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Misogyny In India: A Virulent Form Of Hate Speech

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Over time, our supposedly egalitarian society has nourished misogynist attitudes and beliefs and pushed ideologies that glorify the speaker as a maverick but inflict hatred on women for being as unfortunate as they are, to be women in men’s world. The laws that govern Indian women are dictated by social perceptions formed by the self-acclaimed censorious champions of morality. This exclusively masculine and misogynist society that has tied women in the fetters of these laws, endorsing sexism, has been complicit with the archaic Indian law in perpetuating patriarchal codes of conduct.

Sexist and misogynist speech takes the form of hate speech through practices like slut-shaming, giving sexualised threats of death, rape, and/or any other form of violence, and commenting to ridicule and humiliate the target. The current legal framework for gender-based violence needs to be seen through the prism of hate speech to be able to do justice to the myriad of anguishing experiences that women face. This piece is an attempt to figure out and then argue that misogynist speech that enforces patriarchy is a perfect fit in the category of hate speech. In doing so, I assert that women at innumerable times are targets of hate speech and a legal system that perfunctorily dismisses this is oppressive. I dare to place the misogynist ideologies of the regressive Indian society in an explicitly feminist paradigm that situates violence induced by speech within the continuum of violence.

DEFINING HATE SPEECH: DEATH BY WORDS IS VIOLENCE

“We’re told they’re ‘only words,’ but we live and die by them.” Words simply put together, cannot constitute speech. Speech is constituted by social reality. A form of speech that constitutes an act characteristically hostile and aims to silence, malign, disparage, humiliate, intimidate, incite violence, or vilify, is liable to be termed as hate speech. Human Rights Watch defines hate speech as any form of expression that is regarded as offensive to various groups including women. It is evident from these definitions that hate speech may oppress through copious means including but not at all limited to violence and subordination. One such means is rooted in the deep desire for anti-feminist elements in our country to pass off their bitter hostility towards women through words and then bury the realities of this systemic misogyny by disregarding it as hate speech.

While adjudicating cases of rape and sexual assault, a woman’s character is mercilessly besmirched and she is made to sit through the incessant reiteration of what is “unbecoming” of an Indian woman. Humiliations as harsh as this are nothing short of hate speech conveniently disguised as misogyny. What should fill a judge with nothing but great indignation and censure becomes the subject of a nonchalant opinion about a woman’s “promiscuity”, “adventurism”, and “experimentation in sexual encounters.” Victims standing in Indian courtrooms are regular Indian girls who often find themselves on the seemingly wrong side of the law that traces its inception back in the paternalistic minds of old men. Every word, though carefully uttered by them, is met with a demand for strong corroboration and the ‘tale’ as told by them is put aside for ‘credibility deficit.’ But the sad irony is that this deeply entrenched misogyny and male privilege evident in the judges’ conduct is not seen as ‘unbecoming’ of a judge.

When a girl or a woman digresses from the socially acceptable norms of femininity, or at the risk of sounding shamelessly crude when a girl or a woman engages in casual sexual relations with multiple partners, she is accorded the label of ‘slut.’ In a society where slut-shaming should be tantamount to hate speech, it is recognised as a playful insult, one which can become an accusation so strong that it can be synonymised with misogyny. Calling a woman an ‘easy lay’ because of her sexual choices is a classic example of slut-shaming by people with fragile egos who need to hyper-‘masculinate’ at all available opportunities. ‘Bois locker room’ incident yet again reinforced the reality that the best way to express one’s masculinity is to denigrate women through the use of expletives and brazen means of objectification. Far from convicting perpetrators of this nameless and unrecognized crime, our government attempts to disable the feminist movement against this and without advocating actual physical violence, seeks to cause permanent psychological and emotional harm by robbing women of their rights, discriminating against them in the wage system, and confining them in idealised domestic spaces.

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GENDERED HATE SPEECH: TO BE NORMALISED OR CRIMINALISED?

As a society, we have normalized gendered hate speech to an extent that it is no longer recognised as a form of hate speech. The sense of superiority of one group over another resulting in the former’s urge for dominance over the latter gives rise to hate speech. Gendered opinions, however, are excused from this domain on account of being simply parochial.

Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalises the promotion of enmity between groups of people on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, and carrying out of acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony. The primary lacuna in this law is the blatant exclusion of ‘gender’ as an essential aspect of a person’s identity. Inclusion of the phrase ‘any other ground whatsoever’ does not promote a more inclusive hate speech law and is a sham in the name of a legal solution that strengthens the laws around gendered hate speech. Remarks against women, as scornful as “fortune huntress mafia moll only used as a sex bait to trap rich men” are not simply ‘sexist.’ These are misogynist comments fuelled by unwarranted hate that are considered only offensive by a law that provides no remedy for speech that not only promotes gender stereotypes but irreparably injures the self-esteem of an entire group. Section 14 of the Press Council of India (PCI) Act, 1978 entrusts the PCI with the ‘power to censure’ based on complaints against news agencies for offending journalistic ethics, public taste, among others. A law as infirm as this provides no real legal recourse to women as subjects of hate speech because it empowers the council to merely ‘disapprove’ of journalistic conduct. The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2017 proposes the insertion of Sections 153C and 505A in the IPC to criminalise incitement of hatred and violence on the grounds of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, among others. The Law Commission relies on the status of the authors and victims of the speech, its potentiality, and context, as well as the extremity of speech, as criteria used to distinguish offensive speech from hate speech. However, the objective that this amendment seeks to achieve is blurred due to the lack of a clear definition of hate speech identifying the harm that it may cause and thereby makes the provision ambiguous.

The aforementioned laws vest an arbitrary discretion in the judiciary to determine what constitutes hate speech and what does not. The ire of an Indian judge is aroused only in cases where hate speech results in incitement of violence, especially physical. An incitement to discriminate and harm by verbally abusing women with rape threats fails to make the cut. The regrettable reality that we are faced with is that any person who vilifies and disparages women might be a nuisance, to the extent of becoming dangerous, but his/her actions will not constitute a toxic social situation that could be punishable as hate speech. A person’s misogynist ideology might result in actions that are punishable as crimes but the ideology remains protected.

Hate speech has itself become a part of mainstream discourse in a manner that is increasingly acceptable to a large section of the society thereby defeating the objective of the law. This assertion is strengthened by the Court’s ignorant observation that existing laws in India are sufficient to tackle hate speeches.

CONCLUSION

To accomplish the goal of recognizing misogyny as a form of hate speech, we need to let go of our ‘what-about-it’ approach. Attempting to discredit a woman’s stance on indecent and derogatory comments against her by refuting them or trying to disprove them is further strengthening the ingrained prejudice against women in our society. Our constitution recognises dignity as intrinsic to a person and misogyny and patriarchal notions of sexual control should find no place in this constitutional order.

The discussion of gender justice and critique of our misogynist system is punctured by the ignorant law governing hate speech. It is rarely followed by the discussion and plea to develop a rigorous hate speech law that takes into consideration gender as one’s identity. Legal recognition has been accorded to bad speech that causes harm, but misogyny, which is just a stealthier way of harassing, intimidating, and ridiculing women, has often failed the test of being dangerous enough. Misogyny, as ubiquitous as it is in our phallocentric society, enjoys impunity. To treat misogynist speech as “merely words” is to fail to acknowledge the reason for speaking and the impact we want to make. It is violence against women in the rawest and the most shameful form. Addressing it as ‘only misogyny’ as it falls short of the manifold criteria to qualify as hate speech, would be an oversimplification.

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Misogyny In India: A Virulent Form Of Hate Speech. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 4, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/misogyny-in-india-a-virulent-form-of-hate-speech/
“Misogyny In India: A Virulent Form Of Hate Speech.” Edubirdie, 21 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/misogyny-in-india-a-virulent-form-of-hate-speech/
Misogyny In India: A Virulent Form Of Hate Speech. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/misogyny-in-india-a-virulent-form-of-hate-speech/> [Accessed 4 Dec. 2022].
Misogyny In India: A Virulent Form Of Hate Speech [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 21 [cited 2022 Dec 4]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/misogyny-in-india-a-virulent-form-of-hate-speech/
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