Muslims’ Constitutional Freedom...

With reference to a comment made recently by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his government having only one religion, that is, “India first,” one is compelled to deliberate on its credibility. He made this comment in Parliament amid concerns voiced over minorities being targeted by Hindu extremists. He stated, “My government has only this ideology - India and the Constitution above all else.” Certainly, politically, legally and socially, Modi and his government are expected to ensure that dictates of Indian Constitution are practised by them and citizens of the country, in letter and spirit. But are Modi and those in his government really taking any steps to ensure that their religion, the Indian Constitution, is not abused? Are legal steps being taken against those who seem to be showing little respect for the Indian Constitution?

Article 14 of the Indian Constitution accords each citizen, equality before law. The article states, “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” Article 15 states, “The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.” Article 21states, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

Constitutionally, thus, Indian citizens are not expected to be discriminated against on ground of their religious belief. Any practice of discrimination against them, with specific reference to their religious identity, amounts to an abuse of Articles 14 and 15. It indeed is a tragic irony that of late while substantial media as well as political attention has been given to anti-Muslim remarks made by several right-wing extremists, little importance has been given to the same amounting to showing disrespect to dictates of Indian Constitution. Not much importance has also been given to legal action that needs to be initiated against those showing little respect for principles of the Indian Constitution.  

Since Prime Minister Modi has emphatically stated that his and his government’s primary ideology, “above all else” are India and its Constitution, isn’t it time that some action was initiated against those indulging in communal speech and action, targeting minorities? Modi is responsible for ensuring this constitutionally as the prime minister of this country. Politically and socially, his responsibility has increased further as communal comments and action have been initiated by members linked with his political party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its saffron affiliates.

True, Modi cannot be held responsible for each and every communal comment and action taking place in the country. But politically and constitutionally, it is his primary duty to ensure that his own political associates and others do not indulge in speech or action that amounts to a blatant display of discrimination against Muslims. What else is suggested by a comment calling on people to stop watching movies linked with Khans? Yes, there is a view that rather than give much importance to these discriminatory comments, it would be best to ignore them. They may have been made to attract some media attention. At the same time, ignoring these comments is equivalent to encouraging extremist elements to continue similar practices.  

Definitely, one of the six freedoms guaranteed by article 19 is freedom of speech and expression. These freedoms are subject to reasonable restrictions, which include public order, decency and morality, incitement to offences and defamation. So each time that an anti-Muslim communal comment has been made and/or communal action has been initiated, it has amounted to disturbing public order and defamation, which article 19 does not encourage.

If from the beginning legal action was taken against those indulging in anti-Muslim action, perhaps the situation would not have aggravated to a horrendous stage in Dimapur, Nagaland. Yes, this refers to an alleged rapist, a Muslim being dragged out of prison by protestors and being lynched by a mob. What is shocking is justification of this behaviour by a BJP legislator (MLA from Madhya Pradesh). She said, “Such criminals should be hanged in public view.” Constitutionally, since Indian law is the same for all alleged rapists, irrespective of their religion, it is surprising that similar comments have not been made for those who targeted Muslim women during riots including the Gujarat pogroms.

In Dimapur, aggressive people decided to punish an alleged rapist even before he had been proven guilty. The frenzied manner in which several communal extremists have made anti-Muslim comments in recent months and have escaped legal action may have indirectly encouraged people in Dimapur to target the alleged rapist, even though he was behind bars. It is time serious attention is paid to a degree that dictates of Constitution are abused each and every time Muslims are targeted, simply on account of their religious faith. The Indian Constitution does not permit this. But those professing to uphold it as their primary “religion” have yet to wake up to this hard reality!    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 March 2015 on page no. 11

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