Sunday, October 18, 2009

You know you are patriotic when...

*You think Hindi should be our sole national language- There are eighteen official languages and thousands of minor languages. The states are formed on linguistic bases. Hindi is spoken in mainly two parts of the country- North and West India. South India is completely opposed to the use of Hindi. Political parties like DMK and AIDMK are famous for their anti-hindi campaigns. South Indians argue that Hindi is foreign to their culture. Hindi(not Sanskrit) was never a part of their history. Similarly, the North-East has nothing to do with Hindi. Their languages are tibeto-burmese languages. Inspite of this condition, Hindi is to be the language of the Indians. Hindi is expected to bridge the gap even though English is more-suited for the purpose. The problem with English is that people think it is ‘foreign’ to ‘Indian’ culture. Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-European linguistic family. The other languages are all European(except Persian). So how is Sanskrit indigenous?? Sanskrit is the mother of many Indian languages. How does a language become ‘Indian’? When people speak a language, it becomes their medium of communication. So When Indians speak any language of anywhere, it becomes their language. English has been spoken for a couple of centuries now and it is as Indian as any other Indian language. This Hindi concept is a political construct. Hindi is used for supremacy. It is being used in the battles of regionalism and communalism. Hindi may be the language of majority but India is also proud to call itself a subcontinent. Therefore, Hindi should not be imposed on any grounds. Hindi is just another Indian language. It should be our official language besides English. But giving it the honour of the national language does not make much sense. It is as important as any other Indian language. The majority and minority concepts should not play a role in a diverse country like India.

*You think Kashmir belongs to ‘us’- The first thing that comes to our mind when we think of Kashmir is its scenic beauty. The second thing is Terrorism. What is the third thing? Nothing. We care about Kashmir only because we have an issue over it with Pakistan. Kashmir makes us very patriotic. But do we know that Kashmir is not just a landscape but the land of kashmiris. The situation of Kashmir is nowhere near normality. In Kashmir, Internal terrorism- secessionism is far more dominant than external terrorism. Part of the secessionist group wants Kashmir to join Pakistan and the other part wants it to become independent. What is our reaction to this? We feel these secessionists are terrorists. But are they? These terrorists are people who rightfully possess the right to decide their own fate. India has never been fair to Kashmir. The outcome is the secessionist feelings. Who are we- the non-Kashmiris to decide for them?

*You support the war with Pakistan- What is war? It is a dispute between the political leaders. The repercussions of which are faced by common people. What has war given us? Wounds which take centuries to heal. Saying ‘Pakistan’ is like initiating a rapid-fire of abuses. Indians believe that Pakistan is the bed of terrorism. Pakistan hates India but India is a very peaceful country. Is violence the sole parameter for Peace? India is no less. The fact that we hardly know of any Indian attacks to Pakistan is the part of the untold story. The views that people have about Pakistanis are far more deadly than nuclear weapons. It is our thoughts that lead us to action. In no way can one justify terrorism. But the roots of the terrorism are these thoughts. The views of the few are used by us to generalise the country. Pakistan and India share a cultural affinity. The need of the hour is to respect each other as different countries. No one denies the fact that recent terrorist activity was organised by some Pakistanis. The Pakistan Government should take action. To start with, they should atleast accept this fact. But war is no solution. It is the Pakistani Government who is to be blamed. Not every Pakistani deserves our views. People of evil thinking are present in both countries equally.

*You dismiss certain concepts as ‘western’- To start with, this whole idea of ‘east’ and ‘west’ or orient and oxidant is itself ‘European’ or ‘western’. In India, ‘west’ is usually synonymous with something very world-changing. It is seen as destroying our society, our Indian values. But the fact that we permit these ‘western’ values shows that we are becoming open or rational. Jeans must have been a destroyer of the ‘Indian’ culture in its time. But today, it is a necessity of our Indian wardrobes. Jeans for women is still seen as the destroyer of ‘Indian culture’. But for women, it is a symbol of liberation. Issues of sex, homosexuality and prostitution have come to surface in Indian society. Many dismiss these as ‘western’. This ofcourse shows their ignorance of their own ‘Indian’ culture. But more importantly it highlights their fear of opening up of the society. ‘Western’ concepts are emphasising on personal liberties. This is what is considered as being against the ‘Indian’ culture.

