Sunday, March 15, 2009

Karnataka Talibanized

When BJP came to power, many elite in Karnataka celebrated it as a clear mandate for ‘development’. They argued that people did not vote BJP for their Hindutva agenda, and that ‘pseudo-secularists’ (like me), should stop crying wolf each time BJP comes to power.

I maintained my stand back then that it was a clear indication that Karnataka was leaning right- that it was clear that Hindutva has a major role to play than anything else.

After few months of BJP in power, Karnataka is more talibanized than any other state in India. Hindu activists strike wherever they want with impunity, shut up anyone without fear, and terrorize people into submission by their antics which go unpunished. The government stands supporting, condoning and rationalizing these acts.

Yesterday, a small town in Karnataka was not allowed to put up a statue of Charlie Chaplin because he is ‘Christian and not Indian’. A week ago, party goers celebrating at a private farmhouse were arrested for partying and huddled up into vans and held in jail for few days. A few weeks ago, some Hindu activists decided to stop Valentine’s Day celebrations calling it non-Indian. Prior to that some women were harassed, beaten up and stripped because they were indulging in activities such as visiting pubs at night, drinking alcohol and mixing with men, which according to the harassers were all against Great Indian Culture. We also saw moral policing in action, where couples were beaten up because they belonged to different religions. One girl committed suicide because she was humiliated for being seen with a boy of a different religion. Last year, we saw many churches being ransacked and Christians harassed. The government of Karnataka sanctioned money for temples to appease gods. The list goes on.

All those well meaning Hindus who continue to support Hindu parties on the pretext that these parties foster better development projects should wake up and realize that they get much more than what they ask for. They get Taliban, they get Fascism, as unnecessary byproducts. If we were told that Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Soviet brought more economic prosperity than any other regime, would Indians choose Fascism or Communism? Are we ready to forsake our freedoms and enter dictatorships to improve our economic indices?

These are real questions that Indians should answer. Authoritarian governments don’t dilly-dally, they don’t wait for consensus, they take decisions fast, but they also suppress all voices of dissidence, they do not tolerate opposition or criticism. Is that the kind of government we want – a government which induced economic prosperity but which takes away all our freedoms?

Related Posts: BJP in Karnataka, Will BJP go ahead with its Hindutva agenda?, What is Great Indian Culture?, Biggest Threat to India, Great Indian Culture, Why we criticize our nations?

Friday, March 13, 2009

What is Great Indian Culture?

If I were to go by what one of the activists of Sri Ram Sene has to say, here are the TEN COMMANDMENTS of Indian Culture.

  1. Children should listen to their elders.
  2. Children should wear traditional clothes. They should not wear jeans and “Muslim dresses” like the salwar-kameez.
  3. Women should wear Sari.
  4. Parents should prohibit kids from following Western Culture and they should not allow kids to drink (alcohol).
  5. Wives should respect their husbands.
  6. Boys and girls should not freely mix before marriage.
  7. Women should keep traditions such as watering the tulsi plant for the well-being of the family.
  8. Children should not talk back to adults.
  9. Women should not wear cut-piece clothes and they should not become commercial objects.
  10. Last and the most important: Women should not drink (alcohol) and should not go to nightclubs.
Related Posts: Indian Moral Code, Agree in Principle - Disagree in Practice, Hindu Fundamentalism, Biggest Threat to India, Great Indian Culture

Monday, March 02, 2009

Darwin: A query from Commenter [2]

This follows two previous articles, Darwin: a query from a commenter, and Darwin: Science and Religion. Let’s go back to the query from the commenter where a thought experiment was discussed.

Suppose, in distant future, all living species on earth's surface become extinct...

At this time a alien space shuttle lands on earth surface...

Soon the intelligent aliens who discovered Earth start to study our possessions, trying to piece together the history of their new discovery. They might notice that all of our cookware the pots and pans and plates and bowls and observe that all seemed to be related some how...

