These days, there is a lot of discussion about the so-called controversial comment about Islamic history and scriptures. There is also a wider discussion on post-violence that we have seen after Friday prayers for the last two weeks about the blasphemy and the issues related to religious freedom, free speech, and what are the limitations on it. What kind of Free Speech constraint Islam imposes on the broader discussion about the religious issues is also a point of reference. So individual freedom and religious freedom are in direct confrontation with each other. Shri Alok Kumar Ji, International Working President of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), who himself is an eminent Lawyer, discussed all these issues and much more in conversation with Prafulla Ketkar, Editor, Organiser Weekly. Excerpts:-
Recently, we have seen this controversy that included global responses, about the so-called blasphemous statements about the Islamic scriptures pertaining to the founder of Islam. How do you see this entire Controversy?
I will examine in light of the law of the country. Nupur Sharma, in her statement, which is anyhow available on YouTube to everybody, has referred to two incidents from the life of the Prophet. The happening of both those incidents are not disputed by the orthodox Muslims. Now whether mentioning them with the tone that commence upon it is within the penal laws or not is to be ultimately decided by the courts. The police have registered an FIR.
They are investigating the matter, a charge sheet will be filed and ultimately, the court will decide as to whether the statements made by Nupur or Naveen are within the permissible limits of law or they exceed it.
And this is the method that would work in any country having a rule of law and a constitution which provides human rights. What I am worried about is this: that the despite the registration of an FIR and the party taking action against her, we are seen seeing increasing number of demonstrations emanating from the mosques, after the Friday prayers they come out and get violent. In that violence somebody rises upon the pulpit and declares whosoever will look at the prophet his eyes would be gauged out; whosoever would raise a voice, his tongue would be cut and if anybody raises the neck it would be chopped off. Are we living in the age of Sharia criminal laws? Do they apply in the country? Can we give right to crowd to declare anyone guilty of a criminal law? And can there be also executioners? We are clear that when an FIR was registered against Nupur, the courts would decide. We have demanded the government and we are happy that the governments seriously investigating these matters also and taking firm actions. This is necessary for law and order.
There were many instances where some people on various platforms not just mocked but made extremely derogatory comments about the Shivaling found in Gyanvapi Complex. Are you thinking or proposing some kind of legal actions against those people?
We have asked for it. And we have made it clear that if the demonstrators who are violent those emanate from a mosque, then that religious place cannot deny its own liability for the actions of its followers. There has to be strict action.
In fact, Nupur made no comment, except for the tone of her speech. But very mention of the Prophet brings about the tension. There is an agitation around the world about the film made on Muhammad’s daughter but England stood firm and said we will not bow down. This this film can be watched by everyone as it is available on many platforms like Netflix.
Islam cannot impose upon us a kind of censorship, as done in many parts of the world. We will speak about Ram, we will speak about Krishna but you cannot mention Prophet by your mouth that is an unacceptable situation.
As a Hindu, I have been answering questions of a chapter in Ramayan about Ram and Shambuka. I have been answering questions on certain verses of Ramcharitmanas, without getting offended. We are a country where the people of different religions live and interact. And each of us have right not only has right not only to live our religion but practice it, which is following the rituals and propagating it. How do you propagate? You propagate by learning all religions and raising appropriate questions. So long as the questions do not insult, mere asking of genuine questions, with great respect, they come within the ambit of law, including about the Prophet and including about Quran.
But again I’m coming back to the question that mockery being made on Hindu festivals, Hindu Gods and that has been long in Practice. Is the response of Hindu Society and VHP going to be different now to such acts?
Not just legal but on the roads. Tomorrow (on June 16, 2022), Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrag Dal would be on the roads. We are organising a massive Dharna at about forty-two places all over the country, which are our Prant level capitals. We will send memorandum to the Governors. This is against the violence of the Muslims and the mockery about the Hindus. So our response will not be confined to the court cases. We will fight them in a civil society. We will discuss this in bar rooms and barber shops. This is a question of whether the freedom of conscience and freedom of expression is available to all in respect of all religions in equal manners.
As VHP, I dare say about it, without caring whether it (my head) remains here or not, VHP like the Arya Samaj, including Shardhannad and Aamir Chand, will follow their path and maintain and preserve the valuable right of freedom of expression which includes right to ask questions and make comments.
