May 21, 2017

India: Intermarry and be damned. 2 Parsi women challenge bias (Bachi Karkaria)

The Times of India - May 21, 2017

Intermarry and be damned. 2 Parsi women challenge bias

India’s Parsis are so respected because they alone have never been involved in communal skirmishes. Ironic then that our own ugly wars are hurtling us to our doom. The most divisive issue is intermarriage, now a malignant obsession. One radical change could robustly alter our critical demography: 57,000, and shrinking by the day. But what chance does it have in today’s shrill orthodoxy and a disgracefully bickering leadership?
Magnanimous Parsi trusts are founded in the community’s rubric of social justice. Parsi industries instituted labour welfare long before it was mandated. But Parsi women, so seemingly liberated, are yet to sight the constitutional guarantee of gender justice, also at the heart of the triple talaq and shrine-entry issues. They are totally unequal in the emotive matter of intermarriage, which accounts for 37% of all marriages in a community already burdened by ‘never marrieds’. As many Parsi men as women choose partners from outside the fast-depleting pool. But a woman daring to do so is accused of sedition and heresy, because her ‘selfish’ act jeopardises community and religion. Her children are lost to both. Not so those of the intermarried Parsi male.
In 1909, Justices Beaman and Davar of the Bombay High Court went beyond ruling on the hotly opposed ‘conversion’ of R D Tata’s French bride. They appended a definition of ‘Parsi’, declaring that it applied to the descendants of the original band of Zoroastrian refugees, but only along the male line. This judicial zeal has denied all secular and sacred rights to the children of a Parsi woman married to a non-Parsi. They cannot be initiated into the Zoroastrian faith through the Navjote ceremony. This skew was inevitable in the unquestioned patriarchy of an earlier age, but it has actually worsened in the decades enlightened by gender equality. Trustees and priests have been aggressively — and whimsically — barring even these fully Parsi-Zoroastrian intermarried women from fire temples and traditional funeral rites.
What began in the courts has once again arrived there, and with it an opportunity to end this regressive discrimination. On April 21, the Supreme Court agreed to examine the special leave petition filed by Goolrookh Gupta, challenging the 2012 ruling of the Gujarat High Court that she ceased to be a Parsi Zoroastrian on account of her marriage to a non-Parsi, despite being married under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, and hence had no right to ask the Valsad Parsi Anjuman Trust to allow her to pray at the fire temple and, when necessary, to perform the funeral rites of her aged parents in the Tower of Silence.
The civil marriage law can be availed of by any Indian national anywhere, and does not require religion to be renounced by either party. Gupta challenged the proposition of the Gujarat HC that a wife automatically acquires the religion of her husband, stating that it amounted to the denial of the fundamental right to freely profess and practise one’s religion, a gender-neutral guarantee under Article 25. The Supreme Court will deliberate on Gupta’s petition in August.
A second case is potentially more cataclysmic. At safe distance from the obiter dicta of the Bombay Parsee Punchayet, Kolkata’s tiny but vibrant Parsi community has been, like Delhi’s, close but not closed. From here has risen a challenge to the fundamental 1909 judgment itself. The soft-spoken basketball player and homemaker, Prochy N Mehta is an unlikely firebrand, but the Calcutta High Court will hear in June an originating summons for interpreting the trust deed of the city’s only remaining fire temple. She had sought  permission for her grandchildren to enter it, a practice stopped by the new priest.
Their father is a Hindu Brahmin, but, in a joint show of defiance by three prominent Parsi families with intermarried daughters, all these  grandchildren had their Navjotes performed by progressive priests, and so are initiated Zoroastrians ( though  technically not Parsis). The Bombay Parsee Punchayet had squandered over Rs 2 crore in legal expenses trying to ‘defrock’ such ‘retrograde’ priests, who also provide the final grace of funeral prayers denied to the growing number opting for cremation.
Almost 30% of Parsi women remain unmarried largely because of this emotional blackmail. Accepting the children of intermarried Parsi women would replenish both community and faith in one go. But the strident orthodoxy plays on the paranoia over grubby fingers grabbing communal funds and coveted housing.
It is an existential choice. But a diluted gene pool has a logical case when a ‘pure’ one is increasingly non-viable. Parsis claim exclusive rights to Zoroastrianism, so making the ethnic sacrifice may again be the only way to save their ancient religion. Some 1,200 years ago, didn’t our forefathers bravely abandon their millennia-long Persian identity for just such a worthier cause?