Being Patriotic in India is proving to mean stagnancy in thought. The concept of patriotism is being embedded in the forces of regionalism, communalism and Casteism. We are being blinded by the society. We are able to see the invisible boundaries because we have been made inhuman. Patriotism means love for your country. But in our case, it means hatred for the other countries. This is not patriotism. India makes us proud. We are proud of just one thing and that is our diversity. So we should preserve and not suppress this diversity. India is a democracy. Alternative voices makes up this democracy. India is known for its patriotism. The Freedom struggle is not over. India is of the Indian people and whenever their voice will get suppressed, they will retaliate. Being a true Indian, it is our duty to provide them with the platform because this is the true spirit of patriotism.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Scraping the E-scrap

We live in the Electronic Era. Our lives consist of wires and rays. Computers have revolutionalised the way we think, work and live. Everything is just a click away. In the light of economic development, users and usage of computers is increasing. Life without TV or computer seems a nightmare. But this nightmare may become a reality if we continue ignoring our Environment. Economic Development and Environment Conservation does not go hand in hand. Environment is seen as a hurdle for achieving economic success and so is often ignored. It’s only when the situation becomes out-of-control that the poor Environment gets some light. The e-scrap or e-waste of our e-world is not environment-friendly.
E-scrap refers to the discarded old and broken electronic devices. They are non bio-degradable. When they are not disposed properly, they harm the Environment as they contain toxic substances such as lead, cadmium, nickel, antimony etc.
E-scrap is imported to India illegally as the other countries don’t want to take the risk involved in recycling it. After China banned the import of e-scrap, India has emerged to be the World’s e-scrap dumping ground. In India, e-scrap is not handled properly. They are treated in informal and unorganised scrap yards. The workers are not trained. They don’t wear any mask and so are exposed to dangerous chemicals. It has adverse effects on their health. Nickel leads to skin damages and asthma. Antimony leads to heart and fertility problems. Breathing high levels of cadmium can lead to severe lung damages and can cause death. Lead affects the nervous system. They try to retrieve metals from the equipments. They burn these equipments which then release dangerous gases into the atmosphere. Land filling is another way of disposal. It’s not safe either. Chemicals present in e- scrap like, mercury, lead, cadmium or plastics are dumped on the ground. These chemicals then pollute soil and underground water. Landfills are generally unorganized. E-scrap is often dumped in open grounds.
E-scrap management is under the informal sector. But in recent years, Government has tried to improve things. It has instituted a number of regulations for management of e-scrap but they have been ineffective. There is only one Government-run e-scrap Recycling System in India. Fortunately, some private companies are taking charge of managing the e-scrap. Manufacturers like Wipro, HCL, Nokia, Acer, and Motorola have initiated recycling of their products. Wipro has 17 collection centres, HCL has 500 and Nokia has 1,300 collection bins.
But e-scrap recycling in a proper manner is still meagre. The main sector handling it remains the ignorant scrap-dealers who have no technology to handle e-scrap. The Government should enforce a law that makes it compulsory for the manufacturers of the Electronic goods to take responsibility for their recycle. A Government official should visit scrap yards to make sure the working conditions are proper and that the workers are wearing masks. We, as individuals, can do our part by handing our e-scrap to authorised recycling systems. Dell is one company which can recycle e-scrap without charging any fee. Get the electronic device repaired if possible. Try not to dispose it. We can also donate it to someone who needs it. She/he can get it repaired. We should make efforts or one day we’ll suffocate in our own scrap.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hindustan or Hindusthan?

