Thursday, February 19, 2009

Minority


[A humble request to consider the meaning of the whole post as a single write-up, rather than pick particular portions which seen alone may seem notably scathing. I DO NOT want to be mistaken for a VHPite/Bajrang Dali by someone who is so disgusted at half the length of this article that he/she quits reading it.]

Let me state up front that I am no cow-lover. Hindu I am, but not particularly a devout believer in the divinity of the bovine species. I like to have beef once in a while and the only reason I do not eat it regularly is that I like chicken or mutton better. I live in a very overcrowded area of central Calcutta, a very conspicuously Muslim majority area. The lanes are narrow and always busy so any noise or activity on the street is very much like a extra piece of furniture choking the space in the living room. On the streets of my locality, I am very much of the 'minority' group which forces me to feel a insecurity that is accelerated by the visual domination of the 'other'.

Bakri Eid (Eid-ul-Adhaa) is the feast of sacrifice celebrated with great fanfare in my locality and indeed by Muslims around the world. The sacrificial animal for the occasion is ideally a goat ('Bakri') which is a pretty expensive animal for the amount of meat that it provides, so most of the not so well off Muslims in my area prefer to sacrifice a cow which statistically speaking offers much more meat for the rupee. On the days preceding the day of the festival, crowds of Muslims lustily cheer as they herd the cows to be sacrificed down to the house where they'll never see the outside of again. I look at the glee on the children's faces running behind these doomed animals and hope that their happiness is only for the festivities at hand. But at the back of my head, a warning light is flashing. So when their critics say that these people take a special pleasure in killing, they must be not so far off the mark.

I've had a long, bad day at office and I get to go to sleep at 2:00 in the night. At 4 in the morning, the shrill sound of the muezzin's Azaan shatters the peace of dawn and my well-earned sleep. I sit up groggily and grind my teeth at the mechanical requirements of offering namaaz at such an impossible hour and at the nature of people who blindly follow what they've been told is the only way to Allah.

I was in office the day when unanticipated violence of a ridiculous intensity broke out. I watched horrified on my office canteen television as the police lobbed teargas shells right in front of my house and a mob of masked Muslims hurled glass bottles and bricks back at the law enforcers. Buses and cars were set alight and the heart of the city was sent into lockdown mode by marauding rioters. The army had to be called in to pacify the situation that day and I had to stay over at my friend's place in Salt Lake for safety's sake. All for what reason? That Taslima Nasreen, who had once written a supposedly blasphemous book was being allowed to live in Calcutta. A mere critical comment could not justify such a violent reaction especially in a civilized democratic nation. It is one of the important features of modern society that a person is free to speak his mind and cannot be manhandled into subscribing to a particular school of thought. I look at the "Taslima, go back" still spray-painted on the wall opposite my front gate and seethe in anger at the failure of the Indian state to provide this most basic of human rights. No God or religion should be taken so seriously as to warrant such wanton savagery.

A gang of young guys wait every evening on motorcycles at the traffic lights where my house's lane intersects the Lower Circular road. Any girl who gets off at the bus stop near the lights is subject to their less-than-wholesome comments and in worse cases, especially if she is dressed too 'smartly', she also gets the unwanted escort of a couple of guys trailing her on a bike all the way to her house. I clench my fists reminding myself each time that this need not be my fight, but if it were one of my cousins coming down the lane to pay us a visit, I can't really guarantee that I'd hold back. I curse under my breath thinking that while the guys dress in the most modern of fashions, the girls aren't allowed to venture beyond the 'burqa' and those who do are considered to be "asking for it".

It's Friday and the roads are jammed from people reading their 'namaaz' on the already cramped roads of central Calcutta. I thought practice of religion should be confined to a personal domain such that it does not inconvenience others. Apparently not! No one it seems would dare to tell them otherwise as it would serve as an incitement for 'volatile' situations.

Add to this, the frequent linkage of the word Islamic with the word terrorism in most of the dominant news stories, a sad but unavoidable truth and I start to think that the Muslim baiters of the world must be right when they say "Wherever these people are, they refuse to integrate with their hosts and are nothing but trouble. They have historically been the aggressors and wrong-doers, and it's time someone paid them back. They cannot be trusted as they'd slit the throat of a man as easily they'd of a cow (Remember Daniel Pearl?)." A very strong case indeed for the hawkish right wingers be they Christians or Hindus.

