December 12, 2006Public Policy

Of undeserved respect

Thin-skinned Indians

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins writes:

A widespread assumption, which nearly everybody in our society accepts — the non-religious included — is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect, in a different class from the respect that any human being should pay to any other. Douglas Adams put it so well, in an impromptu speech made at Cambridge shortly before his death, that I never tire of sharing his words:

Religion … has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? — because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, I respect that’.

Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows — but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe … no, that’s holy? … We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore (Richard Dawkins) creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you are not allowed to say such things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.” [The God Delusion, pp 20-21]Dawkins was at least intentionally provocative. But this post is not about Dawkins or Adams. It is about Rashmi Bansal. She didn’t even intend to provoke the religious. And intention is very important. But the abnormally thick wall of respect” protected by abnormally thick laws only encourage competitive intolerance in contemporary India.

Rashmi is not a criminal. Rather, she is a victim of intolerance. Mumbai police and law enforcement authorities would do well to drop the absurd charges and let her get on with the business of running her magazine. They can then use their energies on tackling the sorts that are really out to hurt communal harmony.

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