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Rohit Dhankar

In small towns and provincial colleges there used to be a sub-species (in more than one senses) of homo-sapiens called “dada”. It was “sub” in the sense of a “sub-set” as well as “less than”, less than human at the least in thinking and moral sensibility. It was a bully. In small towns the dadas indulged in land encroachment for themselves as well as on behalf of their protected. As land grabbers they made money as well as created an aura of invincibility in the face of government authority and police. This also helped in creating fear. Everyone was scared of them but called them “gundas” behind their back, which was an apt description.

They also proclaimed themselves as guardians of the ijjat and rutba of some or other politician or some old powerful feudal family. If someone said anything which they considered ‘insulting’ to their malik they used the fear created in the society and invincibility in the face of police to browbeat that person into an apology or abject capitulation.

Two recent incidents in the newspapers draw a close parallel between religion and these dadas or gundas. One is concerned with temples demolished in Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) to widen the roads. I could find no news item which talks about the legal status of the ownership of land on which these temples were built. But going by the way temples mushroom allover India in the middle of roads and on unused government land it is almost certain that they were built on encroached property. They obviously were a serious traffic hazard and perhaps caused accidents. The government demolished a few of them in order to widen the roads and ensure smooth traffic flow.

This angered the Hindu swamis and BJP and they started protesting. As soon as the protests began the AP government capitulated and promised to rebuild the demolished temples on the same spots.

This is the usual story about middle-of-the-road-temples. Some smart fellow builds a temple on the road, no one is ready to stop him because of fear of ‘hurting religious feelings’, temple becomes established. It becomes a traffic nuisance and source of income for the encroacher.

About two years back Vasundara Raje government removed a large number of such illegally built temple from roads. One felt happy that the roads became better and traffic flow smoother. But then one leant that all these illegal occupiers of government property were allotted alternative plots of land for free to relocate their temples. In the name of religion first illegally occupy government land, cause serious nuisance and then get legally allotted lend for free in the bargain to remove that nuisance. This seems to be the modus operandi. The religion is clearly acting as a bully here.

Another news item in The Hindu (5th July 2016) was about so called sacrilege of Quran in Malerkotla of Punjab. This has resulted in arrest of a few people and a police investigation against an AAP MLA. Earlier in this incident some Muslims “resorted to burning of vehicles and damaging property following rumours that torn pages of the holy book were found in a cemetery”.

“The mob set buses, cars and other vehicles on fire and damaged some buildings. Police had to fire in the air to control the mob” says a newspaper report.

What do these incidents communicate?

The usual recourse to “hurt feelings” is not enough to explain these happenings. The pattern is too obvious and they happen with alarming regularity. Earlier there was tension and burning of shops in a UP town after someone saw  Arabic written on some paper plates. There was tension in Jaipur on the issue of removal of a temple which was serious traffic hazard.

Nor can this phenomena be explained by that trite statement that “it is not religion, it is the politicians using religion for their own nefarious purposes”.

One may ask: if religion can be used so often and so successfully for nefarious purposes then shouldn’t there be something fundamentally wrong or even evil about religion? It must have something in its structure that makes it a fit instrument of villainy. Now can anything fundamentally holy and unblemished be used so successfully for such a long time for nefarious purposes?

These kinds of incidents are actually to create fear of all things religious in the common people’s mind. This is to make religion above the law, above humanity, above the good of the people. It is to create an aura of invincibility in the face of the law of the land so that it can perpetually bully people. It is plain attempt to dominate. Politician is only a small unscrupulous and selfish player, the real bully is the religion itself. One may ask: but religion is not a person, how can it be a bully? Well, religion is ‘personified’ in the form of the deity, in the form of a book or a building. And it has its viceroys who act in its name. And a whole section of the society which draws benefits and privileges from its operations back those viceroys.

Contradictory acts

If the places of so-called worship are so holy that they cannot be removed why built them illegally on someone else’s property? How can something built stealthily in an illegal manner be holy? How can greed, unconcern for inconvenience to people, immorality of unjust occupation generate piety? What kind of god likes stealth, greed, injustice, and troubling innocent people? No, it is neither hurt feelings nor holiness; it is plain tactics of browbeating people into unquestioning submission. The ruckus created on these incidents is to maintain that fear, the tactics of the Bombaiya films’ bhailog: “we rule as long as the fear exists, so keep the fear intact” as they say in filmy dialogues.

If a book, Quran, is so holy to some believers that they can go on a rampage on seeing its torn pages why do they distribute it free on some occasions on the road side? They distribute it especially to non-believers. Should something so holy, dear to heart to the extent that one can burn property of other people and even try to kill if it is disrespected, be distributed to non-believers? Why make it freely available in the market place for a few rupees? What is the guarantee that any one who buys it will respect it? Is it sold with that condition? Why not keep Quran strictly within authorised safe sanctuaries if disrespect to it infuriates some believers?

Suppose someone buys a copy of Quran along with Capital, Nyaya Sutras and Critique of Pure Reason. And places them in his bookshelf side by side. Further, suppose termites damage the bookshelf and many of the books in it including all the four mentioned above. What is this non-believer supposed to do with these damaged books? Can he throw them out with all other books which he loved to read and keep as prised possessions? Is throwing The Quran out sacrilege? If one throws out termite eaten copies of Capital or The Nyaya Sutras or Critique of Pure Reason is he being disrespectful to these books which all are much richer in wisdom and knowledge than Quran? If throwing out damaged copies of these books is not disrespect to them why is that disrespect to Quran? A non-believer can read the Quran with the same intention of gaining insight into human thought as he reads other books. The rage generated and pretended in the name of Quran is simply a way of believers to impose their own attitudes on unwilling others. This is curtailing their freedom as building temples in the middle of roads is.

They have to be stopped. But bullies never stop as long as one keeps on surrendering before them. Bullies stop only when they are shown their proper place.

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