There is nothing bad in holding firmly and with dedication to ones religion or religious beliefs, as the constitution guarantees us so. But when this belief turns into a blind faith with a pinch of extremist views, it becomes too dangerous, and this anger does not remain attached to any specific area, but consumes the whole society -- even crossing the boundaries of neighbours.
When religion ends up being used as a political tool, it is bound to foment trouble and bring within its fold misinterpretation and misrepresentation.
That’s what’s happening in South Asia. Although South Asia has progressed quite a bit since the beginning of the 19th century in many aspects, there is still a big chunk of people who, instead of understanding faith in its true sense, hold to superstitious beliefs and fall victims to extremist interpretations of religion.
It is this section of the society which has been used by vested interests, especially for political agenda, using religion as one of the tools to meet its ends.
Rationality takes a back seat
Every believer considers his religion pure and perfect -- and there is no harm in that -- but when a person uses violent means to make a point, subjugates a person of a different faith to prove his point, it falls under the category of religious extremism.
The ideology of hate for other faiths is intrinsic here, and this is followed by harassing, torturing, and killing. Not considered as sins, these acts are committed with pride.
Humanity and rationalism take a back seat and everything is looked through an extremist religious prism, the prism which is fraught with violence.
From Socrates to Ibn Rushd (better known as Averroes in the West), the harassment of intellectuals and scholars at the hands of extremist forces is continuing in one form or the other. Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh, Salman Taseer, Sabeen Mahmud have been murdered just for their beliefs and differing views, and the sad part of the story is that these killings have taken place at a time when we have democratic forms of government in place.
Victims of hate
While the West has left behind its past of extremism and superstitions, some other parts of world are still grappling with this ideology of blindness, hatred, and jingoism. Rather than subduing, religious extremism in South Asia is rising with each passing day.
Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi, Gauri Lankesh in India were murdered for speaking against the superstitious and other exploiting practices among the masses. They never opposed any religion or any religious belief. These writers simply exposed the hegemony of a particular class over religions through which this class was exploiting the masses.
These rationalists took a clear stand against the forces befooling the marginalised people and subjugating them.
They spoke against caste atrocities on the dalits, Muslims, tribals, Christians. They spoke about discrimination.
Salman Taseer was a Muslim, but had a soft corner for socialist ideals also. A person cannot simply be murdered for having a soft corner to any other ideology outside their religion.
Holding a view is allowed in a true democracy. But when extremism breeds, it brings with it a fire of hatred and jingoism, making it impossible to let someone have an independent opinion on any issue.
Sabeen Mahmud was a social and human rights activist, fighting for the cause of victims of violence, especially the Baloch conflict victims.
She was holding seminars and conferences, and wrote in newspapers in support of Baloch missing persons.
She was against violence of all kinds, be it from the state or anti-state actors. Sabeen believed in secularism and pluralism. She was killed just after finishing a program. A firm believer in human rights, and she paid the ultimate price.
But when extremism breeds, it brings with it a fire of hatred and jingoism, making it impossible to let someone have an independent opinion on any issue
A dangerous enemy
Bangladesh has become a dangerous place for bloggers to live in. Around 10 bloggers have been killed in violent attacks by extremist forces. Even journalists, students, and professors have not been spared.
Asif Mohiuddin, Ahmed Rajib Haider, Niloy Neel, Nazimuddin Samad, and various other secular bloggers were put to death for their differing views.
Professor Rezaul Kareem Sidiquee was killed when he was going to the university. Sidiquee was murdered for teaching English literature “in a more open and liberal way” than expected by some religious bigots.
A week after Sidiquee’s killing, a Hindu tailor, Nikhil Joarder, was hacked to death in broad daylight. Muslims, Christians, and Hindus have all felt the brunt of extremist versions of religions in Bangladesh. People who hold differing or secular views and are expressing it openly, are feeling insecure.
The civilian population has been also targeted for their faith and sects. In Pakistan, every month, some kind of blast happens in a dargah or a masjid of different sects, and India sees no ends to riots and communal clashes between Muslims and Hindus. Thousands have been killed in these communal clashes.
After 2014, the year in which BJP came to power, about a dozen Muslims had been killed for eating beef or just for transporting cattle. Worst of all, not a single person has been convicted for these crimes.
Instead of being subdued, religious extremism is growing at an alarming pace. Some religiously inclined parties coming to power is adding further fuel to it, especially in India, which was (until some years ago) considered a model of democracy and pluralism for its neighbours.
The more we give a free hand to extremist forces, the more we will see society plunging into darkness. We will lose our culture of tolerance to a bigoted few. To eradicate religious extremism from our society, drastic measures are needed at every level.
Ashraf Lone writes from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.