Expressing opinions on religious matters not blasphemy, says HC

Grants bail to BJP functionary accused of insulting Prophet

Published - February 23, 2019 01:04 am IST - CHENNAI

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 22/06/2017: The Madras High Court. 
Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

CHENNAI, TAMIL NADU, 22/06/2017: The Madras High Court. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Pointing out the difference between blasphemy and expressing opinions on religious aspects based on an individual’s knowledge of the subject, the Madras High Court on Friday granted bail to a Bharatiya Janata Party functionary who had allegedly made blasphemous statements against Prophet Mohamed in one of his Facebook posts last year.

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh, after going through the Facebook post by R. Kalayanaraman, said: “In the considered view of this court, the petitioner has written his understanding about Prophet Mohamed and his family after reading the relevant history,” and hence he would be entitled to bail on condition that he would cooperate with the probe.

The judge also took into consideration the submissions made by senior counsel S. Prabakaran that the petitioner had already suffered incarceration for more than 19 days.

The Chennai city Central Crime Branch police had arrested him at the airport on February 2 immediately after he landed here after a brief visit to Gujarat.

He had been booked under different provisions of the Indian Penal Code for allegedly promoting enmity between two groups on the ground of religion and the First Information Report had been registered following receipt of several complaints objecting to a post on his Facebook page titled Kakkai Sidhar Kalayanaraman on November 16.

After reading the entire post and not finding it to be reckless or derogatory, Justice Venkatesh said: “The freedom of expression always gets challenged when it touches upon religious beliefs. There were occasions when similar articles had been written questioning the history of Jesus Christ in the book The Da Vinci Code .

“Even in this State, there are articles written touching upon the life of Seetha in Ramayana. It is one thing to make reckless and derogatory remarks against religious beliefs and it is entirely another thing to express the opinion after reading the entire literature/history of various characters revered as God or Goddess in this society. “Not every expression will qualify itself to bring disharmony between various sects or groups.” He recalled that on July 5, 2016, the first Division Bench of the High Court led by the then Chief Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul had elucidated the issue more aptly in a case related to author Perumal Murugan’s novel Madhorubagan.

In that judgment, it was observed that in complaints against publications, art, drama, film, song, poems and so on, there was bound to be a presumption in favour of free speech and expression as envisaged under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution unless a court of law finds it otherwise as falling within the domain of a reasonable restriction under Article 19(2).

Freedom of expression

“The State’s responsibility to maintain law and order would not permit any compulsion on the artistes concerned to withdraw from his/her stand and non-State players cannot be allowed to determine what is permissible and what is not,” the Division Bench had said and the observations could be squarely applied in the present case, the judge said.

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