Nupur Sharma and the Judgment Day for Indian Justice
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Editor’s Note: Freedom of speech is a conundrum that no society has been able to resolve. Attempts to square this particularly crooked circle have mostly been exercises in futility. Free speech absolutists believe that either we have complete, unfettered speech, protected by the state or it is not free speech at all – that any control on speech is a compromise based on irrational, convenient, arbitrary rules made to serve one identity group or the other. Even the US, that boasts of offering free speech as a fundamental right, is now a battleground with the right and the left clashing on what can and should be allowed to be said in the public square, on social media platforms, in colleges and universities, and what is free speech and what is “hate speech”. A quick rule of thumb in the US, these days, might be “Whatever you love is what I hate, and whatever I love you hate”. Thus, this opinion piece, we hope, will be a prelude to further commentaries on this vexatious question.
The Question of Freedom of Speech
A perusal of tweets on July 01, 2022, showed that several people on the “right” were uniformly upset: the Supreme Court of India had come out with its statement that shifted the blame of the Udaipur murder (and all else) back onto Nupur Sharma for her “loose tongue” . This reminded me of a statement I had made to my local email group before the murder:
“How crazy can India get? Well, the writing was on the wall, when you started writing laws and modulating your rationality to conform with lunatics.”
The issue revolves around the fundamental principle of Freedom of Speech or the lack of it, and the use and abuse of the law to control it. This is not a new thought. I have seen it hammered by die-hards like Anand Ranganathan . In the light of the present sequence of events, I said to my group: “Keep the quote in mind. It has and will continue to be highlighted, so long as India continues to submit to imitations of Islamic law, and not challenge it head-on.”
Have we completely exorcised ourselves from basic common sense in the effort to accommodate and normalize the Muslim among us? That the Muslim is intractable to the concept is nothing new — it is threaded into his psyche from birth, that – to put it mildly — “blasphemy” (or whatever he imagines it is) is illegal. That the Indian Parliament (carried from the British times) surrendered, out of fear of the chaos and violence, created, and now upholds the type of laws like Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (“Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”),
is historically understandable. But that after so many years of independence Hindus are unable to develop a method of agitation to question and seek rectification for their country’s adoption of pseudo-Islamic policies that undermine their natural sense of rights and freedom is what comes across as most tragic when a Kanhaiya Lal or Umesh Kohle gets murdered for having supported someone who said something about somebody from the distant past, and the “Milords” blaming the slaying and slitting of Hindu throats by Muslims on a Hindu’s loose-tongue! This is India today!
The mighty judges have a point though. By law, Nupur Sharma did something illegal. One illegal act led to another and hers was the first, as per these minders-of-law. She is to blame. That is just their “logical” rationale for their arrogant, sweeping, and blanket condemnation of Nupur Sharma and what she said of someone worshipped by someone else; not that it is a sane, careful reading of the situation and a reason to apply Section 295A here. Of course, Nupur Sharma herself said that her remarks were in response to Muslims demeaning the Gyanvapi Shiva Linga. So, why not blame the Muslims for starting it all? But we know that laws like 295A apply one way with Hindus and another for “minorities”: it has become primarily a tool to pacify the violent “minority” and to corral the majority of us Hindus. If, however, we think the judges should have no point to make here, then we should have a problem with India’s loose blasphemy laws which Nupur’s “loose tongue” broke, and for which the Government can foist an FIR on her and even arrest her. The Judges do not have recourse to the Constitution, do they, as they mindlessly, singly, and fitfully fault Nupur. And right now, the Judges say they have that right, and they do: to be fair to them, the Court often seems to imagine itself as a father figure pronouncing Dharma from the heavens, and not necessarily inclined to show the link to the Constitution and legal precedence. “We will proclaim, and you shall listen,” the mighty Justices thunder.
