Section 295A: The ‘Blasphemy’ Provision - The Daily Guardian
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Section 295A: The ‘Blasphemy’ Provision

It was contended on behalf of the petitioner that in order for Section 295A to pass muster on the anvils of Article 19(2), the only limb of the Article that could be relied upon was ‘in the interests of… public order’.

J. Sai Deepak

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Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code 1860 is commonly known as the “Blasphemy” provision. Its origin story, while dark, is extremely interesting from a civilizational perspective since it sheds light on the larger undercurrents that have been animating the civilizational discourse for centuries now in this part of the world, which I will unpack in future pieces.

For the purposes of the current piece, I will start from the fact that subsequent to the coming into force of the Indian Constitution, the validity of Section 295A was challenged in Ramjilal Modi v. The State of U.P. on the ground that the provision did not constitute a reasonable restriction on free speech and expression within the meaning of Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The factual matrix of the decision itself is strikingly relevant to the times we live in. The Petitioner, the editor and publisher of a monthly magazine called “Gaurakshak”, was acquitted of a charge under Section 153A of the IPC, the “sister” provision of Section 295A which is usually invoked along with it. However, he was found guilty under Section 295A by the High Court of Allahabad for publishing an article “with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of Muslims”. Apart from challenging the verdict of the High Court, the Petitioner also challenged the constitutional validity of Section 295A in his petition under Article 32.

It was contended on behalf of the Petitioner that in order for Section 295A to pass muster on the anvils of Article 19(2), the only limb of the Article that could be relied upon was “in the interests of… public order”. However, according to the Petitioner, since likelihood of public disorder did not constitute a necessary ingredient of Section 295A, the provision could not be supported as one intended to preserve public order and therefore, ran afoul of Article 19(2). It was further contended that since not all acts intended to hurt religious feelings would lead to public disorder, the proscription under Section 295A amounted to an unreasonable and overbroad restriction.

A Constitution Bench of five Judges of the Supreme Court rejected this argument and took the view that the import of “in the interests of.. public order” in Article 19(2) was wider than “for the maintenance of public order”, which was the language of Article 19(2) prior to its amendment through the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951. Consequently, according to the Supreme Court, a law which penalized activities that had a “tendency to cause public disorder” could not but be held to be a law imposing reasonable restriction “in the interests of public order” although in some cases those activities may not actually lead to a breach of public order.

However, the Supreme Court critically clarified that the provision did not penalize any and every act of insult to or attempt to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class of citizens, but penalized only those acts of insults to or those varieties of attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class of citizens, which were committed with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class. In other words, it only punishes an “aggravated form of insult to religion when it is perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class”. This calculated tendency, according to the Court, was well within the realm of those activities which may be reasonably restricted by law under Article 19(2). While this clarification might seem like a safeguard against abuse of the provision, it is unclear from the judgement whether the airing of even a genuinely held opinion, based on facts and scholarship, which is indifferent to the religious sentiments of a community, would attract Section 295A.

In a later decision in 2007 involving a book based on the life of Sri Basaveshwara, a 12th Century Saint from Karnataka, the Supreme Court held that a chapter of the book had been deliberately designed to be hurtful to the religious feelings of the followers of the Saint. The said chapter gave the impression that the sister of the Saint, who too was revered by the followers of the Saint, had conceived her son out of wedlock. The author defended himself on the ground that the issue of the son’s paternity remained the subject of intense debates among scholars and historians without any conclusion being arrived at, and therefore, he was justified in relying on some of the debated versions for the purposes of his book. The Supreme Court rejected the defense after going through the literature cited in support of the assumptions made in the book and concluded that the entire book, despite its complimentary passages in favour of the Saint, was merely a camouflage to spin and introduce a particularly sordid and puerile story in public discourse.

