SC quashes case against Dhoni, says unwitting acts can’t hurt religious sentiments

Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code could be slapped against a person only when there was deliberate action

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NEW DELHI: Ruling that a person could not be prosecuted for hurting religious sentiments if his action was unwitting and not deliberate or malicious, the Supreme Court quashed on Thursday a criminal case against cricketer MS Dhoni for allegedly committing the offence as he was portrayed as Lord Vishnu on a business magazine front cover page.

A bench of Justices Dipak Misra, A M Khanwilkar and M M Shantanagoudar said that Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code could be slapped against a person only when there was deliberate action on his part to hurt religious sentiments of other persons. Referring to apex court’s constitution bench verdict of 1957, it said that the criminal proceedings could be initiated against a person only in case of deliberate attempt.

“Section 295A penalises only those act which insults religion or religious belief and which is done with deliberate and malicious intention,” the bench said

Section 295A says that whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

The bench said that there was no deliberate attempt on part of Dhoni and the Business Magazine to hurt religious sentiments of Hindu and it would be travesty of justice if the criminal proceedings was allowed against them. “We have no doubt in our mind that it does not amount to an offence. We quash the complaint proceedings,” it said.The court passed the order on a plea filed by Dhoni and the then editor of Magazine for quashing of proceedings before a trial court at Anantpur in Andhra Pradesh.

Advocates Liz Mathews and Sanchi Guru, appearing for Dhoni and the editor respectively, told the bench that the trial court had erred in entertaining the complaint against them as there was no intention to hurt religious sentiments. They contended that a similar complaint filed in Bengaluru court on the same controversy was and the apex court had quashed the proceedings.

Agreeing with their plea, the bench said that Section 295A could not slapped against them as the there was no deliberate attempt on their part to hurt other people religious sentiment.

 The complaint was filed in trial court alleging that Dhoni had hurt Hindu religious sentiments by portraying himself as Lord Vishnu on cover of the magazine in 2013, holding several things, including a shoe in his hands.

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