Saturday, August 30, 2008

Secularism and Religious Identities II

Did India shun all group identities?

Though India had initially abhorred group identities, it got a dose of reality later on and started to recognize certain group identities – such as caste, language, region, sex, etc.

Generally, our attitude towards group identities has been that of reluctance. We accept them only when we are pushed to a corner and when we don’t see any other option. We are somewhat squeamish about group politics. Caste politics are not palatable to most elite Indians, and some Indians still continue to believe that states should be redrawn as boxes, blurring linguistic lines. Many Indians still cherish the dream of one identity, by imposing Hindi onto everyone. Some fanatics would like to make this country home to one religion, Hindus. Nationalist and patriotic Indians would impress upon others why we should call ourselves Indians and nothing else. Many Indians believe it is OK to forgo freedom of expression in order to impose conformity.

Thankfully, Indian democracy allowed for pragmatic politics due to which India slowly started to learn that it cannot shun group identities. It learnt that certain group identities are an integral part of a plural democracy. As a first step, it recognized lower castes as a group and made special provisions in the Constitution to address their needs. As a second step, it recognized language as a distinct identity and allowed for carving of states along linguistic lines. Though leaders of that time didn’t intend to do this out of volition, in retrospect, it is one of the best and most pragmatic achievements of modern India. India conceded to recognize some groups as legitimate groups. Now, we can have women forming groups to fight for their rights, tribes coming together to demand justice.

Some wiser nations and wiser leaders came to realize the importance of allowing local identities to thrive to hold together a nation that consists of multiple groups. It is understood that group politics is a necessary ingredient of a modern plural democracy. The idea of imposing one single identity backfires, results in conflicts and secessions, and most often bloodshed.

These are the stark realities which Gandhi and Nehru did not get a chance to learn.

Though India agreed to recognize some identities as legitimate, it adamantly refuses to recognize religion as a legitimate group identity.

Indians didn’t learn to handle religion

When it comes to handling religion, Indians became a confused lot. They wanted to be secular but they didn’t understand what secularism meant, and in an effort to pacify various belligerent groups, they started to provide sops to religions on an ad hoc basis without a comprehensive position or principle.

India continues to bow down to the religious might to extend ridiculous provisions, sometimes contravening the basic tenets of constitution, to satisfy irrational positions. While it does this, as a policy it has shunned all references to religious identities. The result is a hotchpotch of various positions with no coherent policy or mechanism to address real issues. Whenever India had a chance to make a principled position, it chickened out, and instead set a wrong precedent. Shah Bano case is an example.

No state is allowed to form in India on the basis of religion. Language is OK, but not religion. Every effort to bring fair representation along religious lines is struck down. Lower castes have reservations, tribes have their rights and protections, North-east has their states, but not religious groups.

Currently, any talk to uplift a certain religious group is completely shunned. In India, Sikhs, upper caste Hindus, Jains and Christians are overrepresented, while the lower caste Hindus, Muslims and converted Christians are underrepresented. And yet, no corrective action is allowed since it is along the lines of religions.

Thanks to Ambedkar, lower caste Hindus got the benefits of reservations and that has already transformed Indian polity – paving way for a Dalit leader like Mayawati now eyeing the position of Prime Minister of India. However, India is not ready to take any corrective measures to address the underrepresentation of Muslims. Shah Rukh Khan, Abdul Kalam and A R Rahman are exceptions, they are not the norm – they do not lead other Muslims. One cannot cite exceptions to make a case that Muslims have equal opportunity. Every index suggests their conditions are only deteriorating, not improving.

India needs to address the plight of Muslims and make sure religion forms a legitimate identity to address the situation, just like reservations based on caste is used to uplift the lower caste Hindus. Sops like sponsoring Haj pilgrims is eyewash, just like Rs. 1 per kilo rice to the poor, which is an artificial help.

A word of caution here! Before India starts addressing religious groups, it has to understand how and where the privileges work. India has never understood the duties of the majorities and the privileged towards minorities and underprivileged. That’s why people ask for ‘reservations’ for ‘poor Brahmins’ as if discrimination was meted out to Brahmins. That’s why people ask, ‘What about Hindu rights?’ as if Hindus are somehow marginalized.

Rubbish Kashmir’s aspirations

Today, we are not able to address Kashmir issue because we fail to recognize their legitimate demand seeking freedom. We made some blunders during our Partition. The wounds and bruises that we suffered back then have become a disease right now. We don’t want to see the doctor because we have never admitted in the first place that we got a bruise back then.

The current people’s movement in Kashmir is termed an ‘Islamic uprising’ against the ‘integrity of the nation’ and hence we pit a detested word called ‘religious terrorism’ fighting against the lofty word called ‘nationalism’. This is supposed to make us rubbish the aspirations of these people as sheer nonsense. We never accepted the Partition in principle because we deluded ourselves into thinking that a nation cannot be built on the basis of a religion, when in fact many countries continue to come into existence based on religion. Religion is a legitimate identity to form a nation-state. There are many such nations on the planet.

For some reason, India has never gone back to do a reality check. Creation of countries along religious lines punches holes into the myths that we created as to why we are a multi-cultural nation. We have come to believe that if we open our eyes to see the real world, it will make us doubt our own existence as a nation. We think India is so fragile that mere acceptance of religious identity would somehow crumble the nation like a pack of cards.

