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Religious mobs replicate blasphemy laws, 'threatening' liberty in a free country

Nihangs, Lakhbir Singh
By Ajit Singh* 
A Dalit man, Lakhbir Singh, was mercilessly beaten up and lynched to death near farmers’ protest site in the State of Haryana allegedly by Nihang Sikhs. It was alleged that he committed blasphemy by desecrating the Holy Book Guru Granth Sahib.
The group considers itself as self-appointed guardian to protect their religion. In 2016 it played a predominant role, under whose influence the Akali-BJP government in Punjab came up with the blasphemy law, which included penal provisions for sacrilege of the Sikh Holy Book. The law was later it was rejected by the Centre on the ground that all religions are to be treated equally.
Cynical juggernauts always find refuge in all political parties, irrespective of the ideological spectrum they adhere to. In 2018 the Amarinder Singh government in Punjab attempted to pass a legislation, which sought life imprisonment to those who sacrilege of holy books of the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.
The scope of blasphemy laws and the emergence of extrajudicial radical entities in democracies around the world are known to have gone great length to serve their false pride. In a pluralistic and multi-ethnic society, one shies away from discussing the sensitive issue of blasphemy in the name of maintaining religious tolerance and peace in the society. Our dead silence has added to the severity of the wound, providing room to divisive leaders to play on the wave of communal politics.

Islamic nations

In many countries of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, blasphemy is a capital crime and this notoriously draconian law has become a tool to stifle dissent against the political and military establishment.
A university professor in Pakistan Junaid Hafeez was arrested in 2013 on the charges of vilification of Islam and for publishing material that was considered disparaging to the Prophet. He remained in solitary confinement cell for eight years waiting for the arrival of his death which was awarded to him in 2019 by a local court in Multan.
Soheil Arabi, a political activist in Iran, was imprisoned in the same year in dual allegations for being a fierce critic of the Islamic Republic and insulting the Prophet on social media. In 2017 he won the prestigious Reporters Without Borders prize in the journalism category. He was praised for protesting in a Gandhian way by organizing hunger strikes to highlight the poor living conditions of prisoners and the deprivation of any medical treatment to them.
Due to his outspoken criticism of the theocratic regime, new fabricated cases were opened up against him that include propaganda activities against the government and disturbing public opinion.

Intolerance in Europe

Western democracies are seen as a bellwether of liberal ideas where individual liberty and freedom of expression are put on the highest pedestal. Last year, in an act of pusillanimity, a social science teacher Samuel Patty was decapitated by a Chechen immigrant in France for drawing a cartoon of Mohammad which was originally published by a satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” in 2011. As the consequence, 12 people, including the Editor of the magazine, were gunned down by terrorists in 2015. It is another thing that the French constitution puts no bar to insult a religion, its figures and symbols.
The countries which on multiple occasions have given refuge to the victims of charges of blasphemy in Islamic countries are now increasingly taking a conservative view of things. Some politicians, even those taking left-of-centre position, are seen advocating for some kind of blasphemy laws to pander the gullible minorities and garner their support in elections.
Take for instance in UK, where the Labour MP and Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion Naz Shah advocated for 10 years’ jail term to those who vandalise or destroy religious caricatures. In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau has reiterated that freedom to express is not without limits.
According to the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom report (Legislation Fact Sheet on Blasphemy), around 20 percent of European countries formally criminalize blasphemy or religious insult. The demand for repressive laws in the name of protecting religious sentiments and to provide safe space to religious minorities is a deeply flawed argument.
MF Husain, Salman Rushdie

A recent poll conducted by Ifop shows that 57 percent of Muslims under the age of 25 prefer Sharia to be incorporated in the French legal system. Will the lawmakers in Europe be ready to implement the parts of the same Islamic law in which apostasy carries a death sentence or at least severe public and private censure?
To redefine the concept of secularism to make everyone happy on the boat will destroy years of cultural progress Europe has made dating back to the renaissance movement when people started questioning the unscientific rituals and dogmas in Christianity.

Pandering in India

Appeasement politics in India is equally destructive and dangerous as politics of polarisation. In 1989 India was the first non-Muslim country that banned Salman Rushdie's book "The Satanic Verses". In 2006, artist MF Husain suffered a similar fate when he was forced to leave India due to the portrayal of Hindu Goddesses in his seemingly obscure paintings. 
Intolerance in India is not a new phenomenon and if we try to correlate the killing of the Dalit man with above incident, we may arrive to this dreary conclusion that our collective conscience is dead and society's advertent affirmation for rule of mob has left no space for creativity of any kind.
Any demand for blasphemy laws in India will only act as a catalyst to turn it into an ultraorthodox state engulfed by the reign of unending terror. Democracy will die on the day we restrict free speech. This can be best explained in a quote by Osho where he argued about the destruction of creative minds and individuality by society which favors machines like obedience and discourages rebellious nature of humans. 
"Humanity will be really born only the day when an individual is respected in his rebellion. Humanity is still not born, it is still in the womb. What you see as humanity is only a very hocus-pocus phenomenon", he said.
---
*Hobbyist writer, economics graduate, sophomore in B Ed programme

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