Often, ideas justified in the name of religion are considered sacrosanct no matter how ridiculous or devious they maybe. It is the reason for practices like untouchability to have continued among a sizable number of Hindus till date, or why a sizable number of Muslims still support the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy. Such faces of religiosity, though even rejected by liberal adherents of religions as misinterpretations, come in conflict with a modern human rights framework.
There was a time when the Indian subcontinent hosted a plethora of scholars and a variety of conflicting ideas survived in consonance, with the likes of Charvak preaching atheism being called a rishi. But now, the open market of ideas in India is under threat. Artists, rationalists and people from various other dimensions have had their right to free speech abridged merely in order to accommodate the fragile sentiments of religious fanatics.
One of the most recent incidents to have made the national news is the arrest of Kiku Sharda for mimicking Gurmeet Ram Rahim. Kiku, a comedian in the show ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’, mimicked Gurmeet Ram Rahim, the chief of the Dera Sacha Sauda in a show called Jashn-e-Umeed and was charged under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. The complaint was filed by one of Gurmeet Ram Rahim’s followers.
A word or two needs to be said about Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh Insaan. He is the current chief of Dera Sacha Sauda, a non-profit spiritual organization. But he is no ordinary Baba. Popularly known as Rockstar Baba, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Sing claims to be a human being with a plethora of talents. He enjoys Z-level security and has also released a series of movies titled MSG: Messenger of God. He also has a ridiculous amount of popular music videos. But this self-styled godman has attracted his fair share of controversy. He has been charged with extremely serious offences including murder and rape. He exercises a dangerous amount of influence over his followers. Around 400 of his followers have castrated themselves on his instructions. The Dera claims to promote peace and harmony amongst all religions and serve the society. But the reality might be quite the contrary.
There are a lot of interesting things to be taken from this instance. First off, Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), one of the most draconian and unjust legal provisions in the country, has been used arbitrarily, though Indian courts have time and again said that any legal provision should be applied in a fair and reasonable manner. Section 295A has been used to unjustly curb free speech in various instances. Actors, authors and other artists are the people who are worst struck by this provision, even though it was contended when it came into being that “the fundamental principle that those who are engaged in historical works, those who are engaged in the ascertainment of truth and those who are engaged in bona fide and honest criticisms of a religion shall be protected”. Many eminent jurists, lawyers and judges have argued against the existence of this section, but it still exists and is extremely harmful to the society.
Secondly, it is interesting to note that the Dera Sacha Sauda gets recognition as a religion. Section 295A is used against speech targeting any religion or religious beliefs with malicious intent. It is ridiculous to think that the Dera as a contemporary organization is above criticism despite being shrouded in controversies. If the Dera Sacha Sauda can be considered as a religion and Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim a religious leader, then the recognition of the church of the flying spaghetti monster doesn’t seem that ridiculous. This also depicts a very harmful trend where these self-proclaimed “messengers of God” and Babas get immunity from criticism and rational thinking and good humour is suppressed.
It is one of the several instances this country has witnessed in the past few years where free speech has been suppressed as religious feelings were hurt. Books and films have been banned to accommodate religious feelings. Although Section 295A may not qualify as a blasphemy law, it surely does act like one.
It is true that the freedom of speech and expression should be used with utmost due care and responsibly, but it should not be curbed otherwise. As a nation, we must collectively reject such practices and must not encourage religious bullying at any rate. Free speech and freedom from religious bullying must prevail. The only intolerance we must show is towards sensitive religious bigotry, a threat to the society at large.
(Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)