lasphemy is one of the law that is most abused in the world when it comes to overpowering the voices of minorities, rationalists as well as at many times most of the think tanks and intellectuals who often comes under a barrage of questions over its legality in the present modern formations of the world. While often, it is regarded as a judicious restriction over the freedom of speech and expression, many a times it is also viewed as an interference in the development of a scientific temper among people and also a practice of imposing the religious beliefs and virtues of one community over other. In this modern world where Freedom of Speech as well as Freedom of Religion are widely considered as fundamental and human rights, India despite being a pluralist country with an incomparable diversity in its population having a vast ocean of varied conflicting opinions has the Section 295-A in Indian Penal Code 1860 which is a law against blasphemy under the guise of ‘hate speech’.
Same goes with Pakistan also. Mockery toward God, religion, a religious icon, or something else considered sacred in every religion. It has been held to be a common-law crime in the United States, India and Pakistan because of its tendency to stir up breaches of the peace. It is expressly made punishable. However, the rationale behind declaring blasphemy as a crime is not only applicable in common law countries but throughout the world. Multiple countries across the world have blasphemy laws in their penal system despite having different demography and legal systems. The offense of blasphemy may relate to a particular religion or may be towards all religions and may carry penalty ranging from a mere fine in Italy to death penalty in Pakistan. However, many countries do not have blasphemy laws in their penal system. The United States of America ruled out Blasphemy law as unconstitutional as it was a violation of the freedom of speech.
India being both a pluralist country and secular just like America, had no provision against blasphemy until 1927 when the Section 295(A) was incorporated in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 stating that “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 both.” But the question however is, is the blasphemy law in modern India justified? If we speak about freedom of speech then we should notice that the anti-blasphemy laws do far more damage than good to society. They are used not to promote tolerance but as an excuse to commit violence. They do this in two ways: by encouraging extremist groups, and by restricting freedom of thought and religion itself.
Without those rights, a society inches towards becoming a religious dictatorship as Pakistan is doing. The first point is important. By letting religious groups to get their way, we encourage them like spoilt kids. We end up giving them a license to whip up outrage for their own political agendas or against others. It has happened in Pakistan for decades and it’s increasingly happening in India. In June last, the police arrested a member of the radical Hindu group called Sanatan Sanstha that is a prime suspect behind the murders of three Indian rationalists. These activists were targeted simply for campaigning against religious superstition and fake sadhus. And that’s just one example. All India Bakchod had supposedly offended Christians or when writer Wendy Doniger had her book banned because a Hindu outfit called it “vulgar” or when the movie Nanak Shah Fakir was pulled down because hardline Sikh groups were angry. India is now full of religious groups who threaten violence if they feel wounded on behalf of their gods.
Same is in Pakistan, a Pakistani court sentenced a university professor to death for blasphemy under a law that critics say is often used to target minorities and liberal activists. Junaid Hafeez, 33 was arrested in March 2013 for posting derogatory remarks against Prophet Mohammed on the social media. Blasphemy is a hugely sensitive issue in conservative Muslim-majority Pakistan where laws against it carry a potential death sentence. Even unproven allegations have led to mob lynchings and vigilante murders. Hafeez’s sentence was announced in central city of Multan where he was a university professor at the time of his arrest.
Hafeez’s lawyer was killed in 2014 after receiving death threats during a hearing. About 40 people convicted of blasphemy are on a death row in Pakistan, according to a 2018 estimate by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom. The acquittal last October of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman who had spent more than eight years on death row for blasphemy, provoked violent protests across Pakistan, leaving large swathes of the country paralysed. Bibi now lives in Canada with her family. While many cases involve Muslims accusing Muslims, rights activists have warned that religious minorities particularly Christians are often caught in the crossfire, with blasphemy charges used to settle personal scores.
(With Inputs from various agencies)
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