MP High Court Rules WhatsApp Text About Religious Festival Not an Offense Unless Involving Two Religious Groups

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whatsapp LAW INSIDER

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Published on: October 31, 2023 at 11:38 IST

The Madhya Pradesh High Court clarified that sending a WhatsApp message discussing a religious festival, when sent by a person of a particular religion or community to another person of the same religion or community, does not constitute an offense under Sections 153A and 505(5) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The court emphasized that the involvement of two distinct religious groups or communities is necessary to trigger these legal provisions.

The ruling came as the result of an application filed by the accused under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to quash proceedings initiated against him based on a WhatsApp message he allegedly sent to another person about the ‘Ram Navami’ festival. The accused purportedly sent this text message to the complainant on April 15, 2022.

According to the complainant, the message was received on his mobile through WhatsApp, but it was not made public or shared with members of other religions or communities. Instead, the complainant had shown this message to various individuals. The court clarified that, based on the legal precedent set in the case of Patricia Mukhim, no charge could be made in this situation.

The counsel for the applicant argued that both the accused and the complainant belonged to the same community and religion. No members of other religions were involved in the message or its subsequent transfer to the complainant, who also belonged to the same community. Furthermore, it was contended that the accused lacked the requisite intention (mens rea) to create enmity or hatred between two religions by sending the text message.

In this case, the complainant received a WhatsApp text from the applicant-accused that contained a comment about celebrating a particular festival. The complainant believed that the text could incite enmity and hatred between two religious groups.

Based on a screenshot of the text message, the police registered an FIR against the applicant-accused under Section 505 and 153-A of the IPC. Later, during the statement recorded under Section 161 of the CrPC, the complainant alleged that the accused had also forwarded the sensitive message to a WhatsApp community of tribals.

The court noted that the complainant himself had shown the controversial text message to other local residents, which he wasn’t supposed to do.

Ultimately, the court relied on the Patricia Mukhim v. State of Meghalaya case to quash the FIR for offenses punishable under Section 153-A, 505(2), 188, 269, 270 of IPC. The FIR had been registered at Meghnagar Police Station in Jhabua District.

It is worth noting that the Patricia Mukhim case draws on the principles established in Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of A.P (1997), which highlighted that for Sections 505 and 153-A of the IPC to apply, there must be involvement from at least two groups or communities.

Charges under these sections require proof that the alleged act incited the feelings of one community or group against another community or group.

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