India is a very diverse nation, from its languages, cultures to ethnicities. Religious diversity has existed in India for years. India was declared a secular state and the same incorporated in the Preamble and the Indian Constitution. The freedom of religion has been given in Article 25-30 of our Constitution. The Macaulay commission seeing how vast India was and how wide the religious practices, they felt the need to incorporate offences related to religion in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Chapter XV lays down all the provisions and these are expanded on from sections 295-298. This chapter finds its foundation based on the principle that every man has the intrinsic freedom to follow his or her religion and that no man is in law justified to insult the religion of another. It is pertinent to have mutual respect for a person following a different religion. Insulting or condemning a person for the religion he follows is not tolerable and is an offence under the Penal Code. Therefore, when one purposely disrespects another’s religion causing disruptions, insults, or annoyance all these acts have been made punishable under the XV Chapter of the IPC.
Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class
When a place of worship or an object considered scared to a set of persons is destroyed, damaged or defiled, such an act is punishable with imprisonment or with fine or both. It should be noted that in the original draft of the Indian Penal Code, the punishment for destroying or defiling was more severe than it currently it is. Its makers prescribed for a harsher punishment of rigorous imprisonment for a term which could extend to seven years for any class of persons.
The slaughter of a cow in a sacred place in Benaras in 1809 caused violent reactions and led to the loss of life of many. This section has thus been enacted to create seriousness among the citizens of India, to respect the beliefs, practices and cultures of people from all religions. To convict a person under this section it is important to prove that was mens rea i.e. intention and there has been damage, defilement or destruction that has taken place.
In the case of Sheo Shankar v. Emperor, the accused destroyed a sacred thread worn by another person because he was not entitled to wear it as he belonged to the shudra caste, the court observed that it did not amount to an insult as it was done by another Hindu and the shudra do not have to wear the sacred thread, if this same act was done by a Mohammedan or a Christian or an atheist then this section would apply.
Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs
This section was introduced in the Penal Code by section 2 of the Criminal Law ( Amendment) Ac, 1927. This is added as there was a need to punish acts which were done out of vice and deliberately with malicious intent. Blasphemous words are punishable because of the tendency to endanger public order and peace and cause strife between the citizens.
The main ingredients of this section are that the accused must make an insult or attempt to make an insult to the religious beliefs of another and this insult should be done deliberately and with malicious intentions and there should be a visible representation of the insult. The constitutional validity of this section was challenged in the case of Ramji Lal Mode v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the petitioner, printer and publisher of a monthly magazine called Gaurashak( cow protector) was convicted for printing forbidden content. The challenge was because he had the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The Supreme Court said that section 295A is enacted in the interest of upholding public order and peace and it only penalizes the aggravated form of insult to religion when it is done deliberately and maliciously.
Disturbing religious assembly
This section makes disturbing a religious assemble publishable with imprisonment upto 1 year or with fine or both. This was important so that every religion can peacefully without disruptions enjoy performing their religious assembly. The main ingredients of this sections are that there must a voluntary disturbance caused to an assembly that was engaged in religious worship, Disturbance under this section does not mean that worship of a religious assembly should be stopped or interrupted, instead it means that the peace of the assembly should not beinterfered with whether with loud noises or otherwise. It is important to note that the law protects a religious assembly that is lawfully engaged.
Trespassing on burial places, etc
This section finds its roots in section 295 and extends to places that are to be treated as sacred. It punishes a person who commits trespass in a place of worship, or a burial ground or a place set apart for funeral rites. Any act of such a person that offer indignity to any human corpse by causing disturbance during funeral ceremonies will be punishable under this section. The main ingredients of this section are the accused should have intentionally attempted to wound the feeling or insult the religion of any person and he must have committed trespass or offered indignity or a human corpse or disturbed a funeral ceremony. The place trespassed on should be a place of worship, set apart for funeral rites, burial ground, a place set apart as a depositor for the remains of the dead.
Uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person
In the case of Chakra Behra v. Balkrushna Mohapatra, this section was used and it was held that whoever uttered words or made sounds in the hearing of a person with deliberate intention to hurt, insult or wound their religious feelings that would punishable with imprisonment for 1 year or with fine or both. The framers of the code wished to allow that religious discussions should thrive and one cannot insult the other or their beliefs by making noises or sounds. The main ingredients of this section are that the accused must have uttered words in the presence of that person, and done so intentionally to hurt the religious feelings on another. In the case of Mir Chittan v. Emperor, the accused was held liable under this section as he killed a cow for a wedding feast in the presence of Hindus knowing it would offend their feelings.
In Conclusion, a chapter on offences against religion in a vast country like India was very important and is so even more today. It is the responsibility of the Justice system to uphold the religious freedom of its citizens. In India, where religious tolerance is suddenly changing faces it is important to cling to these sections that were drafted to protect and uphold our rights.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does India have Blasphemy Laws?
India prohibits hate speech in various sections in the Indian Penal Code, The Code of Criminal Procedure and other laws that expand on the restrictions of the freedom of speech and expression.
Is section 295A bailable?
The offence committed under Section 295A is cognizable and a non-bailable and non-compoundable offence. Non-bailable offence means that a person arrested would not have right to be released on bail soon after arrest
What is an example of a religious offence?
Historically, all societies have had criminal offences which relate to religion. In the Christian West, the main religious criminal offences have been blasphemy (defamation of Christianity), heresy (expression of unacceptable religious views) and desecration (damage to, or destruction of, sacred objects and buildings).
“The views of the authors are personal“
- The Indian Penal Code, K.D. Gaur, fourth Edition, Universal Law Publishing Co. p,195-210
- Cecil Turner.J. (2013), Kenny’s Outlines of Criminal Law, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
- Textbook of Criminal Law, Glanville Williams, fourth Edition, Sweet & Maxwell South Asian Edition
- Sheo Shankar v. Emperor, AIR 1940 Oudh 348Ramji Lal Mode v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR1957 SC 620
- Chakra Behra v. BalkrushnaMohapatra, AIR 1963 Ori 23
- Mir Chittan v. Emperor, AIR 1937 All 13