Former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s recent humiliation by the Supreme Court cannot simply be disregarded as a ‘moral lecture’. The reaction to the top court’s remarks that Sharma’s “loose tongue has set the entire country on fire” has been tragically oversimplified by the entire political spectrum of India, from Hindu liberals to Hindutva supporters to Muslims.
Instead, we must look at it as a setting of tone by the SC for anyone who thinks that they can get away with hate
speech just because there are ‘legal remedies’.
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana couldn’t have been more on point when he said that the judiciary is answerable to the “Constitution and Constitution alone”.
But no one is seeking the truth here.
Fire all around
At one end of the spectrum are Hindutva supporters, who have really gone too far in criticising the Supreme Court’s remarks. Riding on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity and making the loudest noise on both social and electronic media, Hindutva supporters have always been extremely united in their stand on anything, irrespective of the merit, truth and morality of the cause. Publications like OpIndia went as far as to question whether the Supreme Court was following Sharia law. Many Supreme Court lawyers have even gone on to make rather unfounded comments.
The entire Hindutva ecosystem has since day one rallied behind Sharma, extending support to her comments on Prophet Muhammed in spite of the BJP, as a political party, distancing itself from her. Law Minister Kiren Rijiju has gone on to say that he would not like to comment on the Supreme Court’s remarks, “Even if I do not like the judgement or I have a serious objection to the manner in which the observations are made.”
What’s worse is that even the Muslims, who were the most offended party in this entire fiasco, have criticised the Supreme Court’s decision as a “balancing act”.
Liberals unhappy as well
But if you thought the most shocking comments have come in from the Hindutva brigade, you’re in for a surprise. Some of the most logical minds, often clubbed under the term ‘liberals’, have gone on to blame the Supreme Court for “playing to the gallery” by giving moral lectures to Nupur Sharma instead of doing its job.
According to them, the SC should have clubbed all the FIRs that were filed against Sharma since the crime was one, not multiple, hence making her trial in different parts of the country a violation of her fundamental rights.
They’ve backed these claims by giving precedents of a 2001 verdict, TT Antony v State of Kerala, in which the Supreme Court held that there cannot be a “second FIR” on the same issue. Even Arnab Goswami’s example has been brought up to justify the clubbing of FIRs.
A legal precedent
Most Indians today are just looking for evidence to support their biases. Confirmation bias is at work in most socio-political issues, creating extensive debates leading to deeper fissures within our society.
A man beheaded in Rajasthan with a sinister terror plot in the making. Another man killed in Maharashtra. Violent protests all across the country, first by Muslims for remarks made on the Prophet in which a few people died, and then by Hindus when Kanhaiya Lal was beheaded ISIS style in Udaipur.
All this was precipitated by one person. But when the Supreme Court raps Nupur Sharma, a very confused India sits up to give bizarre remarks on something that should have been hailed as a precedent against hate speech. Nupur Sharma’s case is not just another crime. It can truly be termed as the first of its kind ‘hate speech case’ where an entire nation has been gripped in anarchy due to irresponsible commentary on television, which led to global condemnation. This case will set the precedent for subsequent hate speech cases.
Many are also conveniently forgetting the furore around Tandav, Amazon Prime Video’s series, which had hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus who objected to derogatory terms used in the show against Lord Shiva. It was a case with overtones of ‘hurting religious sentiment’ that saw the Supreme Court giving similar oral observations while asking the petitioners to approach the high courts of every state where multiple FIRs were registered against them.
Even here, Justice MR Shah who was presiding over this case had remarked, “Your right to freedom of speech is not absolute. It is subject to restrictions.”
The SC’s insistence on the “conscience of the court” not being satisfied with Nupur Sharma’s plea after her irresponsible behaviour, due to which they “must mould the law accordingly”, has not been taken seriously by anybody in India’s political spectrum.
In my humble opinion, it should be considered a noble remark. But we have become a nation full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
The author is a political observer who tweets @zainabsikander. Views are personal.