India is proud to call itself a subcontinent. It is a land of diverse religions , languages and cultures. The Constitution of India hoped to preserve this uniqueness. India was declared a Socialist Secular Democratic Republic. Everyone is free to profess and promote the religion of their choice. However, in recent decades Politics have become a-constitutional. It has become religious. Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) , a Hindu Nationalist Party has emerged to be the strongest opposition against Congress. Its formative policy , Hindutva , is a-secular in nature. The base of communalism , however , was set up in pre-independence era.
The British policy of ‘divide and rule’ is well-known. The formation of Muslim League and the separate electorates were products of this policy. History as a discipline emerged in the British era. The Aryan theory was of prime importance for both Indians and Europeans. Sanskrit was classified in the Indo-European linguistic family. For a period of time it was believed that Aryans spread from India. However , it was soon refuted. The superiority of Aryans had suited Indian sensibilities. It was in this background that V.D. Savarkar propagated his theory of Hindutva . It rested on two pillars , one of ‘land of birth’ and the other of ‘land of worship’ or birthplace of religion. He defined hindu as anyone who considered this Bharatbhoomi as his fatherland. He gave the concept of Hindusthan or Hindu Rashtra. He remarked, “In Hindusthan , hindus are a nation. The rest are communities , numerically minorities”. Herein the roots of the famous two-nation theory can be found. Dr. Hedgewar founded the Rashriya Swamasewak Sangh(RSS) with the goal of promoting Hindutva or hinduness. Archaeological , literary and genetic evidence now claim Aryans to be immigrants from Iran but as this theory is not compatible with Hindutva , Hindutva propagators refute this with baseless theories. Muslim Fascism did not lag behind. The Muslim League’s two-nation theory comprising Hindusthan and Pakistan is famous. Both Hindu and Muslim fascism led to the partition of independent India. The riots that followed severed hearts deeply. The pain became hereditary in nature. Only a spark was required to ignite the communities. In 1990s BJP Leader L.K. Advani came up with a flame torch. He drew attention to a mosque which was originally a temple. He demanded the liberation of ‘Ram Janmbhoomi’ by demolishing the Babri Masjid. RSS and other affiliated parties supported him. The Ayodhya Dispute became the platform for BJP. In 1992 , when BJP was the State Government , thousands of communalists (they called themselves..karsewaks) attacked the mosque. There was unprecedented rioting across the country. In 2002 , there was another communal earthquake known as the Godhra riots or the Gujarat Carnage. Terrorism was the answer to these attacks. The Islamic terrorists claims to take ‘revenge’.
But BJP and its affiliated groups still raise the ‘Ram Mandir’ issue incessantly. BJP and other fascist groups use the religious sentiments of the people for its political motives. BJP is seen as the preserver of ‘Indian’ culture. It is seen as a saviour in the light of increasing cultural globalisation. But there is a need to redefine Indian Culture. Hindus believe it is their religious duty to vote for BJP. The evil of revenge is back. The policy of hindutva is a political construct. BJP, however, is not the only party to be accused of communalism. Congress is criticized for ‘appeasement of minorities’. While BJP counts ‘Hindu’ votes , Congress is considered for ‘Muslim’ votes. But Congress has only taken advantage of the communal platform created by BJP. There is a competition among BJP and Congress supporters. While Congress supporters accuse BJP of anti-muslim riots , BJP supporters criticize congress for 1984 anti-sikh riots. Though the motive of sikh riots was not hindutva , it was a national shame.In the midst of struggle , both parties’ supporters end up justifying the riots. Politics which was already a dirty game is now smeared with blood. Mixing communalism with Politics is a-constitutional. India is a secular democracy. The Constitution provides no space for religion in political activities. Things have changed but not for good. The demand of Hindutva is one language , one religion and one culture. This policy is not compatible with India’s ‘unity in diversity’. Hindustan will become Hindusthan. This process will also require huge human cost. India will lose its shine.
Things have gone bad but it can be controlled. It’s a democracy. People should think beyond religion. Country has to come first . This is what true patriotism is. People should influence Politics instead of getting influenced and manipulated by politicians. Religion is personal . Lets not make it political.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bhartiya Janata Party: No more the Janta’s party

The 2009 general elections were a landmark in the political history of India. United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had come to power with a clear majority. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered a humiliating defeat. The verdict was unexpected as there was a stiff competition between Congress and BJP. Both had an equal potential to win. Controversies had tensed both sides. Issues of Inflation and Terrorism were an additional source of tension for Congress. BJP bragged about a strong leader. The votes could swing in any direction. The result was shocking. A general tendency of people is to vote for the other party when dissatisfied by the Current Government. Congress was criticized on grounds of inflation and national security. But even then people showed immense faith in it. What was the problem with the other party? Why had BJP failed to act as an alternative? BJP announced a meeting the day after the verdict was out. The meeting was to inquire into the defeat. L.K. Advani, the leader of the opposition had proposed to resign even though he had won in his constituency. Some blamed it on negative campaigning. L.K. Advani had called Manmohan Singh a ‘weak PM’. When Congress used ‘Jai ho’ as its campaigning song, BJP changed it to ‘Bhay ho’. BJP also tried what it called ‘Soul searching’. BJP’s formative policy is Hindutva. Hindutva stands for ‘one country one religion one language’. It recognises Hindu culture as Indian culture. BJP is often criticized for communalism. The ‘Ram Mandir’ issue is communal in nature. Varun Gandhi’s hate speech was one of the controversies surrounding BJP during the elections. Some BJP leaders blame it for its defeat. They regret lending support to it. The Moderates within the party had suggested giving away the Hindutva ideology as a solution to BJP’s lost status. But Rashtriya Swamasewak Sangh (RSS), BJP’s supporter group which also had a major role in its formation, warned BJP of taking such a step. It blames BJP for failing to propagate the Hindutva ideology. BJP also witnessed internal factionalism. Some perceived L.K. Advani as the next PM while others bragged for Narendra Modi. L.K. Advani failed to match the most popular leader of BJP, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
For a democracy, it is important to have atleast two parties competing. BJP was the only party which could give Congress real competition. But it has also failed. History might repeat itself. The pre-1977 era might come back if BJP does not regain itself. Left without a competition, Congress can also turn into a dictator. BJP will have to reshape itself by shedding its communal side. The policy of Hindutva had been responsible for its success but the same policy can now dissolve it. People have come up with the concept of Hindu talibanisation to define BJP. This policy which is a-historical as well as a-secular cannot survive in India for long. The Ayodhya Dispute does not appeal to the educated. In the light of Cultural Globalisation, BJP had come as a saviour of the Indian culture. But it had narrowly defined it. People consider it a Hindu party. Though Varun Gandhi won in the Pillibhit constituency, he is rejected by the Seculars across the country. BJP has won in states which are socially-backward. In Delhi, BJP did not win a single seat. BJP has been unveiled. The educated have realised how BJP uses religious sentiments for votes. BJP has lost even the ‘Hindu’ votes. BJP’s agenda did not have anything concrete. On economic matters, it did not have a stand. BJP cannot compete with Congress on the grounds of Youth Mobilisation. Rahul Gandhi is perceived as the inspiration for Youth. BJP could not win the support of Youth. Communalism is an out-dated phenomenon. The Youth stands for equality. It stands for humanity. Religion does not count. To become an effective nationalist party, BJP will have to become Bhartiya in true sense. It will have to respect the diversity in India. India is not a Hindu’s Rashtra. BJP will have to become secular to reflect the true nature of India.

