Archive for September, 2009

September 15, 2009

The veil in the classroom

by sbasu09

Saurav Basu

A few months back, Justice Katju, an outspoken Supreme Court judge rejected the appeal by a Muslim student to sport a beard in a Catholic school out of religious reasons. But he was also apprehensive that succumbing to this mindset could propel Talibanisation since, “We don’t want to have Taliban in the country. Tomorrow a girl student may come and say that she wants to wear a burqa, can we allow it? I am a secularist. We should strike a balance between rights and personal beliefs. We cannot overstretch secularism”

Unfortunately, the pressure generated by Muslim fundamentalists through ‘secular’ media effectively compelled Katju to publicly backtrack from his progressive position.

Recently, a college in Mangalore directed a Muslim female student not to enter the classroom with a headscarf. The girl insists that she is obliged to wear the scarf in deference to her faith and refused to comply. Previously, she had been debarred from wearing the burqah. She further alleged that the college was acting under pressure from right wing student organizations who threatened to wear “saffron shawls” in protest. Secularists have predictably howled at the growing ‘culture of intolerance’ and conveniently harped on the Hindutva connection while ignoring the threats posed by Islamic separatism. They were in the queer company of the extreme pan Islamic fundamentalist Jamat-e-Islami Hind and the Students Islamic organisation, which threatened Indians that they would ‘seek the support of the Gulf Islamic Community if required,’ (sic) [link] Ultimately, the college withdrew its headscarf ban but remained steadfast on its decision to ban the burqah from their campus.

The debate over religious symbols in secularized classrooms has been hugely problematic for the secular state of India. Authorities have feigned helplessness in their inability to strictly enforce secular ethos in a highly religious society. Such argumentation is actually a smokescreen for hiding the intimidating instincts of semitic faiths who unlike Hinduism theoretically and otherwise do not differentiate between public and private spaces. Islamists including India’s first education minister, Maulana Azad used to gloat on how their presumably totalitarian religion controls not only every aspect of life but also politics. No wonder, the sense of ‘denial’ of their religious freedom in secularized spaces emerges most vociferously from Muslim quarters. ‘Secularists’ and ‘liberals’ reinforce such regressive attitudes by politics of appeasement. In contrast, majority Hindus whose children of all ages routinely face hostility, abuse and even corporal punishment for wearing anything from bindis to kumkum in certain Christian institutions have not shown any willingness for organized protest. Neither have any liberals spoken for them.

Issues of equality, cultural freedom and secularism are the cornerstone of this debate. Muslims claim that democracy and secularism gives them right to practice their religion in any way they want. Ironically, both these values are otherwise considered un-Islamic by Islamic fundamentalists. (link) Perhaps, that explains the state sponsored persecution of minorities in some Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia which includes forced veiling of all women, including non Muslim women.

Journalists like Burkha Dutt champion the rights of Muslims to pursue their religious obligations as Hindu religious symbols are not entirely absent in secular classrooms; they being most conspicuous in morning prayers. This is a sophistical argument since Hindu prayers are essentially non sectarian, abstract and universal. A Hindu prayer does not pour opprobrium on worshiper of ‘false gods’ nor do they have any business in denying those false gods. Instead, Hindu prayers promote cosmic harmony, peace, ahimsa, expansion of the self and universal growth and fraternity. Swami Vivekananda in his inaugural address to the World Parliament of religions had expressed hope that salvation from bigotry and fanaticism would come through universal Hinduism exemplified by the Rig Vedic mantra which considers all paths whether crooked or straight to lead to the same divine. This is what makes Hindu prayers compatible in multi-religious classrooms.

Similarly, kumkum and bindis are not religious but innocuous cultural symbols of an overwhelming majority which should be respected. Unfortunately, the confronting attitudes adopted by Catholic schools in this regard stemming out of their religious bias is unwarranted and a subversion of pluralism.

