Browncast: Anti Hindu violence in Bangladesh with Alex

Anti Hindu violence in Bangladesh

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this episode of Browncast, Mukunda and I host Alex Zuvran – the Ex Muslim Buddhist from Bangladesh. We touched upon the recent Anti-Hindu violence in Bangladesh, Islamism, the Awami League and Sheikh Hasina, Cricket and a lot more. It was a fascinating conversation and some of the things Alex talked about made me feel slightly more hopeful about the situation.

Why the Aryan debate matters and why it should NOT

One of the earliest depictions of Rigvedic deities – Indra and Surya from Bhaja Caves near Lonavla.

A year after my blog post on the topic of the Aryan invasion, I am revisiting the topic on Brownpundits, not as a query into the historical question but as a question of identity and politics.

The Aryan debate touches a variety of political faultlines in India and hence is not going to be settled anytime soon I presume, yet intellectually I think it is a non-sequitur for most of the alleged issues around which the issue is discussed. Those issues being (not necessarily in order of importance)

  • Western colonialism and racism and its converse in India. (Identity)
  • The Jati-Varna system and its legacy in India
  • Dravidian nationalism
  • Islam and Christianity in Modern India.
  • Love for native antiquity and religious dogma.

My primary issue with the politics around this issue is that it clearly prevents intelligent and passionate people interested in the topic from pursuing it clear-headedly (Not that researchers don’t get illogically attached to their theories in face of overwhelming evidence). Perhaps the example of Colin Renfrew (Anatolian farmer hypothesis) accepting the Kurgan hypothesis (Marija Gimbutas) after the ancient DNA work came out is an outlier but it is still good to know such examples.

As far as the politics go, it’s fair to state that it’s the Hindutvadis who are at the vanguard of pushback against AIT/AMT (however it’s important to note that there are notable exceptions, and not all Hindutvavadis are invested in this debate). Also some non-Hindutvavadi (especially traditional Hindus and Indians with nativist anti-colonial mindset) are also invested in this debate.

Identity: Western colonialism and racism and its converse in India.

The genesis of the Aryan invasion theory was in the racist notions of white and European superiority – “White horse warriors who spoke a form a proto Sanskrit arrived in the subcontinent and subjugated the dark, stubby-nosed natives of India” (in process civilizing them). The extrapolation of this being – what the British colonizers were doing was just the latest upgrade of civilization being uploaded in the lands of relapsed natives. But then the stunning finds of the IVC began poking holes in this simplistic racist take. Though initially Indra was accused of the destruction of the IVC, later developments in the field acquitted him. However, it is important to note that as migrations became unpopular in global academia for the spread of cultures (post the Nazi Aryan theories), the Aryan migration theory remained mainstream in Indian academia (though the initial racist and simplistic narratives were rejected even by eminent Secular/Marxist historians).

Rejection of the AMT based on the circumstances of its genesis still remains a major reason for the rejection of AMT by Indians. The sentiment behind it being “No white men from outside civilized us”. However, it needs no pointing that in the academic chronology of Indian history, the Pre-Aryan IVC is the major Copper-Bronze age civilization known to us. As we discover more about pre Iron age peninsular India, we find the Stone-Chalcolithic age in the geographic region of India went far beyond the IVC and north Copper hoard sites. At this point, it is fair to assert that Rice cultivation developed somewhat independently in the region East of Punjab. Even basic ancient Indian books like Ancient India by Upinder Singh and India’s Ancient Past by RS Sharma have good length devoted to non-IVC pre-Iron age India.

No white men from outside civilized us” seems settled but its converse is commonplace in nativist Indian circles these days. The term Indus valley “civilization” is only used for the 2600bce to 1900bce Urban period, yet the web is replete with articles that push back the dates of “civilization” in IVC sites (as back as 8000 BCE), particularly Rakhigarhi which incidentally falls in modern India. This need for everything good happened in Ancient India first manifests itself in badly researched and tenous articles like this one – My response to it – here.

I see this need to find Ancient Indian examples for political or scientific advances without robust data to be the mirror to the Racist colonial theories.

Varna divisions and Dravidian faultlines:

Some critiques of the AIT/AMT take umbrage to the instrumental use of AIT/AMT by Brahmins/Kshatriyas to justify the Varna system and also by Dalit/Bahujan activists to “Smash” Brahmanism and thus by proxy Hinduism. The annual Durga-Mahishasur controversy and the Vaman-Bali Onam flamewars keep the controversy in the news.

The Eurasian-like ancestry (ANI ancestry) in India (Both Steppe pastoralist and IVC-like) is mostly correlated with the Varna status. The somewhat ethnic nature of the Varna hierarchy is unpalatable for modern Hindus to digest. However, it is important to note that such ethnic divisions in classes are commonplace around the world. While it is fair to assume in pre-modern times the interactions which led to the great mixing of the Indian subcontinent (2000BCE to 0AD) had violence and exploitation cooked into them, the reasons also could be explained without the worst subjugation imaginable.

Anyways it’s a fool’s errand to indulge in finding conclusive evidence in pre-literate history, I would argue that the question of Aryan Migration is irrelevant to this oppressor-oppressed narratives. From outsiders’ accounts, native sources as well as genetics, I think it is fair to conclude that after initial intermixing, a group of people who happened to have a higher proportion of certain ancestry (genetic/ cultural) dominated another set of people – either organically or systemically. Razib Khan makes this point very succinctly in his substack.

However, to this uncomfortable conclusion, it does not matter whether the ancient Arya expanded from the Kazakh steppes or the Punjab region or even Anatolia for that matter. The boundaries of Aryavarta in the subcontinent were themselves always expanding into their margins, and only after the complete expansion does the notion of Sacred geography become important; not before. Politically this point will be made either honestly or dishonestly by westerners and political opponents of Hinduism (not just Hindutva) – but there is space for a nuanced counter without indulging in ad-hoc denial which logically may be irrelevant. Even the most dogmatic adherents of sacred geography have to reflect that there was a time the geography wasn’t sacred.

