Category Archives: Religion

This problem is not just particular to Muslims

I was just reading a heart-felt piece in the Tehelka magazine, regarding how Muslims are made to feel like outsiders, and worse, like traitors, in their own country. She recounts two incidents:

Once she was returning from Ghaziabad to Delhi with her mother, they choose to board in a private bus which was full of Rajasthanis. Her mother was a Rajput and excited to see her ‘own’ people. They both were giggling and talking about beautiful Rajasthani jewellery passed to her by her grandmother. Conductor came and gave a weird look to her mother as she was wearing burqa, he handed over them tickets and said “sala do musalmano ne sari bus ko Pakistan banadiya”.

I met a lady-principal and a young director of two well-known private schools respectively. After discussing urban slums and Bangladesh, Lady Principal asked me what I want to become. I laughed and replied, in 5th grade our teachers used to ask this. Now, I am what I am in front of you. But she insisted me to answer. As a joke, I said ‘youngest Prime Minister of India’. She unexpectedly asked, ‘why India?’ Smile disappears from my face but I managed to ask, ‘Well, I am an Indian and in which country do you think I am eligible to be a PM?’. She said ‘any country, there are so many countries for you guys’. I politely asked her ‘so many countries such as…?’ She shamelessly answered, ‘there are neighboring countries you know…’

First, people who behaved in such manner needed tight slaps. Second, this is not a Muslim specific problem, especially in our country.

Being a Sikh I’ve had my share of stupid remarks made on my identity. In fact my brother-in-law used to get so upset that he often used to regret being a Sikh. His colleagues and classmates (all Hindus) would specifically exchange crude, insulting “Sardar jokes” in his presence, especially in his presence. Making fun of Sikhs is legendary in India.

And, when Sikhs get a chance, they ridicule Biharis and UPiites. Similarly, people from different regions are addressed to disparagingly by people from other regions. Everybody knows the plight of Dalits

We are basically a nation of bullies. There is some fundamental flaw in our values and psyche. So the next time you’re being “targeted” as a Muslim, keep in mind you’re simply being targeted for being, or appearing, different.

Religious identity and collateral violence

In the wake of the recent Sikh Gurudwara attack in America in which 6 people died and many left wounded (including a policeman) someone awhile ago commented, “Why do Sikhs have to grow long beards and hair and look like Arabs and Muslims?”

After 9/11 there have been more than 1000 attacks on Sikhs all over the USA primarily because people mistake them for Arabs, Muslims and the Taliban. Even the recent attack bears testimony to the cost that Sikhs have had to pay for someone else’s “holy” war.

The person, although, laughingly suggested that Sikhs should stop flashing symbols of their religion and should look like “normal” people, I thought, well, why should someone change his or her identity because of someone else’s actions? In fact, the retort is not as easy and simple as it may seem.

Personally, I don’t believe in religious symbols. For an identity, I don’t need to grow a beard or wear a turban. For me, what’s more important is how I live my life and how I treat people around me. For that I don’t need to look a certain way. My this attitude partly stems from the fact that I have personally encountered people lavishly displaying their religious symbols while indulging in most perverted and immoral activities.

But there are certain people who need such symbols. Hindus have their own symbols. Muslims have their own, Christians their own, even Orthodox Jews look quite different. Muslim rulers used to kill Sikhs by thousands just to make them cut their hair short and renounce their religious affiliation. Sikhism came into existence due to a relentless persecution of Hindus by Muslim rulers. Historically Sikhs have endured the most bloodcurdling tortures to stick to their way of life so just a few attacks aren’t going to deter them.

Religious identity and symbols in many cases don’t just represent a cultish personification. They are a statement. They are a declaration. They give you a sense of purpose. Again, I don’t relate to this philosophy of religious symbolism, millions of people do. When the Pope comes out of his Vatican aboard all decked up in his ecclesiastical grandeur, he’s not just spreading a spiritual message, he is also exercising religious symbolism.

So what about confusion between Arabs and Sikhs? I think this is a price that you have to pay for being who you are, religiously. That’s a conscious decision you have to make. Islamic terrorism is a reality. The politics of the day is such that it breeds and encourages Islamic terrorism. Even the so-called intellectuals and academics sympathise with fanatic Muslims fighting all sorts of imaginary holy wars.

