Friday, 24 March 2017

Ae Indo-Pak relations hai mushkil !

Joint families are now a thing of the past. The thought of living with our cousins and uncles seems intruding upon our privacy and personal space. But there used to be a time when the Indian sub-continent was dotted by huge houses with dozens of rooms and a plethora of kin. But now, the system is something of the past. A halcyon of emotional and financial solidarity among relatives. This has now been replaced by individual nuclear families who are at loggerheads with each other. This is not a factual interpretation of a social phenomenon, it is an analogy for Indo-Pak history. 70 odd years ago, both Indians and Pakistanis paid homage to the the same soil and the same rivers. Lahore was just like Bombay, and Indus was very much our own. Hindus and Muslims were fighting the same war, and the expectation of a febrile future had captured the sub-continent. The British sentiment towards the Indian cause had changed considerably towards the 1930s, and even the British people had become fed up with the 'imperialist' ranting. As independence became visible across the horizon, the personal interests of a few Muslim leaders created a new hindrance to the sub-continent. The professional insecurity of a few Muslim leaders resulted in the so-called '2 nation' theory that split the country into 2!

Fast forward 70 years, and the two countries are still at the same crossroad, courtesy Pakistan. Gandhiji, and even Jinnah had envisioned a future of camaraderie and 'bhaichara' between the two nations. A future of mutual understanding and friendship is what was expected by our forefathers. But reality is quite different. Newspapers on both sides are filled with stories on cross-border infiltration, though most of them on the Pakistani side are bogus. Needless to say, the major bone of contention between the two countries is Kashmir. Both sides claim sovereignty over this magnificent state which now forms the metaphorical crown of India. While Pakistan occupies around one-third of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and has dubbed it as Azad Kashmir, the human rights violation in this area suggests that it is far from 'Azad'! The Indian part of Kashmir has enjoyed relative prosperity, and our Kashmiri brethren have also tasted the sweet fruits of democratic dividend, which has been lacking in Azad Kashmir. It has generally been accepted that while the amicable resolution of this dispute is desirable, the huge ego and inferiority complex that Pakistan carries around with it, is going to be a huge roadblock.

On a more emotional note, there is an inherent distrust and animosity that the 'average' Indian holds towards his Pakistani counterpart, and this is not without reason. India has always placed justice and propriety above selfish interests, and has tried to normalize relations at all possible times. The Pakistani response has however been hypocritical to say the least. Whenever the relations seem to be on the path of reconciliation, Pakistan offers us a dead-fish handshake, like the Kargil War. This, one has to assume is because of a genuine disinterest in the Pakistani establishment to foster a friendly relation with us. While the emotional baggage of the Partition is too big to ditch for either side, the animosity we see today seems to be something of a different genesis. It is far more recent, and has much more to do with bloated egos than actual historical victimization. Each government in India has adopted a path breaking policy to the Kashmir issue and to Pakistan in general. But the corresponding counter-policy from across the border seems to be as old as the state itself. Shedding our common past, and collective struggle, Pakistan has charted a separate historical narrative for itself devoid of the Mahatma, and Jinnah's nemesis Nehru. While this can be attributed to the compulsion of the establishment to establish a separate niche for the state in the global historical context; it says a lot about the respect the country accords to it's forefathers from India. Anti-India sentiments seem to be engineered into the DNA of native Pakistanis, while even the radicals in India seem flexible in their Pakistan approach. India has repeatedly shut down loose cannons who come out with anti-Pak rhetoric, while we see a consistent reprisal of anti-India speeches and proclamations from the other side. Enemies of the Indian state are treated royally within the cosy walls of Rawalpindi, while we shed genuine tears at the terrorist strikes within their borders. This uncompromising anti-India mindset can be seen in the actions of the Pak actors as well. The stubborn resolve with which Fawad Khan escaped India instead of condemning the Uri attack, shows that this genetic engineering is very close to irreversible. While the counter-accusations of RAW meddling in Balochistan may or may not be true, let us all remember that Balochistan is not paradise with sunny beaches and plump civil rights. It is a picture of desolation, under development, and disregard; for a state within the political grasps of Pakistan. What the Indian state may or may not be doing in Balochistan, is for the greater good and without bloodshed.

Now the Indo-Pak relations has been brought to the foreground with a moving message by a young student whose father was killed way back in the Kargil War. Apparently, it was not Pakistan, but War which killed her father. Her underlying message of peace, and the subtle condemnation of war is commendable and indeed desirable. But her analogy was outright wrong. Her father, and many other brave hearts who laid down their lives back then, were fighting 'our' war. India never provoked Pakistan. Kargil was an institutionally accepted blunder of the Musharaff government. And it destroyed the hope for a new peace, which had dawned over the sub-continent. Through no fault of India, or her own, Gurmehar Kaur's father was killed by PAKISTAN. Her plea for peace is representative of a huge outcry in India for a peaceful existence in pursuit of happiness and prosperity. This was echoed by the PM in the aftermath of the surgical strikes. But no man is detached from his social surroundings. Similarly, no country is detached from her geography. Pakistan, was, is and probably will continue to provoke and attack India, in a bid to thwart our consistent rise. And at each step we will have to retaliate. And yes there will be casualties. But in no way can we attribute these philosophically to war. Then by all means lets blame God for creating this mess in the first place! Utopian ideas generally seem nonsensical and offensive in an imperfect society. And India, like all other countries houses an imperfect society. We can accept the plea for peace, but not a eulogy for Pakistan!

