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.

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.

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.

Muslim women and an emerging new politics

Those Indians who are known to be secular, liberal intellectuals usually support everything to do with their Muslim minorities – their religion and customs, madrassas and mosques, Eid-Muharram, hijab-burqa, even their misogynous Sharia laws. Whether it is Muslims expressing a desire for more mosques, or if they insist on blocking thoroughfares for their Friday prayers regardless of the inconvenience caused to common people – left liberals back them up always and even fight for them. Such liberal intellectuals have done a lot for the equal rights of Hindu women but they have never been too concerned about similar rights for Muslim women as well. They believe Muslims ought to be granted whatever they demand. Obviously, here Muslim means just the Muslim men. These men want to establish laws based on religion and it is believed that they should be allowed to do so. Muslim men do not wish to give any independence to Muslim women, so it is assumed that is how it is in Islam. This is exactly how the left-wing liberal intelligentsia of India has committed serious human rights violations since time immemorial, all in the name of solidarity with the minority. And then they claim that they are human rights and women’s rights activists, that they are progressive in their outlook. The ban imposed on triple talaq in India has elated the right-wing fundamentalists of the nation while it has made the liberal class unhappy. While Hindutva activists clamour for a Uniform Civil Code on the basis of equal rights of men and women, liberals are not heard making similar demands. However, it should have been the liberals who should have been in the forefront of this rights discourse.
Muslim women in India whose rights and independence have thus far always been denied have suddenly woken up to din of equal rights. A couple of educated Muslim men have put forth a demand that Muslim women be allowed to enter mosques and offer their prayers just like men. The Supreme Court of India has asked the government for clarification on the matter and this is now front page news. Just like how the Supreme Court struck down the discriminatory rules that barred Hindu women from entering the Sabarimala temple there ought to be a similar law for Muslim places of worship as well. Muslim women deserve the right to enter mosques just like Hindu and Christian women have the right to enter their respective places of worship.
The ban on triple talaq resulted in a declaration of victory across India, as if Muslim women had finally earned their equal rights. That is how little people actually know about the discrimination between the sexes inherent in Islamic jurisprudence. Muslim women have not achieved anything remotely close to equal rights yet. I feel compelled to ask, what good will it do if women earn the right to enter mosques and offer their prayers? They will be able to offer their supplications in front of Allah, occupy the same row as the men while performing Ruku and Sajda – things they had not been allowed to do previously. Not that they will be allowed to read the actual namaz along with the rest of the men – instead they will be made to stand behind a wall or a purdah, in a small back room or the veranda perhaps. The same prayers they used to offer at home they will now be able to offer in the mosque if they wish to. The Prophet had said that it was best if women prayed at home. I fail to comprehend how devout women are expected to flout the Prophet’s wish in order to be able to enter a mosque and pray. Many have claimed that allowing Muslim women to enter mosques will mean the realisation of equal rights. The women will not be allowed to stand beside the men or in front of them, they will be relegated to the back behind the men. How is this equal rights? It will just further demarcate and put people in their respective places, that too in a mosque – men in the front and women behind them. Women becoming imams, offering prayers kneeling beside men or in front of them, such things are considered haram in Islam. Equal rights cannot be earned from within the ambit of religion, it requires one to move out of the structure of organised religion. Will devout women be able to fight for equal rights in marriage, divorce or inheritance? If one believes in Islam one has to also condone the structural discrimination between the sexes that is there in Islamic law!
