Nupur Sharma Controversy: Speaking From Public Platforms Calls For Accountability

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Karl Marx called religion “the opium of the people”. Was he wrong? I don’t think so looking at the present scenario. India is facing outrage from 15 Islamic nations and still counting for what two of the ruling party’s spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Navin Jindal said on national television and social media about Prophet Muhammad.

Both the spokespersons have been suspended from the primary membership of their party.

Sharma has since then withdrawn her comment and has apologised, saying, “I have been taking part in TV debates for the past many days, where my “Aaradhya” Lord Shiva was being insulted. It was said in front of me that it is not Shivling but a fountain that can be found on every footpath of Delhi and one should go and worship those,” Sharma tweeted in Hindi. “I could not tolerate the repeated insults made against Lord Shiva and I said some things in rage. I take back my words if they have hurt anyone’s religious sentiments,” Sharma added.

What was gained from all this? India is now up against the whole of the Islamic nations. What was thought to be internal matter of India and the said spokesperson though would get away with it has become a huge international spectacle. And our leaders are now looking for answers to calm the situation.

Nupur Sharma controversy: Why don’t we remember our past?

Why don’t we remember our past when religious fundamentalism overtook sane mentality. I cannot forget how author Salman Rushdie who had written The Satanic Verses was hounded for blasphemy against Prophet Muhammad in his book. And he has been in hiding for more than 33 years now. Also, when the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published some controversial caricatures of Prophet Muhammad all hell broke loose in France. Closer home when MF Hussain painted the controversial paintings of Indian Goddesses, he had to leave India forever. The point I am trying to make is that when one knows how speaking against religious figures triggers violence, why do it in the first place? As it is these days the political and communal environment of the country is charged. I ask why add fuel to fire.

Suggested Reading: Nupur Sharma: Lesser Known Facts And Past Controversies On Suspended BJP Member

Why don’t we talk of issues women of our nation face?

Sharma had referred to the age gap between the Prophet and his youngest wife. That had happened in the 7th century CE. Why rake up history and religion? Especially when problems that need our attention right now know no end?

In India 40 percent of the world’s 60 million child marriages take place in our country according to the National Family Health Survey. India has the 14th highest rate of child marriage in the world, according to the International Center for Research on Women. This is our present reality, not history or myth. What enrages me is that living breathing women in our country face biases and sexual violence each day but individuals from our epics, mythology, religious figures have our attention instead.

Free speech is different than hate speech

We might argue that as a nation’s citizen one has the right to voice their opinion. No doubt about that. But you can and should raise your voice for your rights and others rights and even remind the ruling party and other authorities of its duties, but not to deliberately go after a religion and say provocative things about someone who is considered as ‘messenger of god’.

Like one Twitter user wrote, “Please stop confusing hate speech with free speech There is no absolute freedom to incite hatred or spread enmity anywhere in the world…”

Before spewing hate from public and social media platforms, responsible spokespersons should consider the number of Indians working and living in the Middle-East. According to a report the majority of NRIs, almost 7.6 million are living in the Middle East. What we say or do here is definitely going to affect our diaspora population’s careers and wellbeing.

Suggested Reading: Nupur Sharma Likely To Be Questioned By Mumbai Police Over Prophet Row: Report

Media is responsible

Don’t you think media; more specifically electronic media, is majorly responsible for the mess we are in today? They give platform to bigots and hate-mongers every single day. Do you think that only above mentioned two comments caused this international outrage? No, in the name of debate we have aired hate by one religious community for another for years now. Along with the political leaders and their followers we need to call out media persons for egging on bigots by calling them to studios for debates.

India is secular, let it be so

India has always been a secular democratic country, we stood tall and proud with this badge. So, why have we suddenly become bigots, heading towards religious fundamentalism? Can’t we co-exist in India’s inherent pluralism? It’s not just the major religions of the world that co-exist here, but so many sub sects of Hinduism too exist. So, how far are we ready to divide the country and society on religious lines?

In the end I would like to point out that the ruling party and government machinery responded to Sharma and Jindal’s comments when there was international outrage against them days after the alleged comments, not when it happened. Had they done that backlash would not have happened.

I would like to end by saying that we as a mature democratic nation shouldn’t be given sermons by countries with poor human rights records. But the fact remains why and who brought us to this sorry state. Religion and bigots, right? Religion should be a personal choice and not used to gain political mileage. Because sometimes, as we know now, things get out of hand.

Views expressed are the author’s own.