A Basic Position of the Proponents of Individual Freedom vis-a-vis the Threats made by Believers about Blasphemy
There should be no room in a “secular” democratic society — comprising religionists, atheists, Vaidikas, Periyarists, others — to legally restrict one person’s expression of an opinion on some god or prophet or scripture — be it Rama or Mohammad, Gandhi or Jinnah, the Quran or the Gita. Some will be fans, some will be devotees, some will despise, and some will see them as mere historical figures (or as not even real) who have impacted society and hence as valid subjects for objective analysis, praise, condemnation, or ridicule. My disagreement cannot amount to shutting down another’s right to speak their thoughts: I don’t have ownership of some personality and the sole right to talk or not talk about him/it, simply because I claim to be his/its ardent follower. Society and Law must send an unmistakable message to such a person that their blasphemy-law mentality has no place here. That sort of Islamic logic must be rooted out and/or nipped in the bud.
Unfortunately, India is already too entrenched in its adoption of blasphemy laws and the accompanying clauses of threat, intimidation, and violence. But if the rights of Hindus can be and should be protected, we may still make some attempt to sort out this conundrum correctly. When the disaster awaiting us of such rationalizing and law-making under threat of violence gets exposed through these sorts of incidents, there is opportunity to rethink, rewrite, and restore sanity and freedom and not fall back to the temporary safety mode of appeasing the enemies of liberal principles. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is blundering and fouling up and hence a large majority of people are quite upset about it. But again, let us keep this in mind: it is by pointing to Law that the Indian Justice seems to be failing us miserably and we will continue to pay the price so long as such laws are there. For if Nupur’s words were distasteful and yet fully within the limits of free speech, then the Court cannot blame her at all. Any attempt to fault her will fall outside the purview of Constitutional Law.
But What if we Open a Pandora’s Box?
It is not the Hindu waiting to abuse Allah or Jesus or Yahweh. The Hindu does not mind who someone worships or prays to. However, we know on the other hand that missionaries and Islamists are fundamentally predisposed to attacking Hindus, Hindu Gods, and Hindu culture. Anarchist and Hinduphobic elements can indeed abuse expressly for the purpose of creating disharmony and anger. Nupur retorted in response to a comment about the Shiva Linga, and then Mohammed Zubair posted an edited video that skewed the context of her remarks . There is likely far more deliberation involved in the method to this Islam-inspired madness than with any comment made by Nupur Sharma in the heat of debate.
But who is to bell this cat – the police, the media, the political activists, the judges, or the parliament?
Mohammed Zubair instead gets arrested for some earlier tweet where the blasphemy law seems to favor Hindus. But we cannot be happy if we fall into the trap of the religious supremacists and advocate limiting an individual’s freedom to comment and discuss religion and past personalities without fearing nonsensical blasphemy charges. The problem is that proving Zubair’s intent and goals for editing the Nupur Sharma video is a way too murky and difficult route legally. So, we are left to find solace that the guy at least got something of a slap on the wrist through the same blasphemy laws that he tries to foist on others.
But then, without the blasphemy laws, we will have plenty of such Zubairs attacking Hindus directly and indirectly, not just on social media platforms but in village squares and from ramparts of the cities. Do we want to hear at the doors of temples “Oh, ye sinners, stop worshipping the devil”? Or art and cinema depicting Hindu deities, and only Hindu deities obscenely? Can we have atrocity literature go rampant and unrestrained? The clinching argument then is that at some point such antagonistic action and reaction sequence — done under the cover of free-speech — can lead to violence and riots, although we expect that it is the non-Hindu who will generally be predisposed to initiate the violence even in such a scenario.
This requires some serious thought from Hindus, especially if we think the present blasphemy laws need to be removed or modified. In principle, in all the above scenarios, the question should not be whether one has the right to express his views or speak about a personality or religion but whether one is imposing into another’s personal space in an illegitimate or unwarranted manner. The present law gets abused because it fails to distinguish between the two dimensions, and admittedly it is not simple to sort them out. But is it proper taking the easy way out by slapping the fault of the second for the act of the first kind?
