Gurpreet Singh: Punjabi author Sadhu Binning challenges community's belief in religion
Burnaby resident and prominent leftist Punjabi author Sadhu Binning has initiated dialogue on atheism within his community.
The Punjabi community has mostly captured headlines in the mainstream media for Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim religious festivals, so it is very rare to see someone raising a question on the existence of god within an ethnic group that is perceived as highly orthodox and conservative.
Binning, an atheist himself, has recently written a Punjabi book, Nastak Baani (Atheistic Verses). Published by Chetna Parkashan in India, it is going to be released at North Delta Recreational Centre on Sunday (September 23). The book launch will include a discussion on the existence of god, with some religious and atheist scholars will speaking.
Nastak Baani is a collection of quotations from various world-renowned atheists, philosophers, and thinkers who've questioned the concept of religion. It's dedicated to Bhagat Singh, a towering leftist revolutionary of India, who was hanged for killing a British police officer in 1931.
Bhagat Singh died as an agnostic and had written a powerful essay "Why I am an atheist?" a year before his hanging.
Binning has spoken lucidly about atheism on Punjabi radio and TV stations despite challenges from both die-hard religious fundamentalists and even from moderates holding traditional views. He wants to break a myth about the South Asian community being "too religious".
"The idea of atheism was never foreign to our community, as nonbelievers existed even in ancient India," according to Binning. He pointed out that people like Buddha had also questioned the existence of the so-called almighty.
Besides, some prominent thinkers and reformists, including Periyar and Abraham Kovoor, became guiding light for the atheists and rationalists in India. Periyar launched a "selfrespect movement" after experiencing continued oppression of Dalits or the "untouchables" by Hindu priests.
Kovoor, who was born in a Christian family, denounced everything he considered superstitious and unscientific. He documented cases of people who were duped by the "godmen" and "ghost busters’". His written work inspired the followers of the rationalist movement in India.
Incidentally, the birth anniversaries of Periyar and Bhagat Singh and Kovoor’s death anniversary fall this month.
In the past, Binning wrote a poem appreciating Vancouverites after a survey revealed that a significant number of people in the city are nonreligious. His short stories also give an idea about his secular views toward life and politics.
As an editor of the Punjabi magazine Watan, he has written extensively on this subject and has often questioned the relevance of promoting too much religion on the public airwaves and also in politics.
As a linguistic activist who has worked hard to promote Punjabi language in public schools, he has been conscious not to mix the language with religion, a tendency that is quite common among the local Sikh leaders. He believes that the Punjabi language does not belong to the Sikhs alone as it is spoken by other communities too.
Binning is also staunchly opposed to casteism. Though he is from a dominant Jat (Peasant) Sikh community, his daughter is married to a Hindu. He has brought up his children as atheists and often they and his wife accompany him to rallies and protests against racism and wars.