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.

Friday, 21 August 2009

A Friendly Visit from Ms. Clinton

Catching up with back issues of Tehelka, I read with horror an excellent article by Nityanand Jayaraman on the agenda behind Ms.Clinton's visit to India. Apparently, Ms. Clinton was here to help pass a legal bill that provides a safe and small liability cap of a mere $450 million USD, for the operators and providers of India's nuclear power facilities, in case of a disaster! We, as a nation will have to cough up rest of the compensation - i.e. in case we deem it necessary to help out our future Bhopal type victims - and really, we do not have a good track record on taking care our needy, victimized, unfortunate. And, get this, we, the moronic, boot licking nation that we are, have already got a draft of such a bill ready. Why do our elected representatives behave so callously? Who has given them rights to play with lives? And...what is Obama up to, now? The savior of the world only wants to save national, corporate, US interests? Would such a bill be acceptable in his nation? A one time compensation of a mere $500 for lives lost, torn, harm havoc-ed over generations, the suffering, the pain - as in the case of Bhopal tragedy? Is Obama's dream only for the privileged of his world, not pain of all humanity?

How dare the US bring such a proposal to the table, and how dare we accept it???

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Sale! Humans Discounted

In a society uncontrollably propelled by rampant consumerism, accumulation, and search for deals, it appears that in a country like ours, humans are a commodity that are most overproduced and therefore most under valued .i.e. they are easily available discount priced or even on clearance sale - 90% off! Buy one get five free! The cost of a human, from within the lesser fortunate strata, goes for much less than the cost to feed that person well, let alone support a family, maintain health, or educate, aspire, dream for future - and it is most convenient to keep them that way.

This issue became spotlit for me thus. I was related an incident about an electrician making a home visit in the 46 degree heat of Delhi, this summer, to find a trivial problem that he fixed immediately. The cost of this round trip, his expertise in identifying and solving a problem was Rs.30. A similar trip in Kolkatta would earn him Rs.10 - if he was lucky, and the client generously inclined. I know that a ride on hand pulled rickshaws in Kolkatta, for about a km, can only earn a paltry Rs.5. Or a maid in most metros earns as little as Rs. 300 for cleaning a home, washing dishes, clothes - per month. The same family might spend substantially more over a single meal, or purchasing an useless item in a shop. So what has become of the Indian middle class? Who are we, what do we want, and at what cost?

It appears to me that an interesting way to define a lower cutoff to our burgeoning middle class, would be that group of people that hire paid labor to deal with chores of their daily living - and an increasing set is getting ready to not wash their own dirty laundry! We are fortunate that there still exists this bottomless pit of the needy, starving, exploitables who can, for just the price of their survival in hovels, on scraps of our compostables, live in slavery and do our want. So really, what do we want?? What do we really really want? Is there a picture, longer term goal, a dream of happiness? collective happiness? Is there a vision that guides this middle class? that only I am not getting? And mostly, why is it, that whatever we want, we are most ready to first sacrifice other human needs, human interests, human rights?

Partly, surely, the answer is that we have distanced ourselves from the exploited class - the others. I remember being reprimanded " speak well to them and you'll not get them to listen to you! Treat them decently and you are spoiling them for the rest of us." The exploiters and the exploited have become two completely distinct groups - the human,defined as ' capable of exploiting', versus, de-human, sub-human, un-human. The question to ask now is, what have we gained by this distancing? and for how long can this separation be sustained? We shudder in dread at stories of armed resistance movements that are spreading across the country, hide behind corrupt, vile, abusive and evil actions legitimized by anti-terrorism acts, shrug at large scale and illegal displacements and access to livelihoods for any number of communities across nation, and skip over even smallest mentions of civil liberties and human rights that our governments refuse to guarantee. Who are we that disregard human interest for our sloth and human rights for extra cash in our coffers? Who are we and what do we have to teach our kids!!