Skip to content


Ramlal Puri Vs. State of Madhya Pradesh - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCriminal
CourtMadhya Pradesh High Court
Decided On
Case NumberMisc. Criminal Case No. 489 of 1970
Judge
Reported inAIR1971MP152; 1971CriLJ1026
ActsCode of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) , 1898 - Sections 99A and 99B; Indian Penal Code (IPC) - Sections 153A and 295A
AppellantRamlal Puri
RespondentState of Madhya Pradesh
Appellant AdvocateA.K. Sen, ;B.R. Agarwal, ;M. Adhikari and ;N.C. Jain, Advs.
Respondent AdvocateK.S. Chitaley, Adv. General and ;K.K. Dubey, Govt. Adv.
DispositionApplications allowed
Cases ReferredM. H. Quareshi v. State of Bihar
Excerpt:
- - 4581-6014-i-k-70, whereas it appears to the state government that couplets finding place on pages 29, 33, 38, 39, 43, 44 and 86 of the book named 'agni pariksha' written by shri acharya tulsi and published by atmaram and sons delhi, jullunder, jaipur, meerut, chandigarh are grossly offensive and provocative and contain matters which are deliberately and maliciously intended to outrage the religious feelings of sanathani hindus by insulting the religion and religious beliefs of the said class and the publication of such matter is punishable under section 295a of the indian penal code, 1860 (45 of 1860). now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred by section 99-a of the code of criminal procedure, 1898 (5 of 1898), the state government hereby declares every copy of the said.....tare, j. 1. this order shall also govern the disposal of all the cases mentioned above. shri ramlal puri is the printer and publisher of a book, by name, 'agni pareeksha', written by acharya shri tulsi, head of the tera-panthi school of shwetambar jain sect. the petitioner in the other connected case, namely, misc. criminal case no. 468 of 1970, is the jain shwetambar terapanthi mahasabha, which had sponsored the publication of the book. an acknowledgment of that fact is made in the book itself. the petitioners in the last named petition namely amar-chand and others are the followers of jain religion belonging to the terapanthi sect of shwetambar cult. as followers of the said sect they claimed that they have a right to read the book and to recite the poems on religious occasions or even.....
Judgment:

Tare, J.

1. This order shall also govern the disposal of all the cases mentioned above. Shri Ramlal Puri is the Printer and Publisher of a book, by name, 'Agni Pareeksha', written by Acharya Shri Tulsi, Head of the Tera-panthi school of Shwetambar Jain sect. The petitioner in the other connected case, namely, Misc. Criminal Case No. 468 of 1970, is the Jain Shwetambar Terapanthi Mahasabha, which had sponsored the publication of the book. An acknowledgment of that fact is made in the book itself. The petitioners in the last named petition namely Amar-chand and others are the followers of Jain religion belonging to the Terapanthi sect of Shwetambar cult. As followers of the said sect they claimed that they have a right to read the book and to recite the poems on religious occasions or even otherwise.

2. These are petitions filed by three different sects of person claiming interest in the book, 'Agni Pareeksha' under Section 99-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure, wherein the order of the State Government, dated 28-9-1970, published in the Madhya Pradesh Gazette, dated 28-9-1970, at page 1656, passed under Section 99-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, forfeiting to the Government all copies of the book 'Agni Pareeksha', is challenged on various grounds. Presently we shall have occasion to deal with those grounds.

3. It may be appropriate at this stage to reproduce the entire Notification, which is as follows.-

'Bhopal the 28th September, 1970, No. 4581-6014-I-K-70, whereas it appears to the State Government that couplets finding place on pages 29, 33, 38, 39, 43, 44 and 86 of the book named 'Agni Pariksha' written by Shri Acharya Tulsi and published by Atmaram and Sons Delhi, Jullunder, Jaipur, Meerut, Chandigarh are grossly offensive and provocative and contain matters which are deliberately and maliciously intended to outrage the religious feelings of Sanathani Hindus by insulting the religion and religious beliefs of the said class and the publication of such matter is punishable under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (45 of 1860).

Now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 99-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (5 of 1898), the State Government hereby declares every copy of the said book 'Agni Pariksha' to be forfeited to the Government of Madhya Pradesh.'

4. The power of forfeiture of a newspaper or a book or any document is conferred by Section 99-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which is as follows:--

'S. 99-A. Power to declare certain publications forfeited, and to issue search warrants for the same.

(1) Where-

(a) any newspaper, or book as defined in the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, or

(b) any document,

wherever printed, appears to the State Government to contain any seditious matter or any matter which promotes or is intended to promote feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of the citizens of India or which is deliberately and maliciously intended to outrage the religious feelings of any such class by insulting the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, that is to say, any matter the publication of which is punishable under Section 124A or Section 153A or Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, the State Government may, by notification in the official Gazette, stating the grounds of its opinion, declare every copy of the issue of the newspaper containing such matter, and every copy of such book or other document to be forfeited to Government and thereupon any police officer may seize the same, wherever found in India, and any Magistrate may by warrant authorise any police-officer not below the rank of Sub-Inspector to enter upon and search for the same in any premises where any copy of such issue or any such book or other document may be or may be reasonably suspected to be.

