India faces international backlash after Islam spokeswoman comments: NPR

Diplomatic turmoil in the Muslim world is mounting after a spokeswoman for the Indian ruling party made derogatory comments about insulting the prophet Mohammed.



SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

India faces a chorus of criticism from the Muslim world this week. That comes after a spokeswoman for the Indian ruling party made derogatory comments about the prophet Mohammed. India is ruled by Hindu nationalists and hate speech against minority Muslims is on the rise. Now there is an international backlash. NPR’s Lauren Frayer reports from Mumbai.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: As a spokeswoman for India’s ruling party, Nupur Sharma was notorious for screaming matches on TV…

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NUPUR SHARMA: Absolutely senile old man.

UNKNOWN PERSON: If you ask me a question…

SHARMA: Absolutely senile old man.

UNKNOWN PERSON: …It’s polite to let me answer.

FRAYER: …insulting fellow panelists. When she insulted the Prophet Mohammed on TV last month, Indian Muslims protested in the streets.

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UNKNOWN PROTESTERS: (Non-English spoken).

FRAYER: But their voices were ignored and some were even beaten up by the police. It wasn’t until the Gulf states — the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and many others — filed official complaints that Prime Minister Narendra Modi took action.

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UNKNOWN REPORTER: Big news comes in…

FRAYER: His Bharatiya Janata party has suspended its spokeswoman and expelled another official from the country. Now the Gulf is home to 8 million Indian migrant workers, and India depends on those countries for oil and gas imports. Hasan Alhasan is a foreign policy expert in Bahrain.

HASAN ALHASAN: So there’s definitely a lot of outrage, very visible on social media, but it’s also real in conversations with real people.

FRAYER: While Modi’s Hindu nationalists have long been accused of Islamophobia, Alhasan says…

ALHASAN: Insulting the prophet Muhammad takes it to a whole new level and it becomes a transnational or international issue.

FRAYER: One that could jeopardize Modi’s foreign policy. Yamini Aiyar is a political scientist in Delhi. She has seen the rise of Modi’s Hindu nationalists and with it the abuse of India’s minorities. Even after this response, some Indians still admire the former spokeswoman and see her as brave.

YAMINI AIYAR: Rude is not frowned upon. It is indeed encouraged. It is part of the process of laying the solid foundations of majority politics. And the BJP thought they could get away with it.

FRAYER: But Aiyar says satellite TV and social media have made it impossible for a government to have one message for domestic consumption and another internationally. So what’s happening in India now doesn’t stay here any longer.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai.

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