Sunday, November 26, 2006

India: North and South Debate

Today there was show on CNN-IBN discussing South India in which Rajdeep Sardesai posed several questions and collected opinion polls. Before discussing those numbers I want to say two things.

  1. I thank Rajdeep Sardesai for posing such questions. Debate, when carried out maturely, can be constructive. Though I may not agree with his propaganda machine, some of his efforts to bring forth serious topics are worth commending.
  2. Such opinion polls should be taken with a pinch of salt. The respondents are usually from urban middle class and may not truly represent the opinions of wider spectrum.

On Identity

26% of South Indians living in South India consider themselves South Indian first and Indian next. Of these states, in Kerala, 48% consider themselves South Indian first and Indian next, while in AP, only 12% consider themselves South Indian first and Indian next.

Since I am discussing this topic of identities, I want to dwell upon it a little further. In my earlier discussion I explained why some Muslims do not sing Vande Mataram. In that discussion, many respondents commented that Muslims consider themselves Muslims first and Indian next, which according to them is not a healthy sign for India. They believe that Muslims have allegiance with their religion first, which can be considered unpatriotic or traitorous in certain scenarios, such as invasion from an Islamic country.

I believe that most of us have multiple identities, and coming up with hypothetical scenarios in which these identities are in conflict is purely an academic argument. One can live with multiple identities without a conflict. Even when faced with hypothetical scenarios, for example, a war with Muslim nation, it is not easy to say with confidence what one person will choose over the other. Moreover, it is not even clear who represents what? In previous wars with Pakistan, many Indian-Muslim soldiers participated in the war and came out with flying colors. There are no cases of Indian-Muslim soldiers deserting India to join Pakistani Army. Is it important to ask what comes first- his religious identity or national identity? If it is religious identity, is he less patriotic or doesn’t deserve to live in this country (as some commenters suggested)?

Can one be a human and be Indian? Can one be a male and be Indian? Can one be Brahmin and be Indian? Can one be Tamil and be Indian? Can one be homosexual and be Indian? We can easily construct hypothetical scenarios where each of these identities can come in conflict with the national identity. Is it important for us to determine if each of those identities are less important to us than the national identity to measure our patriotism?

Based on the above results from CNN-IBN, should these 26% of South Indians be considered unpatriotic and traitorous because they consider themselves South Indians first? Should 48% of Keralites be kicked out of the country for being loyal to Kerala first? Based on these figures, should we construct a hypothetical civil war in India and believe that these Keralites will fight India defending their Malayalam country?

India is like Europe. We all have religions, castes, languages, ethnicities, and many other identities, but we live like a nation. The fact that India exists as a country is a miracle in itself, with so many identities and cultural allegiances. The only way India will remain India is when we allow each of those groups to maintain their identities, allow them to profess their religious, allow each group to have its rights within the grand scheme called India. Any provision that tries to obliterate those identities in an effort to homogenize India will result in a backlash and upset that miracle. The only way India can be cohesive unit is by allowing each distinct unit to maintain their identity. The only way India can be integrated is by allowing each of us to be proud of our local identities, be proud of our rich heritages and culture, our local language and history, etc. Only by accepting pluralism, India can integrate itself. Only by celebrating its diversity, India can unite itself (hence, the phrase- Unity in Diversity). Those, who have myopic vision of India, try to impose certain identities over others to bring in conformity and universality. They believe that we all should be similar in some ways, that there should be a national language, that there should be one version of patriotism, that there should be unified view of our history, that there should be one common theme to be Indian. They do not realize that the universal values should be equality, justice, opportunity, freedoms, etc, not languages, religions, castes, or ethnicities.


Rajdeep Sardesai posed another question on the perceived intelligence of South Indians. I do not wish to express my opinion on the results since I do not believe that one race, community, caste, sect, etc, has more intelligence than the other. The question is flawed. However, certain group can position itself in an advantageous position owing to certain factors, such as history, etc. The seemingly difference in intelligence is this positioning, not actual intelligence.

Other factors

The general perception is that South India is more tolerant, more welcome towards women’s rights, more conducive for minority rights, has implemented affirmative action to bring oppressed and backward into the mainstream, have been influential in embracing English as the medium, etc.

Since I have started discussing this topic, I would like to outline few of my opinions here which are related but not necessarily dealt by CNN-IBN.