(2) In Sub-section (1) 'document' includes also any painting, drawing or photograph, or other visible representations.'

5. At this stage it is relevant to note that the impugned Notification appears to have been issued in exercise of power conferred by the Second Part of Section 99-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, indicating that the impugned passages in the book 'Agni Pareeksha' at those pages would constitute an offence under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. Therefore, we are concerned with the short question whether the said passages disclose the commission of such an offence. It is also relevant to note that the action regarding forfeiture was not taken by the respondent under the First Part of Section 99-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

6. On a perusal of the return filed on behalf of the respondent-State, we find that the State has tried to justify its action on the following grounds:--

'(a) For generations, in the hearts of the Hindus, Shri Ram and his consort Sita, were recognised as incarnation of Vishnu and Lakshmi. In matters of filial, fraternal and conjugal love, affection and devotion and above all in the discharge of the duties as a Ruler, prepared to sacrifice any and every personal pleasure, he set an ideal- Generations have deified him and his consort.'

7. The said book 'Agni Pareeksha' does not evidently treat Shri Ram and Sita as incarnation of Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi, but describes Shri Ram as a 'Siddha Punish,' which means, he was a man who had attained perfection and ultimate Nirvan. Similarly, Sita is described not as incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, but as one of the 16 Maha Satis, who proved her virtues as an ideal woman by going through the ordeal of putting herself into fire.

8. On behalf of the petitioners it is contended that the book is based on the Jain version of Ramayan, which treats Shri Ram as a 'Siddha Purush' who attained Nirvan and not as incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Jain religion does not believe in idolatry and as such, according to them, even Lord Mahavir was not an incarnation of God, but only a 'Siddha Purush', which means, a man attaining perfection, who ultimately attained Nirvan. Therefore, on behalf of the petitioners it was contended that there would be nothing objectionable if the book is based on the Jain version of Ramayan and the petitioners are entitled to practice their religious faith and to express their free opinion as per Article 19(1)(a) and Article 25(1) of the Constitution of India, which guarantee the right of free expression and the right of freedom of religion.

9. The other ground of forfeiture is that rumours spread by members of the public and particularly the washerman and washer-woman with respect to the aspersions cast on the character of Sita are couched in profane, vulgar and indecent language and the main ground on which action was taken is urged to be that on account of such couplets in the book, feelings of the Sanatani Hindus of Raipur were hurt, which resulted in large scale riots. In this connection we may observe that the justification given in the return would precisely be covered by the First Part of Section 99-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure. But while passing the order of forfeiture, the respondent confined itself to the Second Part of the said section. For this reason we are unable to consider the background or the consequences that might have ensued at Raipur, as they do not form part of the order of forfeiture. The only ground of forfeiture mentioned in the order is that the said couplets at those pages were deliberate and malicious attempt to outrage the religious feelings of Sanatani Hindus so as to constitute an offence under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. We propose to consider the grounds stated in the order alone and when this fact was pointed to the learned Advocate General, he had to admit that the ground mentioned in the impugned order is covered by the Second Part of Section 99-A, Criminal P. C. and that he will justify the respondent's action on that ground, although in the return the ground as per First Part of the Section may have been mentioned. For this reason we asked the learned Advocate General to confine his arguments to the Second Part of the said Section, which alone is the basis of the impugned order.

10. In these proceedings certain persons claiming to be Sanatani Hindus have filed applications for being permitted to intervene in support of the action of the State Government. We, however, did not think it necessary to allow them the luxury of filing a return, but we permitted them to contribute further to the arguments advanced by the learned Advocate General with reference to the precise question regarding the legality of the order. On that the learned counsel for the interveners stated that they had no further contribution to make, but they would justify the view of the Sanatani Hindus and assail the Jain version of Ramayan, which is a departure from the orthodox version of Ramayan as given by Valmiki, and for this reason they would attempt to justify the action of the State Government in forfeiting the said book 'Agni Pareeksha.' When it was pointed to the learned counsel for interveners that the First Part of Section 99-A, Criminal P. C. or the facts and circumstances relating to that Part cannot be considered in the present proceedings as the First Part is not the basis of the action taken by the State Government, the learned counsel conceded that their, applications for being permitted to intervene might be dismissed and this Court might judge the legality or otherwise of the action of the State Government with reference to the Second Part of Section 99-A, Criminal P. C. Thus, giving of full hearing to the counsel for Interveners was rendered unnecessary, although we afforded them an opportunity to contribute to the discussion in the case.

11. On behalf of the petitioners a rejoinder has been filed along with the affidavits of five eminent men, who are educationists and men highly placed in the society, stating that they have gone through the entire book, 'Agni Pareeksha' and that they do not find anything which will hurt the feelings of Sanatani Hindus. We have certainly high regard for the opinion of these eminent educationists and if necessary, we would certainly consider their opinion in the shape of affidavits, if we are required to pronounce on the question whether the book 'Agni Pareeksha' contains such matter which might hurt the feelings of the Sanatani Hindus. But the precise question before this Bench is whether the action of the respondent was justified on the ground stated in the impugned order and whether there is anything in the said book which might indicate the commission of an offence under Section 295A, of the Indian Penal Code.

