Thursday, 31 January 2013

Viswaroopam: Kerala Shows The Way!

One of the most redeeming scenes we have witnessed during the current Islamist protest against the screening of the Kamal Hassan film Viswaroopam is the protection offered by the public to the theaters when the film was screened in various parts of Kerala.

The Hindu reports that when the ultra-fundamentalist Social Democratic Party of India (what a name for a group still wallowing in the tribal values of the seventh century Arabian desert people!) tried to stop the screening of the film in government owned Kairali theatre in Thiruvananthapuram, DYFI workers assembled at the theatre offering protection.  In other places too cultural activists came out in support of the film and offered protection to screen the film emboldening the theatres to continue to exhibit the film.

While in a civilized society it is the duty of the police and other law enforcing authorities to protect the public from hooligans, sometimes it becomes necessary for the civil society to come forward and take on the cultural fascists who use their muscle power to muzzle the voice of freedom and progressive values.

While we understand the decision of the producers of the film to have a discussion with the fundamentalist groups protesting against the film (after all, they are in business and has to, at least recover the money they invested), it is indeed depressing to find that in addition to the Central Board of Film Certification, the producers of a film has to get the approcval of religious nuts before a film is exhibitted to the public in India - supposely a Secular State!

Vishwaroopam comes home to plaudits, brickbats in equal measure

Special Correspondent

(The Hindu, 26 January 2013)

Amidst protests, the fans of actor Kamal Hassan gave a warm reception to his latest film `Viswaroopam,’ in the capital on Saturday.

As the film was not released in Tamil Nadu, the fans of Mr.Kamal Hassan from Madurai and Tirunelveli reached the Kairali and Sree theatre complex in the city to watch the film. The enthusiastic youth showered flower petals and sprayed milk on the huge flex boards of the actor put up before the theatre complex. Some of them offered pooja too. The fans had a word of praise for the State government for taking the initiative to screen the film. In spite of news about the protests against the film alleging that it hurt the sentiments of a community, the theatres were crowded.

Later, a group of Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) took out a protest demonstration to the theatre complex. They destroyed the boards put up before the theatre. Meanwhile, DYFI workers under the aegis of the district committee assembled at the theatre offering protection for the screening. Kerala Cine Exhibitors Association president V.Mohanan told `The Hindu’ that all those cinema houses which had stopped screening in the wake of protest will resume shows as usual from Sunday. “Across the State, the film was released in 86 theatres, but at least 14 theatres were forced to give up the screening in the wake of protests. Cultural activists in various regions, including Perumbavoor and Palakkad have come out in support of the film offering protection and this has emboldened the exhibitors to resume the screening in full swing from Sunday. Cultural and political activists have taken an active interest in preventing such undesirable tendencies,” he said.

Leader of the Opposition V.S.Achuthanandan said in a statement here that the blocking the screening and unleashing violence against the film amounted to infringement on creative freedom and right to expression. Permission for screening the film was granted by the Censor Board after scrutiny. The violence against theatres was cultural fascism. Those opposing the film can campaign against it, but should not resort to violence. This was proof of intolerance. Mr.Kamal Hassan hails from a family which upheld religious amity. He and his brothers are symbols of religious unity. Casting a wrong impression about a revered artiste was unfair, he said.

The SFI State secretariat demanded the government to give due protection to the theatres screening the film. It described the protests as uncalled for in a statement here. Legal action should be initiated against those targeting the cinema houses. Communal forces were trying to upset creative freedom. The attacks and ban on a work of art were not conducive for a civilised society, the statement said.

 Accessed on 31 January 2013)

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Shinde on Hindutva Terror: Terminological Confusions

Ram Puniyani

Protests are being organized and threats to stall the proceedings of next Lok Sabha session are being dished out to oppose the Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s statement about the Hindu terrorism, its links with BJP and RSS. (23 Jan 2013). There are two major components of this statement. One is the use of the prefix Hindu for terrorism, and two about RSS-BJP links with terror training camps. What Shinde called Hindu terrorism has also been called Saffron terrorism or Hindutva terrorism. This prefix is to point out to acts of terror indulged in by the likes of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami Aseemanand, Col. Prasad Shrikant Purohit, Kalsangara, Sunil Joshi and many like them who were either actively associated with the deology of Hindutva, or even were organizationally associated with RSS. Others were at that time or previously linked with some progeny of RSS like ABVP, Bajrang Dal etc. Many of them were part of organizations like Sanatan Sanstha, Abhinav Bhararat, who again aim at the goal of Hindu Nation or are ideologically inspired by the agenda of RSS.

Sushilkumar Shinde
The home minister’s remarks are based on investigations done Anti Terror Squads of different states and by National Investigation Agency. Earlier the announcement was made by the former Union home minister P. Chidambaram, in July 2010, to Parliament that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) will probe the terrorist attacks on the Samjhauta Express and examine the conspiracy behind the attack, including the links of the accused in terrorist attacks at Malegaon (September 8, 2006), Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad (May 18, 2007) and at the Ajmer dargah (October 11, 2007). He had used the word Saffron terror.

Various such acts of terror in which these people have been involved have been coming to light from last ten years or so. In 2003, in Parbani, Jalna and Jalgaon districts of Maharashtra; in 2005, in Mau district of Uttar Pradesh; in 2006, in Nanded; in January 2008, at the RSS office in Tenkasi, Tirunelveli; in August 2008, in Kanpur etc. Few of the details of some of these acts are very revealing.

  1. On 6th April 2006 two Bajrang Dalworkers died when making the bombs.The place where they died belonged to the RSS worker and saffron flag was hoisted atop the hose. There was also a board of Bajrang Dal Nanded Branch on the wall of the house.
  2. In Thane on 4th June 2008, two Hindu Jagran Samiti workers were arrested for planting the bombs in the basement of Gadkari Rangayatan, due to which 7 people got injured. The same group was involved in the blasts in Vashi, Panvel also.
  3.  In Goa a bomb kept in a scooter went off on the eve of Divali (17th Oct 2009) in Margao. It killed Malgonda Patil and seriously injured Yogesh Naik.
  4. Another bomb was detected in Sancoale in a truck carrying 40 youth for Narkasur competition. Both the activists belonged to Sanatan Sanstha. The second aim of this blast was to create communal tension in Margao, which has a history of communal violence. This group takes inspiration from Savarkar (Hindu Mahasabha) and Hedgewar (RSS) and indoctrinates its members into hating Christians and Muslims.
  5. On 24th August 2008 two Bajrang Dal activists died in Kanpur, while making bombs. The Kanpur zone IGP S.N. Singh stated that their investigations have revealed that this group was planning massive explosions all over the state.
  6. Indian Express, 23 Oct 2008 reports that those involved in the bomb blast in Malegaon and Modasa (Sept 2008) had links with Akhil BhartiyaVidyarthi Parishad. Similarly in Tenkasi, Tamil Nadu pipe bomb attack on RSS office (Jan.2008) was projected to have been done by Jehadi Muslims.
The common pattern of these acts of terror has been twofold. One, that in few of such cases the activists related to Bajrang Dal or fellow travelers were killed while making the bombs. Second these acts of terror were targeted to kill the Muslims, so these acts were organized at times when the Muslims congregations take place, at the time of namaz or festivals like Shab-e-Barat in Malegaon, or in Ajmer Sharif where they come in large numbers or Samjhauta express where the major number of travellers is Muslims.

While in the initial phase police authorities working under the prejudice that ‘all terrorists are Muslims’ misdirected their probe, the probe came on the proper track after the Malegaon blasts when the motor cycle of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, the former activist of Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, a wing of RSS, came under the scanner and her links with many of those who have been named above and are currently in jail, came to the surface. These facts came to light due to the initiative and immaculate investigation done by the then chief of Maharashtra ATS, Hemant Karkare. Karkare pursued the investigation professionally putting together the threads due to which today most of them are in jails. While pursuing these investigations Karkare came under immense pressure from the politicians belonging to BJP and its close cousin, Shiv Sena. During this time Narendra Modi said that Hemant Karkare is an anti National, (*Deshdrohi*) and Bal Thackeray in his Saamana wrote that’ we spit on the face of Karkare.’ Later Karkare got killed in the Mumbai terror attack of 26/11, 2006.

