Muslim Identity in India

I attended a talk by a prominent author today, reflecting on the Muslim identity in the Indian society. I guess it also dealt with the diasporas of Muslim communities in India. And it was quite educational, even though it focussed only on two towns in India – Ahmedabad and Bhopal.

I went to the talk mainly hoping to learn about something else related to the society. The speaker did not touch on those topics at all, but I learnt a lot more about the state of Muslim identities in the society.

Firstly, it made me realise that I need to read a lot more about the Muslim identity in India. Living in a city like Bangalore makes you blind to the state of Muslims in most other states, particularly one as communally charged as Ahmedabad.

The author mentioned that there are no strong Muslim figures in politics, economy or the local mafia in Ahmedabad. I found this rather surprising, given the state of Muslims in that city. Every one is aware of the Godhra riots and the fallout, and the following rise of Modi (surprisingly to me). Muslims have a lot to fear in Gujarat. Ironically, this is one state where one would expect peace, as it is the birth place of Gandhi and all that. But either way, why isn’t there a political bigwig, businessmen or any such strong presence in the state?

Also, how much are their identities – culturally and politically – being directed by the Middle East culture? I keep hearing that there is an increasing number of muslims who send their children to madarasas. I hear that people are growing more communal, putting religion before country. But a lot of the research that I do read says otherwise. The truth probably lies in between. Yet, there is a rising link between the muslims in the Middle East and the ones at home. Every person has a relative there. Then again, half the people from Kerala also have relatives there.

But is the culture dictated by those regions? Do muslims here grow more rigid, accepting ideals from there?

Bangalore is expected to be the next Mumbai and Ahmedabad, given its growing popularity and decreasing tolerance level. A couple of years ago, I would’ve flicked away such statements.  But I notice the divide (new or new awareness in me, I am not sure) and I wonder if this would happen. I keep asking people if they are seeing more women wearing the veil in Bangalore. They all say no… but I have a feeling there are more women wearing the burqa. Young girls. And the keep it on. And that is a little freaky. Any time you see such outward signs of religion, trouble is not far behind.

Most cities in India have muslim localities. True, they might interact with other cultures in the society but there are segregated area for each culture.

As the author pointed out today, each city has ‘sections’ or buildings where people of one sect are more in number. Muslim communities tend to be more obvious I guess, as they are more in number, have several community-related shops and mosques around the place. In Bangalore, there are certain areas that are well-populated with muslims. At the same time, many of these are also business establishments, traditionally handed over from family to family.

Many saree and other clothing stores in the centre of the city are owned by muslims. And they have traditionally been a part of my landscape as far as I can remember. It isn’t just nostalgia speaking when I say I want these business establishments to stay. It is the crucial question of balance in any society. The businesses have to be spread evenly across the cultures to keep the power balance right.

I guess the talk brought up more questions in my mind. About the future of muslims in our country. They might be a minority but they are no where a small number. For every city, they form at least 30 percent of the population. It is hard to hate and reject 30 percent of the population, particularly in a country like India. Also, if we choose to push these minorities to the fringes, it damages the fabric of Indian society in a way I cannot explain.

Minorities have been persecuted in India for centuries. It was first the Dalits, or who are called the Dalits now. They were called the untouchables, the Harijans and other things. Perhaps that is simply because Indians are actually quite racist. It shocks me when someone says “We are Indians. We are Hindus. We are vegetarians.”

These are three completely different things, with no relation to one another. We are not a hindu country. Pakistan is a muslim nation but India is a Secular country. Secondly, hindus are not really vegetarians. There is a small percentage of people who choose to be vegetarian. The rest – we love our meat. So on what basis is anyone calling Indians a hindu country and vegetarians at that? The Hindutva policy should really be banned in a country that is as volatile and emotional like India is.

It’ll probably not happen in my lifetime. But I sure hope for something better in the next couple of generations at least.

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The 2010 News Chronicle

2010 nearly comes to an end… and personally, there are various things I remember. But I was wondering, news-wise what sticks in our mind? Public memory is notoriously short… and that includes me.

These are some of the things that remain in my mind as some of the most powerful things this year. They might not include everything and perhaps the most relevant… as journalists, we sometimes fail to see the forest for the trees.