The Supreme Court may have had valid reasons for coming to the said conclusion in the facts of the case, but its reasoning does not address with clarity the question of applicability of Section 295A to the work of artists, story tellers and historians given the varying degrees of liberty with facts that are available to them. Guidance in this regard is important because the provision, on the face of it, is rife with subjectivity and in a country whose beating heart is religion, the so-called Blasphemy provision may come in the way of discussing even history. After all, it is possible that a true work of scholarship, authored without malice and based on facts collected from authentic sources, is objected to by a jaundiced and hyper-sensitive group of individuals because the work presents an uncomfortable, inconvenient and true facet of their faith. Would such a work be allowed to be published and read freely since there is no discernible deliberate malice in the author’s intentions? Conversely, it is equally possible for a clever author with respectable credentials to cloak his or her feelings of hatred and prejudice towards a certain community in the sophisticated language of scholarship with the calculated object of hurting religious feelings, and get away with it. How would the Court be able to pin down the true intentions of the author in such a case?

Though the Supreme Court is yet to provide comprehensive guidance on these aspects of the provision, a 2005 decision of the Full Bench of the Calcutta High Court in Sujato Bhadra v. State of West Bengal is one of the better judgements on Section 295A. This judgement was delivered in the context of adjudicating whether Taslima Nasreen’s book “Dwikhandita” attracted Section 295A Extracted below are the relevant excerpts from the judgement:

“Therefore, insult or attempt to insult the religion or religious belief when made with an intention, which must be deliberate or malicious, of outraging the religious feelings of a class of citizens of India, then only the provisions of Section 295A would be attracted. The outrage to religious feelings or insult to religion or religious belief if made unwittingly or carelessly or without any deliberate and malicious intention, then the same would not come within the purview of Section 295A IPC. The expression ‘deliberate and malicious” is indicative of the intention of the legislature. The conjunction ‘and’ conjoins both. It must be both deliberate and malicious i.e. deliberately malicious. If it is made knowingly, but with an intention not deliberate nor malicious, but with an intention oriented by clinching or revitalizing or striking a blow for the well-being of the society or for emancipation of the women, which is necessary for the mankind, in that event, such outraging of religious feelings or insult to religion or religious belief, though may be intentional but cannot be termed deliberate and malicious even if it is not made unwittingly or carelessly. If it is inflicted in good faith by an author in his/her endeavour or object to facilitate some measure on social reform by administering such a shock to the followers of the religion, as would ensure notice being taken by any criticism so made, would not attract the mischief of Section 295A by reason of the phrase “with deliberate and malicious intention” qualifying the intention. In order to establish the ingredient of Section 295A to be applicable in a case it is to be established that the author had the requisite mens rea, deliberate and malicious, to outrage the religious feelings of a class of citizens of India and to insult or to attempt to insult the religion and religious beliefs of that class of citizens of India. The offence must be intended deliberately and maliciously for the citizens of that class in India.”

This is perhaps one of those instances where the reasoning of a High Court provides greater clarity on a provision than the highest Court of the land. That said, despite the nuanced take of the Calcutta High Court which could reduce the potential for abuse of the provision and its ability to gag free thought, speech and expression, the very need for the provision and the sentiments it seeks to protect from scrutiny require a larger conversation. I will pull these threads in the coming pieces.

J. Sai Deepak is an Advocate practising as an arguing counsel before the Supreme Court of India and the High Court of Delhi.

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Legally Speaking

GAUHATI HIGH COURT QUASHES NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION AGAINST GRAM PANCHAYAT PRESIDENT CITING PARTICIPATION OF MEMBER DISQUALIFIED FOR HAVING THREE CHILDREN

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The Gauhati High Court in the case Jugitawali Pawe v State of Assam and 15 ors observed and quashed a resolution expressing no-confidence in the petitioner – the President of a Gram Panchayat, as a result of which she as removed from office. It was stated that it is as per the citing no compliance with Assam Panchayat Act, 1994, reading with Rule 62 of the Assam Panchayat (Constitution) Rules, 1995.

It was preferred by the petitioner to the materials available on record to argue that one of the members of the Gaon Panchayat, the respondent. The respondent voted against the petitioner and had given birth to her third child the previous year. Moreover, by virtue of Section 111(2)(a) of the Assam Panchayat Act, 1994, reading with Rule 62 of the Assam Panchayat (Constitution) Rules, 1995, the petitioner stood automatically disqualified on the date of voting. Following, which her vote was taken by passing No-confidence motion.