How many Muslim women manage to finish schools or attend universities? How many Muslim women join jobs or start businesses like other modern women? How many are allowed to take own life’s decisions? How many Muslim women have the right to not wear burqas or hijabs? How many are independent or self-reliant? The numbers must be very low. When this number increases only then can one say that Muslim women are earning equal rights. No one has forbidden women from offering the namaz. Since many women remain occupied with housework it is more convenient for them to pray at home. Since men spend most of the time outside it is more convenient for them to visit mosques. Most women actually spend more time in religious activities and rituals than men, so it is causing women no great harm if they cannot go to the mosque. What is definitely causing them harm is lack of education, absence of proper healthcare and lack of independence. What is causing Muslim women true harm is the erasure of all their rights under religious laws, child marriage, being forced to marry one’s rapist or even being forced to a marry one’s rapist father-in-law, and a host of associated misogynous laws and regulations including being prohibited from using a mobile phone. Among the Bohra Muslims of India female genital mutilation is still prevalent, to ensure women find no pleasure in sexual intercourse. They firmly believe sexual pleasure is solely for men. Have Indian liberals had anything to say ever about female genital mutilation or have they simply accepted this as part of Muslim culture too? Those who truly want the betterment of the minorities must surely wish for the latter to receive proper education and become self-reliant, that they turn towards a scientific outlook and extricate themselves from the mires of superstitions and religious fundamentalism.
I did not write in favour of revoking the ban on women entering the Sabarimala. What business do women have going to places where it is customary to consider them polluted? Is it not time yet for women to start maintaining a safe distance from God? No person of sound conscience should bow down before a misogynous power, especially women should not do it at all.
Then there are the ones who call themselves liberal, who are labelled as progressive despite being so reactionary. There are very few who are truly progressive in this subcontinent. The ones who are Islamophobic, those who believe that all Muslims should be driven out of the country, are one sort of reactionary. While the ones who believe Muslims should remain immersed in their religion if they want to, adhere to Sharia law if they so desire, be allowed to mutilate the genitals of young girls and call it culture – such people are another kind of reactionary. A truly progressive person can only be someone who wishes to combat all kinds of religious extremism – be it Muslim or Hindu. Not just the laws and misogyny of one particular religion, it is necessary to fight such problematic features in all religious beliefs. Regarding the misogynous, patriarchal and brutal customs of a minority community through a lens of kindness and compassion will only add to the further detriment of said community.
That is not to say I am calling for everyone to tolerate the barbarism of the majority either. Half the world’s problems can perhaps be solved only if we stopped tolerating brutality irrespective of religion, gender, race and ethnic or linguistic communities. The rest can be solved by using the good to push aside the bad, the beautiful to overcome the ugly.
The problem with those who believe in free thought in India is that although they never fail to express their pride of vanguards like Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar who took the first steps to counter Hindu fundamentalism, they simultaneously never wish for such forerunners to be found among the Muslims of India. Unless Muslims can be trained to inculcate truly secular values, free thought and a modern, progressive and science-minded outlook they will continue to wallow in the depths.
More than being allowed into mosques it is essential for Muslim women to be allowed to attend schools, colleges and universities, to become self-reliant, to learn to hold their head high, become their own persons and declare a war against patriarchy and the clout of the mullahs. To live having to hide one’s face, dependant on someone else, terrified like a witless worm – that is not how one lives. When I speak in favour of the independence and rights of Muslim women, when I call for Muslim men to become more progressive and rise above fundamentalist dogma, the so-called liberal intellectuals who consider themselves well-wishers of Indian Muslims abuse me and label me ‘anti-Muslim’. Does that not make it clear what they want? They want for Muslims to remain consigned in the darkness, just like how Islamophobes want Muslims to remain. Such people keep trying to stop me from showing my fellow Muslims the way towards the light; they want Hindus to find this illumination but when it comes to the Muslims they say it is not time yet. When sati was being abolished in this country many educated as well as uneducated members of society had been similarly disposed towards claiming that the time for it had not come yet. We must remember that the right time never comes on its own, it has to be ushered in.

