IS ATHEISM, AN OFFENCE PUNISHABLE?

Dr. Palany Arangasamy

If free thinking and rationalism cannot have their own way of deliberating and debating the virtues of secular humanism in a country, there the principle of atheism is a punishable offence. The section 295 (A) of the Indian Penal Code known as India’s blasphemy law imposes anything malicious against religion is punishable with a maximum of three years imprisonment and fine.

But even without any such prosecution and a verdict of punishment, there were many stalwarts of rationalism put to death by the champions of theism. In other words those who believe in the mercy of God indulge in merciless killings of fellow beings, when they put questions on the authenticity of God and religion.

Avijit Roy,

Assassinated Atheist

The list of victims in the altar of theism includes Avijit Roy, an atheist of Bangladesh. He was killed in Dacca on February 26 in the presence of his wife. In the second week of February, when  a communist veteran, staunch rationalisht and progressive writer Govind Pansare was on his morning stroll in Kolhapur, Maharashtra a couple of motorcycle borne men shot him to death. In 2013, anti-superstition activist Narendra Dabholkar was killed in Pune in a similar attack.

Free thinker Forum originally formed in Delhi in 2011 with 70 members has been confronting a devilish opposition ever since it started. Its membership strength has gone up to 1300. The Chennai branch that began with 15 members has grown to a strength of 1500 members. Similar units are functioning in places such as Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Pune and Kolkata.

These have been organised under the aegis of Nirmukta, an online community founded in 2008. These free thinkers are those who form their opinions about the universe not on the basis of tradition or authority but on the basis of reason.

These freethinkers feel that there is a stigma attached to being an atheist. Strictly speaking not all of them are atheists; they call themselves as either an agnostic or a skeptic or a rationalist. An agnostic is one who pleas a total ignorance of God. He does not know whether the God exists or not.

The Rationalists are those who, as the term implies hold reason in primary order. The skeptics doubt religious claims and do not accept rituals and ceremonies. But all of these groups reject religion even though there are minor differences in ideology.

Atheism is still a stigmatised concept. In the Indian Census, there is not category called atheist. The Global index of Religion and Atheism, in its report of  2012, says that 81 percent of Indians are religious, 13 per cent are not religious, 3 per cent are convinced atheists and the remaining three percent are not sure of what to say.

Atheism is not a new – born twentieth century concept. Atheists are also known as materialists, in a way. They have existed in India since ancient times. Carvaka school of thought was an atheist school founded in 6th century BC. It had close relationship with ancient Buddhist thought.

But this good – old movement did not seem to have been widely prevalent but confined to certain regions. In a custom ridden society, it is a tough task to swim against the cross currents of dogmatic traditions and foolish superstitions. One who braved the odds of conservative society and channeled his rationalistic thoughts was Periyar E.V.Ramasamy (1879-1973).

Single handedly he stood against the onslaught of opposition and boldly called himself an avowed atheist. He thundered in public meetings that one who founded God is an idiot and one who prayed God is a fool.

Ever since he started his Self – respect Movement, many anti – superstition Campaigns have been organised. Thousands of young volunteers come forward to join the rank and file of Dravidar Kazhagam.

This parental organisation has been spearheading the movement and continue to disseminate the ideologies of Periyar, the patriarch of Dravidians. Under the present leadership of Dr. K. Veeramani, the President, the ideologies of Periyar are not only confined at the regional level but also at national level and even occupies an international coverage.

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