The people involved in some way were associated to the affiliates of RSS or RSS itself. Mr. Singh, Home secretary has given some of the names from RSS stable who have been allegedly involved in acts of terror.

  1. Sunil Joshi (dead), he was an “activist of RSS” in dewas and Mhow from
    1990s to 2003.
  2. Sandeep Dange (absconding), He was “RSS pracharak” in Mhow, Indore,
    Uttarkashi and Sajhapur from 1990s to 2006.
  3. Lokesh Sharma (arrested) He was RSS ‘nagar karyavahak’ in Deogarh.
  4. Swami Assemanand (arrested), He was “associated with RSS wing Vanavashi
    Kalyan Parishad” in Dang, Gujarat in 1990s to 2007.
  5. Rajender alias Samunder (arrested), He was “RSS Varg Vistarak.”
  6. Mukesh Vasani (arrested), He was an “activist of RSS” in Godhra
  7. Devender Gupta (arrested), was a “RSS pracharak” in Mhow and Indore.
  8. Chandrasekhar Leve (arrested), was a “RSS pracharak” in Shajhanpur in
  9. Kamal Chouhan (arrested), was a “RSS activist.”
  10. Ramji Kalsangra (absconding), was a “RSS associate”.
This is in addition to Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, Swami Dayanand Pandey, Lt Col Prasad Shrikant Purohit, Retd Major Upadhyay, who have been close to

While some beans were spilled by many of these accused the whole picture was pieced together by Swami Aseemanand, when he decided to confess in front of the magistrate. In his confession Swami gave the details of the whole set up raised under his coordination and involving many RSS workers and their associates. The major reason for this whole planning as per him was to counter the Islamic terrorism as witnessed in Sankat Mochan templeetc. and second goal of theirs’ was to pave the path of Hindu nation.

The later investigation of ATS and now NIA has unearthed the linkages due to which these activists are cooling their heels in jails. Meanwhile in the wake of most of these terror blasts many a Muslim youth were arrested, some of whom were later released for the lack of any credible evidence. So this whole series of terrorists are Hindus. Does this then justify to label this type of terrorism as Hindu terrorism? By no means! Shinde is wrong to label this terrorism as Hindu terrorism.

Is the term ‘saffron terrorism’ correct? No way. This term was used by many including the then Home minister P. Chidambaram in the wake of the investigations done by Hemant Karkar in the case of Malegaon blasts. While one does not approve the term Hindu terrorism or saffron terrorism at all, one will like to see the background in which this term came to be used.

The RSS routinely adopts resolutions seeking to “curb Islamic terrorism with an iron hand”. The term Islamic terrorism was first coined by American media in the light of 9/11 act of terror. This was the first major attempt to label an act of terror with religion. This became the most popular word and all and sundry resorted to this word time and over again. This was a deliberate mischief by US to target the Muslims and thereby get legitimacy to launch attacks in the West Asia to control over the oil resources. In India also large section of media picked it up. RSS and its progeny in particular highlighted the religious nature of this terrorism, and the word Jehadi terrorism was the common one to be used. In a way associating terrorism with religion became a dominant norm and it became part ofpopular perception.

In this backdrop when the acts of terror done by many Hindus came to light, it somehow came to be labelled with prefix Hindu or Saffron. Term Islamic terrorism and Jehadi terrorism is as much wrong as the term Hindu or saffron terror. The right word for first one may be Al Qaeda type of terrorism and for the second, Hindutva terrorism. Here again using Hindutva terrorism is fraught with some misunderstanding. As such Hindutva is a politics aiming at creation of a Hindu nation but due to its containing the word Hindu in it, it is also taken to be a religion in popular understanding. So the dilemma for Shinde! How to label this group of terror deeds? Probably one will like to make it clear that it is Hindutva terrorism, it has nothing to do with Hindu religion and the difference between the terms Hindu (a religion) and Hindutva (a politics) needs to be made clear in popular parlance.

So it’s hypocritical to make the intense noise while the word Hindu-saffron terrorism is used. Same set of people are using the word Islamic terrorism, Jehadi terrorism and propagating that all terrorists are Muslims. One has to know that the phenomenon of terror has been promoted in the Madrassas specially set up by America in Pakistan to indoctrinate the Muslim youth and bring up Al Qaeda type formations. So why demonize Islam, Muslims and use the term Jehadi terrorism? Both such abuses of religion run parallel to each other.

What about the statement that training camps run by RSS and BJP? In all fairness one conceded that the training camps run by RSS have gone to give the training in rifles but the training centres of bomb making and use are not directly conducted by RSS-BJP. Surely these activities are done by those associated with RSS-BJP. One can’t take lightly the picture making rounds on social media, which shows Rajnath Singh and Shivrajsingh Chowhan with Sadhvi Pragya Thakur. One also can’t dismiss the fact that Lal Krishna Advani and Sushma Swaraj had gone to see the prime minister to plead the case of Pragya Singh Thakur in particular. One cant ignore that those running these training camps had or were associated with RSS in some way, actively at that time or in the past.

So all this protests and threats of BJP, threats to disrupt the session of Parliament are their usual political tactics and do not have any meaning, as their indirect or direct association with the terrorists is so much obvious. What Shinde is stating is factual but terminology is confused, and that’s not due to his own fault. We as a society have not been able to come to coin correct terminologies for different acts of terror anyway, so why get away with using the word Jehadi terrorism and haul Mr. Shinde to the coals for such a use of the term.?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Science versus Miracles: Ghostly Fires at Night

B Premanand

While walking through fields at night, suddenly one sees fire of 6 to 12 feet high which is considered to be poltergeist phenomena.

Experiment: 92

Effect: Ghostly fires at night.

Props: Kerosene, a cloth swab on a stick, matches.

Method: Learn to blowout water in minute spray from mouth. Then fill the mouth with kerosene, light the stick and blow kerosene over it, sitting in a pit. The fire will rise up to six to twelve feet.

Instead of getting frightened and running away, if one goes to the place where the fire was seen, it is possible to catch the person. To frighten people coming to the place where some illicit work is going on, smugglers do this trick. 

(Related article from Wikipedia: Fire Breathing)

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Stories about God - I

AN Moorthy Rao

So far we have considered how the common man has answered the question: ‘Who is God?’ (Or, what is God?) Let us now examine the nature and antecedents of these deities on the basis of the stories put together by people. From the list of deities that we considered above, we may eliminate the Ashwatha (tree), the snake, the monkey, ‘Ammas’ and ghosts. These are third-rate, even fourth-rate deities. We do not even think of them, except occasionally. Nor do we take the nature-deities seriously. These orphaned deities, consigned to oblivion, and never worshipped, are not important. To highlight their follies- for example, the story of the amorous Indra and Ahalya - is being mean. We may also ignore ‘Chaturmukha Brahma’, who is disgraced for his act of marrying his own daughter[1] and who frequently causes chaos and turmoil by granting foolish boons. People have only treated Him with the indifference he deserves.

All major world religions (which admit the existence of God) have visualised God only in human form. (But, the religious texts do not accept this, claiming that God created man in His own image. Even to suggest that ‘Man created God in his own image’ is blasphemy - and inexcusable). After all, when we are trying to visualize God, we ought to bestow the finest form on Him, oughtn’t we? Of course, our form is the finest and we gave it to Him! And, in order to demonstrate His superiority over us, we sanctioned Him a couple of extra heads and limbs!

