Opinion

Sacrilege does not justify violence


Secularism and the modulation of religious practices to conform to the democratic order are not values to be preached only to those demanding governance according to the Sharia; it applies equally to the nihangs, among the Sikhs, and certain Hindu traditions that believe brandishing weapons in public places is an acceptable display of authority. In modern society, the right to use force is restricted to the state, and citizens are not expected to take the law into their own hands. The killing of a dalit farmhand at Singhu border, allegedly by nihangs, allegedly for sacrilege, must not just be condemned as an individual act of lawlessness but purged of the sanctity and legal latitude that many people are willing to accord those whose illegal actions are motivated by religion. The perpetrators of the murder must be identified and punished and their value system firmly denounced as being beyond the pale of democracy.

The nihangs have, for the most part, a valiant history and an honourable tradition. But that valour and honour were embedded in a culture of autonomous laws and rules that paid no heed to any authority outside their close-knit community. This might have worked, even made sense, in pre-modern times, when might often determined right and wrong. Things have changed. The external environment for the nihangs is a democratic polity, in which the people’s representatives make laws applicable to all. In that ecosystem, it will not do for any particular group to declare themselves a law unto themselves and act in a manner that is blatantly illegal and unethical. Such deeds cannot be justified in the name of avenging sacrilege or restoration of honour. This must be made clear to not just the perpetrators but to the larger community maintaining an uneasy silence on the gruesome act.

All this would have been true, even if the man killed at the Singhu border had not been a dalit. The murder of the dalit adds oppression of the institutionally disempowered to brutal, unlawful behaviour that has no place in a democracy.



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