What Nupur Sharma said about Prophet Muhammad has been termed blasphemous by many. Those on the other side of the divide have called her remarks an unpleasant truth. Nupur Sharma said what she said was in response to the mocking of the Hindu religion, and apologised. While mocking any religion should have no place in a civilised society, and there should not be any monopoly over blasphemy, it’s also true that two wrongs don't make a right.
There is no merit in the debate whether she is fringe [she contested against Arvind Kejriwal in the 2015 Delhi election and was one of the more prominent party spokespersons]. The question whether she ended up taking the BJP’s own media narrative too far is also legitimate. It’s equally clear the party’s decision to suspend her was primarily triggered by an outcry in the Muslim world, where India has deep strategic and business interests, and also within the country.
It’s futile to discuss whether what she said was blasphemous or unpleasant truth. She should not have made those remarks. This also applies to what her comments came in response to. But again, two wrongs do not make a right. The police are investigating her as well as those issuing calls of violence, rape and murder as a form of punishment for her.
But what must also bother us is this question: Has there been enough condemnation against the latter? She has now been given police security. But India is governed by the rule of law. Shouldn’t this very fact ideally take precedence over everything else? If we condemn cases of lynching for cow slaughter or beating or harassing somebody for simply being a Muslim or not chanting Jai Shri Ram, we must condemn all kinds of violent mob mentality.
The police have also booked some others, including Maulana Mufti Nadeem from Rajasthan’s Bundi, for saying those speaking against the Prophet will have their eyes gouged out. No different is the case of Bhim Sena chief Nawab Satpal Tanwar who has issued a bounty of Rs 1 crore for anyone who would bring Nupur Sharma’s tongue, after saying he would make her do ‘mujra’ in front of him and that she deserves to be hanged. But how many politicians have condemned all this?
Even when ‘beadbi’ or sacrilege cases happen, it’s not unusual to see mobs lynch the accused and film acts of extreme violence. People often hand out “punishments” because governments have failed to act against those desecrating sacred texts over the years. The inaction part has sound emotional reasoning but can torture and beheading ever be justified? As Ursula K. Le Guin said: To embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else.
Politicians may not want to criticise individuals in order not to antagonise a community but isn’t that absurd? Because no community, in general, has anything to do with acts of violence.
But what about terror outfits like Al-Qaeda, which has said it’s ready to carry out suicide attacks in Indian cities to “fight for the dignity of our Prophet”.
Some politicians have said the name of the Prophet is exalted and does not need terrorists to defend it. But shouldn’t there be more such voices? Why should the burden of condemning jihadists and terrorists always rest on only a select few?
And what about the Taliban that have lectured India on fanaticism against Islam and Muslims in India? We all know what the Taliban have been doing to its people, Muslims, in Afghanistan.
What about the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) which has urged the United Nations to protect the rights of Muslims in India? Who does not know the regressive worldview and divisive agenda of the 57-member grouping? And why ask India to apologise? Nupur Sharma wasn’t part of the government. And her party has acted against her.
According to a nationwide survey conducted by CVoter on behalf of news agency IANS, a vast majority of Indians, including 70 per cent of supporters of the ruling NDA government, back the party’s action against Nupur Sharma.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has talked about respect and tolerance for all religions but remains silent on threats from terrorists sheltered by some of the countries most riled by Nupur Sharma’s remarks. Selective outrage has its own pitfalls that we must guard against.
And what about Pakistan which has also sought to lecture India over Nupur Sharma’s remarks? When this piece was being written, news agency PTI flashed a report that idols of deities at a Hindu temple in Karachi have been destroyed, the latest incident of vandalism against the places of worship of the minority community in Pakistan.
When Imran Khan was Pakistan’s prime minister, he proudly defended the Taliban’s treatment of women in Afghanistan where female presenters on TV channels have to cover their faces on air and where even a couple sitting in a restaurant is problematic.
And who decides what constitutes disrespect to a religion? As we speak, the Taliban have arrested well-known Afghan fashion model and YouTuber Ajmal Haqiqi and three others for laughing as his colleague with a speech impediment recited verses of the Quran in an “inappropriate” tone.
On its part, India has reaffirmed to West Asian countries, Iran being the latest, the Indian government’s respect for the Prophet and said that “offenders will be dealt with at all levels, in such a way that others will learn a lesson.” On Thursday, the Delhi Police booked both Asaduddin and Yati Narsinghanand over inflammatory remarks as the Nupur Sharma controversy continues to snowball.
In any democratic society, the constitution should be the only book to matter. And electoral and religious considerations must not colour and determine our public stands. .As Germany Kent once said, “To say nothing is saying something. You must denounce things you are against, or one might believe that you support things you really do not.”