Man, having ascribed to God his form, also passed on his qualities: this is only natural. Therefore, the history of gods at times quite resembles our own history. Gods have about the same shortcomings as we do. Mythological stories all over the world bear testimony to this. ‘Loki’ of the ancient Norse people is a very cunning deity; he is always waiting for an opportunity to cause harm. He got the Sun God ‘Balder’ killed (even deities must die!) by ‘Holder’, a blind deity (deities could be blind, too!).The Greek god Apollo fell in love with Cassandra and bestowed on her clairvoyance; but when she refused His love, He cursed her. Zeus, the king of the gods, took on the shape of a bull and carried away Europa. There are instances galore of wrongs inflicted on women. Even our Indra could learn a lesson or two from Zeus. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty, had an affair with Ares, the God of Wars ­there is adultery among gods and goddesses, too!

The religions mentioned above are not practised now; when they, over time, disappeared, their deities disappeared, too. Let us leave them aside and turn to our Vishnu and Shiva once again. The number of devotees, extensive writings about Him and His incarnations, His pre-eminence - on all these counts, Vishnu ranks first among all the Gods. This assertion is not based on any census: still, it is probably true. Vishnu has had ten incarnations: he has carried the earth out of the ocean. He killed Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, Ravana and other evil-doers. He is the ‘Kapatanataka Sutradhari’ - controlling the affairs of the world. Purandaradasa has furnished evidence (such evidence as mythology provides) of His compassion - He succored Gajendra, Dhruva, Bali, Draupadi and Ahalya. All the actions listed above were meant to promote the good of the world.

His is a life of pomp and splendour, Purandaradasa says. He is the husband of the Earth Goddess and the Goddess of Wealth. He lies on Adishesha, wafted on the waves of the Ocean of Milk. His consort is Lakshmi. (The word 'Lakshmi' also means serenity and wealth.) She adorns His chest. He is resplendent in yellow robes and gem-studded crown and other jewels. Garuda who flies high in the sky carries Him; as Narasimha, He saved Prahlada; as Sri Rama, He obeyed His father unquestioningly. He succoured those who surrendered to Him and punished the evil-doers: as Krishna, He is the Preacher of the Gita and He is the Yogeshwara. In addition, He tasted earthly joys to the fullest. As Krishna, He had eight wives- readers might be flabbergasted if the figure of sixteen thousand is recalled (this figure also has been mentioned). He loves music: He held spellbound with the music of His flute not only the Gopis, not only bird and beast, but the lifeless Yamuna. He is the Master Dancer – ‘rasaleela’ bears testimony to this. He is the Master Diplomat, too - He was chosen to steer the negotiations with the Kauravas. Let us have a look at one or two stories connected with this sublime figure. First, there is the story of Brinda. Her husband Jalandhara was an evil fellow. He had evil desires on Paravathi. He had to be killed, for the good of the world. But, Brinda’s chastity shielded him (goodness shielded evil). This difficulty could be surmounted only by robbing Brinda of her chastity. So, Vishnu went to her in the guise of Jalandhara and ravished her. Jalandhara could then be killed. When Brinda realized that she had been deceived, she cursed Vishnu and threw herself into the fire.

I was 15 or 16 years old when I first heard this story, and it disgusted me even then. This is what one can say in defense of Vishnu's conduct:

  1. He did not ravish Brinda’s modesty out of lust; it is out of a sense of duty and for the good of the world.
  2. He had sympathy and respect for Brinda. Therefore, He bestowed on her immortality in the form of Tulasi, and also the boon of eternal worship. The worship goes on, even today.

  1. However laudable the ends may be, should not the means to achieve these ends be as good? The argument that the ends justify the means is perverse. Could Vishnu, who claims to be acting for the good of the world, set such a bad precedent?
  2. Irrespective of Vishnu's intentions, was not Brinda made to suffer injustice?
  3. Could not the omniscient and omnipotent Vishnu think of a better and more morally right way?
  4. The premise in the story is that it was not possible to 'eliminate Jalandhara, except by outraging the modesty of Brinda. Was her modesty really violated? She had, throughout, believed she was making love with her husband. Her love, therefore, was meant for her husband. In fact, it is Vishnu who emerges in a poor light from this story, not Brinda.
  5. What did Brinda gain from the boon of eternal worship? A noble person like her probably never desired to be worshipped by others!

There are innumerable stories[2] concerning Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu. Snatching the clothes of the Gopis, ‘rasa kreede’ and the love affair with Radha are some of these. Once, when young girls approached Him, Krishna is believed to have sent them away after properly counselling them. But when they came back to Him after a while Krishna, it is said, satisfied their craving. The argument that the only way to deal with the desire for sex is to satisfy it is not new to me. But, I also know of a verse in the Mahabharata which contradicts this argument:

Na jatu kamaha kamanam upabhogena shyamyati
Havisha krishnavarthmeva bhuya evebhivardhate
 (Lust cannot be quenched by enjoyment. It will only flare up, more fiercely, just as flames leap up with the addition of oil.)

Radha, we are told, was a married woman. But, that did not come in the way of her affair with Krishna.

The stories concerning Shiva are fewer. Or, it may be that I am not aware of all of them. The ones I know are sufficient for our purposes here. We have just seen that Vishnu lives an ostentatious life. But, the life of Shiva looks more or less beggarly, let alone being luxurious. There is the ‘kasturi tilaka’ on Vishnu's forehead; but, on Shiva's forehead and on the rest of His body, there is only ash. While there is ‘kausthubha’ on Vishnu's chest, there is ‘rudrakshi maale’ around Shiva's neck. Vishnu wears a crown on His head while there is only matted hair on Shiva's head. Vishunu can boast of ‘Vaijayanthi’ while Shiva has the awful ‘Rundamaale’ (garland of skulls). Shiva wears a piece of hide around His waist, not yellow robes. He does not float on the ‘Ksheerasaagara’ (Ocean of Milk), but lives in the cremation ground!

When it is said that ‘Lakshmi dwells in Vishnu’s heart’, one gets the feeling that they are two different persons and their love has brought them close together. Taking Lakshmi to symbolize compassion, one would believe that Vishnu’s heart is full of compassion. But Shiva is ‘Ardhanareeshwara’ (half man and half woman) and, as Kalidasa describes, he possesses a ‘kantha sammishradeha’. Shiva and Parvathi are not two separate persons - that is, the male and female principles are not different from each other. One completes the other. This is a more sublime and meaningful concept than the concept of the proximity of Vishnu and Lakshmi. Shiva cannot exist without Paravathi - He is only a half person. Similarly, Paravathi has no independent existence either, for, without Shiva, she too is only a half person. They are like the word and its meaning - inseparable. Again, in Kalidasa's words, they are ‘Vaagaarthaavivasamprikthau’ - they are one like word and meaning.

Vishnu symbolizes a rich and complete life. His boyhood and youth have all that go into the making of a rich life - the joy that our little children bring us, the enchantment of sexuality in youth, the attraction of the arts, music and dance and amorous discourse. But, during Krishna's middle age, the rigours of life, and the resolve to fight injustice, ignorance, cruelty and selfishness predominate, and art recedes. In the Mahabharata, we do not see Him playing His flute! Life comprehends friendship, love and supreme sacrifices for the sake of ideals; and the same life comprehends selfishness, greed, arrogance of power, cruelty and misery. Man is caught and sinking in the vortex of· these opposing forces and, in the Mahabharata, Krishna leads to the safe shore. The Bhagavadgita is the fruit of his experience. Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, symbolizes all this. His is the way of action, of involvement in life. That is, the way of conquering life and experiencing it fully.

Shiva’s is the way of renunciation, of withdrawal. In the life of Krishna, it is Krishna's ‘balaleele’ (his sport as a boy), the melody of his flute and ‘raasa kreede’ that first come to one's mind. At the mention of Shiva’s name, it is ‘Kaamadahana’, the burning of Kama, that comes to our mind first. Uma, Himavantha’s daughter, (she was Daksha's daughter in her previous life) was rendering service to Shiva to win him over. Shiva, who was lost in ‘tapas’, did not yield to her loveliness. But, because of Manmatha’s arrows, Shiva’s mind was disturbed for a while. He opened his eyes, to see why this had happened and saw Manmatha. Enraged, He burnt Manmatha to ashes with the fire of His third eye in his forehead. Parvathi, realizing that her physical charms had failed, began ‘tapas’. So, when she rejected physical beauty and attained inner beauty, Shiva loved her and married her. Vishnu's is the glory of riches, Shiva's the glory of restraint.

