Pakistan's Sabeen Mahmud is India's Narendra Dabholkar
The once plural and tolerant image of the subcontinent is slowly and steadily fading away.
Throughout history, there have been numerous attacks on voices of reason and rationality. The dark ages of Europe led to inquisition and mass persecution of critical thinkers and voices of dissent. One of the greatest laments of the 20th century has been the partition of India in 1947 – which in half a century later led to the formation of three nations.
Today, the subcontinent is vetted with stories of hate crimes and savagery attributed to faith. The tradition of collective dialogue and social responsibility has been ripped apart into pieces; the new age youth are hungry for blood. In the recent times, many eminent personalities have fell prey to this bigoted mindset – Avijit Roy, Salman Taseer, Sabeen Mahmud and Narendra Dabholkar include this list. These four people belonging to each of the divided India are prime examples for the point I am trying to make.
Avijit Roy – Bangladesh
On February 26th, 2015, a Bangladeshi blogger, Avijit Roy, was brutally hacked to death by a militant in the city of Dhaka. Roy had generated online activism promoting positive rationality and secular humanism in Bangladesh. The activism triggered a massive protest in the city of Dhaka at Shahbagh Square, against the banned outfits and their role in the genocide of Bengali separatists in 1971, where thousands of Bengali men and women were tortured, raped and killed.
Roy was the founder of an activist group called Mukta Mona, and one of the modulators of the website that published critical essays on religious extremism and doctrines. Roy had been threatened by several religious organisations on Facebook and other online outlets earlier, which were easily defied by the blogger. On that fateful evening, while returning to his residence after attending a book fair accompanied by his wife, the couple was dragged out of the auto-rickshaw they had boarded and were stabbed multiple times as the public and police witnessed the entire scene, unmoved, hesitant to act. Roy Succumbed to the cuts he received on his head whereas his wife managed to survive, but with serious injuries.
Salman Taseer – Pakistan
Salman Taseer, the late governor of Punjab province of Pakistan once tweeted,
“A nation is judged not on how it panders to the wishes of the powerful, but by the way it stands by its weak and the oppressed”.
Taseer’s tweet read his mind. A brave and gutsy gentleman, on-set to defend the poor, the weak and the oppressed. He was gunned down by his own bodyguard, Mumtaz Qadri, on January 11, 2011, for the crime of defending a peasant Christian woman accused of blasphemy. Taseer spoke openly about his disaffection towards the controversial blasphemy law, terming it as a ‘black law’ in the constitution of Pakistan, and accused it as purely a man-made law constructed by former dictator General Ziaul Haq.
Several religious groups and terror outfits were fumed at his views, and went on a rampage, issuing religious edicts to murder him. The vehement episode didn’t stop there; the man who gunned down Taseer was showered with rose petals by thousands of lawyers in the streets of Lahore, as he was taken to custody. The world watched the events in absolute astonishment, and when Taseer’s grieving family managed to prepare for a peaceful funeral, no cleric would come forward to lead the prayers of the last rites, out of fear.
To add to this issue, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has recently accepted Qadri's appeal against death sentence. Let's see how things go for him now.
Sabeen Mahmud – Pakistan
In the last few weeks, two prominent voices in Karachi, activist Sabeen Mahmud and Dr Wahidur Rehman, a professor of Karachi University, have been silenced by bullets.
Sabeen Mahmud was an outspoken human rights activists and a vocal critic of Pakistan state policy on Balochistan. Before her death, Sabeen had hosted a seminar on the troubled province of Balochistan, featuring Mama Qadeer, the chairperson of Voice for Missing Baloch. On her return from that seminar, she was shot five times at a traffic signal by unidentified gunmen, and was pronounced dead on way to the hospital. On the issue of Baloch resistance, the Pakistan civilian leadership and the military establishment has been ruthless in cracking down protest and dissent, almost similar to the Indian establishment’s latent hostility to throttle armed resistance in Kashmir Valley.
Narendra Dabholkar – India
Narendra Dabholkar, a famous Indian rationalist, was bent on passing the Anti-Superstition Bill in the Parliament, and paid a heavy price, as he was shot dead point blank on August 20, 2013, while on his morning walk in his home city of Pune. Dabholkar had founded the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samiti as a countermeasure to fight and eradicate superstition and dogmatic practices deeply imbibed in the social setup.
As a mark of solidarity the Anti-Superstition and Anti-Black Magic Ordinance Bill was promulgated by the Maharashtra state government, four days following his assassination. However, two years down the line, the perpetrators of his murder haven’t been nabbed; the investigating team is left clueless and also pressurised to destroy the evidence as some reports claim. Despite this, quite staggeringly, the Maharashtra state police have sought help from prominent astrologers to assist in their case.
Indian rationalists have produced ground-breaking, myth-busting and miracle-destroying work in the last hundred years. Indian rationalists have played the role of a pied piper, leading the path towards reason in the society. They have served as an antidote to an otherwise godmen loving and fanatically superstitious Indian society; with guts and conviction they were able to expose and shame the mightiest of conmen. But their influence has started to drift.
Today the very belief and practices that rationalists slam as superstitious and unscientific are revered and pushed towards the wider evil agenda of relgio-politicism. And therefore, the president of the Rationalistic Federation of India, Dr Sanal Edamaruku, had to flee out of the country and seek refuge in Europe. His crime was that he counter-attacked the Catholic churches miracle claim of dipping water from the feet of Jesus Statute as void. He claimed that it was due to capillary action from a clogged drain.
The once plural and tolerant image of the subcontinent is slowly and steadily fading away. The space for rational dialogue, in matters relating to faith and practices, has eroded. Societies have chosen to bow down to guns and swords, and failed to stand up to reason. The political and media space covered up by the reactionary and intolerant forces has put the young population in a state of ideological confusion, unable to fathom between good and evil.
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