Dravidian nationalism:

While most of the points made in the above passage are relevant to the question of Dravidian nationalism, its (Dravidian nationalism) basis is shakier than the Varna ethnic division. This point is made wonderfully by Razib khan here. Most probably IVC exodus had begun before the arrival of Steppe pastoralists (Arya in my opinion), so at best the pre-history can fit a model of subjugation of peninsular natives (AASI adjacent) by the farmers and pastoralists who left the collapsing IVC southwards. As mentioned before, it is a mug’s game to impose oppression Olympics on pre-history, but if it has to be done then the one mentioned in the previous line makes more sense than the Aryan-Dravidian dichotomy. The model that two elite cultures were interacting, integrating, subjugating, and co-opting natives – one in the north and one in the south while interacting with each other along the periphery seems to be the parsimonious explanation. In the mood of speculation, I would add that there was another elite culture in the mix – which Michael Witzel now calls – Kubhā-Vipāś substrate (which he earlier called Para-Munda) – corresponding to the remnants of the IVC in the North. 

Islam and Christianity:

Arguably this remains the biggest reason Hindutva remains politically opposed to AMT. The initial framing of Hindutva by Savarkar and Golwalkar made use of the insider-outsider analogy. While Savarkar saw no dissonance between his framing of Hindutva and Aryan migration, it was the religiously dogmatic and un-intellectual-ish Golwalkar whose framing of Hindutva rested on Hindus being native to the subcontinent since the beginning of time. Armed with the AIT/AMT the opponents of Hindutva have attacked this particular point scornfully in Golwalkar’s framing as a slam-dunk. Examples of this being this particularly transparent framing by Shoaib Daniyal. (given that he knows linguistics and must know that Rigvedic Sanskrit was most probably spoken in India around the same time).

However, this point shouldn’t matter for the intellectual foundation of native Indian thought (Hindutva ++) because.

  • One of the most common points made by AMT skeptics is that the Rigveda doesn’t clearly remember some older homeland. This point alone is enough to deny the Hinduism is foreign to the subcontinent argument. Firstly what we understand as Hinduism today is far different from the religion of the Rigvedic Aryans. Hinduism cannot at the same time be a British invention as well as imposed 3 thousand years ago by invading Aryans.
  • On the contrary viz. Turkic invaders who became rulers of the North and Central subcontinent were evidently aware of their foreign stock. Before most of the north Indian dynasties could go native, they were replaced by newer invaders for centuries. The Portuguese who violently brought Christianity to the coasts of India were equally sure of who they were and who they were not. As with the Parsis, Cochim Jews and British.
  • As I have argued before, current Hindu-Muslim faultlines have less to do with what the medieval invaders did and more what the Pakistan movement achieved and how Muslim intransigence and Hindutva consolidation have progressed since independence. This is a contested opinion and I plan to handle it sometime later in a separate post.
  • While Aryas and Medieval invasions remain contested and debated hotly, the dozen or so invaders who invaded post the Vedic period (barring Alexander) are not even footnotes in the discourse of the day. This brings me to the more important differentiation – data becomes sparse we go back and wrt to the Aryan migration we are truly holding at straws for building our narratives.                    Ex – the alleged anti-idolatry sentiment in the Rigvedic Aryans (wrt to some smashed Proto-linga from old Indus sites) is so flimsy and incomparable to the medieval invaders (more importantly the iconoclasm of the later kind remains as relevant today as it did in the medieval time)

Ideally in a modern democracy, all citizens have equal rights no matter whose ancestors came into the geographical entity when, but some framings of Hindu Rashtra (not all) make Muslims and Christians lesser citizens. While this yardstick continues to be used, arguments and rebuttals on this dubious point will continue (but it need not be).

Issues with academic chronology:

Unlike most states who have founding myths in historic times (barring China, Egypt, and Iran I guess), the foundations of the Indian civilizational state go back well into the Bronze-Iron age. The historic timeline of Agriculture (till IVC) 3500BCE -> IVC (2000BCE) -> Vedic period (1500-700 BCE) -> MahaJanapada period (700-300 BCE) are at odds with most chronologies popular among Hindus (even Jains for that matter). While the absolutely ludicrous timelines presented by Nilesh Oak have widespread support, it is far beyond my ability to address them. However, the academic dating of Indian history makes the Rigveda a 3500-year-old text at most, the events of Mahabharata (if they really occurred) as a 3000-3500 -year-old event. I guess Hindu traditionists (not necessarily Hindutvavadis) cannot digest the inconsistencies of traditions with academic history. While this appears to be an insoluble issue, I think like scientific oriented Christians and Jews who no longer hold the Book of Genesis as a historical text, Hindus can also look at their traditions from a rational lens (though currently where the truly scientific lens differentiates from the colonial lens is contested). However, this is easier said than done as the parallels between Creationism and Indian traditions (especially Itihasa) are unfair (as especially young-earth Creationism is way easier to dismiss).


In most of the above points, the Aryan debate remains irrelevant to the political narratives if one faces them with intellectual honesty, maybe except in the case of timelines. Ex: Brits whose self-conception goes back to the Magna Carta at most, don’t care whether Romans invaded and occupied Celtic Britain. Neither do they care about the Viking invasions or Norman conquests (as much). Unfortunately, Indian self-conception as a civilizational state goes back further than the Muslim invasions. Hence to counter the inconvenient history, the pre-historic events attested in one of the earliest texts of human history remain contested. Also the “we are a 5000-year-old civilization” drum cannot be beaten endlessly if Rigveda is dated to 3500 years ago – the date is irrelevant – the idea of the antiquity of ancient texts is not. It is the notion of eternal or Sanathan Dharma that trumps considerations, whose genesis is lost in the mist of time.

