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An India bloodied by chauvinistic caste politics

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By Rituparna Chatterjee

September 14 — a routine day after a prenatal check-up at a doctor’s clinic in Telangana’s Nalgonda district — turned into a nightmare for 21-year-old Amrutha Varshini. A group of men surrounded her 23-year-old husband, P. Pranay Kumar, a Dalit man who had married outside his caste, and mercilessly hacked him to death. Amrutha’s father and her uncle, T. Maruthi Rao and T. Shravan Rao, who had been staunchly opposed to the marriage, emerged as the prime suspects.

In the 15 days since the murder, the conversation in the national media has moved on. But Amrutha’s battle to bring the killers to justice has only just begun.

 

Violence directed towards inter-caste couples has been a blind spot for India. In 2016, a 22-year-old Dalit student in Tamil Nadu was hacked to death in front of his wife, who is from an upper caste. Similar cases have been reported in the past. Despite cash incentives by the government to encourage inter-caste unions, the India Human Development Survey (IHDS) in 2016 found that only 5 per cent of Indian marriages were between members of different castes.

Dalit grooms have had to seek police protection to ride a horse to their own wedding and despite untouchability being outlawed by the Indian Constitution, in several pockets of India, endogamous and graded hierarchy still exist.

A Facebook page set up to remember Pranay is a window to an India mired in chauvinistic caste politics. Amidst the flood of supportive comments from Amrutha’s well-wishers are hate-filled messages celebrating Pranay’s murder, castigating her for letting her parents down, and supporting her father’s right to “emotionally react” to his daughter’s marriage to a man from a different caste.

Caste-based violence isn’t new to India. But what is new is the self-assertion of people from backward castes and resurrection of Dalit pride as access to technology and quality education permeate contours of the country hitherto out of bounds. Dalit anger manifests itself in street protests, clashes with the authorities and rallies as a spate of targeted violence in the form of lynchings and exclusionary identity politics in some of India’s poorest regions threaten to upset the status quo.

What’s most interesting is the urban reaction to caste killings.

Take the example of award-winning senior journalist couple Uma and TS Sudhir, who drew flak on Twitter for conflating parental anguish with upper caste entitlement. “Every parent would want a happy married life for his daughter. Madhavi is still a student, one can imagine how much a parcel boy will earn. It is natural for girl’s parents to feel concerned about her future life, whether she will lead a comfortable life with him,” Sudhir tweeted, to a barrage of comments from shocked users reminding him about the law of the land and the need for recognising the agency of consenting adults. Sudhir was referring to an attack on an inter-caste couple in Hyderabad days after the Telangana incident.

Sudhir’s wife Uma, who has won a Laadli award for sensitive gender reporting, cited a “father’s heartbreak” to comment on violent caste crimes. Sudhir reacts to the criticism he has been facing on social platforms over a WhatsApp clarification and launches an attack on liberal censorship and political hypocrisy.

“I had made it clear that what the two fathers did was completely unacceptable. Still to keep insinuating that I was justifying caste violence was either a refusal to understand or perhaps an inability to comprehend or deliberate mischief to label someone as promoting casteism,” he says.

“The problem with the so-called liberal crowd is that they too, like the so-called ‘bhakts’, have fixed notions about a story and anything that seeks to look at a different aspect or explore a different angle is seen as challenging that.

“How is it ‘whitewashing caste’ if one looks at the story ALSO from the prism of a father-daughter relationship gone horribly wrong? No one is saying caste is not an issue. Of course it is. Which is why we discuss caste in such detail during elections…. It is an ugly reality in India,” he says.

The short-lived public attention towards sporadic caste violence across the country, glosses over a crucial aspect of these crimes — that of men’s proprietary right over women and a culture so rooted in ownership of children that it sometimes manifests into a disquieting control over them as adults.

Patriarchy is intricately intertwined with parental control in crimes against inter-caste couples. For a country that uses women’s “honour” as currency in the marriage market, this unhealthy ownership over their lives and decisions is a tinderbox of sexism and caste hate camouflaged as “fatherly concern.” Statistics released by the United Nations say that one in five cases of globally reported “honour killings” every year are from India.

The demand by Dalit rights activists to stop addressing these incidents as “honour killings”, which provides legitimacy to upper caste hubris, has become part of the discourse after the Hyderabad attack.

