There is practically no difference between a Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or Hindu,
fundamentalist. They are all primarily, ‘intolerant’. Standing next to the mortal remains of
Lata Mangeshkar Muslims have prayed to Allah, Hindus to God (Bhagwan), and Christians to
their almighty Father. Seeing Bollywood icon Shahrukh Khan lifting his hands to prayer and
blowing on to her body, some Hindu fundamentalists thought that he spat on to her face.
Social media went overboard in creating mayhem over the issue. I have noticed that in
India, even though many Muslims are aware of Hindu rituals and practices, most Hindus are
ignorant about the same among Muslims. Similarly in Bangladesh Hindus understand
Muslim rituals more than what Muslims know of Hindus.
To a large extent, intolerance stems from ignorance. I do not know who gained what by
defaming Shahrukh Khan, but what is evident, from the way people from all cultures stood
behind Shahrukh, is that all that is needed to put up a strong resistance to fundamentalist
Hindu forces are a few rational, secular Hindus.
An unnecessary controversy over the burqa has erupted in another part of the country,
Karnataka. A diktat has been issued instructing female students to not wear burkhas to
college. A group of students, donning saffron scarves have taken to the streets protesting
against the burqa. The Chief Minister preempts a communal riot and orders to close
schools and colleges for a few days. But schools and colleges cannot be perpetually closed.
The have to be re-opened some day or the other. Can riots not happen then? They surely
can. Frankly speaking if the mind and attitudes do not change riots will always be waiting to
happen. The hatred and fear for each other needs to be washed clean. The distance
between the Hindus and Muslims has not been bridged even after 75 years of the partition.
Pakistan has separated from India and has turned into a religious state. But India never
wanted to become a Pakistan. If it wanted, India could very well turn into Hindu state 75
years ago. The Indian constitution upholds secularism not religion. This country, with a
majority Hindu population is home to the second largest Muslim population in the world.
The laws of this country give equal rights to people from all religions, castes, languages,
creeds and cultures.
It is perfectly alright for an educational institution in a secular country to mandate secular
dress codes for its students. There is nothing wrong in such a message from the
school/college authority that states that religion is to be practiced within the confines of the
home. They need not be carried to the school or the college. Educational institutions, meant
for fostering knowledge are not influenced by religion or gender. It is education that can lift
people from the abyss of bigotry, baseness, conservativeness and superstitions into a
lighted world where the principles of individual freedom, free-thinking, humanism and
rationality based on science is valued highly. In that lighted world women do not feel pride
in their shackles of subjugation rather can break free of them, they do not perceive covering
themselves in a burqa as a matter of right but as a symbol of female persecution and cast
them away. Burkqas, niqab, hijabs have a singular aim of commodifying women as sex-

objects. The fact that women need to hide behind barred walls to prevent men who sexually
salivate on the sight of women – is not an honorable thought for both women as well as
Twelve years ago a local newspaper had published an article of mine on the burqa. Some
fundamental Muslims massacred the office and burnt it down. They also burnt down shops
and businesses around it. Hindus also came down on the streets to build up a defense. Two
people died when police opened fire. A simple burqa can still cause fires to burn in this
state. Riots can still break out over the burqa.
A burqa and hijab can never be a woman’s choice. They have to be worn only when choices
are taken away. Just like political Islam, the burqa/hijab is also political today. Members of
the family force the woman to wear the burqa /hijab. It is a result of sustained
brainwashing from a tender age. Religious apparel like the burqa/hijab can never be a
person’s identity. Identities are created by capabilities and accomplishments. Iran made the
hijab compulsory for women. Women stood on the streets and threw away their hijabs in
protest. The women of Karnataka who still consider hijab as their identity need to strive
harder to find a more meaningful and respectable identity for themselves. I earnestly wish
and hope that they not be burdened with a religious apparel of a hijab or a burqa as their
When the right to education is violated on the pretext of a hijab, when someone forces a
woman out of a hijab as a precondition to education, I stand in favor of education even in a
hijab. At the same time when a woman is forced under a hijab I stand in favor of throwing
the hijab away. Personally I am against the hijab or the burqa. I believe, it is patriarchal
conspiracy that stands strong behind forcing women into wearing this. These pieces of
clothing are symbols of subjugation and insult to women. I hope women do soon realize
that a burqa is nothing different form the chastity belt of the dark ages that was used to
lock in the sexual organs of the female. If chastity belts are insulting why not the burqa?
Some say that the furor over the burqa in Karnataka is not spontaneous and that it is lent
support by political forces. This sounds very familiar to saying that riots do not happen, they
are rather made to happen. I have often heard that riots are manufactured before major
elections and they are almost always between Hindus and Muslims. Apparently they do
count for a few votes. However, small the number might be, they are important. I was also
thrown out of West Bengal for a few votes.
On a different note, it is heartening that riots do not happen. It would be frightening if they
did happen spontaneously. Then we would have surmised that Hindus and Muslims are
born enemies and can never live with each other in human habitation.
I believe that even the riots during the partition did not happen, they were made to happen.
Some Hindu fundamentalists are crying hoarse that India will be turned into a Hindu state,
all non-Hindus will be either killed or converted to Hindus or be forced to leave the country.
All masjids will be turned to temples.

I really do not know if such people are big in numbers. I know India as a secular state and
love it that way. I have confidence in the country. Is India changing? Will it change? I am
aware of the liberality of Hinduism as a religion. One is free to follow it or not to follow it. As
in Islam, Hinduism does not force one to following its practices. Hinduism doesn’t prescribe
to torture, kill, maim or hang people for not conforming. Superstitions are still there, even
though a lot has waned with time. But, India will be a country only for Hindus, any one
criticizing Hindus or Hindutva will be killed – are statements that are new to me. I have
criticized all religions and religious fundamentalism in order to uphold women’s rights and
equality for more than two decades now. My writings on Hinduism and religious
superstitions suppressing women’s rights have been published in Indian
newspapers/magazines and have also been appreciated. But today, as soon as I pose a
question like, “Why do men not observe Karva Chaut for the welfare of women?” millions of
Hindus hurl personal attacks and abuse on me demanding my expulsion from the country.
This is a new India. An India that I cannot imagine. I find their behaviour similar to Muslim
fundamentalists. Utterly intolerant.
I imagine India as a Hindu state. Will all fundamental and open-minded Hindus be able to
live peacefully in such a country? Will there be no discontent among the higher and lower
castes, no discrimination between men and women? A state only for Hindus! May be true!
Just the way Jews have carved a state for themselves, Hindus will also probably carve out
one for themselves.
I will have to leave a Hindu state too as I cannot become a Hindu. I am an atheist. Humanism
is my religion. I choose to stay with that. Gauri Lankesh was a humanist. She was not fit for a
Hindu state, neither am I.

What Does A Woman Get From Marriage?

Do you remember Rothi, the first wife of singer James? She was pageant winner, used to be a regular face in advertisements, theatre and television at one point. Rothi had to leave acting after marriage as per her husband’s orders. James had told her explicitly that she couldn’t continue her acting career. Finally, after having two children with her, James left her and got married to someone else. Rothi had to leave with her children in 2003 and since then she has been raising them on her own. The popular James made no efforts to contribute to the rearing of his own children, did not spend even a iota of his wealth on them. After marriage Rothi had to quit acting but it’s not as if James had to similarly quit his music career. Such things are prevalent in society even today. The men who we trust to be the most educated and aware end up being the biggest impediments to independent and self-reliant women.

