Chapter XV of IPC lays down provisions related to offences relating to religion. This Chapter of the Indian Penal Code is premised on the principle that freedom to follow one’s religion is an integral part of one’s right and therefore religious sentiments must not be offended.
The Indian Constitution provides for secularity by according equal protection to all the religions. Right to freedom of religion has been enumerated in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution espousing equal entitlement of freedom of conscience and the right to practice, profess and propagate the religion of their choice.
Nevertheless, this right to freedom of religion has to be exercised subject to certain limitations like health, morality, and public order.
I. Defilement of Places Worship
Section 295. Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class: “Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
Section 297. Trespassing on burial places, etc: “Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
Section 295 lays down the provision an act by classes of persons who defile, destroy or cause damage of a place of worship or an object considered to be sacred punishable when done with an intention to insult the religion.
The provision basically aims to compel everyone to hold with reverence the religious sentiments of persons following a different religion, creed or persuasion. Further, the provisions laid down by Section 297 are supplementary to Section 295 extending the proposition to sites regarded as holy and sacred.
An act of trespass committed by a person in any place of worship or a sacred burial site, sepulture, or a separate place to offer and perform burial rites or disturbance caused to the funeral, if done with an intention to hurt the religious sentiments or offend the religion of a person is punishable.
The essential ingredient required to establish conviction with respect to both Section 295 and Section 297 are:
- Knowledge or intention
- Act of causing defilement, destruction and damage to a place of worship or place veneration or an object considered to be sacred
- Trespassing or disturbing a place of worship or sepulture or burial site regarded to holy
- With an intention to dishonour or abase a human corpse and disturb funeral rites
Intention or Knowledge
Merely causing damage, destruction or defilement to a place of worship or an object regarded as holy and sacred cannot be deemed to insulting a person’s religious sentiments and persuasions. Requisite mens rea has to be established in order a person or class of persons to be charged under these sections.
Intent to cause humiliation is a question of fact and is dependent on the circumstances and facts of each case. Words uttered and gestures made by a person concerning a particular event can be considered together to prove the presence of an intention to hurt or any other circumstances accompanying a person’s action may establish the requisite intent.
In the case of Jan Mohmmad v. Narain Das, a group of Hindus were booked under Section 295 and 297 to have dismantled a mosque. It looked like the mosque, had fallen into shams as it supervised and looked after by no one. Some material belonging to the structure of the mosque was removed by the accused whose house was adjacent to the mosque, with the help of some Muslims.
The intention of the Hindu who was charged with Section 295 was not established by the prosecution to offend or insult the religious feelings of any Muslim and hence the court acquitted him observing that his act to remove the building material in no way could have hurt the sentiments of the village Muslims due to lack of mens rea.
In the case of Soban Ram v. Crownfor convenience and ease a Hindu had placed the rafters of his roof into the walls of an adjoining mosque. The court observed that the Hindu could not be convicted under Section 295 since the accused did not have any intention cause hurt and harm to the feelings of people following Islam, although his act to insert the rafters into walls of mosque caused damages to it.
In another case, Re Ratna Mudalia Hindu man and a woman engaged in sexual intercourse inside the enclosed surrounding of Mahomedan Fakir’s tomb, which was a holy and sacred veneration site for some Muslims, and hence were charged under Section 295 and 297.
The court acquitted them of the charge under Section 295 ruling that because the act was committed at night and viewing the clandestine nature of such an act. However, both of them were not exonerated under Section 297 and found guilty of trespassing into a place of worship.
Hitherto the discussions we had it must be noted that outrageous acts hurting the religious sentiments are not covered under the purview of Section 295 and 297 when such insults offered are commissioned carelessly and unwittingly and lacking malice.
Defilement, Destruction or Damage
The words ‘damaging’ and ‘destroying’ would mean materially or physically affecting a property concerned. Additionally in the physical sense, it may be comprehended as an act of making a particular object dirty, foul and unclean.
Further, ‘defiling’ includes not just the act causing physical destruction, but would also comprise situations which would render a sacred object of worship or a place of worship impure both ritually and ceremonially. A case where an untouchable had entered a Hindu temple which was only open to the Hindus belonging to higher caste was ruled not to be an act of defilement under Section 295, IPC.
Place or Object to be Sacred
It is a question of fact whether a particular object or place is regarded as being worshipped. In the case of Joseph v. State of Kerala, people used a hut as a place of worship. The delivery of the shed was rendered to the accused by the court through an order, after which the accused stripped down the shed along with all the pictures of the Hindus which were put up by the worshippers of the lord. The accused was charged under Section 295 for his actions.
The case was heard by the High court of Kerala which ruled that since the accused had proper right and possession over the property so he can manage it any manner he wished to. In the circumstances, in this case, the accused had all the rights to pull down the shed if he did not want the place to be used for worship since he had the rightful authority over the place and not any intention to hurt the religious sentiments of anyone.
II. Trespass into Place of Worship or Place of sepulture
Trespass charged under Section 297 is not required to be “criminal trespass” for a person to be convicted under this section. In a case, certain individuals enter a burial site and ploughed up the graves, were convicted under Section 297 in spite of the fact that they had the consent of the person owning the land as they had the intention to hurt religious feelings.
Indignity to Human Corpse and Disturbing Funeral Rites
Section 297 also makes a person guilty if his actions are found to have caused disturbance to funeral rites or dignity of a human corpse. Here the word “disturbance” would mean any explicit intervention or hindrance to the performance of the funeral rites.
