Hate in the time of bhaijaan

A few days ago I went to watch Bajrangi Bhaijaan, in what happened to be my first movie outing since the 1980s. Bollywood flicks have improved by leaps and bounds in the past couple of decades, though melodramatic quirks still dominate along side the irrelevant song and dance routine. Bajrangi Bhaijaan retains all the elements of a Bollywood potboiler. Nawazuddin Siddiqui has done a commendable job in a masala movie that tries to deliver a rare message in these divisive times. The story is not without flaws, interspersed, as it is, with highly unrealistic situations.

Yet, its highpoint is a rather simple message that while politicians create rifts between communities, the common man, irrespective of his faith, still remains simple at heart. Which is why a devout hindu intoxicated by the righteousness of his faith, finds a higher purpose in serving humanity, transforming from an orthodox Bajrangi to a beloved bhaijaan in rabid Pakistan. And humanity triumphs in the end.

Most of us lay citizens are aware how political parties and governments deploy religion to spread communal hatred. Yet, the spirit of humanity guides our soul.

Recently on id, the Pakistani Rangers reportedly refused the traditional exchange of sweets with Border Security Force personnel at the Wagah border, even though India’s prime minister Narendra Modi graciously accepted the mangoes gifted by his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the occasion. The rift between Pakistan and India has its roots in the years long before partition separated the people in 1947, when at the height of the freedom struggle, politicians incited communal hatred to carve out their respective territories of influence among the ordinary masses. Partition only resulted in the slaughter of millions of hindus at the hands of muslims and vice versa. I strongly believe that this could have been averted and we the people could have shared a common destiny had our leaders chosen humanity over bigotry.

The Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 could never be won had India not aided the citizens of East Pakistan to vanquish the oppressors from the other extreme of the subcontinent. Without India’s intervention, the death toll in the liberation war would have been several times higher than the officially recorded three million. Yet strangely, as it often happens with the turn of the wheel of history, many Bangladeshis now consider India an enemy, rather than a friend and benefactor.

A few days ago I happened to chat up a progressive young Bangladeshi living in Norway. For better connect, let’s call him B, but not Bajrangi, of course. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:

B: Whenever we get into an argument on the trial of Bangladeshi war criminals, there are many who invariably argue that only islamist leaders are being brought to trial and sent to the gallows. Few are willing to concede that only those people are being tried who collaborated in the massacre of three million innocent lives by the Pakistani army in the name of islam. That might have been then, but even today, I can’t accept that Bangladeshis should be friends with Pakistanis all over the world.

Me: I understand your pain, but why must every Pakistani be blamed for the atrocities carried by their army at the behest of their masters? What’s wrong with Pakistanis and Bangladeshis living in peace and harmony in distant Norway?

B: I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. But when Pakistanis still consider Bangladesh as a part of their country, it’s hard not to take offence. It’s not possible for Bangladeshis to forget their past and embrace Pakistanis, when there is still so much of residual hatred among us.

Me: Why generalise? Certainly all Pakistanis can’t be thinking alike. There have been several Pakistanis who have strongly condemned the massacre. Not every Pakistani is a bigot; the few who still sow hatred, are usually misguided… If you look at it carefully, you can find a fair share of progressive individuals in the Pakistani society, as in any other, who raise their voice against injustice. It’s another matter, of course, that stringent islam has no place for liberal thinkers.

B: I agree that generalisation doesn’t work. Yet, I am not in the game with Pakistan.

Me: That’s generalising again. What’s the harm in two like-minded liberals being friends, irrespective of their nationalities or their histories?

As I bid B goodbye, I couldn’t help wonder why even educated people living in progressive societies far away from home, carry the heavy baggage of hate. Perhaps, hatred, not love, is the second nature of us humans. Which is why, only a select few among us who overcome hate walk a higher purpose in life.

Is ISIS’ cause a true act of fana ?

Religious fanaticism has a new name. It’s called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or as we know it, ISIS. Just the other day, ISIS imposed a ban on namaz during eid in Mosul. In their words, “Namaz during eid has got nothing to do with islam. True muslims never offered namaz during eid”. Therefore, they decreed that no muslim inhabitant of Mosul had any right to namaz on eid. Anyone choosing to do otherwise was threatened with summary execution.

Iraq is held captive by armed fanatics professing to be the pillars of islam, a religion that is no longer preached through love, but imposed through naked aggression and violence.

