Other States

Punjab opts for tough law on sacrilege

Legal experts stress on clear definition while Opposition fears misuse

After the Punjab Cabinet’s nod for an amendment to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to make sacrilege of all religious texts punishable with life imprisonment, legal experts and Opposition parties have expressed fear that the law could be misused to curb right to freedom of speech and expression, besides settling scores with political opponents.

The Bill, which will be tabled in the Assembly session — beginning on Friday — for approval, will seek insertion of Section 295AA to the 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.” Once the Assembly passes the amendments, it would need the assent of the President. Under the existing Section 295A, punishment is for a maximum of three years imprisonment with or without fine. While the Capt. Amarinder Singh-led government has citied the move as a major step, towards curbing sacrilege incidents and maintaining communal harmony in the State, legal experts and Opposition have their fears and concerns over its misuse.

“While it’s a welcome step, I have a concern. I am presuming that the definition pertains to physical sacrilege or desecration. The State has to be careful about the definition. Desecration is an offence but the parameter of this offence needs to be cautiously drafted. If someone writes an article or a book, makes a speech with a bit of intellectual criticism, that certainly should not be covered. There should no vagueness in defining because then it ceases to have any conceptual meaning,” Anupam Gupta, senior advocate at Punjab and Haryana High Court, told The Hindu.

With the punishment being enhanced to life imprisonment, clear definition becomes all the more important, he added.

Another Chandigarh-based senior criminal lawyer said the proposed move seems to be a knee-jerk reaction. “The most vital part in this Bill would be incorporation of 'checks and balances'. It's more of a political response to a problem which otherwise requires careful deliberation at the level of drafting,” he said, requesting anonymity.

Punjab’s principal Opposition, the Aam Aadmi Party’s co-president Balbir Singh accused the Punjab government of playing politics on the issue of sacrilege. “The government has failed to give justice under the existing law. The move to amend the law is to mislead people on the sensitive issue of ‘sacrilege’. With provision of life imprisonment, there is all the more chance of misusing it against the political opponents and innocent people,” said Dr. Singh.

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Printable version | Jul 2, 2020 7:54:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/sacrilege-law-could-get-lifeterm-if-punjab-house-approves-amendment/article24762751.ece

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