Supreme Court of India
Patricia Mukhim vs The State Of Meghalaya on 25 March, 2021Author: L. Nageswara Rao

Bench: L. Nageswara Rao, S. Ravindra Bhat



Criminal Appeal No.141 of 2021
(@ SLP (Crl.) No.103 of 2021)


STATE OF MEGHALAYA & ORS. …. Respondent (s)


1. This Appeal is filed against the rejection of an

application filed by the Appellant under Section 482 of the

Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 for quashing FIR Laban PS

Case No.72(7)2020 dated 06.07.2020 registered under

Sections 153 A, 500 and 505 (1) (c) of the Indian Penal

Code, 1860.

2. A press release was issued by the Assistant Inspector

General of Police (A) on 04.07.2020 in which there was a

reference to an incident on the day prior. The incident had

Signature Not Verified
led to registration of a crime at Laban Police Station under
Digitally signed by
Date: 2021.03.25

Sections 326/307/506/34 IPC. It was mentioned in the press
16:54:35 IST

release that around 12:30 pm, about 25 unidentified boys

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had assaulted youngsters playing basketball in Block 4,

Lawsohtun with iron rods and sticks. Arindam Deb,

Subharashi Das Paspurkayastha, Saptarshi Das Purkayashta,

Binak Deb, Bishal Ghosh and Prittish Deb had sustained

injuries in the incident. The injured had been rushed to

Woodland Hospital for medical assistance. It was stated in

the press release that some suspects had already been

arrested and that interrogation was in progress. An appeal

was made to the public to assist the investigation team in

identifying the perpetrators of the crime. A warning was

given that nobody should breach communal peace and


3. On the same day, the Appellant uploaded a post on

Facebook, which reads as follows:

Patricia Mukhim
4 July at 04:07. Facebook for Android

Conrad Sangma CM Meghalaya, what happened yesterday
at Lawsohtun where some Non-Tribal youth playing
Basketball were assaulted with lethal weapons and are now
in Hospital, is unacceptable in a state with a Government
and a functional Police Force. The attackers allegedly tribal
boys with masks on and should be immediately booked. This
continued attack of Non-Tribals in Meghalaya whose
ancestors have lived here for decades, some having come
here since the British period is reprehensible to say the
least. The fact that such attacker and trouble mongers since
1979 have never been arrested and if arrested never

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penalized according to law suggests that Meghalaya has
been a failed State for a long time now.
We request your government and the police force under the
present DGP, R. Chandranathan, to take this matter with the
seriousness it deserves. Show us the public that we have a
police force we can look up to.

And what about the Dorbar Shnong of the area? Don’t they
have their eyes and ears to the ground? Don’t they know the
criminal elements in their jurisdiction? Should they not lead
the charge and identify those murderous elements? This is
the time to rise above community interests, caste and creed
and call out for justice.

We hope that this will not be yet another case lost in the
Police files. We want action. Criminal elements have no
community. They must be dealt with as per the law of the

Why should our Non-Tribal brethren continue to live in
perpetual fear in their own state? Those born and brought
up here have as much right to call Meghalaya their State as
the indigenous Tribal does. Period.

4. On 06.07.2020, the Headman and the Secretary,

Dorbar Shnong, Lawsohtun, Shillong filed a complaint with

the Superintendent of Police, East Khasi Hills, Shillong,

Meghalaya that the statement made by the Appellant on

Facebook incited communal tension which might instigate a

communal conflict. The Dorbar Shnong also complained of

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defamation. Acting on the said complaint, FIR was

registered at Laban Police Station and notice was issued to

the Appellant under Section 41 A Cr. PC, directing her to

appear before the Kench’s Trace Police Beat House under

Laban Police Station, District East Khasi Hills Shillong,


5. The Appellant filed Criminal Petition No. 9 of 2020 in

the High Court of Meghalaya at Shillong for quashing the

FIR. The High Court by its judgment dated 10.11.2020

dismissed the Criminal Petition No. 9 of 2020, the legality of

which is challenged in this Appeal. The High Court was of

the opinion that reference to the attack on the non-tribals in

the State of Meghalaya by the tribals has propensity to

cause a rift between two communities. Observing that the

Facebook post sought to arouse feelings of enmity and

hatred between two communities, the High Court held

prima facie an offence under Section 153 A IPC was made


6. We have heard Ms. Vrinda Grover, learned counsel for

the Appellant and Mr. Avijit Mani Tripathi, learned counsel

for the State of Meghalaya. The contention of the Appellant

was that ingredients of the offence under Section 153 A IPC

have not been made out and the FIR registered against the

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Appellant deserves to be quashed. It was urged on behalf

of the Appellant that the Facebook post should be read in its

entirety. The brutal attack on non-tribals was highlighted

calling for suitable action against the culprits. It was

submitted on behalf of the Appellant that there was no

intention to promote any feeling of enmity or hatred

between two communities. Reliance was placed on

judgments of this Court to argue that the comment made by

the Appellant should be judged from the stand point of a

reasonable, strong minded and courageous man. The

Appellant asserted her right guaranteed under Article 19 (1)

(a) of the Constitution of India. She voiced her concern

about the criminal prosecution resulting in a chilling effect

on her fundamental right to free speech.