Ms Kaur's idea is reflective of a general sense of apathy towards our soldiers, and an overwhelming sense of empathy towards the helpless situation that Pakistanis find themselves in. While the kind of backlash and mockery that she received was totally uncalled for, it was partly due to her fault to. Preaching righteousness to Yudhishtir is never a productive task! India was not responsible for Kargil, whichever way you look at it. So Ms Kaur's opinion is either due to a poor understanding of Indian history, or a mystical call for the greater good of mankind. While the latter can be tolerated , the former is out of bounds!

Thursday, 13 October 2016

One Nation, One Law!

Sometimes when people cite 'Unity in diversity' as the strength of our great Republic, I often find myself combing through Indian society and polity in pursuit of instances of unity. Glaring diversities in ground zero and the constitution are well-known and constantly heralded, but where indeed does the 'unity' part lie? How can a country boast of national unity and commonalities when it's citizens adhere to divergent personal laws? One can understand that at the time of fragile communal armistice that ensued the partition, our leaders might have been arm-twisted in instilling the ideal of a Uniform civil code as non-enforceable Directive principle. But 70 years on, surely the communal fabric is much more intact; surely the minorities are well entrenched and integrated into the mainstream. So isn't now the time to finally create a single unified country? The benefits of a uniform civil code are many. Not only does it make it easier for the judiciary to carry out it's trials, it can also abolish many antediluvian practices like polygamy and triple talaq, which continue to perpetuate under the garb of secularism. Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his many shortcomings was a progressive thinker, a true rationalist. He had envisaged the creation of a uniform civil code for India during his tenure as PM. But the opposition to this proposal came from the likes of Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad. This was at a time of Hindu-invincibility and hence the right-wing leaders did not want to give up their primacy. But now the tables have changed. The minority appeasement politics of India has crossed all bounds. The pseudo-secular parties have been so engaged in capturing the 20% minority vote in India, that they have polarized the 80% majority into a political bloc. Hence, in recent years it has been the conservative elements of the minority communities that have opposed the reforms tooth and nail. The regular cant of Hindu dominance and enslavement of minorities have been fruitful in shelving the initiative whenever the issue has surfaced. But this time, there is a big difference. There seems to be a political will among the national leadership, and a consensus among the progressive religious elements towards the realization of this goal. More importantly, the people of India seem to want it earnestly!

The general argument of the religious orthodoxy is that religion is a matter of personal affairs over which the government has no authority. I couldn't agree more with this view. However,anyone who has ever been part of a religion would realize that they are far from perfect. Misogyny, patriarchy, worship taboos, etc are only a few of the major drawbacks of almost all religions. And allowing these practices to perpetuate is a crime on humanity and utterly sinful towards half of our population. The Muslim Personal Law is probably the most conservative, backward and illogical personal law in the world. From polygamy to under-age marriages, the Muslim personal laws are basically a slap on the face of human rights and gender equality. According to Muslim Personal Law a girl can be married off immediately after she attains puberty or after completing age of 15! Despite the presence of this kind of a law, Muslim clerics have the audacity to claim that the Uniform civil code is draconian. Muslim Personal Law also allows for the despicable act of polygamy, however it has 'graciously' limited the number of wives to 4. While a polygamous Hindu marriage is 'null and void' and also punishable, the Muslim women have to be content with open and legally valid infidelity of their husband. And in true misogynistic spirit, the same luxury in terms of polyandry is not extended to Muslim women. Muslim Personal Law also legitimizes one of the most condemnable practices in the world- triple talaq. What is interesting to see is that triple talaq is nowadays carried out through WhatsApp and e-mails; implying that 'conservatism has been modernized, and digitized instead of being uprooted.' These kinds of inequalities and injustices have been peddled by the clerics and 'maulaanaas' as being the prerogative of their religion and culture. But the idea that the religion which was founded on the principle of human equality and fraternity would end up discriminating and torturing one half of their population was probably inconceivable. The Muslim Personal Law board is one of the most stubborn and anachronistic-minded bodies in the country and their constant refusal to participate in the country's societal reforms is hurting the very people whom they claim to represent. The Islamic political parties like AIMIM are also speaking the argot of a communal victim striving to keep the secular fabric intact. These parties and their leaders need to understand one thing. Practices like polygamy and triple talaaq have been abolished in fanatic Islamic states like Pakistan and Iran. When you retain religious laws that have been abolished by the likes of Pakistan, it should be enough of a wake-up call!

But no religious community is devoid of faulty laws and codified nonsense! The Hindu women, even today face inequality in marriages and in principles of inheritance. Parents may grant a bigger chunk of their property to their sons over their daughters, thus forcing them to bequeath their right to property to men. There is no logical basis for this practice and is once again a clear expression of religious misogyny. Certain hill tribes in the fringes of the country continue to practice polygamy among both men and women. These tribes are in fact non-Hindus, but are included in the Hindu fold. Most of the draconian aspects of Hindu law were removed in the late 19th century by progressive thinkers like Raja Rammohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. Even then, there was staunch opposition from the Hindu orthodoxy, but the rational mindset of the common people and the political will in the country eclipsed their stubbornness. If the Hindus had refused malleability in their laws, we would still have 10 year old girls jumping into funeral pyres of their dead husbands! But now, we are amused and flabbergasted that we were once gullible enough to support these rules. 

The Christian Personal Law is also guilty of unequal treatment and injustice. There is actually a 2-year period of wait for finalizing divorces among Christians. This entails 2 years of emotional suffering and legal attachment to a person with whom a woman does not wish to live, or the other way round. The law also allows for divorces on grounds of religious conversion by one spouse. But one thing that Christian law boards have been most guilty of, is the spreading of insecurity among it's followers regarding the uniform civil code. Countries like USA, Britain and France which are predominantly Christian and have a uniform civil code do not face allegations of trampling minorities. In fact, these countries are paraded as the hallmark of democracy and secularism. 

