Free speech, Nupur and Zubair

July 26, 2022

Rohit Dhankar

[This is a personal response to a particular person. May not be of public interest. Posting on blog because tweeter can not handle detailed response like this.]

I am inclined to do a little commonplace analysis in this write-up. Nothing profound or great. The only reason I am indulging in it is that this kind of conversations are too common on social media and there are some very common fallacies in such thinking. Since these fallacies are very common, they merit some discussion even if at a common sense, and intellectually not really of great importance.

This analysis is on a small twitter exchange between me and an acquaintance. Since the conversation is already in the public space, I am taking liberty of quoting in full here and then analyzing without asking for permission of the other participant. I have left the spelling mistakes in tweets as they are, without editing. Parts of tweets I am using will be given in quotation marks “”, and text written now without quotation marks. The letter numbering [a], [b], etc. is done for the sake of analysis and was not part of the original tweets. In spite of my involvement in this conversation, the real objective here is to see the character of conversation and the kind of arguments used, not any kind of explanation.

Rohit: [a] “If @zoo_bear is you icon of free speach, you do not know what free speach happens to be. Period.”

[a1]: Here I am stating that Zubair can not be an icon of free speech. My reason would have been obvious to any one who have been reading my tweets. The objection is not to Zubair’s tweets which some people considered insulting to Hindu gods. Actually I supported that part as his right to free speech. My reason was that Zubair himself used tweets to ridicule Hindus and their gods, but when Nupur did the same he campaigned internationally to draw attention to supposed to be insult to Muhammad. This shows his double standards, therefore, any one who considers him an icon of free speech does not understand that free speech votaries have to give this right to all. They can not themselves enjoy this right and object to others having the same right.

[a2] Also it is useful to note that here my comment is directed to a group which campaigned for Zubair, not to any individual. This distinction matters in free speech as well as in civilized conversation.

zafar: [b] “U supported Nupur’s speech in ur tweets. If u think that was free speechthen u also don’t know what free speech is.”

[b1]: Here Zafar is claiming that if I supports Nupur then I do not know free speech.

[b2]: Also note that here he is directly attacking me as an individual. Compare it with [a2] above.

Rohit: “Yes, I supported Nupur and what she said. I also supported Zuber’s tweets. Can you tell me why I dont understand what free speech is? More directly: [c] why supporting Nupur shows lack of understanding of free Speech?”

[c]: The question here is: why supporting Nupur shows lack of understanding or knowledge of free speech? (The further analysis is keeping this question in mind.)

Zafar: 1. [d] “In ur tweets u were critical abt zubair u even wrote that icon wala tweet”

[d]: That is true. I was critical of Zubair but because of his double standards and not for his tweets.

Zafar: [e] “but on Nupur u were more soft snd even u retweeted a tweet mentioning she said truth.”

[e]: I wrote an article on this. I felt no need to be critical of Nupur on the issue of free speech, as I don’t consider her to be in the wrong. Also, I proved with references that what she said was true according to Islamic scriptures. And I supported Nupur’s right to free speech as a citizen, did not consider her any kind of paragon of free speech as the so-called liberals made out of Zubair.

Zafar: “Yes in ur article u wrote for both on similar points 👍”

Zafar: [f] “Free speech is also not absolute. In our constitution there is space for control if it conflicts with others’ liberty or [g] if it can create troubles in the country. [h] Practicing Faith is also free & [i] “her way of speaking so called truth against prophet was not in a normal conversation’s tone.”

There are three points here I will take them one by one:

[f]: Yes, free speech is not absolute. But (i) what Nupur said did in no way interfered with any one’s liberty. (ii) Interference with liberty with “speech” I found no where in the legal provisions. However, while thinking about free speech I do not accept article 295A which came after the Rangila Rasool controversy. I know that is legal provision and I can be punished for violating it. But in my thinking I consider Satanic Verses, Aubrey Menen’s Ramayana, Rangila Rasool, Charlie Hebdo cartoons, Danish cartoons, many pictures about Durga, Sita, Rama, Mahishasur, etc. within free speech. However, this can not be used to charge that I do not understand free speech. It only shows that my limits are wider than accepted in India. It involves to bias, contradiction and double standards. In this particular case I don’t even think that Nupur can be punished even under 295A. Because she referred to what is written and is often repeated by Islamic scholars themselves. I think this is pure pretension on the part of some Muslims. And I find it very difficult to understand how educated intelligent people can hide behind saying it aggressively or in national debate. I myself find Muhammad’s story of riding a horse like animal to heaven unbelievables.

[g]: “if it can create troubles in the country”: This is very spacious ground. The recent events (killing of at the least two people) prove this. Even saying that “I support Nupur” can be seen as creating trouble, as two people are already killed for this. And it continues. This can be used by bigoted people to subdue and silence citizens. I find it bizarre that people who shout about civil liberties from roof tops justify pretended outrage on such issues.

