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Freedom of Expression, Muslim appeasement and a brief history of 295(A)

“Hinduism faces no fetters on intellect: Man may think as far as he can; there is no blasphemy in investigation. There is nothing too sacred to be tested or questioned” writes John R de Lingen in his book “An Introduction to the Hindu Faith”, which fairly explains why there was never a blasphemy law or any such concept in India until 1927. But then what happened that pushed India back and in absolute opposition to the long-held Hindu belief of “Sarva Dharma Sama Bhava (meaning all religions are equal to or harmonious with each other)”?

A Blasphemy law in the guise of section 295 (A) was imposed on its people by the British government and surprisingly carried on by the Congress Government post Independence. This question cannot be answered in its entirety without knowing the history behind the Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) 1860, the Congress’ policy of Muslim appeasement and the Left’s hollow claims of attack on Freedom of Expression.

Post-2014 we have been witnessing a hysterical campaign launched by the left in its bid to establish themselves as champions of Secularism and Free speech in India. By vehemently opposing anything that questions the ideology of the Separatists in Kashmir and up-voting the dogmatic and misogynistic medieval Islamic practices of Triple Talaq, Polygamy and Halala. Extending their overt and covert support to the fundamentalist Muslim organizations opposed to reforms, they have cemented their “Holy Alliance” for a crusade against the Modi government. The sad state of Indian democracy is such that a popular protest against the misrepresentation of a revered Hindu queen and a gross misappropriation of history draws widespread criticism from the liberal brigade, while a threat to skin the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy fails to stir even a mild gesture of criticism from them. Talking about the silence over the cause and effects of the Malda and Basirhat riots in Bengal and the butchering of Dalit activists for sticking to their political beliefs contrary to that of the ruling communist party, speaks volumes about their malicious intentions.

To understand their solemn ritual of selective outrage and to expose their nefarious hounding of Hindu Beliefs, it is necessary to dig into the History of Section 295 [A] of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which was enacted in 1929. Amidst all the chest thumping by the Congress and Comrades, claiming to be the protectors and harbingers of “Free Speech”, it would be hard for a common citizen to believe that how a regressive law enacted by the British which says, “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 years], or with fine, or with both”, survived without any amendments.

With over a 100 amendments that the Indian constitution has been through since 1950, it is telling that this act managed to remain as it is since its enactment by the British in 1927, without even being questioned or opposed by the self-proclaimed custodians of “Free Speech”. It is also telling that this colonial law was protected and used as selectively in the course of history of Independent India by the Congress government, as their outrage against the Hindus reasserting their beliefs to break free from the colonial mindset which ruthlessly subjugated their identity and history. 

Why this draconian law aiding a meticulously designed vicious control methodology constricting and strangulating the progressive voices, was being used, only to suppress ideas that did not resonate with the ideology of a particular religion? The answers to these questions are important, as important it is to understand the faith of these seasonal crusaders of free speech.

Let us begin with the history of section 295 (A) and how this law came into existence. In 1927 a book called Rangeela Rasool was published from Lahore by a publisher Mahashey Rajpal. The book was about the life of Prophet Muhammed and it also had a commentary on some Hadiths of the radical Sunni sect of Islam. Originally written in Urdu, the book not only criticized the dogmatic beliefs and the miserable condition of women in the Islamic world but also talked about the married life of Mohammed and his wives. The book was widely seen as retaliation to a Nude painting of a Hindu goddess “Sita” which a Muslim group that year, in Lahore, had published and in which she was also referred to as a prostitute. Incidentally, it was not very different to what happened in Malda and Basirhat recently. Immediately after its publication there were widespread protests and the Muslim fundamentalists called for the beheading and sharia style punishment for the publisher.

Several cases were filed by the Muslims all over British India and the publisher was brought to trial. However, after a rigorous trial, Mahashey Rajpal was acquitted in 1929, as there was no law under which he could be punished. The court ruled that satirical writings about the life of a deceased cannot be a reason to punish somebody. Meanwhile between 1927 and 1929, there were several failed attempts to murder Rajpal, but eventually, on 6th April 1929, he was stabbed to death by a devout Muslim and fanatic Ilm-ud-Din.

The Muslim organizations and the community in general hailed him as their hero and a savior of Islam, legitimizing and sanctifying his act of murdering a Publisher. It was the time when the Muslim League and the Islamic fundamentalists were busy getting themselves inked in the good books of the ruling British furthering their agenda of demeaning Hindu symbols, and were claiming their right to the land (Modern India) invaded and ruled by the Islamist prior to the British. The Indian Muslim community supported by some Congress leaders demanded a law against any insult to their religious feelings and sentiments. This is how this draconian law came into existence and has been used time and again in Independent India by the Congress government to protect Muslim sentiments and their religious feelings from being hurt by progressive thoughts and critical thinking.

“Rangeela Rasool” remains banned in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh till today. The brutal stabbing of Rajpal was no different from the Murders carried out at Charlie Hebdo (a french magazine’s) office, as both were carried out as a purely Islamic response to a work of satire that was so loaded with the truth that for the fragile beliefs of the Islamic fundamentalists it was too much to bear with.

Revisiting 60 years of the Congress rule we come across several instances when in a similar fashion the freedom of expression of prolific writers was curbed by encouraging and letting loose the fundamentalists and then unleashing this very rule that the British Government was forced to enact following the huge protests by the Muslims demanding a law to protect their tender religious sentiments.

The Indian communists, hand in gloves with the ruling Congress, also never agitated or came out in protest of this law in the entire history of postcolonial India, and if it (siding with the Muslim fundamentalists) was not a part of their strategy of Muslim appeasement which they diligently followed only to reap the clustered votes of Muslims, how do they explain the use of this law as a facilitator of their right to freedom of expression campaign?

In the last 70 years the Indian people’s colonial mindset was exploited to the fullest and they were so tamed to accept such laws that nobody raised an eyebrow on progressiveness of Late Mr. Rajiv Gandhi when India became the first country even ahead of other Islamic countries to ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. What happened to Taslima Nasreen’s “Dwikhandito” and “Lajja” is well-known. The CPIM ruling the then Bengal basically bartered Taslima’s freedom of speech for Muslim votes. I am not going to talk about a recent incident where a Muslim Mob marching from a Mosque vandalized a News channels office because a mere tweet offended their hardcore beliefs; this is way too common and is nothing new. This has been happening since long, anything new or progressive is that after 2014 people have started questioning such radicalism and that the liberal brigade is mastering its art of playing ostrich as a part of their obedience to the Holy alliance with the Muslim fundamentalists.

At this point, it is also futile to ask them for an explanation, not because they have none, but because their answer to every question is the usual name-calling (Bhakt, Sanghi), Modi cribbing and Hindu bashing. It baffles me to see the ones who have a history of bullying create a ruckus in name of freedom of expression when there are many other important issues to talk about. It is one thing to be irresponsible (which the secular gang has been, more often now when in opposition, than while in the government). But precariously putting up a mask, haunting the very idea of India, calls for a strong and immediate resistance.

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Utsav Kumar
A social activist, progressive and philanthropist researcher.

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