Many minority community law boards have been spreading the gospel of Uniform civil code being the death knell of secularism in India. This kind of fear mongering has led to the minorities being psychologically programmed to resist religious reforms. Uniform civil code is the answer to many problems of social inequality and national integration that we face today. Why are Muslim women denied a proper process of divorce and maintenance which are available to Hindu and Christian women? Why are Muslim girls married off at tender ages, while all other girls in the country reach marriageable age at 18? Why do Christian women wait for 2 years for formal divorce, while others receive swift closure? Why are Hindu women denied an equal share in their parental assets unlike their counterparts across the world? The answer to these questions lie in the blind supremacy of religion over rationality in our land. Unfortunately our constitution has endorsed this paradox due to historical reasons. The western definition of secularism as 'the separation of church from government' is much more practical than the Indian one, where the government is almost party to religious beliefs. The 1985 Shah Bano case was probably the greatest opportunity for India to implement a Uniform Civil code, but unfortunately, Rajeev Gandhi yielded to pressure from his Muslim vote-bank and goofed up a golden chance. Indian people, and minorities in particular are so used to being treated as special citizens, that they cannot fathom the idea of  a rational unified civil code that is different from their own.

The whole idea that the 'sharia' or the other personal law systems are sacrosanct and hence unbreakable is a myth. The 'sharia' prohibits drinking, gambling, and even payment of interest. But these are rarely followed by Muslim men and women from across the world, and these are the 'good' provisions of the Islamic law. The Muslim personal law board does not pressurize the Indian Muslims to abstain from alcohol or drugs, however instigates it's followers to reject a common law that will rid their society of evils like polygamy. The hypocrisy in their opinions and selective outrage is despicable. These religious personal law boards are tying the hands of the judiciary and running a 6th century society with religious paramountcy over national interests. The Law commission has just now released a questionnaire asking people about the need for a uniform civil code. The proposal is to take along all religious communities and create a code that is reflective of our cultural idiosyncrasies and devoid of dogmatic prejudices. The very fact that Goa, an integral state in the Union of India already has a vibrant and dynamic Common civil code is testimony to it's suitability for India. Goa is a state that has a highly heterogeneous population with a history of exogenous cultural impact. Despite this, the Goa experiment has been highly successful and is something we should be proud of. The important thing to realize here, is that we are creating a 'uniform' code. We are removing not only Muslim and Christian personal law, but also Hindu and Sikh personal law. The so-called guardians of Islamic jurisprudence and minority appeasers should stop their fear mongering and appreciate the fact that we are all 'Indians' first, and religious minions second.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Kashmir conundrum!

It is said to be one of the most beautiful works of the man who rules the skies. The most skilled of painters could probably never create the magnificence that is Kashmir. Once the darling of Bollywood and the envy of Europeans, Kashmir now bears the scars of political upheavals and disturbances. The flower-ridden boats and the crystal clear lakes seem like a vivid memory to Indians who once referred to this state as the Crown of India. It suffices to say, that no king or queen should ever have the misfortune of such a devastated headgear. The problem of Kashmir has all the possible dimensions which makes it seem almost unsolvable. The political tussle between India and Pakistan, and their claims of sovereignty over the land; the pride and affinity towards Kashmiriyat as a way of life that is divergent from both the Indian and Pakistani way; the religious diversity which is concentrated in two different parts of the state; the geographical extremities of valleys and mountains; and the international spotlight which never seems to run out of battery. These are only a few of the problems that Kashmir faces. amid the venomous atmosphere that the extremists are trying to forge. It must seem like India has tried all the tricks in the book. Our politicians beat their chest about how Kashmir is like their own child, our constitution establishes it as an integral part of India, our governments have given the state hefty financial packages, our mainstream political parties have constantly aligned with their regional parties, and the state continues to receive plenty of sops in the form of IIMs and other national institutions. But look at where it has brought us? A curfew that has crossed 50 days and violence that has disrupted daily life. So where did we go wrong? Has any of our actions led the Kashmiris to feel shorthanded? Or is the problem completely out of our able hands?

The most important thing about the Kashmiri problem is that India's efforts at bringing about prosperity and the outcome of such endeavors does not have any bearing on the minds of the trouble-makers. Their minds have been hard wired in such a way that only so called 'Kashmiri freedom' will saturate them. Even if India creates economic and social utopia in Kashmir, these fringe groups will continue to fight the Indian union for cessation. So if action and results are not the answer to this problem, then what is? War, violence? The Indian armed forces have regularly been on their toes in the state and have neutralized many border incursions and extremist assaults. The recent killing of Burhan Wani was celebrated across the country as a great victory for the Indian side, but in Kashmir, there was undoubtedly mixed feelings. The killings have actually pushed the already brainwashed Kashmiris over the ledge and onto extremism. In this regard, Kashmiri extremists seem like the fictional terror organisation- HYDRA from the Marvel universe. Cutting one head off, only causes 2 more to regrow in it's place. The issue of Kashmir has never been one of logic or propriety. It has been muddled with egos and a multitude of dichotomous political views that has rendered a reasonable dialogue impossible. The extremists do not wish to sit at the table, and the government cannot exterminate them like they deserve to be. The extremists continue to thrive in the valley for a variety of reasons. The most important one is obviously the covert and overt blessings of  Pakistan and it's ISI in the form of arms and finance. The recent hoisting of the ISIS flag also suggests a growing pan-Islamic attention on the Kashmir issue. Another reason for the festering of extremists has been an age-old adage- revolution preordains local support. Indians cannot blindly believe that all Kashmiris are loyal Indians with zero sympathy for the extremist cause. To eliminate the threat of extremism, it is necessary that we pluck out all sympathy for this cause and create a crop of loyal Indians who walk with the mainstream.

