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Dear Harris Sultan, all religions are not equally intolerant: Hindu intolerance and Islamic intolerance are way apart

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Prasenjeet Kumar
An author who has written thirty books, six of which centre around Kashmir — You Can’t Kill My Love: A Kashmir Holocaust Love Story, Still Missing…, Kashmir is Free and Kashmir Thinks It’s Free (co-authored with his father Dr. Arun Kumar (IAS) Retd.), the Outsider’s Tales and a non-fiction memoir Unmasking Kashmir/The Outsider’s Curse (co-authored with his mother Sonali Kumar (IAS) Retd.) You can contact him at: prasenjeet@publishwithprasen.com

Recently I came across a video on YouTube titled, “Death Threats on Hindu Blasphemy” by a Pakistani origin self-proclaimed ex-Muslim Harris Sultan.

Normally, I’d have moved on. But the title intrigued me. Because as far as I know Hindus always had a tradition of shastrath (debate), and so there could be no such thing as Hindu Blasphemy. Curious, I dug into the background of Harris Sultan and found him to be a critic of Islam. He appears to have also criticised Prophet Muhammad and seems to have received quite a few death threats in the process. Quite predictable so far, isn’t it?

But this time, his point was—Hindus are no different. In the video, Harris claimed that he had helped an ex-Hindu (interesting!) friend set up a profile on the internet where after his ex-Hindu friend shared a meme on Goddess Durga that went viral.

You can see that photoshopped picture in the video in which Durga is positioned in front of a few black male athletes (they look like athletes to me). And it looked like Durga’s many hands were touching the male athletes’ private parts.

Harris Sultan claims he consequently received many death and rape-his-mother/sister/wife kind of threats from Hindus. He supports his claim with some screenshots taken from his social media feeds.

Harris’ point is—Hindus are just like Muslims. Equally intolerant and equally hypocritical. For Hindus, criticising Prophet Muhammad is freedom of speech, but criticising Durga is blasphemy. Just as for Muslims mocking Durga is freedom of speech, but mocking Prophet Muhammad is blasphemy!

Hmmm … sounds similar. Except that it is not. Harris’ reasoning flows from the same flawed assumption—All religions are the same. I’ve seen many arguments put forward, for example, with the assumption:

No religion preaches terrorism (just because some don’t).

All religions are equally good. Usually, we hear this after some terrorist attack where after some apologists quote some ‘peaceful’ verses/passages from the Bible, the Upanishads or the Quran to make them all sound similar. Like ‘Love thy neighbour’ and ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ meaning the whole universe is my family.

Or, all religions are equally bad. You’ll hear this a lot in atheistic as well as in anti-theistic fora. They’ll quote hateful verses from all religions and again make them sound the same. Suggesting that actually it’s religion which is the enemy of mankind. The conclusion: Don’t just fight Islamo-fascism, but also fight your own religion.

Unfortunately, I disagree with all these assumptions. No, all religions are not the same. Sure, all religions have problems, but problems in one religion may not occur in another religion. I also believe that a religion should stand on its own — merit or demerit.

Now coming to Harris’ main point: What’s the difference between a Hindu issuing a death threat and a Muslim doing the same? I’d say the very difference between trolling and murder. You won’t say both words have the same meaning, would you?

Now anyone can list victims of Islamic Blasphemy. Starting with the latest Kamlesh Tiwari in India to Charlie Hebdo in France to Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands to Swami Dayanand Saraswati in British India and so on. And I’m not even mentioning the global riots that erupted because of the Danish cartoons. Why do Ayan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie have to live under 24/7 security even today? Why was the Italian translator (translator, NOT author) of the Satanic Verses murdered? I would be happy if Harris could similarly list victims of Hindu Blasphemy.

In the video, Harris agrees that no one has been killed for Hindu Blasphemy, as yet. But then he paints a hypothetical scenario. Suppose he were in India and face to face with the man who’d sent him those vicious death threats. What would that man do to Harris? Wouldn’t he kill him, behead him, to be precise, as he had threatened in his posts?

My answer — Hypothetical scenarios are … well hypothetical. It’s quite possible that man may behead Harris for insulting Ma Durga. Or may just punch him in the face and break his nose. Or run away in the other direction if he finds Harris taller, stronger, or more intimidating! All scenarios are possible.

So, if Harris wants to prove that Hinduism is as bad as Islam, shouldn’t he list the victims of ‘Hindu Blasphemy’ the way we’ve listed the victims of Islamic Blasphemy? Seriously?

Fortunately, many Hindus in the comments section have challenged Harris by asserting there is no such thing as Hindu Blasphemy. Nonetheless, the ex-Muslim commentators, including Harris, keep insisting that Hindu Blasphemy does indeed exist. Alright, let them prove it then.

