Politics in the name of faith

So the RSS at the centre supports the women entry at Sabarimala, but many footsoldiers of RSS (including the online ones) do not. BJP at the centre supports the cause but BJP in the state opposes it (the BJP state chief has openly said that this is a political shift in favour of BJP). Hindutva’s long time poster boy Rahul Eswar fights for the cause but Hindutva and RSS ideologue T G Mohandas fights against it. The ex-VHP and now IHP head Pravin Togadiya who has a rift from the parivar (but not from its core ideology) is against it and challenges the BJP government at the center to issue an ordinance against the verdict. SNDP general secretary was against the protests one day (a stand that he shifted twice since then in a matter of a couple of days) but BDJS, the political wing of SNDP and led by the secretary’s son, is protesting.

And then there are some Christian and Muslim organizations, parties and people against the verdict, not because the secular values have hit them all of a sudden, but a strategy well in advance so as to protect their own patriarchal practices if a similar verdict is issued against practices of their respective religions.

All these drama happens in Keralam, however. It is obvious what their common goal is with this theatrics, right after we as a state and community have shown the world some great examples of humanity, survival and co-existence at the time of the floods, and now that the upcoming elections are a priority. Yet many are left confused about which side they should pick and fight. One must be a total idiot not to see these political games in the name of faith but unfortunately that is what happening.

Kerala Chronicles

I usually am very proud of my home state. About how, despite the desperate attempts of some pro-Sanghi north Indian media, we are faring well, and on top, on all major social indices and how the international media says that we cannot be compared to any other Indian state but to the developed nations.

And today was one of those moments when every Malayalee should be proud of as the news of Kerala being at the top of the health index by NITI Ayog came out. But for once, I am not very proud right now. There is something wrong with our society’s mental health. I’m ashamed, because this news comes a day after a mob beaten up a migrant worker, accusing him of child trafficking. In between all the beating, he was trying to eat what he had and the mob thrashed his food to the ground and asked him to eat from there. The man seem to have told the mob that he has a child back home and none in Kerala, but the mob inferred that he had kidnapped one child in his home state and none yet in Kerala. Yes, the Malayalee mob who would otherwise point to the mobs in Bihar and U.P.

The incident happened shortly after the chief minister himself had said that out of the 199 people who were arrested in charge of the child missing cases, 188 were Malayalees. And the state police chief had warned that those who spread false news through social media would be charged.

All this happening in a state from where people have migrated to all parts of the country and world for a living. And when they became rich enough, they had to resort on the domestic help from outside the state to do the job that they refuse to do.

Of course there is a spike in the child missing cases each year, and as a parent am worried. As Muralee Thummarukudy mentioned, as the state develops compared to the other states, it is likely to attract all sort of things from within and outside – businesses, development and, criminals. But to outrightly point to the migrant workers, most of them who are here to make a living, just like how Malayalees are in Gulf or elsewhere in the world, is utterly wrong.

The case for Uniform Civil Code

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.

Beef Diaries

My nostalgia about meat was never about beef. That bloody piece of red meat wrapped inside the large teak leaves by the butcher was a rare thing to be brought home. We couldn’t afford it, unless of course for some sundays or festival days when it was cooked with plantain. And there used to be more pieces of plantain than beef in that curry. I always preferred chicken over beef in the childhood. And chicken too was a rarity, though we had raised some chickens for domestic use, because it was served to guests/relatives who came home on the church festival days and was cooked with potato (again there would be more potato than chicken, so we had the potato while the guests had chicken pieces in the curry).

But there is one beef delicacy that we had aplenty, though not quite frequent, in the early days. It is called “bOTTi” (also called ‘pOTTi’ in some other dialect). bOTTi is the intestines of the cow. Earlier the butcher considered it waste and would give it away for free. Then they began to charge a little for over a kilo and then more and now it’s a popular delicacy at least in Thrissur. It is a very difficult job for the womenfolk to clean up bOTTi before they cooked it. It had to be boiled in the water thrice or more, and every time you got to clean it up. So it was a time-consuming and physically demanding job to cook bOTTi. But the rubbery bOTTi was one of a kind in taste and is usually cooked with tapioca.

bOTTi was the poor man’s beef. Until it became famous and a regular dish in the roadside eateries in central Kerala. Among the meat-eating ‘elites’ in Kerala, bOTTi was like how beef is to vegetarian elitists – barbaric, unhealthy, cheap food for ‘cheap’ people. I wonder why the beef ban hasn’t evoked any memories of it among the fellow Facebookians. If I am to protest the beef ban by eating meat, it will be with bOTTi.


Attending a funeral is something that I dread almost all times. The situation demands you to pretend that you are sharing the grief of the loved ones of the deceased, when you know that you cannot share someone’s grief by just attending a ceremony. I hate doing it but I know that I must do it, as is the societal norm. The biggest part of the funerals is pretension.

