Sunday, September 30, 2012

International Blasphemy Rights day: why we need to celebrate

30th September is celebrated as the International Blasphemy Rights day. It celebrates freedom of expression and the right to condemn certain religious views and beliefs.

“Blasphemy” is quite a new word for me. I had picked it up only a few months back with reference to some headlines. I was quite amazed to read how a few idiots can have facebook and twitter banned for everyone in the country. It was claimed that a 1024 jpeg file had hurt the sentiments of millions. It had hurt or it will hurt? I thought.

Though the word was new but the concept wasn’t completely alien to me. Though we may not have used it in our country, the concept is very much living amongst us. Religious fundamentalism is not only dirty but is drenched with blood in our country as well. The examples are not only plenty but are too scandalizing for one to even recount.

Personally speaking, I remember how a mob had reached near our school when a temple was touched somewhere in Rajasthan. Oversensitiveness towards one’s “family religion” and a shocking reaction by a self-proclaimed atheist does not come as a shock any longer. I remember how many times I have been criticized for saying something about “their” religion. And when you criticize your own religion, you are seen as a rebel, an atheist or an appeaser of minority.

But now, let’s recall certain historical facts: Archaeology took a considerable period of time to be accepted as it had challenged the church. Copernicus's work could be published only after his death. The vedic ritual of sati was banned in nineteenth century. Muslim reform movements in India also began in nineteenth-twentieth century.

The point here is that these were also cases of blasphemy. But do we regret them?
Blasphemy allows one to criticize the impractical and unjust laws. Mahabharata opens with the note that “with time, what is dharma may become adharma and what is adharma may become dharma”. The laws in Islam were written based on the political, socio-economic conditions of that time and so it was very practical. 

It is not to say that blasphemy cannot be used by people to provoke communal disharmony and insult a certain community. But can a picture really hurt the sentiments of people? I have seen so many pictures of Mahatama Gandhi and Lord Ganesh in new and contemporary avatars. But I just laugh at them and take them in a good humour. While I laugh, I don’t think that my belief in Lord Ganesh decreases. I also remember reading news that in some western country, they had used a goddess’s image in an advertisement to promote “beef”. The idea was that it was so tasty that even the goddess could not resist. Certainly, this was not very humorous. But I still didn’t find it offensive. Maybe I am less religious or maybe I am not bothered by what people think about my gods and beliefs.

And if people know that such images are meant to hurt the sentiments, then just ignore it. Accept the fact that people are jobless and have no time but to prove how superior their religion is and how all others are fools and barbaric. Feel pity for them and move on. Banning an entire website or putting the person in jail or organizing public demonstrations…let’s realize that this is what the perpetrators had wished for. They had desired for attention and for disruption of peace. Don’t pay them any attention. If we are true believers, then let’s leave the fate of such people to God. 

Blasphemy has also been used by people to provoke sentiments of revenge and violence. The picture may have one objectionable element but during the communication, every element becomes objectionable. We need to realize that if people are there who design such images; there are also people, who claim to be from “our” side, who add more effects to them.

To conclude it, I want to redefine Blasphemy. Blasphemy is a device of a few which does not hurt but is made to hurt the sentiments of, as claimed, millions.  Remember, an eye for an eye will make everyone blind!

also published @ Rising Kashmir Newspaper

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