Updated: January 15, 2016 12:01:29 am
The episode of the arrest of Kiku Sharda, actor-comedian, under Section 295 (A) of the IPC, for allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda, borders on the absurd. It also raises questions about the mindless manner in which the police invoke this section. It was introduced in the IPC in 1927 in controversial circumstances and later, the judiciary had clarified that it only punishes “the aggravated form of insult to religion perpetrated with deliberate and malicious intention”. The indiscriminate way in which this section is used to intimidate authors and artistes calls for a serious deliberation about its use and misuse.
Sharda, who allegedly mimicked the Dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, had apologised after followers of the sect complained and thereafter, the leader himself tweeted his willingness to forgive. Yet, the urgency shown by Haryana Police in flying down to Mumbai and arresting the actor at midnight from his shooting location was remarkable. Ironically, the dera head himself has been under attack in the past from the Sikh clergy for allegedly violating tenets of the religion. The Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda started in 1948 as a social and spiritual organisation and under the flamboyant Ram Rahim Singh acquired a profile that annoyed conservatives among the Sikh clergy — and its following has invited the attention of the political class in Punjab and Haryana. Orginally emerging as spiritual platforms for castes excluded from a religion that appeared to be drawing harder lines, Dera Sacha Sauda and many similar sects are now replicating the very same structures and practices that led to their birth and popularity.
The dera phenomenon is also a reflection of the growing social and political crisis in Punjab. The agrarian crisis and militancy in the 1980s damaged the state’s economy and social fabric, giving rise to deindustrialisation and a serious drug problem. The failure of the political leadership to address these issues gave the deras the opportunity to deliver services that ought to have been provided by the state. Instead of a course correction, however, political parties appease the deras in the hope of riding their influence to power. With the state headed for elections in 2017, the incentive to bend before influential social organisations, irrespective of their conservative agendas, is high. In other words, a law prone to misuse and a political executive unsure of its own footing has led to the bizarre arrest of a comedian.
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