But we should also understand, as in Jaitley’s own admission, there is a world of difference between the response of Hindus and the members of other religions to such alleged insult to religious sentiments. The defining characteristic of Hinduism is tolerance, and despite the fringe elements making a strong case for assertion of rights against Chandramohan, not many were indeed moved by this plea. On the contrary, there were many who pleaded a lenient response, as the issue was one of artistic freedom and expression. This is as it should be, as it sets Hinduism apart from other religions. The issue is certainly not majority bashing, as Mr.Jaitley would have us believe.
Chandramohan can perhaps claim in his defence that he did not intend to hurt the sentiments, and therefore did not violate the provisions of the IPC sections, Sections 153 A and S.295, as his paintings were strictly meant for peer review. Just one instance would suffice to show that even if an alleged violation of these sections had taken place in the public realm, the test was to see whether the bulk of the population was hurt or considered it as an outrage – not necessarily because the complainants said so. I am giving below the brief judgment of Bombay High Court dismissing in limini a petition to ban printing of pictures of Hindu goddesses in fire crackers. (Bhau v. State of Maharashtra, 1999 Cr.LJ 1230 (Bom).
“It is a fact that photographs of God and Goddesses of Hindu religion are being pasted on the fire crackers. This is not happening for the first time, but this practice is going on since last many years and up-till-now nobody has raised any objection regarding this practice. That has happened only because nobody thought it objectionable, nobody’s feeling were hurt on seeing the firecrackers bursting and the photographs destroying because the photographs on the fire crackers were not being looked at as photographs of God and Goddesses but just some prints to attract the attention of the customers. There was no intention that anybody’s feeling should be hurt by selling such fire crackers or by bursting such fire crackers. Now altogether new dimension is being given to this matter. Nobody from Hindu community up-till-now has thought over on this issue in this way. It is just whim of the petitioners and for that they have come before the Court. This is nothing but wasting time, money and energy.
If anybody from the petitioners feels that by bursting the fire crackers on which there are photographs of God and Goddesses, he may stop himself using such fire crackers for his own purposes because only his feelings are being hurt, but he should not take the matter in his hands as if he is representing whole of the society when whole of the society is not looking to the matter from that point of view.”
Mr.Jaitley makes much about the ECHR’s decision in the Visions of Esctasy case. He would do well to read this article in Observer, which makes a strong case for the repeal of the Blasphemy law in England, and also refers to other cases, where the pleas for invoking Blasphemy law were ignored as they lacked any merit. The author of this article asks: “Has the time not arrived to repeal Britain’s outdated blasphemy law? Only then will we have an even playing field in which freedom of speech is genuinely sacrosanct, and all religions (and their critics) are granted the same level of protection in the UK.” I am not suggesting that we should do away with our S.153 A or S.295 of Indian Penal Code, as they are useful to maintain communal peace in our plural society. But the tests for invoking these sections must be transparent and stringent, rather than be left to the fringe groups, who intend to ignite passions where there are none.