Towards Society based on Reason

Ram Puniyani

My political journey and thereby my social intervention has been to work towards a society with equality, social, economic and political. This is what made me to arrive at the understanding that social movements are the engine of social change. These social movements in turn are possible and effective in a democratic set up. This is what propelled me to question the politics in the name of religion, which started surfacing its head more prominently in the decades of 1980s. This politics is exclusive, authoritarian and against equality and human rights. It uses identity of religions for political agenda. During the beginning of this decade one could see the heightened religiosity of diverse sections of society. One could also observe that the impact of God men and blind faith practices are going up all around. As such roughly the politics in the garb of religion and practices with blind faith as the core ran parallel to each other in a sense.

My understanding of the politics in the name of religion made it clear that this politics harps on faith, projects ancient glorious past and creates the enemy image of other religious communities. The social common sense on one hand gets doctored by the Hate other propaganda; intensifies caste based violence, and increases the sense of anxiety and fear in the society. On the other it promotes faith based knowledge and in turn blind faith in society. In the decade of 1980s one could see all these running parallel to the Rath Yatras and reviving issues based on blind faith. These in turn acted as a stifling factor in the lives of the poor and deprived sections of society.

Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti

This is where invitations from Andh Shraddha Nirmulan Samiti to speak in their meetings came as a point of enlightenment for me; it gave me an insight into what is really happening on the ground in society. In the interaction with activists of Samiti I realized as to where our society is standing, what is the impact of faith healers, magic trick performers, astrologers, bhanamati performers etc. I could see that ANIS played a positive role in opposing the caste system and its atrocities on one hand and brought social awareness about issues related to pollution.

It was a great understanding for me to know that those people, who are for nationalism in the name of religion, are also the ones who are close to the promoters of blind faith, are against Reason and scientific temper. In most of these meetings the activists gave several instances of the blind faith which are tormenting the society and the vice like grip of elements that have been fooling the people under the garb of possessing supernatural powers and performing tricks presenting them as divine gifts. The whole campaign of ANIS to repeat the tricks and show the logic behind them is remarkable. Similarly the hold of astrologers has been challenged times and over again, the last time around in the May 2019 General elections, putting a huge reward, if they can predict the exact results, which they could not do any way.

Politics of Revivalism

What is ailing our society is the revivalism, which is stalking the streets. The economic policies and the rise of politics in the name of religion have increased the insecurities of the people, due to which the fraudsters are able to do their business. It was a great move that ANIS could pressurize for the bill against black magic, Maharashtra Prevention and Eradication of Human Sacrifice and other Inhuman Evil Practices and Black Magic. This was passed in Maharashtra Assembly, that too at a time when all over orthodoxy is on the rise. The murder of Dr. Dabholkar has been one of the major setbacks to the movement for a society with equality. Such a society is possible only in a society where rational thinking is upheld and followed. While the efforts like those of ANIS are growing, the worrying point is that the ruling forces are actively promoting blind faith. Our Prime Minster recalled Plastic surgery in Ancient India, while the previous Education minister challenged Darwins theory on the ground that our ancestors had not seen monkeys turning into human beings. Then what was popularized was the existence of genetic engineering, birth of Kauravas from a single cell, or Karna from the ear, Pushpak Viman, interplanetary travel and what not.

Tragically our education syllabus is also being filled with these irrational ideas. Now they are claiming the status of history for Ramayana and Mahabharata. Gujarat Chief minster claimed that every arrow of Lord Ram was a missile. The nuclear fission and other such things are being attributed to the times when the possibility for such things just does not exist. There is a deliberate promotion of faith based knowledge and its linking to the ancient period. The idea of those opposed to democratic values is to glorify the past where inequality was based on birth.

The faith based understanding is being imposed on society through multiple mechanisms. On one side the frauds, posing as divine beings are taking advantage of the illiteracy and insecurity of the average people. On the other, at political level those who have vested interests in the hierarchical values of feudal society are deliberately promoting faith based knowledge. The frightening part of the phenomenon is that our funding in promotion of science, technology are being diverted to areas which do not have much to contribute for social betterment. The heavy investment for research on Panchgavya (mixture of Cow dung, urine, milk, ghee and curd) is one such case.

Promotion of Faith based knowledge and practices

There is double game in promotion of such blind faith and faith related ideas. We have also seen the sprouting of large number of babas (Asaram and Gurumeet Ram Rahim are two notorious from among them) who have built their empires by promoting obscurantism and have also exploited the society in multiple ways. Many of the babas are also presenting their ideas in the garb of science.

While the gap created by the loss of Dr. Dabholkar cannot be filled, we need to redouble our efforts to fight against the practices and politics of those doing the business and politics of faith. Our committed workers have been doing remarkable work. We need to supplement their understanding by having workshops and training programs about values of freedom movement, Indian nationalism, the struggles of Joti Rao Phule and Ambedkar, the making of modern India, the establishment of scientific enterprises and the development which India could achieve. The threat of politics in the name of religion needs to be highlighted, as that is the major force, which is promoting irrational thought. While the murders of rationalists, Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, remain to be investigated properly, the fingers are pointing to the direction of forces which want Nationalism in the name of religion. This supplement of knowledge to our activists will certainly enhance our work and making them more effective in marching towards a society, where social policies will be guided by rational thought and we can aspire for a society with equality.

Tasks for Future

The valuable work of Anis needs to be strengthened now as challenges are rising. I appreciate the field work where experiments exposing magic tricks are performed. This needs to be broadened all over, supplemented by showing of relevant videos of Dr. Dabholkar and others. Schools and colleges should also be approached to have these programs. Seminars/lectures in different cities/areas need to be stepped up. These seminars take up issues related to blind faith along with issues related to rational thought movement, eradication of caste and gender hierarchy. Like minded organizations, which are working for promotion of communal harmony, secular values need to be linked to have these joint programs. The collaboration between ANIS and groups like Centre for Study of Society and Secularism and Sabrang needs to be deepened to ensure that our activists are better rooted in rational thinking and values of communal amity. The programs for graded training of our activists in different cities need to be planned to make the foundation for impact in the community.

After the murder of Dr. Dabholkar, attention has been focused on his work beyond those who were already working on these lines. This is a great tribute to the martyr as his works are now increasing in its impact and reach after his death. We need to develop some exhibitions which deal with the history of development of science, rational thinking and technology in our country. The contribution of Indian scientists in different areas also needs to be highlighted as those operating on faith based knowledge are becoming more assertive with political patronage. The hope and wish is that we consolidate on this phenomenon. We are living in times where the faith based knowledge is being promoted by the ruling government. This will require that we work at double the pace to propagate our values and ideas.

As ANIS completes three decades of its work, while we should be happy about what has been our achievements, at the same time we need to realize that our challenges are going to be much more in times to come. That calls for intensifying our efforts, and opening up to collaborations for propagating our values. The urgent need will be to have training programs for our activists, parallel to community programs in times to come. It is with this aim and determination that we celebrate the present milestone of our work.