Over time, the bowls evolved into plates and coffee cups and stainless-steel frying pans. Eventually, the aliens would create compelling charts showing how the dishes evolved…

Some scientists would be bothered by the lack of intermediate dishware species... but they would assume it to exist somewhere undiscovered…

[This is addressed to commenter]

The problems with your thought experiment are the following:

  1. Your aliens do not know whether this planet supported life form or not. They can’t differentiate life from non-life. Whereas, humans know that this planet supports life forms and they know life from non-life when they see one – however old that skeleton is – they know if that being was once walking this planet. No human would confuse an artifact with a skeleton.
  2. Your aliens do not know if a pot evolved into a pan or vice versa. However, humans know which one came first and which one came later. Fortunately for human scientists, nature gives clues – like the rings of a tree which tells them its age in years, fossils reveal their age through different layers of sedimentation. Radioactive dating and other techniques further help in ascertaining the dates. Therefore, if there are fossils at different layers, it is clear that the one at the bottom came first, and then one at the top came later – sometimes after millions of years.
  3. Your aliens do not know if a beak comes with a pot or pan or a kettle. Human scientists know whether a mammoth has a tusk or not. When they make such an assertion – that a mammoth has a tusk – it does not sound ridiculous because current generation elephants carry those tusks and there are many similarities between elephants and mammoths.

When humans look at fossils, they need to make sure they are the remains or traces of living beings. They do not classify utensils, artifacts made of wood or metal or rock, construction material, modes of transportation, etc, as fossils. How do they know which ones belong to living beings and which do not?

Since they are human, and live on earth, and are familiar with living beings on earth, they are able to say which one belongs to living beings and which ones are just plain and simple rocks. Dinosaurs, shells, prehistoric living animals, etc, all give enough signals to suggest whether they were living beings or not. Skulls, rib cages, bone structures of dinosaurs are not radically different from the skulls of other reptiles of current generation. ‘Fossilized’ pots and pans do not have a contemporary life that supports the theory that they could be living beings. Humans would discard pots and pans and not count them as possible life forms.

Though humans looked at bones and fossils for quite some time it was only in the last two hundred years that we have begun to suspect that there could be natural adaptation. It is not easy to comprehend evolution because it occurs over millions of years. So, how did we start to come up with such a ridiculous proposition that animals and plants evolve, and why did the skeptical scientists who have proclivity to discard every ridiculous theory came around to accept it?

When Charles Darwin visited different continents and island on his voyages, he saw various animals, platypus, tortoises, platypuses, etc, which showed slight variations over various distances – as if the Nature had created two different animal species but closely resembling each other. He also observed fossil bones at the same location of completely another species that has gone extinct but closely resembling the existing species.

With more discoveries, it was clear that earth was walked by certain animals which have gone extinct. Mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, mastodons, were all living beings that walked earth but are no longer seen. Some mammoths, with complete carcass were uncovered from frozen lands, preserved in the ice. So, they know they were not making up things putting together utensils, spoons and pots to imagine living beings, but in fact looking at real animals that once walked earth.

The biologists of Darwin’s time unearthed skeletons of gigantic sloths and hippopotamus-sized armadillo that have gone extinct. Since humans knew the existing sloths and armadillos, and these bones were much bigger than the current generation ones, they surmised these extinct species may have been ancestors of the existing species. How did they know if they evolved or if they coexisted?

While it was clear that certain animals go extinct, Charles Darwin observed different species of an animal slightly different from another but with the same ancestor at both places, suggesting these two different species evolved from the same ancestor.

Enough evidence has come about recording small mutations and adaptations within the recorded history of man to further suggest that Evolution is taking place right now but at a pace that is quite slow for humans to comprehend within a generation.

Related Posts: Darwin: Science and Religion, Darwin's Theory: Detractors, Darwin's Theory and Atheists, Darwin's Birthday, Indians and Darwin.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


In an earlier discussion on a different forum, I came up with the following.

