Saturday, 22 August 2009

On Brahmins and Burkhas

The latest issue of Tehelka carries an article on Tamil Nadu's 2006 government order that allowed hindu people, irrespective of their caste, to become priests in hindu temples - and brahmins protested, of course!

Yesterday's Deccan Herald carried a photo of women in burkhas protesting their right to wear burkhas and head scares - opposing a ban imposed in SVS College, Bantwal.

I have always been uncomfortable with legal or formalized demand that force opening up of communities, clubs, organizations to memberships that would otherwise not be allowed. It is the intrusive, aggressive manner of promoting pluralism that I am opposed to.

I remember with distaste, many years ago in the US, the great fuss made about letting women join the "Old boy's club", or the legal battle over the right of a gay person to become a priest. I would have much preferred that women made their own club that allowed men, and gays tried a church that welcomed them or had a congregation of their own - without bias towards sexual choices/ preferences. Their liberal inclusiveness would then draw broader memberships, and with time, hopefully, drive old rigid systems out of existence.

Similarly, if a state sponsored temples that were caste independent, and the majority populace took their patronage there, the ugly system of caste segregation would vanish anyway. Maybe brahmins would then be forced to apply for jobs at these temples that were better stocked. Similarly, it is up to people of muslim faith to decide when and how their religious dress code needs to evolve - for their own good.

I strongly believe that our ability to survive as a democratic nation depends critically on our ability to exist with as many variants be it individuals, groups, communities. With their existence we allow our selves the gift of the diverse, conservative as equally as liberal, modern and also ancient, rock and dhrupad. Rights of an individual or a minority will reflect the freedom of us all, as a people. The role of a state is to provide a helping hand to the needy, financially backward, culturally downtrodden, without necessarily diminishing individual rights of brahims to be brahmanical, or women to hide their face.

I am reminded of the amazing 'Stars upon Thars' by Dr. Suess in The Sneetches. The sneetches, without stars, took to wearing stars also, leading to a completely muddled up situation till no one knew
which were the original starred ones and which were unstarred. I highly recommend all Dr.Suess books to the fundamentally muddled, or socially confused.

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