Tag Archive for 'Hindus'

In Pakistan, Hindus say woman’s conversion to Islam was coerced

Declan Walsh in NYT:

Ghotki, Pakistan — Banditry is an old scourge in this impoverished district of southern Pakistan, on the plains between the mighty river Indus and a sprawling desert, where roving gangs rob and kidnap with abandon. Lately, though, local passions have stirred with allegations of an unusual theft: that of a young woman’s heart.

In the predawn darkness on Feb. 24, Rinkel Kumari, a 19-year-old student from a Hindu family, disappeared from her home in Mirpur Mathelo, a small village off a busy highway in Sindh Province. Hours later, she resurfaced 12 miles away, at the home of a prominent Muslim cleric who phoned her parents with news that distressed them: Their daughter wished to convert to Islam, he said.

Their protests were futile. By sunset, Ms. Kumari had become a Muslim, married a young Muslim man, and changed her name to Faryal Bibi.

Over the past month, this conversion has generated an acrid controversy that has reverberated far beyond its origins in small-town Pakistan, whipping up a news media frenzy that has traced ugly sectarian divisions and renewed a wider debate about the protection of vulnerable minorities in a country that has so often failed them.

At its heart, though, it is a head-on clash of narratives and motives. More:

No Quick End to Islam Conversion Case

NYT report:

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry ruled that Rinkel Kumari, a 19-year-old Hindu student who converted under disputed circumstances last month, should spend the next three weeks pondering her fate in protective custody, along with another Hindu woman in a similar situation.

During an emotional and sometimes rowdy hearing in a packed courtroom in Islamabad, the capital, Chief Justice Chaudhry noted that there had been “serious allegations of abduction and forced conversion” in both cases.

“Both ladies must have an atmosphere without any pressure to make a decision about their future,” he said.

Moments earlier, the police dragged Ms. Kumari’s father from the courtroom after he had begun shouting. Such scenes have been typical of a case that has received intense media attention and has highlighted the sense of siege among a prominent religious minority. More:

AP report: Forced religious conversions hike Pakistan minorities’ fears

The quick-fix ways of the safety pin sorority

Hindus, and indeed all Indians, are fatalists—at some level. Yet we all do things that we believe will change fate. Shoba Narayan in Mint Lounge:

The most important thing on my person is not what you think. Not diamonds or an iPhone; not my wallet or my house keys. It is a safety pin. Around my neck I wear what Tamilians call a thali, which is more commonly called a mangalsutra. This is a simple but thick gold chain with a rectangular pendant, embossed with different symbols based on family traditions. Mine has a tulsi-katte, or tulsi-madam: a raised platform planted with a tulsi bush. Others have shivlings or sudarshana chakras. Maharashtrians wear a black and gold chain with two vatis, or convex circles. Malayalis wear the leaf or ela thali, a custom prevalent even among Syrian Christians. Konkanis wear three gold chains that they call mani, or muhurtmani. Gujaratis and Marwaris, as becoming of rich business communities, wear a diamond pendant. The chain is meant to be long so that the pendant falls deep into a woman’s chest, hidden from prying eyes. Hindu women wear a thali as a symbol of their marriage; because they believe it confers longevity on their husbands.

This is a fascinating paradox. Hindus, and indeed all Indians, are fatalists—at some level. Yet we all do things that we believe will change fate. Longevity, for instance, is mostly about destiny (not getting run over while crossing the road or falling prey to dengue) and good genes. Yet, later this month, scores of women in north India will fast all day and watch the moon rise before eating a morsel, all for the longevity of their husbands. The more evolved couples fast together: The husband fasts for his wife’s longevity and vice versa. More:

Kerala’s fundamentalist turn

In Tehelka, V.K. Shashikumar sounds an early warning on a new kind of Muslim fundamentalism taking root in a once secular state:

Engineering student Rayana Khasi returned home to north Kerala from Chennai four months ago, charmed and unaware that she was carrying deadly arsenal in her baggage. She had just finished with a course in aeronautical engineering, and was considering a career in the civil services. From Chennai she brought a few of her favourite things. Dreams. Knickknacks. Jeans. In Kasargod, northern Kerala, where she lived, Rayana got the shock of her life. They hated her jeans. They called her at odd times, men she didn’t know, and told her what they would do with her if she didn’t dump the jeans and put on purdah. Each time Rayana stepped out, they stared and said horrible things.

