Saturday, September 30, 2006

Islam vs. Rest of the World II

Is Islam a violent religion?

I am neither a theology expert nor a historian. I would like to address this from a different angle. There are many articles, analysis, blogs written on this topic where the so-called experts dig into Mohammed’s personality, Koran, and Islamic history to find selected examples and instances to justify their accusation that indeed this religion is mired in violence.

Let’s compare the founders of some of the religions. These days Mohammed is considered a violent man by other religions. I want to understand if his personality has any bearing on how Islam has transformed itself into fifteen hundred years later. Agreed, this religion came into existence in violent and oppressive conditions prevailing at that time. Does that mean this religion is destined to be violent forever? Even if we were to assume Mohammed was a violent man (for the sake of the discussion) does that mean being violent is a second nature to the people of this religion?

If this explanation is so true, then people of each faith should act accordingly with the character of their founder, their holy book and their history. Let’s look at Christianity- their founder (Jesus) is supposedly a mild and loving character, but just look at its history- it’s written in blood from the time of its inception- they put to stake everyone they didn’t like or agree with. They blamed Jews for the punishment induced to Jesus and that stigma legitimized persecution of this people for two thousand years which culminated in Holocaust- the greatest crime humanity has ever committed. The Bible, which itself has undergone many changes, is considered milder, benevolent and all-loving compared to Koran (by the same so-called experts). Why then did we have Crusades which upheld massacre of other religions to uphold a god who preached love? Why then did we have Inquisition where the choice was to convert or die? How does one explain the completely opposite nature of if followers and its history founded by someone who is considered a pious man? Let’s take another case. Buddha is supposedly a very gentle person and is known for his pacifism, but just look at what Japanese have done in WWII, look at what Khmer Rouge did to its people, look at what Mao did to intellectuals, and now look at what Sinhalese do to Hindu Tamilians? As suggested by these experts, if the followers were to take on the nature of its founders, I should expect Japan to be extremely pacifist in its history and all Christians to be mild and loving. But somehow I don’t see that. There is no correlation. Therefore, I discard the explanation that a religion and its people are in anyway similar to its founder.

Another favorite accusation that is thrown at the present-day Islam is that Muslims intend to convert everyone into Islam- "they propose to convert every kafir to make this whole world one large Ummah". If I look at our history, I see many occasions when Muslim rulers could have put this into action and by now we should have seen a much higher population of Muslims than what we actually see. India despite being ruled for many centuries by Muslim rulers is predominantly Hindu. Though Muslims ruled a great portion of Europe, it is still predominantly Christian. Even the holy land which came under Islamic rule has people of many faiths. If Muslims had this agenda written in Koran, and if they were so focused on achieving this, they should have converted all these populations under their rule. In comparison, I see effective drives from Christianity which has been able to convert most of Western Roman Empire into Christians kicking out the Moors, who were the last Muslims in that region, five hundred years ago. I see an effective Orthodox Christianity which is still fresh and young and is thriving in the Russia and East Europe. It took less than three hundred years to make whole of South America completely Christian. In contrast, Jews, who were persecuted in every Christian kingdom, were given homage and better protection in the Muslim world. The argument that only Islam inherently believes in converting every one on the earth is untenable. Each religions consolidated itself in different geographies as much as Islam.

Coming to religious texts, Yes, I do agree that Koran has aggressive tones when it comes to dealing with people of other faiths- but again they have been interpreted differently in different times. For every aggressive sentence in Koran, there is an equivalent sentence which instills responsibility and equanimity on its followers to other kinds of people. Idolatry as pagan practice was definitely abolished initially but over a period of time, Islam co-existed with other major religions in peace. While the Christian world was plunging itself into Dark Ages, it was the Muslim world which kept the torch of enlightenment lighting, which it later handed over to Western Europe to pave the way for Renaissance, Age of Reason and Age of Enlightenment, and to eventually Modern Science.

If religious text is the core reason why Islam is violent, then every Buddhist state should be extremely pacifist (like Tibet), and every Christian state should be people-loving. I don’t see that in their history. Each religion irrespective of its text has been aggressive, brutal and violent at some times, and benevolent, caring and peace-promoting at other times, in almost similar proportions. Therefore, I tend to disagree with the explanation that religious texts shape the nature of its followers.

The reasons why some of the Muslims of the present-day are violent are found elsewhere. Looking for answers in the nature of its founder, its religious text and nature of its history is futile and completely useless. The Rest of the World, instead of waking up to recognize its posture and stance, rectify its mistakes, admit its wrongs, is unnecessarily trying to find faults, flaws and explanations in the origins and practices of Islam. Rest of the World has to realize that ‘problem with Islam’ is rooted in certain historic mishaps, prolonged mistakes, and continued alienation that it has imposed onto Islam in the last hundred years. Only when this Rest of the World wakes up to admit it and take measures to correct itself shall we see Islamic world take a step back and be at peace with itself and the Rest of the World.

Update: October 05, 2006

Polite Indian discusses various religious texts and their violent content

Friday, September 29, 2006

Islam vs. Rest of the World

Will Hinduism be considered a violent religion because LTTE happens to be made of Hindus? Will all Africans be called barbaric race because certain Rwandans, Somalis, Sudanese, happen to massacre people? Will all Indo-China people be considered butcher clan because Khmer Rouge cropped everyone they didn't like? Yes, one can. As seen from recent trends across the world, Islam is termed a violent religion because some Muslims happen to be terrorists.

