Blasphemy law in India


Punjab government proposed to add Section 295AA in IPC to expand and tighten law on Sacrilege

Sacrilege: violation or misuse of what is regarded as sacred.
Blasphemy Law
: Deals with the matter pertaining to lack of respect toward God, religion, a religious icon, or something else considered sacred.

Laws related to blasphemy in India

Section 295A of the IPC:

  • It penalizes any deliberate intention of insulting the religion or religious beliefs of any class of citizen
  • Section 295A is a cognizable offence, which means that the police are authorised to arrest accused persons without the need of a judicially sanctioned warrant.
  • This law was added only in 1927. Earlier India never had blasphemy law
  • It is often argued that Section 295A is not a section for blasphemy but a section against Hate Speech

Other laws

  • Sections 124A, 153A, 153B, 292, and 293 of IPC also related to blasphemy
  • These sections prohibit any words or representations that insult any individual’s or group’s religious beliefs, or that are meant to incite enmity against a particular religion.

Reason for blasphemy law

  1. To value and respect for sanctity of the God, Religion and Religious belief.
  2. Religion affects the actions of human beings. Legal protection provided by state to protect religious belief and sentiments leads to stable society and governance.
  3. Most of the countries implement Blasphemy laws as a reasonable restriction for the maintenance of communal harmony.
  • Section 295A was also introduced to control series of communal violence
  1. Blasphemy law is required by the states that have an official religion like Pakistan

Argument against blasphemy law

  1. Blasphemy has been described as irreverence towards God or Religion, however the term “Religion‟ itself lacks a proper definition for itself.
  2. Against the spirit of Fundamental right of Speech and Expressions. USA has no blasphemy law to protect freedom of speech and expressions.
  3. Blasphemy laws are incompatible with the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  4. Blasphemy law is often be used as a tool for the majority to oppress the minority.
  5. The allegations of blasphemy have been used by vigilante groups and non-state actors to justify and instigate incidents of interreligious violence

Supreme Court Judgment

Ramji Lal Modi v. State of Uttar Pradesh

  • The case challenges the constitutional validity of law.
  • Case argue that Art. 19(2) only put reasonable restrictions but section 295 A casts its net much wider by criminalizing all speech that was intended to outrage religious feeling
  • A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Section 295 A
  • Supreme court observe that section 295A did not cover all type of Insult but only intentional insults

The Superintendent, Central Prison, Fatehgarh v Ram Manohar Lohia

  • Under this case supreme court observes that speech which is prohibited should have a direct connection to disrupt public order and it should not be just a remote connection
  • This is contrary to previous judgment (Ram ji Lal Modi case) which gave the order that a slight connection of freedom of speech with public disorder fall under Section 295 A

New Punjab law

  • Under new proposed law any “injury, damage or sacrilege to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Srimad Bhagwad Geeta, Holy Quran and Holy Bible with the intention to hurt the religious feelings of the people” a crime punishable with life imprisonment

Need for Law

  • Several incident took place in various part of Punjab related to sacrilege of Holy book of Sikhs.
  • Existing provisions of the said Act in Section 295, 295A and 296 though deal with these matters but do not provide deterrent punishment for incidents

Issues with the law

  • Protecting Holy book of one religion is anti-secular and discriminatory against other religion.
  • Most importantly, section 295-A of IPC deals with religion and religious beliefs, punishment under section 295-AA explicitly for religious text would be disproportionate.
  • Misuse of law in guise of protecting religion sentiments may inflict violence.

Way ahead

  • If the speech or statement or art of work have an element of incitement of hate, it should be treated as a hate speech under section 153(a) of IPC and not as a Blasphemy.
  • Spirit of tolerance among the people of difference sects needs to be promoted.
  • To decide whether the blasphemous act have element of hate or violence should be left at the level of tolerance of the society.
  • It is believed that the stricter the Blasphemy law, graver the human right violation.

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