Justice and Hate: Legal approaches to hate crimes in society

                        AUTHOR’S NAME – Priyesh Kumar, BA LLB, Third Year.

                     INSTITUTIONS NAME – Symbiosis Law School, Hyderabad.



Hate crimes can be defined as criminal acts motivated by bias or prejudice targeted towards a specific group based on caste, religion, sex, or other characteristics, which poses a grave threat to harmony and order in society. These are message crimes with the particular intention of maintaining and extending the marginalization of historically deprived classes. Hate crimes have the potential to instill a fear of victimization in community members, which can sometimes weaken their ability to advocate for their needs but also frequently increase support for the targeted communities[1]. The members of the group target of hate crimes have to suffer the vast consequences even in the absence of individual victimization. The main point of distinction of hate crimes from other crimes lies in the fact that the former is not only felt by one individual, rather it affects the targeted community at large. For instance, when someone is attacked because of prejudice against their faith, other people who practice that faith may feel threatened and afraid. Hate crime victims are frequently picked out of the community because they belong to a specific targeted group, and the attackers may not even know the victims personally. Garland points out that survivors of hate crimes are being targeted not for who they are as people, but rather for what they stand for when it comes to their identity or membership in a certain group. Hate crimes frequently pose challenging situations to law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judges, and certain other personnel involved in the criminal justice system. Legal approaches to stop hate crimes include a variety of actions used to prevent, prosecute, and discourage hate crimes. These strategies include initiatives to strengthen training for law enforcement and community participation, as well as hate crime legislation that toughens punishments for offenses motivated by bias. These measures help prevent and effectively address hatred-motivated violence and discrimination.

Understanding the tenets of hate crimes & overview of the legal framework:

Criminal acts motivated by prejudice against a person or social group because of distinctions in their religious beliefs and customs are termed hate crimes. The concept of hate crimes in the contemporary period implies insulting or degrading speech that incites violence in addition to lynchings, discrimination, and offensive comments. These offences are seen as a violation of a person’s rights and also cause a grave impact on the social order. Because of this, hate crimes are even more heinous than other types of crimes. The most frequent grounds for hate speech are class, religion, race, and ethnicity. The definition of hate crimes is not constrained to the violation of an individual’s right to freedom of speech and expression and the harm inflicted as a consequence of hate speech, rather it involves the harm made to the community at large.  As per the published figures, a total of 902 hate crimes have been reported including hate varying from caste, and religion to honor killing and love jihad[2][3]. Perpetrators of hate crimes are primarily motivated by a combination of different prejudices, rather than being influenced by a single type of hatred or prejudice. The apex court in the year 2014 while deciding the case of Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. UOI[4], has observed that hate speech is the result of the marginalization of individuals based on their identity and the same lays the basis for attacks on vulnerable groups as well as the violent ones[5].

Further, various factors prove phenomenal behind the commission of hate crimes, apart from jealousy, hatred, or ideological aspects. The offender might not feel anything personally against the victim, but he or she might feel unfavorable about the group that the victim is a part of. On the other hand, the offender might harbor animosity towards those who don’t belong to their own group. On an even broader spectrum, the victim can stand in for a notion or concept that the offender is opposed to, like immigration. These varied reasons add to the complexity of hate crimes and highlight the necessity of all-inclusive measures to confront and deter them. There are various legislations in India to deal with the menace of hate crimes. The necessity of bringing stringent laws is felt due to its extraordinary classification for appropriate management. These are brought to avoid the shortcomings in investigation, prosecution, and punishment processes which ultimately results in unbiased treatment of victims, particularly those from stigmatized groups, and disillusionment within affected communities. Acknowledging biased motives in prosecutions and sentences can validate victims and foster trust in the criminal justice system. Addressing hate crimes as distinct offenses is crucial for a fair and just society, fostering dignity and respect for all individuals. As such, the legal regime is roughly classified into two branches, wherein one is the penal code and the other is the specific enactments. Under the “Indian Penal Code, 1860,” elements of hate speech have been enunciated under “Sections 153A, 153B, 295A, 298 and 505.” Promoting animosity between various groups on the basis of religion, race, place of birth, domicile, language, etc., as well as engaging in actions detrimental to the preservation of harmony are included under Section 153A[6]. Imputations, or claims that are detrimental to national integrity, are covered under Section 153B[7]. The scope of national integrity and harmony is reduced in Section 295A[8] to intentional and evil conduct meant to offend the religious sentiments of any class by disparaging their religious beliefs. Additionally, Section 298[9] addresses speech that is meant to offend religious sentiments. Though it deals with utterances that encourage public mischief, Section 505[10] is far from the norm of offending religious sentiments or inciting animosity. The state government may prohibit new papers or documents that contain content that is prohibited by “Sections 153A, 153B, and 295A,” according to Section 95[11] of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Hate speech is also covered by the “Representation of Peoples Act, 1951,” which carries penalties of up to two years in jail or a fine. Due to the secular feature of the state, this rule attempts to avoid creating divisions in elections and political processes. Secondly, under the “SC/ST [Prevention of Atrocities Act], 1989,” a penalty of five years has been imposed for insulting or intimidating any person belonging to the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes. This statute addresses historical injustices to marginalized communities by drawing a distinction between hate speech and satire. Caste-based discrimination is forbidden by Section 3(1)(x)[12], protecting the community as a whole from hostility. The Supreme Court in the 1997 case of Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of A.P.[13] held that mere hurt to the religious sentiments of other people cannot become a ground for the attraction of “Sections 153B or 505 of the Indian Penal Code.” The law commission in its 267th report suggested some recommendations regarding the incorporation of “Sections 153C and 505A” for the effective resolution of hate speech. As per the suggested amendments of the commission, the former penalizes threatening words or hatred based on religion, race, or caste, with imprisonment of up to two years or a fine of Rs 5000. The latter expands the scope of hate speech to include speech causing fear or alarm to a person within hearing or sight. The report highlights that in order to ensure the passing of constitutional scrutiny, these sections should only be added to the Indian Penal Code after thorough consultation with practitioners and experts. It is believed that these suggested changes will lay the groundwork for properly identifying and combating hate speech.


Legal strategies play a crucial role in combating hate crimes by offering a structure for their investigation, prosecution, and punishment. They guarantee responsibility and provide victims with options. To promote tolerance, diversity, and inclusion, legislators, law enforcement, educators, community leaders, and citizens must work together. There will be a push for change as people become more conscious of hate crimes, resulting in a society that is more respectful and inclusive.

[1] Addressing Hate Crimes in the 21st Century: Trends, Threats, and Opportunities for Intervention, 6, Annual Review of Criminology, 107 (2023), https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-criminol-030920-091908.   

[2] Drishti Ias, https://www.drishtiias.com/to-the-points/Paper2/hate-crime-1.

[3] statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/980033/identity-of-hate-crime-victims-india/, (last visited Feb. 01, 2024).

[4] Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of India, 2014 (11) SCC 477.

[5] An Indian Law on Hate Speech: the Contradictions and Lack of Conversation, Citizens for Justice and Peace (Nov. 14, 2022), https://cjp.org.in/an-indian-law-on-hate-speech-the-contradictions-and-lack-of-conversation.

[6] Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 153A, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).

[7] Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 153B, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).

[8] Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 295A, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).

[9] Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 298, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).

[10] Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 505, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860 (India).

[11] Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, § 95, No. 2, Acts of Parliament, 1973 (India).

[12] SC/ST [Prevention of Attrocities Act], 1989, § 3 (1) (x), No. 33, Acts of Parliament, 1989 (India).

[13] Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of Andhra Pradesh, 1997 (7) SCC 431.

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