Muslim religious groups like Raza Academy and Tahaffuz Namoos-e-Risalat Board and Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) have reportedly been pressurised the Maharashtra state government to introduce ‘Prophet Muhammad Bill’. The aim is to bring an act to stop blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad and religious figures of all religions.
As per a report in the Times of India, though the bill is promoted as the ‘Prophet Muhammad Bill’, the draft bill prepared and submitted to the government has been titled ‘Prophet Muhammad and Other Religious Heads Prohibition of Slander Act, 2021’ or ‘Hate Speech (Prevention) Act, 2021’.
Assembly Mein Tahaffuz e Namoos e Risaalat Bill Manzoor Kiya Jaaye – Hazrat Saiyyad Moin Miya— Raza Academy (@razaacademyho) July 5, 2021
Hamare Jaayez Mutalbaat Agar Pure Nahi Hue To Hum Mulkgeer Ehtejaj Karenge – Raza Academy#RazaAcademy pic.twitter.com/Jc6SaOPWg5
Influential Muslim organisation Raza Academy has shared that they want the “Tahffuz e Namoos e Risaalat Bill passed in the assembly or they will launch nationwide protests.
Maulana Moin Ashraf Qadri (Moin Mian), president of All India Sunni Jamiatul Ulema, said, “It is our suggestion, but the government can name whatever it chooses to. Our demand is that there should be a strong law to stop vilification, mocking and insult to our holy prophet and all deities and religious heads. Communal clashes have happened because the existing law against hate speech is insufficient to stop miscreants.”
Section 295(a) and the case of ‘Rangeela Rasool’
Though there is no law against blasphemy in India, there is a law that provides the provision of imprisonment and a fine against those who deliberately hurt the religious sentiments of anyone. Section 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has the provision of fine and imprisonment up to 3 years if the accused has hurt religious sentiments “with deliberate and malicious intention”.
The history of Section 295(a) is fascinating. It all began in 1923 when Muslims published two highly offensive books titled “Krishna teri geeta jalani padegi” with derogatory and vulgar language against Shri Krishna and other Hindu deities and “Uniseevi sadi ka maharshi” which contained derogatory remarks on Arya Samaj founder Swami Dayanand Saraswati (incidentally written by an Ahmadi). At that time, 295(a) did not exist.
As a response to the two books Pandit Chamupati Lal, a close friend of Mahashay Rajpal, wrote a short biography of the Islamic Prophet, Mohammed. Titled “Rangeela Rasool”, this short pamphlet was a satirical take on the domestic life of Mohammed. Because of the sensitive nature of the pamphlet, Pandit Chamupati made Mahashay Rajpal promise that he would never reveal the name of the author.
The pamphlet was historically accurate and based on hadiths, but it caused an obvious outrage among the Muslims in Lahore. The first edition sold out quickly, however a mere one month after the publication of the pamphlet, in June 1924, Mohandas Gandhi wrote in his weekly ‘Young India’ condemning the pamphlet, indicating that it had already become a national issue as early as June 1924.
Notably, the Lahore High Court said in a judgement that the writing was “offensive” to the Muslim community, the prosecution was not legally possible as the writing could not cause enmity or hatred between different religious communities as noted under Section 153(a) of the IPC. The Muslim outcry after the said judgement forced the then-rulers to change the law and introduce Section 295(a).
On September 6th, 1929, a 19-year-old carpenter named Ilm ud din stabbed Mahashay Rajpal on his chest eight times while he was seated in the outer verandah of his shop. Mahashay Rajpal did not survive the attack and succumbed to the injuries.
Interestingly, Ilm ud din was an illiterate teenager. He has not even read the Rangeela Rasool book, or any other book in his life. Muslim organisations and religious leaders had sparked so much hatred in the society that a clueless teenager was motivated to murder Mahashay Rajpal because he thought Rajpal had committed ‘blasphemy’.
When Ilm ud din was convicted of his crime, Urdu poet Iqbal and Jinnah had tried to plead on his behalf, hailing his act of murder as a glorious religious work.
The murderer Ilm ud din was hailed as a religious hero, was glorified as a ‘Ghazi ‘ and even has a mazar in Pakistan. In that mazar, even annual Urs is held where Muslims gather to pay homage to ‘Ghazi Ilm ud din’, celebrating the act of murder.
It is also notable here that the lack of a specific blasphemy law has not stopped fanatic Muslims from committing murder and arson in retaliation to alleged ‘insults’ to their prophet. In 2019, former Hindu Mahasabha leader Kamlesh Tiwari was murdered brutally in his home for his statements against Muhammad made several years earlier.
In 2020, a violent mob had gone on a rampage and torched two police stations in Bengaluru’s because an MLA’s relative had allegedly shared a derogatory Facebook post against Muhammad. In 2015, 12 people were killed in the office premises of French magazine Charlie Hebdo for the same ‘crime’.