Wrong prioritisation of VIPs by Temples

My experience during a trip to Ambaji, where Anuradha Paudwal was given some unjustified glorified treatment by the temple authorities.

This was something which took place during our recent trip to ambaji and after years left a bad taste to the otherwise lovely trip.

Having already had a darshan the previous evening, as is our wont, we went up for Darshan the next morning before starting our way back to Baroda.

The last couple of years, there has been tightening of security & being well aware of the rules, we always leave behind purse, mobiles & chappals either at the hotel or in the car.

But the attitude of the SRP who man the entry points leave a lot to be desired. All of them were standing together & chatting, sharing the news that Anuradha Paudwal had come for darshan that day.

Having lived in Juhu, Lokhandwala, where celebrities are common place, it did not excite us too much.

Reaching inside, standing in the Q for darshan, the security kept pushing us to go quickly. In the meantime, I noticed that there were couple of males wearing regular clothes in the inner area, where they are not allowed. So I politely enquired with the security person about it, who told me to mind my own business. Now this said gentleman was not wearing his badge, complete uniform & showing attitude, raised my hackles.

I went to the temple inspector’s office enquiring about him and was told he was on his rounds. After 15 minutes, asked again and requested that he be paged down; hearing this a gentleman carrying a sten gun came and asked “what was the problem”  Upon being questioned repeatedly, he said that it would be some time etc.

Finally, Amrutbhai the said temple inspector came escorting Anuradha Paudwal into his cabin. Exchange of telephone numbers, cards were taking place, with the so called security head & Pandit trying to hold me back.

Then Anuradha Paudwal stepped out, seeing me she wished ‘Jai Mata di’; reciprocating the same, I enquired politely with her:

  • As celebrity why was she carrying her large leather bag, cell phone etc. inside the mandir?
  • As celebrity why was she using the cell phone to call up people inside the mandir?

To all of this she had no answer & she quietly slunk away.

Then Amrutbhai started his questioning:

  • Who are you?
  • Who sent you?
  • What do you want?
  • Do you want to go inside for darshan? etc. etc.

On my questions he had no or feeble answers…..

  • Who were the men in the temple wearing terrycot trousers & shirts (They are the staff of the temple) Great but does it mean that they do not follow rules (Actually they were late for shift) So do they not get paid today (Silence)
  • Why was the celebrity allowed to carry her leather bag & cell phone (Do you want to do darshan from inside, who has really sent you, what do you want etc. etc.)
  • Narendra Modi claims that such things do not happen in his gujarat (What has he got to do with this? I have been here 3 years:)) AND I have been going there for the past 30 years at least once a year sometimes twice.

Anyway the end result was, he apologised & said it would not happen again blah….blah…

I know it for a fact, that it would happen again because:

  • His job depends on it
  • Nobody has the courage to point it out to him on a regular basis
  • Temple board is controlled by a IAS officer, who thinks it as  probably a punishment posting???
  • Most people would jump on the offer to do the darshan close enough & forget about it.

However, my mind was at peace, that I had stood up for what I believed. All of us have to start somewhere.

Muslim Community: Think before you Vote

THE GENERAL elections have begun in the country. In the coming 25 days, the world’s largest democracy will elect a new government. But one thing that peeves me is the way the political parties are trying to garner votes from the Muslims of the country. Instead of uniting the different sections of society, which ideally is their job, many politicians are playing the “Divide and Rule” game which the British preached, to keep their vote banks intact.

MJ Akbar has mentioned in an article that “A history of riot, and the threat from organizations like the Bajrang Dal are sewn into wild conspiracy theories by ‘leaders’ of the community to shape minds on the eve of an election. For secular politicians, the Muslim vote comes at an easy exchange rate. Other communities demand rice and roads. The Muslim needs nothing more than the old ploy used to help children go to sleep: stories of ghosts and monsters at the door.”

Almost 62 years of independence, 14 Lok Sabha elections and numerous Assembly elections, Muslims are still falling prey to the gimmick of our politicians. And this time too the story isn’t different. In the last one month we have seen politicians from various political parties projecting themselves as true saviors of the community.

Varun Gandhi’s rhetoric at Pilibhit landed him in jail. What Varun said was indeed shameful but the act of charging him under NSA by Mayawati government was clear move to woo the Muslim votes. Laloo Prasad Yadav then said that he would run the road roller on Varun Gandhi. Then Congress’s D Srinivas went a step further and threatened to “chop off the hands of those pointing fingers at the minorities.” A million dollar question is, Would Varun Gandhi be capable of doing what he said? I don’t think so. But these politicians made sure that they use Varun Gandhi to their advantage and projected him as the biggest threat to Muslim community.

