Home Muhammad Shekhar Gupta’s article on Zubair paints blasphemy as an ‘Abrahamic’ issue, but misses it

Shekhar Gupta’s article on Zubair paints blasphemy as an ‘Abrahamic’ issue, but misses it


SHekhar Gupta’s recent national interest column on AltNews co-founder Mohammed Zubair is disturbing reading. He chose to frame the issue of outrage at former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s comments on times now and the subsequent arrest of Zubair around the notion of “blasphemy”. In the process, he engages in an unhealthy dose of victim-blaming. When not making sweeping generalizations about different religions and their followers, Gupta finds false equivalences in various instances of “blasphemy.” The article is so devoid of any context that one wonders if the last eight years even happened.

To begin with, he paints blasphemy as a ‘Muslim’ or ‘Abrahamic’ problem, going so far as to claim that it was ‘almost non-existent for the vast Hindu majority’. He says that even though the Hindus were disturbed by the insults to their gods, there were “no consequences” (read the killings). Even if one should ignore all the censorship (voluntary and forced), vandalism and threats of beheading in response to perceived insults towards Hindus, Hinduism and its symbols, as Shekhar Gupta seems to imply, is it true that all murders in the name of gaumata (cow) are actually not examples of blasphemy? Does he believe that the recent wave of ‘beadbi‘ (sacrilege) murders in Punjab are part of a whole other problem?

Even though Gupta has a very specific definition of “blasphemy”, one that excludes any form of sacrilegious act other than speaking and writing, what is the justification for singling it out and treating it as a special type of offense if isn’t it to use it as a stick to beat the followers of ‘Abrahamic’ religions and claim some kind of moral superiority for Hindus? Violence in response to profanity is certainly no worse than other types of communal violence. In a country where Muslims have been the main victim of many instances of majority violence, including murders, this is nothing but a malicious attempt to ignite a beleaguered community.

Also read: Do I have a complaint with Alt News’ Mohd Zubair? Here’s why I have 3 answers, no, no and yes

Nupur was not only blasphemous

While discussing the genesis of Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which punishes insulting religion, Shekhar Gupta discusses the murder of publisher Mahashay Rajpal by Ilm-ud-Din in 1929. Since then, he has never there were hardly any notable incidents of ‘blasphemy’. ‘ killing in India over the past 95 or so years by Muslims, even though their faith and its symbols are regularly ridiculed by all sorts of fringe and mainstream elements.

On the other hand, Muslims and other minority communities in India have faced numerous communal pogroms, targeted killings, destruction of places of worship and other properties in the hands of the Hindu majority, while enduring apathy of State. The situation has become particularly vicious over the past eight years under the Narendra Modi government. Without this important background, the problematization of profanity is at best a futile academic exercise and at worst an excuse to shift some of the blame onto the victim.

However, what Nupur said was not only blasphemous, it was hateful. Although Gupta says context matters in the case of Nupur’s comments, he largely views his comments in isolation, even though it’s obvious they’re part of the avalanche of vitriol that runs through prime time debates. listening to TV screens night after night. Spokespersons and talking heads allied with the ruling dispensation participating in these “debates” deploy everything from whistleblowing to outright hate speech, targeting some of the most vulnerable groups of people living in India.

Nupur’s comments were not a polemical critique of Islam, a la Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris, nor a deliberately irreverent take on the Prophet Muhammad (peace_be_upon_him) as The satanic verses or Charlie Hebdo cartoons. As jurist Gautam Bhatia pointed out, here the Prophet is used as a stand-in to bait the wider Muslim community. Anyone who follows Nupur in prime time can attest to his heinous behavior. The statements in question were just the surface of a stinking pile of hateful bile.

Also read: Shekhar Gupta ko gussa kyun aata hai? He is a victim of the anxieties of communism and the cold war

Ignore the Witch Hunt on Zubair

Shekhar Gupta’s most confusing and potentially dangerous comment is reserved for Mohammad Zubair. If one has to hazard a summary, it goes something like this: since Zubair and his organization owe their fame to their “secular-liberal-left” credentials, he cannot resent “blasphemy”. Outrage can only be justified if he spoke as a devout Muslim. And if he was, he cannot “take liberties with other people’s gods.”

There’s so much to unpack here. First is the condescending and moralizing tone of a journalist in a privileged position for a fellow journalist from a minority community who has to risk so much just to do his job. Right now, as Zubair is dragged from one jurisdiction to another by a vindictive state, he is the last person to need a virtuous sermon, especially when Gupta has nothing to say about this witch hunt or the hate party on television. On the contrary, he blames Zubair for having published the video of Nupur’s statements and for having caused an international “kerfuffle” and for having embarrassed “the Modi government”. If that’s not shooting the messenger, what is?

Then there’s the unnecessary confusion of liberal, secular, and leftist values ​​— something you’d expect from a right-wing hack, not a seasoned political journalist like Shekhar Gupta. It serves no purpose other than to classify Zubair and his work. Interestingly, Zubair never claimed these labels for himself. But that doesn’t stop Gupta from claiming that these are Zubair’s main identities. After assigning these identities to Zubair, Gupta has the audacity to challenge him to “say that’s not the case”.

And then there is the puzzling statement that one can only be outraged by an insult to the Prophet as a devout Muslim and not as a ‘secular-liberal’. First of all, the two identities are not mutually exclusive. Those who believe in secularism may very well be religious in their personal lives, but they do not want the state to take sides between different religions. Ironically, this line of argument runs counter to the rest of the article where Shekhar Gupta speaks both as a believing Hindu and as someone who believes in freedom and democracy against the criminalization of blasphemy.

Second, Zubair and the Muslims were not the only ones outraged by Nupur’s comments. Many non-Muslims who would describe themselves as liberals were offended by his hateful remarks. Will Gupta also question their “secular-liberal” credentials?

Finally, there is the dictate of not taking liberties with other people’s gods. Is Gupta referring to Zubair’s post about Honeymoon-Hanuman Hotel here? If so, that’s a shame. While I agree that we should treat all religions and their symbols equally with respect, and perhaps Zubair could have avoided the message, does Gupta think there is even a remote moral equivalence between Zubair’s sarcasm and Nupur’s diatribe? Nobody wonders why Zubair is being persecuted – certainly not for a 2018 tweet featuring a screenshot of a 1983 movie that no one seems to have taken offense all these years.

I had really wished that a journalist of the stature and influence of Shekhar Gupta would unequivocally support Zubair and the remarkable work he was doing and call out the whole ecosystem of hate and vindictiveness for his persecution. Instead, he chose to engage in a gratuitous and misguided debate about “blasphemy”, to throw Zubair under the bus and give fresh fodder to those who unleashed this cruelty on him.

Musab Qazi is the National Secretary of the Islamic Student Organization of India. He tweets @musab1. Views are personal.

This article is a response to ThePrint Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta’s National Interest column, published July 9, 2022. Read the article here.

(Edited by Prashant)