Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Mutually Suspicious

You might expect me to talk about the US presidential elections, and ordinarily I would. Obama is likely to win according to me, but lets wait another day! If I was in the states right now I think I'd have a nervous breakdown, but luckily I'm not!! (Ok, I'll be honest, unluckily -- I'd have given anything to be part of this election!)

So, to other matters, more important matters. Tehelka carried an interview -- Prakash Sharma, Bajrang Dal leader -- which was very interesting to read. With Hindu-Muslim mutual suspicion out in the open now -- you can no longer point only at Muslim extremists as being the perpetrators of terror in this country -- we need to take a long hard view at how we think.

Now, let me be honest, at the start of the interview, I was nodding in agreement with a few things he said. But they made me think, question myself.

"See, no matter what you say, the basic thing is, Bharat is a Hindu rashtra and because it is a Hindu rashtra, Muslims and Christians can live with such ease here. What Muslims are doing in India today, they will not be able to do in any Christian country. Similarly, what the Christians are doing here, they will not be able to do in a Muslim country."

Is that true, I wondered. I have friends in many Muslim countries, from the Middle East to Pakistan, and perhaps he is right. After all, it is our very secular nature that allows people to do as they want. But then again, I've met people who've come from places ranging from Doha to Dubai.. and no real complaints about their lifestyles as such if they are not Muslim. Perhaps I don't have knowledge at the grassroots level, but considering the violence against minorities in our country, I don't think we can really boast of this secularism any more.

But the more I read, the more I wanted to understand the mind of a Hindu nationalist.

"See, Hindus believe god can have any name, and the paths to god can vary. We have 32 crore gods and goddesses; it won’t hurt us if one more Mohammaden or Christian is added to the ranks. So what difficulty do Indian Muslims have in saying they are “Mohammamed panthi Hindus” or Indian Christians have in saying they are “Christ-believing Hindus”? After all, this is a Hindu nationality. "

He giveth and taketh away in one breath! Because he already calls them Indian Muslims and Indian Christians! What is with this insane loyalty test Hinduism espouses? Agni pariksha anyone?

He made it amply clear in the interview that he will justify his own Bajrang Dal's violence by any means, but anything other than that is to be condemned. Even when talking about conversions, and why Dalits convert due to the extreme caste system in the country, he admits Hindu society has its faults, but they are not so bad.

"No, this is the problem with the secular media. What is so complex about the issue? There was an agreement; Kashmir was given to India. If Nehru had not kept the issue in his hand and had left it to Sardar Patel, there would be no issue today. If these eunuch governments would give up their impotency, there would be no issue today. I am neither concerned about the BJP nor any other party. It is because of the impotency of our political parties that the Kashmir issue is not sorted out and has got so out of hand. Why do they get such a free hand? They go over to Pakistan and make friends with them, and we sit and feed them biryani? They should be crushed, not treated like sons-in-law!"

Ah, the secular media and Kashmir. Just remember this, I will come back to it later.

"I am talking of the whole secular spectrum. Tell me, what is wrong in our opposition to Husain? Muslims burn buses demonstrating against Taslima, so you send her out of the country. Why are you defending Husain? What is the need to show Sita minus her clothes? Will he paint Mother Mary naked? Will he paint his own mother naked? I say Husain should be punished in such a way no one in his family will remember how to paint seven generations later. If he ever comes here, I assure you there will be a spontaneous reaction to him. "

It is a good point though. These guys started harassing Husain ages ago, but they are not alone in violent protests over religious idols. Thats universal. But this whole "spontaneous reaction" bullshit needs to stop. You're not fooling anyone. It's like in school when they told you that some voluntary activity was compulsary.

"How do you justify your demographic insecurities? We are a billion plus. Minorities barely make up 18 percent. Orissa has 95 percent Hindus –
Don’t look at it at a national level. Go to the particular district and see. There used to be a few thousand Christians there, now there are several lakhs. Why did only particular portions of India become Pakistan and Bangladesh? Because they were Muslim majority areas. Why are there secessionist movements in Christian dominated regions of the north-east? In the future, there might be fresh talk of partitions. They will raise their populations then ask for partitions. You will not understand these things. We do not oppose Muslims per se, we only oppose statements like Abdullah Bukhari who said recently that they will create such a movement, things will be worse than 1947. "

How do you ever manage population control in an environment like this? And its such a myopic view from a leader who rather have a thosand hungry, poor, illiterate followers than plan for their successful future.

The point that he considers every demand of the Muslims as anti-national. Even their demands of being treated equally, equal opportunity -- everything is considered anti-Hindu by him. So where is the space for debate?

"You will find the only reason the talks broke down so totally is because Shri Shahbuddin made that incendiary statement: “What proof do you have Ram was born here?” If you question our very identity, the basic fount of our culture -- Did Ram exist or not -- what discussion can there be? Let them take the initiative on anything. Let them amicably give us the three birthplaces, and there will be no more fight. Does any Muslim leader have the courage and statesmanship to initiate talk on this? "

AKA this conversation will only work if you agree we are right.

