The Punjab and Haryana High Court has quashed a first information report, which was registered against Dera Sacha Sauda Chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim for hurting religious sentiments of people.
The single-judge Bench of Justice Manjari Nehru Kaul quashed the FIR on grounds that the remarks made by Ram Rahim, while he was narrating a story connected to Sant Kabir Das and Guru Ravidas, were rooted in historical resources and did not indicate the commission of an offence under Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)..
There was no evidence to suggest that the comments were meant to insult religious sentiments or beliefs, it added.
Ram Rahim, who is serving life imprisonment for raping two girls at his Sirsa Ashram, was booked in March this year over remarks made in a speech during a Satsang (spiritual discourse) in 2016.
He mentioned an incident involving Sant Kabir Das and Guru Ravidas, while discussing the relationship between a spiritual master and his disciples.
The single-judge Bench said that after examining the evidence on record, the Court found there was no mens rea on part of the Dera Chief nor any ‘distortion or exaggeration’ of the incident pertaining to Sant Kabir Das and Guru Ravidas to such an extent that it could have offended their followers.
It further noted that Section 295A did not punish every act of insult but only penalised deliberate and aggravated acts of insult aimed at outraging religious feelings of the community. An insult should be shown to be intentional and driven by a malicious motive to bring a charge under Section 295A, IPC, it added.
Quashing the FIR registered at Police Station Patara, District Jalandhar Rural, Justice Kaul said that a mild criticism or some expression that did not grossly offend the religious sensibilities of a community, cannot be criminalised.
The provisions of Section 295A of IPC were intended to strike a balance between freedom of speech and the protection of religious sentiments, she added.
The High Court said dealing with the case on merits, it had looked into the discourse delivered by Ram Rahim and the extracts from certain books where the incident concerning Sant Kabir Das and Guru Ravidas found mention.
It said the gist of the stories narrated by Ram Rahim during the discourse and the information available in various historical texts were largely similar.
The Bench noted that the only key distinction was that the petitioner had used local colloquial terms while delivering the discourse. However, this in no way would imply any disrespect, malice or intentional affront to the followers of Sant Kabir Das and Guru Ravidas.
The complainant, while lodging the FIR, had selectively extracted disconnected segments of Rahim’s speech and presented them without proper context, noted the Bench.
It said that neither the state nor the complainant had contested the contents of the historical texts in which the stories referred to by Rahim were mentioned.
The Bench noted that since the narrative was not a product of the petitioner’s imagination and did not contain any exaggerated elements, it cannot be said to have been delivered with any malicious intent.
The High Court further took in view the fact that the discourse was delivered in 2016 and no complaint was received on this issue for seven years before a complaint was made in 2023.
Gurmeet Ram Rahim was represented by Senior Advocate Sonia Mathur and Advocates Amit Tiwari, Harish Chabra, Abhishek Sanghi and Jitender Khurana.
Additional Advocate General Gaurav Garg Dhuriwala appeared for the State of Punjab. Advocate Navraj Singh represented the complainant.
(Case title: Saint Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insan vs State of Punjab and Another)