Tag Archive for 'Hindu'

Indians abroad: A story from Trinidad

Namit Arora in 3quarksdaily:

An Indo-Trinidadian woman selling cassava and dasheen at the Chaguanas Market.

The first immigrant ship from India, Fatel Rozack, arrived in 1845 after a journey of five months, carrying 225 Indians, most in their twenties, and over eight men for every woman. It had separate areas for men and women. Jokhan showed me a copy of its passenger log, pointing out that the first Indian to disembark was coincidentally named Bhuruth Suroop—a colonial clerk’s rendition of what I might have written as Bharat Swaroop. Trinidad is full of such tweaked spellings: Sewdass, Capildeo, Ramnarine. Until 1901, the ships were sailing vessels (‘Pal Jahaj’); thereafter, they were steamships (‘Aag Jahaj’). Jokhan pointed me to a list of ships that made the passage, the number of passengers in each, and the deaths en route. The mortality rate varied a lot. In 1858, on a ship named Salsette, 106 of the 197 Indians died. Scanning the numbers, I estimated the average mortality during the 19th century to be around 5%.

About 145,000 Indians came between 1845-1917 in over 320 shiploads. The vast majority was from the densely populated Gangetic Plain, from what are now UP and Bihar. They spoke Bhojpuri, a dialect of Hindi. Their primary driver was to escape economic destitution—intensified by repressive British taxation after the Indian Mutiny in 1857—and for a few perhaps to dodge a crime or a caste dispute. Due in part to a double failure of the monsoon, a major famine hit India in 1878-79, killing millions. Trained recruiters went from village to village promising good jobs in Damru Tapu (‘Demerara Island’). The lure was strong enough to overcome the significant taboo of Kala Pani, or crossing salt water, which rendered one an outcaste. Few women came at first but after 1868, concerted effort raised their numbers to four women for every ten men—though better, the continuing imbalance caused a host of social problems later, including violence over and against women. Because they left from Calcutta, they were also called Kalkatiyas. Until 1870, a fewMadrasis came too, but were deemed unsuitable and troublesome, not the least because many of them were urbanites. About 85% were Hindu and most of the rest Muslim. Of the Hindus, about 15% were Brahmins—more than the 9% in their home population—and most of them, writes historian Radica Mahase, had ‘earned a livelihood from the land and were also vulnerable to changes in the rural economy.’  More:

A debate over Yoga’s soul

A small foundation has generated buzz with a campaign asserting that “Hinduism has lost control of the brand.” Paul Vitello in The New York Times:

Yoga is practiced by about 15 million people in the United States, for reasons almost as numerous — from the physical benefits mapped in brain scans to the less tangible rewards that New Age journals call spiritual centering. Religion, for the most part, has nothing to do with it.

But a group of Indian-Americans has ignited a surprisingly fierce debate in the gentle world of yoga by mounting a campaign to acquaint Westerners with the faith that it says underlies every single yoga style followed in gyms, ashrams and spas: Hinduism.

The campaign, labeled “Take Back Yoga,” does not ask yoga devotees to become Hindu, or instructors to teach more about Hinduism. The small but increasingly influential group behind it, the Hindu American Foundation, suggests only that people become more aware of yoga’s debt to the faith’s ancient traditions.

That suggestion, modest though it may seem, has drawn a flurry of strong reactions from figures far apart on the religious spectrum. Dr. Deepak Chopra, the New Age writer, has dismissed the campaign as a jumble of faulty history and Hindu nationalism. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has said he agrees that yoga is Hindu — and cited that as evidence that the practice imperiled the souls of Christians who engage in it. More:

Babri Masjid: A fight to the end

The court will soon decide who owns the Babri Masjid site. Whichever way the verdict goes, the politics of religion will make a comeback. Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

This is not lost on anyone. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently noted, “I am told in a few days’ time, you will [see the] judgment of the Babri Masjid [title suit]. Now the way the country handles this—the aftermath—will have a profound impact on the evolution of our country.”

An appeal in the Supreme Court is likely to follow the judgment, but the decision itself, whatever it is, will become fodder for new arguments. An Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report of 2003 on the excavations at the site is likely to be one of the key pieces of evidence contributing to the court’s judgment—but it will not settle the dispute, it will only become another element of the debate. Amidst the political rhetoric that will spill out onto the streets, historians will fight the same fight with equal vehemence in TV studios. Such arguments will matter little, because the battle in Ayodhya is not about history, but popular perception.