BUT his comments on secular media being great apologetics and in fact doing a disservice to the country made me think. It's not that his views are totaly baseless, its that they are an extreme version of what they should be. Agreed, there is a deep divide over Ayodhya (and he mentions this funny statement by a Muslim who said, if my baby is born in a Boeing 747 will I take the plane home? Hee.) and perhaps he is such a staunch Hindu that he does feel threatened by other religious groups being present, but his outlet is violence, spontaneous as it may be, and thats the problem.

But he did mention how secular media/people react. It made me think about a email doing the rounds, claiming to prove who actually owns the Indian media. It says that there is a lot of Middle Eastern money coming in that wants to ensure that the media is sympathetic to Muslims more than Hindus -- thus the secular bias. The same claim is made for international channel tie-ups, that are funded by Christian groups in their countries. How true this is, I don't know. But its out there.

Now, this Hindu-Muslim/Secular puzzle is made even more complicated if you take Kashmir in the middle. To give Kashmir autonomy would encourage other secessionist, so a no-no. But the alternative is to let them continue living under guard. And with Kashmir, where the Muslims could not decide if they wanted to stay with India or Pakistan, we equate their struggle with the rest of the Muslims in India (who wanted to stay, and struggle for their place within Indian society), and so neither can be addressed correctly? Am I reading this right because it is just so complicated!

Anyway, I read this piece by Pankaj Mishra in Outlook. He said a few interesting things too. "For years the overtly Islamic and violent aspect of the insurgency in the Valley kept many secular Indian liberals from visibly sympathising with the plight of the Kashmiri Muslims." And Prakash Sharma's answer to that is that the media has not highlighted the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits (though Tehelka says it is working on such a story). I've heard my dad, a KP although my family was already in Delhi at the time of the exodus, complain of the same. Why is one story lost in the service of the other? Or perhaps its not lost "in the service of the other" but simply waiting to be found?

Does Kashmir hold the key to solving these problems? Can it be a catalyst? I'm throwing the question open guys, cause I want to know too. What do you think?

Are we also caught up in "the idea of India" (much like the idea of the "American Dream"?) he asks. Great question I think. Because we keep claiming India is this, it is that, but its not really, and you just need to put on the TV to understand that simple fact. Everyone seems to hate each other, mutual suspicion. And this common love of cricket and Bollywood that we seem to find so cute, to me, isn't all that cute anymore.


Saurabh said...

Even if we stretch our imagination to say that the bajrang dal is nationalistic and patriotic (no matter how violent they tend to get or how spontaneous their reactions are), I wonder if they realise the damage that they might be causing.
India has always been a country where people have lived without too much persecution - jews in kerala/parsis in bombay. india has 1 bn people.
Even if 1% of the population are not happy with being called traitors, thats 10mn people.
Does the Dal realise it is skating on thin ice?

Devanathan said...

One valid point he raises is muslims seem to expect instructions from outside of India. Like in 1919, Gandhi supported the khilafat movement to in turn get muslims support for India's freedom struggle. If a section of our people do not automatically support us, but think about something in Turkey to make decisions why should we be accomodative to them.

Devanathan said...

And the other thing is Christians do conversion by hook or crook, and if legal reactions like Anti-Conversion bills are not allowed, what other reactions are possible. It s not so much a problem of Indians being able to live harmoniously, it is just that our politicians have followed the same divide and rule policy of the britishers and we are caught in the cycle.

IR said...

i have also seen that email , can it be true ? for media companies which are listed they have to show "on paper" source of funding , anything received outside the books is hard to determine

i tend to agree with a lot of what the bajrang dal fellow has said , i do not support them or anyone who belives in beating up people, burning buses or bullying , howvever he has a point on that whole hussian issue and even on the ram mandir .

I dont really care if there is a ram mandir or not , but my casual approach cannot be taken to represent millions of others who worship ram.
the fact is india was plundered by mughal rulers and they brought with them their way of life , masjids are representative of the same , it is a politically incorrect statement , but then that is the truth.

muslims were given an option to leave , those who decided to stay back , did so out of their own will ,they are still free to go wherever they want to , where is the question of another partition ?

it is unfair to say muslims are sturggling for their place in the society , if bajrang dal critices hussian they bcome right wing fundamentalists, if muslims criticise danish cartoons they are expressing themselves , religious minortites have no rights in middle east , some of these places have only one solitary mandir/temple in a cramped up place.

the issue of kp is all but forgotten , one of my very close friend is a kp , his family has not been to kashmir in 20 years , after they were thrown out of what they thought was their own country ,

in the middle of all this obama has won the election he is a african american , with a middle name called hussein , while the US has found someone to connect all the d/f races , we in india are misreably failing at our attempt

Anonymous said...

