Cartoons prompt debate in India
The absence of strict blasphemy laws in India -- unlike those in Pakistan -- allowed for a more open discussion of the Prophet cartoon within the press and a harsher condemnation of violent responses than elsewhere in the subcontinent. The cartoon controversy prompted some Muslim clerics in India to demand a stronger blasphemy law (UPI) both domestically and internationally.
Article 19-4(c) of the Indian Constitution places "reasonable restrictions" on the freedoms of speech and expression "in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India or public order or morality."
However, this restriction has generally not interfered with the press, except during the 1975 emergency when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's government suspended civil liberties for a two-year period.
The press in India continues to be aggressive, and religious issues can generally be discussed in the public sphere unaffected by the limitations of Article 19. The cartoon controversy thus prompted stronger debates in the pages of India's newspapers than evident elsewhere in the subcontinent.
A prominent Islamic leader in India, the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jama Masjid mosque, criticized Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for its mild response to the Prophet cartoons:
"The entire Muslim world is protesting the blasphemy, but this so-called progressive and secular UPA government is not taking a bit of pain while leading a country where 200 million Muslims live," he said.
The UPA government later issued a statement, unreservedly condemning the cartoons, but also strongly criticizing violent protests:
"We have greatest respect for all religions. India's commitment to tolerance and upholding religious harmony is unshakeable, but statements by some sections of our people are not acceptable," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said. "I am sure that all our political and religious leaders would do nothing to inflame public opinion and will exercise the utmost restraint."
Singh also said India had conveyed its outrage to the Danish government and that the offending newspapers should tender an apology and ensure such acts were not repeated.
"The government condemns the action of any country to offend the sentiments of any community. The publication of cartoons had offended Muslims worldwide," Singh said.
- Needless and nasty controversy (The Hindu)
A Feb. 9 editorial criticizes the publishing of the cartoons and the protests
Date Posted: 5/18/2006