Retired Supreme Court judge Justice Rohinton Nariman recently expressed concern over leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party “endorsing” the spate of hate speech against religious minorities in the country.
Nariman made the comment while delivering a keynote address on January 14 on the topic “Constitutional underpinnings of the rule of law” at the inauguration of Mumbai’s DM Harish School of Law.
“We also unfortunately have higher echelons of the ruling party not only being silent qua [in the capacity of] hate speech but also almost endorsing it,” Nariman said.
His remark laid focus on several incidents of communal crimes that are being reported across the country. Over the last few weeks, Hindutva supremacists have called for genocide against Muslims, disrupted Christmas celebrations and attacked Christians. They have also made lewd comments on Muslim women on online platforms and created apps to put them on “auction”, using fake Sikh names to allegedly create enmity between the two communities.
While arrests have been made in some of these cases, several groups have criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the central governments for not speaking out against the perpetrators.
In his address on Friday, Nariman also criticised Modi, without naming him, for making a comparison between Mughal ruler Aurangzeb and Maratha ruler Shivaji.
“We heard the other day from the very head of the party a juxtaposition of a Mughal emperor known for being a bigot, namely, Aurangzeb as against Shivaji who was known to be a secular leader,” Nariman said.
He was referring to a comment made by Modi at the inauguration of the Kashi Vishwanath Corridor last month. “Every time an Aurangzeb tries to destroy our culture by the might of sword, a Shivaji stands up to him,” Modi had said.
Nariman said that the prime minister should have made the comparison with Mughal emperors Babar or Akbar, who had secular credentials.
He also read out a letter that Babar had written to his son Humayun advising him on how to rule “Hindustan”.
“It is but proper that you, with heart cleansed of all religious bigotry, should dispense justice according to the tenets of each community...And in particular refrain from the sacrifice of cow...” Nariman narrated from Babar’s letter.
Nariman on sedition law
The retired judge drew a comparison between the use of the sedition law on student leaders and stand-up comedians with the inaction against those making hate speeches.
“Unforunately of late, we have had in this country...Young persons, students, stand-up comedians...All being booked for freely criticising the government of the day which are really colonial in nature,” Nariman said.
The judge then continued: “ On the other hand, you have persons giving hate speech actually calling for a genocide for an entire group, and we find great reluctance from the authorities to book these people.”
He asserted that sedition laws “do not have any place” in the Constitution and that they should be done away with.