“Frankly, there is nothing honourable about murder motivated by a patriarchal or feudal world view that still wants to deny consenting adults the right to choose their partner,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

“India should take immediate steps to eliminate honour as an excuse for gender-based violence. It should uphold Supreme Court rulings that khap panchayats or other community leadership structures have no authority to issue decrees ordering murder. Those that do so should be prosecuted for their role in criminal actions,” she says. The apex court in March outlawed village kangaroo courts deeming them, saying they have no right to end marriages.

But ground realities are different, says Sanjoy Sachdev, who runs the voluntary, nonprofit organisation ‘Love Commandos’ that facilitates the marriage of men and women on the run from their families by offering them protection and access to legal help.

Sachdev says he is frustrated by the delay in bringing a law that would help stop caste-based crimes against lovers. The Centre earlier this year told a Supreme Court bench that it was bringing in ‘The Prohibition of Interference with Freedom of Matrimonial Alliance Bill’ to make caste killings a cognisable offence. It has sought comments from all the states and so far received feedback from 23.

“So if the states don’t consent, then the law won’t come into place? There is standing direction from the Supreme Court that the Collector and SSP/SP should be chargesheeted in cases of honour killings. Is it being implemented,” Sachdev says. He is referring to Markandey Katju’s directive to administrative and police officials to hold authorities responsible for failure to act in such cases.

His organisation, which has 10 lakh volunteers, and runs 500 makeshift shelters, has helped 54,000 people in its eight years of existence, according to Sachdev. However, bureaucracy and red tape is the biggest hurdle.

He’s received death threats several times but Sachdev always brushes them off as a sign that his organisation is still relevant. “Everyone has to die one day, whether by gun or sword or normally,” he says pithily.

Often, young lovers who run away to escape social tyranny use caste and religion interchangeably, he says. When the body of Rizwanur Rehman, a Muslim man who married a rich, Hindu woman, was found by a railway track in Kolkata in 2007, sympathy poured in for industrialist Ashok Todi suspected in the murder as the father distraught over his daughter’s decision to marry a Muslim man.

Sachdev mentions the case of 23-year-old Thamling, the daughter of a relative of Manipur chief minister Nongthombam Biren Singh, who eloped with a Muslim man from Muzaffarpur and married in secret. “We wrote to the President of India to alert him to their harassment,” says Sachdev.

Our popular cinema whitewashes caste, our celebrity authors believe people “are gagged from saying anything positive about the caste system”, our conversations are dripping with anger against reservation, and our social customs uphold Brahminical dominance. But Sachdev firmly believes that all of this will change once youths organise. A revolution is brewing and India, a country with 50% of its population below the age of 25, is sitting on a volcano, he says.

“Youth ke paas dil hai, dil mein pyar hai (the youths have hearts filled with love), a love revolution is very sure to come,” Sachdev says

 

 


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Opinion

Religion and Modernity

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By Amir Suhail Wani

“I have always avoided with horror all error in matters of faith”Eckhart

A voice lost to wilderness or the madman’s rubric, any talk of religion, God, metaphysic, values and reality suffers any of two possible consequences. Giving him the advantage of anonymity, a top notch Jamat I Islami scholar pertinently described modern epistemology with all its offspring as the means and instruments of ensuing and securing a revolt against the God and religion. Never before was civilization so shallow in matters of faith and never before a unanimous and collective onslaught was launched against the sacred, Transcendent and divine. A mere mentions of words like “Divine”, “sacred” or “Transcendent” makes people, experiencing the opiedation of modernism, to rise their eyebrows. Any talk of worlds beyond the sensual is termed as intellectual backlog. World has seen, now and then, people rising, out of their intellectual sincerity or otherwise rising against religion and God. But historically they could never enjoy the status of metanarrative, but were always, by virtue of historical entelechy confined to margins of civilization. In post renaissance era world has succeeded, by and large, in constructing a civilisation and culture with man rather than God as its ontic reference. This man cantered civilization has paved all the possible ways for criticism and demolition of religious meta narrative.

