By Prarthana Mitra
At a time when Pakistani activists and intelligentsia around the world are fighting the draconian blasphemy laws, the state of Punjab on Tuesday approved amendments to the Indian Penal Code to introduce blasphemy laws in this country in 2018.
Here’s what happened
The Punjab cabinet, led by Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, took a regressive step in making sacrilege of religious texts punishable with a life sentence. Approving the draft bill, the cabinet proposed relevant amendments to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) as a step to curb the desecration of scriptures, and maintain communal harmony in the state, said an official spokesperson.
“The Cabinet has approved insertion of section 295AA to the Indian Penal Code (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,” the spokesperson said.
In 2016 when the previous SAD-BJP government was in power, the Punjab Assembly had passed the Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2016 and Code of Criminal Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2016, which aimed to seek life imprisonment for desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib. The Congress had reportedly raised objections then, asking the state to extend the same law for all religious texts.
Why it matters
Punjab has witnessed some incidents of sacrilege in recent years, a crime founded in the grey area of “hurting one’s religious sentiments.” Blasphemy laws are dangerous in a diverse and secular nation such as ours, because it undermines the freedom of speech. Sacrilege is not easy to define or prove, and even harder to penalise. More often than not, it becomes a machinery to provoke and perpetuate communal disharmony, outrage, and in the case of our immediate neighbour, a state of constant terror. According to DailyO, the fact that this law is being pushed for in a Congress-ruled state raises questions about the “secular” party’s duplicitousness in using religion to play vote bank politics.
On Tuesday, Punjab cabinet gave the official nod to table ‘The Code of Criminal Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2018 and the Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2018, in the ensuing session of Punjab Vidhan Sabha, thus heralding a new era for religious vigilantism.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius