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Arguing Belief

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The UP Police claim to have solved the murder of Hindu Samaj Party Chief Kamlesh Tiwari. When the accused are taken to court, the police will also need to explain the killers’ reasons for committing the act. The speculation presently is that he was ‘executed’ for the comments he made on Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam. The supposed Indian unit of ISIS is also being blamed by some for being behind the act. Or, it could be the result of the self-radicalisation that often takes place in the West, and is described as a ‘lone-wolf’ attack. It might even have been the result of a street level cleric placing a bounty on Tiwari’s head after declaring him ‘wajib-ul-qatl’ – ‘a legitimate target’ for all Muslims.
The exact truth will become known eventually, but if the reasons are those that are being reported in the media, it poses a serious question before Indian society. In the ‘Sarvdharma Sambhav’ concept of secularism, respect has to be accorded to all religions. This basically means that the essential beliefs of religions are not to be questioned by any group, even as part of the ‘right’ to propagate one’s beliefs. Primarily this means there have to be curbs on public speech, which would include newspapers and social media. Over the centuries and particularly after Independence and the coming into being of the Constitution, there has been a practical acceptance of this ‘guiding’ principle. There are laws that deal with transgressions and Kamlesh Tiwari had spent time in prison as a result. In its sluggish way, the judicial system would eventually have appropriately penalised Tiwari. Unfortunately, others thought they knew better and will face the wrath of the same law.
The obvious requirement is that the system should be more effective in preventing provocations in a legal way, as well as the possible reactions. How this is to be done should be discussed by the lawmakers and the jurists, but there is no doubt that a much better functioning judiciary is needed.
At the same time, though, there are those who describe themselves as ‘rationalists’ and would like religious belief to be put under the same test as any other. In the modern scientific era, they have a point. Ideally, those who are offended by comments against a religious icon or prophet should be able to argue their case with the facts and correct interpretations. It is either ignorance or fear of being proved wrong that forces them to become violent. By doing so, they actually reveal their lack of belief and knowledge and prove their questioner right. All religions to some extent are facing this challenge, Islam more than others. The violence visible in the Muslim countries is evidence of that. India should take the lead in reconciling these issues in a civilised and intelligent manner, as its inclusive culture best prepares it for the challenge.