Nupur’s Comment, ‘Sar Tan Se Juda’: Secularism on Test

K B Jandial
With no end to hate-mongering and growing Hindu-Muslim divide as a consequence of some sensitive religious developments including controversial comment on Prophet Muhammad, bloodcurdling killing of two Hindus by Muslim radicals and war cry for beheading former BJP spokesperson, India’s secularism is on test. No apparent effort is apace to promote religious tolerance, respect for each other’s religion and strengthening of bonds of communal harmony to create a compatible ecosystem in India by isolating radicals whose number is regrettably mounting. The past developments are, indeed, alarming and endanger India’s peace, harmony and unity. Indian history is replete with instances of invasions whenever disunity existed.

Straight Talk

This phase of polarisation started with Hindus’ staking claim on Varanasi’s Gyanvapi Mosque which sparked controversy. Sentiments were outraged to see that one of the 12 revered original ‘jyotirlinga’ was found to be tampered with, and the waterbody around it used as ‘wajukhana’ by the Muslim devotees. The Mosque was built by Aurangzeb after desecrating and destroying the temple. It was the debate on this sensitive religious issue on Times Now on 26 May, 2022 where Nupur Sharma made the controversial comment on the marriage of Prophet Muhammad. Since then, almost daily, Hindu and Muslims bodies and scholars keep fuelling the fire, mostly on TV debates that have cost at least two lives while the third one is convalescing with six dagger wounds.
This storm has not yet died down with provocative comments still pouring in that reignites avoidable negative TV debates that hardly unite the communities. Situation demands careful selection of panellists and the anchor. Right to free speech doesn’t mean the right to offend. The Govt should consider a law to prohibit the media especially the TV channels and social media from critical analysis of religions and their practices, portrayal of derogatory claims- verbal and visuals of the all symbols of faiths, like the recent poster of “smoking Goddess Kali” and unnecessary discussion on the claims, tempered idols like Shivling in Gyanvapi temple. All these things hurt the sentiments of the faithful and embolden others to keep demeaning Hindu Gods and Goddesses. All those who abuse India, ridicule religious beliefs and values and weaken our national resolve should not be on TV Channels. India’s peace, tranquillity, brotherhood and harmony is more important than the freedom of speech of individuals and media’s commercial interest by improving TRP.
Even the top court Hon’ble Judges appeared to have forgotten to exercise restraint in making unpleasant open court observations which though not part of the judgment, have consequences on the life of the “arrogant” Nupur and her family, which they realised on a later date, and set the record straight. Moreover, India is not yet on fire. The Nobel laureate and economist, Dr. Amartya Sen’s abstract remark that “India is facing a possible collapse as a nation” is also linked by the ‘liberals’ to Nupur remarks, overlooking the talibanized killing of Jodhpur’s Kanhaiya Lal. India will definitely collapse if such chilling terror acts are justified or diluted as a reaction, just because these intellectuals and liberals hate PM Modi and BJP.
While Indian social media and TV channels kept the pot boiling with hysterical evening debates on Nupur, Pakistan’s Islamic scholar and preacher, Maulana Muhammad Ali Mirza in a viral video, nearly ‘absolved’ her of blasphemy charge, saying that she reacted to the insulting remark of a Muslim panellist on Hindus and Lord Shiva (evident from her opening line “if you speak like this to our religion and God, I will retaliate…), and moreover, Islam doesn’t approve demeaning other religions. But regretfully, Indian media fuelled it to the extent that the radicalised groups in Jodhpur and Amravati conspired to undertake talibanized terror acts against two Hindus whose only crime was to forward Nupur’s controversial comment on social media.
While Times Now deleted the video from YouTube the very next day, Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair ‘dog whistled’ her uncharitable observation on Prophet Muhammad and circulated the video. Repeated use of these clips by Mirza only prompted threat calls to rape and slaughter her.
Even the clerics of Dargah Ajmer Sharif found it expedient to come on the roads demanding the head of Nupur. Ajmer Sharif’s clerics’ sloganeering of “Gusthak-e-Rasul ki ek hai saja, sar tan se juda” scared away Hindu devotees who constituted bigger bulk of the faithfuls visiting the Dargah daily. Even Muslims’ presence in the Dargah on Eid was poor. As an impact of the provocative slogan by the cleric, the otherwise crowded adjoining markets and hotels were almost empty ruining the business of a popular pilgrim centre, forcing the Gaddi Nashin Dargah and Chairman Chishty Foundation to denounce these as “the anti-Islamic and anti -humanity slogans”.
“Gusthak-e-Rasul ki aik he saja, sar tan se juda” slogan came in to the public domain in April 2021 when a large hoarding of AIMIM in Kanpur carried this slogan with the picture of Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati along with another. It was a call to behead them for blasphemy. Narsinghanand had made vitriolic comments against Muslims at Haridwar’s Dharam Sansad.
The NIA investigation into Kanhaiya’s brutal killing has found a dominant role of Pakistan’s Jihadi handlers. The slaughtering was not spontaneous as Jihadis took a lot of time in preparation for it. Moreover, a month is enough for the outraged sentiments to cool down in the normal course. It was a well-planned criminal conspiracy abetted by the Pakistani jihadis.
