Aug 16, 2011

Joint Truth and Re-conciliation Commssion for India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Partition of 'British India' continues to haunt India, Pakistan and Bangladesh by way of myriad undercurrents. The violence that resulted in killing of over a million people hasn't ever been collectively regretted, nor the dead mourned collectively. The sub-continent needs a mammoth 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission', headed by Chief Justices of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to let multiple narratives of people flow forth in the public domain. The proceedings of this commission should be telecast live across the sub-continent.

Let truth and compassion heal.

The 'reconciliation', it should be made clear, is not about reconciling geographical or political borders, but about hearts.

It is necessary to exclude reconciliation of geographical borders, lest political parties across the region work themselves into hysteria over threat to national entities.

Such a commission should have sub commissions on, most critically, religion, history, culture and education polices and economic co-operation. Let all – including politicians, religious leaders, scholars, academics, experts and ordinary people -- make submissions.

Let the debate about concepts of democracy, secularism, religion and culture be engaged in, in an orderly and systematic manner.

The proceedings of such a commission -- and sub-commissions -- besides being telecast live, should also be webcast. Websites should also necessarily be created in multiple languages to allow for wider access to people. These web sites should also necessarily have a lot of interactivity where people can have a say.

May 27, 2011

Where Ram and Rahim belong to the same family

Raman Nanda | TNN 

( "We are Musalmaan, we are Hindu too". That’s the spirit the semi-literate villagers of ‘Cheetah Mehrat’ community embody. While the modern world struggles to define secularism, these villagers pray at mosques and temples, inter religious marriages are the norm. Religionists who try to foist singular Hindu or Muslim identity on the community are shown the door. Their politics too is instructive: they are muslim and have been voting for the saffron BJP during the last three elections. BJP’s candidate Ramzan Khan has their support. For them,the issue is neither BJP, nor the candidate’s religion. Khan, they say, is a helpful man. The Cheeta-Mehrat community lives in and around Kharkheri village, mid-way between Ajmer, home to the famous Dargah Sharief and Pushkar, a holy Hindu city. This story was published in the Times of India, Jaipur, Nov. 8, 2008; it being posted here for it has an abiding relevance.)

Om, the seed mantra for Hindus, and Ameena, Prophet Mohammad’s mother’s name, have obvious religious connotations. A man who answers to the name, Om, and a woman named Ameena are real brother and sister. Likewise, Seeta and Sakina could be sisters. Men answering to names Ram and Rizwan could be brothers. 
    “We have been living a secular way of life for over four centuries,” says Chand, headman of Kharkheri village, 10 km from Pushkar. His community — Cheeta Mehrat — converted to Islam four centuries ago. They are as much at ease in a mosque as they are worshipping Hindu gods and goddesses. They celebrate Eid and Diwali with equal enthusiasm. 
    The Cheetas, generally, are a poor lot. In Kharkheri, where about 400 of the 500 odd families are Cheetas, the land holdings are small. There aren’t any irrigation facilities and with rainfall being nonexistent or erratic, their small farms have not been giving much of an yield to them. Besides tilling, they work as labourers in stone quarries to earn Rs 80-90 per day. In Ajmer, the community also inhabits Masauda, Nausar and Nasirabad towns. With a sizeable presence in Pali, Rajsamand and Bhilwara regions, the population of Cheetas across the state is estimated to be about 4.5 lakh. 
    The unique blend of Islam and Hinduism as embodied by this community is under attack from extremist elements of both the religions. Islamic and Hindu organizations come knocking at their doors to persuade them to fully embrace one religion. 
    Says Chand: “When Muslim organizations try to persuade us to be more regular with rozas and namaz, we tell them that while we are Muslims, we are neither interested nor do we have the time to do namaz five times a day. Likewise, the Hindu organizations tell us that we should revert to our old religion, to which we tell them: Since we aren’t causing problems to others, just leave us alone.” However, in neighbouring Nausar, the Cheetas — under the influence of conservative Muslim groups — have, reportedly, been giving up on their Hindu practices. 
    During election time, villagers say, candidates of different communities try to emphasise one or the other aspect of the life style of Cheetas. “However, we go only by the merit of the candidate,” say the villagers. Though, this particular village, has generally supported the BJP. One of the reasons was that in the past three elections, the BJP candidate, Ramzan Khan, was a very helpful man. 
    The Cheetas are often looked down upon by Muslims as also the dominant Hindu castes even though they regard themselves as ‘Thakurs’ and trace their lineage to Chauhan dynasty. For, their lineage also includes a woman from the Meena community. As the oral history goes, hundreds of years ago, Jodh Lakha, a scion of the ruling family in Ajmer, had an extra-marital affair with a girl from the Meena community. Jodh, who refused to give up his relationship with the Meena girl, was thrown out of the palace and excommunicated. “We are descendants of Jodh of the Chauhan dynasty and Meena girl,” says Chand. 
    Many generations later, one Karni Singh of this community carved his own little kingdom near Pali. Defeat at the hand of Rajput rulers drove the family to seek military support from rival Muslims, and, as a precondition for such support, Karni Singh converted to Islam. However, at the time of conversion, he accepted only some aspects of Islam and made it clear that his community will continue with its Hindu practices as well. “Since our forefathers favoured Hindu religious practices along with acceptance of Islam, we too are doing the same,” village elders say in a very matter of fact way. 
    Among the Cheetas, the decision about marriage — whether it shall be the Hindu ‘pheras’ (circling round the fire seven times) or ‘nikah’— rests with the family of the bride. “If a girl from our village is married, it will be a nikah but when we take a girl from Rawat community, it will be ‘pheras’ and doli”, say the villagers. 
    They don’t find their traditions all that unusual. “Don’t you see a lot of Muslims at Pushkar, and, a lot of Hindus at Ajmer Sharief ?”, they ask. 
    The name — be it Sakina or Sita — does not matter. Form of marriage — be it ‘nikah’ or ‘phera’ — does not matter. Namaz is fine, as is praying to Lord Ganesha or Rama. Pushkar is a holy place, as is any mosque or the Dargah at Ajmer.