In different times of history different civilizations and religions behaved differently. How did Spanish behave when they encountered Native population in South America? How did Vikings behave when they entered the towns of Mainland Europe? How did Hindus behave when they heard that their beloved Prime Minister was assassinated by a Sikh? Each of them behaved quite barbarically. They had their time. The problem with history is that each civilization acted barbarically at some point of time or the other.

However, that doesn’t justify the actions of so called ‘Islamic’ terrorists, who conveniently use religion to further their actions. Yes, let’s all agree that there is a problem we are all facing- from different kinds of terrorists, Islamic (in different parts of the world), Hindu (India and Sri Lanka), Irish (quite inactive these days), and few others. But mostly the incidents that comes to mind are the activities of Islamic terrorists – because such incidents are more in number and widespread and also because media highlights them more than others.

To explain such incidents from a narrow scheme of things, one might explain the history from our perspective and find all faults with Islam because it is the most common element across many of these activities.

While another historian looking at the course of history from a broader perspective may conclude quite differently. This historian would see conflicts appear and disappear in different parts of the world each spanning hundred to two hundred years on an average. He would see Romans wiping out one culture after other through force, brutality and punishment [Roman Empire]. He would see a great Indian King invade and massacre different regions of the sub-continent to consolidate his empire [King Ashoka]. He would see a great horde from Central Asia descending on the world again and again to massacre people and burn cities to ground committing horrendous crimes against humanity [Chengiz Khan]. He would see Christians lining up again and again to reclaim the Holy Land and kill Muslims in the name of Crusades. He would see some more Christians cleansing their land of heretics- that include Jews, Muslims and other-kinds-of-Christians through Insurrection. He would also see Jews chased from one kingdom to another for nearly two thousand years by the same Christians. He would see bloody conquests in different lands made on the name of religion, race, culture, etc.

In the recent history, this historian would see White man commit the grave crimes on the name of ‘white man’s burden’ to rule more than half the earth [Colonial Period]. He would see another White Man going against all religions to put millions to death through his new and effective methods of killing and torturing people [Adolf Hitler]. He would see the Colonial masters relinquish their responsibility to give up the lands to native people by carving up nations leaving many natives unhappy. Then he would see two giants fight against each other an ideological war leaving behind a host lot of problems [Cold War]. He has looked at each culture, civilization, religion behaving differently at different times.

He would then look at the recent events that affected the Muslim world after the fall of Ottoman Empire. In one incident, for no crime of theirs, Muslims were asked to vacate their lands to accommodate a new set of people, that have come back to reclaim their ancestral property after two thousand years [recreation of Israel]. In most parts of the world, if you live on a land for thousand years it becomes yours- but not for Palestine. The world which committed the biggest crime of humanity hung its face in shame and in an effort to make amends pushed Palestine people away to accommodate the victims (the Jews).

In what is seen as a new world order, Hindus got their share of dignity through Indian Independence, Western Christians maintained their economic domination after two world wards, Orthodox Christians got their own nations in Russia and East Europe, African tribes were left on their own by the fleeing colonial masters, South Americans got their own nations by Simon Bolivar and Che Guevara, Asians carved their nations on the name of cultures and religions. The people who would be left behind most disheartened after this are certain sections of Muslims. And this historian would now see these people venting out their anger and frustration in different forms of protest- starting from mild criticism to outright terrorism and war.

While the world was dividing itself up into nation states after the era of kingdoms and empires, some of the Muslims got crushed, lost their identity or were left as appendages to these newly formed nation states. Discovery of black gold in Middle East has resulted in an intervention from the White Christian countries where in every democratic institution was suppressed to supplant them with dictators and kings who acted more as puppets of their masters in the West rather than represent their own people. Partition of India resulted in unresolved conflict which conflagrated time and again [in Kashmir]. West, in an effort to contain erstwhile Soviet Union during Cold War, used Afghanistan as the battle ground by promoting Islamic radicalism as the unifying factor amongst all kinds of Muslim people. When Soviet Union broke up to throw out many republics, some Muslim regions could not sever themselves to form their own identity and they continue to fight [in Chechnya].

In the new world order that came about after WWI and WWII, Muslims felt they were cheated out by everyone- the Christian West, the Hindus, the Russians, etc. They are disillusioned with their own representatives and their own leaders who seem to suck up to foreign masters. The only thing that came as a solace is their religion. In this religion and its teachings, they search for words of hope. In the words of Koran and its translations by religious mullahs they take refuge. In their religion they derive their strength to fight those who put them to shame, who razed their homes to ground, who put the rockets into the hands of their young kids, who put landmines inside and outside their towns, who take their freedom away from them, who used them in sectarian wars, who exploited them for their oil, etc. Now, they fight back. They fight back with the only weapon they have- their religion. And they participate in all kinds of protest- some show discontent, criticize, rally and strike, while few others terrorize, murder, kidnap, all in the name of that religion. Each of them, the mild protester to the rabid suicide killer has sympathy from this Muslim world. Every act of defiance, whether it is a strong speech at UN or a bomb blast at an embassy, is a way of venting out the frustration of this Muslim world.

While the rest of the world accuses the religion and its founders of spreading evil, the acts of defiance garner more support, even the moderates and liberal now join hands. While the world bombs them to smithereens (in Iraq and Afghanistan), it only makes them more resolute in their defiance. When the world quells and suppresses them every where in the name of ‘War on Terror’ the Muslim feels like a Jew of WWII being led to a concentration camp.

