A civilisational approach to blasphemy

The Daily Guardian

In the last piece, I had discussed in brief the nature of Section 295A of the IPC, also known as the Blasphemy provision, based on two judgements of the Supreme Court and one of the Calcutta High Court. While Courts have addressed the issue from the perspective of the law, as they should, it is important for the society to ask itself if such a provision must remain in the statute book regardless of the safeguards inherent in it or read into it by Courts. A brief discussion of the history of the provision might help us understand the larger civilizational dynamics at play.

The provision has its origins in the tumultuous period of the 1920s when indigenous movements in Punjab, most notably spearheaded by the Arya Samaj, had started initiatives to invite those who had been forced by history to abandon the onto-epistemology and theology of their ancestors back into the indigenous fold. Unlike other parts of the world, given that indigenous onto-epistemologies were still alive and kicking in the subcontinent and actively resisted efforts to be colonized by any another system which was at loggerheads with their shared worldview, these efforts at what is crudely referred to as “reconversion” resulted in giving rise to tensions. Such tensions which may be reduced to “religious conflict” or “competitive communalism” in contemporary terms if one chooses to wear the colonial lens.

For all practical purposes, it was a tussle between two ways of life and worldviews whose loci of origin and fealty were different and whose pathology and end goals couldn’t have been more different. Naturally, this led to trading of barbs and insults, which was still acceptable from an indigenous perspective as long as violence was not resorted to. After all, the indigenous perspective believed in calmly putting forth its point of view without feeling compelled to resort to any other means. But the rules of engagement subscribed to by the two worldviews weren’t the same and therefore, the indigenous point of view was at the receiving of the street veto of the other side, thereby proving that it took two sides to maintain peace.

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