Dear BJP,

Looks like Tehelka read one of my previous posts… Read this about Karnataka and BJP recently.

Tehelka is supposed to be a little anti-BJP, so a friend warns me that we are supposed to take this with a pinch of salt.

Religion is a popular and most favorite card of all political parties. But every time the BJP government plays that card, it puts a few extra cards on it and makes a huge impact. Probably, that is because of the ‘Hindutva’ card they play and have support in the form of hooligan friends RSS and Shiv Sena.

The last huge problem between Hindus & Muslims I remember in the state was when I was in school, more than a decade and a half ago. It was perhaps the Babri Masjid time… when the entire country went crazy. I don’t remember much of the time except it was summer vacation and much of it was ruined because I had to stay indoors. I was vacationing with some relatives who lived in a town with mixed population. Even though we all loved our neighbours, everyone stayed indoors because of a few miscreants.

“A few miscreants” – they are the ones that always create trouble. Do they really care about their religion or are they hyped on their own sense of power and the mob mentality?

Anyway, that is not really the point.

Is Karnataka going the Gujarat way? That is a scary question, particularly if the answer is anything but a firm ‘no’.

Everyone says that the Hindus need to be protected because our Constitution gave the minorities too much power. Perhaps that was the need at that time… the minorities had been abused so often that legally enforcing some rules was the only way out.

But it is time that those laws were revamped. Let is scrap all those reservation systems that are based on caste. Let us give space where it is required.

How many people from the SC/ST actually make use of the reservation system? At least the ones that really do need to make use of it? How many undeserved people get into high places because of laws like this and remain drunk on their untouchability? While being an outcast is something that nobody wants, nobody should dance on the merits of that very thing that we are trying to abolish.

We need a new system. And a system that does not involve religion in any manner.

Personally, I’d rather ban any political party that even has a whiff of religion in it. I do not care if they help a region economically because they are creating a scenario that will destroy all that is built simply in the name of religion.

Think of this as a war… on the surface, buildings are being built, jobs are being created. But these buildings are being built as havens during war, these jobs are created to place those soldiers… and one day, the war will begin and these will be empty shells housing the destroyed. Their coffers will be full. Yet they want want more money and they will proclaim that the others are destroying us… they will stop work till things go there way and then where will the common man be?

Isn’t that what Hitler did? I’m sure he helped Germany a lot but his idea about the human hierarchy is abhorrent. Ditto here.

True, I’m being a little over-the-top but let’s not go there in reality as well.

***

Side note: A few year ago people related to BJP and its associates said women in bars/pubs would destroy Indian culture.
A few weeks ago, the current ruling party made rather derogatory statements about women’s clothing, rape and a certain march. Rape, they said, happened because of the way women dressed.
And yet, these esteemed protectors of Indian culture, were watching porn sitting in the government assembly. They then dared to protest that:

a) they were not watching porn but a video of a woman being raped.

b) They were watching a documentary of a woman being raped. (Never mind the ‘location’ where they were doing it!)

c) The former CM of state who was ousted rather dishonorably claimed “Everyone watches porn. What is the big deal?

The big deal, Mr.Hindu-Culture-Protecting-Corrupt-Former CM, porn (regardless of how many people watch it) is not legal in our country. It does not matter if everyone watches it, as a sworn minister of law, they should not be breaking the law.

Even if porn was legal, they should not be watching it while the assembly in in session. That is like watching porn when you are work, for which you can be fired. That is an indecent act.

And lastly, the big deal is that you are hypocritical ministers who would’ve probably stoned other people to death if they had done the same thing. Sure, everyone watches it. But let us pretend to be a civilized nation.

I sure hope that was not a porn clip of a woman being raped. That would be a completely different level of violation of several laws and moral codes.

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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.

A Festival At Home

“Please get her a nice, trustworthy guy to marry soon,” was the prayer my uncle said just before the celebrations ended. My mom and aunt bit back laughter while I tried not to roll my eyes. It seemed rude somehow and I told Ganesha in my mind that I would really like it if he could do something regarding the other things I asked him about first and then bring that tall, dark, handsome prince charming into my life.

That was the odd note of a festival where I felt extremely Indian and very spiritual for a change.

Festivals in India are considered to be harbingers of change. It could be merely psychological but every festival is an opportunity for a new start. Diwali is when the financial year ends or Lakshmi comes home, so there is the whole bit about how it is good for business and work. Ugadi is the south Indian new year, so you have yet another chance to make a fresh start 3 months after the general calender celebrates the new year.

And Ganesha – the god of all beginnings, the god you pray to before starting out on anything. Why? I am not too sure… There should be a story behind it. Everything in the Indian culture has a story behind it, some of the stories mask the scientific reasons, if any. Like why Ganesha is always placed facing East also has a story. One that I had heard but I did not realise that Ganesha had to be facing east and this was the reason.

I love it when these beautiful stories are told… when I do not think of the fanaticism some of them talk with, it is beautiful and makes me proud of being an Indian. This particular story was repeated by my uncle when we were in the backyard, waiting for the immersion ceremony.

The celebrations have toned down in my house slowly. We no longer have the elaborate, painted idol decorated with tons of flowers, jewelry, pots, lights and whatever else. Truth be told, I do miss that elegance. But now, we are more ecofriendly. Brown idols without the paint… and my uncle ensures that there is minimal ecological imbalance from our idol. The belief about each part of the ceremony is too deeply ingrained to buy a stone idol as some propose… but I guess you win some, you lose some.

Do you also feel that energy in the air when there is a festival? Perhaps because it is a weekend or maybe it is because I actually have time off this time… or it could just be that people don’t feel as poor as they did last year… but celebrations seem a little better comparatively. I saw a couple of processions, idols on tiny streets and lights.

Thanks to the fact that it is also Eid today… every street is decorated in one form or the other. Men in crisp white kurtas lounge around one street while glittering red tents house Ganesha idols in the next. It is moments like this when I absolutely love being an Indian.

There was barely any traffic today… and the weather beautifully pleasant and cool. The rains held off till evening and there weren’t as many cars on the road. I did something I haven’t done since I was a kid – I went to different houses to wish them. Only a few… but it was still a few more than what I did for years. The fact that they were my friends perhaps made the difference. There isn’t that awkward silence, the attempts at conversation and lately attempts to answer why you aren’t married that occurs when you visit your parents’ friends. And the attempt at looking pious while bowing in front of the idol. I like rituals… but when around people, it just makes me feel weird. So I visited friends, gorged on sweets, played with kids, took a nap and just soaked in the festivities.

I cannot wait for Diwali now. Perhaps it’ll be drab… but that is the only festival where I feel that energy and cleansing feeling. The sharing, the fun, the crackers and the kids.

It is the season of festivals… Dussera is on its way… and then there is Diwali. You blink and Bakrid happens. And then Christmas. The lights on Brigade Road are lit from Diwali till beyond New Years, making it look so beautiful and Christmassy. There are gifts to be bought, clothes to be shopped for. And just when you think it is over, there is Sankranthi, which is  mostly for food these days… and the Hindu new year of Ugadi. Not to mention all the birthday celebrations in between.

Oh the joy. Oh the celebrations.

Here’s to good times.

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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/