Hindu Nationalists Intimidate Indian Atheist Conference

In Pune, India, Shaheed Bhagat Singh Vichar Manch (The Opinion Forum of Martyr Bhagat Singh), an atheist organization, had members receiving threats on Twitter from Hindu nationalists in objection to their seventh annual conference in April during Ramnavami, the birth anniversary of the Hindu god Ram, which fell on the same day.

The timing of the threats was significant as the seats for the conference sold out faster than usual, despite being held off for two years due to the pandemic.

The number of threats was so overwhelming that the conference had to be postponed from April 10 to April 24, and many of the seats sold were empty out of fear.

The change of date was partially due to concerns from local law enforcement. Nitin Hande, a member of the organization, stated, “Police denied the permission to host the event on April 10, saying that they had pressure from many right-wing fringe groups.”

The group’s name is dedicated to early 20th century Indian revolutionary Bhagat Singh, whose essay “Why I Am an Atheist” is still read today. Singh was executed by the British in 1931.

Since the BJP won the 2014 election, attacks on all religious minorities, including non-believers, have increased.

“I have always refused to participate in religious festivals and rituals as it’s against my logic,” said 42-year-old Seema Nayak. “Many of my relatives don’t talk to me. But I have maintained my stand that I will not participate in any religious event, even to please my relatives,” she added.

Jaswant Zirrikh of the Tarksheel Society, a Punjab organization that promotes rational ideas and scientific temper, says that “Common people in urban and rural areas, and even kids, listen to our programs where we (discuss) whether God exists or not and how religions exploit them, but so-called godmen, astrologers and tantric gurus … spread rumors about our work and atheism, saying atheists are no good people. Sometimes they create ruckus at the events.”

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