Political philosopher Jyotirmaya Sharma in Mail Today:
The Ayodhya issue is not a religious issue. It is not a religious issue simply because the understanding of what religion constitutes has radically changed since the nineteenth century. Just as our definitions of religion would be incomprehensible to someone in the time of the Buddha, contemporary understanding of religion also requires a careful delineation. A single glance at definitions of religion offered by a figure like Swami Vivekananda would be enough to illustrate the confusion that has been introduced in the definitions of religion. For him, any entity that bore the name of religion must shun dualism and work towards perfect unity; it must direct its efforts to banish divisions and promote fellow-feeling. It also must shun rituals, eliminate poverty and uplift the masses. Religion ought also to promote, argued the Swami, radical individuality and shun the credo of the mob and the masses. Religion, he argued, must manifest itself in the form of love, empathy and posses a weeping heart for the suffering of others; the idea of God for him is unconditional love. At other moments, he describes religion as action and ceaseless work. The consequence of such a broad definition of religion is not, as apologists of the Swami suggest, to make religion broad and tolerant, but to infuse a sense of religiosity in all walks of life. After all, if one carefully looks at these definitions, they could easily fit the description of a government working towards elimination of poverty, an NGO working towards social uplift and providing emotional and material support to people, or a football club working towards promoting brotherhood and fellow-feeling. In other words, all arenas of public life were covered by religion. Politics as generally understood was enveloped by these definitions of religion and the public and private distinction, so crucial in democracies was sought to be eliminated. It affected a totalization of both politics and of religion: the distinction between them was effectively erased and fatally compromised. Continue reading ‘Ayodhya: A place that cannot be fought’
Pervez Hoodbhoy in New Politics (via 3quarksdaily):
The left has always been a marginal actor on Pakistan’s national scene. While this bald truth must be told, in no way do I wish to belittle the enormous sacrifices made by numerous progressive individuals, as well as small groups. They unionized industrial and railway workers, helped peasants organize against powerful landlords, inspired Pakistan’s minority provinces to demand their rights, set standards of writing and journalism, etc. But the Left has never had a national presence and, even at its peak during the 1970s, could not muster even a fraction of the street power of the Islamic or mainstream parties.
A comparison with India is telling. While the Indian Left has also never attained state power — or even come close to exercising power and influence on the scale of the Congress Party — it looms large in states like Kerala, Tripura, and West Bengal where it successfully ended iniquitous feudal land relations. Across the country it helps maintain a secular polity, protects minorities, keeps alive a broad focus on progressive ideas in culture, art, and education, and uses science to fight superstition. Today, a Maoist movement militantly challenges the depredations of capitalism as it wreaks destruction on their native habitat. Left-inspired movements noticeably impeded passage of the U.S.-India nuclear deal. Indeed, for all its divisions and in-fighting, the Indian Left is a significant political force that is a thousand times stronger than its Pakistani counterpart.
Surely this difference begs an explanation. The answer is to be found in Pakistan’s genesis and the overwhelming role of religion in matters of the state. Understanding this point in detail is crucial to the question: how can one hope to make the Pakistani Left relevant in the future? Are there intelligent ways to deal with a major handicap? More:
From The Times of India:
Thiruvananthapuram: ‘Hotbed of terrorism’ is not the usual label for Kerala. But intelligence gathered by disparate agencies over the last few years suggests the description may not be far off the mark. Confirmation of this came with the horrifying incident of July 4, when a college lecturer’s right hand was chopped off in Moovattupuzha, a town in Eranakulam district.
The attack on T J Joseph was apparently in retaliation for setting a question paper that allegedly hurt Muslim sentiments. Police raids on offices of the Popular Front of India (PFI), whose activists are believed to be behind the attack, have exposed a well-oiled, pan-Islamist network fed by a heady mix of Wahhabism and hawala. Kerala’s deep-rooted Gulf links also come in handy for the PFI.
The revelations of the last two weeks are startling. It includes al-Qaida training tapes, Taliban-style courts that dispense justice according to Shariat law, literature on conversion, explosives enough to kill dozens, and documents indicating unusual interest in the Indian Navy.
