Section 295 (A) of the Indian Penal Code
Why in news?
The legality of Section 295(A) was affirmed by a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court. The court said that the punishment under Section 295(A) deals with aggravated form of blasphemy which is committed with the malicious aim of offending any religious sensibilities
What is the history of Section 295 (A)?
- As far as laws in India go, there isn’t formal legislation against blasphemy. The closest equivalent to a blasphemy law is Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which punishes any speech, writings, or signs that “with premeditated and malicious intent” insult citizens’ religion or religious beliefs with a fine and imprisonment for up to three years.
- The history of Section 295(A) of the IPC can be traced back to 95 years. In 1927, a satire was published which had obscene parallels to the Prophet’s personal life. It was indeed very offensive to the Muslim community but the erstwhile High Court of Lahore observed that the author of this cannot be prosecuted as the writing did not cause animosity or hostility between any communities. Thus, the offense did not fall under Section 153(A), which dealt with maintaining public tranquillity/order.
- However, this incident gave rise to a demand that there be a law to protect the sanctity of religions, and thus, Section 295(A) was introduced.
- The legality of Section 295(A), which had been challenged in the Ramji Lal Modi case (1957), was affirmed by a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court.
- The apex court reasoned that while Article 19(2) allows reasonable limits on freedom of speech and expression for the sake of public order, the punishment under Section 295(A) deals with aggravated form of blasphemy which is committed with the malicious aim of offending the religious sensibilities of any class.
How has the legislation been interpreted?
- the apex court redefined the test it laid down in the Ramji Lal Modi case.
- In the case of Superintendent, Central Prison, Fatehgarh vs Ram Manohar Lohia the Supreme Court stated that the link between the speech spoken and any public disorder caused as a result of it should have a close relationship for retrieving Section 295(A) of IPC.
- By 2011, it concluded that only speech that amounts to “incitement to impending unlawful action” can be punished. That is, the state must meet a very high bar before using public disturbance as a justification for suppressing expression.
Are hate speech cases rising?
- As per the data given by the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB), there has been a huge increase in cases registered promoting hate speech and fostering animosity in society.
- The data reads that while there were only 323 cases registered in 2014, it had increased to 1,804 cases in 2020. However, this can also be due to the steep turns in the dynamics of our current society.
- Section 295(A) is now usually used to penalise religious dissent, satire, and any comedic content with religious references.
- Bogus cases of 295(A) have been launched on certain web series like Tandav, which reportedly offended religious emotions.
How should one deal with incidents of blasphemy?
Blasphemy laws which prohibit religious criticism in general are incompatible with the principles of a democratic society. In a free and democratic society, there should be no screening of discourse and dissent. The only feasible solution that stands on the thin line of protection of faith and questioning hate speech should be keeping blasphemy in the statutes but de-criminalising it.