Blasphemy Law in India

Abstract
India is the world’s second most populous country in the world with 136.6 crore people.
The socio-cultural diversity is unique in its way. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution
states, “Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion”
with reasonable restrictions. Every religion has its own ideology and practices because of
which there are chances that there can be differences of opinion among the people.
Blasphemy is an act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for any
religious deity, sacred symbol or object, or towards something that is considered to be
sacred. Religious tolerance has been a burning topic in today’s era. Even though India is a
secular country, blasphemy is punishable under IPC under Sec.295A. In this article we
will discuss the elements of blasphemy according to the Sec. 295A and analyze its
constitutional validity.
Keywords: Blasphemy, Freedom, IPC, Religious sentiments, Rights of
the citizen, intention, religious tolerance

Introduction
The percentage division of religious populations in India is79.8% Hindus, 14.2%
Muslims and 5.1% other religions. The demography of the country would suggest that
each and every one would have different and conflicting opinions about the same topic. It

is important to understand that what might be right in one religion may not be acceptable
in another. Even though the foundation of religion is to maintain peace and harmony,
there are instances that a person with different religious outlook has hurt the feelings of
another religious sect. A widely accepted definition of blasphemy could be “An
irreverence towards God, religion, a sacred icon, or something else considered sacred”.
For instance, if a person makes an apparently derogatory remark about a deity and has
intentionally outraged the religious sect, then such a person is said to have committed
blasphemy. Freedom of speech is necessary for a democratic country to work as opinions
and views of a person are necessary to understand the plight of the people. Blasphemy has
been a controversial topic as it curtails one’s right to free speech and expression. The
constitutional validity of this section has caused ambiguity which has resulted in misuse
of this section. The act of blasphemy is criminalized by Section 295(A) of the Indian
Penal Code, 1860.This provision was sanctioned particularly to target discourse that is
expected to outrage the religious sentiments of people. The Indian penal code conflicts
with the right to freedom of speech and expression, thus questioning the constitutional
validity of the Sec 295A.

History
The history of Blasphemy law dates back to pre-independence era. There were religious
tensions between the Hindu and Muslim communities, many Arya Samaj leaders who
polemicized against religious texts and Prophet of Islam were murdered thus leading to
enactment of blasphemy law. Some instances that lead to blasphemy law were murder of
Pandit Lekhram who criticized about Islam, later a (ghost-written) book named ‘Rangila
Rasul’ written by Mahashay Rajpal discussing about the marriage and sex life of Prophet
Mohammed which was published in response to a pamphlet published by the Muslim
Community stating derogatory statements regarding Sita. Rajpal was not punished, as
there was no law that penalized sacrilege, but he was murder in 1929. Therefore in 1929
considering the situation in India the British government amended the Indian Penal Code,
1860 and added Section 295 (A).

Essential elements of blasphemy
To understand the relevance of Section 295A, it is necessary to understand the elements
that are present to establish blasphemy by a person. Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that
“295A. Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class
by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.—Whoever, with deliberate and malicious
intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of    [citizens of India], [by words,
either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or
attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with
imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 4[three years], or with
fine, or with both.]”
If we analyze this section we can determine the ingredients to establish sacrilege
committed by a person. It can be divided into three main elements which are as follows:
 The accused should insult or attempts to insult the religion or the religious belief
of a sect.
 It should be done with deliberate or malicious intention of outraging the
religious feelings of any class
 The insult can be by words, either spoken or written or by signs or visible
representation.
These elements should be analyzed in such a manner that it rightfully establishes
blasphemy.

Analysis on applicability of Section 295A
Here, we shall attempt to analyze benefits and drawbacks of this provision. If all the
above elements are present, then such person is punished under the provisions of Section
295A.As intention of a person is necessary to establish blasphemy, it is difficult to
ascertain whether the person who made such remark had the intention to outrage religious
sentiments. One of the important cases decided regarding these provisions are Ramjilal
Modi v. State of Uttar Pradesh. Here, the petitioner has filed a suit under Article 32,