12. Before proceeding with the discussion of the said question on merits, we think it appropriate to reproduce Section 295A, I. P. C., which is as follows:--

'S. 295A, Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written or by visible representations insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.'

What the Section requires is that there should be a deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens. We have to judge the instant question to ascertain whether the said ingredients are present, for the reasons given by the respondent in the impugned order.

13. On behalf of the respondent a preliminary objection was raised to the effect that the petitioners in Misc. Criminal Case No. 468 of 1970, and Misc. Cri. Case No. 464 of 1970, namely, Shri Jain Shwetamber Terapanthi Mahasabha and Shri Amarchand and others, followers of the Jain religion, have no locus standi to file the present petitions. However, it was conceded that Ramlal Puri, the Printer and Publisher of the book 'Agni Pareeksha', who is Proprietor of Atmaram and Sons, would be a person having interest in the book and, therefore, his petition would be tenable. It was pointed out by the learned Advocate General that a person having interest in a newspaper or a book alone would have the right of filing an application in the High Court under Section 99-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure. We are of the view that an Institution which has sponsored the publication of a book and as such the petitioner in Misc. Criminal Case No. 468 of 1970, namely, Shri Jain Shwetamber Terapanthi Mahasabha, would be a person interested and this fact has been acknowledged in the book itself, where it has been mentioned that the book has been published at the instance of the said Mahasabha. As regards the other petitioners, Shri Amarchand and others, who are followers of the Terapanthi sect of Shwetambar Jain cult, we feel that they would also be persons interested, as in the instant case the book is a religious book on one aspect of an incident of Ramayan and anybody owing allegiance to the particular sect of the said cult would certainly be a person interested in seeing that his religious book ought not to be forfeited on untenable grounds. We may observe that this test may not be applicable to many other kinds of books, say, where a work of literary art is written and published, every reader cannot claim that he has a personal Interest. But the interest, in our opinion, ought to be substantial, which is present in case of followers of the particular sect of a particular cult. For this reason we are of the view that the other two connected petitions are perfectly tenable and they cannot be dismissed on the ground that the petitioners have no interest in the book, 'Agni Pareeksha'.

14. Shri A. K. Sen, learned counsel for the petitioners, took us not only through the alleged objectionable passages of the book, 'Agni Pareeksha' at the pages mentioned in the Notification, but also traced out the history of the Ramayan as given by different authors and the different versions which vary from each other in certain particulars. He also produced for our perusal a book, by name, 'Ram Katha' written by Rev. Father Quamil Bulke, who conducted research in the Allahabad University and obtained the degree of Doctor of Philosophy and who is Head of the Hindi Department in Saint Xavier College, Ranchi. He also produced before us the Ramayan written by Shri C. Rajagopalachari and the Ramayan written by Shri S. L. N. Simha--both books edited by Shri K. M. Munshi and Shri R. R. Diwakar. He also pointed out that there have been different versions of Ramayan and the Jain version of Ramayan has been in existence as a historical fact coming from Lord Mahavir, which was carried through 'Shruties', that is, narration by father to son, for generations and the Jain Ramayans written as early as the First Century, the Seventeenth Century and so on. It was pointed out that the book, 'Agni Pareeksha' is based on the Jain version of Ramayan. He also pointed out that there are different versions of Ramayan, such as the Jain version, the Rajasthani version, the Tamil Version, the Ceylonese version, the Valmiki version, the Tulsidas version, the Kashmiri version and last but not the least the Indonesian version, which differ from each other regarding certain details. In the Jain version, Shri Ram is not taken to be an incarnation of God, nor Sita, an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. But Shri Ram is taken to be a 'Siddha Purush', whom Lord Mahavir admired very much. Similarly, Sita is taken to be one of the 16 Mahasatis of India. The Jain version narrates that Shri Ram had more than one wife and Sita was the Pattrani, namely, the Head Queen. The incidents mentioned in the book, 'Agni Pareeksha' are also mentioned in the Valmiki version of Ramayan as also in the other versions. He urged that these are not figments of imagination, but are based on historical facts and particularly on the Jain version of Ramayan.