Our historian who is looking at this from a broader perspective concludes- “In the great war of twentieth century around 50 million people were persecuted by one nation race. Now, in the new War on Terror almost a billion people are persecuted by hundreds of nation states”. He wonders- “Ah! The Dinosaurs lasted for 300 million years. The ‘smarter’ Humans may not even last 100,000 years. I wonder if the next species would be ‘smarter’ than Humans. They may not last even a hundred years!”

I wonder if every intelligent species on other planets did the same when it came to its extinction- accuse each other and blast each other out into space instead of reconciling! No wonder we don’t seem to find intelligence anywhere else! May be, they were ‘smarter’ than us and hence might have knocked themselves out much sooner and much faster!

I have only one thing to say- Vent out all you anger and spew the venom and accuse each other, blast each other out and bomb everyone you don’t like. We don’t have much time left and you don’t want to waste it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Adolf Hitler and Indians II

[I posted my article Adolf Hitler and Indians at Based on various comments I received I thought I should explain myself for what is seen as a far-fetched opinion.]

My hypothesis that there is a correlation between the groups carrying the stated sentiments may appear far-fetched only because no study or survey has been done to check this. I have expressed my opinion, which comes from my experiences talking to and interacting with different people on these topics, that there is an underlying belief system which is common to all these groups- a sense of supremacy, fear of other kinds of people, and lack of tolerance towards opposing views. People who harbor these beliefs do not find it difficult to admire a person like Adolf Hitler- consciously or subconsciously. Compounded with the problem of lack of formal education of WWII crimes, it becomes even easier to admire him. While it is very natural for many in India to harbor anti-Muslim feelings, anti-reservation sentiments, and admiration for Hitler (which are seemingly innocuous and disparate), I find that such feelings are based on certain innate prejudices (those that I listed above) which when harbored for too long can become extremely dangerous- as seen from pre-Nazi or any pre-fascist movement. Those who harbor these sentiments are not necessarily evil- but without their conscious knowledge they are feeding into those elements that could be evil (in future). Not knowing the consequences of harboring, nurturing and promoting certain prejudices could (sometimes) lead to catastrophic consequences, as seen from history.

Most fascist movements started with a growing sense of nationalism, a sense of pride in what they or what their ancestors were, an effort to consolidate religion or culture, with sporadic skirmishes with other kind of people who do not conform, a need to prove one’s patriotism by following certain agreed symbols, and later on fueled by the elite who define the whole movement through philosophical texts giving the needed legitimacy. There are signs of all these in the present India, and were there for quite some time now. What is new and therefore looks ominous is the convergence of other necessary ingredients to make this fascist movement a reality- a growing sense of supremacy amongst middle class and academia that is buoyed by booming economy; the urgent need to identify oneself closer to pristine religion because of rapid urbanization and globalization; the growing lack of tolerance towards opposing views; the all pervading instrument of media which airs its opinions to masses; reinterpreting history to suit the present needs of supremacy; redefining and reinventing ancient texts to position Vedic Sciences as an alternative to modern science, etc. At present, most of these sentiments look very confined to certain organizations like VHP, BJP, Bajrang Dal and its associated groups. Actually, most Hindus do not subscribe to the activities of VHP, BJP, Bajrang Dal, etc. They may not necessarily be aligning themselves with these groups either, but some of them are definitely sympathetic. By condoning their acts, or by staying silent on their acts, or by being ambivalent about them, we as Hindus are allowing certain prejudices to grow. It will catch up in a generation or two.

I believe that it is the Dawn of Indian Hindu Fascism because I see the seeds for such convergence happening right now. I could be completely wrong. That would be good for all of us. If it is indeed right, is it not better to take right precautions instead of brushing it aside?

All I am saying is- 'Hey! Wake up India! Don't harbor these sentiments and fuel them thinking it will be harmless. Such seemingly harmless sentiments in the past have led to great tragedies. If you do not curb them now, in another generation or so, we will have bloody war on this land unlike anything we have seen in our history!' What did we learn from Partition of India? I am not really sure. The only man who predicted how tragic the surgery would be, we shot him right away. Will people of India react to certain event as a monolithic rock? Yes, they can. The Indian masses can suddenly ignore all the apparent differences and amalgamate into distinct entity to take on another entity. Our history showcases many instances of such sudden joining of forces that resulted in blood baths. The forces that unite them will be the slowly brewing set of prejudices.

In a democracy, such prejudices and hatred cannot be curbed with force. Instead, it is the responsibility of the people itself to learn from history, teach kids of history and install mature institutions to ensure continuity of its people/nation/culture/religion/etc. Onus of learning and accommodating to set a precedent, unfortunately, always resides on the majority. Forcing and shoving certain ideals onto minorities will only ensure that they hate us forever. Glorification of the past while deliberately avoiding learning from our mistakes is one way to go about it. How about cross-examining our actions and belief systems of the past that led to major flashpoints?

I am not comparing anyone or any group to Adolf Hitler or his Nazi Party. Correlation is not comparison. In India, admiration for Adolf Hitler is not considered bad (and that’s why people admire him), and therefore my hypothesis cannot be assumed to be an attempt to show someone in bad light. It is not an attempt to insult or demonize someone either. I think it is a sincere attempt to ask some hard questions for us to check if indeed such correlation exists. If so, what dangers do we see in continuing to harbor such sentiments? Dismissing it right away will not allow us to even think about it. At the end it is just a hypothesis – and any statistics or survey can dispel it. My intention was to elicit introspection from Indians- not another tirade of defense and excuses. When a nation does not question itself or criticize itself by learning from history, it tends to brush off all the signs of danger and repeat similar mistakes of the past.