In other words, I should have the right and opportunity to say Rama is a “male chauvinist pig” for sending Sita to the forest on any public medium where you have the right to call him Narayana-incarnate and the embodiment of Dharma. The same should be the case with Mohammad or Tipu Sultan. Or should we leave out the reference to Mohammad, for now, while the Islamist lunatics of the world continue to be pampered by legislatures, the courts, or for that matter the United Nations (which conveniently categorizes it as hate speech)? If someone claims Tipu Sultan is the “Tiger” of India, I can then brand him as a “Hindu hater”. I should not be obligated to hear and submit to your proclamations of “Peace-be-upon-Him” without myself having the option of saying, “Go to hell, he is neither my god nor my hero”. Mind you, you calling him a “Tiger” angers me as well. Both of us should have the same access and avenue for our thoughts and any discussion on that matter, and in an academic setting, both or any viewpoints can be presented of the person, matter, topic, and history. Of course, if it is a private setting, then the owner has the right to set the norms. A Baptist Church may insult Kali all they want to within their church premises and to its members; and it doesn’t mean I should be allowed into their church to curse Jesus. Alas, the matter is not as simple as we depict it here because someone recording such a message and posting it on social media or sharing it on WhatsApp can then lead to a whole host of issues and problems.
If someone abuses Shiva-Linga (as they can), Nupur Sharma can likewise respond as she did; secular Law should not interfere here. The Constitution has no business in demanding that a non-Hindu should not say publicly anything negative at all about Shiva because the Hindu will think it is hateful (Hindus do not have the concept of “blasphemy”), and vice versa with Mohammad; and to add, the Supreme Court should not portray the retort (on Mohammad) as more wrong than the original instigation (on Shiva-Linga). We are not and should not be bound by each other’s beliefs.
An Alternative Approach
However, if there is public consensus that certain viewpoints and ways of expression are not conducive to peace in society, then the Government must figure out other trans-legal ways of dissuading people from provocative remarks. For example, the government has the right to decide who it will employ in a government job (or remove from the party as the BJP did with Nupur), and a criterion might be that the applicant to the post does not have social media posts ridiculing gods and saints or has abused them for any reason whatsoever in public communications though this leads to the kind of authoritarian control like the Chinese maintain and impose. The point, however, is that it is not illegal, and that Nupur Sharma retains her legal and Constitutional right to free speech: no FIR, no arrest, no punishments, and no right to claim that her words are responsible for an illegal reaction, be it the Muslims’ open calls and bounties for her murder and rape (that India, its judges and the world seem averse to discussing seriously) or the actual murder of Kanhaiya Lal.
This would be like countries using methods such as sanctions and trade restrictions, and thus if one entity thinks another is committing a wrong and seeks to persuade it otherwise, then it has to respond within the limits of their mutual interaction and dependence. For instance, the BJP can remove Nupur Sharma from the party for her public utterance as they did; the party has the right to set its terms for the job it hired her to do. TimesNow can demand that the guests they invite to be on TV adhere to certain communication and behavioral norms; and guests have the option to accept, not participate, or be fined as per that agreement. And the Government can also use its muscle to let TimesNow access to special benefits that are contingent on TimesNow monitoring its guests’ behaviors and not propagating certain “disharmonious” viewpoints. Moreover, the Government may publicly condemn such views through various platforms to educate society, without ever impinging on the actual right of the individual to commit (what others may regard) blasphemy or the right of others to use their platforms to protest the Government’s views on these matters. That type of unmistakable separation from Islamic/Sharia law must be emphasized. When we seek to appease the Muslim’s arrogance or fear his threat of violence, we are justifying his rage and providing implicit validation of his violent behavior, attitudes, and beliefs.