Over the time that it has held the people of Iraq hostage in the name of faith, ISIS has destroyed relics, masjids and museums showcasing islam’s rich heritage. In deploying terror in the cause of islam, it has gone against the very tenets of a once-tolerant faith.

This is why, we need to ask if, one day, ISIS will eradicate the practise of namaz altogether, citing that infidels and not the religiously inclined offer prayers to god? Will it insist that the jews and christians worship the divine by bowing down in reverence, and therefore, such an act is unislamic in nature?

In insisting that all places of worship must be demolished, they have said masjids are a replication of idolatry in the garb of islam and have no religious sanction. There are hundreds of advocates of such a cause, arguing that ISIS alone can return islam to its pristine state, as it existed a thousand and four hundred years ago,

If ISIS succeeds in eradicating many of the islamic traditions and customs that are practised worldwide today, citing that these are corruptions brought in by the infidels, and therefore, unsuitable for a true believer of the faith, I wonder if there would anything left in islam to practice. From food habits to prayers, everything can be cited as a corruption introduced by another religion and banned. After all, the story of Adam and Eve too was introduced by heretics and must, therefore, be silenced. This, when the fact is that islam has not only picked up several practices from the other faiths, but is itself derived from another religion. If we were to return everything that we have acquired over the years, the religion itself would have to be abolished.

In the modern age, no voice of reason will ever insist on reverting to the practices of a bygone era. Society is meant to progress and not revert to the regressive ways of the past. It is the civilisational need of our times to insist on educating women, placing our faith of science and discoveries and technologically leapfrogging into the future, rather than get stuck with religious obscurantism. There can never be a positive outcome of harking back to the past.

Humans have a right to their faith; each one of us is entitled to our native beliefs. Despite being an atheist, I support the right of everyone to choose his or her faith. If there are downsides to religious beliefs, that must be debated, not condemned.

What surprises is that muslims are not vocal in protesting the atrocities committed by ISIS. Why do they not take it upon themselves to wage a war against the ISIS, as it threatens their religious integrity? Why do they join a cause that by its own logic must annihilate the religion they profess? Do muslims, the world over, believe the cause of ISIS, as their cause of conviction? Do they see in it the true act of fana, that Sufis otherwise see as an act of annihilation of the self? Or are they drawn to ISIS by the unbridled power that comes from dehumanising society?

IS is following Muhammad the prophet.

The Yazidi women are held as sex slaves by IS.

No individual or organization or state follow Islam as accurately as IS or Islamic State. Muhammad Killed non-Muslim men and used their girls and women as sex slaves. IS guys did the same. They killed Yazidi men and held Yazidi girls and women as sex slaves.

Islam always advise Muslims to do everything what Muhammad the prophet did. Eventhough Muslim men love their prophet, it is extremely rare that they marry 13 times or marry a 6-year-old girl or their daughter in law. It is IS that shows the courage to behave like true Muslims and adapt the character of the prophet. The prophet loved swords or knives to kill people, IS does the same. The prophet treated women as sex slaves, IS does the same. The prophet occupied land by arms and violence, IS does the same. The prophet destroyed non-Muslims’ temples and sculptures, IS does the same.

Gender stereotyping needs to end

It was around 1993 when some women working in Bangladesh’s garment factories used to come visit me. The problems they faced at that time were less wages, long and extra hours of work, no transport back home, no matter how late at night it may be, absence of maternity leave, and to top it all, sexual harassment. Today, 22 years on, the problems remain just as acute. The same poverty, the same abysmal work conditions, the same low wages and the same rampant sexual harassment. Occasionally, we come across news of how there was a fire in some factory and several women succumbed to it.

These factories came into being somewhere around 1976, hit a peak period around the 90s and continue to thrive till now. So much so that today, Bangladesh’s chief export is garments. A majority of workers in these factories are women, and therefore, largely neglected by the nation’s lawmakers. If the country understood the worth of this workforce, it would have created a better working environment for them. But what it has inflicted upon them is a labyrinth of lies and deceit, completely setting aside all international labour laws. MisogyBangladesh has, in fact, honed its skills in keeping its women in the worst possible scenario.
There is no benevolent attitude in offering employment to women, instead, the attitude is that of looking at women as “cheap objectified subjects” rather than as human beings. These women cannot ask for better, more humane conditions of employment, but can be forced to work ungodly hours to suit their masters’ needs. The idea of labour is the means to an end. If there is death along the way, there is always more cheap labour available to fill the space.

