Mumbai’s Operation Chup-Chop, and some smelly red herrings
An aggrieved person who calls himself Ravi Kumar Atheist recently petitioned the Punjab and Haryana high court, challenging the cancellation of the “atheist” certificate issued to him by a naib tehsildar in Fatehabad district of Haryana. Responding to the petition early this month, the court said that even if such a certificate had been issued and subsequently cancelled, it would be of no consequence. The court dismissed the petition saying that if one chooses to be a non-believer in a religion, caste or class, the law does not have to certify this fact. For, Article 25 of the Indian Constitution ensures freedom of conscience to an individual to choose to believe or not believe in any religion.
Ravi Kumar Atheist’s petition might sound extraordinary, even bizarre, but the fact is that worldwide, an increasing number of people are describing themselves as atheists, agnostics or “not concerned about religion.” According to India’s 2011 Census, the number of “people without religion” rose four-fold to 29 lakh people, as against only 7 lakh people in the 2001 Census though we don’t know if they are guarding their privacy, or are atheists or agnostics.
International polls, including those conducted by the Pew Research Centre, do indicate that there is a rise in the number of people disassociating themselves with religion — some call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious’; others say they are atheists or agnostics, and still others confess their faith in individualism, humanism, occultism, Jedi, Falun Gong and more. And a growing number choose to simply say that they follow no religion.
When you say you are atheist, are you just being rebellious? Hollywood heartthrob Brad Pitt says he was, but now he is no longer rebelling against belief in god. So has he turned believer, then? “Oh, man, I’ve gone through everything. I grew up with Christianity. Always questioned it, but it worked at times. And then when I got on my own, I completely left it and I called myself agnostic. Tried a few spiritual things but didn’t feel right. Then I called myself an atheist for a while, just kind of being rebellious. I wasn’t really. But I kinda labelled myself that for a while. It felt punk rock enough. And then I found myself coming back around to just belief in — I hate to use the word spirituality, but just a belief in that we’re all connected,” Pitt, 55, said in an interview for the October issue of GQ.
Another Hollywood celebrity, Susan Sarandon, has more clarity. She says she is a humanist. Does that make her an atheist? Yes, she says though she does not wear her nonbelief on her sleeve.
Closer home, Tollywood superstar Kamal Hassan once declared in a television interview: “Thank God I’m an atheist!” Now as actor-cumfilmmaker-cum-politician, he makes no bones about the fact that he is indeed, an atheist. Won’t he lose the confidence of voters who are believers? “Hah! Not in Tamil Nadu, that has a long political history of rationalist parties.” He quotes the example of Periyar Ramaswamy Naicker who denounced deity worship and rituals, and tried to galvanise people to become rationalists. The entire Dravidian political movement was spearheaded by rationalists/ atheists, he points out, starting with the Dravida Kazhagam (DK) that later got splintered into several parties including DMK and AIADMK.
The mother of all poster boys for atheism globally is, of course, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins who is militant in his denouncement of believers.
All the above examples are from an older generation. What about the millennials who believe that the world is full of chaos? Where or who do they turn to for drawing inspiration, hope and succour? Some of them are turning to occultism. Few exalt the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ of the Pastafarians, and fewer others swear by Peyotism (Native American Church) and several other such new religious movements.
Interestingly, millennials who are passionate about their careers, green causes and fitness have no use for conventional religion. “The gym is my temple and workout is my prayer,” says Deepa Muthu, a 20-something techie in Chennai who is also taking yoga lessons. “Hey, just cut the crap and show some kindness to strangers and to the earth, and for goodness sake, stop the litter!” So says Harish, an undergraduate studying Economics and Sustainable Development at a London university. When asked if he were religious, he says his religion is compassion — to be kind and considerate to all beings and to respect the environment.
For many in the digital workforce who spend most of their waking hours navigating cyberspace, god is but a delusion. But they work with such religious fervour that they seem to worship work. They have faith in it, it gives them hope and confidence, and they find solace and comfort in navigating that space, and they draw from it to figure out their moral compass. Fair enough.
Could atheistic philosophies help one navigate an existential crisis? Apparently yes, going by older movements like those of Jainism and Buddhism that did not speak of god or gods. Hinduism, too, has in its fold, several schools of atheism, like those of Charvaka and Mimamsa in the Samkhya tradition. The Ajivika, another atheist (nastika) school was born of sravana movements that have helped their followers in their journey of self-inquiry despite nonbelief in a Creator-God.
Can one say this of the newer crop of strident atheists who uphold their own anti-belief and denounce all believers? Nope. Because the moment you uphold your own belief (or nonbelief) as being supreme and all the rest as rubbish, you have lost your credibility. And you are incapable of providing comfort and direction to the distressed and the confused.
“This is why atheism, if it is to be relevant, must… broaden its focus away from the validity of god’s existence and narrow concerns over individual freedom. Instead, it must turn to address questions about economic causality, belonging and alienation, poverty, collective action, geo-politics, the social causes of environmental problems, class and gender inequality, and human suffering,” says Patrick O’Connor, who teaches philosophy at Nottingham Trent University. He points out that “existentialists such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus allow us to comprehend our shared mortality, and the humour and tragedy of life in a godless universe.”
online sales work as well as spread awareness about a product among fellow students on campus. “With an internship you’re doing one kind of work, but here I get to do a bunch of different things,” says the 20-year-old, who made Rs 29,000 through the app last month.