Division of States based on linguistic lines

In retrospect, it is clear that division of states of Indian on linguistic lines has been the best that has happened in this country. No other division would have allowed smoother functioning of the states. No other division would have brought about harmony between the states. Only by allocating each language its identity through its statehood, we have given the assurance that their heritage and history will not be obliterated. Out of this security comes the tolerance. When states are secure of their linguistic identities, they are more welcome to embrace other languages. Though there has been anti-Hindi backlash in South that has been marginalized now and there is growing acceptance for Hindi in the Southern States. CNN-IBN results show that only 5% were anti-Hindi.

One from the audience suggested that Hindi, being the national language, should be made compulsory to unify India. That is the national chauvinism that has to be combated in this country. We all should realize and understand that India does not have a national language. Neither Indian Constitution nor any legal document of India confers this status upon Hindi. Rashtra Bhasha sounds good in speeches and not on official documents. Only 36% respondents of South India believe that Hindi should be made compulsory. Most of them agree that Hindi will be embraced only when it is not imposed. There is a greater affinity to embrace Hindi only when it is voluntary.

This brings out the true nature of India. Identities cannot be imposed. We are tolerant and accepting only when it is voluntary. Any idea to bring in harmony, unity and integrity into India by imposing it onto its people turns out to be counterproductive. The same argument holds for Muslims not singing Vande Mataram, Tamilians not speaking Hindi, etc. Each of us wants to hold on to our local identities while remaining loyal to the nation on a broader level. Missing that strength of India will result in confusion on definitions of patriotism.

Unity in Diversity

I am a Telangana, I am a Telugu, I am a Hindu, I am an atheist, I am a liberal and democratic, I am a secular and socialist, I am a capitalist, I am a Indian, I am a male, I am a human, I am living, and I think. These are many of my identities. Each of them is important to me. To ask me, if a liberal or democratic country invades us, would I support that invading country or my homeland is a stupid question. To ask if I would want my Telangana to secede from India is also hypothetical question that does not deserve an answer. It depends on many situations and scenarios, and each of us would behave differently when pushed into those situations. The idea is not to be pushed into such situations. How will we unite when Mars invades? Would US be still invading Iraq if planet Mars attacked Earth? Some of our identities come forth in opposition to a conflicting identity. I am from Warangal when talking to someone from Hyderabad, I am Telugu, when talking to a Tamilian, I am Indian, when talking to an American, I am brown when talking to a white man, I am a male when talking to female, so on so forth.

If the Indian central government discriminates Telangana for prolonged periods, and meticulously deprives it of all economic benefits, discriminates its people, jails its people, and kills them mercilessly by putting their forces, I would be forced into changing my definition of what’s my homeland. Now, my homeland is India, but the in the above scenario, where my homes are burnt, lands are taken away, my people are dragged into streets, shot at, mutilated, our women raped, etc, I may start identifying myself with Telangana more than India. If we are forced into such situations, each of us would choose one identity above others- that choice depends on situations and scenarios. As Indians, we need to be clear on what identities we are going to support and promote and what we will not.

There has to be constant effort to unite India while allowing for local identities to thrive. There has to be a constant fight to tone down regional chauvinism while limiting national chauvinism. Increase in any of those above tolerable levels will bring about secession of the country.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Times of India: A tabloid

Times of India should call itself a tabloid, not a newspaper. I have switched to The Hindu long ago. But today, the paperboy dropped of Times of India (TOI) edition instead of my regular newspaper. So, for a change I had to go through TOI once again.

One look at the newspaper, and you realize how worthless it is. As an example, I will just discuss today’s International section in TOI.

1. Courtney Love says she will pose nude for Britain’s pop magazine.

She promised that she would be “naked as the day I was born”.

2. Post-Divorce, Britney’s sex video with ex-hubby is costing her dear.

She did a range of explicit sex sessions with her soon-to-be ex-hubby Kevin Federline and made a video tape of the stormy, unabated sex sessions…Sources say that the naked couple are seen in a series of raunchy love-making acts and sexual games…They did nothing all day but have sex.

3. Stripper almost split Moss, Doherty

Kate Moss and Pete Doherty had a tiff after he accused her of paying too much attention to a male stripper…

4. Slippery Catfight [with picture]

Women wrestle during a girls-only Amateur Jello Wrestling event in New York on Sunday. Every month, women from all walks of life, including lawyers, school teachers and students, wrestle in 50 gallons of clear jelly.

This is supposedly International News according to TOI. The Bangalore Times edition is nothing but pictures and lurid details of sex, actress, and models.