It was prayed by the petitioner in the plea for setting aside the impugned resolution and for issuance of a direction to restore his client back in the office. Thereafter, to initiate fresh proceedings, liberty should be granted to the respondent, following the due process.

It was agreed by the Counsel representing for the respondent that the said member of the panchayat had been disqualified but retained on the ground that the disqualification would have no bearing on the petitioner’s case, as the impugned resolution was passed before the declaration of petitioner disqualification.

In the present case, It was noticed by Justice Suman Shyam the member had voted against the petitioner and without her vote. The petitioner would not have been ousted from office. Justice Shyam also found no dispute about the fact that the member had incurred disqualification under the law prior the date of adoption of the impugned resolution. Justice Shyam found it unnecessary to delve into other aspects of the matter which includes the procedural formalities for declaring the member a disqualified candidate.

It is observed that the impugned resolution was declared to be vitiated and liable to be set aside. Further, the Court restored the petitioner to the office of the President of the Bongalmara Gaon Panchayat with immediate effect and it was stated by the court that the order will not stand in the way should the authorities or any member of the Gaon Panchayat propose a fresh motion of “no-confidence” against the petitioner and the due process of law needs to be followed.

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Halt DDA’s demolition action against jhuggis in Nizamuddin’s Gyaspur area, orders Delhi High Court

As per the JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy 2015 and the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, the residents who can establish their residence prior to 01.01.2015 are eligible for rehabilitation under the JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy 2015.

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plea in Delhi High Court seeking repatriation of 56 pregnant nurses

The Delhi High Court in the case Manoj Gupta & Ors. v. DDA & Ors observed and has ordered status quo on the Delhi Development Authority’s proposal to demolish jhuggi clusters in city’s Gyaspur area in Hazrat Nizamuddin. The vacation bench comprising of Justice Neena Bansal Krishna observed in the petition filled by the residents and the court granted an interim relief.

It was ordered by the court status quo till July 11, the next date of hearing.

The bench orally remarked that a ten-day delay in demolition won’t make a difference but if today it is demolished and later, we come to know that they were entitled, who’s going to… the bench will consider it on July 11, 2022 but in the Meanwhile, some protections are entitled them. Adding this, Status quo be maintained. If since 1995, they have been there, heavens won’t come down if for 10 more days they are protected.

In the plea the petitioner stated that the T-Huts settlement in the area, which was stated by the authorities to vacate. It has been in existence for almost two decades and compromise of 32 jhuggis or households.

In the plea it was alleged that the bulldozers have been parked around the camp and a DDA official has orally asked them to vacate the area and it is noted that till date no proper notice have been sent to them nor has DDA conducted any survey of the area.

Furthermore, the DDA did not provide any alternate arrangement for their rehabilitation which resulted in extreme distress among the residents.

Moreover, it was admitted by the petitioner that the land in question belongs to DDA and they may seek that status-quo to be maintained at the site. It was urged that the residents should not be physically dispose or evicted from the demolition site until the survey is conducted and rehabilitation is provided to the residents as per the DUSIB policy of 2015.

As per the JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy 2015 and the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board. The residents who can establish their residence prior to 01.01.2015 are eligible for rehabilitation under the JJ Rehabilitation and Relocation Policy 2015.

It is observed that in the case Ajay Maken v. Union of India, Reliance is placed on the Supreme Court decision and the High Court decision in the case Sudama Singh & Ors. v. Government of Delhi & Anr, it was held in the case that that removal of jhuggis without ensuring relocation would amount of gross violation of Fundamental Rights under Article 21 of the Constitution. Further, it was held that the agencies conducting the demolitions ought to conduct survey before undertaking any demolition.

It is submitted that these observations would apply across the board, in the entire NCT of Delhi.

Advocates Vrinda Bhandari, Shiyaz Razaq, Kaoliangpou Kamei, Jepi Y Chisho and Paul Kumar Kalai, represented the petitioner.

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TELANGANA HIGH COURT: PLACE OF RESIDENCE OF THE ARBITRATOR WOULD NOT BE THE SEAT OF ARBITRATION

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The High Court of Telangana in the case M/s S. Square Infra v. Garneni Chalapathi Rao observed and held that the place of residence of the arbitrator would not determine the seat of arbitration.

