Why the culture of rewarding hate speech is more dangerous

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In the first week of September, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) inducted Ananth Kumar Hegde, the Lok Sabha member of Parliament from Uttara Kannada, into the union cabinet. Hegde's induction into the cabinet was followed by a video of a provocative speech made by the parliamentarian in May last year.

Why the culture of rewarding hate speech is more dangerous

The video shows Hegde accusing one community of being the bane of humankind, instantly allowing opposition political parties, secular thinkers, and netizens to term it hate speech and build on the narrative that people who monger hatred were being rewarded instead of being pulled up, or booked.

Not a rarity. At least in recent times.

But what is a hate speech?

Online resources state that any speech that attacks, threatens or insults a person/group on the basis of national origin, ethnicity, colour, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability as hate speech.

"Hate speeches create an identity of 'us' and 'them', clearly creating a differentiation. An appeal, most times emotional, is made to the audience to choose 'us' and reject 'them," said Dr Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst.

However, leaving nothing to vague interpretations, the Law Commission of India in March (on the directions of the Supreme Court) made some recommendations which included suggesting the inclusion of new provisions on 'Prohibiting incitement to hatred' and 'Causing fear, alarm, or provocation of violence in certain cases' to existing laws.

However, little has been achieved in this regard. Instead, more have been rewarded and further polarising the society.

A March 2016 analysis by India Spend, a data journalism platform, points out that candidates with hate-speech cases against them were three times more successful in elections compared to those without a criminal record.

Shastri says that it's part of political theatrics that stems from ideology, emboldening those who identify with the thinking as many do not pay for their crimes.

"Low conviction rates only result in a lack of fear of the law. The political outcome only comes second, first is impression creation," a professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi said, requesting not to be named.

Politicians like Nalin Kumar Kateel, the BJP MP from Karnataka terms his recent speech--termed by many as inciteful-- in communally sensitive Mangaluru city as an "emotional outburst." To be sure, Kateel is seen threatening to burn down his home district if police failed to nab the culprits in the murder case of a Sangh Parivar worker. Ananth Kumar Hegde could not be reached for comments.

But the culture of hate speeches is not just the BJP's problems.

Three years ago, Congress candidate from Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh) Imran Masood was captured on camera, abusing his opposition and abusing then BJP's PM candidate Narendra Modi and saying that he will "chop Modi into small pieces." according to news reports.

The Congress, that leaves no opportunity to pounce on the BJP, was left red-faced. "If some leaders do (make hate speeches) then we dissociate from the statement, so people know that we do not ascribe to it," he says, cleverly slipping in the personal versus party view argument.

Many other politicians have been caught on camera making similar speeches, and (in many cases) egged on by a susceptible crowd. Many speeches have resulted in riots, attacks and violence. Experts and observers believe that political patronage is the major problem which makes it harder to convict the provocateurs.

Roopa D Moudgil, a senior police official in Karnataka was made to run pillar to post and appear before various constitutional authorities after she ordered the filing of a case against a legislator for allegedly making provocative statements. The legislator did not face the same problem though.

Analysts say that hate speech is not uncommon, at least in recent times. But that rewarding the behavior is more dangerous.

OneIndia News

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