May 20, 2017

Anti-Muslim Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar

If Myanmar is known throughout the world today, it is not for the fabled “Burma” rice and teak, or its ornate Buddhist pagodas, but for the persecution of its Muslim minority, chiefly the Rohingyas, who were formerly known as Arakanese or Rakhine Muslims


Indian textbooks, a disturbing whitewashing of the worst communal riots since Independence

South Asian Societies: Intolerance on Rise

South Asian Societies: Intolerance Galore Ram Puniyani The protest over mass lynching of Pehlu Khan (April 18, 2017) has been there in a sections of media. It has few other parallels as well. Mashal Khan, a student of in Pakistan, was killed brutally on 13th April 2017. The charge was that of blasphemy. In yet another case one Farooq was killed by a four member gang for posting atheistic views in Tamil Nadu (March 2017) These are few from the list of incidents f intolerance either on the issue of beef or blasphemy.. As such it is true that intolerance levels in South Asian countries, particularly Pakistan, Bangla Desh and India are abysmally high. All the three countries have seen the acts of violence on different grounds. In Pakistan one recalls the murder of Punjab’s Governor, Salman Taseer on the charges of blasphemy (2011). One also recalls that in Bangla Desh number of bloggers articulating their secular voices were done to death (2015). As such the pattern in these three countries has been very overlapping. In Pakistan the level of liberal democratic values has been on the lower side, more so after coming to power of Zia Ul Haq, who ruled in alliance with Mullah set up. Among others the blasphemy laws have tormented to citizens there and plight of Salman Taseer is no exception. In Bangla Desh also one has seen the see saw battle between progressive liberal values and fundamentalist’s intolerance, one result of which has been the murder of bloggers. In India the phenomenon has been more complex. Even during earlier regime, there are instances when the artists have been targeted, books banned, art galleries rampaged, films attacked and cultural programs suspended. The incidences of intolerance have been gradually growing in intensity during last few years. One recalls that earlier the incidents like attacking Taslima Nasreen, preventing the concert of Ghulam Ali, banning of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, attack on Husain’s painting exhibition Gufa, banning of films of Aamir Khan were witnessed and seen and criticized as violation of the liberal space provided by our democracy. From last three decades in general and last three years in particular with the rise of Hindutva politics the liberal space is shrinking very rapidly. Comparisons with neighboring countries have been made as a subtle justification for such violations of democratic space in India. One has to see that the levels of freedom have been high here in India as compared to its neighbors. Has it been due to Hindu majority and the Hindu tolearnce? That’s too simplistic way to put it. The real reason for earlier better freedoms has been the legacy of the freedom movement and its values being enshrined in our Constitution. The communal forces were not so powerful and assertive with the result that tolerance levels were comparatively higher. In the neighboring Pakistan the very foundations had been that of sectarian nationalism. On paper initially they accepted secular values but its practice was frugal. These values started being diminished soon with the death of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Bangla Desh had a different logic as it was formed against the brutal repression by Pakistan army. Bangla Desh did come up on secular principles as the core principles, but the Muslim communal elements were quite strong. That’s what kept the liberal space under constant attack in that country. In India with the growth of identity politics, the promotion of mass hysteria around emotive issues intolerance started going up. It started the prcess of shrinking of democratic polity. This got its culmination in the coming to power of Narnedra Modi in 2014. Since then not only intimidation and attacks on minorities got jacked up, the attackers got a sort of legitimacy in the bigger condoning of their actions by the state and the ideology of the ruling party. The so called fringe elements came forward fearlessly to occupy the center stage. Now they have no fear from the law and order machinery of the state. This is what led to many attacks on Churches, murders of rationalists like Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and M M Kalburgi. The overall atmosphere became more conducive to the actions of sectarian ideology. Ram Temple issue had already prepared a fertile ground for intolerance. Added to this; up came the issue of Cow as mother. The ‘hate other’ ideology wore the clothes of Gau Rakshaks. Their rampage began all around with Mohammad Akhlaq being the major victim, followed by Pehlu Khan and immediately after that murder of two more in Assam. Every time the pretext is created of cow smuggling, cow killing and this acts as a veneer for the deeper hate constructed around the religious minorities. Comparing India with Pakistan or Bangla Desh is unwarranted as India had higher degree of democratic ethos and foundations. No doubt there were weak spots in India from where intolerance in the form of attacks on freedom of expression would creep in. This was mainly due to the opportunistic policies of the parties which could not hold on to the principles inherent in secularism and democracy. With the demolition of Babri mosque and the violence that followed one of the poets from Pakistan, Fahmida Riyaz, who was very appreciative of Indian democracy wrote, Tum bilkul Hum Jasie Nikale (You turned to be just like us) (https://urduwallahs.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/tum-bilkul-hum-jaise-nikle/). Lamenting that while communalism was strong in Pakistan, now India is also showing the colors, similar to those of Pakistan. The standard pattern now is that the vigilantes and other foot soldiers intimidate or commit the crime, the state looks the other way and then some minister will point out the faults with the victims, cases will be filed against the victims. If at all culprit is booked, it is for some milder offense, better still the culprits are not named, it is attributed to the mob violence. This seems to be very convenient way for spreading the communal divide which has benefitted to ruling party. Those comparing the present violence to what’s happening in neighboring countries seem to believe that two wrongs can make a right, while seeking justification of this violence..

