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In India, Hindu nationalists embolden challenges to atheism

PUNE, India (RNS) — Within the first week of April, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Vichar Manch, a bunch devoted to the concepts of Indian freedom fighter Bhaghat Singh, introduced its seventh atheism convention can be held on April 10 on this sprawling metropolis in western India. Inside two days, the venue’s 350 seats have been all booked. Though the annual occasion had not taken place for 2 years because of the coronavirus pandemic, the organizers have been shocked by the large response.

However quickly members of the group started receiving threats on Twitter from Hindu nationalists, objecting to holding a gathering of atheists on Ramnavami, the delivery anniversary of the Hindu god Ram, which fell on the identical day. 

After getting calls from native authorities, mentioned Nitin Hande, a member of the group, “Police denied the permission to host the occasion on April 10, saying that they’d stress from many right-wing fringe teams. We needed to postpone the occasion to April 24.” 

On April 24, quite a few seats on the convention have been empty, and lots of attendees instructed organizers that they have been fearful of Hindu nationalist violence. 

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Of India’s 1.4 billion individuals, fewer than 33,000 are self-declared atheists. Freedom of speech, faith and conscience ensures in India’s Structure defend atheists, mentioned human rights lawyer Asim Sarode. Article 51A (h) assigns all Indian residents an obligation to develop “scientific mood, humanism and spirit of inquiry and reform.”

Atheism’s historical past in India dates again to the fourth century B.C. and the Charvaka, or Lokayat, faculty of philosophy, mentioned Sadanand Extra, a author and poet who heads the philosophy division at Savitribai Phule Pune College. Bhagat Singh, who was executed by the British in 1931 and impressed the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Vichar Manch, is remembered for his essay “Why I Am an Atheist,” nonetheless broadly learn as we speak.

Copies of the ebook “Why I Am an Atheist” by Indian freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. Picture by Varsha Torgalkar

However being an atheist in India has turn into harder with the rise of the Hindu nationalist or Hindutva motion and the success of its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Get together. For the reason that BJP gained nationwide elections in 2014, attacks on anybody who holds minority beliefs, together with Muslims, Christians, Dalits and nonbelievers, have elevated. Just lately, Hindutva activists have known as brazenly for the genocide of Muslims.

Seema Nayak, 42-year-old engineer from Maharashtra state, mentioned she has been atheist since childhood.

“I’ve all the time refused to take part in spiritual festivals and rituals because it’s in opposition to my logic. I didn’t enable them to carry out sure pujas for my son,” she mentioned, referring to Hindu rituals. Her rejection of faith has drawn criticism from her in-laws and others. “Lots of my relations don’t discuss to me. However I’ve maintained my stand that I can’t take part any spiritual occasion, even to please my relations.”

Although her husband can be an atheist and helps her, Nayak mentioned atheism is commonly tougher for ladies, who’re anticipated to hold ahead spiritual traditions within the household.

A 66-year-old retired professor from an engineering school in Pune who requested to stay nameless for worry of backlash from his Muslim group mentioned he was barred by spiritual leaders from taking part in his mom’s funeral when she died in 1997. When his father died in 2017, he knowledgeable the native media and police to stop protests on the funeral. Nonetheless, he’s afraid his relations may face social boycott from the group if his atheism turns into public.  

People attend an atheism conference in Pune, India, on April 24, 2022. Photo by Varsha Torgalkar

Folks attend an atheism convention in Pune, India, on April 24, 2022. Picture by Varsha Torgalkar

Being an atheist, mentioned the professor, “provides you a assist system, and you’ve gotten individuals to go when the group ostracizes you.” However he mentioned atheists may use extra assist, suggesting {that a} assist line and on-line sources may create a safer atmosphere for nonbelievers.

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Jaswant Zirakh, a member of the Tarksheel Society, a 40-year-old group in Punjab with greater than 1,000 members throughout the state, mentioned that, by and enormous, Indians are snug with atheist concepts. He mentioned threats come not solely from the BJP however from widespread spiritual leaders, colloquially generally known as godmen, who assault atheism out of worry of shedding energy and revenue.

“Widespread individuals in city and rural areas, and even children, take heed to our packages the place we (focus on) whether or not God exists or not and the way religions exploit them,” mentioned Zirakh. However “so-called godmen, astrologers and tantric gurus … unfold rumors about our work and atheism, saying atheists are not any good individuals. Someday they create ruckus on the occasions.”

This text is produced by Faith Information Service with assist from the Guru Krupa Basis.

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