The custom of marriage has continued to foment gender discrimination in the subcontinent even in the twenty-first century. Every organism evolves and so do their customs and beliefs. It’s only the institution of marriage that has steadfastly resisted evolution. Till date women have to move to the house of their in-laws, Hindu women have to wear the sindoor and adorn themselves with numerous symbols of superstitions like the shnakha, pola, noa (white conch-shell bangles, red coral bangles and iron bangles, all meant to be worn by married women) or the mangal sutra. The fight for equal rights for women has been going on for a long time and, inspired by the same, many educated and cognizant women have cast aside such things. One would expect progressive individuals to greet such assertions of independence from women with a warm welcome. Instead, just the other day for instance, the legal minds of the Guwahati High Court proved how the influential and powerful people of society continue to cling to discriminatory attitudes. In a divorce case that was filed in the Guwahati High Court the judge, while granting the divorce, cited the woman’s refusal to sport the sindoor and shnakha as proof that she no longer considered the man in question her husband. As per the judge her refusal amounted to her considering herself as still unmarried or tantamount to not accepting the marital vows. This can be the judgement of a superstitious and misogynous man but in no way can it be the judgement of a court. It’s the court’s job to safeguard against gender discrimination and protect human rights and women’s rights. Instead, when the court seeks to posit things like the sindoor and the shnakha as mandatory for married women then this is surely an unfortunate turn of events. As long as this patriarchal mindset exists women will continue to suffer. This is indeed unfortunate. How can we forget that the courts are not outside society and its judges too belong to this existing social order.

The problem is that even today men take their wives back to their parents’ houses after marriage. Men refuse to embrace adulthood, instead wanting to spend their entire lives as the apples of their parents’ eyes. So the parents, the siblings, everyone takes care of this apparently grown man and then a wife is added to this mix. Yet another slave for him. For most men it becomes impossible to take care of themselves like adults are supposed to and consequently the wife, finding herself in a completely different environment, struggles to make sense of things. She has to walk the tightrope of appeasing everybody or risk inviting their criticism. She has to completely relinquish her independence and self-reliance in order to make a space for herself at her in-laws’. I know as soon as they read this hordes of women will say how nice their in-laws are and how they never had to negotiate with their independence. But the thing is why must a woman live with the relatives of her husband? It’s not as if the husband has to live with the wife’s family or that he is meant to appease them. After marriage a women has to abandon everything she knows, her family, her friends, her home and her locality, her familiar environment and spaces, all in order to seek refuge at her husband’s house. But a man has to relinquish nothing for the sake of marriage. There must be limits to even discrimination but marriage glibly crosses them all the time.

The Assamese man who had filed the divorce case had complained that his wife did not wish to stay at the house of her in-laws. That’s why he wanted a divorce. If a wife doesn’t wish to co-habit with anyone other than her husband then an adult male can move elsewhere with his wife. But the ones who forever remain their parents’ children refuse to live apart, even if it means leaving their wives. Are our men only their parents’ children? By hook or by crook don’t they end up becoming their wives’ children as well? All they desire is for their wives to take care of everything for them, from their meals right down to their shoes and socks.
The idiot from Assam has no desire to be an adult, let alone be responsible. Hence the divorce. If two people don’t wish to live together anymore, if there’s no love left between them, then even if one person decides on a divorce then at least it can happen without any problems. And that’s what happened too. The problem was not with the divorce. It’s the judge’s comments on it that has invited a lot of criticism. The judge has declared that married women must wear the sindoor and the shnakha. On the other hand most married men continue to remain bachelors. Can you look at a man and tell if he’s married or not? They look the same. Married men don’t need to carry around signs validating their marital status, no sindoor, no bangles etc. There must be limits to even discriminatory attitudes, limits that we all know don’t exist. What happens if women, even the ones who love their husbands, don’t wish to carry around such signs of marriage? Don’t they have the freedom to make such a choice? Why can’t marriage be about freedom rather than captivity?
In Europe and America married Christians and Jews, be it men or women, wear wedding rings. That’s their marital symbol. If a couple doesn’t wish to wear rings then they don’t. People of all religions deserve this freedom. Not just Muslim men, even Muslim women don’t have to carry visible signs of marriage and that’s a good thing. However, just because they don’t have to display proof of marriage doesn’t mean Muslim women enjoy more freedom than women of other religions. Muslims women are as much victims of this patriarchal social setup as the rest of them.

Marriage is gradually becoming an irrelevant thing. The institution had been founded in order to provide legal legitimacy to essentially a master-slave relation. Women were thought to be weaker and always dependant on others, they were perceived of as nothing but a vagina and a uterus. Marriage was founded to give men rights over women’s bodies. And exactly for these reasons it’s now an obsolete and meaningless institution. A woman who is not weak, who is self-reliant, whose identity is not defined by her vagina or her uterus, a woman who believes in independence and rights, a woman who doesn’t accept the master-slave dynamic but instead subscribes to equality and equal rights, why would such a woman choose marriage? Marriage seems more necessary for the men who are languishing their days dreaming of remaining children forever.

If an ancient institution such as marriage is to be preserved then it urgently needs to undergo change and evolution. It must discard its misogynous early roots and undergo modernisation, premised on the principles of equal rights of men and women. Marriage cannot continue to treat the husband-wife relation as that of a master and a slave. It must be built upon foundations of love and trust and no one’s human rights should be compromised in the process. Marriage must not seek to enslave women. Instead it must become a way of freedom from captivity, it must become synonymous with independence.

Tolerance, generosity, humanity—we must learn to nurture.

There have been numerous instances of communal clashes in India in recent times. Among the far-right Hindus of India, Islamophobia is rampant. For some this hatred is so acute that had it been possible they would have perhaps killed Muslims in droves or driven them out of the country. However, those among the Hindus who are progressive free-thinkers can always be found standing in solidarity with the minorities, just like in other countries as well. Yet, even in countries which are known worldwide for their humanity and their adherence to principles of human rights, like Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the numbers of the Islamophobic, anti-immigrant neo-Nazis are steadily rising. These days such groups call public meetings in order to burn the Quran. An Islamophobic far-right politician like Denmark’s Rasmus Paludan has earned much of his ‘fame’ from his ant-Muslim activities. He used to upload his Quran-burning videos on YouTube, once even wrapping pork in the pages before setting them on fire. In 2017 he founded a far-right political party called ‘Stram Kurs’ (Hard Line) whose members are known to harbour immense hatred against Muslim immigrants living in Northern Europe. In the last Danish general election the party was on the ballot with Paludan promising that if he won he would drive out three lakh Muslim immigrants from Denmark and prohibit the practice of Islam there. It’s not as if everyone in Denmark supports Paludan, he has even been to jail a couple of times for his Islamophobic content on social media. This racist man even wished to visit Malmö in Sweden to attend a far-right anti-Muslim event where they were going to burn the Quran but he was ultimately not allowed entry into Sweden. In fact it was even declared that he would not be allowed into Sweden for the next two years. Paludan had been invited by the racist Swedish artist Dan Park who has similarly risen in rank among the far-right for his anti-immigrant rhetoric. In response, Paludan’s supporters and members of Stram Kurs took to the streets of Malmö in protest, poured petrol on copies of the Quran and set them on fire. When the videos of these acts were uploaded on social media, nearly 300 Muslims of the city came out in protest amidst chants of Allah-hu-Akbar, pelted stones at the police and set car tires aflame. The smoke had turned the skies of Malmö black.

Why this Islamophobia in the countries most renowned for their human rights?
In 2013-2014 Sweden granted asylum to nearly 70,000 Syrian refugees. Not just shelter, they were allowed to become permanent residents. Then again in 2015 they granted refuge to nearly 1,62000 refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was perhaps this that led to the rise in popularity of far-right political outfits in Sweden. Sweden Democrats, the right-wing political party that is the third largest in Sweden, is an exponent of Neo-Nazism. Sweden was the world’s leading Welfare State. Since the Second World War the Swedish government has provided child-care, education, healthcare and unemployment benefits to every citizen. Now this Welfare State is on the verge of crumbling and the right-wing believes that the sole reason behind this are the immigrants. That immigrants enjoy state benefits without engaging meaningful employment, that immigrants are always ready to exploit the benefits of a Welfare State, that for many immigrants it’s impossible to get jobs due to lack of necessary educational qualifications or skills. Thus the blame of the weakening of the Welfare State, run on the taxes paid by Swedish citizens, is being placed squarely on the immigrants. In 2018 unemployment rates jumped from 3.8% to 15%. It’s due to reasons such as these that racism and aggressive nationalism has grown in popularity in almost all European nations.