The next problem pertains to Pakistan and it's claims of sovereignty over the state. It is safe to say that there is no imaginable scenario in which India will secede the state to Pakistan. And despite concrete legal and moral backing, Pakistan will not give up on PoK with much ease. Hence, the Indo-Pak tussle over Kashmir seems like one for the ages. Not only has it marred the other facets of Indo-Pak relations, it has effectively annulled all avenues of co-operation between the two countries. India continues to cite the rising voter turnout and the indiscriminate human rights violations in PoK to justify their claim over 'akhand Kashmir'. The Pakistanis however are a one-trick pony. They continue to draw attention to anachronisms like Hari Singh and his predominantly Muslim population and how they were apparently tricked out of sovereignty in the land. The historical facts seem anodyne and unambiguous. The British left the matters of the Princely states to themselves and endowed on them the right to join either India or Pakistan, or form an independent state. The pro activeness of the Indian state however ensured that Kashmir ceded to us. This of course meant that Pakistan resorted to their default tactic- orchestrate a dramatic infiltration which ended with Pakistan occupying a large swathe of Kashmir. The kind of international attention and sensationalism this issue has received means that neither state is likely to back out from it's claim. Kashmir thus stands alone and isolated as a trophy wife on whom both Indians and Pakistanis have a claim. There have been historical arguments regarding the root cause of this half -a- century standoff. Some people suggest that Jawaharlal Nehru was hesitant in the manner in which he fought the Pakistanis, and logged a case in the UN which brought the issue into international scrutiny and standstill. The ensuing diplomatic slug fest ensured that the Pakistanis had by then established  a firm grip on what is now known as PoK. So, what exactly is likely to be the climax of this epic stare-off? Needless to say, any government, whether in India or Pakistan is unlikely to last more than one day if they cede Kashmir to the other state. Since any kind of mutual aggression is deterred by the presence of a nuclear arsenal, the most plausible result seems to be status quo.

It is often said that Kashmir is a 'chakravyuh' that can be entered and but exited. Like the one that consumed Abhimanyu, this one too is scattered with treacherous mines and skilled warriors. Indian leaders and establishments over the years have tried many tactics to solve this problem, but to no avail. The thing about Kashmir is that it is a solitary case. It is highly unlikely that you will find a case with the same tenets as Kashmir in the folios of world affairs. By aiming to retrieve PoK, India are dealing with an enigma beyond their controls. A large swathe of territory, under the amnesty of Pakistan for more than 60 years is essentially Pakistan in every sense. The loyalty of it's citizens, the prosperity of it's people and the opulence of the land is only a speculation of the Indian government. The ground realities may be different. Pakistan in all respects is a failed state. As said in Atish Thaseer's 'Stranger to history', Pakistan is simply 'a place where people live'. There is no sense of progress or yearning for prosperity among their citizens. And it is important to understand that PoK is a province of this very Pakistan, and has suffered the same, probably even more neglect. Would India accept even a fictional proposal from the Pakistanis for the creation of an 'akhand Bharat'? No, because it is too big a baggage to carry. The deep seated hatred for India and the economic backwardness of the area would pull India back many years. Undoubtedly, the acquisition of Kashmir would be a huge achievement for the Indian establishment. So is touching a live Anaconda for an ordinary human. But what ensues this, involves digestive fluids and a slow painful death. India would definitely score a huge brownie point, but that is as much as there is to it!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Women, temples and all that entails!

When one and a half billion people are encapsulated under a single constitution, one inevitable outcome is dissent and divergence. Call it human psychology, or outright arrogance, humans have always felt the urge to contradict and revolt. The new issue at hand is the prohibition of entry to women in certain temples like Sabarimala. There are literally too many stakeholders in this issue, and each of them have a divergent view on it. Many women's group and even the RSS has lent it's voice to the reformist cause, but many pious Hindus still consider this to be a classic case of judicial overreach in a deeply religious issue. There are many temples across India where women are denied entry. In some cases, the reasons cited are biological, while in some other cases the reason is plain discrimination. Like many ardent Hindus across the country, I too have a divided stance on the issue. The oldest Hindu veda dates back to around 5000 BC, which puts the religion at around 7000 years. The fact that a religion this old is still adapting in response to the new tides of change is a matter of immense pride for all believers. In the 21st century, when the equality of men and women has become an adage, why should temples deny entry to just women? The social and civic equality of the two genders has been well enshrined in the Indian constitution, and surely this extends to the sphere of worship! And when these prohibitions are placed on world renowned shrines like Sabarimala and Shani Shingnapur, the backlash becomes even more concentrated. On the other hand, the Hindu inside me keeps crying foul. Why should Hinduism be subjected to so many reforms and altruisms, while other religions get a free run? Why should women be given entry to Sabarimala when the popular belief goes that the deity is a strict celibate? The issue has valid arguments on both sides and a compromise seems far from possible.