 

Let’s come to philosophy first. Modern philosophy, starting with Descartianskepticism and evolving through the stages of Positivism, Naturalism, Materialism Nihilism and Existentialism, modern philosophy seems to have ultimately ended up at postmodernism. The possibilities of future development can’t be ignored nor can it be claimed that postmodernism is an all pervasive philosophical trend claiming universal adherence. But the broader picture of things has unfolded thus. Postmodernism maintains incredulity towards metanarrative and has brought with it a host of questions. Traditionally and even up to recent past man seemed to be unanimous on ontic and epistemic stability of things. But with postmodernism not only have been the institutions of religious and traditional impotence held under scrutiny but the very fundamentals of human existence like language, society and all other institutions of human importance have been deprived of their ontic reference and have been made to float freely in abyss of uncertainty. The case with science has been no better. Being a victim of excessive and inordinate empiricism, the Modern day science has surrendered its inquisitive and rational spirit to sheer scientism.

Ibn Arabi, a classical theorizer of Islamic mysticism noted that “God is a percept, not a concept”. In this single line, the master has resolved an age old question and the problems associated with it. The notion of “conceptual scheme” as it has been adopted unquestionably alike by scientists and philosophers has brought with it an equal number of goods and ills. Man has turned obsessive to reduce everything to his conceptual categories. The human attitude of dividing a problem into subunits, though it has paid heavily in scientific realm, but has simultaneously brought irreconcilable problems in other affairs of human existence. Modern medicine treats biology disentangled from psychology and this piecemeal approach has landed us in an era where we know more and more about less and less. In a sense we know everything about nothing and nothing about everything. Traditionally things were seen associated and entangled in the cosmic Web. Coming back to human methodology of understanding things by dividing them into subcategories and then understanding things in terms of local mental categories has distorted and ruined our understanding of God, sacred and divine. We need to understand that the laws formulated by human mind are refuted within the physical realm itself. Thus the laws obeyed by matter aren’t obeyed by light and the laws applicable to fermions are completely defied by bosons. So within our physical immediacy are instances to cleave apart our ultimate trust in the laws of physics. The unending quest for unified theory in physics might bring further insights in this direction. Thus we need to be careful and watchful to the fact that the laws of matter do not apply to the realm of spirit. Coming back to God who is neither material nor spiritual, neither defined by material boundaries nor circumscribed by contours of space we need to be all the more careful. While we try to understand God in terms of mental categories derived from our physical realm we need to be very cautious that all these categories do not hold true beyond this material universe. Our conceptual schemes, which in the final analysis rest on the categories of mundane material realm are too coarse and inappropriate to conceptualise and theorise the realm of divine, sacred and godhead. At a point where despite all boasting scientific discoveries man is yet incapable of understanding his basic biology and where despite of conquering the vastness of space man is yet to gain a glimpse of his psychological depths any sweeping statements and miscalculated statements oriented towards reduction of divine to categories of psyche seems but a naive affair. The enlightened theologians, mystics and philosophers of the past have explicitly denounced the access of finite human mind to infinite cosmic intelligence. What God has informed us here and there in sacred texts is to contemplate the nature and our own selves. This unbiased contemplation is sure to bring forth some indirect aspects of divine. Though we shall be fully conscious of the fact that within the physical universe and human civilization there are instances which are heartrending, discouraging and at times they run quite contrary to the notion of divine. But the mystics and enlightened men throughout the history have been able to dissect the veil of appearance and have succeeded in looking at the essence of existence. On having this enlightened vision they bowed their heads and understood the essence of these apparent vagaries of nature. Ibrahim, the father of modern monotheism, Buddha a silent contemplator, Nanak, a socially conscious religious purgator amply demonstrate this state of enlightenment. Modern scientific mind is highly welcome in questioning the authenticity of religion, aspects of divine and the apparent chaos that is witnessed everywhere in physical and social landscape. There can be no proper understanding in absence of questioning. Likewise doubt is an essential ingredient of faith. But while one raises questions in atheist or any such frame one must have patience, tolerance and wide sightedness to understand theistic point of view. To dub religion irrational for its simple disagreement with science seems a rather constricted opinion. Religion has been a great architect in shaping the course of human civilization and to unfasten our knots with this perennial source of wisdom, learning, inspiration and exaltation will amount to gross intellectual injustice. The need of hour is not to posit theists and atheists as antithetical but to encourage each to understand the point of other. Maybe in this collective endeavour humanity discovers a paradigm that has still not been thought of.

(The author is a freelance columnist with bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a student of comparative studies with special interests in Iqbaliyat& mystic thought. He contributes a weekly column for this newspaper that appears every Monday. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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Opinion

Making Kids Sick and Stressed!