After Malmö in Sweden, fires erupted in the Norwegian capital of Oslo as well. The far-right factions there organised demonstrations, followed by counter-protests organised by the local Muslims. It resulted in communal clashes in even such a peace-loving little nation such as Norway. The reasons why Islamophobia is on the rise in countries like Sweden and Denmark are also behind the comparable situation in Norway. In these countries Muslims comprise the largest percentage of immigrants. Consequently, racism and anti-immigration is synonymous with Islamophobia. How can this Islamophobia be curbed? Those who had brunt the Quran were arrested, the racists who tried to use hate campaigns to incite riots were also taken into custody. These people spend some time in prison and then get released invariably. People can be imprisoned but the hatred in them can hardly be put behind bars. Hatred spreads, like wildfire from one place to another. I certainly don’t believe hatred can be ended by incarceration and levying penalties. Millions of Muslims are living in non-Islamic countries across the world today. Those who are terrorists are being branded as such. But those who have nothing to do with terrorism, who are not religious fundamentalists, who don’t believe in violence, the simple everyday folk who identify as Muslims, why should they have to bear the brunt of this hatred just because a few Muslims have committed acts of terror across the world? Must all Muslims be held responsible for the crimes committed by a few! In the countries of the west where Muslims have sought refuge or reached as immigrants, anti-Muslims sentiments are on the rise among the non-Muslim population of these countries as well. One must devise ways to combat this.

Living with hate isn’t good for anyone, be it a Muslim or a non-Muslim. Hate is debilitating for the mind as well as the body. It’s undeniable that many Muslims actually wish to live in developed and civilised non-Muslim countries rather than in their own because in the former they can enjoy more human rights, more humanity, more freedom of speech, free and improved opportunities of education, better healthcare and various other benefits. It’s for these reasons that Muslims will continue to emigrate from Muslim nations to countries like Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. There’s no point denying this reality.

At one time the racist Christians of Europe held deep hatred regarding the minority Jews living in their countries. This anti-Semitism reached its zenith with Germany’s Hitler and his Nazis. Nearly six million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Racist Christians no longer hate Jews just as much. Despite Jewish roots tied to the Middle East they are nowadays largely considered European. Jews too are no longer hostile towards Christians, their hatred has shifted towards Muslims. Jews were originally a rather small community from the Middle East that had spread all across Europe. Jews have been subject to racism, they have faced the unimaginable horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, they have died in the gas chambers, and yet they have remained indomitable, they have not demanded revenge or resorted to terrorism, when the Nazis were defeated the Jews did not rise up in vengeance and drag them to gas chambers to die. Instead they studied and got educated, they became the very best doctors, engineers, scientists, philosophers, film-makers and litterateurs. Today the Jews rank highest when it comes the number of Nobel Prize winners among them and comprise a majority of skilled personnel in almost any field. Who can hate them?

Muslims too must seek education. If they continue to foster lack of education, if they insist on denying the equal rights of all genders, if they continue to disregard freedom of speech, democracy, secularism, science and evolution, if they continue to be hostile towards non-Muslims and insist on adhering to 1400 year old laws, then it’s only hatred and not respect that they will receive. Muslims must become modern. Living among non-Muslims while simultaneously nurturing hatred for their faith and culture, engaging only in vengeance and discord, this cannot be a happy way to survive. Rather they must earn the respect of non-Muslims, they must become civilised, educated and cognizant individuals. Religious sentiments cannot be so fragile, they must be recast in steel. Just as there won’t be riots anywhere if a Bible was to be burned, the same must be ensured in case of the Quran. Christians were horrifying barbarians too once upon a time. They would slaughter anyone who expressed even the slightest of doubts regarding the existence of God. They have themselves evolved from such barbaric times. Truth be told faith cannot be found in a book, it exists within. Tolerance, generosity, humanity are the true tenets of faith. These are the qualities that we must learn to nurture.


Rape, rape, rape. I so dislike uttering the word and yet every single day I have to hear it or read it. Will such a day ever come when no one will utter the word anymore because rapes will have stopped happening?
In the state of Uttar Pradesh in India, a 19 year old Dalit girl Manisha Valmiki had gone to the fields to cut grass for the cows. She was dragged off by four men who raped her, cut off her tongue and shattered her spine. After battling for her life for fifteen days Manisha passed away at a hospital in Delhi on 29 September. Why did those men rape her? Because Manisha was a woman. Because she was a Dalit. And the rapists? The rapists were men, the rapists were upper caste. Does that mean only upper caste men rape? Do men from the lower castes not commit rape? Do women of the upper castes not face sexual violence? All of these things happen. The truth is that women of all castes, all religions, across languages, skin colours, classes, in all villages, cities and countries, irrespective of their ages fall prey to rape. And men of all types are capable of raping and torturing women. Rapes will not stop as long as our patriarchal society continues to function, because patriarchy brainwashes people with the lesson that men are the lords, to whom women are nothing but slaves and sex objects. So what else can men do to slaves and sex objects other than subject them to sexual violence! Even slaughtering them with a smile is an exciting experience on its own, and men hanker for such excitement. They hanker because they are certain that they will not be caught, or if they are caught they will never face punishment.

A couple of years ago when Nirbhaya aka Jyoti Singh, who was raped in a moving bus in Delhi, succumbed to her injuries, thousands of people had taken to the streets. Protests against rape had raged across the country and eventually the adults among the perpetrators were sentenced to death. Isn’t that exemplary punishment enough? But has that stopped rapes from happening? No, they have continued.
Last year in India an average of 87 rape cases were registered per day. In the entire country the number of crimes reported to have been committed against women were around 4,05,861. Surely the number of cases that went unreported was much higher. Especially in this subcontinent whenever we come across an official number it is understood that we have to take the real number to be nearly twice, thrice or even four times. And do that we must, for not many women actually end up registering cases of sexual violence! Which woman can dare report a man’s crime in his own social set-up and still hope to survive unscathed! Women are forced to bury their heads and endure, and doing so has become a habit for them.

Cases of violence against women are not decreasing, rather the number is on the rise. Whatever the number was in 2018, it increased by nearly sevenfold by the very next year. As per data from the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) there were 3, 78, 236 cases of violence against women registered in 2018 and the number of rape cases were 33, 356. That number was 32, 559 in 2017, which means it’s only increasing every year. Will these numbers pile up and graze the sky? Women are becoming educated and self-reliant, rapists are being sentenced to death or life imprisonment, immense effort is being put in to spread awareness against rape, all sorts of government as well as private organisations are working round the clock to prevent rape and yet why have rapes not stopped happening? We must ask this question again and again and we must find the answer as well, not the fake answer but the right one.

Do such crimes of harassment, rape and murder happen only in India? Of course not, as the neighbouring countries are not content to be left behind. In Bangladesh 892 rape cases alone have been registered in the past eight months. We must accordingly figure out the number of cases where the crime wasn’t even reported. Gang rapes, raped and murdered, survivors committing suicide after the incident, and so on and so forth.

Just the other day I heard the news of a Chakma woman from the hills of Bangladesh who was raped by nine Bengali men. Was I surprised by the news? Not at all. When men restrain themselves from committing rape, they do so because they are afraid of the law or of getting caught and beaten up. Had there been a law today whereby men would be able to get away with any crime, then perhaps not a single man would spend a day without raping someone.

I read a newspaper report on a certain Monir Hossain from Chandpur, Faridgunj who had been raping his minor daughter for years. It was ultimately his wife who informed the police about his misdeeds and the daughter too confessed that her father had been sexually abusing her. Monir Hossain may have been arrested but there is no dearth of people like him in our society.

Our one greatest sorrow is that we as women, whether we are part of the minority or the majority, are never safe. That’s because, as ill-fated as we are, we inhabit this society with certain individuals many of who are not really men but mere dicks, deaf and dumb dicks. Until and unless these dicks evolve into actual human beings, rapes will continue to happen.

There’s nothing to be proud of being a dick, even though patriarchy provides one lifelong encouragement to be just that.

