Access to Public Information, Content Regulation / Censorship, Hate Speech, Public Order, Religious Expression
Chopra v. State of West Bengal
Closed Contracts Expression
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The Supreme Court of India expanded the understanding of religious items protected by the Indian Penal Code, though it refused to respond to the item referenced in the initial complaint. The appellant filed a complaint under Section 295 of the IPC against a respondent for insulting religion after the latter destroyed a mud idol of a Hindu god. The Court overturned lower court decisions that did not accept the mud idol as a protected religious object and adopted a broad interpretation of what qualified as a protected religious item.
In a town hall gathering, the Respondent, a religious reformer, expressly declared that he intended to insult the sentiments of the Hindu community and thereafter broke a mud idol of God Ganesa. The appellant, a Saivite, filed a complaint under section 295 of the India Penal Code (“IPC”) for intentionally insulting another religion. He claimed that the act of the Respondent caused terror in the minds of the Saivite community and Hindus that hold Lord Ganesa in veneration. The lower courts dismissed his complaint on the preliminary ground that a mud image of a God cannot amount to an “object held sacred by a class of persons”, as required by IPC section 295. The complainant appealed to the Supreme Court.
The judgment was delivered by Judge BP Sinha. The Court reviewed IPC section 295 and found that the intention of the legislature in creating this provision was to broaden the safety provided to the religious sentiments of communities. Thus, “any object however trivial or destitute of real value in itself, if regarded as sacred by any class of persons would come within the meaning of the penal section.” The Court even expanded this section to include objects that may not be worshipped at all. The Court held that the judiciary must be very respectful of the religious sentiments of people and must not sit in judgment of those beliefs, even if the Court does not share those beliefs or find them rational.
On the facts of this case, the Court ruled that the lower courts erred in their decision by preliminarily holding that the mud idol did not amount to an “object held sacred by a class of persons”. It even suggested that Lord Ganesa was revered by certain sections of the Hindu community, though the mud idol might not have been consecrated. However, considering that the case had already dragged for over five years, the Court found the matter “stale” and refused to direct further inquiry.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
By setting a very loose standard of what objects may be considered sacred, the Court has narrowed the scope for religious debate and criticism.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The decision establishes a binding precedent within its jurisdiction. The Supreme Court’s decision is binding on all courts within the territory of India.
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