The two incidents — caught on camera — of violence perpetrated against boys in two places of worship in the past couple of days paint a grim picture of our society. In one video, four boys allegedly caught stealing items from a religious place by residents of a village in Punjab’s Sangrur district are seen being paraded with their hands tied at the back. Implicit in the defence’s version of having saved the boys from the wrath of the crowd is the appalling reality of our times wherein aggressive mobs appropriate to themselves the task of meting out justice rather than letting the law enforcers take over. The second instance, of Ghaziabad, involving a 14-year-old Muslim boy who works in a shop to supplement his family income, has a horrific connotation. There can be nothing holy about the merciless thrashing of a poor boy who innocently entered a temple to drink water from its tap. Unfortunately, the mindset of such custodians of religion is coloured by such regressive ‘beliefs’ as stated on the board outside the temple: ‘Ye mandir Hinduon ka pavitr sthal hai, yahan Musalmanon ka pravesh varjit hai. By order of Narsinghanand Saraswati’.
Our heads hang in shame over such disgraceful blots that continue to smear the canvas of our culture. For every two steps forward enabled by education, progress, development and espousal of secularism over the past seven decades, we seem to be taking a step back into the rut of bigotry and racism. Endeavours to uproot the deeply embedded socio-religious prejudices and biases seem to pale in comparison to the fanning of the fires of religious intolerance. Sadly, the flames reduce even the basic humanitarian principle of empathy towards one and all, especially the weak, to ashes.
The two events in which the shrines turned into courts of instant justice call for exemplary action. The authorities must come down heavily on the guilty fanatics who are now facing an investigation. It does not bode well for a society if places of worship that should be spreading peace are turned into battlegrounds driven by hatred for the ‘others’.