15. It was argued by Shri A. K. Sen that writing a religious book in the form of poetry on such a historical subject based on the religious beliefs of a particular sect cannot be considered to be objectionable from any point of view. Challenging the ground mentioned by the respondent in the impugned Notification the learned counsel urged that it was not a proper ground as contemplated by Section 99-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure. In this connection we might advert to the pronouncement of a Special Bench of the Calcutta High Court in Arun Ranjan Ghose v. The State of West Bengal, (1956) 59 Cal WN 495. The learned Judges with reference to the grounds of forfeiture of a book entitled 'Shaktishali Samaj, Part III written by Swami Satyanandji Saraswati observed that the offending passages, or portions or even their pages should at least be indicated in the impugned order on the basis of which the State Government might be said to have formed its opinion leading to the forfeiture of a book or a document. We may observe that in the impugned order in the present case, couplets appearing at certain pages have been mentioned as offending passages which might hurt the feelings of the Sanatani Hindus and which according to the State Government might indicate the commission of an offence under Section 295A, I. P. C. For this reason we are of opinion that the impugned order cannot be said to be detective. But it is also laid down in the said Special Bench case that if the High Court is not satisfied about the existence of the said ground on merits; in that event, it is open to the High Court to set aside the order of forfeiture. It is the satisfaction of the High Court which is material to the effect that the grounds given by the State Government in an impugned order are valid grounds and that there was material before the State Government on the basis of which such a conclusion could be arrived at. As such, there can be no doubt that the High Court has the power of judicial review regarding the action of the State Government in the matter of forfeiture of a book. This view of the Special Bench has later on been affirmed by their Lordships of the Supreme Court in Harnam Das v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1961 SC 1662, wherein their Lordships have laid down that if the High Court is not satisfied about the existence of a valid ground in an impugned order of forfeiture, it becomes the duty of the High Court to set aside the order of forfeiture. However, if the High Court be satisfied about the existence of a valid ground in the matter of forfeiture of a book or a document, in that event only the High Court might uphold the action of the State Government.

16. So far as the suggestion of Shri Sen is concerned that this Court should confine itself to the ground mentioned in the impugned order, we are perfectly in agreement with that suggestion and, therefore, we propose to consider the material question whether there is anything in the book, 'Agni Pareeksha', which would constitute an offence under Section 295A, I. P. C. which might be said to hurt the feelings of the Sanatani Hindus. We might further observe that if the book gives an objective picture of the happenings in the remote past without comment, which is based on a historical fact like the Jain version of Ramayan, we would be reluctant to hold that such a work comes within the mischief of Section 295A, I. P. C, and consequently, such a book could evidently not be forfeited by the respondent under Section 99-A, Criminal P. C.

17. Then we may examine the contents of the book, 'Agni Pareeksha'. It is a book written in poetry by Acharya Shri Tulsi, Head of the Terapanthi sect of Shwetambar Jam cult. In the editorial introduction a reference is made to the various versions of the Ramayan and the difference between the Jain version of Ramayan and the other versions is pointed out. It is also pointed out that where the great author, Shri Maithilisharan Gupta in his book 'Saket' ended his epic upon the return of Shri Ram to Ayodhya, the book of Acharya Shri Tulsi, the 'Agni Pareeksha', starts from that very stage. The book is divided into eight different Chapters. The first Chapter is titled as 'Subhagaman', which means the welcome back of Shri Ram to Ayodhya. The second Chapter is titled as 'Shadyantra', which means conspiracy. Most of the alleged objectionable couplets are said to be from this Chapter. The author describes the conspiracy made by the co-wives of Shri Ram in order to spread rumours against the character of Sita on account of the fact that she had been captive of the demon 'Ravan' for six months. The third Chapter is named 'Parityag', which means Shri Ram forsook Sita on account of the said wild rumours regarding her character. The fourth Chapter is titled as 'Anutap', which indicates a sort of repentance. The fifth Chapter is titled as 'Pratishodh', which means a feeling of revenge. The sixth Chapter is titled as 'Milan', which means the re-union. The seventh Chapter is named 'Agni Pareeksha', which means the going through the ordeal of entering in fire and the last Chapter is named as 'Prashasti', which conveys the feelings of the author towards the Mahasati Sita and Siddha Purush Shri Ram. This is the general scheme of the book, 'Agni Pareeksha.'

18. Then we might examine the alleged objectionable passages mentioned in the impugned order. Page 29 is contained in Chapter 2, relating to conspiracy of the other wives of Shri Ram, who were jealous of Sita as the Head Queen. They started spreading wild rumours against her character and also manoeuvred to get a drawing of the feet of 'Ravan' drawn by Sita. They put that drawing at a place where it could easily be seen by Shri Ram and they got it conveyed to Shri Ram that Sita was daily worshipping the feet of 'Ravan'.

19. The other objectionable portion is said to be on page 33, wherein it is said that rumour-mongers in Ayodhya started casting aspersions on the character of Sita as she had been a captive of 'Ravan' for six months. Therefore, how could anybody believe that she was still chaste and pure, because 'Ravan's heart would be after winning her over and she was the subject of his evil intentions. 'Ravan' had taken her alone in his aeroplane, 'Pushpak' and he would try to entertain his mind by being with her alone in a garden. Under such circumstances, the rumour-mongers doubted if she could remain chaste.

20. At pages 38 and 39 of the book the rumour-mongers of Ayodhya are shown to be wondering as to how such things could be done by members of Royal family. They are also said to have expressed their opinion that her relations with 'Ravan' must have been improper and that she could not be considered to be a Mahasati, but she was a fallen woman assuming the role of a Mahasati. The words used at page 38 are as follows:--^^mYVk ;qx vk;k ns[kks] dqyVk iVjkuh gksrh gS**] thereby meaniung that times have changed and a fallen woman has become the Head Queen.

21. At page 43 of the book, the dialogue between a washerman and his wife is reproduced: The washerman asked his wife as to where she had been and he refused to take her back in the house as he suspected her character. Thereupon the washer-woman tells him that even Shri Ram had taken Sita back, although she had been in 'Ravan's' captivity for such a long time. The washerman asked his wife not to compare him with Shri Ram and he would not allow her to enter the house despite anything.