The Burqa Issue

It is the most Islamophobic among the far-right in India who have consistently demanded the ban on triple talaq and the adoption of a Uniform Civil Code, who have been vocal about doing away with Sharia law. But the ones who should be making these demands in the first place, the ones who should have been at the forefront of the movement, have never done so. They are liberal, not blinded by religion or at times not even religious, they subscribe to leftist ideology and believe in human rights, freedom of speech, women’s liberty, equality, truth and compassion – but they are all quiet, they are yet to utter a word. Muslim women, by the very fact of their sex, are not allowed to go to colleges and universities, are often married off young and are forced to cover themselves in the burqa. For the crime of being born female they are systematically disenfranchised from equal rights regarding all things like marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.

So who will fight for the independence of these women? The far-right has been vocally against the burqa. It will be quite natural to take that as evidence that they are truly sympathetic to the cause of Muslim women. But truth be told, it is due to no sympathy on their part but simply the demands of their own political gains that motivate the far-right to remain alert about faults on the part of Muslims. Muslims are not modern, they contribute in no way to the betterment of society, they imprison women behind the veil, they are not fit to be citizens of India, they are capable of only committing bad deeds, violence and bloodshed are endemic to them, their chief problems lie in their religion, in their religious texts and laws – these are what the far-right wants to highlight. However, they rarely choose to point out facts like how the religious laws of Hindus and other non-Islamic creeds used to be no less problematic, like for instance how the Manu Samhita has next to nothing when it comes to rights due to women. And that most modern laws were made by cancelling those aforementioned religious laws and patching together various things premised upon the principles of equality, as a response to decades of activism demanding equal rights for women. The far- right had always been in favour of preserving the religious laws. It was the liberals, the ones who believed in the demands for equality for women, who had fought hard against them. Wasn’t it the fanatical right-wing factions who had been the most miffed with Raja Ram Mohan Roy for speaking against the practice of sati or with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar for having argued in favour of widow remarriage. Today the same right-wing is trying to achieve something akin to what Vidyasagar had done. But they are doing this not to reform their own religion but someone else’s. I don’t believe that in order to reform age-old religious traditions or ensure the development of a backward community only people of said community must come forward and no one else. It’s general human responsibility to try and work towards the betterment of all societies and classes. But if the ploy is to only sing the praises of one’s own religion and social formations, ignore its faults in favour of highlighting the problems and issues in other faiths and societies – that is the occupation of a slanderer, not a reformer.

I fight for the adoption of the Uniform Civil Code without having pledged allegiance to any one group or community or political party, simply as a feminist and advocate of human rights. The Hindu right-wing too is a proponent of the Civil Code and there are obvious differences between the motivations of the two points of view. I wish for Muslims to become secular and enlightened, and move forward towards establishing a modern, equal society. The motivation of the Hindu fanatics is not very clear to me. Like for instance I am not a supporter of killing Muslims for eating or trading in beef, which is clearly something the Hindu fanatics is perfectly fine with. My position is always against any kind of religious fanaticism, even the Hindu kind. But does that mean if the Hindu fanatics support the Uniform Civil Code, even with their own ulterior nefarious motives, I should immediately withdraw my support regarding the legislation? Of course not! Just because my mortal enemy admits the sun rises in the east must I say the opposite! That the sun in fact rises from the west! Obviously not! I had once asked a friend why they were not supporting the cause of the Uniform Civil Code despite being so progressive. The friend had admitted that it was because the BJP supports the Code. Just because the BJP wants the Uniform Civil Code they don’t want it! I do not feel he is really progressive.

Any talk about a ban on the burqa makes people go into shock. Fourteen nations from across the world who are at the forefront of adhering to human rights have banned the burqa – either in certain designated areas or everywhere, either partially or completely – Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, Latvia, Norway. In most cases the issue has been regarding allowing someone to keep their faces covered in public. Many people these days don’t feel comfortable when they see people moving around in their vicinity with their faces covered. Recently Sri Lanka has banned the burqa too, to ensure that it does not happen again that a terrorist is loose with their identity and their bombs hidden underneath a burqa and the police have no wind of it.

The other day in Bangladesh four goons dressed in burqas approached the young madrassa student Nusrat, doused her in kerosene and set her on fire. Those men burnt her alive because she had dared to make a police complaint against the principal of her madrassa who sexually abused her.

A suicide bomber is walking around wearing a burqa and we are sitting complacently beside them taking them to be innocent women – the days of such stupidity are over. A wide array of people wear the burqa – 1. Girls brainwashed by religion into believing they will go to hell if they don’t wear the burqa; 2. Girls forced by their families into doing so; 3. Suicide bombers; 4. Escaped convicts; 5. Criminals on the run with bounty on their heads; 6. Thieves; 7. Dacoits and 8. Murderers.

The burqa needs to be banned across the globe. Once that is done women will be able to move around with the dignity of human beings, without having to carry around a mobile prison at all times as punishment for having been born as female, to no longer have to live as faceless zombies. Can there be any better news for women? The women who claim they like wearing the burqa or that it is part of their rights do so only because they have been indoctrinated into believing so.

