Against the backdrop of an ‘organised attempt' to revive ancient customs and dead-and-gone rituals in this digital age, rationalists are trying to infuse a dose of sanity and reason into Kerala's social life.

Bewildered by the speed and frequency of religious groups capturing the Malayali's largely secular public space, the Bharatiya Yukthivadi Sanghom (Rationalists' Association of India) has launched an anti-religion campaign to expose the vested interests and the political agenda of these groups. Sreeni Pattathanam, general secretary of the association's Kerala unit, said the drive would try to make people see through the thick haze of religious propaganda and see reason.

Mr. Pattathanam said ‘yagas,' ‘yagnams' and ‘pongalas' have staged a strong comeback in the recent years. Faith-healing meetings and religious lectures were increasing by the day. “Unfortunately, these retrograde efforts are supported and often sponsored by media organisations for their commercial interest,” Mr. Pattathanam said. Media reports, which always praised these sectarian events to the sky, gave them an aura of authority and credibility. Political parties were also ambivalent about them.

He said many ‘yagas' and ‘yagnas,' which had last been performed centuries ago, were being revived in the name of spirituality and thousands of people were being attracted to such events with high-tech publicity using the visual and print media. For example, ‘pongala,' which in the past were held in a very few temples, were now being introduced in more and more temples every year. Religious processions, faith marches and ‘ghosha yatras' were being taken out competitively by each of the three major religions in the State. “These events are highly divisive and sectarian,” Mr. Pattathanam said. “They foster communalism and make way for the re-emergence of casteism.”

He said these trends had largely erased the intellectual progress and secular values Kerala had achieved in the wake of the cultural renaissance during the early decades of the 20{+t}{+h} century. “Most of the renaissance values have evaporated under the pressure of the revivalist movements.” In the past, he recalled, religious ceremonies and annual festivals were held in pubic spaces and were open to all people. “Now annual festivals are held in places of worship which are only open to the members of that particular religion. Plays, concerts and other forms of performing art are being replaced by ‘yagams' and religious sermons.”

‘Political agenda'

He alleged that political agendas such as those of the Sangh Parivar were behind the revival of ancient customs and exclusivist annual festivals, among the Hindus. International religious movements were active in other religious communities.

“If these trends are not checked by the active involvement of the intelligentsia, writers, artistes and journalists, a time will come soon when Kerala will reach a point of no-return,” he said. It was in view of this that the association launched the State-level anti-religion drive in Malappuram, in December last. Meetings, seminars, classes for science awareness and ‘divine miracle exposures' are being held as part of this in each district.

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