7. The learned counsel for the Respondent-State argued

that the Appellant is a renowned journalist and is expected

to be more responsible when making public comments. The

learned counsel for the State submitted that the comment

of the Appellant has the tendency of provoking communal

disharmony. He submitted that the High Court was right in

dismissing the application filed under Section 482 Cr. PC

and requested this Court to not interfere as the

investigation is in progress.

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8. “It is of utmost importance to keep all speech free in

order for the truth to emerge and have a civil society. ” –

Thomas Jefferson. Freedom of speech and expression

guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution is a very

valuable fundamental right. However, the right is not

absolute. Reasonable restrictions can be placed on the right

of free speech and expression in the interest of sovereignty

and integrity of India, security of the State, friendly relations

with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in

relation to contempt of Court, defamation or incitement to

an offence. Speech crime is punishable under Section 153 A

IPC. Promotion of enmity between different groups on

grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language

etc. and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony is

punishable with imprisonment which may extend to three

years or with fine or with both under Section 153 A. As we

are called upon to decide whether a prima facie case is

made out against the Appellant for committing offences

under Sections 153 A and 505 (1) (c), it is relevant to

reproduce the provisions which are as follows:

153A. Promoting enmity between different groups on
grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence,
language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to
maintenance of harmony. —

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(1) Whoever—
(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by
visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts
to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth,
residence, language, caste or community or any other
ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity,
hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language
or regional groups or castes or communities, or

(b) commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance
of harmony between different religious, racial, language or
regional groups or castes or communities, and which
disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquility, or
(c) organizes any exercise, movement, drill or other similar
activity intending that the participants in such activity shall
use or be trained to use criminal force or violence or
knowing it to be likely that the participants in such activity
will use or be trained to use criminal force or violence, or
participates in such activity intending to use or be trained to
use criminal force or violence or knowing it to be likely that
the participants in such activity will use or be trained to use
criminal force or violence, against any religious, racial,
language or regional group or caste or community and such
activity for any reason whatsoever causes or is likely to
cause fear or alarm or a feeling of insecurity amongst
members of such religious, racial, language or regional
group or caste or community, shall be punished with
imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine,
or with both.
Offence committed in place of worship, etc.— (2)
Whoever commits an offence specified in sub-section (1) in
any place of worship or in any assembly engaged in the
performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies,

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shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to
five years and shall also be liable to fine.

505. Statements conducing to public mischief. —

(1) Whoever makes, publishes or circulates any statement,
rumour or report, —
*** *** *** ***
(c) with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class
or community of persons to commit any offence against any
other class or community,
shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to
three years, or with fine, or with both.

9. Only where the written or spoken words have the

tendency of creating public disorder or disturbance of law

and order or affecting public tranquility, the law needs to

step in to prevent such an activity. The intention to cause

disorder or incite people to violence is the sine qua non of

the offence under Section 153 A IPC and the prosecution

has to prove the existence of mens rea in order to succeed.1

10. The gist of the offence under Section 153 A IPC is the

intention to promote feelings of enmity or hatred between

different classes of people. The intention has to be judged

primarily by the language of the piece of writing and the

circumstances in which it was written and published. The

matter complained of within the ambit of Section 153A must

Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab, (1995) 3 SCC 214

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be read as a whole. One cannot rely on strongly worded and

isolated passages for proving the charge nor indeed can one

take a sentence here and a sentence there and connect

them by a meticulous process of inferential reasoning2.

11. In Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of A.P. 3, this Court

analysed the ingredients of Sections 153 A and 505 (2) IPC.

It was held that Section 153 A covers a case where a person

by “words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible

representations”, promotes or attempts to promote feeling

of enmity, hatred or ill will. Under Section 505 (2)

promotion of such feeling should have been done by making

a publication or circulating any statement or report

containing rumour or alarming news. Mens rea was held to

be a necessary ingredient for the offence under Section 153

A and Section 505 (2). The common factor of both the

sections being promotion of feelings of enmity, hatred or ill

will between different religious or racial or linguistics or

religious groups or castes or communities, it is necessary

that at least two such groups or communities should be

involved. It was further held in Bilal Ahmed Kaloo (supra)

that merely inciting the feelings of one community or group

without any reference to any other community or group

Manzar Sayeed Khan v. State of Maharashtra, (2007) 5 SCC 1
(1997) 7 SCC 431

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cannot attract any of the two sections. The Court went on

to highlight the distinction between the two offences,

holding that publication of words or representation is sine

qua non under Section 505. It is also relevant to refer to the

judgment of this Court in Ramesh v. Union of India4 in

which it was held that words used in the alleged criminal

speech should be judged from the standards of reasonable,

strong-minded, firm and courageous men, and not those of

weak and vacillating minds, nor of those who scent danger

in every hostile point of view. The standard of an ordinary

reasonable man or as they say in English law “the man on

the top of a Clapham omnibus” should be applied.