22. The last objectionable portion is said to be at page 86 of the book, wherein the following words have been used: ^^lhrk u dehuh Fkh bruh]** thereby suggesting that Sita was not so mean-minded. I am definitely of the view that the said passages cannot be just taken out of the context. But they have to be read in a sequence. They merely depict some objective facts which might be existing then in the shape of a conspiracy by some residents of the Royal palace, who got wild rumours spread against the character of Sita. The author has not expressed any opinion or comment of his in the said stanzas. However, he has volunteered his opinion and comments in Chapter 7, named as 'Agni Pareeksha', wherein he has paid highest compliments to Sita as Mother of the Earth and as a Mahasati, who gave proof of the strength of a most pious woman. Similarly, the author has paid high compliments to Shri Ram at the end of the said Chapter.

23. According to the State Government, the couplets at the said pages are grossly offensive and provocative and contain matters which are deliberately and maliciously intended to outrage the religious feelings of the Sanatani Hindus so as to constitute an offence under Section 295A, I. P. C. I am unable to gather any such grossly offensive and provocative matter, nor am I able to visualize any deliberate and malicious intention on the part of the author to outrage the religious feelings of the Sanathani Hindus. The ingredients of an offence under Section 295A, I. P. C. (which has been reproduced above) are the same, namely, there should be a deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens. The mere fact that the learned author used such words as 'Kulta' or 'Duracharini' with reference to Sita not as his comment, but as the accusations of the conspirators and the rumour-mongers, that cannot by itself establish his intention as contemplated by Section 295A, I. P. C. It may be that there may be other synonyms for such words or that they may be expressible in milder terms. But I am unable to hold that any such grossly offensive and provocative matter is contained in those couplets. I may further observe that the test that is to be applied to such cases is not that of an abnormal or hypersensitive man, but that of an ordinary man of ordinary common-sense and prudence.

24. The learned Advocate General fairly conceded that the author of the book, 'Agni Pareeksha' would certainly have the fundamental right of practising his religious faith. But the attempt in giving the Jain version of the Ramayan was proselytisation and, therefore, the book ought to be considered to be objectionable. Even if it were to be assumed that the motive of Jain version of the Ramayan might be proselytisation, but that by itself cannot be considered to be objectionable. I may observe that Hindu religion has been tolerant from ages so as to assimilate different sects and different cults and I feel, that the impugned order of the State Government can be said to be justified only if the book, 'Agni Pareeksha' comes within the mischief of Section 295A, I. P. C. and not otherwise. I am not concerned with the question as to what version is correct historically. People may have their own views and it cannot be denied that there have been different versions of Ramayan through the ages which have been prevailing at least for more than 2500 years and it may be that different people might give a version which might suit their purpose. But a propagandist version, which does not come within the mischief of the law, can in no case be considered to be objectionable.

25. Under these circumstances, I am of the view that the order impugned deserves to be set aside on the short ground that the so-called ground given by the State for forfeiture of the book 'Agni Pareeksha', is not at all made out from the material on record.

26. Consequently, I would set aside the order of forfeiture with a further direction that the copies of the book forfeited be returned to the persons from whom they might have been seized.

27. In the result, these petitions succeed and are allowed. There shall, however, be no order as to costs.

Singh, J.

28. This order will govern the disposal of three applications made under Section 99-B of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which have been registered as Miscellaneous Criminal Cases 464, 468 and 489 of 1970. The applicants by these applications challenge an order of the State Government dated September 28, 1970, made under Section 99-A of the Code forfeiting all copies of a book 'Agni Pariksha'.

29. The impugned order reads as follows:

'No. 4581-6014-1-X-70 whereas it appears to the State Government that couplets finding place on pages 29, 33, 38, 39, 43, 44 and 86 of the book named 'Agni Pariksha' written by Shri Acharya Tulsi and published by Atmaram and Sons, Delhi, Jullunder, Jaipur, Meerut, Chandigarh are grossly offensive and provocative and contain matters which are deliberately and maliciously intended to outrage the religious feelings of Sanathani Hindus by insulting the religion and religious belief of the said class and the publication of such matters is punishable under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (45 of 1860).

Now, therefore, in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 99-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (5 of 1898), the said Government hereby declares every copy of the said book 'Agni Pariksha' to be forfeited to the Government of Madhya Pradesh.'

30. The learned Advocate General who appeared for the State raised a preliminary objection as to the maintainability of the applications on the ground that the applicants did not have sufficient interest in the book to entitle them to apply under Section 99-B to challenge the order of forfeiture. It is, therefore, necessary to see what interest the different applicants claim in the book.

The applicants in Miscellaneous Criminal Case No. 464 of 1970 are four individuals who belong to the Terapanthi sect of Swetamber Jains. They claim that the book 'Agni Pariksha' is a part of Jain devotional literature which they used to read for their moral uplift and as a part of the practice of their religion. Their grievance is that the order of forfeiture deprives them of their right to purchase the book and to read it in the company of their family and friends and thereby violates their fundamental right under Article 25 of the Constitution. In an affidavit that was filed as a rejoinder, the applicants further state that they own and possess a copy each of the book and those copies have become liable to confiscation by the impugned order. They submit that the order also violates their fundamental rights under Articles 19(1)(c) and 19(1)(f) of the Constitution.