Let us recall another story about Shiva, who is the conqueror of sexual attraction and the master of restraint. Gods and demons churned the ocean, didn't they? Vishnu, with a view to denying the elixir to the demons, appeared in disguise as Mohini. The elixir was distributed to the Gods. But Shiva, overcome by the beauty of Mohini, pursued her and violated her honour.[3] Thus was born our Ayyappa alias Shastha, who has settled down in Shabarimalai of Kerala. He has millions of devotees.

In our old Mysore State, perhaps there were not even a handful of Ayyappa devotees. Now, there are thousands of them. But it does not seem to have occurred to anyone of them that the story of Ayyappa’s birth is absolutely ridiculous. Would Shiva, who burnt Manmatha to ashes, and who did not yield even to the angelic beauty of Parvathi, pursue Mohini, like a road-side Romeo? Could he not know that ‘Mohini’ was really not a woman but Vishnu in disguise? And when chased by Shiva, Vishnu could have immediately shown His true form! Even educated people of this century do not ask such questions; with their all-night ‘bhajans’, they make a nuisance of themselves to the neighbours: and, in their black attire (I do not know why it is black), go on piligrimage to Shabarimalai. .

[1] Since all human beings are believed to have been created by Brahma, if Brahma marries at all, marrying His own daughter is His inescapable destiny! No matter whom he marries, she is his daughter!

[2] It is pointless to discuss (in this context), the textual basis for these stories. Interpreters (‘Harikathe’ Dasas) and many others would have generously added their own contributions to the original. Quite often, there is no textual basis at all. Presently, what is of importance to us is this: the wide variety of beliefs among people about God.

[3] Variant Reading: He could not catch Mohini

Akkihebbalu Narasimha Murthy Rao (June 16, 1900—August 23, 2003) was an eminent Kannada writer.  He was the first Director of Kannada and Culture Department of the Karnataka Government.

His popular book, Devaru (God), won (1992) the Pampa Award instituted by the Government of Karnataka.

The present essay is part of Chapter III of the book, which was translated into English by Prof LS Seshagiri Rao and published by Kannada Sahitya Parishath, Bangalore in 1995

Science Versus Miracles: Smoke From One’s Fingers

B Premanand

To prove that when they concentrate heat comes from their body, persons with the so-called ‘psychic powers’ rub their thumb and index finger and smoke comes from them.

Experiment: 90

Effect: Smoke from one’s fingers.

Props: Yellow phosphorous and carbon disulphide solution (1:6)

Method: Apply a drop of the above solution and rub the finger with the thumb briskly and smoke will be produced.  The more you rub, the more smoke will come from the fingers.  While rubbing the fingers, concentrate on them as if you are using mental power.

[Here is another related article: How To Perform the Smoking Fingers Trick]
Experiment: 91

Effect: Burning cloth and restoring it.

The tantrik catches hold of the dhoti or a piece of cloth of a person and brings out a portion through the closed fist.  He burns out that portion and when he removes the hand from the dhoti or cloth, it is unburnt and fully restored.

Props: 3” piece of cotton dhoti cloth matching any one of the dhotis generally used.

Method: Palm the piece of cloth with the centre of the cloth in between thumb and index finger. The cloth piece should match the dhoti of the volunteer. Hold the portion of the dhoti in your left hand and pull out the centre part of the palmed cloth.  Light it and show it is being burnt. Extinguish the fire with your right palm at the same time pushing it inside the left palm. Remove the hand, palming the burnt cloth, and show the dhoti unburnt.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Science versus Miracles: Lighting Candles by Prayers

B Premanand

On Madras television, Rev. Dinakaran, a CST evangelist, lighted candles with his prayers.

Experiment: 88

Effect: Lighting candles by prayers

Image: Courtesy: Wikipedia
Props: Solution of yellow or white phosphorus in carbon disulphide (1:1), and a new big candle.

Method: Dip the candle wick in the phosphorous solution and keep it on the candle stand. Chant the prayers, and when the solvent evaporates the candle will catch fire.

Experiment: 89

Effect: Lighting candles by simply touching them.

Props: Two candles, chromic acid crystals, pure methyl or ethyl alcohol.

Method: Place a few crystals of chromic acid in the cavity hollowing out a shallow ring around the wick of one candle. Dip the wick of the other candle in the alcohol. Touch the candle with alcohol with the other candle with chromic acid. Both will get lighted. 

Poltergeist Phenomena – How Hutments Catch Fire Suddenly?

B Premanand

In many villages hutments catch fire and get gutted suddenly which is claimed to be the handiwork of poltergeist or ghosts.

Experiment: 85

(Note: This image of a hut
on fire has nothing  to do with
poltergeist phenomenon)
Effect:  Poltergeist phenomena. Hutments catch fire suddenly.

Props: Wet cow dung, yellow phosphorus.

Method: In Indian villages people make cow dung cakes and dry them on the thatched roof to use as fuel. Mix some yellow phosphorus in a wet cow-dung cake. When it dries in the sun, fire is produced and the thatch catches fire.

Experiment: 86

Effect: Clothes kept in cupboard or hung out to dry suddenly catch fire. This is said to be a poltergeist phenomena.

Props: Yellow or white phosphorous solution in carbon disulphide 1:6

Method: Pour a little of this solution on the cloth and within a short time when it gets dry, it will catch fire.

Experiment: 87

Effect: A seashell turns on a stick when holy water is sprinkled on it.

When something is stolen, to trace the thief, people approach a tantrik. A spirit-rite is performed where a dry twig is planted in the earth and a seashell is placed on the tip.  He takes some water and after chanting mantras, it is sprinkled on the twig and the seashell. Suddenly the shell starts moving slowly and when it stops moving, the tantrik says that if the stolen property is not recovered within three days, the thief will die a dreadful death.  Then he breaks the twig into two. Within three days, the stolen material is recovered from the direction in which the sell has moved.

Props: 6” dry twig, seashell and water in a pot.

Method: Secretly twist the twig as much as possible holding both ends with two hands. Plants it in the earth and place the shell over it. While chanting mantras, sprinkle water on the stick. It will start turning along with the shell.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Rising Shadow of Trident: Modi’s Victory in Gujarat

Ram Puniyani

The recent electoral victory of Narendra Modi, his third consecutive one (Dec 2012), has drawn lot of applause from a section of society and he is being projected as the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. It’s another matter that BJP, itself is in shambles as far as electoral arena is concerned and its NDA allies are unlikely to endorse Modi, given his aggressive communal politics and the authoritarian style of his functioning. One knows that this victory of Modi was predicted by many exit polls, one also knows his victory was not a smooth sail, as by now the dissatisfaction from his policies, his style of functioning is adversely affecting a large number of Gujarat population. The people of Gujarat turned out in big numbers to cast their vote.

Many commentators feel that his win is due to his development policies, that he has won again is an endorsement of his claims of development of Gujarat. The development model undertaken by Modi is a total surrender to the favored industrial houses, which are having a gala time in Gujarat. The shiny malls and roads of Gujarat hide behind them the travails of the deprived and marginalized sections of Gujarat, the villages in particular. Every Nano car rolling out from Tata car is subsidized by the state to the extent of Rs 60000. The hype of development propaganda, managed by the American Company APCO Worldwide, which has already worked for notorious dictators like Sani Abacha (Nigeria) and Nurusultan NAzarbayev (Life President of Kazagistan), has done its job well again. The job by this agency has been done so well that anybody questioning the development of Gujarat is receives various derogatory labels. As a matter of fact what Modi has done is nothing unusual and states like Maharashtra have achieved much better in this direction, without the hype. Here comes one of the roles of Modi, not only to hire an image maker but also to act like Goebbels.