My sincerest advice:

If you have kids growing up in your household, do not subscribe to TOI. Whether you are conscious of it or not, your kids are absorbing all these lurid and lewd details while growing up.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Understanding Islam

I am an atheist. Now, why do I want to understand religion? 

I started out as radical atheist, engaging people in discussions and debates, talking about God, showing people the flaws and inconsistencies in their belief systems, and I did all this just to get kicks. I was young. Now, I see religion from a different perspective. I don’t think religion can be done away with. looks like it serves a purpose for humans. From what religious people tell me, it gives hope, it gives them order, a sense of meaning to their life, answers some of the arcane and metaphysical questions. According to some others, it binds people together, brings them closer, gives them faith and confidence in times of crisis. The more I understood history, human psychology, our need for social order and structure, the more I began to become tolerant of religion and its existence. Looks like humans will create an institution similar to religion even if one were eliminate it in the present form. Hence, I attempt to understand religion.

However, religion has its own demerits. The way science and technology can be used to blow up people, make war and even destroy countries; religion can blow up people, make war and destroy countries. It all depends on humans on how they want to use it.

Islam is under question from all quarters. Many of us from non-Islamic religions are in the process of demonizing Islam, citing texts from Koran and incidents from the life of Muhammad, its history and the present events to prove how it is inherently violent and intolerant. I have read many articles that talk about texts from Koran to explain why Islam is a violent religion and how it is incompatible with other religions.

Here’s a site that gives a different perspective- The American Muslim. I have taken some articles from that site and linked it here.

Dr. Hesham Hassaballa has posted five-part series explaining how Islam does not sanction the murder of ‘infidels’; that the verses in the Koran, which tell the believers to ‘fight the infidels’, are speaking of those who were directly attacking the Muslims at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. He adds, “There is nothing, nothing, nothing in Islam that says ‘all infidels must be killed. Nothing.” He clearly mentions, “Fighting in Islam is permitted only in self-defense.” And he agrees, “Unfortunately, the definition of ‘self-defense’ has been grossly distorted to justify inhuman acts of terror and violence.”

Writing about September 11, he says, “This sort of logic was used to justify the attacks of September 11. It is evil; it is diabolical; it is twisted; it is inhuman; it is morally reprehensible. Call it what you wish, but one thing you can’t call it is Islamic. Islam does not sanction or condone the murder of any innocent human being, be he or she Muslim or non-Muslim. Islam teaches that it is wrong, and if it’s wrong, it’s wrong.”

The Grand Sheikh of the al-Azhar mosque, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, who is acknowledged as the highest spiritual authority for nearly a billion Sunni Muslims, said Islam condemned terrorism in all its forms. He added,Islam considers anyone who kills an innocent person as killing the whole of humanity.” He says that in the name of Islamic law he rejected and condemned the aggression against innocent civilian people, regardless of whatever side, sect or country the aggression came from.

For example, this article says, “There is no part of the Qur’an that says that Martyrs go immediately to Paradise.”

Dr. Javeed Akhter, Executive Director, The International Strategy and Policy Institute, writes that reader of Koran should keep the context in mind. The reader ‘should study, at the least, the preceding and following verses for a sense of the immediate context.’ For example, he gives his interpretation on this verse:

"put down the polytheists wherever you find them, and capture them and beleaguer them and lie in wait for them at every ambush” (Koran 9:5).

He explains, “the immediate context is that of a ‘war in progress’ and not a general directive. It was an attempt to motivate Muslims in self-defense.” He writes:

Muslims were given permission to defend themselves just before Prophet Muhammad’s migration from Makkah (where he grew up) to the city of Madinah, which occurred in the 13th year of his 23-year mission. The danger to Muslims in Makkah at this time was extreme and there was a real possibility of their total eradication. They were permitted to fight back in self-defense against those who violently oppressed them. “Permission is given (to fight) those who have taken up arms against you wrongfully. And, verily, God (Allah) is well able to give you succor. To those who have been driven forth from their homes for no reason than this that, say ‘Our Lord is God.”

He concludes, “It is clear from even a cursory study of the Koran that Islam does not permit, condone or promote violence. Just the opposite, it abhors violence and allows it only in self-defense. A claim to the contrary is no more than bad fiction.” Writing about Bible, he says, “The critics of the Koran should remember that if the Bible were similarly quoted out of context it would appear to be an extra ordinarily violent scripture.”

Many non-Muslims ask why Muslims do not speak up against terrorism. This site lists many articles where many Muslims have raised voice against Terrorism.