May 19, 2017

Announcement Crisis of Capital and the Rise of the Right - Panel Discussion (New delhi, 24 May 2017)

Lecture Room- 2, India International Centre Annexe, New Delhi
24 May 2017
6-9 PM
Crisis of Capital and the Rise of the Right
Panel Discussion on Eight Years of Newsclick
Vijay Prashad (Professor, Trinity College),
Teesta Setalvad (Journalist and Author),
Rajat Nag (Economist and Former MDG, Asian Development Bank)
Chair: Prabir Purkayastha (Chief Editor, Newsclick)
Newsclick was founded in 2009, just after the 2008 global financial crisis. Over the past eight years, the crisis has continued unabated in different forms, both in the global North and South.
Unemployment is rising, and so is global inequality. Just eight people today own as much wealth as half the world’s population. At the same time, right wing forces have grown stronger across the world. Trump, Duterte, Modi and Erdogan are among the authoritarian figures who represent, in different ways, a mix of pro-corporate policies, and religious and racial identity politics. Political tumult and militarisation have been spreading rapidly over large sections of the global map.
Wars of aggression continue in West Asia. After the overthrow of Gaddafi, these wars have now spilled over to Africa as well. The enormous human costs of such wars are there for all to see.
With the continuing crisis of western economies, the centre of global growth has shifted to Asia. China, already the major motor of the global economy, is challenging the west's control over the oceans, and so global trade through the belt-road initiative.
In India, the rise of Hindutva forces poses a terrible threat to the secular fabric. Diversity is under attack, and so are the multiple ways of life of citizens, from what they eat, to how they pray and dress. Questioning authority is equated to being anti-national. Science and rationality are being eroded, as are creative freedoms.

The growing business of religion in India (Pranav Gupta & Sanjay Kumar)

livemint.com, May 19 2017

The growing business of religion in India

Improvement in tourism infrastructure at religious places can unlock the economic potential of religious tourism