At my hotel in Faizabad, I ask for the number of a guide in Ayodhya. I want to hear the narrative a guide selected at random would provide. My guide turns out to be Rama Pragat Mishra, a Pandit with his caste mark visible on his forehead. Born in Sultanpur district of Uttar Pradesh (UP), he had studied in Ayodhya before going to work in Gujarat at a polyester firm. He returned in 1999 to become a guide, catering mainly to the Gujarati and Maharashtrian pilgrims who make up the bulk of visitors to Ayodhya.

His Ayodhya tour takes me to the banks of the Sarayu river, the walls of Valmik Bhawan where the Sanskrit text of The Ramayan has been inscribed in full, a nearby gaushala where a cow has just taken birth, the datun kund where Rama is believed to have taken care of his dental hygiene every morning, Dashrath’s palace, Kanak Bhavan gifted to Sita by Kaikeyi, the karyashala, and the site where the Babri Masjid stood. More:

Also read: Uncorking the Babri genie: Jawed Naqvi in Dawn

For Indian-American politicians, the “What are you?” test

From Salon:

She Anglicized her name, became a Christian, and was heralded as a Mama Grizzly by Sarah Palin — and now Nikki Haley is the overwhelming favorite to be the next Republican governor of South Carolina.

“You learn to try and show people how you’re more alike than you are different,” Haley, who was born Nimrata Randhawa into an Indian Sikh family, admitted to the New York Times earlier this year.

Bobby Jindal, raised in an Indian Hindu family in Baton Rouge, changed his name and converted to Catholicism. Now, Louisiana’s Republican governor is regarded as a potential candidate for his party’s presidential nomination.

When asked by “60 Minutes” last year if they follow any Indian traditions, Jindal and his wife insisted that “we were raised as Americans, we were raised as Louisianans, so that’s how we live our lives.”

There’s no doubt that the religious conversions of Haley and Jindal, the two most prominent Indian-American politicians, have powerful personal and spiritual roots. But it’s also inarguable that being Christians with Anglicized names has made it easier for them to create bonds with the overwhelmingly white and deeply religious voters who dominate Republican politics in the South. More:

Feeding Ganesh in Kathmandu

On the menu: many sacrificed goats. Elizabeth Cinello in The Smart Set:

The teams emerge in single file from the traffic chaos on the torn up road between Bhaktapur and Kathmandu. It’s being rebuilt for Nepal’s Tourism Year in 2011. The teams’ destination is the main sanctuary on the leafy hilltop just outside Baktapur’s city limits where Ganesh’s shrine has stood for centuries. The goat is the star of the spectacle and therefore one is given the privileged position at the head of the procession, followed by a group of percussion musicians. Along the road flower vendors arrange colorful bouquets for devotees to buy as offerings for the god. Some of the goats wear a garland of marigolds. Stairs lead to the top of the hill where a sadhu sits motionless beside a basket into which visitors toss rice and coins. It’s a feast day and everyone’s happy and excited for the opportunity to connect with the jovial Ganesh.

At the shrine the village teams wait their turn to sacrifice. Their families and the goats mill around as the men organize themselves. A blood-drenched stone in front of the shrine serves as the altar. During the hour I’m there, eight goats and several chickens are offered to Ganesh. More arrive as I leave. It’s a constant turnover. While the chickens sense something’s up, the goats, even as they are led to the altar, seem oblivious to their imminent destiny. I watch them intensely. They chew on sweet leaves lovingly tucked into their mouths by a team member. I feel perturbed knowing they are going to die in a few minutes while they themselves have no clue. It’s better that they don’t know, I tell myself.

It’s only when they are grabbed by the legs and picked up that they protest with loud squeals. Two men tilt the goat upside down while the shrine attendant steps into place, straddling the animal now in position for a clean cut to the throat. The knife is short with a wide blade and a sharp tip. The squeals stop. Blood squirts into the crowd. A young man in jeans and a white T-shirt jumps back in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid a gushing stream of blood arching through the air. Oohs and aahs emanate from the female devotees as the bright red droplets seep into the denim. They know the blood will be impossible to wash out. Friends snap a picture of the young man smiling and shrugging his shoulders as if to say, “What can you do?”  A boy, all dressed up in a suit and firmly holding onto a rope, is dragged to and fro by a jaunty black goat. It is goat number six. More:

Trinidad’s PM, a devout Hindu, took oath on the Bhagavad Gita

From BBC:

An attorney by profession, Ms Persad-Bissessar is no novice to politics having been the MP for her area Siparia, a rural town in the south of the island, since 1995.

