Yo ban? Rape rap and limits of free speech in India : An argument analysis of the debate about banning the artist Honey Singh

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Teologiska institutionen


This thesis consists of an argument analysis of three columns published in the Indian newspaper The Indian Express in the aftermath of the gangrape and murder of a young woman in Delhi in December 2012, and the following debate about glorification of rape in Indian popular culture. One of the columnists is arguing in favour of including gender as a category in the Indian law on hate speech, thereby banning an artist called Honey Singh and his lyrics about rape. The two other columnists are arguing against new restrictions on free speech in India.

The analysis of the columns shows that there are several relevant arguments for and against including gender in the Indian hate speech legislation. The argumentation against a new law is similar to argumentation found in Western liberal theory, and the argumentation in favour of a new law is similar to argumentation found in Western radical feminist and critical race theory.

However, both strands of philosophy are contested by postcolonial theorists, arguing that no Western theory is applicable in a non-Western context, such as India. Indian postcolonial feminists argue in favour of a third approach to sexist speech in India; a counter-speech approach. Counter-speech theorists agree with liberals about the importance of freedom of speech, and with feminists about the harm in hate speech. According to counter-speech theory, hate speech shall thus not be outlawed, but the state shall try to counter the harmful effects of hate speech, for example by strengthening groups targeted by hate speech so that they can speak back to hatemongers.

The conclusion of this thesis is that a counter-speech approach is the most sustainable regarding freedom of speech and gender in India. Such an approach does not only appeal to Indian postcolonial theorists, it is also a middle way in-between a liberal and a radical feminist approach.

In the conclusion, the relevance of hate speech legislation as a whole is also questioned. Laws such as in India, that protect only racial and religious groups from being targeted by hate speech while categories such as gender, sexual orientation and disability are not included, can be deemed discriminatory. An abolishment of hate speech prohibitions and an adoption of a counter-speech approach to all forms of hate speech is discussed.

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