This is not the first case where such kind of censorship is being imposed by Islam. You have seen such cases. Intellectually we have discussed concepts like blasphemy and apostasy. How do you see the things have changed since 1920s?
In the 1920s, there was a small group of Arya Samajists working on it. And other action of Hindus was confined to holding an annual remembrance day of Haqiqat Rai. All that Haqiqat Rai in answer to insult to the Hindu Godesses was ‘if I say the same thing about Fatima’. For this single sentence, that small, school going boy was beheaded, not by a mob but after a court order after a hearing. And that remains the law in many Islamic countries.
In Pakistan, there is a blasphemy law and there is a capital punishment for it. The stage of applying doesn’t come as mostly mob takes laws into hands. We don’t have that law; we would not have that law.
We would preserve our right to criticize even those persons whom we do consider as Gods or avatars. That is how we proceed. Hinduism may be a complete religion, yet not a completed religion. We are not criticising the past but we are sitting on its shoulders so that we can look farther. And continuously change and reorient to suit to the modern times. This acceptance of a free discussion and changing the concepts and other things as per time makes the Hinduism an ancient and the modern religion at the same time. Therefore, we are not asking for a Blasphemy law. But there is someone to outrage the feelings of others, to mock, merely to insult, without any intention to reform, that’s a crime. We have asked to our VHP workers to don’t take law into their own hands but to put the law into motion by filling FIR against such persons all over the country and we will make it effective.
In 1920 such people were far and few. In 1947, accepted version was you can mock the Hindus but then the other religious persons and concepts were holy cows. This time, India has assertively, effectively discarded that discrimination.
Despite the biggest political party of the world, suspending one its members for her Statements, ‘I support Nupur’ trended at the top for several hours, even around the globe. Nupur and Naveen gather strength from it. They become heroes.
People post their posters. Why? Because they feel that when we criticised M.F Husain for painting offensive, sensuous pictures of Hindu Gods and if his Gallery is burnt, we (Hindus) are criticised. When something happens in a hotel at Mumbai (terror attack), the entire press warns us that the offenders should be punished but simultaneously teaches us ‘no single community should be held responsible for it’. On the other hand, when it comes to some obscure incident by an unknown group imposing ban on the Valentine’s Day, entire Hindu community is painted back. This difference in attitudes to be cautious about speaking against the Abrahamic religions and to be absolutely free and careless about Hindus has agitated the common Hindus.
There has to be a level playing field – not based on any dictates but on the basis of freedom that we enjoy including speech and expression, including of understanding, honestly and intellectually discussing, questioning the events in life of a person and its percepts. This condition we are determined to achieve.
Do you think now Hindu Society and intellectual, liberal that we have been talking about is rapidly changing and ready to discuss the core concepts like blasphemy and apostasy which are in a way problematic and Un- Indian?
Yes, I am happy that this is happing very fast. The Khan Market Gang is shrinking every day. They are worried about it. Their concerns appear in periodicals and newspapers of their choice. An average Indian, an average Hindu has now come around to a point where he is not ashamed of saying, ‘yes, I am a Hindu’. He is not shy of asserting that I am a Hindu and you cannot insult me for that, mock me for that.
I think the scenario has materially changed on the three days. One was December 6, 1992. Another was the judgment in the Ram Janmabhoomi Case. And the third most dramatic event which by a coincidence came to us, by nobody’s planning except Lord Shankar, when He appeared Himself in the Gyanwapi Mosque.
The whole day, entire electronic challnels were showing the Shivaling. Is it a mosque? Every Hindu asked himself. My God Shiva! Some people say that it is the original Tarkeshwar Mahadev in the original temple built by Raja Toradmal; some others say, it could be the Jyotirlinga itself, Vishveshwar. He is setting here; the Nandi looking at Him. It is a Hindu Place; It should come back to us. Every Hindu is dreaming, imagining himself into that place, offering Ganga water, offering flowers, touching the Lingam and getting the blessings. That one day demolished the eighty percent of the sickular tribe. Now all around the country nobody can take the Hindus granted. If you create a Muslim vote-bank, you are ipso-facto creating a bigger and more powerful Hindu vote-bank. The Hindus are politically awakened. The Hindus are socially awakened. And if the challenges continue, Hindus can use their rights to self defense if such violence continues and at some places police fails to check it effectively.
