Critical thinking, or the right to question authority or go against a majoritarian view, may not be in vogue in the country these days, but valuing the individuals freedom to express himself or herself has roots in ancient India, says Uttam Niraula, a global board member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, also known as Humanists International. Democracy, dignity and equality collectively qualify as humanism, and have been adopted more by the West, he says. Mr. Niraula was in the city in connection with a three-day international conference organised by the Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti, founded by the late rationalist Narendra Dabholkar. The conference marked 30 years of the rationalist and anti-superstition movement in the State, and witnessed participation from several organisations the world over working in humanism, human rights and promoting a scientific temper. Mr. Niraula spoke toThe Hinduon whether a humanist is necessarily atheist, and the mixing of religion with politics. Excerpts.
Who is a humanist?
A humanist is someone who questions authority, is free thinking, open minded and does not violate human rights. Because human rights are universal and cannot be violated in the name of caste, religion, masculinity or politics. The Humanist International, though based in London, works in around 70 to 80 countries. There are some countries like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia where it is very difficult for us to work. We are working on human rights issues in general. There are countries in the world where people are not able to express their ideas, if those are different from the mainstream. A few examples can be seen in India as well. It is our belief that in a plural society, everyone should be able to express their ideas with dignity.