Objects held sacred – Meaning of

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Romesh Chunder Sannyal v. Hiru Mondal (1890) ILR 17 Cal. 852, the Ld Single Judge held :

“Interpreted like that, it would mean that the section would apply only to cases where an idol in a temple is sought to be destroyed, damaged, or defiled. The words ‘any object held sacred by any class of persons’ even otherwise will apply only to idols in a temple or when they are carried out in processions on festival occasions. The ‘object held sacred’ will mean only the idols inside the temple and when they are taken out in processions on festival occasions. In such circumstances as in the present case the breaking is nothing more than a doll taken from the shop. Though the intention of the respondents may be to decry the feelings and wound the susceptibilities of a large section of the people, still the intention alone is not sufficient unless it is carried out by an act which must fall within the scope of this section. The dolls in the shop, though they may resemble several of the deities in the temple, cannot be held to be objects held sacred by any class of persons. In modern society there are several images of the deities in the drawing rooms of several houses. It cannot for a moment be suggested that these images are objects held sacred. These have got to be distinguished from the objects held sacred, which can only be when they are duly installed in a temple and from which they are subsequently taken out in procession on festival occasions. What was broken therefore by the respondents is nothing more than a doll taken either from a shop or made for the occasion, and it cannot by any means be called an object held sacred. The offence is not made out and the dismissal is therefore justified.

In section 295 of the Indian Penal Code,  Idols are only illustrative of those words. A sacred book, like the Bible, or the Koran, or the Granth Saheb, is clearly within the ambit of those general words. If the courts below were right in their interpretation of the crucial words in section 295, the burning or otherwise destroying or defiling such sacred books, well not come within the purview of the penal statute. In our opinion, placing such a restricted interpretation on the words of such general import, is against all established canons of construction, any object however trivial or destitute of real value in itself, if regarded as sacred by any class of persons would come within the meaning of the penal section. Nor is it absolutely necessary that the object, in order to be held sacred, should have been actually workshipped. An object may be held sacred by a class of persons without being worshipped by them. It is clear, therefore, that the courts below were rather cynical in so lightly brushing aside the religious susceptibilities of that class of persons to which the complainant claims to belong. The section has been intended to respect the religious susceptibilities of persons of different religious persuasions or creeds. Courts have got to be very circumspect in such matters, and to pay due regard to the feelings and religious emotions of different classes of persons with different beliefs, irrespective of the consideration whether or not they share those beliefs, or whether they are rational or other wise, in the opinion of the court.