Any delineation of districts, carving of new states, and recognition of religious identity, was seen as direct ticket to complete dissolution of this country. We are indeed a very insecure nation. Even today many young Indians get ruffled up when some of us criticize it. They think their nation is so delicately balanced that mere criticism would somehow break it up.

We are so caught up in our fears that we fail to see we have been trampling upon the very rights and freedoms that we fought for during our Freedom Movement. We no longer endorse freedom movements, not even in some remote part of the planet, because that makes us realize our own mistakes in our backyard. Though legitimate, new states within India are not allowed their status because all separation is equated directly to breakup of this nation. Though Jammu and Kashmir is distinctly three different cultures/religions, India has not agreed to carve three units. It sees a mini India in Jammu and Kashmir. If this state broke up, it means India as a nation loses its case. That’s how ridiculous we have become in defining our country.

Some people think that India is such a fragile nation, that it needs to be protected at all costs.

India is more than a country; it is an idea that must be defended and protected at all costs.

[ARIF MOHAMMED KHAN, former Union Minister].

A nation is an idea

A modern nation is an idea. It is not territory, it is not a border. It is an idea shared by many people living in it. These people have come together willingly to form a nation. If in future, many of them do not believe in it, that nation will cease to exist. During its lifetime, if ever certain people believe their interests are served elsewhere, they should be allowed to form their own idea. Sometimes one can reconcile the differences and come to an agreement and see value in living together. Sometimes the differences are irreconcilable. When that happens, a happy and mature country will be ready to part ways. Immature and insecure countries will fight tooth and nail to ensure they do not separate, even if it means killing all those people who want to go on their separate ways. Such immature countries are like jealous boyfriends, who will hold onto their girlfriend no matter what, even when the girls wants to part ways. That only results in a really bad breakup. When it happens to nations, thousands of people get killed.

India is a nation only because we all want to be part of this idea called India. Not because someone has held a gun against our head forcing us to be part of it. That’s what we are doing in Kashmir. We hold guns against their heads and force them to be part of us. We also delude ourselves into thinking that while we keep that gun against his head, he will think very sanely to see the greatness in us; that he will abandon his dreams of living on his own, and would see the goodness in us and would like to live with us. We are not realizing that the more you try to hold on, the more you force yourself upon him, the more he will hate you. That’s what is happening in Kashmir. Not very different from a relationship gone sour!

India is a strong idea

I believe this idea called India is a strong idea. It does not need protection from the goons, the nationalists, the patriots, the fundamentalists to defend it. As long as this nation takes care of its people, addresses its issues, makes sure each group and identity is well represented, making sure no section get left out, it will remain a strong nation.

We need to learn to deal with group politics. We have to make it an official policy, instead of creating ad hoc policies each time a situation arises. We have an issue at hand – in Kashmir. I am hoping that we will come out of this crisis with flying colors. If we handle it maturely, we will not end up breaking this nation, but we will make it strong. But we are so insecure we don’t even want to take the first bold step.

The first step to resolve Kashmir

India needs to look at Kashmiri Muslims as a legitimate group identity and then go onto address their aspirations. India has been in existence for only sixty years. It has to learn to deal with the realities of complex humanity. It cannot say that all the answers are written in some laws and books written long ago. When people are dying on a daily basis, when people are deprived of their freedoms forever, India should relook at its own credentials and track record, accept that it doesn’t have solutions to all problems in its books and legal code, that it willing to learn, and that is humane at the end of the day.

Religious groups as identities for future

Discrimination, marginalization, persecution, ostracism, exclusion, suppression, etc, happen to individuals but along the identity tags. Those identity tags are group identities, such as religion, caste, language, sex, race, ethnicity, etc. These ill-treatments and underrepresentation can be corrected by using the same identity tag and nothing else. I use this argument to make my case for reservations based on caste. Since, we have deprived a section of Indians all access to education and opportunity ‘based on caste’ for thousands of years, any corrective measure that one can come up has to be ‘based on caste’. It cannot be any other.

India has to recognize religious groups as legitimate group identities and it has to make provisions to address their aspirations and their needs as a group, the way they have addressed the aspirations of lower castes. This means we will address underrepresentation of certain religious groups. This means we will ensure their rights are protected, and where needed certain extra privileges are given to ensure there is fair representation and access to opportunity. We have many group identities like caste, region, language, ethnicity and sex. Now, we will add religion to that list.

Can a secular state recognize religious groups?

India should remain secular, sticking to the original definition, where state is separated from religion. Secularism does not mean religion does not exist. It means state has no religion and that its laws are not guided by religious sentiments or belief systems. It will not make its decisions based on irrationality, blind belief and superstitions of a religion.

Recognizing religious groups does not mean we will have different civil laws for different people. This does not mean we will now be reading Bible, Koran or Gita in our courts. This does not mean we will cite Ram Charita Manas as evidence for existence of Rama. This does not mean we will use government offices or buildings or its time or money to endorse a religious ritual.

Kashmir people’s cry for freedom is a legitimate demand. The roots for such a cry are not based in irrationality, superstition or blind belief of religion. Freedom is not borrowed from religion. Freedom is a group’s legitimate demand even in a secular democracy. It has to be addressed without having to rubbish it. In this context, a group can be identified by religion. That’s what I mean by entertaining and addressing aspirations of groups by their identities.