For Chand of Cheeta Mehrat community, at prayer time, Mecca’s Khan-e-kabaa and Hindu Gods and Goddesses are equally important. (R) Amjad Cheeta, looking distinctively Muslim, with his brother Mahendra Cheeta

Apr 25, 2011

In the name of God!

While followers of Godman ‘Sathya Sai Baba’ say they are convinced that he will return as another ‘avtaar’, followers of another son of God, Jesus, have been celebrating the day of his ‘resurrection’. Jesus inspired many of his followers to a noble life (doesn’t matter some felt inspired to launch the inquisitions too),  Sai Baba too – as Prime Minsiter Man Mohan Singh says – inspired many to a life of truth and love (doesn't matter that there are questions aplenty about Sai Baba's 'miracles').  No quarrels with noble impact those speaking in the name of God have on peoples’ lives. One is all for all kinds of inspiration that lifts humanity towards noble ideas of love and compassion. But – and I cannot rid myself of this but – does one have to accept the package deal offered by Godmen ? Wherein, one suspends ratiaonality? Must admit, feeling a bit lost in overwhelming adulation one is seeing all around!  Surely, spiritual quest, a longing for feeling a sense of oneness of all humanity, indeed all life, can be rooted in quest for truth and rationality too?

Apr 18, 2011

Smear Campaign: Anna Hazare's letter to Sonia Gandhi

Anna Hazare has hit back at the 'smear campaign' against leaders of the anti-corruption movement. Here's the full text of the letter released to the media today (April 18, 2011). Worth a read.

Mrs Sonia Gandhi,
Chairperson, UPA,
10, Janpath, New Delhi.

Dear Mrs Gandhi,

We entered the joint committee with the hope of jointly drafting a strong anti‐corruption law for the country. Your letter to me, just a day before I ended my fast, that ‘there is an urgent necessity of combating graft and corruption in public life’ and that ‘the law in these matters must be effective and deliver the desired results’, was reassuring.

However, the developments of the last few days have been a cause for concern. It seems that the corrupt forces in the country have united to derail the process of drafting an effective anti‐corruption law through the joint committee. Together we have to defeat their designs. One of their strategies is to smear the reputations of the civil society members in the committee.

Whereas I am of the view that the people working for public must be subjected to public scrutiny, however, when blatantly false accusations are made, fabricated CDs are planted, then one feels that the  purpose is not an honest public scrutiny but to tarnish reputations. They have not even spared me, even though I have lived a simple life following on the path of truth. However, I am happy that despite all their efforts, the vested interests could not dig out anything of substance. This has only raised the reputations of civil society members in the eyes of public. The smear campaign of vested interests seems to be back firing. People can see through what is happening. We are receiving many messages from the people expressing solidarity and sending wishes from across the country that the vested
interests have struck back and we should not give up.

I was wondering what would be the outcome if the government nominees in the committee were subjected to similar scrutiny or witch hunt. Those in power have much more to explain. However, we don’t want to divert the attention of the people from Lokpal Bill to individual mud‐slinging, which seems to be the objective of the people behind this smear campaign.

One of the General Secretaries of Congress Party has been making many statements in the press in the last one week. I assume that he has the support of the party to make such remarks.

Most of these statements are factually wrong, which makes one believe whether his only intention is to create confusion, mislead people and derail the ongoing discussions in joint committee. Do you personally approve of his statements?

After the joint committee meeting, one of the ministers addressed the press saying that the meeting was good. Subsequently, according to many friends in media, he held a private “informal debriefing session” at his house and falsely accused us of having succumbed to government’s pressure within the committee and that we had diluted the law. This was a completely false statement because there were no discussions at all on the law within the committee. His “informal debriefing” created confusions in the minds of the people across the country. It appears that his debriefing was meant to send a message to the public that we had been “influenced”.