Narendra Modi
Image Courtesy: Wikipedia
This so called development hides that the social indices of Gujarat which are very much on the lower side when compared to many other Indian states. What matters in popular perception is the image more than reality. So this aspect of Modi’s propaganda did sell well for a section of middle class not only in Gujarat but all over the country. Many a commentators do buy this uncritically and attribute Modi’s victory to this factor. As its not only the mall going middle class but even the suicide committing farmers families, the starving dalits and Adivasis, who also vote, they feel the reality of the ‘development’ of Gujarat in their lives, so a large turn out to vote and in rural areas they did show that the so called development is from the annals of make believe World.

The major factor which has worked in Modi’s favor is the polarization which has taken place in Gujarat after the 2002 carnage. This is one episode of violence, which has separated the communities on religious lines. While Hindus, have bought the line that it is only due to Modi that they are safe, at the same time Muslims know that they have not only been the major victim of 2002, but also that post 2002, they have been totally marginalized in physical space, with ghettoization taking place. They know that they are physically not safe and have been pushed back economically and socially. The real fear is stalking the lives of Muslim community as a whole. They have been relegated to second class citizenship. Modi has given a clear message that the nine percent Muslims don’t matter to him as he has made up his vote bank by consolidating the Hindus by instilling the fear amongst them. Still all Muslims do not vote against them. To begin with the Muslim majority areas have been delimited in a way that they can’t influence in the electoral result, or the impact of their voting is minimized. A section of trader-businessmen Muslims did vote for Modi for sure. Another section had to vote for him out of fear.

As far as dalits and adivasis are concerned the social engineering unleashed by BJP associates VHP and Vanavasi Kalyan ashram has done its job and a section of these deprived sections has been won over to the Hindutva fold and vote for the BJP. The sense of insecurity amongst minorities and minority women is paramount, making them withdraw into their shells. The liberal space in the state of Gujarat has shrunk rapidly, more than in other states. The educational institutions have been thoroughly brought under the management of academics sympathetic to Modi’s ideology. The state now reminds one of a dictatorial state, as pointed out by the ex- BJP chief Minister Keshubhai Patel himself. It can be called as communal-semi fascist state. The major factor in the state is the polarization and abolition of liberal space. This is ‘Hindu Nation’ in one state. One is reminded of the USSR, where ‘Socialism in one state’ was the slogan to begin with. In India while there are many states ruled by BJP, it is Gujarat, which fits into this ‘Hindu Rashtra in one state’.

The real danger today, which is reminded by Modi’s victory are manifold. To begin with the communal fascism is creeping in India through deeper pores of the nation. It is said that RSS is not happy with Modi coming to power and becoming larger than the party, the BJP. This is a contradictory situation. RSS on one hand wants to create a Hindu Rashtra. On the other it wants to regulate the whole process. The contradiction is that RSS ideology pushes the nation towards dictatorial thinking, as RSS itself is modeled on Ek Chalak Anuvartita, (controlled by single supreme dictator), the Sar Sanghchalak, whose writ is unquestionable. At the same time one recalls that one of the characteristics of fascisms the single charismatic leader. Modi fits in to that model very well. It is being said that in Gujarat, the RSS and its progeny VHP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been marginalized. One should know that the RSS and its non electoral progeny is there to make the ground for creating a communal space in which BJP can then rough shod and work for Hindu Nation. In Gujarat, these organizations are redundant now as they have already played their role. With Modi’s victory it’s clear that in India the communal fascism is marching state by state, and in the social space, in a gradual manner.

Modi’s blatant proximity to industrial houses is again in tune with the pattern of a fascist state. Hitler was also the darling of big capital. Hitler had mass following amongst the middle classes and could co-opt the poor as its storm troopers, street fighters. Modi is walking the same path, the difference being that of speed and regional variation. India being the vast diverse nation, the Gujarat pattern stands out very clearly as a repeat of German fascist onslaught with many differences. The other BJP ruled states are adopting different paths, some features being common. These common features are cultural infiltration, and relegation of minorities to the margins.

It is in this situation that those committed to secular democracy need a rethink. At electoral level, the parties like Congress, Samajvadi, Communist and Socialist parties, do not perceive the threat to democracy and secularism as they should be doing. If they understand the implications of Hindu Rashtra, the impact of Modi in hiking up the communal politics and communal thinking, then they have to close their ranks. They need to rise above their electoral and prime ministerial ambitions and take this threat of communalism head on as a united front. That seems to be a very tall order to expect from these electoral formations which so far have not demonstrated their willingness to come together for the sake of principles. Is it thinkable at all these parties will contemplate more in terms of saving democracy and secularism rather than protecting their fiefdoms? Its time these parties wake and realize that unless they hang together, the danger of communal fascism taking over the country in the future is not ruled out. Still one knows all this is an optimistic urge. If wishes were horses!

What can secular elements do at this point of time? They have engaged in legal activism, advocacy work, done rehabilitation work and conducted awareness programs to the best of their capabilities. It seems their best is not good enough. The need for more innovative thinking to ward off the threat of looming communalism has become more menacing with the victory of Modi. It’s a warning signal of sorts to do our utmost to strengthen the values of freedom movement, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. It’s time to remind ourselves of what the preamble of our Constitution tells us. It’s time to build a real people’s platform for secularism and democracy. It’s time for social movements to take this issue in utmost seriousness before the situation is created that social movements will themselves will not be permitted to march forward for the cause of human rights of the deprived sections of society. 

Thursday, 17 January 2013

India’s Rape Culture:‭ ‬Urban versus Rural

Ram Puniyani

While the horrific rape of Damini,‭ ‬Nirbhaya‭ (‬December16,‭ ‬2012‭) ‬has shaken the whole nation,‭ ‬and the country is gripped with the fear of this phenomenon,‭ ‬many an ideologues and political leaders are not only making their ideologies clear,‭ ‬some of them are regularly putting their foots in mouths also.‭ ‬Surely they do retract their statements soon enough.‭ ‬Kailash Vijayvargiya,‭ ‬a senior BJP minister in MP’s statement that women must not cross Laxman Rekha to prevent crimes against them,‭ ‬was disowned by the BJP Central leadership and he was thereby quick enough to apologize to the activists for his statement.‭ ‬But does it change his ideology or the ideologies of his fellow travellers‭? ‬There are many more in the list from Abhijit Mukherjee,‭ ‬to Mamata Bannerji,‭ ‬Asaram Bapu and many more.‭

Mohan Bhagwat
The statement of RSS supremo,‭ ‬Mohan Bhagwat,‭ ‬was on a different tract as he said that rape is a phenomenon which takes place in India not in Bharat.‭ ‬For India the substitute for him is urban areas and Bharat is rural India for him.‭ ‬As per him it is the‭ “‬Western‭” ‬lifestyle adopted by people in urban areas due to which there is an increase in the crime against women.‭ “‬You go to villages and forests of the country and there will be no such incidents of gang rape or sex crimes‭”‬,‭ ‬he said on‭ ‬4th January.‭ ‬Further he implied that while urban areas are influenced by Western culture,‭ ‬the rural areas are nurturing Indian ethos,‭ ‬glorious Indian traditions.‭ ‬As per him ancient Indian traditions gave great respect to women,‭ ‬and it is due to these values of Indian tradition,‭ ‬that villages are free from crimes against women.‭

The statistics from India fly in the face of Bhagawat.‭ ‬In a significant statistical observation and study of rape cases Mrinal Satish,‭ ‬faculty member of National Law University,‭ ‬Delhi,‭ ‬tells us another tale.‭ ‬He has used the court data and observes that‭ ‬75%‭ ‬of rape cases take place in rural India.‭ ‬His observations are based on the cases reported in Criminal Law Journal from‭ ‬1983‭ ‬to‭ ‬2009.‭

The cases of rape in villages,‭ ‬like that of Khairlanji and rape against Adivasi women may not be on the radar of the Hindutva boss,‭ ‬Bhagwat,‭ ‬but those engaged with the issues of dalits,‭ ‬Adivasis and gender issues cannot buy the simplified rural versus urban divide.‭ ‬One knows that patriarchy which looks at women as secondary beings,‭ ‬primarily as sister,‭ ‬mother or daughter,‭ ‬rather than a person in her own right.‭ ‬She is not a being with swayam‭ (‬selfhood‭) ‬of her own.‭ ‬As for as RSS ideology is concerned only men have swayam‭ (‬selfhood‭)‬.‭ ‬The full form of RSS,‭ ‬the male organization is Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh while its women’s organization is Rashtrasevika Samiti,‭ ‬do note that the word swayam is missing here,‭ ‬in the name of women’s organization.‭ 

The myth that women had a place of honour in ancient Indian period is a well constructed one.‭ ‬During the long span of ancient Indian period the status of women kept changing,‭ ‬but women being subordinate beings was the running theme.‭ ‬During the Aryan period of pastoral life the women were supposed to commit symbolic self immolation after the death of husband,‭ ‬later this got converted to actual burning of the widows.‭ ‬It is probably around this period that two great epics were written,‭ ‬Ramayan and Mahabharat.