But if Kashmiri people were protesting against launch of rockets into space because they believe their God residing on Cloud 17 is going to be disturbed by each of those launches, such demands have to rubbished and not entertained by a secular democracy. That’s what I mean by separation of state from religion.

Secularism and Religious Identities I

Looks like I hold seemingly ‘contradictory’ positions on some serious issues. On one side I am an ardent supporter of original definition of secularism where state and religion are completely separated, and yet I am an advocate of religious group identities. I believe a vibrant democracy that has diverse groups, such as India, should have mechanisms to address the interests and aspirations of various group identities, and one of those identities is religion.

Some readers find these positions contradictory. While I support the idea of formation of an Independent Kashmir which derives its group identity in religion, I completely oppose any move by Indian government making decisions on civic matters based on religious belief systems- as seen in Ram Sethu Controversy or sops for Haj Pilgrimage.

In the previous article, Kashmir exposes India, I talked about India’s inability to recognize and address aspirations of religious group identities. This inability, according to me, is an inherent deficiency of a multicultural democracy that has so many diverse groups living within. At the same time, in the article, Secularism Redefined I and II, I strongly upheld the separation of state from religion.

So why do I contradict myself?

Though some people find these positions to be contradictory, I feel I am consistent.
To give an analogy- while observing light and its motion, one may discover its properties of diffraction, interference and slowing down in denser medium, suggesting it is a wave, but it also exhibits properties of a particle causing photoelectric effect. So, light is both a wave and particle, but usually we only look at one theory at a time to explain a phenomenon that it exhibits. If we were to use wave theory to explain the corpuscular behavior, we will run into ‘contradictions’. At the end of the day, one needs a wave-particle duality theory to explain the behavior of light.

I believe that India has to be secular and at the same time it should recognize religious identities. These attributes are not mutually exclusive and in fact a secular and plural democracy has to realize this fast and embrace them as state objectives.

The reality is that India and Indians have never learnt or understood these concepts.

Why don’t we recognize religious groups as legitimate identities?

India has shown contempt for recognizing religious groups as legitimate identities (though its political outfits have always used it for their vote banks – and hence the hypocrisy). Our idea of shunning religious identities is not something new. It has its origins in our freedom movement. Mahatma Gandhi abhorred it and so did Jawaharlal Nehru and few others. In fact, Nehru abhorred all such group distinctions. He was not even ready to carve India along linguistic lines after Independence. Gandhi never wanted to create reservations based on caste or electorates based on caste because he felt that it would lead to further division. During those times, the prevailing thought was – ‘impose a single identity to blur all local identities’.

This phenomenon was not confined to Indian leaders. The whole world was reeling itself in this new ideology called nationalism, which promoted the idea of blurring all local identities to impose one single identity onto everyone to treat it as a single group, not multiple groups. According to them, a nation had to have a single group and that’s how Europe was divided into many countries. Europe was distinctly a continent of countries with single identities. There was no pluralism there. Fascist movement is nothing but an exaggeration of that ideology.

Countries like Soviet Union and China had people of different ethnicities, religions and languages in their countries. Their solution to impose one identity was communism that fed on nationalism. They embraced atheism as a state policy. They ignored all religious identities and wanted to believe that religion did not exist. The only way they dealt with the inherent inadequacies of such a system was ruthless suppression. They suppressed every voice of dissent with brute force. As far as the outside world was concerned, it was a utopia where many group identities coexisted under one ideology.

Nationalism was an ideology for both fascist and communist countries. It was based in creating one identity for all, and force was used to achieve it. Italy, Germany, France, Russia, China, etc, all saw national movements where the identity of majority was imposed onto all minorities. They were not very exciting times for minorities. World War II came as a culmination of these movements that led to death of 50 million people. Some communities were completely wiped out and some were decimated.

One of the learning from World War II was a sense of sobriety in those countries which faced the wrath of the destruction in the name of nationalism. The countries that witnessed the war in their lands did not tout nationalism with the same vigor anymore. However, the nations that did not witness the war in their lands continued to promote nationalism. India is one of those countries.

Before Indian Independence, all group identities were anathema to Indians. If not for vociferous Ambedkar we would not have had reservations based on caste, and without them we may have had a major civil war in this country right now. Ambedkar has inadvertently averted a major bloodshed in this country. He faced opposition from leaders like Gandhi and Nehru who did not want to see people grouped along caste identities. Those were the times where imposing one single language, one single dress, one national symbol, were carried out to unify Indians under one banner, all in the name of nationalism. That’s why many leaders of that time wanted to impose Hindi to unify all Indians under one banner. Thanks to Tamils we don’t have a National Language.

One identity which grew to prominence and caused lot of trouble to pre-Independent Indian leaders is religion. They had to face the harsh realities of what two different group identities could do when pitted against each other. Muslim-Hindu/Sikh riots created havoc in this country even before India became independent. While Ambedkar stood for creating equal rights and fair representation for lower caste Hindus to emancipate them from servitude of thousand years, Jinnah created a new nation for his Muslims taking them away from the rule of majority Hindus.

However, the story was not complete.

Many Muslims made India their home. Almost all Sikhs made India their home, so did many Buddhists, Jains, and Pasrees. India was home to many religions, and it intended to stay that way. India would not be a nation-state. It would be a multicultural democracy. While Pakistan defined itself a Muslim nation, India defined itself a multi-religious nation. And then, as if it had to prove Pakistan wrong, India became overzealous in its definition and decided not to recognize religion as a distinct identity ever again, fearing it would lead to breakup of the nation once again.

