Mother Teresa Debate – Of Saints, Priests and Seva

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[Avadhoot Bhagwan Ram Kustha Sewa Ashram reportedly treating the highest number of leprosy patients in the world]

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Avadhoot Bhagwan Ram Kustha Sewa Ashram reportedly treating the highest number of leprosy patients in the world

 

 

A few years ago I had visited Amravati near Nagpur. An NRI I knew had for some years funded scholarships for hundreds of school going children. This was their annual meet. A day earlier we had visited an ashram for lepers in Amravati, started by a Hindu saint whose name I don’t remember. And that is the crux of this story.

At the annual meet of these poor children receiving scholarships personally funded by their NRI benefactor, one of the invited guests was the city’s Catholic priest. He had been invited by the local contact of the NRI, an auntie who helped administer the programs. When the priest came up to speak, this “secular” local auntie, introduced him as “the most helpful, the one to turn in the hour of need.” The introduction was strangely misplaced since the one person who was really helping the children in this hour of need was the NRI, who funded their scholarships, and their travel to Amravati for the meet. He was himself a devout Hindu, who had spent several years translating Hindu sacred texts in a labour of love.

In that incongruous setting, with an incongruous introduction, the Catholic priest of Amravati began to speak. To these wide-eyed children, with palpable gratitude towards their benefactor, the priest starting speaking of M Teresa who had recently been beatified by the Catholic Church in the process to proclaiming her a saint. The priest’s address was laced with bile at some alleged Brahmins in Calcutta who opposed Teresa, and how she had taken care of lepers. His main was to have the local main road named after her. It was a focused and well-practiced diatribe, apparently one he had been delivering regularly around town. It had no reference to the occasion, or to the children who were present. It seemed quite clear that the priest was simply following orders from on high, perhaps given to all the diocese all over India, to make sure that roads and other monuments in all the cities got named after Teresa. No point canonising a saint if the Church can’t milk the name.

To my regret, I did not challenge the priest. Perhaps I did not want to add to the sheer incongruity of his presence by creating a conflict in what was to be an inspirational evening for the children. Nonetheless, it was clear that Teresa or her Missionaries had done little for the lepers in Amravati, which had multiple ashrams started by Hindu benefactors and saints for their care. If I had raised a question that day, I would have asked the priest why he did not campaign to have a road named for one of these local heroes of Amravati rather than Teresa of Calcutta. Wouldn’t that be more inspiring and more relevant for the people of Amravati?

It is the power of branding that the Church understands well. Even I couldn’t tell you the name of the local saint who started the Ashram at Amravati. There are thousands and thousands of Hindu organisations that work in India without name or fame or conversion agendas. But the branding and marketing by the Church sells us the tale of “Christian Charity” and the fable of Teresa. The difference between organic native culture and centralised institutional Christianity is precisely this. A local community can find a tree, a rock, a mountain sacred. They can have a gram devata, an ishta deva. They can consecrate a temple, employ a pujari. None of this needs approval from a centralised Church or from the jealous monotheistic God.

But when the evangelical army lands at their doorstep, they must discard the local, their own. They must give up control. Till it is a village temple, the community owns and controls it. The deity is their deity. The stories are their stories. But once this community is converted, by bait or crook, and a cross is planted on this temple, they no longer own it. It is now a property of the centralised multinational Church, controlled by those they will never see. The stories must come from one book. Their interpretation must also be authorised, for pain of heresy. They cannot even dub a local benefactor, the one they revere, a saint. Manufacturing saints is serious business. It only happens with the authority of Rome and it is a long-drawn multi-year process. It is a big investment by the Church, and it needs to make sure that it has appropriate returns. Thus it is with Teresa.

When I was travelling in Europe I was struck by how different Catholic saints were from those I was used to. For us a saint was an enlightened master; someone who transformed lives or brought great wisdom. Thus we had Sant Kabir and Sant Tukuram. The Ramcharitmanas has an entire section on “santan ke guna”, how to recognise a sant. It is for the people to do so, not a title conferred by an institution. What struck me particularly about the Catholic “Saints” was that the great contribution of many of them was that they were physically tortured. For my pagan sensibilities this is rather bizarre that someone becomes a saint not through any great quality or even service to the world but by the sole virtue of being tortured for one’s belief. But that would make sense for a religion whose primary symbol is a body nailed onto a cross in torture. As Nietzsche said “The meaning of the God on the Cross is that …everything that suffers, everything that hangs on the Cross, is divine…”

Not only the tortured, the torturers are also sainted. Thus it is that Francis Xavier, who called for the cruellest of Catholic inquisitions onto the people of Goa—Hindus, Muslims and Christians—was made a Saint onto the Church, for his service to spreading Christianity. In that line of illustrious saints Teresa is not all that bad despite Hitchen’s criticism. His main attack that she extolled suffering rather than focusing on removing it, is pretty much in line with other Christian saints. The Buddha too spoke of suffering but he neither loaded it with the guilt of sin nor extolled it. Indian traditions are life affirming. Suffering is there neither for voyeuristic pleasure nor for demonstrations of charity but for moving beyond it. Preying on people’s suffering for conversions, as Teresa’s missionaries were inclined to do, is decidedly bad karma.

Be that as it is, there is a dilemma for the numerous Hindu organisations that work with the seva bhava that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat mentioned. In the world of marketing, exemplified by the Catholic priest’s push to get a road in Amravati named after Teresa; it is common for Indians to buy into the idea that Christian organisations do great charity in India. In fact, as Sandeep Balakrishnan points it, the Missionaries of Charity were a profit centre for the church. The Catholic Church did not fund them. Rather, they made money, collected by marketing the poor, and deposited it into the Vatican bank. They funded the Church. But the average person on the street in India would readily extol their great charity, but be completely ignorant of the hundreds of Hindu organisations that work selflessly and silently. One that recently came to my notice was the Avadhoot Bhagwan Ram Kustha Sewa Ashram reportedly treating the highest number of leprosy patients in the world. These organisations will not toot their own horn. So S. Gurumurthy organised the Hindu Seva fair to highlight some of the work of these organisations. They will not be marketed by a multi-billion dollar MNC Church, so it is up to us to tell these stories.

This article was original published at NitiCentral.com

Why is social media criticising Indian mainstream media: the Presstitutes Controversy

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“You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.” Attributed to US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Gen. V K Singh’s appellation of “presstitutes” in a Tweet caused a storm of responses in the media.

Firstpost.com Editor-in-Chief R Jagannathan, suggested that the media “should learn to take it on the chin.” As he continued in the article:

“The reality is that the media is not always above board when it comes to fair play. In many ways its biases are not only not apparent, but seldom disclosed. I am not someone who believes that there can be truly neutral journalism, for media institutions, owners, editors and even journalists come with their own ideological and personal biases and baggage.”

Senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, on the other hand, took grave objection to V K Singh’s remarks in aHindustan Times piece, asking to  “stop this malicious anti-media campaign”, mainly targeting Prime Minister Modi,

“This is, it seems, open season for name calling against the media. The Union minister and former army chief, General VK Singh, describes journalists as ‘presstitutes’.

He has probably, like a good officer, taken his cue from his ‘boss’: After all, didn’t Narendra Modi repeatedly refer to journalists even mildly critical of him as ‘news traders’ in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections?”

Sardesai continues:

“More dangerous is the message that is now being imbibed by the cheerleaders of the BJP. If any criticism of the government is seen to be an example of ‘presstitution’ or ‘news trading’, then there seems to be a deliberate and insidious attempt to muzzle all dissent.

“In the social media space, where Modi’s supporters have a dominant presence, there is ample evidence of how anyone who challenges the dominant narrative is labelled ‘anti-national’, ‘paid media’, ‘pseudo-secular’ and worse.”