At the moment of birth a glimpse of the new-born child’s penis sparks elation in the family. That’s when it all starts. From that moment the way a male child is pampered, the amount of money and resources that is spent on him, the dreams and aspirations that are carefully nurtured around him, it all contributes to elevating him to the status of a king in the household. And kings are bound to be arrogant, they are bound to be susceptible to taking things for granted. From the moment they are born boys are taught that they are precious because they are boys and that the numerous girls in the family or in society, none of them are as precious as he. That women were born to serve men, to be objects that men can consume as well as to bear his children. Whatever they are taught, they behave accordingly. Rapes will continue to happen as long as society continues to consider men more valuable than women. Rapists are brainwashed people. They have been brainwashed relentlessly by family, society and the state. In the family laws drawn up by the state it is men who have more rights. The socio-political sphere is a male domain, it’s only men who are celebrated there just as men are the heads of families. We must attempt to demolish this patriarchal framework, only then can true equality be achieved. If we don’t discuss the equal rights of genders, there is no way rapes can be stopped. Lords oppress their slaves, that’s how such a feudal system has always worked. Rape is a form of oppression.

Building an equal society, guaranteeing equal rights for all and demolishing all patriarchal social structures are only ways in which we can combat the rape and oppression of women.

Do We Need More Proof That There Is No God?

Not only the practice of ‘tawaf’ (going around the Kaaba) but ‘umrah’ (the pilgrimage of which ‘tawaf’ is a part) too has been stopped in Mecca. Pilgrimage to Muhammed’s burial site in Medina has also been halted. Quite possibly they will stop the Hajj as well. Numerous mosques have cancelled Friday prayers. In Kuwait new azaans can be heard, not asking the faithful to gather at the mosque but to stay at home and perform prayers from there. This is truly an incredible transformation, albeit one that is necessary for survival. Because if you go to pray your namaz and end up coming back with a virus then you will end up infecting your entire family. From a single person to ten, from ten to hundreds, this is how the contagion will spread and hordes of people will die. A single virus holds the power to drive humanity to the brink of extinction. Mullahs are no longer claiming they will go to mosques and pray before Allah to save us from the virus. That is because the businessmen of religion know very well that Allah will not save us. If anyone can it will be the scientists, who are busy at this very moment in trying to find a vaccine. The ones who should be truly surprised by such a turn of event, the ones who should have a lot of questions, are the idiots who believe in religion. The ones who flock together like sheep and follow the herd without asking where or why. Neither do they ever seek to find proof of god’s existence, nor do they have any faith in rationality and free thought. Even today are they not curious as to why their religious institutions, the ones where people are supposed to seek refuge against disease, have shut their doors to the people? Then do these religious institutions serve the common people no actual purpose?

Coronavirus has been detected in the Vatican too, the holiest of places for the Catholics. Apparently the Pope can communicate with God. But where is that now? Even he has not been able to lead us to any wonder drug revealed to him by divine intervention. The Vatican instead is reeling from the fears of a viral outbreak and the Pope is not appearing in front of the people. Numerous Christian religious festivals are held there in the presence of the general public. Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter, etc. all upcoming events stand cancelled and congregations have been prohibited. Isn’t that incredible? Where is God then? Do religious people don’t have this question?

Priests in temples are moving around with masks on. In fact, in some temples masks have been put on the gods and goddesses. The Hindu Mahasabha has organised a cow urine party because they believe cow urine will drive away COVID-19. Some have chosen to cake themselves in cow dung to shield themselves against the virus. Religion and superstitions are usually complementary. The Tarapith temple is shut, the lines of people seeking flowers, blessings or holy water are nowhere to be seen. Belur Math has no crowds, devotees are not being allowed to meet the Maharaj. The evening puja and the arati will be projected on a big screen. These are our saviours, the ones who people pray to throughout the year for protection. But when humanity is in peril it is usually god who flees first.

The states should stop all grants and subsidies guaranteed to all religious institutions. The Popes, priests, mullahs and sundry religious heads of the world are feeding off the people’s hard-earned money but come to no actual use to the people. Instead they are force-feeding people untruths and unscientific facts, raping children and pronouncing misogynous judgments from time to time. What is the use of such institutions? What has religions done over the centuries other than causing harm? Other than genocides, abuse of women, partitions, bloodshed and pervasive hate? Religious structures should henceforth be repurposed for the betterment of the people as museums, science academies, laboratories and art schools. Nature has demonstrated again and again, science has proved again and again, that there is no religion? Although many people have managed to extricate themselves from the jaws of religion, especially in the more developed parts of the world, wherever poverty, social inequalities, misogyny and barbarism are acutely present, one can also find a hyper-reliance on gods and worship.

It’s been nearly 160 years of Charles Darwin disproving the existence of god by his theory of evolution. Man was not made by a Creator, man has evolved from apes. Much before Darwin, in the sixteenth century figures like Galileo, and his predecessor Copernicus, had shown that the biblical notions of the space and cosmos are wrong. Despite all this most people in the world have continued to believe in the divine over the ages. Their invisible gods have remained invisible, no proof has been found till date of their existence, but blind faith in them has persisted. Now that the Coronavirus is a global pandemic, it’s spreading from one person to another, all gatherings and congregations where many people are usually there have been cancelled. Numerous people run to their nearby temples, mosques, churches and other places of worship in order to seek protection from illness and disease. These places are now closed as well. So the facts as they stand now are clear that diseases are not cured by Allah, God or Bhagwan, diseases are cured by scientists! Human beings are not saved by supernatural powers but by other human beings. Even religious people are no longer waiting for benevolence from their respective gods, they are waiting for a vaccine to be found.

Has the time not yet come for people to cast aside their religious madness and embrace reason?

Does a Nobel Prize Transform Society?

Abhijit Bandyopadhyay has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics.
Although he is an American citizen, he is primarily an Indian and was born in
India. He was a student of Presidency College in Kolkata, just like Amartya Sen
was. Since Abhijit Bandyopadhyay is Bengali we feel he is one of us, it makes
us feel pride as Bengalis. Not too many Bengalis have won Nobel prizes so far,
only four till date. We don’t have much else to be proud of.
Both Amartya Sen and Abhijit Bandyopadhyay have been critical of the present
Indian government. Just the other day Abhijit Bandyopadhyay had declared that
the Indian economy was in a terrible state. The rate of economic growth was
becoming sluggish at an alarming rate, something that the government too was
aware of. That the nation should follow the economic model established during
the Narsimha Rao-Manmohan Singh era is something that even an economist
like Parakala Prabhakar, the husband of the present finance minister Nirmala
Sitharaman, has written about in an essay. Amidst all this the BJP, at least to
some extent, is in a deep fix. Congress leaders have been continuously
clamouring that the government must listen to Abhijit Bandyopadhyay’s advice.
If a Nobel winner appears to be clearly opposed to the policies of a government
then obviously it’s quite discomfiting for the latter to show much enthusiasm
about the former winning an award. Abhijit was a student of the famed
Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. He must have also been an adherent of
leftist thought. In the 80s he had apparently been part of a gherao of the VC
protesting the expulsion of a leftist student leader and spent ten days in Tihar
jail as a result. That was during the Congress era. The same Abhijit is now a
Nobel laureate and the anti-left capitalist government can neither embrace him
nor ignore him.
Even the Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus had to face a lot of opposition from
his own country’s government. Not that I believe all Nobel winners deserve
their prizes. Often many unworthy people too have been awarded the prize. I
fail to understand how a commercial bank that charges rates of interest becomes
eligible for a Nobel Peace prize. I also fail to comprehend what sacrifices, what
actions, committed over what length of time, justifies the Peace prizes won by
Henry Kissinger, Barack Obama and Malala Yousafzai.