My cosmopolitan mindset tells me to welcome this move. Two centuries ago, the leaders of the Indian renaissance like Raja Rammohan Roy and Swami Vivekananda had prophesized the true meaning of Hinduism and cleansed it of evils like Sati and Child marriage. It must have been a proud moment for Hindus across the country as the religion stepped over the threshold of archaic dogmas and embraced modernity. Hinduism is an enigma in itself, and has attracted people from across the world with it's aura of mysticism. A religion does not survive for 7000 years without adapting to the changing times. Then why is this move being haggled the way it is? Surely people must know that the strength of a culture is in it's tendons and not the bones. The flexibility of a culture dictates it's longevity and it's rigidness oracles it's demise. Preventing temple entry of women is nothing short of discrimination on the basis of gender, something that is strongly denounced and banned by the Indian constitution. Needless to say, gender discrimination exists in every nook and corner of this great country; from bollywood to the chawls of Mumbai, women have resigned to the domination of their opposite sex. Unfortunate and despicable, but the cold truth! After a hard days labour, where she is paid half of what the man gets for the same job, the little solace a woman can find might be in the nearby temple. But alas! The holy thresholds are a taboo for her, and her religious eyes can only seek but never find the ornate deity! This complication is what the court and the civil societies are trying to do away with. Many decades back, another group had to face the same problem, the untouchables or the harijans. Far from entry to temples, basic human rights was their primary demand. The image of the so-called untouchables entering the temples along with the aristocrats, sent shivers down the spine of the orthodoxy, but the popular pressure was insurmountable, and the leaders unyielding. Finally, the centuries old tradition was demolished with a simple constitutional provision and the temples were thrown open to people of all caste and creed. A great victory for the liberals, a belated gift for the harijans, and a bitter pill for the orthodoxy. There are two lessons to be learnt from this incident. One, providing entry for groups which were erstwhile denied entry will not collapse the roof of the temple. Two, every reform will have a beneficiary and a vanquished! Here the women will benefit greatly from the reform, while the orthodoxy will have to swallow the bitter pill. The sight of women in Shani Shingnapur would have appalled many people, but it has translated to reality and the result has been ceteris paribus! Resisting popular urges and rational demands are never good signs of a civilisation. Fortunately, India has been open to all kinds of reforms since it's inception!

But there is always another side to the coin, and here the other side is highly volatile and valid! Only a few temples across the country can be accused of denying entry to women. The fact remains that women have been and continue to remain active worshippers in shrines across the country! This clearly destroys the myth of anti-feminism in Hinduism, and proves that there isn't any kind of systemic discrimination against least in some cases. Now that the doors of Shani Shignapur have been thrown open to the female population, the focus has shifted to Sabarimala. Women between the age group of 10 to 50 are denied entry on account of the fact that it is their menstrual age. If women are below 10, or above 50, there is no restriction. Now that doesn't sound like systemic gender discrimination to me! If the idea was indeed to deny women entry, why not ban it outright? As in the case of so many other nuances, here too there is an explanation. The deity at Sabarimala is believed to be a perennial celibate who has denounced all sexual pleasures, and popular belief goes that the Lord made his way to the top of the mountain and mandated that menstruating women who were in the peak of their sexual prowess be denied entry to his shrine. The question is not about the validity of this story, as some things are beyond proofs and science, the question is one of belief and custom. The Lord wished to be a celibate, NOT a misogynist! He did not prevent women in general from visiting his shrine, he only mandated that his vow of celibacy not be violated. With this pretext, let us look at the issue once again! If you believe in god, you must believe his words. Why would a true believer of Lord Ayyappa, the deity at Sabarimala demand entry to his shrine when he clearly ruled against it? The deeper question of true religious belief comes to the fore as one must ask at what point, the desire to worship turns to a mere pawn for feminism! If the true desire is to worship, then indeed the words of the Lord himself must be satiable for status quo. If the temple entry pioneers still believe they should be granted entry, then they must burn the Bhagavt Gita at the altar of the Indian Constitution. Surely the sermons of Lord Krishna outweigh the inconsistent provisions of the Indian Constitution. The so called ultra liberals claim to be harbingers of civil equality, but then the first law to be dismantled must be the state-sponsored and glorified discrimination which the constitution affectionately nomenclates as 'reservation'. What can be more discriminating that denying opportunities with regard to jobs and education despite higher merit? Many have tried to paint this issue in civil and progressive terms, but ultimately, the question boils down to- constitution or religion? On account of the sacrality of the beliefs and the highly sensitized intellect of the hardliners, such reforms would bring out the propensity of the Hindus to unite and polarize! A true political nightmare for the minorities and the national leadership. The right thing to do from a religious standpoint would be laissez-faire. Let the religions do as they please as long as they don't violate the boundary of violence and humanism. As in the case of Sabarimala, there are clear historical evidences which have ordained the selected entry. This does not entail that Hinduism is misogynistic, or that Hindus are chauvinists by nature. The stance against temple entry is not a stance against women, it is merely the last stance of the world's oldest religion to remain true to it's roots and customs.

However, my own arguments seem absurd with my Lockean cap on! Surely rationalism must prevail over dogmatism; surely the entry of women in their biological prime would not corrupt the celibacy of the deity, after all it is all symbolism...the Lord is only an idol! But once again the enigma of Hinduism comes to the fore. The Lord might be an idol, but a true believer sees the idol as encompassing all the attributes of the Lord Himself! Hence the 'abhishekam'; hence the food which is offered to god. The idol cannot of course eat the food that is being offered, but our beliefs trump realism in that moment of trance. It is this affinity towards beliefs in the face of realism that edges the debate in favour of the hardliners. The joy of reform is indeed in the air, but many people have reservations about the radicalization that is happening. How is this a victory for women? How is this a feministic success, if the fruits are enjoyed only by Hindu women? While the Hindu women now pour out their sorrows and joys to the deity they so longed to see, Muslim women still remain confined to their zenanas, imagining the hallow insides of the mosques which are beyond them. How is this a victory? How is this a fight against discrimination, if the cause itself is split in two? The true feminist is the one who fights for womanhood as a religion, as a caste and only lastly as a gender. The true feminist considers 'women' to be a religion of their own, as a caste of their own. A true feminist fights not religious dogmas, but misogynistic dogmas!