[h] “Practicing Faith is also free”. Sure, but Nupur’s statements did not interfere with any one’s practicing his/her faith. Actually, this is an example of trying to control others in the name of one’s faith. If I consider Rama as maryada-puroshottam that is my thinking. How can I stop you from saying that Rama killed Shambuk? If you consider Muhammad as an example of great human being, how can you stop me from saying that he married a six year old girl?

[i] “her way of speaking so called truth against prophet was not in a normal conversation’s tone.”

True. It was not. But she is not obliged to respect Muhammad because Muslims do. What she said was not “so called truth”, it is written in Quran and Bukhari, it is true enough. If she said it in an attacking manner, which she did, it can be considered rude and uncivilized. But not violation of any law. Also, Rahmani was doing the same in a more sophisticated manner. Though the ‘paragon of free speech’ Zubair edited that out in his propaganda.

Zafar: [k] “Its like if someone taunts someone about reality of his/her mother & father in a ridiculous way then it can offense someone. Faith is like that.”

[k]: This one is important and most common fallacy. First, lets try to understand the difference between a private citizen (someone’s father) and a public figure (Muhammad). One, a private citizen’s views and acts have limited impact on people’s lives, only on those who come in direct contact with him. Two, in case of a private citizen we are either in face to face contact or may come in direct contact. Thus, a private citizen can not be publicly criticized, and can not be insulted. One has to be civilized with him/her. A public figure, say Muhammad or Ram, is used to preach certain kinds of behaviors at a mass scale. Therefore, their acts, examples, and views will effect every citizen’s life. That gives every citizen a right to criticize, ridicule, make fun of and even insult them. This comparison of one’s parents and religious figures stems out of fallacious thinking. It is too common, at least educated and intelligent people should not use it. It does not matter if someone considers Rama or Muhammad more dear than their parents. The issue if not the devotee’s feelings. This issue is impact of their preachings on others’ lives.

Also, if X goes to Y uninvited and says “My father is such a great man.” Then Y immediately gets the right to quote X’s father’s misdeeds if there are any. The people who do not like Muhammad criticized should not praise him publicly, should not give examples of his behavior publicly, should not say that Quran (created by Muhammad) is given by Allah and is eternally true. If these claims are made publicly they will be criticized publicly. Same goes with Rama and Krishna, and Veda and Ramayana and so on.

Zafar: “Bt i believe that her way was right or wrong that should b decided by court.”

Zafar: [l] “But we clearly know that in zubair’s case police was proactive to take action so both cases r not on same platform.”

[I]: Irrelevant. My tweet was not about biases or favoritism of the government. It was only about Zubair being a bad example for champion of free speech. It could be easily proved that (i) he is biased, (ii) uses double standards, and (iii) even have spread fake news.


(i) The direct attack early in the tweets is uncivilized.

(ii) The charge of not knowing free speech is unsubstantiated.

(iii) The support advanced to charge in (ii) does not stand.

People who want to use social media for democratic discourse should follow better standards of conversation.


26th July 2022

दोहरे मापदंड और झूठी नैतिकता

June 28, 2022

रोहित धनकर

विवेक सम्मत नैतिकता का एक तक़ाज़ा यह होता है की वह सब पर एक-सी लागू होती है। और नैतिकता मूलतः विवेक सम्मत ही हो सकती है, ईश्वरीय नैतिकता तो सौदा या/और भय पर आधारित होती है। तो विवेकशील नैतिकता ना तो हवा के साथ रुख बदलती है नाही अपने स्वार्थ के लिए मुड़कर दोहरी होती है। ऐसी गिरगिटी नैतिकता तो वास्तव में अनैतिक होने का प्रमाण है। हमारे देश में इस समय मोटे तौर पर दो धड़े एक ऊग्र विचारधारतमक युद्ध में रत रहे हैं। इन में एक को हम हिन्दू-वर्चश्ववादी कहेंगे, क्यों की वे सब चीजों में हिन्दू-दृष्टि का बोलबाला चाहते हैं। यह ठीक है कि उनमें कुछ लोग भारतीय संस्कृति पर अधिक बल देते हैं और विचारधारतमक रूप से खुले हैं। पर इस धड़े के केंद्र में इस समय हिन्दू-दृष्टि का बोलबाला चाहने वाले ही हैं। दूसरे धड़े को हम कथित-उदारवादी कहेंगे, क्यों कि वे उदारवाद का मुखौटा लगा कर, उदारवाद की भाषा में बात करते हैं। पर वास्तव में मूलतः भारतीयता और हिन्दू विरोधी हैं। उन्हें लगता है कि देश में सही राजनैतिक और वैज्ञानिक चिंतन के विकास के लिए, समानता और सब के साथ न्याय के लिए, हिन्दू और भारतीयता को गरियाना जरूरी है।

