Sunday, 25 September 2011

September 30 - International Blasphemy Rights Day!

Founded in 2009 by the Center for Inquiry, International Blasphemy Rights Day seeks to establish September 30 as an International Day to promote the right to criticize (lampooning not excluded!) religion without inviting reprisals from religious bigots and governments.

Blasphemy laws the world over (that is, wherever the laws exist) have been used to suppress legitimate criticism of religion. In some countries such as Pakistan, Blasphemy is a serious crime punishable with death.
Click here for the Facebook page of the event: International Blasphemy Rights Day

Blasphemy in India

Though in India we do not have a blasphemy law, certain sections of the Indian Penal Code have been used by the authorities and religious groups to harass those who wittingly or unwittingly ‘hurt’ the ‘religious sentiments’ of certain individuals or religious groups.

Section 153A of Indian Penal Code states:

Whoever -

(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, or

(b) Commits any act which is prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities, and which disturbs or is likely to disturb the public tranquility . . .shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both

Section 295A says:

Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [citizens of India], [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both.

Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure gives the government the right to declare certain publications “forfeited” if the “publication ... appears to the State Government to contain any matter the publication of which is punishable under Section 124A or Section 153A or Section 153B or Section 292 or Section 293 or Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code.

Selected Cases (most of what follows are taken from/based on an article from Wikipedia)

In February 2009, the police filed a complaint against Ravindra Kumar and Anand Sinha, the editor and the publisher respectively of the Kolkata-based English daily The Statesman. The police charged Kumar and Sinha under section 295A because they had reprinted an article from The Independent by its columnist Johann Hari. Titled "Why should I respect oppressive religions?", the article stated Hari's belief that the right to criticise any religion was being eroded around the world. Muslim protestors in Kolkata reacted to Hari's belief by violent demonstrations at the offices of The Statesman.

On 20 June 2007, a court in the Punjab issued non-bailable arrest warrants against Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh, a chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, for hurting the religious sentiments of the Sikh community. The hurting was the result of Singh's dressing like Guru Gobind Singh.

In May 2007, a Buddhist group in Maharashtra's Amaravati district said their religious sentiments were hurt, and filed a complaint against the actress Rakhi Sawant because she posed in a bathtub against a statue of the Buddha.

In March 2007, BV Seetharam, editor of Karavalli Ale, a Kannada newspaper was arrested under Sections 153A, 153B, and 295 of the IPC on the ground that his writing promoted religious hatred. According to The Hindu, “Mr. Seetharam wrote a recent series of columns on the religious traditions of the Jain Digambar monks, who practice nudity, and have a large following in coastal Karnataka. He criticised nudity as highly objectionable and violative of civil norms. The complaint on the basis of which the FIR was filed took objection to this series. The complainant stated that Mr. Seetharam in his articles belittled the religious practices of Jain monks, thus causing friction between Jains and non-Jains” (Mar 08, 2007)

In 2007, the authorities charged ninety-one-year-old Maqbool Fida Husain with hurting religious sentiments by painting Mother India as a naked woman.

In December 2006, a complaint was filed against the cricketer Ravi Shastri for hurting the religious feelings of Hindus by his allegedly eating beef during a Test match in Johannesburg.

On 2 August 2006, two religious groups in Ahmedabad complained to the police that their religious sentiments were hurt because a garment-maker had printed text from the Hindu and Jain religions on clothing. The police filed the complaint as a matter under section 295.

Celebrating the day in India

Thus, it is imperative that we Indians also should be part of this international event to make our societies more tolerable towards criticism of religious beliefs.

But how should we celebrate the day? We seek your suggestions.


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