In the last 15 years she has weathered many political storms, even as she broke gender barriers.

Former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday (1995-2001) appointed her attorney general and education minister during the UNC’s first stint in office, and she even acted as PM.

But in 2007, in the lead-up to a general election, when it was clear that she was the best person to lead the party, Mr Panday refused to resign.

Ms Persad-Bissessar, who is married to a doctor and has a son, swallowed the humiliation, even giving a famous speech to the theme of Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry, in which she declared her undying support for her political guru.

But all that changed last December.

As then Prime Minister Manning became increasingly unpopular, Ms Persad-Bissessar saw a golden opportunity for the opposition forces to unite to topple the ruling People’s National Movement. More:

Nikki Haley and the new racial face of the American South

Nikki Haley is poised to join Bobby Jindal as conservative Indian Americans running Deep South states. Tunku Varadarajan at The Daily Beast on how they’re exploding racial attitudes—and why the Dems don’t get it.

Nikki Haley, née Nimrata Randhawa, is almost assured of the Republican nomination for governor of the state of South Carolina. And if she does win her runoff on June 22, she is almost certain to be elected governor in November, which would give rise to the remarkable fact that two deeply conservative Southern states—South Carolina and Louisiana—will be home to governors of Indian descent, one the son of Hindu immigrants, the other the daughter of Sikhs.

What explains the success of Jindal and Haley in their respective states? In posing this question, I hint, of course, at the South’s lingering reputation for racial intolerance; and who can deny that the two states in question have not always been at the forefront of America’s historical striving for racial amity?

One answer is that these two politicians are consummate conservatives in a milieu that rewards political conservatism, and that their success is a validation of their ideology and intelligence. Their ethnicity, in other words, is an irrelevance. This view was expressed, in effect, by a friend—a law professor in Tennessee—when I asked him why he thought Indian-American conservatives were doing so well in some Southern states: “There are lots of Indians in the South, and they work hard and do well. Why wouldn’t people like ‘em, especially when they work hard at politics and espouse conservative, capitalist, pro-family views?” More:

Terror in Pakistan’s Punjab heartland

Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books:

The Ahmaddiya movement is a sect that follows the teachings of a nineteenth-century religious reformer and promotes the peaceful propagation of a variant of Islam. But in the 1970s, the Pakistani government—under pressure from conservative Muslim clerics—declared the Ahmadis a non-Muslim minority and many Pakistanis today view them as heretics to Islam—something considered far worse than being non-Muslim. Although some two million Ahmadis still live in Pakistan, millions more have fled abroad. Many of the victims at the two mosques—including a retired army Lieutenant General and several retired senior judges and civil servants—were over 70 years old, showing the extent to which the younger generation of Ahmadis have largely left Pakistan.

Ahmadis are by far the most persecuted minority in Pakistan by Islamist parties and right wing media, and they are widely portrayed as subversive and cultish in school text books. Prominent journalists and politicians think nothing of publicly reviling the Ahmadis or Christians, describing them as agents of foreign powers or anti-Pakistan, while the state has again and again demonstrated its unwillingness or inability to protect them and other religious minorities.

Moreover, while Christians have prominent bishops and community leaders who are outspoken about their tribulations, and the Shia priestly hierarchy is influential and is supported outside Pakistan by Iran, nobody is willing to speak up for the Ahmadis. On Friday some of the local TV channels even refused to name their sect, calling them instead “a religious minority.” Senior government officials declined to meet with Ahmadi representatives or visit hospitals where the wounded were being treated.

Pakistan has taken an awfully long time to understand that it faces an unprecedented terrorist threat that is not a result of conspiracies hatched in Washington, New Delhi or Tel-Aviv, as many in the public believe, but that is the result of the Pakistani state’s nurturing of extremist groups since the 1970s. More:

Pandits begin to return home to Kashmir

Twenty years ago, nearly 400,000 Hindus fled the Kashmir Valley, fearful of a separatist insurgency. Now they are trickling back. Lydia Polgreen in The New York Times:

Srinagar: The ceremony is simple and common. A Hindu priest lights a fire, places some herbs, clarified butter and other offerings atop it and through its peculiar alchemy the smoke purifies everything it touches.