Hindu revivalists: Our ancestors made this shit
Hindu fanatics
: All our shit is sacred
Hindu Quantum Quacks
: Your shit and our shit is the same, but we shat before you
Hindu nationalists
: All this shit is ours

Muslim fanatics: We will die for shit
Muslim terrorists
: We will blow you up for shit
Muslim moderates
: We don’t own up any shit
Muslim peace-lovers
: You don’t understand our shit

Christian evangelists: Holy shit!
Christian proselytizers
: It’s better to be our shit

Great Indian Culture: We get hurt when you shit
Indian Secularism
: We suck up to your shit
Indian Politics
: Crap
Indian Police
: We lock you up for no shit
Indian Science
: Bullshit

Individual Liberty: To shit is personal

Tamil: Our shit is different
: We export our shit
: You have to shit in our language
We are God’s own shit
: We terrorize our shit
: Get the shit out of here
: Our shit is rotten
: Our shit was golden
: We are shit
: Everyone wants our shit
: Nobody wants our shit

Vajpayee: Old shit
: Same shit
Manmohan Singh
: I shit when Madam shits
Sonia Gandhi
: Foreign shit
Rahul Gandhi
: Poop
Chandrababu Naidu
: Techno-shit
Vijay Mallya
: Loads of shit
Captain Gopinath
: Poor man’s shit
: Dad’s shit
Narayana Murthy
: Decent shit

Medha Patkar: Damn this shit!|
Shah Rukh Khan
: Sh..Sh..Sh..Shit!
Amitabh Bachchan
: Kaun Banega Shit?

Slumdog Millionaire: Accolades and Reality

Slumdog Millionaire is a movie about India and has cast many Indian actors in it. As an unprecedented achievement many Indians won the Academy awards. AR Rahman, a celebrated Indian music creator, won two Oscars. I am quite happy for him. Awards are always welcome. They make you feel good. Yes, Indians should indeed celebrate these accolades. Why shy away from celebrating it, even if it means highlighting India’s poverty?

However, in this whole euphoria, very few Indians seem to realize that Slumdog Millionaire is not an Indian movie, the way Gandhi was not an Indian movie though it was all about Indians.

Times of India (TOI) splashed its first page with stories of Slumdog Millionaire’s Academy Awards as if Indian cinema won the Oscars. Indian media celebrated this achievement with great fanfare, once again, vicariously. Last year when an international agency won the Nobel Prize, the Indian newspapers celebrated it as if it was won by an Indian – just because that agency was headed by an Indian. Most six-graders in India are now answering the quiz question, ‘Which Indian won Nobel Prize recently?’ with, ‘Pachauri’.

We need to stop taking credit for everything and anything great – just because an Indian happens to be involved – whether it is NASA launching its rockets, Intel making its chipsets, or Microsoft making its software. Being involved does not make it ours. There are times when the credit is given to a country – like Olympics or Nobel Prizes, where we have to humbly admit that India does not bag them as frequently as other countries.

Many Indophiles, including Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Rushdie, and Amir Khan, criticized this movie – as being unrealistic or for unnecessarily exporting India’s poverty.

Yes, like any movie, Slumdog Millionaire makes improbable things probable. Most of us who are familiar with India’s poverty know that one can’t escape it so easily - definitely not the way it is done in the movie - winning 2 Crore rupees on a quiz show. We don’t see many slum dwellers of India becoming literate on their own without access to schools, making it to the quiz show, or speaking good English.

The outcome of the events may be unrealistic, but the destitution and squalor shown in the movie is far too real. India houses the most of the poorest people on the planet. It houses the most of the starving people of the planet. The population of its poor is bigger than the population of whole of Europe and many African countries put together.

Most of us living in India have created a mechanism in our brains to consciously ignore the blatant ills and evils that confront us on a daily basis. Most of us turn our head away from that begging child at the traffic light. The reality is far too discomforting, therefore we choose not to look at it.

The reasoning is simple: ‘there is no way you can solve this problem. Why fret over it?