Here the author contends that Islam did not spread by sword. That must be hard to prove. He cites the following reason to make his case (a bit flimsy, I would say).

  • War was an exception than a rule in Islam
  • Muslims ruled Spain for 800 years without using sword to convert.
  • 14 million Arabs are Coptic Christians though Muslims ruled for 1400 years.
  • More than 80% non-Muslims in India under Muslim rule.
  • No invasion into Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • No invasion into East Coast of Africa.
  • Koran quotes “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error".
  • Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and Europe without sword.

Muzammil H. Siddiqi, Ph.D., writes, “Jews were among the earliest converts to Islam (in Medina) and, throughout the Middle Ages, Jews found sanctuary to practice their own religion under Islamic rule.” Writing about Jews, he says, “The Qur’an speaks extensively about the Children of Israel and recognizes that the Jews are, according to lineage, descendants of Prophet Abraham through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. They were chosen by God for a mission and God raised among them many Prophets and bestowed upon them what He had not bestowed upon many others. He exalted them over other nations of the earth and granted them many favors.”

Aisha Harris, an English Muslim lawyer, writes, “In the Prophet's time and indeed in moderate forward thinking Muslim countries today, women are respected and honored.” She adds, “The Prophet Muhammad said it was the duty of every Muslim, male and female, to be educated. He did not say females could only learn to read the Qur’an, and then stop at the age of eight years.” And writing about use of veil, she gives an example, “Indeed, in the Hajj, no woman is permitted to wear any sort of veil.”

She considers Taliban ”unbelievers, the un-Islamic, the oppressors, and the blasphemers.” According to her the Shariah law is a compassionate law. She exhorts the regimes to read the Shariah ‘and act upon it correctly, not superimpose their own interpretation.’

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Honking in ‘No Honking Zone’

There is a school in my neighborhood. A road goes next to it. The school has put more than 28 signs in a span of 100 meters that say “Please don’t sound horn”. These signs are big, in red and white, and are quite visible. You can’t miss them even if you want to.

I took this road in an auto this morning. Much to my dismay and bewilderment of school kids who were getting into the school, there were honks all around coming from every auto and car that was on that road. Once they dropped off their kids, these ‘responsible’ parents who behaved for a while became ‘common’ Indian citizens to participate in this honking revelry. Soon, everyone is honking at their loudest, sharpest and longest. It was deafening. This honking was not even normal. It was more than what one would observe on a regular road. Where one would expect some decency and expect to adhere to these multiple signs (I counted 28 of them this morning, there could be few more), everyone seems to take a perverted satisfaction by flouting the advice ‘not to horn’.

I was wondering- can’t we even follow one single rule in this country? At least those that are so easy and simple to implement?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Condoning, Accepting, Legitimizing and Institutionalizing

I was talking to someone recently about these terms and I thought I need to put it in writing for myself (and few others out there). I believe these are different stages in our behaviors when it comes to rationalizing certain ills of our society:

Condoning it: When we condone certain ills and wrongs in isolated incidents, we face the danger of eventually accepting it and then legitimizing it on broader context. I will explain this using one such evil in contemporary India- corruption. Most times we start by condoning the acts of corruption. We hear that it happened between party X and party Y, completely unrelated to us. We are apathetic to such incidents and do not take necessary action because it does not concern us. By being nonchalant about it or apathetic about it, we start condoning it. When the culprit is not punished or warned, he goes about doing it again and soon it starts spreading, and before we realize, that evil is at your doorstep knocking on your door. Recently, I was standing in a line at a cinema hall, and one burly guy just skipped the line and went to the ticket booth to buy tickets. No one protested. I was the only one who asked the guy to stand in line. He did not heed my words. After he bought the tickets, he started calling me names- very strong abuses. Later, it dawned upon me why no one else seem to be bothered with this. Why did they just accept it? And also, why didn't anyone come forward to defend me or support me when that guy was calling out names? I am quite sure each of them was not comfortable with the whole proceedings, but I guess, they didn't want to intervene or get involved in other's affairs. Though we feel guilty, we prefer not to act. The same applies to all of us when we see petty crimes, traffic law infringements, bad treatment of other people by bullies, small acts of bribery, etc. We think it does not involve us and hence we do not have to intervene. By not protesting such incidents and by not supporting the victims of such small violations, we condone such actions.

