Blasphemy- Legislations, Freedom & Limitations


Blasphemy is punished in India under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code of 1860. India is a secular state, and hence all religions and denominations thereof are protected by blasphemy laws, but in countries such as Pakistan and Iran, just one religion (Islam in this case) is protected by blasphemy laws. While blasphemy is frequently viewed as an acceptable restriction on Freedom of Speech and Expression, it is also regarded as a barrier to the development of a scientific temper among people, as well as a technique of imposing the religious beliefs and virtues of one society over another. In this modern world, where freedom of speech and religion are widely regarded as fundamental and human rights, India, despite being a pluralist country with incomparable diversity in its population, has a vast ocean of varied conflicting opinions on Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which is a law against blasphemy disguised as hate speech.

Addition of ‘Blasphemy’ to the Indian Law

The word “blasphemy” is derived from a Greek verb that means to speak evil. It also has roots in Judeo-Christian culture, where acts of verbal abuse or offenses against revered principles and sentiments are collectively referred to as blasphemy.

Blasphemy is a sin according to Catholic doctrine and is described as any curse, expression of displeasure, or vituperation directed at God. Blasphemy laws are frequently applied to preserve the integrity of any formal religion. The norm that the society seeks to uphold in order to maintain morality and religious beliefs in society is this sanctity. In India, people have always had the freedom to follow or reject “Dharma,” as well as to believe in or reject the existence of a higher power. Except during the periods of the invasion when foreign rulers steadfastly pressed the people of this land to convert to foreign faiths, forcing someone to believe something or not believing something has never been a part of the history of this civilization. But after the movemnet by Swami Shradhanand of the Arya Sama which aimed to reconvert the ‘converted’ Muslims of United India, back to Hindu through peaceful means initiated ‘not-so peaceful’ repercussions by both Muslim and Hindu communities. And the events which then took place let the British under pressure, to begin debating the need for blasphemy laws in India. This discussion was followed by a 300-page report, and eventually section 295A of the Indian Criminal Code—commonly known as “blasphemy”—was written into law.

Section 295-A- Its Impact & Repercussions

The Basic Responsibilities that every Indian Citizen is required to uphold were outlined in the 42nd Amendment. The word “secular” was added to the Constitution’s preamble, making it apparent that India is a secular nation that is not prejudiced towards any faith. This amendment protected the right to practice your faith freely and promoted the equality of all religions. There is a section of the Indian Penal Code that restricts this practice in accordance with the idea of secularism. Insults to any religion are prohibited by Section 295A. Any insult or slur used with the intentional and malicious goal of upsetting the modesty or religious beliefs and sensibilities of any Indian citizen is punishable by up to three years in prison and penalties. This slur may be expressed verbally or in writing. It is best to construe Section 295A broadly rather than strictly. The clause does not make every conduct that offends or tries to offend religious emotions illegal. It only classifies as crimes behaviors that are malevolent and purposeful. In Mahendra Singh Dhoni v. Yerraguntla Shyamsundar, the courts applied the same interpretation to Section 295 A.[1]

The Ramji Lal Modi & The Ram Manohar Lohia Case

Additionally, there have been numerous constitutional defenses of blasphemy laws, including Ramji Lal Modi v. State of Uttar Pradesh. The five-judge panel, in this case, upheld the legality of section 295A. The defendant, Mr. Ramji Lal, served as the magazine’s editor. He was accused of posting articles that were offensive to religion. According to Mr. Ramji Lal, his right to free expression is properly protected by article 19 1. (a) of the constitution, and as a result, his content is likewise protected by the same provision. The court determined that only a limited number of maliciously motivated actions that hurt a particular class’s religious sensibilities are punishable under this clause. This insult must have the deliberate tendency to disturb public order. Regarding the validity of section 295A, the criminality of these actions is fully protected by paragraph (2) of article 199, which permits the imposition of justifiable limitations on the freedom of speech and expression. Nonetheless, there are also constitutional defenses for blasphemy laws.

The criteria for the blasphemy was also established by the Superintendent of the Central Jail in Fatehgarh v. Ram Manohar Lohia, according to which the speech that is prohibited must be connected to a disruption of the public order and that disruption cannot be remote. According to the case’s facts, the appellant was charged with giving statements that incited other farmers to forgo paying increased taxes to the government. According to the court, there must be a connection between what is said and the intention to provoke a disturbance.

