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Punjab’s effort to criminalise blasphemy further is dangerous

Going a step ahead over the previous version of the Bill by proposing life-term for sacrilege of all religious texts hints at the Punjab Congress’s attempt to score the political brownie points.

editorials Updated: Aug 24, 2018 12:04 IST
Hindustan Times
Holy Gita
The Amarinder Singh cabinet approved amendments to the CrPC and IPC, making the desecration of religious texts punishable with life in Punjab(Anil Dayal/HT)

In what seems a clear attempt to pander to religious sensibilities, the Punjab government has sought a state-specific amendment to make the country’s blasphemy law under Section 295 of the IPC more stringent. Currently, it prescribes two years punishment for “injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class.”

The Amarinder Singh cabinet, on Tuesday, approved amendments to the CrPC and IPC, making the desecration of religious texts punishable with life in Punjab. It made the case for the insertion of Section 295 AA, providing 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”. Criminalising the blasphemy law further is fraught with danger and it needs to undergo much more legal scrutiny before it is pushed through, if at all.

Even the context and timing of the Bill has more to do with scoring populist brownie points in a state where religion and politics mingle ceaselessly. The bill was first enacted by the previous Akali Dal-BJP government as a desperate damage-control exercise in the wake of Sikh rage over a rash of desecrations of the Sikh holy book in 2015. The amendment at that time specifically sought life imprisonment for desecration of Guru Granth Sahib and a 10- year term for that of other religious texts. But the home ministry returned the bill saying it would violate the Constitutional principle of secularism and was “excessive in law”. The current Congress government in the state withdrew the bill last year. The home ministry has to approve state-specific changes in the central code.

Still, the issue remains an emotive one. What has raised political temperatures is a report by the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission set up by the Amarinder government to probe past incidents of blasphemy. It is no coincidence that the bill’s presentation in the assembly on August 24 has been timed with the tabling of the Justice Ranjit Singh Commission report which squarely blames the previous government for the past incidents of sacrilege.

Harsh blasphemy laws in other countries have been brazenly misused to settle political scores and silence opponents of the ruling regime. They also feed religious frenzy as we have seen in our neighbourhood. The only redeeming aspect is that Punjab’s bill will have go through central scrutiny. Hopefully, at that stage the more draconian provisions of the bill will be removed.

First Published: Aug 24, 2018 11:03 IST