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16th June 2022 (6 Topics)

Laws against hurting Religious sentiments (Hate speeches) in India


The debate surrounding the comments regarding religious figures recently has broken a debate for laws protecting ‘Right to freedom of speech and expression’ without hurting any religious sentiments in the country.

  • This has brought attention into different laws against Hate speeches and its Origin.


  • 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. These are primarily laws to deal with offences against religions.
  • Colonial origins of the hate speech provisions are often criticised for the assumption that Indians were susceptible to religious excitement.
  • First Indian Law Commission, headed by T B Macaulay who drafted the Indian Penal Code, had written to the Governor General of India in 1835 that “there is perhaps no country in which the Government has so much to apprehend from religious excitement among the people.
  • 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.
  • Section 295A was brought in 1927.

Different Provisions against Hate Speech

  • Under Indian Penal Code (IPC):
    • Section 295A is one of the key provisions in the IPC chapter to penalise religious offences.
  • The chapter 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).
  • 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.
  • Section 505 of the IPC that punishes statements conducing to public mischief.
  • In Information Technology Act: In cases where such speech is online, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act that punishes sending offensive messages through communication services is added.
  • However, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A as unconstitutional on the ground that the provision was “vague” and a “violation of free speech”.

Supreme Court’s Interpretations

  • Rangila Rasool case:
    • Rangila Rasool was a tract brought out by a Hindu publisher — that had made disparaging remarks about the Prophet’s private life.
    • Cases against the first pamphlet, filed under Section 153A, were dismissed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which examined the question whether targeting religious figures is different from targeting religions.
    • This debate in interpretation prompted the colonial government to enact Section 295A with a wider scope to address these issues.
  • Ramji Lal Modi v State of Uttar Pradesh:
    • The constitutionality of Section 295A was challenged.
    • 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.
  • Ramlal Puri v State of Madhya Pradesh:
    • In 1973, 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”.
    • However, these determinations are made by the court and the distinction can often be vague and vary from one judge to the other.
  • Baragur Ramachandrappa v State of Karnataka:
    • A 2007 decision of the Supreme Court, “a pragmatic approach” was invoked in interpreting Section 295A.
    • The state government had issued a notification banning Dharmakaarana, a Kannada novel on the ground that it was hate speech, invoking a gamut of provisions including Section 295A.

Concerns associated

  • Misuse of Laws: Lower conviction rates for these provisions indicate that the process where a police officer can arrest without a warrant is often the punishment.
  • Violation of free speech: Critics have pointed out that these laws are intended for the state to step in and restore “public order” rather than protect free speech.
  • Vague terms in the law: The broad, vague terms in the laws are often invoked in its misuse.
  • Old-aged Laws: Section 295A lie in the communally charged atmosphere of North India in the 1920s.

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