नूपुर शर्मा और मुहम्मद ज़ुबैर का किस्सा इन दोनों के नैतिकता के मुखौटों को तार-तार कर देता है। इन दोनों की नैतिकता न सब पर एक जैसी लागू होती है नाही विवेक का सम्मान करती है। इसे ठीक से समझने के लिए हम इस किस्से को कुछ विस्तार से देखते हैं। पर पहले मैं यह सपष्ट करदूं कि मेरे विचार से ना तो नूपुर शर्मा के कथन और नवीन जिंदल के ट्वीट पर बवाल होना चाहिए ना ही मुहम्मद ज़ुबैर को गिरफ्तार करना चाहिए। एक लोकतन्त्र में लोगों को अपनी बात कहने की और अपने विचार रखने की इतनी आजादी जरूरी है।

नूपुर शर्मा और नवीन जिंदल

अब तक सब जानते हैं कि ज्ञानवापी मस्जिद में मिले बेलनाकार पत्थर को लेकर शिवलिंग है या फव्वारा की जोरदार बहस चल रही थी। इसी बहस में शिव और शिवलिंग पर सैकड़ों टिप्पणियां हो रही थी, जो अभद्र थीं और हिंदुओं को चिड़ाने के लिए थीं। (एक बार फिर: इस के बावजूद यह अभिव्यक्ति की स्वतंत्र दे दायरे में था।) एक टेलीविज़न बहस (या वितंडा?) में एक श्री रहमानी की इसी तरह की चिड़ाने वाली टिप्पणियों के जवाब में नूपुर शर्मा ने यह कहा: “अरे आप छोड़ो तुम्हारे उड़ते हुए घोड़े तुम्हारे उड़ते हुए घोड़े … and earth is flat जो कुरान में … लिखा है बताएगा, उसका मज़ाक उड़ाना शुरू करदूं? छह साल की बच्ची से ब्याह करके नौ साल में you are having sex with her, किसने? प्रोफेट मुहम्मद ने। बोलना शुरू करदूं मैं? Earth is flat according to Quran 88.20, बकवास ना कीजिये उड़ते हुए घोड़े पर बैठ कर फुर्र होजाइए फुर्र।”

जब इस बात पर अखबारों और सामाजिक-माध्यमों पर बवंडर उठगया तो नवीन जिंदल ने ट्वीट किया: “नबी के दुलारो से पूछना चाहता हूँ कि तुम्हारा नबी 53 वर्ष की आयु में 6 वर्ष की छोटी बच्ची आयशा के साथ शादी करता है फिर 56 वर्ष की आयु में 9 वर्ष की आयशा के साथ संबंध बनाता है … क्या यह संबंध बलात्कार की श्रेणी में नहीं आता..?”

मैंने अपने 7 जून 2022 की ब्लॉग पोस्ट में विस्तार से लिखा है कि नूपुर ने जो कहा वह कुरान और हदीस में लिखा हुआ है और सैकड़ों मुसलमान मौलाना कहते हैं। और नवीन जिंदल का सवाल जायज है। पर इस पर बवाल हुआ, दर्जनों शहरों में हजारों मूसलमानों ने प्रदर्शन किए, कुछ जगह एक तरफा हिंसा हुई, और भारत पर अंतरराष्ट्रीय दबाव बना जिसके सामने यह कमजोर राष्ट्र झुक गया।

इस सारे किस्से में हमारे कथित-उदारवादी लगातार नूपुर और नवीन को दोषी मान रहे थे, इन प्रदर्शनों को या तो जायज ठहरा रहे थे या उन पर चुप थे। अंतरराष्ट्रीय दबाव पर बेशर्मी से अपने ही देश की कमजोरी और बेइज्जती पर बगलें बाजा रहे थे और हंस रहे थे। मुहम्मद ज़ुबैर की तारीफ कर रहे थे, इस मुद्दे के अंतरराष्ट्रीयकरण में पहल के लिए। दूसरी तरफ हिन्दू-वर्चश्ववादी नूपुर और नवीन को निर्दोष मान रहे थे और मुहम्मद ज़ुबैर को दंगा भड़काने वाला कह रहे थे। अर्थात: हिन्दू-वर्चश्ववादी नूपुर और नवीन की अभिव्यक्ती की स्वतन्त्रता का पक्ष ले रहे थे और कथित-उदारवादी उन की अभिव्यक्ती की स्वतन्त्रता का विरोध कर रहे थे।

मुहम्मद ज़ुबैर

अब एक चार साल पुराने ट्वीट के आधार पर मुहम्मद ज़ुबैर को गिरफ्तार कर लिए गया है। वह ट्वीट यह है:

कथित-उदारवादी प्रचार उपकारण ‘द वायर’ के अनुसार यह तस्वीर 1983 की एक फिल्म “किसी से ना कहना” से है, और ज़ुबैर का यह ट्वीट 2018 का है।

