Date April 24, 2017
Intention is the primary test to penalise any act as outraging religious beliefs under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code

The Supreme Court of India (SC) on 20 April 2017 in the case of Mahendra Singh Dhoni v. Yerraguntla Shyamsundar and Anr. held that only malicious or deliberate acts, or attempts, undertaken with the intention of outraging the religious beliefs of a class of citizens would be penalized under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The complaint petition was initiated at a trial court in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh against cricketer Mahindra Singh Dhoni (Petitioner) when he was portrayed as Lord Vishnu holding commercial products he endorses, including a shoe, on the cover of a business magazine in 2013. A similar complaint was also lodged against the Petitioner in a trial court in Karnataka.

Subsequently, the Petitioner approached the SC for a transfer of proceedings from the Anantpur trial court to the Court of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Bangalore, and also requested that the complaint against the Petitioner be quashed.

Relying on Ramji Lal Modi v State of UP (AIR 1957 SC 620), the SC quashed the complaint against the Petitioner and pronounced that insults which are offered carelessly or unwittingly do not constitute an offence under Section 295A of the IPC. Reiterating what was said in Ramji Lal Modi v State of UP, the SC said that “…it is clear as crystal that Section 295A does not stipulate everything to be penalised and any and every act would tantamount to insult or attempt to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of class of citizens. It penalise only those acts of insults to or those varieties of attempts to insult the religion or religious belief of a class of citizens which are perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class of citizens. Insults to religion offered unwittingly or carelessly or without any deliberate or malicious intention to outrage the religious feelings of that class do not come within the Section.”

The SC further stated that, “Emphasis has been laid on the calculated tendency of the said aggravated form of insult and also to disrupt the public order to invite the penalty.”

The full text of the SC’s judgment may be accessed at the following link:

http://supremecourtofindia.nic.in/FileServer/2017-04-21_1492774437.pdf