Back in 2010 an old article of mine on the burqa issue had been reprinted in a journal in Karnataka, that too without my knowledge. It had sparked riots in two cities. Obviously it was the men who had been rioting even though the issue at hand was womenswear. It’s usually men who decide what women should wear. If the burqa is indeed such a blessing why do men not show interest in donning it? That women too have sexual desires, that they too can make advances towards a man, these things are proven facts. We have heard of women getting attracted to other men and plotting to kill their husbands as well. So if women are expected to keep themselves covered from head to toe so they don’t end up stoking a man’s sexual desires, then men too have to don the burqa to ensure they don’t similarly incite women’s desires. But other than thieves, goons, murderers and terrorists no man will wear the burqa, because they feel it will damage their masculinity, like how sarees or bangles do.

Sarees, bangles, burqas, lipstick, kohl – these are women’s things. When a man uses women’s things, or does things that are usually expected of women like cooking, cleaning, childcare and suchlike, it jeopardises his rank and standing. On the other hand women slip into men’s clothes with ease, they do the same difficult or risky jobs as men, and it only adds to their standing. Isn’t this picture enough to make it clear to us how women are not regarded as human beings in the strictest sense as men are, they are usually regarded as lesser humans. Society has only made technological advancements but it has hardly progressed in its outlook at all.

The burqa is a symbol of insult to women, all of us know this and yet we are not doing anything to rectify this. To be honest, more than how degrading it is for women it is even more so for men. Burqas prove irrevocably that men are incapable of controlling their sexual impulses. They are helpless, weak and their libidos override their personalities. Let women say, ‘You cannot control your sexual excitement, that’s your problem not mine. You cannot cover me up because you have a problem. I am not your private property that you will decide for me what I should wear, how, where I should go, how far. You solve your own problems, why should I be expected to bear the brunt of them! I have my desires as well but I have never demanded you keep your face and body covered because of that. I will wear kohl if I wish to and if my dark gaze is a problem for you then don’t glance at me! If your eyes stray regardless and if your manhood causes you too much hardship then hide your eyes behind a thick blindfold. There will be no better solution than that. You don’t have to witness something that excites you. That way you will live and so will I!’

Some are saying that if the burqa is banned in India then the ghoonghat, the veil or headscarf prevalent among Hindus and other non-Muslims, needs to be banned too. I say let it! Women’s heads, faces and hair have to covered so that no one other than their husbands can see them, because wives are the private properties of their husbands – such dangerous beliefs are still so prevalent among people in the twenty-first century. Till the day women continue to don the burqa or the ghoonghat, they will continue to be regarded as sexual objects, as slaves dedicated to men.

Down With Superstitions

Nearly 885 lives have been lost in the devastating floods in Kerala, besides a cumulative loss
of property worth almost twenty thousand crores. Millions of people have been rendered
homeless. In such a moment of crisis a well-renowned personality has declared to the media
that the natural calamity was a result of women wanting to enter the Sabrimala temple in
Kerala; apparently this has angered the resident deity Ayyappan who has retaliated with
floods. Not just the uneducated masses, this is what even those who have had a university
education believe. Women between ten and fifty are not allowed entry into the Sabrimala
temple and there is a case being heard in the Supreme Court about revoking this prohibition.
Just like the rest of Kerala, Sabrimala too has been affected by the floods. Arguably, it was
the move towards changing the age-old rules of entry into the temple complex that angered
Ayyappan in the first place; the moment the point was raised the deity became so incensed
that he made sure to veto it in his own way. S. Gurumurthy, a right-wing politician, has
written, ‘The judges of the Supreme Court better consider if there is a link between the
Sabrimala litigation and the heavy rains in Kerala. Among the million possible reasons
behind the floods if even one is this then I’m certain the people would not want the ruling to
go against Lord Ayyappa.’ A god-man added to this assessment with his own reasoning that
since people eat beef in Kerala that is what has caused the floods.
As we know very well Kerala is the only state in the country where there are hardly any
illiterate people; the literacy rate is almost a hundred percent. Kerala is a state the country
ought to be proud of. Yet, these reactions to the floods reveal that when it comes to
superstitions Kerala is no less than any other state in the country. In fact, I doubt if there is
any country or state or city or village in the world where there are no superstitions! Even
Christian missionaries in the west preach that by legitimizing abortion and homosexuality we
invite God’s wrath in the form of floods, etc. It has always been the nature of religious people
to try and hold back progress; they have accepted technology while simultaneously denying
It’s not a new maneuver to try and link natural calamities with supernatural underpinnings. In
1934, after the devastating Bihar-Nepal earthquake, Mahatma Gandhi had reportedly declared

