We and Section 295A of the IPC

Written by May 7, 2012 11:11 pm 21 comments

Section 295A, Indian Penal Code: Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or 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 three years, or with fine, or with both.

An inherited tyranny

Section 295A of the IPC pertains to insulting religions and religious beliefs. Made by our colonial masters to divide and subjugate their vassals, like many other provisions of the archaic laws made by them, this section too has been carried over into our laws and is being used now mainly to persecute and hound people who may have points of view contrary to those of the powers that be. The rationalist movement and other progressive forces have been mostly at the receiving end of persecutions under this, but the others have been no exception. The word ‘persecution’ has been deliberately used here as most of the cases booked under this section have resulted in acquittals of the accused and all they have had as punishment is the period of the ‘due process of law’ which can take several years to couple of decades to complete.

Sanal Edamaruku speaking to a group of people at Mumbai church

Sanal Edamaruku at Mumbai church (courtesy http://sanaledamaruku.blogspot.in)

 

A miracle gone soggy

The most recent case receiving media coverage in this issue is the attempt to prosecute a rationalist from Delhi, Sanal Edamaruku. He has been quite active on the TV channels denouncing superstitions and god men on them and has been a regular feature on many of them. The most recent controversy in which he has been involved is the one of a cement crucifix of Jesus Christ in Bandra, Mumbai dripping water from its feet. There were hot discussions of some TV channels about the veracity of this so called miracle and there was a heated exchange of words between him and others leading to complaints against him under the above-mentioned Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code for “deliberate and malicious acts leading to outrage religious feelings of any class” – here read as the Roman Catholic community. Again, the act does not pertain to the miracle of the dripping cross but other words used in the course of the discussions which have outraged the religious feelings of a group of people known as the Organisation of Concerned Catholics (OCC) and the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) who had lodged complaints against Sanal at the Juhu and Andheri police stations. It was said that Sanal’s contentions that the so called ‘miracle’ was promoted by the church to fleece gullible people and the prefix used for the head of the Roman Catholic Church by calling him Mr. Pope had angered these Catholics who chose to file this complaint. It was in the newspapers that the Mumbai police have summoned Mr. Edamaruku for questioning on this complaint. A committee to defend him under the leadership of the eminent Supreme court lawyer Mr. N.D. Pancholi has been formed and funds are being collected from all over the world for his defence.

Fatwas on literary translation

It is not the first time that this section is being used or that Sanal Edamaruku is the first one to be hauled up under this. A couple of years back one Krantikar from Andhra Pradesh had been hauled up under the same sections and had been in prison for quite some time as he had refused to apply for bail. His crime – he had translated some write ups of Taslima Nasreen which had been published more than decade back and were available to the world at large on the web into Telugu and had published that in book form, which had again angered the local fundamentalist Muslims who were after his blood. The ruling Congress party in the state had brought all these sections upon him to please their so called ‘minority vote bank’! The way it was done it was pretty obvious that the case would be thrown out by the court but the ‘persecution’ part of it was more important for the government!

Recipe for mass starvation?

Just at the time of the Sanal case hitting the headlines a student of Hyderabad, Kartik had been arrested on the same grounds for reacting that there is no god to someone who had greeted him on Hanuman Jayanthi day. He had been arrested and was in police custody for having expressed his convictions and exercising his constitutional right! Again, the same law was used by a right wing student organisation to target a member of a rival organization. The saffron gang are experts in using this law to harass those who do not see eye to eye with them. In fact, they used it to file complaints against those who organised and participated in a ‘beef festival’ on the campus of Osmania University recently. Though one’s dietary habits are one’s personal business, one mans food can be another one’s religious sentiment! So, people could file complaints under section 295A for eating beef (Hindu religious sentiments), pork (Muslim religious sentiments), any non vegetarian-food (Jain religious sentiments) and so on ad infinitum! It could also be argued that even the menus of restaurants are publications which are deliberately and maliciously composed to hurt them and so on.

An idea whose time is past

Like many of the archaic laws made by our colonial masters have been relegated to the dust bin in their country, this law too deserves the same fate. In fact it has been advised by them that we should do so! Yet, we choose to have these which are an affront to the very concept of human rights. If a person has the right to propagate one’s religion we should also have the right to question the same. All the religions thrive by striking the fear of the unknown into the minds of people and by spreading superstitious beliefs and questioning any of them would be construed as hurting the religious sentiments and cases filed under section 295A! If those who do so are members of a movement like ours then it could be added that the intent was ‘malicious and deliberate’!

