DEFILEMENT OF PLACES OF WORSHIP OR OBJECTS OF VENERATION

Section 295. Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class

Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

Ingredients

Section 295 compels people to respect the religious susceptibilities of persons of different religious persuasions or creeds by making destruction, damage or defilement of a place of worship or an object held sacred, with the intent to insult the religion, by a class of persons, punishable. Section 297 extends the principle in Section 295 to places which are treated as sacred. It punishes a person who, with the intent to insult the religion of another or hurt the religiou feelings of a person, commits trespass in any place of worship or of sepulture, or any place of burial or place set apart for burial rites.

The essential ingredients of this section are:

  1. Intention or knowledge.
  2. Destruction, damage or defilement of:
    1. A place of worship
    2. A place of veneration
  3. An object held sacred
  4. Trespass into:
    1. A place of worship
    2. A place of sepulture
    3. A place set for performing funeral rites or a depository of remains of the dead.
  1. INTENTION OR KNOWLEDGE:

The essence of the offence under Section 295 is the intention to destroy, damage or defile a place of worship or an object held sacred. Without the requisite mensrea, mere defilement of a place of worship is not an offence. The intention to insult is a question of fact which can be judged depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.

In the case of Jan Mohammed v. Narain Dasthe accused removed some rubble and old building materials belonging to a mosque that was in rotten condition and consequently in disuse. The accused was held not liable under these sections as he had no intention of insulting the Mohammedan religion or any of its practitioners. He also had no knowledge that his actions may cause insult or hurt to any class of people.

  • DESTRUCTION, DAMAGE OR DEFILLMENT:

The words destroy or damage usually mean an act physically or materially affecting the property concerned but it should also be understood in the sense of making property dirty, unclean or foul. The word ‘defilement’ would not only mean physical destruction but also situations wherein the place of worship or the object of worship would be rendered ritually or ceremonially impure.

  • PLACE OR OBJECT TO BE SACRED:

The essential ingredient of this section is that the destruction caused should be of a place of worship or an otherwise sacred place. Whether or not a particular place or object is sacred is a question of fact and as a general rule, temples, churches, mosques, synagogues, kyaungs are all considered sacred by virtue of them being places of worship. In Joseph v. State of Kerala[viii] the accused got bona fide possession of a hut on agricultural land by a court order. This hut was used as a place of worship by people. The accused took possession and razed the hutment and took down the pictures of the Hindu Gods. He was charged under Section 295. The High Court held that he had the right to use the land as he pleased and had not intended to hurt the religious sentiments of others and hence acquitted him.

Books like the Bible, the Koran and the Granth Sahib are all held to be sacred even though they are not worshipped per se.

  • TRESSPASS INTO PLACE OF WORSHIP OR PLACE OF SEPLUPTURE:

Section 297 makes any trespass into a place of worship or a place of sepulture a criminal offence. This means that the trespass committed need not amount to criminal trespass for it to come within the scope of Section 297. The word ‘trespass’ has been used in this section to indicate an unjustifiable intrusion upon a property in the possession of another. Sexual intercourse within a place of worship would make the actors liable under this section.

  • INDIGNITY TO HUMAN CORPSE AND DISTURBING FUNERAL RITES:

Showing any manner of disrespect to a human corpse disturbing the performance of funeral rites is a criminal offence under Section 297. The word ‘disturbance’ means any form of active interference or the hindrance to the performance of the funeral ceremonies. In Basir-ul-Huq v. State of West Bengal the mother of one DhirendranathBera died. He along with others took the corpse to the cremation grounds. In the meantime, the accused filed a complaint with the police stating that Dhirendranath had throttled his mother to death. When the pyre was ablaze, the accused along with the sub-inspector arrived at the crematorium. The accused persuaded the policeman that if the flames were extinguished that the marks of injury would be found on the body. The fire was hence extinguished but no marks were found. Dhirendranath filed a complaint against the accused under Section 297 and stated that a prior enmity caused a mala fide intention to hurt his religious sentiments which caused him to trespass on the cremation grounds and cause the dead body to be desecrated. The accused was convicted and sentenced to three months rigorous imprisonment.

OUTRAGING OR WOUNDING RELIGIOUS FEELINGS

Section 295A. Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs

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.