A Letter to Dr Manhoman Singh
If there is one thing that makes me see red, it is senseless discrimination in general and unfair treatment of people. But when it comes to discrimination based on a person’s religion, I abhor it with every fiber of my being. It disgusts me and I feel nothing but contempt for people who discriminate based on religion (or lack of religion, in some cases.) One of the distinguishing features of a civilized society is that it does not treat people differently based on their belief systems. Those societies that do discriminate based on belief systems are retrograde, regressive, backward, ignorant, bigoted, intellectually bankrupt, and generally deserve the derogatory label “third world country.”
Indian polity discriminating among its citizens based on belief places India squarely among a tribe of nations that has no place in a modern civilized world. India, with all its cell phones and back offices, belongs to 7th century Arabia.
It was in the 7th century Arabia that the best and the most enduring example of discrimination based on belief was created. Its founder, Mohammed, declared that the world is divided eternally on the basis of belief: those who believe in his prophet-hood and the one true moon god he called Allah are the good, and those who do not are bad. And it is the holy obligation of the good to make an offer to the bad which simply says, “Believe as we do and you don’t have to pay a tax; if you don’t convert to our belief, and also refuse to pay the tax, you will be killed.”
That 7th century creed was simple and direct. You are either with us in our belief or against us. Convert, or pay the tax, or die. Mind you, there was no compulsion – you are free to choose.
When I first learnt of that principle of Islam, I was disgusted and revolted. Its violent intolerance of any other belief system is insanely inhuman and goes against every humanist and rationalist tradition that has ever been developed by humankind. That intolerant faith has migrated around the world with devastating consequence. Hard to believe, but when you are forced to dump your half-ounce tube of toothpaste into the garbage bin at the security check at the airport, you are suffering the consequence of that insane xenophobia – “hate those who don’t believe in the exact same supernatural being and don’t obey our wishes” – given voice 14 centuries ago.
I don’t find anything even remotely useful in Islamic theology or philosophy. At best it is childish and ignorant. But what I find abhorrent and distasteful is its insistence that based on a person’s non-belief in Islam, the person can be killed. I must stress this point so as to remove all chances of misunderstanding. I don’t want the pseudo-seculars calling for a fatwa on my head. I have no problem with any useless, childish, ignorant ideology; my concern is only that I am against any ideology which actively discriminates against people who do not subscribe to that ideology. So it is not Islam’s moronic theology that bothers me; it is Islam’s discrimination against what they call the “infidels” that I find sickening and revolting.
I have used Islam merely to epitomize what I consider to be a cardinal sin (if you pardon the expression) of discriminating against people based on beliefs. In a civilized society, there is no justification for belief-based policy. Any country that discriminates against people based on their belief is a theocratic dictatorship that its citizens should be ashamed of. India, to my extreme shame and utter disgust, is a third world country that discriminates based on a person’s beliefs.
The prime minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, is calling for discrimination based on a person’s belief system. Basically, the argument goes thus:
(1) Overall, x percentage of people in the nation profess X belief
(2) But in organization A, only y percentage (less than x) of X believers are present
(3) So, to increase y to x, active measures need to be taken
In the above, “A” is every school, college, place of employment (both public and private), army, judiciary, police, and so on.
Seems reasonable, doesn’t it? Or is it? Let’s reason for a bit.
Why, one wonders, is it important that every institution, profession, or organization should have proportionate representation of various faith systems? I can understand it if it were a “parliament of religions” or something. But why is faith important when it comes to say a car factory or an institution of higher education? I know that it is one of the basic principles of pseudo-seculars but we non-pseudo-seculars have a right to know what the reasoning is behind this basic assumption. What bearing does the profession of a particular belief have on the nature and functioning of the institution or the organization that all faiths have to be proportionately represented?
Here is a thought experiment for Dr Manmohan Singh. (I realize that my writings will never reach the good Dr Singh, but perhaps someone in the main stream media would like to bring this point up one of these days.)
Imagine, Dr Singh, that everyone in India magically by the grace of Allah embraces Islam at the stroke of midnight Nov 3rd 2006 (my birthday, as it happens). Nothing else changes: on Nov 4th, all people go to the same job as before, attend the same school, have the same income, live in the same houses as before, etc. Every economic parameter remains the same. Clearly, then Muslims will be 100 percent in every organization and institution (private, public, or otherwise) and no belief-based reservations can be implemented. Note however, that the poor among the population will continue to be poor, those who did not have access to jobs or to education will continue to have no access to jobs or to education.
