India: Top court slams BJP spokeswoman who sparked outrage over Prophet Mohammed comments
A ruling party spokeswoman whose remarks on Islam embroiled India in a diplomatic row and sparked huge protests should apologise for having "set the country on fire", New Delhi's top court said on Friday.
Anger engulfed the Islamic world last month after Nupur Sharma's incendiary comments during a TV debate on the relationship between the Prophet Mohammed and his youngest wife, with nearly 20 countries calling in their Indian ambassadors for an explanation.
Rallies also erupted around South Asia, with police killing two demonstrators in India, while this week two Muslim men were accused of the grisly murder of a Hindu tailor who had posted in support of Sharma on Facebook.
"She and her loose tongue have set the country on fire," India's Supreme Court said during a procedural hearing on several criminal complaints filed against Sharma.
"This lady is single-handedly responsible for what is happening in the country," it added. "She should apologise to the whole nation."
Since her comments, Sharma has been subjected to multiple police complaints filed against her across India by members of the public.
While the 37-year-old's whereabouts are unknown, her lawyer was in court asking that the cases be consolidated in New Delhi, a request denied on Friday.
Sharma was at one time seen as a rising star in the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but her remarks forced it into damage control.
The party soon suspended the spokeswoman from her post and issued a statement insisting it respected all religions.
Since coming to power nationally in 2014, the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of championing discriminatory policies towards followers of the Islamic faith.
Critics also say the government has presided over a crackdown on free speech and rights activists.
This week police arrested the Muslim journalist Mohammed Zubair, a vocal critic of the government who had helped draw attention to Sharma's remarks.
He was arrested on Monday and remains in custody over a four-year-old tweet about a Hindu god that police said had been the subject of complaints by Hindu groups.