Prophet remark: Supreme Court slams Nupur Sharma
A Supreme Court bench on Friday said Nupur Sharma, the suspended BJP spokesperson who made derogatory remarks on Prophet Mohammed, had “ignited emotions across the country” with her “loose tongue” and was “single-handedly” responsible for what is happening in the country.
The bench also wondered why Delhi police, who had been quick to arrest others, had not acted against her so far.
“These people are not religious. They have no respect for other religions. These remarks have led to unfortunate incidents in the country. These remarks were made for cheap publicity or for political agenda…,” the bench of Justice Surya Kant and Justice J.B. Pardiwala said.
At one point, referring to the right to freedom of expression, the court said: “Yes. In a democracy everyone has the right to speak. In a democracy, grass has the right to grow and donkeys have the right to eat.”
Amid a social media debate over the impact of the court’s comments, one factor that stood out was the silence of the executive leadership. Had the Prime Minister made a swift and unequivocal statement, especially when at least three people were killed in the wake of Sharma’s comments, a glaring vacuum would have been filled and the court would not have had to make the observations.
The court refused to entertain Sharma’s petition seeking the clubbing of at least nine FIRs filed against her in multiple states for the remarks, made on the TimesNow channel in end-May, which had provoked outrage in the country and in West Asia. Sharma’s counsel then sought permission to withdraw the petition, which was granted.
The court’s stinging remarks triggered a debate on social media with some users wondering why the court had not gone beyond the condemnation and ordered Sharma’s arrest. But others underlined that the brief of the bench was to decide on clubbing the petitions, and any arrest must follow due procedure such as investigations conducted by the police on the basis of the FIRs.
Another group worried about the larger fallout of the comments, fearing whether the court’s observations might be misused by a vindictive State to get multiple FIRs lodged in several states to harass dissenters.
But lawyers pointed out that the Supreme Court bench had advised Sharma to explore other remedial measures, such as approaching lower courts with her plea.
The following are excerpts from the extraordinary exchange that took place between the Supreme Court bench and the counsel for Sharma, senior advocate Maninder Singh.
Court: She actually has a loose tongue and has made all kinds of irresponsible statements on TV and set the entire country on fire. Yet, she claims to be a lawyer of 10 years’ standing.… She should have immediately apologised for her comments to the whole country.
Maninder Singh: She had indeed apologised for her remarks.
Court: Her apology came too late and that too conditionally, saying if religious sentiments are hurt and so on. She should have been on TV immediately and apologised to the nation.
These remarks are very disturbing and smack of arrogance. What is her business to make such remarks? These remarks have led to unfortunate incidents in the country.… These people are not religious. They do not have respect for other religions. These remarks were made for cheap publicity or political agenda or some other nefarious activities.
Singh: She is facing a threat to her life.
Court: She has a threat or she has become a security threat? The way she ignited emotions across the country has led to unfortunate incidents. This lady is single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country. We saw the (TV) debate.
Singh: Sharma was a spokesperson for a political party and her unintentional comments were in relation to a debate.
Court: If you are a spokesperson for a party, it is not a licence to say things like this.
Singh: She had reacted to the debate (on the Gyanvapi mosque dispute) initiated by other debaters. There were serious debates on the issue within the same community and Sharma’s remarks were made in that context only. Sharma made the remarks only in response to certain questions of the anchor.
Court: Then there should have been a case against the host. If there was misuse of the debate, the first thing she (Sharma) should have done was to file an FIR against the anchor. (The court did not name the TV channel or the anchor.)
Singh: There was provocation from the other debater….
Court: What was the TV debate for? Was it to fan an agenda and why did they choose a sub judice topic? What is the business of the TV channel to discuss the matter which is sub judice, except to promote an agenda?
Singh: There cannot be a second FIR on the same cause of action.
Court: She has remedy before the high court and can very well approach it, if there is a second FIR. Her petition smacks of arrogance and that she thinks that the magistrate of the country is too small for her. When an FIR is registered and you are not arrested, this shows your clout. She thinks she has the power to back up and goes on to make irresponsible statements.
Singh: The law has been laid down by the apex court that multiple FIRs on the same configuration can be clubbed and there can be no second FIR on the same cause. (The apex court had in 2020 directed the clubbing of multiple FIRs against journalist Arnab Goswami and a trial in Mumbai over comments in the Palghar case in which two monks were killed.)
Court: The case of a journalist expressing his right on a particular issue is on a different pedestal from a spokesperson of a political party who is lambasting others with irresponsible statements without thinking of the consequences. Yes. In a democracy everyone has the right to speak. In a democracy, grass has the right to grow and donkeys have the right to eat.
Singh: Sharma has joined the investigation being conducted by Delhi police and she is not running away.
Court: What has happened in the investigation so far? What has Delhi police done so far? Don’t make us open our mouths. They must have put a red carpet for you. In this case, special treatment was meted out to an individual. When an FIR is registered against someone, he is arrested but Sharma was not arrested. The conscience of the court is not satisfied. We refuse to entertain the petition. You avail other remedies.
Additional reporting by PTI