The Single bench comprising of Justice P. Sree Sudha observed and held that merely because an arbitrator residing in Hyderabad has been appointed, it does not mean that only the Courts at Hyderabad would have the jurisdiction to decide all the matters arising out of arbitration agreement.

Facts of the Case:

In the present case, after the dispute arouse between the parties, the respondent sent a letter to the petitioner for nomination an arbitrator who is residing in Hyderabad. To its said notice, petitioner replied and declined the appointment of the arbitrator for the reason that there was no dispute which required the appointment of an arbitrator.

A suit was filled by the respondent before the VII Additional District Judge Sangareddy, seeking for relief of permanent injunction. An application was filled by the petitioner under Section 8 of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act and the parties referred to the arbitration.

An application was filled by the respondent under section 9 of the Arbitration & Conciliation Act before the Principal District Judge, Sangareddy, Subsequently, an application was filled by the petitioner for transferring the application from the Court at Sangareddy to Court at Hyderabad.

Contentions made by Parties:

On the following grounds, the petitioner sought the transfer of application.

An arbitrator residing in Hyderabad was nominated to respondent. However, only the courts in Hyderabad would have the jurisdiction to decide all the matters arising out of the arbitration.

It was stated that the nomination of an arbitrator residing in Hyderabad amounted to designating Hyderabad as the Seat of Arbitration.

On the following grounds, the respondent countered the submissions of the petitioner:

An application was filled by the petitioner under Section 8 of the A&C Act before the Court at Sangareddy. However, in terms of Section 42 of the A&C Act, only the court at Sangareddy would have the jurisdiction to decide all the matters arising out of arbitration.

Court Analysis:

The Court held that the seat of arbitration would not be decide by the place of residence of the arbitrator.

The argument of the petitioner was rejected by the court that since the respondent had initially nominated an arbitrator residing in Hyderabad, the Hyderabad Court would have the jurisdiction.

The court stated that merely because a party has nominated an arbitrator who resides in Hyderabad, the same would not designate Hyderabad as the Seat of arbitration in absence of any designation of the seat under the arbitration agreement.

It was further stated by the court that the application filled by the petitioner filled under Section 8 application before the Court at Sangareddy consequent to which the parties were referred to arbitration. Therefore, the Court would have the jurisdiction, in terms of Section 42 of the A&C Act.

The Transfer petition was dismissed by the Court.

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DELHI HIGH COURT REMANDS IN THE MATTER BACK TO ASSESSING OFFICER AFTER SETTING ASIDE: JUST 3 DAYS’ TIME GRANTED TO RESPOND TO THE INCOME TAX NOTICE

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plea in Delhi High Court seeking repatriation of 56 pregnant nurses

The Delhi High Court in the case Shubham Thakral Vs ITO, the Delhi bench comprising of Justice Manmohan and Justice Manmeet Pritam Singh Arora observed and remanded the matter back to the assessing officer as just 3 days’ time was granted to respond to the income tax notice.

In the present case, the petitioner/assessee assailed the notice under Section 148A (b) of the Income Tax Act, 1961 and the order passed under Section 148A (d) for the Assessment Year 2018–19.

It was contended by the assessee that only three days’ time was granted to the assessee to respond, as against the mandatory statutory period of at least seven days. However, despite of the fact that the annexure attached to the notice gave the petitioner eight days to respond, the e-filing submission portal was closed earlier, in violation of Section 148A (b) of the Income Tax Act.

Furthermore, the petitioner relied on the decision of Delhi High Court, in the case of Shri Sai Co-operative Thrift and Credit Society Ltd versus ITO, the Delhi High Court in the case held that under Section 148A (b), a minimum time of seven days has to be granted to the assessee to file its reply to the show cause notice.

No objections were raised by the department/respondent to the matter being returned to the Assessing Officer for a fresh decision in accordance with the law. Accordingly, the court set aside the order passed under Section 148A (d) for the Assessment Year 2018-19. The Assessing officer was directed by the court to pass a fresh reasoned order in accordance with the law after considering the reply of the petitioner, which was directed to be filed within a week.