Postscript:

This essay is not an attempt to convince the ideologically dogmatic about the intellectual irrelevance of the debate but to convince those who try to be intellectually honest on both sides to rethink the linkages of politics to this debate.

Also, the AIT/AMT debate is not politically used against Jainism and Buddhism – whose texts also had the Arya-Mleccha distinction. Indra continues to be a Buddhist/Jain deity even outside the subcontinent.

Browncast – Shazia Ilmi BJP National spokesperson

Shazia Ilmi

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this podcast Mukunda and I talk to Shazia Ilmi – BJP National spokesperson about Indian politics, Muslims in Politics and Society and a lot more.

 

Hindutva, Asabiya and Apostacy

This particular blogpost is triggered by the following thread

It has been fashionable for long to use historic Hindu pluralism as a defense against claims of rising intolerance. The above Twitter thread was spawned by comparisons (premature IMO) of Hindutva rage at Beef eating by “members of the one’s tribe” to the Islamic practice of Takfiri and apostasy. The fears of liberals like Dhume may be exaggerated, but the potential of Apostacy and Takfiri memes arising in Hindutva needs to be inspected.

Historically, Hinduism (especially Brahmanical) had a concept similar to Takfiri. However, unlike Islam, this concept in Hinduism was mostly associated with Ritual purity and orthodoxy and rarely had political manifestations. I am naturally talking about social ostracization. This ostracization was not only limited to the Untouchables, but also to those Savarnas who went against the prevailing orthodoxies and customs. About this, we have a good number of examples in the Medieval period (especial Bhakti movement) but not many in the ancient period. Dr. Ambedkar in his book on Shudras claims that beef-eating was weaponized  (and hence political) by Brahmins to make the defeated Buddhists or Broken men “Untouchables”. As these claims are unsubstantiated or out of date with the current scholarship, it’s safe to assume Hinduism had no equivalent of political apostasy, unlike the Abrahamic faiths.

It is one thing to hound, oppress and kill the Other but to justify in-group political violence needs the emergence of concepts like Apostacy and blasphemy. However, it is important to note that the emergence of Apostacy in Islam cannot be understood without the concept of Asabiya (In group solidarity/ brotherhood) and the repercussions of the overthrow of the Ummayads by the Abbasids. Without strong Asabiya and its political implications, it is probable that strong defense mechanisms in Islam like Apostacy and blasphemy would not flourish. All cultures and systems which have strong Apostacy like memes tend to have strong Asabiya – even in non Abrahamic faiths, as such examples are rife in Medieval and Modern China. Closer to home, the secular Marxist-ish LTTE also came up with ideological justifications for hit jobs against Tamil “traitors”.

It must be noted that the Indian revolutionaries had by and large avoided the “traitoring” of the brother during its long years of fight against the British. Designs at assassinations of political moderates (like Gopal Gokhale) were almost always given up on principle. This was only to change with the biggest assassination of Modern India, that too under the guise of protecting India and particularly its Hindus. However, most of the Hindu population vehemently condemned the actions of Godse and co. Incidently this assasination also resulted in a huge setback to the attempts of developing an Asabiya which were gaining traction among the Hindus since the late 19th century.

However, the Hindutva of the 21st century, especially after the rise of the Modi and RSS is no longer a movement with insignificant Asabiya. Over a century ago, the greatest Indian leader of his time, Lokmanya Tilak had once said something along the lines of this – “What would the son of an Oil-presser do in the parliament ? Pass laws ?” Today such a person is not only THE leader of the nation, but also the Hindu Hriday Samrat. Changes in the fabric of Hinduism have been fantastic and Hindus have achieved some sort of Abasiya which they never had at any time. If the latest voting patterns show us anything, it’s that at least in national elections, Hindus are increasingly voting over caste lines in favor of a strong Hinduva leader. One of the cores of Hindu traditional society, the Varna system has changed much more in the last 100 years than it did at any such period in the last millenia.

At such a dynamic time in the history of Hindu society, claims of “over the past millenia” hold less water than they did even a few decades ago. There exist far more incentives to have strong Asabiya in modern democratic nation-states than ever before. As a result, it is only fair to extrapolate that far more incentives and mechanisms exist today which can select controls like Apostasy and Blasphemy to a degree. That doesn’t mean that Hindu(tva/ism) will become like Islam and India like Pakistan, both material and philosophical constraints will continue to prevent this IMO. But its not insane to expect the Apostasy and Blasphemy will NOT remain irrelevant in the Hindutva project. Especially given the sorry state of the Rule of Law in the country, it is not very paranoid to be vigilant about such trends. To what degree is this justified, we cannot comment today. Five years ago, I would have been more alarmed by the potential of such norms getting established given the killings of rationalists (Dabholkar and co), which took place in a span of 3-4 years. Even though these murders did not result in a spree of killings as many had feared they were a rude awakening nonetheless.

Hence I argue that to assume such norms would NOT take root in the coming decades with increasing Hindu Asabiya is unwarranted. And this can be argued only because the norms “over the past millennia” have changed drastically in the recent times.

Hindutvavadis are not Bhakts

As an atheist, I don’t appreciate and understand religious leanings especially the spiritual and devotional aspects. But from time to time I obsessively listen to Devotional songs especially Marathi Abhangs. One of the earliest Marathi devotional songs I remember seeing is a song titled Tujhe Roop Chitti Raho. The song is a devotional song to the deity Vitthoba by a Bhakti saint Gora Kumbhar. The ghastly incident picturized in the song is

Once, his wife left her child in the courtyard where Gora Kumbhar was working and went to bring water. Gora Kumbhar was busy in preparing the mud required to make the earthen pots and was as usual engrossed in singing bhajans of Pandurang. His child playing near him, fell in the shallow ditch where the mud for preparing the pots was laid. Gora Kumbhar was churning the mud with his feet. While doing so, he accidentally crushed his child under his feet. He was so lost in singing the bhajans of Pandurang that he didn’t even hear the cries of his child.