There is a gulf between Jagannathan’s self-reflective piece vs Sardesai’s construal of the General’s remarks as part of “a concerted attempt to target and isolate anyone who raises discomfiting questions even while amply rewarding those media persons who are little more than fellow travellers of the government.”

Mr. Sardesai is a veteran journalist and media insider and may well know of the rewards of being a fellow traveller of the government.  However as an outsider and avid consumer of Indian news media, as well as someone active in social media, I have a different perspective.

The point is not of opinions that are critical, as Rajdeep says. The angst is when opinions masquerade as facts, and facts are themselves falsified or presented in a distorted way to push political agendas. It is true that Social Media has been critical of Indian MSM. But it is specious for Sardesai, writing in the Hindustan Times and been part of mainstream TV channels, to label himself as the alternative voice questioning the dominant narrative. Social media is more democratic. It is not always polite, but it is the challenger to the dominant voices in the mainstream media.

The loss of credibility of mainstream media is not because of a diversity of opinions. The angst in social media, or at least my angst, is not when Indian news media carry a diversity of opinions. It is when facts are deliberately distorted and politically coloured, so that the media cannot be relied upon for basic reporting and coverage. This takes several different forms. The first, as I pointed out regarding the coverage of “church attacks” is in selection bias, choosing news to fit a narrative. Even more egregious is outright distortion and falsification of facts for political colour.  The case that General V K Songh took objection to was coverage of his sarcastic cut at the media for their hyped up coverage of his visit to the Pakistan embassy versus what he considered the muted coverage of India’s remarkable efforts are evacuating Indian nationals and others from Yemen. Even Sardesai admits “some news channels chose to perhaps deliberately misread the sarcasm in Singh’s remarks comparing his leadership of the Yemen rescue efforts with his attendance of the Pakistan national day celebrations.

Unfortunately this deliberate misreading is not isolated. I will pick one egregious example that remains uncorrected in major media outlets:

Mohan Bhagwat made a speech on Jan 5, 2013. This speech was reported by various news outlets as follows:

India Today: RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat at it again, says women should be just housewives and husbands should be the breadwinners

“A husband and wife are involved in a contract under which the husband has said that you should take care of my house and I will take care of all your needs. I will keep you safe.”

“So, the husband follows the contract terms. Till the time, the wife follows the contract, the husband stays with her, if the wife violates the contract, he can disown her,” Bhagwat told a rally in Indore on Saturday.

India Today further reported CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat’s reaction:

Reacting sharply to Bhagwat’s comment, CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat said, “I don’ think it is really surprising because at the end of the day, this is what RSS is. That is why I think it is the retrograde ‘samiti’ of India. These were the regents who when BJP was in power wanted a new Constitution of India based on ‘Manusmriti’. So when he talks in this language, he only reflects his ideology.”

Variations on the same theme were carried by other reputed mainstream news media.

Times of India carried the remarks that India Today did, but then added some additional elaboration.

“A husband and wife are involved in a contract under which the husband has said that you should take care of my house and I will take care of all your needs. I will keep you safe. So, the husband follows the contract terms. Till the time, the wife follows the contract, the husband stays with her, if the wife violates the contract, he can disown her,” Bhagwat told a rally here yesterday.

Serving out an advice for happy marriage life, RSS chief said marriage is successful only when wife looks after the household things and husband looks after the earning and outside work. “This system is also good for society and ensure proper order in society,” Bhagwat said.

The Hindu carried Op-eds denouncing Bhagwat, Hindu society and patriarchy:

This has come quickly upon the heals of yet another discourse, this time on the nature of marriage by the same Shri Bhagwat of the RSS: marriage, he opines, is a “contract” wherein the wife agrees to keep the husband pleased, and the husband in turn agrees to keep the wife secure and fed. After such knowledge, what forgiveness.

The same news can be found elaborated in the Indian Express, DNA, and other mainstream media. The NDTV news headline made it even clearer: “’Women meant to do household chores’: another shocker from RSS chief”

The only problem with all these accounts is that they are either outright fabrications, like NDTV’s headline, or they are complete distortions, attributing to Bhagwat meaning which is the opposite of what he said.

I generally seek out the original video of the complete speech to verify media reported remarks. Here are links to the original speech.

The second speech is the more complete, though it is only audio, so a little less reliable.

Unlike all the media reports that claimed that Bhagwat was advocating marriage as a social contract, where “a husband has said that you should take care of my house and I will take care of all your needs”, he is in fact criticising this idea. His speech traces the origins of this to a materialistic viewpoint that has reduced marriage from a sacrament, a samskara, to a contract that either party can “disown at any time.”

Now there can be perfectly legitimate criticism of what Bhagwat said. One could argue that this was always so, and not a recent attitude as Bhagwat claims. One could also advance the materialistic argument and say what is wrong with marriage being a contract. One could also denounce marriage, like Sheila Cronin, leader of the feminist organisation NOW: “Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the women’s movement must concentrate on attacking this institution. Freedom for women cannot be won without the abolition of marriage” and criticise Bhagwat for upholding the view of marriage as a sacrament.

Rather the gamut of English language mainstream media in India misreporting Bhagwat as advocating that women are “meant to do household chores (sic)” (NDTV) and  “if the wife violates the contract, he can disown her” (Times of India).  The first is an outright lie, we cannot find anywhere where Bhagwat says that the women are meant to do household chores. The second, reported repeatedly, is a distortion since it is presented to seem like Bhagwat is advocating the viewpoint of marriage as a contract, whereas he is criticising it as coming from (Western) materialistic viewpoint.

If the original speech took me a simple Google search to find, and anyone who understands Hindi and hears the entire speech would be hard – pressed to dispute the fact of what Bhagwat is obviously saying, the question arises why so many different major media reports got the facts of the speech wrong.

The quote at the beginning of the article holds some clues. “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.” Unfortunately we find that reporting of facts in Indian media has become ideology driven. News reports are driven by religion and politics.  Often times, the journalists and editors biases show up in everyday news reporting. Some of this is normal human behaviour, but when such distortions become routine it causes the kind of backlash seen in social media against mainstream Indian media. It also affects the credibility of Indian media is a news source. Many examples can be mentioned, including the infamous misquote of Narendra Modi allegedly “justifying” the post-Godhra riots by citing Newton’s law. I leave finding the original correct quote as an exercise for the reader. Nonetheless this “quote” found its way into numerous international reports. Just like in the case of Bhagwat’s misreporting, falsehood is difficult to counters when it is repeatedly cited without any reference to the original. Manufactured news becomes truth, and the subject of analysis and scholarly research.

As I mentioned earlier, I have learned to discount media reporting of “Hindutva” leaders like Bhagwat and tend to revert to original sources like video recordings. Of course, this distortion and mis-reporting is not solely about Hindutva and BJP though they have often borne the brunt. As Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted “there is no better cure for any illusions about our media than reading or viewing a story u actually know something about!”

Former Chief Copy Editor of Hindustan Times Rakesh Kumar Simha, writing in Swarajya speaks of his experience where a potentially fake communally sensitive incident was set to print by a gung-ho reporter, supported by ideological peers, when it was not backed by the facts.

In the pre-Internet days, manufacturing consent, and dissent, may have been easier.  But with great access to original sources, the Indian news media needs to raise their standards, or bear the brunt of the epithets. It particularly needs to understand the difference between fact and opinion. Opinions serve a very useful purpose but are best kept to the editorial pages. This is Journalism 101 that I’m sure everyone in the journalistic community is well aware of. We will learn to trust Indian media reporting more if they can remember to adhere to this more often.