The Babri Mosque demolition was one of the shameful incidents to happen in the history of independent India. After spending more than a decade on the lap of the Congress, Laloo realised that Congress was responsible for the demolotion incident as well. But the timing of his speech was such that it clearly showed that he wanted to prove that Muslims have to fear both the national parties and vote for him instead. Unfortunately, he forgot that there are more issues concerning to the community which needs to be addressed right away. But then he somewhere knows that this is the best way to gather Muslim votes. Seems Laloo is a champ in playing such vote bank politics.

Mulayam Singh Yadav projects himself as the messiah for Muslims. Ask him what he has done in Uttar Pradesh, while he was in power, for 23 per cent Muslims living in the state. He very happily argued that SIMI should not be banned. Though there are clear links between SIMI and few of terror strikes in the country. Isn’t this an act to appease Muslims? Also to consolidate the Lodh votes in the state he didn’t hesitate to include Kalyan Singh in his party. The same Kalyan Singh whom he had once labeled, a villain of the Babri Mosque demolition. He now has justified that Kalyan Singh was not responsible at all.

Why didn’t government try to investigate on the local support for 26/11 attacks?

What did Dr Manmohan Singh mean when he quoted that “Muslims should have first take on nation’s resources”? Aren’t they granted equal rights by the Constitution of the country? Can’t the condition of Muslims be improved by creating more awareness and making the resources more accessible to them rather then appeasing them? Won’t the broader problem remain unsolved by just appeasing them? Why didn’t any political party oppose to the lollypop of reservations to Muslims? Isn’t it similar to creating vote banks with caste based politics? Why not have some other criteria for reservations apart from caste and religion?

The answer to all the questions above lie in what MJ Akbar had once written in his article. “Indian Muslims will get development the day they vote for development. For sixty years they have voted out of fear, so that is what they have got from those they elected: the politics of fear.”

The community needs to self introspect and avoid being used as a vote bank. Community leaders need to empower their community through better education and awareness. Muslims have to realise they will get development only when they demand and vote for it. They need to seek answers from their leaders. They should make their elected personal more accountable. Things will change, if the community takes the initiative to bring that change. People of country will readily support them if they are given privileges as a citizen of this country and not as Muslims of the country. Change has to come within community itself.

A closed mind can never liberate a community from the shackles.

Is the Dalit movement a piggyback for Indian Politics?

The Sun of self-respect burst into flame
Let it burn up these castes
Smash, break, destroy
These walls of hatred
Crush to smithereens this eons-old school of blindness,
Rise, O People!!

This poignant piece of Dalit poetry encapsulates but a part of what the Dalit movement in India signifies: a cry of heart rending anguish at the trauma of birth as a “lowly untouchable.”

Our inability to eradicate caste completely even after the rise of great men like Mahatma Phule and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar reveals our own blindness to one of the most dehumanising systems the world has ever known. To eradicate this evil there has been movement in country for long time. BR Ambedkar, Mahatma Phule, Babu Jagjeevan Ram, Kanshi Ram and Mayawati have been the torch bearer of this movement till date.

But somewhere along the way, these days, I feel that the movement has lost the steam and track. The leaders of the Dalits are now self-obsessed and they haven’t been able to carry forward the legacy of the movement started by BR Ambedkar. It is just not the general view but these views are also shared by the few within the community as well. I was just reading few posts, the one written by Tej Singh. He says: “Here in India, our people by and large are simple, illiterate and ignorant. But, right from the beginning, they have even supported the so called men of Baba Sahib Ambedkar (B.P. Maurya, Ram Vilas Paswan, Kanshi Ram, Mayawati, etc.) with their empty stomachs and bare feet, but nobody was interested in paying back to them! They have become self-centered and self-seekers! Everybody of them used this gullible mass as a ladder. On reaching the top (on acquiring ’paisa, position and power’), they have kicked the ladder (our gullible masses).”

The current chunk of Dalit leaders are more interested in personal gain and have neglected their community. They are only concerned with getting votes from them. Moreover, they haven’t taken some innovative steps to educate the people. BR Ambedkar always said to educate, agitate and organise. But there have been no dedicated efforts for the same. Moreover, the government in Uttar Pradesh is using his name and statue for something, which is really not concerned with the movement.

Rajdeep Sardesai said in one of his blog posts:

Why is it that there are more statues of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar in India than any other historical person of the last millennium? In her book ‘Ambedkar: Towards an Enlightened India’, social scientist Gail Omvedt has suggested that the statues have played a major role in political assertion in contemporary India.

She writes:

“The raising of the statues has represented a claim to pride and public space. Their opponents also take them as such and express their hostility to Dalit assertion by putting ‘garlands’ of chappals around such statues – actions which have often led to severe rioting and police firing. With all of this, it is clear that in the ‘politics of flags and statues’, Dalits have placed Ambedkar at the top of the world.”