Many Sikhs look like Arabs, and this is the reality one has to deal with. My maternal uncle used to look like a hardened Talibani due to his long nose, strong build, lopsided turban style, long beard, slightly jaded clothes, extremely fair hue and crystal eyes. In fact he looked like a Mongol. If you put him in one of the trenches in Afghanistan, until he spoke, no one could guess that he was from Jalandhar.

Should you change your outer, religious appearance to not look like a particular community? It’s your personal preference. I will, in a blink of an eye. To me the security of my family is more important than making a religious statement. But I’m saying this while comfortably sitting on my chair, expressing my thoughts. Circumstances change people, they change your outlook. People are not being butchered on the streets for being of a certain religion. There is no danger of me being arrested and thrown to the gallows or spiked wheels or boiling cauldrons for being a Sikh.

Historical perspective is greater than personal perspective. Millions of people gave their lives so that they could display their religious symbols. Why did they do that? Was it a mass mania or was it something that lesser mortals like me cannot understand?

Lopsided and stereotypical views on religion

Just read this well-written blog titled “Not just a Muslim” in which the writer writes about the difficulties she faces as a Muslim among her friends and colleagues. It’s not just Muslims that become victims of religious or regional stereotypes it happens with every minority group. The same happens when Muslims are in majority and people of other religions are in a minority.

Sikhs, for instance, too face many stereotypical attitudes and in their case what makes this worse is people are normally ridiculing them while stereotyping them. So if you’re acting stupid you’re acting like a “Sardar” and there are umpteen jokes on Sardars. My brother-in-law, being a Sikh who wears a turban, used to face so much redicule (people cracking really nasty Sardar jokes in his presence) that he made up his mind that his son would not have long hair if they were going to stay in the same environment.

I used to protest vocally and sometimes I used to make up my own jokes as a counter-response (jokes on pundits, on having short hair, or having multiple gods). Just as people would impose silly situations on Sardars I would impose equally silly and ridiculous situations on Sharmas and Guptas and Rohatgis. And what made me feel good about them was that they used to be really funny and consequently used to piss my “friends” off big time. Not a good thing to do but it used to be quite effective. In senior school and college, despite having short hair, I used to make it apparent that I am a Sikh when they cracked Sardar jokes. After a while such jokes would stop, at least in my presence.

The French ban on the burqa

french-burqa-ban

The French government recently banned Muslim women from wearing the niqab. Some Muslim baiters that I follow on Twitter were naturally upbeat about the entire thing: “these Muslims want their way everywhere they go and it’s good that France is being strict with them” was the general refrain.

Is it about freedom of religion when people oppose the ban or are they simply catering to a religious sentiment that represses women? Changing religious beliefs is quite difficult, and this holds true for every religion, not just Muslims.

The problem with Muslims is, no matter what progressive, seemingly westernised Muslims claim, women and freedom are anathema to each other in the popular perception of Islam; call it a communication gap, Islamophobia, or whatever (to be fair even non-Muslim communities in Asia and Africa treat their women in quite a cruel manner). The Western perception of other religions is quite dismal, accepted (Hindus being pagan, etc.), but the perception of Muslims even among non-Western-non-Muslim countries is hardly positive. They have a millennium of history of violence and forceful conversions. Being a Sikh I’m more sensitive towards their violent nature because Sikhism and its symbols were born to fight against barbaric Mughals.

The moment they try to defend their thoughts and symbols the first expression that comes to one’s mind is “God, they go to other places but never adopt indigenous cultures, they always have to impose their own culture and way of life. ” Of course this is a narrow way of thinking because once a Muslim becomes (or rather a person from any other religion) a citizen of a particular country all the rights and responsibilities are automatically applied to him or her too. So if a country ensures religious freedom this freedom must be available to everybody irrespective of to what religion that person belongs.

Burqa, in reality, shouldn’t be viewed as a “them versus us” problem. It is about suppression of women. It is about devoiding them of an identity.