We know that Courts go by precedent. Where is the precedent for the two judges’ who weighed in on this matter? What is their logic? Well, we may have to go back a century where it all began. Here is something from Gandhi’s Young India (December 30, 1926):
“Mussalmans have an ordeal to pass through. There can be no doubt that they are too free with the knife and the pistol. The sword is no emblem of Islam. But Islam was born in an environment where the sword was and still remains the supreme law. The message of Jesus has proved ineffective because the environment was unready to receive it. So with the message of the Prophet. The sword is yet too much in evidence among Mussalmans. It must be sheathed if Islam is to be what it means — peace. There is danger of Mussalmans secretly endorsing the mad deed. It will be a calamity for them and the world. For ours is after all a world problem. Reliance upon the sword is wholly inconsistent with reliance upon God. There should be, on their part, unequivocal mass condemnation of the atrocity.
I wish to plead for Abdul Rashid. I do not know who he is. It does not matter to me what prompted the deed. The fault is ours. The newspaper man has become a walking plague. He spreads the contagion of lies and calumnies. He exhausts the foul vocabulary of his dialect, and injects his virus into the unsuspecting, and often receptive minds of his readers. Leaders ‘intoxicated with the exuberance of their own language’ have not known to put a curb upon their tongues or pens. Secret and insidious propaganda has done its dark and horrible work, unchecked and unabashed. It is, therefore, we the educated and the semi-educated class that are responsible for the hot fever which possessed Abdul Rashid.
It is unnecessary to discriminate and apportion the blame between the rival parties. Where both are to blame, who can arbitrate with golden scales and fix the exact ratio of blame? It is no part of self-defence to tell lies or exaggerate.” 
In the first paragraph, Gandhi recognizes that Muslims have a proclivity to violence but goes about rationalizing it as a matter of circumstance and environment. In the second, he pleads for Rashid, the killer of Swami Shraddhananda. How does he plead? He says that no matter the act, no matter the violence in question, no matter even the reason why Rashid killed, the fault is with the boogieman — the newspaper guy who wrote ill of the others. So, Rangila Rasool is faulted for the murder of the Swami by Rashid. Notice here the punchline of the first paragraph is neutralized at the door of the Hindu newspaperman, and the killer’s active choice to act or respond with violence is not linked to the Muslim’s own background that prompted the violence but rather on those who slandered his God or prophet — as if slandering their Prophet Mohammad can magically transform itself into the instigation of violence. Finally, in the last paragraph, Gandhi reveals the reason for this convoluted logic: “peace”. Truth (and the Hindu) is often sacrificed for “good” objectives – “peace”. Don’t blame either party more for the Swami’s death because who can tell who is to be blamed more, said the Mahatma. This is the precedent. “Peace” at the point of a sword.
Our judges have taken it to the next level for they are convinced in their wisdom that Nupur Sharma alone is to blame for everything. If we do not protest this, if we do not stand up to this illogic, the Hindu and India that is Bharat is doomed.
 “SC Judges end up emboldening Islamists, conducts a witch trial blaming Nupur Sharma’s ‘loose tongue’ for Hindu man’s beheading by Islamic fanatics,” OpIndia, July 1, 2022, https://www.opindia.com/2022/07/supreme-court-conducts-witch-trial-blaming-nupur-sharmas-loose-tongue-for-hindu-man-beheading-by-islamic-fanatics/
 Nupur Sharma, “On Free Speech and 295A: Why I partially agree and wholly disagree with the arguments of Prof Anand Ranganatha,” OpIndia, June 28, 2022, https://www.opindia.com/2022/06/free-speech-295a-disagree-arguments-prof-anand-ranganathan/
 “BJP National Spokesperson gets multiple death threats after Alt News co-founder unleashes Islamists on her,” OpIndia, May 27, 2022, https://www.opindia.com/2022/05/nupur-sharma-bjp-spokesperson-mohammed-zubair-alt-news-twitter-death-threats-islamists/
 “The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi,” https://www.gandhiashramsevagram.org/gandhi-literature/mahatma-gandhi-collected-works-volume-37.pdf, Page 457.
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