Ironically Ambedkar himself would have hated being a statue. In 1943 he wrote, “India is still par excellence a land of idolatry. There is idolatry in religion and in politics. Heroes and hero worship is a hard if unfortunate fact in India’s political life. Hero worship is demoralising for the devotee and dangerous for the country.” The hero worship of Ambedkar has perhaps been the greatest failing of the modern Dalit movement.

As Arun Shourie writes in his controversial book, ‘Worshipping False Gods’:

“Statues, dressed in garish blue, holding a copy of the Constitution – have been put up in city after city.”

Not only does the writer seem to find them aesthetically repugnant, but also symbolic of the bankruptcy of the Dalit leadership.

This is where I also have some points. The current leadership of the community is somewhere not concerned to the real upliftment of the people. They have made Ambedkar a vehicle of social mobility. By invoking Ambedkar, his followers are seen to be asserting a more basic desire for a more ‘inclusive’ society, a demand that is fundamental to any social or economic change in contemporary India. It’s a demand, which is universal enough to ensure that no political party can afford to ignore it. So this is the prime reason that why no political party can dare to oppose rising of Ambedkar’s statues or any comment on him.

You can criticize Gandhi and Nehru millions of times but if you say even one word against Ambedkar their is outrage in the country. When a statue of Gandhi is garlanded with chappals in Gujarat, there is no major flare-up, but when an Ambedkar statue is desecrated, there is a near-spontaneous eruption. A Mayawati and Kanshi Ram could get away by abusing Gandhi, but could any national leader or public intellectual even question Ambedkar’s teachings and expect to survive?

I also feel that the few in community just can’t see beyond BR Ambedkar. Whenever Mayawati will find herself in Catch 22 situation she will always say that “I am daughter of Dalit. Upper caste people are conspiring against me, etc. But now this face of Dalit has joined hands with the community’s biggest ‘enemies’, the Brahmins.

I have no objections or problem with the leaders using the reference of BR Ambedkar but I just have one question. Are these leaders really carrying forward the legacy of Dr. BR Ambedkar? Instead of empowering the Dalits, they are always busy telling people, “You are Dalit; I am a Dalit.” This very approach will never solve the problem instead it will cause further divisions. Every leader wants the success in political fields but is hardly doing anything to make them more empowered, create jobs and awareness and help them to be the part of the mainstream.

The youth of nation is looking forward for such an environment where he can give wings to his dreams. They want to break all shackles and be free. The caste though dominant is not the undermining factor for a section of the youth. They just want to be an active participant of a vibrant nation.

I have no doubt that caste system is a blot on the nation but if we are not able to get over the caste then we need to be blamed as well. We have always voted without looking at the wider picture. We still vote for the candidate belonging to particular caste/community. As long as we will fall prey to such tactics of cunning politicians we will be always tied to a caste. And the simple reason that your caste serves as fodder for the so called well wishers in the name of politicians. You have option of either to crib and complain about the unfair system or rise to write a new script in the independent India. Dream India will be achieved only when all the sections of the society come together and take the nation to greater heights.

A Request to Sanjay Dutt

LET’S START with some background check on Sanjay Dutt. Sanjay Dutt is the son of Late Sunil Dutt and Late Nargis Dutt. His parents’ story was that of a Muslim girl marrying a Hindu boy. May be that’s what has compelled ‘junior’ Dutt to pass a statement like “Jab mai police custody me tha to police wale mujhe third degree dete the. Wo mujhe marte the aur kehte the ki tumhari maa musalman hai, (when I was in the jail, I was given third degree by the police. They used to beat me and tell that your mother is Muslim)” when campaigning for rally at Mau, where 40 per cent population is Muslim. Ideally, such type of public utterances should not have come from Dutt considering he is a public figure. Perhaps he thinks that through this he can connect with Muslim voters and play another gimmick in politics. I am peeved to see that a person who has swore by ‘being an Indian’ in his reel life is talking on religious lines. What a pity!!

Sanjay Dutt should not forget that he is convicted under illegal possession of arms and has been handed sentence for six years. It is just because of his ‘superstar’ background, money and sheer luck that he is out on bail. He has faced criticism from several quarters for his proven links with the conspirators of the Mumbai serial blasts. He possessed a mass destruction weapon, an AK-47 rifle, which ironically, he said, was for self defense. :)

By the way, can Dutt explain from where all of a sudden his love for Lucknow has aroused? The only connection I can read is that ‘the visionary’ Samajwadi Party (after reading their manifesto) tried playing one more political gimmick. We all very well know that Sanjay Dutt has no connection with Lucknow except for the fact that his father was given shelter in this city after the partition and he visited that home many times later.