*Frontline Magazine, Reading the Verdict, June 19, 2009.
*Times of India Articles

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Plastic Problem: Alternative and Solution

The Delhi Government has enforced a complete ban on plastic bags. Few months back, When I saw people carrying huge brown bags, I could not help a smile. The fact that the Government has succeeded in implementing a law flashed a ray of hope. But it is fading away. Few days back, I came across Plastic Bags issued by Delhi University.

Why is it difficult to replace Plastic? But a question more basic to ask is the problem with Plastic Bags. Plastic Bags are non biodegradable. Unlike Paper, it does not dissolve in water and chokes gutters. If burned, it pollutes the air with toxic fumes. It is prepared using the scarce and non-renewable resource of Petroleum. It is difficult and costly to recycle them. Cows choke to death when they try to eat food stuffed in polythene bags. Plastic Bags contain harmful toxic metals like chromium and copper which can cause diseases like cancer, malfunctioning of kidneys, limbs etc.

Absence of Perfect Substitutes makes it difficult to replace Plastic Bags. Paper Bags are not strong enough. They cannot hold liquids. Steel Containers pose an expensive alternative. Plastic Containers are not popular among the small vendors. Saying No to Plastic Bags is not workable.

The alternatives should be used to the extent possible. But the focus should be on finding a solution to the Plastic problem. MCD provides two dustbins – Green and Blue. While Green accommodates biodegradable waste, Blue is for non-biodegradable waste such as Plastic. These colour coded bins should be widespread. Plastic Bags should be disposed in the Blue Bin. Awareness about the same should also be propagated. Plastic can be recycled. Centre for Environment Education was awarded the ‘Plasticon 2005’ for innovation in Recycling Technology. It invented Polyloom. The Polyloom is a plastic weaving handloom that can recycle plastic bags(Polythene Bags). Like the Kabad shops, there should also be collection points for plastic bags. A minimal amount can be paid to encourage people. Polythene Bags should not be free of cost. This would discourage their use. People would be forced to reuse them or find alternatives. The cost of plastic containers should be reduced so that small vendors prefer them over polythene bags. Plastic Bags cannot disappear overnight. A change is always a process. But the Bags of pollution will have to and will go.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Third Gender: Hijra Community in India

In a posh colony in Delhi , huge celebrations are on for welcoming a new born. Sounds of drums fill the air. The best halwai of the city is called. The entire colony is present. But soon the celebration gets interrupted by sounds of repetitive claps. A group clad in sarees , wearing gajra and heavy makeup enters. They , however , have masculine facial features and voice. They danced and blessed the new-born. They then demand a huge amount. The family refused. They threatened to lift their sarees. There was terror on everyone’s face. To everyone’s relief , they were paid. The family was saved from being ‘cursed’.

In India , the hijra culture still exists. Other names are Kinnar , Aravani , Kohjas etc. The population of hijras in India is estimated to be between 50,000 and 1.2 million. Since the hijras are neither true man nor woman , they are a distinct identity. They are secluded and a plethora of stereotypes have been generated for them. There are stories of people raising them in secrecy. This is because they are not accepted by the society. They are left to join the hijra community. The hijra community lives outside the society. They have no respect. They have no right to a dignified life. Law is silent when it comes to recognising them as the third gender. As their gender cannot be identified , they are highly discriminated in terms of access to education, employment and health care. They have no documents as identification proof – driving licence , voter ID , ration card etc. Education is a distant dream. They have no access to decent jobs. Begging and Prostitution are their only means of livelihood. They are also prone to HIV and STDs due to unprotected sexual activities. One out of every third eunuch in Mumbai is HIV+. They donot possess basic human rights. They are often sexually abused. On one hand they are secluded from the society but on the other , they are supposed to be involved in it for endowing blessings. The traditional occupation for hijras is begging for alms when bestowing blessings on new-borns and at weddings. But apart from that, they are not deemed "fit" for any other occupation. But why?

