Hate Speech during Election Campaigns: A Petition for Action

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March 25, 2021

Chief Election Officer, Tamil Nadu 

Dear Sir,

We, the undersigned, as citizens, professionals and women’s rights advocates in Tamil Nadu are writing to demand that you take action against Mr. Dindigul I. Leoni and candidate Mr. Karthikeya Sivasenapathy for the former’s misogynistic statements in the course of his Assembly election campaign in the course of the latter’s election campaign.

We are appealing to you, Mr. Chief Electoral Officer, in recognition of the fact that political parties will hesitate to withdraw a candidate two weeks ahead of an election.

Candidates who vilify members of any gender, caste or community in the course of an election campaign, including making personal comments on their appearance or lifestyle, are not deserving of the honour of representing any of us. Their tolerance of hate speech by their supporters is an equal offence. This is also true of political parties who tolerate this culture of vilification and hate speech in their self-interest.

While the Model Code of Conduct prohibits caste or communal comments and provocations and it forbids candidates from insulting each other, it carries no such provision with respect to slurs and insults against women and gender minorities. We ask that you set a precedent by penalising this candidate immediately.

It is time that misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic speech were made disqualifications for the honour of serving in our legislatures, along with histories of sexual harassment and violence. Please take action that initiates that change in our election laws.

As the Prajnya Gender Equality Election Checklist states, “Democracy without gender equality is incomplete and imperfect.” As the guardians of India’s electoral democracy, it is up to the Election Commission to introduce and promote a more gender-sensitive and inclusive election culture, by:

1.       Banning misogynistic, homophobic and transphobic speech; and

2.      Barring candidates charge-sheeted or convicted of sexual and gender-based violence and harassment.

This outrageous campaign speech by Mr. Dindigul I. Leoni offers you an opportunity to act in the interest of 3.18 crores women voters in Tamil Nadu—the majority of voters, as you know, in this state. You must act, Mr. Chief Election Officer, because without your action, you know that the political parties that field such obnoxious candidates will not.

We look to you in the hope that you will stand up for the Constitution that sees all of us as equal citizens, equally entitled to dignity. We ask you to penalise the campaigner, the candidate and warn political parties to stop the use of offensive language.

Yours truly,

Swarna Rajagopalan 

Sujata Mody

ACR Sudaroli

Copied to:

  • Chief Election Commissioner, India
  • The Chief Minister, Tamil Nadu
  • Chairperson,Tamil Nadu State Commission for Women 
  • Secretary, Law Ministry, Tamil Nadu
  • Chief Justice, Madras High Court
  • President, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam

This letter is also online here and it will be available for others to view and endorse.

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