In Ramayan Lord Ram banishes his pregnant wife Sita,‭ ‬because of the rumours about her character amongst the subjects of Ayodhya.‭ ‬In Mahabharat,‭ ‬the Panadavas use their common wife Draupadi as a‭ ‘‬thing‭’ ‬and use her as a bet in gamble.‭ ‬Not to be left behind their cousins try to disrobe her in the court in front of the King Dhritrashtra‭! ‬So much for the glorious place of women in ancient India‭! ‬Later period’s values are well reflected in Manusmiriti,‭ ‬where the women were explicitly denied education and serving the husband and household chores were regarded as equivalent of education for the women.‭ ‬Manusmriti gives the detailed code for women and it leaves no doubt about women being subordinate or the property of men.‭ ‬The Gupta period‭ (‬3rd to‭ ‬7thCentury‭)‬,‭ ‬which is regarded as the Golden Period of Ancient India,‭ ‬the women were having limited access to education and barring few names which are dished out to prove the glorious condition of Hindu women,‭ ‬mostly the women were having limited access to education.‭ ‬Their participation in Yagnas was secondary to husband,‭ ‬the Yajman,‭ ‬who was the primary being who had solicited the priest for the Yagnas.‭ ‬Yajnman word interestingly has no female equivalent.‭

The ideologues of the Mohan Bhagwat parivar attribute all the prevalent ills to the coming in of Muslims.‭ ‬This is a very clever ploy to externalize the internal suppression of women,‭ ‬and also of dalits.‭ ‬It’s not too long ago in history that during British rule,‭ ‬the continuation of this religiously sanctioned Hindu norm,‭ ‬Sati,‭ ‬had to be fought against by social reformers.‭ ‬The ghastly sati system,‭ ‬occasionally surfacing even now,‭ ‬and supported subtly by conservatives has not been easy to eradicate as religion was cited as the argument for preserving it.‭ ‬In the wake of sati of Roopkanwar in‭ ‬1986,‭ ‬BJP’s Vice President Vijaya Raje Scindia,‭ ‬not only defended the sati system but also took out a morcha to oppose passing of the bill against sati.‭ ‬BJP of is the political child of RSS.‭

The travails of Raja Ram Mohan Roy in struggling against Sati system are a legend.‭ ‬The child marriage was/‭ ‬is another such evil.‭ ‬While British wanted to bring in the law in early twentieth century to abolish child marriage,‭ ‬the argument to oppose it came from the sources of Hindu religion.‭ ‬It was asserted that as per Hindu norms the girl must be married before her first menses,‭ ‬Garbhadhan.‭ ‬It was argued that our religion’s norm about early marriage cannot be violated.‭ ‬The introduction of widow remarriage,‭ ‬the struggle to abolish Devadasi system,‭ ‬each of these has a long and painful story to tell about the status of women in India,‭ ‬in Ancient India,‭ ‬not influenced by modernization.‭

The education is the key to the empowerment of women and an integral part of democratization process.‭ ‬It was a painful journey and the efforts of Savitri bai Phule in this direction are revolutionary in the true sense of the word.‭ ‬These efforts were downright opposed on various grounds,‭ ‬the main obstacle being the Hindu traditions.‭

As such what is being criticized by Bhagwat as modernization is basically the process of democratization of society.‭ ‬This gentleman is stuck in the feudal mode thinking and is upholding feudal of social relationships in the garb of Hindu glorious traditions.‭ ‬As per these traditions‭; ‬caste and gender hierarchy rules the roost.‭ ‬The atrocities against women are not due to democratization,‭ ‬which this worthy is calling modernization or westernization.‭ ‬The core of modernization is caste and gender equality.‭ ‬The essence of modernization is abolition of hierarchy,‭ ‬based on birth-the hierarchy of caste and gender.‭ ‬The process of democratization is the march of society from formal values of equality to substantive equality,‭ ‬and this the march has to be the agenda of social movements.‭ ‬The roots of oppression of women lie in the patriarchal values,‭ ‬which is the carry forward of ancient and medieval values,‭ ‬related to feudal society,‭ ‬society with the rule of kings,‭ ‬where woman was regarded as the one whose arena is the domestic work.‭ ‬The condition of widows and the women who were burnt alive as sati reflects the glorious ancient tradition to which Mr.‭ ‬Bhagwat wants to push back the Indian society,‭ ‬undoing all what Indian society has been able to achieve through the struggle for Independence,‭ ‬which was not merely a struggle to throw away the British rule but also a struggle to do away with caste and gender hierarchy.‭

For Bhagwat,‭ ‬the ancient glory is a cover to hide the gender inequality.‭ ‬Modernization is seen in a superficial way by many.‭ ‬Here the ancient traditions are glorified without going to the core of the social relationships.‭ ‬One is not criticizing the past,‭ ‬but understanding it in the context of the social milieu,‭ ‬the system of production,‭ ‬the level of education etc.‭ ‬is what is needed.‭  ‬Blind glorification of the past or blind condemnation of the past,‭ ‬both take the conclusions off the mark.‭ ‬To look down upon modernization as a crass process is a deliberate one,‭ ‬to try to bring in social equations,‭ ‬the epitome of which in a way is Manusmriti.‭

Here even the facts of statistics are being put upside down to prove a political point which is retrograde but covered in the cloak of ancient glory.‭ ‬The borderline between India and Bharat is not an iron wall,‭ ‬it is a fluctuating zone,‭ ‬merging and separating in a very fluid way.‭ ‬The need of the hour is to look deeper into the issue of violence against women.‭ ‬While all needs to be done to create a safe atmosphere,‭ ‬women’s safety and space for their work and creativity,‭ ‬we need to give a look at the social movements to overcome the chains of patriarchy,‭ ‬which is at the root of violence against women.‭

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan: Heinous Attempt to Intimidate Smt.Pushpa Bhave

Maharashtra Government, Police machinery and Shiv Sena have joined hands to intimidate Smt.Pushpa Bhave, well-known public intellectual, who protested against the decision to give the name of Bal Thackeray to the stage of upcoming Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan session at Chiplun. In response to her statement rightly opposing Sahitya Sammelan’s decision, Shiv Sena leaders publicly threatened her and ‘prohibited’ her from going to Konkan region. Aligning themselves shamelessly with Shiv Sena, police authorities in Chiplun cancelled a symposium which they had decided to hold on the 8th of January in which Smt.Pushpa Bhave was one of the panelists invited to speak. Police authorities did this only to avoid Smt.Bhave speaking at Chiplun. What is more, the police have now specifically asked Smt.Bhave not to enter Konkan! Sri.Sunil Tatkare, minister in Maharashtra’s Congress-NCP government, who is the chairman of Reception Committee of Sahitya Sammelan’s Chiplun session, lent his support to Shiv Sena by affirming that the decision to give Bal Thackeray’s name to Sahitya Sammelan’s stage will not be changed! This is just another example of how government machinery and police under Congress-NCP rule connives with semi-fascist forces.