In contrast, veils and headscarfs carry controversial connotations. Popular Western impression as evident in the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s outburst condemns the veil as a symbol of women oppression. The veil of course, has a far more complex history than the simple sexed up opinions which prevails in the West and which has been exploited to sell everything from cigarettes to designer clothes. (The veil unveiled: Hijab in modern culture, Faeghey Shirazi, Florida, 2002)

Fatwa El Guindi has shown that the veil was prevalent in pre-Islamic Mesopotamian and Mediterranean societies. (Veil modesty, privacy, resistance, London, 1999) But that does not deter us from the well entrenched position that the veil is very congenial to Islam. An occasional pre-Islamic custom, it was institutionalized by Islam and imposed on all those societies which were subject to Islamic conquest. That veiling is enjoined by the Quran is certified by authors like Katherine Bullock, a white Canadian scholar who converted into Islam. (Rethinking Muslim women and the veil, 2002)

In Islam the veiling practices is the product of a religious code and considered necessary to protect the vulnerable female body from lustful men. Not surprisingly, the veil was enthusiastically adopted by the conquered populace whose women often found it to their sole protection against their new Muslim masters.

But in non Islamic societies especially in Assyria and parts of pre Islamic India, the veil was a marker of exclusivity, status, privilege and privacy. However, the absence of the veil, in classical Indian art, architecture and literature gives credence to the position that extensive veiling practices were contrary to the Hindu way of life. Although, Sheela Shah informs us that 11th century text Samayantrika by the Brahmin Ksemendra considers only prostitutes fit to wander without the veil. But it was an isolated opinion. Overall, the adoption of the Muslim rhetoric of ‘protection’ must have been paramount for what else explains the coincidence of the epidemic of Hindu veiling with Islamic invasions. Unfortunately, for some rural Hindu women, the custom of the veil persists as an instrument of subordination to their in-laws.

So does denial of the right to wear a veil in public institutions in non Muslim countries qualify as religious discrimination? Hardly! The question which liberals evade is that whether Muslim women subject to an ultra patriarchal dominant ideology have the necessary agency to make an informed decision to wear a symbol of seclusion which is intrinsically incompatible with modern workspace ethos which requires intersex participation and group bonding. An allopathic doctor in Peshawar confessed to this author on how painful it was for women like her in a hijab to treat male patients.

Moreover, one cannot overlook the violence which Muslim women have been subjected to for not conforming to Islamic ideology. In Kashmir, agents of Asiya Andrabi’s Dukhran-e-Millat threw acid and paint on Muslim women who refused to submit to the veil. [link] Those wearing jeans were shot in the legs by similar fanatics. The Taliban finished off the last semblance of the independent unveiled woman who once served as doctors, engineers and lawyers in Kabul. In Iran, ever since the Islamic revolution, women face acute suppression through sex segregation mediated by the veil.

That the contemporary re-veiling movement in the ‘Muslim World’ is out of socio, economic, religious and political reasons is undeniable. Yet, Islam revivalism subsumes all. For Islamic fundamentalists, the veil serves as the collective expression of Pan-Islamic hostility against non Muslim cultures.

Despite these obvious realities, leftists feminists have been reluctant in their criticism of the veil. Jamie Glazov in his “United in Hate: The Left’s romance with tyranny and terror” indignantly questions that ”Why do radical feminists, who supposedly value women’s rights, ignore the suffering of millions of women living under Islamic gender apartheid?” Phyllis Chesler, a radical feminist who was once married to a Muslim and lived in Afghanistan under the veil has consistently charged fellow feminists of betraying their cause by maintaining a deafening silence against exploitative Islamic practices. (link)

The pretension that minorities can do anything they want in a secular country is mischievous and actually is a poignant reminder of how alienated is the concept of secularism from these semitic faiths. The fact remains that it is precisely the minority status of Muslims and Christians in India coupled with a secular constitution which effectively denies them the right to practice those elements of their religion which are unfortunately, wholly incompatible with liberal, democratic and progressive values.

Liberal Democracy on the other hand is not about “doing what you want”, it means state commitment to ensuing protection of a system of ethical values which includes defending secular institutions from ultra religious encroachment. Also, it means resistance to religious ideologies which undermine women’s independence. All in all archaic religious sentiments of an orthodox minority cannot become reason for the secular state to succumb to their pressure. If the secular state could intervene in a small matter of a once in a decade rare presumably voluntary Sati in Rajasthan in the Roop Kanwar case and issue a stringent legislation against the same, then why cannot it act against the infinitesimally ubiquitous veil. The partisan Sachar Committee Report has conceded that Muslim women participation in the workforce amongst all socio-religious communities is the least. This trend is observed unanimously across several Islamic nations. But in India where Muslims are a relative minority, the problem is even more acute. Many middle class Muslim families do not allow their girls access to higher education and work outside their mohalla. It is considered inappropriate to the community’s ‘izzat’ (Sameena Khan, Exclusion, identity and Muslim women in Mumbai, New Age Weekly, Jan 20-26, 2008) That religious strictures mediated by the veil actively contribute to this malaise is an incontrovertible position.

