C. S. Adcock


C. S. Adcock is a historian of modern South Asia with a focus on religion and politics in modern India.


  • The association of sentiment and violence enshrined in section 295A was not only a product of concerns with law and order; it was also the result of a critical view of religious proselytizing. Section 295A was intended to provide a legal tool to restrain the religious criticism associated with proselytizing by the Arya Samaj.
  • This amendment to the Indian Penal Code was coupled with an emerging understanding of religion as rooted exclusively in sentiment.
  • By 1915, this attitude was changing. I refer to a legal ruling against Arya Samaj preacher Dharm Bir,who was found guilty under Section 298 of “using offensive phrases and gestures... with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings” of the Muslims present in his audience, and under Section 153, for “wantonly provoking the riot which subsequently occurred.”.. Dharm Bir had delivered a public lecture critical of Islam, following which a group of Muslims beat up several Arya Samaj lecturers. Ten Muslims were convicted for rioting, but it was felt that something must be done to punish Dharm Bir and the Arya Samaj. The Arya Samaj was charged, and a judge was brought in who could assure conviction... Winning the case against Dharm Bir required a new position on religious controversy. The judge found it by condemning not only the tone of Dharm Bir’s language, but religious debate itself, when he declared, “logic has never been known to convert any one”; Dharm Bir “does not know that logic has never saved a soul and that religion is rooted in the emotions and sentiments”. Because religion is “rooted in the sentiments,” the judge concluded, religious debate is likely to provoke a riot, and that is all it can do. Religious debate is pointless and therefore unjustifiable; the right publicly to controvert arguments therefore does not properly extend to religion. To enter into religious debate is nothing but a provocation, an act calculated to arouse hatred. Therefore, it is intolerable.
  • In 1927, section 295A was enacted to extend the ease with which “wounding religious feelings” by verbal acts could be prosecuted. The purpose was to curb religious violence by curbing provocative speech. But the strategic field the law put into place worked differently: it extended the strategic value of demonstrating that passions had been aroused that threatened the public peace, in order to induce the government to take legal action against one’s opponents. Section 295A thus gave a fillip to the politics of religious sentiment.
  • In India, the notion that to be truly tolerant in religion is to refrain from criticism of religion is a widespread secularist ideal. But this ideal has long been conjoined with the assumption that the party criticized will be unable to contain violent reaction. One result has been to give strategic value to violence as a way of proving the point.
  • When coordinated acts of violence are justified as the inevitable result of hurt feelings, legal precautions against violent displays of religious passion may be said to have backfired.
    • Violence, Passion, and the Law: A Brief History of Section 295A and its Antecedents, 2016. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, pp. 1–15 (also quoted in Elst, Koenraad. Hindu Dharma and the Culture Wars. (2019). New Delhi : Rupa. Chapter : In favour of freedom of expression)