The applicant in Miscellaneous Criminal Case No. 468 of 1970 is a registered society bearing the name 'Shri Jain Shwetamber Terapanthi Mahasabha'. One of the objects of the society is to safeguard the rights and interests of the Jain Shwetamber Terapanthi Order and the society claims to represent the entire community of Terapanthi Jains whose fundamental rights under Article 25 of the Constitution are alleged to have been violated by the impugned order.

The applicant in Miscellaneous Criminal Case No. 489 of 1970 is one Ramlal Puri who is the 'Sanchalak' of Atmaram and Sons, and is the publisher of the book 'Agni Pariksha'. The applicant claims that the book is a high-class literary work and its forfeiture has violated the applicant's fundamental right under Article 19 of the Constitution. It may be incidentally mentioned that the copyright in the book is held by Atmaram and Sons of which the applicant is the Sanchalak.

In terms of Section 99-B 'any person having any interest in any book in respect of which an order of forfeiture has been made' has been given the right to apply to set aside the order. It appears clear that the applicant in Misc. Criminal Case No. 489 of 1970 being publisher of the book must be held to have enough interest in the book to enable him to challenge the order of forfeiture. The learned Advocate General also accepted that the publisher of the book will have in any case the right to challenge the order. As regards the applicants in Misc. Criminal Case No. 464 of 1970, the fact that they own and possess one copy each of the book of which they will be deprived because of the order gives them also sufficient interest to challenge the order of forfeiture. Even one copy of a book is property and deprivation of that property by an order of the State must enable the owner thereof to challenge the order. These applicants also claim that the book forfeited is a religious book which is read by them as part of the practice of their religion. If this claim be correct, it may furnish additional ground to enable the applicants to challenge the order; but it is not necessary to consider this aspect, as deprivation of property in the copies of the book possessed by them is enough to sustain their application. Coming to the application la Misc. Criminal Case No. 468 of 1970, the grounds of challenge to the order are the same as in the application in Misc. Criminal Case No. 464, which is being held as maintainable. In view of this, it is not necessary to consider whether the applicant in Misc. Criminal Case No. 468 of 1970, which is a registered society claiming to represent the entire community of Terapanthi Jains, has sufficient interest to maintain the application to set aside the order.

31. The book 'Agni Pariksha' deals with the story of Rama after his return to Ayodhya from Lanka. The book is divided into eight cantos. The first is entitled 'Shubhagaman' and depicts the home coming of Rama, Sita and Lakshman and the installation of Rama as the King of Ayodhya. The second canto bears the title 'Shadyantra'. The story told in this part is that other wives of Rama being jealous of Sita conspired to spread scandals against Sita. As the offending couplets mainly occur in this canto, it shall be mentioned in more detail later. The third canto is headed as 'Parityag' in which Rama forsakes Sita in deference to public opinion. Kritantmukh, a General of Rama, leaves Sita in a forest. In the fourth canto 'Anutap' Sita finds shelter in Punderikpur whose king Vajrajunga treats her as his sister. Rama repents over his mistake in forsaking Sita and goes to forest to bring her back but is unable to find her. The next canto 'Pratishodha' tells the birth of Lava and Kush and their marriage. When they come to know about their parentage and the forsaking by Rama of Sita on false charges, they decide to take revenge and fight Rama. The sixth canto 'Milan' describes the battle between Rama Lakshman and Lava, Kush and their reconciliation. In the seventh canto 'Agni Pariksha' Sita performs the fire ordeal and proves her purity. The moment she enters the fire it becomes water and everyone begins to sing her praise as Mahasati. Soon after the water begins to spread and rise which makes the onlookers panicky. They feel that their suffering is because of the fact that they had earlier spread scandals against a Mahasati. In despair they pray Sita for mercy calling her Sita-Mata, Jagdambe (mother of the Universe), Mahasati, Ma and Pativrata. Moved by the prayers Sita controls the flood; water recedes and all become happy. Rama with all his family members offers respects. Narad Muni also arrives and offers his prayers. In the last canto 'Prashasti' the author states that he has depicted the story of Agni Pariksha which is known throughout the country in different forms and that he has selected the proper story which has been put in form of poetry. He also describes how he got the idea to compose the book and how he completed it.

32. In terms of the impugned notification 'the couplets finding place on. pages 29, 33, 38, 39, 44 and 46 of the book' are grossly offensive and provocative and contain matters which are deliberately and maliciously intended to outrage the religious feelings of Sanatani Hindus.

