article, free speech, Journalism, life, politics

50-50 Democracy: India is a sinking boat for freethinkers

Ramachandra Guha very rightly characterised India as a 50-50 democracy, which upholds certain aspects of democracy with staunch rigidity like elections, while remaining uneasily lax about law and order as well as seething political corruption. India has time and again shown the extent of the culture of intolerance practised in the name of democracy. While ‘intolerance’ may be understood as someone’s democratic right, it cannot encroach another’s right to life and liberty. Taslima Nasreen is the latest (but not the first) victim of this intolerant strain.

Taslima Nasreen, who landed in Aurangabad with the intention of visiting Ajanta and Ellora caves, was barred from leaving her hotel premise by protesters, led All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen MLA Imtiaz Jaleel. Her act was deemed offensive to Muslims residing in the city. Taslima has been in the past hounded by Islamist radicals due to her controversial views on Islam, which had caused a flurry in Bangladesh, leading to her exile from the country in 1994. And once again, with an apparent imminent threat to her well-being, she decided to leave.

Why do we as a nation promote the culture of intolerance? Books have been banned, writers roughed up for progressive criticism. A myriad of social factors, coupled with political complexities have made the political scenario unaccepting of voices of dissent. Freedom of speech has limits which make it hard, nay, impossible to voice opinions without hurting sentiments. We, as a society on the road of economic progress (and social, I pray), must realise that ‘Hurt sentiment’ is a part of the bargain we make to exercise free speech. We already have reasonable restrictions placed on free speech – no state can concede this right without ensuring the safety of its citizens. But so long as speech does not incite or in Guha’s terms, ‘advocate’ the use of physical violence, it must be a right that our democracy must defend. You may hold opinions in opposition to those of a writer but no sole individual or group can claim authority over the movement of an individual if he/she so wishes. This is undemocratic and unlawful.

Taslima Nasreen believes herself to be a crusader against religious fundamentalism; she desires to prove that Islam is not outside the ambit of critical scrutiny. The author’s criticism, which stems from contemporary political and social scenario, may be flawed. Although Bangladesh has, in recent times, seen many intellectuals being hacked for holding dissenting opinions.  To arrive on common ground, a culture of debate is needed, not that of brute force and hooliganism. A creative confluence of ideas is the bedrock of a democracy, which we promised to ourselves in our constitution.  But a set of archaic rules give the state a lot of latitude in placing limits to freedom of speech, which often pander to religious sentiments above individual liberty. We need to free India from the grip of identity politics that work, through the lens of caste and religious, to effectively throttle freedom of expression. Let the government not cow down to political considerations and rise above to reclaim India from its descent into a dark abyss of intolerance.

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Holy cows, politics, religion, Uncategorized

A tale of two identities: Whats your beef?

One reason why Modi-wave gripped India in 2014 was the idealist/economist lens with which he viewed the nation. He ‘seemingly’ rose above petty communal rhetoric that had been his cross since Gujarat, and spoke about development, growth and the rise of a super-power. We were under the impression that he wanted to establish an expansionist pro-capitalist identity of our nation on a scale unimaginable to us. He has been sloughing day in and out to retain that I presume, continuously on tour for bilateral talks, erecting a new identity abroad. But our own identity politics has taken a backseat, or rather is going back to crude basics. The secular nation that was promised to all and sundry, has turned into a hollow premise on which lies the now unsteady foundation of India.

The majoritarian govt that has been elected by such a massive popular vote has taken to blatantly infringing on rights of the citizens. The latest assault has been the restrictions imposed on sale of cattle for slaughter, sounded through an amendment issued under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Cattle brought to the markets would have to be sold for agricultural purposes, a tab on which would be kept by the Animal Market Committee. The rules define ‘cattle’ to mean “cow, calf, bull, bullock, buffalo, heifer, steer and camel”.

