There is nothing bad in holding firmly to one’s religion or religious beliefs since the constitution permits us to do so. But, when this belief turns into blind faith with extremist views, it becomes dangerous, and this anger does not remain attached to any specific area, but consumes the entire society- even crossing the boundaries of neighbors.
When religion is used as a political tool, it is bound to foment trouble and bring within its fold misinterpretation and misrepresentation; that is what’s happening in South Asia. Although South Asia has progressed since the beginning of the 19th century, there is still a large chunk of the population that, instead of understanding faith in its true sense, chooses to hold superstitious beliefs and extremist interpretations of religion.
It is this section of the society which has been used for propagating political agenda through religion.
Every believer considers his religion to be pure and perfect and there is no harm in that, but when a person uses violent means to make a point or subjugates a person belonging to a different faith, it falls under the category of religious extremism. The ideology of hate for other faiths is intrinsic here and this is followed through harassment, torture, and killing. These acts are not considered sins, but they are committed with pride. Humanity and rationality take a back seat and everything is looked at, through an extremist prism, a prism which is fraught with violence.
From Socrates to Ibn Rushd (better known as Averroes in the West), the harassment of intellectuals and scholars at the hands of extremist forces is continuing in one form or the other. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh, Salman Taseer, Sabeen Mahmud have been murdered just for their beliefs and differing views, and the sad part of the story is that these killings have taken place at times when we have had democratic regimes in place.
Several parts of the world are still grappling with this ideology of blindness, hatred, and jingoism. Rather than subduing, religious extremism in South Asia is rising with each passing day.
Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh in India were murdered for speaking against the superstitious practices followed in society. They never opposed any religion or any religious belief. These writers simply exposed the hegemony of a particular class. These rationalists took a clear stand against the forces befooling the marginalised people and subjugating them. They spoke against caste atrocities faced by the dalits, Muslims, tribals, and Christians. They spoke against discrimination. Salman Taseer was a Muslim, but he had a soft corner for socialist ideals. A person cannot be murdered for believing in an ideology that falls outside the ambit of their religion.
Citizens are allowed to hold differing views in a democracy. But, when extremism breeds, it brings with it a fire of hatred and jingoism, making it impossible to let someone have an independent opinion on any issue.
Sabeen Mahmud was a social and human rights activist, fighting for the cause of victims of violence, especially the Baloch conflict victims. She was holding seminars and conferences, and she wrote columns in newspapers in support of the missing Balochi persons. She was against violence of all kind, be it from the state or anti-state actors. Sabeen believed in secularism and pluralism. She was killed just after finishing a program. A firm believer in human rights and she paid the ultimate price for her beliefs.
Bangladesh has become a dangerous place for bloggers to live in. Around 10 bloggers have been killed in violent attacks by extremist forces. Even journalists, students, and professors have not been spared. Asif Mohiuddin, Ahmed Rajib Haider, Niloy Neel, Nazimuddin Samad, and various other secular bloggers were put to death for their differing views. Professor Rezaul Karim Sidique was killed when he was going to his university. Sidique was murdered for teaching English literature “in a more open and liberal way” than expected, by some religious bigots.
A week after Sidique’s killing, a Hindu tailor, Nikhil Joarder, was hacked to death in broad daylight. Muslims, Christians, and Hindus have all felt the brunt of extremism in Bangladesh. People who hold differing or secular views and are expressing them openly are feeling insecure. The civilian population has been also targeted for their faith. After 2014, the year in which BJP came to power, about a dozen Muslims have been killed for eating beef or just for transporting cattle. Worst of all, not a single person has been convicted of these crimes. Instead of being subdued, religious extremism is growing at an alarming pace. Some religiously inclined parties coming to power is adding fuel to it, especially in India, which used to be considered a model for democracy and pluralism.
The more we give a free hand to extremist forces, the more we will see society plunging into darkness. We will lose our culture of tolerance to a bigoted few. To eradicate religious extremism from our society, drastic measures are needed at every level.