Discrimination against atheists: Our outrage needs to be against injustice, not lack of faith

The world is not very kind to atheists. It is high time that we stopped outraging over faith and started protesting against discrimination and injustice.

Anshu Lal August 15, 2016 07:57:12 IST
Discrimination against atheists: Our outrage needs to be against injustice, not lack of faith

Rationality and faith are both two of the most important aspects of life. But what happens when rationality contradicts faith? How do we deal with lack of faith?

Atheism is perhaps the best example of lack of faith. So how are atheists perceived by the world?

Well, there are 13 countries in the world where the lack of faith in God can get you a death sentence.

The Free Thought Report 2013 from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) pointed out the discrimination against atheists in various countries. Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen are the countries where the punishment for blasphemy or apostasy is death, often by public beheading.

Discrimination against atheists Our outrage needs to be against injustice not lack of faith

Representational image. Reuters

Moreover, in Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait and Jordan, publication of atheist or extremist views on religion is banned or strictly limited. Who can forget about the gruesome murders of atheist bloggers and activists like Ahmed Rajib Haider, Avijit Roy, Ananta Bijoy Das and Niloy Neel in Bangladesh?

In the United States, emails released by WikiLeaks had revealed that the chief financial officer of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) had considered raising the question of whether Bernie Sanders is an atheist, hoping that the fact would cost him votes in the primary contest against Hillary Clinton.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre in January this year found that “being an atheist remains one of the biggest liabilities that a presidential candidate can have; fully half of American adults say they would be less likely to vote for a hypothetical presidential candidate who does not believe in God.”

In fact, the constitutions of seven ‘Bible Belt’ states in the US ban atheists from holding any public office, although technically, these laws are unenforceable.

The IHEU had also said that there was systematic or severe discrimination against atheists across the European Union.

Across the world, the Free Thought Report 2013 said that "there are laws that deny atheists' right to exist, revoke their citizenship, restrict their right to marry, obstruct their access to public education, prevent them working for the state...."

It is, thus, safe to say that most of the countries in the world react with mild or intense outrage when dealing with atheism.

What is the situation in India?

On 20 August, 2013, atheist and anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead by two youths on a motorcycle while he was out on a morning walk near Pune.

After his murder, no one claimed responsibility for the crime and no eye-witnesses came forward, according to this report in The Times of India.

In July 2014, a sting operation by journalist Ashish Khetan revealed that Pune Police had consulted a retired policeman-cum-tantric called Manish Thakur to try and solve the Dabholkar murder case. In February 2015, former Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar confirmed that the then Pune Police commissioner Gulabrao Pol had to be transferred because he had resorted to a planchet to solve the murder case.

The fact that the police turned to tantrics and planchets to try and investigate the murder of an atheist is not just a horrible irony but also shows how seriously police officials took that case.

The case was eventually handed over to the CBI after a Bombay High Court ruling. In June this year, almost three years after Dabholkar was murdered, CBI made the first arrest in the case when it took Virendra Tawde, member of a right-wing organization, into custody.

On 16 February, 2015, rationalist and CPI leader Govind Pansare was shot dead by motorcycle-borne assailants in Kolhapur, Maharashtra.

On 30 August, 2015, MM Kalburgi – writer, scholar and rationalist – was shot dead by two unidentified men in Dharwad, Karnataka. His murder was the third instance in two years where a rationalist author had been killed.

After Kalburgi’s murder, Bajrang Dal’s Bantwal co-convener Bhuvith Shetty compared his killing to a “dog’s death” and even threatened another rationalist.

However, it is not just Hindu fundamentalists who are involved in attacking atheists in India. In 2012, a church in Mumbai told its followers about a ‘miracle’ when droplets of water appeared at the base of a crucifix. When rationalist Sanal Edamaruku pointed out that the water was, in fact, coming from a drainage pipe, he made the church leaders so angry that they persuaded the police to file charges that Edamaruku had hurt their religious sentiments. Edamaruku himself had to flee to Finland to avoid further harassment.

According to Reuters, activists in India have said that the police are often reluctant or unwilling to investigate murders of atheists carried out by religious fundamentalists.

People all over the world need to realise that it is not enough just to be tolerant and respectful to all kinds of faith. They also need to be accepting of a lack of faith.

And that can only happen when people get over their obsession with faith. This obsession leads most of the people to perceive faith as such a necessary trait in a human being that its absence is seen as a flaw, which ultimately leads to discrimination against those without faith.

When we stop caring about whether someone has faith or not, we will have taken a huge step towards equality.

This is especially important for India because according to the 2011 census data, our country has around 33,000 atheists. This means that only 0.0027 percent of the population in India is atheist, probably making atheists the smallest minority group in the country.

A lot of resources are also wasted in our country in the name of religion. On Sunday, the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments came under flak from rationalists and atheists for spending public funds on the ongoing Krishna Pushkaralu river festival.

While Andhra Pradesh is spending over Rs 1,000 crore on the mega event, Telangana has released Rs 825 crore for providing amenities to the devotees during the festival which began on Friday.

"It's not just the money they spent but the very attitude of mixing state with religion is objectionable. They are religionising the politics and politicising the religion so that they have an advantage in elections," PTI quoted well-known atheist G Vijayam as saying. Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu are known for organising religious rituals and actively participating in them. Andhra Pradesh in particular has come under strong criticism for spending public money on religious events, despite the financial crunch the state is facing.

Instead of outraging over the faith of a person, we should be outraging over discrimination against people on the basis of (lack of) faith.

With inputs from agencies

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