Just because they cannot reproduce, they have no right to live as a human being? There is more to a person than his/her sexuality. No one is destined to be treated as a sub-human being. The hijras are also not happy begging and ‘cursing’ people but the society doesn’t give them any option. We take them from granted. We feel disgusted seeing one. We make fun of them but we never try to put ourselves in their shoes. It’s not important to be a victim to support a cause. They raise their sarees to show their identity. It sounds really disgusting but it’s the society who is to be blamed for this. Development is not just in economic sense. There is also a social dimension to it. Social Development means breaking the stereotypes and creating a just society. Tradition should not pull us back. The hijra culture is not humanistic. It’s not human to discriminate some just because they cannot reproduce. Being developed should mean being rational and humane.

In recent decades , with the growth of India economically , the society has also underwent changes. It’s becoming liberal and rational. The third gender is coming out of the shadows. In 1994 , they were given the right to vote. In 1999, Shabnam Mausi Bano became India's first hijra MLA. In 2003, Hijras in Madhya Pradesh have established their own political party called "Jeeti Jitayi Politics" (JJP). In recent elections , Daya Rani Kinnar , a transsexual activist , stood as an independent candidate from Ghaziabad constituency against Rajnath Singh.

Tamil Nadu became the first state to give recognition to the transgender. In official forms , there is ‘t’ along with ‘m’ and ’f’ in the gender identification column. In Chennai , toilets are being built for the transgendered. Recently a large no. of NGOs have come up to work for the transgendered. Things are changing. But the limits to these changes are our mindsets. There is a need to broaden our mindsets, to make our mindsets more human or more rational. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Merciless God ?

It was a boring day (must have been a Monday!) . The bell ranged .Everyone sighed a relief. The teacher moved out and the class became alive again. But soon it was a disturbed by a noise. The noise grew louder every second. We looked out of the window and saw an angry mob protesting. We got to know that someone somewhere had attacked a religious monument and so these people are now protesting against that. We found this highly amusing! Someone had attacked a religious monument thousand kilometers away from this place but these people were protesting here ! We found is stupid and laughed it off. Not for a second we thought that they might come and attack us. We infact were hoping that the protest should continue so that our studies get dismissed ! We were kids. We were ‘immature’ to understand all this. We were not taught the superiority of religion , religious ‘duties’ and the importance of revenge. In our book , one big chapter was devoted to communalism . We were taught how wrong it was for the nation and most importantly for humanity. We were taught that all the religions are same . They all have some thing in common – all condemn stealing and killing. God is present everywhere – it is present even within us ! We are all God’s children. ‘God sees us’.. this was always written on the blackboard. Our school , even though it was a Christian missionary , would honor all Indian festivals.
I grew up with this knowledge. Some of my school mates would often highlight stereotypes associated with religions other than their own. I would condemn them for such low-thinking. I was unable to tolerate such a behavior.
Being a humanities student , I became interested in politics. With the base provided by my discipline , I became a news person ! I would follow al political happenings. I read agendas of political parties and would condemn those groups which had a religious affiliation(couldn’t forget that chapter on communalism!) . In history , we had a chapter on post-partition riots. I found the chapter haunting. The chapter also discussed the stereotypes that emerged , based on the experiences.
I passed out with this knowledge. It is said that school sets the base. But I realized that people forget every single thing that is ever taught there ! I began discussing politics with people . I condemned communalism. I remarked ‘its disgusting that people kill in the name of religion’. I expected praise from people but they instead recited innumerable instances where the other community people had targeted their community. They asked me to see the ‘other’ side of the coin. They would teach me how great their religion is! I realized the difference between school and ‘real’ world.
I do not want to see a side of a coin , I want to see the coin. I had considered religion a way of life and not life. I do not want to identify people by their religion. Religion is a personal choice. In Sanskrit m I had read dharma is …what we believe in. Revenge is a venom .An eye for an eye will make everyone blind. People keep attacking each other to take age-old revenge. When will this revenge end ? Both sides have suffered tremendously. But If revenge is inevitable , punish the real accused. Do not kill the innocent. Ten people target a religious monument but the whole community is supposed to be wiped off. What was the innocents’ crime ? It’s the males who ignite the fire. But in riots , everyone is targeted. Women are raped. Whats the link? People often remark ‘ we did it coz they did it ‘ . This reminds me of a famous liner ‘If he falls in a well , would you follow him?’ .
We are humans before being classified under other heads. Religion never justifies killing. Those who kill in the name of religion are those who do not even know what religion is. Religion tries to differentiate between the good and the bad. It guides us how to live a virtuous life. Revenge is evil . God sees us all.
God creates life so its destruction should also be left in its hands. Love is the soul of the world.
Someone had said to me ‘You wont understand all this . You are still young.’. Well if growing up means forgetting this simple philosophy then its better to be a kid !

