Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Intolerance Only Breeds More Intolerance

"If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children." - Mahatma Gandhi

The Bajrang Dal seems to have taken Gandhi's words in a quite literal, but skewed manner. It holds an annual week-long training camp in Delhi to teach young boys and men to "protect Bharat Mata" from the Christian and Muslim "infidels".

If you read the Tehelka article cited above, you would see how well the Bajrang Dal and VHP fundamentalists are succeeding in brainwashing these young boys and men. They are told to beware of the "six Ms...
Muslims, Missionaries, Marxists, Lord Macaulay, foreign Media and Maino [UPA President Sonia Gandhi’s middle name].”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is how religious bigotry is spread through the veins of a people. The policy of catch 'em young seems to work wonders for religious zealots. Islamic fundamentalists are doing the same thing, preparing their young men for jihad. I have not really heard of any Christian groups indoctrinating their young to be prepared for a "holy war". But I guess one could say that the Bush administration had filled up that position pretty neatly.

All religious fanatics think that their religion is under attack from other religions. The Hindus think that Muslims and Christians are up to no good and are ready to destroy their culture at the drop of a hat. Muslims feel that all Christians and Hindus want wipe them out; and many Christians seem to have a morbid fear of all things Muslim and Hindu.

(I'm talking about just these three religions because they are in the news more than any other!)

I'm not going to profess that I know everything about these religions, but I do know that none of these religions preach hatred. They do not ask their followers to go out and bomb innocent people, just because they do not pray to the same god.

Religious text is open to interpretation. This, I feel, is one of the main causes of religious bigotry. Certain 'holy men' claim to understand religious text, but they are interpreting them in a manner that they deem fit. They preach their hate messages to a populous that does not know any better. Of course, political agenda also plays a big part here. Politicians target vulnerable populations and promise voters that they will keep them safe from the fearsome Hindus/ Muslims/ Christians.

Christianity and Islam have a common ancestry - Abraham/ Ibrahim, Moses/ Musa, Jesus/ Isa Masi. How many Muslims and Christians acknowledge this fact? And even if they do, does it really make a difference to them? Does it give them more food for thought? How can two races who share a common ancestry not see how similar they really are?

Strip away the religious identity of any group, and what you will get is a bunch of people with similar dreams and aspirations. Everyone wants to have a family and enough money to provide for that family.

Why do people have a need to wear their religious identity on their sleeve and condemn those that belong to an allegedly
opposed religion? When scripture asks you to "believe in the one true God" it is not asking you to denounce all other gods. Why should your belief in a certain god, a certain way of life be better or greater than another's? You practice what you want and I'll practice what I want.

It is sad that more people would rather abide by intolerance than try and have an open mind. It is difficult to have someone come up to you and tell you that what you have believed in all of your life is not true - not all Muslims want to kill Hindus and vice versa. But to try and change your point of view is an even more arduous task. And I think despite hate camps, like the Bajrang Dal one, there are people all around the world who are waking up and smelling the coffee for the first time in their lives. May their tribe increase!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

To Wear or Not to Wear

The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy has declared that Muslim women cannot wear a burqa in France, as it is "a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement" and that it "will not be welcome on the territory of the French Republic".
Read the article here.

While I do agree that women should not be forced to wear burqas, I also believe that women have a right to wear whatever they want. I'm personally not pro-burqa, but I do know of some Muslim women who wear burqas because they choose to, and not because they are being forced to. Therefore, it would be subservient or debase only if women were being coerced into wearing burqas.

The argument that in France the stat is separate from religion is no excuse to ban overt religious symbols. This is religious intolerance in reverse, extremist secularism, if you may please. Though I do see the point that wearing a burqa may come in the way of getting assimilated in a foreign nation, all people, no matter where they choose to live, should have the right to dispay their religious identity.

Perhaps the problem here is not that it prevents burqa-clad women from being more social, but what the burqa is associated with - Islam. This is conjecture on my part, but many people are uncomfortable with conspicuous demonstrations of religious identity.

But I dont't want to talk about religion here, I want to talk about women in general.

On the one hand, we have M. Sarkozy who wants to ban the burqa as he thinks that it is against the basic rights of women, and on the other, we have dubious groups like the Sri Ram Sene, who would prefer it if women cover themselves from head to toe to maintain "decency".

Who is actually upholding the "rights of women" here? Both the individual and the group are telling women what they must do and how they must be dressed. How about letting women decide how they ought to dress? No matter what I wear - be it a short skirt or a burqa - no one (not least some stranger) has the right to tell me how I should dress.

It's a sad state of affairs indeed when people still think that women need to be told how to dress and how to conduct themselves. The rights of women go beyond cultural differences. Women have dealt with oppression since time immemorial. Forget about developing countries, women are subjected to subliminal (if not blatant) oppression even in so-called developed countries. Even now, in the 21st century, there are just a small hand-full of women who truly enjoy freedom - freedom to dress as they please, freedom to behave as they deem fit, freedom to work at a job they want to, freedom to marry or not, freedom to have children or not, etc. These may seem like small, superficial freedoms, but they add up to a freer life.

I don't see these freedoms extending to all women on earth, at least not in my lifetime. And maybe it won't be possible for several generations to come. But, there is always the hope that some day, all women from New York to Zambia, from Saudi Arabia to Japan, from Ireland to India would enjoy freedom from self-proclaimed moral and social guardians.