Added to this pain of Partition, India saw unprecedented scale of riots where more than half a million people, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, died on the streets. The new nations saw train loads of massacred bodies sent across the border to the other side as gifts. It was a horrible time. India continues to shudder when it is reminded of those times.

Because of these distasteful events that happened during its creation, India has never got to terms with religious identity. It fears it. It abhors it. The pain it has endured during the labor has left an indelible mark on India. It’s as if the labor was so painful and complicated that it had affected its psyche forever. India has matured into an adult on all other areas, but when it comes to religion it has nightmares and becomes restless as if it is a mental disease.

Because of this India has failed to accept religion as a legitimate identity to deal with group politics.


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hindu Fundamentalism

So what is Sanatan Dharma? What is Bharat Sanskruti? Who are these supposed upholders of my faith?

I have said many a times on this blog that we can’t just cast a blind eye to these fundamentalist groups just because they seem to cause no apparent harm to us, just because they seem to somehow provide a counter-weight to other fundamentalists who are allegedly more harmful. We are creating Frankensteins and we don’t even know that.

Many elite Indian Hindus justify actions of Hindu fundamentalist groups that are growing within India as representing or safeguarding Hindu’s interests.

I woke up today to see two news items today: One which said VHP bandh turns violent in Orissa where churches were attacked, and one woman, a nun (supposedly), was burnt alive in an orphanage. I will come back to the other news a little later.

I disagree with many Indian Hindus who sympathize and support such goons telling themselves that - because they are apparently on our side now they will somehow turn peaceful and rest when the enemy is vanquished. Actually, these goons will not even wait for their enemy to vanquished, and will turn their guns onto the very silent spectators who sympathized with them all this while. This happened in all fascist movements in the world in the beginning of 20th century. We just failed to learn from their lessons.

An incident in Telangana

This was way back in 1998. We were celebrating New Years’ eve at our home in a small town of Telangana. I was visiting home from US then. My parents had invited all our friends and families to have a grand celebration at home. We were having fun inside our compound wall in the front yard. We were playing music and were having fun dancing and singing. It included uncles and aunts, grandmas and grandpas; it included nephews, nieces, friends and their families. It was a family event confined to our family and friends.

However, a group of young students passing by felt obliged to join our family reunion. When we politely declined their offer they got offended. They came back in a big group, almost fifty of them. They started to bang at our gate and wanted to come in. Some of our family members, especially the women, the children and the old, went inside the house, while the men were trying to reason with this unruly mob. Their case was very simple – It was against Bharat Sanskruti to dance, revel and have fun and they intended to put a stop it, all in the name of defending Bharat Mata.

Of course, it sounded ridiculous, but we continued to play cool trying to ward them off. They got angrier, they threw open the gates by force and then burst into the front yard. We had our cooked food on the table, yet to be served. One boy just threw the tables down and with it all the food onto the ground. They wanted to storm our home too to make sure they protect the interests of Bharat Sanskruti by teaching our folks a lesson. Some of us barricaded them, and eventually some of the saner boys were able to take their friends away from us. They left the place. It was a close call.

All your castles of securities vaporize when you are surrounded by a mob which is out to get you. You cannot reason with them, there is no intelligence there. It is an irrational crowd, completely drunk by opium called religion, and heroin called nationalism. Though we called the police, they suggested we just let go. These students get patronage by very big political parties which foment the same hatred on the name of religion.

Many such incidents took place near our home. While many elite Indian Hindus living in urban India have no clue how these mobs and protestors hide behind the alleged Bharat Sanskuti and thus continue to foment them through support, it is the small towns of India which seem to see this in action.

Bipasha Basu insults Bharat Sanskruti

Now, I talk about the second news item today. In the towns of Yamunanagar and Jagadhiri of Haryana, activists of various ‘social’ organizations burnt effigies of Bipasha Basu for allegedly making an ‘obscene’ statement [1].

The agitators sent her a legal notice advising her that either she tender an apology or be ready to face a suit.

They alleged that her controversial statement on “dating” boxer Vijender, if he won the gold medal at the Olympics, was against Indian culture.

Sanatan Dharam Sabha (Uttari Bharat) president Shiv Pratap Bajaj said her statement had insulted the dignity of women. “Bipasha tried to corrupt Indian boxing gem’s morality,” said Bhatia educational society district president Ashok Bhatia.

This Sanatan Dharma, as a philosophy, is flouted by many educated Hindus. And according one of its adherent groups, as seen above, to say ‘one wants to date the boxer if he wins the gold’ is against Indian Culture. Didn’t many rishis and apsaras indulge in such activities throughout our Hindu mythology? Didn’t Lord Indra explicitly use seduction to get his things done? Didn’t such courting, grabbing women, happen in our ancient stories? So, why is it against Indian Culture?

So, what makes something obscene? In our discussions on this blog on MF Husain, some of us made it clear that like beauty, obscenity is in the eye of the beholder. One should not try to legalize such a subjective matter. Yet, many educated and elite Hindus argued that such obscene things should be legally censored. Now, you can witness your own Frankenstein monsters in action.

Does one’s morality get corrupted just because a woman says aloud she wants to date him? What inferiority complex must be dominating these Sanatan Dharam guys who are out there to protect Bharat Mata and her Bharat Sanskruti from such puerile insults?

