This article is written by Anjali Sinha, a legal professional. The article is all about the penalties and essentials of the offence being committed under Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code of 1860. The provision is supported by landmark judgements, including the views of the court in cases relating to one of the most controversial provisions connected to religious sentiments in any class or community of society.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Since the introduction of Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code of 1860 in 1927, it has been a controversial provision. This provision is intended to criminalise any willful and malicious act that offends the religious sentiments of any class or community. It has been the subject of legal disputes and various controversies.
There has been much debate about the anatomization and implementation of Section 295A, with many stakeholders expressing concern about its scope and probability of misuse. The anatomization and implementation of the provisions of the Indian judicial system are very relevant in this context.
The duty of the Indian judiciary is to uphold the Constitution of India and ensure that the law is applied fairly. In this article, we will examine the role of the Indian judicial system in determining the scope of Section 295A and its impact on freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
Recently, Nupur Sharma had been suspended by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and summoned by the Thane police for her offensive remarks against Prophet Muhammad in a discussion on a news channel. The police have asked Nupur Sharma to appear in court on June 22 to record her statement. Cases have been registered against Nupur Sharma in Mumbra, Pydhuni, and Thane.
Nupur Sharma has been charged under Sections 153A, 153B, 295A, 298, and 505 of the Indian Penal Code. This means that Nupur Sharma has been accused of inciting hatred, inciting religious feelings, making statements intended to hurt the religious feelings of a person, insulting the religion or religious beliefs of a community, and intentionally offending the sentiments. In addition to this, other crimes were also prosecuted.
Also, comedian Munawwar Farooqui and four others have been charged under Section 295A for making offensive remarks about Hindu deities and Union Home Secretary Amit Shah at a New Year’s event in a cafe in Indore. The Supreme Court later granted him a remedy.
Madhya Pradesh Police had filed an FIR against two Netflix employees. A lawsuit has been filed for offending religious feelings when the kissing scene on the temple grounds was filmed in the web series- A Suitable Boy.
The creators of the Tandav web series also faced criminal charges under Sections 153A and 195 for offending religious feelings and insulting religion. A case has been registered against the web series in three places, namely Uttar Pradesh, Greater Noida, and Shahjahanpur. The cases were brought for inappropriate portrayals of Uttar Pradesh Police personnel, deities, and the character who played the role of Prime Minister in the series.
Crime defined under Section 295A IPC
A crime under Section 295A can be described as anyone who intentionally injures or offends the feelings or religious beliefs of any group by word, writing, symbol, or image representation and is said to have committed a punishable offence under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
History of Section 295A : a brief overview
Mahashe Rajpal published Rangila Rasul in 1927, a booklet containing some scandalous and derogatory statements about the Prophet Muhammad’s personal life. In an atmosphere of religious turbulence, he exacerbated community tensions, provoking protests from the Muslim community. The section already in effect, IPC Section 153A, could not be used because the statements were directed against a religious leader (outside the purview of Section 153A) rather than incitement to hatred between religious groups. As a result, the citizens demanded the creation of a new provision that would include such cases in its jurisdiction. As a result, Section 295A was added to the Indian Penal Code for the first time.
Essentials of crime under Section 295A IPC
The basic components of Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code 1860 are as follows:
- The defendant must offend the religious feelings or religious beliefs of any class of citizens of India.
- The defendant’s conduct must be intentional and malicious.
- Offences against religious belief must be caused orally, or in writing, by sign or by visible expressions.
Punishment for a crime committed under Section 295A IPC
The offence under this Section is non-bailable and cognizable, and is punishable with a term of imprisonment that may be extended to three years, with a fine, or both. The offence is tried by the Judicial Magistrate of First Class.
We can better understand the incidents of abuse in this Section by looking at specific cases:
Infamous case laws on punishment for crimes under Section 295A
Case on Shah Rukh Khan on a scene from the movie Zero
In 2018, a case law was filed in the Bombay High Court against Shah Rukh Khan and the makers of the film ‘Zero’ over a scene that allegedly hurt the feelings of the Sikh community.
FIR lodged against Mahendra Singh Dhoni for a magazine cover
In 2017, an FIR was filed against Mahendra Singh Dhoni after he was depicted on a magazine cover as Lord Vishnu with the slogan “The God of Big Deals.”
The Kiku Sharda controversial impression
Kiku Sharda, a character in Comedy Nights with Kapil, was jailed in 2016 for impersonating Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, offending the religious feelings of his followers.
Salman Khan on insulting Muslims
Salman Khan was accused of insulting the feelings of Muslims in 2014, and a complaint was filed against him under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code.
The arrest of Ravi Shashtri on claiming he eats beef
Another example is the arrest of Ravi Shastri for allegedly hurting feelings by eating beef and claiming that although he is a Brahmin, he cannot stop himself from eating it.
Interestingly, all the accused in the aforementioned cases were acquitted after hearings. The above examples show how frivolous motives are used to book a person under the contested provision.
Judicial pronouncements under Section 295A
Ramji Lal Modi v. State of U.P. (1957)
One of the earliest and most significant cases pertaining to Section 295-A. The Hon’ble Supreme Court decided that Section 295-A only applies to actions and conduct that are carried out with deliberate and hateful intent in this case. Section 295-A does not penalise each and every act of offensive nature to or attempt to offend the religion or religious beliefs of a class of citizens; it penalises only those acts of offensive nature to or those varieties of attempts to insult the religion or religious beliefs of a class of citizens that are committed with the intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class, either by malicious intention or wilful conduct to offend such feelings.