In the subcontinent we have another instance of a Nobel laureate undergoing
harrowing treatment due to his religious beliefs. Nobel winning Pakistani
theoretical physicist Abdus Salam’s epitaph was defaced and the word ‘Muslim’
was removed from it by unknown people. Even the present government of
Pakistan does not consider Ahmadiyas as Muslims, the community Salam
belonged to. He won the Nobel prize in 1979. The year after he received an
invitation to attend a congratulatory dinner hosted by the Quaid-i-Azam
University in Islamabad. Soon, however, a huge public protest was launched
against him. After Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had capitulated to the demands of Sunni
fundamentalists and declared the Ahmadiyas as non-Muslims in 1974, hatred
for the latter community among the Sunnis was also rapidly on the rise.
Opposed by a protest led by the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami party,
Abdus Salam could not enter Quaid-i-Azam University even after reaching
Islamabad. Thirty-seven years later the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif
christened the physics department of Quaid-i-Azam University as ‘Abdus Salam
Centre for Physics’. However, Imran Khan is virulently anti-Ahmadiya. Abdus
Salam was born in the Punjab province of Pakistan but he could never live out
his days in his country. In 1974 the persecution of the Ahmadiyas by the Sunnis
reached such an extreme that Salam had to leave Pakistan to save himself. Even
books in Pakistani schools don’t mention Abdus Salam as a Pakistani Nobel
Abhijit Bandyopadhyay is an American citizen. Amartya Sen is British. Had
they been in India, I don’t know if they would have been able to do the kind of
research that enables one to win the Nobel. Even European researchers today
are migrating to the US because places in Europe can hardly afford to spend as
much as America does on research.
The Nobel prize has been awarded since 1901. Simply by demographic the
largest number of prizes have been won by Jews, while Muslims have won the
least number. Of course, the best thing to do is to categorise Nobel prizes
according to countries and not faith. Nonetheless, Muslims must be made aware
how backward they remain in the realms of science and knowledge. Nearly all
Muslim countries believe that their preoccupation with religion is of utmost
importance, they remain busy with building mosques and madrassas and
adhering to religious laws over and above modern jurisprudence. A healthy
literary environment, the need for advancements in the medical sciences, or the
work of physicists and the need for research facilities – none of these are

concerns. Rather most Muslims are preoccupied with using corruption to amass
as much wealth as possible. They believe that constructing one mosque or
undertaking one pilgrimage to Mecca is enough to absolve them of their sins,
thus paving the way to Paradise and leaving them with no responsibility to help
make the world a better place.
Who should the Bengali Muslim be proud of? If a Bengali wins a Nobel prize or
if a Muslim wins one? Among Bengali Muslims some consider their Bengali
identity as above everything else while others consider the Muslim identity as
paramount. If only we could consider the human identity as the most important
one then the work one is doing would justifiably become far more important
than one’s nationality, citizenship marker or faith. Identity in labour and not in
race or creed. Abhijit Bandyopadhyay is undoubtedly a talented economist. He
is a proponent of building a society premised on equality and doing away with
social inequalities. He is also a proponent of sterner taxes on the rich in order to
establish a welfare state. These are not new thoughts. After World War II many
European countries transformed into welfare states. Disgruntled and agitated
about having to pay too much tax, many rich and influential people are
threatening to emigrate from their own countries, relocating to countries with
low tax rates. This is one of the foremost side effects of globalisation. Profitable
business institutions have to be cajoled into doing business in a particular
country via the incentive of tax cuts. Perhaps Abhijit Bandyopadhyay has the
solution to these problems.
Human beings desire wealth and prosperity and there is no end to such desires.
The welfare state is premised upon taking from the ones who have more and
redistributing it among those who don’t. This was the reason behind the fall of
the Soviet Union – people had become dissatisfied that while they were working
hard and deserved the money, that money was being given to those who were
not working as hard as they. The same concern has been raised about the other
European welfare states as well. The US has always been capitalist, there the
drive has always been to benefit the affluent. So the rich are taxed as little as
possible. Across the world the popularity of right-wing capitalists is on the rise,
just as it is in India. And yet it is in India that two Nobel winning economists
have worked for the poor and not the rich, they have advocated the
establishment of an equal society. While there are many who do not believe in
social equality, it is still one of the most significant discoveries of human
civilisation – to live together in harmony and alleviate the burdens those who

are downtrodden. Is there anything more beautiful in the world than this
egalitarian principle? Nothing but benevolence, humanity, support and empathy
can trounce envy, greed and selfishness. Despite fine differences in opinions
among the members of the Nobel committee, in certain cases they are still
invested in celebrating this humanity.
In our subcontinent it is a choice few who hold the lion’s share of wealth and
privilege while most others struggle to make ends meet. It is the politicians who
determine the economy that the poor must endure. Millions of people want for
food, clothes and shelter. The poor will continue to suffer even if hundreds of
economists are there across the subcontinent, even if they keep winning one
Nobel after another. They will continue to suffer until politicians turn their
politics away from the rich and influential and focus on the poor and
disenfranchised sectors instead.

Even Women’s Breasts Are Not Safe From Torture!

In certain parts of Africa, a number of horrifying customs are still prevalent. One such
practice is that of female genital mutilation (FGM) or female circumcision, done to ensure
women cannot experience sexual pleasure. Another is breast ironing, essentially nothing but
torture, to ensure breasts don’t grow and men don’t feel sexual attraction for her. The fact
that such customs are still practiced in Africa is technically not new information. In fact, it is
fairly common for African immigrants and people of African descent in Europe and America
to make their girls undergo female circumcision too. However, what is new is that even in
the Commonwealth, right this very moment, there are at least ten-twelve girls who are
undergoing absolute torture in the name of ‘breast ironing’. London, Yorkshire, Essex, West
Midlands – news has trickled in from many such places that there have been instances of
hot stones being rubbed on girls’ breasts to singe the cells and stunt their natural growth.
This painful torture is brought down upon these girls every week, or at least once every
fortnight. A women’s rights organisation from the Commonwealth has issued a statement
that although the cases of these ten-twelve girls are relatively recent, if a proper survey was
to be conducted one would discover that at least a thousand girls of African descent have
gone through this torture till date.
Women’s bodies are tortured and mutilated only to make sure men cannot sexually abuse
them. With breast ironing, the practice inhibits the natural growth of breasts, they never
look like how they are meant to. The damage for the girl in question is both physical and
psychological. Besides, these tortures are carried out by their own mothers and
grandmothers, women who truly believe that these practices will protect their girls from
falling prey to rapists and such people. The question that remains, however, is this – in order
to prevent rape or sexual violence committed against a women why does society not take
any steps to educate men and make them aware? Why is it that women are the ones who
have to undergo a series of strange, unnatural and humiliating experiences, ironically just to
ensure their own safety? Men will grope, they will stare, they will pounce, they will harass
and rape – women have to be wary of myriad such anxieties right from their childhood. So

the moment they hit puberty their well-wishers shower and smother them with advice after
advice – cover yourself, cover your breasts, cover your hair, your thighs and legs! Customs
have to be followed out of fear of male violence. The fact that men are the hunters and
women are the prey – this logic is drilled into women even before they reach adolescence. It
is indeed quite strange that those people to who young girls are the closest to in society are
also their worst enemies – their rapists, their abusers, their murderers. Is such a society of
any use to humanity? If this was the case with men, if they had to be always on edge that
their bodies were going to be violated, that their lack of breasts was going to be a point of
abuse, that their genitalia was going to be crushed and brutalised, then such a social
formation would surely not have worked for them. Why are their breasts not as big as
women’s, why are their genitalia so weird, why do their testicles hang, why do they have
moustaches and beards – what if men were to be attacked over these things by the very
people they cohabit with, the ones they trust the most Surely they would have termed such
a society uninhabitable! Men must similarly understand the condition of women. They must
understand that the society they have built up is equally uninhabitable for women.
I was born a woman. Why should I have to be ashamed or afraid of my own body? Why
should the fear of a man force me to endure my breasts being flattened, have my genitals
mutilated, often sewed shut to prevent me from experiencing sexual pleasure till a husband
can literally cut me open and have me for the first time! Why should I have to suffer my
entire life because I was born with the body of a woman! Don’t we have to pay for being
women all our lives anyway? Why do you have hair on your body? Hide it! Cover your face!
And why do you have breasts? Cover your breasts! And why hips! Cover it, and the butt too!
Why do you have a vagina? Keep it secure! Thighs! Feet! Cover them as well! From the root
of her hair to the tip of her toe, every part of a woman’s body has been put under embargo
by the patriarchal society that surrounds us.
Breast ironing involves hot stones being rubbed on a pubescent girl’s breasts to arrest their
rapid growth. Even when translated to Bangla the name remains just what it claims to be –
the ironing of breasts, like we iron our clothes. Let more people become aware that such a
thing exists, that breasts are things that can be ironed too! Despite the number of rapes
men commit, their genitalia never face being melted with hot iron as punishment. But
despite not having done anything wrong with their breasts, women force women to