Though as an 8-9-year-old boy, this song had a profound effect on me, the reaction I felt back then nothing compared to the one I felt last week as a father of an infant in the age of Helicopter parenting. The tale invokes comparisons to the sacrifice of Issac by Abraham to the one God. In the tale of Gora Kumbhar, his boy is brought back to life thanks to Vitthal while in the case of Abraham a messenger of God stops Abraham from sacrificing his son.

For all the 3 major dharmic faiths of the subcontinent at that time, this Bhakti might have been a surprising element. We don’t know much about the Brahminical response to this particular case, but it unlikely that it would have been positive given what we know about the Brahminical response to the Bhakti movement in general. In the Buddhist view of Karma, Gora Kumbhar might be dealt with less harshly as he had not intended to crush his son. The Jaina view however would result in significant negative Karma associated with Gora Kumbhar. In the Bhakti narrative, it’s penance (where Gora Kumbhar broke his arms) that started the annulling of his bad Karma. However, according to the tale, Vitthal only brings his son back to life when Gora Kumbhar’s wife who has been abusing Vitthal and her husband’s blind bhakti for the loss of her son, prays to the Lord Vitthal. The example of Gora Kumbhar crushing his child under the intoxication of Pandurang is extreme and strawman-ish for the sake of the argument but I use it nonetheless as the difference between this and the mainstream Bhakti movement is not one of quality but magnitude alone.

This is not a case of modern morals dissecting and judging medieval tales, but the criticism of the core idea of Bhakti itself. The suspension of belief, apparent transcendence felt while deeply engrossed in the Bhakti is physiologically not very dissimilar to the effects of psychedelics. Why then in a society where the latter is taboo while the earlier is revered? For this particular reason, for all the elements of social progressivism in it, (something I am partial towards), I have never truly had a fully positive outlook towards the Bhakti movement.

Unlike spirituality and religions, politics in general though rife with religion and demagoguery has counter-balancing pragmatic currents, especially in democracies. Coming to the title of the post, sometimes I wonder whether the pejorative “Bhakt” was used for Modi/Hindutva followers (implying their blind faith in Modi and the doctrines of Hindutva) is a harsh use of the word on Hindutvavadis. I have used the word as a pejorative and I have been called out by people of the Hindutva leanings for using a word with positive religious connotations as a pejorative. While I sometimes agree with this criticism, I do so for the exact opposite reason. I find a lot of even most hardline Hindutvavadis, rational in their personal lives and not prone to Bhakti – an exact opposite of the archetypical Bhakt.

For all the criticisms one can have of Modi, he has actually delivered quantifiable benefits to large masses of Indians. I cant totally put a finger on it, but I see a tangible difference between the adulation Narendra Modi receives from his supporters to the adulation South Indian leaders – Amma, MGR, YSR have received in the past. The second has all the tell-tale signs of Bhakti, while Modi’s support base and particularly the broader Hindutvavadis lack it. Though one might argue that the cult of Modi is barely ten years old, and it could reach new heights in the near future making my current assertion out of date – but that’s to be seen.

In retrospect, particularly in the state of Maharashtra, we can see the Bhakti movement as a catalyst that had magnified and spread confessionalism and devotion in a personal god into the ritualistic orthopraxy of elite-driven Hinduism thus making Hinduism competitive with monotheistic faiths. It also enlightened the masses to the political and social currents of their environment thus empowering the Rayat (masses) who got their Raja in the coming centuries. In other words, the Bhakti movement fertilized the ground on which the Maratha Hindavi Swarajya and later Hindutva germinated. This point has been more succinctly and coherently by @kaeshour in Hindutva is the woke culture of India.

Yet it is fair to say a sense of historical injustice and insecurity is the sentiment that drives Hindutva not Bhakti, but that’s a separate discussion. Is it fair to see the term Bhakt as a pejorative, If yes then for whom? Anyways in the woke currents of times we live in, I cannot see any other beneficiary of the current use of the word Bhakt* than Hindutva. Not that any partisan liberal will see this.

Guess values, Priors and Science

Wikipedia defines Guess value as

“In mathematical modeling, a guess value is more commonly called a starting value or initial value. These are necessary for most optimization problems which use search algorithms, because those algorithms are  mainly deterministic and iterative, and they need to start somewhere.”

I am not an intuitive mathematician (nor an unintuitive one for that matter), but I have appreciated the importance of good guess value or nominal value developing software that uses computational geometry.

Yesterday I read this excellent long piece- The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill . Personally, I had been convinced by the Aerosol spread theory since I read these two pieces back in the Summer of 2020.

How Coronavirus Infected Some, but Not All, in a Restaurant

How coronavirus spread from one member to 87% of the singers at a Washington choir practice

As a result, I have spent the better part of the previous 14 months wondering “why is the scientific community so slow in accepting potential aerosol dispersion of coronaviruses”. They say science progresses one funeral at a time, but since Jan 2020 we have had far too many funerals that should have sped up the progress. Ever since I read this piece – The “noble lie” on masks probably wasn’t a lie I had been spending limited time I had, browsing through old papers on the spread of respiratory illnesses to disappointing results. The wired piece helped deepen my understanding of how we may have got here. Where the 5-micron boundary for aerosols came from is an extremely fascinating story. Maybe we can expect some Netflix documentary or a long-form book on this issue in the near future.

This entire episode appears exceedingly similar to the Dietary Fat is the villain dogma. Gary Taubes in his books – Good Calories, Bad calories and A Case against Sugar, has described this debate extremely well. As a video suggestion, I would recommend the youtube channel – What I have learned. In retrospect what seems appalling is how the scientific community basically accepted the faulty and weak fundamentals of the Fat theory – as initiated by Ancel Keys and propagated by hundreds after that. Ditto for the demonization of cholesterol and numerous other food items – including milk.

7 country study of Ancel Keys.

