With an awe and wonder we witnessed the strongest protest against the Sweedish cartoonist for the caricature made on Prophet Mohamed. Whole world joined the chorus in condemning. Yes it was needed. I do not subscribe to any form of violence but it is good to meditate on the recent media onslaught on Christianity. The ceremonial silence observed by the Church and its devout followers are beyond ones understanding. The media is going all way out to weaken the Church. As part of it the priests and nuns are presented in a bad taste at every trifle issue. We do not realize how the brain behind the media trespasses in to the privacy of individual freedom to follow role models. It is probably because the priests and nuns are seen as the nucleolus of the Catholic Church. There are many statements made by the organizations and different individuals against Christianity, its dedicated servants and its practices. The mass media give them extensive undue publicity. Do we ignore them as freedom of speech or freedom of expression? Is there a fall in the ethical practices of journalists or a wicked brain behind this murky plot? Probably it is the need of the hour that the Christians must think of legal options to raise their voice against these offensive attacks on the faith of the people. I would like to sight a few examples from the recent history of India.
On Jan. 9, 2008 Delhi HC issued notice to Tamil Nadu CM, Shri M Karunanidhi for his derogatory utterances against Lord Ram. The petition was filed by Advocate Monica Arora in Delhi. It was at the end of 2008 Mumbai police arrested Ranjit Parande for publishing a book named “The Santa and Banta Joke Book” for it hurt the sentiments of the Sikh community. Vishnu Khandelwal, who calls himself a devout Hindu, registered a case against Arun Nayar and Liz Hurley. He described that their dressing did not adhere to the Nayar Hindu custom of wedding robs. It hurt his religious sentiment as a devout Hindu. A cricketer Ravi Shastri was charged with hurting the sentiments of Hindus. The cricketer made a statement in South Africa that he enjoys cow meet. The cow is considered a religious symbol so it hurt the sentiments of Hindus.
All these cases are based on the section 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code. The law states, “Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.” The commentary says that it can be by words either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise. It is a non-bailable offence. In India majority of the cases are filed against Christians under this section.
It is to be noted that Article 19 (1) (a) of the constitution guarantees freedom of speech, while the same Article section (2) allows limits to it on behalf of concepts such as “public order” and “decency and morality.” Its interpretation is left to judges. So it is very clear that individual freedom of expression should not enter into the individual freedom of faith.
I recall the decision of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Madhya Pradesh and the CRI state unit two years back. The Church decided to challenge all the derogatory statements published in Media against Christianity. It is put into action by the Public Relations Office with the help of different Christian organizations and committed individuals. We served legal notices to Mr. Vishvas Sarang MLA, the state BJP Youth President, Advocate Devendra Rawath, state spokesperson for Bajranga Dal and VHP, media owners, editors, reporters of Hindustan Times, Dainik Bhaskar, Dainik Jagaran etc. are few in this line. All these legal actions are on process. As a result number of derogatory remarks made by leaders and it s publicity by the media is reduced. It boosted the moral of the Christian community. It made them proud to say that we are practising a true religion.
It is very surprising to see how badly popular media in Kerala is trying to hurt the faith of the people. Many channels are airing programmes mimicking practices of different religions, write ups are appearing in medias against the monks, priests , nuns, faith systems various religions and many parody cassettes are in the market. Does it not hurt the sentiments of believers? Politicians are using offensive language against religious leaders, try to interpret religious practices and probably unknowingly hurting millions of followers. Should we further tolerate the “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings” of believers? Should we garb them as expressions of freedom of speech? One must always remember that the limits of my freedom ends where the sentiments of the other begins. Long live the freedom of every individual!
Fr. Anand Muttungal
PRO & Spokesperson
Catholic Council of Bishops, Madhya Pradesh, www.franand.com
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