Pages 29 to 44 fall within canto 2 'Shadyantra' or conspiracy. In canto 2, as already noticed, other Ranis of Rama being jealous of Sita hatch up a conspiracy to defame her. They request Sita to draw the face of Ravan. Sita explains that as she never looked at Ravan's face, it was not possible for her to draw his face. Request is then made to her for drawing the feet of Ravan. Again Sita protests that though she did see the feet of Ravan, she never saw them carefully; but when pressed again and again, she draws Ravan's feet. The drawing is then taken away by the Ranis. This is the story upto page 28 in the book. At page 29, the conspirating Ranis then arranged drawing in such a manner as if it was being worshipped and when Rama, being surprised, asks as to why the drawing of Ravan's feet was kept there, the Ranis reply that they do not know why it was kept there, for it was the work of Sita who daily worshipped the feet. Rama does not at all believe this and he scolds the Ranis. The Ranis thus initially fail in their attempt and are insulted, but they do not admit defeat. Through their maids they spread the scandal in every house that Sita daily worshipped Ravan's feet. The Ranis also influence the servants employed by Rama whose duty is to convey to him the news of the town. At page 33 the servants relate to Rama the scandals they hear about Sita in the town. The scandals mentioned are that people have no faith in the purity of Sita as she lived for six months in Lanka and Ravan used to take her alone in Pushpak to lonely places and gardens and Sita must not have been spared her purity. Rama then himself decides to gather the news and takes a round of the town. At page 38, he hears what an old woman is saying to her family members; at page 39, he hears what old men are saying; at page 40, he hears what young men are saying and at page '44, he hears the dialogue between washerman and his wife. The couplets finding place at pages 33, 38, 39 and 44 recite in somewhat unrestrained manner the scandals current in the town that Rama hears from his servants, old woman, old-men, young-man and washerman.

Page 86 occurs in canto 'Paritap' or Anguish. Kritantmukh returns after leaving Sita in the forest and narrates to Rama what Sita had asked him to convey. At page 86, amongst other things, he states that Sita has been asking as to why Rama committed breach of faith and whatever he had to say he should have said frankly to her and that she was not so base as to deserve this fate.

33. The main question in these applications is, whether the couplets finding place at the pages mentioned in the impugned notification constitute such matter which is deliberately and maliciously intended to outrage the religious feelings of Sanatani Hindus, in other words, whether they constitute such matter the publication of which is punishable under Section 295A of the Penal Code. The couplets refer to the scandals spread by the conspirating Ranis that became current in the town of Ayodhya. The language put in the mouth of scandal-mongers is somewhat indecent and vulgar. The narration of scandals covers nearly twelve pages in canto 2. Thus, it can be said that the story of rumours against Sita is not couched in language of restraint. But from this it does not follow that the offending couplets were composed and put in the book by the author deliberately and maliciously to outrage the religious feelings of Sanatani Hindus. The author in unambiguous Words at pages 30 and 31 condemns the conduct of the Ranis and tells that the scandals were false. In seventh canto, where the story of fire ordeal is told, Sita establishes her purity before the public of Ayodhya, prayers are offered to her and here she is referred as Maha-sati, Sita Mata, Jagdambe and Pativrata. For forming a conclusion as to the intention of the author the couplets cannot be read in isolation. Read in the context of the entire story told in the book, it is difficult to hold that the author, though somewhat wanting in restraint or delicacy in depicting that part of the story which deals with scandals, deliberately and maliciously intended to outrage the religious feelings of Sanatani Hindus. In this connection reference may be usefully made to Ramji Lal v. State of U. P., AIR 1957 SC 620 at p. 623 where explaining the content of Section 295A of the Penal Code S. R. Das, C. J., observed as follows:

'S. 295A does not penalise any and every act of insult to or attempt to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class of citizens but it penalises only those acts of insults to or those varieties of attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of a class of citizens, which are perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class. Insults to religion offered unwittingly or carelessly or without any deliberate or malicious intention to outrage the religious feelings of that class do not come within the section. It only punishes the aggravated form of insult to religion when it is perpetrated with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of that class.'

Tested in the light of the aforesaid observations, the forfeiture of the book on the ground on which it is made cannot be supported. Indeed, the learned Advocate General, who appeared for the State, conceded that it is so.

34. The learned Advocate General, however, argued that the book contains matter which promotes feelings of enmity or hatred between Jains and Hindus, and the publication of which is punishable under Section 153A of the Penal Code. It was argued that for a publication to fall under Section 153A it is not necessary that it should be intended to promote feelings of enmity or hatred and it is enough if it promotes feelings of enmity or hatred. In this connection it was pointed put that the story as told in Agni Pariksha depicts Kama and Sita as human beings, not as divine incarnations, that Rama is portrayed as having a number of wives with human weaknesses and frailties who attained salvation by becoming Jain and the scandals containing imputations against the character of Sita are such which per se would shock Hindu sentiments. It is also pointed out by referring to the events that took place at Raipur between August 16 and November 8 that recitation of the book in public and discourses of the author given in public with reference to the book in fact led to promotion of feelings of hatred between Hindus and Jains.

This argument cannot be considered in these proceedings on the short ground that the order of forfeiture passed by the State Government is not based on the grounds urged by the learned Advocate General or on the opinion that the book contains matter, the publication of which is punishable under Section 153A of the Penal Code. In AIR 1961 SC 1662 the Supreme Court clearly laid down that an order of forfeiture passed under Section 99-A of the Code can be upheld only on the grounds mentioned in the order and High Court cannot uphold the order on grounds not mentioned in it. The learned Advocate General realising this difficulty did not pursue the point argued by him.