इस में एक देखने की बात यह है कि तस्वीर तो 1983 की फिल्म से है, पर ज़ुबैर की टिप्पणी “Before 2014: Honeymoon Hotel, After 2014: Hanuman Hotel. #SansakaariHotel” उस फिल्म से नहीं है। यह इस तस्वीर का जो हिन्दू संस्कारों की बात कराते हैं उनपर और भारतीय जनता पार्टी की राजनीति पर कटाक्ष है। और निश्चित रूप से उन हिंदुओं को चिड़ाने के लिए है जिनको ज़ुबैर संस्कारी हिन्दू समझता है।

अब पूरा कथित-उदारवादी मीडिया और तंत्र (हाँ, यह एक सुव्यवस्थित तंत्र है) बवंडर मचा रहा है कि यह सरकार फासिस्ट है, की ज़ुबैर की गिरफ्तारी गलत है, कि अभिव्यक्ती की स्वतन्त्रता की हत्या हो रही है। ये इनके हर बात पर लगाने वाले आम नारे हैं। इन्हें फासिस्ट, घ्रणा, हत्या के अलावा और कोई शब्द जैसे आते ही ना हों।

ज़ुबैर के ऐसे दर्जनों ट्वीट्स थे जिन में वह हिन्दू विचारों और देवताओं पर कटाक्ष कर रहा है, उन का मखौल उड़ा रहा है। मैंने अपने ऊपर इंगित ब्लॉग पोस्ट में यह लिखा था: “We all know that there was a storm of jokes and insulting comments on Shiva and Shivaling recently. When Ratan Lal was arrested (he should not have been arrested) all liberals rose in protest. And he was released. Now, all liberals want Nupur Sharma arrested, because this time it is Muhammad and not Shivaling. I will not be surprised if Hindus soon discover blasphemy. That would be a bad day for India and Indian democracy, but we can not deny that the Islamic idea of blasphemy gives an advantage to the bullying element in the Muslim population. The fundamentalist element in Hindu population will soon fashion such a weapon. Presently, so called liberal journalists can happily share insulting cartoons on Shivaling and at the same time pretend hurt when someone speaks truth about Muhammad. This kinds of double standards fuel animosity.”

एक रफ-सा हिन्दी अनुवाद: “हम सब जानते हैं कि हाल ही में शिवलिंग पर मज़ाक़ों और अपमानजनक टिप्पणियों का एक तूफान सा चला है। जब रतन लाल को गिरफ्तार किया गया (उसे गिरफ्तार नहीं करना चाहिए था) तो सब उदारवादी उस के समर्थन में उठ खड़े हुए थे। और उसे छोड़ दिया गया। अब सब उदारवादी नूपुर की गिरफ्तारी चाहते हैं, क्यों कि इस बार यह मामला मुहम्मद का है, शिवलिंग का नहीं। मुझे कोई आश्चर्य नहीं होगा यदि बहुत जल्द हिन्दू भी ईशनिन्दा की धारणा अपना लें। वह भारत और भारतीय लोकतन्त्र के लिए बहुत बुरा दिन होगा। पर हम इस बात से इंकार नहीं कर सकते ही इस्लाम में ईशनिन्दा की अवधारणा मुसलमानों में जो डराने-धमकाने वाले लोग हैं उनको यह विचार हुड़दंग का मौका देता है। हिंदुओं में कट्टरपंथी लोग भी बहुत जल्दी ऐसा ही हथियार खोज लेंगे। अभी तो कथित उदारवादी पत्रकार मजे में शिवलिंग का अपमान करने वाले कार्टून साझा कर सकते हैं, और साथ ही जब कोई मुहम्मद के बारे में सच भी कह दे तो भावनाएं आहत होने का नाटक कर सकते हैं। ये दोहरे मापदंड शत्रुता को बढ़ावा देते हैं।”

अब देखिये फिर से कथित उदारवादियों का दोहरा चरित्र सब के सामने है। ये ज़ुबैर की गिरफ्तारी को फ़ासिज़्म बता रहे हैं और नूपुर की गिरफ्तारी की मांग कर रहे हैं।

