Kovai Killing: Young atheists fly under radar on FB, Twitter to keep free thought alive

With an increasing number of young people, some of them students, turning to atheism, we take a look at how some of them are leveraging social media to practice their lack of faith — in trying times
Memes and wordplay are often a young atheists weapon of choice | Pinterest
Memes and wordplay are often a young atheists weapon of choice | Pinterest

In a state like Tamil Nadu, we might have the word 'Dravida' placed prominently in the names of our political parties. We might also idolise Periyar. But it's an open secret that atheists are still not welcomed with open arms. The recent gruesome murder of H Farooq in Salem for merely sharing his atheist views on a WhatsApp group, is testimony to that fact. Even as news trickles in that a second person has surrendered for the murder, several youngsters, some of them college students, are firm in their faith that they do not have any.

Even though they have faced the heat for years, atheists in the city say that the present political atmosphere makes it all the more difficult to express these non-conventional views. However, statistics show that the number of atheists in the country has risen by four times just in the last one decade.

Atheist murders are not new though both in India and the neighbouring countries — Bangladesh saw a spat of murders including those of  bloggers who happened to express their views. Closer home, three rationalists Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare from Maharashtra and M M Kalburgi from Karnataka were murdered within a span of two years

Courtesy: Confronting Ignorance

While there might not appear to be too many atheist groups in a city like Chennai, a number of atheist pages have mushroomed on Facebook. Since a lot of discussion now happens online, these 'freethinkers' take to Facebook and Twitter to express their views and in some instances their pages such as Indian Atheists, Chennai Freethinkers and Feminists and Chennai Atheists have also been banned or suspended if the put up a post that is considered 'offensive'. 

Some groups like Nirmukta, whose tagline is 'promoting science, free thought and secular humanism' meet every few months and also organises an annual ThinkFest, where they invite a lot of speakers to discuss various issues. People in these group organise meet-ups via WhatsApp and Facebook and often fly under the radar, because it's much safer that way. Most of these groups also use a healthy dose of humour - via memes and troll videos to drive their atheistic views home.

Colour Coded: The display pic on the Indian Atheists FB Page

Delfina S, a member said that the ultimate aim of the group is not just to promote atheism, but atheism in the framework of humanism, "We have nothing against those who choose to be religious but we want to promote the freedom to not choose anything either. We just don't discuss religion, we also discuss social evils, caste system, rights of marginalised groups and we also intend on abolishing superstitions that have for centuries negatively affected various sections of society," she said. 

Even though it might seem that in a metropolitan city like Chennai, the atmosphere would be a little more conducive to atheists or rationalists, the reality is different. Surya Sriram, a 26-year old engineer and writer based in the city, who is part of Nirmukta and is also an admin of the Indian Atheists page, said that he writes under pseudo-names after he started to get death threats from unknown people, "They would reach out to me online or over the phone and warn me to watch my words. Once this person tracked my house down and then called me and said 'I know where you live'," revealed Sriram. When asked if his family had come to accept his atheism, Sriram said that they have but it took a lot of time to get there, "I have a lot of Sanghis in my family too and I'm sure they would want to hit me if they knew my views. It's even worse because they actually do know where I stay," he joked. 

I have a lot of Sanghis in my family too and I'm sure they would want to hit me if they knew my views. It's even worse because they actually do know where I stay

Surya Sriram, Admin of the page Indian Atheists on FB

It continues to be hard to freely express even among family and close friends inspite of how much we seem to have "progressed". But there's no way they'll be threatened enough to quit their ideas and stop them from going to discussions and freely debating their thoughts, these atheists say. "It is very scary. Till now I thought that things were worse in the North and in the land of Periyar, these incidents won't take place but this murder has changed how I see the state. But Periyar also spoke about abolishing caste and we continue to see rising number of caste atrocities, " he adds. But the present political state is what allows such incidents to take place, "Mixing politics and religion always ends in disaster. Let's hope things change," he said.

Courtesy: The Atheist

Even though Tamil Nadu is known for its progressive views and its promotion of atheism, ground reality proves otherwise but small groups such as Nirmukta say that they will continue fighting for free speech and the freedom to practice no religion. Power to them.

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