  1. The BP Oil spill disaster: tons has been written and we’ll probably begin to face the consequences of this spill for generations to come
  2. Facebook privacy fiasco: Zuckerberg and his statements!
  3. The 33 miners stuck underground for nearly 2 months
  4. The iPhone 4, the iPad and all that jazz: I can’t remember much in terms of technology this year… was there something that I am forgetting? I mean… the iPhone isn’t really new, the iPad is also old news and there were repetitions of those things from various companies.
  5. Wikileaks drama: It shook the world and made me wonder about the purpose of Wikileaks
  6. Obama’s visit to India: Didn’t really shake the world, but as an Indian, it was hard to miss
  7. Commonwealth Games: and all that it entailed. News-wise I wasn’t sure how important it is. The lede probably got buried under all the media houses shouting, but definitely worth a mention
  8. The numerous scandals in India: the 2G scam, the CWG corruption, the Radia tapes…
  9. Aung San Suu Kyi being released
  10. Displacement of the gypsies from France: strangely, this is one issue that remains in my mind. I’m not sure how much international attention it gained and how long it lasted, but it stays
  11. Sachin’s 50th Test Century: The man is indeed a legend
  12. The Football World Cup: and the saddest, most boring final I’ve seen
  13. Inception: The Movie of the Year
  14. Endhiran: The Indian Movie of the Year

 

Things that I did not remember but was reminded by photographs:

  1. The earthquake in Haiti
  2. Floods in Pakistan
  3. Olympics in China (jeez my memory is really full of holes)

And then there are other things that I remember simply because I write about it… like China and its currency, the G20 Summit in Seoul.

Prejudiced

The past few weeks I have discovered ideas… prejudiced ideas… in some people that I thought I knew. Including myself.

I generally do not have much patience with idiots, bigots, racists and people who hate women. I try ignoring them, or just be rude to their face. Not a nice quality, I know.

But what do you do when you discover a bad thing in you and the ones that you love?

Something you don’t even realise existed in your mind and then you wonder why that thought even took root. I generally try to accept people the way they are… with their beliefs and all. But when there is that slight disconnect, I wonder how to accept it… particularly when it is related to religion.

There is no worse bomb than religion. You have no idea when something will piss people off when you make a comment related to it. I tiptoe around issues related to religion. I do that if I  meet you and we are talking about it. I do that if I meet you and you belong to say… Islam or something.

Islam… I realised a while ago that though all my muslim friends do believe in God and the quran, they all are what the rest of the society terms ‘liberal.’ They do not subscribe to all the teachings of the quran, like many of my hindu friends do not agree or follow all the teachings of the gita. Or the bible. When we aren’t exactly called ‘liberal’ by the same society, why is this set called liberal?

Oh yes… there are sections where even the rest of us are called liberal… but why is following your own edict of a religion, which does not believe in closing up women, slaughtering people, waging wars or proclaiming your God is the only way to heaven, tagged a rebel?

I guess I was surprised to see myself tiptoeing around one of these issues recently. I never had the problem with others, even people I had just met, because I didn’t care about how they would take it or I knew how it would be received.

I believe each one of us has the right to follow what we want, as long as it does not harm anyone. This is exactly what the people I met were doing, so I could not get up on my high horse and say they were wrong. They did not force their religion on anyone nor did they seek approval. Nor did they judge what you did. I would be wrong then – as wrong as all these fundamentalists – to impose my ‘liberal’ view on them.

Dilemmas.

Back to Cow Slaughter

In a sign of increasing radical-ness in liberal Karnataka, the BJP government proposed a ban of cattle slaughter a few months ago. It did meet with wide protests, or wide acceptance, depending on what newspaper you read.

I read this article in the Caravan today, which gives a more interesting perspective on the history of the issue.

As BJP, RSS and other radical organizations put it, the cow is sacred to the Hindus and cow slaughter hurts sentiments of the people, hence must be banned.

But as this article points out, the Hindus in this case is largely the upper class practitioners – the Brahmins.