I don’t think that Sanjay Dutt is naïve not to understand that SP is just utilising his celebrity status to consolidate its vote bank. The party had no connections with him before and nor they have anything to do with his sufferings, humiliations and tragic past.

It’s high time that Sanjay Dutt should realise that the moment he entered the domain of politics with a public image he would be targeted for what he has done in the past.

Just a piece of advice for Sanjay Dutt from his fan. If he really wants to serve people then there are ways other than politics too. I have strong feelings that he should quit politics. If he doesn’t then there will be questions all around from his friends/fans/foes. He is still respected from some quarters all because of the goodwill of his father and mother (not talking of professional image). As an actor also, he has a good record. He is loved for his roles and especially after his Munnabhai films, his public image has also considerably improved. But by moving into the politics his past will again come to haunt him.

I hope I have been able to convince that  Dutt is not a political material. Somewhere I can’t see an MP residing within him.

Whatever may be the scenario, I, as a citizen of India am satisfied that Supreme Court put a lid on his political ambition. I just hope that Sanjay refrains from any sort of hate speech in order to put his career in politics on track.

Good politicians do exist

India’s problems are complex. And unfortunately these are compounded by vote-bank politics. Instead of uniting the different sections of society, many politicians divide it to keep their vote banks intact. If people are united, politicians won’t be able to get votes through divisive politics. In such a situation, the only way for them to win votes would be through good performance.

As citizens, we must protect our country from those who manipulate issues for their personal gains and who lead by playing vote-bank politics. Those with vested interests support insensible decisions and oppose sensible ones. We have to steer clear of such leaders. We must encourage broad-minded politicians and leaders to come forward and take charge, and to educate and uplift the society – spiritually, morally and socially.

We need leaders who are satya-darshi (truthful), sam-darshi (equanimous), priya-darshi (pleasant), paar-darshi (transparent) and door-darshi (visionary). So, before we elect our leaders, we should examine their qualifications.

We must elect leaders who will do away with policies based on caste, creed, religion and region; who will ensure that every child gets a multi-cultural, multi-dimensional education.

We need leadership with a mission and a vision, leadership with a spirit of sacrifice, compassion and commitment. We must choose leaders who have a long-term vision and short-term plans to achieve it. They should have great personal integrity, and place the country before themselves.

Unfortunately, most of our politicians lack a sense of sacrifice and inclusiveness. Irrespective of the party they belong to, people perceive politicians as insincere. Today, people are fed up of them. This is when apathy sets in among people. They dismiss politics as a whole and withdraw from their basic duty of voting.

Our votes are an important tool to bring about a change in the system; they give us an opportunity to raise our voice against injustice. But many of us have developed a chalta hai attitude, because we fail to see the power of our votes. This attitude is dangerous for the country. By not voting we are encouraging the status quo.

Each one of us must not only vote but also encourage others around us to vote. When good, intelligent and well-educated people don’t vote, they play into the hands of politicians, who use money and vote bank politics to seize power. People should not lose hope. Good politicians exist. And they must be given a chance to do the best they can for the country, for its people.

We have seen the shortcomings of capitalism, communism and socialism. Now is the time for humanism and spiritualism. Politics without humanism and spiritualism is bound to be dirty. Many people believe that spiritualism is not for this world, that it is not a practical tool to bring about societal transformation. But that’s a misconception. Mahatma Gandhi was spiritual. He conducted satsangs every day and played an important role in bringing freedom for our country.

That is why today we need leaders who have a spirit of sacrifice, and who are spiritual in their outlook, to enter politics.

Originally authored by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on his Guest Blog here

Communalism, Pseudo-Secularism and our Media

Varun Gandhi’s so called “hate speech” has become a prime time news for our media. Out of no where, Varun Gandhi has become a household name and has been certainly crowned as the poster boy. Since the day Varun Gandhi’s speech was telecasted in the media, this news has gained more and more weightage. The role of media has been such that they almost delivered their verdict before the EC in this case.

As I am developing some sense of Indian politics, what I have started to feel is that the term “secular” and “communal” should be debated in the perspective of Indian Politics. The “secular” political parties don’t have guts to stand for Hindus of this nation. And if anyone issues a “pro-Hindu” statement, he will be tagged communal. The precise reason what i feel is that in India, Hindus don’t vote as a “group”, their votes are divided. While Muslims have most of the time voted as groups. Thus, each and every political party tries to capture this group or as we more popularly call them, votebanks.