Supporters of Taslima Nasreen protest Kolkata Book Fair ban

Supporters of Taslima Nasreen protest Kolkata Book Fair ban (image via The Hindu)

All in the family

I can recall some instances from the past when we have been threatened with this. About a decade ago, I had made a public statement about cows urine being the urine of animal like any other- for instance a dog! At that time a campaign was started by the peddlers of the concoctions containing ‘ urine that it was an attack on the religious sentiments and I should be booked under this section. A big debate went on for weeks and finally a legal luminary concluded it by saying that though I deserved to be punished under that it could not be done as I was born in a Hindu family! If I were to be born in a family professing some other religion then I could have been prosecuted! He also added that criticism and reform was a salient feature of Hinduism! So, the whole controversy died a natural death. We have been threatened with the same when we questioned faith healers of Christianity- the excuse was that they were just conducting prayer meetings! The same was threatened when we exposed one Aslam Baba who was supposedly conducting surgical operations with tailors scissors! A couple of years ago when we had tried to investigate Mary’s flex prints shedding tears we had to struggle very hard to keep out any such allegations of ‘hurting religious sentiments’ !

Does this law have a role in our society? Well let us take a look at Article 51A of the Constitution of India which deals with the duties of the citizen. It states that it is a “fundamental duty of every citizen of India to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. With a constitution which states this and with a section of the IPC which is contrary, it is the article of the constitution which should prevail.

Flame wars

This has been also stated in the Hulikal Nataraj vs Govt of Karnataka judgment of the Karnataka High Court. In this case, a case was filed against him for making a statement at a placed called Madikeri in Kodagu district of Karnataka. He had stated in a public lecture that the so called miracle at Sabarimala at the Aiyappa temple area was man-made. It was about a flame called as Makara vilakku from a hill called as Ponnambala Medu which was opposite the temple.The locals who wanted to hound him and harass him had filed a complaint with the local police station and the station house officer had straightaway filed an FIR and a charge sheet and tried to arrest Nataraj who had gone to the High Court for quashing the case. After a couple of years the judgment came as an indictment of the whole system. In fact the judge called the Home secretary to the court and also withheld the increment of the Sub Inspector who had attempted to arrest Nataraj.

A question for the faithful

A couple of years ago when we had tried to investigate the phenomenon of flex prints of Mary shedding ‘tears’ at the church in Aluva, Kerala there were attempts to convert that too as clash between various sections and to convert it into a outraging religious sentiments issue as in the case of Sanal mentioned above. But, due caution on our part in that case, prevented any adverse outcome.

Laws like Section 295A have no place in a civilized society and need to be consigned with many of such to the trash bins of history. Finally after mulling over the legal issues and the secular aspects of the law, a philosophical question needs to be addressed – why does an omnipotent deity need the services of a mundane law made by puny human beings to set right alleged infractions of divine laws made by a higher force? This is for the religious whose feelings are ‘offended’ to answer!

This post was written by:

- who has written 111 posts on Nirmukta.

21 Comments

  • Reena Satin

    Nicely written. There’s certainly no place for moral and religious policing in a true democracy.

  • Rahul D'souza

    Hi, I would just like to point out that the crucifix issue that Sanal faced in Mumbai was not in Bandra but in Irla a completely different suburb. I live in Bandra and I am not surprised that it could be mistaken for the place in question since we have about 8 (9 if you count one just outside Bandra) churches here. Other than that – brilliant article 😀

  • kapil ayyawar

    Well, If religion Can’t be ridiculed, or criticized, there is no argument at all,

    but we can always propagate our religion, Flying spaghetti monster!! 😉

    • You are right. Every time some one eats spagetti we can say that our religious feelings are deliberately hurt and file cases against them under section 295A of the IPC!

  • Dave the Brit.

    I was born and raised in England and have Indian parents, So I see the affairs in India from a slightly different perspective.
    Overall I am sadened and angry that after 65 years of indipendance, India is still claiming to be a victim of the British Raj. India has had 65 years to get rid of such silly laws, to make something of it self. Compare that to what Germany and Japan have done since 1946 who were much worse off from the end of the second world war.

    Regarding the legal threats of ‘insults to religion’, perhaps those bringing the charges should be made to prove that their faith is a proper religion, and not some made up fraud. As a minimum they would have to demonstrate some sort of miracle under controled conditions. It would be fun to see them try.

  • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

    Sanal Edamaruku believes in calling a spade a spade and not as ” a flat bladed instrument for the redistribution of granular matter”. This has angered the catholics who had the compulsive need to suck on the pacifier/dummy of blind faith! I am a Hindu by culture and we are no less superstitious. I am thinking about the idols of Ganesh drinking milk. Same capillary action.