Woman burnt to death in an orphanage in Orissa

It takes us back to what Hindu groups are doing in India with full support from elite and educated Hindus of India. These groups brought down minority religions’ prayer rooms, and now in act of defense of their religion, they thought it was quite OK to ransack an orphanage, and burn a woman alive.


[1] Bipasha’s dating remark sparks row, Times of India, 26 AUGUST 2008.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Kashmir exposes India

India congratulates itself for its tolerance of different religions. While India truly is a home to some of the biggest religious groups on the planet, it is losing its credibility on treating different religious groups equally.

The current imbroglio in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is a clear fight between Hindus and Muslims though our media, politicians and analysts would like to describe it as political situation that has gone out of control. The pent up hatreds are coming into the foreground. That is causing a dent in the image of India’s tolerance.


For many years now, millions of Hindus from all over India have thronged to Amarnath in Kashmir to pay visit to their gods, and for most part, their visits were peaceful, though Kashmir is a predominantly Muslim region. Now, a new controversy has been created when a certain tract of land was allocated for taking care of visiting Hindu pilgrims. Kashmiri Muslims opposed such a move by raising the objection that it would lead to permanent settlement in the region thereby leading to change in demographics of the region – which is sacrosanct in that state since Indian Independence. The government acquiesced to roll back the decision on allocation of the land. I am not sure if such an allocation was right and if the roll back was wise. But what followed next was quite idiotic – very characteristic of modern but religious India.


Hindus in Jammu took umbrage at this roll back and came onto streets to protest- defying curfews and targeting minority Muslim population in Jammu region. These protestors include ordinary people, housewives, college girls, school children, the middle class and poor- not exactly the political goons as you may want to believe. Some protestors who defied the curfew died in police firing. One of the TV reporters commented, ‘Kuch Paane ke liye, Kuch Khone Padtha hain’, clearly showing his sympathy to Hindus. What he meant was, to gain something one has to lose something. Little did he know that he was actually voicing opinions of many Hindus in India who think it is time to get to streets to fight for Hindu dignity which they believe they have lost to Muslims for many years now – starting with Ghazni’s raids into India more than thousand years ago!

That ‘losing something’ involved death of few protestors in Jammu. ‘Gaining something’ involved the pride of Hindus.

Kashmir Blockade

To push Kashmiri Muslims into a corner, to stifle them, so that they learn their lessons, so that they dare not defy the might of Indian Hindus ever again, these protestors in Jammu defied curfew to completely block the roads going to Srinagar. This economic blockage of Kashmir Valley was justified by Hindus as a necessary measure to bring the government to its knees. One leader of Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti says [1]:

We knew that unless Kashmiris are made to feel the pinch, the government will not pay attention.

Very soon, the Kashmiri Muslims started to feel the pinch. There was shortage of medical supplies and other essentials in the valley.

Kashmiri Muslims could not even sell their apple produce to earn their living. Meanwhile, Hindu Jammu was gleaming in pride that they have made Kashmiri Muslims suffer. One Samiti convener has this to say [1]:

People in Jammu too are suffering as a result of the blockade, but no one is worried about us. As always the interests of Kashmiris are paramount.

The hypocrisy is not lost. First, you go ahead and create an economic blockade thereby inflicting pain onto others. Then, you sympathize with yourself saying that you too have suffered because of the blockade which you created in the first place.

Kashmiris look towards Pakistan

This event alone has done more harm to Indian cause in Kashmir than the last twenty years of army rule there. In a poll that was conducted by Indian Express in 87% favored independence, and only 3% wanted to merge with Pakistan, less that those who favored staying with India at 7%.

Now, this economic blockade showed Kashmiri Muslims where Indian Hindus really stand. If needed, they are ready to starve them and cut them off to subjugate them. The frustrated Kashmiri Muslims, who were deprived of medicines, and who had to put off their weddings because of shortage of supplies, took to streets. Since India was not ready to let them earn their living, they looked towards Pakistan, and marched towards Muzaffarabad in POK or Azad Kashmir to sell their produce. That meant defying India. Naturally, they were stopped by Indian Army resulting in killing of few marchers. After that, more and more Kashmiri Muslims thronged streets in Kashmir Valley defying curfew orders resulting in more killings. One couldn’t help but notice many Pakistani Flags being waved on TV.

If there was any trace of goodwill that India garnered, it was flushed down in one go.

Current episode debunks India’s credentials

The fabric of Indian secularism is laid bare – it is seen as hollow. It is clear that this whole fight in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is religious in nature. The clichéd idea that J&K is single state is a chimera. It is clear once again that people of Kashmir feel and act quite different from people of Jammu.

The present crisis erupted because of a harbored feeling within Jammu inhabitants who felt they were being sidelined in the state – that only Kashmir gets all the attention while Jammu has to get a step-brotherly treatment, that it has pay the price for India’s obsession with its secular credentials.

BJP and Jammu people contest that the share of Jammu in legislature is lopsided favoring Kashmiris. Citing the number of voters, which is not the right way of looking at it, they come to a conclusion that indeed their percentage share in the state is less. However, this myth is exploded. It is the population that should constitute the share not the number of voters. Some people may or may not vote – for example, in Naxal regions, the voter turnout it usually less. That does not translate into less number of legislators from those regions.