I’m glad that you mentioned Gyanvapi because there is some confusion around it. VHP recently has taken a stand on Mathura and Kashi, while the RSS has said that the organisation would not participate in any movement. What is the exact stand on this?
I don’t speak for RSS. My understanding is that the Sarsanghchalak Ji never said that RSS is not interested in Kashi or Mathura. He said, it is not the job of the RSS to agitate. We are a man making organisation. As an exception, as a one-time exception, we decided to participate in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. (As it is over) Now, we will go back to our work. That is all what he said.
In his recent speech which is much being talked about, he said, “Gayanvapi and there may some other places of great reverence, there can be efforts about them”. Even when the Ayodhya Judgment was pronounced, on lighter note he had said, “I am told, later in the day there is a press conference of VHP, go there and ask”.
As far as the VHP is concerned, we thought since he Ram Janmabhoomi has been liberated and the task was not just to liberate but to build a grand temple there. So we decided that we will build the temple by end of 2023 and till then we shall not engage in any other thing. But then, it seems that Bhole Baba is in a hurry. He manifested Himself. Today, I have no hesitation in saying that Kashi and Mathura were, are and continue to be on the agenda of the Hindu Society. We dream of, we strive for and shall realise that they are coming back to the Hindu society; with a caveat that the matter is in courts. We shall await for the judgements of the courts. We shall get them back by campaigning within the realm of law and Constitution, in certainty.
There is a leadership issue to this. We have seen provocations by the Muslim leadership. How do you see this relationship between the community, mosques and the political leadership?
There is a vast section of Muslims, particularly among the Pasmandas which would like to live in peace, for their own benefit and for the wellbeing of the country. We were hearing inflammatory speeches from the Owaisis. Before the Ram Janmabhoomi verdict also threats were issued. But when the verdict came unanimously, both communities accepted it. Owaisis threats were found to be empty. The same will be case now when Kashmi and Mathura would be decided.
Therefore, it would be right to say that the Jihadi Muslim leadership should stop swaying the general Muslims to a path of violence and lawlessness.
The people who are poor, uneducated, living in sub-human conditions, the concerns should be about their educational, economic and social wellbeing and not provoking them in a mass hysteria in a Jumma prayer, using them as a cannon fodder for the cause of some people who wish to disintegrate India.
There is a global narrative that the Muslim genocide is being carried out. Don’t you think that this perception of Bharat being a Hindu state is being created? As an international organisation of Hindus how would you respond to this?
There are two things…
Let me remind you that when Pakistan was created as an Islamic State, the Indian Constituent Assembly unanimously decided to make India not a Hindu State but a Secular State. It was by consensus. It is as per the ethos of our culture and civilisation. As a nation we are a Hindu nation, the State is secular, the State does not discriminate (on the basis of religion). And, so it shall be.
Though a few Governments and a conservative section of Muslims used the recent incidents against us, here are people supporting Nupur, including ex-Muslims. All over the world the people who
respect democracy, including among the Indian Muslims, the freedoms are important. Those freedoms cannot be bartered against by anybody’s blackmailing. Today’s India can stand.
There is a dent in the perception through the amnesty and others, not that they are honest, but the perception is that certain sections are being persecuted. Those perceptions must be set right. The recent victory of the BJP is also being described as the victory of social welfare schemes. There is no criticism of discrimination in implementation of those schemes, be it making of houses, or having a tap water or purchasing a gas cylinder, having an electricity connection – it was given to everybody who was entitled to it. There is not a single complaint of discrimination on the ground of religion. It is sometimes funny to me that a leader will go to a pulpit, he would shout – ‘chowkidar chor hai’, his audience would join the chorus, would make unfound allegations. After saying all this, he comes down look at the cameras and give a bite saying, ‘there is no freedom of expression in this country’. That is true about the Muslim community also. The State interferes only when exceeds the limits of the law, including 153 or 295 (clauses of IPC). So an adequate strategy is needed to engage in this perception war to convey true picture to the world.