We live in an age of riot engineering. Unrest is manufactured by certain mischievous elements in our country on the suspicion of beef consumption and desecration of holy scripture. What has unfolded in Dadri and Faridkot is a case in point. In both the cases, “religious sentiments” were exploited to create trouble.
The former saw a Muslim man losing his life after an announcement was made from a local temple accusing Mohammad Akhlaq of consuming and storing beef. Similarly, desecration of the Sikh holy scripture of Guru Granth Sahib at a number of places including Faridkot and Bathinda has led to a string of protests and threatens to derail the prevailing calm atmosphere in the Sikh majority state of Punjab.
It goes without saying that the perpetrators of these vicious acts should be brought to book. No individual or group can ever be allowed to endanger peace and stability. However, at the same time, we need to address the core issue of “religious sensitivity”. It is becoming increasingly easy for extremist outfits to ferment communal trouble. The modus operandi is multi-fold. Desecrate holy books, plant carcass of a cow or pig inside a temple or mosque, accuse a neighbouring place of worship of encroaching upon your territory or play loud music while some ritual is being performed somewhere.
Unfortunately, any one of these acts is capable of bringing out the monster residing inside men with extreme religious sensitivities. One can surely expect them to lynch and pelt stones at the slightest of provocation. How does the society overcome this problem? This issue can only be addressed if religious communities open themselves up to constructive criticism.
All religious communities and their so-called representatives can be accused of over sensitivity. Several Indian movies including PK, Vishwaroopam, OMG – Oh My God! and Singh is Kinng have faced opposition from religious groups simply because of the “touchy” nature of various religious communities. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are constitutionally guaranteed liberties. But none of these liberties are absolute in nature. Neither can an artistic piece of work cross the limits of reasonableness nor can an unconstitutional activity be justified in the name of religion.
Having said that religious communities should indeed develop a culture of constructive criticism wherein a person is given the liberty to speak out against a practise or tradition which he/she deems as unreasonable during community meetings or religious gatherings. There should be intense debate on scripture, dietary habits, age-old traditions, rights of women etc. Every criticism which will pour in will certainly not be constructive in nature but it will surely broaden the intellectual horizon of the community involved. They will learn to view the other side of the coin. This way a vegetarian Hindu might become aware of the views of a beef-eating Hindu. A scriptural fundamentalist will see the world through the eyes of the one who has rejected the infallible nature of religious scriptures.
The religious maturity which will be cultivated among the people through such discussions will enable them to react sensibly. They will not react violently to incidents of beef, pork or alcohol consumption. They will refrain from stalling film screenings and clashing with the police following an alleged act of sacrilege and blasphemy. That’s the kind of society which we should work towards creating. A society which ignores acts of provocation and resorts to constitutional means of protests like petitioning in courts instead of extra-judicial killings, violent agitations, vandalism of public property and forced censorship, all of which are reflective of mob justice.
It would be appropriate if this piece of writing calling for constructive criticism of religious practises is concluded with a piece of advice on some important religious matters. The past few days have been a witness to the Hindu fasting period of Navratra and Muslim mourning period of Moharram. Durga Puja celebrations will soon end with devotees of Ma Durga immersing her idols in water bodies across India. Considering the level of water pollution, it would be wise on the part of worshippers if they refrained from immersing idols in water bodies with high levels of pollution. From the coming years Durga Puja committees should strictly make use of only environment-friendly idols so that their immersion does not cause much damage to the environment.
Meanwhile, Muslims should also do away with the act of self-flagellation during Moharram. It doesn’t make sense to inflict wounds upon oneself with sharp and pointed objects. Instead, Muslims should donate blood in large numbers to mark the day of Ashura. Extravagance during religious festivals should also be avoided. Burning crackers worth crores of rupees during Diwali and causing enormous air pollution is not in the interest of the common man. Nor is it wise to sacrifice goats worth several lakhs during Eid-Al-Adha. India is predominantly a poor country wherein such acts of religious extravagance should be voluntarily shunned.
(This article was originally published in DailyO.)