Though this contention from BJP and Jammu is fabricated, it goes without saying that there are many differences between the two regions to warrant bifurcation (or trifurcation) of the state. Every episode in the last many years clearly indicates that Kashmir and Jammu are not similar in religious composition, language, ethnicity, and aspirations. Why the pretense to hold the state together instead of dividing it on the basis of religion (Hindu/Muslim) or language (Dogri/Kashmiri)? Why doesn’t India come to terms with realities and understand that aspirations of Kashmiris in the Valley are very different from those living in Jammu? Why don’t we call spade a spade?

That’s because we continue to delude ourselves that India’s identity is opposite to that of Pakistan. Since Pakistan believed a nation could be formed on the basis of religion, India believes the exact opposite – that it is home to many religions and that a religion should never be an identity to discuss autonomy. Since it negated the idea of creation of Pakistan on the basis of religion, it continued to subdue and suppress all separatist movements in Kashmir which sought autonomy on the basis of religion. India continues to believe that it is tolerant- so tolerant that no religious group would ever seek separation of either a state or nation based on religion. If such a movement exists it casts a blind eye, or gives different interpretations, or accuses neighbors of fomenting such nefarious ideas in its otherwise innocent citizens, but it never admits that religion is an identity that needs to be addressed as a group.

India lives in an illusion that its democracy and religious tolerance are inalienable and inviolable characteristics of India and that nobody can debunk or puncture these widely held principles. If any counter-evidence is produced, it rubbishes that evidence. This is no different from holding onto any ideology that blinds people from reasoning. Indians are blinded by constructions of their own superiorities, such as democracy, secularism (ingrained in Hinduism, not Constitution), and religious tolerance, and they never question these belief systems.

Kashmir exposes India’s illusions

India lost all its bonhomie it created in the last many years with just one event of Amarnath controversy. It is clear where Indian Hindus stand. When it comes to protecting their interests, which can be as trivial as allocation of extra land for their pilgrims, India can choke a population of minority religion into submission by starving them if necessary. This is not just confined to Kashmir. In Gujarat, India casts a blind eye to the government in power that targets certain community on the basis of religion.

With what comfort or dignity can Indian minority live in this country when the majority believes it can do whatever it wants with impunity to further its interests?

India’s credentials as a tolerant state are fast eroding. No political party can stand to the might of rising Hindus who are ready to back their position on the world stage as a dominant power, even if that means suppressing certain communities or religions. Time and again we are succumbing to religious demands and we don’t know how to deal with them. Our approach is ad hoc and most often the solutions are awkward and clumsy. On one hand we don’t want to recognize religious identities and groups as legitimate groups but at the same time we succumb to various irrational religious sentiments.

India needs to recognize a religious identity as a legitimate identity (like language, caste, region, etc) and that this identity forms a distinct group whose members may share similar aspirations. It then needs to address these groups’ aspirations within legal and constitutional confines by separating religion from state. Indians don’t know how to do that. Indians think that identifying a human as male or female would make the state masculine or feminine. A state can address religious groups without having to recognize it as an instrument of state and we need to just learn how to do it.

[1] Outlook, August 18, 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympics: India can do it

Abhinav Bindra’s Gold Medal at Olympics 2008 is a historic moment for India. He won in a relatively unknown sport called shooting. I would like to congratulate him for doing this for India. We are all proud of him. He has shown us all one thing – yes, India can do it. Some of us had lost hope; and this comes a pleasant surprise.

It is the first gold medal won by an Indian individual (not a team event) and the first one since 1980 – after a span of 28 years.

When India won the last gold medal for Hockey in 1980 Olympics held in Soviet Union, I was a young boy and I don’t recall the event. In the last many years, India has never fared well in any Olympics. At one point of time, PT Usha came close to getting a bronze medal but finished fourth. Time and again, India lost out. Even its much acclaimed Hockey team did not win Gold.

Indians could only look into the past to feel good and I did the same. We recounted the first half of the century when India Hockey team won Gold many a times. Most countries associated the game Hockey with India. We were so good at that sport. Through time, as with many other things in India, we lost our sheen.

I grew up in a small town in Telangana. While growing up we used to play on a platform which acted as a dais for conferences, etc. It was built in 1970s. It was well done and looked solid. The tiles are even and intact – even today. Recently, the officials decided to increase its size on all sides. So, instead of dismantling the old solid structure, they just extended it on all sides. They had to put similar tiles on all sides after they build the platform. It has been only few months now and already the new structure is caving in. The cement is chipping; the tiles are going down forming all kinds of cracks while the old structure seems to stand as ever. The new structure is kaput.

What happened to our construction in the last 30 years? How could we as a nation move from making such a solid structure in 1970s that continue to survive even after 30 years to building things that do not even stand 3 months?

The same thing happened to Indian Hockey. We just lost it like everything else that is endemic to India.

I am not sure if there is any hope for Indian sports as a state program. Also, our obsession with Cricket spells doom for all other sports in this country.

I see Abhinav’s gold as an exception. His case is interesting. It may spell the course for future of our sports. Abhinav comes as a son of a millionaire who could afford training for all these years. Let us understand one thing here – shooting is not a common man’s sports, like hockey, football, volleyball, etc. It is a rich man’s game, like golf.

In future, I believe corporate India and other rich men of India, who got tired of losing out to other countries, will create teams that will win medals for India. They will create private clubs, private teams that will throw out some champions. That is the only option for us. Relying or depending on Indian Government is a foolish exercise. I have been reading reports since I was a young boy about our Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). I have been waiting for it to be inducted in Indian Air force or Navy. That has not happened as yet. I am not sure if it is going to happen in my life time.