Rather than being a forum of creative discourse, Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, in recent years has become a seat of narrow-minded controversies involving casteist and communal right-wing forces on all sides. The Chiplun session also is having its share of superficial controversies and muscle-flexing. Another worrying feature is that of Hindutwa forces trying to use Sahitya Sammelan forums to legitimize their fascistic ideology and historiography. The hall in which last year’s Sammelan was held in Thane was named after V.D.Savarkar. This year, Bal Thackeray’s name is being given to the main stage and an eminent intellectual like Pushpa Bhave is being threatened for opposing that move.

The people of Maharashtra should not allow this game-plan of Hindutwa forces to succeed. We should not allow fascist parties to dictate terms in our state’s cultural field and terrorize our secular intellectuals.

We condemn the tacit support extended by state government to fascist forces bringing in a situation where our state is not being run in a democratic manner as envisaged by the Constitution. We appeal to all progressive forces in Maharashtra to jointly defend constitutional freedoms and secular culture in our state.

(This is a statement issued by DYFI, Maharashtra State Committee: on January 07, 2012, forwarded to us by Ms Rekha Deshpande)

My Pakistan Trip

Ram Puniyani

The invitation

The invitation to attend the seminar on South Asian Minorities in Islamabad, Pakistan  and other meetings in Karachi, promised to be an exciting affair, as apart from other things it might have been an opportunity to see the ‘enemy country’ in person. I thought of combining the visit to Islamabad and Karachi with a trip to Jhang, the place where I was born, slightly before the tragedy of partition. I realized VISA to Pakistan is quite a difficult task as VISA for each city is to be obtained separately so I dropped the idea of going to Jhang and restricting my visit to Islamabad and Karachi for which I had the invitations. The discussion about the proposed trip to Pakistan with friends and relatives had a standard response, ohh… you are going to Pakistaaaaaan… be careful! The impression being given was not only that it is Pakistan, which is masterminding all the terror operations in India, not only that it’s a country with terrorists strolling the street and killing people at will but also that it is an ‘enemy country’ due to its wars against India, its meddling in the issues of India and it harboring the terror dens by the dozen.


Islamabad sounded like an exclusive ‘Capital city’ with non Government employees being a small fraction of the population in the city. We could see the Raval Lake, from the nearby beautiful hill. The lake separates this capital city from the nearby Ravalpindi. What came as a pleasant surprise was the feeling of being at home in the city, the language spoken, the people, the warmth and affection and the food all gave the pleasant feeling of being very much at home. While one learnt that the plight of minorities is dismal in most of the South Asian countries on which the papers were presented in the seminar, one also realized that the human rights activists in Pakistan are very vocal and are keeping the torch of democratic values aflame with great courage and sincerity.

The banquet hosted by organizers was an occasion to interact with the well known names in Human Rights movements from Pakistan, like I.A. Rahman. Could lay my hands on Rahman’s booklet, ‘Pakistan: Neither A State nor a Nation’ which gives a very accurate understanding of the state which came into being more due to the machinations of colonial powers than for the aspirations of average Muslims. Incidentally majority of Muslims and particularly the poorer lot, the artisans, farmers stood against the idea of Pakistan.

The banquet dinner was a surprise for another reason also. In the middle of the lovely food and equally engrossing conversation, I had been so lost in the homeliness of milieu and the accompanying songs from my favorite old Hindi films that I had to tell myself oh I am not in India but am in Pakistan. The singing troupe playing the music was very good and the choice of songs from old Hindi films was a real treat of the day.

India’s Soft Power in the Region

Staying in Karachi was a different ball game. Here one was in the middle of different communities staying in different localities. The segregation of communities along geographical lines is a bit different than what is the phenomenon of ghettotization of Muslim community in many a cities in India. Karachi with its broad roads and slow traffic reminded me of our own Mumbai nearly five decades ago. Conversation with taxi derivers’ is so much revealing about the things in a city. My driver was a young man from Peshawar. He had to come to Karachi due to the Taliban nuisance. Taliban, in a true fundamentalist fashion, are imposing dress-beard code on the people and are killing people for any slight disobedience. This young man told me that they used to organize Music and dance, week long celebrations at the wedding times. Now Taliban has put a sort of ban on that. The Taliban intimidation is forcing large segments of population to shift from Peshawar to Karachi in particular. He also informed about what many Indian writers are calling as soft power of India, the Bollywood. For this young man, three Khans of our Bollywood are semi gods, like he celebrated when Shah Rukh Khan’s team won in IPL and he sported Mangal Pandey moustache and kept the hairs like Mangal Pandey as depicted in the film. It’s no secret that Hindi films and Indian music are a craze there.

Malyalee Comrade in Karachi

I happened to meet innumerable friends who are struggling it out not only to strengthen democracy but also to build bridges with India. One remarkable Comrade from our Kerala, B.M. Kutty is a very popular figure in Karachi. Kutty Sahib, as he is generally addressed there is part of most of the progressive campaigns and movements, shaping and guiding the younger lot into the values needed for a democratic society and secular sate. This Malyalee doyen is there from last six decades and his autobiography is aptly titled, ‘Six Decades of exile: No regrets’. Other friends and comrades from media, trade unions and Karachi University were not only warm but also expressed how much they long for the state of affairs where military can be packed off to the barracks and civilian society is able to have its say through the democratic government.

BM Kutty
The very concept of Islamic state also meets its nemesis in the form of Mohajir Qaumi Movement, supported by many Muslims who left for Pakistan from India. They could not get due rights in Pakistan and are now organized enough to get represented in Pakistan Senate and corporations. The legendary Karachi press club has been able to maintain its independence, despite the pressure of military and it keeps inviting the diverse speakers to speak about their views on matters controversial, on the lines which may be against the ideas of ruling cliques. One of the favorite themes of talks there was, ‘Shared heritage: Common aspirations’, where the commonality of our cultural past was highlighted and a need for broad cooperation between these two so called ‘enemy nations’ is articulated in a very positive manner.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Rape and the Ideology of the Religious Right

In these days when we are flooded with reports of rape and other savage attacks against women in India, we thought people would stop, at least for the time being, blaming the women themselves for atrocities committed against them. But we were wrong.

Barely a few hours after the ashes of the Delhi rape victim (it is unfortunate that we still have to call her like this - without a name) were scattered over the river Ganges, the leaders of RSS, BJP and other right-wing outfits have come out with their true colours. 

Vibha Rao, a prominent leader of BJP in Chattisgarh, as well as, ironically, the chairperson of Chattisgarh State Women Commission, had the audacity to claim that “women are equally responsible” for sexual offences committed against them.  According to her, influenced by western culture women are displaying their bodies, and are indulging in obscene activities thereby sending wrong signals to men. She also cites proliferation of the internet and women’s ignorance of Hindu epics as the reasons for sexual offences committed against women. According to her the incidence of rapes reported from tribal districts of Chatisgarh, however, are not rape proper but consensual sex - because tribal women are entering into live-in relationship. But Ms Rao has no comment to make about tribal women being raped by vigilante gang members in Chattisgarh as the issue is ‘sub judice’! (The Hindu, January 5, 2013, Chennai). [Ms Vibha Rao has later denied making these statements and claimed that The Hindu had misquoted her. Rebutting the denial, The Hindu has now uploaded audio excerpts of the entire interview conducted in Hindi]

Another BJP leader, Kailash Vijayargiya, a Minister in Madhya Pradesh government, said: “Only when Sitaji crossed the ‘Lakshman rekha’, she was kidnapped by Ravan…If Sitaji [woman] crosses the ‘Lakshman rekha’, then Sitaharan [abduction] is bound to take place as Ravans are out there”. (TheHindu, January 5, 2013, Chennai).

