This article written in the wake of Narendra Dabholkar’s killing gives a few pointers as to how rationalists and superstition-busters might be more successful by laying emphasis on the mistakes they make, but is largely filled with words that ring hollow.
“When a minuscule minority aims to scare, browbeat and threaten people of faith by trying to get legislation passed that criminalises a set of practices they voluntarily submit to, what we have is the naked use of privileged access.”
If someone believes in a Jhadoo-wale-baba and gets duped into paying a lot (fifty bucks for a daily-wager?) of money for his misplaced belief, will his voluntary submission be a defence for the criminal? A blanket assumption of caveat emptor? The problem is that such services don’t come with warning labels like ‘Exorcism-at-your-own-risk’ or ‘ShakalakaBoomBoom, TeraPaisaGoomGoom’.
“In post-colonial societies, the anti-traditionalist worldview can be received wisdom as much as any other tradition. Such a formulation might hurt the bloated egos of those who think that university departments and wistfully imported and badly digested bits of European post-enlightenment thought elevates them vis-à-vis their fellow people, seen as haplessly ignorant.”
This theme is the author’s favourite and he returns to it again and again. What I fail to grasp is the anathema that the author shows towards rationalist thought since it (according to him) originated in the evil West. He sees it bulldozing away all the plurality of Indian beliefs and existence, while quietly ignoring the possibility that rationality itself might be diverse. I’m sure no sane rationalist (if there are any) believes that weddings are a superstitious practice that need to be done away with. The author makes his burning-man of a rationalist condemn all rituals with equal vigour. He pictures these rationalists neutering social life and homogenizing everything they touch like Phenol-toting nu-age Midases.
In his last exhortation he wants ‘rationalism’ to find ways to preserve the “plural ways of being human”. Well, sure. How about the exponential diversity in the way you dress, the food you eat, the places you go to, the people you meet, the movies you see, the music you listen to, the work you do. the books you read, the paintings you buy, the way you speak? Most of the above is not available to the class that is most in the cross-hairs of the peddlers of make-believe, yes, but one thing that experience has shown us is that BIG THINGS like education and upward-mobility can lessen the effectiveness of faith-
healersstealers, but not eliminate it. Shashi Tharoor had a Ph.D at 23, but ended up launching Naveen Jindal’s Trivortex Tiranga Bangle.
Rationality doesn’t require sterilisation of all religious thought and expression. Worship idols and go on a Hajj, but please don’t marry off your daughters to dogs. (No, not even your mangalik ones.)