The number of people who are poor and deprived will be no different on Nov 4th from Nov 3rd. Those, who for whatever reasons, were poor and illiterate will still be poor and illiterate. Moreover, not just their present stations, their future prospects will be no different also: if they were unable to secure a job before, they will continue to be unable to secure a job. Do you see that the personal religious belief of a person does not matter and should not be the basis for national policy? If public policy had to be made, it would have to be made based on some criterion other than religion. Do you see, Dr Singh, that then you will have to address the actual problem which has nothing to do with a person’s religion? I will not abuse your intelligence by pointing out that those policy instruments are available to you now — even before 100 percent conversion — and there is no reason that you should not promote those policies now.
Dr Singh, if you are paying attention, you may have figured out that what I am getting at is this: it is not the faith of a person that should concern the government of a nation that puts on airs about being a superpower, but rather about the economic status of a person. And if you are really concerned about improving the economic status of a person, then you should try to give the person an equal opportunity to the person to succeed. I stress equal opportunity because I wish to distinguish it from equal outcome. The government can at most ensure equality of opportunity but cannot — and should not — ensure equality of outcome. You must understand the distinction and I am going to attempt to do precisely that.
Equality of opportunity matters.
Another thought experiment. Suppose group A (group defined under any criterion, religious or otherwise) children have the same opportunity to become pilots as the members of group B, but refuse to do so. So the outcome is that among the airlines, you find that qualified people from group B are pilots and none from group A. The outcome is clearly different although the opportunity is the same. And a follow up question: would you, Dr Manmohan Singh, fly on a plane that is flown by a pilot from group A who was hired for government mandated proportionate representation reasons and who does not know how to fly a plane?
I know, policy makers are exempt from the ill-effects of the policy they make. You, for instance, will only fly in planes flown by qualified pilots, irrespective of how many caste-based reservations you introduce into the nation’s commercial airlines; and you will be treated by the most qualified doctors, without regard to their caste or their religion. But still, it is an interesting question you may wish to contemplate when you have a free moment. Think equal opportunity, not equal outcome.
Dr Singh, it is conceivable that despite equal opportunity, the outcome is different for reasons that range from personal preferences to innate abilities. Enforcing equality of outcome is silly and misguided. My parents cared for their children and provided equal opportunity to us. We ended up at quite different stations in life, however. I see nothing wrong in the outcome as long as I recognize that we all had the same opportunities. I imagine it would have been silly of my parents to insist that all their children should weigh the same, or even end up earning the same income.
Anyway, getting back to what I call your “minority equality” policy: why should the government deny a person an opportunity based on the person’s faith? I do suppose you realize that positively promoting Peter based on his faith is the same as discriminating against Paul for his different faith? Here is a thought experiment: assume that I, an infidel, should get the job but the employer is forced to hire Mohammed Islam because of your government mandated minority hiring policy. Do you note that I am being denied a job based on my religion? Do you see shades of 7th century Arabia policy?
What if I am desperate enough – my aging parents are depending on my getting that job – would I be better off converting to that “minority” religion? So what your policy is doing is in effect taxing me for being a non-Muslim in one sense, and in another sense, is giving an incentive for me to convert to Islam.
Dr Singh, I am sorry but I have to ask you this: why is the government of India in the business of promoting what you call a “minority” religion? I have a great deal of respect and regard for educated people. I expect educated people to be decent and thoughtful. People who have attended the best institutions of learning around the world, like you have, must be intelligent and decent. Unlike most other generally untutored politicians, you have a PhD in economics – a subject I know to be not for the intellectually challenged. So it pains me to see you stoop so low, even more than it pains me to see mullahs calling for the murder of innocents. At least the mullahs are blood-thirsty brainwashed ignoramuses and have not had a decent thought in their heads ever. What is your reason for this abject divorce from reason and fairness?
I am not done. I have attempted to show that your policy is morally repugnant. The next time it will be my unfortunate job to explain why the policy of “equal minority representation” is economically stupid.