Then, four months later, she wrote to the Women’s Commission asking that she be allowed to wear what she likes. The state posted constables to protect Rayana so she could sport denim. Now, they stalked her. One day Rayana was returning after meeting her lawyer in Ernakulam, a town near the middle of Kerala. The constable got off midway. A group tried to block the car Rayana was in. She drove off. They chased the car and attacked her with stones. She had to drive to a town nearby, where the locals lent a touch of security. All this, because they didn’t like what she wore. Because they thought she was impious.

They said they were from the Popular Front of India. Initially it was teasing and harassment. But harassment is worse than a threat to life. The comments and staring each time I ventured out, as if I was a criminal, was intolerable. They wrote to me saying they want me to wear purdah. They said what I did was blasphemy. But I don’t think it is a problem of Islam. This is an issue of the right over one’s body. It is sad that everybody is making it out as a religious problem, even those who support me,” says Rayana. Soon after the stone attack, she met Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and the DGP. “They promised me they would do their best.” More:

Ayodhya verdict: 2 parts to Hindus, 1 part to Muslims

Manoj Mitta in The Times of India:

Sixty years after Ram’s idols were forcibly installed under the central dome of the Babri Masjid, the Allahabad high court, in a judgement running into about 12,000 pages, paved the way on Thursday for the construction of a temple at that very spot which is believed by many Hindus to be his birthplace.

While disposing of four title suits, the majority of the three-judge bench directed that the disputed site of 2.77 acres in Ayodhya be partitioned equally among three parties: Muslims, Hindus and Nirmohi Akhara (a Hindu group).

In deference to the widely-held belief about Ram’s birthplace, the court stipulated that the crucial area under the central dome of the mosque demolished by kar sevaks in 1992 be allotted to Hindus. This means the idols will remain where they are.

In the course of the partition due to take place after three months, the court directed that Nirmohi Akhara be allotted parts of the outer courtyard covered earlier by Ram Chabutra, Sita Rasoi and Bhandar, which had long been used for worship by Hindus despite their proximity to the mosque. More:

Graphic: The Times of India

3-way split plan leaves room for reconciliation: Sankarshan Thakur in The Telegraph

Ayodhya verdict surprises govt, surpasses saffron hopes: in The Times of India

Text of Allahabad high court order on Ayodhya dispute: in The Times of India

Hindustan Times editorial: At last, faith in the law

The Indian Express editorial: Law and sacrifice

The Times of India editorial: Beyond Mandir And Masjid

Ayodhya: A place that cannot be fought

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’

Losing faith in Pakistan

Aatish Taseer in Mint Lounge. Taseer is the author of two books, Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey through Islamic Lands and Temple-Goers:

Aatish Taseer

It is one of the vanities of a war, like the war on terror, to believe that your enemy’s reasons for fighting are the same as yours. We are bringers of freedom, democracy and Western-style capitalism; they hate freedom, democracy and Western-style capitalism. It is an irresistible symmetry; and if not a way to win a war, it is certainly a way to convince yourself that you’re fighting the good war. But there is another possibility, one that the Americans, and other defenders of post-colonial thinking, are loath to admit: that a place’s problem might truly be its own; that your reasons for fighting are not your enemy’s reasons; and that you might only be a side-show in an internal war with historical implications deeper than your decade-long presence in the country.

In the case of Pakistan, the imposition of this easy West versus Islam symmetry has helped conceal what is the great theme of history in that country: the grinding down of its local syncretic culture in favour of a triumphant, global Islam full of new rigidities and intolerances. It is this war, which feels in Pakistan like a second Arab conquest, that earlier last month saw, as its latest target, the Data Sahib shrine in Lahore—among the most important of thousands of such shrines that dot the cities and countryside of Punjab and Sindh. More:

Evidence of tolerance: Clashes are rare

Akash Kapur in The New York Times:

I maintain my faith in India as a highly tolerant — if imperfectly so — country. I believe that the nation’s sporadic episodes of communal violence represent aberrations rather than the norm, inevitable clashes that are remarkable for the extent to which they are, indeed, sporadic.