The issue of temple entry for women has sparked a debate beyond epic proportions, the battle lines have been drawn and sides taken. The rich history of Hinduism refers to another great war which was fought for the triumph of 'dharma' or righteousness- The Mahabharata. The Pandavas triumphed with God Himself on their side. But today the battle is better poised. One side claims to have God on their side, and some part of me believes that claim to be true....but the other side is fighting for a cause that is far from evil, a desire to see God Himself. It is not the humans, but God Himself who is between a rock and a very hard place!

Monday, 18 April 2016

The IPL and the drought!

The 9th edition of the IPL has kicked off. The first match of the season almost mirrored the plight of the drought-struck farmers in Maharashtra. The defending champions were easily humbled by a team that was making it's IPL debut. Since 2008, when the league first kicked of, controversies always seemed to follow it. The infamous fixing allegation and the 'conflict of interest' observation were the ones that were actually uncovered. Just as the die-hard Indian cricket fans were longingly hoping for the IPL to subdue their hurt egos from the World T20 exit, the High court of Maharashtra made a scathing observation. The paradox was quite visible, but maybe people just chose to ignore it! At a time when the farmers are committing suicide, a billion dollar entertainment league does seem a bit reckless. The cost of the IPL has always been an ambiguity. The auction, the advertisements, the cheerleaders, the fan army, everything seems alluring, but the expenses have always remained a mystery. A few things however are within our realm of understanding. Having followed the IPL since it's inception, one of the greatest things about the competition is the lush green outfields which are often as quick as an oiled marble. The question however is, how the outfield remains lush at the Wankhede and  Pune, while the fields of Maharashtra stand dry and worn out. The answer lies in the gallons of water that BCCI has been using to keep the outfield green and lush. What appears to us as green and appealing, is actually at the cost of thousands of farmers in Central India. The basic question here is rather simple. What is more important? The IPL, or the grieving farmers? Democracy mandates the welfare of citizens encompassing the nation, and despite the fact that cricket is nothing short of a religion in India; people trump cricket at any given point. The fact that IPL, as a brand is slavishly dependent on the Indian public validates the High court observation. The drought and the subsequent shortage of viable water must be given primary importance, over and above the IPL on any given day.

This would have been a non-issue in most democratic countries, but Indians have always been sensitive when it comes to cricket. The IPL has indeed been a great success. The discovery of new talent, the galore of sixes and wickets, the theme songs and cheerleaders...the IPL is probably the sole reason for the new global affection for the shortest version. Indeed, the IPL is something the country is proud of. But the question today is not about the IPL, or it's import, the question is the glaring dichotomy between the fields of Latur and the outfield of Wankhede! The IPL in 2009 was shifted to South Africa as India was undergoing it's General Elections. There was no backlash from the players, no retaliation from the BCCI, but a simple acceptance of the fact that something bigger than the cricket league was confronting the country- the Elections. Today, in 2016 the state of Maharashtra has been confronted by an issue much larger than cricket- Water! The BCCI, and it's coterie of stakeholders have seemed to fans like me, perennial office-bearers. Since the time I can recollect of this great game, the likes of Srinivasan and Dalmiya have been the so-called torch bearers of the game. The power wielded by the cricket board is not derived from the staunch fans that the game boasts of, but the shrewd political muscle and acumen of the BCCI leadership. Indeed the BCCI office-bearers are legally bound to serve the game in it's true spirit, but at what cost...what can be an acceptable collateral? Surely the bar has to be set higher than human necessities. The BCCI did make a convincing stance regarding the issue. It's secretary, Anurag Thakur asked the courts as to how many 5-star hotels were asked to drain their expansive swimming pools. A compelling argument one must say! But by comparing the IPL to few 5-star hotels in Mumbai, the secretary has completely lost track of the success of the IPL! The reach and public visibility of the IPL worked against it in this instance. But the fact remains that the BCCI missed a trick! At a time when the benevolence, and the integrity of the board is under deep-seated public and judicial scrutiny, it would have been a great accolade if the BCCI accepted the court's observation without crying foul! It would have rejuvenated the people's faith in the game and the board, and earned them praise from all quarters. But by continuously resisting the public sentiment, the board has lost the little faith it possessed among the avid lovers of the game. The demand is not really threatening to the IPL at all. Maharashtra has two IPL teams, Mumbai Indians and Pune Supergiants, and both of them have home grounds within the state. The court opined that the scheduled matches in both the venues be shifted out of the state so as to conserve the water which would be otherwise used for maintaining the outfield and the pitch. The court never said that the shifting of the matches would solve the ongoing crisis, but the matter of principle and social responsibility do come to the fore. India has around 45 international cricket stadiums of which around 7 are situated in Maharashtra. That leaves around 30 international stadiums for the 2 teams to choose from as their home ground! And to think that this actually became an issue! Despite the availability of grounds and the public outcry, the BCCI refused to yield for many weeks.

The issue had become a rallying point across the country, fans just wanted to see some action. It did not matter whether they played in Maharashtra or some other state....on a realistic note, most fans wouldn't be bothered if the IPL was once again shifted to South Africa as long as they could watch it from the confines of their living room. And despite Dhoni's convincing arguments, the game looks the same in TVs of all sizes and set-top boxes of all configurations! The stubbornness of the BCCI was further fueled when the Indian skipper waded into the controversy. MS Dhoni claimed that shifting the IPL venues was not the solution, but the catch is that, it was never a solution. The court observation did not claim that the shifting of venues would by any scale solve the crisis, it merely questioned the social responsibility of the BCCI. The issue in it's most simple terms can be defined as follows- what is the primary use of water? Drinking, or watering outfields? By joining the controversy, the skipper has clearly betrayed the millions of fans who chant his name when he wields the willow! Why is the BCCI against the shifting of venues? Surely there are stadiums which are as lucrative as Pune and Mumbai! Surely the players must empathize with the people who are suffering from the drought! Surely Mrs Ambani, who prides herself on her philanthropy, would not mind a change in her team's home ground! But once again, the game and it's pawns have let down the Indian public. The BCCI tried to prevent the inevitable with means that seemed even absurd. They even tried the low-hanging 'money-fruit' trick. Anurag Thakur reminded the state government that it would loose a 100 crores if the league was shifted out of the state. Fortunately, the state government saw beyond the haze of the glitz and glamour and asked the BCCI to do what any responsible civic body must do. With the mountain of public opinion flooding in, the BCCI was left with no option but to fold. The Mumbai Indians have already opted for Jaipur as their home ground, in what has been a 'rainy' move.