But nothing about this Maha Yaghya ritual performed in the once-abandoned Vichar Nag shrine here on a recent Saturday night was simple. A week of downpours left the shrine’s grounds waterlogged and putrid. The wood was wet and the fire would not start.

But most peculiar was the ceremony’s location, astride one of the world’s most fractious religious fault lines, between two nuclear-armed neighbors who have fought three wars, two of them over the land on which the shrine sits.

Twenty years ago, nearly 400,000 Hindus fled the Kashmir Valley, fearful of a separatist insurgency by the area’s Muslim majority. Now they are trickling back, a sign to many here that the Kashmir Valley, after years of violence and turmoil, is settling in to an uneasy but hopeful peace.

The valley’s upper-caste Hindus, Pandits as they are known, are reconnecting with their ancestral home, a few to stay and even larger numbers to visit. More than a dozen shrines have reopened in recent years, said Sanjay Tickoo, a Kashmiri Pandit who never left the valley and is now trying to entice those who left to return. More:

Why Pakistan is not a nation

Pervez Hoodbhoy at Himal Southasian:

Illustration by Saira Wasim

The lack of nationhood can be traced to the genesis of Pakistan and the single factor that drove it – religious identity. Carved out of Hindu-majority India, Pakistan was the culmination of the competition and conflict between natives who had converted to Islam and those who had not. Converts often identified with Arab invaders of the last millennium. Shah Waliullah (1703-62), a ‘purifier’ of Islam on the Subcontinent who despised local traditions, famously declared ‘We [Hindustanis] are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and the Arabic language are our pride.’

The founder of Pakistan, Mohamed Ali Jinnah, also echoed the separateness of Muslims and Hindus, basing the struggle for Pakistan on the premise that the two peoples could never live together peacefully within one nation state. But Jinnah was unrecognisably different from Waliullah, a bearded religious scholar. An impeccably dressed Westernised man with Victorian manners, a secular outlook and an appreciation of fine foods and wines, Jinnah nevertheless eloquently articulated the fears and aspirations of an influential section of his co-religionists. Interestingly, he was opposed by a large section of the conservative ulema, such as Maulana Maudoodi of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who said that Islam must not be confined to national borders. But Jinnah and his Muslim League won the day by insisting that Muslims constituted a distinct nation that would be overwhelmed in post-British India by a larger and better-educated Hindu majority.

Thus Pakistan, in essence, was created as the negative of India: it was not India. But what was it, then, beyond being a homeland for Muslims? Decades after the horrific bloodbath of Partition, the idea of Pakistan remains hotly debated. It did not help that Jinnah died in 1948, just a year after Pakistan was born, with his plans still ambiguously stated. He authored no books and wrote no policy paper. He did make many speeches, of which several were driven by political expediency and are frankly contradictory. These are freely cherry-picked today, with some finding in them a liberal and secular voice; others, an embodiment of Islamic values. The confusion is irresolvable. More:

God and the gospel of globalisation

Against all hope, secularism remains a myth. Meera Nanda in Himal Southasian. Meera Nanda’s most recent book is “The God Market: How globalization is making India more Hindu (2010)”.

Asha Dangol / Himal Southasian

The defeat of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India’s general elections last year was greeted with relief by secularists and democrats everywhere. Not entirely unreasonably: they read the fact that the BJP lost a solid 3.4 percent of its previous poll share as evidence that Indian voters had rejected the majoritarian politics of Hindu pride and prejudice, peddled by the BJP and the rest of the Sangh Parivar. The general consensus is that the ideology of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, has lost its appeal among the urban youth and middle classes – that secularism has won and “God has left politics,” to borrow the elegant title of a recent essay by Delhi journalist Hartosh Singh Bal. Market reforms and globalisation emerge as the stars of this saga. Both the friends and critics of the BJP agree that it is the fervour for making money in India’s roaring economy that doused the flames of Hindu nationalism from the hearts of the middle classes. But that is not all. The ‘free’ market, we are told by a section of influential Dalit intellectuals, will not only free India from the menace of communal violence, but will also lift the curse of caste oppression. It is fair to say that the gospel of globalisation is gaining ground in India.

