New Delhi: The Opposition in Rajya Sabha on Friday demanded Human Resource Developoment Minister Smriti Irani's apology for reading out "objectionable" comments against deity Durga but she defended her action saying she did it because she was asked for proof to back her statements on Jawaharlal Nehru University students.
She also made it clear that she "is a practising Hindu and a worshipper of Durga" while the chair ruled that nothing blasphemous would be allowed to remain in the records.
As the House met for the day, Deputy Leader of Congress in Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma, raised a point of order saying the Constitution and rules do not permit anything to be spoken in the House which is blasphemous and can hurt religious sentiments.
Irani, he said, had on Thursday read out "insulting" comments made against deity Durga "verbatim" in the House hurting sentiments and sought a ruling from the Chair whether such comments made outside Parliament against any religious figure prophet or a deity can be read in the House.
Members of other opposition parties also agreed with K.C. Tyagi of Janata Dal (United) demanding that Irani should unconditionally apologise for the comments read out by her.
The minister, however, was unfazed and asserted that she herself was a "practising Hindu and a Durga worshipper" and had only read authenticated documents of the University.
"I had been asked to explain what is the proof (against JNU students)....I would also like to say I am myself a practising Hindu. I am myself a Durga worshipper.
I say it with a lot of pain that what is the free speech that certain political entities are giving respectability to," she said.
Seeking to turn tables on the Congress, she said that "they have absolutely no problem in supporting these very statements but they have problems in her reading out authenticated documents related to what they supported."
Earlier, besides Sharma, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad had also termed it a "very serious issue" and said the "minister should apologise for what she said yesterday."
Azad said there were campaigns against many religious figures but the same language cannot be used in the House.
Coming to his colleague's defence, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi attacked Congress and other opposition parties saying it had become a pattern for them to seek discussions and apology in every session while showing no interest in legislative business.
He also said that Congress was raising the issue as its Vice President Rahul Gandhi was criticised for supporting those indulging in activities against the nation.
As the two sides indulged in heated exchanges, Deputy Chairman P. J. Kurien said there has been a tradition that nothing blasphemous or anything against any community will be raised in the House.
He assured members that he would go through the records and expunge anything blasphemous.