There is no law of blasphemy as such in India. The nearest is Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which punishes with fine and imprisonment up to 3 years speech, writings, or signs which ''with deliberate and malicious intention'' insult the religion or the religious beliefs of any class of citizens.
Such a provision has its utility as a safety valve to preserve harmony in a multi-religious society by sanctioning penal action against those attempting to disturb the peace.
Constitutional Aspect of Section 295A
- Article 19(1) (a) talks about freedom of speech and expression but the subsequent clauses of the Article enumerate ‘reasonable restriction’. When we look at the constitutional aspect of Section 295A we see that it falls under the ‘reasonable restriction’ of the said Article, which states that no person should use this fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression to insult or hurt the religious sentiments of any class. This is considered to be a punishable offence.
- On the other hand it is felt that this section should not completely stop us from using our rationality. Therefore, Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code should not be a hindrance in making the society free from these obsolete practices live superstition.
- Similar is the case with the scholars and historians who in their research enter the religious arena, which is a very obvious thing to happen as India in the past has been very rich on the religious aspect and it continues to be the same. This section should not restrict them in their research as it is an inevitable part of a progressive society.
- In Shreya Singhal’s Case, the Supreme Court made it clear that ‘over-broad laws’, that captured within their scope even legal and legitimate speech, would have to be declared unconstitutional, because of their potential to chill core political and cultural speech.
- The section uses the phrase ‘malicious and deliberate acts’, which needs to be interpreted cautiously, as each and every act which might offend a particular religious class or group, cannot said to have been done with the intent to insult or hurt the feelings of any such class.
- It is advisable centre should come out with clear cut guidelines according to which the application of the section should be limited to situations where there was a degree of proximity between the prescribed speech, and the possibility of public disorder (for instance, inciting an armed mob to destroy public property would qualify, but writing an article in a magazine in defense of the Naxalite movement would not).