A policeman fires in the air to disperse people protesting over controversial remarks made by two now-suspended BJP leaders about Prophet Mohammad, in Ranchi. (PTI Photo)
India witnessed a dark Friday when protests across the country against the highly objectionable and condemnable remarks during a TV debate against Prophet Mohammad by Nupur Sharma, a spokesperson of the ruling BJP, and social media posts by the party’s activist Naveen Jindal, turned violent.
The entire affair is a tragic convergence of two terrible fault lines, which have been responsible for many a dark tiding for modern India’s birth and evolution as a modern, secular nation — unabated and fanned religious fundamentalism, and weaponised communal distrust and intolerance.
The affair turns murkier because true champions of liberal values, of freedom of expression, of intra-faith dialogue and peace, of those who can be critical of all primary initiation of force and violence to back their political point of view, have been largely either guilty of not being forceful against the fundamentalism of both, or all, hues; or have been irrelevant.
Firstly, India must unequivocally stand against the venom-filled, vituperative hate speech of Nupur Sharma; and every person who speaks against the most sacred sentiments of any people and their religious sentiments. Hate speech aimed at hurting religious sentiments and provoking emotive outbursts across the country, or globally, have no place in a plural nation with democratic and secular credentials.
It is an unimpeachable truth that several leaders and activists of the saffron alt-right have been constantly playing the game of provocation, and it was always a threat looming large on the peaceful conduct of social life in India for a few years now.
Setting aside the international condemnation and the diplomatic backlashes that have subsequently forced the ruling BJP to not only act against the two rabid hate speech makers but also instruct all their leaders and activists to desist from making such comments, we must as a country introspect if we have allowed our moral compass to be situated abroad, or if civil behaviour in India will be guaranteed under international policing.
There can be differences of opinion on how to punish hate speech but here, violent protests have no space. Just like the Hindutva brigade is guilty of incessant provocation, the Muslim community in India too must be held responsible for a viewpoint that violence during protests against perceived collective emotional hurt due to religion is right. It is not. Angry people, whether Hindu or Muslim, or of any other religion, have no right to initiate violence in the process of protesting. They have a right to peaceful protest, and it stops there.
Even those accused of hate crime have a right to be tried for punishment by a fair due process of law, and just as India held its calm when trying AIMIM leader Akbaruddin Owaisi for his hate speech, before he was finally exonerated, so too must Ms Sharma and Mr Jindal be given a fair trial.
Hindu or Muslim, you cannot claim to be so angry as to make efforts to hurt or destroy India, or a part of it. That is the final truth, and only solution.