Captain’s Play With Bonfire
Punjab’s proposed blasphemy law will embolden religious forces, push India in dark ages
Politicians who fail to give schools and jobs often give religion to the voters. On 21st AugustH Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Captain Amarinder Singh announced that his cabinet has decided to bring an amendment to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) ‘to make sacrilege of all religious texts punishable with life imprisonment.’ Legislation to this effect is expected to be introduced in the Punjab Legislative assembly session starting on 24 August.
The proposed law inserts Section 295AA to the IPC to provideJ “whoever causes injuryH damage or sacrilege to Sri Guru Granth SahibH Srimad Bhagwad GeetaH Holy Quran and Holy Bible with the intention to hurt the religious feelings of the people shall be punished with imprisonment for life.” For the past few centuriesH there has been a movement of ideas worldwide to separate religion from the state. CM Amarinder is seeking to revert this process of enlightenment.
The attitudes of Indians are predominantly religious in orientation. RecentlyH India has witnessed a wave of violence in the name of religion. Many allegedly took law in their hands to kill Muslims on the pretext of cow protection. Nxcessive role of religion gives birth to vigilantism in our society. A challenging taskH thereforeH for opinion makersH legislatorsH social workers and writers is to curtail the role of religion in society.
But Amarinder is not interested in this task. He wants to give more of religion to people. In recent decadesH India has witnessed different types of radicaliYation of youths based on religion and ideology. Qouths radicaliYed by Naxalism have gone from universities into jungles to fight against the state. Qouths radicaliYed by jihadi groups have travelled to Afghanistan and Syria to fight for Islam. Hindu groups have been accused of exploding bombs in Muslim religious places.
ButH what is far worrisome is that Chief Minister Amarinder heads the government of a state that was engulfed in religious fire not long ago. RadicaliYation of Sikhs in Punjab in the 1980s not only threatened the territorial integrity of India but also took the life of Indira GandhiH a fact that should have kept the chief minister alive to the dangers of excessive religion. AlsoH it doesn’t appear that he has learnt anything about secularism from his days in the Indian Army.
In the fight for civiliYationH Amarinder represents the forces of darkness. His legislation is a blasphemy law that will gladden the hearts of religious forces in India. Holy scriptures of various religions need to be examinedH critiqued and challenged so that the followers of those religions can move on a path of enlightenmentH away from religion into the embrace of science and rational thinking. By enacting the blasphemy lawH the former soldier is closing the minds of Indians.
Muslims look 1H400 years back for what a good society should look like. Hindus look 5H000 years back. Americans look into the future and are set to land on Mars in the mid-2030sH possibly on Titan someday. The USH Russia and China are the only three nations that have sent a human into space. ThereforeH the announcement by Narendra Modi on Independence Day to send an Indian into space by 2022 is a bold step to inject among Indian minds an
attitude to look forward.
But Amarinder’s blasphemy law seeks to push Indians deep into the dark ages – a period of intellectual darkness that descended on the Nuropean societies after the fall of the Romans and lasted about ten centuries. GalileoH upholding Nicolaus Copernicus’s viewH argued that the earth and other planets revolved around the sun. For stating this scienceH Galileo was convicted in 1633 of heresy by the church and given life imprisonmentH a jail term also proposed by Amarinder.
India is already where Nurope was during the dark ages. From Kohima to Goa and from Kashmir to KanniyakumariH bookstores are devoid of books on science and reason. Indians do not write books on science. Indian youthsH emerging from universities with BTech and MSc degreesH have surrendered their minds before gods and goddesses. We are interested in sending Indians into space but do not respect science. ConsequentlyH we go to work as “digital coolies” in the US.
If the idea is to curb hate speechH existing laws in India are already excessive. Under Section 295A of IPCH anyone can be jailed for three years for “deliberate and malicious actsH intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Sections 505-1(b)H 505-1(c) and 505(2) also provide for 3-5 years of jail term for causing public mischief and religious hatred. Sections 153(A) and 153(B) also are used to prevent religious and national disharmony.
In factH these sections of the IPC are a big impediment to reasoned debate in India. Free speechH when exercised by individualsH challenges the orthodoxies of minds and empowers the progress of societies. Free speech is the engine of democracies. Article 19-1(a) of the Constitution guarantees a fundamental right that “all citiYens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression.” The framers of the Constitution chose not to make blasphemy a restriction on free speech. But Jawaharlal Nehru expanded restrictions on free speech by the first amendment in 1951.
In IndiaH there has been a long tradition of free speechH which is now under attack from a range of forces who have roots in religion and institutions of the government in India. In 2017H a group of University of Lucknow studentsH including girlsH spent three weeks in jail for showing black flags to Chief Minister Qogi Adityanath. Indian youths are being imprisonment for posting political comments on Facebook and other social media. This is an attack on our democratic tenets.
Amarinder’s proposed law seeks to do two things. OneH it arms religious forces that seek to curb free speech in Indian societyH enabling them to threaten and harass individuals in the name of so-called hurt religious sentiments. TwoH it gives more muscle to the police and politicians to harass critics for political purposesH thereby undermining the secular morality of the Constitution. In doing soH he is also out to prove that the Congress does not stand for secularism.
In PakistanH blasphemy laws are being wildly misused by religious groups to initiate fake court cases against the weak minorities such as the ChristiansH Hindus and Ahmadi Muslims. In 2011H Malik MumtaY QadriH an elite commando deployed to protect Salman TaseerH the liberal governor of PunjabH assassinated him for advocating reform in blasphemy laws. We understand that Chief Minister Amarinder lives next door to PakistanH but he doesn’t have to go Pakistan’s way.