मेरे विचार से न नूपुर को गिरफ्तार किया जाना चाहिए ना ही ज़ुबैर को। वैसे ज़ुबैर का सिर कटने का खतरा नहीं है, किसी ने न तो ईनाम रखा है, ना धमकी दी है, ना ही दंगे किए हैं। पर सरकार ने भी अपना दोहरा चरित्र इस में दिखाया है। मैं दोनों की गिरफ्तारी के विरुद्ध हूँ, पर एक को गिरफ्तार करना और दूसरे को नहीं, यह दोगलापन है। हालांकि इस के लिए नूपुर की गिरफ्तारी की मांग उलटी दिशा में जाना है, मांग ज़ुबैर को रिहा करने की होनी चाहिए। मैं यह भी मानता हूँ की धार्मिक भावनाएं भड़काने के इस नाटक को यहाँ तक पहुंचाने में मुख्य दोषी कथित उदारवादी हैं। ये लगातार दशकों से हिन्दू मान्यताओं और देवताओं पर अपमानजनक टिप्पणियों का साथ देते रहे हैं और इस्लाम और मुहम्मद पर टिप्पणियों का विरोध करते रहे हैं। अब हिन्दू-वर्चश्ववादी भी अपनी मान्यताओं और देवताओं के अपमान पर वैसे ही विरोध जताने लगे हैं जैसे मुस्लिम। हमें सोचना चाहिए, इन दोनों लोगों के दोहरे चरित्र की आलोचना करनी चाहिए। अभी तक हिन्दू-वर्चश्ववादी धार्मिक भावनाओं को ले कर बड़े प्रदर्शन और दंगे नहीं करने लगे हैं, मुसलमानों की तरह। यदि हमने कथित-उदारवादियों और मुसलमानों को नहीं रोका तो हिन्दू-वर्चश्ववादियों को नहीं रोक पाएंगे।

  • ज़ुबैर को रिहा करना चाहिए, उस पर मुकदमा नहीं चलना चाहिए।
  • नूपुर शर्मा की गिरफ्तारी की मांग नहीं करनी चाहिए, उस पर मुकदमा नहीं चलना चाहिए।
  • नूपुर और नवीन को मुसलमान अतिवादियों से सुरक्षा देनी चाहिए, धमकी देने वालों को कानून के अनुसार गिरफ्तार करना चाहिए।
  • कथित-उदारवादी ढोंगियों और हिन्दू-वर्चश्ववादियों की सभी निष्पक्ष भारतीय नागरिकों को निंदा करनी चाहिए।


28 जून 2022

रोहित धनकर

Mutual respect can be founded only on reason

June 14, 2022

Rohit Dhankar

This is a rejoinder to Prof. Tahir Mahmood’s article “The Past and Prejudice” published in The Indian Express on 14th June 2022. Professor Mahmood is a respected scholar of law and an Ex-member of The Law Commission of India. The article is written in good faith and as far as I can understand with genuine wish for peace and harmony in the country. And still I am writing a rejoinder to it, not because I do not want peace and harmony, but because I believe peace and harmony requires much more than goodwill and good heart in some people. You can celebrate Eid and Diwali together in a spirit of mutual good-will, but that sentiment may be so fragile that a single utterance may blow it to pieces. Unless this mutual goodwill is based on recognition of truth, reason and clear understanding of limits to which it could be stretched; peace and harmony based on it will always be precarious. If we still do not understand it after more than hundred year of public debates on harmony and constant riots, we must be making some fundamental mistake in our thinking and judgment, or we must be scared of recognizing something too disturbing. I am writing this rejoinder to point out what we might be missing in our thinking, and believe unless we pay attention to these points, our goodwill is neither genuine nor of practical value.

One more preliminary before I go on to the substantial task of this rejoinder. I can not write in brief and make my intended point clearly at the same time, thus, am very bad in writing journalistic publishable articles. At the same time the academic style bores me, therefore, what I write is also not academic. This is a conversational peace written in common sense style, which often may sound unnecessarily lengthy. Still I hope that at the least a few people will read it to the end.

In writing his very lucid and goodwill piece Prof. Mahmood makes four arguments, as far as I could understand. They can be listed as follows:

  1. We should not indulge in religious polemics of bygone days,
  2. Muhammad is widely respected by very wise and knowledgeable people,
  3. We have national and international laws against hurting others’ religious feelings,
  4. We believe in universal tolerance and that all religions are true.

I have taken the liberty of changing the order of these points as they occur in the article. Prof. Mahmood’s argument is that since these four points are worth accepting, or are accepted, making derogatory statement against religious figures, and especially against Muhammad, should be strictly avoided. I will take these claims one by one and try to show what is the problem in accepting some of them and why critical analysis of religious figures is necessary even if some of these claims are accepted. In the process I will quote Prof. Mahmood extensively to avoid confusing and misinterpretation, in all quotes emphasis and italics are mine.

1. We should not indulge in religious polemics of bygone days

Ordinarily it is very good and sane advise and I will accept it whole heatedly. But there is a serious problem in this moral norm.

Alluding to Nupur Sharma’s comments on TV Prof. Mahmood writes: “But then, where did they find those stories about the Prophet? What they have said about the Prophet must have been based on hearsay, but that hearsay emanated from some thoughtless statements in old Urdu books, including some by Muslim writers. Of course, these statements have been forcefully refuted by latter-day researchers on Islam. But why would unprincipled critics bother to research the truth?

Several stories from old religious books — of all communities indeed — may not be compatible with modern concepts of human rights and gender justice. However, ours is not the age for indulgence in religious polemics of the bygone days. We are citizens of a modern nation whose Constitution is secular and subjects us to a fundamental duty – “to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India.” We must live by these ideals and stop looking for controversial elements in outdated religious literature for fighting each other, to the detriment of national interest.

