• Punjab Sacrilege bill: A Dangerous Game

    Vidya Bhushan Rawat

    August 27, 2018

    Punjab’s Congress government trading a dangerous path again trying to ‘beat’ BJP in using religion as a pretext. Why Mr Amrinder Singh feel that any critique to religion is sacrilege and the person need to be punished for life?

    While, I can understand that in multicultural societies we need to be very careful. As administrator we must be above our personal prejudices based on caste, religion and regional identities and therefore ensure that deliberate attempt to dishonor faith or humiliate people on the basis of their faith must be protected, in the very similar way as people have right to profess their faith as well as declared that they are non believers.

    This country developed secularism under the guise of multiculturalism which left non believers, humanists, atheists, rationalists outside the prism of ‘secularism’ even when our first prime minister was a proclaimed atheist yet secularism was more used as symbolism to look better governed and functioned than our problematic neighbours where religious bigot dominated the political discourse as well as politics.

    The Sarv Dharm Sambhav business in India has hurt those who seek reforms with in their own religions. It stop people from doing so as the religious groups join hands. Multiculturalism and secularism are not synonymous as being suggested in India. Secularism is basically for the state to be non religious and treat all equally as per rule of law.

    Now, Punjab Sacrilege bill is still not known as what is sacrilege. Frankly, Punjab was not bothered about others. The Akalis had prepared the bill that any one who defile Guru Granth Saheb or speak ill against it will be punished and the bill was returned by the center and now punjab government has become more ‘inclusive’ and included Geeta,Quran and Bible in it. Question is what is the definition of sacrilege? Will it be physical burning or defiling of the religious books or the definition would be enlarged to include any critique of religion or religious practices, in the name of ‘hurting’ ‘religious sentiments’ of the people or spreading animosity among communities. If the bill stops people from critiquing religion then it will become blasphemy law and will be dangerous. We all are witnessing how secular, human rights activists, minority rights activists are being attacked in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia under the blasphemy laws where questioning Islam is blasphemous. Will Punjab lead India towards a new blasphemous act ? Will other states too follow this ridiculous act to appease all the religious people of sarv dharm variety ?

    All religions have deeply inbuilt prejudices. There are discriminatory practices divinely sanctioned by religion. You can say some are better than others but by and large they remain rigid as religions do not allow you to ‘amend’ their ‘verses’ or hymns which are absolutely out of date as per our times unlike our constitution which allow people to amend the rules or acts to suit the interests of the people according to the time.

    It means all the critique by the Dalit Bahujan Adivasis in India to the so called brahmanical religious text which degraded them and devalued them, will come under this act ? It means any Muslim woman or former Muslim who question Quran or any christian who write ‘ Why I am not a Christian’ should face life imprisonment ? It means Dr Ambedkar’s ‘Riddles of Hinduism’ will be prohibited ? It means we can’t read Salman Rushdie’s book ‘freedom at midnight’ or Satanic verses. If means all the Mazhabis and Ravidasis who critique Sikkhism will get life imprisonment. In democratic societies, we need not to agree with everything said by people or written by them but we defend their right to express themselves. Differences are only countered through providing better critique and alternatives and not by stifling their voices or sending them to imprisonment.

    It is dangerous. All Ambedakrites, human rights activists, those believe in human freedom must oppose the Punjab bill as it is an attempt to stop people from critiquing religion. We can understand and will support if some one defile a religious place physically but writing critique of religion or speaking against it does not and should not come under such stringent laws. Even if Punjab government want an act, it must consult human rights groups, general public at large, social activists on the issue. The supreme court must reject it unconstitutional which gives us freedom of expression and thought.

    Is not not strange and shameful that religious critique which our constitution allow us to do is being banned and punishment being made to life imprisonment while those who are burning the constitution and insulting it are let off lightly.

    What an India. Rahul Gandhi and Congress party must ponder it whether Amrinder Singh is deliberately hurting Congress or whether he has the support from Congress high command. If the party high command support it, then we must say, the congress has still not learnt its lessons well and continue to appease the religious groups. It is time, the voices of common people must be heard and not merely the religious heads. Punjab government must be forced to take this bill back which is against our constitution and all democratic norms. It violate the fundamental rights of an individual to critique religion and can be misused by police officials as well as politicians to target their opponents which will bring more chaos and anarchy in the society. India has to be guided by religious morality and not through individual religious values.


    Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]

    First published in Countercurrents.

    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.

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