Buddhist monks held in India for defamation

In Karnataka India a well known Buddhist monk and his associates has been arrested and charged with defamation and offending the religious sentiments of others. The Hindu newspaper, one of the largest in India reports that Bhante Bhodhidamma and four others are being detained without bail. These monks are associated with the Bijapur Indosan Sogenji India Community School and other projects which are designed to help Dalits, known previously as “untouchables”, under the International Buddhist Youth Organization which is affiliated with One Drop Zendo directed by Shodo Harada Roshi who is listed as their root teacher.

These charges under sections 153 (A), 295 and 504 of the Indian Penal Code are often used when one person or group feels some sense of offence or one person or group would like to censor another or as a form of legal harassment. It is one of the most over used and abused sections of the Indian Penal Code.

The original law has been around since the first Penal Code was codified in 1860 and has had little revision. It is also part of the basis for some of the thinking behind some of the censorship provisions that appear in the Internet Technology Act. A discussion of that aspect is available at the Bar and Bench blog which covers legal issues.

At present it is being used to attempt to get large social media and Internet companies to censor the content they provide. It has been cited numerous times to attempt to silence Salman Rushdie and other writers as well as journalists covering topics of religious sectarianism.

At the recent Jaipur literary festival four authors read from Salman Rushdie’s work and have now been charged with the same charges as the monks. From the Index on Censorship website’s article India: How to silence a nation the very same sections of the Code are being used:

The relevant sections under the Indian law are:

295-A (which deals with deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings)

298 (uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings),

153-A (promoting enmity between groups on religious grounds),

153-B (imputations prejudicial to national integration)

120-B (criminal conspiracy).

And section the related section 504:

504. Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace.

As the New Statesman puts it,

Mass outrage and censorship in India have a long history, thanks to Section 295a of the penal code, which outlaws "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs". This creates a situation where anyone can claim that anything is offensive and the government is obliged to act.

The law is incredibly vague and ill defined which leaves it wide open for all kinds of abuse. Once the accusation has been made the onus is on the defendant to use legal maneuvers as well as public pressure in order to demonstrate innocence. With most laws related to censorship it operates in a fashion that is backwards to the normal course of criminal prosecution in democratic countries.

With regard to the situation with the monks, they have garnered a lot of support. There are demonstrations on their behalf as well as being covered in one of the largest national newspapers.  The full report from The Hindu Monk’s arrest turns into a controversy