12. This Court in Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan v. Union of

India & Ors.5 had referred to the Canadian Supreme Court

decision in Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission)

v. Whatcott6. In that judgment, the Canadian Supreme

Court set out what it considered to be a workable approach

in interpreting “hatred” as is used in legislative provisions

prohibiting hate speech. The first test was for the Courts to

apply the hate speech prohibition objectively and in so

doing, ask whether a reasonable person, aware of the

context and circumstances, would view the expression as
(1988) 1 SCC 668
(2014) 11 SCC 477
[2013] 1 SCR 467

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exposing the protected group to hatred. The second test

was to restrict interpretation of the legislative term “hatred”

to those extreme manifestations of the emotion described

by the words “detestation” and “vilification”. This would

filter out and protect speech which might be repugnant and

offensive, but does not incite the level of abhorrence,

delegitimization and rejection that risks causing

discrimination or injury. The third test was for Courts to

focus their analysis on the effect of the expression at issue,

namely, whether it is likely to expose the targeted person or

group to hatred by others. Mere repugnancy of the ideas

expressed is insufficient to constitute the crime attracting


13. In the instant case, applying the principles laid down

by this Court as mentioned above, the question that arises

for our consideration is whether the Facebook post dated

04.07.2020 was intentionally made for promoting

class/community hatred and has the tendency to provoke

enmity between two communities. A close scrutiny of the

Facebook post would indicate that the agony of the

Appellant was directed against the apathy shown by the

Chief Minister of Meghalaya, the Director General of Police

and the Dorbar Shnong of the area in not taking any action

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against the culprits who attacked the non-tribals

youngsters. The Appellant referred to the attacks on non-

tribals in 1979. At the most, the Facebook post can be

understood to highlight the discrimination against non-

tribals in the State of Meghalaya. However, the Appellant

made it clear that criminal elements have no community

and immediate action has to be taken against persons who

had indulged in the brutal attack on non-tribal youngsters

playing basketball. The Facebook post read in its entirety

pleads for equality of non-tribals in the State of Meghalaya.

In our understanding, there was no intention on the part of

the Appellant to promote class/community hatred. As there

is no attempt made by the Appellant to incite people

belonging to a community to indulge in any violence, the

basic ingredients of the offence under Sections 153 A and

505 (1) (c) have not been made out. Where allegations

made in the FIR or the complaint, even if they are taken on

their face value and accepted in their entirety do not prima

facie constitute any offence or make out a case against the

accused, the FIR is liable to be quashed7.

14. India is a plural and multicultural society. The promise

of liberty, enunciated in the Preamble, manifests itself in

various provisions which outline each citizen’s rights; they
State of Haryana & Ors. v. Bhajan Lal & Ors., 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335

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include the right to free speech, to travel freely and settle

(subject to such reasonable restrictions that may be validly

enacted) throughout the length and breadth of India. At

times, when in the legitimate exercise of such a right,

individuals travel, settle down or carry on a vocation in a

place where they find conditions conducive, there may be

resentments, especially if such citizens prosper, leading to

hostility or possibly violence. In such instances, if the

victims voice their discontent, and speak out, especially if

the state authorities turn a blind eye, or drag their feet,

such voicing of discontent is really a cry for anguish, for

justice denied – or delayed. This is exactly what appears to

have happened in this case.

15. The attack upon six non-locals, carried out by masked

individuals, is not denied by the State; its reporting too is

not denied. The State in fact issued a press release. There

appears to be no headway in the investigations. The

complaint made by the Dorbar Shnong, Lawsohtun that the

statement of the Appellant would incite communal tension

and might instigate a communal conflict in the entire State

is only a figment of imagination. The fervent plea made by

the Appellant for protection of non-tribals living in the State

of Meghalaya and for their equality cannot, by any stretch

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of imagination, be categorized as hate speech. It was a call

for justice – for action according to law, which every citizen

has a right to expect and articulate. Disapprobation of

governmental inaction cannot be branded as an attempt to

promote hatred between different communities. Free

speech of the citizens of this country cannot be stifled by

implicating them in criminal cases, unless such speech has

the tendency to affect public order. The sequitur of above

analysis of the Facebook post made by the Appellant is that

no case is made out against the Appellant for an offence

under Section 153 A and 505 (1) (c) IPC.

16. For the aforementioned reasons, the Appeal is allowed

and the judgment of the High Court is set aside. FIR PS

Case No.72 (7) 2020 dated 06.07.2020 registered at Police

Station Laban is quashed.


New Delhi,
March 25, 2021.

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