On the other hand, Hindu activists need to refrain from tactless intimidating tactics. Wearing saffron shawls to counter the burqah is tasteless and perversion of the sacred colour which has for millennia epitomized renunciation, inner strength and valour.

A common sense intellectual engagement sans hatred is the need of the hour.

September 14, 2009

mAna siMha the rAShTrakUTa

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

While mAna siMha is no hero, nor is he pretending to be, his character still represents the collective contemporary Hindu psyche, with all their aspirations and consciousness as well as weaknesses and helplessness, of that sAndhya period when on one hand the Moon of the Hindu Resurgence was on the rise, and on the other the grahaNa wrought upon it by the mlechcHa-ketu was also imminent, an eclipse from which the Hindu fate never seems to have fully recovered.

In the tumultuous struggle of centuries fought by the mahArANA-s of mewADa, from saMgrAma siMha to pratApa siMha, against the hordes upon hordes of Islamites, none had joined them for longer, and watered the desert battlefields with their blood more plentifully, than the ‘hara-hara-mahAdeva’ shouting fierce hADA-s of koTA-bUndI and the rAThora-s of mArawADa, the western extraction of the legendary rAShTrakUTa-s from South.

Since the days when their contingents had fought under the Generalissimo of bhojadeva the pramAra in annihilating the Moslem barbaranins from ghazanA, to the era when they had sent their princes and generals to serve under the columns of mahArANA sAMgA against bAbUr, where they valiantly dyed kAlindI with their blood on the fateful day in biyAnA, to the era when they preferred to get slain in the samara rather than yield to the suzerainty of the moghul tyrant Akbar, to the time when now although yoked under the overlordship of shAhajahAn they perpetually remained in rebellion until gaining a virtual independence: their blood appears to have never seemed too costly a merchandise to them, for the honour of their five-coloured pacharaMgA mast. (There is only one aberration in the long valiant tradition, a comparativelysmall black spot in their history which they recall as an eternal disgrace and curse upon themselves)

Then later, emerging from the dark pall of the moghal sway, it was theirs that was the first rAjapUta sword, represented in legendary General durgA dAsa rAThora, the first amongst all the rAjapUta-s of his time, that rose to strike down at the writ of awrangzib and reclaim a complete swarAja for mArawADa, as was being done at the same time in their ancestral country in South by the son of cHatrapati, to whom he had personally met to hand over the custody of the rebellious son of awrangzib, and giving a taste of his own medicine to the Islami maniac, had kept a Moghal princess, a grand-daughter of awrangzib, in a respectful detention in mAravADa until awrangzib himself begged for the demand of whatever ransom and terms of release. Their connection to cHatrapati goes further back to those days when it was through the intelligence sharing and guidance of the Lord of maru-s, jasawanta siMha rAThora, still counted in the first row of all time great rAjapUta warriors, who had secretly sought a meeting with shivAjI on the dense outskirts of pUnA and not only guided him about the designs which awrangzib had laid for the Rising Sun of hinduvAnA, to use the term bhUShaNa uses, but also tacitly helped him get the better of shAistA khAn by silently withdrawing the rAjapUta-s troops from the fort on the night of the operation. (Incidentally, both shivAjI and jasawanta siMha shared a lot in common: the similarity of the cunning they had independently employed in their early careers; both of their sons were sent to torturous death by awrangzib; even the year when both of them breathed their last is the same, but this interesting subject we shall broach on some other occasion.)

In short, of rAThora-s is a saga of those qualities of valour, cunning and loyalty to motherland, which every rAjapUtAnI of marriageable age seeks to find in her future husband, and when married, prays to bhavAnI for the fruit of her womb to be endowed with.

