Section 285 of IPC does not Criminalize Burning of Effigies in a Political Agitation

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Case Law:

Santhos Yadav v. Bar Council of Tamil Nadu, 2015 SCC OnLine Mad 3362, decided on 19.06.2015

While dealing with the issue that whether the presence of a person and burning of an effigy in an agitation furthering a political cause, would disentitle a person from being enrolled as an advocate, the Division Bench of V. Ramasubramanian and K. Ravichandrabaabu JJ., held that persons burning an effigy in a political agitation cannot be termed as criminals within the meaning of Section 285 of IPC. In the instant case, the petitioner was denied enrollment as an advocate by the Bar Council of Tamil Nadu for having a criminal background, due to a FIR lodged under Section 285 of IPC for his involvement in a political agitation, whereby the petitioner had burnt effigies of political leaders. The case was represented by Raja Kalifullah and S.Y. Masood for the petitioner and the respondent respectively.

Observing the facts of the case, the Court stated that Section 285 of IPC, which deals with negligent handling of fire or combustible substances, does not criminalize burning of effigies. Furthermore the IPC does not contain any provision that criminalizes burning of effigies. The Court cited certain historical examples like; burning the effigy of demon king Ravan during the Ramleelas, signifying the victory of good over evil and, the English tradition of Bonfire Night where the effigies of Catholic dissident Guy Fawkes is burnt to mark the failure of a 17th century political conspiracy to assassinate the king of England.

The Court further observed that since the IPC was drafted by the British, therefore burning of effigies was never made an offence under the Code owing to their tradition of Bonfire Night. The Court pointed out that petitioner thus cannot be stated to be a person with criminal background and therefore is eligible to be enrolled with the Bar
Council of Tamil Nadu.

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