The Systematic Persecution of Rationalists

As rationalists, we are long used to attacks from religious fundamentalists of all tinges, trades and callings! We were labelled as anti-Christians when we opposed the evangelical healers; anti-Muslims when we criticised people like Zakir Naik; and now the Hindutva brigade has set their evil eyes upon us. Be it the vicious trolling on web sites, physical attacks or murders,  there seems to be a diabolic method in this campaign of hate and contempt! For several years now, I have been on the alleged ‘hit list’ of such forces. Once I was joking with K.S.Bhagwan, who was allegedly on top of their hit list, that they would have to get him and five others before they could come for me since I was ranked 7 in the hit list. Bhagwan retorted and asked how I could be so sure that these people were noble enough to even follow the list! This was years ago,  the hate campaigns have only become more and more vicious ever since. Last month, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) for the Gauri Lankesh murder investigation submitted a list of people for whom security has to be provided and I was among the top four.

While I do not regret anything that I have said or not said, I do feel that some incidents need to be narrated. Last year, when I was on a jatha from Mangalore to North Karnataka, I got a call from a leading Kannada asking me to come to their studio for a panel discussion. I told them that I was not in Mangalore, so they arranged for my broadcast from Shivamogga, where I was to halt for the night. When the show started, the anchor grandly announced that he had decided to go on air despite it being a Sunday, due to a major incident needed to be discussed.I was wondering what this catastrophe could be,  when the anchor said that the then Chief minister Siddharamiaha had gone to the Dharmasthala Manjunatha temple after eating fish. While the topic for the panel discussion was bizarre in itself,  I soon realised that it was a ploy to get to me since the show started with me instead of Siddharamiaha! The anchor asked me to be grateful to the Hindus for letting me stay in India despite  being an atheist. I asked who made him the spokesman of the Hindu community and whether it was a self-appointed, elected post or had he been given the GPA by the Hindu community. I also reminded him that I was a citizen of India— a secular nation which came into existence through a constitution— and not a Hindu rashtra, to which he asked me to go to Saudi Arabia and proclaim that I am an atheist.  I asked him to go there instead and do a puja, which effectively shut him up. While this is just an example of the various discriminatory exchanges that we face every day, it reflects on the attitudes of those who feel that one’s freedom of expression should be guided by their sentiments.

This is also something that we we are increasingly seeing in the media as well. While there are extremists in other religions as well, it is the Hindutva brigade of the so-called majority religion, which is becoming a greater threat. They seem to have the patronage of the state since the ruling dispensation at the center tacitly encourages them and turns a blind eye to the menace they create.  There are people who demand shariat laws, there are Khap panchayats encouraged by local elected representatives who are seen as vote banks. 

At the receiving end of these threats however, are people like us who profess rational thinking and vocal expression. Many raised voices might have been silenced, but those that aren’t, are still fighting the battle. SIT’s recent investigations into the Gauri Lankesh murder unravelled a very chilling plot. The conspirators had amassed funds to eliminate the voices of reason and there was a long list of people who had been marked. The same team had also written to the Home department demanding enhanced security for me, Girish Karnad, K.S.Bhagwan, and Veerabhadra Chennamalla Swami of the Nidumamidi math.  Strangely enough, all four of us are Hindus going by their own definition of the same! These forces believe that we have been the most effective in countering their vicious propaganda of lies and manipulations; therefore they try to discredit us through their brazen lies and label us as naxalites and foreign funded. A so called Yogi Ashwini made the same allegation in a panel discussion that was held a few days ago. All this to suppress the voices of reason, not to forget their good old habit of tampering photographs and videos to spread lies.

Hundreds of lives have been lost courtesy to such propagandas. Almost thirty people died last month because of rumours of child lifting spread through various social media platforms. As the next general elections are approaching, the voices are becoming shriller, the propaganda more vicious, and efforts more concerted. The ruling party’s hollow promises are being called out and facing failures on all fronts, they seem to be getting more and more desperate. So, now the card to be played seems to be that of Hinduism in danger. Even though there are credible voices of reason which effectively counters their false propaganda and expose their lies within their own community, they are trying to silence us. Since threats do not work, they are now resorting to permanently silence these voices through a dedicated group of trained murderers.

While they might have succeeded in silencing some of the voices, there is no dearth of activists who have refused to be cowed down and will fight against these forces to make sure that the voices of reason are heard. 

Narendra Nayak is a notable rationalist from Mangalore. He is the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, and the founder-secretary of the Dakshina Kannada Rationalist Association. He tours the country conducting workshops to promote scientific temper and showing people how to debunk godmen and frauds.

First Published on Indian Cultural Forum



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