The story about how the markets defeated the BJP goes as follows. Hindutva appealed to the middle classes and youth back in the bad-old-days of the 1980s and 1990s, when these groups were feeling beleaguered and angry due to the failures of Nehruvian socialism and ‘pseudo-secularism’, which, in their view, gave undue preference to Muslim and Christian minorities. But in the nearly two decades of economic liberalisation and foreign investments that began in the early 1990s, India has witnessed a great burst of economic growth. As a result, the Hindu middle classes are angry no more. Far from feeling beleaguered and discriminated against, they have become more cosmopolitan, more self-confident, and more willing to take on global challenges and seek out global opportunities. Indeed, so confident is the Great Indian Middle Class that it has claimed the 21st century as India’s Century. And so the critics ask: What use can such forward-looking people possibly have for the past glories of Hinduism, about which the stodgy old men in khaki shorts keep harping? This story has found great favour among the self-proclaimed Friends of the BJP, who want the party to drop Hindutva altogether, or at least to make it sound less communal, and emerge as a ‘normal’ pro-market, pro-defence, anti-‘minority-appeasement’, right-of-centre party. More:

The other Swastika

Usha Alexander at 3quarksdaily:

When I visited India the summer I turned 9, my grandmother took my siblings and me to a jeweler to select pendants to bring back to the US. My brother and sister chose the gold-tipped tiger claws, still available easily and guilt-free in India in the 1970s. But I found the tiger claws too “gee whiz”; I wanted something that was meaningfully Indian. So the jeweler trotted out his line of large, bright silver pendants shaped either as Om or swastika. I was drawn to the pleasing aesthetics of the swastika designs, with their symmetry and regularity of line; the Om was alright, but it didn’t do much for me. Still, I had a difficult time deciding to bring home the swastika, waffling on the matter until it grew late and even the jeweler was losing patience with me. In the end, I came away with the Om, which languished never-worn in my dresser drawer for years until I simply lost track of it. Something about the entire episode never sat quite right with me, but as a child I couldn’t puzzle out why.

I was probably in high school before it first dawned on me just what it was that kept me from the swastika that day: Growing up in an observant Brahmin household in the US (from which I’ve long since recovered), I felt an emotional dissonance around the symbol, which I associated with something like serenity, nurturance, and cosmic benevolence, and at the same time with “evil,” hatred, and genocide. More:

Muslims have no monopoly over ‘Allah’

Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister of Malaysia, a member of parliament for the Justice Party and leader of the opposition, in the Wall Street Journal:

Malaysia has once again resurfaced in international headlines for the wrong reasons. Over the last two weeks, arsonists and vandals attacked 10 places of worship, including Christian churches and Sikh temples. Though there were no injuries and the material damage is reparable, the same cannot be said about the emotional and psychological scars left behind. After numerous conflicting statements from government officials, the underlying causes of the violence are still unaddressed. Malaysia’s reputation as a nation at peace with its ethnic and religious diversity is at stake.

Malaysia’s poor handling of religious and sectarian issues is not unique. The ill treatment of minority groups in Muslim countries is often worse than the actions Muslims decry in the West. I have called attention to the broader need in the Muslim world for leadership that demonstrates consistency and credibility in our call for justice, fairness and pluralism. These values are embedded in the Islamic tradition as the higher objectives of Shariah expounded by the 12th-century jurist al-Shatibi.

We have seen Muslims around the world protest against discriminatory laws passed in supposedly liberal and progressive countries in the West. Yet just as France and Germany have their issues with the burqa and Switzerland with its minarets, so too does Malaysia frequently fail to offer a safe and secure environment that accommodates its minority communities. More:

Sea of stories

Ananya Vajpeyi reads Wendy Doniger‘s capacious study of the diversity of Hindu tales and traditions (The Hindus: An Alternative History, by Wendy Doniger, Penguin), which serves as a riposte to the self-appointed guardians of Indian culture by celebrating the multiple varieties of Hindu religious experience.

the_hindus_book1From ancient times men have dominated the world of Sanskrit scholarship. Originally those men were Brahmins; then they became Europeans, then Englishmen, and finally Indians. It is only in the past 50 years or so that women have begun to enter this esoteric field of study, and in this regard, Wendy Doniger has been a pioneer and a force to reckon with. Her new book, The Hindus: An Alternative History brings 30 years of her rigorous and innovative scholarly practice to a fitting climax – and I use the word advisedly. Doniger has studied Hinduism in its erotic, aesthetic and corporeal aspects, making her the target of envy as well as criticism from her colleagues. Her work, which includes a translation of the Kamasutra and extensive writing on Shiva, the Hindu god of cosmic destruction, who is worshipped in the form of a phallus (linga), is often seen to be titillating. She is interested in asceticism, but also in sexuality; in the spiritual, but also in the carnal.

