On 2019 December 20, Kapil Mishra led a pro-Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (hereafter, “CAA”) march, wherein he shouted the most polarizing of statements, “Desh ki gaddaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko” – “Shoot the bloody traitors”. With most protestors Muslim, the slogan has become an anti-Muslim chant. This was used as a war cry to deepen social polarization in the city, creating the ground for communal riots that killed 47 people in Delhi. Even though the speech satisfied the legal test laid down by the Supreme Court on what constitutes an offense under 153A of the Indian Penal Code. Which criminalizes statements, or acts that have the effect of disturbing public tranquility or law and order by promoting enmity or creating fear between classes of people on basis of difference in religion, caste, language or place of birth.The police failed to register the First Information Report (hereafter, the “FIR”) against those who gave the hate speech.
This has to be construed as a failure of the criminal justice system. While the right to free speech ought to be protected, as freedom of speech is a core value in this country secured under Article 19 of the constitution, like all fundamental rights, it must read harmoniously with others. In that case, shouldn’t something be said about statements that are intended to drive communities to go out against each other or to menace a youngster into violence or to drive a democratic system toward tyranny? Exploring these tradeoffs is tricky, as tradeoffs among essential principles normally are. This dilemma to choose between basic liberties and opportunities to promote “everyone’s interest” is complex and requires flexibility rather than strict compliance. However, such complexity does not imply that we abstain from exploring.
What we learn from Rwandan history is that language matters. A commitment to careful and sensitive reporting as well as the provision of a counter-narrative is highly needed if we want to prevent further polarization and escalation within our fragile societies. In an already polarized and heterogeneous nation like India, hate speech compromises the solidarity-building process by augmenting the social separation among Indians, solidifying existing problems, and undermining the unity of the state.
Rwandan Genocide: A Case Study
In Journalism in a Time of Hate Media, author Thomas Kamilindi defines hate media as a type of violence, which assists with deriding and demonizing individuals that belong to various sects. This sort of media holds a powerful role in impelling slaughter, with its most scandalous case being Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM) during the Rwandan genocide. In 1993 and 1994, radio in Rwanda called for violence creating the environment that ultimately led to the genocide and resultant hate crimes.
The Hutu majority, equipped with blades, nail-studded clubs and lances moved house to house in towns, chasing for Tutsis, the second biggest of Rwanda’s three ethnic sects. The radio broadcaster RTLM, aligned with the government administration, had been pitting Hutus against the Tutsi minority, over and over depicting them as inyenzi, or “cockroaches,” and as inzoka, or “snakes.” The station, tragically, had numerous audience members. The inciters of the genocide utilized different metaphors to turn individuals against their neighbors. Hutus are generally shorter than Tutsis; radio telecasters likewise asked Hutus to “cut down the tall trees.”
Although the slaughter was plotted by the ‘Hutu Power’ Government and executed by the military and armed militia gatherings, countless regular citizens were effectively engaged in perpetuating the monstrosities. Neighbors betrayed neighbors; companions went against one another and even the family members joined in.
The vast majority of the unfortunate casualties were slaughtered with basic weapons, for example, clubs and tomahawks and it is assessed that 130,000 individuals took effective part in the killings. The conspicuous query, at that point, is how such a high number of apparently normal individuals could become merciless killers and carry out violations that stun the human conscience?
RTML was made explicitly as an instrument of genocidaires to trash Tutsi, lay the preparation, and afterward actually drive on the execution once the genocide began. It was set up in 1993 and was against peaceful negotiations between the administration of President Juvenal Habyarimana and the Tutsi-drove renegades of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which presently forms the government. After President Habyarimana’s plane was destroyed, the radio called out for a “last war” to “eliminate the cockroaches.”
The Clinton government at that point could have blocked the radio signals, however, Pentagon attorneys ruled against it, due to free speech concerns. The discourse would without a doubt have been abridged and likewise was conceivable that the slaughter would have been avoided. It can be said that plenty of elements were responsible for the massacre, and these can be traced back to more than a century before European powers furthered division among Hutus and Tutsis. In colonial administration, Europeans generally considered Tutsis as a superior group, and thus collaborated with the Tutsi monarchy to rule Rwanda. This division exacerbated in the decades that were to follow
Further, propaganda fueled the fear of Tutsis and obscured the line between the RPF and local Tutsis. Thus, the Tutsis were recognized as the ‘invaders’ and in underlining the ‘alienness’, deceitfulness and trickiness of Tutsis, deliberate publicity created a narrative against them, one of them being a ‘permanent risk’. An absence of diverse media sources in Rwanda added to the coverage these outlets got.
What made the stunt especially successful was the synchronous dehumanization of Tutsi and the legitimization of their annihilation.As per the definition of hate media publicity as a crime against humanity established in Nuremberg and reclassified in the International CriminalTribunal for Rwanda, Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, both among the establishing individuals from the RTLM were condemned to life in jail under the ICTR.
The Way Forward
The blocking of access to social media in order to prevent the spread of misinformation, such as happened after the Sri Lanka attacks for fear of spreading hate speech and inciting violence via these platforms, is not the answer. Hate speech, fake news, and misinformation cannot and should not be fought with censorship.While Prime Minister Ardern of New Zealand suggests stricter regulations and revised social-media laws following the attack on Christchurch, of which live videos of the attacks were circulating online, the tech companies are experimenting with self-regulatory systems including centralized black-listing of what could not be specific content only but may involve complete accounts and websites.
