"He's the real MAN who fights for the freedom of a common man and is rooted in the equality of all......"
– Thomas Paine, English-born American political activist, who defied all religions.
It's indeed a matter of great pride for Javed Akhtar, and India, for receiving the prestigious Richard Dawkins Award for the promotion of secularism, scientific temperament, rationality and universal bonhomie. Before that, it's imperative to know the backdrop to this elite award and the founder of it: Richard Dawkins. The world-renowned rationalist Dr Richard Dawkins of Oxford-England is a celebrated atheist who wrote the famous The God Delusion in 2005. Dr Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist. So, it's obvious that he'd analyse things and all creations from a scientific angle rather than from a presupposed idea of some imaginary god creating the world in six days!
Dawkins, Sam Harris, Salman Rushdie, Ibn Warraq or Javed Akhtar belong to a select group with a vision that's not obfuscated by religion or god. Much more than any other period or phase of mankind, the current disturbing phase of dissent, religious intolerance and extreme zealotry galvanises individuals like Akhtar to create an atmosphere of freedom from mental thralldom and cerebral emancipation.
An atheist is not an anarchist. Neither is his non-belief a counter-product of extreme religiosity. Javed Akhtar doesn't hit below the belt or condemn people for their belief in a religion or a concocted god. He's not condescending or pontificating when it comes to criticising Islam or any other man-made faith. You needn't be pathologically radical to detonate the beliefs of the masses. What's most important in this age is a vision that's all-embracing and purely tangible. His iconoclasm is constructive iconoclasm sans mental vandalism and aspersion.
We need people like Akhtar all the more in these benighted times because when the country is ravaged by a pandemic, opening of shrines is much more important for the government than ameliorating the overall health system in the country. The proverbial fallacy of priority is so detrimental to a nation or a conglomerate of humans at this time. Seeing a group of men and women in Bihar pacify and placate the Corona god (!), one's bound to think that these shibboleths and superstitions must be addressed and eradicated by a man like Akhtar, who calls a spade a spade.
Unfortunately, at this juncture of human history, mankind is religiously very sensitive with the supposed supremacy of every group's respective faith, deity and preconceived scriptural infallibility.
This proclivity is all the more pronounced in India when we've suddenly become uber-patriotic and ultra-nationalistic. Javed Akhtar once said that scientific temperament also encompasses liberalism and it doesn't end with one's nation. Because a country, creed, class, caste, complexion and contour are accidents of birth. One must never be haughty about the country one is born in because your country is your accidental appendage, tellingly stated Javed Akhtar a couple of years ago.
When the world is divided and demarcated into blacks and whites, haves and have-nots, Akhtar's ideology becomes all the more germane to the current system and discrimination. "When the human approach to higher consciousness doesn't carry the luggage and baggage of race, colour, religion, country and god, mankind progresses with a common goal," stated Dr Martin Luther King Jr. in his legendary speech, I have a dream, delivered on August 28, 1963 in Washington, D.C. Mind you, despite being a devout Christian – he was a reverend – Dr King didn't stress upon religion and god beyond a certain point in his remarkable speech that still gives goosebumps to the listeners.
The point is: Javed Akhtar's Richard Dawkins Award is not a validation for his atheism because like all other isms and doctrines, even atheism is a structured belief system. And today, most of the atheists are militant and vituperative atheists. Now, fanatics and atheists both belong to the same ilk; they morbidly adhere to their respective beliefs with absolutely no pliability in their monomaniac approaches. Javed is in a different league. He's an apatheist (one who has gone beyond theism and atheism). This award is a vindication of Javed's indefatigable quest to find the Truth, Reason and Equality which can honour an individual's existence and place him separately in a crowd of faith-driven faceless masses. In other words, Javed believes that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
The world needs Javed because the mankind has had enough of the mindless zealotry discrimination, dissent and bloodshed. To quote Yaas Yagana Changezi's taslees (a verse of three lines),
"Dhoondh ke bata mujhe woh insaan
Jise na Khuda ka dar na khauf-e-mazhab ho
Bas jise talaash-e-haq ho"
(Find me a man who's not scared of god and religion and who's only committed to finding the Truth).
Had Changezi been alive today, he'd have doffed his hat to Javed Akhtar. Let's doff our hats to the man, who is fearless and eternally unflappable.
The writer is an advanced research scholar of Semitic languages, civilisations and cultures.