ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Punjab Sacrilege Bill Is a Vigilante Legislation

Progressive subordination of the domain of the sacred is the cornerstone of secularism.

The Indian Penal Code (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2018, mooted by the Congress-led Government of Punjab and subsequently passed by the Punjab assembly, seeks to amend Article 295-A to make the sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib, Koran, Bible and Bhagavad Gita a punishable offence attracting life imprisonment. The immediate political context of the bill is the contestation between the Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). Interestingly, on an earlier occasion, the SAD-led state government had passed a bill making sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib punishable. However, it was sent back in 2017 by the union government on the grounds that the proposed amendments would violate the principle of secularism enshrined in the Constitution. The current Punjab government seeks to justify its bill because it has included the sacred books of other religions as well. This is an instance of how its understanding as “sarva dharma sam bhaav” (equal treatment to all religions) turns the principle of secularism on its head. Commitment to the principle of secularism entails a progressive subordination of the sacred and continuous transition from the holy to the profane. 

Even though the bill does not invoke the term blasphemy, its inner logic aligns it with anti-blasphemy laws. However, some of the mainstream arguments against the potential threat of blasphemy laws to a liberal democracy seem to be operating within a minimalist understanding of secularism. One line of criticism faults the bill for defiling the sacred or the transcendental character of holy texts by using this-worldly state power to protect it. This attempt to expose the apparent irony underlying the bill is inadequate, for it misses the very political purpose of blasphemy laws. To deem certain ideas/thoughts/norms/values to be out of bounds for criticism or contestation is to argue that certain forms of power are beyond criticism or contestation. The creation, delimitation and expansion of the domain of the sacred is always a political (and not merely theological) exercise to create barriers of defiance for entrenched power. There is no irony involved in using this-worldly state power to protect the sacred, as the authority of the sacred is invariably invoked to strengthen this-worldly power structures. 

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Updated On : 6th Jan, 2022
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