A beginning point is to recognize that the line between offensive and hate speech is frequently obscured. While proper hate speech—characterized as introducing “clear and inescapable threat” of activating vicious violence—should be criminalized, non-legal instruments would be more effective in a polarized society like India to manage hostile and other harmful speech forms. Right now, scientific classification of what comprises offensive and hostile speech would be a decent start. Media associations through their organizations should then be encouraged to consolidate these as a feature of good journalistic practice and force repercussions on failing individuals.
Only by conducting truly independent reporting and quality journalism, which includes: fact-checking; challenging politicians; informing citizens; inspiring critical thinking; giving a voice to and humanize those most marginalized; by monitoring online content and countering false and hateful messages, can we do justice to those who suffer from the most egregious crimes. Currently, independent journalism is suffering owing to the mounting pressure of generating likes, clicks, and shares online.
If the Brexit vote and the Trump election tell us anything, it is that the “us versus them” narrative has become increasingly popular among the general public and thus the media feels that this is what should be covered. However, this language is extremely dangerous and is making already marginalized groups even more vulnerable.The “us against them” divide is a narrative and tactic not uncommon in contemporary politics elsewhere. The terms such as “Islamization” or “Westernization” are used to create fear. “They” are coming and taking over our values, our jobs, our lives. “We” are no longer safe and need to protect ourselves.
It is obvious, that the media was utilized to incite Hutu against Tutsi in a planned crusade by Hutu-Power fanatics. The strain between the two ethnicities existed for quite a long time; however, what was an extended social clash transformed rapidly into a massacre with huge help from the media. Propaganda played an active, functioning job in encouraging the barbarities, just as a compelling job in building up the pre-conditions for mass-killings. Moreover, the Rwandan genocide showed that where hate speech and propaganda are so persuasive, lives can be saved if media houses inciting the tension are neutralized.
The lesson for the international community is two-fold. While a free press is a sine qua non to hold the government responsible and speaks to the very establishment, free social orders rest upon, it should be underscored that responsibility accompanies freedom. The abuse of the freedom of speech to create division through hate speech that in turn prompts large scale violence can seriously harm the growth of a nation. Such hate speech needs to be identified and acted upon, while pressure from international society is also required to halt such speeches.
Yamunan, Sruthisagar “‘GoliMaaron’ Slogans Meet Hate Speech Test – Here’s How the Supreme Court Can Stop Them” Scroll.In, 3 Mar. 2020, scroll.in/article/954926/goli-maaron-slogans-meet-hate-speech-test-heres-what-the-supreme-court-can-do-to-stop-them.
Panneerselvan, A. s. “Journalism in the Time of Hate.” The Hindu, 19 Nov. 2018, www.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/journalism-in-the-time-of-hate/article25532215.ece..
Yasir, Sameer, and Suhasini Raj. “The Roots of the Delhi Riots: A Fiery Speech and an Ultimatum.” New York Times, 26 Feb. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/02/26/world/asia/delhi-riots-kapil-mishra.html.
Delhi December 22, India Today Web Desk New, et al. “Here Is What Constitutes to Inciting Violence in Indian Penal Code.” India Today, 22 Dec. 2019, www.indiatoday.in/india/story/nrc-protests-caa-protests-india-protests-protesters-arrested-section-153-section-505-1630436-2019-12-22.
Kennedy Ndahiro. “Rwanda Shows How Hateful Speech Leads to Violence.” The Atlantic, The Atlantic, 13 Apr. 2019, www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/04/rwanda-shows-how-hateful-speech-leads-violence/587041/.
TIMMERMANN, WIBKE KRISTIN. “The Relationship between Hate Propaganda and Incitement to Genocide: A New Trend in International Law Towards Criminalization of Hate Propaganda?” Leiden Journal of International Law, vol. 18, no. 2, June 2005, pp. 257–282, 10.1017/s0922156505002633.
Smith, Russell. “BBC NEWS | Africa | The Impact of Hate Media in Rwanda.” Bbc.Co. Uk, 2009, news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3257748.stm.
Kagan, Sophia. “The ‘Media Case’ before the Rwanda Tribunal: The Nahimana et Al. Appeal Judgement » The Hague Justice Portal” www.Haguejusticeportal.Net, 24 Apr. 2008, www.haguejusticeportal.net/index.php?id=9166.
Zahar, Alexander. “The ICTR’s ‘Media’ Judgment and the Reinvention of Direct and Public Incitement to Commit Genocide.” Criminal Law Forum, vol. 16, no. 1, Mar. 2005, pp. 33–48, 10.1007/s10609-005-6734-x.
“Three Media Leaders Convicted for Genocide | United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.” Unictr.Irmct. Org, 3 Dec. 2003, unictr.irmct.org/en/news/three-media-leaders-convicted-genocide.
Fisher, Max. “Sri Lanka Blocks Social Media, Fearing More Violence.” The New York Times, 21 Apr. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/04/21/world/asia/sri-lanka-social-media.html.
Panneerselvan, A. s. “Journalism in the Time of Hate.” The Hindu, 19 Nov. 2018, www.thehindu.com/opinion/Readers-Editor/journalism-in-the-time-of-hate/article25532215.ece.
Pégorier, Clotilde. “Speech and Harm: Genocide Denial, Hate Speech and Freedom of Expression.” International Criminal Law Review, vol. 18, no. 1, 15 Feb. 2018, pp. 97–126, 10.1163/15718123-01801003.
Marantz, Andrew. “Free Speech Is Killing Us”, The New York Times, 4 Oct. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/10/04/opinion/sunday/free-speech-social-media-violence.html.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Niranjan Jose is a third-year law student pursuing BBA LLB from National Law University Odisha (NLUO). He is a national level debater with a keen interest in International Relations. At law school, Jose has exposed himself to a variety of subjects such as contemporary international politics, international monetary economics, and international trade law.
In Content Picture Credit: inc42.com