By Abhishek Jha:
On the 18th of December, a little known Muslim organisation, Tahafuzze Azmate Mustafa (TAM), was protesting at Jantar Mantar against Kamlesh Tiwari’s statement on Prophet Muhammad. Tiwari had, according to reports, called the Prophet the first homosexual in a press note. The leaders of the organisation were demanding a legislation that punished people making derogatory statements against religious figures with death penalty. Tiwari, who claimed to be the working president of Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha but was disowned by the organisation, had already been arrested and the NSA invoked in his case by the UP government. The General Secretary of the organisation protesting, however, told me that unless death penalty became the mandated punishment, such comments would continue.
Any such law would, however, be a significant infringement on the freedoms enshrined in Article 19, the same freedoms that allow the protests to take place. About a month later the protests continue. On 7th January, a section of the people protesting under the banner of the local wing of the Islamic Council of India turned violent in Baisi in Purnea district of Bihar. Although they had sought permission for a peaceful protest against Tiwari’s statement according to reports, they stormed the Baisi police station and set vehicles on fire. Another protest against Tiwari earlier in January in Kaliachak in Malda district of West Bengal resulted in violence. The violence is now, however, being speculated to be the result of opium wars.
Qamar Ahmed, Secretary of TAM, tells me that the protests have continued because of the reverence that is accorded to religious figures, even as he is preparing for a programme where their organisation is to distribute books to children from poor backgrounds. Honour, he says, is at times more important than food, drawing parallels with the reaction that would follow if the family’s head or women are “dishonoured”. He, however, thinks that the agenda has now been hijacked by political parties. However, if you look at it closely enough, the agenda was even originally set by political parties.
Tiwari’s statement followed a similar statement by Azam Khan where he called RSS members homosexuals. Samajwadi Party’s media convenor for Muzaffarnagar was himself quoted as demanding death penalty for Tiwari by the Times of India.
The Sabrangindia report on the violence in Malda is important to see in this regard. The “general lawlessness” in the state, which is to be blamed for the violence according to the report, has already given way for mobilising people for political gains. The BJP formed a fact-finding team for the violence, perhaps sensing polarisation that Sabrang says is absent in the area.
In a noteworthy opinion piece, journalist Mohammad Reyaz noted the misplaced priorities of Indian Muslims after the protests turned violent in Malda. Reyaz’s comments are noteworthy, because, for an organisation that claimed to working towards education and general welfare of Muslims in and around Uttar Pradesh, its members to whom I spoke at Jantar Mantar remained unaware of the state of the riot-victims of Muzaffarnagar, many of whom still live in a terrible condition. The rape survivors of the riots had faced several adversities-from society to police station to court.
Ahmed, the secretary of TAM whom I met, claims he had been a journalist. It reflects poorly then on his organization to be unaware of problems that they seek to work against, while they seek extra-constitutional restrictions.
Tiwari has had a history of arrests resulting from his efforts to create communal tension. It was not surprising then that he was arrested again. The protests against his statement are legitimate, however, only so long as the demands adhere to the spirit of the constitution. When the law has already taken its course, it does not behove the citizens of a democratic country to bay for blood. The organisations fuelling such sentiments fail to see that this creates an atmosphere of polarisation that can only benefit political parties in their electoral number game. There is no actual benefit, whether it is the curbing of anti-Muslim sentiments or the economic betterment of Muslims, that is going to result from these demands.