By Anam Naqvi
The general idea is that when you become a journalist, you start making informed opinions or statements, but at a recently concluded workshop for the fraternity I realized that it isn’t always true. A more daunting phenomenon makes its presence felt: religion. Religion has the power to make people either think rationally or just give up all the rationale they have and descend on a path of partial darkness, clouding the way they think.
This statement someone made at that forum, “Desh sirf emotions se chalta hai” (the country runs on emotions), stayed with me. At first, I disagreed. I don’t think a country does, or would, run on flared sentiments. It runs on goods and services, on GDP; we all know that. A country runs on money, it produces, it borrows and it lends. A nation is built on the idea of a better future, with security, the idea of upliftment and even luxury or at least the absence of paucity. No, the statement is absolutely wrong, I thought.
But, in light of what has been going on recently in ‘our’ country, the attack on freedom of expression is apparent and that questioned this idea and my take on it. Whether it is the actual Dadri lynching incident, or the stream of events that followed the episode, most media and–more crucially—the social media has been discussing the ludicrousness of it. One’s thought process becomes quite convoluted when such a case is presented. How do you approach something like this? What would you think about it? People have already discussed the beef aspect and some others the false nationalism and the Hindutva angle. But, I wanted to discuss the Right to freedom of religion, as enshrined in the constitution.
I thought I would go about this in a manner that involved a lot of research, I’d add some quotes and throw in some data–like a good report should be. But, I decided to treat the subject like any layman would, because fundamental rights encompass all of us.
The manifestation of the Right to Freedom of Religion seems perfectly straightforward, doesn’t it? One is born in a religion and practices it, not harming anyone. You do not like the religion you are born into and want to convert–approved. You can perform rites without being harmed; and maybe even choose to question your religion or not follow any.
But, in a free country are we really free in terms of religion? Do we not run social, economical and political risks by endorsing one religion or denouncing another?
Religion—A Private Affair or Public Spectacle?
Defining polity with reference to religion is a difficult task in a diverse society. But, political parties and politicians seem to strike a chord with the receptive factions and step-in on fervent matters so they can bask in some limelight. As a noted reporter said recently in a TV debate, while elections are fought with development as the main agenda, religion and inciting sentiments are always run as parallel agendas. The politics of the vote bank are not an illusion, they exist and hence form a large part of the parties’ agendas.
While some look at instigating the majority and asking them to awaken and seize the day, others might use the same context and seek to appease the minority. More often than not, policy changes are coloured with a religious or casteist ideology. Debaters within the education and employment areas vie for reservations or policy changes citing religion or caste as the reason; and when demands are not met, popular leaders among the “janta” can kick up a storm to influence legislative changes. Simultaneously, political leaders side with the protesting units in hope of garnering votes. Religion and public lives seem to go hand-in-hand. It is not surprising if politicians may believe entirely different things in person, but attempt to side with one, only with an agenda and as means to an end.
Why does a supposedly personal undertaking become essentially public and question the very liberty granted to us by a fundamental institution? When did what we believe in, or not, end up being allowed to be shred in public? Is the constitution that fragile or the country’s inhabitants used to polarisation that they don’t think of it as a violation? When did being tolerant towards each other become anti-national?
When I think of all this and ponder over it, I start feeling that may be our country does run on emotions; where the idea of religion is pulled out from the personal realm and presented in the public platter. You will be judged, political ideologies will be thrust upon you, your global outlook already set, as you introduce yourself to someone.
Shouldn’t the Right to Freedom of Religion also mean the permit to set one’s religion aside and not run the risk of affliction?
Anam Naqvi is currently working at the Economist Intelligence Unit as an editor and has been in the news and research business for over five years. She recently graduated from iPolicy, conducted by CCS Academy.
The article first appeared on Spontaneous Order.