Punjab Blasphemy Bill: Yet Another Blow to Freedom of Expression in India


Punjab Blasphemy Bill: Yet Another Blow to Freedom of Expression in India

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander


he number of punishments for religious blasphemy throughout human history are staggering both in their creativity and their variety. Across the world, people have been excommunicated from society, ritually beheaded, and even burned at the stake for offending religious sentiments. Now, the Punjab government, led by Captain Amarinder Singh, wants to get in on the party by proposing a bill that decrees life imprisonment for those found guilty of desecrating four major sacred texts – the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran, the Holy Bible, and the Guru Granth Sahib. While life imprisonment might not seem as flashy as its medieval counterparts, the sentiment behind the bill shares the same close-minded legacy of silencing freedom of expression and rational thought.

The short version of the story is that this proposed bill from the Congress-led government is a rejigged version of a 2016 proposal from the earlier Shiromani Akali Dal government, which also prescribed life imprisonment, but only for desecrating the Guru Granth Sahib. That bill was rejected by the Union government for violating the principle of secularism, enshrined in the preamble to our Constitution. But it has found a new life and is back with a new and improved scope that includes Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, and Sikhism. Did CM Singh forget about the existence of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and other minority faiths, or does he think that their texts are fair game?