Hindu traditions are diverse and heterodox enough to incorporate a number of parallel doctrines, theologies and belief systems, as well as an enormous repertoire of deities, symbols, rituals and concepts that contradict one another and yet coexist. Doniger’s openness to the varieties of religious experience permitted under the accommodating and multifarious rubric of Hinduism has upset all manner of people, from devout Hindus, to the votaries of Hindu nationalism (“Hindutva”), from American professors to German philologists. Nearly all of them misunderstand her work, particularly her creative ways of exploring how Hindu thought connects mind, body and soul, rather than placing them in conflict with each other. More:

Saffron fringe

The recent attack on a pub in Mangalore by a little-known Hindu group points to the emergence of several such radical Hindu outfits. The Sunday Express profiles the outfits:

saffronA few months ago, Delhi endocrinologist Dr R.P. Singh was faced with a huge problem. After having worked towards a “Hindu Nepal” along with various RSS outfits for years, Singh suddenly felt that the RSS-which still runs schools there, and has a dedicated pracharak for the region-was “reneging on its commitment to the Hindu cause”, when one of its senior members, looking after the region, “allowed the schools to be used by the Maoists”.

Worse, he felt that the recent instance of Nepal Prime Minister Prachanda calling on various BJP leaders during his recent visit to India “was at the instance of this particular RSS leader” and an organisation that he has floated. Singh thought that “over the last few years, the RSS had lost sight of the goals that it had set for itself”, something he took up with the organisation’s second-in-command, Mohan Bhagwat, when he met him sometime last year.


A house, Partitioned?

A fascinating tale by Ahmad Rafay Alam at Pak Tea House:

It was when I was in Willie G that I met and became friends with Martand. Martand was from India, and for a Pakistani like me he was a great way to get to know about India, the country next door that figured so prominently in defining what my country was. At the time, I had never been to India. I had no notion of what India was like or what Indians were like other than the opinions I’d picked up in school text books, novels, television, the press, movies. You get the picture. Like anyone else, I suppose, I was coloured by the prejudice of history. In the case of India and Pakistan, nothing attracts more prejudice than the fractural events of Partition.

Martand was studying to become an architect. Despite our academic pursuits, we hit it off immediately. Of course, as inevitably happens, we made some social connections. Martand and I had been paying guests, although at different times, in the same apartment in Queensway. Then we found some more interesting ones. His maternal grandfather, Bisham Sahni, the great Hindi writer, was a contemporary of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, the legendary Pakistani poet. I learnt that both his grandparents and my father shared the same alma matter, Lahore’s famous Government College. I learnt that part of Martand’s family were from Lahore, and had been forced to flee to India during Partition. I’ve always been a proud Lahori, a vekhiya tay jamiya nahin (if you ain’t seen it, you ain’t seen nothin’) sort, and his connections with the city of my birth, along with his wit and intelligence and the fact that my girlfriend got along with him, made my relationship with Martand stronger.


Hindu-Muslim family’s choice of cremation arouses anger

A family’s decision to cremate their son’s body has become the object of a tug of war over religious freedom and obligation in Jackson Heights, New York. From the New York Times [via 3quarksdaily]:

Friends and family remember Shafayet Reja as an affectionate young man who stayed up late to write poetry, danced exuberantly at weddings and explored the faiths of his father and mother with an openheartedness that led him to declare on his Facebook page, “I never get tired of learning the new things that life has to offer.”

But within hours of his death on Sept. 10 after a car accident, his memory – in fact, his very body – had become the object of a tug-of-war over religious freedom and obligation. It began when his mother, who was raised Hindu, and his father, who is Muslim, decided to have his body cremated in the Hindu tradition, rather than burying him in a shroud, as Islam prescribes.

His parents, Mina and Farhad Reja, say a small group of Muslims who do not understand their approach to religion are trying to intimidate them over the most private of family choices. “This is America,” Mrs. Reja said. “This is a family decision.”


Home and away

Pradeep Magazine, a Kashmiri Hindu, remembers his life in the Muslim-dominated valley and wonders why things turned out so wrong. From Hindustan Times:

To be a Kashmiri and a Hindu can be a painful experience these days. To which side of the divide do we belong? The answer is taken for granted and in this fight between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between Hindu and Muslim, I am supposed to articulate the agony of exile, the religious persecution of ‘us’, minorities, and fight for my homeland from which we have been thrown out through ‘violent’ means.