It is time for Indian people to do their own stuff, create sports clubs, sponsor them, watch them, telecast them, give sports players big monies, encourage them to compete and excel, and then send them off to Olympics to win us laurels. The best thing Indian Government can do is – lay off. Just let us do our stuff. I will be happy if they don’t intervene to become a spoilsport.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Bomb Blasts: What do we do?

Recently we have had serials blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad. They killed one person in Bangalore and 45 in Ahmedabad. Whenever we have these blasts killing innocent people, we just don’t know what to do, except repeat some clichés. These clichés don’t add anything new to the subject and definitely do not alleviate the problem nor find a solution.

For example, look at some of the reader responses at THE HINDU:

The terror strikes… are shocking, cowardly and condemnable. The continuing resilience and indomitable spirit of the people are praiseworthy. The entire nation should come forward to counter the menace.

Why is it shocking? Didn’t we know that we had to face this problem in our midst someday? I mean, do we go about doing whatever we are doing, targeting certain communities using state apparatus, and expect everything to be really peaceful? There were enough number of signs – we just looked the other way.

Coming to the next sentence, ‘resilience and indomitable spirit of the people’ being praiseworthy. I don’t know what to make of it. What are we supposed to do when we don’t know who the actual perpetrators are? Who are they? Where are they hiding? What are we supposed to do with those e-mails sent out by hiding terrorists?

I mean, aren’t we the same people who go one enduring 8-hour power cuts day after day without complaining? Aren’t we the same people who pile rubbish next to us making them mountains without complaining? Aren’t we the same people who veer big buses off the hillside roads careening into valleys killing all the people on board without ever demanding the bus driver to slow down or protest for better roads? I am not sure if it is our resilience or our indomitable spirit. I just think it’s our apathy to all things in life – even the bomb blasts. Very soon, we will all forget about this, and go doing the same things we are doing right now, and wake up next time when similar things happen.

And how does the entire nation ‘come forward to counter this menace’? Haven’t we been sowing the seeds since very long time to reap the rewards now? How do we suddenly change our act and counter the menace? Is the problem-solving confined to finding the terrorists and increasing security and vigilance or it has to do with the way we have build our nation?

Another writes:

The claim by the Indian Mujahideen that it set off the blasts in Ahmedabad to avenge the wrongs done to Muslims is shameful. Except in some instances like the Gujarat riots, Muslims have enjoyed freedom and protection in India. We have a judicial system which is capable of punishing those who indulge in crimes. The terrorists forget that it is the community that feels ashamed when terrorists kill innocent people.

So naïve! In this day and age, it’s clear that terrorists strike with impunity no matter what and wherever they want. Their reasons may be anything. Terrorists want to create terror, and it involves killing innocent people and they reasons could be anything – they could be downright petty sometimes.

The most important thing to understand is where and why they get the support. Who is giving them a place to stay, who is housing them and supporting them? The abettors and sympathizers are actually ordinary Indians – who are really upset with the way things are going around, witnessing the blatant injustices done to their kin. They are coming from middle class educated families. They support, fuel, harbor and encourage such activities knowing very well what these terrorists are up to. That is the dangerous part of the whole act. These are ordinary people from well-to-do families, living exactly the way you and I do, and yet harboring such strong resentment and hatred towards this country and its people that they are ready to be part of a scheme that kills innocent people. Where did they get hatred from? Who sowed it in them?

And this is the best – full of clichés:

Terrorism has no caste, creed, community or religion. No politics, no conviction, no vow has a right to destroy an innocent life. Let the people who want to prove a point destroy themselves, not innocent people who want to live.

Unfortunately this terrorism has a name as far as common people are concerned – in this case it is called Islamic Terrorism. Earlier we had Sikh Terrorism during Khalistan episode. In Sri Lanka, we have Hindu Terrorism. In most parts of the world we are reeling from Islamic terrorism. To be politically right, we may not use these words, but the media is giving enough inputs for people to make up their minds. ‘Indian Mujahideen’, ‘SIMI activists’, etc, are not Hindu, Sikh or Christian names or groups. They are clearly Muslims names and groups. No doubt about that. So, the media repeatedly saying it has nothing to with Muslims or Islam is being politically right but people have already formed their opinions on who the perpetrators are. One caller calls his friend, ‘Ejaz, Kaam ho gaya!’ and his phone numbers is flashed on national TV. He is eventually arrested. Imagine if the caller said, ‘Rahul, Kaam ho gaya!’ I am quite sure nobody would have bothered to notice it. There’s a big difference between Ejaz and Rahul, and it is everything to do with religion. Though we may not admit it, this particular act of terrorism, the causes and solutions has religion at its roots. Unless we talk about it openly, we are not going to solve it.

Another reader writes:

Stringent and deterrent laws should be enacted to fight terrorism effectively.

The last thing we need is a knee-jerk reaction to these blasts. None of the previous measures were really successful. POTA, TADA, etc, were used by people to subjugate others, giving the victims no recourse to the law, further perpetuating the feeling that this nation is out to get certain sections of the people.

