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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Free to criticize religions but not with hate: Bombay high court

Swati Deshpande, The Times of India TNN 7 January 2010, 01:11am IST
MUMBAI: In a significant ruling, a three-judge bench of the Bombay high court on Wednesday held that in India, criticism of any religion -- be it Islam, Hinduism, Christianity or any other -- is permissible under the fundamental right to freedom of speech and that a book cannot be banned on those grounds alone.

However, the criticism must be bona fide or academic, said the court, as it upheld a ban issued in 2007 by the Maharashtra government on a book titled `Islam - A Concept of Political World Invasion by Muslims.' The book contained was an "aggravated form of criticism made with a malicious and deliberate intention" to outrage the feelings of Muslims, the court said.

Delivering the landmark verdict on Wednesday, the court has in a rare instance upheld the state's ban on a book but at the same time brought joy to civil rights activists when it held that, "in our country, everything is open to criticism and religion is no exception. Freedom of expression covers criticism of religion and no person can be sensitive about it."

The bench, comprising Justices Ranjana Desai, D Y Chandrachud and R S Mohite, said, "Healthy criticism provokes thought, encourages debate and helps us evolve. But criticism cannot be malicious and must not lead to creating ill-will between different communities... (it) must lead to sensible dialogue." The courts must strike a balance between the guaranteed freedom and permissible restrictions, "a difficult task", as the 150-page HC verdict penned by Justice Desai observed...

A person may have a right to say a particular religion is "not secular", said the HC, but it cautioned against rabid contents "reeking of hatred for a particular community" and "malafide exercise to stir communal passions".

The HC also found "totally unacceptable" the author's argument that banning the book in the age of the internet is passe and pointless.

The book contains "highly objectionable and disturbing" statements about the author's wishful thinking of an impending war between Muslims and others and how Indian Muslims want to convert all Hindus, attack temples and Hindu women. Statements like these are "likely to incite people to violence and may promote violence, enmity or hatred". Full article
See also:
  • Hate Sermons: Free to criticize religions but not with hate: High Court Decision on Hate; a new international precedent
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