The Swami smiled widely with all his betelnut-corrupted teeth showing at the end of a Pooja that lasted well over an hour to “exorcize” any “negativity” that might have manifested in the family that was surrounding the holy fire. Having gulped down a sum of 5,000/-, he (unironically) complained about the increase in ticket prices in the temples of India. He spoke about the poor devotees who would suffer and suggested that they should protest against the rising prices. He complained about how religion had become nothing more than business in the big temples.
While promoting his upcoming flick, Irrfan Khan commented on the practise of Qurbani (sacrifice) pointing out that true Sacrifice is when you give away something close to you, not just buy a goat from the market and behead it. Islamic clerics soon responded, accusing him of “misleading” the Muslim masses, and Irrfan responded in a manner that could only be described as mildly threatening, “I am not afraid of the Clerics, and I am glad to be living in a country which is not ruled by them”.
Back in 2012, a Catholic church in Mumbai claimed a “miracle” when its Jesus statue started shedding tears. Rationalist Sanal Edamaruku, a renowned voice of reason who had debunked many miracles in his life, took it upon himself to debunk this one too. When the state “miracle” was pronounced, he went to Mumbai and found that the dripping water was due to clogged drainage pipes behind the wall where it stood. His revelation provoked death threats from religious zealots and ultimately charges of blasphemy under the Indian penal code in the Mumbai high court.
This is the state in which India finds itself in currently, a country where no questions are raised about religion and every religious rule is accepted and followed. No questions asked. No changes made. No converting to any other sect or religion. No skipping fasts and prayers. No pointing out the absurdities of rituals, no matter how dangerous, irrational or outright ridiculous they may be.
In our society speaking about religion (forget criticizing it) is considered taboo. Heads turn around, eyebrows are raised and legs are shuffled uneasily whenever religion is mentioned. This atmosphere of terror around any public mention of religion is partly because of the mistrust and paranoia that has been (and is being) propagated and mostly due to the severe indoctrination of religious views, the fear of having them refuted, ridiculed or judged. Nobody ever likes to have public debates about God or religion here, because the “other” opinion is simply not allowed to exist. And yet, ironically, religion dictates the everyday life of society. Homes have been abandoned because a religious head pointed out that it is not in accordance to Vaastu Shastra, astrologers have made millions even though the credibility of astrology has never been proven under controlled environments, countless animals and in some cases even infants (of both, animals and humans) have been sacrificed and their organs pierced and put up on spikes to end spells of famine and disease, when Polio vaccines were introduced in India, a lot of communities proudly protested against it and refused to have their children vaccinated because they believed Polio had been introduced to de-fertilise people and hence curb their populations, countless “Godmen” have come and gone who fooled millions into becoming their devotees thanks to “miracles” they could perform; miracles as mundane as producing “holy” powder or jewellery from thin air, and people still continue to worship these charlatans, baffled as they are by the Godmen and their street magic, which would have failed to impress a bunch of 10 year olds at birthday party, but alas! The garb of Godliness adds authenticity to the foolish magic trick, doesn’t it? How many hundred thousand people have died in stampedes at religious festivals? How many consider this to be a good thing because it means they have reached God directly? Have you heard about the ritual wherein coconuts are pounded on the heads of people, children included, and if the coconut doesn’t crack and you end up bleeding, it is because you are not a chosen one? Have about firewalking? How about the baby throwing practise in rural regions of Maharashtra and Karnataka (although it is not religious, it is in the same neighbourhood)? What about the stoning of people who are mentally ill because they are believed to be possessed by demons? The countless videos on social media showing a man communicating with God and speaking in tongues to miraculously heal people with crippling diseases while thousands in the audience keep dancing and cheering?
The examples are aplenty. Irrationality and blind faith is present in all aspects of our daily lives and the worst part is any resistance or argument against it is met with immediate and swift attacks and is even backed by law (thanks to the incredibly regressive blasphemy law). Yes, practicing anything you believe in is a right you have, but it is never implied that you may allow your religious principles to dictate those around you and attack any criticism of the principles you hold so dearly to yourself. If you wish to test your luck and how dear you are to God, then please, by all means hammer your head with a coconut to see which one cracks, your head or the coconut (although in my books, both of them are the same), and jump off a terrace with a crowd waiting below to hold you, but never ever include children in your experiments. Throwing a new-born off a terrace or indoctrinating them with unscientific gibberish, telling them that religious texts should be followed without ever questioning them and filling their minds with paranoia and hate towards people of other communities are the worst things you as a parent could do. I think it is high time rationalists in this country stood up fearlessly against the dictatorship of the “other” side.