It was past two in the morning local time in Abu Dhabi while we were waiting in the pre-clearance queue. The queue was long and kept changing as the take-off time for some of the transit flights were announced. Everybody was visibly tired but not complaining.
“What time is it?” the elderly gentleman who stood in front of me asked. He was well-dressed and looked like a retired professor or a scholar of some sort. I told him the time. “It takes a lot of time, every single time.” He pointed towards the interview counters. “I’m so tired and just want to board my flight and rest for sometime”, he said but with a smile. I returned the smile, agreeing quietly. As the conversation went on, I learned that he came to America for his studies while he was young. Back then he did not mind all the security hassles, he said. But now that he is old, and after traveling all these years, it has become difficult for him. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked around while nodding my head. “But I have to travel since my family, my wife and children are there.”
“So, where are you from?”, I asked. “Iran”, he replied. “Now that I’m retired, I spend my time between the two countries. My family wants me beside them and I want to stay back in the home country, so I have to keep traveling.” Every six months or so, he travels between Iran and America, so that he can keep in touch with his wife and children in America and his family members back home in Iran.
With the Trump administration’s travel ban, I wonder how that old man is coping up now.
I think the case for a uniform civil code is valid. The only thing that worries me about it is that it is now put forth by BJP, whose leaders and their parent organizations have majoritarian and sectarian agenda to their politics. However, that is no reason to oppose it vehemently.
USC with regards to core practices of societal life like marriage and inheritance etc would be beneficial to people, especially to women and those who want less interference of clergy and community leaders in their lives. But it cannot happen overnight because it involves questioning so many religious, tribal and community practices across different religions.
Many of the sanghis and minorities seem to think that it affects certain practices of minority religions alone. But these practices are prevalent among many tribes, sects and communities among the majority religion as well. Which could be why the RSS’s Golwalker was one of the early opponents of USC. Which leads to the question why BJP, the Golwalkerish political offshoot, is proposing it now and that is the question concerning a large section of the minority as well.
But that is also the reason why minorities should actively engage in discussions about USC and take it forward to ensure that it doesn’t tread on the BJP/Sangh politics. This should be seen as an opportunity, if the minority concern is not to protect their dogmatic religious interests but the Sanghi agenda.
I support the uniform civil code unless convinced otherwise. And I think the process of implementing it should involve taking cues from similar laws in other, progressive countries and also gain the faith of community/political leadership and alleviate the doubts of common man before passing it as law. But it shouldn’t take forever to do that.
The other day I was reading the news of Sri (x 2) Ravi Shankar’s satsang in Alappuzha in Kerala, where he was asked by the journalists his opinion on selling/marketing spirituality (Ravi Shankar was accused of commercializing spirituality by a Communist leader in Kerala). He said that he was indeed selling/marketing spirituality, yoga and ‘Indian culture’. I was astonished that he admitted this openly. But in the very next sentence (as reported by Mathrubhumi daily) he said that the profit he gets from this business is ‘smiles’ from the people and not money. That was a huge let down. I mean, why are the spiritual gurus, religious heads etc hesitant to admit that they are providing a service which we have to pay them? We all know that is the reality but why wouldn’t they admit it and why the word ‘money’ is so evil to them when they have no qualms in receiving it in loads?
Let me tell you about another incident. This is from the last weekend, on January 5th on my second brother’s 16th death anniversary. I had paid for some spiritual services for that day about a month ago in our parish for which I got the receipt (as per the rule I should show the receipt before the service is done or I would be denied the service, even in a possible case of misplacing the receipt). When I got there with my entire family (all of us would get together every year on that date for the service and thereafter for breakfast and lunch in my house) I’d found out that the second morning mass was canceled for that day. The cancellation was announced a week ago on a Sunday, but I did not go to the church that Sunday. But my booking was done about three weeks ago and nobody in the parish office notified me on this. So there were three services for which I had paid and I was ready to let go off two as a compromise. But the parish vicar denied me these services. He said I could choose one of the three services which he would decide, but I wasn’t ready to accept it. I told him that I was ready to let go the other two but one must take place because the entire family had come for this day and this special service and it cannot be postponed.
I also told the priest that I had paid for these services, which got him furious. Furious to a level that he even threatened that “I will show you” for which I responded “let’s see”. I don’t understand this. Why get furious for mentioning money? Especially when there is a practice that the priests would do the special services only upon presenting the original payment receipts? If they are so ashamed of the mention of money, or if money is so evil, then why demand the pay?