This article was original published at NitiCentral.com

Call out Muslim Phobia, debunk Islamophobia

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The attacks in Paris on Charlie Hebdo bring to a fore fault lines in Europe. It has fuelled a European right that is calling for bans on Muslim immigrants. A major French TV anchor called for deportation of their existing Muslim population. For a while the hashtag #KillAllMuslims trended on Twitter. Germany saw anti-Muslim protests with thousands of people taking to the streets. In the US “Judge” Jeanine on Fox News said “We need to kill them. We need to kill them, the radical Muslim terrorists.” There is a danger of this fuelling a real phobia, aMuslim phobia. This is different from suppressing critique of Islam using the term Islamophobia. Here is why.

Compared to India, the European countries have miniscule Muslim populations both in absolute and relative terms. Yet, though there have been religious riots, usually based on local factors, it would be harder to find such sweeping protests regarding “Muslims” as a whole in India. Neither would enforced uniformity, such as the French ban on the burqa and the niqab get much traction in India where the plurality of ways is deeply ingrained in the culture. Here is a picture from UK I retweeted:

Let us be clear. Targeting Muslims as an imagined monolith is bigotry. It must be countered. Human beings are diverse. Just because someone has a Muslim name, or “looks Muslim” or comes from a Muslim country or observes Muslim rituals does not make them a radical. With over a billion people, there is a wide diversity of Muslim experiences. Even within Indian Muslims, customs vary by region, caste and affiliation. The instance I cite above such as the call in UK by right wing groups that “Muslims get out” is an example of what I call Muslim phobia.

This kind of phobia is starting to happen in India as well. Just as Muslims youngsters are being radicalised often via dis-contextualised textual messages, we find instances of young “Hindutva warriors” exhibiting increasing prejudice. Here is a simple example, more egregious ones are easily found.

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Millions of Muslims serve in the government, in the armed forces, in the security services of this country not as Muslims but as Indians. To view them simply on the basis of religious identity is another form of Muslim phobia. In Europe we find Muslim phobia increasingly acting as the outlet for racism, xenophobia, and presumed Christian or Western cultural superiority. Orientalist caricatures of Muslims underlie their stereotyping.

On the flip side, there is a term used most often by apologists, “Islamophobia.” This term has a history. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) specifically promoted the idea of Islamophobia. OIC funds and supports, conferences, reports, politicians, diplomats, academics, journalists and activists to combat this “Islamophobia.” When that term is bandied about, it is right to be suspicious about the funding and agenda of its proponents. As Asra Nomani writes in the Washington Post:

“In 2007, as part of this playbook, the OIC launched the Islamophobia Observatory, a watchdog group based in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, with the goal of documenting slights against the faith. Its first report, released the following year, complained that the artists and publishers of controversial Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad were defiling “sacred symbols of Islam . . . in an insulting, offensive and contemptuous manner.” The honor brigade began calling out academics, writers and others, including former New York police commissioner Ray Kelly and administrators at a Catholic school in Britain that turned away a mother who wouldn’t remove her face veil.”

Unlike Muslim Phobia, which is about real people, Islamophobia is a term used to protect an ideology from criticism. Islam is not a person, it is an idea much like capitalism or communism. Ideas must not be immune from criticism. When people in the UK say “Muslims get out” it can be, and often is, an expression of latent racism. We most oppose that. But ideas need to be up for criticism, just as people as a whole must not be stereotyped.

This played out in a famous American talk show confrontation in the Bill Mahler show, where Sam Harris guest called Islam a “motherload of bad ideas.” Now what Sam Harris says is, and should be, contestable. But to shut off the points he makes as Islamophobia is to shut off the debate altogether. There is a problem of religious radicalism, and Islam may be linked to the problem, at the very least since a number of people that are blowing themselves and others up explicitly self-proclaim that they are doing it for Islam. But to discover Islam is or isn’t the problem we cannot forestall the debate. To label criticism of Islam into a “phobia” does exactly that, by labelling criticism as an irrational psychological disorder. This is exactly the tack used in Islamic states where people criticising Islam have been branded mentally ill and terrorists. The term Islamophobia, funded by the deep pockets of the OIC, is used to subject the world to the same Islamic theological restrictions.

A final two points. First, Muslims rightly point out that, despite the highly publicised terror killings, the Christian West has killed far more people, even in recent times. The invasion of Iraq is a case in point, where the death toll has surpassed half a million. There is also evidence that Bush’s irrational foray into this war was guided by his Christian belief in end times and that the war was fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, and that US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s briefings for the war were framed by Biblical quotes. Just because the Iraq body count came from a formal army, covered by “embedded journalists” of a “sophisticated” West doesn’t make it any less brutal. Perhaps a thousand times more children died in Iraq as a result of the war, than in the recent Peshawar school attack. While Islam and Christianity both have a bloody history, there is little doubt that, in sheer body count, Christianity has no parallel.

Yet, despite the flaws, the Christian West has launched a serious critique of Christianity. Our accounts of the genocides and killings by Christians come from Western sources. The challenge to Christian theological presumptions has also emerged from there. This kind of challenge and critique is equally necessary for Islam and it should not be forestalled either by the financial clout of the OIC, and its own paid coterie yelling “Islamophobia” or by misguided moral relativism. The current climate in Islamic societies, particularly laws related to blasphemy and apostasy, make this critique difficult from within.

The values of free speech in the West have offered protection to dissident Muslim voices to begin this critique of Islam, though it only has marginal influence yet on Muslim societies. Charlie Hebdo may not be the best example of such a critique, but it bludgeons open the space for one. The challenge for the West will be to not let that space be filled by mindless xenophobia that leads to Muslim phobia. Europe has been there before. Those that call themselves liberals and intellectuals must take up that challenge of confronting Islam intellectually without the straightjacket of political correctness.

This article was original published at NitiCentral.com

Rape in India – Why it becomes a worldwide story

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[Plight of Indian women is a marketing tool for the Global evangelical movement.]

Rape is a terrible crime, a case where the victims are overwhelmingly women and the perpetrators overwhelmingly men. Every rape carries with it a personal story of trauma. To use statistics to speak about rape appears to dehumanize it into a number. Yet, when the mainstream news media is branding India into a “rape capital”, it is worth a pause. Maria Wirth, a German émigré to India wrote on how she found German TV disproportionately reporting a rape incident in far-away India, while a local rape was a small inside item. Similarly, a rape in a Cab in New Delhi made it all the way into the New York Times while an estimated 700 rapes on that day in the US merited no mention. This begs the question—is disproportionate coverage of rape in India justified? Or is it driven by an agenda?

First, a look at the numbers. If we go by reported rape statistics, India has one of the lowest rates of rape in the world, sensationalist coverage notwithstanding. Here are the top 15 countries of the world by rapes per 100,000 people. (Source: Nationmaster.com)

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We find that South Africa tops the chart in per capita rapes and Australia and the United States are in the top fifteen. (Note some of this data is from different years, based on available statistics. )If we just use the year 2010, the United States in the top 10 countries in the number of rapes. So is Sweden, right up there with Suriname.

Now, it is reasonable to question the figures based on reported rapes alone since there is considerable under-reporting of rapes. However, every country has problems with under-reporting. In Islamic countries under-reporting is a severe problem because of the difficulty of getting rape convictions in Islamic law. While the US is among the top countries in reported rape, still a majority (60%) of sexual assaults go unreported. Based on data collected by the US organization RAINN, factoring in unreported rapes, only 3% of rapists in the US would spend even one day in prison.

While low conviction rates and the difficulty of getting justice is given as one reason for low reporting of rapes in India, convictions rates are fairly low worldwide. The rate of rape conviction in the UK is only 6.5 percent in England and Wales, with a shocking low of 2.9% in Scotland. With such a low chance of conviction, women would be increasingly reluctant to go through the trauma of a rape trial and reporting rates would be depressed. India, by contrast, has a significantly higher rape conviction rate. While many countries, including UK and France, have shown a decline in rape conviction rate, India’s rate, despite a decline, is still several times higher than the UK at 26.4% with Delhi having a whopping 41.5% rape conviction rate, despite India’s notoriously inefficient justice system. A high chance of conviction would also have a positive affect on higher reporting. Thus the comparison of reported rape statistics cannot be dismissed out of hand, even though there are likely differences in reporting rates across countries. Given that caveat, let us see where India stand in reported rapes per capita in the table where the US is in the top 15.