that the earthquake had been caused by social practices like untouchability practiced against
the Harijans. Some people believe that the reason behind the 2015 Sabah earthquake in
Malaysia was that a few people had climbed Mount Kinabalu and taken naked pictures of
themselves. About three years ago Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman, head of the Jamiat Ulema-e
Islam Fazal of Pakistan, had gone on record to state that since women were wearing jeans
instead of pyjamas, it was causing more frequent earthquakes. According to him, such
shameless behavior by women was also the reason behind inflation. He had gone on to note
that women who did not cover themselves up like ‘sacks of flour’ were the weapons that were
going to bring down human civilization. Consequently, it was such ‘shameless girls’ who
were behind electricity problems and internal security issues in Pakistan, as well as issues
plaguing Baluchistan as well. He had recommended putting women in sacks, keeping them in
the house and establishing Sharia law, all of which were supposed to ensure that the Taliban
did not attack Pakistan time and again. It has been proved repeatedly that religious
fundamentalists are also severely misogynistic. Nevertheless no one has ever taken any
concrete steps anywhere against such blatant dissemination of their misogynous views.
Many people can’t seem to stand women wearing jeans. Dr. Rajith Kumar, a professor of
botany in Sree Sankara College, Kerala, had declared to the media that women who wear
jeans give birth to intersex or mentally disabled children. There is no dearth of such
superstitions in this country. A while back BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj had blamed Rahil
Gandhi’s visit to Kedarnath for the floods in Uttarakhand. Similarly, after the Kathmandu
earthquake, Sadvi Prachi of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had placed the blame yet again on
Rahul Gandhi’s Nepal trip. In fact at one point of time rumours had spread that murder
allegations brought against Jayendra Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, had caused
the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.
Such superstitious beliefs are prevalent in every household in the country. In the Kukke
Subramanya temple of Karnataka, during the months of November and December, there is a
three-day long festival called ‘Made Snana’ held every year which consists of lower-caste
people rolling around in the leftovers of Brahmins after they have finished eating. They
believe that rolling in the leftovers of those from higher castes will cure them of skin
diseases, help childless couples conceive and generally produce numerous boons. Nearly
35000 people participate in this ritual every year. Back in 1979 the High Court had ordered
for the ritual to be discontinued but it had to be reinstated after demands from devotees.

In an ancient ritual that continues to this day in Bijapur, babies are flung in the air with
someone waiting underneath to catch them as a way of seeking blessings from the gods. The
ones that survive and return to their mothers are thought to be blessed. The ones that die are
accepted as sacrifices. In the Sri Santeswar temple in Raichur numerous people gather every
year for this ‘religious festival’. Usually babies no more than two years old are chosen for
this dangerous game and since it has continued so for a few hundred years the police do not
interfere either. Many superstitious rituals and practices are prevalent in Gauhati’s Kamakhya
temple too.
The only way to combat superstitions is by way of science. It is the government that must
take up the onus of producing science-aware citizens. Rationalist, non-superstitious people
live risky lives in India today. Narendra Dabholkar was shot dead, Govind Pansare too was
similarly killed. Even today, in the biggest democracy of the world, speaking out against
superstitions can get you killed. The Anti-Superstition Bill that Dabholkar had been
pressurizing the Maharashtra government to pass had stipulations for punishment of those
found to be conning people by exploiting their superstitions. Practice of witchcraft, declaring
someone to be a witch, Aghoris, Ojha or witch doctors who claimed to be able to cure snake
bites, dog bites etc. – many such things were mentioned therein. The bill had been stuck in
the Assembly because various political and religious outfits had vehemently opposed it.
Knowledge and intelligence versus stupidity – it’s an eternal fight. It is not an easy task to
make people aware of their superstitions and misbeliefs. But down the ages rationalist
individuals have accomplished this very difficult task. Just as the freedom of expression and
the freedom to practice one’s religious beliefs and customs are fundamental rights,cultivation
of a scientific outlook, inspiring humanity among others, the cultivation of knowledge and
resisting hate are fundamental duties of all citizens.
We know that science must be utilized to combat superstitions. But we must also be aware
that it is possible the scientist might not be entirely free of them either. The directors of
India’s space programme reportedly consulted the almanac before the launch of a satellite,
even going to the temple and smashing coconuts to seek divine blessings. The directors of
ISRO themselves prove beyond doubt that a knowledge of science and freedom from one’s
misbeliefs are not mutually inclusive categories. Numerous people bathe in the dirty and
polluted waters of the Ganga everyday, simply because they believe it to be holy. Just as
numerous devotees do the same in the waters of the Brahmaputra at Langalbandh,Narayanganj
– foul-smelling and heavily polluted by chemical wastes – while chanting ‘O
Louhitya, absolve me of my sins’.

