The saga of two sections

In a recent case against cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Supreme Court of India intervened to spare him from facing a criminal trial for ‘allegedly insulting the Hindu religion’ by being displayed as one of the deity on the cover page of a business magazine.

Ok, so for those who don’t know about the whole case, India’s renowned cricketer and former captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni made controversy by featuring as Lord Vishnu and holding a shoe in one the hand on the cover of Business Today magazine.

A local court in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh issued a non-bailable warrant against the cricketer in the magazine cover case.

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But the Supreme Court quelled the criminal complaint filed against him under Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code, a provision which states that any deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage reliĀ­gious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or reliĀ­gious beliefs is a punishable offence.

The court in its verdict stated that there was no deliberate intent of neither the cricketer nor the magazine to hurt any religious sentiments.

Not only for Mahendra Singh Dhoni but for every citizen of this country, it is a matter of satisfaction that the supreme authority of law intervenes from time to time to prevent attempts by those claiming to have their religious sentiments being hurt or offended by an act or remark of celebrities.

Section 294 A is a well disguised blasphemy law which is ‘secular’ as it is applied to all religions or all forms of religious disgrace.

Another similar sounding provision to this section is Section 153 A of IPC which states that promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.

This provision has already faced challenges in courts for violating the fundamental rights of free speech and expression.

The problem with the insult laws in our country is that they are innately subjective.

There is no proper demarcation of what may and what may not insult or offend or hurt people, leading these laws flagrantly being misused.

It is time for the lower courts to stop taking notice of trivial cases being filed in the name of religious, caste or cultural sentiments of a group or an individual being offended.

Such laws need to be read down with their scope of being misused narrowed in such a way that moral vigilantes can no longer exploit the law at their own terms.

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