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India is near the bottom, at number 94, right next to Canada. (Total number of countries in this list, where statistics were available, was 119). Canada and the US are also a study in contrast. Though they are neighbors, and are superficially similar, their rape rates are a study in contrast. If countries were low in the list simply because of differences in reporting rate and not actual crimes, we would need to explain why the reporting rates between Canada and the US are so dramatically different. If not, we have to accept that the rank in this table, at least to some extent, reflects the actual rape rate. Along with India, Buddhist Japan and Hindu Nepal also find themselves near the bottom of the list.

Why then this huge preoccupation with rapes in India in Western media and the Indian media echo box. A clue is found on this website a veiloftearsmovie.com. This is a Christian evangelical site, releasing a major film on “A Veil of Tears,” the plight of Indian women. The movie starts by dramatic accounts of the Delhi gangrape and starts to list a litany of ills in the “persecution” of India women and how it was important to save them. The agenda? The website is clear. They are explicitly marketing the movie to Church groups to collect funds and their partner is “Gospel for Asia.”

“While the film, “Veil of Tears”, brings into focus the truth behind a dark reality existing in the world today, we are excited to highlight the hope being given to countless millions of women each day through the work and ministry of Gospel for Asia…

We invite you to take a moment to learn more about the mission of Gospel for Asia and how you can be a part of our movement to rescue generations of women from persecution and rejection and into the hope of Jesus Christ.”

The plight of Indian women is a marketing tool for the Global evangelical movement, that are shown explicitly using this to ask for money.

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Indian itself is the biggest target country in the Joshua Project, aimed at converting people between the 10-40 parallels. The missionary work is done on a war footing with detailed statistics about “unreached people,” every city and village with tribe and caste affiliations. India is the biggest and softest target. Most Islamic countries limit Christian missionaries, as does China. India is a unique place with the highest number of people to convert, the easiest access and the most naivete about the conversion war.

Can this influence news reporting? As I point out in my research into the Conversion War, we have to remember the size of the money involved. The one-year revenue of institutionalized Christianity is estimated to be $260 billion dollars (2001) figures. iAbout a fifth of this, $47 billion, are allocated to global mission work every year.

Missionary activity is also well organized and coordinated with deep reach into the media. There are coordinating groups for Christian and Christian-friendly media persons in India. The Shankracharya “murder” story was broken in one of these coordinated attacks. We, the heathen “target group” is, of course, blind to all these activities.

A $250 billion corporate force with the support of the most powerful countries on the planet can create a lot of influence. People in India are especially susceptible to regarding Christianity as a benign force and the Christian narrative dominates the media. The demonization of India for rapes is part of this propaganda war. US missionaries are the biggest funders of evangelical activities in India and are pushing the narrative that Christianization is necessary to “save” Indian women from the “oppressive native culture.” Unfortunately Indian media is complicit in this global campaign. This when the US has 16 times the rape rate of India. Even if we consider that the actual Indian rape rate is 4 times what is reported, and the US reports every rape (research indicates it barely reports half), women in the US would still be 4 times more likely to be raped that in India. Whose culture needs saving? Why is the rape rate in Christian US so high? These are questions worth exploring.

Meanwhile, we should shun the hyperbole created by Indian and international media on this issue that does little to help Indian women. Rather than hyped up culture-blame article with no solutions (other than the implicit one that women have to be liberated from this oppressive culture, ideally by White Christian knights in shining armor), it is better to take incremental non-sensationalist steps. This includes police sensitivity training on handling rape victims and reports and tools for women and men including education and safety tips to reduce rape. It is the Indian media and television channels that are part of the exploitation of this issue for sensationalist coverage. They have not been part of the solution. Rather the media’s own role in commoditization of women’s bodies for selling products, newspapers and channels should be under the scanner.

Source: World Christian Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press. 2001

This article was original published at NitiCentral.com

RTE Act is destructive and communal

India needs a decentralised education model that does not impose city standards on schools in villages and tribal areas.

[India needs a decentralised education model that does not impose city standards on schools in villages and tribal areas.]

 

“India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago, and so is Burma, because the British administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out. They scratched the soil and began to look at the root, and left the root like that, and the beautiful tree perished. The village schools were not good enough for the British administrator, so he came out with his programme. Every school must have so much paraphernalia, building, and so forth. Well, there were no such schools at all. There are statistics left by a British administrator which show that, in places where they have carried out a survey, ancient schools have gone by the board, because there was no recognition for these schools, and the schools established after the European pattern were too expensive for the people, and therefore they could not possibly overtake the thing.”
Mahatma Gandhi at Chatham House, London, October 20, 1931, quoted in “The Beautiful Tree” by Dharampal.

The RTE act of 2009 continues where the British left off. Dharmpal painstakingly showed, based on British archival records that he copied long hand over decades in London, that India had a flourishing education system that catered to all castes.  He documented, from early British records, that there were areas in India with near hundred percent literacy before the British uprooted the tree of indigenous education.  To move again towards hundred percent literacy, scrapping the RTE  act must be a priority on the government’s legislative agenda.

The strategies that the British used are dutifully carried over in the RTE act.  Schools are being de-recognized by the (still) colonial state.  This is being based not on the quality of learning but by the quantity of “paraphernalia.” The act lists out a criteria for buildings, fences and a playground in an eerie echo of the British approach to India, completely disconnected from how rural India works. This has led to a closure of existing rural schools, increased the cost of education and, with the recent Supreme Court judgment exempting specified religions identified as “minorities” from its draconian provisions, further communalized the Indian state.  An act that closes schools in the cause of universal education can only be considered an act of monumental stupidity.

With all the fuss about fences and teacher counts, the RTE act has little emphasis on either pedagogy or learning outcomes. It not only doesn’t specify what a student is expected to learn after eight years of education but goes on to say that no standardized board exam will be given to measure if they have learnt anything at all. Further no student will be held back in a class, which means that class room standards would decline. A disruptive student cannot even be expelled, nor can a student be punished in case it leads to “mental harassment”. It looks like the framers of the RTE act envisioned the classroom as a free-for-all fenced zoo after which the students can be released into the wild, no better off, when they turn fourteen.

There are plenty of existing models for universal schooling that the act could have drawn on. The US has ahighly decentralized model where public (government) schools flourish and are directly funded by local taxpayers and local managed in school districts.  Rather than decentralizing education structurally and taking on the executive responsibility to provide education, the act tacks on another disease of the Sonia Raj,  un-elected centralized “Advisory Councils” with little or no accountability to the people.

While the executive disowns the responsibility for providing quality public education it impinges on private schools, firstly by requiring them to not have entrance examinations, and secondly by creating coercive quotas for a quarter of the school population and thirdly by limiting their compensation for such students.  Given the fact that students cannot be held back in a class even if they don’t learn anything or expelled from a school if they have no desire to learn, the RTE act will over time result in a drastic lowering of school standards and education.  It doesn’t fix public education, and then turns private education to the same low standards as public education in India.

If the aim is to use private schools for public education, the lack of admission tests would make sense if all the children were allotted based on local area and the criteria was applicable to all schools. With the May 2014Supreme Court judgment these coercive measures are only for those schools that have the misfortune of being labeled as “Hindu.”  The Indian constitution is communal in that it discriminates between people based on their religion. It creates a religious apartheid state where, as in this case, those labeled as “religious majority” can be subjected to coercive legislation while those labeled as a “religious minority” have a right not to be. In this land of diversity singling specific religious groupings for the privilege to run schools without interference is communally divisive. Interfering with admission criteria of some private schools will allow other to forge ahead. It privileges the already privileged—Catholic schools that had a leg up based on a colonial system, can continue to be run as a Christian-favoring meritocracy while Hindu-run schools struggle to compete under the new framework.

