Learning from zero base !

Chetan Shah

My 14-year old international-school going daughter's campus ecology consists of mostly Western teachers, Western syllabus and books, Western outlook and students of truly global backgrounds. A few times in her few years at the school, her Arab and Pakistani classmates, who are often 'best friends' otherwise, have asked her with a smirk, “Do you worship cows?” They did not need an answer.

Finally she confided in me when it happened the last time. I spoke to her in detail about the relevance of animals and plants in the Eastern wisdom and culture, and how they connect with the modern ecology concepts like carbon footprint, global warming, and organizations like PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals).  She debated with me about the concept of God and religion in the Abrahamic traditions as compared to the Eastern traditions. I nudged her to accept only those parts of religion which appealed to her intellect, leaving nothing to faith or Dad says so. She was free to choose from God and no-God. She made her decision, with a right to update and revise it as her experiences grew.

However, this is not about my daughter. This is about how human beings have been trained to look at this varied universe through their narrow vision. The unspoken culture is that everything different from my way must be wrong! Everyone different from me must be ignorant!

The universe has been created and it is still growing with abundance of hues, features and visions. It was not meant to be monolithic, for if it was, then it would have been created so. There should not have been millions of species of life form, different skin colours and different molecules, planets and gases, different languages, food habits, arts and civilizations.

Why do not we accept that our interpretation of the universe is as narrow as the view of a mountain peak from one lowly corner? Why do not we try understanding what is foreign to us? Why do we presume foreign wisdom to be in the need of guidance of our own  preconceived right path? Why do not we challenge and energise our own wisdom and beliefs?

Why do not we approach the universe like a baby who is curious to crawl, walk, taste and touch everything with the benefit of prior ignorance rather than the burden of inherited belief? 

Why do not we start learning from zero base !

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

The irrelevance of politics

Meghnad Desai

The news about rape does not get any better. Relentlessly, week after week, we have news of young and old women as well as girls being brutally raped, physically abused and often burnt or killed. The system fails to do much more than wring its hands, limply pointing to the Act it passed. The police continue to have feudal mentality. Politicians, when they are not rapists themselves, are not much help. The idea of politics in India is tied up with patronage, handouts and subsidies to voting blocs—caste Hindu or Dalits or Muslims. There is no idea of human rights and most 'leaders' of these voting blocs are men who are as likely to burn their daughters-in-law for dowry if not do something worse.

The forthcoming elections will fail to address the demands of women for safety or for their rights. Indian politics only recognises groups, not individuals. Someone like Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasrin has no rights since the group to which they 'belong' is hostile to them. M F Husain was driven into exile because a secular government let Hindutva bullyboys hound him. The whole notion of secularism is about religious collectivities and not about individuals. An atheist Muslim will be abandoned by the authorities. When he spoke about the ubiquity of corruption in Indian politics, Ashis Nandy was left to fend for himself because some Dalit groups took umbrage at what he had said, having failed to appreciate irony. No political power stood up for his freedom of speech.

Whether the Congress or BJP wins the next election will make no difference to this political culture. The young women and men who are marching every day in our cities and demanding some response from the powers that be will find that the elections will be fought on clientelist concerns—jati, minorities, reservations, subsidies etc. That is called inclusive development. The reform of Indian society to improve the downtrodden position of women who suffer indignities from the time they are foetuses till they die a lonely old death will not be addressed.

This is because when Independence came, the Congress decided not to challenge the social hierarchies or reform the social structure. It was, after all, for all practical purposes an upper caste Hindu party with a small seasoning of docile Muslims and grateful Harijans. In North India, across Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Haryana, it perpetuated the rule of Brahmins and oppressed the OBCs. The social backwardness of North India can be seen as a glaring contrast to South India where there was a strong anti-Brahmin movement dating back a hundred years and more.

So the Congress will not challenge dowry deaths, female foeticide, domestic violence, rape within marriage. It will extol the great Hindu society and culture because if it doesn't, the BJP will steal their clothes. As far as the BJP is concerned, one cannot expect any social reform at all from it. They are subservient to the RSS, which worships traditional culture and believes there is no rape in Bharat. Statistics cited by the Delhi Police last week show that 97 per cent of women victims of violence and rape know their attackers. She is often related to them—father, stepfather, brother, cousin, brother-in-law etc. Indeed, traditional India knew about the incidence of rape within the family so much so that in the old days, upper caste girls were married off before they attained puberty to insure against within-family assaults. That was and is Bharat. NRIs take their prejudices with them. Discrimination against Dalits by fellow Hindus has just been banned by the UK Parliament despite lobbying by Hindu groups.

As far as they are concerned, the young under 35 can take it that the politicians do not care about them. If they come begging for handouts, they may get some. But if they ask for rights and redress for their complaints, they will shunned aside.

It would be difficult for Indian politicians to admit that the rot which causes rapes is deep within the Indian society. It has to do with the low status of women. Modi or Rahul or anyone else will not dare touch this deep rot within India that is Bharat.

courtesy : ‘Out of My Mind’, “The Sunday Express”, 28.04.2013

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features