In this article , I have not used labels. I have not taken any side. But if someone still feels I m ‘pseudo-secular’ ..well then I am not bothered. I care a damn what the other community has done. I care only about the innocent , I am not interested in knowing how great you religion is if it allows revenge ..if its merciless! Have mercy on humanity !

Friday, May 15, 2009

Is this Development ?

This picture was taken in Ghaziabad , an NCR region . The picture exhibits two different economies separated by just a wall. The construction in the picture sheds light to urbanisation . The side with small semi-permanent houses exhibit a rural way of life. Cow dung cakes were strewn all over. There were cows , buffalos and Cowpens. There was a hand pump. The people did not look impoverished . This rural look did not make them look appear the urban poor , This was not the jhuggi-jhopri living . People from this settlement do not seem to provide labour to the construction happening besides them . But the use of brick in this settlement suggests some interaction. This is just a speculation. But the real fact is that these people will be displaced very soon as the area is ‘developing’ rapidly. The use of the word ‘displacement’ is ideal here because the concept of rehabilitation often remains unknown and misunderstood. Rehabilitation should consists of proper housing , providing basic amenities(water and electricity supply) and employment opportunities. The Jhuggi-jhopdi settlements are always seen as polluting an area. The settlement is extremely dirty. Everytime one passes through this area , one is bound to curse the local Government(MCD) . But do we care about the underprivileged who inhabit this place ? No , we only care about the look of our area. We all wish to live in posh areas. We demand development in our area and the demolition of JJ settlements is a part of this. Recently , I got the news that the JJ settlement in my area has got demolished . Its all ‘clean’ now. On inquiring about the inhabitants , I got to know that they have actually been shifted to some other area. But the people from the new area keep coming back to our area for employment. It is a common fact that When the Government allots them houses to live in, they sell it or out in on rent. But why does this happen ? This is because they though they are being provided a good shelter , they are not given the means to sustain this new way of living. It is not the underprivileged’s fault . It is the Government’s incomplete work that is responsible. The underprivileged do not have means to a fresh and adequate supply of water. Whenever the MCD water tank reach their area , there is always a jostle. Everyone is in a mad rush to get access to this ‘limited’ resource. For the poor , every drop is precious. The Government encourages education for all . But often the Underprivileged are not able to avail this because the children are needed to supplement daily income . It is annoying to see beggars. They are all well-trained so we can refuse them without feeling any guilt. Giving alms to beggars is punishable , states the Government. But this has not helped because the beggars are increasing day by day. In the present economic scenario , the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. So are we really developing ?

In recent decades , dams have started facing a lot of opposition. Jawaharlal Nehru called Dams ‘the temples of development’ but the reality has been different. In Many cases , the dams have proved to be ecological disasters. The social aspect of dams is also important. Dams displace millions of people and the concept of proper rehabilitation is unknown in this country. The Narmada Bachao Aandolan is the most popular dam-opposition movement. The complete opposition to the Narmada Valley Project , particularly the Saradar Sarovar Dam grew when it was realised that there was no land for rehabilitation . The initial demand of this movement was proper rehabilitation.

The Nandigram and Singur Case also echoes a similar problem . The Government promises rehabilitation and employment opportunities but this never happens. In Nandigram and Singur , the Government forcefully acquired lands. There was widespread violence. But the most interesting part was that the Government in power was a leftist party. Left parties are socialist parties which believe in development for all. So what they did in Nandigram and Singur came as a shock. At Singur , the Government allotted a settlement for the displaced. The Settlement shared the wall with the TATA industrial plant . The wall had large holes which was a way to let excessive water move out. This water would then flood the settlement.

India is proud that it has been regarded as one of the fastest growing economies. But is it really growing ? We are adopting a capitalist mode of production . This is dangerous for our agrarian economy. India is home to millions of villages . Villages are seen as under-developed because we associate Development with huge buildings. Villages provide an economic base to our prosperity as Food production happens there. But our economy is opening at a dangerous speed. The Government is losing control. It is the duty of the Government to distribute wealth evenly. But if liberalisation and Government’s neglect continues at this speed , we will soon be importing food grains. Development does not mean transformation of rural areas into urban areas . It means developing the rural areas. Technology should reach Rural India to increase self-sufficiency. Medical and Educational facilities should be provided. Basic amenities should be provided . Creation of facilities so that Villagers feel no need to migrate to urban areas. The agrarian element has to be retained. There is definitely no problem with urbanisation. Urbanisation is pleasure. But there is a need to redefine development. The Underprivileged should not suffer. They should not become martyrs for development of some. Development should be for all – people and regions.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fair = Lovely ?