But then, there is a gender bias of wages not only in Bangladesh but across the world. Gender stereotyping — the judgment passed on a human being based on their gender — is an inherent vice that has dug deep roots in society. Some familiar examples are the notion that a woman doesn’t need money to survive because a family is run by its male head. Thus, her earnings are but a frivolous sum and her work outside is trivial. It is the men who carry everything on their shoulders; women do not have it in them to work at higher posts or to take important decisions in a workplace. They are emotional by nature, prone to sentiments and frail, hence more suitable for raising children rather than raising professional issues. This gender bias makes it easier for women to lose jobs than to get them.

The world is changing rapidly and women these days are not only handling their families but are also instrumental in sustaining them. But still, they lag behind men in all facets of life. The roots of this gender bias are so deep that they are impossible to get rid of no matter how many times a woman puts herself through a trial and comes out victorious. The standards by which women are measured even today are their beauty and not by their qualifications. And because women are looked upon as sex objects rather than human beings, it is easier for young beautiful women to get jobs — we have all heard about terms like “casting couch” and sexual favours asked from women to give them a job that they deserved on merit in any case. Women are targeted for harassment wherever they are. This is more rampant in places where their basic rights are denied on a daily basis.

Just a few days ago, an acquaintance argued with me that the muscular superiority of men entitles them to a higher place than women who are by nature weaker. I refuted it by asking if every job was a physical test that required brute strength? The reply was “No.” So I asked, “Then how did brawn found more favour than brains?” I received no reply, but I am certain he was hurling the choicest of profanities at me in his head.

What we first need to do is to get rid of such anti-women myths. If not, these will further fuel the gender bias that has become so predominant in society. To cure any illness, we must first eradicate its cause, else it will always lurk behind the shadows bidding its time.

About half the world’s population consists of women. If such a force is considered to be weak, denied the opportunities they are entitled to, and their contributions go unacknowledged, then it is matter of shame for the entire human race. As I have so often repeated, women are not meant only for household chores and sexual pleasure. They are more than capable of holding their own ground, and it is time to recognise that and demolish these demarcations of society, or suffer at our own peril on its outcome.

Passport to heaven

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Passports to heaven are created and distributed by Islamists from a political party called Jaamat-e-Islami in Bangladesh. Islamists are known to make people fool. The passports inspire people to become terrorist killers and suicide bombers.
If you can brainwash people with lies about afterlife, you can make them to do everything for you. It is such a surreal world.

Dealing a body blow to bigotry

The time has come to give a severe blow to religious sentiments. There is no other way about it. For, we can no longer afford to keep society at a standstill and curb its growth. Those who do so by digging in their heels and sticking to their old, bigoted ways, will do that at their own peril.

Religious sentiments evoke the strongest of all reactions; people retaliate vehemently when their religion is at stake. Which is why religion has more people in its grasp than rationality ever will. These days, one gets to hear quite frequently that it is unethical to hurt religious sentiments of 1.5 billion people. What exactly does this mean? That it’s better to hurt the sentiments of a smaller faction than to take chances with a bigger one? If the numbers had come down to a few hundred or thousand, would it be okay, then?

There are many people protesting against the death of the Bangladeshi bloggers with the justification that these bloggers did nothing to hurt the religious sentiments of people. Do they, like the religious bigots, think that it is a cardinal sin to hurt religious sentiments? This is a grey area even among free thinkers and intellectuals who do not seem to grasp the fact that there is actually nothing wrong in hurting religious sentiments, either of a majority or a minority.

In fact, you will rarely come across anybody whose sentiments have not been hurt at some point of time or the other. People have varied individualistic ways of putting their point across and when we interact with each other, it is more than possible that our views could clash, leading to a certain discomfort on our part. Differences of opinion are a part and parcel of every civilised society, and crushing contrarian voices is hardly the way forward.

As said earlier, no other sentiments evoke as much reaction as ones with religious undertones. Most violent occurrences take place when people take offence on religious grounds, lashing out in the most unpleasant of ways. But then, why is it that we have to respect religious sentiments at all? Is it because that people love parables about their religion and would do anything to let it be the way it is? All other sentiments can be appeased and attended to but religious sentiments leave behind a sore spot. This bit of intolerance needs to come to an end.

This politics of agitating religious sentiments has been going on for a long time. A long drawn war is being waged with religious rigidity on one side, and science, women’s rights, equality and humanity on the other. Now, it is up to us to decide which side we take.

