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Blasphemy murders: The Pakistani origins of ‘Sar Tan Se Juda’ slogan and why it should be treated as a precursor to a terrorist act

Like all things Islamists, “Sar Tan Se Juda” chants are an imported concept, adopted from neighbouring Pakistan, where targeting and attacking minorities, especially Hindus and Christians, in the name of blasphemy has become par for the course for the country’s overwhelmingly extremist and Islamist population.

For decades now, Islamists in India have mastered the veto of street violence and protests to fulfil their demands and instil a sense of fear among those who dare to enunciate uncomfortable facts. But of late, those protests have gone a step further, devolving into starker violence and featuring a nefarious chant of ‘Sar Tan Se Juda’ that has come to define the blasphemy rage coursing through the country.

“Gustakh-e-Rasool ki Ek hi saza, sar tan se Juda, sar tan se Juda”, which translates to “There is only one punishment for being disrespectful to Rasool (Prophet Muhammad), their head separated from their torso, their head separated from the torso”, an Islamist clarion call, has become a staple feature of violent protests that have so far claimed the lives of at least 6 Hindus, including Kanhaiya Lal in Udaipur and Umesh Kolhe in Amravati, after Muslim fundamentalists, egged on by the dog-whistling of Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair against former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma, resorted to violence for what they perceived as ‘blasphemy’ against Prophet Muhammad.

From Kanpur in India’s northern plains to the southern metropolis of Bengaluru, from Kolkata in the east to Hyderabad in the south, protests in the name of blasphemy have erupted in almost every corner of the country as Islamists took to the streets running amok and shouting “Sar Tan Se Juda” chants over the perceived belief of blasphemy against the Prophet.

The Pakistani origins of ‘Sar Tan Se Juda’ chants

Though the slogan has been all the rage among Islamists across India, its origins are beyond the country’s northwest borders. Like all things Islamists, “Sar Tan Se Juda” chants are an imported concept adopted from neighbouring Pakistan, where targeting and attacking minorities, especially Hindus and Christians, in the name of blasphemy has become par for the course for the country’s overwhelmingly extremist and Islamist population.

The radicalised outcry that has taken over the streets of India was first used more than a decade ago in the wake of a brazen assassination of the governor of Punjab, Pakistan. And ever since, the slogan has found currency among the rabble-rousers determined to whip up hatred and anger against non-Muslims in the name of blasphemy.

In 2011, the governor of the Punjab province of Pakistan, Salman Taseer was murdered by his own guard Mumtaz Qadri who disagreed with Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law. Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a Maulana in Pakistan at the time hailed Qadri for assassinating Taseer and declared him a ‘Ghazi’. He led a procession with thousands of people in attendance, who raised provocative slogans against the former governor of Punjab, Pakistan, and hailed Qadri as a hero.

The procession, organised by the radical Barelvi terror outfit Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), amplified the slogan among the masses of Pakistan in 2011 to shield Mumtaz Qadri. Two slogans were chiefly chanted during the procession. One was “Rasool Allah, Rasool Allah” and the other, “Gustakh-e-Rasool Ki Ek Hi Zaza, Sar Tan Se Juda, Sar Tan Se Juda.” Rizvi would ask the audience during the mass demonstrations, “Gustakh-e-Rasool ki Ek hi Saza?” The protestors would respond by chanting “Sar Tan Se Juda, Sar Tan Se Juda”.

Qadri, who was trained as an elite police commando and assigned to Taseer as his bodyguard, shot the politician at an Islamabad market in January 2011. Being remorseless about his act, Qadri later justified the killing by saying that it was his religious duty to kill the minister, who was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws and supported liberal reforms.

But Pakistan has long been wracked by violence in the name of blasphemy. Since the assassination of Salman Taseer, blasphemy-induced violence has only increased multifold in Pakistan, including instances where Islamists use fake blasphemy charges to subjugate and victimise minorities, especially Hindus and Christians. Personal scores against Hindu and Christian families are settled by levelling fabricated charges of blasphemy against them, which causes outrage and paints a target behind them.