It is sort of interesting to observe people in such situations. At a funeral, your sorrow, or the pretension of it, depends on the others. You look at the others and observe what face they are putting up and accordingly make up yours. You observe those who come and go and wonder why a stranger looks more sad and why a family member of the deceased doesn’t look so sad. Later, it could even become a talk of the town that the family of the deceased did not cry out loudly and what could be the reason behind it. And if some family did cry out loud, the same lot would say that they were so ‘village-ish’.

Then there are some ‘special’ people. People who would be ranting on how strong a relationship they have had with the deceased and how much the deceased meant to them. More often this rant is just to convince the others of how much they meant to the deceased so as to indirectly say how special they are compared to the rest. The more famous the deceased is, the more the numbers in this lot would be.

Funerals are also about numbers. If you miss attending a funeral, you would be offending the family of the deceased no matter how good or supportive you have been to the dead when they were alive. You gotta be there. At the end of the funeral or after a few days, it would be the numbers that matter to the family of the deceased. The grandness of the ceremony is defined by the total number of people and V.I.P.s attended the function.

What funerals are not about, at many a times, is the deceased.

‘This Land is Mine’

I came across this video through Harini’s blog today. The video is an animated short by Nina Paley. It illustrates a brief history of the land that is now called Israel/Palestine. Nina Paley also has a viewer’s guide in her blog. Check out them both.

I was a bit sad and depressed after watching this video, staring at the amount of violence that goes on in the world we live in. Then Aashik sent me this link of a TED talk by Steven Pinker in which Mr. Pinker claims that ‘our ancestors were far more violent than we are, that violence has been in decline for long stretches of time, and that today we are probably living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.’ Checkout his excellent talk below.

Salary for wives?

There is one thing that I am happy about the proposal being considered by Women and Child Development ministry in India that the husbands should pay salary to their wives. The for and against (mostly against) discussions have made men in India see something that they have ignored for long – that their wives do work and this work in the name of family system, culture and blah blah blah is actually WORK. That is the best outcome of the whole proposal and the debates followed.

I thought it was a weird and impossible proposal (I still think it is, but) mostly because I was looking at it from my own situation and perspective. Most of you men who are reading this may also be looking at it in the same direction. I do help my wife with the house chores. I never let my wife wash or iron my clothes even if I was on a hurry. I do all the house chores when my wife isn’t at home, that includes cooking and cleaning. I help with looking after our child. Apart from this, we have a maid who comes twice a week to do the larger washing and cleaning tasks which I pay for. So why should I pay my wife and who will pay me for my job in the house?

The answer to that question cannot be generally applied. In many families the husbands often do not pay attention to their wives except when they need them for physical needs. The wives have to take care of the family expenses AND the savings from the meager budget set by the husbands themselves. Wives have to do all the house chores and looking after the children but their hard work is ignored by mostly everyone in the family – including the husbands and children. So the proposed law might work in this section of the society (considered that the husbands would still continue to pay for family expenses and this salary is just another part of it).

But again, the law cannot be applied in general and scrutinizing it to ensure a fair use of it would be a difficult task. I think strengthening the existing laws for the crimes against women and raising social awareness about the equal responsibility and gender equality alone can make a difference to women in this country. But still, I think it is good that this proposal has made news. Like I said in the beginning, this has made men realize that the whole house chores is something that you get for free at your lady’s kindness.

More reading:

Maid of honour
Global Voices online

Satyamev Jayate – too early for critique

Okay, let me put things in it’s place before I start on the topic of the show Satyamev Jayate.

I am not an Aamir Khan fan boy. In fact, I think he has been overrated as an actor with the tag lines such as “Mr. Perfectionist” and all that. Of all his movies I have seen, only one film truly touched my heart and that is “Taare Zameen Par”. Aamir may be a good entertainer but I think Shah Rukh Khan does a great job at that. His so-called ‘serious’ movies are only quirky and populist in nature. Take Rang De Basanti and Mangal Pandey for example. He feeds on the populist notions of patriotism and nationalism and thus has carefully placed himself as an ‘icon’ from the entertainment industry, which is his own PR success I would say and nothing else. But none of these would stop me from praising his latest venture, Satyamev Jayate. Do not take me wrong. I do see the melodrama. I do see the ‘super HD quality 3G video calling service of Airtel. I do see the orcestrated effort of the show. But I do not mind. Really.

Satyamev Jayate has brought a bit of reality in to the flood of reality shows in Indian television and no one can deny this fact. But of course, no such effort is beyond any criticism, so I read this piece by Madhavankutty Pillai in Open Magazine and another one in The Hindu by Farah Naqvi with great interest and wanted to put in my thoughts on the critique.

But before doing that, let me say that I am quite amused by the attitude of some of the journalists and activists who have been up in arms, not literally but mildly, against the show and Aamir Khan. It seems that they cannot digest the fact that some of them have been doing the work for many years that Aamir is doing now but have never got the attention that the show is getting now. Which makes me wonder whether their interest is in the ‘ownership’ of the issue or the focus on the issue. Some celebrity-colleagues of Aamir have even stooped down to a stage where they got personal about his divorce, his younger brother’s custody case etc (which can be countered of course, but not in this post).