Religious tourism is defined as going for a pilgrimage and it may or may not involve an overnight stay. Photo: HT
Religious tourism is defined as going for a pilgrimage and it may or may not involve an overnight stay. Photo: HT
With Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee visiting the holy shrines at Kedarnath and Badrinath in Uttarakhand earlier this month, chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat is optimistic about the state’s prospects in the new tourist season. How popular is religious tourism among Indians? Does religion or class affect the probability of people undertaking pilgrimages?
Studies conducted by Lokniti at the Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) help us answer such questions. The studies show that nearly one in two Indians plan to undertake religious tourism in the next two years and a bigger number reported doing so in the past two years.
A study conducted by Lokniti on Religious attitudes, behaviour and practices in 2015 shows that a significant section of the population in all major religious groups in India reported having undertaken religious tourism over the past two years. Religious tourism is defined as going for a pilgrimage and it may or may not involve an overnight stay. There was significant inter-religious variation in prevalence of religious tourism though, with the figure being around three-fourth for Sikhs and one-third for Muslims and Christians.
Does class play a role in people undertaking religious tourism? Among Hindus, class does not seem to have any influence on religious tourism, but among Muslims, lower classes seem to have a slightly higher probability of undertaking pilgrimages. The results are based on Lokniti’s multi-dimensional economic class index which takes into account income, asset ownership, place of residence and occupation.
The popular perception that older people are more likely to go for pilgrimages seems to be slightly misplaced. Among Hindus, we find no age-based pattern as respondents from all age-groups were equally likely to have undertaken a pilgrimage. Among Muslims, those aged 56 years or above were relatively much more likely to have undertaken a pilgrimage. While there is no gender-based difference among Hindu pilgrims, Muslim men are more likely to undertake pilgrimages than women.
Given the rise in religiosity in the country, going for pilgrimages may increase in times to come. The same study also shows that more than 25% Indians reported having become more religious over the past 4-5 years. The trend is valid across religions and in keeping with other attitudinal surveys. Between 2007 and 2015, the share of respondents in India who perceived religion to be very important increased by 11 percentage points to 80%, according to the Pew Global Attitude surveys.
Religious places are ranked high in preferred tourist destinations for Indians, according to the State of Nation Study conducted by Lokniti in 2008, which found that 39% of the respondents reported pilgrimages/holy sites as their most preferred location for a vacation.
These findings, however, are slightly different from a National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) report on domestic tourism for 2008-09. The report found that social purposes accounted for almost three-fourth of all overnight trips, while pilgrimages and religious trips accounted for only around one in 10 such trips in the year preceding the survey. Although the NSSO released a similar report in 2014-15, it can’t be compared with the Lokniti findings as NSSO figures are based on response for the last 30 days, against Lokniti’s period of past two years.
Nonetheless, the NSSO report does show that average expenditure on religious trips has more than doubled during this period, and it is ranked second in terms of average number of persons per household who go on such trips.
The broad trends seem to suggest that religious tourism should be accorded priority in India’s tourism policy.
This story is based on survey data shared exclusively with Mint. Pranav Gupta is a researcher with Lokniti CSDS and Sanjay Kumar is professor and currently director of CSDS

India: Ayodhya and the wisdom of cabbies (Dipankar De Sarkar)

livemint.com, May 19 2017

Ayodhya and the wisdom of cabbies

With the nation set to be gripped by the Ayodhya drama again, the government can perhaps listen to the wisdom of cabbies, who often give an interesting overview of the crisis situations

Dipankar De Sarkar

The Ayodhya issue is locked up in court cases—in two lower courts in Uttar Pradesh as well as in the Supreme Court. Photo: Hindustan Times

It’s bad form for journalists to write reports based on the wisdom of cabbies but it’s not unknown for papers to print entirely cabbie-quoted stories. Especially from conflict zones.

I have long suspected that cabbies and chauffeurs in conflict zones actually enjoy this role, priming correspondents with an overview of “the situation”, two minutes into the airport pick-up.

Did you know that? Did you suspect that what you read from ‘on the ground’ in Syria or Iraq in dispatches by your reporter may have been entirely based on what kind of a mood the cabbie’s breakfast put him in?

Not every reporter, of course, but some.

I’m breaking the rule here, if only to make a point—that the wisdom of cabbies is unparalleled. This column is a tribute to them.

“Hospital,” said the cabbie the other day. “Why not build a hospital.”

He was offering answers—unsolicited—to the broken Babri mosque in Ayodhya, where some Hindus want to build a Ram temple.

