Saturday, 17 October 2015

FAQs by Internet Hindus

Every time there is a terror attack perpetrated in the name of Islam, you can depend on some Muslims (sometime religious leaders, at other times intellectuals- not to imply that these categories are mutually exclusive) who will assert that such acts are un-Islamic, that this is not what the Quran says on jihad and so on. I always thought such arguments were besides the point; it does not matter what the Quran says or does not, there can be no justification for mass murder.

But turns out, that I am now thinking exactly the same things about Hinduism in response to some of the things I have been reading on Dadri and more generally, about the perceived rise in majoritarianism in India. And that's largely because some lunatics have been claiming that others eating beef hurts Hindu sentiments, and that somehow though Dadri was sad and regrettable, the lynchers had a fair grievance too.

Unfortunately the quality of our public discourse is so bad, that it needs to be clarified that in a country which calls itself democratic and has a Constitution,   justice cannot be delivered through a public lynching. Not to a murderer or rapist, and certainly not to a suspected beef eater. This is not to say that all these actions are equal 'crimes'.

Now coming to the questions of whether others eating beef hurts 'Hindu' sentiments.

Did Hindus never eat beef?

What came to be called Hinduism later, had its beginnings in the Rig Veda (generally placed at around 1500 BC, though the date is not central to the argument), a book of prayers. The Rig Veda is quite preoccupied with the question of cows. The Sanskrit term for war is 'gavishti', literally, the search for cows. Besides  wars being fought for cattle, priests (a privileged class even then) were presented with cattle (and female slaves). People prayed to the Gods for cattle (and sons). Yet, it is no one's claim, that cows were not consumed. In fact, agriculture came to be practised only around the 1000 BC, with the beginnings of the iron age and settled agriculture. Before that, people were primarily pastoral, and consumed a variety of animals including, beef.

Then why did we stop?

There is a simple answer. Practicality. Between 1000 to 500 BC, the other three Vedas-Sama, Atharva and Yajur came to be composed. The Atharva Veda for one, prescribed a host of rituals involving cattle and horse slaughter that needed to be performed in different circumstances. I am sure you have heard of the Ashvamedha ritual where a king lets a horse loose and effectively challenges other kings whose territory the horse traverses. Later, the horse had to be  killed. 

As you can surmise, these later Vedic people were also getting more territorial, hinting at the spread of settled agriculture. This in turn required the use of cattle for ploughing. Hence the ritual sacrifices were getting bigger irritants for agriculturalists.

During the 5th C BC, Mahavira and Gautama Buddha also arrived on the scene, with the religions they preached, opposing the killing of all animals. Jainism, with its insistence on killing no living being (including insects) could get mainly adherents among traders, while more and more farmers (whose occupation required more moral flexibility in killing pests that destroyed crops) took to Buddhism.

No faith likes losing adherents. Vedic people didn't like it either. But guess what, they didn't go on morchas or ask for a ban on proselytism, or sing and dance about ghar wapsi (okay fine they may have, we can't tell with any certainty). But we do know that their most successful coping technique was to simply change. (And also to announce that the Buddha was an avatar of Vishnu, but that's not particularly relevant here). Also not all of this was a response to new religions. By 600 BC, the Upanishads had been composed. These de-emphasised ritualism, and talked about an individual's karma being the key to salvation (put loosely). 

So then now the cow is sacred right?

If you still feel the need for that question, you are an idiot. Yes it is. But the point is that it need  not be any longer since modern agriculture obviates the pressing need for cattle. And also because there are people from other faiths, as well as some Hindus, who do consume beef,  basic human decency and respect for the constitution (since you guys are such  'nationalists'), implies that that you lay off.

But did you protest when Satanic Verses was banned? Or when Muslim groups threatened to behead the Danish cartoonist who drew Mohammad?

Yes. I don't think Satanic Verses was banned in my time, but I did think that the death threats were crazy. I might not have written anything about it, because you would think that there would be no need to. Only an ass-hat would think death threats can be justified. Just the way that only ass-hats would think that a lynching was a legitimate expression of someone's offended sensibilities.

But in Pakistan you would be lynched for burning the Quran.

Yeah, Pakistan with its shaky democracy, constant sceptre of Army rule, and a terrorist infestation is the country to aspire to.

Also, when a book falls to the ground, my culture tells me to touch it to my forehead as a mark of reverence. Why would I burn a book to spite a community?

But those people are eating beef to spite Hindus

No. That is a dietary preference, in itself a result of a person's culture.

As an example, this is the period of Navratras when some groups in North and west India observe abstention from non vegetarian food.

This is also when Bengalis eat more non veg than usual. That's not to spite your sensibilities. We do it because we celebrate Durga Puja (another Hindu festival by the way). This is when the daughter of the house comes home (probably during her kids' school vacations) and it's time to celebrate by going to meet her in new clothes, and eat good things. And playing loud Bollywood music (I can understand your irritation with the latter).