    • @ Prof.Kumar- that reminds me of the day in September,1995 when I was assaulted by a mob of ‘Hindu Jagarana Vedike’ for demonstrating the capillary effect. I was the only person in the world to have suffered physical injuries because of this ‘miracle’.
      BBC made a documentary of that which included a street play about that incident which used to be enacted by the KYS members of Nileshwaram in Kerala. When the filming of that was done I played myself in that! I had three stitches on my scalp because of that- forced to spend 24 hours in the govt. hospital because the casualty doctors of the govt. hospital refused to let me go from the OPD under the excuse that if anything goes wrong they will be in trouble.

  • Nice article. This law is certainly against the principles of Human Rights and Freedom of Speech.

    On the side note to admin : Can we have google+ button to share this article?

  • Chinmay Kulkarni

    I don’t think you are following the right approach here.
    From the contents of the blog, what I conclude is -> There is some law, which protects religious beliefs, which is sometimes misused by religious people against non-believers.

    Now, I read the first paragraph. It seems legit. I mean, if someone really abuses any religion, that person should be punished. Now think of it. Are there any laws which are NOT misused? Take the blatant cases of dowry and rape laws. No matter how hard it is to accept, they are misused. So, do we do away with these laws? Nope. We make them stronger, clearer and generic.(ideally)

    The solution cant be doing away with the law. The solution would be to make provision for non-believers. Or there should be inclusion for the possibility for scrutiny or debate about religious views. The distinction between insult and opinion should be made clear THROUGH LAW. The solution is to reduce the misuse, and not to do away with law itself.

    • Should we, instead of asking for the eradication of the plague instead call for the spread of a gentler version of it? The case made in this article and earlier ones in this site is not one of lawless, unregulated free-for-all in public discourse (as the above comment seems to insinuate), but only for a long overdue retiring of certain draconian provisions.

      • Chinmay Kulkarni

        Its wrong to compare it with a plague. Plague doesn’t do anyone any good. You need to realize that just like atheism, religion is a choice. If those people like to live their lives following some other fundamentals, why do you have objection? Are you suggesting eradication of all religious people in India?

        I am not really getting what you are trying to say here.
        My point was, and I am really trying to be simple and clear here:
        My interpretation of the sentence on top of the blog is – “If a religious person’s feelings are hurt by someone, he should be punished”. Now, whatever follows in the body of the blog are various examples where this law has been misused by many religious people against atheist or against people who tried to judge their beliefs.

        Let me know if we are clear and in agreement till here, so that we can draw some conclusion.

    • I have said about abolition and misuse of IPC 295A and not about section 295 which deals with the actual desecration and throwing things at places of worship. That would be an offense against some ones property and may be hurting their feelings by damaging it.
      Section 295 A is mainly confined to so called ‘deliberately hurting’ someones religious sentiments which can be interpreted any way one likes and used to ‘persecute’ people! The final prosecution will end in acquittal like most of the criminal cases.
      section 295A deserves to be done away with as it is mainly misused to harass people like us. Let them dare to use section 295A against people like Bal Thackre or Narendra Modi or Praveen Togadia!

  • Hallo to all who posted on this line! I enjoyed all comments. I am happy to see that some radical positions are being taken, and I’d like to support and join decisiveness in taking them. Arvind, what you said and the way you put it, reassures my confidence in my own perception.