The paradox of the Indian political system is that it is fashionable and allowed to utter “anti-Hindu” or “pro-Muslim” remarks. Moreover, they are the only ways, one can prove his secularism. Mr Gandhi in his speech is believed to have said that,

“Agar kisi galat tatv ke aadmi ne kisi Hindu pe haath uthaaya ya Hinduon ke upar yeh samajh key ki yeh kamzor hain, unke peechey koi nahi hai… Hindu’on ke upar haath uthaaya, main Gita ki kasam khaake kehta hoon ki main us haath ko kaat daaloonga.”
(If some wrong elements lift a hand against Hindus, or think Hindus are weak and there is nobody behind them, then I swear on the Bhagavad Gita that I will cut off that hand).

He ended his speeches with “Jai Sri Ram”. He was basically referring to the few incidents of molestation and rapes of women in Pilibhit and no action having been taken by the administration against the culprits. As Kanchan Gupta of The Pioneer puts down in his column,

The ‘secular’ media hasn’t heard of Sonu Kashyap who was murdered on October 21 last year. “Five unidentified Muslims” were accused of murdering him. The administration did nothing. On October 23, anger turned into street protests, led by a former BJP legislator and Minister, Mr Ram Saran Verma. He was promptly arrested and since then has been detained under the National Security Act. Beesalpur police station in-charge Pervez Miyan brazenly defends the continued detention of Mr Verma.

Was Gandhi indeed wrong or has he just spoken the truth? He hasnt used words as harsh as minority. He has simply said “galat tatv ke aadmi”. If “secular” media and parties feel that he referred to the Bhagavad Gita and ended the speech with “Jai Sri Ram” was communal then i don’t have any arguments for that.

If BJP is blamed for igniting the fire of “communalism” in our country then the so-called “secular” parties are equally responsible for adding fuel to that fire. They have never left any opportunity to neglect the comments made against Hindus and have taken proactive steps if something was pro-Hindu. Our “secular” media also behaves like the “secular” parties.

Have you ever heard of an event organized in a bid to woo the Muslim community ahead of the Lok Sabha elections?
Congress had organised a rally in Jama Masjid Sector 20 of Chandigarh, highlighting its secular credentials. Nearly 23 Muslim organisations from the city have also extended their support to the party. Imraan Kidwai, chairman of the All India Congress Community, Minority Cell, said that if he had the power, he would issue a fatwa asking Muslims to abstain from joining the BJP. He said the Congress had never tried to change the Muslim personnel law. Is this not something against which EC should have taken action as well?

Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP has referred to Varun’s speech as provocative. But, the same party leader Mehbooba Mufti led the violent protest against temporary allotment of land for setting up shelters for Hindu pilgrims to rest for a while on their way to the Amarnath shrine. The same party has demanded the change of South Kashmir’s Islamabad district from the official name of Anantnag to the popular name of Islamabad. When BJP raised objections to it, they are being tagged as being called “communal”. Did any other party utter a single word? Why?

If a leader tries to identify with the Hindu gathering, he is considered communal but if the politicians addressing election rallies in Muslim areas wear skull caps and does everything possible to ‘identify’ themselves with the audience. That’s permissible. Why?

Dr. Manmohan Singh’s comments that “The Indian Muslim has first legitimate right on Indian resources” is not communal. Why?

No doubt that hate-speeches and derogatory remarks/speeches are a part of Indian politics, which needs to be curbed at any cost. But then, their should also be a debate on pseudo-secularism. In order to preserve their vote banks, it can be seen that our political parties can go to any extent. But is this really good for our nation? The media is solely responsible for transforming the “speech” of Varun Gandhi to a “hate-speech”. The yardstick is different for a Hindu fanatic and a Muslim fanatic; though both are an equal threat to this country. It is high time to understand that communalism and pseudo-secularism are feeding each other and our media should also be more responsible. They must ensure that they are here to give opinions and not to pass their judgments.

Let not ‘BJP ka Gandhi’ get away easily

In the backlanes of Uttar Pradesh, Varun Feroze Gandhi is referred to as the “BJP ka Gandhi”. It’s a reference indicative of what’s been perhaps the 29-year-old poet-politician’s central dilemma in life so far: the struggle to carve an independent identity for himself outside of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy.

His cousin, Rahul, has been bequeathed the keys to the family business. His aunt Sonia is the Supreme Leader of the Indian National Congress. Varun, and his mother, Maneka, have always been the ‘outsiders’, blessed with the surname of India’s most powerful political family without any of the privileges. Which is why the so-called ‘other Gandhis’ have been forced to look for career options. Maneka has found her niche in the world of animal rights activism. Varun too, judging from the content of his speeches in Pilibhit, also now appears to have found his feet as the BJP’s new Hindutva posterboy.

