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In the recent past, in the wake of elections being held in India, one can see a plethora of politicians trying to appease a religious community by condemning the other in order to secure their votes. This lowly and condemnable act is otherwise a punishable offence in India, but somehow these politicians go unscathed. It seems that law is but for the common man to follow and for the powerful and influential to break. Although the Election Commission has been taking steps to discourage such act by banning those guilty from campaigning, but is that enough?

According to Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, ‘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… which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.’

Hence, the law of the land clearly makes outraging religious sentiments a punishable offence, punishable with imprisonment and fine or both. But evidently, this applies to only those who harmlessly express their views publically. It is not an easy task to forget the incident where a 21 year old girl was arrested and jailed for voicing out her opinion, in Mumbai, where she expressed her anger on total shut down on the death of a local politician. Hence, the questions that pose are-

  • Is India portraying a dual standard in punishing the innocent and letting the guilty go scot-free?
  • Is the law of the land weak or is the implementation a cause for this failure to secure human rights?
  • Why is the right to speech guaranteed under article 19 of the Indian constitution not secured for the people who harmlessly practice it and the reasonable restriction waived for those who abuse it?
  • Should the Supreme Court of India not interfere in this act of gross violation and abuse of basic fundamental rights of the Indians to freely express ideas and opinions?
  • Also, why is the Supreme Court mum over the issue of hate speech?

Turns out, that the Apex Court is after all not silent on the issue, but has definitely misunderstood the whole issue. This can be construed by the recent Supreme Court judgment where it laid down as follows-

“We cannot curtail fundamental rights of people. It is a precious rights guaranteed by Constitution,” a bench headed by Justice RM Lodha said, adding “we are a mature democracy and it is for the public to decide. We are 128 million people and there would be 128 million views. One is free not accept the view of others”. Also the court said that it is a matter of perception, and a statement objectionable to a person might not be normal to other person.”

While this judgment might be happy news for those people who want nothing more but to express their views harmlessly, the decision is a fatal blow to the efforts to restore communal harmony in a nation where people from nearly all religions live together.