It is the farmer who milks them with his hands, bathes them, polishes their skin to keep insects away, washes the cowshed, mates them with the healthiest partners available, stays awake all night during delivery to make sure the calf doesn’t hit its head on the ground and the cow, in its post-delivery depression, doesn’t kill herself by eating the placenta. These along with several such chores of affection and care give him that legitimacy to the animal over those who give a token roti to a wandering city cow, and leave them to survive on rotten vegetables from garbage heaps, which include toilet litter, construction debris, and medical waste.

And the farmer is not a Brahmin generally. (And I was pleasantly surprised to see Devegowda opposing the cow slaughter!) As the article further points out:

So there is a disconnect between the realities of lower Hindu castes, Dalits, tribal people, Christians and Muslims who rear cattle, and that of a few cultural elites from the Brahmin and Brahminised upper castes who don’t like to get their hands dirty doing manual labour, but construct a theory of the sacred cow.

So is this a caste thing? Absolutely! Were you hiding under a rock all these days? This isn’t just about cow slaughter, but they are also promoting vegetarianism as a ‘healthier’ way of life. The point here isn’t what is healthy – it is about a choice to lead your life a particular way. If we begin banning slaughter of animals because of religious sentiments, it will have to be applied for every religion equally. Along with other food items that could offend someone’s sense of religion.

Some of my friends argue that this is a case where “majority” should have a say. And the majority is vegetarians, they say.

Is it true? Even by the statistical count of the castes that consume meat, this falls short of the “majority.” Not to mention all the religions that support meat eating as a way of life.

I am not saying anything new here. Most of these arguments have been presented by both sides and all we can do is wait, and hope sense prevails in the Government. As I mentioned much earlier, this is a violation of fundamental rights of a citizen. We should be able to eat what we choose and practice what religion we choose.

So, by that definition, how can I be jailed if I choose to eat beef?

What is shocking to me is the amount of support I am seeing from people who I thought knew better. This is the only the symptom of a disease, which if encouraged now, will swallow all the progress India has made so far.

Hindutva was merely a word I had grown up with. I figured it would be used lesser as I grew up and people became more intelligent regarding the problems with Hindutva. But it seems to be gaining popularity. Of course, what is popular is not always right but it definitely gets people to listen and some to agree.

What do they agree with? That cow slaughter is bad. Is it? Look at the business part of it. I do not have exact figures to quote about how much beef is sold and the revenue from it, but it is  basic business sense that if you ban the consumption of one form of meat, it will lead to an increase in demand on other forms and thereby an imbalance. Not to mention the livelihood of several people is at stake.

True, some other states have banned cow slaughter. Which states? Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat. States where BJP or some faction of it holds a majority. States that strongly promote Hindutva. States where caste politics rule, communal riots are common and the line between religions runs deep. (Okay, I don’t know much about Rajasthan, but I definitely do mean the other two).

That is not the path we want Karnataka to take. We do not want our cities to have another Godhra, for people to hate their neighbours simply because of religion and someone cooks meat. I am not exaggerating. The issues always start small somewhere but there is a political and religious agenda behind it.

Caste politics is an ugly truth in India’s political platform. And the current batch of politicians seem to be doing exactly what the British did – divide and rule. Except there are more fragments now – Hindus, Muslims, Dalits, the ‘higher caste’ people… whoever they might be.

There are already several temples and more saffron-robed people in the region compared to 5 years ago. Religious freedom is the key to harmony, and to progress.  I want the freedom to wear what I want, eat what I want and drink what I want without the government interfering. This is why we are a democracy. It is shocking enough that people of my generation, who are supposed to be growing more lenient, have more hardlined ideas. We don’t want this to grow.

And giving in a single inch on an issue is just opening the flood gates for the religious kooks to just rush through it and trample all the progress we have made in co-existing peacefully.

History and Humans’ disgusting-ness

Horrifying gripping.

Have you heard that phrase? Have you experienced it ever?

It happens sometimes when you are watching a horror movie… something gory and so sick that you really want to throw up but you stare at the screen in some morbid fascination.

It was that exact kind of fascination that got me through this article on NY Mag.

Short summary: It is an excerpt of a book that is to be published called ‘The Lampshade.’ The article written by Mark Jacobson talks about a lampshade that was found in the debris left behind Hurricane Katrina, which perhaps is a relic from Hitler’s era. The lampshade is made of human skin.