I thought Hitler was necessary in this discussion because that’s what Germans did- they harbored and condoned each of Nazi actions, and contributed to WWII and Holocaust by being silent. The seeds for tragedies were sown many years before, through harboring such seemingly innocuous sentiments by ordinary and normal people - starting from creating new philosophies, nurturing growing nationalism, curbing opposing views and thoughts, accusing certain people for all evils, etc. Who in post-WWI Germany would have predicted such a calamity would befall on whole world? Who in pre-Nazi Germany believed they would actually be running a concentration camp? There were signs everywhere but nobody chose to read them. Those who did were first ignored and then brushed aside and later on were shot dead or asked to leave.

I could have easily taken any other example- that of Stalin, that of Mussolini, that of Mao, that of Khmer Rouge, or of the recent genocide in Rwanda. Hitler, his Nazi regime, the Holocaust and WWII represent the best examples- they are gigantic in proportion and also most well-known.

I agree that a blogger has to be responsible. Having said that- should I refrain from writing my thoughts just because it will put us Indians in the negative light? Questioning one’s prejudices helps. And while we are questioning ourselves against all yard-sticks, we need not be worried as to how others think of us. Questioning ourselves is only the first step towards building a mature state. Just ponder over this- where do you find the biggest critics of US? And where do we find the biggest critics of Britain? (My answers are- in US and Britain respectively).

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Lage Raho Munnabhai

I saw this movie two days ago, and I think this is one of the greatest Indian movies. Kudos to Raju Hirani! He is one of the very few people in India that I would love to meet and chat in my lifetime. The others being Abdul Kalam and Pranay Roy.

I rate most of the Indian movies very low and don’t watch too many of them. For me, the top criterion for judging an Indian movie is ‘originality’. Both Munnabhai movies (MBBS and Lage Raho) score 100% on this. What stumped me when I watched the first one was its freshness- it was completely original with no pretense and no clichés drawn from other successful Hollywood or Indian movies. The second one is even better. It’s extremely hard for most Indian movie makers to handle a serious topic such as this. They made a mess with both Bhagat Singh movies. I came out of the movies having lower respect for Azad and gang than what I had. The director did a lousy job. Most other Indian movies- present and past could not handle serious issues very well- they lost out on what they wanted to convey.

Here is a great movie. Lage Raho kept the audience enthralled and captivated in its grip- the director took me (and other audience) through all the highs and lows, through extremely sentimental stuff and then within a minute to boisterous laughter. He played with me like popcorn tossing in a popcorn-making machine and I allowed him to do that. I was sad, I was happy, I laughed to my heart’s content, and thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

Conveying the message of Mahatma Gandhi to the present generation is extremely tough. His image is eroding very fast and he is becoming less and less of an entity in Indian scheme of things. However, Raju Hirani took this extremely tough message and conveyed it to Indian masses through his favorite characters- Munnabhai and Circuit. The screenplay was excellent. There was not a single moment when I felt distracted or got bored- I was just glued to the screen all the time. The banter, the language, and his new words- Gandhigiri, etc, are fresh once again. He has built up each character with great care and the actors live up to their unique characters.

By tying up Gandhian messages with modern India- old people drink beer and party in Goa, the protagonist being a Gandhian (in contemporary sense) resorts to drinking liquor, the director has made Gandhi valid in our lives once again without losing his core and original message. By touching upon dignity of work, relevance of truth and satyagraha in contemporary world, discarding superstitious works like Vaastu, Astrology and Numerology, Raju Hirani captured real Gandhi (without other idiosyncratic practices that seem to bother many people).

Must watch!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Why Muslims do not sing Vande Mataram?

[This is my feeble attempt to understand ‘other kind’ of people. I could be wrong in some of my assumptions about certain religions. If that is case, please let me know]. I already wrote another blog titled ‘On singing Vande Mataram’.

Indian Hindus ask:

“Why do Muslims object to singing our National Song- which is the symbol of our Freedom Movement? Why don’t they realize that it is a song more about our nation and less about Goddess Durga? Are they Muslim first and Indian next? Is their allegiance towards their religion and not towards India? Why don’t they keep nation above religion like us?”

There is a tendency in India (as elsewhere) to assume that the ‘way the majority behaves’ is the right way and that others should just conform to it. For Hindus, may be, religion is secondary compared to nationality. For Muslims, religion is their biggest identity- which is supposedly constant, unchanging and permanent for many millennia. For them, nations, states, kingdoms and other allegiances change with time while religion remains the same. They attach more importance to religion and its interpretation compared to a nation and its interpretation. The failure to understand this aspect of Islam will result in confusion. Being tolerant is the ability to understand why certain cultures, religions and people behave the way they behave and accept it. Just because Muslims consider religion to be supreme it does NOT mean they are NOT patriotic. Allegiance to religion and then to a nation/state is quite practical and NOT mutually exclusive. For many Hindus this may sound alien, but Muslims have been practicing this for ages. In the same way, for many monotheistic religious people it may seem alien to see Hindus praying to so many gods, demi-gods and human-gods. There is a need to understand that expressions, practices and rituals are different for different kinds of people. Imposing one’s idea of what is right onto others will cause friction. There is NO necessity to conform to majority’s expression and practice to show one’s patriotism or loyalty. What if someone refuses to sing Vande Mataram because he hates Bengali? Does that make him unpatriotic? Don’t Sikh soldiers wear turban (unlike majority soldiers) and still be patriotic? Muslims do not seem to have a problem singing National Anthem, another symbol to prove one’s patriotism; so isn’t that proof enough?