There are several problems in these statements hidden underneath the obviously sane and goodwill message. I will take up only a few of them. One, Prof. Mahmood says that what Ms. Nupur Sharma said are based on “hearsay” are written on “old Urdu books”, and “forcefully refuted”. Ms. Sharma (i) referred to flying horse on which Muhammad himself claimed to have visited the haven in one night, (ii) reference in Quran to flat earth, (iii) Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha at 6 and consummation of marriage at 9 years of her age. I have written about all of them here. The first one has references in Quran and there are several Hadith detailing the whole story. The second has reference in the Quran, though possibility of a different interpretation exists. The third has many Hadith which all corroborate these ages.

Would Prof. Mahmood openly agree that Quran and Hadith collections are “hearsay”? They are not in old Urdu books, but in Islamic scriptures, originally Arabic. Quran is the fountainhead of Islamic thought and hadith is explanation of the Quran by deeds and words of Muhammad himself. Yes, there are researchers who try to refute the marriage age, but the traditional Islamic scholars and general Muslim public has not accepted that refutation and stick to the hadith.

Prof. Mahmood is right in pointing out that there is much in religious books of all communities that is not compatible with modern ethics and with our constitution. He is also rightly points out that we should live according to the ideals of the constitution. But he does not notice that the need to discuss, criticize and debunk all obscurantist religious literature arises precisely to be able to live by the constitution and keep the constitution rational, secular and liberal. Let me give a few examples.

Today there is ban on cow slaughter in many Indian states. Imagine an atheist Indian citizen who believes that this ban is undue restriction on the food choice of citizens, and argues against this ban. A believing Hindu comes up with the argument that we should respect sentiments of Hindus attached with cow, and that Hindus never ate beef. Our atheist, of course, can argue that as per our constitution religious feelings of any community are not enough to restrict choices of other citizens. But he may also like to counter the part of the argument that Hindus never ate or recommended beef eating by quoting from Upanishads1. It would be legitimate, useful and even necessary; and of course a constitutional right of our atheist. Thus, a discussion on Vedas and Upanishads may be necessitated in an argument on freedom of choice of food for constitutionally living Indian citizens.

Let’s take another example. The idea of Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is constantly opposed by Muslims in the name of following their religion. UCC like beef-ban is a public issue of concern for all citizens. In opposing UCC Muslims clerics and ordinary Muslims often claim that many provisions in it are likely to be against Sharia and quote from Quran, hadith and Islamic law books to support their argument. I would argue that in such situation, which is a reality, it becomes necessary for Indian citizens arguing to show that what is written in Quran and Hadith, like much in Upanioshads and Vedas, is actually retrograde and can not be accepted today. For example rights of women, gay, and other differently sexually oriented people as well as the issues of polygamy.

What I am arguing is that the obscurantist ideas in old religious scriptures impact our lives today, and therefore, have to be discussed and criticized, opposed and debunked today. Freedom of expression as far as criticism of Muhammad and Quran is concerned is another such issue. It has motivated dozens of murders in the memory of living people. If one bans criticizing religious scriptures then one is depriving citizens of their right to argue their point fairly and freely; and giving undue advantage to obscurantist and anti-constitutional ideas.

2. Muhammad is widely respected by very wise and knowledgeable people

This is an argument from authority, and one can give examples of equally good scholars, if not politicians, who criticized Muhammad. One can mention Voltaire or even Vivekananda2, for example. But the real argument I want to make is that historical personalities and great leaders of humanity may have many good qualities and may be seen as reformers; and at the same time may have very bad acts and sayings in their account. Unless Prof. Mahmood rejects all hadith, one is likely to fund much in there which does show Muhammad in very reprehensible light. The story behind verses of Chapter 66 of The Quran, itself is nondigestible for a modern mind. In addition one can see Sunan Ibn Majah 18533, Sahih al-Bukhari 24784, Sunan an-Nasa’i 40645, Sunan Abi Dawud 4506 and many more which will not allow a modern person to take statements in appreciation of Muhammad on trust, even if they come from as highly respected personalities as Gandhi. Therefore, argument on authority do not take us too far.

Prof. Mahmood claims “I am, however, not a religious person and look at the Prophet not as a miracle-performing superhuman figure, as many Muslims do, but as a revolutionary social reformer who in the words of eminent Indian jurist late Laxmi Mall Singhvi was “a thousand years ahead of his time”.” Well, then let us understand properly that no reformer and revolutionary is above criticism and no one demands “sar tan se juda” for criticizing and even insulting a revolutionary reformer. But more importantly this “a thousand years ahead of his time” argument crops up too often and it is seriously flowed. Even if one accepts for the sake of argument that Muhammad was 1000 years ahead of his time and was a great reformer, we can not forget that he also freezes that reform at his own time by declaring that he is the seal of prophets7. Even the interpretation of Quran is frozen in the seventh century by as authentic an interpreter as Ibn Kathir. He says that Quran should be explained first by Quran itself, second by Hadith, third by the saying of the companions, and fourth by the second generation Muslims. Thus effectively being guided by people who were all dead by end of seventh or maximum by mid-eighth century. And then “Whoever explains the Quran with his opinion or by what he has no knowledge of, then let him assume his seat ion the fire”.8 Thus, arresting this revolution, if it ever was, in the eighth century.

