When the French philosopher Denis Diderot created the encyclopaedia in the XVIIIth century, it was termed as 'revolution of reason'. The encyclopaedia freed knowledge from the dual authorities of the state and the church. It was a revolt against power and superstition, it was the beginning of the age of reason and what later came to be known as the 'Age of Enlightenment'. Till then, faith was sovereign. The state, led by a monarch, was omnipotent. These were the men of God on earth. Their word was final. There was no appeal. Along with the Church, the monarchs controlled the cosmos. Diderot, with his pen, broke that myth. He created a space in which humans could think freely and challenge any premise which was not tested by reason. His man was free.
Another French philosopher, Voltaire, further sharpened the attack on the church though he was not an atheist, but his God was not divine; he was an entity that had created the universe and then taken the backseat. Voltaire’s man was a thinking man, the rational being. The philosophers of that age, with their thinking, created space for the two earth-shaking revolutions which shaped the future world. The American Revolution liberated its men from the yoke of the monarch and invented a state which was by the people and for the people, whose fundamental dictum was equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The American Revolution was followed by the French Revolution. Equality, liberty and fraternity revolutionised the whole civilisation. The French Revolution permanently damaged the power structure of religion and banished it to the private domain of human life.
In the west, the citizenry has more or less attained autonomy. The State has become a welfare agent and the Church, despite its ‘alignment with the God’, no longer dictates terms and is more or less confined to the four walls. But India, which not long ago, was proud of its secular traditions, seems to be treading a dangerous path and religion is acquiring a dominant position in our daily life. When the country attained freedom, the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was very careful that those holding constitutional posts should not be seen to be aligning with religion in public spaces. For him, religion was a private affair. He had a spat with the then President Dr Rajendra Prasad on the issue of reconstruction of the Somnath temple.
But, after 73 years of freedom, times have changed. Today, the Prime Minister is seen to be flaunting his religious affinity and feels proud to posit himself as a Hindu leader. His presence at the inauguration ceremony of the Ram Mandir construction was beamed live across the nation. On the eve of the counting of the 2019 parliamentary elections, he was at Kedarnath temple in a samadhi, which made for iconic pictures. Before occupying the seat of power, the chief minister of UP was a religious head.
And the chief minister of Delhi, who claims to be a product of the secular anti-corruption movement, celebrates Diwali and performs puja on TV, spending public money. In public space, criticism of religion can land a person in jail. Religion has started dominating our lives. The Supreme Court order, which allowed women’s entry into the Sabarimala temple, can’t be executed by the Left government. And the high priests of Hinduism are telling our girls whom to marry and whom not to. 'Love Jihad' is the new buzzword.
The Free Press Journal had, on its pages, reported the divorce of the UPSC topper Tina Dabi from her Muslim husband, Athar Khan, after two years of marriage.
When this marriage was reported, the VHP leaders had then advised otherwise and had said it would encourage 'love jihad' and Hindu girls would be in trouble. Now, after the petition for the dissolution of the marriage, the news has become viral on social media. The religious fanatics had already pronounced the verdict that Dabi, a senior IAS officer, was the victim of a larger conspiracy of Islamist forces. According to them, she will finally be freed from their clutches.
Now, five BJP-ruled states have decided to bring a law to stop the so-called menace of 'love jihad'. The MP government will have a provision of five years of rigorous imprisonment. The UP government has suddenly realised that the issue is so urgent that it can’t wait for the state assembly to pass the law, so it is bringing in an ordinance. By their logic, the right, given by the Constitution, that any one above the age of 21 years is free to choose their life partner, is a problematic one and from now on, in these states, governments will choose who will marry whom. This means that the right to choose one’s husband or wife ceases to exist. The basis for this law is that Muslim men, in the guise of love, are trapping Hindu girls, to convert them to Islam and this must stop. In their opinion, it is part of a larger international conspiracy.
The hullabaloo around 'love jihad' has very strong trappings of religion. Hate against Islam is one of the leading components of 'love jihad', but the bigger issue is the purity of religion and the idea that Hinduism must be saved from the other religions. It’s a war against Islam.
But what is the most disturbing is that like other issues of religion and faith, the whole edifice of 'love jihad' is based on superstition. There is no rational basis. There is no empirical evidence to suggest that 'love jihad' exists. The Central Home Ministry, under the powerful Amit Shah, had told Parliament in February 2020 that ‘central agencies have found no case of love jihad yet’. This bogey was first raised in 2005-06 in Kerala. It was investigated by the Kerala government, which reported back to the high court that no case of 'love jihad' had been found. The matter was closed by the high court then. In the name of 'love jihad', the inter-faith marriage of Hadiya was contested in high court and the Supreme Court. The girl was unnecessarily harassed and the Supreme Court found no evidence of any conspiracy. She had, on her own volition, had converted to Islam.
One of the founding fathers of American Republic, Thomas Jefferson, had once said that the freedom from organised religion is the fundamental of the republic. Today, there is an attempt to turn Hinduism into an organised religion, with anything and everything being justified in the name of religion; Jai Shri Ram has become a war cry; Muslims are
being lynched in the garb of cow protection and with 'love jihad', religion has now entered the most private areas of the Hindu families. Hindu girls can’t choose their husbands.
Should the right to equality and liberty be allowed to be snatched away in the name of religion, from half the population? Should faith, and not reason, dictate the grammar of life? Why should I not assume that we, as a society, are going back to the pre-enlightenment age? It is ironic that it is happening at a time when our lives are riding on the super highway of technological explosion.
The columnist is an author and Founder-Editor, Satyahindi.com