For companies, it’s a cheaper way to get a job done, while students appreciate the extra cash and perks. Rishi Jain, 18, was given the task of being a secret shopper at a salon. “I had to go to the salon and get services worth Rs 500, and then they paid me 500 more on top of that to review the service on the app. I would never have gotten a haircut worth that much money otherwise,” he says.
Some avenues of money-making are even easier. Notesgen is a global notes and study material marketplace where students can sell the notes they already have made. With a user base of 2 million globally, with 85% of them in India, all you have to do in scan your notes, price them as per your desire and need, and then just let people have at them. Manak Gulati, CEO and co-founder, says, “The notes which had no value other than in their social circles are worth actual money now.”
Truelancer is a freelancing platform that has users of all levels of experience, including students. They have a number of opportunities on offer — from being a research assistant for professors from Stanford and Berkeley, to coding for machine learning firms or writing health-based content. Co-founder Dipesh Garg says that they have fresher engineers who make $500 (Rs 35,000) a month working with companies in the US. “We also have final year architecture students freelancing with a small firm in Australia. Even if they pay half of what they would give someone there, it’s a decent amount for these students,” he adds.
Melroy D’Mello, who runs the subtitling and dubbing firm that Harika has been employed with, says they have 160 freelancers working with them, most of whom are students. While he doesn’t want to go into specifics of how much they are paid, he says people have been able to buy themselves new computers, or pay medical expenses for their families. “It’s a creative job that they can be proud of,” he says. My sister has come down from Delhi for Diwali. Less out of love for me and more out of necessity since it’s that time of the year when my nephew’s lungs begin coughing out loud protests. Sipping on some green tea, I tell her, ‘Soon my home will stop being your refuge, as our air may just go the Delhi way with all the tree-felling. The worst bit is that the minute you say something, the Ministry of Red Herrings gets into action.’
My sister seems confused, ‘Ministry of whaaat?’
I reply, ‘I mean the folks who use rhetorical arguments as a weapon to distract people from relevant questions.’
She immediately chirps in, ‘You do know that your foreign herring is nothing else but hilsa right? Bengalis love to douse it in mustard and probably worship it as much as they do Tagore.’ I laugh, ‘Really? Well, now instead of steaming or frying, it’s easier to chuck some odoriferous hilsa into the middle of discussions. Even our kids do it to us all the time. Like if you tell your daughter, ‘Look at your grades, you have to do better!” and she retorts, “Payal Aunty has a double masters from Columbia but you keep saying that she is such a loser, so how does studying help?”
“When did I say that Payal is a loser?”
“You did Mom!’ and so on and so forth.”
The same tactic was used on me when I said that though everyone believes in development, the metro shed should be located on barren land. Immediately the Red Herring ministry began its campaign, “Stop using your SUV!” “Stop reading paperbacks!” “Why don’t you turn film city into a forest?”’
She interjects, ‘Why do you even read these comments. Say what you have to about the metro, then shut your ears so you don’t lose your train of thought!’ She pauses and then gleefully asks, ‘You got my pun? Metro and train of thought? You can use it in your next book. I give you permission!’
I put my cup down and sigh, ‘Thank you for your generosity sister but I must decline. A bad pun is like a teabag, best used once and then tossed away.’
Lunch break consist of chomping on some, thankfully odourless, fried pomfret at my desk. Just as I discover that Ex is a measurement and doesn’t indicate the pothole that you had briefly mistaken for a boyfriend, my phone rings. ‘Congratulations dikra your name has become more famous,’ Biren Bhai informs me. My uncle then proceeds to tell me about two Gujarati women who have run backward for 53 kilometres and now want to set some sort of Guinness record.
Biren bhai adds, ‘ The two women are sisters-in-law, one is called Swati and the other one has your sweet name, Twinkle!’
I do want to congratulate my namesake for her fortitude and particularly her foresight. Bhaag Twinkle Bhaag! Keep running backward. Soon everyone will end up running in the same direction as you, they just don’t know it yet.
The girls in the office are swooning
over young climate activist Greta Thunberg. The 16-year-old also makes certain people — best referred to as Uncles — froth at the mouth. From being called “freakishly influential with many mental disorders” by a Herald Sun columnist to a “hysterical teenager” by a Sky News commentator, she has also been likened to genocidal Pol Pot recently by an Indian columnist.
Why a teenager asking political leaders to reduce CO2 emissions outrages people is an absolute mystery. But red herrings are now being thrown into the Greta gravy as well.
Pictures have suddenly appeared of Greta with a few plastic food containers in front of her with captions that accuse her of hypocrisy. Another allegation centres around Greta’s parents — both being performers — and that her rousing speeches are deemed well-crafted histrionics. Err... I would be the first one to
7% feel religious 13% 16% Includes Evangelical Protestant And Catholic Jewish Muslim Buddhist 1.9 0.9 0.7 Hindu Other religions Other faiths 25.4 20.8 0.7 0.3 1.4 Atheist Agnostic Nothing in particular 3.1 4.0 15.8 2001 2011 2021 Est*