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By Dr. Shahid Amin Trali

It is quite obvious that having a happy and thriving child can greatly enhance a parent’s personal happiness and their life satisfaction. But having a low, pessimistic or depressed child will certainly detract from one’s overall happiness. Children are the lovely birds. They are always innocent creatures. Rightly said that God lives there where children live. The smiling faces of our children can be a therapy for any kind of depressions.

Revisiting the past, our childhood was very rich. Life in the past was more social. Children hardly found time in past to be low and depressed. Earlier generations used to spend good time outdoors; playing sports, or engaged in physical activities. But the technology nowadays invites our children and adolescents to sit a lot. Now children are turning more isolated and limited to the world of games and gadgets. The excessive usage of the technology has truly damaged a lot and posing a serious threat to our future. So much so a bigger concern now is that a popular game Player Underground’s Battle Ground (PUBG) is turning more harmful for our youngsters. The Jammu and Kashmir Students Association (JKSA) has rightly demanded to immediately ban the game. The addition to this game has become so serious that our youngsters are unstoppably playing the game and losing a precious time.

 

A good data is available that Interviews with Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and other technology elites consistently reveal that Silicon Valley parents are strict about technology use. A recent research has found children who spend more than two hours a day looking at a screen have worse memory, language skills and attention span. The research, which involved children aged between eight and 11 found that those with higher amounts of recreational screen time on smart phones and playing video games had far worse cognitive skills across a range of functions. One more research has found that an eighth-grader’s risk for depression jumps 27% when he or she frequently uses social media. Children who use their smart phones for at least three hours a day are much more likely to be suicidal.

Using the internet and technology is the need of the time but researchers suggest its safe and proper usage. One study reveals that in 2007, Bill Gates, the former world’s richest and CEO of Microsoft Corporation implemented a cap on screen time when his daughter started developing an unhealthy attachment to a video game. He also didn’t let his kids get cell phones until they turned 14. But the alarming situation today is that the average age for a child getting their first phone is about 10 years. If any kid is alone with the internet, and no one else is around, the technology can be a curse. When our kids use gadgets and access the internet within limits and in safe and public surroundings, the technology can enhance learning and prove a beneficial friend. But a good research is still needed to examine the potential impact of technology on our lovely children. Psychologists need to speed up efforts to show how dangerous modern gadgets and technology can be for our children brains and what limits are there for its right usage.

Today medical sciences have found greater advancements. But it is surprising to mention that the numbers of our children are also found increasing when it comes to anxiety, pressure and conflict among our children. This pressure and conflict is not evolving on its own. As society and parents, we have now become more rigid with our demands. But the life of our children has become more caged and suffocated with those unreal demands. In actual terms we are never doing justice with the upbringing of our lovely kids. There is always a bigger force applied on our kids now. We are forcing our children to get high marks or grades in examinations. We are forcing them to be only the doctors and engineers. We are even forcing a small kid to carry a burden of bags that is even unbearable for an adult. We are forcing them to be locked in a school even when they attain just two years of their age. This pressure on our children to achieve high levels of academic success and being caged is overriding their joys of education and making our kids anxious and depressed.

A study of University of Michigan, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, revealed that children whose parents said they would respond by lecturing, punishing or restricting their child’s social activities actually had lower levels of literacy and achievement by the end of high school. The study offers a useful advice that parents who use punitive parenting practices may unintentionally deny their children the opportunity to learn the very skills and knowledge they require to improve their grades. Even more worse, punitive strategies may increase children’s sense of frustration and aversion to school work.

Societies need to realize the value of development of children in right ways. Why we are that much rigid when we have big flaws in our system. It’s rightly said that we have the brilliant minds joining doctors and engineers at the initial level. Next level with exceptions we have those who do not qualify medical and engineering, they found success in other professions like education, law, management, security, administration etc. Next level with exceptions those who do not fit in these two levels become the politicians and they rule the first two levels. The current scenario proves it right when our youth sensation Dr. Shah Faisal resigned from his prestigious IAS post to and serve big as a politician. Also a good lesson is that we have majority of politicians who are hardly fit for any good post.

It is better to inculcate right values in our children. Parenting is a great and noble task, but it isn’t that easy to bring up happy and a confident child. We must strongly encourage creativity in our children rather than being rigid with them. Our strong focus must be to make our child healthy, happy and productive. We need to be as realistic as possible but don’t thwart the ambitions of our lovely children.

