God’s word is said to be indestructible, yet it seems every little act of dissent hurts god’s little feelings thereby compelling the followers of an all-powerful god to protect him from words – mere hot air.
The secular irony of it.
The Punjab Government headed by Captain Amarinder Singh recently amended Article 295 of the Indian Penal Code to penalize any “injury, damage or sacrilege” to religious texts. The Cabinet approved insertion of Section 295AA to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to provide that “whoever causes injury, damage or sacrilege to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Srimad Bhagwad Geeta, Holy Quran and Holy Bible with the intention to hurt the religious feelings of the people, shall be punished with imprisonment for life.”
The Bill further states “In the Indian Penal Code, 1860, in its application to the state of Punjab, in Section 295, for the words “two years”, the words “ten years” shall be substituted.”
The language of the amended law is ambiguous and arbitrarily worded. It broadens the discretion of state to appropriate anything under the definition of “hurt”, “damage”, and “sacrilege”. The punishment of life-term is excessive and violates the fundamental principle of justice – that punishment should be proportionate to the offense committed. Though, we disagree that blasphemy is an offense at all. It is apparent that this amendment does not intend to fill any gap of law, but rather is a politically motivated tool to increase the role of the state and demolish the already crumbling sacred wall between the state and religion in India.
One might consider it as theocratic nonsense, but the repercussions of such power are dangerously serious. Once you believe the idea that coercive power of State should be used to protect religious sentiments, you enable a very dangerous repressive regime.
Popularly peddled argument that “in a diverse society, we need to respect other people’s beliefs” is illiberal nonsense. No one, in a free society has an obligation to respect collective sentiments. The theory of religion and god is a personal belief. To use State’s coercive power to regiment a uniform idea of religion or sacred thought is a violation of the fundamental right of expression, which includes right to dissent.
A civilized society should enable an atmosphere where problems of philosophy, religion, and science could be freely discussed without any fear of reprisals on the part of the religious moralists or the powers that be. India needs no better example than its close neighbors to understand the perils of the blasphemy law. Every other day, people are accused of blasphemy and hauled by the state in prisons for their lives. It becomes even more dangerous in a multi-religious country where offense-taking is a highly competitive national sport.
States have used the excuse of religion to punish people who dare to dissent from its oppressive rule. It destroys liberty and individualism at the altar of the collective tribalistic offense-taking fest. To say that desecration of religious texts “vitiates secular environment and peace” is a remarkable admission of State’s own incompetence and failure of law and order. Criminalising sacrilege, and making it a major offense will create a chilling effect on free speech, giving a legal tool to anyone claiming to be hurt, to pursue ill-founded prosecutions. It will help the enemies of liberty – the collectivists, professional offense-takers, and religious bigots. It enrolls the state as the supreme defender of religious fundamentalists and their extremist ideas – from stoning women to killing infidels. It will not only deter constructive criticism of religious texts from scholars, it effectively makes it a serious crime to reform religion. Sectarian hardliners and fundamentalist groups will use it as a guard against any religious reform. It creates a Shariat of omnipresent state.
The history of criminal jurisprudence is a strong evidence that blasphemy laws have been utterly misused to harass, intimidate and to exact revenge on minorities, scholars, and progressive thinkers.
By making acts of desecration of religious texts a criminal offense punishable with life, the Punjab Government has legitimized infringement on people’s liberty and freedom of expression on the excuse of protecting majoritarian sentiment. The collectivists always want to hold absolute power over an individual’s life and religion serves as a convenient excuse in the process of consolidation of the state’s control over individual’s freedom of thought and expression.
The hypocrisy of socialist Congress is not new. While Congress party conveniently accuses the opposition parties of playing communal politics, it revels in increasing the role of the state in the personal sphere of religious beliefs of people. The overplayed charade of “secularism” of Congress is laid bare.
Sacrilege is defined as a violation or misuse of what is regarded as sacred. In any civilized society, the freedom of expression is sacred. With the insertion of Section 295 AA in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), Amarinder Singh Government’s has defiled the sacred law of nature. In any polytheistic secular nation, blasphemy laws have no place. It is necessary that India abolishes all blasphemy laws.