How the slogan continues to live on through Islamists bent on “punishing” blasphemers

While Khadim may have passed away in 2020, his slogans have assumed a life of their own, living through murderous Islamists in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, who routinely invoke the call for the beheading against those perceived to have blasphemed against Prophet Muhammad. In a sense, Rizvi set a template for the Islamists to follow, sanctioning the murder of those considered “guilty” of blaspheming against Prophet Muhammad. 

In India, be it Hindu Samaj leader Kamlesh Tiwari or the chief abbot of the Dasna Devi Temple Yati Narsighanand Saraswati, or more recently, the former BJP leader Nupur Sharma, all of them have drawn “Sar Tan Se Juda” chants by bloodthirsty Islamists, who believe Prophet Muhammad is beyond reproach and any earnest attempt to impartially assess his life and teachings should be snuffed out, by any and all means.

Unfortunately, the threat of “Sar Tan Se Juda” chants against Kamlesh Tiwari materialised in 2019 when Islamists entered his house under the guise of Hindus and slit his throat for remarks made on Prophet Muhammad years ago, for which he had already served jail time. The Islamists had also planned an assassination bid against Yati Narsighanand Saraswati, but it was foiled by the attentiveness of the Delhi Police, which arrested a JeM terrorist entrusted with the task of taking down the Dasna Devi Temple head priest.

Similarly, Sharma has also been a victim of furore incited by Alt News co-founder Mohammed Zubair, who shared an incomplete clip of her debate on Times Now, where she defended her faith when one of the panellists mocked the discovery of a Shivling inside the controversial Gyanvapi structure. The leitmotif of protests that erupted after her video had gone viral had been Islamists shouting “Sar Tan Se Juda” threats against her, leading to the bloody murders of Kanhaiya Lal, Umesh Kolhe, and others.

Why the calls for beheading should be treated as a prelude to a terror act

Therefore, it is paramount not to understate the threat of “Sar Tan Se Juda” chants and view them for what they stand for: a precursor to a terror attack and a direct incitement to violence. Across the world, blasphemy attacks, such as the killing of Samuel Paty in France, are considered terror attacks and treated with utmost seriousness. 

However, in India and other South East Asian countries, the allies of the Islamists in the form of leftist “intellectuals” downplay blasphemy attacks and inciting violence in the name of blasphemy, and instead paint the victims as aggressors. Therefore, as a first step toward dealing with the menace, the government should treat “Sar Tan Se Juda” chants as a prelude to a terror attack and attract anti-terror charges against those caught chanting the slogan.

Though a radical Muslim outfit in Pakistan coined the slogan, it has gained popularity among Islamists in regions beyond its geographical origins. Over the years, we have seen large crowds of Islamists chanting the “Sar Tan Se Juda” slogan, which is nothing but a direct incitement to violence, leading to murders committed in the name of blasphemy. When such slogans are normalised by not initiating the requisite action that incitement to violence deserves, the sloganeers feel empowered to continue exhibiting their murderous tendencies and instigating others to behead their target.

The condoning of such slogans, believing they are just a cathartic expression of a livid mob aggrieved over the purported insult of their prophet, is nothing but wishful thinking because chances are that some religious zealot in the crowd, egged on by the slogans, would be motivated to pick up the weapon and proceed to kill someone like Kanhaiya Lal.

In such a scenario, the state cannot assume a lasseiz-fair approach and allow the sloganeers to sow hatred and walk away with impunity. Instead, it should come down hard against such miscreants and set an example for others to discourage them from indulging in similar behaviour. Bulldozer action, slapping UAPA charges, and stripping away government benefits are some of the initial measures the government can take to tackle the menace of ‘Sar Tan Se Juda’ chants.

Another crucial measure the government can undertake is to ban the slogan altogether and criminalise its usage. While outlawing the slogan itself won’t solve the scourge of Islamic Jihad afflicting the country, as the source of their hatred has doctrinal roots and is not limited to specific slogans per se, it would at least send a message to Islamists that the state is taking cognisance of blasphemy murders by Islamists, is willing to acknowledge its Islamist links and take action against it.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Amit Kelkar
Amit Kelkar
a Pune based IT professional with keen interest in politics

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