Accepting it: When many acts of such condoning add up, we start accepting the ills and evils without qualms or remorse. First, we hear about it- that party X paid bribe to party Y. We give a small rationale as to why party X might have paid that bribe. We reason that it is OK in some cases. Now, we start accepting it is as the 'way of life'. If I need to put my kid to a school, and I had to bribe my way through, I reason it was quite OK, since it was for the greater and grander cause of 'doing it for my kid's future'. If I bribed my way through a traffic law infringement, I reason, that it was quite OK since I saved lot of time, or explain away that the cops don't get paid much. When many such acts of condoning happen, that same evil which was out there eventually knocks your door, and you open the door to invite it into your home. By now, you have toyed with the idea too long, and have seen it in action too long to no longer find it unfamiliar. You have now started to accept it as a way of life. Though there is a sense of little guilt once in a while, you still think this is the only way to go about it- you reason have learnt the pragmatic and a practical way to solve things.

Legitimizing it: This the next stage. We not only accept it in our lives, we actually legitimize it by showering words of praise to those who actually committ those acts. A father of a daughter chooses a son-in-law though he is corrupt because he earns more. The father goes onto tell people proudly that his son-in-law is 'accomplished and successful'. When a rich and corrupt officer gets his home raided by IT department, the people around him envy him for his riches. That person becomes popular and gets invited into the elite circles. When a corrupt officer get promoted by bribing the politicians, we think he is 'highly successful' officer. When a rich industrialist does arm-twisting and bribing tactics to change policy of the country in his favor, we say that he is very 'aggressive, ambitious and very successful' industrialist. For those who could not resort to such tactics, 'too bad' for them. We legitimize these actions as 'survival of the fittest'. The ones who bribe, bully, violate, criminalize, etc, are survivors. Those who didn't learn these tools and skills will therefore be weeded out as a consequence of 'natural selection'. By using such words of acceptance, such sentences of praise, such rational and reason, we legitimize these acts. Now, there is no sense of guilt. If there is any feeling it is the feeling of inferiority in those who could not equip themselves with these 'survival skills' and the feeling of superiority in those who could weild these skills at the appropriate time and manner overcoming many legitimate obstacles. A rich father who could bribe his son into a job or academic institution is proud to know that he 'contributed' towards his kid's bright future by lending a helping hand using his accomplishments, which include money and influence. Those who couldn't, 'too bad' for them that they didn't become rich to bribe or could not influence.

Institutionalizing it: This the grand and final stage. When we legitimize such acts locally, over a period of time, it becomes all-pervading; it seeps into all our institutions, our psyche, to dominate our lives, our day-to-day living, our politics, our academic and professional lives, our society and its basic amenities. That's when we start producing kids who becomes corrupt judges and lawyers, corrupt officers and bureaucrats, corrupt politicians and leaders, corrupt businessmen and industrialists, corrupt teachers and professors, corrupt workers and labor, etc. That's when the whole society completely acknowledges that world is corrupt, and that it is stupid, unnatural, and completely unrealistic for one to be non-corrupt. Though we hear of politicans taking bribes, we don't go out on streets to protest. This is when law-breakers, such as those shop keepers in New Delhi now, go on to protest to fight for 'what they consider as their right', when in fact they are defending an illegal act. Wwe bribe the terrorists to secure our daughters and bribe our way to Indian cricket team. This is when we openly discuss the price for the positions of Vice-Chancellor of a university, MRO in a district, a gazetted officer in a town, and even a berth in Indian Olympic team. Everyone and everything has a price. Anything, including integrity can be bought. The society decides the allowable bribe amount as 'market price'. When someone pays the 'market price', nobody feels quesy or guilty about it. But if someone asks for more than this agreed 'market price', then you feel that other person has cheated you or extorted you of more money. This is when getting a driver's license has a 'fee', getting passport has a 'fee', and every 'file-moving' has a 'fee'. These figures are not published anywhere, but everyone knows about it. It has now become institutionalized.

The examples I gave are for corruption, but these stages of condoning, accepting, legitimizing and institutionalizing are applicable to any other force or system. It can be applied to acts of violence against certain sections of people, acts of terrorism used for fighting for freedoms, degeneration in an organization and its behavior, degrading primary and school education, etc.

I guess we are all contributing towards this by first condoning certain illegal and unethical actions that we see in our daily life, and then by accepting them and practising them to get out of personal tough situations, and then by legitimizing it as a success-stories, and then institutionalizing it to make it a part of our culture, tradition, government and our way of life. I recently met an elderly man heading a company in Bangalore who said that is the duty of the miniscule young generation to uphold the ethical and legal values. If this minority doesn't stand up and fight every action, then our future is at peril.