Such is the valiant clan whose leader the subject of these lines became at a time when the Hindu History was staring at a major crossroad. The epoch of the time of his birth was such that the maharaTTA power was still holding considerable sway generally from coast to coast in dakShiNa and while much mismanaged and neither as united nor spirited as they used to be under the early peshavA-s, their writ was still running in the Gangetic plains from dillI to va~Nga. A flowering Hindu kingdom erected a little earlier in the himAlaya by the blessed pR^ithvI nArAyaNa shAha was already flourishing in nepAla. In North-West, the followers of gobinda siMha had effectively subjugated the Islamites to create a powerful kingdom that sprawled from the plains of pa~nchanada to as far west as knocking gAndhAra and as far North as enveloping the entire kashmIra; the fierce and rustic jATa-s had all but completely ejected afghAn savages from the central northern regions; and the remaining centers of Moslem power were now limited to being pale patches upon the map of Hindu Nation. The year was 1804 when the destiny of young mAna siMha saw him take the mettle of jodhapura, which he attributed to the blessings of his guru, a miraculous nAtha yogI.

His ascension, like his many counterparts of contemporary landscape was not smooth, indeed it happened against all odds. We shall do injustice to the colourfulness of events if we omit some of those interesting backgrounds.

His grandfather, rAjA vijaya siMha rAThora, had several wives and children and grand children, and although well past the prime of his youth he fell in amour with a beautiful damsel from a rich oswAla family of his capital. The whole matter caused much scandal across mAravADa, but the antidote of the prospect of losing repute was not strong enough to subdue the affliction caused by the arrows of rati’s husband! Marriage, although vijaya siMha desired so, was disallowed to him by his priests and nobles, so the elderly rAThora simply took the lady of his infatuation as a concubine. Soon it seems his heart sank in the passion for this rUpasI from one depth to the other and infatuation turned to devotion. The young object of his dote, on the other hand, was not so selfless and demanded equal rights as his other wives, and treated the old king with no dignity; on one occasion she is reported to have thrown her sandals at him. The royal lover, ripe in body but teenager at heart, finally decided to install upon her all the legal rights that his other legally wedded rAjapUtAnI queens had, including giving her a real heir of his own vIrya. To this effect, and biologically being too old to put a child in her lap, he decided to adopt a young grandson of his own, with the lady of his love as the adopting mother, and declared the child, this grandson turned son, our mAna siMha, the yuvarAjan.

This way, while mAna siMha legally superseded his several uncles and biological father, who incensed at being deprived of their birth rights and supported by the nobles disgusted by the behaviour of their king, plotted and eventually dethroned the old king and had the lady murdered. A wily uncle of his, bhIma siMha took the throne, followed by a bloody liquidation of all other competitors except one, the young mAna siMha, who survived because he was at the time away in the fort of Jhalore, which was not in the immediate reach of the arms of jodhapura, and although the assassin bhIma siMha later laid many sieges to Jhalore, he did not succeed in liquidating mAna.

Growing up in seclusion, away from his country and without care of any parents, mAna siMha once chanced upon meeting a nAtha siddha while wandering in the araNya, and the rest of the story is in the template of what we have heard on many instances, now in relation to bappA rAvala and now in the rise of pR^ithvI nArAyaNa of nepAla. Although having no hopes for future, living a life of deprivation, and being captured and executed appearing a matter of time, his fate took a surprise turn, which he attributed to the blessings of the yogI, when suddenly in mid of a siege usurper-assassin bhIma siMha died without any apparent cause, allowing mAna siMha to swiftly claim, with a small band of his armed followers, his legal right to the throne founded by his illustrious ancestor jodhA siMha rAThora.

When he assumed office, he was faced with two challenges: one, the sindhiyA-s of Gwalior refused to recognize the sovereignty of mAravADa and threatened a war. Second, some of the nobles loyal to bhIma siMha pretended that a wife of bhIma siMha was pregnant at the time of his death, and the posthumous child born in secrecy was the legal heir to throne, not mAna.

But it was another event which might seem trivial and unnecessary to an uninitiated but will be immediately understood and felt, by those familiar with the rAjapUta psyche, which caused a long-drawn war and resulted in much bloodletting for which rAjapUta-s were always ready.