stating that his right to freedom of speech and expression [Article 19 (1)] is curtailed
because of Section 295A of IPC and stating that this provision is ultra vires. But the
Supreme Court held that reasonable restriction can be made under Article 19(2) in the
interest of public order. Herein the petitioner had published a cartoon and an article which
was derogatory to the Muslim community and it had posed a potential threat to
disharmonize the public order. Thus, the court had convicted him under 295A and Section
153(a). Section 153 (a) is regarding promotion of enmity between different groups of
people such as people from different race, religion, caste etc. Sec. 295A and 153(a) are
used complementarily. Many jurists and legal advocates criticized the decision made by
the Court. In this particular case, we can observe that if one particular religious
community insults or attempts to insult in any manner another religious community, then
it shall be punishable even though it curtails the right to freedom of speech and
expression. Some other cases are Sri Baragur Ramachandrappa v. State of Karnataka and
State Of Maharashtra v. Sangharaj Damodar Rupawate. In the first case, the court had
foreseen the probability of dissention between the religious sect and also instituted in the
judgment that- “it was the duty of the State, being a State based on secular principles, not
to take sides with one religion or the other but to ‘create conditions where the sentiments
and feelings of people of diverse or opposing beliefs and bigotries are not so molested by
rigid writings or offensive publications as to provoke or outrage groups into possible
violent action’”. By this, we can determine that the sole purpose of section 295A is to
keep peace between all religious sects and to eschew any harm to sentiments of the
public.
In the second case, James Laine’s book, “Shivaji: A Hindu King in Islamic India” was
banned as it had led to widespread protest in Maharashtra. Later, Supreme Court lifted the
ban and also condemned the acts of the protestors.
Some of the benefits of this provisions that can be determined are:
 It criticizes the actions of people who attempt to degrade sentiments and

believes of other people intentionally.

 It penalizes such acts because of which people will avoid making
malicious remarks about any belief, thus, maintaining peace among the
people of the country.

Some of the drawbacks of this provision are:
 There are certain instances where historical and archeological proofs back up
religious texts. For example M Siddiq (D) Thr Lrs v. Mahant Suresh Das & Ors
(Ayodhya case) was decided on the basis of such facts and circumstances. In Sec
295(A) doesn’t considered rationality and truth as a defense according State of
Mysore v. Henry Rodrigues, this causes curtailment of freedom of speech and
expression as the intention of the person is only to provide facts and truth about a
particular subject
 The criminal law is based upon the maxim Actus Non Facit Reum, Nisi Mens Sit
Rea which means an act can only be considered as a crime if there is a guilty
intent. Unlike all other criminal offence in sacrilege it is difficult to determine if
the remark made by a person was intentional or otherwise, due to lack of
evidences establishing the intent. For instance, if a person writes about Lord
Rama consuming meat, in country like India where people associate God with
vegetarianism and piousness would find it offensive even though it is mentioned
in The Ramayana.
 It justifies protest, violent mob and vandalism, thus causing nuisance and
disharmony in the nation in that name of protection of religion sentiments.
 As there are different religious sects, it becomes difficult to establish what is
blasphemous because every religion has its own interpretations and ideology and
some or the other way it might cause conflicts.
We can observe that there are more drawbacks to blasphemy laws than benefits. The court
should make attempts to interpret this section in more liberal way considering the
circumstances of the case. The intention of the party is to be analyzed keenly to avoid
defective administration of justice.

Conclusion
It is observed that blasphemy laws are present in 36% of countries in the world. The
blasphemy laws are usually present where religious diversity exists. Establishing what is
blasphemous and what is not is difficult. Thus, this provision should be altered in such a

way that it defines blasphemy as well as preserves the purpose of Section 295Aand the
rights of the citizens. This section is necessary to keep solidarity intact and to avoid any
communal wars. But at the same time, it shouldn’t be used as a defense by the protestors
and mobs who try to stir chaos. It should accept the truths about a certain subject if there
are sufficient evidences proving it to be true. Religious tolerance is an important
component in maintaining peace and harmony in a diverse country like India where
different religious beliefs co-exist. It is also necessary for people to respect religious
sentiments and beliefs but at the same time it is important that people should have the
right to point out what’s wrong, for example, voicing opinions for child marriage, practice
of sati, dowry, etc. The provision should try to determine what is offensive to a particular
class of people and what should be considered to be generally offensive. Thus, we can
conclude that blasphemy law [mainly Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860] has
scope for better refinement since the line between intentional critique and freedom of
speech and expression is thin.

Author: Surya Sunilkumar, Ramaiah Institute of Legal Studies
Picture credits : https://nation.com.pk/14-Oct-2016/10-things-you-need-
to-know-about-pakistan-s-blasphemy-law

1 thought on “Blasphemy Law in India

  1. It’s an excellent piece of work . Enjoyed reading . Great one.

    Like

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