There are a couple of things that people who practice religion can and should do about this. First, remove the ‘holy’ or ‘divine’ element when you demand these services, as long as you are paying for it. Respond to the priests just as they respond to you; you wouldn’t find ‘holiness’ in the way that most of them, like our parish priest, speaks. Then demand the service as you would in case of any other paid services in this world. And, I am not sure if it already is and if not, bring the spiritual/religious services under the consumer court. A first step to deal with this this kind of issues is for the spiritual/religious heads to admit that they indeed make money (and not just smiles) out of special spiritual/religious services, and then the believers/consumers should see it as yet another paid consumer service (with a ‘divine’ element if you’d like, of course).
Everything is powerful as long as it is in the powerful hands. The powerless are deluded by the powerful to think they have the power when they actually don’t. That is why we remain happy with our version of democracy or the predictions of India becoming a super power in 20xx. That is also why when the clergy teaches us of the greatness and acceptance of our version of religion makes us happy that we are part of something great, while we actually do not have any role in it. The powerful plays it all – politics, religion, race, caste and what not. And the powerless are only meant to nod their heads and fooled to believe that by doing so, they are playing a larger role. The powerful knows how to work their way though and that is what this news tells us of the fishermen, whose husband/brother were killed in cold blood by the Italian marines, forgiving the accused ‘in the name of Christ’.
There seems to have been a concentrated effort from day 1 to save the Italians of the murder charge. First it was Mar. George Alanchery, the newly crowned Cardinal of Syro Malabar Church, who told the Catholic news agency in Italy that he has instructed the Catholic ministers in Kerala to intervene in the matter. Then came two Italian priests to visit the families of the deceased, which the Church calls ‘a spiritual exercise‘ but believed by everyone else that it was for an out-of-court settlement (why else would two Italian priests come all the way from Italy to pray for the deceased, which doesn’t happen usually unless the deceased are rich and powerful, I wonder). Two Italian ministers followed with their visit to India to find a settlement. Later, the Central government claimed in Supreme Court that the Kerala police doesn’t have jurisdiction to probe the killing, which was slammed by the honorable court.
When all these ‘diplomacy’ through religion and state did not work, the Italians made an offer that the families of deceased could not deny. Even there the religion and faith had to be involved to work the powerful’s way through, so they worked with a couple of influential priests (good work, Fr. Churchill and Fr. Wilfred!) to come to an out-of-court settlement. So the settlement was that the families would state their forgiveness ‘in the name of Christ’ duly signed in a stamp paper and in return they would get Rs. 1 crore each. One of the families’ counsel Jestin Poulose said they had no faith in the government, so the “next best available option” was to at least secure the compensation. Though it is said that the murder case would continue, it wouldn’t be difficult to guess what will happen to the case now with the families have applied to withdraw the petition.
At the end of it all, it seems that in Catholicism, some Christians – especially the white and Italian Christians – are holier than their Indian counterparts. I don’t see why otherwise would the Catholic clergy in Kerala work so hard to secure the two foreign marines accused of murdering their own community members. All these while Sr. Abhaya is still seeking justice.
(Photo courtesy: India Today)
There is a hill called ‘Kalasa Mala‘ at Akathiyoor, a beautiful village near Kunnamkulam in Thrissur. Malayalees would know this place from the popular Malayalam movies such as “Thoovaanatthumpikal” and “Bhoothakkannaadi”. Kalasamala is a popular shooting location for movie industries outside the state also and I have heard an interesting story about the place when I was there.
Once a Telugu film production team came here for shooting and their art director created a temple set. The crew had left when the filming was over but the temple set they made for the film had stayed. A few days later appeared a kal viLakku (multi-layered lanterns made of stone) in front of this temple set and people started flocking to the temple and rituals were begun. Some youth in the village brought this to the attention of the Panchayath and it is said that the higher authorities had to interfere to remove the movie set.