Anyway, as long as we don't take non veg inside your Garba pandals, I don't see how it should offend you (and we don't,  only Shiv Sena does such things). What gives you the right to block our access to fish in the neighbourhood market? Do you know how far CR Park is? What if you had to commute 2 hours by road to buy half a kg of paneer?

Also while on the subject, if meat eating during Navratras offends you, please don't come to the designated area in Durga Puja pandals where food is served. The disapproval in your beady eyes kills our fun.

But our constitution protects the cow as a sacred animal.


It is a Directive Principle of State Policy. That means that the Constitution shows the general direction that state policies should take.

Fundamental Rights (to life and liberty) trump Directive Principles for the most part (there are exceptions that none of those are relevant here). 

But I still feel offended. Period.

That's perfectly fine. Racists, sexists,  religious bigots and paneer secreted into samosas and pav bhaji offend me. Beef eaters may offend you. But don't you dare talk for all Hindus. Not just because Hindu is a broad term for a collection of varied sects and groups with different belief systems but also because within your narrow sect, there may be decent, tolerant human beings who don't want to be a part of your divisive agenda.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Of News and Other Stuff-6

  1. Gregory Mankiw must feel sorry for writing that textbook on the Principles of Economics. But he couldn’t have known that harmless undergraduates he helped indoctrinate would grow up to be employees of donor agencies and pass off academic homilies of privatising water supply, and letting demand –supply determine who gets how much, as valid economic policy. And then shove it down the throats of developing countries as part of loan conditionalities.
  2. I realise I have a few pet topics-Agatha Christie, Sherlock, Harry Potter, Sanghi Appreciation, Condemning Vegetarianism and now the Mughals. Specifically, Akbar’s court and how much fun it must have been with all those intellectuals and wits hanging out together.  I can imagine Abul Fazl and Birbal high-fiving each other (while Akbar looks on indulgently) after  a polite (and lyrical) put down they gave to the orthodox clerics, when the latter got apoplectic about heretical stuff the Emperor liked to do. Like commission paintings, propagate tauhid-e-ilahi and treat people from other religions decently (tch tch). And Man Singh must have been the silent, well-mannered guy, who got the job done while these creative types kept things lively.
  3. The reason I am clinging to Akbar these days may be because the present is so depressing. Newspapers have been pointing out that the Dadri family that was subjected to a brutal attack by a local mob did not in fact consume beef the previous day, but mutton. Can they also please point out that it is irrelevant if they did consume beef? Because their insistence on this point is just legitimising the kind of narrative that the culture minister ‘Dr.’ Mahesh Sharma is currently trying to push-saying that the attack was a result of a misunderstanding, rather than a bigoted mind-set.
  4. Mamata Banerjee has clarified that there will be no meat ban during the Durga Puja. But is this a straw man she is destroying or are there some pious (and treacherous) Bengalis who are demanding such a stupid thing in the first place?
  5. About a dozen Bangalore based billionaires (Azim Premji, the Nilekanis and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw among them) have come together to set up a trust to fund digital media platforms. The IE reported Shaw saying that such initiatives would ensure balanced reporting that don’t push a specific agenda. Except you know, that of the super-rich.
  6. A Chinese tech company has invented a robot-journalist that can produce a 1000 word copy in about a minute on issues like changes in inflation, growth data etc. I don’t think journalists (or any class of professionals who write reports for a living) need to be worried about losing their jobs. It might free them up to pursue investigative journalism (or something more generally, worthwhile) that computers can’t possibly do. Yet.
  7. A cue to know when someone is faffing is when you see phrases like ‘lack of political will’, ‘democratic discourse’, ‘concerted effort from all stakeholders’ and the like being thrown around. Or when prime ministers start evoking Goddesses on being asked a question on what their government is doing for empowering women. Still, our government is trying to make it easier for more women to enter the workforce by revising our anachronistic Factory laws. On the other hand under Skill India, it is resorting to that perennial favourite-opening gender exclusive institutions for training. Besides my suspicion that they will be more likely to teach skills like stitching than motor mechanics, how will this equip women (and men) to survive in workspaces that will (and should) hire both men and women?
  8. I am planning to start a Raghuram Rajan fan-club. Not least for being one of the few academics who has made a smooth transition from that cloistered world to one in the public glare, but also for saying deep, intelligent things, gift wrapped in a cover of simplicity, and with a bow of optimism added to it. Also last year, he walked down the Red Carpet at the Filmfare awards. How can one not love the man? 
PS: Sorry for not providing any links. I am a lazy bum. (Let's face it my two readers, you were not going to look them up anyway).