When I consider the nation’s major outbreaks of communal violence since independence, I am struck by the fact that nearly each one was instigated by an act of political demagoguery. Politicians seeking votes have regularly fanned hatred and chauvinism. And as the Indian scholar Asghar Ali Engineer has pointed out, religious concerns are frequently a front for material interests. Riots between Hindus and Muslims are often thinly veiled property disputes or clashes over commercial interests.

Yet for all the effort by political and business leaders to spread hatred, violent clashes remain rare, unusual in a country where Hindus and Muslims (and followers of other religions) live side by side, in crowded cities and villages, doing business and practicing their faiths in full view of one another. More:

And here’s the link to his previous column, Upholding a tradition of tolerance:

Indian tolerance has deep roots. The Vedas, a body of texts believed to be around 3,000 years old, proclaim that “truth is one; the wise call it by many names.” The Rig Veda, considered the oldest, similarly teaches that “good thoughts come to us from all sides.”

Indian tolerance has also manifested in the country’s society and polity. The Edicts of Emperor Asoka, who ruled much of north and central India in the third century B.C., are notable for their accommodation of other faiths — proclaiming, for instance, that “all religions should reside everywhere” and that “there should be growth in the essentials of all religions.”

Code unknown: the fierce argument over ancient Indian symbols

In India – where 4,000 year-old stories still inspire death threats – historians, mathematicians and nationalists are going to battle over an ancient civilisation’s script. S Subramanian reports. in The National:

In 1856, searching for stone to anchor the railway tracks they were building between Karachi and Lahore, William and John Brunton, engineers working for the East India Railway Company, followed the directions of local residents to the site of an old, ruined town. There, they found 93 miles of perfect, kiln-fired bricks – and discovered the remains of Harappa, one of the two chief cities of the Bronze Age civilisation in the Indus valley.

The Harappan ruins had been known previously, discovered by various explorers rambling around present-day Pakistan. But in the course of meticulously picking apart the bricks, the Bruntons unearthed enough artefacts to attract the attention of archeologists; their continued excavations revealed a record of an ancient civilisation whose urban ruins were scattered all across the vast Indus river basin.

The discovery of Harappa revised, in one stroke, existing theories of ancient Indian history. Until then, the earliest known Indians were believed to be the literate Hindus who lived by the Rig Veda in the Second millennium BC. Modern Hindus trace their origins to this “Vedic civilisation”, whose language and religion were considered wholly indigenous to the subcontinent. The existence of a separate pattern of settlement, an advanced civilisation predating the Vedic era by a few hundred years, raised confusing – and politically charged – questions. If the Indus Valley peoples were not Hindus, who were they? And where, then, did the Hindus come from? More:

Honour killing

Jagdeesh Singh’s sister was murdered by her in-laws for daring to seek a divorce. But, he tells Jerome Taylor of The Independent, it is a crime his community would prefer to ignore:

Surjit Kaur, the victim

Surjit Kaur, the victim

Jagdeesh Singh wants to get straight to the point. “There is this very distinctive and self-incriminating silence within communities that have a history of ‘honour’ killings,” he says. “The so-called community leaders, the influential religious groups and the local language newspapers remain deafeningly silent when these killings happen. But that silence makes them just as guilty as the people who kill in the name of honour.”

Talk like this has made Mr Singh a deeply controversial character within the suburbs of west London where he and many of Britain’s 400,000-plus Sikhs have made their homes.

Many younger people regard him as a devout and tireless Sikh who is unafraid of speaking out against the more parochial traditions of Punjabi culture that they often find themselves struggling against. Others, particularly the more conservative and older elements, look on the 39-year-old as a troublemaker who needlessly provokes controversy by shining an unwelcome spotlight on things that should not be aired in public. More:

[Photo: World Sikh News]

Sea of stories

Ananya Vajpeyi reads Wendy Doniger‘s capacious study of the diversity of Hindu tales and traditions, “The Hindus: An Alternative History” (Penguin). From the National:

From 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:

Marco Polo’s India

From 3quarksdaily:

Returning home from China in 1292 CE, Marco Polo arrives on the Coromandel Coast of India in a typical merchant ship with over sixty cabins and up to 300 crewmen. He enters the kingdom of the Tamil Pandyas near modern day Tanjore, where, according to custom, ‘the king and his barons and everyone else all sit on the earth.’ He asks the king why they ‘do not seat themselves more honorably.’ The king replies, ‘To sit on the earth is honorable enough, because we were made from the earth and to the earth we must return.’ Marco Polo documented this episode in his famous book, The Travels, along with a rich social portrait of India that still resonates with us today:

Map copyright Encyclopedia Britannica.