Morbid, isn’t it? And sick. And yes compelling to read. When you really think of it leather lampshades aren’t so rare. I do not use it but I have seen some really pretty ones out there… made of cow or goat skin. So when you think of it, both should make you equally sick (come to think of it, it does). But somehow knowing that it was a fellow human being… the warm skin of a person is now stretched out on 6 sticks is just… nauseating.

What makes it more so is the fact that it was another human being who did this, out of sheer racial spite. Or was it just a form of perversion which the war’s racial mania gave an opening to be expressed? Hate can be expressed in several ways but it would take a really twisted mind to do something so sick to another human being.

If I am wrong, I guess I am an absolute babe in the woods.

I have read stories about the Holocaust. I have friends from both the German and the Jew side who have horror stories. I have friends from Berlin who hate the city simply because of what it stood for. All through it, I never pretended to understand what drove man to such disgusting acts but I thought I was able to digest it. Now I realise I did not think it through. Did not know the least bit of the vileness that could exist in the human mind to do something so horrible.

The concentration camps, the persecution of the Jews, the mindless killing on them in several other regions. Was it a mania? Mob mentality?

Persecution exists here too. How many Sikhs were killed after Indira Gandhi was assassinated? How many Hindus and Muslims were slaughtered during the Calcutta riots? All in the name of religion.

But what happened during Hitler’s rule still perhaps tops the list. Dignity – perhaps the only thing that separates us from  beasts (and note I do not say animals because they definitely have a lot more dignity than we can) was… non existent seems like a clean and minor word but that is the best I can come up with.

Would there be more such acts? Yes. Look at Afghanistan, Iraq. Every prisoner that is abused, every soldier that is tortured is a throwback to those times. Yet, somehow, we manage to ignore it and pretend it is all in the name of the country. Isn’t that the same excuse our ancestors gave?

Link of the day: Go read the article posted above.

Get Over It!

I actually started this post earlier today about if women are naturally more inclined towards being generous and sacrificing than men are.

It got derailed when I came across this article – Iranian cleric: Promiscuous women cause quakes.

Not kidding. It actually appeared 5 days ago and I was too swamped in work to actually pay much attention to it. But I got an invite on Facebook today for “Boobquake“. It is an event hosted by a girl in the US who was pissed off enough by the article to ask women around the world to wear their most cleavage-oriented top or show off their legs or whatever they figure is “indecent”.

To sum up that article, the moron thinks women are capable of causing earthquakes.

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes,” Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

I really have no idea how to respond to a statement so damn ludicrous. I wonder if anyone would even believe such a statement. Now I do wish we had such powers. I mean if all I needed to do was wear revealing clothes and cause earthquakes and other such ‘natural’ disasters, I buy a wardrobe full of the skankiest clothes I could find.

I would actually argue about the things men could do you know – like blindfold themselves and sit at home – but it just seems like such a horrible waste of time to even write it all out.

Or I wonder if the cleric mistook something else for an earthquake. People do say (mostly in M&Bs) that the earth shakes when you have sex.

I guess the Boobquake is equivalent to the Pink Chaddi campaign we had here. That is what we do now. You make a silly statement and we rebel in your face. But we need something a little more concrete. A little more education. As long as we have women rebelling against women, I don’t know how much progress can be achieved. Like that woman during the Pink Chaddi campaign who started talking about morality.

Who defines morality? Why should morality be a problem for anyone as long as it isn’t troubling you. A woman wearing a skirt on a street gets harassed. Isn’t the problem the guy there? The lack of his morals? Why is the woman targeted as the evil-doer here? All she did was wear a skirt and walk on a public street. But she is flogged for public indecency, while the asshole who whistled at her simply gets a slap on the wrist.

A friend of mine who is a reporter in one of the middle eastern countries mentioned about an engagement ceremony she attended there. Apparently, both the groom and bride bring a 100  guests each and then the guy returns alone to brave the woman’s 100 guests and propose to the woman. It maybe just a ritual, but rituals are the remanents of some time. And this one indicates that the woman had a choice. She could choose whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. And yes, they are Muslim. Which makes me wonder where the rituals of not even allowing her to meet the guy come from? Evolution? Mutation, rather.