Faith is a dangerous thing, especially when rendered sightless. Blind faith and superstitious
beliefs are like twin siblings. If we wish to save society then we must activate all possible
channels to combat both of them.

Can rapes in churches be prevented if priests are allowed to break the vow of celibacy?

A nun of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of Kottayam in Kerala has filed a rape case against none other than the bishop, alleging that numerous times over the past four years the man lured her to his quarters over various flimsy pretexts and raped her. The first incident occurred on May 2014 in a guest house in Kuravilangad. She had reported the incident to the church authorities back then but they chose not to take any action on the matter. Subsequently she was harassed by the bishop on a number of occasions, adding up to about thirteen different counts of rape and sexual assault. Having failed to get any justice from the church the nun was finally forced to seek the help of the police. A bishop is no ordinary individual; he is usually a man of immense influence among Christians and is chosen by priests as their guide and leader. Expectedly the people of the church are unwilling to accept such unsavoury allegations against such a holy person; consequently, their entire ire has been deflected towards the nun. She is being pressurised to drop the case and it has created a furore across the country.
Perhaps the worst rule in the Catholic church is that all priests, nuns and bishops have to take a vow of celibacy. They are not allowed to marry or have sex. Not just Christians, such vows of chastity or brahmacharya are common among Hindus, Jains and Buddhists too. That is not to say everyone unanimously adheres to oaths taken; some observed their vows piously, some stray from their path. The Buddhist monks of Japan used to flout their declarations of celibacy so much that they had to be eventually allowed to get married. I strongly believe that the laws making celibacy necessary for priests ought to be done away with. I am not claiming even once that such a move will ensure that women and children will no longer be sexually violated. But I do believe that it will at least give priests a choice as to whether they wish to remain celibate or not; if they wish to they can and no one will be able to force them otherwise. If celibacy no longer remains obligatory t will only result in an increase in the number of people who wish to join churches to serve God. It is a complete misconception that it is not possible to give oneself up to the service of the Lord while simultaneously performing one’s domestic duties. Rather, it is nearly impossible to put one’s mind to something while trying to repress physical unease or dissatisfaction. Sexual desire is as natural a phenomenon as thirst, it is not contrary to the divine. If God has created this universe then sexuality too is divine creation.
Despite sexual harassment being a systematic and rampant problem in the Indian subcontinent, a counter-movement akin to Me Too of the west has yet to emerge here. Here, if an influential person is accused of rape it does not create any inconvenience for them; instead people slut-shame the accuser or the survivor. In Kerala too the priests have not sided with the nun, they have come out in support of the accused bishop. One priest went as far as to ask the nun to sort the matter out and went on to claim, ‘We will buy a plot of land for a convent and all of you will be safely moved there. Drop the case.’ This was followed by outright threats when the nun refused to back down.
Around the same time that the nun from Kottayam was fighting bishop Franko Mulakkal of Jaladhar, in another convent in Kerala the dead body of a nun was recovered from a well. Blood stains were found in and around the scene and the deceased nun was identified as Susan. A while back another such body had been recovered, that time a nun called Abhaya. Did both these women commit suicide or were they killed?