Now, let’s look at it in another way- What if certain majority define the practice of 'eating beef' as one of the rituals to express one’s patriotism and make it a national symbol- will the higher caste chaste Hindus who practice strict vegetarianism be willing to eat beef just to prove they are patriotic? And if those Hindus refuse to eat beef arguing that patriotism has nothing to do with 'eating beef', will others accuse them of mixing nationalism and religious-caste identity?

Muslims have always opposed (not only in India but also in other Islamic countries) deification of a nation. According to them it is idolatry. Calling rain as rain-god, monkey as monkey-god, or a nation as Goddess Durga (Bharat Mata) might come easy and sound completely innocuous to Hindus, but it is considered un-Islamic by most Muslims. The very foundation of Islam was made on breaking away from such pagan worships- wherein all forms of anthropomorphism are discarded. To ask or request Muslims to sing a song or practice a ritual that deifies nation (as human) is tantamount to worshipping idols which goes against basic tenets of Islam. Muslims have no problem respecting the Nature and the Nation, but they will not pray to it. Is that so hard to accept? While Hindus can pray to almost anything- including a rock, animal, natural event, or human, Muslims do not. While Muslims can eat beef, some high caste and chaste Hindus do not. The failure to understand such belief systems and practices will result in false expectations and hence disappointment. It is nothing to do with patriotism.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dawn of Indian Hindu fascism

Move over world, here we come!

Malegaon blasts killed 35 Muslims. I fear this is just the dawn of Indian Hindu fascist and terrorist activities. I fear we will witness many more events like these. I believe that unless we make conscious efforts to root out the prejudices (that are being encouraged by all quarters of society) things will only deteriorate. The coming years will prove extremely dangerous for all Indian minorities. Indian Hindus are flexing their muscles riding the wave of good economy and massive military buildup; they are getting bolder; they want to dominate; they want to correct perceived mistakes of the past- and nothing will stop them but for themselves.

For many years, I have been looking at different events in India in isolation- bringing down of Babri Masjid, army rule in Kashmir, anti-reservation protests, negligible scientific output from premier institutions, growing belief in astrology, numerology and vaastu shastra, glorification of Azad, Bhagat Singh and Netaji, denouncement of Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals, urbanization and its fallout, BPO industry and new youth culture, overemphasis on marks and merits, lack of formal education in social awareness and responsibility, etc. Now I am beginning to see a consistent pattern in all of these. I am yet to formalize my hypothesis but I am beginning to get a hang of it. And the more I think about it and relate them to each other, a picture seems to emerge. What I see I don’t like it. In fact, I am very afraid.

Yes, next hundred years will see India dominate. Domination will come from economic institutions- takeovers and acquisitions of foreign firms, followed by cultural and scientific export, and may even result in military expansion. But what kind of domination will it be? Are we geared to be the drivers and are we mature enough to take up the responsibility that comes with that domination? What message are we going to send out to our minorities and the rest of world? What culture will we inculcate in our future generations? Will we spread our intolerance and caste-divisions as well? Will we topple the scientific temperament with Vedic sciences? Will we bring back the supremacist theories based on race and creed by citing ancient scriptures?

We are just beginning to flex our muscles. All these years we waited, we endured and suffered- we were ruled by many foreigners, one after the other. We are angry because we just couldn’t put up a resistance- we succumbed way too easily. When a proud nation which stresses on superior hereditary attributes and proud heritage is made to kneel and suffer, it stores up all the hurt, and this pent up hurt will spew venom far more dangerous than the endured suffering itself. You can see a parallel in Jews of Israel. Their sufferings of two thousand years which culminated in Holocaust has now manifested in outright dominance. There is a feeling that the suffering they have endured has given them a license to dominate, invade and be ruthless – ‘Look! We suffered way too much, now don’t stop us from doing what we believe is our fight to survive- even if that means killing other kinds of people!” Indian Hindus, who are proud, because they were born straight from Brahman (supreme god) himself, always felt they were so superior that they didn’t even have to go out of this sub-continent. Their works, Ramayana, Vedas and Arthashastra were so superior they thought intelligence and complex mental work was some thing that was unique to them. Brahmanical interpretation of such supremacy was codified into our religion resulting in caste based divisions which will survive another thousand years. When such proud people are invaded, pillaged and forced into subjugation by these supposedly inferior foreigners for far too long, the pent up suffering will manifest in outright domination when given a chance. We are just beginning to see that in action.