    Narendra, thanks for referring me to this site. This is me coming out public for the first time, so I guess you just made a special friend
    I found your article very informative and well composed for me to meet with the matter and also to get to know a bit about you.
    As born and raised atheist, coming from the background where atheism was official religion (was – past tense unfortunately), I am surprised to find out that India has this kind of law. Its travesty must be obvious even to those who like to use it to get some points in the ‘intimidation for domination’ game. But from my point of view; and it’s good to know about it as I am not too careful when I fall on them; mentioned law is basically a clear threat to the peace and safety of all of us who believe that religious evangelism, with its tools, is unacceptable and harmful, and who are not willing to apply and/or apologize for unprincipled coalitions. It can bring people udeserved suffering and stress. This law dirrectly harms my feeling of personal safety.
    As such, this law is in practice illegal, according to the international law. (not that too many citizens care for it, but it is jeopardizing their rights too). Now practical question is – enlighten me with the perspective – is there any chance? Do you think that there is a way to push trough suspension of that law in a predictable future?
    Not that I think that it should be left alone, but practically?
    Furthermore, and observed from the practical side, I am starting to lack belief that debates with religious communities and their leaders will attract too many souls to our side; that as long as they believe in their immortal soul. Debates and exposing them are necessary, as it is not strategically good to keep quiet to their obscene manipulations, but de-religioning (if I may say so as an ESL student) masses is not going to occur soon. I’ve been observing some trends in skeptics’ circles and ‘wars’ going on over media (in more liberal countries where you don’t end up in jail for it) with religious ‘representatives’ of all kinds. I have never seen anyone persuade anyone. In any case, it seams that the main argument of believers (and that one is shared by moderate currents of skeptics), when they are left without an answer in debates, is a ‘gray field of godless moral’. I have been brought up surrounded with values of such moral. Can’t say that all applied forms were genuine, but I am a product of it.
    From my observation, what we need to offer to the people in order to help them overcome the fear of confusion (in case that they drop the imaginary friend, who releases them from all responsibility), is a substitute for him. It is objectively difficult to start believing in human creator, his responsibility and good intentions, after being told all your life that human is sinful by nature and all that comes with it – homophobia, racism, isolation… The unfortunate arrangement is that, only substitute that we can genuinely imply to, is person’s own self. There is enough of those who would prefer to not have own responsibility – or lack exposure to be capable for doing so – to fill up churches and temples for centuries. On a choice of women in a same possition would be plenty to say as well. As the environment is harder on women for every sin or trespass.
    Another aspect, which is an enormous problem for believers to drop it, is that change of beliefs initiates as well a process of observing own past with the new perception, which often brings piles of regrets and grate emotional pain for things that we did out of wrong beliefs, both to others and to own selves. It’s a challenge not every person can respond to bravely. It is lot easier to slip back into the known, where all that we ever did was according to prescription. And if it wasn’t – no issues: forgiveness costs five minutes of pissing on your head. And there is always a second chance – easy way around our every vanity.
    If we look realistically, the main problem is that it is really, really hard to waste the time of your life without a comfort of after-life.
    I guess that my point here is that focus should be on psychological obstacles for spreading realism and humanism as practice and on addressing them directly, without debating with the reactionary forces of the opposite side, as these guys are not fighting for truth but for own benefits from others believing them. The chances of reasoning with them are the same as chances to persuade paranoid schizophrenic that no one is plotting against him.
    We are talking about two worlds here: one full of spooks, and other very clear; one dangerous and harmful, the other friendly and supportive. They are keeping masses in obedience with fear. When we shout at the same time people can not hear. It seams to make more sense to try to explain Why is it unhealthy to comfort yourself with bead time stories about a higher power, How we mean that it’s better to accept the truth, What changes for better in our life when we do, And how all that effects our children and generations to come.

  • We are freethinkers, we need to find unique ways of getting our points across to people. Case in point: creation of Flying Spaghetti Monster in the US, to wittily counter the case for intelligent design being taught in science class. We need to come up with something like this, a pseudoreligion of sorts, that mocks this IPC segment, and enables us to show what a ridiculous one it is by using ‘religious offence’ persecution in stupid situations.

  • Regarding what is quoted below, I would appreciate substantiation i.e. reference to relevant clause in a statute or case law that someone who is legally a Hindu (I am one per Indian law) can get away by putting down Hindu beliefs.

    “I can recall some instances from the past when we have been threatened with this. About a decade ago, I had made a public statement about cows urine being the urine of animal like any other- for instance a dog! At that time a campaign was started by the peddlers of the concoctions containing ’ urine that it was an attack on the religious sentiments and I should be booked under this section. A big debate went on for weeks and finally a legal luminary concluded it by saying that though I deserved to be punished under that it could not be done as I was born in a Hindu family! If I were to be born in a family professing some other religion then I could have been prosecuted. “

  • by this law, it is possible to prosecute all those who blaspheme the beliefs of any small group of people.. i have a suggestion..

    how about we start a mock religion which believes that the earth is flat, then once we make our holy book and name our prophets, we can file a case under section 295A against the national school curriculum committee as they teach our children that the earth is round, thereby hurting our “religious sentiments”… no doubt the case will be dismissed, but it will serve as a mockery of our archaic laws..

  • If some religious person claims his religion is the only one true religion in the world and his God is only one true God in the world. Is that insult to other religions.is it a case of 295A. Because every religion saying this.

  • We should counter this law by appealing in the Supreme Court as it violates the fundamental rights under article 14,15 and 19.

  • An anguished piece of 295A in the wake of the Paris shootings of 7 January 2015:

    For an India of blasphemers, Business Standard, 9 January 2015

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