A hate-spewing, shrill spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party has managed to do what more than 200 million Muslims in India couldn’t: Bring the Narendra Modi government and the BJP face to face with criticism of rampant Islamophobia in India’s political discourse. The government had so far blithely ignored Indians’ effort to bring to its notice the surge in hatred and anti-Muslim violence in the country. But now, led by international pressure, it is forced to address the issue.
Nupur Sharma, now a former BJP spokesperson, and Naveen Kumar Jindal, the party’s former Delhi media in-charge, single-handedly managed to damage the shiny image of Modi and his party in front of Islamic nations who had been conferring the highest civilian honours on the Prime Minister for forging strong ties with the Arab nations. While a host of nations have condemned the remarks, three of them — Iran, Qatar, Kuwait — have summoned Indian envoys.
Countries that have condemned India’s BJP leaders for derogatory comments insulting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):
– Saudi Arabia
— Ahmer Khan (@ahmermkhan) June 6, 2022
The suspension of Sharma and the expulsion of Jindal following international pressure is no small matter. Nupur Sharma’s abominable remarks on Prophet Muhammad and his wife angered Muslims around the world. And external affairs minister S. Jaishankar’s wit won’t come to the rescue this time. Abusing India’s Muslims as jihadis, stone-pelters or uncouth Covid super spreaders can be brushed off as “internal matters”, but attacking Islam and its authoritative head, the Prophet, will become a global discussion.
Message to Indian Muslims is clear
The sad reality is that the sentiments of India’s Muslims make no difference to the Modi government. If they did, Nupur Sharma and her likes would be sacked as and when they make a hateful comment, not after the matter draws international condemnation and ridicule.
Muslims have repeatedly expressed outrage at the blatant flouting of their basic human rights on issues such as food, clothing, marriage and places of worship. Yet, the Modi government has turned a deaf ear and a blind eye towards their concerns. There has been no healing touch, like the ones extended to the Sikh community, who were branded as ‘Khalistanis’ following their agitation against the Centre’s farm laws. Modi chose to commemorate the revered Guru Tegh Bahadur at Red Fort in April, the same venue where the Nishan Sahib was unfurled during the protest.
In fact, every time an international entity has spoken for the human rights of minorities in India, the government has brazenly rejected the claims. Case in point, Jaishankar’s retort to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent comments on a “rise in human rights abuses” in India. Even the OIC’s statement raising the Hijab row and “demolition of Muslim property” has been dismissed by the government as “communal mindset”.
This heavy-handed approach of not accepting the reality of the barrage of hate that the Muslim community of India is facing on a daily basis has precipitated in its worse form on ground. ‘Dharam sansads’ led by prominent Hindu seers and attended by hundreds of people give genocidal calls and ask Hindus to weaponise themselves against Muslims. Bollywood celebrities like Akshay Kumar spread misinformation perpetuated by the Hindu groups about the Indian education system being more focussed on Mughal emperors and not covering Hindu kings adequately.
Silence nurtures the ecosystem
The rise of ministers in the BJP who have had a sordid history of hate speech has further nurtured this ecosystem of hate. Kapil Mishra, Anurag Thakur, Sadhvi Pragya, Giriraj Singh, Tejasvi Surya are just some of them.
The Modi government’s complicit silence when media networks allow party spokespersons to make personal, hateful, divisive and unfounded remarks to earn quick but cheap fame has also made matters worse.
Navika Kumar, Group Editor of Times Network, is a classic example of the prejudiced moderator who has never been pulled up for conducting such debates.
In the controversial debate which has now become an international matter, the discussion was whether the Gyanvapi mosque has a shivling in its sanctum sanctorum. While the channel itself debated between the ‘fountain lobby’ and those that believed that the mosque housed a ‘shivling’, at no point was the anchor seen intervening, muting the mic or denouncing Nupur Sharma’s offensive remarks. Instead she was seen defending Nupur Sharma in another debate.
Navika Kumar and many like her are complicit in compounding this bigotry and Islamophobia in India on a daily, or rather hourly, basis. And no disciplinary action has been taken by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on such channels and news anchors.
Many are calling the sacking of Nupur Sharma an eyewash. The government of India has sent a rather tragic message to its own citizens and the world: that it cares only about the economic interests. Also, foreign advocacy on India’s minorities—be it for Sikhs or Muslims—has only exacerbated the divisive beliefs and mounting majoritarianism and political polarisation. The fact that foreign intervention has worked has only diminished the standing of the Indian government.
It is unfortunate that Muslims of India are now under the impression that their problems will only be heard if other Muslim nations speak on their behalf. Two weeks ago, I had urged in an open letter to PM Modi to stop his Hindutva brigade from running amok or else it will only come back to bite him and his government, and hurt Indian interests in the process. It seems it has all happened a little too soon.
The author is a political observer who tweets @zainabsikander. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)