Nayak becomes the victim of a viral smear campaign following the circulation of an audio recording in which a man makes derogatory remarks and incites violence against Nayak, as well as another man. In response, Nayak files a police complaint.
The police dropped charges against the man after he confessed and apologized.
Nayak comes under police protection following serious threats to his life and the discovery of his name on ‘hit lists’.
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’.
India is the world’s most populous democracy, religiously pluralistic, and for many years proud, in the main, of its secular Constitution.
Despite its famously secular Constitution, concerns about Hindu nationalism and interreligious tension have risen under the premiership of Narendra Modi. Modi’s presidency has been linked to a rise in Hindu nationalism — both socially and on the part of officials appearing to elevate and promote a politicized Hindu nationalist agenda. Several state or federal laws introduced by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been designed to promote patriotism or Hindu national identity in particular. Along with a rise in Hindu nationalist rhetoric and state-sponsored religious fundamentalism these developments have sparked deep concern for minorities and their right to freedom of religion and belief.
Rationalism as a belief has a long and proud history throughout Indian culture; since the 6th century BCE. According to the 2012 WIN-Gallup Global Index of Religion and Atheism report, 81% of Indians were religious, 13% were non-religious, 3% were convinced atheists and 3% were unsure or did not respond.
Between 2013 and 2015, three prominent rationalists were assassinated apparently because of their work combating superstition or Hindu nationalism. The authorities were quick to promise action, but were also accused of prematurely ruling out links to Hindu nationalist extremist groups. Government officials refrained from forcefully condemning the killings. Whilst India’s Minister for Minorities, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, has said that “you cannot judge the government with isolated incidents of violence or isolated statements by some ministers,” this violence has happened against a backdrop of a number of BJP politicians making deeply derogatory remarks about minorities — including, Niranjan Jyoti implying that non-Hindus were bastards by telling attendees at a rally that they would have to decide between a government led by ‘sons of Ram or by bastards’.
Humanists International believes that Narendra Nayak is targeted for his peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression.
Humanists International works closely with Narendra Nayak as President of FIRA, and monitors his security situation closely.