Polity & Governance Prelims cum Mains

Punjab opts for tough law on desecration

The news

  • After the Punjab Cabinet’s nod for an amendment to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to make sacrilege/ desecration of all religious texts punishable with life imprisonment.
  • Legal experts and opposition parties have expressed fear that the law could be misused to curb right to freedom of speech and expression, besides settling scores with political opponents.

What is desecration?

  • Desecration is the act of depriving something of its sacred character, or the disrespectful, contemptuous, or destructive treatment of that which is held to be sacred or holy by a group or individual. For example, tearing down a holy book.

Brief details about the Bill

  • A Bill will be tabled in the Punjab Assembly session for approval, will seek insertion of Section 295AA to the IPC to provide that, “whoever causes injury, damage or sacrilege to Sri Guru Granth Sahib, Srimad Bhagwad Gita, Holy Quran and Holy Bible with the intention to hurt the religious feelings of the people, shall be punished with imprisonment for life.”
  • Once the Assembly passes the amendments, it would need the assent of the President.
  • While the government has citied the move as a major step towards curbing sacrilege incidents and maintaining communal harmony in the State, legal experts and opposition have their fears and concerns over its misuse.

 

Note- Under the existing Section 295A of IPC, punishment is for a maximum of three years imprisonment with or without fine.

Concerns with the Bill

  • The State has to be careful about the definition. There should no vagueness in definition so as to prevent misuse.
  • Desecration is an offence but the parameter of this offence needs to be cautiously drafted. If someone writes an article or a book, makes a speech with a bit of intellectual criticism, that certainly should not be covered.
  • With provision of life imprisonment, there is all the more chance of misusing it against the political opponents and innocent people.

What is Freedom of Speech and Expression?

  • Freedom of speech and expression is broadly understood as the notion that every person has the natural right to freely express themselves through any media and without outside interference, such as censorship, and without fear of reprisal, such as threats and persecutions.
  • Freedom of expression is a complex right, as it is not an absolute right in India.
  • It carries with it special duties and responsibilities therefore it has been subject to certain restrictions provided by law.

Freedom of Speech and Expression as per the Indian Constitution:

  • Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution of India guarantees to all its citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • The law states that, “all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”.
  • Under Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India imposes restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression.
  • The law states that, “reasonable restrictions can be imposed on the exercise of this right for certain purposes. Any limitation on the exercise of the right under Article 19(1) (a) not falling within the four corners of Article 19(2) cannot be valid.”

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