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BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma was suspended for her controversial comments on Prophet Muhammad, which has outraged Islamic nations, reports PTI.
The Nupur Sharma incident and the violence that has followed should give us much food for thought. And I have a few questions, even though I know that the incident will not affect the BJP’s electoral fortunes in any way.
Let us stick to the facts. And let us start with what we have seen in the last two months, ever since a court ordered a survey of the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi to find whether there had been a Hindu temple under it. Legal processes have their own logic, and rightfully so, but surely, anyone who is not severely visually challenged can tell from any picture of the mosque that it had been built over a temple? One of its four walls is obviously that of a temple, with intricate Hindu carvings, and much older than the other three walls.
But when the story leaked that the surveyors had found something in the mosque’s basement that could possibly be a Shiva-lingam, many politicians and so-called public intellectuals reacted in a bizarre fashion. They laughed at the very concept of a Shiva-lingam and derided it. They made hurtful remarks about the faith of Hindus.
What exactly did Nupur Sharma say? After being goaded repeatedly by a Muslim politician on the show, she said that she could also, if she wanted, comment about Islam. She then gave a few examples. Under no law of any modern country did she insult the Islamic faith. To put it very simply, she said that all religions can be easily mocked. Governments of many countries—most of them officially Islamic—have condemned what she said. But no one has disputed what she said. Everything that she mentioned are from holy Islamic texts. So what exactly are they objecting to? Her tone of voice? Tone of voice in a news television talk show? Wow.
There are many issues here, and the most important possibly is freedom of speech. Of course, Sharma was not speaking as just another Indian individual like me or my retired uncle — she was on the show as an official spokesperson of the BJP, and if she deviated from her brief, her party has every right to take action against her. But how is it that politicians from non-BJP parties laugh at Hindu gods and there is no punishment at all — even criticism — from their bosses? Some time ago, a singer-actor in Bengal posted a comment on social media that Shiva-lingams should have condoms put on them. She was rewarded by Trinamool Congress with a ticket to contest Assembly elections last year — she lost, and is now the president of the young wing of the party.
Yes, freedom of speech is fundamentally about the freedom to offend. But there must be some sort of equality of this freedom. Right now, in India, it seems that freedom to offend is a one-way street.
This article was first published in FirstPost on June13, 2022.
Courtesy to FirstPost and the writer.