The Indian judiciary is facing an uphill battle in trying to protect the democratic fabric of the country, without compromising on safeguarding the country’s religious diversity.
A diverse people since time immemorial, Indians’ tolerance for each other’s sentiments, religious or otherwise, seems to have become a thing of the past.
Is it possible that the cases against Nupur Sharma and Mohammed Zubair represent something dangerous brewing in the heartlands of India, far beyond the scope of legalities?
How Has The Row Against Nupur Sharma Progressed?
Nupur Sharma’s comments resurfaced yet again earlier this month, when the Supreme Court heard her plea regarding the transfer of FIRs registered against her in various states, to Delhi. On July 1, the bench comprising Justice Surya Kant and Justice JB Pardiwala was hearing Sharma’s request to quash the nine FIRs registered against her across four states (Delhi, Maharashtra, Telangana, and West Bengal) amid the prophet row, or alternatively consolidate them into a single one to be probed by Delhi Police. The plea also mentioned that there were FIRs registered against Sharma in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, however, the details were not available to them.
“The way she has ignited emotions across the country. This lady is single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country. We saw the debate on how she was incited. But the way she said all this and later says she was a lawyer… It is shameful. She should apologise to the whole country,” pronounced Justice Kant orally. The bench also mentioned that the petitioner’s outburst was responsible for the beheading of an Udaipur tailor who had allegedly supported her via a social media post.
Senior Counsel Maninder Singh, representing Nupur Sharma, argued, “There was no intention. It was again and again said that the shivling was just a fountain or a fawarra. This was said by the debater on the other side and not the anchor… This is the position then every citizen will have no right to speak.” He added, “Multiple FIRs on the same incident cannot happen.” Further, after Singh informed the apex court that Sharma had joined the probe in Delhi, the bench remarked, “Then what happened? There must have been (a) red carpet for you. A red carpet!” With the court seemingly unconvinced of and uninterested in the reasoning provided, Sharma withdrew her plea.
What Are The Charges Against Mohd Zubair?
Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair is facing six cases in Uttar Pradesh and two in Delhi, and is currently lodged in jail under a 14-day judicial custody. On June 3, a FIR was filed against Zubair under IPC Section 295A (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs) and Section 67 of the IT Act, which was later dropped and replace with Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion). Based on a complaint by the Hindu Sher Sena’s Sitapur chief, the FIR stated that Zubair used the “offensive” term “hatemongers”, against “the respected manager of revered religious place Badi Sanghat, P.S. Khairabad and National Patron of National Hindu Sher Sena, Mahant Bajrang Muni Ji”. It further added, “Petitioner also insulted Hindu Yati Narasimha Nar Saraswati and Swami Anand Swaroop on his twitter (sic).” Zubair was granted an extension on his interim bail in the case until further notice by the SC.
Following his questioning in the first case, Zubair was arrested by the Delhi Police, in relation to a 2018 tweet by him where he used a “questionable image with a purpose to deliberately insult the god of a particular religion”. The tweet displayed a picture of a hotel called ‘Hanuman Hotel’, with the caption “Before 2014 and After 2014” clearly pointing towards the serving Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The self-proclaimed fact-checker was booked under IPC Sections 153A and 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class), with Section 35 of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010, and Sections 295A, 201 (destruction of evidence) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) added later. Zubair’s lawyers maintained during his bail hearing in the case, on July 15, that the tweet displayed a screenshot from the 1983 movie ‘Kissi Se Na Kehna’. While granting bail to Zubair, a Delhi court observed: “Hindu religion is one of the oldest religion(s) and most tolerant. The followers of the Hindu religion are also tolerant. Hindu religion is so tolerant that its followers proudly name their institution/ organizations/ facilities in the name of their holy god or goddess.” The court further said, “The voice of dissent is necessary for healthy democracy. Therefore, merely for the criticism of any political parties it is not justified to invoke Section 153A and 295A IPC.”
On July 8, the UP Police in Lakhimpur Kheri issued a fresh warrant against Zubair in a 2021 case registered under Section 153A. Reportedly, complainant Ashish Kumar Katiyar had raised an objection to Zubair’s tweet, in which, he claimed that during a broadcast, Sudarshan News had used a picture of the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi in Madina, and superimposed it with a picture from Ghaza and graphics of bombings on the mosque. Katiyar, an employee at the media outlet, accused Zubair of misleading the people against the publication and spreading “fake news”. A court remanded Zubair to judicial custody in the case on July 11, for 14 days.
