Section 296 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!
The section requires causing of disturbance to any assembly. This must be done voluntarily. The assembly must be engaged in the performance of religious worship or religious ceremonies.
According to section 39 of the Code, a person is said to cause an effect voluntarily when he causes it by means whereby he intended to cause it, or by means which, at the time of employing those means, he knew or had reason to believe to be likely to cause it.
‘Disturbance’ does not necessarily mean stopping a religious service. The aim of the section is to prevent interference in peaceful worship and, therefore, any act which hinders the same may mean disturbance. Playing music while passing through a road in front of a mosque does not necessarily mean disturbance.
Similarly, spreading false rumour causing a religious procession to end, may not always mean causing disturbance.
A mosque is a place of religious prayer by all Mohammadans, and uttering the word ‘amin (amen)’ loudly by a person belonging to one sect of them at the end of the prayer is not ‘disturbance’ even if it annoys members of another sect of them.
Any assembly is a gathering of people, and for the purposes of this section an assembly of three persons would also come within the expression ‘any assembly’.
According to the section an assembly must be lawfully engaged in a religious worship or religious ceremony. Taking out a ‘tazia’ procession through a private property is not a lawful act and, therefore, resistance to it does not amount to an offence under this section. A public highway is primarily for the purpose of traffic and is for all to use it reasonably. It cannot be claimed for worship as a matter of right.
Therefore, processions etc. through public streets etc. must be taken out in such a manner as not to interfere with the rights of others who are using the same. A procession may be accompanied with music also. It should normally be not objected on the ground that it is interfering with the rights of another community of people. Its stoppage or continuance may interfere with the rights of one group of people or another. It should be seen as to whether music is a necessary component of the religious sentiment.
The offence under section 296 of the Code is cognizable, bailable and non- compoundable, and is triable by any magistrate.