Well, a story in the New York Times, "India's Attack on Free Speech," makes me feel better about religious craziness in the United States.
We have lots of fanatic Christian fundamentalists in this country. But we also have the First Amendment and a healthy respect for free speech. Our Christian nationalists don't kill anti-religion bloggers. (Good news for me!)
In India, though, people are being killed for speaking their faithless minds.
I'd thought that India was making progress on becoming a liberal democracy akin to ours ("liberal" means something different in this context from the usual liberal/conservative distinction). But apparently not.
Here's how the story starts off:
London — IN today’s India, secular liberals face a challenge: how to stay alive.
In August, 77-year-old scholar M. M. Kalburgi, an outspoken critic of Hindu idol worship, was gunned down on his own doorstep. In February, the communist leader Govind Pansare was killed near Mumbai. And in 2013, the activist Narendra Dabholkar was murdered for campaigning against religious superstitions.
These killings should be seen as the canary in the coal mine: Secular voices are being censored and others will follow.
While there have always been episodic attacks on free speech in India, this time feels different. The harassment is front-page news, but the government refuses to acknowledge it. Indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence is being interpreted by many people as tacit approval, given that the attacks have gained momentum since he took office in 2014 and are linked to Hindutva groups whose far-right ideology he shares.
Earlier this month, a leader of the Sri Ram Sene, a Hindu extremist group with a history of violence including raiding pubs and beating women they find inside, ratcheted up the tensions. He warned that writers who insulted Hindu gods were in danger of having their tongues sliced off. For those who don’t support the ultimate goal of these extremists — a Hindu nation — Mr. Modi’s silence is ominous.
What gives, India?
You have a history of religious acrimony, but also a history of religious accommodation. Maybe I've been wrong about this, but I've viewed India as a place where all sorts of spiritual beliefs, including having none at all, were accepted.
So it was disturbing to read this:
This is a turning point for India, a country that has taken pride in being a liberal democracy and that often adopts a high-minded tone when neighbors fall short of the same standards.
...Like the murdered bloggers, the Indian victims held liberal views but were not famous or powerful. Mr. Kalburgi had publicly expressed skepticism toward idol worship in Hinduism, but he didn’t pose a threat to anyone.
While the authorities are pursuing the culprits on a case-by-case basis, the overarching attack on free speech has not been addressed. The threats and killings have created an atmosphere of self-censorship and fear.
...The goal of transforming India from a secular state to a Hindu nation, which seems to be behind the murders, is abetted not just by the silence of politicians, but also by the Hindu nationalist policies of the ruling B.J.P.
...It’s also not surprising that Hindu fundamentalists would feel empowered in the shadow of a Hindu nationalist government. Still, few expected that freedom of speech would become a contestable commodity and that some who exercised it would lose their lives.
...It’s hard to accept what is happening in India. It is easier to ignore or dismiss the attacks and the threats as a liberal persecution complex or a phase that will last only as long as the B.J.P. is in power. But the country is undergoing a tectonic shift that will have long-term repercussions.
The attacks in India should not be seen as a problem limited to secular writers or liberal thinkers. They should be recognized as an attack on the heart of what constitutes a democracy — and that concerns everyone who values the idea of India as it was conceived and as it is beloved, rather than an India imagined through the eyes of religious zealots.
Indians must protest these attacks and demand accountability from people in power. We must call for all voices to be protected, before we lose our own.