I was watching Lajja today. The Rajkumar Santoshi movie that got great reviews abroad but got burnt in theatres here. It is a good, if slightly overloaded, movie about women oppression. Different scenarios… people from different classes… it was quite realistic. Beautiful acting by some of the top actresses in the country. But nobody watched in. The men I know who watched it are the ones who are already sensitized to this issue. The others called it “some shit about women”.

Women who talk about women’s rights are often branded “feminists”. I often wonder why. For most of the time, I am not even thinking about gender equality. My boss at work is a woman and someone I really do admire. There are no women in the immediate level of chain of command but there are some fantastic women I work with regardless. And none of them would really call themselves “feminists” either. They go on doing what they have to do.

My maid put her two kids through school with her own money. Her husband was an alcoholic and she booted him out a while ago. She doesn’t call herself feminist. She did what she had to do.

And honestly, none of my friends ever think that gender equality is a feminist thing. But yeah, i’ve heard these words. from my distant cousins, from people a step away from me… if not the word, the slight rolling of eyes.

In India, we still have much progress to achieve. It was such a relief to see some proactive action being taken in certain parts of North India with people being jailed and punished for ‘honor’ murders. And yet, we have people protesting to amend the law to ban same gotra (sub-caste, in a manner of speaking) marriages. It is Indian culture… but when it is not incest, should we ban it? Or should we ban it but make a special amendment for people to get married if they really want to if it is proved they are not related by blood. Or will that just be impossible in a country riddled with corruption and an issue so politically sensitive?

There comes the line between culture and doing what you think is right. Indian culture doesn’t allow for a lot of things but culture evolves through generations (which is actually how a lot of things are not allowed, come to think of it).

The problem with this issue isn’t allowing or not allowing the marriages. It is those self-made juries who judge and met out the punishment, which often involves beating the guy to death and raping the girl. What the bloody hell does that achieve? Oh yeah and they could just shoot both of them, sometimes.

There is yet another debate in France to ban headscarves… One could argue that secularism could mean no outward show of religion. Or you could counter-argue, it means allowing you to follow whatever you in a manner however you want. The latter is what we follow in India. Who would be more successful?

Just because something has a 3000 year old history, is it correct?

I like seeing those little steps we are taking towards progress. But it is also infuriating to see that huge wall that opposes it in the name of cultural traditions.

Song of the day: I Wish I was a Punk Rocker: Sandi Thom

Religion – A Thought? A way of Life?

I’d an interesting conversation with a friend today about religion and different political parties in India.

He is pro-BJP, while I am absolutely against. Perhaps there are some good people in the party but I just don’t like their whole Hindutva policy. I do not  like any party which focusses on religion, which pretty much means all Indian political parties are out. Except, I feel the BJP does it more than anyone else.

But I was a little shocked to realise that this friend – who is educated, well-traveled and belongs to the “upper middle class” section of society – was absolutely pro-BJP. And believes as India is a Hindu nation, the Hindus need to be given more rights. A fact that I absolutely do not agree with.

India is a secular country, which means equal rights to all. And yes, special privileges to some who come from a weaker section of the society.

“A Hindu man, from the day he has his family, works for his family, ensures his children eat no matter what he does, supports them and struggles for them,” the friend said (summarizing). That stopped me.

I figured the lifestyle is dictated by socio-economic conditions rather than religion. I know affluent Muslims and Hindus who live the same way while a poor Hindu and Muslim drink and abuse their families. Islam forbids drinking but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone. Hinduism forbids a lot more things but that doesn’t stop anyone either.

“Babar bought in blood in India. The Aryans lived happily” the friend said.

Why do we pick and choose parts of history that is convenient to us? The Aryans invaded India in the first place, if you really want to trace history. Dravidians were the original inhabitants of India. India’s culture grew with the mixing of various cultures over centuries. There were the Aryans, who bought in the caste system. There were the Parsis, the Jews, the Muslims and the Christians. Each religion came by as it developed, as the world changed. There was Buddhism and Jainism as well… started here in our own country. So on what basis do we say that a country belongs to one culture alone? And how long does a culture need to exist on a piece of land before we accept it as a part of our culture?

