When India was in a state of crisis after the killing of over 2,000 people by Hindu extremists in Uttar Pradesh in December 2016, its ‘holy book’ had been the subject of intense debate in India.
Many of the issues raised were related to the content of the holy text.
The book was considered to be an authoritative source on the doctrine of Hinduism and the religious life of India.
In January 2017, the Supreme Court of India (SCI) upheld a ban on the book’s publication by a state-run educational institute in New Delhi and by a Muslim university in Lucknow.
The ban was upheld by the court because it was not in the public interest, and because the court was not aware of the impact the ban would have on the dissemination of the text.
In June 2017, however, the court declared that the book could be published by a government-run religious school in New Rajasthan, a state in southern India, under a new, more liberal regime of ‘freedom of speech’.
A number of Indian states, including Maharashtra, have enacted similar laws that have resulted in a backlash against Hindu fundamentalists in the name of the religion.
In India, the SCI has now said that it is not in India’s interest to suppress religious books because they contain ideas and teachings deemed by many to be ‘offensive’ to Muslims.
It is now a matter of state governments to decide whether or not to allow publication of such books.
The Indian Supreme Court ruled in April 2018 that the Supreme court did not need to decide the legality of the ban because it could be overturned on appeal.
In November 2018, India’s top court ruled that the religious education of children must be allowed, with the government allowing a state university to release a book entitled The Hindu Religion in India in which the content is clearly stated.
The court’s ruling was welcomed by some religious organisations.
But others, including the Congress, said the decision was a threat to freedom of speech in India and that the government should consider ways to allow a more open debate on religion in India, rather than suppressing it.