- A case was filed against Kamal Haasan for causing hurt to religious feelings due to a comment made that hurt the feelings of Hindus.
- The comment was made during an interview when Haasan was asked about the violence faced by women.
- Haasan had taken reference from the Mahabharata to show how a woman had been staked as collateral for gambling.
- Justice G Ilangovan mentioned that criticism was a part of free and democratic society.
- It was not only a human right, but also a democratic one.
- The Madras High Court has quashed all criminal cases filed against the actor-politician Kamal Haasan over the comments made by him regarding the Mahabharata.
There have been many incidents where certain comments made by people have been deemed as causing hurt to religious sentiments, and in severe cases, even inciting communal violence. In such cases, the question of law comes into play, that is, to what extent freedom of speech can be exercised and what effect does a blasphemous statement or a comment aimed at religion have on the freedom of speech. The case that is being discussed goes back to 2017, when Kamal Haasan made a statement that was perceived by a few as insulting to Hindus and the epic Mahabharata as well. It was alleged that the said comment was hurtful to the religious sentiments of Hindus and a case was filed against him for committing an offence under Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code. However, the case was not successful as an inquiry made into the case revealed that the words spoken were casual in nature and not specifically intended to cause harm to a particular religious group.
The Court remarked that it was the basic right of all people to make comments on and draw analogies from literary works. No citizen has a right to stop another from expressing their views simply because they think it is wrong. For conviction for an offence under Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code, there has to be an intentional insult, which was clearly not present in Haasan’s case.
A similar incident had taken place in 2018, when Abhijit Iyer-Mitra was arrested with regards to an old Twitter conversation which allegedly contained derogatory remarks against the Konark Sun Temple in Odisha. The charges filed against him included Section 294, which deals with punishment given for obscene acts words done or used in public; Section 295 (A), which deals with hurting religious sentiments; Section 153 (A), which contains provisions for acts or words which promote enmity between religious groups; Section 500, for defamation; and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act.
The most recent incident which is note-worthy is the Charlie Hebdo incident which took place in France in 2020. A newspaper, called Charlie Hebdo, based in Paris had published some cartoons which portrayed certain Gods and deities in a morally wrong way. This was not taken kindly by the followers of that religion and the situation got aggravated to the point when the cartoonist was killed.
FREE SPEECH LAWS
- SECTION 124 A: Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code deals with Sedition. It prescribes punishment for bringing hatred or contempt or disaffection towards the Government through speech. The punishment usually involves imprisonment which may be followed up by a fine. However, it was ruled by the Apex Court in 1962 that the application of Section 124 A refers to only acts which tend to incite violence among the public and disrupt law and order.
- SECTION 298: Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code prescribes a punishment of imprisonment up to one year which may be followed by a fine, for utterance of speech that intentionally made to hurt the religious feelings of any person.
- SECTION 295 A: This section prescribes punishment for acts which are purposeful demonstrations intended to hurt religious sentiments of any class by offending its religion by words, whether spoken or written, or by signs. This section incorporates detainment of as long as three years, fine, or both.
- SECTION 505 (2): This section punishes distribution or circulation of any statement, or report which contains gossip or disturbing news with the purpose of creating sensations of hostility, contempt or malevolence between various religious, racial, language or provincial gatherings or stations or communities. The punishment given under this section incorporates detainment which may reach up to three years, or a fine, or both.
- SECTION 505 (1)(c): This section imposes criminal penalties on anyone who makes, publishes or circulates any statement or report containing rumour or alarming news with intent to incite any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community. The maximum punishment under this section is up to three years of imprisonment and a fine.
Article 19(1) (a) discusses Freedom of Speech and Expression but the following conditions of the Article include 'reasonable restrictions'. Let us look at a few cases.
- RAMJI LAL MODI V. STATE OF UTTAR PRADESH [1957 AIR 620]: In 1957, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court maintained the constitutionality of the said section in 'Ramji Lal Modi v. State of U.P.' The Court held that Section 295A IPC doesn't punish each and every demonstration to insult any religion of a class of residents. The Court said that those demonstrations can be punished under this arrangement which are made with the purposeful and malevolent intention of insulting the religious sentiments of that class. The Court additionally explained that the Section would just apply to such cases which are determined to upset the public order.
- MANMEET SINGH V. STATE OF GUJARAT [Special Civil Application 11513/2016]: It was held that freedom of speech cannot be curtailed on the grounds of religious freedom and sentiment, especially when there is nothing objectionable in the said expression.
- MAHENDRA SINGH DHONI V. YERRAGUNTLA SHYAMSUNDAR [2017 SCC OnLine SC 450]: The Supreme Court of India subdued a FIR lodged against Mahendra Singh Dhoni for supposedly hurting the religious feelings of individuals when a picture of him being depicted as Lord Vishnu was distributed in a magazine.
The Court has held that Section 295A IPC punishes just those acts of insults to the religion of a class of residents which are executed with the purposeful and vindictive aim of insulting the religious beliefs of that class of residents. Abuses to religion offered accidentally or imprudently or with no purposeful or noxious goal to offend that class or community don't count in this Section. The Court has also likewise advised the Magistrates who have been authorized with the power of taking cognizance and giving summons and said that they are needed to painstakingly investigate whether the claims submitted in the question continue to meet the fundamental elements of the offence.