The Fair and Lovely ads speaks of fairness as a qualification. Fairness can change a girl’s life. In 14 days , she can turn into the most successful woman. There is this particular ad where a girl is a theatre artist but her talent is not recognised . Then she uses this cream and her complexion lightens . The next thing we know , she becomes a top actress ! This ad is named ‘Power of Beauty’. Fairness is seen as a confidence booster. But most importantly, as the ad suggests, it is associated with beauty. The Matrimonial ads refer to fairness and beauty as synonyms . Fairness is a virtue.

Indians are obsessed with fairness. It is , however , very curious as the Indian climate does not support fairness. Indians complexion ranges from ‘wheatish to dark colour’. A Fair skin is rare and so it is considered a gem. This obsession may have a historical background to it. The Rig Veda frequently refers to the word varna , literally meaning colour . The arya with a fair skin and perfect facial features were constantly in conflict with the indigenous tribes who were described as dark and ‘without a perfect nose’ . The word varna in later periods is used to denote caste of a person. This example points out that some form of consciousness about one’s complexion may have been prevalent. Some of the stereotypes connected with the dark complexion may have started emerging.

The rule of the Whites( the European colonizers ) consolidated the process of racism . A very famous concept produced by the colonizers was the concept of white man’s burden. They made statements like ‘the foundation of all great civilizations was set by Whites’. Fairness got associated with power.

The colonization came to an end in the twentieth century but racism has managed to survive. People often act crazy when there is a white foreigner around them. The dark ones are all categorized as the Negros. There is a desire in every Indian heart to look , behave and live like a foreigner. Fairness/Whiteness is attractive but Racism makes it beautiful. Fairness is the demand of the society. Fairness is one of the most attractive word in Indian Matrimonial ads. In the latest Fair and Lovely ad , the girl is rejected by many seekers because she doesn’t have the ‘glow’. Fairness creams are the most popular creams in India. Every household carries one. A Pregnant woman is often advised to drink milk so that the baby gets a milky complexion. The most typical question asked about a baby is whether he/she has a fair skin or not . The word ‘fair’ also denotes something which is right. Fairness for men is a new concept in India . Its generally the women who are more conscious about the way they look . The first time i saw the Nivea Whitening Cream , i could not help myself laughing . The ads for men also proved the same point. Fairness is the ladder to success.

Now the question comes fair is it to be fair ? The Supreme Creator designed us all differently for a reason . It(the creator/force) prefers diversity. It wanted us all to be unique. But Human beings do not think on the same lines . They prefer homogeneity. To dislike the way you look means to insult the creativity of the Supreme Creator. A more scientific reason is the climatic factor. Its the climate which determines one’s complexion. Fairness is also associated with a lot of skin diseases. The White people are more prone to skin cancer as compared to the wheatish and the darker shaded people. The Fair skin is often a bed of blemishes , pimples and rashes . The constant use of fairness cream is also harmful. Fiddling with the melanin of the skin is not a joke. The ads will never give the real picture. Its Skin quality which makes the skin look beautiful . The colour has no role to play in that. Africa is not full of ugly ducklings. Infact , no one really is ugly. Its actually one’s own perception that makes one ugly or beautiful. To be fair may be a good thing , but to be dark is definitely not a bad thing!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Second Sex : Breaking the Glass

For women, the earth is flat. If they venture out, they’ll fall off the edge. These chains however are not bounded by anatomy but by men.

Women have been given the gift of creating life. Her anatomy helps her to create and sustain life. Men, on the other hand, have been made to defend this life. There is only a biological difference between men and women. The ideological difference has been created by humans themselves. Nature blessed women with creation of life.Nurture of this life is however , the responsibility of both men and women. Nature has not endowed women with the management of children and household.

History provides us with evidences of women involved in production activities. Women hunter-gatherers are depicted in Prehistoric art. Simple societies like tribes are matriarchal. They revolve around cults of Mother Goddesses. The transition to complex societies and the subjugation of women went hand in hand. Warfare created superiority in men. They could enslave the weak. The first slaves were women. Women could be exploited easily. Religion consolidated this process of subjugation. The Shatapatta Brahmana of Rig Veda remarks that women neither posses themselves nor property. Manusmriti coins the famous line ‘Women in their lives are dependent on their father, husband and son’. There are restrictions imposed on a menstruating woman. Buddha stated ‘women are deceitful, greedy and lustful’. A Buddhist nun can attain nibbana (salvation) only if she turns into a man. In Islam, all MEN are equal. Women have to stand behind men during prayer. Women are clad in burqa and hijab so that they are unable to attract men. Even God is referred to as he.

Along with these ‘divine’ facts, a plethora of stereotypes were generated. Aristotle stated that a woman’s brain is half a man’s brain. Women are symbols of love and beauty. Women think with their heart. Gossiping is the territory of women. A woman with both beauty and brain is rare. Pink became a feminine colour. If a woman does not follow any of these ‘facts’, she is considered different. She is considered a tomboy, a macho woman! Women are seen as a category, not as individuals.