Slumdog Millionaire depicts the dark side of India in its true colors – which the middle-class and upper-class of Indians have conveniently chosen to ignore for many years now. We are confronted with our dark side when someone puts a mirror in front of us – as in this case done by a foreign director. Most foreigners tend to look at a country in black and white. Sometimes they are wrong, but sometimes they are right in calling spade a spade.

When visitors from the West land up in India, they look at India with great curiosity, and they look at the poverty too, without missing it. Some of them speak out. But then they have to put up with zillions of excuses and even justifications on how and why such poverty exists. Argumentative Indian can shut up any rational voice raising enough dust with sophistry. Though these visitors may just shut up, but they do not fail to notice it.

Even some of us Indians, if we chose to, can open our eyes and see the squalor, the ugliness, the wretchedness of India which is all pervading. Hundreds of kids in India continue to beg, sell on streets, work in cafes, work in construction sites, etc. There begging children in most towns and cities. Sometimes if you end up in those by-lanes late in the evening, you will see a lady surrounded by the begging children. If you bother to notice, you will know that she is collecting the day’s earnings from them. The kids are her recruits. Most of them get bullied and they in turn bully other weak kids. It’s a dog eat dog world. No room for niceties and pleasantries. Some of them grow up and start using drugs- they are rubber, gum, and other medicines concocted with other homemade items. This is the dark side of India that middle-class India consciously chooses to ignore.

Like the middle-class India, Indian movies have moved away from admitting the dark side of India. When I was living in US, one lady after watching few Indian movies thought India was exactly like Switzerland, because every song seems to transport the actors into such locations. When she was told that’s not India, she asked, ‘can I see a movie in which they actually show India?’ It was tough to find one such movie.

India has many versions of itself – and Slumdog Millionaire is one such version. This is not the version of India that Yash Chopra or Karan Johar likes to portray. This version shows squalor, poverty and destitution in its nakedness. It shows the ugliness as it is – without embellishing it or without toning it down.

We don’t have to be proud nor ashamed of this version of India. We have to confront this version of India eventually, now or later. Many of us are living in islands of prosperity, protecting ourselves with tall walls. But then we do get a chance to face that version everyday whenever we get out, at the traffic lights, during riots, in the night when you are coming back from the pub, looking at them as waiters, cleaners, drivers, as employees. You do not dare to take a peek into their lives, but they are grim reminders that not everything is so hunky dory about the India you have made. That there is a version of India that we have left behind in our race, and that India continues to show itself once in a while, reminding us that we can’t go too far, because these wretched are connected to us.

In one way, Slumdog Millionaire is far too real, very unlike of most Indian movies. May be, it’s because we are compelled into owning up what is being shown on the screen. The ugliness of India is something that we have to own up now – no longer can we see it the way we see a movie like Hotel Rwanda, where there is suffering, but that suffering is so far away in a distant land, that we can me afford to be apathetic to it if we wanted to. While watching the movies like Hotel Rwanda, we can sympathize, feel sad and feel enraged during the time the movie is screened, but at the end of the movie, we can at least walk out telling ourselves, ‘it’s not our problem!’ Showing Slumdog Millionaire to Indians is like showing Hotel Rwanda to Rwandans. It’s too close to you that you actually feel burdened.

Should we feel sad that this foreign director has ‘unnecessarily’ highlighted the wretched India to his profit, that India is now exporting its poverty to win laurels? Movies come in all shapes and sizes, some of them have a good message and some do not. Some are good movies and some are not. If India is wretched, why not show that wretchedness on the big screen? Why do we have to take so much pain to show only the shining India?

India is at the helm of becoming a developed world, and as a consequence we will be asked to mature up – whether we like it or not. And that process of maturing up involves asking ourselves some hard questions and admitting hard facts. India’s squalor, poverty and beggary are hard facts that we have to confront one way or the other. Slumdog’s Millionaire is one small step in that direction.