India Foundation organized the 3rd NLIU-India Foundation Constitutional Law Symposium on April 29-30, 2023, at National Law Institute University (NLIU), Bhopal, in collaboration with NLIU Law Review. Over a span of two days, the symposium witnessed multiple sessions of thought-provoking presentations and panel discussions on contemporary issues of relevance. Seven student paper presentations under the overarching theme of “Individual Rights vis-à-vis the Constitutional Order” were conducted on the first day of the symposium.
As a part of the symposium, a seminar on anti-blasphemy laws was organized on April 30, 2023. The seminar witnessed the participation of important stakeholders including senior academic scholars, domain experts and religious and social thought leaders from different religious communities of India. Through an active engagement of the panelists and interactions with the student community and law professors of NLIU Bhopal, fruitful discussions on the contemporary issue of having anti-blasphemy legislations and an assessment of their socio-political impact was conducted during the seminar. The seminar was split into two consecutive sessions, in order to better focus on the various aspects of anti-blasphemy laws.
The first session of the seminar was themed “Blasphemy: A Theological and Legal Perspective”. The session was chaired by Prof. (Dr.) Faizan Mustafa, Former Vice Chancellor, NALSAR University of Law. It witnessed a panel consisting of Mr. Shaykh Hodri Ariev, Chairman, Nahdlatul Ulama Pesantren Association, Indonesia; Archbishop Felix Anthony Machado, Diocese of Vasai; and Shri Vikramjit Banerjee, Senior Advocate and Additional Solicitor General of India. Although the panelists offered contrasting views on the theological significance of blasphemy, and the legal recognition of blasphemy as an offence, however they emphasized on the need for toning down the stringency of such legislations, setting up reasonable constitutional parameters for the operability of the offence, and an equal implementation of penalization across the board.
The second session of the seminar was conducted on the theme of “Political and Socio-Cultural Implications of Blasphemy”. The panelists for the session were Prof. (Dr.) Eqbal Hussain, Dean, Faculty of Law, Jamia Millia Islamia University; Shri Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, Senior Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies; Smt. Aayushi Ketkar, Assistant Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University; and Dr. Guru Prakash Paswan, Assistant Professor of Law, Patna University and Visiting Fellow, India Foundation. The session was chaired by Prof. (Dr.) Ghayur Alam, Dean, UG Studies, NLIU Bhopal and Faculty Advisor, NLIU Law Review. The panelists provided differing thoughts on the socio-cultural and political implications which anti-blasphemy legal provisions have had on the Indian society at large. A couple of the panelists argued in favor of the retention of such penal provisions, and reasoned that such provisions are a legitimate recognition of the offence, while also highlighting the need for such provisions as a matter of expediency for the maintenance of communal harmony. On the other hand, other panelists clearly argued for the abolition of anti-blasphemy legislations which serve the purposes of religious radicalization and create an impediment on the free expression of individuals.