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ALLAHABAD HIGH COURT: ADVOCATES SHOULDN’T ADVISE CLIENTS TO REAGITATE MATTERS IF THERE IS NO ERROR APPARENT ON FACE OF RECORD

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The Allahabad High Court in the case Malhan and 17 Others Vs. State Of U.P. And Another observed and stated that an advocate should be given such a piece of advice when there is no error apparent on the face of the record nor was there any reason why the matter be re-agitated it was finally decided.

The bench comprising of Justice Dr. Kaushal Jayendra Thaker and Justice Vivek Varma observed while dealing with the civil review application wherein the bench observed the concerned advised his client to make a chance by filling the instant review application after a period of six year.

In the present case, a civil review petition was filled along with the application under section 5 of the Limitation Act, 1963., the application was filled for seeking condonation of delay in filling the application, the application was filled with a delay of six years i.e., 1900 days.

It was stated by the applicant that the review application could not be filled due to the blockage of public transportation on account of the COVID-19 guidelines.

Moreover, the court observed that the appeals were disposed of by the Apex Court in the year 2016 and only in 2020-2021, the pandemic struck India and furthermore, it cannot be said that due to the COVID guidelines the public transportation was blocked and however, the applicant could not come to Allahabad Court to file review.

Further, it was stated that the court asked the counsel for the review applicants to explain the delay in filling the review application, to which the council gave a strange reply that the counsel had advised the clients that they must take a chance by filling this review application after a period of six years.

Following this, the Court observed:

The court noted that an advocate should not give such an advice when there is no error apparent on the face of record nor was there any other reason that when the matter was finally decided, why the matter be re-agitated.

It was stated that the court has no reason to condone the delay of six years as the same was not explained as to why this review application is filed after such an inordinate delay.

The Court opined that the lapse in approaching the court within the time is understandable but a total inaction for long period of delay without any explanation whatsoever and that too in absence of showing any sincere attempt on the part of suiter, this would add to his negligence and the relevant factor going against him.

The court observed that careless and reckless is shown by the review applicant in approaching the court and due to the condemnation of delay in the application with a token cost of Rs.10,000/, the court dismissed the application.

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SUPREME COURT CRITICISES HIGH COURT: POSTING ANTICIPATORY BAIL PLEA AFTER TWO MONTHS CAN’T BE APPRECIATED

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The Supreme Court in the case Sanjay versus The State (NCT of Delhi) & ANR observed and stated that in the case where personal liberty is involved, the court is expected to pass orders at the earliest while taking into account the merits of the matter in one way or other. Further, the top court observed that posting of an application for anticipatory bail after a couple of months cannot be appreciated by the court.

The bench comprising of Justice C. T. Ravikumar and the Justice Sudhanshu Dhulia was hearing a June 2 SLP against the Delhi High Court in a petition filed under section 420, 467, 468, 471, 120-B, 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 for seeking anticipatory bail in a 2022 FIR, a notice is issued. It was stated that the learned APP for the state is present and accepts the notice and seeks time to file status report. The High Court in the impugned order stated that Let the status report be filed by the state prior to the next date with an advance copy to the learned counsel for the petitioner. The matter is to be list on 31.08.2022.

It was noted by the bench comprising of Justice Ravikumar and the Justice Dhulia that in the captioned Special Leave Petition, the grievance of the petitioner is that the application for anticipatory bail moved by the petitioner, being Crl. M.A. No. 11480 of 2022 in Bail Application No. 1751 of 2022 without granting any interim protection, was posted to 31.08.2022. on 24.05.2022, the bail application was moved on.

However, the bench asserted that the bench is of the considered view that in a matter involving personal liberty, the Court is expected to to pass orders at the earliest while taking into account the merits of the matter in one way or other.

It was declared by the bench that at any rate posting an application for anticipatory bail after a couple of months cannot be appreciated by the court.

Further, the bench requested to the High Court to dispose off the application for anticipatory bail on its own merits and in accordance with law expeditiously, preferably within a period of three weeks after reopening of the Court. Adding to it, the bench stated that if the main application could not be disposed off, for any reason, within the stipulated time, relief sought for in the interlocutory and on and on its own merits, the application shall be considered.

While disposing of the SLP, the bench directed in its order that we grant interim protection from arrest to the petitioner herein, Till such time.

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