3. We have national and international laws against hurting others religious feelings

To my mind this is the strongest argument Prof. Mahmood is advancing. However, the history of riots, agitations, threats, announcement of bounties and murders makes one very suspicious about it. This is a story of continuous attack on freedom of expression from old times, the space is closing. And unless this pressure to close the space is resisted, it will demand more and more. Prof. Mahmood rightly notes that a “new section (295A) was added” to existing laws “in 1927 to lay down penalties for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” In its background was an incident of defamatory outburst against Islam and its founder.” But forgets to note that Rangila Rasul was published as a reaction to “Sitaka Chhinala”9; and that the Published Mahashy Rajpal was murdered. And the murderer was declared a hero of Islam by such important people as Iqbal. The support of the highest leaders of Muslim community to such murders, to my mind, was the cause behind the “notorious fact that many prominent Hindus who had offended the religious susceptibilities of the Muslims either by their writings or by their part in the Shudhi movement have been murdered by some fanatic Musalmans.”10 I would like to quote somewhat extensively from Dr. Ambedkar to show that the problem is bigger than we think and the triggers for violence are too extensive to deal with the laws without making Hindus more or less mute on Islamic issues. Please see the names and triggers for killing four people between December 1923 and September 1934, roughly 11 years: “First to suffer was Swami Shradhanand, who was shot by Abdul Rashid on 23rd December 1926 when he was lying in his sick bed. This was followed by the murder of Lala Nanakchand, a prominent Arya Samajist of Delhi. Rajpal, the author (sic) of the Rangila Rasool, was stabbed by Ilamdin on 6th April 1929 while he was sitting in his shop. Nathuramal Sharma was murdered by Abdul Qayum in September 1934. It was an act of great daring. For Sharma was stabbed to death in the Court of the Judicial Commissioner of Sind where he was seated awaiting the hearing of his appeal against his conviction under Section 195, I. P. C, for the publication of a pamphlet on the history of Islam. Khanna, the Secretary of the Hindu Sabha, was severely assaulted in 1938 by the Mahomedans after the Session of the Hindu Maha Sabha held in Ahmedabad and very narrowly escaped death.”

The next para is important: “This is, of course, a very short list and could be easily expanded. But whether the number of prominent Hindus killed by fanatic Muslims is large or small matters little. What matters is the attitude of those who count towards these murderers. The murderers paid the penalty of law where law is enforced. The leading Moslems, however, never condemned these criminals.” This is the problem, and it can not be solved only by law or by preaching others to respect Mohammad. It can only be solved by unconditional condemnation of such violence by serious and thinking Muslims.

4. We believe in universal tolerance and that all religions are true

Tolerance is great and important. Prof. Mahmood quotes Swami Vivekananda “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.” This seems to be directed to Hindus, as Vivekananda is “proud to belong to” that religion. As I said tolerance is important, but can tolerance always be one sided? There are umpteen number of obscene pictures on the social media depicting Sita and Parvati, Krishna, Durga and Mahishasur. Derogatory pictures of Ram, Krishna and almost every Hindu god. There is plenty of literature which openly and often rightly criticizes Ram and Krishna for various deed of their mythical lives. There may be some idiotic tweets against all this, but there is no violent agitation; maximum one sees attempts to take such people to court, which is a constitutional right of all citizens. So there is plenty of tolerance there.

But when it comes to say something on Muhammad the country burns or someone gets murdered. Prof. Mahmood says “The anguish of the Muslim masses on the condemnable incidents of insult to their Prophet is understandable, yet its violent expression also tarnishes his fair name. Such a reaction to his denigration by a few misinformed individuals cannot be justified on the touchstone of what is known in law as the “choice of evil defence”.”

