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IPC Sec 295A: Hate Speech and Blasphemy

  May 21, 2023

IPC Sec 295A: Hate Speech and Blasphemy

Q What is Section 295A?

  • Section 295A, define the contours of free speech and its limitations with respect to offences relating to religion.
  • It prescribes punishment for deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.
  • It calls for imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both.
  • It has been invoked on a wide range of issues from penalising political satire and seeking bans on or withdrawal of books to even political critique on social media.


Q What are the provisions to penalise religious offences ?

Section 295A is one of the key provisions in the IPC chapter to penalise religious offences. The same chapter includes offences to penalise:

  1. Damage or defilement of a place of worship with intent to insult the religion (Section 295)
  2. Trespassing in a place of sepulture (burial) (Section 297)
  3. Uttering, words, etc, with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person (Section 298) and
  4. Disturbing a religious assembly (Section 296)


Q  What is the background of the law ?

  • Colonial origins of the hate speech provisions are often criticised for the assumption that Indians were susceptible to religious excitement.
  • Section 295A was brought in 1927.
  • The antecedents of Section 295A lie in the communally charged atmosphere of North India in the 1920s.
  • The amendment was a fallout of an acquittal under Section 153A of the IPC by the Lahore High Court in 1927 in Rajpaul v Emperor, popularly known as the Rangila Rasool case.


Q What is the frequency of  its use ?

  • The state often invokes Section 295A along with 153A of the IPC, which penalises promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.
  • It acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony and Section 505 of the IPC that punishes statements conducing to public mischief.


Q What about online hate speech?

  • In cases where such speech is online, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act was invoked.
  • However, in a landmark verdict in 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A as unconstitutional on the ground that the provision was “vague” and a “violation of free speech”.
  • However, the provision continues to be invoked.


Q What are issues with such laws ?

  • The broad, vague terms in the laws are often invoked in its misuse.
  • Lower conviction rates for these provisions indicate that the process — where a police officer can arrest without a warrant — is often the punishment.
  • Critics have pointed out that these laws are intended for the state to step in and restore “public order” rather than protect free speech.