Organizers said they were forced to cancel an event against superstitions and miracles in Kerala after members of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political wing of the Popular Front of India, threatened to “level” those behind the event.
“They tore our banner and threatened our light & sound provider,” said Suseel Kumar, one of the most active online campaigners against religious obscurantism and intolerance in the Malayalam cyber world.
“The protestors rounded up the organizers and said they will level them to the ground if they went ahead with the program.”
Finally, said Kumar, ‘Swatantra Chinta Vedi’ (Forum of Free Thought) abandoned the stage program, which he said was aimed at spreading ‘scientific temper’ and to expose ‘miracles’.
Instead, organizers and those who had come to attend the program held a rally through the town of Kadampuzha, in Kerala’s Malappuram district.
Kumar said members of SDPI also filed a case at the local police station, alleging that the program’s contents could hurt their religious feelings.
Under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, anyone who insults any religion or causes ‘religious feelings’ to be ‘outraged’ can be punished with three years of imprisonment.
In other words, anyone who puts up a stage in public and proclaims that there is no hell or heaven can be put in jail for causing outrage to the religious feelings of others.
However, the law is rarely implemented due to practical difficulties.
If the law is implemented in letter and spirit, many religious teachers will end up behind bars as what most of them say usually causes outrage among members of other groups.
Many Christian evangelists, for example, publicly say in their sermons that those who do not believe in Jesus Christ will go to hell — something that can be taken to cause outrage to and insult the beliefs of other religious groups.
Similarly, groups such as Swathanthra Chintha Vedi also routinely question religious beliefs, and are usually not prosecuted.
Even though the Kadampuzha police did not arrest the organizers, they canceled the permission that they had given after members of SDPI started protesting, he added.
“Something similar was also seen during the Sapiens 2017 program organized by esSENCE in Manjeri last month,” said Kumar. “It looks like they are on the look-out for any pretext to commit violence.”
Popular Front, which promotes itself as an ‘anti-Fascist’ organization, is active in the northern districts of Kerala as well as in neighboring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. It also has a growing presence in other states of India.
Its political arm, the SDPI, is arguably the fastest growing political party in Kerala and has been able to project itself to many Muslims as an alternative to the Indian Union Muslim League, the party that currently wins most of the Muslim-dominated seats in Kerala.
With the emergence of SDPI, the Muslim votes in Kerala have been split into three — the communists and liberals who comprise about 20%, the ‘conservatives’ (about 50%) who vote for the Muslim League, and the young, Salafi-oriented voters who are disillusioned with the ‘soft’ stand of the League and tend to go with SDPI.