Indian fascism is being fueled by Hindutva ideology fostering supremacist theories and by the elite academia embracing Vedic sciences. By rejecting scientific and secular modernism imported from West as ‘Westernization’, educated Indians are looking for answers in ancient Indian texts to combat everything West has introduced. There is a large scale cultural revivalism and re-traditionalism happening across this nation. The argument goes- “If you have astrophysics, cosmology and physics, we have Vedas and Upanishads; if you have astronomy, we have astrology; if you have modern medicine, we have Ayurveda; if you have Adam Smith and Karl Marx, we have Arthashastra; if you have traffic engineering and sanitary planning, we don’t believe in all that, we have our own version of environmentalism where in environment and we co-exist; we don’t believe in your empiricism, we can just meditate under a tree and skip the whole Age of Reason and Age of Enlightenment to come to the same conclusions without the need for Quantum Physics and Theory of Relativity. We are a proud culture that has all the answers and now we will teach it to alien religions of India (Christians and Muslims) and then export it to the rest of the world.” I have always believed that while Science gives us questions that we cannot answer, religion provides answers to the questions we have not even asked. And now, it looks like our ancient culture has answers to all the questions- including flight, time travel, atomic bomb and quantum physics.

We already influence nearby geographies by exporting our culture through movies, songs and religion. What kind of culture are we going to export in next hundred years when we start to dominate? Are we ready for this responsibility? We have not invested in mature institutions – like responsible Parliament, a good debate, tolerance of opposing views, healthy research organizations, institutes that uphold citizen freedoms, fair judiciary, etc. We burn up the books that we don’t like, bring down the paintings that we don’t understand, and shut down movies we have never seen. And if we get a chance, we will bring down other people’s houses of worship and blast them while they are praying.

Indian Hindus want Ram Rajya back. What does it mean? Does it mean- let Brahmins control education and the bureaucracy, let Kshatriyas rule govern, let Vaishyas manage businesses, trade and wealth, let Shudras be kicked out of schools to concentrate on menial work, let Dalits be kicked out of all cities and towns, and let other religions be kicked out of the country (because they didn’t exist during the time of Rama)?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Adolf Hitler and Indians

I am about to make a wild hypothesis here. I believe that of all the countries and cultures in the world, India would be hosting highest number of admirers of Adolf Hitler. I don’t have any statistical evidence and I don’t have access to an online poll either. But I am confident that if there was a poll of such sort, India would rank #1. [Later, I added an update at the bottom]
After WWII, the Allied forces spent great efforts to educate most of the warring nations the evils of Nazism (and other associated radical nationalism and fascism). The countries that lost out- Germany, Austria, Japan, etc, started growing up to new teachings where belligerent notions of fascism and nationalism were shown in negative light. Most of the modern Europe condemns everything that Nazism represents (barring some miniscule neo-Nazis scattered here and there). The whole of North America, under the influence of USA and Canada have inculcated in its people a feeling of hatred for Adolf Hitler. Japan, growing up under the influence of US and other allies, has also given up its fascination for its aggressive imperialism. Other regions like Soviet Union, China, South East Asia, East Europe, Western Europe, having suffered the war renounced everything that Nazism represented. Most of these countries hate or dislike Adolf Hitler. There is no reason why anyone in Africa would like him either (he thought they were subhuman).

Of the big geographies and populations, this leaves South America and India. While some of the countries like Brazil and Argentina did give refuge to ex-Nazis to settle down in their countries, they have, in the modern times, renounced that support (coming under pressure from other parts of the world).

This leaves India in a unique position. India did not face the war directly though many of its soldiers participated in WWII and won great victories in different parts of the world. Not only do we not relate ourselves to this war, we do not even talk about our soldier’s achievements in this war. It is more to do with our nationalistic political agenda that sought to highlight specific Indian contributions while suppressing other achievements. During WWII, our nationalist leaders coming from all ideologies (who were fighting for Independence) were not keen on supporting British overtly though many Indian soldiers recruited themselves into the war – in fact a whopping 2.5 million of them (the biggest volunteer force) participated in that war. And now for the interesting part- Japan’s biggest army defeat (till then), which actually stopped their war machine on land, was at the hands of Indian Army (under British). This happened on the Indo-Burmese border in which more than 55,000 soldiers of Japan died in a single battle. After defeating China, the whole of Indo-China, Singapore, Malaysia and Burma, the Japanese war machine looked invincible but was stopped by the Indian Army through a massive defeat! Indian soldiers player a pivotal role in WWII, and we do not even talk about it!

Why do we not glorify this achievement? There are two reasons for this. First, we are caught in a weird dilemma. Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose (who should be pardoned for his naiveté) chose to support this invading Japanese Army, renowned for its war crimes and occupation brutalities (which included rape of Manchuria and Indo-China), while the Indian soldiers were fighting this invading army on the Indian border. His support of Japanese Army puts us in a weird position. Netaji is the symbol for our aggressive movement for Independence. All those quarters and sections who were disenchanted with non-violence movement (promoted by Mahatma Gandhi) sought refuge in this militant ideology. Netaji is idolized for a strong and aggressive militant posture and most of us in India have grown up revering Netaji. Hence the contradiction- how can we glorify Indian Army under British which defeated the Japanese Army supported by Netaji and his INA? Conveniently, we decided to completely ignore our participation, role and involvement in WWII and instead chose to highlight achievements of INA (Indian National Army). Who cares if some hundreds of thousands of nameless Indians died in this war? We wanted our idols (in Netaji and INA) and we got them. As a conscious decision, Indian people and its government chose to highlight the not-so-grand achievements of INA and Subhas Chandra Bose while meticulously ignoring the momentous achievements of Indian soldiers in WWII.
Second, we are fascinated with anyone approving anything Indian. Most Indians look way back into past, almost thousands years back, searching for moments of glory and grandeur, which is starkly missing in the contemporary history. Indians are extremely proud of their ancestry and wallow and bask in the dim warmth the ancient glory provides. The present is far too depressing lacking in any achievements. So, if any foreign country or people or author show respect for our ancient history and our past contributions, we just love it. We love Germany, not because we are related to them in anyway but because they included us in some weird research of theirs to conclude that Indians are Aryans and Germans are Aryans too. For once, we got a chance to be proud that such ‘great culture and country like Germans’ are in fact our brothers. Don’t we all know that even the infamous Swastika is borrowed from us? Lacking in formal exposure and education to events of WWII, many Indians do not know the exact crimes committed by Nazis, and even if they do, they completely ignore it the way they desensitize themselves to all the miseries of India- roadside begging kids, colossal garbage piling up next to their home, dying people from malnutrion, etc. We have developed a habit of conveniently shutting our senses when we want to. We developed a glorified image of Adolf Hitler and we see only the positives of Nazi regime- like fastest industrial growth, discipline of their armies and execution, fast paced occupation, and enmity towards British (who were our rulers). Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ is sold everywhere in India and is one of the popular books amongst college going students. Nowadays, we have restaurants and brands named after Adolf Hitler. Many Indians, both young and old, admire and glorify Adolf Hitler and many vouch that someone like him is required for India to correct things. I have not seen this much fascination and admiration for Adolf Hitler in any other community, culture or society.