This religious minortyism is unique to India and would be illegal in the US and most Western countries and absurd in Islamic ones.  It keeps “minorities” in the control of religious authorities and identified primarily with religious identities.  It also creates a state-favored impetus to conversion out of the majority traditions by allowing “minority” schools, that discriminate on the basis of religion, to be run without state coercion while the “majority” is not allowed to do so. In the US, for instance, it would also be illegal for a Catholic College like St. Stephen’s to receive state funding while explicitly discriminating against Hindus and others in its admission criteria with a 50% Christian quota.

Finally, the RTE allows no room for non-traditional learning or alternate schools. India has a long tradition of children learning in skill-based jatis and kulas and from their parents. Even the highly regulated US system has provisions for home schooling. Forcing children into one size fits all education is destructive to traditional skills. It will also make it difficult to run Ekal Vidyalayas, single teacher, low cost schools that have helped serve distant communities with little infrastructure. The RTE acts requires at least two teachers and contains cultural absurdities like mandatory walls and fences, force-fitting a city-based security paradigm into village or tribal areas where it makes little sense.

Ideally the state should invest in a decentralized, locally governed and funded public education system, based on existing successful models in the world. Schools on public lands grants must be run by and for the public. Private schools should be allowed to charge whatever fees they want, but should not receive subsidized land.. It is the economy of scarcity caused by over-regulation that creates “capitation fees” (which the RTE makes illegal, fixing symptoms rather than the cause), just as the regulated industrial economy created black market “premiums” for simple things like scooters and phone lines.  The politicians, many of who have used their clout for land allotments to run private schools, have a vested interest in this education economy of scarcity. The RTE doesn’t fix it, it makes it worse.

If we truly cannot create a public delivery model, we would need to move a non-discriminatory voucher model, valid for any private school in the local area. To make it valid only for Hindu schools cannot be justified. Education regulation should focus on outcomes where children at certain age must show proficiency at an appropriate level in math and language skills in their mother tongue in any school or learning system that they are part of. The focus must shift from paraphernalia to learning outcomes as a primary measure. A school repeatedly failing in learning outcomes can be shut down rather than de-licensing it because it has too few rooms.  A good teacher can teach children sitting under a tree; and many rooms wont ensure the children have learnt anything.

The challenge for India is to prepare a workforce for modernity, at the same time preparing a modernity that works for India rather than being destructive to its strengths. The RTE fails on both these counts. By focusing on fences and buildings rather than learning outcomes it will leave a generation un-prepared. At the same time, it is completely disconnected from the realities of India, whether it be traditional vocational learning, jati-based knowledge systems or alternate school experiments. Finally, with the recent Supreme Court judgment applying the destructive provisions of this act only to Hindu schools, it is stuck in the politics of 1947 rather than preparing to move away from religion-based categories and discriminative laws. Continuing on this path is a recipe for disaster. The RTE act must be scrapped as a legislative priority.

This article was original published at NitiCentral.com

Swachh Bharat needs better governance, civic infrastructure

Swachh Bharat_1

[With all of Narendra Modi’s good intentions, broom-wielding politicians are not going to create a swachh bharat. Instead, we need massive investment in solid and liquid waste management in India.]

For the success of Prime Minister Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign it is important to focus on the issue of civic infrastructure for waste management rather than that elusive “civic sense.” It is a failure of the Government apparatus. Otherwise, we will be beating ourselves up when we find that, a few years hence, Indian public areas are as dirty as when we started off despite our exemplar PM with a broom.

With all the noise and fuss about civic responsibility and people wielding brooms the unsightly garbage on India roads is not primarily a behavioral problem, it is a problem of lack of accountability and effectiveness of local Government institutions to build an infrastructure for solid waste management. Here is a recent tweet.

Swachh Bharat_2

Let us take a good look at this garbage. Actually look at it. You will notice that most of the garbage on our roads is the garbage of modernity—of packaging, paper and plastic.             You will also find that garbage cans and disposal units are insufficient in number and overflowing. Handling this garbage needs a newer system than one that existed a thousand or even a hundred years ago. Why is that we are unable to come up or even adopt the system needed to deal with disposal?

The fundamental reason for this is that we have a local Government that simply does not work responsively to people’s needs. While in the private space, we have imported the technology for modernity that produces this paper and plastic on a massive scale, the Government systems have simply not adapted at the same speed. When we import modernity’s garbage-producing capacity, we also need to import modern waste disposal at the same time. We have not put in place an end-to-end system that looks at the life cycle of waste production, collection and recycling or disposal. In the US, disposal has often meant large landfills. Modernity is producing garbage at the rate that we will fill up the earth with garbage so we also need to look at curbing garbage at the source by strongly discouraging non-biodegradable packaging.

It is a misconception when people attribute India’s dirt to a “lack of civic sense” or the uncleanliness of its people. On the contrary, Indians are fastidious about cleaning their homes. You will find even the poorest Indians being particular about keeping even mud huts clean. While the dumping of garbage on the street is taken to be lack of civic sense, it is in reality, a lack of civic infrastructure. With properly planned garbage collection, disposal, street cleaning (that discards brooms for modern cleaning equipment) and amply available public garbage bins, the need to litter will decline considerably. An example is that our gated communities which are privately managed are often likely to be much cleaner than the city. It is not that within gated communities, the citizens suddenly acquire civic sense. It is that outside them, public infrastructure is notoriously bad.

Many people Tweeted wondering why Jamshedpur, which is privately maintained, is so clean.

Swachh Bharat_3

The answer again, is that it is privately maintained. If privately maintained India is clean and publically maintained India dirty, the problem cannot be Indian culture; it is the Indian state. The Indian state, a continuance of the colonial state, has repeatedly failed us. It is time to dismantle it and come up with one that works for the people.

It is worth remembering that every country has gone through this process of dealing with modern waste.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Western world has gone from abjectly dirty public environments to relative cleanliness. If you go to Paris today you may be impressed by its wide roads and stately buildings. But in the middle of the 19th century, Paris was “overcrowded, dark, dangerous and unhealthy.” In 1854, Victor Considerant wrote:

“Paris is an immense workshop of putrefaction, where misery, pestilence and sickness work in concert, where sunlight and air rarely penetrate. Paris is a terrible place where plants shrivel and perish, and where, of seven small infants, four die during the course of the year.”

How did this get fixed? It didn’t get fixed by holding civic science lessons for Parisians and ranting about Parisian culture. It was fixed by a massive investment in the infrastructure of the city, particularly its water and sewage works in the form of the Haussmann renovation of Paris, commissioned by Napolean III, which continued till 1927.

With all of Narendra Modi’s good intentions, broom-wielding politicians are not going to create a swachh bharat. Instead, we need massive investment in solid and liquid waste management in India. I am a stockholder in a US company — Waste Management. The necessity of managing waste makes it a good investment. This company is also the one that picks up garbage from my curb, sorted by recyclable, compost and landfill.

Swachh Bharat_4

India needs to invite and learn from these kinds of companies. It also needs to fix local governance to make it more effective and responsive. Finally, if we want our sweepers to set aside brooms for modern cleaning equipment, we need to invest in the linguistic infrastructure that brings them modern technology in their own languages, as I recommend at bhashaneeti.org. The problem with our garbage is also a problem of our inability to deal with modernity in our own terms and our own languages.

I grew up in Chandigarh, which as Indian cities go, had a decent civic infrastructure. Public spaces were dotted with garbage cans. Growing up there, using a garbage can, as opposed to littering was natural. I remember going to Gurgaon some years later, trying to find where to throw a plastic packaging bag. I could find no garbage cans. I was advised to throw it on the sidewalk, as “this is what we do here.”