From these two examples at the very least, I would conclude the disproportionate importance of Priors and the outsized impact they have on the journey of academic and peer-reviewed science. Hopefully, the pandemic will correct some bugs in this mechanism, though this is by all accounts a slow and arduous process.

Incidentally, I was chatting with Kushal Mehra about his latest discussion with Shrikant Talageri and Kushal pointed out that he thinks the 1500 BCE dating of Rgveda is also one such Prior which has had an outsized impact on the journey of the Aryan Debate. Prima facie I found this point fair – thought I must say, the 1500BCE date has held up quite well over the centuries (especially since the recent genetic results). But has the date 1500 BCE anchored the research around it, making 1500 BCE appear the best fit for composition of Rgveda and the beginning of consolidation of the Arya into the Indian palimpsest ?

Post script:

I know this place has had a lot of AIT/OIT pieces including this one by me and lot of readers might be fed up by it (even I am to an extent). This isn’t aimed at AIT/OIT but is merely a passing reference to it.

I don’t know how Max Mueller and others came up with the date myself – but it would be an interesting story to research notwithstanding the current research. I would also highly recommend Razib’s podcast with Mallory which delves into the history of the larger indo european question.

 

Clarifications on my views about the Burqa

Given the responses I received from my previous post, I feel a detailed clarification explaining my stance and reasoning behind it is due.

First of all, as I do not advocate any ban due to my instinctive gut feelings. I like most humans, feel strong instinctive visceral reactions for a range of things from ugly tattoos to plastic surgeries to the latest Hollywood fashions. But no one in their right mind would advocate any regulations on clothing, lifestyle, or anything else for mere aesthetics or reactions, no matter how strong the reaction is.

By Burqa here I mean the combination of the Burqa + Niqab and not just the Burqa in isolation

History of Indian law and the Greater Good:

Currently, in India, there exist a number of laws (and their application) aimed at social justice where the burden of proof at times lays on the accused not the accuser. Examples of these being the SC/ST atrocity act, Dowry law, Domestic violence laws, etc. Not getting into the legalities of these laws, it is fair to note that the system is rigged against the accused to prove his/her innocence, unlike most other cases. But weighing the pros and cons, considering the state Indian society finds itself in, these laws are generally accepted across the board.

Till now (2021) it is fair to assume that significantly more cases under these laws have been Unreported than the cases where these laws are abused (though it may not always remain so).

Why should the benefit of the doubt be given to the women in case of Dowry/Domestic abuse cases & Scheduled castes/tribes in case of Atrocity-related conflicts? We all know why. I am extending the same argument here.

UCC and Burqa:

Generally in the world, we have accepted that legal polygamy is not an acceptable practice. In India with Muslim personal law, there continues to be legal polygamy for Muslims. But looking at the numbers, the practice is not even followed by a very small fraction of the Muslim population (as opposed to the practice of Burqa which is ubiquitous). Yet most nativists (Hindutvavadis) in India & *true liberals acknowledge the need for a Uniform Civil code. There are multiple valid reasons for the UCC, but one of them certainly is that Muslim personal law creates a feeling of separation among the Muslim community which is bad for a cohesive society. The same argument along with a few others can be made much more convincing against the Burqa than for UCC in my view.

Arguments against the Burqa:

  1. Burqa – as a black overall creates a distinct separation between the Muslim women and society on whole. Here is a fine piece by Jaggi on it. Jaggi in this piece has relied heavily on BR Ambedkar’s scathing remarks about women in Islam in Pakistan and Partition. Some of Ambedkar’s quotes                          “These burka women walking in the streets is one of the most hideous sights one can witness in India. Such seclusion cannot but have its deteriorating effects upon the physical constitution of Muslim women….”.“Purdah deprives Muslim women of mental and moral nourishment. Being deprived of healthy social life, the process of moral degeneration must and does set in. Being completely secluded from the outer world, they engage their minds in petty family quarrels, with the result that they become narrow and restricted in their outlook.”                                                                                                                                                   It is important to note that BR Ambedkar had similarly scathing criticisms of Hindu practices and the Hindu code bill was directly aimed at addressing those ills. Even though the single Hindu code bill failed to pass in the Indian parliament the content eventually got passed under various laws.
  2. One might argue that wearing a Burqa is a personal choice of an adult woman and denying so is an infringement of her fundamental rights – and that point is certainly not without merit. Once a practice like Burqa is accepted in a society it is automatically imposed on girls as young as five years old. One cannot even begin to imagine the effect that would have on the psyche of a child. A discussion on this topic on BBC Radio: link. I am not supporting something as extreme as Dawkin’s stance that children be raised devoid of indoctrination, but just that we curtail to the extent to which we indoctrinate under the guise of religion.
  3. As in the case of the Atrocity Act or other pro-women laws, it is fair to start with the assumption that women don’t have faculty (especially compared to men) in these societies (Indian in general, Muslim in particular). Therein the question of assumption of personal choice of the woman becomes difficult to justify.
  4. Another issue that is often missed in these discussions is the impact this might have on the Men’s psyche. Jaggi has made the point with reference to the Love Jihad issue so I won’t go into that in detail (read his piece). An example of what some MAN in UP said about it – here
  5. The lack of a visible face, especially in public places hinders equality in interactions. We communicate a lot non verbally (most of it facially). Burqa not only restricts expression for the wearer (it may be down to choice) but also restricts the communicator from gauging the non-verbal communication.
  6. The public security issues which arise from  garments thought often exaggerated in right-wing circles are non-trivial.

The Other side:

Some of the defenses of Burqa  which find some purchase in my mind are:

  1. In the hyper-sexualized and judgemental world with immense peer pressure to Go out – Look good – be sexy, a Burqa might appear as a welcome respite for a certain type of personality.
  2. If the person wearing the Burqa feels closer to Allah due to the act of wearing it, how can the state or society come in between her spiritual fulfillment?

