By-Aditi Gupta


“In October 2020, a Malayalam journalist named Siddique Kappan was charged under sections 124A (sedition), 153A (for promoting enmity between groups), and 295A (outraging religious feelings) of the IPC and UAPA.   He was detained while on his way to cover the Hathras event in Uttar Pradesh.” This detention raises questions in a country like India, which is regarded as the world’s greatest democracy. The unnecessary and reckless usage of the section, which was framed during the colonial era, could be witnessed in current times. This article aims to outline the flaws in the present Section 295A, as well as the reasons why the court should reconsider it since it is overbroad and includes some ambiguity.

History of Section 295A

Mahashe Rajpal released Rangila Rasul, a booklet in 1927 that featured some scandalous and derogatory statements about Prophet Muhammad’s personal life. In an atmosphere of religious turbulence, it exacerbated communal tensions, leading to protests by the Muslim Community. The already prevailing section, section 153A IPC, could not be used since the statements were intended at a religious leader (not under the ambit of Section 153A) rather than causing hatred between religious groups. As a result, citizens demanded the creation of a new section that would include these sorts of instances in its purview. As a result, Section 295A was added to the Indian Penal Code for the first time.

Problems with Section 295A IPC

According to Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, anybody who insults or attempts to offend the religious sentiments of any class in any way (including written and spoken expressions) faces imprisonment if the statements are expressed with deliberate and malicious intent. As previously said, ‘Mens Rea‘ is at the core of this section, and its significance has been emphasised in the Select Committee’s report as well as by the courts in numerous decisions. However, rather than serving the purpose for which it was intended, this area has been exploited to stifle opposition. It is structured in a way that leads to a lot of ambiguity and arbitrariness which brings to the point of an overarching problem of ‘overbroad nature’.

In Romesh Thappar Vs State of Madras (1950), the petitioner went to the Supreme Court alleging that the state had violated Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression. The six-judge bench decided in favour of the petitioner, holding that the state’s rationale for the prohibition on the basis of public order was too wide, rendering it illegal, and that only a restricted interpretation of the limits under Article 19(2) could be applied. A similar case emerged seven years later, namely the  Ramji Lal Modi case. In this case, it was alleged that an article offended people’s religious feelings, and as a result, the editor was charged under this provision. The petitioner, however, went to the high court, dissatisfied with its decision, he appealed to the Supreme Court under Article 32. Unlike Romesh Thapar’s ruling, the court adopted an entirely different approach. It said that because the definition only encompasses aggravated forms of insult, which inherently includes the potential for public disruption, it falls well within the scope of reasonable limitations. In this situation, the requirement of being close to public disorder was not deemed reasonable. Thereafter, in Ram Manohar Lohia case (1960) the section was again put to test. The apex court stated: “In order to qualify as a reasonable restriction, it should be one which has a proximate connection or nexus with public order.” So, the test of proximity was held to be an essential part for invoking the impugned section. Another conflicting judgement came in Sri Baragur Ramachandrappa v. State of Karnataka (2007). It is a revelation of how the Supreme Court has taken different stances by again abolishing the need of proximity to public disorder. This reveals a shift of Supreme court on the interpretation of Section 295A.

  1. Overbroad nature

This section contains ambiguous terms like “outraging religious feelings” and “insult”. This makes it similar to Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which was overturned in the well-known Shreya Singhal case. To qualify under the impugned provision, the comments do not even have to provoke public disorder. This means that even if someone publishes anything with a purposeful and malicious intent that has the potential to cause public disorder but does not cause it, it will still fall under the purview of the impugned provision (as was held in Ramji Lal Modi case). Similarly, anyone who writes in good faith but does so in a way that insults religion, might be prosecuted. As a result, it encompasses both constitutionally legitimate and illegitimate speech, making it overbroad. If I write something against a particular practice of any religion, it can be easily covered under the section, saying that it led to insult of that particular community. Everything that is published with the purpose to instigate public unrest and has a “calculated tendency to provoke public disorder” shall fall under the purview of this clause (as was pronounced by the court in the Ramji Lal Modi case). The term “tendency” is quite wide in this context. Everything that potentially have a “tendency” to overthrow the state can be categorised under this category by interpreting it in a different way. That was precisely the point made in the Ram Manohar Lohia case, which demonstrated the state’s proclivity for including any conduct that had the potential to incite others. It gave the justification for booking Lohia under section 295A that “encouraging individuals to breach one rule, even as little as a tiny tax, might eventually lead to conflagration and chaos”. Some cases, such as that of Romesh Thappar and Brij Bhushan, imply that if any act has the possibility of application that is not legally sanctioned, the entire act is declared null and invalid. As a result, section 295A should be reconsidered.

  • Cognizable Offence

Section 295A is a cognizable offence, which means that the police are authorised to arrest accused persons without the need of a judicially sanctioned warrant. This means that even a complaint or the filing of FIR will be adequate to book a person under it. As a result, the police brazenly misuse the impugned section, as a mere possibility of incitement of public disorder is enough. As the proceedings go on for years, this creates a chilling effect on the rights and freedom of a person. Looking at the gross misuse, it is the need of the hour to make it a non-cognisable and bailable offence.

Incidents of abuse of the section

 We can better understand the incidents of this section’s abuse by looking at specific instances:

A case was filed in the Bombay high court in 2018 against Shah Rukh Khan and the creators of movie ‘Zero’ over a scene that purportedly damaged the Sikh community’s feelings. In 2017, a FIR was filed against Mahendra Singh Dhoni after he was depicted on the front page of a magazine as Lord Vishnu with the slogan “The God of Big Deals.” Kiku Sharda, a character on Comedy Nights with Kapil, was imprisoned in 2016 for imitating Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, which offended his followers’ religious feelings. Salman Khan was accused of insulting Muslim feelings in 2014, and a complaint was filed against him under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. Another example is Ravi Shastri’s arrest for allegedly injuring feelings by reportedly eating beef and claiming that, despite being a brahmin, he can’t stop himself from eating it. 

Interestingly, all of them were acquitted after court hearings in the cases mentioned above. The preceding examples demonstrate how frivolous grounds are used to book a person under the contested provision.


In a diverse country like India, where there is a multiplicity in religions, and all 124 million people may hold different views, the importance of hate speech laws cannot be ignored. The regulation has proved to be a challenging task for the courts as well. It clashes with the freedom of speech when manifested in absolute terms. Even the Law commission of India formulated a report i.e., LCR 267 in 2017, that was completely devoted to hate speech laws. The biggest problem, undoubtedly, is its implementation. However, the Supreme Court must take the first step of limiting the number of cases by properly defining statutes like section 295A. The root cause of the increment in cases is the obscure and ambiguous nature of the Section, which needs to be addressed hastily. The words such as outrage, insult, the necessity of proximity to public order must be delineated and defined.

Section 295A IPC goes beyond the reasonable restrictions enumerated in article 19(2). It acts as a weapon of suppressing dissent and prevents even fair criticism for social reform. What needs to be focused here is the conviction rate. This is an indicator of the seriousness and genuineness of complaints. Interestingly, the conviction rates of the cases filed under the impugned section are very low which means that a lot of people are booked under this section but only some of them are convicted for it. Thus, this colonial-era law too needs to be examined afresh in the light of the constitution which is premised on the basic tenets of equality and freedom.

[ This article is written by Aditi Gupta, a second-year student at National Law University, Delhi.]


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