India should not enact blasphemy law

The brutal mob killing of a Sri Lankan man accused of blasphemy in Pakistan has sparked protests in both countries, with Pakistan’s leaders condemning the vigilante violence. Priyantha Diyawadanage (48), a factory manager in the city of Sialkot, was beaten to death last Friday and his body set alight. From the prime minister to the chief of army staff and others, even minister Sheikh Rasheed, a proud supporter of jihadist extremism, all stood unequivocally united in the condemnation of the incident and promised swift action. While Pakistan’s progressive civil society has always stood against such incidents as going to the core of what is broken within, this is perhaps the first time that killing in the name of blasphemy has elicited such unanimous and unequivocal condemnation from the political class and the powerful army.

Pakistan’s experience of its blasphemy law is a cautionary tale for those who want to bring similar laws in India. Despite all advice, Punjab enacted a blasphemy law in 2018 to appease religious sentiment after several cases of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib. The disrespect shown to the Sikh’s holy book, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible and the Quran are all punishable with life imprisonment. Earlier legislation brought in by the Akali Dal did not get presidential assent as it was specific to the Guru Granth Sahib, and it was returned with the comment that all religions are to be treated equally. The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board’s recent demand for an anti-blasphemy law has received a strong pushback from within the Muslim community, with prominent voices warning against the dangers of such a law. In a statement signed by more than 400 people, a majority of them Muslim, the Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy said there was no need for such a law as Muslims had every right to invoke Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code to deal with any complaints. It is seen that notorious blasphemy law is frequently used to hound individuals from religious minorities and even fellow Muslims with sectarian and personal motives. This law should never be brought in India.