In addition to the above hypothesis, I would like to make another far-fetched conjecture. I believe that there is a great correlation between the groups who admire Adolf Hitler, the groups who hate or think low of Muslims, and those who are against reservations. Here, I constructed a small picture to illustrate this correlation.
What are Anti-Muslim sentiments?

There are many Indians, especially Hindus, who feel there is something wrong with Muslims. These negative sentiments come in different gradations- from mere dislike or contempt to downright hatred. 

How are these feelings expressed? Say, you tell someone that you have a Muslim roommate. The reaction is- “Really? How come? Did you not find anyone else?” OR something like, “So, do you guys get along?” A person who has a good experience with a Muslim officer/attendant comes home to relate it- “Though he was a Muslim, he was really nice to me. He helped me out today”. There is an innate assumption that they are not friendly and that you can’t get along with them - and those you can get along are exceptions. Another person says, “I have a Muslim friend. But he is very different though. He does not go to Mosque and all that. He is not a typical Muslim. He is very good.” The prevailing feeling is that devout and typical Muslims are somehow not easy to get along. On the other extreme are people who think that most of the evils of Indian society exist because of Muslims (very synonymous to how Nazis blamed certain sections of people for all evils of their society). They believe that Muslims should have gone to Pakistan during Partition- and they even blame Mahatma Gandhi and other founding fathers for allowing them to stay back in India. Most of them complain that our minorities are unnecessarily pandered and believe that excessive concessions are doled out to them.

Most moderate Hindus may not harbor much ill-will but they are fine as long as they see a Muslim as a grocer, a laborer, or auto-driver, but not in their regular life. Their attitude is more like – “Well, they exist, but not in our midst. Let’s keep it that way”. Just ask yourself, how many Muslims do you see in any of the top colleges or IT companies? Do they comprise 12-14% as our demographics suggest? (In my experience, most often they constitute less than 1%). How many of them are in your apartment complex? 

Those who hate Muslims find their voice and expression in some of the political and militant outfits- like VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and the BJP. Is it a coincidence that these groups comprise mostly upper caste leaders? Also, just look at the well-to-do NRI lobbies in US – most of them are anti-Muslim. (According to my experiences, around 90% of Indians living in US share negative sentiments towards Muslims.)

Most of this hatred is founded in the following: 

Feeling of superiority (based on certain attributes of birth, legacy and history)
Fear of other types of people – other religions and caste
Lack of familiarity with other types of people, their culture, their mannerisms, their dress sense, language, family lifestyle, etc.

Most chaste Hindu communities forbid their kids mingling closely with Muslim kids. The Muslims go to different kind of schools and somehow are not part of the mainstream. It’s as if they are living in a different India altogether. The IT revolution which brought many Hindus to cities like Bangalore somehow seems to have completely skipped this community. The villages in Hindu also have distinct hierarchy towards these communities akin to the Indian caste system. The history also suggests that majority of the Muslims converted from lower castes in India.

What are Anti-reservations views?

These are harbored by most upper caste Hindus in India. According to my experiences, almost 80% of Indian upper caste seems to hold anti-reservation views- ranging from overt protests to mild disapprobation. The remaining 20% are labeled socialists and communists and hence dismissed as exceptions. The sentiments range from- “No, there should be no reservations based on caste”, to “Yes, there should be reservations even for poor upper caste”. An upper-caste Hindu confesses - “I didn’t know his caste till yesterday and I was happily friends with him. But yesterday I got to know that he belongs to lower caste (because of ‘reservations’ issue) and now I feel differently about him”. Many from this group believe that they held the upper-caste status because they were better off in mental faculties while the menial jobs were relegated to other castes – and since they were superior it was natural that this segregation should have happened (very similar to Nazi ideology that certain races are superior and hence should have access to more resources). They rationalize their higher presence in universities and employment stating that they are meritorious and hence deserving. There is an innate belief that some castes are superior to others because they have certain attributes passed on hereditarily (or genetically?). And this belief is conveniently codified into our religion itself. 