Now on to the topic of this post. Something happened recently that reminded me of the movie set incident at Kalasamala. Almost an year back, I saw some sculptures made of plaster of paris lying on the road side at Jagathy, in Trivandrum. I walk through the place every morning and these sculptures seemed to have been discarded by somebody, probably a north Indian vendor who sells such plaster of paris sculptures from house to house (it is a common sight in Kerala). These sculptures were of Ganesha and Ayyappa. After a few days, I noticed that the sculptures have been put straight; now on a sitting posture. Few more days passed by and there was a garland of flowers on both the sculptures. Then one day I spotted a set of incense sticks with a fresh set of garlands. Clearly, somebody has been doing a pooja with the sculptures. This continued for many months and in the last week I noticed that somebody had erected a sheet roof on top of the sculptures. Now it has the shape of a small temple.
I see a scope for Kalasamala issue to repeat here and if it is not nipped in the bud, it is going to be a very sensitive issue in the future. This is right next to the road and is blocking the footpath already (as you can see in the pictures below). If there is going to be a complete temple erected in the name of these two sculptures, which was junk in the first place, it will create traffic blockade and misuse of the public property.
The photo above is from the inaugural function of the International Theatre Festival of Keralam (ITFoK). There was a heated debate in Facebook about the scene highlighted in this photo. The debate was about how settu mundu is being touted as the traditional attire of Keralam when it represents only the upper-caste traditional attire. The discussion was initiated by someone called Abdul Kareem and I got to see it when Sudeep Ben re-shared the photo in his FB page. After following up on the debate in the FB pages of Sudeep, Abdul Kareem and BRP Bhaskar, I posted my thoughts in one of the posts. Here it goes:
1) It is important that we ask questions about what is being celebrated as ‘traditional Kerala attire’. Every community/caste/tribe has had a different attire so it is impossible to define what is traditional and what is not. And just because one of them is being commonly celebrated as ‘traditional’ (which has happened long before the ‘disturbing’ questions about caste arose) does not mean that it must be accepted without a question.
2) Wikipedia says that ‘Mundum Neriyathum’ is “one of the remains of the pre-Hindu Buddhist-Jain culture that once flourished in Kerala and other parts of South India” (Ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mundum_Neriyathum). It is also said to be an adaptation of the Graeco-Roam costume called ‘Palmyrene’. So I am not sure how ‘Hindu’ it is. Upper-caste Hindus might have adopted the dress-code because they could afford it while the lower-caste being the working class couldn’t have afforded the attire.
3) The Sangeeta Nataka Academy function is a less harmful example if compared to the inaugural function of the TV programmes like Idea Star Singer which seem like a Hindu religious ceremony.
4) The remaining question is which identity we should use as a common cultural identity. Now it is dominantly upper-caste Hindu and not many have questioned this, so it continues. Whether we need to have a common pre-set cultural identity when it is projecting only one cultural identity is the next question. In this particular case, whether an ‘international’ theatre festival needs to have a local identity stamp on it is a third and more relevant question. I think it will be good to let people wear what they want to wear rather than giving a false notion of a common cultural identity.
When Mar George Alancherry was ordained a Cardinal, the newspapers wrote about how humble he is and how much he respects the Indian tradition with wearing a Syrian cross, that upholds the eastern tradition of Christianity, on a rudraksha chain around his neck. He is also said to be against the ‘Latinisation’ of the native Syro-Malar Church. But Mar Alancherry has ruined that reputation (of a native church trying to retain its identity while being part of a global Latinized Catholic church) by making an unwarranted intervention in a legal row between two countries, just a couple of days after his ordination in Rome.
When asked about the murder of two Indian fishermen by Italian marines, he said that he “immediately contacted the Catholic Ministers of Kerala urging the government not to act precipitately”. This has raised questions about his stand on justice and his allegiance to his country.
First of all, the Cardinal did not have to intervene in the legal dispute between the two countries because he was not asked for help by the Indian government to mediate. But he did, and it sets a wrong practice of religious leaders trying to influence an elected democratic government through it’s community members in the ministry. Suppose that he was asked for help to mediate and even then his priority should have been to ensure justice to the poor fishermen who were shot in cold blood by the Italian marines – as a fellow human being and a Christian. If he had to ‘urge’ the government about anything, it should have been to bring justice to the family members of the dead victims. But he failed to do that.
The Cardinal also said, “But the point is another: it seems that the opposition party wants to take advantage of the situation and exploit the case for electoral reasons, speaking of ‘Western powers’ or the ‘will of American dominance’“. Here also he is setting the wrong priorities. Political parties always look at the options to make political gains out of socio-political issues, especially during the elections. This is nothing new. And every single political party has done this. Congress party would do the same if they were on the opposition. So why is the Cardinal worried only about the Communists?
