In a country where superstition still rules the roost, and religion becomes the basis of every public debate, a group of freethinkers who first met on Facebook are forcing people in Kerala to think rationally about every subject. When they started out, they had a handful of members, but today, the Freethinkers Facebook group is home to 1.45 lakh people who engage in an open debate on a variety of issues.
So what do the freethinkers aim to achieve?
30-year-old Anu Vinod, an IT professional based in Thiruvananthapuram, says that the primary objective of the Facebook group is to question everything we have been told. A member of the group for the past four years, he says, "Argument is the key, education is the key to progress. Freethinkers is one such online forum that gives ample space for quality discussions on diverse issues."
To take the argument forward to a larger, offline audience, the group has tied up with Kerala Freethinkers Forum to organise a two-day seminar, which will act as their third annual meet-up as well.
Fifteen speakers will be seen bringing up discussion on specific topics: "The politics of memes" by Hrishikesh Bhaskaran, one of the admins of the Facebook group of International Chalu Union (ICU) that makes internet memes, "Portrayal of women in media" by Dr Beena Kayaloor, "Genetically Modified Crops" by Dr KM Sreekumar, a scientist at Kerala Agriculture University.
24-year-old Haritha Thambi, a student of co-operative Diploma, is set to speak about cognitive biases that are so inherent in humans. "The human brain is designed in such a way that makes it capable enough to make decisions quickly. While doing so, the human brain takes into account a number of things, which are often based on what we have heard and learnt. For instance, you see a physically challenged person and instantly think that you need to keep a distance from him, lest he be unwell or something. That's what my presentation aims to explain," Haritha says.
"Our society gives primary importance to what they already believe in,â€ť she says. â€śUnfortunately, these beliefs are not formed by rational thought, but by various emotional and psychological reasons, in the context of environments created by family, religion and caste. These beliefs might affect our rationality in judgment and decisions,â€ť she adds.
The third annual meet-up of the Freethinkersâ€™ collective will be held in Vyloppilli Samskrithi Bhavan in Thiruvanthapuram on April 22 and 23. You can visit this page for registration details.