Civic sense will follow the widespread availability civic infrastructure and it is the latter that should be our clear priority. Every city needs to have proper, modern solid and liquid waste infrastructure. It is only then we can realize the dream of Swachh Bharat.

This article was original published at NitiCentral.com

Love Jihad is more than just a Conspiracy Theory

Love Jihad - A rational data-based appraisal is the best way to counter both denial and exaggeration. (Representational Picture - Photo PTI)

 

The “Love Jihad” controversy has been generating more heat than light. NDTV’s Sreenivasan Jain weighed in with an analysis of rape numbers by community, without normalising for relative population sizes. While Rupa Subramanya critiqued the analysis, we are still left with more heat than light. What is love jihad? Is it real? Is it possible to quantify? We try to answer this here since a rational data-based appraisal is the best way to counter both denial and exaggeration.

First let us define what we are studying. Sreenivasan Jain mixes in rape offenders by religion but we believe that is not identical to love jihad. So what is love jihad?

Love jihad. n. Muslim men specifically targeting non-Muslim girls for relationships and sex as part of a conversion strategy to Islam.

Love jihad may or may not involve coercion but it does involve intent, and, once consummated, it may be followed by abusive behavior towards the girl.

Does this exist for real? Sandip Roy, in an inane analysis, opines,

“While the pressure to convert on a young non-Muslim woman marrying a Muslim man can be real, as a cold-blooded global Islamization strategy it makes absolutely no sense. It takes too long. It expends too much energy. It requires too much investment.  But like all great urban myths the Love Jihad persists.”

Just as all terrorist plots may not be entirely rational, whether love jihad (see definition) exists or is an “urban myth” cannot be judged on Roy’s opinion of its efficacy as an Islamisation strategy. Islamists could be using their own logic. Wooing a woman in any case takes energy. If that energy can be expended on a kafir girl perhaps the rewards on earth can be combined with the benefits of heaven. Besides, since kafir girls are not in burqas, they must be, in Islamist logic, “uncovered meat”, hence easy. Love jihad’s existence cannot be determined based on whether or not it is ultimately effective as a global Islamisation strategy.

lovejihad

So we need to look further than Jain and Roy for evidence if love jihad exists. Let us look at Exhibit 1 to see its most clear articulation, though its authenticity comes from a single source. In 2005, a pamphlet was found being distributed to Muslim young men in Luton, UK, reported on by journalist Clive Gresswell.

A Message to Moslem Youth

Real Khilafa – A Political Reality From Dr. K M Farukh.

For Private Circulation

We are each and every weekend having stalls where we give out  literature about Islam. We have these stalls in may [sic] areas especially in areas where there are a lot of kafirs (Sikh Hindu Jews AND OTHER NONBELIEVERS) We would like to extend our activities further. We are in many ways surprised that so many Moslems have come to buy our books and provide funds for relieving the distressed Moslems of the world especially in places such as Kossovo and Kashmir. The government and local authority is not interested in our cause as they would rather fund Gurdawaras and Gays and Homos.

We have many interesting books about Islam showing why Islam is the only human way of life and other so called religions are animalistic. The teaching of the great Prophet Mohammed must be passed on until the whole world is Islam. The world will only thus be saved.

We call upon our fellow youth to come and join us in our mission -universal and global Islam.

The job is big but nothing is impossible. If the Kafir non believer does not accept by gentle persuasion or reasoning then other methods which are allowed for in the holy Quran must be used such as – going to war with the kafir or converting them by manipulation. We need to send out our boys to bring into the umma or community of Islam.

This task is getting easier by the day as the Sikh and hindu [?] girls are not taught (as is done in Islam) much about their religion at all. They have a westernized upbringing and the school college and university campus is the ideal place for our youth to carry out their duties easily in this way.

It is easy to take the Sikh girls out on a date as they generally like a good drink and from these gradually they can be brought into Islam. This is not a hard job at all as the Kafir women they like Moslems. Hardly surprising as we are attractive and intelligent compared with Kafirs. This is common sense and everybody knows. Otherwise why would Indian films have so many Moslem actors. There is not a single Hindu or Sikh actor in Pakistani films. We need more funds desperately to carry on our job and we need volunteers from amongst the youth specially. Come and join us this weekend and every weekend – we will be in an area near you.

We need your help at this crucial time when our moslem brothers and sisters are being killed in countries all over the world.

THE REAL KHILAFAH MOVEMENT – THE EYES THE EARS

THE VOICE OF Islam

The journalist reported personally witnessing the distribution of this to “Asian” men, but was this really happening? In the UK, this phenomena is not labelled “love jihad” but “grooming”. Whatever the authenticity of the leaflet, as early as 1998, the Sikh community in UK found this to be a sufficiently serious problem that they set up the Sikh Awareness Society specifically to address concerns of grooming, with BBC producing a documentary on the “sexual grooming of young six girls by Muslim men.”

In 2011, Andrew Norfolk of The Times broke the story of the Conspiracy of Silence about Pakistani (Muslim) men grooming white (non-Muslim) girls. This was the first time a major newspaper broke this story. The conspiracy of silence was maintained by political correctness in UK, for fear of being dubbed racist, quite akin to mainstream media’s denial in India, for fear of being dubbed “communal”. Unfortunately, silence or denial simply makes the problem worse. The Rotherham Report, a Government commission in the UK, finally broke this major scandal of 1400 young girls groomed and exploited by mostly Pakistani men, while the police in connivance with the politicians and the liberal media turned a blind eye to the happenings. The report pointed out that this abuse was ignored because it specifically involved Pakistani (Muslim)  men which was a “politically inconvenient truth.”

lovejihad-so-islamic-to-torture-a-hindu-infidel-women

In India, the denial strategy used with greatest effect is to turn every such report into a “Hindutva plot.” In this article, we specifically avoid using any Hindutva sources to avoid that bogey. As early as 2009, the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council alleged that 4000 girls had been subjected to this form of religious conversion. But this is simply an allegation, do we have any real data?

CNN-IBN’s Bhupendra Chaubey framed the issue as “Love Jihad: Is inter-religious relationship a crime?” saying BJP leaders are making it out to be one-sided, as if “members of one community were out to get members of another community.” Before we look at the data, we can keep this question in mind. Are these groups simply protesting against the natural inter-religious relationships where people from different communities may be falling in love with each other (which conservatives are trying to bar or use for propaganda) or is there anything more sinister?

We’ll let Kerala’s Congress Chief Minister present the figures. Chandy, in a written answer in the State legislature, specified that in the period 2006-2012, 7713 persons converted to Islam vs 2803 to Hinduism. This is a ratio of about 2.75:1. In 2009-2012, 2667 of the converts to Islam were young women, of which 2195 were Hindus and 492 were Christians. In contrast, the number of young women who converted to Christianity and Hinduism were 79 and 2 respectively. So while the overall conversion rate (though for a bit different period) to Islam and Hinduism is 2.75:1, it jumps to an incredible 1097.5:1 when it comes to young women.

Since, we don’t specifically have numbers on inter-religious relationships or marriages, it could be possible that all these young women spontaneously developed a love for Islam, at over 300 times the rate of “normal” conversions. However the odds are unlikely. Young woman are more likely to be seduced by young men than by religion, and given evidence of targeting from other countries, the protests of diverse Sikh, Christian and Hindu groups and qualitative evidence, it is likely this represents a phenomena of “Muslim men specifically targeting non-Muslim girls for relationships and sex as part of a conversion strategy” aka Love Jihad. They say where there is smoke there is fire and here there is a lot of smoke from different communities and countries. Enough, at least, to warrant further study.

