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Nupur Sharma’s comments on Prophet Muhammad cause uncertainty for expatriate Indians in West Asia

Print edition : Aug 04, 2022 T+T-

Nupur Sharma’s comments on Prophet Muhammad cause uncertainty for expatriate Indians in West Asia

An Indian couple in front of an advertisement featuring an Indian actress at a gold market in Dubai on June 6

An Indian couple in front of an advertisement featuring an Indian actress at a gold market in Dubai on June 6 | Photo Credit: KARIM SAHIB

Nupur Sharma’s hate speech has jeopardised Indian workers’ jobs in several nations of the Persian Gulf.

There have been a string of demonstrations across India demanding the arrest of former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson Nupur Sharma following her derogatory remarks about Prophet Muhammad on a television programme. Although the party suspended and expelled her from the primary membership of the party and expelled Naveen Kumar Jindal, the chief of the BJP’s Delhi media cell, the protesters were not mollified.

Meanwhile, several Islamic nations have indicated their strong objection to Nupur Sharma’s remarks. Hours after Iran, Qatar, and Kuwait sent official notes and summoned top Indian officials, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan also gave out statements. Last Monday, Oman, Libya, the Maldives, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Jordan, and Afghanistan joined the list.

There has been another fallout to Nupur Sharma’s hate speech. It has put Indian workers’ jobs at risk in West Asian countries. There were reports that stores in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain had been asked to remove Indian products. There were also tweet sthat an Arab employer had asked an Indian worker to leave his job. “An Indian [carpenter], whose religion is Modi’s, is working under my sponsorship. He is on vacation. I told him that I do not want him to return because of the abuse of our Messenger (peace be upon him) (sic).”

This is a matter of concern. The Persian Gulf nations have nearly nine million Indians working there. There are nearly three million Indians in the UAE and 2.8 million and one million in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait respectively. Frontline got in touch with some Indians working in these countries.

Gopal R., a construction worker in Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, said: “We need to be sponsored by the locals to open businesses or work here, but now they are suspicious of giving us the go-ahead. The governments here have taken the situation very seriously this time. There were smaller issues earlier, but now it has escalated.”

“From 2020 onwards, there has been a trust deficit,” Gopal added. “Earlier, there was no religious bias, but now the locals and the government have started keeping track of the religion [of the Indians working here],” he said.

Naushad Bajpe, a trader in Kuwait, said: “There is no impact on current jobs yet. But future jobs will be impacted as many Islamic scholars and companies are now worried about hiring Indian nationals. Many of them have already started hiring personnel from Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sudan, and African countries.”

“With regard to material and products from India, most Kuwaiti companies and cooperative societies have not banned them, but they are already buying them from other countries. We can say Indian manpower and material are being indirectly banned.”

Imraan Ermmal, an event manager in Dubai, UAE, said: “They are not deporting us because the middle-east economy depends on Indians. In some provinces, there are more Indians than locals. Most of the labour work is done by Indians. But there is a shift in their preferences. They are focussing on personnel from other countries now instead of India.”

Ermmal added that there was no impact on jobs as of now but the image of India was getting tarnished and this could impact jobs in the future.

The Indian External Affairs Ministry said that it is doing everything possible to normalise the situation. Arindam Bagchi, official spokesperson and Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, told Frontline: “Considering the sensitivity of the issue, I am afraid I cannot make any comment. But the safety and security of the Indian diaspora are our priority and we are working on it.”