Our police force is not geared to combat terrorism. They don’t know what it means. For example, a bomb was found in Bangalore a day before the blasts, but no action was taken. This bomb was picked up and dropped off at a police station for future investigation. One of the measures to take up is to have certain people trained in combating terrorism, to know the ways these terrorists operate, to keep in place a check on sale of ingredients to explosive materials, and make routine checks on such sales, etc. We have a long way to go get there. A random arrest without any recourse to law is exactly what we should NOT be doing.

I don’t think we are geared as a nation to protect our people. Let’s admit it. People die everyday in all kinds of accidents. The highways do not have a provision to make U-turns. The fastest lane suddenly has standing car in the lane trying to make a U-turn. The bus drivers drive recklessly – using their Volvos as if their Yamaha 100cc motorbikes, overtaking, slipping of the roads, careening into the valleys, so on. Yet, there are no changes. Every time I sit in that Volvo bus I think I am going die. The death is so near. Just few days ago, more than 32 people died in a train that caught fire. That news made a footnote in the newspapers and after a day not much was discussed.

We are just numb to all kinds of accidents. People die everyday. However a bomb blast evokes lot of reaction, mainly because it sounds ghastly. It is pre-meditated, a cold blooded murder. Other than that, these blasts kill far fewer innocent people than the negligence of our governments and people who build things for us- the roads, the bridges, the potholes, the sanitation system, etc.

Also, we never set good examples in our investigations of previous terrorisms and other acts that caused it – that won’t deter terrorists from terrorism, but influence the people who are on the border – of supporting and abetting terrorists – to know whether India is serious in finding the real culprits. In most of the previous blasts, the culprits were never captured. If they did, it was mostly rounding up innocents from a certain community further infuriating the people of that community. It is all a facile exercise which only perpetuates more hatred.

The root cause of terrorism is hatred.

Usually terrorism is like a last resort to correct things; the last resort is to blow oneself up and everything around it. Terrorists are not really interested in knowing who is killed as long as they create terror in the minds of the people. They want to create an impact to tell people that they need to fear.

A nation always has discontent people. All discontent people need not necessarily take up terrorism. As long as there is hope for themselves and their identities (community) a person will not take refuge in killing innocent people. It is the mandate of a country to ensure people have hope for themselves and their identities.

As an individual, as long as you have hope for yourself you may not embrace terrorism. If you know you have something to lose that is precious enough to hold on to, you may not think of killing up innocent people. One is looking at two welfares- welfare for himself, and welfare for his identity. A person who is doing well off at an individual level may still feel that his group, his community, his identity has no hope or future in this country. Individuals who have something to look forward to, and have faith in the system do not become terrorists. They do so only when they see no hope in this country, its institutions and its people.

A reader writes:

All talk of minorities and majority is repetitive and escapist.

India has never understood identity politics. It has always shunned every reference to it as distasteful, something that would break up India, as divisive politics, etc. It has never taken actions to decrease the disparities between groups – exception being reservations for lower caste. It has always allowed marginalization of people who were getting marginalized.

Even after many episodes of terrorism, naxalism, militancy, I don’t see any concrete thought process to address these issues to resolve them. Most suggestions are trying to combat the symptoms not the actual root cause.

Some people go on to suggest something more bizarre, not allowing us to discuss the problem at hand.

The UPA government is largely responsible for the growing incidence of terrorist activities.

Now, this gets really dangerous when a senior political says that.

BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said that the weekend blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad were a conspiracy to divert attention from the ‘cash-for-votes’ scandal.

The senior BJP leader also alleged that the blasts were an “attempt to win over the Muslim votes which got divided in the wake of the pro-American deal pursued by the government.”

She claimed that there was enough “circumstantial evidence” to support her charge. “Attacks in two BJP-ruled states in a span of two days and within four days of the UPA government winning the confidence vote have some meaning and what I am saying is proved by enough circumstantial evidence.”

A terrorist is successful not when he has killed innocent people, but when ordinary people live in a constant state of fear. A democratic state passing draconian laws that suppresses individual’s rights, curbs his freedoms is the last thing one should do.

Another reader writes:

With anti-terror laws dismantled, and our human rights activists vociferously defending them, why should terrorists be afraid of our legal system which can take eons to deliver?

Terrorists are not afraid of punishment – we punish them not to deter them, but to set an example that we are serious in bringing the culprits to justice. It increases people’s faith in the system when they see culprits get apprehended and convicted. We need an efficient legal system that exculpates the innocents and finds the right culprits.

We don’t need draconian laws that arrest Indian citizens without legal recourse, but a better managed legal and security system to deliver justice, and a little bit of compassion for our own people who seem to look different from us.

Action is definitely required. And that action can only thwart some terrorist attempts but never eliminate these attempts. In theory, we can eliminate all future terrorists’ attempts, but that would require a police state where every citizen’s movements are watched on a constant basis. Indians will have to lose many freedoms they currently enjoy. Security versus freedoms has been age old debate. What kind of freedoms are we ready to let go to earn securities?

The action that I see which I laud is the recent uncovering of 18 ticking bombs in Surat. But that action alone, involving security forces, vigilance, intelligence gathering, check posts, etc, will NOT eliminate terrorism. To attack the root cause, we need to look at this problem differently.

India has to introspect, and ask itself why are its citizens ready to kill and die for a certain cause? What is that cause? And why does it enroll ordinary well-to-do people? What can it do as a nation to address their issues? Is there anything this nation can do to make sure people do not lose hope for themselves and for their kin?

I would like to see that debate instead of knee-jerk reactions.