Erstwhile BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s intervention during a TV debate on the controversy over the Gyanvapi mosque in Varanasi has created a hue and cry not only in India but also in the Arab world. It will be always debatable whether she insulted the Prophet and Islam or stated facts about them as written in Islamic literature during the debate, and that too as answer to a fellow panelist, a Muslim, ridiculing the idea of ‘Shivling’, one of the most worshipped symbols by the Hindus. But, she has been punished by the party through suspension. It is understandable that a democratic and secular country like India must respect all religions.
If Ms. Sharma has done anything wrong, she deserves the punishment. But does this punishment mean death? Many Muslim preachers and Mullahs have already issued fatwas against her and announced rewards for killing her. Radical Islamists from Kashmir have also threatened her. So has the dreaded Al Qaida, which has got a second life after the return of the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
Secondly, there is a thing called evenhandedness in a country where the government is not only fair but seen to be fair. If Ms. Sharma is punished for her “offending remarks”, what about the ridicules of Hindu Gods and Goddesses by not only the Muslim leaders and journalists but also the so-called left and liberals? In fact, these ridicules are literally pouring these days. Why is the Indian state or for that matter governments in the states and at the Centre are reluctant to consider the anti-Hindu remarks equally punishable?
One is not exactly amazed by the reactions of the Arab world, as the Arab countries think they must act together to promote and defend Muslims everywhere in the world. And in this, Qatar has taken a leading role. I am taking the name of Qatar for two reasons. For one, it cancelled an official dinner to the visiting Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu.
For another, it had once granted citizenship to late painter Maqbool Fida Husain, when he had gone on a self-imposed exile following uproar among a section of Hindus over his controversial paintings of Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Despite repeated Hindu anguish, the painter did not stop displaying consistently Hindu Gods and Goddesses in highly provocative manner.
The problem with the paintings of Husain was the fact that he did not allow the people much scope to imagine over his work; he invariably wrote ‘Sita’, ‘Laxmi’, ‘Parvati’ and ‘Hanuman’ etc. below his paintings to make it abundantly clear what he meant. And that was really offensive. In fact, in one of his “much acclaimed” paintings, he drew a naked woman in the shape of the map of India and displayed it as ‘Bharat Mata’ (mother India)!
Significantly, whenever Husain had painted celebrities belonging to Islam and Christianity, he displayed utmost sensitivity and ensured that all of his figures were properly dressed. Imagine if Qatar would have allowed Husain the same “artistic liberty” had he caricatured the Prophet. Here Sharia is designated as the main source for legislation.
Leaving Islam is a capital offense punishable by death. And all schools have compulsory Islamic instruction, non-Islamic religious education being completely prohibited.
Perhaps no country elsewhere in the world treats its minorities as fairly and as equally as India does. We do not need any Arab-certificate in this regard. But the Arab reaction poses a question. If Muslims, or for that matter Christians in India, have their foreignbenefactors, what about the Hindus and their fellow Indic-religionists such as Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains? They have nowhere to go.
All the more reason they need greater unity and solidarity to protect themselves, their culture and India, their only country.