Map copyright Encyclopedia Britannica.

The climate is so hot that all men and women wear nothing but a loincloth, including the king-except his is studded with rubies, sapphires, emeralds and other gems. Merchants and traders abound, the king takes pride in not holding himself above the law of the land, and people travel the highways safely with their valuables in the cool of the night. Marco Polo calls this ‘the richest and most splendid province in the world,’ one that, together with Ceylon, produces ‘most of the pearls and gems that are to be found in the world.’


Hindus upset over Hollywood film

From BBC

Hindus in the US have started a protest against a Hollywood comedy, saying the film will hurt the religious sentiments of millions of Hindus worldwide.

More than 5,000 people have signed an online petition protesting against the film Love Guru, starring actor Mike Myers and due to be released on Friday.

Some Hindu groups are considering a boycott of Paramount Pictures which produced the film.

Paramount says the film does not make reference to any particular religion. The company says Love Guru portrays a purely fictional faith.


Previously in AW: Love Guru woos Hindu priests

Protecting Pakistan’s Hindus

The cultural and institutional marginalisation of Hindus in Pakistan is a travesty of human dignity and freedom. Ali Eteraz in The Guardian, UK:

Hindus in Pakistan have suffered grievously since the founding of the nation in 1947. Recently, in the southern province of Sindh, a Hindu man was accused of blasphemy and beaten to death by his co-workers. This comes at the heels of the abduction and dismemberment of a Hindu engineer.

A little while earlier, the military removed 70 Hindu families from lands where they had been living since the 19th century. To this day the temples that Pakistanis destroyed in 1992 in response to the destruction of the Babri mosque in India have not been restored.

Pakistan, according to many accounts, was founded as a way to protect the rights and existence of the minority Muslim population of Colonial India in the face of the larger Hindu majority. Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, is reported to have said in 1947: “In due course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims – not in a religious sense for that is the personal faith of an individual- but in a political sense as citizens of one state.” It is therefore a travesty of Pakistan’s own founding principles that its Hindus – and not to exclude Christians and Ahmadis – have suffered so grossly.


[via 3quarksdaily]

Ali Eteraz’s personal blog is here:


Love Guru woos Hindu priests

Paramount Pictures, producers of The Love Guru – billed as the biggest Hollywood comedy this summer – will screen the movie for Hindu leaders before its June release. “The movie appeared to be lampooning Hinduism and Hindus and using Hindu terms frivolously,” Rajan Zed, Nevada-based chief of the Universal Society of Hinduism, and “America’s most savvy Hindu priest”, said after watching the trailer (see YouTube clip).

The movie features Mike Myers, Ben Kingsley, Jessica Alba and Justin Timberlake. Kingsley plays Guru Tugginmypudha, the ashram leader who teaches Myers how to love himself and wear a chastity belt. Iranian stand-up comic Omid Djalili enacts Guru Satchabigknoba. Myers plays Guru Pitka, an American raised in an ashram in India, who moves back to the US to seek fame and fortune in the world of self-help and spirituality. The movie also has a cameo by celebrated New Age guru Deepak Chopra.

More in Hindustan Times:

US religious landscape survey: Hindus are the best-educated

An extensive new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life details the religious affiliation of the American public and explores the shifts taking place in the U.S. religious landscape:

In a study that highlights the fluidity of religious affiliation in America today, Hindus stand out as the group with the most stable religious identity. Ninety percent of Hindus marry within their own faith, and eight-in-ten Hindus who were raised Hindu remain so as adults, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, released last week by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists have obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about one-in-ten of the adult population overall. Hindus and Jews are also much more likely than other groups to report high income levels.

Key summary of findings:

Demographic portraits: