Daily Editorial Analysis for 03nd August 2022

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Need for a distinction between blasphemy and hate speech

GS Paper 1: Social Empowerment, Communalism, Regionalism & Secularism.
Important For:
Prelims exam: Sec 153A & 295A IPC
Mains exam: Dealing with hate speeches

What is Blasphemy?

Blasphemy, as defined in some religions or religion-based laws, is an insult that shows contempt, disrespect or lack of reverence concerning a deity, an object considered sacred or something considered inviolable.

Is there any law which penalizes Blasphemy?

• As far as laws in India go, there isn’t formal legislation against blasphemy.
• The closest equivalent to a blasphemy law is Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which punishes any speech, writings, or signs that “with premeditated and malicious intent” insult citizens’ religion or religious beliefs with a fine and imprisonment for up to three years.
What is Section 153 & 153A of IPC, then?
Section 153 and 153A of the IPC strive to punish those who spread any form of religious enmity under the umbrella of the right to freedom of speech and expression.

History of Section 295A

• The history of Section 295A of the IPC can be traced back to 95 years. In 1927, a satire was published which had obscene parallels to the Prophet’s personal life.
• It was indeed very offensive to the Muslim community but the erstwhile High Court of Lahore observed that the author of this cannot be prosecuted as the writing did not cause animosity or hostility between any communities.
• Thus, the offense did not fall under Section 153A, which dealt with maintaining public tranquillity/order.
• However, this incident gave rise to a demand that there be a law to protect the sanctity of religions, and thus, Section 295A was introduced.

Legality of Section 295A

• The legality of Section 295A, which had been challenged in the Ramji Lal Modi case (1957), was affirmed by a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court.
• The apex court reasoned that while Article 19(2) allows reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) for the sake of public order, the punishment under Section 295A deals with aggravated form of blasphemy which is committed with the malicious aim of offending the religious sensibilities of any class.

How has the Supreme Court interpreted the law?

Ramji Lal Modi v State of UP Case
o Down the line, the apex court redefined the test it laid down in the Ramji Lal Modi case.
o It decided that the connection between speech and disorder must be like a “spark in a powder keg”. [Powder Keg: A situation that could quickly become very volatile and dangerous]
• Superintendent, Central Prison, Fatehgarh vs Ram Manohar Lohia Case
o In this case the Supreme Court stated that the link between the speech spoken and any public disorder caused as a result of it should have a close relationship for retrieving Section 295A of IPC.
o By 2011, it concluded that only speech that amounts to “incitement to impending unlawful action” can be punished.
o The state must meet a very high bar before using public disturbance as a justification for suppressing expression.
Should there be a difference between blasphemy laws and hate speech laws?
• The wording of Section 295A is considerably too wide.
• It cannot be stated that deliberate disrespect to religion or religious sensibilities is necessarily tantamount to incitement.
• The Supreme Court has said on several occasions that perhaps the goal of hate speech statutes in Section 295A is to prevent prejudice and ensure equality.
• Unfortunately, there is a huge disparity between this interpretation and the actual wording due to which the law is still being exploited at all levels of administration.
• The reason for this is because hate speech laws are predicated on the critical distinction between criticising or ridiculing religion and encouraging prejudice or aggression towards individuals or a community because of their faith.
• Failing to articulate these distinctions diminishes fair use of the Section 295A and makes it more difficult to define and penalise the actual crime of hate speech.
Are hate speech cases rising?
• As per the data given by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there has been a huge increase in cases registered promoting hate speech and fostering animosity in society.
• The data reads that while there were only 323 cases registered in 2014, it had increased to 1,804 cases in 2020.
• However, this can also be due to the steep turns in the dynamics of our current society.
How should incidents of blasphemy be dealt?
• Blasphemy laws which prohibit religious criticism in general are incompatible with the principles of a democratic society.
• In a free and democratic society, there should be no screening of discourse and dissent.
• The feasible solution that stands on the thin line of protection of faith and questioning hate speech should be keeping blasphemy in the statutes but de-criminalising it.[/fusion_text][/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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