Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Lessons from Hathras


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The human tragedy in Hathras, which took a toll of over 120 lives, mostly women, is a pointer to the blind faith that turns people into senseless devotees. A police constable facing criminal cases turned himself into a godman while on bail and fooled the people with a carefully planned circulation of stories about his healing powers – starting with an unfounded story on his “resurrection” of a dead girl. Bhole Baba’s followers are largely drawn from women in some Hindu communities, many of whom along with their children were the first to perish in the stampede on July 2, Tuesday. Religion, as Karl Marx stated, is opium to its followers. The more they are into it, the more they tend to lose their senses. All this is not to argue that a former police constable has no right to hold religious Satsangs as he did this time too. The rules of the game should be followed. The original plan was to have an assembly of 80,000 persons for which police permission was sought and given. The crowd swelled to over 2.5 lakh, and it turned uncontrollable when the godman was about to leave the place. In the mad rush to get closer to him and get his blessings, the deaths took place on a slippery ground. Obviously, there was no proper crowd management plan, for which both the police department and the government should take the responsibility.
An overdose of an infatuation, including religious or spiritual pursuits, leads to unwelcome situations. Spread of baseless stories, like spiritual powers, draws people in large numbers to such entities. The people, as in Uttar Pradesh, are largely uneducated and less informed about the ways of the world. Even the educated among us hanker after lollipops from those who claim to possess mystic or supernatural powers. Some states have laws that curb spread of superstitious beliefs. The UP government understandably turned its face away from such initiatives. Neither can the BJP governments elsewhere be trusted to rein in fraudulent religious practitioners, who are one too many.
First Prime Minister Jawahalal Nehru eminently sought to promote a scientific temper among the people. Today, governments are on a reverse drive. A prime minister takes on his shoulders the responsibility to build temples in Ayodhya or abroad. Narendra Modi chose to enter parliament through Varanasi, the religiously potent seat of Hindu pilgrimage. Religion is getting mixed with politics – a lethal combination, but the number of visitors to the highly trumpeted Ayodhya shrine has thinned down and the BJP endeavour to win Hindu hearts failed to click, to a large extent, in the just concluded general elections. The adherence to religious pursuits is less in the developed West today while Muslim nations aided by uneducated mullahs have also turned unduly zealous. Where indeed is the scientific temper?


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