Relation: Incitement & Repercussion

The court ruled in S. Rangarajan Etc vs. P. Jagjivan Ram on March 30, 1989 that there must be a spark in a keg-like relationship between speech and interruption. The Supreme Court ruled in Arup Bhuyan v. State of Assam that only statements and expressions that could provoke immediate unlawful behavior could be deemed blasphemous. In the relatively recent decision of Shreya Singhal v. U.O., the court clarified the distinction between advocacy and incitement and stressed the need for anti-speech laws to be carefully crafted so that only instances of the latter type of statements can be criminalized. The task of repealing section 295A is enormous.[2]

 Freedom, Limitation & Intention

The Supreme Court should take into account the following from its ruling in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India: “The Supreme Court distinguished between debate, advocacy, and incitement. The first two are the core of Article 19(1)(a), while Article 19(1)(b) applies if discussion or advocacy results in incitement.”  India is a democratic nation with a multifaith community that is controlled by the constitution, which is the sole book that is taken into consideration by the courts. The fact that the Indian constitution grants its citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression with justifiable limitations makes the concept of blasphemy incompatible with India’s system of rule of law. Mohammed Zubair, a co-founder of the fact-checking website Alt News, was detained by the Delhi Police for allegedly injuring religious sentiments in a 2018 Twitter post. Zubair’s attorneys and supporters have criticized the Delhi Police’s action, claiming the tweet was actually a screen grab from an old movie. But ultimately, the case will be heard by a court of law, which will decide it based on its merits.[3] Only Punjab has a specific blasphemy law that addresses the destruction of sacred texts. Nonetheless, it’s fairly uncommon to witness mobs lynch the accused and document incidents of extreme violence when “be-adbi” or sacrilege cases occur. The beheading in Udaipur and the lynching of Muslim males on suspicion of crimes like cow slaughter, meanwhile, have been compared. Governments must be held accountable for doing more to prevent vigilante groups from using violence and murder, and to ensure that defendants are solely convicted in accordance with the law.

Actus Non-Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea

It is crucial that we review our rules regarding hate speech in the ever-changing times we now live in, particularly in a time when the scope of free speech and its effects is a hotly debated topic. The Blasphemy Law, often known as Section 295A[4], is undoubtedly one of them. It is generally accepted that the motivation for this act and the goal of the legislators was a result of pressure brought on by intercommunal strife and the social-political climate of the time. Actus Non-Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea, which states that an act can only be classified as a crime if it was done with the intention to commit a crime, is the foundation of criminal law. Because to the lack of evidence proving purpose, sacrilege differs from all other criminal offenses in that it is challenging to tell whether a statement was made intentionally or not.[5]  Both the usage and the abuse of the blasphemy law in India will increase with the enactment of specific legislation. The Indian equivalent of the blasphemy law is already present under Section 295A of the IPC. Many instances are being brought under the aforementioned law, such as those involving Mahua Moitra and Nupur Sharma, who were both accused of making ‘Kali’ statements. Blasphemy laws limit a person’s freedom of speech and expression, but the key question in this case is whether the laws’ goals are justifiable. Choosing a side in this debate would be hypocritical. This is a problem that needs to be solved on a worldwide scale.


There is little doubt that blasphemy laws restrict an individual’s right to free expression and speech, but the question is whether the goal is legitimate. Its primary goal is to ensure peace and tranquillity among citizens, not to threaten and frighten minority. If we think about it, a person who makes negative comments about religion does so with the intent of either hurting the feelings of others or spreading hatred in society. Laws should be designed with the goal of punishing these people and limiting their objectives, not of protecting religion from them. The only long-term solution is to make society bearable, and education is the key to doing so. This will result in a society that respects the right to express thoughts and speech while also respecting all religions, minorities, and their beliefs. 

[1] LegalserviceIndia, https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-1354-an-analysis-of-blasphemy-laws-in-india-and-abroad.html, (last date visited 22nd March 2023)

[2] Manupatra, https://articles.manupatra.com/article-details/Blasphemy-Law-in-India-An-Overview, (last date visited 22nd March 2023)

[3] Newslaundry, https://www.newslaundry.com/2022/06/14/sansad-watch-ep-38-how-does-india-deal-with-blasphemy, (last date visited 26th March 2023)

[4] Indian Kanoon, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1712542/, (last date visited 26th March 2023)

[5] Finology, https://blog.finology.in/recent-updates/blasphemy-law-in-India, (last date visited 27th March 2023)

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