Yes, I do have strong reservations against what at least some hardened interpretations of Islam preach and certain unjustifiable privileges extended to them as per every party's vote-bank retention policies. But for a quick reality check, I run through a quick-list of some Muslims that I've personally known.

Beginning with the guy from whom I used to regularly buy chicken from back in Gujarat. It was his job to slaughter a chicken and I hold no grudges against him for not weeping copious tears over every fowl that he 'murdered'. That'd have been a very embarassing situation indeed and would've brought an abrupt end to all the chicken delicacies made by my mom for which I'd easily take a life. We engaged in idle talk while the meat was being diced and packed. We talked mostly about cricket and a common friend that we had. It wasn't ever the pally-pal kind of talk between us but I'd bet my life on the fact that the fact that killing chickens for a living wasn't making him any more violent or less violent than I was.

I know of many Hindus who'd gladly eat beef and haven't seen the inside of a temple for ages (Yours truly amongst the guilty party), but on the other hand I don't know any Muslim who'd eat pork or miss his Friday namaaz. But is that necessarily a bad thing? I treat my religion with a casual disregard so does it mean that anyone who pays attention to the minutiae of his religion is a slavering, intolerant fundamentalist. Actually, it reeks of intolerance on my part to make fun of someone's deep albeit rehearsed faith. Another popular bone of contention is that many temples play the "Allah tero naam" bhajan of Gandhiji, but there is no mosque that does anything remotely Hindu in nature. I say it is a matter of pride for us that we are agreeable to mentioning another God's name in our premises and it is a shining example for other religions to follow in.

To touch another fear being perpetuated by the right that Islam is one all powerful wave that is going to root every other culture/religion out of existence. I was on a train from Calcutta to Bharuch, and my co-passenger was a young Muslim of about my age. He spent the entire journey lamenting his inability to convince the parents of his girlfriend back in Calcutta to give him their daughter's hand in marriage. It seems that his girlfriend was from the Bohra community, a very progressive group within the Muslim community in all matters except about marriage outside the Bohra community! Another girl was a co-passenger incidentally a Bohra Muslim herself explained to me how Bohras were different from Sheikhs and how X community was different from Y etc. The Islamic green is hardly the uniform green that is seen on the Pakistani flag. Islam has its own infinite set of rules, their interpretations/implementations, reforms and acceptance/rejection of those reforms just like any other of the great religions of the world.

Do I really believe that the shopkeeper in my lane who dreams of educating his son to be an engineer really wants to stab me in the back because I am not a Muslim? Does the fact that Mohammad Ghazni destroyed the Somnath Temple centuries ago help give me pleasure when I see a very old mosque is taken down in the name of my religion and of the violence that followed (from both stupid, short-tempered sides)? That was such a long time ago when the world was so unlike anything which we see today. Don't we already carry enough grudges of the recent past to stop thinking of something which happened 700 years ago? Can it really be true that all the Muslim classmates and childhood friends that I have had who were as normal as any other person that I have known, were exceptions to the iron-clad rule that Muslims are irreconcilably different from the rest of us?

Eve-teasing is a cultural phenomenon born out of thousand of years of animal like evolution before the modern age of mankind, so ascribing it to a particular philosophy is nonsensical. I've studied in the north of India and I am convinced that religion or attire of the victim has almost nothing to do with a roadside Romeo's behaviour. Mob violence or general unlawfulness comes from a complicated combination of socio-economic causes and trying to blame it all on a theology is extremely short-sighted. A lack of opportunity to suitably engage themselves in meaningful tasks leads to the brief spike of violent madness that was witnessed in Calcutta that day. The problem has a lot in common with Maoism, Nazism and the million other violent ideologies that raise their ugly head once in a while. There has to be a complicated solution to this complicated problem, but the world is still desperately in search for it. If there was any quick-fix solution to avoid the misleading of youth by use of fabricated 'facts', it's value as a gift would be much much higher than a more conventional gift to the world like say a cure for cancer. Because hatred and mistrust is much more corrosive than cancer, and it is the easiest of diseases to spread.