While the subtleties of the ban are lost in the political humdrum, the move does seem to reek of majoritarian bliss. Well my mother advocates what our government has implemented; I am a non-vegetarian and she has never restricted consumption of meat in our Hindu household, despite being a vegetarian herself. Though we have our own holy cows. Her behaviour, could be diabolical or hypocritical to an extent. To put into perspective rhetoric of religious sentiments, would anyone eat pork in an Islamic nation, where its consumption is banned? Well, the only logical answer I could come up with was the fact that these nations are Islamic- they have a religion with which their nation’s identity is inextricably linked and therefore that religion may well dictate rule of the land. Do not confuse my acceptance with assent, but only an explanation. India however has no national religious identity. What we have is one religion which dominates in number. Hindu beliefs are not the beliefs of all those who live in the nation and cannot be enforced. Nehru writes in Discovery of India- “A Buddhist or a Jain in India is a hundred percent product of Indian thought and culture, yet neither is a Hindu by faith. It is, therefore, entirely misleading to refer to Indian culture as Hindu culture.” We must pay heed to these words.

One of my mother’s pet arguments (and of many others I’ve met) – if people have a right to decide what they eat, why would anyone deny someone who has an appetite for Tiger meat? Or why raise such a hue and cry over killing of dogs in China? So, for the former- Tigers are Endangered. There aren’t a whole lot left in the world to make steak out of. She does not relent but I do feel like a hypocrite when I am all for beef consumption but would gladly sign a petition condemning Yulin festival in China. What I condemn is the brutality with which those dogs are tortured and killed. But the right to their consumption remains with the citizens. The gruesome reality does not feed the fodder of my argument. If I stick to my own canon, all animals must then be equal.

What NDA is doing is not based on sound economics either, if they plan to squeeze all the profits out of this nation. India ranks 97th out of 118 in the Global Hunger Index. People are starving across the country, with southern states reeling under the worst drought in decades. In such a situation, selling unproductive cattle earns them extra bucks that are the difference between a full and an empty stomach. Also, the fact that Centre has not banned cattle slaughter but only ‘banned sale of cattle for slaughter through animal markets’ is walking a thin line. This has supposedly been done to counter illegal slaughter houses and ensure hygienic conditions but all this ban would effectively do is drive the industry underground, pushing thousands out from the ambit of cattle sale in the markets amidst excessive legalities. Unproductive cattle are an economic burden, one which farmers, who are strapped for cash, cannot afford. The irony of India being the world’s largest beef meat (buffalo though) exporter isn’t lost on me. Since the order now includes buffalo, the economic scene may waver a bit. We also have a flourishing leather industry which may face tough times, and the consequences may not bode well for the economic super-power dream that has been fed to us. Regulating the conditions under which slaughter takes place is necessary but eliminating cattle trade from animal markets for now seems very restrictive.

A new order may be passed after certain petitions post which buffaloes may be removed from the ambit of the ban. The economic dream may well thrive. But we still have our holy cows.

Maybe in Modi’s world, much like Orwell’s, some animals are more equal than others.

Donald Trump, politics, Uncategorized, united states

Trump’s Travel Ban in Deep Waters, Again.

In what will turn out to be a great setback for the Trumpian government, a federal appeals court upheld the ruling against the government’s ban on travellers from six Muslim-majority nations into United States. In a stunning 10-3 ruling, judges seemed to side with the lower court’s initial decision to stop certain parts of Donald Trump’s executive order, promulgated in March, which barred people from 6 countries, namely Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Syria from entering the United States for 90 days. The order also sought to to suspend the refugee program for 120 days.

People decried the revised executive order for being discriminatory in nature against a religious community. Although the revised order was milder in tone and extent of applicability, it still did not go down well with human rights activists. Trump tried to argue that since only a few countries were in its ambit, the order could not be considered a blanket ban on Muslims. However, that’s a laughable prospect. The second ban only eliminated Iraq from the initial 7-country list; US has for long worked on the front with Iraq in battling the ISIS and other counter-terrorism activities.

