A student of law at Delhi University, Ms Sharma began her political career in 2008 when she was elected as the president of the students’ union as a candidate of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student wing of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh movement.
Her political career picked up pace in 2011 when she returned to India after doing her masters in international business law from the London School of Economics.
She was the BJP’s candidate against Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
It was not an election anyone expected her to win. Still, her energetic campaign brought her further into the limelight – she was appointed an official spokesperson for the party in Delhi and in 2020, she became a “national spokesperson” for the BJP.
About the case: In a statement following her sacking, Ms Sharma wrote that she was withdrawing her remarks “unconditionally”, but she made an attempt to justify her comments by claiming that they were in response to “the continuous insult and disrespect towards the Hindu god Shiva”. Her offensive comments were made during a debate on the dispute over the Gyanvapi mosque.
Hindus claim that the mosque in the holy city of Varanasi is built on the ruins of a grand 16th Century Hindu shrine – destroyed in 1669 by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and some are now seeking a court’s permission to pray within the mosque complex.
The dispute is being heard in court, but the claims and counter-claims are being debated endlessly on TV channels and Ms Sharma has been a loud and vocal proponent of the Hindu nationalist point of view.
On 27 May, with her abusive comments against Prophet Muhammad, she appeared to have bitten off more than she could chew.
But trouble began to mount for her last Friday, when a protest by Muslims against her comments in Kanpur, a city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, turned violent. The state, led by hardline Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, came down heavily on the protesters, lodging complaints against hundreds of Muslims and arresting dozens of them.
But Ms Sharma and the BJP couldn’t brazen it any longer – especially after countries in the Middle East began condemning her statement; Kuwait, Iran and Qatar summoned Indian ambassadors and Saudi Arabia issued a strong statement. Even the UAE, whose relationship with India has significantly improved in the past few years, has criticised the comments.
In recent days, calls have grown louder for Ms Sharma to be arrested for her “blasphemous comments” and police in several opposition-ruled states have opened investigations against her.
· Filed by lawyers Abu Sohail and Chand Qureshi, the petition requested the Supreme Court to order an independent, credible and fair investigation into the matter. The two lawyers said Ms Sharma’s statement has caused great discontent and uproar in the country and around the world. The image of our great nation was tarnished because of Nupur Sharma’s statement, the petitioners said.
· Arguing that vulgar remarks were made by Sharma against the revered Prophet Mohammad and the Muslim community, the PIL has sought directions for an ‘independent, credible and impartial investigation’ into the incident which may ensure her immediate arrest.
The petition filed through Advocate Abu Sohel and Advocate Chand Qureshi has sought immediate action against Sharma for her statements being violative of Articles 14, 15, 21, 26 and 29 of the Constitution and other fundamental rights.
· The petitioner has submitted that ‘such provocative abusive communal speech’ on Prophet Mohammad in national media is meant to be sowing the seed of communal hatred, and Sharma’s purposeful activities are creating disharmony and disturbing the equilibrium in the societies all over India at the cost of public peace and tranquillity.
The petitioner has argued that such spreading of hatred amounts to a penal crime which is constituted of intolerance, ideological dominance and prejudice towards a specific community.
· She was booked under sections 153A(promoting enmity between groups), 153 B, 295A (Malicious act to insult a religion), and 298 and 505(statements conducing to public mischief). of the IPC which means a case has been registered against her for ‘promoting enmity, outraging religious feelings, ‘uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person, ‘deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of a class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs, and other offences.
· Taking a deep dive into Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, what the law says and how the Supreme Court has interpreted this section in the past.
Section 295A states that whoever, with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by songs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both. Section 295A IPC is a cognisable, non-
bailable, and non-compoundable offence and police can register an FIR anywhere in the country at the instance of purportedly aggrieved complainants.
Relations with International Allies and Treaties
· The international response was swift. Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman Ahmed bin Hamad Al Khalili fumed over the remarks and described them as a “war against every Muslim”. What followed was a major pushback against Indian products in Gulf markets.
· Saudi Arabia described BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s comments as “insulting” and called for “respect for beliefs and religions”, according to a foreign ministry statement.
· Riyadh is the latest to condemn the remarks. Qatar, Kuwait and Iran summoned the Indian envoy on Sunday amid widespread calls on social media for a boycott of Indian goods in the Gulf.
· The Indian envoy in Doha was summoned to the foreign ministry and handed an official protest letter which said “Qatar is expecting a public apology and immediate condemnation of these remarks from the government of India”. Qatar’s condemnation came amid Vice President Venkaiah Naidu’s high-profile tour of the wealthy Gulf state and Indian business leaders to boost trade.
· Neighbouring Kuwait, like Qatar, summoned India’s ambassador and demanded a “public apology for these hostile statements, the continuation of which would constitute a deterrent measure or punishment to increase extremism and hatred and undermine the elements of moderation”.
· A news channel in Iran reported what Tehran called an “insult against the Prophet of Islam in an Indian TV show”. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), based in the Saudi city of Jeddah, also condemned the remarks.
Law of hurt feelings’ It isn’t very difficult to understand why Sections 153A, 298 and 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which can collectively be termed as ‘the law of hurt feelings’, would go against the conscience of a secular liberal who is committed to a hitherto unencumbered right to freedom of expression.
v Not only does it cultivate a legal vocabulary of hurt sentiments, but also, in trying to assuage wounded religious sentiments, it conversely creates a legal category of hatred.
Joseph D’Souza’s case provides the best example. D’Souza had taken Maharashtrian political leader Bal Thackeray to court over an alleged Islamophobic speech. In a ruling that shocked many, the Bombay High Court held that Thackeray’s invective was not directed at Muslims as a whole, but only “anti-national Muslims.”
How has it been used in past cases?
Stand-up comic Munawar Faruqui along with four other persons were booked under IPC section 295A for allegedly making indecent remarks about Hindu deities and Union home minister Amit Shah during a New Year show at a cafe in Indore.
However, he was granted relief by the top court. Madhya Pradesh police registered an FIR against two Netflix executives for featuring certain kissing scenes in the web series ‘A Suitable Boy’, which allegedly hurt religious sentiments as they were shot on temple premises. Makers of Tandav also faced criminal cases for hurting religious sentiments and insulting religion punishable under Sections 153A and 295 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
As many as three FIRs were filed against the makers and artists of the web series in Uttar Pradesh at Lucknow, Greater Noida and Shahjahanpur for the alleged inappropriate depiction of UP Police personnel, deities, and adverse portrayal of a character playing the role of prime minister in the show.