Legal Correspondent

Intention to disturb communal harmony has to be judged by the language of book

  • One cannot rely on strongly worded and isolated passages
  • Intention to cause disorder, sine qua non of offence under 153-A IPC

    New Delhi: Merely inciting the feelings of one community or group without any reference to any other community or group cannot be construed as an offence under Sections 153 and 153-A of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court has ruled.

    Promoting enmity

    These sections deal with sensitive issues of promoting enmity among different groups on religious, caste, racial and linguistic grounds.

    A Bench comprising Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices Lokeshwar Singh Panta and D.K. Jain said that for whipping up enmity, hatred or ill will among different religious or racial or linguistic or regional groups or castes and communities, "it is necessary that at least two such groups or communities should be involved." Merely inciting the feeling of one community or group without any reference to any others could not attract these provisions.

    The Bench said authorities should be more cautious in invoking Sections 153 and 153-A against authors whose work pertained to scholarly research.

    Maharashtra case

    In the instant matter, the Maharasthra Government registered a case against American author James W. Laine for his controversial book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, published by the Oxford University Press (OUP) India in 2003, but withdrawn soon after protests in the State.

    Acting on a public interest petition, the Bombay High Court directed the government to proceed with the investigation of the case against Mr. Laine, Manzar Sayeed Khan, attorney for the OUP, and Vinod Hansraj Goyal of the Rashtriya Printing Press, for having printed the book. The present appeals are against this order.

    While directing the State government not to proceed with the case, the Bench said the State Governments should show restraint in invoking these Sections against intellectuals, authors and publishers.


    For making a prima facie case in such circumstances, it was essential to establish that there was a deliberate "intention" on the part of a person to promote disharmony or a feeling of enmity, hatred or ill will among different religious, racial, linguistic or regional groups and castes or communities by his writings.

    It had to be further established that his act was "prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony or is likely to disturb the public order.

    The intention to cause disorder or incite the people to violence is the sine qua non of the offence under Section 153-A of IPC," the court said.

    "When the charges pertained to a book, the intention to disturb the communal harmony has to be judged primarily by its language and the circumstances in which it was written and published and its contents should not be read in bits and pieces for this purpose. One cannot rely on strongly worded and isolated passages for proving the charge, nor can [one] take a sentence here and there and connect them by a malicious process of inferential reasons."

    Author exonerated

    Exonerating Mr. Laine of the charges, the court said it was "very improbable" to imagine that any serious and intense scholar would make an attempt to malign the image of a historic hero like Shivaji.