Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.— Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
Section 295A of the IPC pertains to insulting religions and religious beliefs. Made by our colonial masters to divide and subjugate their vassals, like many other provisions of the archaic laws made by them, this section too has been carried over into our laws and is being used now mainly to persecute and hound people who may have points of view contrary to those of the powers that be. The rationalist movement and other progressive forces have been mostly at the receiving end of persecutions under this, but the others have been no exception. The word ‘persecution’ has been deliberately used here as most of the cases booked under this section have resulted in acquittals of the accused and all they have had as punishment is the period of the ‘due process of law’ which can take several years to couple of decades to complete.
In a case receiving media coverage in this issue is the attempt to prosecute a rationalist from Delhi, Sanal Edamaruku. He has been quite active on the TV channels denouncing superstitions and god men on them and has been a regular feature on many of them. The most recent controversy in which he has been involved is the one of a cement crucifix of Jesus Christ in Bandra, Mumbai dripping water from its feet. There were hot discussions of some TV channels about the veracity of this so called miracle and there was a heated exchange of words between him and others leading to complaints against him under the above-mentioned Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code for “deliberate and malicious acts leading to outrage religious feelings of any class” – here read as the Roman Catholic community. Again, the act does not pertain to the miracle of the dripping cross but other words used in the course of the discussions which have outraged the religious feelings of a group of people known as the Organisation of Concerned Catholics (OCC) and the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) who had lodged complaints against Sanal at the Juhu and Andheri police stations. It was said that Sanal’s contentions that the so called ‘miracle’ was promoted by the church to fleece gullible people and the prefix used for the head of the Roman Catholic Church by calling him Mr. Pope had angered these Catholics who chose to file this complaint. It was in the newspapers that the Mumbai police have summoned Mr. Edamaruku for questioning on this complaint. A committee to defend him under the leadership of the eminent Supreme court lawyer Mr. N.D. Pancholi has been formed and funds are being collected from all over the world for his defence.
Like many of the archaic laws made by our colonial masters have been relegated to the dust bin in their country, this law too deserves the same fate. In fact it has been advised by them that we should do so! Yet, we choose to have these which are an affront to the very concept of human rights. If a person has the right to propagate one’s religion we should also have the right to question the same. All the religions thrive by striking the fear of the unknown into the minds of people and by spreading superstitious beliefs and questioning any of them would be construed as hurting the religious sentiments and cases filed under section 295A. If those who do so are members of a movement like ours then it could be added that the intent was ‘malicious and deliberate’
This has been also stated in the Hulikal Nataraj vs Govt of Karnataka judgment of the Karnataka High Court. In this case, a case was filed against him for making a statement at a placed called Madikeri in Kodagu district of Karnataka. He had stated in a public lecture that the so called miracle at Sabarimala at the Aiyappa temple area was man-made. It was about a flame called as Makara vilakku from a hill called as Ponnambala Medu which was opposite the temple.The locals who wanted to hound him and harass him had filed a complaint with the local police station and the station house officer had straightaway filed an FIR and a charge sheet and tried to arrest Nataraj who had gone to the High Court for quashing the case. After a couple of years the judgment came as an indictment of the whole system. In fact the judge called the Home secretary to the court and also withheld the increment of the Sub Inspector who had attempted to arrest Nataraj.