There is another side to the story which is about caste in Kerala Christianity. Though the Latin Catholic Church is part of the global catholic church, the Syrian Christians (Syro-Malabar Church) consider them as converted lower caste fishermen (and Syrian Christians consider themselves as Namboothiri descendants). The murdered fishermen are both Latin Christians. So you can assume why the Cardinal did not have any qualms to take sides. The Latin Catholic Church has reacted sharply to the comments of Cardinal Alancherry.
“They called it unfortunate and said it was against the interests and sentiments of the fisherfolk. The families of the victims also vehemently slammed the alleged statement. The Latin Catholics, mostly on the coastal belt of Kerala, are not likely to be happy with the reported statement from Alencherry, who is from the substantially more socio-politically influential Syro Malabar Church. This controversy is likely to amplify the socio-political divide between the two communities, although both are Catholics.” [via]
The story is reflecting badly on the Syrian Christian community. Sangh Parivar has begun to sharpen their weapons claiming that the Catholics have their allegiance to Rome than India. And we will have to wait and see how this dangerous precedence set by Mar Alencherry would help the soft terror strategies of Sangh Parivar and how it will affect the Christian community in the long run. And as long as we have such people in the clergy, who had declared Communism a greater threat than Hindutva while Christians were being persecuted in Mangalore and North Kerala by Sangh Parivar, it does not need much imagination.
Photo courtesy: Reuters/Firstpost.in
The truth is officially out now. There was no Love Jihad and if there ever was one, it was a hate campaign organized by one Hindutva website called Hindujagurti.org. The cyber cell of Kerala Police has filed a case against the website owners for spreading religious hatred and false propaganda.
But the propaganda campaign had already made the damage. Young Muslim men were looked at with suspicion. Those of them boys who were in love or flirting with girls of other religion were tagged as terrorists and jehadists. Islamophobia rose to the core in the so-called educated society of Kerala. And they easily chose to forget the fact that in a male dominated society like ours, women are always converted to their husband’s religion, even in love marriages. Not just religion, say if a Roman Catholic girl is married to a Chaldean Syrian Christian boy, she would be converted to that denomination with marriage. And when a bunch of Hindutvavaadis called it jehad, just because it was Muslims at the other end, everybody bought the crap.
The curious case of Catholic church must be taken to notice in this case. The Syro Malabar Church had warned it’s community members of Love Jihad, without even checking the facts. A notice was posted in the website of Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council. And they worked with VHP to tackle the issue. “We will work together to whatever extent possible“, K S Samson, an office-bearer of Kochi-based Christian Association for Social Action (CASA), a voluntary Christian association, told the Times of India. But is it surprising to hear it from the Church that was busy framing Communism as a greater threat to Christianity than Hindutva, while ordinary Christians were being slayed in Mangalore by Hindutva organizations? Now during a news hour at Reporter TV, the Church has admitted that it was wrong. Oh yes, our Church does that all the time. We commit/support crimes during one time and would apologize for it years later after it has made a larger damage.
But the Hindutvavaadis and their supporters would still not give up. You can see Rahul Eashwar, the bragging Hindutva poster boy of Kerala, trying to muscle through the debate in Reporter TV. Oh, and he very cleverly plays the ‘middle-man’ by blaming extremists of both sides (and his insistence on highlighting the extremism of ‘both sides’ happens only when ‘his side’ is attacked) and he is still saying that there must have been some substance to the idea of Love Jihad.
The interesting thing is that through out all these debates – all the for and against talks about the branding of Love Jihad – nobody has touched the greater issue that involves gender. No individual or TV channel has sought out why it is women who have to convert to their husband’s religion/denomination. Or why the husbands agree to their wives’ right to stay in her religion/denomination until the marriage ceremony is over and then convert them to their faith, forcefully or not.
Earlier on the topic: Love Jihad?
The socio-political spectrum of Kerala always has something to entertain the average Malayalee. Be it V S Achuthanandan on one hand or P C George on the other. But who wouldn’t get bored of the same circus you see everyday? So now it is the turn of V R Krishna Iyer and his committee of people who have drafted the Women’s Code Bill 2011 which is pending approval of the state government.
The proposed bill suggests provisions to imprison those who fathers more than two children. So if this bill is passed, you will be slapped with a Rs. 10,000 fine or three months of imprisonment when you expect a third child in the family. Not only that, those who have three children would be considered as legally disqualified and they cannot enjoy the state benefits.
