Division of Atheism and State: Absence of Status and Tacit Discrimination
One of the frequent themes in my introduction to Hinduism is the reference to the number of deities. The figure which adds up to 330 million is seen with incredible surprise by people belonging to monastic world religions. What does not surprise people is the deficiency in the Indian Legal System to accord any status to atheism, as an individual choice or a rational movement. The understanding is universal, law and atheism suffer a disconnect. Though the absence of recognition in law is discrimination itself, it is not limited to law. The result is a broader social discrimination against atheists.
This discrimination is most evident in the exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. Naturally atheists are not religious minorities (the only type of minorities recognized by the Indian Constitution) they do not enjoy constitutional protections as a group. The case of Athiest Society of India v. Govt. of Andhra Pradesh (cited as AIR 1992 AP 310 ) contains a scathing indignation of atheists in this regard who filed a writ petition to make the court order the state government from performing religious functions at state events. The court noted that, “Such a noble thought cannot be found fault with as offensive to any one… there is no constitutional guarantee to the faith of the Atheists who worship the barren reason that there is no God, and that they cannot seek to enforce such a non-existing right by preventing the believers, in invoking the blessings of the Gods.“
Moreover an atheist as an individual can exercise his/her fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression (subject to the reasonable restrictions). These reasonable restrictions include “public order, decency or morality”. Any person in India will adhere to my personal experience that the chances of an intelligent discussion between an atheist and a theist are remote. Hence an atheist has forgone his free speech right the moment he discovered his rationality. I do not understand the reason for this disability.
Many zealots hold the opinion that atheism is all, “fancy blah blah blah”…. So what’s wrong in me doing some, “blah blah blah”!!