When Varun joined the BJP five years ago, it was an important moment for the party. For decades, the BJP has had to live in the political shadow of the Nehru-Gandhi family. While the dynasty was seen as the sophisticated Brahminical elite of Indian politics, the BJP, and its earlier avatar of the Jan Sangh, was dismissed as a ‘bania’ party of petty traders and ‘sanghis’. The entry of professionals – journalists, bureaucrats, armymen – in the 1990s went a long way in ending the isolation and enhancing the acceptability quotient of the saffron outfit.

Varun’s entry ended the ‘untouchability’ of the BJP once and for all: if an LSE educated member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan could join the BJP, then how could the party be treated as a pariah any longer? The fact that he was the son of Sanjay Gandhi, the face of the abhorrent Emergency, hardly mattered. He was, above all, the great grandson of Jawaharlal.

In fact, within weeks of Varun joining the party, there was a section of the party that was already projecting him as the generation next leader of the BJP. He was even almost pushed into contesting elections in 2004 itself, till someone in the party remembered that the young man wasn’t even 25 and therefore was ineligible to contest the elections.

The desire to have Varun as a BJP face wasn’t just about ending the monopoly of the Congress over the Gandhi-Nehru family name; it was also designed to defeat the Nehruvian political project. Central to the Nehruvian ideal has always been the belief in a secular state that would protect all religions without any distinction. For the BJP, this model of secularism was based on ‘appeasement’ of minorities and needed to be rejected.

The secular-pseudo secular debate has been at the core of the Hindutva ideology and has played a major role in the rise of the BJP in the last two decades. For the sangh parivar , Nehru was, to use the words of a sangh ideologue, “the leader of a perfidious operation that led the country to surrender to Islamic separatism.” What better way to hit back at the much-reviled Jawaharlal than to have his great grandson question the very essence of his legacy?

Which is why Varun’s rhetoric in Pilibhit – the kind which might make even a Bal Thackeray blush – should come as no surprise. Varun was not given special treatment in the BJP so that he would be just another politically ambitious young man waiting his turn. He was catapulted into the arclights to fulfill a particular role: a member of the Nehru-Gandhi family who had wholeheartedly embraced the Hindutva ideology.

That he chose his mother’s constituency of Pilibhit to make his inflammatory remarks is also not unexpected. With a substantial Muslim population, Pilibhit has a history of communal trouble. In the 1930s, resolutions moved in the central legislative assembly to ban cow slaughter had sparked off violence in the region. If today, Varun seeks to revive the cow slaughter issue it should be seen in a specific historic context: as a well-read young man Varun probably knows that this is just the kind of issue that will have an emotional appeal in the region, and could polarize the electorate in his favour.

And yet, there will still be those who will ask just why Varun chose this moment to take up a potentially divisive campaign when his party leadership itself has shown the capacity to look beyond its traditional revivalist agenda, and focus on issues of governance. The simple answer: he probably thought he could get away with it. Had it not been for an alert and enterprising media, he probably would have got away. After all, hate speeches have been made routinely in this country in recent times, yet no one has been really punished.

The only senior political figure who has been held guilty by the judiciary of hate speech has been Bal Thackeray in 1999, that too 12 years after the original offence was committed. The Shiv Sena big boss was initially deprived of his basic right to vote and contest in elections for a period of six years, but even here the punishment was later commuted to just two years. This, despite the fact that Thackeray has been unapologetic and explicit in his venomous speeches and writings against the minorities for over forty years now.

Narendra Modi’s Gujarat Gaurav yatra in 2002 was laced with invective against the minorities, the election commission issued warnings and notices, yet could do little else as Modi stormed to victory in the ensuing elections. In 1984, the Congress publicity campaign spread fear and hatred towards the Sikhs, yet it wasn’t banned. Nor did it stop Rajiv Gandhi from becoming the prime minister. Whether it be political imams who appeal for votes in the name of Islam, or Hindu leaders who target the minorities, little has been done to actively enforce existing legislation against hate speech.

Perhaps, Varun too will eventually get away, and in all probability, even win his election from Pilibhit. Once the media frenzy settles, it is even possible that Varun will be lionized as a gutsy individual by those who believe that such rhetoric is necessary to put minorities ‘in their place’. Maybe, this is the inevitable price we must pay as a nation for having allowed our politics to degenerate into a snake-pit of divide and rule.

And yet, if we have any faith in the idea of India as a multi-religious society with a republican constitution, we must not allow Varun to get away so easily. That’s the least Jawaharlal and our founding fathers would expect of us.