Needless to say that these suggestions are draconian. To have two or more children should be left to the parents and to intervene in those basic human rights and to add penalty to it is fascist. We are not living in China, after all. What the government should do instead of passing this bill to raise awareness of the advantages of population control. Kerala anyway has the lowest rate of population growth in India.
The protests have begun and as expected from the minority communities. The Christian and Muslim communities entertain having more children among their flock. The Church had announced ‘benefits’ for it’s community members who have more than four children. What these religious communities are aiming with this is an increased community power and thus the socio-political bargaining power in the future. But the proposed bill puts a stop to this as one of the recommendations of the bill is that religious and political outfits cannot discourage family planning and I think that is a welcome suggestion.
Population control is a need of the hour for a dense country like India though the decision of having more or less children should rest with the parents. To discourage it in the name of religion or community is going against the country’s well being and future. And to offer benefits only to those who have four or more children is as draconian as lifting the benefits off people who have more than two children. So it doesn’t really make sense to see the opposition from the Church and Muslim community heads.
Another sensible proposition in the bill is to offer free and healthy abortions in government hospitals. Abortion is another area that the religious organizations, who usually cite moral reasons to oppose it, should back off. Legalizing and providing expert help for abortions would help save some lives that usually gets lost by consulting with illegal clinics and doctors. Those who want to do abortions would go ahead and do it regardless of the law or their religion allows them to do it, so why not let them have it safely with expert help?
So there are some pros and cons in this bill and I wish the pro points stayed and cons removed. But with the protest from religious/community heads it is likely that the Chandy government would scrap it altogether.
“I went to the Vatican and I saw that the ceilings were made of gold. And I heard the Pope saying the church takes care of poor children, but if so, sell the ceiling, JP. Do something! I was angry with him. For the same reason I got angry with so many people. Because they are two-faced. Because they say one thing here and then another thing there. Because they stab you in the back. Because they lie.”
That was the comment from the football legend Diego Maradona about his visit to Vatican palace and I remembered this when I read about the ‘honesty’ of the Travancore royal family that the mainstream media is celebrating right now. It was all started when the stock-taking of the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Trivandrum began by the supreme court order. Everyone is surprised at the amount and value of the wealth that was found inside the secret hideaways inside the temple which comes close to Rs. 1 lakh crore and one more secret vault is yet to be opened. This makes the Padmanabhaswamy Temple the richest temple in India.
Since the matter has become a topic of interest to general public, there are many discussions going on about the royal and ‘divine’ wealth. The wealth that was found in the temple is of the old Travancore royal family. In other words, it is the wealth of the old Travancore princely state and it’s people. In short, it is the people’s money, through taxes and everything, that the old Travancore king had added to the temple and the deity through the process of “thRippaTi daanam“. And through that process, the kingdom of Travancore and it’s wealth was ‘surrendered’ to the deity and the temple. Still, it’s only symbolic and the king continued to be in his position; just that his designation was changed to ‘padmanaabha daasa‘ (meaning, the servant of Lord Padmanabhan), looking after the God’s wealth and kingdom for him.
The thing is, no one would dare question a king like Marthanda Varma who was a conqueror and as was the practice with any king, he would do as he please. The royal family had kept their secrets and this wealth in the name of Sri Padmanabhan, even during the merger of Travancore with Indian Union. Which means, they have denied the right of people to know about their ancestral wealth (which includes the hard-earned and no-so-hard-earned money of their ancestors) even in the march towards a newly built democracy.
As a result, the lakh crores worth of wealth of the people were hidden and useless. Not only that it is useless, now, from what I assume from the news, every tax paying citizen will have to bear the cost of safe-guarding this useless wealth. As per the news reports, one of the royal family members seems to have asked proudly:
“How many royal families in the country can be proud of keeping things like this? You should understand that two chambers out of the six have not been opened for more than 150 years and it there that the treasure trove has been kept safely”.
I would like to tell him that if the royal family was honest as the media and they themselves celebrate to be, they would have spent that wealth for the welfare of people. This is not the hard-earned money of their labor. They once did the mistake of ‘surrendering’ it to a God, then with not surrendering it to Indian Union and now by justifying all those actions. And our slavery mentality celebrates this as an act of honesty.
Now who would tell them what Maradona told the pope?