Women have been seen as furniture of the house. Children and Household are considered a Woman’s domain. Are women born to serve? Are they born-sweepers and cooks? One of the most typical questions for a girl is whether she knows cooking or not. A corporate woman, as capable as her male counterpart, is expected to do household work when she returns home. A Woman who leaves her children and husband to work in another city is looked down upon. She is considered irresponsible. Should a Woman’s dream be of a kind that does not meddle with her household ‘duties’? Even if a woman steps out of her domestic world, the concept of maryada trails along. A Woman is supposed to be in her ‘limits’. No such limits are ever associated with men. Even in a rape, it is the victim who is blamed. Her ‘revealing’ clothes had invited the trouble. The Rapist could not help it.
Are Men unable to control their sexuality? The answer is No. It is the society which does not let them to! Men have the liberty to go to sex workers. They are not blamed. It is the Sex worker who is considered the ‘venom’ of the society. Men do not have to wear any mark of marital status. It is the woman who is to be always identified as the wife. Women have been seen only as mothers, daughters and wives.

The struggle of being a woman is a struggle untold. History is also his-story. Women have tried to break free. But their voice has been suppressed by the society. Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.
The Feminist waves of 1950s-60s were an attempt to win human rights for women. With their slogan ‘Personal is Political’, they attempted to bring women out of the domestic world. Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings. It demands equality not superiority. It demands freedom. A Woman should be seen as an individual, not just as a woman.
Feminism has been seen as a threat, as a challenge to the ‘order of the world’. But it is the emerging trend . It is a liberation movement for the ‘second’ sex. It is an attempt to break free because Anatomy is no longer their destiny!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The revelations of an Agnostic

Why is it offending to accept prasad from left hand ? Why are menstruating women not allowed to enter temples ? why is onion not included in the diet in some ‘traditional’ hindu households ? These were some of the early questions which used to bother me a lot . Answers ranged from ‘bas nahi hota’ to ‘dont argue’. No one ever gave me a logical or even a convincing answer .

Then with History as a subject in my senior secondary education, i got the answer for the menstruating question . It had its origin in a patriarchal society. It was an attempt to control women. Religion was afterall a human invention. I tried to resist the stereotype of left-handedness. I would deliberately put forth my left hand to accept prasad. I was always scolded. Gradually i started moving away from this institution. I wanted to break free . We had partition and post-partition riots in our curriculum. The partition of India and the genocide that followed it had a strong base of communalism. Both Hindus and Muslims wanted to emerge supreme. Basically this was the elite’s aim but it was the common people who suffered the repercussions. This event claimed thousands of lives. Those who survived it, carried a permanent wound in their hearts. This wound became hereditary. The effect of this wound is now reflected in the attitude of the fundamentalists. This topic triggered a massive change in me . I read stories of these ‘holy’ attacks. I could imagine people chanting ‘Ram Ram’(or ‘he Allah’) before using the sword. My heart used to cry out. I read stories of survival where help was given by a member of the ‘rival’ community. I realised that humanity is bigger than any religion . This was the second step in the process of my adopting agnosticism.

The third and the final step was my entrance in the discipline of history at graduation level. The formation and sustenance of a religion has an economic and social base . Religion is modulated to suit the contemporary social and economic situation. I studied the beginning of ‘Hinduism’ , my family religion. Hinduism , like any other religion has evolved with time . The rites and rituals of each era was a reflection of the demand in the social , political and economic sphere. I was able to discover the origins of many famous stereotypes. I got the real answers to my questions. I was at the end of receiving major shocks. I understood the purpose and the intention of the religion. The access to this information lead to the ultimate decision – that of my renouncing religion . For me every religion serves the same purpose . It acknowledges the supreme power . It tries to guide people in distinguishing good and bad. It creates a sense of trust . It is trust which sustains this world. But one cannot deny the fact that religion was a human invention . It is the way humans interpreted the world around them . They imagined God as the supreme MAN . They developed customs which served their motives. They had a lot of biases . I was no longer prepared to follow these biases . Why should i follow someone else’s rules when i can make my own ?

For me Agnosticism is this. Agnostics believe in god but they cannot define it. I know there is a supreme power . Someone/Something has set this world. I imagine God as a supreme force. We can worship this force by having complete faith in it . This is how i explain miracles. I also pray to this supreme force and thankfully , it has always helped me . My prayers were answered as i have complete faith in this power. I have also developed definitions for good and bad. Good is when one does not harm oneself or others’ in any way. I believe that our actions determine our fate . But there are things which are predetermined. Whatever deed one does , one is repaid in this life itself. I cannot explain anything about ‘life after death’. I have no idea as to what happens to the soul after death. For me God is FAITH. I also believe that an element of this god is present in every human being. If one has faith in oneself , then one is worshipping the supreme force. God is everywhere . God sees us.