Insults to religion made unwittingly or carelessly without any deliberate or malicious intention to outrage the religious feelings of a class would not attract Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, the Tripura High Court recently ruled (Sri Dulal Ghosh v. State of Tripura).
A single-judge bench of Chief Justice Akil Kureshi, therefore, quashed a First Information Report (FIR) which was filed against one Dulal Ghosh (petitioner) for a Facebook post on Bhagavad Gita.
“Insults to religion made unwittingly or carelessly or without any deliberate or malicious intention to outrage the religious feelings of a class would not come within the said section (295A),” the order said.
The Court was dealing with a case, where FIR was registered against Ghosh under Section 295A of the IPC for a Facebook post on Bhagwat Gita.
The complainant contended that the petitioner-accused made distasteful and derogatory comments on Hindu religion by posting on Facebook in Bengali that the Gita (sacred religious text) is a “thakbaji Gita” (deceitful).
The complainant claimed that Ghosh “by putting a comment on his Facebook, the petitioner hurt the religious feelings of the Hindu community.”
The Additional Public Prosecutor (APP) submitted before the court that there was a clear attempt to hurt the religious feelings of the Hindu community “by making derogatory remarks about a Holy Book (Bhagwat Gita)”.
The petitioner, on the other hand contended that the Facebook post in question was ‘deliberately twisted and misinterpreted‘ by the complainant. It was submitted that he had no intention to demean the holy book Gita and hurt the ‘religious feelings‘ of any community or class. It was submitted that the complainant party has given a wrong connotation of the term used by the petitioner in order to make out a false case of criminal offence.
He argued that his post did not convey the meaning that Gita was deceitful or swindling. Instead, the petitioner had put the post conveying that the Gita is a pan which fries swindlers.
The APP, however, argued that the Petitioner was backtracking on his comment after a criminal complaint has been lodged against him.
The Court at the outset placed reliance on the 1957 Supreme Court judgment in Ramji Lal Modi v. State of UP to elucidate the scope of Section 295A.
“Section 295A does not penalize any and every act of insult or an attempt to insult the religion or the religious beliefs but it penalizes only those acts of insults or attempts which have been perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of a particular class,” the Court said.
It then proceeded to examine the scope and meaning of the word “thakbaji” used by the petitioner.
For the same, the Court examined Bengali English dictionary. It said that the word used by the petitioner “may mean or may not mean anything at all, it certainly does not convey the meaning which the complainant wants to ascribe namely that Bhagavad Gita, is a deceitful document.”
“It is not the role of the Court or for that matter the police to extract a meaning of a Facebook post whether the post is possible of any meaning or not. It may be frivolous, it may be redundant, it may make no sense. The question is, by placing such a post has the poster committed offence under Section 295A of IPC? When the answer to this question is in the negative, the complaint must be quashed,” the Court made it clear.
The expression thus used by the petitioner which is in total isolation, without virtually any background or foreground, therefore would require much twisting in order to fit within the scheme of Section 295A of IPC which would be wholly impermissible, the Court held.
As a parting note, the Court said that “the petitioner can hold his personal beliefs and within the framework of law can also express them, as long as he does not transgress any of the restrictions imposed by law to the freedom of his speech and expression.”
Senior Advocate P Roy Barman, and advocate Samarjit Bhattacharjee, represented the Petitioner while Additional Public Proseuctor Samrat Ghosh appeared for the State.