An action plan to stop moral and thought policing.

One strategy is to build prayer halls in each town and city where people of all beliefs and castes, including atheists, could go to pray or simply meditate or socialize.

“Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high” were the inspiring words with which Tagore described his hopes for a free India. Do they have any influence on today’s politically super charged India? First there was the successive murders of three intellectuals known for their efforts of holding a mirror to our society - Narendra Dhabolkar and Govind Pansare in Maharshtra and M. M. Kalburgi in Karnataka. Following this came reports of the threat to the musical genius A. R. Rahman, and repeated incidents of shameful moral policing in Dakshina Kannada.

The biggest shock was yet to come; the brutal lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in U.P.'s Dadri, on the mere suspicion of killing a cow. What was equally deplorable was the way well-known political leaders tried to gain political capital out of a senseless act of violence by the fringe elements. India’s civilizational values, based on a composite culture from Vedic times, are clearly under threat.

When we hear of moral policing in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, Afghanistan, etc by the likes of Al-Qaeda, Taliban and Boko Haram, many of us get enraged. The whole world condemned the killings of the staffers of French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. We are outraged how the writers Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin and Ayyan Hirsi are hounded by fanatics for expressing their views. But how about reflecting on our own dastardly acts which are increasing every day?

Why do we protest if some want to celebrate Valentine's Days or organise Miss India pageants? No one is forced to take part in them. In Dakshina Kannada (DK) and Udupi districts, there was an attack on pub-goers in 2009 because they were opposed to men and women drinking together. In 2012, twelve people, including five girls, were attacked in a Mangalore homestay for their supposedly indecent behaviour of drinking and dancing. In September 2015, there was the shocking incident of public lynching of a young man just for the 'crime' of being found in the company of a girl belonging to another religion. According to Karnataka Komu Souharda Vedike there were 174 such incidents in DK and Udupi districts in 2014.

But, what has been the reaction of the society against such moral and thought policing? All one sees is the usual criticism of fringe elements by some leaders and human rights NGOs in the media. Sometimes, there are tit for tat type protests (Love Kesari campaign by Muslims against the Love Jihad campaign by Hindus) or a novel non-violent protest, the “Pink Chaddi” campaign in 2009, a one-time affair where protestors registered their anger against moral policing by sending underwear to the head of a fringe group on Valentine’s Day. But, the fact is that the silent majority has been just that; silent.

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Unfortunately the late action of some of our artists and intellectuals of giving back their awards has resulted in greater division than building bridges. In reality can they really give back their awards? They have already been recognized and giving back some material thing is at best symbolic. They need to do much more.

It is time ‘we, the people’ wake up. Otherwise, soon we will see the kind of terrorism we see every day in the Middle East, North Africa, Nigeria, etc. Not that it is all that bleak and the situation is hopeless in India. In fact, it is short of a miracle that compared to the parts of the world where terrorism in the name of religion rules the day, we in India are enjoying a relatively peaceful environment. But, for how long?

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The present generation, especially in the South, has forgotten what it was like when India got freedom. Our history books have already forgotten the thousands of people butchered (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, etc.) in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh during Partition. There is no discussion of how power hungry politicians set the stage for massacre on such an unbelievable scale. There are similar sinister moves, though unintended, on the part of misguided leaders active in today’s moral and thought policing.

To counter this, I suggest an action plan based on four strategies. First is to form Stop Moral and Thought Policing Committees (SMTPC) in critical cities under the leadership of Deputy Commissioners to build bridges of social/communal harmony. The management of all major private schools should support these committees. The second important strategy is to stop finding fault with the fringe groups and shining the spotlight on them. The best way to deal with them is to totally ignore them. The third strategy is to convince the media to stop giving oxygen to the fringe elements by not publicizing their activities. Finally, the police should improve intelligence collection on the activities of the fringe elements to stop violence before it erupts.

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One out of the box strategy is to build prayer halls in each town and city where people of all beliefs and castes, including atheists, could go to pray or simply meditate or socialise. In these prayer halls, religious festivals like Christmas, Good Friday, Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-al-Ardha, Buddha Purnima, Mahavira Jayanti, Guru Nanak Jayanti, Krishnastami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Dussera, Ram Navami, etc can be celebrated by people of all religions to emphasise the composite culture of India. They could also be venues for organising talks by thinkers from all religions. Eventually, these spaces could help build bridges of understanding to promote communal harmony.

Now, some might find this suggestion utterly idealistic, totally impractical and downright naive. But, let us not forget that many a time in history, when prophets, munis and saints expounded their new teachings, most people felt the same way. In fact, it's not an entirely new idea: It can be seen in the way Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, for instance, practiced all religions.

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It is wisely stated that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Let us learn from the bloody history of India’s Partition how religious sentiments fanned by power hungry leaders ended up in the massacre of thousands of innocent people. We can now see how similar actions by terrorists in many parts of the world is resulting in the killings of innocent people.

It is easy to give up hope, saying that getting rid of caste divisions in India, or solving the age old enmity between Hindus and Muslims, is an impossible task. Still let us make a honest beginning in Dakshin Kannada and Udupi where we have been seeing the condemnable moral policing in the recent past. There is no magic bullet to solve this problem. But, nothing is impossible if society as a whole gets involved, and that too immediately.

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