In News: The debate surrounding the comments by ruling party spokespersons have put the spotlight on the law that deals with criticism of or insult to religion.
- Section 295A of IPC defines the contours of free speech and its limitations with respect to offences relating to religion.
- India does not have a formal legal framework for dealing with hate speech.
- However, a cluster of provisions, loosely termed hate speech laws, are invoked.
Section 295A & others
- Section 295A defines and prescribes a punishment for deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.
- It includes offences to penalise damage or defilement of a place of worship with intent to insult the religion (Section 295); trespassing in a place of sepulture (Section 297); uttering, words, etc, with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person (Section 298); and disturbing a religious assembly (Section 296).
- The state often invokes Section 295A along with Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, which penalises promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc, and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony and Section 505 of the IPC that punishes statements conducing to public mischief.
Supreme Court Judgment
- In 1957, the constitutionality of Section 295A was challenged in Ramji Lal Modi v State of Uttar Pradesh.
- The Supreme Court upheld the law on the grounds that it was brought in to preserve “public order”.
- Public order is an exemption to the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to religion recognised by the Constitution.
- In 1973, in Ramlal Puri v State of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court said the test to be applied is whether the speech in question offends the “ordinary man of common sense” and not the “hypersensitive man”
- In Baragur Ramachandrappa v State of Karnataka, a 2007 decision of the Supreme Court, “a pragmatic approach” was invoked in interpreting Section 295A.
Source: Indian Express