undergo breast ironing only to prevent men from being swayed into committing a crime at
the sight of them. None of this is for the sake of women, it’s all of the sake of the men. The
sole objective behind practices like breast ironing and female genital mutilation is the drive
to make sure that if a girl manages to escape rape or harassment when she is young, then
the man who gets to marry her is promised someone chaste, a virgin body that he can be
the sole consumer of. The primary function of women’s bodies is to provide sexual pleasure
to men. They must keep their bodies pure to be offered up to the opposite sex.
Consequently, the most primitive rituals connected with preserving the chastity of a woman
are still so very prevalent everywhere, definitely in Africa, and in Asia as well. Many Africans
and Asians too, no matter which end of the earth they move to and settle in, carry their
customs there with them irrespective of how inhumane some of those rites might be.
Misogyny is now travelling from one end of the world to the other; it is being globalised.
Practices from many backward cultures are seeping into many progressive and so-called
civilised societies. On the other hand, discourses on human rights, women’s equal rights,
democracy and the freedom of expression, all hallmarks of a civilised social system, are not
making the reverse journey and finding their way into repressive and regressive societies.
What people claim as democracy is not democracy at all, while most regular people are not
even made aware about things like human rights and gender equality. When someone tries
to rectify these oversights, they are invariably trapped in some circuitous legal mess and
their freedom to express their opinions is taken from them. Such is the picture in much of
the east. The civilised societies of the west, which men and women have built out of years
of struggle over human rights and women’s rights, now face a severe crisis when practices
like female genital mutilation and breast ironing find their way there, or when their social
institutions find themselves stumped by the rise of things like burqas and naqabs.
Many women of the west have found their life-partners in many men who have immigrated
there from other cultures. When you live in one society it’s expected that people will meet,
that they will fall in love. Many women from the west have come into contact with men
from the east and taken to the hijab, the burqa etc. Who can tell that one day they will not
lose every last bit of reason and logic and end up advocating for terribly misogynist customs
like breast ironing and genital mutilation as well! As it is the left has long been
magnanimous in its proclamations that customs of all communities have to respect, even
the hijab and the burqa and suchlike. Perhaps even the ritual of genital mutilation too! Will
we never accept the fact that not all cultural customs deserve to be accorded the same
respect? One culture encourages music and dancing, the other propagates breast ironing –
do they both deserve the same respect? Just because a handful of misogynous people
continue to sustain and preserve patriarchal and misogynous customs does not make it
necessary for us to adhere to them. Rather we must rise up in protest to ensure such rites
are prohibited for good. We must not forget that in most communities the majority of
traditions and customs are inherently laced with misogyny. In order to truly become civilised
we must acknowledge the importance of equal rights of women in society. In order to truly
become civilised we have no recourse other than completely delegitimising any and every
misogynous tradition that we see around us.

My Fears Regarding Bangladesh

I heard someone say that a river of blood flowed in Sri Lanka last Sunday. When 359 people die and around 500 more are injured, the resultant blood surely does look like a flowing river. But why this carnage? Why so much hate? What terrible thing had those people done and to whom?
In the middle ages there used to be religious wars, the Crusades, where people of one religion would slaughter those of another. We would like to believe that we have become more civilised and that in our civilised societies all faiths and creeds coexist in excellent harmony. But it would be as good as denying the truth if we deny that the religious wars are still going on around us. Muslims are killing Christians, Christians are killing Muslims and Jews, Jews are killing Muslims and vice versa, Buddhists are slaughtering Muslims, Muslims are killing Hindus who in turn are killing Muslims – this is what is going on. No matter how much we would like to believe that we have risen above religion, that our identity as human beings is all that matters at present. No, it’s still one’s religious identity that is paramount. Even now one’s racial, caste and gender identities take precedence over everything else. In New Zealand, the racist, Christian terrorist was fully aware that he was killing Muslims. It has been said that the man was taking revenge for the disabled, Christian girl in Sweden who was crushed under a truck by a Muslim terrorist. In turn Muslim terrorists have deliberately targeted Christians in Sri Lanka by bombing the churches and the hotels where foreign tourists usually stay. This was their way of avenging the deaths of the fifty Muslims who died in the shooting in the New Zealand mosque.
Rumour has it that it is ISIS, in association with a Sri Lankan Islamic organisation named Tauheed Jamaat, that is behind the attack. It is not easy for a small minority organisation of a small country to train eight-nine people as suicide bombers and carry out a series of coordinated bombings to kill hundreds of people. ISIS has issued a statement accepting their role in the carnage. Although there have been previous instances where the ISIS has issued false claims, this time it might not be so. The Indian government had sent a missive to Sri Lanka warning them of an imminent attack on the churches, information that India had gleaned from an arrested ISIS agent. But despite the warning, the Sri Lankan government had not taken adequate measures. Had they taken heed they would have perhaps not let Easter celebrations take place in any of those churches and the hotels too would have been put under strict surveillance. The President of Sri Lanka has said that he had not been aware of the warning from India and that if he had known he would have taken the necessary steps. Perhaps India should have made more of an effort to explain to Sri Lanka the severity of the matter and ensured that they take adequate and urgent precautions to safeguard the security of their citizens.
People of one religion are slaughtering those of another. When will this war of religions end? The bomb blasts in Sri Lanka are presumably in retaliation of the mass shooting in the mosque in New Zealand. Again some Christian terrorist somewhere will avenge Sri Lanka by murdering more Muslims, who in turn will rise up to take revenge – this cycle of violence and murder has no end, it can go on for eternity. As it is religion is not the only thing over which wars are fought in this world. The war of genders, waged by men against women, is as relentless. Women are harassed, their movements are restricted, their rights are violated and their freedom is curbed, they are made into sexual objects, raped and murdered – all this goes on as before. The rich are waging a war against the poor – everywhere you look there is a war going on. Sometimes I fail to comprehend how a race so intelligent as ours, one that has built spaceships and nearly completed all necessary arrangements to travel to Mars some 54.6 million kilometres away, has still not been able to rise above the unnecessary, useless, irrational and immature contradictions that plague us.
I fear for Bangladesh. The way people have been brainwashed in the past one-two decades is incredible. Once there had been space for differences of opinion in the country. People could, very naturally and without any fear, perhaps even with a bit of pride, claim that they did not believe in religion, or the afterlife, or heaven and hell, or winged horses flying about in space. Today if one says they do not believe in such things the person will have to apologise and recant or risk being killed. One religion, all stories of said religion, all customs, rituals and superstitions, everyone has to believe in all of these things together or risk inviting disaster. Can you truly imagine a wonderous country such as this? A country that had been built upon the promise of secularism has now closely and fatally embraced religion. Religious leaders have spread like a virus and Islamic lectures and teachings can be heard echoing from every locality. In the name of religion the youth are being brainwashed and inexorably trained into hating women and non-Muslims. Those who do not believe in religion are being incarcerated by the government while the ones who are spreading hate, envy, misogyny and terrorism in the name of religion on a daily basis are revered. They cannot be touched, their actions cannot be critiqued. There was talk in the middle to control the teachings and public lectures of certain leaders, but who has the grit and determination to interfere in such matters! With their silent encouragement the government and the common people, both blinded by religion, have made these local religious teachers so very powerful that they now do whatever they want with impunity and expect the government to beat a hasty retreat every time. They know fully well that the government will bow down to them as it has done before. Thanks to them a large number of the youth are now religious, some doggedly so, future Nibras Islam, Rohan Imtiaz or Mir Sami Mubaswir in the making. Any day now explosions will perhaps rock Bangladesh.
The factory producing terrorists no longer needs the cover of night to operate. In broad daylight scores of people, all blinded by religion, are being incited to hate and murder non-Muslims because it will bring them good fortune and pave the way for their ascent to heaven without awaiting Judgement. What if one day these people, like the terrorists of Sri Lanka, decide to attack churches, temples or the mosques and places of worship of the Shias, Bahais and Ahmadiyyas? What if these people one day cause another heinous incident like the one at Holey Artisan Café? What if they bomb the hotels? I’m sure they will; the way terrorists activities are on the rise it will be surprising if they don’t. Numerous agents of ISIS have been killed but its ideology lives on and it’s making the rounds of the entire globe.
Which race has managed to progress by simply building temples and mosques or by remaining immersed in religious dogma? There is not a single example. Rather, whatever we recognise as the ideals of a civilised and developed nation, the kind of places where people of all religions wish to move to and settle, all such countries have managed to separate religion from state, education and society, perhaps almost even from life. Despite not being blinded by religion how are they so kind, tolerant and humanist? Truth be told religion has very little, if anything at all, to do with kindness and humanism. If there is anything it has any business with then that is politics. Politicians, as well as the religious leaders, use religion solely for their own gains.
I will kill even if I have to die in the process – many Muslims don’t turn back from becoming suicide bombers. There is no dearth of such Muslims in Bangladesh. Many Bangladeshis have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the ranks of ISIS, knowing fully well that they will perhaps die in the process. They consider such a death glorious and the fault lies in their beliefs. How these beliefs have come to be, what has helped in nurturing them, I doubt anyone has concerned themselves with finding the answers to these questions. Is the government doing anything to address the issue? Only killing terrorists in gunfights does not solve anything. The ones who had been beside themselves with grief at the shootings in the church in New Zealand are the same ones who are celebrating the terrorist attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka. Perhaps these people are the terrorists of tomorrow! It is the responsibility of the government to keep such potential threats under surveillance. This too is a sort of a warning. The way Sri Lanka had ignored the warnings it had received, if Bangladesh too makes the same mistake then the outcome of it will perhaps be as tragic as the former. Not once but time and time again.

