At 34 years, Bengal may be right on top when it comes to having had the longest rule by a communist government, but here’s something that stretches belief: the state has only 784 professed atheists. In a state that has a population of 91,347,736 people, this translates to 0.00086%, not even a blip.
A decade after Bengal was sucked into a debate on Marx and religion, courtesy former transport minister Subhas Chakraborty’s “Jai Tara“ comment at the Tarapith temple, the Census 2011figures (according to recently released data) have shown that the state is only sixth in the country in its atheist population. A total of 2.28 lakh people hadn’t revealed their religion at all, but demographers and sociologists find the atheist number to be too small to be true.
Among the other communist-ruled states, Kerala fares better, with 4,896 confirmed atheists, the third highest in the country; Tripura has only 53.Overall, Maharashtra tops the country with 9,652 atheists, followed by Meghalaya (9,089), Kerala, Uttar Pradesh (2,425) and Tamil Nadu (1,297).
“It’s difficult to break this data into black and white,“ felt Dalia Chakraborty , a professor of sociology at Jadavpur University . “Religion is something very personal, which people may not like to reveal. This is very nuanced when it comes to Bengal.“
Prasanta Roy , a former head of Presidency University’s sociology department, said: “This 784 figure defies global trends. In fact, a few days back, Iwas reading a paper on the increase in atheism around the world. I’m not sure on the questionnaire put forth by the enumerators. It should have been more detailed.“
The latest census figures, which break down the religion data, have listed the professed atheists as a sub-group of “other religious persuasions“.In the original religious data, 2.28 lakh people in Bengal refused to spell out religious affiliations, but they didn’t say they were atheists.
In fact, numbers don’t even spell out the exact picture.
Nationwide, the census data suggests, 0.41% of the people clubbed under “other religious persuasions“ group are atheists; in Bengal, however, the proportion is much less than that, just 0.08. Techie Abhishek Mitra would have told census enumerators he is an atheist. But he didn’t get a choice. “My childhood influence is my father, a self-professed communist. At home, I would listen to my father explain to my mother, who was slightly God-fearing, about it. It somehow seeped into my psyche,“ he said. Not all are like Abhishek, though. Pallavi Das, 31, says she started believing in atheism during her post-graduate days. “I believe God is an excuse for structural social injustice,“ she said. In fact, so deep is her belief that before marriage she had clearly spelt out that her life partner too should be an atheist.
The census data make Abhishek and Pallavi exceptions in Bengal, but it shouldn’t perhaps be that way .The 784 figure is slightly befuddling, given that nearly 3 lakh people are whole-time communist party members, who technically should support atheism, and that nearly 1.08 million people (or 19.7%) of Bengal’s electorate voted for CPM a few months ago. Although there is no bar on anyone who believes in God in getting a CPM membership, it is expected that the members would follow the tenets of Marxism.
Bengal, during 34 years of communist rule, was caught in atheist debate. Chakraborty’s pre-poll visit to Tarapith notwithstanding, several CPM leaders were sucked into this row.
Bartaman Patrika epaper 08-08-2016: http://epaper.prabhatkhabar.com