India must amend its "antiquated" colonial era laws on sedition and defamation which are being used to "silence" dissent and "restrict" freedom of speech, a global writers group said here today, citing a "growing culture of intolerance" in the country.
"An inefficient legal system and what amounts to unchecked abuse of vague and overbroad legislation have contributed to a chilling effect on free speech within India's society and throughout its public sphere," PEN International, PEN Canada and International Human Rights Programme said in a report.
'Fearful Silence: The Chill on India's Public Sphere', released at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Law shows how a relatively small number of aggrieved citizens can successfully deter many others from speaking out on sensitive issues, thereby endangering India's key democratic freedoms.
"The update paints a sobering picture for the state of free expression in India today, revealing that a growing culture of intolerance linked to a rising nationalist discourse has taken root in the country and has become more menacing since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in 2014.
"Although freedom of expression is protected under the Indian Constitution and international treaties to which India is a State Party, antiquated laws passed during the colonial era, such as sedition, and laws criminalising defamation and those pertaining to hate speech are used to restrict freedom of expression," the group said.
"The space for free speech in India's public sphere is shrinking. A climate of online harassment threatens to silence critical voices, particularly those of minorities and women. Proposed changes to the Information Technology Act, incorporating overbroad provisions of the penal code, threaten online speech," the group added.
Since the publication of Imposing Silence - the group's report issued last year, such laws and provisions have consistently been used to target individuals and groups, it said.
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