Still the ban profiles the individuals of a community as threats under the guise of national security. People were however vary of the fact that it might be hard to challenge the ban in court. Those in opposition of the ban would’ve had to prove that the ban would have done ‘real harm’ if not nullified which would’ve been harder to prove since the ban was not permanent in nature but only dealt in temporary denial of visas. Also, foreigners do not generally have a claim to sue. Selection of the countries, which is a political decision considering Trump’s earlier rhetoric on Muslim, is clearly discriminatory. Trumpian government is planning to continue to fight the decision in court, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions promising to take the matter to the Supreme Court. The court read between the lines and found deep connection between the campaign statements made by the President and his subsequent action of promulgating the travel ban. His extremist ideology and firm stance on the issue is what bought him a surge of supporters and the travel ban seems to pander to the whims of a scared bigoted public. ACLU, which fought the ban in court, terms this as a big win and it sure is. All hopes are now pinned on the Supreme Court which should ideally uphold 4th Circuit’s decision and overturn this prejudiced travel ban.

article, fake news, jaipur, jaipur literature fest, jlf, Journalism, life, politics, Post-Truth, social media, Uncategorized

What is the brouhaha around POST-TRUTH?

The culminating session at the famed Jaipur Literature fest was dedicated to this deceptive word which made its appearance in the Oxford dictionary as the word of the year and has since been doing the rounds. What is Post-Truth to be precise? And why does it bug the eminent so much that we had to sit through an hour of grueling high-spirited cacophony that was the ‘debate’?

Apologies for the monotony but Post-Truth refers to ‘Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Makes sense. But its sudden encroachment of the entire spotlight in the modern political debate is rather baffling. While in India, political debate has always been framed around appeals to emotions, the original area of Post-Truth cultural debate was discussed around Capitalism. But now, since the latest events have turned all the predictions of political pundits upside down, the word has made a come-back in the dominant narrative, fueled primarily by the anti-establishment wave that brought Brexit supporters and Trump to power.

The eminent panelists at the JLF debate titled ‘We are living in a post-truth world’, included names of Barkha Dutt, Shashi Tharoor, Suhel Seth, Anne Waldman, Prasoon Joshi, Swapan Das Gupta, Luke Harding, Ashutosh Varshney and David McWilliam.

With the onslaught of fake news on Social Media, and a platform to voice their opinions, people have turned opinion-makers in the online culture, with little discretion between right and wrong, fact and fiction. This was the peg of the debate which took different roads with no conclusive decision. All the panelists, saving Luke Harding, talked about the multiplicity of truth, it being a subjective unquantifiable idea, and differed on the exactness of the phenomenon. While Barkha Dutt set the tone of the debate by arguing in the favour of the motion, she was countered by Prasoon Joshi. Joshi talked about how all the concepts have emanated from an emotional anchor. However it is the situation of lies being paraded as facts that was a bothering notion to him, instead of the glamorous idea of Post-truth. Anne Waldman, who reiterated that we have always lived in a post-truth world, went a notch higher, criticizing the word to be patriarchal.

Suhel Seth was at his witty best; while blaming Barkha Dutt of audience-manipulation, he claimed the idea of Post-Truth to be a media cook-up. Public discourse is manipulated around the world to suit individual agendas. Seth spoke on how, ‘we know how to distinguish facts from lies, even if lies get perpetuated. Thus we do not live in a post-truth world, ‘he declared, adding ‘the idea that we only live in a world of truisms and not lies, or only lies and not truisms in itself is facetious.’

Luke Harding made a very accurate point of the world witnessing a ‘new breed of authoritarian leaders’ like Putin and Trump who have monopolized knowledge of certain events and hence are in the position to disseminate ideas, strutted as Truth through media. Ashutosh Varshney was sombre compared to the animated debaters Swapan Das Gupta and Suhel Seth. Quoting Nietzsche, Gramsci and Foucault, he argued how this concept is not a sudden idea, and has been talked about by scholars in the past. The ruling elite in any economy will always have the power to mould social consciousness.

Tharoor on the other hand, started with an anecdote and concluded with the supremacy of Truth and also the truth of one’s entitlement to an opinion but not the facts. It is not a Post Truth world; only a world where it is easier to spread lies, and counter them.