This case establishes the principle that the intention behind an act is crucial in determining whether it falls within the purview of the section. Before this case, there was disarray in regards to the translation of Section 295-A and how it may be applied without abusing the basic right to speak freely of disclosure and articulation ensured under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
The Hon’ble Supreme Court clarified that Section 295A should be interpreted strictly to protect the right to free speech and expression. The court decided that legitimate criticism of religion or religious practises does not fall under the purview of Section 295-A and that the acts committed with the intention of causing offence to religious sentiments are punishable under this section.
The Hon’ble Court made it abundantly clear that the restrictions on free speech must be narrowly interpreted and should not be used as an excuse to suppress legitimate criticism.
Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962)
The right to freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed by the Constitution of India, subject to reasonable restrictions imposed for the sake of public order, decency, and morality.
In cases involving Section 295A, the judiciary has played a crucial role in anatomizing and implementing these restrictions.
In the landmark case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court ruled that criticism of religious beliefs or practices was protected by the right to freedom of speech and expression and that the legislation could only be used if there was a deliberate attempt to cause a public nuisance or public disorder. In a similar vein, the judicial system has been crucial in upholding religious tolerance in cases involving Section 295 A, which is a law that can be used to stifle legitimate criticism or dissent and is frequently invoked in cases involving religious sentiments.
The judiciary has played a crucial role in safeguarding these values and ensuring impartial and objective justice. However, in order to guarantee that these principles are upheld, the judiciary must remain vigilant and modify its procedures in response to shifting societal and political pressures.
Enhancing transparency and accountability, ensuring diversity and inclusion within the judiciary, and strengthening the judiciary’s independence and autonomy are some suggestions for how the judiciary can maintain these values. By doing so, the judiciary will be able to maintain its crucial role as a check on the excesses of the state and guarantee the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni v. Yerraguntla Shyamsundar (2016)
The writ petitioner, an artist, had posted a Lord Krishna portrait that was on display at an auction house called Christie’s. Geet Govinda, Jaya Deva’s epic love poem, inspired the depiction of the intimate scene between Lord Krishna and Radha in the picture. The petitioner argued that the Facebook post by Akiyader Adda, a group of artists, could not be considered a violation of Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code 1860 and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act 2000.
It was argued that the complaint did not reveal a violation. The complainant had said that the post might hurt religious feelings and make people hate each other. The Court noted that the complaint does not appear to reveal any offence that could be considered cognizable. It is established by law that violators will be subject to the penalties outlined in Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code if they intend to intentionally offend religious sentiments.
The Court believed that the filing of the FIR violated the petitioner’s freedom and the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India. The Court also said that the complaint was filed because it was worried that the post might hurt religious feelings, even though the picture is available to the public in art galleries and in different versions of Geet Govinda that are illustrated and translated.
The Court ruled that the image of Mahendra Singh Dhoni dressed as Lord Vishnu that was published in a magazine with the headline ‘God of Big Deals’ violated Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code and that any action would be considered an insult or attempt to insult the religion or religious beliefs of a class of citizens, dismissing the complaint that Dhoni had allegedly hurt people’s religious feelings. It only punishes acts or attempts to insult a particular class of citizens’ religion or religious belief that are committed with the inadvertent and irrational intention of causing offence to that class of citizens’ religious feelings.
Further elaborating, the three-judge bench of Dipak Mishra, A.M. Khanwilkar, and M.M. Shantanagoudar, J.J., stated that the Section does not apply to insults to religion that are made inadvertently, carelessly, or with no intention to offend the religious feelings of that class. The deliberate tendency of the aforementioned aggravated form of insult, as well as its potential to disrupt public order, have been emphasised in order to justify the penalty. The Court also urged the magistrates with authority to take cognizance and issue summons to carefully examine whether the allegations made in the complaint proceeding meet the essential elements of the offence, whether the territorial jurisdiction concept is met, and whether the accused must actually be summoned.
Amish Devgan v. Union of India (2020)
Criminality would not include insults to religion made accidentally, carelessly, or without deliberate or malicious intent to outrage religious feelings. The only way to aggravate an insult to religion is when it is done with the intention of outraging the religious feelings of that group.
Unless it can be demonstrated that the person had a deliberate and malicious intention of offending religious feelings, the mere use of a phrase that is considered derogatory by a particular community would not trigger liability under Section 295A. The Court likewise stressed the need to find some kind of harmony between the right to speak freely of discourse and articulation and the option to rehearse one’s religion.
The courts have consistently held that criticism of religion, regardless of how harsh the criticism is, does not constitute an offence under Section 295 A unless it is done with the deliberate and malicious intention to outrage religious feelings. This is one of the key principles that have emerged from these cases.
The significance of achieving a balance between religious tolerance and speech freedom is another important principle that has emerged. According to the courts, Section 295A must be interpreted in a way that strikes a balance between religious tolerance and freedom of speech because it is intended to safeguard the sentiments of all communities and religions.
Concluding, the Indian judiciary has been instrumental in defining the scope of Section 295-A and enforcing it in a manner that upholds constitutional principles like religious tolerance, freedom of speech, and the rule of law. The judiciary has demonstrated its commitment to these values through landmark judgements and ongoing efforts to balance competing interests, despite challenges and criticism along the way.
Pushing ahead, the legal executive should keep on assuming a functioning part in deciphering and implementing Section 295-A, while additionally staying cautious against likely maltreatment of the law. Even in the face of political pressure or shifting social norms, this will necessitate maintaining a commitment to impartiality, transparency, and adherence to constitutional principles.
It is impossible to overstate the significance of the Indian judiciary’s role in upholding constitutional values. The judiciary has the ability to contribute to ensuring that India will continue to be a diverse, tolerant, and democratic society for future generations by interpreting and enforcing laws like Section 295-A in a manner that reflects these values.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is Section 295A bailable?
It is a cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence.
Is blasphemy a religious crime?
It is an utterance that shows disrespect or insult to a deity or religious feelings. It is considered a religious crime or a speech crime.
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