India is a secular country correct
Secularism means all religions are eaual correct
Then please answer my questions

- Why laws based on religion
-Why 2000 crores of scholrship for muslim students only
-why only minority commission
- so many blasts in last few years, thousands killed, is it a War or they are just killing for fun
-Media only shows muslim victims, what about hindus
- Kasmiri pundits refugees in there own country
- Christian missionarys given free hand to convert poor tribals

Enough is Enough

Arise Awake

egg style said...

There seems to be a great urge among some well-meaning souls to raise big questions of religious debate and discuss vexatious issues squarely. They are advised restraint and caution, lest the worthy cause of peace begins to look even more like a 'failed cause' (on account of reactions provoked) superficially.

Just how free are the operating circumstances for such open debates? So long as freedom-of-speech is unequally distributed, such debates risk remaining dangerously assymetric. They may even take the ugly form of a lynchmob trial based on some unilaterally posed premise that is not open to rational analysis (for example, to fix collective blame and suggest retribution for a tragic crucifixion 19 centuries earlier, while regarding aryan supremacy over human equality as a given).

That blunt falsehoods, unjustified rants and ill-informed allegations have so much pickup among the semi-literate only goes to show what sustained propaganda can achieve in a poorly educated place. Whatever bunch of thoughts/sticks that arise in the process, how ever high is the form of "pride" expected to be "manifested" in such organised plans, how ever you define nationhood, they are part of the problem, not the solution (unless you mean final).

The K factor, yes. Doth hold the key. Well said. But tread with izzsupreme izzsubtlety. As for 'mutual suspicion', no, it's just not widespread enough in my current estimation to wreck India. But we must take care.

Anonymous said...

Reported seen on an auto rickshaw on Lodhi Road, Delhi -

"Na kissi ki nazar buri
Na kissi ka mooh kaala
Ab toh bas Obama hi Obama"

Wah wah

mahima said...

ha ha!! wonder if amul will come up with an utterly butterly delicious new ad on obama?

Anonymous said...

toinnng, here's a zoya worthy idea (pity is not a jwt acct but whaddahell, the spirit of generosity shall reign). amul can show prince obawa from disney's alladin on his flying carpet in the oval office. "m or w, what difference?"

Ketan said...

In most of the issues related to group-identity, I have seen nuance is missed.

What a Hindu thinks of Muslims and what a Muslim thinks of Hindus would largely depend on their life experiences and the socioeconomic strata they respectively reside in. Those living in higher strata, without too many resource crunches, and generally happy with life, are on the whole less likely to be confrontational and suspicious of other people's motives. Whereas, in lower strata, where struggle is more intense, all the life's frustrations are apt to be attributed to some large visible 'cause'. For Hindus that 'cause' happens to be Muslims, and for Muslims that 'cause' happens to be Hindus. [It is interesting to note here that seemingly bigoted views of Hindu 'leaders' garner lot more publicity in the self-proclaimed liberal media, but instances that betray bigotry by Muslim 'leaders' don't seem to receive much attention].

So I believe generalizations (which perhaps lead to bigotry or perhaps are a consequence of it) are resorted to by all individuals belonging to various communities, and which in many, many instances ends up with Muslims being ill-treated. However, this Muslim victimhood card is quite overplayed as well in my opinion. E.g., a person as affluent and socially successful as Shahrukh Khan playing up the Muslim card, and also getting attention for it from our media looks ridiculous! So, somewhere are we being oversensitive to any protestations of victimhood without going into the merit of particular grievance?

On this issue of minorityhood, I usually like to bring in the examples of two minority communities - 'Parsis' and 'Jains'. Believe me, I have seen Jains being ridiculed for their orthodoxy. But then interesting is that none of the two communities would be seen complaining of systematized discrimination. What has led to this difference? For Jains one can make this allowance that their culture is very similar to Hindus' and faith-system had originated in India itself. But what about Parsis? Why are they prospering? Have they really compromised in some fundamental way that they are provided this kind of sanctuary by the Hindus? I don't think so....

Ketan said...

...Coming to your friend's analogy of owning a Boeing 747 just by taking birth in that craft, well, superficially it is a witty remark, but if you dig just a bit further into the chronology of events surrounding the dispute, it won't be hard to understand that issue is lot more complex than that. Incidentally, I'd done an entire blog post on the topic.

You're a Kashmiri (Pandit), and hence must be lot more knowledgeable about the entire issue. But as an 'outsider', the gross neglect of the cause of Kashmiri Pandits is mind-boggling to me. Again incidentally, I have done a blog post dealing with search results for 'Kashmiri Pandit' originating from Indian web pages with those for 'Tibet freedom' and 'Palestine conflict'. The results are quite shocking! :)

Sorry for the long rant, but guess, a short comment would not have done justice to what you've tried to cover in this post. :) Also, it's entirely possible that this being a three year-old post, and with your having (I guess) left the mainstream media, your views on a few things might have changed.

mahima said...

Wow! I'd forgotten I'd written this... but good to be reminded! Interesting points you raise. Incidentally, I do agree that people's views are based on who they are... so this is me (secular, not very religious) reacting to this Prakash Sharma from the Bajrang Dal, 2008!