Indian rationalist victim of viral hate campaign
Nayak filed a complaint with Urwa Police Station on 21 May after a recording of a telephone conversation in which Nayak is described as a ‘communist’ went viral on social media. In his letter to the police, Nayak argues that the contents of the conversation are offences under Section 294 (profane speech) and Section 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code.
The conversation in question was reportedly prompted by a prominent doctor who sparked furore by entering a shop without wearing a mask. The caller, who has subsequently confessed to having published the audio and apologized to police, reportedly rang the shop to discuss the occurrence. Following his confession and apology, charges under Sections 294 and 506 have been dropped. However, Nayak has reserved the right to proceed against him under other sections of the Penal Code.
Nayak, a biochemist by training, is the President of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations who has for decades campaigned within his community against superstition, exposing so-called ‘God men’ as fraudsters and advocating for the upholding of secularism in a country that has witnessed a sharp rise in Hindu nationalist rhetoric over the last decade.
As a result of his fearless campaigning and his respected position within the rationalist community, Nayak has been identified as a target for assassination – his name appearing on numerous ‘hit lists’. As a result, he has received the protection of police bodyguards since 2016.
The threat against Indian rationalists and activists is real and deeply concerning. Since 2013, at least three prominent Indian rationalists have been murdered in retaliation for their work challenging superstition. Others have been the subject of smear campaigns. Many critics of the government are often labelled as ‘anti-national’, ‘unpatriotic’, ‘naxalites’, ‘maoist-sympathisers’ or ‘communists’.
Andrew Copson, President of Humanists International, commented:
“Such acts must be taken in the wider context of the treatment of humanists, rationalists and free-thinkers in India today. There is a climate of violence and intimidation being fostered by right-wing nationalist groups, with impunity from the Indian state. We urge the authorities to bring an end to this violence and afford these groups all necessary protection to ensure their rights are upheld.”
The failure of the state to fully investigate and bring the perpetrators of such acts of violence to justice perpetuates a climate that stifles the freedoms of belief, thought, conscience and expression. For this reason, Humanists International urges the Indian authorities to conduct a swift, thorough and impartial investigation of the threats made against Narendra Nayak and all others targeted for their peaceful expression of their beliefs, and ensure them all due protection.