Men cannot stand the fact that a woman can cause trouble for a man, regardless of the fact whether the man in question is a rapist or a murderer. Quite true to character P.C. George, a MLA of the state, has called the nun a prostitute simply because she has dared to report rape. ‘No one has doubt that the nun is a prostitute.’ Since she has mentioned thirteen counts of rape he has shot back with, ‘Twelve times she enjoyed it and the thirteenth time it’s rape? Why didn’t she complain the first time?’ Powerful and influential people including MLAs have been rattled by the turn of events. They wish to argue that since the nun did not report the incident the first time itself, the accusations of rape are untrue! Some want proof to determine if the bishop did indeed rape her. During the early days of the Me Too movement in Hollywood when actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lawrence, Ashley Judd were coming out with their stories of sexual harassment involving powerful mogul Harvey Weinstein, did anyone turn around to ask them to furnish proof? Did anyone demand investigation into the matter? Not that I know of. A woman’s claim ‘I was raped’ is enough for her to be believed. No one rapes someone with witnesses in the scene. Be it the east or the west, everywhere it is the same thing that women do not easily report rape simply because in many occasions such an admission only results in further harassment. Whenever someone comes out to directly accuse a man in a position of influence they do so with acute awareness of the dangers involved. They know that society will easily label them as whores and their lives will be upended entirely. And yet they still go ahead with the allegations, all to the service of truth. In the west some women have at least taken such bold steps thanks to Me Too but in the Indian subcontinent harassed and violated women still have to remain silent on most occasions. In this case the nun from Kerala had to have been truly courageous to have not been daunted by the inevitable backlash. Not many of us can claim to be that brave. In this instance she has earned that bravery after thirteen counts of violation against her person. There are countless around us who remain afraid to report rape even after the hundredth time because they are terrified of being shamed by our inherently patriarchal society.
It cannot be said enough how patriarchal and misogynistic our society is. It also explains why the nun found herself alone after alleging rape, with even the church refusing to side with her. She was denied basic facilities like ration and stipend. Since the news broke in the media and became wider public knowledge, pressure had been steadily mounting demanding an investigation into the matter. That is perhaps the only reason why the authorities had to look into the matter, why the bishop was removed from his duties and why he was finally placed under arrest today. If the incident had not been reported in the newspapers it would have surely been hushed up and soon enough another dead nun would have been recovered from yet another well somewhere.
Some go so far as to claim that revoking the vow of celibacy will result in a decrease in the number of cases of sexual violence or rape of women and children involving the clergy. Celibacy is an irrational and absurd ritual and must be put an end to. But it has absolutely no correlation with curbing instances of rape. Rapists do not rape because they do not have a partner or because they are not married – they rape because patriarchy has taught them that they are the stronger sex, that women are inherently weaker and that they have the absolute right to control and torture the latter. Patriarchy has made men into such brutes, has poisoned them with so much cruelty, that they do not even hesitate to sexually violate innocent children.
All across Europe and America today people have gradually begun to voice their allegations against the Catholic church because the clergy have continued to sexually abuse children across centuries. The children had been quiet thus far but today many of them are adults and they want justice. The Pope cannot solve any problems, he merely goes around apologising. And this is not just in the churches. Imams of mosques and teachers of madrassas rape and abuse children with similar impunity, just as Hindu godmen cheat people, amass fabulous wealth and keep raping whoever they want. Some have recently been indicted and jailed too. Even Buddhists monks are known to have committed rape and murder, quite against the grain of popular belief about them being honest and nonviolent.
No godman, no imam, no priest, no bishop, in fact not even the Pope, must be allowed to get away if it’s found they have committed a crime. Everyone must be brought to justice. Across the globe the history of exploitation and persecution of people in the name of religion is an ancient one. If today we continue to remain silent, if we do not build up a resistance against those who wish to see this cycle of abuse continue, then our future is perhaps already doomed.

If we can accept western technology then why not adopt their modes of protest too?

