Very disturbed to read this story about a non-bailable offence being registered against JAM editor Rashmi Bansal for “hurting religious sentiments”. (Amit has more here, and yes, it’s idiotic that such laws exist.)
I got separate mails from a few friends today, jokingly suggesting that I might be the one in trouble next given some of the responses to my Groucho Marx-as-Krishna post. Thing is, you can never be sure when and how this sort of thing might develop into something serious. One minute you’re in paroxysms of delight picturing Peter Lorre as Shakuni in a 1930s Hollywood version of the Mahabharata, and next thing you know you’re behind bars in some squalid Tihar cell, with a local Sydney Greenstreet-lookalike eyeing you lasciviously.
It’s scary how eager some people are to be offended and how they want to then let the whole world know about it, and pay for it. Even scarier is how thin the line between moderate religiousness and extremism can be, and how quickly it gets breached when atavistic feelings come to a boil. My first experience of this was in 1992, when I saw my harmless old grandmother whooping in joy, doing cartwheels around the house (or almost) and rah-rahing Uma Bharati’s rabid speeches in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition. Everything I had so far known about this sweet, affectionate lady vanished, drowned in a hatred that came from a 45-year-old source: the Partition riots.
Early this year I interviewed Kiran Nagarkar and he said something that resonated strongly with me, though it was on the face of it a simplistic remark expressed in a convoluted, self-conscious way. He said: “I’m always afraid that I might become intolerant towards intolerant people.” I’ve had cause to think about that statement – because (thanks in part to some unpleasant recent incidents) I’m finding it less easy to be tolerant of religious people, even the ones who are dignified and non-obsessive.
This makes me uncomfortable, because it never used to be this way. I’ve never worn my atheism like a badge, or bothered getting into arguments about God, or tried to influence other people’s worldviews. As it happens, many of the most important people in my life – including my mother, girlfriend and grandparents – are believers. They aren’t ostentatiously religious (except for one grandmother), but they have a quiet, steadfast faith in a Higher Power. I have no desire to go about poking holes in their beliefs, and I’m willing to go along with them to an extent. If my participating in a Diwali puja or accompanying someone to a temple or a gurudwara makes a loved one happy, well, that’s more important than my atheist principles. (Besides, as Groucho said, “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”)
But like I said, this has changed slightly. And I hope this new intolerance I’ve been feeling isn’t the beginning of “atheist fanaticism” or something similar. As history repeatedly shows us, one evil quickly begets another.
(Of course, the above reflections bear little relevance to the issue at hand, which is that some idiots decided that religious sentiments have been hurt and used an archaic, unfair law for persecution. All the best again to Rashmi.)
P.S. This is a good time to revisit these fine posts by Scott Adams: 4 Billion Losers, Education and Religion, Talking to God, and Atheists: The New Gays.