While Macron’s statement has inflamed the Muslim world, the Hindu nationalists of India have openly come out in his support
Ashok Swain | Clarion India
In the first week of September 2020, French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo has republished the controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, and as expected, it has generated another round of massive protests from the Islamic world and some violent backlash.
The Covid-infected world has been further divided between free-speech enthusiasts and advocates of respecting religious sentiments. Political leadership on both sides is engaged in name-calling and doing whatever they can to ferment the crisis further for their political expediency.
French President Emmanuel Macron has gone beyond defending free speech in his address after the killing of a history teacher; he has not only refused to condemn the caricatures but also has provoked the outrage by even directly targeting Islam and calling it a ‘religion that is in crisis all over the world’.
While Macron’s statement has inflamed the Muslim world, leading to street protests to boycott of French goods, the Hindu nationalists of India have openly come out in his support.
India’s foreign ministry has released a statement and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tweeted supporting Macron. India’s media and Hindu right groups are projecting Macron as a ‘free speech’ hero and are using the violent reactions in France to further their hate campaign against Muslims.
Free speech is a very important component of democracy and violent killing is under no circumstances acceptable in a civilised world. However, the question is whether the support of India’s Hindu nationalists for Macron is for their love for free speech or mutual hatred against Islam?
In the past six years under the Modi regime, India has become a world leader in lynching. Muslims and Dalits are being lynched by Hindu fanatics on suspicion of consuming or carrying beef. A group that promotes and celebrates the lynching of people in the name of religious sentiments in its own country has no moral right to criticise the fanatics who kill in other countries in the name of defending their religion.
The religious sentiment of Hindu groups over beef is so high that they had also sued McDonald in the US for using beef fat for French fries. Just over a year ago, there was a big backlash in India against Amazon and calling for the boycott of US retailers for selling toilet covers, rugs, and shoes with images of Hindu gods. India’s External Affairs Minister even threatened Amazon with consequences, including withdrawing visas of American employees in India. Amazon was forced to remove those products from its store.
In 2017, India’s Modi government had also lodged an official protest against Meat and Livestock Australia’s advertisement of a Hindu god Ganesh eating a ‘lamb’ meal together with Jesus and many others. That year also, celebrity hairstylist Jawed Habib was booked in India for an advertisement showing several Hindu Gods getting their hair fixed in his spa.
In July this year, massive on-line protests by Hindu activists forced the K-Pop Girl group to remove the statue of the god ‘Ganesh’ from its hit music video. A few weeks ago, even Swedish furniture giant Ikea had to apologise and withdraw a promotion video as a Hindu group complained against it for ‘trivialising’ Yoga.
The Hindu groups in India are defending the right to free speech of Charlie Hebdo magazine in lampooning Islam but one wonders why they failed to apply that principle of primacy of free speech vis-a-vis ‘Hindu-sentiment-hurting’ ads of Amazon, McDonald, Meat and Livestock Australia, Jawed Habib, K-pop, and Ikea.
It is very common in India to witness riots or several people being booked in police cases over posting ‘offensive’ photos or caricatures of Hindu Gods on social media. Hindu right groups are also accused of killing rationalist thinkers like Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar, and MM Kalburgi for their criticism of Hindu religion and its rituals. They are also believed to behind the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh for her criticism of Hindutva and supporting the demand of Lingayats to get the status of a separate religion.
India’s Hindu nationalists, those who have become prime supporters of free speech against perceived to be hurting religious sentiments in France have done everything in India to suppress free speech in the name of honouring the religious sentiments of the majority group. In 2014, publishing house Penguin was forced to pulp a book by historian Wendi Doniger as a lawsuit was filed against the book by a Hindu group for ‘hurting the religious feelings of millions of Hindus.”
The regular attacks on his exhibitions, death threats, and harassment through lawsuits by Hindu radical groups ‘for hurting religious sentiments’ had forced India’s legendary painter MF Husain to live in exile till his death.
Even recently, India’s Hindu upper-caste-dominated Supreme Court overlooked the basic principles of law and allotted the land of criminally demolished Babri Mosque to build a Hindu temple not based on legal rights but because of ‘religious sentiments’ of the majority religious group. This judgment is being touted as the most important achievement of the Hindu nationalist regime.
When India’s Hindu nationalists support Macron and Charlie Hebdo, they must read what this year’s report of Freedom House says on India: “The constitution guarantees civil liberties, including freedom of expression and freedom of religion, but harassment of journalists and other government critics has increased under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party as have religiously motivated attacks against non-Hindus.”
Supporting free speech abroad is good, but practising free speech at home is better. India’s Hindu nationalists and the Modi regime need to practise what they preach to others.