The issue has been solved, or has it? The games in all likelihood will be shifted, the people and their will has prevailed, but why the delay, and why the controversy? The BCCI, the body governing India's largest religion should have taken cognizance of the paradox without the court's poke, and once the poke came, it should have been swift in carrying out it's social responsibility! This issue has not affected the IPL or it's stratospheric aura; but once again the question of cricket and where it stands on our hierarchy of importance has propped up. How powerful should the BCCI be? If the courts can break centuries-old temple traditions, then how is the BCCI immune from it? The game of cricket has always been placed on a pedestal, one that has grown higher over the years. But when the rain gods frown on the people, their fury from heaven first paralyses the pedestal and then the ground!

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Modi, the globe trotter!

‘No man is an island’. These words were immortalised by the English poet John Donne in the 17th century. But the irony lies in the progress we have made since. Now, this great line is nothing more than an aphorism, a mere statement of the already known. We live in an era of mutual dependence; we depend on the cable guy for our cricket, on the delivery guy for pizza, on the choreographer for strange ways to move our body….and even on a cold-hearted metal box to keep our food fresh! This dependence has transgressed individual boundaries and is now an element of the global world. The nucleus of globalisation is this very aspect of inter-dependence. And embedded in this inter-dependence is the most enigmatic and sensitive of governmental processes…foreign affairs. With reference to the words of John Donne…no country…not even an actual island like Sri Lanka, or England are sans foreign relations.

Every new government brings with it a new perspective on the global order. Some governments ‘love’ America as our former PM Manmohan Singh disastrously pronounced to President Bush, while some others have a ‘cold shoulder, warm heart’ kind-of approach. The only thing static thing about foreign policy in India has been the repeated botch ups and of course… ‘Kashmir is my birthright, and I shall have it.’ Many academics have accused Dr Singh of his lack of pro-activeness in this sphere; and to a certain extent…they are correct. Horses are indeed for courses, and the last person you want to talk god out of Armageddon is Dr Singh, whose words are like the red-blood orchid. The former government’s lack of clarity in approach, coupled with lack of popular support within the national boundaries really narrowed the avenues available. Thus, the government which embarked on the historic Indo-U.S Nuclear deal, became a non-starter in the latter parts.

India’s global footing was very lose and even our strategic partners were contemplating on abandoning us on Kashmir. It was in this scenario that a man who claimed to have a 56-inch chest claimed the keys to 7RCR. Narendra Modi is a man who expresses his ideas in a concise manner…and one who simply loves leading the way; a lot like Nicolas Cage in National Treasure! Despite contrary opinions, Modi has indeed injected a breath of fresh life into India’s foreign affairs. Some of his most significant efforts have been aimed at South Asian solidarity and strengthening of SAARC as a regional agglomerate. His invitation to the SAARC heads of state for the swearing in ceremony was a touché…as it left the ball in their court. Fortunately, all the countries responded optimistically. Modi has been indulged in a mission of establishing India as the leader of South Asia, but that essentially seems like a dream with the ‘dragon in the room’. His signs of goodwill have resonated well however with the SAARC members and the return gifts have been substantial. The resolution of the ever-controversial boundary with Bangladesh is a case I point. Special helicopters, assistance during the Nepal earthquake and efforts at creating an FTZ have made the SAARC countries accept the democratic leadership that India offers, in opposition to the cold-stare of the Chinese. The other concerted effort by Modi has been towards uniting emerging powers like Brazil, Australia, South Africa on inter-national forums like WTO, where the developed countries usually buy lotteries on wholesale. Modi is now seen worldwide as a strong leader with the backing of a 120 crore people.

Modi’s transformation into a suave internationalist is not without any reason. Modi’s economic policy is closely linked to his foreign policy. The PM believes that FDI is the force that will drive our country to a happy ending, and increased FDI demands a pre-condition of ‘carrots and even carrot halwa’ with the prosperous countries. He has enjoyed success in Japan, where he persuaded the Japanese government to partner us in our endeavour to build smart cities and bullet train. The parliament was recently informed that India had received $19.78 billion in FDI from 12 countries he visited during the fiscal year 2014-2015. The FDI in India saw a 27% jump to $30.93 billion in the same fiscal year. Thus empirically his foreign trips seem to be paying off. The most crucial element of his foreign policy however has been the personal rapport and friendship he has established with his counterparts. This can probably be corroborated with the bonhomie on display. Even abroad, Modi has turned out to be a great crowd puller, like during the Global Citizens Festival were he ended his speech with ‘may the force be with you’ to a boisterous response. His other achievements include the Act East policy, which put into fast track the integration of India with the southeast Asian countries and ASEAN on the whole. This entire region is of prime importance as the quantity of trade which happens in the region rivals all other agglomerates. One ambitious agenda has been the project Mausam. Aimed at countering Chinese dominance in the South China sea and acting as a buffer against the so-called String of Pearls. The move is also aimed at negating the Silk route initiative by the Chinese.