India’s cohesion and harmony was exposed by these savage acts. India has no dearth of religious fanatics but the most disparaging part of the new normal is that condemnation of such barbaric acts was restricted only when the fellow religionist is the victim. While lynching of cow thieves by cow vigilantes like Mohammed Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan etc too had received muted response from Hindu leaders, Taliban type slaughtering, that too on a video, is new and frightening incident unheard in India. It had to be condemned across the board. Unfortunately, politics has become the major factor of India’s disunity and social dissensions, fully exploiting the misconceived notion of unfettered freedom of speech.
While the “champions” of secularism and human rights are shamelessly conspicuous when it comes to condemnation, political parties continued their dirty politics by throwing mud on each other on evening TV tamasha. The ‘secular’ and ‘concerned citizens’ (like of Yashwant Sinha; Air Marshal (retd) Kapil Kak, Wajahat Habibullah) too are intriguingly silent. They waste no time in condemning acts against the minorities. Slaughtering of Kanhaiya has not touched their conscience as the victim’s identity didn’t serve their agenda.
On the top of it, India’s most popular and strong leader PM Modi, again chose to remain silent over the horrifying killing of Kanhaiya. This is not the first time he decided to overlook this ghastly act. It happened when Akhlaq, Pehlu Khan were killed by mobs for taking cows for perceived slaughtering. At that time, the anti-Modi lobby accused him of overlooking heinous crimes against Muslims. Leaving aside the opposition leaders’ political comments, every Indian was expecting the PM to reassure the nation that radicalised persons would be dealt with a heavy hand to prevent such brutal acts. He could have appealed for peace and harmony and sought help to destroy all these modules which are threatening India. But nothing of sort has ever come from him. Party spokespersons can’t substitute PM Modi’s emotional outreach.
Despite these developments, should India still be called secular? To which direction these hate-mongers and radicals are taking the nation? When Britishers carved out Pakistan for Muslims as part of two-nation theory which India had rejected and remained secular with large segment of Muslim population opted to remain in India.
The framers of the Indian Constitution were faced with the dilemma over the word “secular” in the Preamble which was missing in the draft. On November 15, 1948, during the debate on the Preamble in the Constituent Assembly, Prof K T Shah introduced an amendment seeking inclusion of the word ‘secular’ along with “Federal and Socialist” in the Preamble. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar opposed the amendment saying that secularism was inherent to the Constitution’s structure and mentioning it in the Preamble would be redundant. His reason was that the entire Constitution embodied the concept of secular state, which is meant to be non-discrimination on grounds of religion and equal rights and status to all citizens.
Prof Shah argued that though major secular constitutions of the world did not specifically proclaim their secular credentials, it was needed in case of India as the nation was still struggling to come out of the trauma of partition, the horrendous memory of intense communal and sectarian bloodbath and was keen to prevent such internecine violence in future.
Nevertheless, there was some divergence of opinion. One group called for a complete wall of separation between state and religion, while another demanded that the state treats every religion with equal respect. While Prof Shah belonged to the first group, K.M Munshi belonged to the second, who argued that we are a people with deeply religious moorings. At the same time, we have a living tradition of religious tolerance – the results of the broad outlook of Hinduism that it is not that the Constitution is not secular or socialist without these words. He was right, India has been secular all through even before the 42nd Amendment and continues to be so. It was Indira Gandhi’s one of the many political moves during the emergency.
While secularism means that the State doesn’t have any religion and persons manning all constitutional positions don’t swear by a particular religion but by the Constitution of India which is sovereign. But secularism is also respecting religions other than his own and refrain from demeaning them. Gandhi ji’s secularism was based on the commitment to the brotherhood of religious communities.
The secularism is akin to the vedic concept of Dharma nirapekshata (religious neutrality) for the State. Indian philosophy of secularism is related to “Sarva Dharma Sambhava” (destination of the paths followed by all religions is the same, though the paths themselves may be different) which means equal respect to all religions. It aims to address religious plurality of India and sought to achieve peaceful coexistence of all religions.
Whether it is the constitutional mandate or Indian philosophy, secularism is getting blurred. Let’s call a spade a spade. The respect for other religions and communal amity are gradually diminishing and the space is occupied by the hate mongers and polarisers on TV debates. This is a serious challenge to the unity of pluralist India which stands at the cross road. It is a time for introspection by all.