Out of these two, I empathize to an extent with argument 1, yet it doesn’t tip the scale in my mind.

Closing thoughts:

I see the point made by many that such a law is counter-effective to the aim of reform. While I concede this point to a degree, I don’t think it needs to be counter-effective in all cases. The same can be argued for most reforms.

The views I hold here may appear extreme in some respects, but it’s anything but a mere reflexive extension of my gut feeling, it’s an internally reasoned and argued position. I don’t advocate bans, especially in the current state of Indian affairs, but I do rejoice when I hear this happening in Sri Lanka, Denmark, or France.

Post Script: 

My views on the Sabrimala controversy and menstruation taboos are also in concurrence with the Supreme court judgment. Not stating it to engage in monkey balancing, but merely stating it for context. You can find my piece which covers some of these topics here – What is “Brahmanical” in Indian Patriarchy?

 

Beards, Bigotry and Burqas

Growing up in 90s India, one couldn’t avoid the jovial Sardar caricature in the Entertainment industry. Most Sardars one saw on television we either Jaspal Bhatti/Navjot Siddhu or Jaspal Bhatti/ Navjot Sidhu on steroids. It’s been decades since these caricatures made an impression on my mind, but still, the moment I see a Sardar, I tend to start assuming him to be a jovial, funny, and extroverted person – and in my experience, that stereotype has mostly held up in my eyes. So when I read news articles of Sikhs being targetted in the United States in wake of the 9/11 attacks as an 11-year-old, I was extremely confused. In my eyes how someone could confuse a full and rich bearded and turbaned Sardar with a moustacheless Muslim extremist stereotype.

Similarly, the honest Muslim Chacha was surely aimed at creating a positive image for bearded and capped Muslims who had humble professions. But for someone like me who was initially inoculated with even more powerful imagery of the bearded Muslim (as illustrated below), the Bollywood Muslim stereotype wasn’t enough to leave an impact on my subconscious mind.

The image I am talking about is shown below :

Around 1 km from where I stay, an entire wall is painted with this image with the title – “This is how terrorism ought to be tackled” in Marathi. Growing up in Maharashtra, every Ganesh festival, half the pandals (decorations made for celebration ) are about Shivaji – and a significant number of them have either bearded & mustache-less Afzal Khan, Shaista Khan, Aurangzeb. The strong impact this imagery made on my psyche wasn’t countered enough by the various Bollywood chacha’s I grew up seeing.

As a result even at age of 25, I held on to a tiny bit of the initial instinctive negative reaction when encountering bearded moustacheless individuals. Some years ago, I had convinced myself that my reaction was due to the aesthetics of certain styles of facial hair which I do not find appealing. Later reading a novel in which the daughter/son (Thousand splendid suns or Kite Runner or Not without my daughter) was playing with her Abbu’s mustache less beard made me realize the error in my ways. Since then I have made a conscious effort to curtail that initial reaction and have been largely successful Was this reaction bigotry on my part? or something else?

Coming to the recent controversy where the radical atheist author Taslima Nasreen made an off-hand and poor tweet about England cricketer Moeen Ali. Taslima Nasreen is known to fly off the handle – especially with poorly worded tweets – was instantly attacked by Moeen’s England teammates. Irish England captain Eoin Morgan made special mentions after the 2019 world cup of the multicultural atmosphere of the English team – which means bearded (conservative?) Muslims like Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid (or Monty Panesar) don’t stick out like a sore thumb and that is progress of a kind in my opinion.

Similarly, at the age of 16-21 as a radical atheist (when I assume I was a lot more immature than I am today), even the Hindu Tilak invoked a strong reaction in me. But today, like the beards, skull caps (the *out of tribe* symbols of identity/belief) I do not have any reaction to the Hindu religious symbols. It’s a sign of shedding some of my atheistic/judgemental roots. But still, an image remains, even the sight of which troubles me to an unreasonable and illogical extent.

From beards and turbans, we come to the Burqa. Arguably the most controversial garment in the world, no matter how much I try, I cannot empathize or humanize the Burqa. I have observed over the years that whenever I travel (outside my ghetto Pune urban life) – especially in the summers – I grow more Islamophobic. The appearance of the Burqa in the sweltering heat of India sends such a strong and negative emotion in me, I cannot humanize it no matter how much I try. In the end, I feel it’s only the French who have got this issue sorted the way it should be. Of course, it infringes on the freedom of choice but I concede I am not that libertarian. As a wannabee male feminist, I do cringe when I see the North Indian (even Maharashtrian) Purdah or the hijab, but Burqa is definitely a line I believe I can never cross in the 21st century. Does this make me bigoted? I personally don’t think so but I could see the wokesters calling me so.

I have read the passionate defense by Khatija ( AR Rahman’s daughter ) of her choice to wear the Burqa. Having seen an iota of merit in that argument, I still feel for the greater good Burqas ought to be banned. (I don’t see it getting banned anytime soon anywhere in India). However, I have to acknowledge that whenever someone uses the *For the Greater Good* as part of their argument, maybe the argument isn’t watertight.

Post Script:

I understand this is a highly politically incorrect blog post to write. I have wanted to express these thoughts for months now, but something held me back. I have tried to be as honest and rounded in my thoughts as I could. 

Please be constructive and respectful in feedback.

Monkey see – Monkey Do ?

This is not a well-thought-out piece but a sort of rambling rant of thoughts in my mind for a year.  My previous writing on Covid is here and Ayurveda.

I have no medical/biology/medicine background nor am I am a scientist nor do I claim to understand statistics. Read this as some thoughts of a layman.

It’s been a year since India went hard into the lockdown. And after trying N things for over a year, we are back on the verge of lockdown in Maharashtra. (at least the CM keeps threatening a lockdown). Unlike initial predictions of respite from Covid in warm weather, it appears both Covid spikes in India have occurred in the considerably warmer weather while mysteriously getting low during the winter months. While I am yet to find a convincing argument that explains several strands associated with mechanisms of spread of Covid19, some aspects of the challenge, namely public reaction needs to be assessed as we get into the second year of the pandemic.