La Ikraha Fiddeen

Back in the day there was never any compulsion at home about praying and roza or fasting during Ramadan. Before going to bed at night Ma used to ask which one of us wanted to fast the day after. Those who wished to would tell her, as would those who did not. During the last hours of the night she used to wake up only those who had told her they would fast, for sehri, the pre-dawn meal. The rest would continue to sleep peacefully. Anyone who woke up for the pre-dawn meal had to be careful not to disturb the ones who were asleep, make sure they did not make too much noise.

It was same with namaz as well. Those who wished to pray, did, and those who did not want to did not have to. There were no recriminations regarding this either. The ones who wanted to pray did not attempt to force those to pray who did not and the latter too did not make any attempts to disturb the former during the namaz. These rules were neither written nor regularly espoused, they were sort of like natural laws. If you are hungry you will eat, if you are thirsty, you will drink, if you feel sleepy, you will sleep.

During iftar or evening meal Ma would ask everyone to gather together. We would all sit around the table and Ma would serve iftari to everyone with equal care and attention. Whether you were fasting or not, everyone got the same food. Back then I did not appreciate it but now I do – our house had been the ideal one.

Our house was not close enough to the mosque for us to be able to hear the azaan or call to prayer. In the 60-70s, even in the 80s, there were not that many mosques in the country. However, those at home who used to pray never had to face any difficulty regarding the time of prayers. There were clocks on the walls of course. Plus, Ma could tell from the sunlight on our yard if it was time for namaz yet.

It says in the Quran, ‘la ikraha fiddeen’, ‘there is no compulsion in religion’. I believe this to be the most valuable ayat or verse of the Quran and if one were to adhere to this verse with all diligence it can possibly ensure world peace. Islamic scholars usually explain this ayat thus – ‘Islam has nothing to do with coercion, force, persecution or another such destructive behaviour. All such things are against the principles of Islam. Religion is premised upon beliefs and wishes. Forcing someone into reacting or coming to an agreement is not supported by Islam. In fact, Islam prohibits strife and discord, feuds and conflicts, rioting and vandalism. Creating terror, committing the murder of an innocent, such things are unforgettable crimes in Islam.’ Now the question is how many people actually adhere to this explanation?

What I fail to understand is why do Muslims not adhere to the teachings of the Quran that they claim to be so proud of. Allah has decreed that there is no coercion in religion. It is but expected that Allah’s true believers should abide by His counsel. But is that how things happen in reality? In the UAE a new law has been instituted whereby if anyone is found having eaten or drank outside food during the month of Ramadan, they are going to be heavily fined and jailed for a month. In Bangladesh the restaurants are forcibly kept shut during the day and if anyone is found having flouted the rule the fasting mob arrives and vandalises their restaurants. Do even thirsty non-Muslims have no right to seek water somewhere during this terrible heat wave? Someone wishing to quench their thirst is met with intimidation, violence, and destructive outbursts. Those not fasting remain in constant anxiety regarding the ones who have chosen to fast. Many of the latter believe that someone eating or drinking anything in front of them is an insult to their person. I used to eat my fill sitting right in front of my fasting mother and she used to be happy seeing me content. Many a day she used to feed me as well and never did she feel I was insulting her in any way. Neither did I ever feel that she loved me any less because I had refused to fast. My mother was a very honest and pious woman, she knew how to respect one’s choice of not fasting. Today most religious people are sorely lacking in this quality; they run on the assumption that intolerance and injustice are necessary requirements for religion.

The ones who fast expect to be in Allah’s good graces at the time of Judgement. Is it not enough? Why do fasting Muslims seek to demand respect from the ones who do not fast? And why must we show the fasting Muslims any respect at the cost of our human rights by not eating food at the restaurants? Isn’t respect supposed to be mutual? Respect can be accorded only if it is reciprocated, isn’t that so? And is someone’s sense of respect so fragile that it feels slighted at the sight of another person eating in front of them? Ma used to say if we managed to stick to our resolve and control our desires even at the sight of someone else eating or drinking, it was going to make our roza even stronger and more effective. Does no one think like this anymore?

In Bangladesh, people start shouting or making a commotion and in the neighbourhood to get up for sehri at the end of every night. The chaos usually wakes everyone up, even the ones who are not interested in sehri. Do they have no right to sleep if they wish to? The same can be said about the azaan as well. Back in the day when there were no alarm clocks or mobile phones perhaps the shouts and cries of the local boys used to be pretty useful for the ones who needed to wake up for sehri. In this age of technological advancements, such excesses are completely unnecessary. I’m sure everyone knows how to set an alarm in their mobile phones; even if they don’t it hardly takes a couple of minutes to learn!

The ones who wish to fast have the right to do so; the ones who don’t wish to should have a right to choose too. Every human being has the right to be a believer or a non-believer. Across the world, people have a right to practice their own religion. Not just that, the religious also have the right to be critical of those who do not believe in religion. But non-believers don’t have the right to say anything critical of the former – if they do so it results in harassment, legal trouble, jail time, exile or even murder. Religion is a personal matter. Anyone who wishes to practice a particular religion should be allowed to do so just as anyone who does not wish to should be allowed to do as they please. How can the nation, the state or society force someone to practice a religion? Does that mean religion will never show us a possible path to liberation, it will always end up putting people in shackles? The nation is for everyone, not just the majority but the minority as well. It is the duty of the government to treat everyone as equal.

The government of China has forbidden the observance of roza in the Muslim neighborhoods of the country. This prohibition, however, applies only to government officers and workers, leaders and workers of the Communist Party and students. I understand that students should not be made to fast to protect their health. Leaders and workers of the Party, being communists and atheists, perhaps are expected to not observe the roza. But not all government officers and workers are atheists. If they wish to fast, why should they not be allowed to do so? Perhaps the government wishes to convey that since fasting results in fatigue it can disrupt work at the office during the day. But what about those who can tirelessly work even while they are fasting, why should they not be allowed to fast during Ramadan? Not all who fast sit and doze off at work! I strongly condemn this embargo placed by the Chinese government.

China is criticised the world over for it’s an anti-democratic and anti-human rights stance. This move to ban Muslims from fasting too has been criticised. But the Chinese government has stated that it keeps strict surveillance on it’s Muslim dominated provinces during Ramadan to suppress terrorists and separatists. Accordingly, the government has decreed that no cafes and restaurants must remain closed during Ramadan. That at least is the right decision I believe. On the other hand, the Muslim nations have gone the opposite route of China when it comes to Ramadan and fasting and banned the consumption of food or drink even if someone is not fasting.