The BJP recently tried to pass a bill that bans cow slaughter in Karnataka. I found it ridiculous. It violated several basic rights of an Indian citizen. And this was passed to merely detract people from other problems in the state and win the Hindu vote bank! I thought it didn’t work and was rather pleased to see such strong protest against it. But apparently there were supporters. Cows are gods in the Hindu religion. But then so is nature. That doesn’t seem to stop people from chopping trees, from taking over forests.

Why pick and choose? What gives anyone the right to pick and choose? If we really did that, then the Harijans would still be living as the untouchables, women would still be burnt alive on funeral pyres and widows would be banished to live on river banks, begging for food.

There is a story in Kannada literature of a hunter named Bedara Kannappa. (one version of the story) – Kannappa is a fierce hunter who always gets a game. One day he waits for his prey in a tree… the day passes and no animal goes by. He gets frustrated and while waiting, he slowly pulls off leaves from the tree and drops it on the ground. He does not notice then that there is a Shiva Linga under the tree. Finally, when he looks down and sees the Linga he makes a promise to Shiva that if he gets a game, he will give Shiva a part of it. Right then, a deer comes by, the hunter shoots it, leaves some for the god and goes home. The same things happens over the next several days.

When the priest comes to worship the next time, he is horrified by the meat lying around the temple. He curses whoever ‘defiled’ the temple and cleans it. After a couple of times, the priest loses his temper and hides in a bush nearby to see who is the culprit defiling the temple. He catches Kannappa and yells at him for spoiling the temple. The hunter argues that an offering is an offering and that the God does not have a problem with it. Shiva hears their argument and cries at the priest’s abuse of the hunter. The hunter, seeing tears emerge from the Linga, promises to stem the flow of tears and cuts out his own eyes and offers to God. Shiva is pleased by this final act of devotion, appears in front of him and restores his eyesight and tells him that he is pleased with the devotion Kannappa has shown in all these days.

The story forms a source for the reason why Shiva is worshipped with 101 leaves of a particular tree. However, people now would absolutely frown (like that priest did) at getting meat into the temple. Temples are holy places, temples are not meant for “unclean” people was the consensus which led to people being barred from entering. It was that way of thinking that eventually led to the system of untouchables.

There are several stories of Indian gods doing things that people forbid devotees from doing. Who interprets this religion? The Upanishads and the Vedas, which are considered the basis for several rituals and customs, are also supposed to have chants which were used to kill animals.

Then why is vegetarianism considered the “hindu way of life?”

Religions are interpreted according to the political needs of that time. And religions can co-exist if they adapt to the time as well. The Vedas and the Upanishads also preach co-existance with other cultures and gods. Then why the antagonism against Muslims and Christians?

There are equally rigid Muslims and Christians. There have been Christian people who pose as missionaries and try to convert others. There have been Muslims who preach that their god is the best. I would say shoot them all, regardless of religion.

The RSS, the Shiv Sena are political tools. Their offshoots are no better. What else would you call an organization that would beat up women and children in the name of protecting culture? I remember a time when they came recruiting on my doorstep. It was a wonder that they did, considering they knew how ‘forward’ we were… but they still did. They got chased away. Perhaps it was their opening line – “we are hindus. we need to stick together” that cause the problem. Maybe it was the loud proclamation of how we are the best.

No. I am not satisfied with any religion or anything any of it has to offer. I do not want a god that discriminates by what we eat, what language we speak, what we wear and who are our friends. I don’t believe a real God does that anyway. I don’t believe God cares about what hymns I’m singing, what temple/mosque/church I pray at. I don’t believe God really worries about how many coconuts I’m going to bring him today. I don’t believe God cares about the wine I drink, the people I date. I guess God would just be happy if I didn’t kill anyone, cheat anyone and go do whatever it is I was meant to do.

I am not insulting any religion here. Each one of us require a faith to live. To believe in. I just don’t think that it is related to what a political party wants us to believe or any priest telling us that this is the way to live. I love the confusion of cultures in India.

(These are my own thoughts, borne or reminded from the conversation I had with some people over the last week and today. No offence to anyone, no forcing anyone to come over to my line of thinking. We can all coexist.)

Edit: A friend and someone I deeply respect wrote this article on a website. The timing is interesting because it is about the same topic with a slightly different view about Hindus regard their gods

http://killingthebuddha.com/mag/exegesis/the-moon-is-elsewhere/