Will Supreme Court’s Rap To Nupur Sharma Bring An End To Toxic News Debates?

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The Supreme Court of India has directed former Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson Nupur Sharma to apologise to the entire nation for her comments on Prophet Muhammed. Made during a television debate in early June, Sharma’s comments led to national and international outrage. They have also been linked to the shocking murder of a tailor in Udaipur at hands of two extremists with reported ties to Pakistan-based terror groups.

Sharma had approached the Supreme Court in a bid to have all the FIRs registered against her across the country transferred to Delhi. It is while listening to this plea, that the SC slammed Sharma, holding her “single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country.” Justice Surya Kant remarked that her comments showed her “obstinate and arrogant” character, also adding, “What if she is the spokesperson of a party. She thinks she has back up of power and can make any statement without respect to the law of the land?”

Nupur Sharma has now withdrawn her petition to have the cases transferred to Delhi. This is yet another setback that the politician has faced in the last month after her comments snowballed into an outrage that neither she nor the organisers of the news debates, that she used to frequent, had prepared for. But if you have seen these hateful shouting matches in the past, you’d have known this day would come.

A lot has happened after Sharma’s controversial appearance on the ill-fated television debate. More than a dozen Islamic countries condemned her comments. Not only was she removed from the post of spokesperson, but Sharma also lost her primary membership to the BJP. Aside from facing multiple police enquiries and FIRs across the country, she has reportedly also been receiving death threats. This was also the reason why she sought the transfer of FIRs in her name to Delhi.

Then on June 28, a tailor named Kanhaiya Lal from Udaipur was reportedly killed by two Muslim extremists for sharing a social media post in support of Sharma. The accused men filmed the gruesome crime and shared the video on the Internet.

Toxic news debates: Shouting matches that peddle hate

First things first, the accountability for Kanhaiya Lal’s death rests solely with the extremists who perpetrated the crime, no insult can ever justify the bloodshed that follows in case of such hate crimes. However, we also have to acknowledge the role that television debates have played in deepening the religious divide in this country.

Day after day, these news debates find issues that feed our growing religious insecurity – be it in the name of “love jihad”, fountain or Shiv ling and the age-old Mandir or Masjid debate. The participants – mostly spokespersons of political groups, religious bodies and self-proclaimed analysts, know what is expected of them from such debates. They must deliver on the expectation for the sake of TRP, which will then guarantee repeat appearances and their 15 minutes of Internet fame.

It is amusing, that despite the high decibel of these debates, they continue to be consumed by viewers consistently. It is as if the one who shouts the loudest is speaking the truth. The fact is, the one who shouts simply gets heard, and the plea of those urging viewers to apply logic and show empathy falls on (now) deaf ears.

But here’s the thing, hate mongers often forget that there is always a tipping point, beyond which lie repercussions to bigotry. And just like hatred on television debates, outrage too comes like an avalanche, burying logic and empathy in its path. The death threats against Nupur Sharma cannot be justified. But this rap by SC felt long overdue, and not just with respect to the person that it was directed at. Other panelists, and above all, our news anchors had it coming as well.

Hopefully, Sharma’s political fate and the criticism by the Apex Court will serve as a wake up call for panelists and anchors who think they can get away with their antiques, as long as the audience is entertained. Access to the mic comes with great responsibility, your voice is being heard by millions, this realisation should be enough for anyone to carefully weigh their words.

The views are the author’s own.