Sources say it was one of the PFI’s Taliban-style ‘courts’ in Erattupettah in Kottayam district that decided Joseph’s fate. There are 13 more across Kerala, discreetly exhorting members of the community to stay away from regular courts which are deemed “un-Islamic”. The state police is now taking a fresh look at three murders in Kannur, including that of a police constable. There is some suspicion the killings were ordered by Taliban-style courts. More:
An attack on a professor revealed a power struggle between an educated class and those pushing an intolerant vision of Islam. Sabrina Tavernise in The New York Times:
Lahore: The professor was working in his office here on the campus of Pakistan’s largest university this month when members of an Islamic student group battered open the door, beat him with metal rods and bashed him over the head with a giant flower pot.
Iftikhar Baloch, an environmental science professor, had expelled members of the group for violent behavior. The retribution left him bloodied and nearly unconscious, and it united his fellow professors, who protested with a nearly three-week strike that ended Monday.
The attack and the anger it provoked have drawn attention to the student group, Islami Jamiat Talaba, whose morals police have for years terrorized this graceful, century-old institution by brandishing a chauvinistic form of Islam, teachers here say.
But the group has help from a surprising source — national political leaders who have given it free rein, because they sometimes make political alliances with its parent organization, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s oldest and most powerful religious party, they say.
The university’s plight encapsulates Pakistan’s predicament: an intolerant, aggressive minority terrorizes a more open-minded, peaceful majority, while an opportunistic political class dithers, benefiting from alliances with the aggressors. More:
Pakistanis are becoming increasingly pessimistic about prospects for their country and for themselves. According to an opinion poll conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI), a US-based group that promotes democracy, about 88 per cent Pakistanis feel their country is headed in the wrong direction, 59 per cent say the next year will be worse than the current year and 67 per cent believe democracy has made no difference to their wellbeing.
Read the Dawn report here, and click here for the the full IRI survey:
From the Guardian:
We’ve forfeited the rights to our own tragedies. As the carnage in Mumbai raged on, day after horrible day, our 24-hour news channels informed us that we were watching “India’s 9/11″. Like actors in a Bollywood rip-off of an old Hollywood film, we’re expected to play our parts and say our lines, even though we know it’s all been said and done before.
As tension in the region builds, US Senator John McCain has warned Pakistan that if it didn’t act fast to arrest the “Bad Guys” he had personal information that India would launch air strikes on “terrorist camps” in Pakistan and that Washington could do nothing because Mumbai was India’s 9/11.
But November isn’t September, 2008 isn’t 2001, Pakistan isn’t Afghanistan and India isn’t America. So perhaps we should reclaim our tragedy and pick through the debris with our own brains and our own broken hearts so that we can arrive at our own conclusions.
Author Nandini Chandra helps Naresh Fernandes find the hidden messages in Amar Chitra Katha comics. From TimeOut:
The comics present “the stereotype of the evil, lusty and treacherous Muslim,” writes Chandra
If someone warned that the publication you were reading was attempting to propagate “an ideal Hindu state underwritten by the ideology of feudalism”, you’d probably be a little worried. If that alarm was being raised about your favourite childhood comic-book series, you’d probably bolt upright and listen real closely. That’s exactly what Nandini Chandra cautions in The Classical Popular: Amar Chitra Katha (1967-2007), which will be released this fortnight.
ACK comics create “an undisturbed continuum between mythology and history” and elaborately attempt to “project a Brahmin identity” as India’s defining ethos, claimed Chandra, who teaches English at Delhi’s Hansraj College. In a phone interview, she said that the popular series, which has been popular with children since 1967, “is also exclusionary of women, Dalits and Muslims”.
Chandra’s book is the result of a 12-year study of ACK, which started as her M Phil dissertation at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen has been living in exile in India. She was forced to leave her Calcutta after riots by Muslims there and has since been living at a fortified safe house in Delhi. Her visa expires February 17, but she is reluctant to leave the country she calls home. “I have nowhere to go, no country or home to return to,” she says in the Sunday Times of India.
Although I was not born an Indian, there is very little about my appearance, my tastes, my habits and my traditions to distinguish me from a daughter of the soil. My father was born before Partition; the strange history of this subcontinent made him a citizen of three states, his daughter a national of two. In a village in what was then East Bengal, there once lived a poor farmer by the name of Haradhan Sarkar, one of whose sons, Komol, driven to fury by zamindari oppression, converted to Islam and became Kamal.