What can be said about persons who claim a higher mandate that overrides the authority of the state and society? And not just claim it, but act upon it? This mandate supposedly comes from religion, ancestry, superior intelligence or learning. In some people, and in normal times, it might just manifest as eccentricity, but it proves dangerous when this inner narrative overrides common sense, science and the safety of the self and others.
Social media, these days, is replete with rants by religious leaders claiming that the ‘believer’ is immune to the Corona Virus. These claims have been directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of a large number of people and amount to downright criminality.
This has been the case with the congregation that was held by the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi’s Nizamuddin. Already a number of persons have died because of this deliberate flouting of government orders and medical warnings. Congregations were similarly held in South Korea and France by Christian sects that are, today, held responsible for the large scale transmission of the virus that followed. Similar irrational beliefs have taken a heavy toll of life in Iran. Such irresponsible acts make things difficult for those actually tasked under the law to combat such pandemics.
The price for this, of course, is paid most by those who belong to such sects and communities. It is they who should become more aware of the lines that exist between the physical and spiritual world. In their devotion, they should not attribute to individuals divine powers merely on the basis of the position they may hold in a community. This is what Prophet Mohammed had warned against. He strictly instructed that none could exercise such power, and certainly not in his name. In fact, he told his people that they had no greater status in this world than that of gatekeepers to Mecca and Medina. The same was said by Guru Gobind Singh, who ended the line of Sikh Gurus because he felt no one individual could claim authority over, both, ‘Miri’ and ‘Piri’. There has to be division of powers, as well as checks and balances for society to function properly.
In the modern nation state, particularly, spirituality needs to be practiced in tune with the times. It is very difficult to practice beliefs not consonant with the objective reality, unless one cuts oneself off entirely from the world. If one wishes to enjoy the benefits of modern existence, one will have to follow the rules, or be punished for their violation. India may be generally more tolerant of religious idiosyncrasies, but it too must draw the line where the general good comes to be so seriously threatened.