Detox inflammatory rhetoric

Detox inflammatory rhetoric

Hate speech

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, says a proverb attributed to one of Israel’s wisest kings, Solomon. Words can kill, words can dehumanise a human being (made, in the biblical worldview, in the image of God), but words can heal too. In February 1920, a 31-year-old emerging political star delivered an inflammatory speech in a public meeting hall in the German city of Munich. The fiery orator, Adolf Hitler, gave a riveting 25-point Nazi party manifesto to hundreds who gulped every word from his motor-mouth. A man who was lazing around in Vienna until a few months ago metamorphosed into a Jew-hating paterfamilias of the hate-propaganda family. Nazis, empowered by the speech, called the Jews untermenschen or subhumans. Other Nazi leaders went even further, calling the Jews vermin, dirty rats and so on. It would take the Nazi killers more than 20 years to gas lakhs of people to death in the many extermination camps that operated with a German clockwork precision.

On the other side, the Soviet Union’s sultan Josef Stalin and the raja of the Red Army was armed with an equally vitriolic propaganda churned out by Ilya Ehrenburg, a Russian-Jewish poet, shaming the Germans as “two-legged animals”. It was tit-for-tat verbal gymnastics akin to two mud bulls goring each other to destruction on ocean shores.

Historical incidents are like a rear-view mirror that ought to help national leaders map out a vision for their country, to lay the roadmap for a better, peaceful, harmonious future. Hate speeches don’t help anyone at the end of the day, including the party of the hate propagandists as history has shown.

After almost 100 years after Hitler’s hit speech, Germany approved a hate speech bill on Feb 21, 2020. If the bill is signed into law, social media networks would have to report online hate crimes to Germany’s Federal Criminal Police (BKA). According to a news report, “such hate speech posts include far-right propaganda, graphic portrayals of violence, murder or rape threats, posts indicating that someone is preparing a terrorist attack or distributions of child sex abuse images.” Since cases of hate speech in have risen in the largest economy in Europe, Germany, law makers want to snuff out extremism at its source.  

Even as American President Donald Trump and the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi were in a 36-hour bromance in India, a politico’s inflammatory speech is attributed to be a factor in the cause of the New Delhi rioting, the general nonchalance of political leaders from every ideological stream has been shameful too. Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, voted for the third time on a massive landslide, need not have waited until the Delhi high court nudge to visit the affected areas.  

The national capital New Delhi, supposedly one of the most secure with the police reporting directly to the central home ministry, where 38 people were killed, and hundreds injured.

Delhi high court judge, Justice Dr S. Muralidhar, since transferred to the Punjab and Haryana Court, got his doctorate in law from Delhi University. He sought to know from the Delhi police why there were no FIRs against those delivering hate speeches.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, in response, told the Delhi high court that “no FIRs should be registered for now against politicians accused of making hate speeches during Delhi violence and Assembly elections,” saying the environment is not conducive. The court has now given the Centre four weeks to file a counter-affidavit in response to a plea seeking registration of FIRs against politicians for making incendiary statements that allegedly incited mob attacks and riots in Northeast Delhi. The matter will now be heard on April 13, 2020.

Even as we await the April 13, 2020, hearing a PIL has been filed in the apex court seeking direction to the Centre to implement a 2017 Law Commission’s report which suggested changes in penal and procedural laws to effectively deal with the offence of hate speech. In the 57-page report, headed by former Supreme Court judge Justice B.S. Chauhan, the panel had suggested amendment in IPC and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) by inserting “new section 153C (Prohibiting incitement to hatred) and section 505A (Causing fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases)”.

It noted further, referring to legal position in developed nations such as US, Canada, UK and others, that “hate speech poses complex challenges to freedom of speech and expression. The constitutional approach to these challenges has been far from uniform as the boundaries between impermissible propagation of hatred and protected speech vary across jurisdictions.” The report described hate speech “generally is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief.”

It is time to detox the toxins from our speeches. Toxic, the 2018 Oxford Dictionary word of the year, has its roots in the Greek toxikon pharmakon: ancient Greeks using poisoned arrows to kill their enemies. Greek legend has it that Heracles murders the centaur Nessus with arrows poisoned with the blood of the Lernaean Hydra.

Today, the arrows take the form of public lecterns to social media platforms, connecting millions in a second. Toxic trolls are known to amp up the hate-volume resulting in uptick in crime and abusive, aggressive behaviour in the democratic ecosystem. In this haze of political sledging, our public leaders have hardly any time to wrestle with gut-wrenching real-life issues that can spell life or death to a common man. Detox the inflammatory rhetoric to begin with.

(The writer specialises in public policy, politics and religion) 

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