By Rajdeep Sardesai
Source: IBN

Whenever a religious belief is criticised, its adherents say they’re victims of ‘prejudice’

The right to criticise religion is being slowly doused in acid. Across the world, the small, incremental gains made by secularism – giving us the space to doubt and question and make up our own minds – are being beaten back by belligerent demands that we “respect” religion. A historic marker has just been passed, showing how far we have been shoved. The UN rapporteur who is supposed to be the global guardian of free speech has had his job rewritten – to put him on the side of the religious censors.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated 60 years ago that “a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people”. It was a Magna Carta for mankind – and loathed by every human rights abuser on earth. Today, the Chinese dictatorship calls it “Western”, Robert Mugabe calls it “colonialist”, and Dick Cheney calls it “outdated”. The countries of the world have chronically failed to meet it – but the document has been held up by the United Nations as the ultimate standard against which to check ourselves. Until now.

Starting in 1999, a coalition of Islamist tyrants, led by Saudi Arabia, demanded the rules be rewritten. The demand for everyone to be able to think and speak freely failed to “respect” the “unique sensitivities” of the religious, they decided – so they issued an alternative Islamic Declaration of Human Rights. It insisted that you can only speak within “the limits set by the shariah [law]. It is not permitted to spread falsehood or disseminate that which involves encouraging abomination or forsaking the Islamic community”.

In other words, you can say anything you like, as long as it precisely what the reactionary mullahs tell you to say. The declaration makes it clear there is no equality for women, gays, non-Muslims, or apostates. It has been backed by the Vatican and a bevy of Christian fundamentalists.

Incredibly, they are succeeding. The UN’s Rapporteur on Human Rights has always been tasked with exposing and shaming those who prevent free speech – including the religious. But the Pakistani delegate recently demanded that his job description be changed so he can seek out and condemn “abuses of free expression” including “defamation of religions and prophets”. The council agreed – so the job has been turned on its head. Instead of condemning the people who wanted to murder Salman Rushdie, they will be condemning Salman Rushdie himself.

Anything which can be deemed “religious” is no longer allowed to be a subject of discussion at the UN – and almost everything is deemed religious. Roy Brown of the International Humanist and Ethical Union has tried to raise topics like the stoning of women accused of adultery or child marriage. The Egyptian delegate stood up to announce discussion of shariah “will not happen” and “Islam will not be crucified in this council” – and Brown was ordered to be silent. Of course, the first victims of locking down free speech about Islam with the imprimatur of the UN are ordinary Muslims.

Here is a random smattering of events that have taken place in the past week in countries that demanded this change. In Nigeria, divorced women are routinely thrown out of their homes and left destitute, unable to see their children, so a large group of them wanted to stage a protest – but the Shariah police declared it was “un-Islamic” and the marchers would be beaten and whipped. In Saudi Arabia, the country’s most senior government-approved cleric said it was perfectly acceptable for old men to marry 10-year-old girls, and those who disagree should be silenced. In Egypt, a 27-year-old Muslim blogger Abdel Rahman was seized, jailed and tortured for arguing for a reformed Islam that does not enforce shariah.

To the people who demand respect for Muslim culture, I ask: which Muslim culture? Those women’s, those children’s, this blogger’s – or their oppressors’?

As the secular campaigner Austin Darcy puts it: “The ultimate aim of this effort is not to protect the feelings of Muslims, but to protect illiberal Islamic states from charges of human rights abuse, and to silence the voices of internal dissidents calling for more secular government and freedom.”

Those of us who passionately support the UN should be the most outraged by this.

Underpinning these “reforms” is a notion seeping even into democratic societies – that atheism and doubt are akin to racism. Today, whenever a religious belief is criticised, its adherents immediately claim they are the victims of “prejudice” – and their outrage is increasingly being backed by laws.

All people deserve respect, but not all ideas do. I don’t respect the idea that a man was born of a virgin, walked on water and rose from the dead. I don’t respect the idea that we should follow a “Prophet” who at the age of 53 had sex with a nine-year old girl, and ordered the murder of whole villages of Jews because they wouldn’t follow him.

I don’t respect the idea that the West Bank was handed to Jews by God and the Palestinians should be bombed or bullied into surrendering it. I don’t respect the idea that we may have lived before as goats, and could live again as woodlice. This is not because of “prejudice” or “ignorance”, but because there is no evidence for these claims. They belong to the childhood of our species, and will in time look as preposterous as believing in Zeus or Thor or Baal.

When you demand “respect”, you are demanding we lie to you. I have too much real respect for you as a human being to engage in that charade.

But why are religious sensitivities so much more likely to provoke demands for censorship than, say, political sensitivities? The answer lies in the nature of faith. If my views are challenged I can, in the end, check them against reality. If you deregulate markets, will they collapse? If you increase carbon dioxide emissions, does the climate become destabilised? If my views are wrong, I can correct them; if they are right, I am soothed.