In May 2021, Zubair was one of the nine people booked along with journalists Saba Naqvi and Rana Ayyub, on charges of inciting communal disharmony following the reportage of assault on a 72-year-old Muslim man in Loni. The video originating from the Ghaziabad district went viral, and was circulated as an incident of communally motivated hate crime, an angle that the UP Police had ruled out. “Does your cute granddaughter know about your part-time job of abusing people on social media? I suggest you change your profile pic,” tweeted Zubair in August 2020 during an online spat with a user, following which a Protection of Children From Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) case was registered against him for allegedly “doxxing” the minor. However, the Delhi High Court had restrained the police from taking any coercive action. A case was registered against Zubair in Muzaffarnagar, for allegedly issuing a death threat to one Ankur Rana on July 27, 2021. Rana has alleged that he had called Zubair regarding his tweet on Sudarshan News’ broadcast, after which, the journalist supposedly proceeded to threaten his life if he tried to get involved in the matter. Zubair is booked under the charges of fabricating false evidence, intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace, and punishment for criminal intimidation in the case, the trial for which is pending. Two other cases have been registered against Zubair in Hathras, for allegedly hurting religious sentiments. While one case accuses him of inciting violence in Purdil Nagar after Friday prayers on June 10, the other charges him of promoting enmity between two groups on the basis of religion via a Twitter post. A warrant has been issued against Zubair in the second case. Noteworthy, the Alt News co-founder was possibly the first to tweet Nupur Sharma’s video, out of context without the rest of the debate, and state that the moderator Navika Kumar was “encouraging a rabid communal hatemonger & a BJP Spokesperson to speak rubbish which can incite riots”. Zubair has approached the SC, seeking to quash all six FIRs registered by the UP Police.
“Making An Example” Out Of The Accused?
Following the remarks of the SC bench during Nupur Sharma’s hearing to club the FIRs against her, a group of 15 retired judges, 77 retired bureaucrats and 25 retired armed forces officers penned a letter to Chief Justice of India NV Ramana. “We, as Concerned Citizens, do believe that the democracy of any country will remain intact till all the institutions perform their duties as per the constitution. Recent comments by the two judges of the Supreme Court have surpassed the Laxman Rekha and compelled us to issue an open statement,” read the letter. It stated, “Perceptionally the observations- Nupur Sharma is adjudged with severity guilty in a proceeding where this was not an issue at all – Reflection-she is “single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country” has no rationale. By such observation perceptionally there is a virtual exoneration of the dastardliest beheading at Udaipur in broad daylight. The observations also graduate to (the) most unjustifiable degree that this was only to fan an agenda”.
The apex court, in passing comments that were uncalled for and irrelevant to the subject of the hearing, inadvertently picked a side in a vastly debated and volatile case, orally pronouncing its judgement in advance for the highly suggestive Indian people. Not only did the Ministry of External Affairs function as “BJP’s external publicity wing” whilst defending Nupur Sharma’s “illiberal comments”, the Supreme Court has now acted as the personal prosecutor in the case, on behalf of the questionably offended Muslim community and its appeasers. Further, in unofficially proclaiming Sharma responsible for the beheading of Kanhaiya Lal in Udaipur, the court also seems to have vindicated the perpetrators of the crime. This seems to be in contrast to the Court’s observations in the ‘Hanuman Hotel’ case and its treatment of Zubair, where it was implied that since members of the Hindu community are not expected to retaliate and are of a tolerant nature, he is eligible for bail.
In the case of Sharma, multiple FIRs in different states for the same offence seem to set an unhealthy precedent. The same has been pointed out by various articles citing TT Antony vs State of Kerala & Others, and Arnab Goswami vs Union of India. In the first case, it has reportedly been held that the filing of another FIR for the same cognisable offence is not only impermissible but violative of Article 20(2) (no person shall be prosecuted and punished for the same offence more than once), 21 (no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure by law), and CrPC Section 300 (person once convicted or acquitted not to be tried for same offence). In the second case, following the same precedent, it was held that if the court fails to club all the FIRs registered against Arnab Goswami in one place, it would be a violation of his right under Article 14 (equality before law). In Sharma’s case the Court seemed to make an example out of the politician, demonstrating what happens if one messes with the respect accorded to all religions and communities by secular India. But does proclaiming the same without finding her guilty after a fair trial that is yet to be conducted, display the “rule of law” that India’s “independent” judiciary prides itself in?
Like Sharma has taken the heat for all the Muslim anger boiling in India, with calls for her beheading issued repeatedly, Zubair seems to have taken the brunt of the resentment building up among the “mulnivasis” of the country. As if looking for a scapegoat in retaliation for the fate Nupur Sharma was subjected to, netizens scoured social media platforms in the hunt for the alleged Hinduphobic posts made by the “serial offender” Zubair, leading to the registration of one of the FIRs against him.
In looking for a head to roll, however, the people of India seem to be forgetting the importance of the law minus vigilantism, and the necessity of the Indian people to find its way back to unity in diversity. The document titled ‘India 2047 – Towards rule of Islam in India’ recovered by Bihar Police on July 13 is indicative of the real threats the country faces. “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Have we not learned our lesson of the idiocy of a divided India, that only vindicates the Churchills and Mountbattens of the West? Although Zubair’s arrest was condemned by the international community with immediate effect, the discovery of the terrorism preaching ‘India 2047’ document with alleged Popular Front of India (PFI) links is yet to garner any comments three days down the line. India would do well to conquer the unfruitful aggression within the country, to be able to stand united against the one outside it, without the help of its so-called allies, and possibly against them. If history is evidence, a religion driven political vendetta in India would only end with a barbaric slaughter of ALL its people, and a third disputed line in the sand.
The Horus Eye is a weekly column written by Divya Bhan analysing current affairs and policies. This column does not intend or aim to promote any ideology and does not reflect the official position of The Sparrow.