Religion vs. Rationalism in India

By Edamaruku, Sanal | Free Inquiry, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

Religion vs. Rationalism in India


Edamaruku, Sanal, Free Inquiry


Though Kerala and many parts of southern India have undergone important changes in the last decades, in some of the northern parts of India terrible things still happen because of traditional, backward practices. A young couple who married against the social order was axed to death by the caste leaders of the village, among them the parents of both of young people. This happened in Haryana, in an area where India successfully tried the Green Revolution some decades ago. The young man belonged to Jatava, an untouchable caste, and the woman to the Jats, the so-called backward caste. Fearing the anger of the community they ran away to a far away town and lived there. Their families located them, offered social acceptance, and brought them back to the village--with no other intention than to brutally murder them.

Recently in Bangladesh a young woman died when an Islamic cleric ordered her buried up to the waist and to be flogged 101 times with a bamboo cane. She was alleged to have had premarital sex with her lover and undergoing an abortion.

Last year in a village in Tanzania, nine children fell ill with chicken pox. A tribal magician "cured" them by giving them unpurified river water to drink and talismans to hang around their necks. Seven children died.

Brutal punishment for those who defy caste order, bloody caste and tribal wars, witch hunting, human sacrifices, exploitation by sadhus and godmen doing "miracles," voodoo practitioners and tribal magicians in Africa, the bloody ritual of female genital mutilation in Egypt--these are the local structures of evil that the rationalist movement has to fight. Some require patient explanations by local activists, others the mobilization of police and the judiciary.

There are other and different challenges. Prime ministers and presidents in India ridicule secularism by prostrating themselves before the "super godman" Sai Baba and his like. The nexus between godmen and politicians seriously undermines the democratic system. Mighty godmen emerge as extraconstitutional powers and influence political decisions.

There is the Muslim fundamentalism raging in Asia, Arab countries, and Africa. …

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