No religion can be insulted. No god or religious figure, prophet or saint should be denigrated, or spoken about in a derogatory manner. They can’t be shown in poor light in works of art, movies, paintings or songs.
This must be the de facto legal, constitutional and moral viewpoint of every Indian because we live in a world where no one can argue that they did not expect such a strong response from the community feeling victimised by their words. In other words, freedom of art, expression, thought — however absolute in an ideal world — are legally and socially deemed restricted in the larger interest of communal harmony and social order.
Today, if a Hindu insults Prophet Mohammed or a Muslim jokes about Lord Ram or Goddess Sita, no one can any longer expect anything but a very angry backlash, protests on the streets and possible tension, which could then escalate and result in violence.
The remarks in a video of now suspended BJP MLA Thakur Raja Singh of Goshamahal constituency in Hyderabad are derogatory beyond debate. His intention was to mock, humiliate and ridicule Muslims and to provoke them.
There cannot be a place for such statements — not in the name of politics, not in the name of comedy, or art or freedom of expression — in our society. Everyone, not just Muslims, must stand up to unequivocally condemn the words, intent and statement of Raja Singh.
It is equally welcome to see the BJP respond with alacrity and an uncompromising approach and suspend the MLA, serving on him a showcause notice which could lead to his expulsion from the party. No party should tolerate such statements, leaders or cadre; and India must develop a zero tolerance approach towards them.
But Raja Singh’s anger at the TRS government for allowing a comedian who has allegedly insulted Hindu gods and goddesses is equally valid. There cannot be any hypocrisy here — we cannot be angry at insults to Muslims but brook disrespect to Hindus, or Hinduism.
In the past, governments and intellectuals have adopted dual standards towards Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasreen, versus M.F. Husain or the statements of Akbaruddin Owaisi; and while accepting Muslim anger as valid, resorted to a different, often condescending attitude towards Hindu anger, calling it wrong.
The TRS government, led by minister K.T. Rama Rao, decided to host Munawar Faruqui, providing him security — a reasonably fair democratic obligation in a free world. Neither our world nor our times are anything like those. By ensuring anger amongst Hindus, the TRS government set the provocation, whose response was the reprehensible statement by Raja Singh.
As several of the protesting Muslims on the streets of Hyderabad have said, it was the invite to Faruqui that set into motion a series of connected actions that have now threatened the peace and communal harmony in the city.
Equally, no one must stop condemning people who are openly calling for violence, demanding that the culprit be beheaded. Legal action must take place against them with equal sternness.
Anything less would be an unacceptable compromise.