Which Hindu scripture calls for beheading those who mock Hindu gods and goddesses?

Which section of the Indian Penal Code specifically criminalises mocking of Hindu gods?

Which sections of the Indian Penal Code resemble Sections 295-B or 295-C of the Pakistani Penal Code, which read:

295-B.           Defiling, etc., of Holy Qur’an:

Whoever wilfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or of an extract therefrom or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.

 295-C.          Use of derogatory remarks, etc., in respect of the Holy Prophet:

Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

How many people have been tried for blasphemy under Indian laws (when thousands have been in Pakistan)?

If Harris and his fellow ex-Muslims claim themselves to be rationalists, they should be able to answer all these questions easily.

Unfortunately, Harris Sultan is not the only confused person in this narrative. Many liberals too make the same mistake by assuming all religions are the same. When you complain that in 1989, the loudspeakers from mosques in Kashmir used to blare: ‘Kashmir mein rehna hoga to Allahu Akbar kehna hoga,’ you’ll immediately get the example of Hindus chanting, ‘Mussalmano ke liye hai do hi jagah—ek Pakistan, doosra kabristan.’

Can you spot the difference between the two sentences? You cannot. Because the first statement has already resulted in the ethnic cleansing of 400,000 Kashmiri Hindus who still have to live like refugees in their home country.

And the second statement? India continues to host the second largest Muslim population in the world. Much more than in Pakistan or Bangladesh. What happened to that kabristan threat? If Hindus were just as serious as those Islamists in Kashmir, would India still be a multi-religious country? Would India’s Muslim population have ‘officially’ grown from 9% in 1947 to 14% in 2011 and still growing? With all their rights protected under the Indian Constitution?

If Hindus were so intolerant, why would Muslims from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Afghanistan, even Pakistan keep on coming to India, legally or illegally? Instead of going to 58 other Sharia-compliant blasphemy-punishing Muslim-majority countries?

In English, there is a saying, action speaks louder than words. I’ll leave it at that.

Whenever a terrorist attack happens in the West, we are told that Christianity is just as bad as Islam. Look at what they did during the Crusades and during the Inquisitions. So, you’re comparing 21st century Islam with 12th-16th century Christianity. Speaks volumes about the two religions, isn’t it?

The same goes for Islamic terrorism being compared to something like Sati. Except that Sati is banned by law and is a dead practice now. But some 30,000 terrorist attacks have taken place globally since 9/11, all in the name of Islam. So, let me wait for the day when Islamic terrorism becomes like Sati. A dead practice.

Coming back to the topic, if there is no such thing as Hindu Blasphemy, why do Hindus get angry when they see memes like the one depicted in that video? Interestingly, many Hindus, some even atheists, couldn’t explain why they were infuriated. So, let me answer that.

Durga symbolically is a mother, the mother of not just one person, but of the whole universe. She is Shakti, the energising force of the cosmos. She is stronger than male gods, so much so she protects other gods from asuras (demons).

Hindus say every woman has a Durga spirit. Now liberals and rationalists would say, where is the scientific proof? To answer that question, you need look no further than mother nature. Most life forms would not survive if they be not looked after by a mother. And that mother becomes ferocious if her cubs be under threat. This behaviour has been well documented. That spirit exists in nature and also in human beings. That spirit is Durga.

Now let’s look at what that meme did to Durga. From the mother of the whole universe, it simply reduced her to a temptress, a sexual object for fulfilling men’s desire. To non-Hindus and to some ignorant ex-Hindus, it may seem hilarious but it is not.

Since Durga is the mother of the universe, it is logical that to many Hindus Durga represents his or her own mother. At least symbolically. So great, you’ve just called someone’s mother a whore. What reaction do you expect from him?

Still confused. Suppose you told a random person who you met on the streets in Australia (where Harris lives) that his mother looks like a prostitute, to you, of course. What do you think would be his reaction?

This is not to say that you cannot exercise your freedom of expression even if it ends up criticising other people’s beliefs or faith. Of course, you can. You want to change the mind-set of Hindus, be my guest. But first at least understand what you’re doing.

If you want to reduce the mother of the universe to a temptress, no one can support you. I believe, not only is this an insult to Hindus but also to womanhood.

No, this is why I won’t support you, Harris. Period.

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Prasenjeet Kumar
An author who has written thirty books, six of which centre around Kashmir — You Can’t Kill My Love: A Kashmir Holocaust Love Story, Still Missing…, Kashmir is Free and Kashmir Thinks It’s Free (co-authored with his father Dr. Arun Kumar (IAS) Retd.), the Outsider’s Tales and a non-fiction memoir Unmasking Kashmir/The Outsider’s Curse (co-authored with his mother Sonali Kumar (IAS) Retd.) You can contact him at: prasenjeet@publishwithprasen.com
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