There isn’t much difference between what’s been happening recently in India and Bangladesh, with rationalists and freethinkers being butchered by fundamentalist elements. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi were mercilessly killed because they advocated freethinking and rationalism. It’s noteworthy that, of late, a certain section of the hindu community in India is turning intolerant to progress. The only thing that probably differentiates them from their muslim counterparts across the border, is that they are clad in saffron and sport sandalwood tilak on their foreheads. So, when you look at it carefully, a fanatic’s faith in a particular religion or sect doesn’t really matter. That person is a threat to human society as long as he is against democracy and free speech.
We can carry on speculating who really killed Kalburgi and we would not be wrong in our assumption. Earlier, religious fanatics threatened him with imminent death if he did not mend his ways. He apparently provoked them by once famously insisting that idol worship was a lost cause and “if one wants to, one can even urinate on idols”. Staunch hindus didn’t take those words kindly. An Akademi award winner and an academic, Kalburgi had served as the vice-chancellor of Kannada University in Hampi. He was always vocal about blind faith and caste-based discrimination. It is not surprising that his views did not go down well with people blinded by their religious ideologies.
Narendra Dabholkar, a resident of Pune, met a similar fate in 2013, when he was out for his morning walk, as did another non-believer Govind Pansare who was killed in Kohlapur earlier this year. The chief minister of Karnataka has issued an unconvincing statement that his government would try its best to bring to justice Kalburgi’s yet unidentified murderers.
That citizens across the Indian subcontinent can no longer voice their beliefs is shocking. And we are not talking about muslim zealots alone. Intolerance towards free speech and reasoning has been taking a regular toll across Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. What makes it worse is the extermination of freethinkers and progressive citizens in the democratic republic of India.
A nation cannot progress if it kills citizens who educate the masses about breaking free from mental barriers and outdated convictions. Such societies are condemned to live in the dark ages.
Bangladesh has already lost young and free-spirited citizens like Abhijeet and Ananta to islamic fanatics, who like Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi, in India, can only be blamed for standing up to religious intolerance and bigotry. People who place their faith in wrong beliefs and religious boundaries are afraid of those who speak the truth and show them the folly of their ways. Having lost to reason, these fanatics can only resort to violence to make a point. Societies that accept terror as a means to silence thinking do not understand the value of free speech. Which is why their religious advocates insist that free speech should not hurt the religious sentiments of anyone or any sect, without even understanding that that is exactly what free speech is all about; it comes without any guideline or restraint.
Change agents, who set out to transform societies have always faced resistance and persecution from those who hold on to their old ways. Most are either put behind the bars or mercilessly killed. Yet, they seldom manage to restrain dreamers from altering the flow of civilisation. We might have started to consider ourselves to be progressive because we have made scientific advances and raised out standard of living, yet the truth remains that there are still certain hidden corners of our society where the glow of knowledge and truth cannot penetrate.
India is unlike Pakistan or Bangladesh. Its democratic upbringing is not a hoax or a stunt; it is more religiously tolerant than its neighbours. But then, it has not managed to stop the killings of Dabholkar, Pansare and Kalburgi; neither has it brought its killers to justice. This is a matter of shame for India. Despite being a far stronger nation than Pakistan and Bangladesh with a superior intelligence set up, its government has failed to book the perpetrators of the 2006 and 2008 Malegaon blasts, or those responsible for the bombing of the Samjhauta Express that ran between Pakistan and India or those responsible for bombing its numerous mosques.
We can only hope that such apathy towards human life in the name of upholding religious values does not continue forever in India and its government actively intervenes in identifying and punishing the terrorists. It is India’s heavenly and historic mandate to remain a safe haven for those who believe in free speech and progress. If India fails to do so, it would be far worse than its neighbours. And that makes it appropriate to quote the famous Indian radical Nabarun Bhattacharya: “This valley of death is not my country.”