Accepted Paper:

Law, legal practice and colonial subjects: 'Rangila Rasul' and the making of section 295 (A) IPC  

Author:

Nishant Kumar (Dyal Singh College)

Paper short abstract:

The 'Rangila Rasul' Case was a significant moment in the life of blasphemy laws in India. It not only initiated a debate about the validity of the existing laws but led to the insertion of section 295(A) that changed the discourse on freedom of speech and expression in India.

Paper long abstract:

The 'Rangila Rasul' and the 'Sair-i-Dozak' cases of 1927 forced a rethinking on the existing blasphemy laws by exposing its limitations and initiating a debate about the need for a separate law to control scurrilous religious writings. It resulted in the addition of section 295 (A) in the IPC. On the one hand these cases exposed the vulnerability of the colonial state to deal with such issues, and on the other hand, the uncertainty of legal system was visible, wherein, under the same law and similar kind of cases, two different accused were given two different verdicts. It showed how the same law could be interpreted in varying ways in the interest of the state, thereby contradicting what Macaulay had claimed to achieve through IPC- "certainty" in order to avoid the judiciary's role in inserting its own sense in the law.

In this article I would like to make three inter-related points. Firstly, the spatiality and temporality of such cases was very significant and the kind of publicization and polarization it experienced was only possible in the post-Khilafat, post-Non-cooperation phase of Punjab politics. Secondly, the manipulative role of the colonial state in order to carve legitimacy was explicit in these cases; and thirdly, the philosophical and political debates that took shape around the issue made it evident that the future of freedom of speech and expression in India would be balanced with caveats, thereby introducing a new language of "liberty" loaded with the concern for social cohesion and communal harmony.

Panel P36
Subjects, citizens, and legal rights in colonial and postcolonial India