Remember the time when you were forced to participate in mandatory school prayers or when you were told that people who say they don’t believe in God are just plain upset with their lives because something went wrong in it?
For the first, I am sure that most of us didn’t notice that we had no say in the matter of praying; schools believed that everyone should believe in God. And for the second, let me tell you that it’s pure assertion. Because each and every individual who is born lives without the concept of religion or God till the time they are introduced to it. By that logic, everyone is born an atheist and are converted into a religion.
Even legality has left a grey zone to the atheist on their right to freedom of expression. Though Article 25 of the Indian Constitution guarantees every individual the “freedom to conscience and the right to practice and profess one’s religion”, it still becomes problematic when it goes ahead and expands on what the state should be doing to protect the right of various religions. It doesn’t talk about how to protect the right of those whose free conscience makes them reject the existence of God.
Added to this is section 25 of the IPC which prosecutes anyone who insults religion. Unfortunately, this also becomes disadvantageous for the atheists in two ways-
1. Insult has not been defined so it’s decided by the court and the affected party.
2. Most of the times, atheists question religion which is conceived as an insult and makes them more susceptible to legal action.
In a society where the courts asks you to swear by God that you’ll be truthful (which means that they are running under the assumption that everyone believes in divine interventions) and even media ignores the activists who profess atheism – like they ignored the murder of Narendra Achyut Dabholkar – it’s not uncommon to see politicians ignoring atheists in their agenda (because they constitute a minority among the population).
Even if you want to fill personal details for some official paperwork, you have to tick the box for religion ( obviously you can tick the option of ‘others’ if you’re an atheist, but it includes tribal religions as well that don’t come under mainstream religions like Hinduism or Jainism or Islam and technically, atheists are outside the ambit of religion).
The proportion of atheists is so low because of the fence-sitters – people who question their belief in God every day but keep the navaratri vrat or roza during Ramadan because they are confused between their indoctrination about the existence of God and the rationale of their own mind.
Historically, atheists have been subjected to violence, have had their existence removed from the chapters of history, despite many religions like Hinduism and Buddhism allowing the existence of atheists and equating them to theists. Every time someone questions a godman or a religious book, they are called out as people of different faiths or rather of a ‘rival’ faith by our leaders (because of the lack of institutionalisation within atheists).
At the end of the day, the discussion is not about whether God exists or not, because no one can prove it conclusively. Rather, it’s about whether atheists exist or not in a paradigm where they become the common enemy of all religions who have their common base in the belief that God exists. Religion evolved from a mere legal fiction and state of mind to a social construct because they could share a common history. It’s time we question whether we are giving atheists the right to write their own history.