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Posted at: Sep 4, 2018, 2:59 AM; last updated: Sep 4, 2018, 5:25 PM (IST)

Withdraw anti-sacrilege Bills: Ex-bureaucrats to Amarinder

Say blasphemy laws prone to misuse against minorities
Withdraw anti-sacrilege Bills: Ex-bureaucrats to Amarinder
File photo

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 3

The Punjab Assembly's recent move to pass two Bills proposing life imprisonment for acts of sacrilege on Monday drew the first public condemnation from several former bureaucrats who sought the state Cabinet to reconsider the move describing it “bad in law” and “politically expedient”.

In an open letter to Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, 34 former civil servants said they were alarmed at the passage of the Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2018, and Code of Criminal Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2018, and were confident that the CM “won’t allow political expediency to trump secular principles”.

“We hope your Cabinet will reconsider this decision,” the ex-bureaucrats said.

They reminded Singh of Congress' "chequered history of occasionally fishing in communal waters for short-term political ends" hoping that he would stand by secular values.

“We are confident you will not allow political expediency to trump secular principles,” they 

wrote.  The petitioners argued that blasphemy provisions violated the Indian Constitution. 

“Rather than reduce the role of religion from the matters of the state, expected of a secular polity, this move will strengthen the hands of religious extremists and create a chilling effect on the free speech,” the letter said.

The former civil servants cited global research to say that blasphemy laws were particularly prone to misuse against minorities and weaker sections. 

They reasoned that provisions already existed in the IPC to deal with insults to religion and further amendments were a retrograde step.

"The proposed amendment is bad in law. It is poorly worded, offences are undefined and open-ended, speaking of 'sacrilege, and 'hurt' caused to 'people'. It is arbitrary. Religious texts of only four major faiths are included, leaving others out. As far as Hinduism is considered, it cites only one text when there are a hundred other texts held sacred by different sections of Hinduism,” said the petitioners calling life imprisonment for sacrilege excessive and disproportionate.

They also challenged the definition of sacrilege in the Bills, cautioning the Chief Minister of loose wordings opening up the definition to multiple interpretations leading to gross abuse of power by vested political interests.

To cement their case, the former bureaucrats cited the Shah Banu case, the Taslima Nasreen case and opening of the gates of Babri Masjid for pooja as examples where the country "paid a heavy price every time a political party "pandered to religious extremist religious sentiments for short term gains.

They also feared the proposed amendment would set off “competitive mobilisation and copycat blasphemy and sacrilege legislations in other states too”.

Among signatories to the letter are Gopalan Balagopal, Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan, Pradip Bhattacharya, Sundar Burra, Kalyani Chaudhuri,

Anna Dani, Surjit Das, Vibha Puri Das, Nareshwar Dayal, Keshav Desiraju, Tuktuk Ghosh, Ravi Vira Gupta, Sajjad Hassan, Kamal Jaswal, Arun Kumar, Brijesh Kumar, Harsh Mander, Aditi Mehta, K Sujatha Rao and Julio Ribeiro and Hindal Tyabji among others.

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