In the case of Sudarshan Kumar v. Gangacharan Dubey, certain police officers who had shot a criminal dead in an encounter were charged with Section 297 when they roped the corpse of the criminal to a tower in order to desist people from ignoring the observance of law after the father of the criminal refused to accept the corpse.
The corpse was taken to the father after it underwent the process of post-mortem and subsequently a large crowd gathered to see it when the accused roped it. The court acquitted the police officers observing that had not caused indignity to the corpse.
III. Outraging or wounding religious feelings
Section 295A. Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs:
”Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three year, or with fine, or with both.”
Section 298. Uttering, words, etc., with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person:
“Whoever, with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person, utters any word or makes any sound in the hearing of that person or makes any gesture in the sight of that person or places, any object in the sight of that person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”
Any act committed with an intention to deliberately insult, outrage or wound the religious sentiments of persons is made punishable under these Sections. Deliberate and an act of malice with an intention to disrespect the feelings related to a religion of a class of person are dealt with in Section 295A and any ‘deliberate’ act with the application of verbal or visual representation with a motive to wound the feelings related to a religion of another is dealt with in Section 298.
Section 295A issues provision for outraging which is a much graver offence than wounding a person’s religious feeling which is provided for in Section 298. Likewise, a harsher punishment is provided for in Section 295 than for 298 that is, simple or rigorous imprisonment for a term up to three years and one year respectively.
Further, every act of insult is not accounted as punishable under Section 295A and only an insult supplemented with intention of malice towards religion or religious beliefs of a person or class of person qualifies to be made punishable.
An act indicating incorrigible disposition, perverse or wicked behaviour implying detrimental to the feelings of others. However, any outrageous act or an act which could lead to causing a wound to religious feelings of a person when carried out carelessly and unwittingly without an intention to deliberately or maliciously hurting a person’s religious sentiments would not be punishable under Section 295A.
Often malice is not direct and does not have any tangible proof since it is a state of mind and hence to establish malice one is required to infer from the circumstances taking into account the relevant facts, background and setting. Behaviour and language of a person can also be considered to conclude the presence of malice.
Wounding the religious feelings of another by application of exhibitions, gestures and words is dealt with in Section 298. To constitute an offence under this Section one needs to establish that the wound caused to sentiments of a religious person or group was deliberate in nature and the mere existence of knowledge that an act will lead to wounding religious feelings is not sufficient.
No written articles are taken under the purview of Section 298, unlike Section 295A. Therefore, it is worthwhile to note here the legislative intent which legitimises any discussions pertaining to religion however prohibits any discussion leading to pervasive insults directed towards a religion under the pretext of such discussion.
Constitutional Validity of Section 295A
In the case of Ramji Lal Modi v. State of Uttar Pradesh, constitutional validity of Section 295A was challenged on the ground that it was perverse to Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India which espouses right to freedom of religion. Upholding the constitutional validity of Section 295A, the Apex court ruled that:
“Section 295A is enacted in the interest of the public order, and it penalises not any and every insult to religion but only the deliberate and malicious outraging religious feelings pf a class of persons. It excludes from its purview indults to religion offered unwittingly or carelessly or without any deliberate or malicious intention to outrage the religious feelings of a class of persons.
It punishes only aggravated form of insult to religion that have tendency to disrupt the public order and the section of class of persons. Such a penalisation, the court held, falls within Article 19(2) as being a law imposing a reasonable restriction on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.”
Section 95, CrPC authorises the government to forfeit a book, document or newspaper if it thinks is inappropriate and constituting an offence under Section 295A through a notification. Such notification must support such forfeiture with proper grounds and reasons and absence of which will render such notification nullified due to non-application of mind.
The authors and publishers can challenge a notification of the government by virtue of the provisions laid down in Section 96, CrPC, however, the burden of prove lies with them to disprove the offence under Section 295A, IPC.
IV. Disturbing religious assembly
Section 296. Disturbing religious assembly: “Whoever voluntarily causes disturbance to any assembly lawfully engaged in the performance of religious worship, or religious ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”
The requisite ingredients to be satisfied for constituting an offence under Section 296:
- Existence of an assembly involved in the performance of a religious ceremony
- Such an assembly and performance must be in accordance with law
- Disturbance must be caused by the accused to such assembly or its performance
- The act of causing disturbance must be voluntary
This section was formulated with the intent to protect and safeguard the congregational worships and does not apply to individual worships. For instance, a religious procession which has been assembled by lawful means to perform religious worship is legitimate till the extent it does not intervene with the public order and breach the traffic regulations or directions.
These regulations must not be regarded as causing a disturbance or interfering with the religious assembly. In a case where a procession was proceeding on a highway by playing music simultaneous to the time when prayers were being offered in a Mosque on the same highway, the accused persons were held guilty under Section 296 as such music caused disturbance to the congregation engaged in prayer.
S Veerabhadra Chettiar v E.V Ramaswami NaikerAIR 103(SC)
Mustaffa Rahim v Motilal Cr LJ 160
All WN 39
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Chandmal v State of West Bengal Cr LJ 182 (Cal)
Atmaram v King EmperorAIR 121(Nag)
AIR Ker 28
Queen-Emperor v Subhan ILR 18 All 395
 Cr LJ 1618 (MP)
 Cr LJ 146 (Mad)
Chakra Behra v Balakrushna Mohapatra AIR Orissa 23
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Nand Kishore Singh v State of Bihar AIR 98(Pat)
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