The “anguish” is “understandable”, but “violent expression also tarnishes his fair name”. One wonders whether it is only a matter of tarnishing “his fair name” or the lives, respect for freedom of expression of others, fear in the society and belligerence is also involved? And is it a matter of “a few misinformed individuals” or a very substantial section of the Muslim population? The slogans for beheading Ms. Sharma, earlier protests and violence on 10th June 2022 does not seem to square with this assessment of “a few misinformed individuals”

Considering all religions true is again a problematic statement, even if from Swami Vivekananda. First, it seems the other way round to me, they all seem to be false rather then true to me. But let’s pass that. There is hardly a Muslim who would say that Quran might be wrong. Or if there is something in Quran that does not fit with the idea that all religions are true should be ignored or discarded. Or that Quran can be figuratively interpreted to square with the idea of all religions are true. If these three assumptions are true, then I suggest a little survey. Open The Quran randomly at any place. You will have two pages in front of you. Count how many times the Quran declares all other religions false and prescribed punishment for those who do not accept the one true religion—Islam, in these two pages. My guess is you will find on an average 4 instances of calling all others religions false and prescribing very severe punishment for non-believers. I wonder how Prof. Mahmood square his recommendation of accepting all religions as true in face of this Quranic fact? Being an open-minded professor of law he may be able to say that in spite of Quran, all religions are true; but how many Muslims will be able to accept that? Then, is this a simple rhetoric or an advice to Hindus alone? The point I am making is that this advice can work only if all believe in this. It cannot be demanded from Hindus alone.

Professor Mahmood’s article is only a good-hearted attempt at moving towards peace and harmony without building proper foundations for this. Glossing over the contemporary truths of our society will never help us go past the present day social rift. I see even very modern, very well educated, advocate of scientific attitude Indians (Hindus and Muslims both) demanding arrest of Nupur Sharma. The government may be partial and biased, it may show promptness in arresting Ratan Lal and may avoid taking action on Ms. Sharma; but liberal citizens should rather argue for their freedom of expression rather than demanding arrest. Those who argued for Hussain’s freedom to paint what he wanted, who argued for Ratan Lal not to be arrested; are now suddenly asking Ms. Sharma to be arrested. This is plain and simple hypocrisy and double standard. If we continue on this path, at the first stage, there shall be thousands for whom demands of arrest will be raised, as there are thousands making fun of Hindu gods. And at the next stage, it will be impossible to say anything about religion in this country. That will cripple democracy and kill all democratic discourse. This is also very amusing to see that the people who never tire preaching dissent would like to kill all dissenters as soon as they show dissenting views regarding Islam.


14th June 2022

Rohit Dhankar

Professor, Azim Premji University, Bangalore.

Secretary, Digantar, Jaipur.

The views expressed in this article are strictly personal, and neither of the organizations I am working for endorses them.

1“He who wishes that a son should be born to him who would be a reputed scholar, frequenting the assemblies and speaking delight- ful words, would study all the Vedas and attain a full term of life, should have rice cooked with the meat of a vigorous bull or one more advanced in’ years, and he and his wife should eat it with clarified butter. Then they would be able to produce such a son.” Brihad-Aranyak Upanishad 6:4:18, page 940. The Brihadaranyaka Upanisad, Translated by Swami Madhavananda, Published by Advaita Ashrama, Almora, 1950.

2“Think of the good Mohammed did to the world, and think of the great evil that has been done through his fanaticism! Millions massacred through his teachings, mothers bereft of their children, children made orphans, whole countries destroyed, millions upon millions of people killed!” Swami Vivekananda, Raja Yoga, Brentano’s, New York, 1920, page 79.

3“Abdullah bin Abu Awfa said “When Muadh bin Jabal came from Sham, he prostrated to the Prophet who said: ‘What is this, O Muadh?’ He said: ‘I went to Sham and saw them prostrating to their bishops and patricians and I wanted to do that for you.’ The messenger of Allah said: ‘Do not do that. If I were to command anyone to prostrate to anyone other than Allah, I would have commanded women to prostrate to their husbands. By the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad! No woman can fulfill her duty towards Allah until she fulfills her duty towards her husband. If he asks her (for intimacy) even if she is on her camel saddle, she should not refuse.’”

4Narrated `Abdullah bin Mas`ud: The Prophet (ﷺ) entered Mecca and (at that time) there were three hundred-and-sixty idols around the Ka`ba. He started stabbing the idols with a stick he had in his hand and reciting: “Truth (Islam) has come and Falsehood (disbelief) has vanished”.”

5“’Ali came to some people of Az-Zutt, who worshipped idols, and burned them. Ibn ‘Abbas said: “But the Messenger of Allah [SAW] said: ‘Whoever changes his religion, kill him.’”

6“Narrated Uthman ibn Abul’As: The Prophet (nay peace be upon him) commanded him to build a mosque at Ta’if where the idols were placed.”

7Quran 33:40. “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the last (end) of the Prophets. And Allah is Ever All-Aware of everything.”

8Tafsir Ibn Kathir, translated by Shaykh Safiur-Rahmqan Al-Mubarakpuri, published by Darussalam, Riyadh. Page 29-33

9“Rangila Rasul was written in reply to Sitaka Chhinala—a pamphlet written by a Muslim alleging that Sita, wife of Rama, the hero of Ramayana, was a prostitute.” B.R. Ambedkar, page 169, Pakistan or Partition of India, published by Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, New Delhi.

10ibid page 156