As we know, mewADa is the most sacred seat of rAjapUta pride, indeed the pride of India. Up until the late times, no Hindu king at least of North India would be legitimized until he receives the approval of this house. It was no wonder that shivAjI always aspired to declare his lineage to be from this house, and the brAhmaNa-s of kAshI were presented written letter of approval from the then rANA before shivAjI’s rAjyAbhiSheka would be performed. Even Sardar Patel had first approached mewADa before any other state for the accession to the Republic of India, and the signature of the rANA of mewADa was the first on the instrument, before any other, and likewise after the Consitution was accepted, the first President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad rode on the first republic day from Rashtrapati Bhavan to Red Fort on the royal elephant sent by the rANA, as a symbolic gesture of mewADa’s goodwill towards the democracy.

So, even if physically weakened at times, the house of bappA rAvala had always reserved the universal claim on being the first of all the rAjapUta clans. Marrying one’s daughter into the mewADa house, in bloodline of the rANA-s, was and is a matter of much prestige for any rAjapUta clan, what to say of receiving the hand of a sisodiyA daughter in matrimony!

A certain princess of mewADa named kR^iShNA kumArI was the daughter of bhIma siMha, the then rANA, and she was reputed as much for the qualities becoming of a good rAjapUtAnI as for her looks. Before his death, bhIma siMha of jodhapura had approached the eponymous rANA with matrimonial proposal for himself with this princess. This was natural as the rAThora-s were always considered more preferable matrimonial allies by the house of mewADa, examples of which include such names as mIrAbAI, a rAThora princess by birth and sisodiyan queen by marriage, or the mother of jasawanta siMha rAThore, a mewADian chief princess. But before rANA could have responded, the matter simply ended with the untimely death of bhIma siMha rAThore, and allowed another prince, jagata siMha kacHavAhA, the prince of jaipur, to approach rANA for the fair hand of kR^iShNA.

The marriage was very important for the house of ambar, who with all their fat purse gained from the centuries of alliance with moghals, were suffering due to the same cause, from a low prestige. They were considered next to an outcast by the other 36 clans of rAjapUta-s, since that day when mahArANA had refused to see the face of and dine with the kacHavAhA prince and envoy of turuShka because not only had the house of ambar accepted the suzerainty of the Moslem but also given them their daughter in marriage. But now, with the changed landscape, the glory of jaipur can be instantly restored in the eyes of other houses, if the present rANA would agree to the matrimonial alliance, that too of the famed princess kR^iShNA.

But this was not acceptable to rAThora pride. With young mAna on the cushion of jodhapura being available to replace bhIma siMha in the previous proposal, rANA’s even considering to give the coveted hand of the sisodiyA princess to the lowly kacHavAhA-s was not any less than a sacrilege!

It should be noted here that lately the rAThora face was not altogether clean of the same blot too, and they had on more than one occasion married their daughters with moghals; indeed jodhAbAI was a rAThorian, and even the last recorded marriage of any rAjapUtAnI to a moghal, was also of a rAThorian princess, the daughter of ajita siMha rAThora. It is possible that it was from the same motivation as that of the kacHavAhA-s that the hand of kR^iShNa became such a matter of prestige for rAThora-s too.

They declared a war upon jaipur and its allies.

Continues to second part:


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September 1, 2009

kaliyuga at a traffic signal

by Sarvesh K Tiwari

update: translation added below


दस्यु-प्रपीडिता राजन् काका इव द्विजोत्तमाः
कुराजभिश्च सततं करभार-प्रपीडिताः
धैर्यं त्यक्त्वा महीपाल दारुणे युगसंक्षये
विकर्माणि करिष्यन्ति शूद्राणां परिचारकाः

dasyu-prapIDitA rAjan kAkA iva dvijottamAH
kurAjabhishcha satataM karabhAra-prapIDitAH
dhairyaM tyaktvA mahIpAla dAruNe yugasaMkShaye
vikarmANi kariShyanti shUdrANAM parichArakAH
(bhArata, araNya parvan, 188.61-62)

{O King, the brAhmaNa-s harrassed by the barbarians and (contempted against like) the crows,
Suppressed to no end by bad governments and tortured with burdening taxes,
Shall in that terrible yuga of Destruction finally abandon all their patience, O Monarch,
to take up various occupations unworthy of them and become the servants of the shUdra-s.}

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