But when the religious are challenged, there is no evidence for them to consult. By definition, if you have faith, you are choosing to believe in the absence of evidence. Nobody has “faith” that fire hurts, or Australia exists; they know it, based on proof. But it is psychologically painful to be confronted with the fact that your core beliefs are based on thin air, or on the empty shells of revelation or contorted parodies of reason. It’s easier to demand the source of the pesky doubt be silenced.

But a free society cannot be structured to soothe the hardcore faithful. It is based on a deal. You have an absolute right to voice your beliefs – but the price is that I too have a right to respond as I wish. Neither of us can set aside the rules and demand to be protected from offence.

Yet this idea – at the heart of the Universal Declaration – is being lost. To the right, it thwacks into apologists for religious censorship; to the left, it dissolves in multiculturalism. The hijacking of the UN Special Rapporteur by religious fanatics should jolt us into rescuing the simple, battered idea disintegrating in the middle: the equal, indivisible human right to speak freely.

Source: Johann Hari, Common Dreams

Muslims in India after the 26/11 attacks

Muslims across the country are a worried lot post 26/11. Whenever there has been a terror strike in the country, Muslims are subject to suspicion and discrimination from the other communities and investigating agencies. Their loyalty to India is doubted. Unfortunately, some elements from both the communities (Hindus and Muslims), along with the dubious political class always ensures that there is continuous rift between the two communities so that may take advantage of it.

The common man is full of anger post-Mumbai attacks and Muslims too are not leaving any stone unturned to condemn the terror attacks. Even the celebration of E’id was scaled down. They want to present their viewpoint that terrorists are enemies not only of humanity, but also of the country, Indian Muslims and Islam. The clerics of the community have also refused to allow the burial of terrorists in any of their graveyard. “The bodies of these inhuman plotters against our motherland must not be buried anywhere on the Indian soil,” they said.

Terrorism in India has affected the Muslims of this country badly. It has provided a more conducive atmosphere for the political parties who survive on divisive ideology and destructive politics. There was a story in ‘Hindustan Times’ where the teacher who was upset with a Muslim girl in a Delhi convent school, called her ‘Pakistani’ in front of the entire class. There was an incident in Jet Airways flight where a passenger heckled a Muslim flight attendant citing her religion. There are various other instances as well. What is coming out of this is that across urban India there is anger and open prejudice against the Muslims.

I have no doubt that majority of Muslims in the country believe in the concept of one nation and are as patriotic as you and I are. I would like to question all those hypocrites who would look upon Muslims with an eye of suspicion but will watch SRK’s latest film or will cheer when Zaheer topples the batting order of opposing teams or will admire APJ Abdul Kalam as an icon or recite the poetry of Javed Akhtar. But this same group will not think twice before raising doubts over fellow countrymen.

Simi Grewal does not know the difference between the Islamic and Pakistani flag and makes absurd comments only to apologise later. But dear Simi, you have already done enough damage. The same is true for the majority population, which is proud of India’s secular fabric but will not think twice before raising suspicion about Muslims.

The problem within our country is that we have never developed a thinking of our own and have always played into the hands of selfish, power-hungry politicians. They have ensured that there is always an atmosphere of animosity between the two communities. BJP and Shiv Sena protest over the use of the word ‘Hindu Terrorism’ but have no qualms in accusing Muslims after every terror activity. Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav project themselves as messiahs of Muslims and will see every action in the interest of national unity as a bid to suppress the minority community.

Let’s face the real scenario. We as a citizen of this country are slowly and slowly shedding the concept of national integration. Muslims are made to believe by their top religious and political “messiahs” that they are being targeted in this country while Hindus leaders will attribute each and every problem related to internal security in the country to the Muslims. As a citizen, I want that there should be trust among all communities and we should be internally strong. The investigating agencies should carry the probe without any bias and influence from political authorities. If there is an anti-social element in any community we need to ensure that he is dealt with seriousness and is punished for his crime.

Greater political will is required to strengthen internal security. The issue of illegal Bangladeshi immigrants must be dealt with seriously. There should be no blame game in an hour of crisis until concrete evidence is available. Muslim clerics should also take the responsibility to protect their community members from any prejudice. Instead of issuing stupid ‘fatwa’ against Sania Mirza or Imrana, they should push for greater reforms within their community. They have the power to convince millions and they should use their reach for the betterment of the community.

On other hand, we should take a lesson from Pakistan that a nation formed on the basis of religion would end as a failed state and even an “international migraine”. The concept of India is based on its diversity and this makes our country special. We must not lose the beauty of our nation to such prejudice and bias. We need to work collectively to make our nation even stronger and that will be the fitting reply to all the anti-India forces.