Aamir Khan did not claim that he brought some new issues to attention. In fact, in a recent IBN-Live interview, he has clearly mentioned that he is not doing anything new that some journalists and activists have not done in the past. Like mr. Pillai wrote in his article, “the material [of the show] is being tailored meticulously for the Indian middle class audience that Aamir Khan clearly understands.” But mr. Pillai puts it as a thumbs-down, I see it the perfect way to run this show.

Mr. Pillai (or ms. Naqvi) doesn’t seem to understand that the Indian middle-class is not yet ready for the hard truth. Hitting hard at them, as Pillai observes rightly, would make them turn away from TV. So Aamir does the right thing by giving one dose at a time. India has never seen a TV show like this before, so it cannot be all hard-hitting at it’s first instance. The reach has never been so large. With the advantage of television (this show proves that television is still the most powerful medium in India, even in the era of social media explosion) and the face value of a popular Bollywood star, the issues that the Indian middle-class ignored for long have been brought to the forefront. And remember, with all this limitation of the target audience, he still tried to break some social myths (though while floating on the safe waters – like poverty, urban-rural difference etc) in the show. I think that is a good thing. Melodrama? Tears? Oh, yes. But how else do you reach out to the Saas-Bahu audience?

Pillai’s complaint about not touching the topic of Homosexuality while discussing Harish Iyer’s story is also misplaced. Bringing in homosexuality in that episode and in particular with connection to Harish’s story could end up in the populist notion about homosexuality that it is a result of sexual abuse in the childhood or such mental trauma and can thus be ‘cured’ by a psychologist. But Pillai puts in rightly that the show could have featured fathers molesting their own children. Though Pillai thinks it was because Aamir did not want to alienate his audience, I don’t think how ‘hard-hitting’ it would be than a story of a young boy bleeding his anus from the rape by a relative. That in itself is a big blow to the ‘great Indian family and culture’. There are contrasting views among the critiques as well. Ms. Naqvi says Aamir “missed the point that reproductive decisions are rarely made by women” where as Mr. Pillai says that Aamir did not highlight that “in many cases mothers are a willing party to it“.

I am not saying that the critique from all sides are uncalled for. Moreover, there is no perfect show beyond criticism. But it is a bit early to raise such critique against this show considering that it is only the first season (and I hope there will be more seasons to come). For now, I am looking at the positives. And I like the fact that unlike the so-called demi gods of Hindi cinema who have ventured out on the small screen, Aamir gives more space and face to the issue at hand in every episode. Of course there is melodrama, some truths not completely revealed etc, but that can wait for Reality TV version 2.

As for Aamir Khan’s approach to the show, I am waiting to see if he will ever cover the topics such as homosexuality, caste, religion, atheism, abortion (as ms. Naqvi mentioned) etc in the future episodes. And how he would present them to the middle-class Indians. Now, that will be a real test for him.

(Image courtesy: India Today)

The ‘traditional’ attire of Keralam

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.

Being an outcast, for being raped

How do you judge a society’s morale and progress? Is it possible to judge them by taking a look at how the society treats it’s women and children? If so, Keralam has shown an example of it’s morale and progressiveness by the incident of a minor girl being sexually abused. The incident took place in the coastal village Mangalam in Alappuzha district. A 12 year old girl was sexually abused by her neighbor who is a father of two children. The girl did not feel well after the incident and was afraid she could get pregnant so she shared it with her friend in the school.The friend shared it with her family.

The friend’s parent went to school the next day with other parents but here is the shocker. The friend’s family did not go to school to ask for justice to the abused girl but to threaten that if the sexually abused girl continued to study in that school, they would not send their children there. Some of the lady teachers in the school also said that they wouldn’t take lessons in the class if the girl continued. The headmaster then sent the girl out with a transfer certificate.

The story doesn’t stop there. The girl joined a Sanskrit school nearby but the school administration received a phone call saying that it is better for them to show the door out to the girl. The girl was put out again on the same day. The next option for the girl’s parents was another school in Punaloor, but again the moral police in the area intervened and the girl was out again.

This news story is an example of why women are still not daring to come up to the forefront to report domestic/sexual abuse or rape. The society treats the hunted as the culprits and the hunter walks scot-free. “Why didn’t she protest” is the question we always hear. “She could have resisted”, “looks like she asked for it”, “she might have enjoyed it” are the brutal comment we pass on such incidents. And not a comment on the ‘family man’ who took advantage of a young girl of 12 years for his perversion.

Wondering what happened to the man who sexually abused a minor girl? The people, police and media have no intention to question the injustice because he is a ‘family man’.

(Go to Malayal.am to read the full story in Malayalam)

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net