But, let’s see the ostrich responses. Firstpost again dismisses this as a “failed propaganda campaign” (from Kerala) by communal groups to “vitiate the atmosphere”. Chandy had said that there is no evidence of “forced conversion” though Hindu and Christian groups protested a police cover-up in the investigations. Police cover up? Let us hear what the police said when investigating the case of conversion of two Hindu girls by Muslim men who “cheated them into converting to Islam by promises of love.”

“The state police after investigation had informed the court that though there were complaints about attempts to convert by feigning love that there was no evidence for the existence of an organisation named love jihad in the state. After this the court withdrew its order to inquire into the issue.”

The report is dismissed because there is no evidence of an organisation named “love jihad”!

Does it need to be pointed out that love jihad is the label for a phenomenon and not the name of an organisation? Can cover-up get any more blatant? As accomplices to this cover up, the Firstpost article has this statement,  which it carries without question:

“The Muslim groups called the charges, a ”malicious misinformation campaign” by Sangh Parivar outfits.”The misinformation campaign against the non-existent organisation in the name of ‘Love Jihad’ would only lead to vitiating the prevailing communal harmony ..” (emphasis added)

So there you have it. If the UK could have a conspiracy of silence for years, while young women continued to be duped, groomed and abused, since the truth was politically inconvenient, you can imagine how long Indian politicians and “secular” media can carry on the farce.

If the so-called liberals stood against religious fundamentalism, they would expose this phenomena, strengthen liberal Muslims and take the wind out of the Sangh Parivar making it their issue. Instead they choose denial, apologia and fudged figures. This lets issues fester, provides cover for extremist Islam and suppress the truth till it erupts in a communal frenzy.  Let us end with two quotes from liberal Muslim voices:

Dr Taj Hargey,  an Imam at Oxford, The Telegraph,  ‘Imams promote grooming rings’, Muslim leader claims

‘“The activities of the Oxford sex ring are “bound up with religion and race” because all the men – though of different nationalities – were Muslim and they “deliberately targeted vulnerable white girls, whom they appeared to regard as ‘easy meat’, to use one of their revealing, racist phrases”, Dr Hargey said.

In all cases the perpetrators were Muslim men and the victims were under age white girls. To pretend it is not a problem is the Islamic community is “ideological denial”, Dr Hargey said.’

Tufail Ahmad, in The New Indian Express article “Secularism Leading to Islamism

“The bigger challenge is how to rescue South Asian secularism from its amorous embrace of Islamism”

Communalism in Secular Constitution – Time for Reform

Communalism in secular constitution_1

India needs freedom from communalism of minority-majority politics.

It may be the law of unintended consequences or it may simply be the result of the climate of partition in which our Constitution was framed. Whatever the reason, the Indian Constitution has significant communal clauses that result in separatism and religious identity politics. Constitutional reform is necessary for these clauses to be fixed.

The first of these clauses is Article 30.

30. Right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions.—(1) All minorities, whether based on religion or language, shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice.

(1A) In making any law providing for the compulsory acquisition of any property of an educational institution established and administered by a minority, referred to in clause (1), the State shall ensure that the amount fixed by or determined under such law for the acquisition of such property is such as would not restrict or abrogate the right guaranteed under that clause.

(2) The State shall not, in granting aid to educational institutions, discriminate against any educational institution on the ground that it is under the management of a minority, whether based on religion or language.

At the outset these clauses sound eminently reasonable, shouldn’t minority rights be protected? However the very idea of a “minority” communalises India in a way that it wasn’t before this. How is that?

Notions of majority and minority were extremely relevant in a Europe beset by religious warfare between Christian factions. Exclusive Christianity brooked no rivals. Since there was only one “true” way, other religions and even other “heresies” must come from the devil and needed to be eliminated. As a result, as soon as one religious group gained majority power, it would set out to eliminate the others. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church kept a stranglehold on Europe. After the internecine conflict between Protestants and Catholics, Europe started to discover the virtues of tolerance and the separation of Church and state. It is because of the inherent intolerance of Abrahmic monotheism that the concept of minority rights needed to be created.

Pluralistic India is a land of minorities. The Swaminarayana sect, without about 20 million adherents, is as much a minority as the Jains are. About 4 million Tamil Brahmins are a miniscule minority, as are the even smaller 200,000 Kashmiri Pandits. However, according to the Constitution, neither the 20 million Swaminarayanas nor the 4 millions Tamil Brahmins, nor even the 200,000 Kashmiri Pandits are minorities, while the nearly 200 millions Muslims are one monolithic “minority.” This communalises India along European lines.

Neither India’s Muslims nor the so-called Hindus are monolithic groupings. Indian Muslims followed a diversity of regional customs and laws, not one uniform “Muslim Personal Law.” In a land of minorities, Muslims as a whole can be called a super-minority. But even that is not correct. In calling out certain groups and treating them as monolithic and homogenous, the Constitution lays the basis for religious identity politics and polarisation.

When the Ramkrishna Mission was being hounded in Communist West Bengal, it filed a suit to be granted minority status arguing that it was not Hindu. In practically any other country, “status” accrues by being part of the mainstream. Ahmediyas in Pakistan or politically, Mormons in the US, would be quite happy to be considered part of the majority. However, India follows a unique system akin to apartheid, where being declared a minority creates a “status” and privileges that are not available to you if you are classified as part of the “majority.” While the Constitutional framers probably intended equal rights, these Constitutional provisions have been caricatures of equality, leading to communal polarisation, identity politics and the spectre of an “aggrieved majority.”

In fact, the majority identity itself is a creation of the Constitution. If you define certain groups as minority and give them specific rights, then one must also, by default, create the notion of a majority. This divides up India’s diverse, intermixed, syncretic traditions around communal lines. It is like using an 18th century European template on Indian society and starting to replicate the problems of 18th century Europe in India.

Strangely enough, even in Christian-dominated US, the US Constitution is able to safeguard individuals without any specific provisions for minority groups. Moreover, the Indian Constitution allows the state to fund religious institutions and “minority” schools which can blatantly discriminate on religious grounds, such as St Stephen’s does. The funding of a Muslim or a Mormon institute by the US Government, which could then discriminate in admissions, would be patently absurd and unconstitutional and would be thrown out immediately by the law courts. In India however, the Constitution specifically enables this religious apartheid where, if you call yourself a “Hindu”, the state can interfere completely in your educational institution but not if get yourself legally labelled a religious minority.

It has been rightly pointed out by many commentators that the despite the alleged “special privileges”, many Muslims remain mired in poverty. But that is only part of the issue. The Constitutional privileging of religious labels supports religious identity politics. This identity politics, in turn, creates special interest groups and leaders that thrive by these politics. None of this actually helps either those that are labelled as “minority” or “majority.” But it does help the Catholic Church and the Mullahs retain a hold on their community. Conversely, it fans anger in Hindu groups and creats an anti-Muslim and anti-Christian backlash. In the end, it does not help Indians or create sabka saath sabka vikas.

All political parties need to come together on the platform of equal rights for all. The Constitutional “provision” to privilege “minorities” over others should either be removed or a line added:

Notwithstanding Articles 29 or 30, any right given to any minority group shall equally be accorded to those that are classified as a majority, such as the freedom to run educational institutions without interference.

Better still, dropping all labels of ‘minority’ and ‘majority’ and treating all citizens equally shall reduce the pull of religious identity politics and communalism in India.

This article was original published at NitiCentral.com

Indian Left’s support for Palestine follows European script and history

Indian Left's support_1

[New Delhi: Left leaders protest against Israel’s attack on Gaza at Parliament House in New Delhi on July 18. PTI Photo by Atul Yadav]

 

Palestine is a pivotal cause for the Global left ummah. This support is a puzzle. It is certainly not the pre-eminent human rights crisis in our neighborhood or even in the world. Baluchs speak of thousands killed or made to vanish by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. The suffering of Bangladeshi Hindus that have endured an ethnic cleansing of a scale that has changed the religious demographics of Bangladesh similarly is not a cause for the Indian or the global left. The case of the ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Pandits has been repeated often. It is simply not about anti-Hinduism though. China’s brutal repression and genocide of Tibetan Buddhists is also not a big issue for the left. What is special about Palestine specifically and Islamists in general that the Left is so sympathetic to them?

