God versus Atheism, Bengal vouches for believers

West Bengal has only 784 professed atheists out of its total population of 91.3 million


According to the recently published Census 2011 data, compared to other states, West Bengal ranks sixth in the country among atheist population, with Maharashtra leading the pack. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint
According to the recently published Census 2011 data, compared to other states, West Bengal ranks sixth in the country among atheist population, with Maharashtra leading the pack. Photo: Indranil Bhoumik/Mint

Kolkata: Years after former transport minister, the late Communist leader Subhash Chakraborty, was criticised over his “Jai Tara” (hail goddess Tara) comment during his visit to the Tarapith temple, West Bengal proved that he was not the only one, not even among a few.

Like the communist party, the tenets of communism, too, have failed in West Bengal. Though it was under a communist regime for 34 years, Bengal has only 784 professed atheists out of its total population of 91.3 million.

Unlike popular beliefs, atheism in the state offers a dwindling number. This is despite the fact that there are around 300,000 communist party members in the state out of the total population, who should, in principle, support atheism. And not to forget, over 1 million people of state electorate voted for the communist parties in West Bengal only a few months ago.

So while it is not a requirement to be an atheist to join communist parties, it is expected a sizeable portion of its members to be non-believers, or at least should adhere to the Marxist-Leninist ideology, which holds the view that religion is the opium of the people. In Marx’s views, communist ideology should absorb the concept of atheism to explain the wider premise of the dictatorship of the proletariat and class struggle.

Interestingly, even during the communist rule, the state had repeatedly been caught in the atheist debate, with a number of senior Communist Party of India (Marxist). or CPM, leaders being dragged into the row.

While Chakraborty defended himself saying there wasn’t anything wrong with his act in a state where a large number of people bow their heads before the deity, it showcased the fact that the party’s own people weren’t following communist principles.

The recently published Census 2011 data only reaffirmed that practice. Though a total of 228,267 people in Bengal refused to reveal their religious affiliations, according to the data, compared to other states, West Bengal ranks sixth in the country among atheist population, with Maharashtra leading the pack.

The recently released data shows the western Indian state is home to the highest number of atheists in the country with 9,652 such people, followed by Meghalaya (9,089) and Kerala. Even Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu fared better with 2,425 and 1,297 atheists, respectively, compared to West Bengal. Among the other communist states, Kerala has a relatively better number with 4,896 atheists, while Tripura has only 53.

According to a global survey on the percentage of atheists to a country’s population, communist China has 47% such people, Japan (31%), Czech Republic (30%), France (29%), Germany (15%); 10% of the population in Iceland, Australia and Austria were atheists. For India, it is estimated at only 3% out of the total population of 1.25 billion.

So with the ouster of communist parties from power in West Bengal, the communist doctrine on atheism too seems to be on its way out. And this is in defiance of the global trends, which suggest atheism is on the rise.

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