Insult to religion

There is no law of blasphemy as such in India. The nearest is Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which punishes with fine and imprisonment up to 3 years speech, writings, or signs which ''with deliberate and malicious intention'' insult the religion or the religious beliefs of any class of citizens.

The legislative history of Section 295(A) is interesting. A tract, Rangila Rasool, was published in which there were scandalous references to Prophet Mohammed's personal life. The Lahore High Court ruled that although the writing was certainly offensive to the Muslim community, the prosecution was not legally sustainable because the writing could not cause enmity or hatred between different religious communities, which is the gist of the offence under Section 153(A) of the IPC. There was an outcry from the Muslim community and a demand for change in the law. Thereafter Section 295(A) was enacted. Incidentally the author of the tract was murdered in Court.

The report of the Select Committee preceding the enactment of Section 295(A) is significant. It stated that the purpose of the Section was to punish persons who indulge in wanton vilification or attacks upon the religion of any particular group or class or upon the founders and prophets of a religion. It however emphasised that ''an insult to a religion or to the religious beliefs of the followers of a religion might be inflicted in good faith by a writer with the object of facilitating some measure of social reform by administering such a shock to the followers of the religion as would ensure notice being taken of any criticism so made''. Therefore the Committee recommended that the words ''with deliberate and malicious intention'' be inserted in the Section.

Jinnah, who was a member of the Committee, wisely stressed the necessity of securing ''the fundamental principle that those who are engaged in historical works, those who are engaged in the ascertainment of truth and those who are engaged in bona fide and honest criticisms of a religion shall be protected''.

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