These are questions that are not easy to answer, especially by someone whose father migrated from the Valley in the early 60s to better his economic prospects. I am a migrant like a large number of Kashmiris who had been moving out of the Valley into mainland India for many decades now, as there were not many jobs back home for want of any economic development.


A Jihad Grows in Kashmir

Pankaj Mishra in The New York Times:

For more than a week now, hundreds of thousands of Muslims have filled the streets of Srinagar, the capital of Indian-ruled Kashmir, shouting “azadi” (freedom) and raising the green flag of Islam. These demonstrations, the largest in nearly two decades, remind many of us why in 2000 President Bill Clinton described Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed by both India and Pakistan, as “the most dangerous place on earth.”

Mr. Clinton sounded a bit hyperbolic back then. Dangerous, you wanted to ask, to whom? Though more than a decade old, the anti-Indian insurgency in Kashmir, which Pakistan’s rogue intelligence agency had infiltrated with jihadi terrorists, was not much known outside South Asia. But then the Clinton administration had found itself compelled to intervene in 1999 when India and Pakistan fought a limited but brutal war near the so-called line of control that divides Indian Kashmir from the Pakistani-held portion of the formerly independent state.


Amarnath pilgrimage: Praying for ice

July and August are pilgrimage months in Kashmir. Will global warming — and terrorism — make things too hot at journey’s end? Peter Manseau in Search Magazine:

Pilgrims going to Amarnath cave

Pilgrims going to Amarnath cave

Amarnath cave ice formation and (inset) classic example of a stone Shiva symbol

Amarnath cave ice formation and (inset) classic example of a stone Shiva symbol

Long before people called themselves Muslims or Hindus, long before they fought and died over these or any labels and turned a paradise into what Bill Clinton, Salman Rushdie and others have called “the most dangerous place in the world,” water dripped and froze inside the Amarnath Cave at the heart of Kashmir.

It began as a trickle, but became a steady stream. Water leaked through as the July sun hit the Himalayan snowpack above, only to turn to ice again as is entered the 135-foot high grotto that maintains a wintry temperature deep into the summer. There the water gathered to form first a frozen stick, then a frozen wall, then something more mysterious, a six-foot-tall mound of ice that seemed almost ready to walk away. As July turned to August and the cave temperature rose, the ice formation melted, as they do. But the next year it formed again; it always did.

It’s impossible to say how long the ice came and went hidden within the Amarnath Cave before people happened along to give it meaning. According to legend, a Muslim shepherd named Malik discovered it in the twelfth century. Kashmir at the time was an interreligious land even at the individual level. It was not unusual that this follower of Islam had spent a fair amount of time in Hindu temples, and so when he saw the column of ice-slightly taller than it was wide, with its rounded top like the crown of a man’s head-he knew just what it looked like: A lingam, the phallic symbol of the god Shiva, Hindu deity of creation and destruction.

[Published six times a year in Washington, DC, SEARCH is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian magazine exploring the intersection of science, religion, and culture.]


Cultural parallels: Fiddler on the Roof in Hindi

Ben Frumin, an American journalist in India, has a piece in the current issue of New York’s Jewish Daily Forward about a Hindi version of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

fiddlerontheroof.jpgDespite the fact that almost all her knowledge of Jews and Jewish culture comes from a couple of books and the film “Schindler’s List,” Renu Chopra, a slight Hindu woman raised in the north Indian state of Punjab, plays a surprisingly convincing Yente, the nosy shtetl matchmaker in “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“I’ve never met a Jew, never,” Chopra said while wrapping a black shawl around a sparkling gold-and-red kurta during a recent rehearsal. “People [in India] don’t know about Jews. They have no idea about Jews.”

That’s not surprising, considering that there are only about 5,000 Jews in this country of 1.1 billion people, and only about 40 Jews in the capital city of New Delhi. But that didn’t stop an amateur theater company here from staging a Hindi “Fiddler” that’s played five times since this past December, with four more shows scheduled for April.

[Photo: Indian actor Rakesh Gupta, a 48-year-old civil servant, plays Tevye in the Hindi production of 'Fiddler on the Roof.']

More: [via sajaforum.org]