So what is burqa? It is a full body veil (again, it doesn’t have to be a full body covering, it can also be a scarf over the head are just covering the hair) that Muslim women have to wear when they go out. Muslim women are not supposed to show their faces to other men except for their husbands, brothers and father. Muslim men are easily given to temptations and hence their religion demands that other women be kept under veils so that impure thoughts don’t enter the men’s minds. Even in the pre-Muslim era in India there was no tradition of hiding women’s face; Hindus had to adopt this tradition to save their womenfolks from Muslims who would kidnap any woman they liked. This is a known history, I’m not aware of any other version.

One logic could be since this tradition originates from the hot sands of Arabia and Sahara, perhaps this was done to protect the women’s skin from burning (their veils were of a lighter shade and wearing black burqas in such conditions would be counter-productive). Later on it turned into a religious symbol. Many a times, religious symbols originate from traditional practices.

Hence women wearing burqas do it with two frames of mind: accepting subjugation as a normal consequence of being a Muslim woman, or accepting it as a religious symbol demanded by the Sharia law.

So is the French government wrong when it forcefully asks women to give up their burqas or else face discrimination? Personally I’m in favor of such practices and I often recommend them here in India also. Backward religious and cultural practices must be discouraged, even by force if required. Why so? I don’t think burqa, if used as a tool for repression, is any different from the practice of Sati, or forcing women into the devdasi system or tearing their hair off their heads when their husbands die. The sad reality is it takes years for cultures to adopt new ways of life and sometimes these new ways have to be enforced to save lives. For instance if I am a Muslim and if my sister or my mother is forced to wear a burqa I would like this practice to be abolished NOW and not wait for some cultural or social awareness to set in.

But you may say that the burqa doesn’t kill anybody or harm anybody physically and I totally agree. But it is a symbolic repression. I would call it religious symbol if even men wore burqas. For example in Sikhism both men and women can wear turbans because they are religious symbols of empowerment (the French government banned even turbans a couple of years ago, I don’t know what happened after that). Sikh symbols are never used to portray women as inferior or always requiring protection. Once you become a “Kaur” hhypothetically you are a warrior princess.

Burqa on the other hand encourages Muslim women to hide behind the veil so that they don’t have a public identity. They shouldn’t be recognized. They should be talking and walking oblique structures and they should only presume an identity once they are within the peripheries of their father’s or husband’s residence. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Why do many Muslim women insist that they wear burqa? Lack of awareness, I would say. Or Stockholm syndrome may be. Or religious conditioning. A sense of security (as they may feel that they will be more open to sexual assaults once they begin to appear without a veil). Education doesn’t have to do anything with it. Even some of the known journalists in India, including Barkha Dutt (in the name of religious freedom) support the tradition of wearing burqa; so you don’t have to be illiterate or ill-informed to sympathise with such practices.

It is high time Muslim women took a stand and opposed such practices instead of sticking to them. I think the French government has provided them with an opportunity to think progressively and declare their independence. Instead of defining they should support the burqa ban.

Raising the finger

Editor arrested for ‘outraging Muslims’ – Asia, World – The Independent

Reminds me of childhood story

We had a storybook at home written by a Russian girl. We had its Hindi translation that mom must have bought from one of those book fairs at Pragati Maidan. It contained short stories about the reminiscences of a girl’s father’s childhood: Chab Papa Bachche The that means “When Papa Was a Child”. It was a collection of short stories about different events occurring in papa’s life.

In one of the stories papa used to get angry whenever somebody raised the finger at him. He would always, without fail take offense whenever somebody raised the finger at him. He would create fuss, he would stomp his feet, he would get into fights, he would run around in rage whenever somebody raised the finger at him.

His cousins, his friends and even the elders in the family were aware of his peculiarity and would raise the finger at him just to have some fun. No matter what he was doing — whether he was playing, sitting, simply chatting or studying — the moment somebody raised the finger at him he flew into a rage. No matter how many times his mother explained to him that people were doing this just to annoy him he wouldn’t cease his tantrums. Mischievous boys and girls would come to him from all over the village just to raise the finger at him and then enjoy his annoyance.