The malleability of facts, which has eroded the credibility of journalism, is worth contemplating. Relativism has crept its way to Post-truth, with multiple narratives giving way to factual inaccuracy. India has almost always lived in a Post-Truth world, with a diabolical existence that speaks volumes about the contradictions of the country. One of the key debate discussions included that of the Demonetisation drive, which was promulgated with the intention of helping the poor but has in fact aggravated their dire condition.

While Barkha Dutt, who claimed that ‘Lies and propaganda have always been the bedrock of politics’, tried to reign in the diametrically divided opinions of the vociferous speakers, the debate concluded just like it had started- loud and ambiguous.

featured image source:hindustantimes.com

article, HATRED, politics, religion, Uncategorized

Nihilism, Death of religion and rise in Organized crime

Angry

The internet spells doom for religion, and an ever-rising graph for organized crime, which has become a bane to our modern society. While the murder of Akhlaq over beef consumption was the writing on the wall for organized religion and its dominance, which often transcends notions of moral law and societal constructs, it spits straight in the face of those who claim that religion is adequate moral police for individuals. While faith without religion is a vain exercise for self-affirmation, religion without faith only aims to train men to toe the religious line of man-made dogmas without any inherent understanding of their individual beliefs. While virtual life creates a parallel world of greater self expression and social cohesiveness among faiths that did not necessarily pre-exist before modern times, it also in a varied sense, limits the real perception of the individual and the moral tone which binds us irrevocably with our environment.

By death of religion, which is apparent in my essay’s title, I do not mean the literal death of religion as an organized social construct, but as a life-force which dominates man’s actions which provide a pathway to heaven, nirvana or any other zenith of self-realization and oneness with God. As we see, there is a rise in the number of Atheists, Agnostics and generally the ‘nowhere in particular’ kinds of people all across the world. That is not to imply that religion has died; just that it holds less credence with its populace. To practice faith without an over-arching system of imposed religious practices is what people at large are turning towards. It only seems rational, to dissociate oneself from tenets of organized religion and exercise one’s faith independently. It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that as religion is moving away from being pathway to the creator and increasingly becoming insurmountable defense to facilitate immoral activities under the garb of religious fervor. Moving from the issues of organized religion to those of organized crimes, there is an increment in the incessant tussle between the rational and religion. Incidents such as those that recently occurred at Mathura, and those in the recent past, as the Akhlaq murder incident, I see undertones of Nihilistic philosophy of the self-proclaimed Godmen/Cult leaders who manage to lure the impoverished, illiterate masses, and on occasions, even the rational.

Nihilism, as a philosophy propounded by Nietzsche, believes in total boycott of established rules and institutions, and often, a need for violent activities, or for that matter, any revolutionary activity, that is aimed at being destructive to oneself and society. Nihilists more oft than not, try to transcend the boundaries of moral laws as well as those established by the society, in order to prove their own ideology as superior to others. A similar theory is expressed succinctly and ostracized by Dostoevsky in his opus magnum, Crime and Punishment, through the characters of Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov. Absence of absolute religion and ideas of social influence lead men to the path of heinous crimes and gross misinterpretation of their own actions as being rationalistic as opposed to utilitarian. Self proclaimed leaders like Ram Vriksha Yadav, with their inordinate demands along with other ‘Satyagrahis’, are real-life nihilists who jump the lines of law and order with the grace of a lame frog.

What connects these modern nihilists to the concords of followers of organized religion is the methodology with which they work. Absence of a strong groundwork of faith, which is often replaced by fanaticism and absolutist ideology, shakes the very foundation of such unions. Forceful super-imposition of their rights over those of others and resorting to inordinate methods to exert power leads to unfortunate circumstances as those aforementioned.  While there are a number of reasons like cultural political and social factors, many studies have claimed to show a positive correlation between crime and dearth of adequate religious fervor. While religious hypocrisy holds its shaky stand on faith, these vigilantes need to rein in their bovine love and attach it to a more realistic understanding of humanity. Religion cannot, and must not be used to justify murder. Taking the law in one’s own hands is no solution in an apparently democratic and secular setup. Ambiguous religious identity and nihilistic attitudes that exacerbate tense situations need to be guarded from becoming absolutist ideas.