim man who has alleged that he was assaulted and abused in the name of religion on July 4, 2021, by a "screwdriver gang" of criminals as he had boarded a car to go to Aligarh from Noida, and that the police has not bothered to register any complaint of hate crime.
The bench told Additional Solicitor General (ASG) KM Nataraj, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, that, "Nowadays there is a growing consensus around hate speech. There is no scope for hate crimes in the name of religion in a secular country like India. It has to be rooted out and it is the primary duty of the state to protect its citizens from any such crimes."
"If a person comes to the police and says that I was wearing a cap and my beard was pulled and abused in the name of religion and still no complaint is registered, then it is a problem," it said.
Justice Joseph said action of every state officer augments respect for the law. Otherwise, everyone will take the law into their own hands, he said.
The bench, which sat till 6 pm hearing the matter, said, "Will you not acknowledge that there is a hate crime and you will sweep it under the carpet? We are not saying anything adverse. We are only expressing our anguish. That is all."
Senior advocate Huzefa Ahmadi, appearing for the petitioner Kazeem Ahmad Sherwani, said it was on January 13 that this court had asked the state government to produce the case diary that police had registered the FIR after two years and that too with all bailable offences barring one.
Nataraj conceded that there were lapses on part of police officials and said that a special investigation team has been constituted headed by an ACP-rank officer and disciplinary action has been taken against erring police officials.
The bench said, "You set an example and let such people face consequences for dereliction of duty. It is only when you take action against such incidents that we will come at par with developed nations. Yes, there has been clear lapse and there is nothing wrong in admitting a mistake".
Nataraj said that on July 4, 2021, when the alleged incident had taken place, the victim had gone to a police outpost in Sector 37 in Noida where no senior police official but constables were present. Hence, no complaint was registered, he said.
"Then he went to the hospital in Jamia Nagar and gave a statement to the Delhi Police that he was robbed, assaulted and suffered injuries. No where he said that it was a case of hate crime or was assaulted because he was Muslim," Nataraj said.
Justice Nagarathna said, "At any point of time the victim cannot be met with disparaging remarks. Victim should not make it look as if he is a perpetrator of crime".
Justice Joseph said be in minority or majority, certain rights are inherent in human beings. "You are born into a family and raised in one. We have no choice on our religion, but we stand out as a nation. That's the beauty, the greatness of our nation. We have to understand this," he told Nataraj.
Justice Joseph referring to a recent incident in Rajasthan said a mute person was attacked but it was later found that the victim was Hindu. "If you ignore this (hate crime), then one day it will come for you," he said, adding that there is no doubt that some people have a communal attitude.
The ASG said that eight FIRs have been registered against the gang members and action has been taken against them.
The bench then asked when the first FIR was registered against the gang members and how many people were arrested and were they the same people, who attacked the victim and when were they bailed out.
Nataraj said he will file an affidavit giving details of all the FIRs but pointed out that the first FIR was registered in June 2021 against the "screwdriver gang" members and they have not discriminated in attacking Muslims or Hindus.
Advocate Ahmadi said it took two years to acknowledge that there was a criminal incident and in two affidavits filed by the Uttar Pradesh government, police have said that there was no hate crime.
"On July 5, 2021, a police patrol had come to my house and asked not to press for hate crime angle", he said, adding that the victim's beard was pulled and stripped and made fun of for being circumcised in a car.
The bench said that it cannot issue a pan-India direction on the victim's petition under Article 32, as it may not be a case symptomatic of what is happening across the country or otherwise it will flood the courts.
Nataraj said police has not denied that there was not a criminal incident but no where it was found that it was a hate crime and the victim has tried to take advantage of media hype and changed its statements.
The bench asked the Uttar Pradesh government to file a detailed affidavit and posted the matter for further hearing on March 3.
On October 21 last year, the apex court had asked Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi to crack down hard on those making hate speeches, observing, "where have we reached in the name of religion, what have we reduced religion to is tragic".
Holding that the Constitution of India envisages a secular nation, the court had directed the three states to promptly register criminal cases against the offenders without waiting for a complaint to be filed.