The Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy (IMSD) has opposed the demand of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and some other organisations for an anti-blasphemy law in India, terming it unconstitutional.
The IMSD statement has been endorsed by nearly 400 citizens, a large majority of whom are Muslims.
“We condemn the constant attempts by certain hate factories of Hindutva which are working overtime to demonise Islam and Muslims. However, IMSD fully supports the principle that in a secular State there can be no place for a law criminalising blasphemy. Muslims demanding such a law should instead take recourse to the already existing law against hate speech in our country,” it said.
The IMSD said Muslims had the right to invoke Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code (punishment for deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) against every attempt to target the community with hate speech and demand strict enforcement of the existing law.
“But the demand for a special law to punish blasphemy must be opposed for more than one reason. Among other things, the experience of neighbouring countries shows that such a law promotes fanaticism and seeks to silence even rational critical commentaries on religion,” it said.
“The Board cannot be unaware of the notorious blasphemy law in neighbouring Pakistan which is frequently misused to hound individuals from religious minorities and even fellow Muslims with sectarian and personal motives,” said the IMSD.
The IMSD said according to the Minorities Association of Pakistan, between 1987 and 2021, 1,865 people had been charged under the blasphemy laws, with a significant spike in 2020, when 200 cases were registered.
“Punjab, the province where most Christians of Pakistan live, is leading with 76% cases and 337 people are in prison for blasphemy... Also, at least 128 people have been killed by mobs, outside any judicial process, after being signalled as having committed blasphemy or apostasy, without any chance to have access to an investigation, and nobody has been arrested for their murder,” it said, quoting the report.
“Neighbouring Bangladesh started off as a secular State at its birth in 1971 but adopted Islam as a State religion in 1988. It does not have a law against blasphemy but often misuses the same secular penal code of the British period — section 295(A) — to silence all critical comments on Islam in the name of blasphemy,” said the IMSD.