The cabbie, a Hindu from Ayodhya, was interesting to me—because he defied the stereotype. World over, cabbies tend to veer toward the right—politically that is. Here was an exception.

Black cab drivers in London, for instance, are frightfully clever and notoriously conservative. I was once driven by one who told me speed breakers and traffic lights were left-wing intrusions into his private domain—an individual ought to have a right to an unfettered road.

“You know what I mean, guv?” he asked.

Uh-huh, I thought, quickly checking for the unlock button on the door. Stands to reason. The late maverick libertarian thinker Sauvik Chakraverty, who wrote for Mint and other papers, believed the government has only two functions: build roads (in common with Friedrich Hayek) and enforce the rule of law.

Nothing more.

I’ve never been to Ayodhya. I try to stay away from holy towns. Bruges in Belgium, for instance—it’s so pretty but you can’t take two steps without bumping into a church. On the bright side, many churches in Bruges brew their own beer (the blonde, the dark, the brunette and maybe even the redhead). Obviously, cause and effect are at play here: the more the religious structures, the greater the need to dive into a monastic bar.

Why a hospital, I asked.

It’s the only solution, he replied in Hindi, having clearly thought it through since the December 1992 destruction of the mosque and the trail of religious mayhem it left in its wake. “The Hindus should build the hospital and, if they like, they can put up a portrait of Ram in every room. They can paint one on every tile in the hospital if they like. The Muslims won’t object; doctors look after all patients, regardless of religion. You can ask both communities to pay for it.”

The reason the cabbie was ruminating on Ayodhya was that recently it has been back in the news, with some important political implications.

The demand to build a temple in place of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya—the so-called Ram Janmabhoomi issue—has clearly abated in recent years. Although it remains a huge emotional cause celebre with the Hindu right, and was a pledge in the 2013 general election manifesto of prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), no one really seems to have the appetite to revisit the demand today. In this backdrop, two moves by the Supreme Court have come as a surprise for all, not least the cabbie from Ayodhya.

The Ayodhya issue—whom to punish for the destruction of the mosque and whether to build the temple there—is locked up in court cases in two lower courts in Uttar Pradesh as well as in the Supreme Court.

In March, a senior politician belonging to the ruling BJP pleaded with the Supreme Court for an early hearing of his plea for a Ram temple to be built on the Babri site.

The Supreme Court, describing it as a “sensitive matter”, said all the sides in the dispute should hold informal discussions and come to an out-of-court settlement.

The chief justice then went on to offer his personal mediation in such negotiations—an unusual offer from the country’s senior-most judge.

The next month, the Supreme Court allowed a plea by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to restore criminal conspiracy charges over the Babri demolition case against 21 people, including some leading figures in the BJP, such as former home minister L.K. Advani, former human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, and current water resources minister Uma Bharti.

A fourth accused is Kalyan Singh, who was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in 1992 when the mosque was brought down following a campaign led by Advani, Joshi, Bharti and others. But Singh is now governor of Rajasthan, a high constitutional position that grants him immunity from prosecution.

The Supreme Court ordered the case, which is being heard in the lower courts in Lucknow and Rae Bareli, to be wound up within two years. This means the process could drag on till 2019, when the next general election is due, with the potential to embarrass the central government that has shown absolutely no inclination to revisit the Ayodhya temple demand despite sporadic calls.

It presents Modi with another difficulty. The apex court has ordered “day-to-day hearings”, which means the likelihood of live television news coverage about the role played by three senior leaders of the ruling party in Ayodhya in the run-up to 2019. There is some respite with regard to Kalyan Singh, however, with the apex court saying he can be tried after he ceases to be in office.

Additional solicitor general Neeraj Kishan Kaul, representing the CBI, told the court: “During the course of the investigation, the CBI came across evidence of an overarching conspiracy, which was in the nature of a concerted action in tandem.”

The nation is set to be gripped by the Ayodhya drama again, once the conspiracy trials resume. What must the government do? Listen to the wisdom of cabbies maybe?

Dipankar’s Twitter handle is @Ddesarkar1