Ideas of Adolf Hitler, that certain groups are superior to others and hence deserve better, that ‘other kind’ of people are inferior and hence need to give up resources, that a certain section is to be blamed for all evils of society, are reflected in both anti-reservation sentiments and anti-Muslim feelings. Modern India is witnessing a growing sense of superiority complex in most upper-caste Hindus. These sentiments are being fueled by many political outfits and associated organizations (like RSS, BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, etc) which blatantly foment Hindu supremacist ideology; they are also supported and encouraged by elite Indian media which is comprised of upper-caste Hindus; and most unfortunately, a large section of educated Indians, in their attempt to rediscover India’s superior contributions by showcasing how our religion, history and sciences were always superior to that of West (no wonder they attempt to equate Vedas to modern science) also fuel these supremacist sentiments including anti-reservations protests. No wonder I see a great correlation between these groups- those who admire and revere Adolf Hitler, those who oppose reservations, and those who dislike Muslims.

I could be completely wrong in my hypothesis. If any statistics or surveys prove that I am wrong, I would be the happiest. But if the surveys indeed prove that I am closer to being right, then there is a far greater danger- that most of our prejudices are coming from the same innate belief system which is based on a sense of supremacy, fear of unknown and intolerance of diversity. This only means we have much bigger problems ahead in this country. If we do not tackle these issues consciously as a society, we will be forced into another surgical procedure or a civil war- far bloodier than any thing we have experienced in our history.

Update: (22 Dec 2006)

An article, "Hitler the trendy tyrant in India", says- In Gujarat, textbooks have praised Hitler's leadership abilities, fascism and the Nazi movement. Until recently, state social studies textbooks have featured chapters on "Hitler, the Supremo" and "Internal Achievements of Nazism." The textbooks have been changed slightly this year but still barely mention the Holocaust.

Update: (29 Sep 2006)
Update: (10 Sep 2006)
A recent article in the Times of India, Mumbai reported on a poll of students from India's premier academic institutions about the country's political future. 17% of the students polled, favoured Hitler as the ideal model for the kind of leader India ought to have. The present Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was ahead of Hitler at number two and oddly, Gandhi ranked number one. Hitler represented discipline, efficiency and nationalism to the students (Times of India, Mumbai, December 26, 2002).

Friday, September 08, 2006

Kashmir VI: Was accession legal and ethical?

Dweep asked... (as a comment at my blog)

"BTW, I'm interested to know if you have a personal judgment on whether the Kashmir accession was correct - legally and ethically."

I try my best not to take an ethical stand on historical events- sometimes it is hard to say if a certain decision is ethical or not - unless it is a glaring violation (like genocide committed by Nazis) or an obvious act of good faith (like that of Mother Teresa). Legal actions need not necessarily be ethical. Law is bound to a land and can change with time. What is legal in US need not be legal in India. What is legal in India in 1800s need not be legal now. Slave trade was legal during 1600s but would we think it is ethical now?

Is colonial rule (that spanned more than three hundred years and covered half the world) ethical? There are certain benefits that came about while there were many sufferings. Is killing and violence in a fight for freedom ethical? We hail Chandrasekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose as heroes but imprison Kashmiri activists. Is killing in a war ethical? Some soldiers are tried for war crimes while some are rewarded medals. There are many events in history of mankind on which it is difficult to comment whether it was ethical or not. Definition of what is ethical itself changes with time and place. While most Indians sleep next to their kids, most Americans do not and believe that it should not be encouraged so much so that their law has a say on it. We in India believe that our war with Pakistan (in 1971) to liberate Bangladesh was a heroic deed- because we saved a lot of Bangladeshis from subjugation and outright massacre. But let's assume if the newly formed Bangladesh could not sustain itself and succumbed to a barbaric invasion from Myanmar right after its independence. In retrospect, would we be happy with our actions?

While I believe accession of Kashmir is legal (because a piece of paper was signed before or after Indian troops landed in Kashmir), to say whether it was an ethical move is debatable. If I was alive during the time of Independence, I would have been happy that we saved Kashmir from an invasion, but the subsequent events in that state tell me that India has not done a good job keeping the good faith of that people. I guess, only the results and consequences of such controversial actions will determine whether it was the right move or not (unfortunately, in retrospect). Kashmir’s history is filled with false promises, unfulfilled guarantees, misrule, deceit, suffering, pain and tragedy. If the Muslims of Kashmir are suffering, if the Hindus of Kashmir are suffering, and if the Indian armed forces are suffering, I am not sure if it was the right move.

There is nothing wrong in admitting that we made a wrong move and start making reparations. And according to me, India can make amends by giving independence to Kashmir (and providing safe haven and compensation to Kashmiri Hindus). To be able to do something like that, we need lot of courage, strength of character, moral fortitude, dose of empathy, and confidence in ourselves as nation and people, because we would have to swallow a lot of pride and egotistic sentiments. Wise people and similarly wise countries admit their mistakes and are ready apologize to make amends. Immature people and similarly immature countries are ready to kill and die to uphold their false beliefs in spite of many opposing evidences.

Right now, I believe that we are not doing a good job in the North-east either. Our policies, our attitudes and our actions will come back to haunt us. There will be a day in the near future when we will be debating whether we should let North-east go. We can't get away scot-free after such a lousy job spanning fifty years. We shouldn’t be expressing surprise when these regions fight for their independence. If you beat up the kid all through his young age, ignore his concerns, not take care of him, not attend to his needs, I don’t think you should be surprised if he grows into an adult and adamantly fights to leave the house.