If Islam does not become more liberal then it’s Muslims who stand to lose the most. Numerous people around the world today are against Muslims. Muslims are not anymore trusted, most fear them or recoil at their name. Because of a handful of terrorist organisations Muslims, in general, are coming to be identified as intolerant, murderous barbarians. It’s Muslims themselves who must take up the onus of ensuring Islam becomes more liberal. They must prove to the world that they are not merely intolerant terrorists, that they do not condone the actions of Muslims radicals, that they believe in forgiveness, kindness, human rights, women’s freedom and in the freedom of expression. Unless human rights and democracy are respected there is no way Muslims can hope to earn the respect of the conscientious people of the world.

The Chief Minister of West Bengal, despite not being a Muslim herself, pray namaz and observes roza. As much as any of us can claim that she does not do any of this sincerely, that she does everything for Muslim votes, but even then I don’t believe anyone should attempt to make her stop doing these things. She has the right to practice any religion she wants. Who says someone does not possess the right to observe more than one faith at a time? Just like we have the right to forsake religion if we wish to, we also have the right to practice more than one if we wish to. But we must be careful to remember one thing – in the eyes of the state a person who believes in a particular religion and a person who does not believe in any are both equally important, they are entitled to the same rights.

What We Need Are Slogans For Ours Rights

Politicians of the subcontinent, once they have won their elections and are at the cusp of beginning their tenure as MPs, always swear oaths in the name of Allah or Bhagwan that they will dutifully carry out the responsibilities of their office. Things are far more acute in the US where MPs swear in with their hands on religious texts like the Bible or Quran. Do an MP’s personal religious beliefs play any role in the running of the state? As a secular nation, India must strive to foster a stronger belief on the constitution than on religion. An MP who is respectful of their nation’s constitution and of their country’s laws, who wishes to serve the people simply because they love their nation, someone who wishes to see society grow and prosper, for people to have access to good education, healthcare, and security, such a person does not need to swear to someone’s name. Such a person can dedicate themselves to the service of their country and its people without any sworn oath. Those who dedicate themselves in such a manner do so because of their principles and not because they believe the Almighty will punish them if they fail to live up to their oath. And those who swear in the name of God before assuming office, do they not break their oaths? In fact, they do so quite often. Besides, it’s not as if such people are truly so staunchly religious that they will not commit an injustice just because they have sworn not to do so. They continue to break the oaths they have taken in the name of their gods, insulting the latter time and again and rendering the oaths futile. There is absolutely no need to drag religion or God into the swearing in of new MPs, especially in a secular nation.

In countries which still have a constitutional monarchy, MPs continue to swear to serve the king or queen. In some cases, people swear to serve the President. Despite having completely separated the church and the state some European nations continue to hold their swearing-in ceremonies in the name of God. Or they seek the Lord’s blessing in the running of the country. At least among the East European countries at present one does not have to swear an oath in the name of God. On the other hand in most Muslim nations oaths are sworn in the name of Allah.

The other day the new Indian MPs, while they were taking their oaths of office, could be heard chanting the slogans aligned with their personal religious beliefs. Politics is gradually becoming all about sloganeering. Some chant ‘Jai Shree Ram’, some chant ‘Allah Hu Akbar’. Can the Parliament at least not be kept separate from one’s personal religious beliefs? In India, different people worship different gods. Some believe in Ram, some in Ganesh, some in Durga while some are devotees of Hanuman. But everywhere what has been spread is the slogan of north Indian Hindu fundamentalists.

‘Allah Hu Akbar’ is just as dangerous a slogan. Muslim jihadi terrorists in various countries across the world use this very slogan while decapitating innocent non-Muslims and non-believers. It can only be an act of intelligence to keep the Parliament separate from religion. The Indian subcontinent was divided because of religion, and even now religious fundamentalism and terrorism is a huge problem here. In Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, with the rise of religious fanaticism, serious security issues are being faced by the minorities, the secular individuals and women. While in Kashmir problems with Muslim terrorists have continued to cause trouble, elsewhere a new threat has emerged in the form of Hindu fanatics modelled after their Muslim counterparts. These people are more interested in shouting religious slogans than in slogans demanding the people’s rights to food, clothing and shelter, education and healthcare, security for all and the right to be able to freely express their opinions. For this reason, even politicians find it in their best interests to serve the purpose of religion in order to satisfy their voters. Or perhaps it is the politicians who ultimately encourage the public to place religious beliefs above all else. This serves to reduce the government’s responsibilities vis-à-vis the welfare of its people since they find it is easy to gain popularity by fanning the flames of religion.

Some political parties, while serving the needs of minorities, had completely forgotten about the Hindu majority of this country. That they too exist, that they too are citizens and they too vote. This time around these parties have learned a lesson that this forgotten faction can easily rise up in agitation. The political parties have had to pay for their sustained negligence this time. The moment the question of conserving the rights of a Hindu citizen comes up, it has become commonplace to accuse someone of having a Hindutva agenda. But the Hindus who wish for the appeasement of Muslim fundamentalists to end are not the ones who have dedicated themselves to the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra. The ones who want to establish such a Rashtra instead of a secular one can rather be termed as Hindu fundamentalists. If the latter had taken a turn towards terrorism for the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra, if they were to begin murdering non-Hindus to wipe them off the face of this country, only then could they be truly accused of anything, and not before that.

Besides, if Hindus have been facing discrimination for centuries, deciding to oppose this systemic discrimination does not in any way mean establishing a Hindu state and slaughtering all Muslims or driving them out. Such people are merely adherents of Hindutva, something that is far less dangerous than Muslim fundamentalism. The true reason behind this wave of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ that is sweeping across this country, even West Bengal which has traditionally been secular, is this longstanding tendency of politicians thinking only about the interests of Muslim clerics and maulavis at the cost of the interests of the general Hindu populace. There is no reason to belittle this reaction of everyday Hindu citizens as merely ‘Hindutva’.

Even today it has not been possible to ensure the peaceful coexistence of Hindus and Muslims everywhere in the subcontinent. Till the date that can be achieved both Hindus and Muslims will continue to remain preoccupied with religious dogma and I doubt whether that will truly serve in anyone’s best interests. The political party that will not ignore the Hindus, the one that values Hindu votes, is the one that is in power today and so very popular at that. It’s not as if everyone has voted them into power with love. It has more been a vote against the political parties who have so far only been interested in appeasing the mullahs etc. It’s only in India that I have seen most political parties chase after the minority vote rather than the majority one. The reaction we have seen among the Hindus this time has managed to make the politicians sit up straight. It is important that we give equal value to everyone as human beings, irrespective of majority, minority, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, atheists, rationalists, white, black, rich or poor. It is a grave crime to discriminate against people on the basis of religion, wealth, class or caste. It’s also a crime all these politicians have committed, not that they will ever admit it.

A few days back two Hindu convicts were murdered in a Bangladeshi prison. They were killed because they were Hindus. In Pakistan, too Hindus and Christians are not safe. In India recently there has been a marked increase in Islamophobia among certain groups of Hindus who have gone to the extreme of lynching people for allegedly having eaten beef. When will this enmity between Hindus and Muslims end? This huge landmass was partitioned into two just to reduce this enmity but seventy years hence the antagonism has not abated in any way whatsoever. Has this mutual hatred and antagonism been artificially produced or is the animosity entirely original and without any solutions! If Hindus and Muslims remain such sworn mortal enemies for centuries then whatever else one might expect from these two communities, peace will not be one of them. I don’t believe that hate has no end or that resentment is perpetual. People across the world have proven time and again that all hostilities eventually come to an end.

When I was young I too used to walk in processions and shout along with the others – ‘We want food, we want clothes, we want a life worth living’. I too used to walk in protests meant to rock the city demanding health and education for all. But times have changed. Today, more than rights what is articulated in political slogans comprises religious beliefs and agendas. There is nothing easier than feeding religion to a soul. Instead, what is truly difficult is to ensure a better standard of living for the people, to make them educated and aware, to provide them employment opportunities and good working environments and ensure the total eradication of all discriminatory practices. It’s perhaps best to ask the politicians to do the difficult deed rather than the facile one.