Beyond Nupur Sharma
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 “Shiva Ling”, one of the most worshipped symbols by the Hindus. Accordingly, 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, and this is a big “if”, Ms Sharma has done anything wrong, she deserves the punishment. As it is, Mumbai Police and the local courts in Maharashtra are more than eager, thanks to the “secular” government in Maharashtra, to send her to jail. 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?
In fact, I am reminded of the likes of fugitive Dr. Zakir Naik of Mumbai who justify suicide bombings and sex-slaves. Naik had once said the following in reply to a question – Water is called by different names in different languages God is called by different names as Allah, Ram or Jesus; is it not one and the same?
“You can call water by various names in different languages, like water in English, paani in Hindi, tanni in Tamil, mai in Arabic, apah in Sanskrit, jal in shudh Hindi, jal or paani in Gujarati, pandi in Marathi, neer in Kannada, neeru in Telugu, vellam in Malayalam, etc. If a person tells me that his friend has advised that everyday early in the morning he should have one glass of paani, but he is unable to drink it because when he drinks it, he feels like vomiting. On enquiry he says that the paani stinks and it is yellowish in colour. Later I realise that what he is referring to as paani is not water but urine. Thus you can call water by different names having the same meaning but you cannot call other things as water or paani.
“People may think that the example is not realistic and I agree with them because even an ignorant person knows the difference between water and urine. He will have to be a fool to call urine ‘water’. Similarly, when any person who knows the correct concept of God, sees people worshipping false Gods, he naturally wonders how a person cannot differentiate between a true God and false Gods”.
Similarly, when asked “Why do Muslims abuse non-Muslims by calling them ‘kafirs’?”, Naik replied, “‘Kafir’ is derived from the word ‘kufr’, which means to conceal or to reject. In Islamic terminology, ‘kafir’ means one who conceals or rejects the truth of Islam and a person who rejects Islam is in English called a ‘non-Muslim’. If any non-Muslim considers the word ‘kafir’ i.e. ‘non-Muslim’ an abuse, he may choose to accept Islam and then we will stop referring to him as or call him a kafir, i.e. a non-Muslim.”
This is the respect Dr. Naik, an Indian Muslim, had for other religions. Naik may not be in the country today, but all those who are calling for Nupur’s head do not think differently of Hinduism or Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Even the typical “Indian secularists” do not find anything wrong or criminal in what these people say and threaten. Effortlessly the secularists and the media that they control have declared Nupur Sharma guilty just because she has allegedly said things about the Prophet that are otherwise very well-known and taught in Madrasas.
In other words, “secularism” as an idea in India has become so perverse that there is one set of rules for majority Hindus and another set of rules for minorities—one can lambast Hindu beliefs, but he or she has to be very sensitive when matters pertain to minorities. The government can make and regulate laws for Hindus and their places of worship, but it cannot dare to touch the minorities, particularly the Muslims.
Similarly, 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. One, it cancelled an official dinner to the visiting Indian Vice President Venkaiah Naidu. Two, it had granted citizenship to late painter Maqbool Fida Hussain, when he had gone into a self-imposed exile following uproars among a section of Hindus and a series of criminal cases in various courts of India 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 the nude. For example in one of his paintings he showed goddess Sita stark naked, masturbating on the long tail of God Hanuman, whereas Hindu mythology contemplates a very pious relationship of mother and son between goddess Sita and God Hanuman. In another painting, she was shown sitting naked on the thigh of naked Ravana. He also painted a bull copulating with Goddess Parvati and God Shankar watching the act on Shivratri festival. One of his paintings showed Goddess Durga in union with her lion!
The problem with the paintings of Hussain 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 Hussain had painted celebrities belonging to Islam and Christianity, he had displayed utmost sensitivity and ensured that all of his figures are properly dressed. Imagine if Qatar would have allowed Hussain 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 reaction poses a question. If Muslims, or for that matter Christians in India, have their foreign – benefactors, 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.
By Prakash Nanda