A question to ask here is – how different would the global reaction to covid19 have been without the world witnessing the Chinese state response in the first place? Did it act like a guess in an optimization algorithm – which eventually decides the outcome in some cases no matter it’s value? The European nations first chose to ignore and when they acted they acted in echoes of China. While totalitarian states like China or the gulf countries have been able to reign in the pandemic, no significantly sized country has. What would have been the Italian reaction had they First Guess been other than China? This is not to condone any herd immunity strategies – but at least in a country like India, the cost-benefit analysis needs to be done.

Additionally, should we ask if how much did lockdown work? Dr. Watve, a scientist based in Pune has some good blogs on the topic. While I am not convinced by Dr. Watve’s reasoning yet, its opposite doesn’t appear convincing too.

What else (if anything) could we have done differently? especially in India.  Critics of government often talk about the lack of testing as an issue in India. Personally, I feel once we get a critical mass of vectors, testing and tracing becomes merely a placebo exercise. Aping the WHO models on test, trace on Indian scale (at least with the resources we have).

Another thing that continues to bother me is the Fomite transmission theory. Going through the literature, I couldn’t find convincing research to believe it in the first place, let alone taking it to the insane level it was taken to – especially in India. Newspapers and milk delivery was turned off for months. Home deliveries of groceries were turned off initially. Shops were open only for small durations of the day. All these measures together meant that whatever essential services were available were often extremely crowded with people.  How much did these bizarre policies initially aid the transmission of covid?

I still remember vividly the most spectacularly stupid team meeting I have been part of. This meeting took place around 10-15 March 2020 to let the employees know that the company was doing everything they can to stop covid around the company premises (which was mostly a rain of sanitizers). In this meeting, the management called around 30-40 people in a closed room and talked without masks (that was early 2020, and even the scientists and WHO were maskophobic back then). Anthony Fauci who today, parades in “Rand Paul’s words” in two masks after getting two shots of vaccine, was saying a year back that masks are unnecessary (or even counterproductive). It’s perfectly acceptable for humans to make errors and correct those in the course of action – that’s something we should all try to do. But an analysis of what led us to make those mistakes in the first place ought to be done. Or was it just another example of the Sun revolves around the earth?

Local authorities (including society chairmen etc) have been on a different level of insane. After seeing city authorities sanitizing roads, pavements, trees, and even migrant laborers, whenever a patient is found in a building, the staircases, floors, and grounds continue to be sanitized. I am not even a novice on Bacterial evolution, but on my rudimentary understanding- this use of sanitizers scares the shit out of me. It is not that I am totally sure that fomites don’t spread covid, but the focus on fomites has also meant the possible aerosol spread was not focussed on. What’s worse, in my opinion – the focus on fomites and sanitization has lulled large swathes of people into the sense of false security. People wash their hands, sanitize groceries, but when talking to people often take down masks. Almost 95% of the cases I have heard have of contracting covid from a distant family member indoors or at some function. Yet people continue to focus on sanitization while attending public gatherings and religious ceremonies. At one point in my society, deliveries had to be collected at the society gate while members celebrated Diwali, New years, and Republic day inside without masks in large numbers. To this day, servants and handymen are treated with suspicions while friends and family (some of whom may have more exposure) arent. We have a separate lift for non-members – while members don’t mind traveling in lifts with unmasked members.

However, another question posed by this pandemic is, what should be the role of the state? and what should be its Aim?

  • Is the Aim to try and prevent every covid infection – at cost of the economy and livelihood?
  • Is the aim to avoid the overcrowding of medical facilities so as to avoid collateral damage?
  • Is the aim to keep pushing potential cases in the future – so as to reduce potential cases by vaccination?

When it comes to livelihoods, we need to separate two strands – the effect on the economy due to natural fear in people & and lockdown invoked economic downturn.

The mathematics of economic catastrophe is clear enough to follow – while the mechanism of spread seems to allude even the best of the minds. Every time someone comes up with reasons for why Covid stopped spreading rapidly around the end of 2020 in India and began afresh in 2021. The lockdown had ended in October and *new normal* activities had opened by November, but it appears this increased activity didn’t immediately accelerate the pandemic. Intuitively I would guess it takes time to gain a critical mass and a similar time for it to reduce. The momentum of the critical mass of vectors ought to carry on the spread (due to unavoidable contacts) in spite of overall contacts being low. Maybe once the first fuel was exhausted, it took time to gain a similar mass of vectors before it could truly explode. Add to this the new variants and reinfections (especially those who were asymptomatic the first time), then maybe the second wave starts making sense. Or maybe I am just pulling theories out of my ass which has no value – Either way I don’t mind as no one seems to have any deep insight into this.

All well-meaning people have been trying to shield the elderly for over a year. I have myself spent hours convincing older people to stay secure. But at what point does this become unbearable for a 75-year-old? Would it be wrong for an older person to be to think that they might not survive the pandemic (dying naturally amidst it) to live the end of the pandemic? Can they decide to take the risk of living a few months dangerously ahead of being condemned to a year in lockdown. (This equation has changed now with vaccines but the question still carries some weight I reckon)

Maybe this time next year we would have more answers than we have at this point. And hopefully, we would devise better strategies in countering such events in the future than acting like imitating monkeys in an experiment.

Re-finding lost love of Cricket

15th February 2015 brought home a realization. India’s ICC- Cricket World-cup campaign had begun with a bang with a convincing victory against the arch rivals. While the social media in India made fun of Rameez Raja and chanted “mauka mauka mauka”, I began contemplating what had changed in me since the moment MS Dhoni hit Nuwan Kulsekara for a 6 to clinch the world cup nearly 4 years ago.

