No place for hate speech
Islamophobic comments lower the dignity of Parliament and point to a larger malaise
The five-day special session of Parliament in the new premises was historic for passing the Women’s Reservation Bill. Over two days, members across the party spectrum debated the Bill intensely, and in the end, a near-consensus emerged in its favour. Parties agreed to disagree over the demand for a sub-quota for other backward classes (OBCs) but refused to let their differences in opinion spoil the positive atmosphere that prevailed in the House.
It was a fine demonstration of all that is good and great about India’s democratic system. But the same historic session was spoiled by Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) two-time MP from South Delhi, Ramesh Bidhuri, with an appalling verbal assault on Danish Ali, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP from Amroha, Uttar Pradesh. When interrupted while addressing Parliament during a discussion on Chandrayaan-3, Bidhuri threatened and hurled communally charged slurs at Ali. Forget Parliament, the kind of words uttered have no place in a civilised society.
On Friday, the Speaker warned Bidhuri of action if he repeated the offence even as Ali wrote to the presiding officer asking that the matter be referred to the privileges committee. A warning is too light a punishment for comments that reek of Islamophobia and qualify as hate speech. The worrying aspect is that the lawmaker’s comments echo a disturbing but growing trend that has roiled the country in recent times, poisoning minds and polarising society, sometimes culminating in violent flashpoints. Allowing the lawmaker to get away with a rap on the knuckles will only serve to normalise hate speech, which already gets free rein on social media platforms.
Despite instructions from the Supreme Court, law enforcement agencies have either been lax in registering suo motu complaints in incidents involving hate speech or simply looked the other way. And when uttered by someone from the party in government, such comments also cause enormous damage to India’s relations with the Islamic world, which is crucial to Delhi’s economic and security architecture.
BJP president JP Nadda has issued a show cause notice to Bidhuri, and he needs to make an example of Bidhuri so that the message goes down to the party ranks that it does not approve of abusive conduct, against political opponents or non-Hindus. That would also demonstrate that the party walks the talk of “Sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas, sabka prayas”.But the issue goes beyond one man, one party, and one instance.
Hate speech, in any form, and irrespective of either provenance or provocation, needs to be combated at every level. Political parties should draw a red line when it comes to it. The government should consider legislation on it. Law enforcement agencies should be proactive in dealing with it. And Parliament, which in a democratic system such as India, towers over everything else, needs to lead from the front.