The barbaric slaughter of a Hindu tailor, Kanhaiya Lal Teli in Udaipur by Islamists over “blasphemy” against Islam’s Prophet, is reprehensible.
Whether this beheading was caused by the frenzy generated over BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s remarks quoting Islamic scripture, is for the law to determine. But what is undeniable is that the most vocal section of the so-called secular Indian Muslims sought “severest punishment” against Nupur for “insulting prophet and Islam” and the Left-liberal intellectuals in India endorsed the offence taken by Muslims.
A vicious communal atmosphere was created and fuelled on mainstream media and social media, riling up Muslims. Eventually, hundreds of Muslims across the country came to the streets, burning effigies of Nupur Sharma, calling for her murder and beheading, while the Left gave them cover fire in media debates.
Apart from the Hindu Right wing, ordinary Indians have been seething. In their reaction to the calls for violence against Nupur Sharma, many called for arresting the Muslims who have insulted Hindu sentiments recently and retrospectively as well. But while they were justified to stand by Nupur Sharma, they fail to see the contradiction in their support for the law that criminalises blasphemy in India.
They claim that section 295A of the Indian Penal Code is a requirement since there is no level playing field between Hindus and Muslims on religious offence. It is true that Hinduism — a polytheistic faith which accommodates all kinds of belief as well as disbelief, worship as well as criticism — does not have the dogmatic views that Islam has about blasphemy. While Hinduism does not have any notion of “blasphemy”, Islam feels violently about it.
Ordinary Hindus argue that in the absence of a law, Hinduism is free for all to abuse and insult, while Islam has instilled fear across the world by making blasphemy an offence to be punished with death.
As a result, IPC 295A acts as a deterrence. However, what this position does is that it justifies the Islamic view that blasphemy is a punishable offence. Also, if a Hindu is even casually against Islam, he faces a double whammy. Under IPC 295A, a Hindu will go to jail and even after his release from jail, he faces the threat of murder by a Sharia believer.
For Hindus to have a level playing field with Islam, the Indian laws will not only have to raise the punishment for blasphemy in India to death but match its other views and laws with that of Islam’s. In other words, the Indian republic will have to regress to a Sharia republic.
The founding fathers and mothers of the Indian republic struggled and fought against the British Colonialists not to reduce a conscientious, humane and moralistic nation to a primitive and barbaric society! After being on a progressive path for the last 75 years, India is not now going to reverse its course and imitate Islamic republics.
The solution lies in the correct diagnosis of the problem. Even though the Indian law is progressive on many fronts, it has accommodated some of the regressive elements keeping in view of the Islamic sensibilities which originate from the Sharia law. In the last 75 years, the political leadership made no efforts to educate and transform the Muslim thinking in India. Instead, the political parties treated Muslims with kid gloves and normalized their blackmail on preserving their religious orthodoxy.
The liberal elite or educated Muslims who claim to believe in the Indian constitution, have also been responsible for keeping the Muslim society in a regressive state. Whenever the Indian state or leadership attempted to initiate reforms with respect to the Muslim community, they cried wolf. Instead of standing by liberal principles, they immediately fall back on the regressive elements within the Indian constitution to justify religious conservatism. That is why we saw many educated Muslims justifying the offence taken by Indian Muslims over Nupur’s remarks. In effect, Muslim society remains stuck, and in many ways has increasingly radicalized.
The paralysis of the Indian lawmakers towards reforming laws in accordance with the changing times is adding to their radicalization. This in turn will lead to the further polarization of society and breakdown of the social fabric of India. Civil unrest, violence and chaos do not build great nations or civilizations. A great future awaits India as it has made significant strides in science, economic growth and development and other areas.
So it is time to break this vicious cycle. The government must revoke 295A and normalise “blasphemy”. Indians of all religious denominations should be able to critically evaluate their religion as well the religion of others. Indians should also be able to sometimes laugh at religious practices which may have been prevalent in ancient or medieval India but not today. “Hurt religious sentiments” cannot hold India hostage in the 21st century.