We had apprehended such mischievous conduct and that is the reason we have been demanding video recordings of the proceedings and their release immediately after each meeting. India has suffered immensely due to corruption. This is a historic moment when the whole country seems to have come together to demand effective action against corruption. I would urge you to advise your colleagues not to try to derail the process of drafting the law. The country is in no mood to wait any longer to have strong anti‐corruption law. People are very agitated. I fear of the consequences if the
process were derailed.

Warm regards,

(K B Hazare)

Mar 30, 2011

Of Manusmriti and Madhusmriti

Mr. Manu [ yes, of the Manusmriti fame] did have the proper sense to pronounce that good karma was more important than biological lineage. He also emphasised that families and societies which demean women and make them lead miserable lives inevitably move towards destruction. He noted that truly prosperous families are only those in which women are honoured and happy.

So writes Madhu Kishwar, a prominent voice on the feminist landscape. Madhu interestingly argues:

I believe that Manu bhai would fully endorse my writing a Madhusmriti, no matter how much I differ with him. He would probably rejoice in the fact that many people of today prefer Madhusmriti to Manusmriti because Manu, like all other smritikars, emphasised that codes of morality are not fixed by some divine authority, but must evolve with respect to the changing requirements of generations and communities.

Much of the political grandstanding on caste, citing Manusmriti as an authoritative -- and avowedly immutable legal text -- happens without reading the text (I too haven’t read Manusmriti, though hope to get to it sometime) worthwhile reading a contrarian take on it. Here’s the link to Madhu Kishwar's article.

Mar 13, 2011

Religion and Sex

Religion. Sex. These two words matter. And, much as the world is  “modern”, “secular” and “liberal”, it shies away from a public discourse.

Mar 6, 2011

Marxist Historians' Fictitious Critique - I

by Raman Nanda

Marxist historians' critique of the Ayodhya verdict is remarkable for the eminence of the critics and reliance on brazen lies about the verdict itself. It exposes  fault lines of the secularist discourse; it also raises concerns  about intellectual probity and writing of history itself.

Jul 12, 2010

Political experimentation with Financial Stability?

Finance Ministers, as clich├ęs go, perform “balancing acts”, “tight rope walk” and “juggle” with numbers.  Pranab Mukherjee and his team – the annual numbers exercise, the budget having been done with  --  are now playing magicians. Here’s the rabbit they have pulled out of nothing. FSDC: Financial Stability Development Council.

Jan 5, 2010

Vignettes from the Kumbh

The Kumbh is an experience. Shared by millions. As I discovered at the Mahakumbh in Prayagraj in 2001, it can be an intense experience.

It was a bright afternoon. Sunshine gloriously gushed into our tent on the banks of Ganga. We were lazing around, exchanging notes on what the Kumbh Mela had meant for each of us. The conversation veered towards God. An ideal subject in the setting we were in. 

Jan 2, 2010

... From Friend to Sage

After an amazing fluke meeting our correspondent Raman Nanda recounts the personal story of a Sadhu...
As we sat talking to a group of Sadhus, I was acutely aware of this awesome looking one -- tall, white robes, beard touching his knees and wild Naga-like matted hair. He called me by my name. I turned to him in wonder and amusement. “God! One of those Sadhus, who are supposed to be divine and all!”

Dec 27, 2009

Kumbh: Is it a transformative experience?

Millions of people are making their way to the banks of Ganga in Haridwar for the Kumbh mela, often described as the largest gathering of humans on the planet for a shared objective. They will take dips in the river on auspicious dates beginning January 14, 2010 convinced that it will grant them salvation, ‘moksha’. My thoughts go back to the Mahakumbh 2001 in Allahabad where I finally ventured a dip in the dirty, freezing cold waters for – if not salvation – a transformative experience.

Dec 25, 2009

Indian Media: A moment of Introspection

Indian journalism has a reason to be grateful to Outlook and its editor Vinod Mehta for the cover story on ‘Paid News’. That the sanctity of news was being violated - for years - was known to everyone in the profession. Most journalists felt violated in the very core of their being. They mourned about it. Endlessly. Yet this did not become a story. For, any number of newspapers, magazines and TV channels were in the game. Even the ones that were above board were eyeing the new “revenue stream”.

Relationships, love and freedom!

Relationships affect us all. They make life meaningful, they help us soar, they also bring us down in pain and anguish. As Sauma Varughese writes in 'Life Positive', " None of us are free because we are all pulled and pushed by the relationships in our lives. They determine our moods, motives and actions. How then are we to be free of these factors and sail into relationships that are loving and beautiful, but not coercive? How can we relate to people in freedom?... " Read on.

Dec 24, 2009

Forgive. For your own sake!

Forgive, not as a charity to the one who harmed you. Forgive, for your own sake!! "Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." So said Lord Budha, as quoted in a marvellous discussion initiated by Daniel Woo.

Miserable? Watch this!

It's up to us to feel better about what we have, or feel bitter about what we don't have. Watch this on You Tube. Cheers!
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