My earliest memory of cricket is a world cup memory – India vs Kenya 1996. Sachin scored a century, Jadeja had added a fifty and India comfortably won the game. I was just under 6 when this game was played. I must have watched cricket before this game as I remember being a Sachin fan. I have some cricket memories before this game, but I cannot be sure whether I remember those games from following them live or just as a collection of memories fused with highlights seen in the coming 15 years as a cricket fanatic. Memory being a tricky concept isn’t just what you remember about a time in the past, but it also encompasses the broader emotional and informative thinking about that “time in the past”. So I assume that memories of me watching matches like “Hero cup final 94” are fabrications because I don’t remember my emotions during this game, unlike the WC-96 Ind-Ken game.

Being a cricket fanatic didn’t just mean being glued to television sets when the match was being broadcast. For me, it also meant learning to read Marathi well. -we didn’t subscribe to English newspapers in my childhood. It also meant the ebb and surge of emotions as a function of Indian-Cricket. The 1 or 2 months of cricket free time seemed to stretch like years. Even trailing 2–0 in a test series didn’t deter me from following through with the same vigor. Waking up at 4 am to watch India beaten in New Zealand in 2002 in 3days or remaining awake till 2 am to watch India’s famous win @ Port of Spain. The sad loss in WCFinal-2003 on my birthday didn’t dampen cricket for me though it saddened my day. The same can be said of India’s loss to Srilanka on the same day in 2007 which included Sachin being bamboozled by a 150+k MPs Dilhara Fernando ball for 0 and India crashing out of WC2007. The cycle of the game went on. The heartbreak @ Chennai against Pakistan where Indian tail fell like a pack of dominos after Sachin’s wicket was reduced greatly by the heroic 10Wicket-match-winning haul by Jumbo @ Delhi in the following match. The spell Indian cricket enjoyed from 2001–2004 under Ganguly and 2007–08–2011 under Kumble and Dhoni was the crowning achievement of Indian Cricket till then. India began winning test matches overseas. Nothing pleased me more than 5 idyllic days of watching dukes ball cricket from 330 to 1030 in the Home of cricket (The duke’s ball is used for Test cricket in England; In India, we use the S.G ball, Australian Kookaburra ball is used in all other countries. I believe that the best contest between bat and ball happens with the Duke’s ball). I still remember the India-England test series 2002 and 2007 and Ashes 2005 with utmost nostalgia.

If the 2007 world-cup disaster was the nadir of the Indian cricket fan, then things could only improve from then on and they did. India won a Test series in England under Dravid. India won the Inaugural T20WC in September in SA. That was followed by the Perth victory and winning the CB series. Sachin who had been criticized (justly) since the 2000s for failing in finals, led the team in both finals to silence his critics. Indian cricket had never reached such consistent high plateaus. If anything this was the foreshadowing of even better things to come. India beat Australia twice in India in tests and drew 3 Test series with the Proteas. (Sadly India played only 2 and 3 test series with them). Indian cricket team also began to chase 200+ run totals successfully in test matches with the most memorable chase (of 387) coming in Chennai against England with Sachin scoring a fourth inning hundred. We even wrestled the No-1 spot in both rankings. Meanwhile, the once written of Sachin was in his purplest patch since the 97–98 season. Scoring runs in Tests ODIs and IPL, he kept pleasing his gigantic fan base. Sachin and Gambhir facing the incredible spells of fast bowling of Steyn and Morkel @ Capetown with elan to set up an incredible series win (Which wasn’t to be; due to Kallis and Boucher)with the series poised @ 1–1 were extremely fulfilling. The natural course for this buildup of performance was bound toward the WorldCup dream which was realized in early April 2011.

The post WorldCup party lasted for days. But fortunately or unfortunately within days, the focus was on IPL, thanks to the advertisers and organizers who were quick to exploit the euphoria of World-cup win. Never a huge fan of the 20 over format, I had nonetheless followed previous IPLs. But if anything was overkill, it was the IPL in 2011. The somewhat scripted drama, the page 3 news, the frequent controversies, all conspired to dampen the spark caused by pure cricket. Then began the sudden fall of Indian cricket with consecutive 4–0 drubbings in the 2011–12 season.

A few days after the comfortable win against Pakistan, I sat contemplating why don’t I feel any longing, connection, or zeal toward Indian cricket (even cricket in general). The answer is multi-faced. Maybe the ambition of the Indian cricket fan was completed emphatically with Dhoni’s 6. The abysmal performance in England and Australia, (my 2 favorite cricketing locations) once a regular occurrence now felt unworthy of world champions. Having supported this very team after numerous debacles, suddenly I found the rapid fall from the cricket zenith too much. Engaging in a more active social life, I found following Test cricket which I never missed, difficult. Excess of 300+ scores in 1Day games has also made the contest between bat and ball-less appealing. Cricket (At least the one Indian cricket team played) since 2011, seemed to focus on economy rate instead of strike rate. All these reasons combined made cricket much less appealing for the most part of the previous decade.

But then things again began to change for me and Cricket over the last couple of years. I have followed the 2018 India England series, 2018 India Australia series, and 2019 Ashes and 2019-WC somewhat sincerely but never reaching the pre-2011 levels of interest. Then came the 2020-21 Border Gavaskar series.

Having taken a break from social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) and reading and writing (history, politics, literature) & still following social distancing norms, I started following the cricket between India and Australia more and more as the tour went on. Surprisingly the 36 all out at Adelaide did not turn me off from the rekindling of my lost passion. I continued following the series which turned out to be as good a series as any I have followed (up there with 2001 India Aus and 2005 ashes). The finale at Brisbane was well and truly beyond the wildest dreams of any Indian fan from before 90’s and 2000’s. I will not be adding to the already exhaustive coverage of the recent series here but just note that this series was truly remarkable as test series go.

With completion of the this extraordinary series, not only is my interest back but also the adrenaline and tension. With 2 India England series and Ashes to follow, 2021 looks like a promising year.

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