(The author is Assistant Professor, ITM University Gwalior.Educator at Unacademy and Editor in Chief at startupdailytips.com. He can be reached at: [email protected])

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Opinion

BEING AN ALIGARIAN

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By ShabbirAariz

Not so big and not so clean is a city in the state of Uttar Pradesh yet widely known because it is home to an iconic educational institution, the Aligarh Muslim University. Aligarh has some interesting features which get currency and access to places from wherever people come to study in the university. And an Aligarian is the one who is a pass out of the university generally. Generally because there are also some who even after staying for years on the campus, come out as ‘clean’ as while taking the admission. However, being an Aligarian has something of magical and magnetic about it, that can be felt only when one Aligarian comes in touch with another even while being from different socio-cultural backgrounds , having been on rolls of the university at different points of time and different disciplines and yet meet like long lost members of the same family. This may perhaps be true of other educational institutions also but is more expressing in the case AMU. Pass outs from AMU, across the subcontinent on their name plates besides their educational qualification, put a tag as ‘Alig’ with pride. AMU has played host to a cross section of society with means and those without means. AMU continues to remain a less expensive educational institution having benefited unimaginable number of under privileged people across the globe. AMU has shaped the lives of many like academicians, writers, diplomats, soldiers, sports persons, actors and also the leaders who in turn have been able to shape their nation. People with any sense of history consider visiting this university as a pilgrimage also for the reason that the last resting place of its founder, late Sir Syed Ahmad Khan is within the campus. The man who suffered humiliations and resistance from various quarters while establishing it. Some prejudices surface from time to time even now.

Everyone who has the opportunity of putting in time as a student in AMU, has his own stock of impressions and experience to share and plume his memory. I too am not an exception to my share of good and bad experiences while even bad ones with the afflux of time turn to be good too. Some of the features and facts remain common at all times. These include a certain features sounding with alphabet ‘M’, such as Muslim university, Majaz the poet who besides having remained a student in the university, has given an eternal anthem to the university. Also that Asrar-ul-HaqMajaz has remained most south after by the female on campus. And similarly the Maris road in close vicinity of the campus. Matri, a type of crisp biscuit, mosquito with terrible sittings etc form the part of everybody’s memory. Some of the events that are a regular feature, make AMU an institution distinguishable from other institutions. Besides annual Sir Syed day in the month of October, are mushairas and qawalis part of AMU culture. Other than what has been said here-in-above, I have had some memorable experiences of meeting and knowing some legends in their own right. I am sure that if I were not in AMU, I could not have met and known them. To name a few ; a great Urdu critic and satirist , late Rashid Ahmad Sidique, poet Bashir Badar, noted jurist, often consulted by the then prime minister, Mr Misba-ul-hassan, who was our dean in the law faculty.

 

You are never an Aligarian unless you jump from sublime to ridicule. In this line also am reminded of a friend known for playing pranks till this date with whosoever comes his way. Once out of tradition, on return from seeing off a home going friend at the railway station, he pointed to a hotel on our way back and wanted to have a cup of tea with me, to which readily agreed little knowing that the owner ran a brothel too which was revealed to me on his making enquiries of that kind. While negotiating with the owner, my friend sought STUDENTS CONCESSION on the charges for the ignoble act which left the owner furious who in all rage said that the concessions are available in railway and air and not here. My friend shrugged his shoulders and joined me in the street outside.

I will be leaving this write up incomplete unless I mention one AlamBhaie, a student and a class of his own. AlamBhaie was a generous person to my understanding, who always offered to help a fellow student at any level from the vice chancellor down to the level of a bearer least worried about the results of his effort. Alam known to everyone on the campus, was taken lightly and considered an idiot to the extent, the saying about him would go that if idiots had horns, AlamBhaie would be a stag with twelve horns. What an irony! God bless Alam, wherever he is. Yet another area of fascinations and affairs of which some culminating into success while others ending up in a fiasco is an added feature of AMU days and summed up by one poet- student Sabir in his verse;

SABIR ISS ALIGARH NAY QEHQAHOON K SAATH SAATH
KUCH ZAKHAM BHI DIYAY HAIN DILE BAY QARAR KO.

(The author is a senior lawyer and a well known writer and poet. He can be reached at:[email protected])

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