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The Demise Of Free Thought In The Indian Society

By Subit Chakrabarti

11 December, 2012

The current socio-political situation in India is not an isolated downward spiral or some temporary retrogression, but a complete breakdown of order and basic societal values. It is sad to see such an old civilization, that was once an epitome of progress and heterodox thinking succumb to and uphold Victorian age political maneuvers designed to create and sustain permanent class divides around multiple communal fault lines.

Several incidents in the last year or so, should have raised a red flag in mind of the populace. A few weeks ago, Mumbai Police arrested two women who protested against the shutdown of the financial capital after the demise of a very sectarian and parochial politician, on their personal accounts on a social networking website. The charge against her was that her post was “grossly offensive and of menacing character.” In another case in the opposite part of the country, West Bengal CM Mamata Bannerjee orchestrated the arrest of a professor because of a cartoon he circulated mocking the Chief Minister. The same CM was caught in a very public outburst on national television because the questions asked by the students in the audience were too uncomfortable. In that outburst, she labeled the student asking the question “A Maoist”. The student was later sent a legal notice over the same. Recently, two law students threatened to sue Justice Markandey Katju over an off the cuff remark where he said that “90% of Indians are Idiots”.

In the 1996 novel 'The Story of B', environmentalist author Daniel Quinn describes a scenario of a frog in boiling water. He says that if the frog is thrown into a tumbler full of boiling water, it's motor reflexes will make it jump out immediately. Sure, it will be scalded, but it will survive. But if the frog is kept in a tumbler of cold water, which is heated very gradually, the frog will get acclimated to the increasing temperature, and will eventually burn and die. This is a perfect metaphor for the people of our country.

All the aforementioned events have a common theme, that of intolerance of other's opinions. This is very disturbing because, freedom of speech, is the most important human right, and is the line that separates a democratic country from a fascist dictatorship. On one hand, politicians harboring persecution mania and mafia henchmen masquerading as political leaders are using the police to crack down on any dissenters. On the other hand, the populace is growing intolerant enough to litigate over petty comments and book passages.

George Orwell said “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Today our country satisfies the all the criteria of an Orwellian state. The choice we have in a General Election is between a hereditary pseudo-secular corrupt party and a party pandering to every religious nutbag in the country and whose economic ideology is to oppose everything, for the sake of opposition.

As a side note, it is particularly interesting to consider the status of religion in India. Contrary to Western philosophical beliefs, Atheism was practically invented in India by the Charvaka school of thought in Hinduism. The earliest version of the Epicurean paradox, the fundamental basis of atheistic thinking, which highlights the contradiction of having an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God at the same time, was given by Samkhya of the Charvaka school. This provided the intellectual climate for Kautilya's seminal text “Arthashastra” as well as influenced the Buddhist school of thought.

This tradition of secular thought continued into the Maurya and Gupta reigns. Akbar famously had atheists in his ministerial council in an effort to be all inclusive. In fact excepting for few pockets of time (like Aurangzeb's rule, etc.), India has always had a strong atheistic intellectual niche. This encompasses luminaries across the political spectrum from Chanakya to Veer Savarkar, Bhagat Singh to Jawaharlal Nehru, Mimamsa to Harikishan Singh Surjeet. How could we, living in a far more enlightened world, be so intolerant ?

Estimates show that every month, around 200 cases of “disrespecting a particular community, caste or creed” are registered with the police across the country. I am proposing a unique solution to this problem. I belong to the Pastafarian religion, governed by the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (This religion is well documented on the web.) Whenever anyone has noodles, without praying to the eternal Spaghetti God, it is a sin and a disrespect to my religion and my God. I will send a legal notice to people who file these cases, because they do not thank the Pasta Lord while eating Maggi, which was created in His image. I welcome you to join my religion and do the same.

Subit Chakrabarti is a doctoral student in Electrical Engineering at the University of Florida, Gainesville.He can be reached at chakrabarti.subit@gmail.com




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