The symbiotic relationship of politics and religious agitation has taken a sinister turn these days. The solution to this problem is not to stop hurting religious sentiments, but just the opposite of it. Religious sentiments need to be hurt more strongly than before. Only after consistent attacks will people stop reacting blindly and take time to introspect. The so-called high bastions of religion have pedalled religious sentiments as an excuse for a long time, but there is still hope that it can be salvaged.

Nowhere in the world have women’s rights been established without causing offence to chauvinists. Democracy did not come into being without incurring the ire of dictatorship. Science found its footstep after being tumbled more than once by religion. In the same way, it is not possible to change religious bigotry without dealing strong and repeated blows to touchy religious sentiments.

If one chooses to take the side of the atheist bloggers, the defence should not be that they did not hurt religious sentiments. The statement should be that they did hurt religious sentiments, as it was needed. To the religious bigot, if the word “atheist” is anathema, then the term “believer” demands the same treatment from the non-believer.

Everyone is welcome to their share of verbal profanity but that doesn’t give them a right to violence. Ideology should be fought with ideology, not with senseless violence. Scientists do not take up arms against people who do not believe in science but in religion. There should be mass agitation against this violence, otherwise there will be no end to this. There will continue to be violence against scientists, free thinkers and anyone who dares to question rigid religious tenets.

Muslims are probably the only sect that have brought woe onto themselves by their own heinous acts, steeped as they are in their religious bigotry. It is time they gave free thought a chance.

Can’t change society without hurting feelings

The battle between science and religion is perennial. Scientists don’t hack people who refuse to believe their theories, but fundamentalists do.

Sentiments will always get hurt, especially religious ones. There is no other way. Society cannot just stand in one place. Nothing will progress in this way. People averse to the idea of progress will not accept it, and will raise questions.

People don’t act out in such barbaric ways when other sentiments are hurt, as they do when religious ones are hurt. Why are religious sentiments so important?

Some say this is because a large portion of the world is religious. I often hear that it is not right to hurt the sentiments of 1.5 billion people.

People are giving too much importance to the number of people here. It seems like you can offend people in small numbers, but offending large numbers of people is a problem. Would it be okay if it was 150 or 1500 instead of 1.5 billion?

People who support the bloggers are saying that the bloggers did not hurt religious sentiments. So, do they also think that it is wrong to hurt religious sentiments? This is where the problem is. I have noticed that even the liberals seem to find it hard to accept that hurting religious sentiments is not a crime.

It is completely wrong to want to spend your entire life without an instance where your feelings might be hurt. It is normal to be offended by different things. There is not a single person in this world who has never been offended by something or other. People are bound to be offended multiple times every day when they socialise with different kinds of people. That is just life.

Imagine A says that he believes in socialism and B says that some socialist leader has character problems, and that socialism has no ideological value.

Then is it okay for A to say that B has offended his political sentiments? And this gives A the right to sue B and maybe also slaughter him in public? B has, in fact, hurt A’s political sentiments. The question is, so what?

These incidents don’t happen when other sentiments are hurt. They only happen when religious ones are hurt. Why do we have to be so respectful of religious sentiments? Because religion is true, or because many people love the religion?

People who think religion is true should learn to react to it in the same way they react when their other feelings are hurt. The politics of sentiments is not new.

It has been raging against democracy, knowledge, science, women’s rights, human rights, and equal rights for all. Now we must choose which side we want to save — religious sentiments or democracy, knowledge, and equal rights.

The politics of religious sentiments has taken a violent turn. The solution for this is not to protect religious sentiments. Rather, the opposite. It must be attacked constantly. Even more so than before. This is how people will eventually learn how to deal with it. Otherwise, the people in the business of religion will destroy what is left of society.

No one has been able to achieve women’s rights without offending misogynists, and no one has been able to establish human rights without offending people against equal rights for all. From establishing democracy to science — some people have always been offended. If the business of religion is to be stopped and stale social norms are to be broken, religious sentiments must be regularly attacked.

If you want to side with the bloggers or the atheists, it is not appropriate to say that they did not hurt anybody’s religious sentiments. Rather, you should say that they attacked people’s religious sentiments because it was necessary to do so. The fundamentalists want the word “atheist” to be a curse word. If “atheist” is a curse word, then “believer” is the same.

You may curse as you please, but violence is not acceptable. Ideology must be fought with ideology. The battle between science and religion is perennial. Scientists don’t hack people who refuse to believe their theories, but fundamentalists do. This will not stop unless the entire country protests together.