On the downside however, Modi seems to have an unusual appetite for foreign policy which is almost bordering on hyper-activity. He seems keen to join the likes of Magellan and Marco Polo, but neither of them were PM of a 120 crore people with a bundle of expectations. As if on cue, the PMO announced that he would cut down on foreign trips in 2016. Even though his foreign trips are paying rich dividends, the body politic of the country simply goes by symbolism, where his trips portray a different idea. At the UN, he united the emerging countries in a bid to enter the UNSC as a permanent member. But the manner in which he almost forced the countries to accept India’s bid was sore to the eye. It almost seemed like a ‘Loki from Thor’ situation. He was always worthy…but kept reiterating it until Thor hammered him to oblivion. Modi’s success has also come in what can be termed as ‘gambler in Vegas, hermit in Himalayas’ strategy. He talked terrorism in the Middle East, business and capitalism in the west, and fortunately not communism with China. His impact on the Global Climate Change summit was much talked about. By citing Indian traditions, he placed India on a moral pedestal as a natural ally of mother nature.

Modi’s foreign policy is like pandora’s box. He travels like the wind and returns with gift like Santa. In 2 years, he has earned the support and admiration of many world leaders. But the thing about foreign policy is that it is unpredictable and twisting. The only way to actually judge Modi’s foreign policy is to actually wait till 2019. 

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Noose Around Our Neck- Do we need the death penalty?

Right now, the most debated man in India is Yakub Memon. And the most sympathized family in India is the one he left behind! But the issue of Yakub's involvement or non-involvement has been lost somewhere in the ruckus surrounding the death penalty! Surely a prophetic society like ours cannot be so draconian! But then we are left with no deterrent to the so-called 'rarest of rare cases'. The dilemma we find ourselves in is actually a boon, because the pioneering feature of all cosmopolitan societies is pragmatic and amiable debates. The pure barbarianism in the death penalty is surely too big a dirt to not notice, but the question of what happens to these terrorists and non-humans remains aloof. Surely they can't be returned to the society they have so easily vitiated! And feeding them with our money when hundreds of law abiding citizens are left to their trenches, seems even more alienating! The answer to this tricky question inevitably varies from person to person and hence a quantitative solution seems non-viable. Such introspection in our society points out the maturity of our society and the moral ethos that we have been carefully nurturing for decades. Consensus is the answer to this tricky question. A public debate among citizens, politicians, lawyers, activists, and even children might actually provide a more admissible answer, than policies driven by adrenaline and emotion. The sheer anachronism of the act coupled with the international trends could put a stop to death penalties in India. But there has and is, only one advocate for death penalty to be maintained. But the 'boat of deterrence' is fast loosing it's steam and moral stock. Crimes are on the ascendancy, despite occasional death penalties. This either disproves the theory of deterrence, or brings us back to the archaic biblical question: DO YOU FEAR DEATH, SON?

Waging war against the Republic of India is the judgement term for terrorism. Surely a person has done enough here to deserve death! But if the death penalty is removed, then a terrorist who might have been a petty pauper in his home country, might end up in our prisons, surviving and stockpiling on our money! This is sheer absurdity for a country that is 'emerging' on the global power table. The best answer to terrorism and anti-national activities has been outright 'wipe-out'. While the USA took almost 10 years to avenge 9/11, the friendly visitor of 26/11 was lavishing in our prison, while our political class debated hanging a man of pure heart! Our population and it's size is literally intimidating, and the last thing we need is a revolting and anti-national one! Elimination is the only answer to peccancy like terrorism and brutal murder or inhuman rapes. If the society, is for humans, they why are men and women dubbed as 'barbaric' by the entire fabric of our society allowed to live on? At what point does a crime become worthy of a death penalty?  More specifically, how many lives are worth the life of the sinner in custody? The history of death penalty goes back many years and diverge into many forms. The images of the guillotine, the stinging chair, the simple noose, the firing squad, the breaking wheel, and the gas chambers are all representative of death being served to those worthy of it. Some of these like the stinging chair and the gas chambers obviously portray a deliberate beam of condemnation and hatred, but the soul of the monster remains the same. Such horrific methods can and should be withdrawn from all civilized societies, but the actual practice needs continuation. Never should a wrong idea be given, that you can get away with anything in the land of veneration that is India. The idea of awarding the death penalty goes above and beyond the notions of revenge and admonition. It is a legal sanction for a broad-spectrum consensus among the people of India. For anybody who is not willing to comply with the basic laws of humanity and co-existence, there is only one rebuke, and that is death.

But how does murdering a murderer make us any better than the devil himself. Doesn't the practice of death penalty cut directly at the root of basic human values like compassion, and forgiveness? If so, how can educated people like us support it? In more cases than not, the society creates the criminal, whom it then reprimands. The very practice of capital punishment, gives us an eerie of the savage times when justice was heartless, and proceedings were brief. Does the death of a criminal really solve what is wrong with our society? Or does it give us a 'feel good moment' which washes away the next day? The recent uproar about the hanging of Yakub Memon goes beyond the specifics of his role in the Bombay blast case and transcends into the generic indecision in our minds about the death penalty. A person irrespective of his actions should be given a chance to repent on his actions. This is a common directive across all religions, and religions determine a large portion of how we live our lives. Many supporters of the death penalty argue that it brings closure to the family's of the victim. But the reality, is that closure is chimera. You can chase it all you want....but a human life lost, is a human life lost! The most irrefutable and empirical proof in support of moratorium is in the huge international outcry against it.

At the end of the day, the Indian society is a really complex Goan curry that can befuddle even a Michelin starred chef. The only way to perfect it, and to balance it's flavor is by trying and failing. A mature and systematic debate is sure to draw optimistic conclusions on an issue that has our country at a very, very difficult cross road!