Every time someone tries to force you to respect an inanimate object, a dead person or an ideology, they indirectly steal your self-respect from you. By making you "respect" the dead and the non-living, they make you respect yourself and other alive people less. This is theft and pilferage of respect -- a scarce and precious currency in our social lives. I object to such theft.
"You are insulting the national flag and my national anthem," they say. They are habitually wrong, or they are lying, because remember, the national flag has no feelings; it experiences neither pride nor humiliation. The national flag is an idea, a concept, and it is not an alive thing -- unlike you and me. You and I are alive, we deserve respect. Our thoughts and feelings deserve respect and due consideration. Don't institutionalize theft of the respect of the living, in the name of compulsory patriotism and nationalism. If you try, we will call it what it is: Theft. You may be the Prime Minister, you may be a Supreme Court judge, you may be the high-priest of a temple built in the combined name of martyrs such as Shahid Bhagat Singh and the martyrs of Kargil. But if you steal respect from the living and try to endow it on the dead, you are stealing. It may be institutionalized theft, but it is still theft.
Those who are dead -- be they Ambedkar, Nehru, Gandhi, Thackeray or Shivaji -- are irrevocably dead. While they were alive, they may have commanded great respect. But they are now dead; they are a bunch of ashes, and dust, and memories. They cannot experience insult or praise. Their cronies or "supporters" can experience insult or praise by proxy, vicariously, but that is not the same thing.
The least among us who are alive are greater than the greatest among those who are dead. Because no matter how insignificant you and I may be, we are the PRESENT. And no matter how great the great people may have been, they are the PAST. The present is greater than the past -- no matter how glorious that past is claimed to have been. The present is virile and fertile; from the loins of the present will spring the future. The past is impotent and incapable of breeding anything.
Temples and memorials and political parties based on past "great leaders" are intended to institutionalize the exploitation of people who are alive, for the benefit of the high priests of these "great leaders" or "great ideologies". Those who are dead must be cremated and forgotten. That which is imaginary must be relegated to fairyland.
Respect those who are alive and speak for themselves in their own authentic voices; as for mimics of the voices of the dead, there is indeed a place for them also, but never forget that they are mimics. A mimic should never be confused with the real personality.
"By questioning my prophet / my religion / my political leader, you are insulting them," they say. No, I am not. You are free to profess your religion or your political faith, and to try to win converts to your cause. And I am free to profess my religionlessness and my skepticism, and to try to win converts to my cause. You believe what a particular book says, what a particular guru says, what a particular leader says, and you keep trying to spread those beliefs. I may question those very beliefs which are being thrust upon me. It's not personal; don't make it personal.
We don't have to necessarily agree on everything. You are free to state your own beliefs as I am free to dissect those beliefs. You are free to dissect my beliefs or my attitude. Keep it intellectual, keep it clean, don't make it personal, and we can still be cordial.
As long as you don't try to make your freedom more sacrosanct than my freedom, we can be friends.