Cap­tain’s Play With Bon­fire

Pun­jab’s pro­posed blasphemy law will em­bolden re­li­gious forces, push In­dia in dark ages

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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.

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