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Religious Intolerance to Rational Criticism

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killing of Rationalists

Religious intolerance to Rational Criticism

  • There is a striking similarity in the murders of Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi.
  1. All of them were active rationalists;
  2. they wrote and spoke openly against age-old traditions and beliefs
  3. Tried to promote scientific temper, spirit of inquiry and reform.

Kalburgi, for instance, was a leading researcher on teachings of 12th century ascetic Basavanna and had denounced idol worship in his work and public lectures.

Though these are officially the national ethos of modern India and enshrined as Fundamental Duties of citizens in Indian Constitution, they were brutally murdered for practicing and promoting them.

  • Idolatry was heavily criticised by many Hindu reformers during the past centuries.
  • Are we fast losing the tolerant stream of Hinduism that took pride of multiple streams of thought including that of the Charvakas and the Lokayats who denounced Vedas and stood for critical inquiry of old beliefs?
  • Though Charvakas were silenced, a new Hinduism seemed emerging in the last century that took pride of different world-views co-existing.
  • That is pushed back and intolerance has taken the front seat now.
  • Those critics who could not be answered with logic are now silenced with guns.

Imagine if Dayananda Saraswati (1824 – 1883, founder of Arya Samaj), who raised harsh criticism against idolatry and ritualistic worship, was living in our times! Will these motorcycle borne criminals spare a reformer like him?

  • “Rationalists are the defenders of common sense, scientific temper and social reform.”
  • Rationalists dare and challenge bigotry, miracle-mongering and spiritual frauds.
  • The proprietors of “superstition industry”, he says, are scared of rationalists and therefore they want to silence them in all possible ways.
  • The work of rationalists has become far more critical in today’s context as superstitions rise and the “miracle industry” spreads its tentacles faster through digital media platforms as well as satellite television.
  • People who peddle miracle cure for diseases like cancer and those who sell “yantras” for instant success in business on television not only go unquestioned but are also gaining political patronage.
  • The rise of the likes of Radhe Maa, Rampal, Ram Rahim are all products of a growing nexus between irrationality, political patronage and celebrity culture. This is a new kind of partnership that sees rationalists as its enemies.
  • While this unholy nexus garners overt or covert political support, we never see political leadership come out in open to support or defend the work of rationalists and liberal thinkers.
  • The wave of intolerance against rationalist positions is not limited to violent groups of any single region. The enemies of reason are afraid of word, pen and keyboard. They try to stop the flow of free thought by guns.


Irrational violence


  • Often the threat of physical violence is held out against writers and intellectuals by casteist and communal groups, which are quick to take offence at anything that criticises matters of faith.
  • When religious groups take to violence because they can’t face opposing views, governments have to assure Free Speech to protect the right of those who stand for science and progress.
  • If opinions and rational point of view can’t be expressed freely, especially in a country where religion holds much sway, many major achievements civilization will be at stake.
  • Bigots afraid of honest dialogue try to silence us with guns. Despite the alarming situation, rationalists are not so easily scared away. There are more and more thinking people coming out and jointly try to create an atmosphere of dialogue.
  • “The middle class especially, despite the degrees, is unable to see superstition in the age-old practices. While we are best in the world in terms of our skill and knowledge, we are ages behind in rationality,”
  • In the colonial legacy, religion was used as a tool of political manipulation. It hasn’t changed, only the leash is now in the hands of politicians.
  • Lower classes in Indian society are always aware of the boundaries of their religion and politics. But it is the middle class that’s facing an identity crisis. Among them some fringe groups with fanatic ideas have emerged and others don’t object when these groups become the face of religion.

“We have handed over to Hinduism to Hindu fanatics and Islam to Islamic fanatics. The problem is in us letting such fringe elements to decide for a larger religious community. Under certain political scenarios, these fringe elements get immunity as well,”


  • Article 25 of the Constitution not only allows the free profession, practice and propagation of a religion of one’s choice, but also an individual’s freedom of conscience.
  • Atheists, agnostics and rationalists have the right to propagate their views on religion as much as believers have the right to spread theirs.
  • What Article 25 guarantees is not a collective religious right but an individual’s freedom of choice.
  • However, communal and casteist groups have often asserted they have a right not to be offended by any writing or work.
  • In effect, they seek a right to thwart or force the withdrawal of the publication of anything that they imagine gives them cause to take offence.
  • Also, political mobilisation along caste and communal lines gives such groups an enormous veto power that strikes at the very root of freedom of speech and expression.
  • Sadly, whenever freedom of speech is thus threatened, the state, supposedly in the interest of maintaining law and order, takes the side of the collective mob against the writer/ artist/intellectual.

The state, which is bound by the Indian Constitution that enshrines the concept of scientific temper, should denounce all attacks on rationalists and defenders of scientific temper.


Not just this, the government should proactively promote scientific temper, dissuade people from superstitions and misdeeds of so-called godmen and godwomen. All constitutional and legal powers must be used to protect and promote rational thinking and scientific temper. The political leadership can’t remain a silent spectator to killings of Dabholkars and Kulbargis.If it happens, killings would have had the effect of silencing other voices of dissent and reason as well.



"Right to Freedom of speech and Expression and Right to conscience is as important as Right to profess,practice and propagate religion".Critically Analyse.

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