The Chinese killed several hundred thousand Tibetans in their invasion and their cultural genocide continues to this date. Children were forced to shoot their parents, Buddhist nuns and monks were made to fornicate in public and shot. Buddhist nuns were raped on a mass scale. Dissidents were killed or brutally tortured. The process of erasing Tibetan language, culture and history continues today.  What China did in Tibet and its continuing culture genocide is more relevant to India, closer to home and more brutal, yet it has not been a cause for the Indian left. It is also far more brutal than anything Israel did against Palestine. Even Arabs within Israel are provided the opportunity to study in Arabic-medium by the Jewish state.

We will not go into the specific merits of the Israel-Palestine conflict since that is not the central question here. Suffice to say that there are many human rights causes across the world that are relevant, actionable and far more egregious in scale from Sudan to Syria that do not get the Left worked up as Palestine does. While the Indian far-left questions the very existence of Indian nationhood, it is passionate about Palestinian nationalism. As an example, consider the Tweets of Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, AIPWA and Polit Bureau member of CPI (ML).

Indian Left's support_2

Firstly, linking Palestine to the colonial struggle for freedom is a bit far-fetched. Israel is not a prototypical colonial power. Not everything about the treatment of Palestinians is fair but Israel is hardly a representative of colonial exploitation. The creation of Israel was driven by religious zeal of the Promised Land. They did not set out to colonise or extort resources to be carted away. Secondly, it is not clear why the Balochs or Tibetans for instance deserve any less sympathy than Palestinians. Thirdly, despite Krishnan’s attempt to Indianise her stance, she is merely the echo chamber of the global Left, for which Palestine is a key cause. The question we keep returning to is why.

Simplistic India-centric arguments like vote bank politics, offered on Twitter in response to my question, do not work here. CPI-ML is hardly a major force in electoral politics. Also, Palestine is a cause not only of the Indian left, but of the global Left ummah as much as of the Muslim ummah, an alliance that, on first looks, is quite strange. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked to CNN:

“This is the strangest union you could possibly contemplate. Radical Muslims stone women, they execute gays, they are against any human rights, against feminism, against what have you. And the far Left is supposed to be for these things.”

Some commentators trace this alliance to the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in which the Left collaborated with Ayatollah Khomeini, ironically leading to the establishment of a repressive religious right state. Others point tothe common hatred of the United States.

“One seemingly unlikely alliance that the socialist left has forged is its alliance with radical, fundamentalist Islam, which emphatically and unambiguously rejects virtually everything for which the socialist left claims to stand: the peaceful resolution of international conflict, respect and tolerance for other cultures and faiths, civil liberties, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, human rights, democracy, women’s rights, gay rights, and the separation of church and state.

There could be no stranger bedfellows than Western leftists and Islamic extremists. Yet they have been brought together by the one overriding trait they do share — their hatred for America; their belief that the US is the very embodiment of evil on earth and must consequently be destroyed.

Ghaffar Hussain, writing in the Guardian, also makes the case of the common enemy bring these unlikely friends together. “Islamists and the radical left have little in common apart from a hatred of the West.“ Of course, there are things in common between the leftists and the extremists. Both are totalitarian movements and both look at armed struggle as a key part to achieving their ends. And there is a reasonable argument that this temporary alliance is brought about by a common foe. Whenever Islamists or communist actually gain power in the state, they go back to the natural totalitarian state of suppressing each other, whether in Iran or in China.

But this passion of the Left for Islamists has deeper roots. (I say passion of left for Islamists, since the Islamists while happy with the alliance by and large do not reciprocate this passion and are more likely to regard the former as useful kaffir idiots). There are three lines of enquiry, which I would call preliminary thoughts as a starting point of further research.

Firstly, in Europe, the Christian Right was the principal opponent of the Left. Here Islam was used as a polemical argument against Christianity, with Islam being held up, for example, as less repressive of women than Christianity and more egalitarian. The former argument that Islam treated women better than Christians did, was true for a large part of history, while the latter, the idea of Islamic egalitarian is largely “reverse-engineered” onto Islam by the left. In practice, Islamic society hardly shows up as a model of egalitarianism anywhere in the world. Similarly, early Arab and Persian society had an intellectual culture, where Christians burned books of the pagan Greeks, Arabs managed to preserve them and their rediscovery was part of the European Renaissance. Finally, more recently, Edward Said’s “Orientalism” that questioned Western stereotypes of Islamic society played a part. Ironically, left academics have not sufficiently applied the lessons from Orientalism onto Western accounts of India and Hindu society as the “unchanging Orient” caught for millennia in a “static caste” order. All of this created a favorable sense of Islam in the European Left.

Secondly, the existence of Israel is deeply challenging to the Left ideologically. It has been pointed out that the Left largely ignores the brutal actions of Arab and Muslim dictators from Syria to Libya, in its condemnation of Israel. Strangely enough this comes from a residual Orientalism that patronises human rights violations in Arab society. This is because, despite the solidarity with Islam, Arab rulers are not counted among ‘people like us’ by the Left. Israel is a challenge because it is a modern democratic almost ‘European’ state, yet it is overtly religious. The Western world remains deeply Christian but it has a secularised veneer. Israel as a state founded on an unambiguously religious basis removes that veneer from Western modernity. Israel is more challenging to the Western left because it is a state by ‘people like us’ versus the Arab dictatorships. Yet, from its commune farming, to being both modern and religious, it creates an ideological challenge to Marx’s stages of history that move from theocracy to capitalism to communism. Thus its existence and actions are more galling than say China’s brutality in Tibet that fits into the Marxist teleology.

Finally, the Indian left largely toes the party line of the global left ummah, very little is original other than mapping Western categories to the Indian experience. In the case of Palestine, it is largely playing out the Western left’s angst about Israel. There is hardly anything original about Kavita Krishnan’s stand. The Indian traditions are mapped onto ‘religion’ that serves as an opiate of the masses that needs to be destroyed. The Chinese genocidal suppression of Tibet is similarly explained by the need to move Tibet from a ‘theocratic state’ to a modern one. However, these ideological blinders fail to interrogate China’s turn to capitalism and the large-scale inhumane treatment of factory workers by Chinese mega-corporations like Foxconn producing devices for even larger companies like Apple. Chinese workers, in tragic irony, are not even allowed to form independent trade unions to band together for their rights. So much for workers losing their chains.

Of course, the Left’s love affair with Islam is related, but not identical, to its support for Palestine. But the contradictions of Islamism and the supposedly ‘liberal’ values of the left, the Indian left’s wholescale embrace of Western conceptual models while decrying colonialism and its support of China despite the latter’s clear turn to capitalist inequality remain enduring research problems.

This article was original published at NitiCentral.com

Emergency1975 – हादसा

 

हादसा (Accident)

१९७५ में रची प्रो० महेन्द्र प्रताप की कविता जो आपातकाल में प्रतिबन्धित रही। संग्रह “दहन ” से।
English translation

हादसा

हादसा Hindi Poem on Emergency 1977

Accident

(from “The Burning”)

Two months ago

The country was admitted

To the Emergency Ward

For a grievous wound,

Some grave danger!

The wound is deep

A head injury

An imminent coma

No one knows

What the recovery will be

Will the patient escape unharmed

Or be transferred to the mental ward?

 

Must have been a frightful accident

That the whole nation

Was admitted

Must barely have escaped death

Or was it the wrath

Of Ma Kali instead?

 

Jai Mata Di!

Jai Kali Di!

Sheran Vali Di!

Jai to her who lives in mansions!

Feasts on Venison!

Jai Hind!