The real point of the whole discussion is the total lack of trust between any two parties. Whenever there is a significant number of one school of thought/race, there is this insatiable friction. There is always a minority oppressed or threatening depending on which side of the fence you are. The inability to blend or the unwillingness to blend is an accusation being bandied around by every two-bit hate mongerer in the world. The loonier Muslims think that the 'kafirs' of the world are out to get them and the only way out is to raise the grand flag of their retrograde version of Islam around the world. The loonier whites of the world think that the white race is the master race of the world and all others are but designated slaves (http://www.stormfront.org/forum/). The communist revolutions around the world think that the only way to equality and justice is through the barrel of a gun. Our very own Hindu right wingers (http://hinduunity.com/bajrangdal.html) think that Nehru and Indira Gandhi were closet Muslims and that German/European scientists stole all the secrets of ancient Hindu science to jump ahead in the industrial revolution. It's time for the Hindu revolution it seems! Hitler is worshipped as the greatest human being EVER by far more people than you'd believe (http://www.adolfthegreat.com/). And if you feel that only Allah is the one God who is getting vehemently preached, please take a look at a few sites in the name of Jesus Christ (http://www.jesuschrist.com/). I have been trawling the nether regions of the world wide web of information and the bitterness spewing out of random little pages has left me no option but to rant against it on my blog.

I wish I could put all these loonies in one giant loony bin to fight themselves to the death leaving the rest of the world in peace. But the sad thing is that they are not really seperate from the rest of us. They are observing pretty much the same things that the rest of the world is observing but adapting them to their perverted point of view. They play upon a very natural fear amongst us all of being taken over or annihilated, a remnant of our animal past, thereby many a time earning our tacit support. We seem to missing the point that we have long drawn past the stage of "Kill or be killed!". Yes, it was the maxim that has brought us thus far, but it cannot apply so rigidly any longer. How about giving "Live and let live" a whiff of a chance?

3 comments:

R I T I said...

Brillant !! I had a major argument on this issue with my husband some time back. i wish i had ur post to refer to ! I don't know what is the solution to this... remember all the hymns we were taught in school were based on Jesus and said 'AMEN' at the end of each prayer? How did it matter ? We remembered Jesus more than we did our own pantheon. Maybe there should be another looney bin with people who preach "the right thing". Thats sujective too ...

1conoclast said...

Hi,

Late yes, but here finally... :-)

Long post. But will attempt some kind of a response.

In my opinion, it's about meeting more people of the community in question. I know pork eating Muslims, alcohol drinking ones & non praying ones (this in abundance). I agree that most Muslims seem to take their religion a lot more seriously than followers of other religions, but this could only be because I haven't examined enough members of any community that closely.
Generally speaking, the large masses of Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Sikh communities are all very particular about temple, mosque, church & gurudwara visits. Those who don't are generally looked upon as "bigde hue" by others.

If Hinduism seems to have a greater number of "bigdi junta" like us, it's probably because of the way Hinduism is said to have evolved. If there ever was a Hinduism to begin with, it has changed beyond recognition. There is no single prophet who had one book with teachings. In Hinduism many books say many things, many books are lost & most are not read by anyone. There are claims that vegetarianism was a Buddhist influence on Hinduism. So it's pretty crazy man...

If muslims are particular about growing beards, at least an equal number of hindus are particular about wearing the sacred thread.

A lot of what we believe or hear in conversations around is is misinformed, generalization.

I know tons of non bearded muslims & probably an equal number of non-thread/non-churkhi hindus.

As for the violent streak in muslims, that is again a vicious generalization. But touching upon your whole post is going to be a much longer exercise. Later sometime maybe?

Roy said...

@Iconoclast: Better late than never :). I feel that the biggest problem lies with people who haven't known any Muslims personally and vice versa. They are the ones that fall very easily for the fundamentalist tripe. Education is pretty useless for these purposes. There is no substitute for exposure to an alternative culture as far getting rid of prejudices is concerned. We just don't seem to be doing enough about that!

Yes, I agree with you. Hinduism is such an old religion that there are no longer any hard and fast rules which is why we find it tough to comprehend the strictures of Islam, Christianity or Judaism (All new kids on the block, so to speak).