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Dec 14 2010

Two faces of India

You’ll undoubtedly have noticed by this time that the majority of these posts are taken from the news. I assume that you can read the newspaper yourself, I just try to pick out the juiciest nuggets and comment on them. Most of the pieces I write revolve around a single news item, which I use to demonstrate some underlying point.  However, I am aware that presenting a single story might give you a mistaken impression, particularly when I comment of goings-on in other countries.

So I thought today I’d contrast two stories coming out of India. First, the bad:

Hindu hardline opposition parties have often raised questions about Italian-born Sonia Gandhi’s faith. They have questioned Mrs Gandhi’s right to rule a country where a vast majority of the population is Hindu.

We are somewhat spoiled here in Canada, living in a country where public discussion of religion is considered rude. Our politicians don’t (by and large) trumpet their religion, and while the word “God” is in our national anthem, we don’t really spend much time or energy on trying to keep religion out of the public square.

India is quite another story, where tribalism and religious differences are intractably linked, and deep suspicions and hatred between groups go back generations. Religion is, to the person on the street, very important. Regular readers may remember the story of the Indian and Pakistani tennis players whose partnership flies in the face of religious schism. It is the same within India.

Luckily, the court has struck down this request for religious identification, so this story isn’t all bad. The fact that it made it that far gives cause for pause, because the only reason it isn’t happening here is because nobody cares… yet.

The next story, though, is all good:

About 2,000 people have joined a gay pride parade in the Indian capital, Delhi, the first such event since homosexuality was legalised last year. Organisers said gay people were demonstrating that they have a place in society, and that the parade was a celebration of being different.

I am so weary of hearing straight people get all hot and bothered over Pride events. “Why do you need to go out and flaunt it? We don’t have straight pride parades!” Mmm, just bask in the privilege denial. The whole point of a Pride parade is to counteract the stigma of shame that has been attached to homosexuality for generations – a stigma that found its way into laws and is still tearing the United States apart.

Here in Canada where gay people have (nearly) equal rights (anyone who feels the need to make the tired and brainless assertion that they have more rights because you’re not allowed to discriminate against them, you’re really overestimating my willingness to listen to stupid arguments), Pride parades might seem redundant. However, we don’t live in a bubble, and our society’s public willingness to allow gay people the freedom to celebrate their identity sends a message to the rest of the world, including India.

The message that is sent by India to the rest of the world is that maybe, just maybe, they’re starting to shake off the crushing yoke of religion and becoming a modern, secular democracy.

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1 comment

  1. 1
    angelasquires

    I must admit to a soft spot for India. I love the many parts of Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Punjabi et al that have enriched the English language. The 250 years existence of the British in India and the history of that Empire made an indelible mark on British culture for which I personally feel much richer. I love the gungho attitude of Indian style democracy, one that vibrates with the character and spirit of a vibrant, distinct and living culture. There is nothing stagnant about Indian culture, it has been a rolling ride for centuries, giving and taking, receiving and absorbing ideas for years. Acceptance of homosexuality in this historically religious society is but another example of the essential Indian spirit that I admire; a spirit that will embrace secularism in their own particular Indian fashion, in their own time.

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