35. It was argued on behalf of the applicants that Jains did not believe in God or in divine incarnations, that according to Jain beliefs Sita was a Mahasati and Rama was a Mahapurush who attained salvation by becoming Jain, that the story told in 'Agni Pariksha' was based on Jain Ramayan, that the book was a Jain religious book, that Jains like others have the fundamental right under Article 25 of the Constitution to profess, practise and propagate religion, that as a part of their religion they have the fundamental right to read the books, that the book was written by a Terapanthi Jain Acharya for the reading and edification of Jains, and that it was never intended even remotely to outrage the feelings of Sanatani Hindus.

On the finding reached that the order of forfeiture cannot be upheld on the ground mentioned in it, it is not necessary to consider other arguments addressed on behalf of the applicants. It may, however, be mentioned that the fundamental right under Article 25 of the Constitution to profess, practise and propagate religion is expressly 'subject to public order, morality and health.' The guarantee under Article 25, therefore, does not take away the authority of the State to legislate and act for maintenance of public order and protection of morality and health of the community without which it would be impossible to exercise the fundamental right and the guarantee of the right would itself become a mockery. Further, the question whether a particular practice forms part of religion professed by a religious denomination can be examined by Courts; it was thus held that the sacrifice of cow by Muslims on the Bakr-Id-Day was not a part of religion; M. H. Quareshi v. State of Bihar, AIR 1958 SC 731. The assertion, therefore that Jains have the right to read in public the book 'Agni Pariksha' and to give public discourses on it as a practice forming part of their religion cannot be accepted simply because the applicants assert that it is so and the question may have to be examined in a proper case. For example, if some misguided Jains begin to recite in public day after day only those pages of the book which contain scandals against Sita, it may not be difficult to hold that the persons concerned are not practising their religion but are doing such acts which are punishable under Sections 153A and 295A of the Penal Code. It has been well said.

'If, as is generally understood, one man's right to swing his fists stops just short of where another man's nose begins, a somewhat similar rule must be presumed to hold in the field of religious activities.'

(Corwin, the Constitution and what It means today, Indian Edition, p. 261). The above observations were made in the context of religious freedom protected under the American Constitution but they equally apply in the context of Right to freedom of religion guaranteed under our Constitution.

36. Learned counsel for the applicants also argued that the impugned notification, apart from mentioning certain pages of the book, did not state the grounds on which the opinion of the Government that the book was liable to forfeiture was based and this defect also made the order invalid.

The conditions for exercise of the power of forfeiture under Section 99-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure are twofold: (1) that it should appear to the State Government that the book contains matter the publication of which is punishable under Section 124A or Section 153A or Section 295A of the Penal Code; and (2) that the grounds on which the opinion of the Government is based should be stated in the notification which declares the forfeiture of the book. If the grounds on which the opinion of the Government is based are not mentioned in the notification, the second condition for the exercise of the power would be lacking and the order of forfeiture would be set aside; AIR 1961 SC 1662. But it does not appear to be necessary that the offending passages should all be reproduced in the notification or that the grounds or reasons in support of the opinion formed by the Government should be stated in any particular form or in great detail. It will be sufficient if by reading the notification a person interested in the book is able to understand the grounds on which the Government formed its opinion. Now, so far as the instant case is concerned, a reading of the impugned order as a whole and the pages of the book mentioned in it clearly show that the opinion of the Government that the book contained matter the publication of which was punishable under Section 295A was based on the ground that the author of the book had used indecent and unrestrained language in narrating the scandals that were spread against the character of Sita who is worshipped as a divinity by Sanatani Hindus. Since the grounds on which the opinion of the Government was based could be gathered by reading the notification and the Rages of the book referred to in it, it cannot be held that the grounds for the opinion were not recorded and the order was bad on that account.

37. Before concluding, it may be mentioned that some persons claiming to represent Sanatani Hindus filed applications to intervene in the proceedings. They were heard but the cases were not adjourned to enable them to file written statements to answer the applications. The object of an order under Section 99-A of the Code is the maintenance of public order and it is for the State Government alone to form the opinion on matters mentioned in the section before passing any order of forfeiture. In a proceeding taken under Section 99-B to set aside the order of forfeiture, the sole issue before the Court is the correctness of the opinion of the Government and the grounds mentioned in the order in support of that opinion. Neither the Court nor the State Government nor any one else can supplement the opinion or the grounds mentioned in the order, Having regard to the nature and scope of a proceeding under Section 99-B, ii is difficult to hold that any person other than the State Government can be heard in support of the order. However, as the interveners were heard, it is not necessary to say anything more on this point.

38. In the result, the applications are allowed and the order of forfeiture passed by the State Government is set aside.

Sen, J.

39. I have had the advantage of reading the orders proposed to be delivered by my learned brothers. Tare and Singh, JJ. I find myself in complete agreement with the views expressed by Singh, J. and would, for the grounds and reasons stated by him, allow the applications and strike down the impugned notification.


Save Judgments// Add Notes // Store Search Result sets // Organizer Client Files //