Indian Polity & Constitution
In News: Dr. Ratan Lal, a Dalit academician, was arrested for an ‘objectionable’ post on the Gyanvapi mosque row.
- He is alleged to have promoted disharmony or enmity between religious groups (Section 153A in the Indian Penal Code) and intentionally and maliciously hurt religious sentiments (Section 295A in the IPC).
What do these sections say?
- Section 153 A deals with promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony.
- Under this section, the person shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to five years and shall also be liable to fine.
- Section 295 A deals with deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs
- The person can be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Increased use of the two provisions
- The latest annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau records more than four jumps (458%) of cases registered under Section 153A since 2014; it almost doubled in the last two years.
- And the conviction rate is merely 20.4% of cases.
Why such sections are needed?
- India being a diverse entity needs such laws to stop religious incendiary feelings at the bud
- Helps check radicalism growth of communal divisions and domination of one community
- Helps propagation of secular values by making religious extremism/insensitivity a punishable offense
- Punishes those involved in such activities and acts as a deterrent for others.
- Element of Subjectivity: Leads to misuse of the law as it has a large amount of subjectivity.
- Unlike bodily harm that can be verified, sentimental hurt cannot be tested against strict measures.
- The element of subjectivity overrides it as a sentiment’s vulnerability could widely vary
- Encroaches on Freedom of Speech and Expression: India’s Constitution celebrates diversity with the guarantee of free speech.
- It is anomalous for a pluralistic, democratic, and secular nation that runs on counter-discourses to criminalize speech for hurting religious sentiments
- Frivolous cases: People have used this section to file frivolous cases for venting out a personal vendetta.
- Overburdened Judiciary: Already overburned judiciary is put under further strain due to resources it needs to direct towards frivolous cases hindering efficacy of judicial system
Some safeguards available
- There are statutory safeguards (to invoke the section) that required deliberate intention and malice; and judicial rulings that needed looking at — words used, intent, and effect to ascertain criminality. Only a deliberate and aggravated form of religious insult would attract the rigor of the provision.
- The judiciary laid down two ways to measure the effect — one by establishing a link between speech and public disorder, and by measuring the effects from the standards of a reasonable man, and not from one who fears all hostile viewpoints.
- However, no attempt was made to translate the safeguards into practice
- To usher in required amendments to clear the ambiguity and subjectivity contained in sections
- Stringent implementation of the safeguards available
- Reduce the propensities of sections getting misused.
Source: The Hindu
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