Mohan Bhagwat, chief of RSS which epitomizes the ideology of the entire Hindutwa Sangh Parivar, has another take on rapes against women: “Crimes against women happening in urban India are shameful.  But such crimes won’t happen in Bharat or the rural areas. You go to villages and forests and there will be no such incidents” (The Hindu, January 5, 2013, Chennai). He also wants the women to be confined to their home looking after the needs of their husbands.

Let us leave aside for the moment the continuing demonizing of Ravana, which the legendary Dravidian leader EV Ramaswamy would have found repulsive. Let us instead ask a few questions to these guardians of the ancient culture of Bharat:

  1. Was Sitaji influenced by ‘western culture’ and was she sending ‘wrong signals’ to Ravana through her inappropriate dress?
  2. Is the traditional ‘sari’ an appropriate dress for women to wear or should they now be draped in tent-like purdah that is imposed by Taliban on women in Afghanistan and tribal districts of Pakistan to get foolproof protection against rape?
  3. How does Mohan Bhagwat explain the innumerable cases of rape of Dalit women by upper caste men reported from villages across the length and breadth of Bharat?
  4. Were the hundreds of women and girls who were savagely raped and murdered in Gujarat in 2002 and in Delhi in 1984 were provocatively dressed in western outfits tempting the Sanatan Hindus to no end?
  5. Is the remote village in Orissa, where Sister Mina Barwa, the Christian nun, was raped by 40 men five years back, part of Bharat or India?
  6. Were these rapists and murderers and their instigators insufficiently tutored in Hindu epics? Or are they over-tutored?
In the context of the savagery committed against the young woman in Delhi, many overlook the fact that in many cases of rape the perpetrators are not strangers but those who are known to the victims - including close relatives. Indian Express (January 01, 2013, New Delhi) reports that “according to data from Delhi Police, out of the 665 rapes reported in 2012, 189 were committed by family members or relatives”. Many of the victims of rape are minors.

One should be a mental retard to claim that these young girls tempted their relatives with obscene gestures. Then why is Ms Vibha Rao, a professional chairing an important Commission set up to protect the rights of women, blaming the victims? Is it  because she wants to shield the BJP government in Chattisgarh, which has been accused of protecting the members of Salwa Judam allegedly involved in a number of cases of violence against tribal women in the state? Or was she trying to augment her political career by making the right noise acceptable to the Sangh Parivar? Or is it because due to her long-term association with the Hindu right-wing, Ms Vibha Rao has imbibed the patriarchal ethical values of the party she represents - the very same values of Hindutva that inspire the volunteers of Sri Ram Sena, who imposes moral policing in Mangalore and other parts of Karnataka.

But the data provided by the Delhi Police, I am sure, definitely does not include those rapes which are sanctified by religion and society, where the parents and heads of caste and religions force girls to marry against their willingness. These should also be treated as rape - especially when the girls are of very young age (even if they have just crossed the age limit prescribed by the law) - and punitive action should be initiated against the perpetrators – including parents. Most of the time the girls are forced into such marriages ‘to protect the honour’ of the family and even their caste. This is done to prevent the girls from marrying a person belonging to a group that is outside the limits prescribed by their caste and clan. In such cases the leaders of the Caste-Panchayat too get involved and they force the family to prevent such marriages from taking place. If not complied with the directions of the caste/clan leaders, their family is excommunicated – which is a terrible outcome for a family living in a village. If this is not enough, the caste leaders resort to violence too. [] This is the real story of Bharat proper, which the RSS chief has eulogized in his speech.

If you think this happens only in remote villages where the diktats of clan leaders prevail, you are mistaken. In Kerala, the ‘most progressive’ states in India, for instance, the caste/clan leaders do not call the shots any more in the sense that they do not unleash violence against the family or formally outcast them. However, the clannish mentality has permeated amongst the members of the castes to such a level that they need not require any such diktats. They obey the clan rules on their own. The victims are, of course, as usual, the girls.

I had a close experience of this hold of caste among the 'progressive Keralites' when one of the girls known to me fell in love with a boy belonging to a different caste (rather, sub-caste). The girl was 20 years old, just out of college. The boy (a college lecturer) belonged to a caste which the family of the girl’s father considered nominally inferior to their caste. With the help provided by the modern electronic gadgets (though not Internet – one of the targets of Ms Vibha Rao), their love blossomed. Like most lovers, they hid it from the family in the initial days. But when this was ultimately disclosed, there was a riot in the family. The girl was asked to stop this ‘unequal relationship’. There of course was an age gap of 10 years between the girl and the boy. But that was not the main irritant as far as her family was concerned – that was conveniently brought in only to justify, only for rationalizing, their caste/clan based prejudices. Since the girl was not willing, for whatever reason, to marry somebody without the cooperation of her parents, she gave up. But, fortunately, she was adamant on one thing. She would not marry anybody else soon – even to placate the clannish sentiments of her parents. She wanted to continue her higher education – no further questions to be asked. On this, she stood her ground. She continued her education according to her wishes. [True, this option is still not available to many girls in other parts of India. Kerala, in that sense, can still be proud of its progressive heritage].

About a century old progressive movements in Kerala however has not yet succeeded in removing the deep rooted caste prejudices in Kerala. If it is slowly losing its strangle hold over the masses, it is primarily because of the rapid urbanization taking place in the state - the very urbanization which the RSS chief now blames for violence against women.

A recent court order

Yet, everything is not gloomy. For instance, a recent order by Judge Kamini Lau of a Sessions Court in Delhi gives us hope. We quote the report filed by the correspondent of The Hindu (January 2, 2013) on this important judgement:

Jiby Kattakayam

Dismissing an anticipatory bail application moved by a maulvi, accused of forcing a young Muslim girl into a wedding with a married man who allegedly raped her subsequently, a sessions court here has slammed the cleric’s attempt to take refuge in religious tenets to justify his act.

While the prosecution said the maulvi forcibly performed the nikah, the maulvi claimed that the Shariah permitted a Muslim to keep four wives at a time and that the girl consented to the marriage.

However, Additional Sessions Judge Kamini Lau noted that the girl had not signed the marriage certificate. Her parents were not present, nor were there any witnesses. Further, the girl escaped from the man, who allegedly raped her after serving her intoxicants, the same day. The maulvi getting a stamp paper for the girl to sign purportedly consenting to the marriage was prima facie a “cover-up operation” on his part for indemnity from legal consequences and awareness of his committing an illegal act, the judge said.

Majesty of law prevails

On the Maulvi taking recourse to Shariah to justify polygamy, Ms. Lau said: “The Indian legal system provides sufficient space for religious freedom but whenever any such regressive religious practice come into conflict with the rights of the citizens as enshrined in the Indian Constitution, it becomes obligatory for courts to ensure that it is the majesty of law and the constitutional mandate which prevail.”

The judge also noted the maulvi’s failure to get the consent of the first wife of the man and to ascertain if he was capable of financially supporting both wives and their children. Ms. Lau said: “Jurists are unanimous that in Islamic societies polygamous marriages are permitted but only in certain circumstances, that is primarily in situations where a man's death has left his widows with no means or support… Polygamy is neither mandatory nor encouraged but merely permitted. The Koran’s conditional endorsement stresses that self-interest or sexual desire should not be the reason for entering into a polygamous marriage. It is a practice associated with the social duty of Islamic men to protect the social and financial standing of widows and orphans in their community.”

On the responsibilities of clerics, the judge said: “It is equally the duty of the religious heads, priests, maulvis and all those involved in propagating religion to ensure that the religious texts are progressively interpreted and to confirm that it is only those beneficial practices which are in the best interest of all sections of humanity which are encouraged and observed. However, it pains me to observe that instead, some of these religious heads/priests like the accused are often found to be indulging [in] and encouraging practices which are derogatory and regressive to women (particularly those belonging to the poor sections) which they do with impunity by seeking the cover of religion.”

The judge added: “Any person who is found indulging in such activities which are a moral, social and legal wrong and who exploits a woman by taking refuge in religion has to be taken to task.”


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