Just over eight months after a case was registered against self-professed spiritual guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan for allegedly insulting religious sentiments under Section 295-A of the IPC, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has quashed the FIR. Justice Manjari Nehru Kaul also quashed all consequential proceedings.
Justice Kaul’s Bench was told that the petitioner during a satsang on February 28, 2016, provided an “illustrative incident” involving Sant Kabir Das and Guru Ravidas, forming the core of the FIR registered on March 7 at Patara police station in Jalandhar district.
Justice Kaul observed the only question for the court’s consideration was whether the discourse on an incident involving Sant Kabir Das and Guru Ravidas would fall within the purview of Section 295-A so as to term it blasphemous.
Justice Kaul asserted Section 295-A did not impose penalty for every act of insult. It only specifically penalised deliberate and aggravated acts of insult aimed at outraging religious feelings of the community. For bringing a charge under Section 295-A, it was required to be demonstrated that the insult was intentional, meant solely to insult someone and was driven by a malicious motive.
A mild criticism or some expression that did not grossly offend the religious sensibilities of a community could not be criminalised. The provisions were intended to strike a balance between the freedom of speech and the protection of religious sentiments.
Justice Kaul added the court on careful scrutiny did not find evidence of any distortion or misrepresentation “within the incident relating to the life of Sant Kabir Das”. The narrative did not appear to insult the religious sentiments or beliefs of any specific group, as it was deeply rooted in the historical resources.
The gist of the stories by the petitioner during his discourse and historical texts annexed with the petition was the same. Evidence of malice or deliberate intent to harm any individual or community while delivering the discourse was not discernible.
The petitioner used local colloquial terms, but that would not imply disrespect, malice or intentional affront to the followers of Sant Kabir Das and Guru Ravidas.
Justice Kaul added the entire discourse, including its theme and context, was required to be considered and not just selective excerpts. The complainant in the case, while lodging the FIR, selectively extracted disconnected segments of the discourse and presented them without proper context.
“Neither the state, nor the complainant contested the contents of the historical texts annexed with the petition. Since the narrative is not a product of the petitioner’s imagination and does not contain any exaggerated elements, it cannot be said to have been delivered with any malicious intent,” Justice Kaul asserted.Justice Kaul asserted Section 295-A did not impose penalty for every act of insult. It only specifically penalised deliberate and aggravated acts of insult aimed at outraging religious feelings of the community. A mild criticism or some expression that did not grossly offend the religious sensibilities of a community could not be criminalised.