This year the Nobel Prize in Literature will not be awarded. This is hardly the first time something like this is being done, but never before has the reason behind such a step been a sex scandal. The members of the Swedish Academy decide the recipient of the prize each year but this year the award has to be canceled because there are only ten extant members of the total council of eighteen. That is not enough to come to an agreement over a suitable recipient of the Nobel Prize. Where did the rest of the members of the council go? They have resigned because the husband of one of the members of the Academy has been accused of sexual harassment by eighteen different women. The Academy also used to financially aid an organisation founded by the accused. Besides, in the past this same man has been accused of leaking the names of the winners in advance having gained the information from his wife. After these uncomfortable incidents came to light some of the members of the Academy resigned. One must admit that it is because of the Me Too movement that so many women have come forward with their stories of harassment against such an influential man. The movement has provided immense impetus to women who have faced sexual violence to voice their accusations, to not be afraid and to never feel ashamed. It has provided many women with a lot of strength and assured them that no matter how rich or influential the accused men are, their stories of harassment will no longer remain dirty secrets, that their Time’s Up. In case of the Academy, if the women had not come forward the husband Jean Claude Arnaut would have remained installed as a virtuous man in the public eye. His reputation now lies in ruins, the Academy has snapped all ties with him and his wife too has had to pay for his indiscretions by resigning from her position in the Academy.
Hollywood too has gone through a storm recently. A series of women came forward and accused powerful producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. Harvey was forced out from his own company. Accusations were leveled against Kevin Spacey and Ben Affleck too; Spacey lost his deal with Netflix as a result while Affleck too has had to apologise for an old incident when he had groped a young journalist. Accusations were raised against director Oliver Stone that he had allegedly grabbed the breasts of a woman in a party twenty years ago, with the woman recently making the story public. Dustin Hoffman, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas, Roman Polanski, David Copperfield are only a few among the nearly 122 celebrities against whom many women have alleged sexual harassment. Without consent they have grabbed breasts or touched buttocks, told sexually coloured jokes, lured women to their rooms under false pretexts, tried raping many of them and even succeeded with some. Not just in Hollywood, this is everywhere, in the music industry, in the world of art, in politics, business or media. The effect of Time’s Up has been felt in nearly all of these places. Not just ordinary women, celebrities have accused other celebrities of sexual harassment and have caused devastation in the lives of many such predatory men, causing them to lose their reputations, their careers as well as their clout. To give due credit, Me Too has managed to unmask many such predatory abusive men. The stronger Me Too has grown in the west, the more rabid general misogyny has become too. Time’s Up has added to the pressure, leading to many institutions crumbling and even ministers being forced to resign.

In the Cannes Film Festival this year, for the very first time, a hotline has been established to combat harassment. If anyone attempts any sort of indiscreet behaviour they will be immediately reported to the hotline. On fliers of the festival this year they have printed advice such as ‘Good behaviour is required’ ‘Don’t spoil the party, stop harassment’. This sort of an initiative by Cannes is commendable as well as essential.
A few days ago the Attorney General of New York Eric Schneiderman was forced to resign after four previous lovers alleged that he used to physically abuse them. Although Eric was a vocal crusader in the fight for gender equality he is now being regarded as a liar and fraud by the people, the shame forcing him out of office.

In the west when accusations of sexual harassment or abuse are raised even the most influential of men have to now go through shame and censure; they have to face public ridicule. In many cases they have to leave their high positions of authority, come to terms with their fall in society and their tarnished reputations. And how are things in our subcontinent? Here women continue to face torture and incredible sexual torment, rape or gang rape on a daily basis. Not just adults, even infants are no longer safe. Every day there is fresh news of abuse against a child, be it in Comilla or Kolkata. Let’s take India for instance. Even after accusations are proved the accused do not fear any backlash against their reputation. Back in 1988 a government official had accused the then DGP of Punjab Police K.P.S Gill of sexual harassment. The next year Gill was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour. Even after the accusations were proved in court the award wasn’t rescinded and nor did it affect Gill’s name in any adverse way. Various accusations of harassment, including allegations of rape, have been raised against as many as 48 MLAs and 3 MPs across party lines but the political parties hardly care about such data. If things come to a head they can always blame things on the violated woman’s clothes or her character and support rape too if need be. The only consequence is that no one will have to suffer any at all – since most people in the country are used to victim-shaming rather than shaming the predators.
Misogyny, abuse, rape have become so normalised in our societies that accusations leveled against men result in people shaming not the accused but the woman who has gone through the ordeal. Men don’t have to hang their heads in shame, women do. I speak from experience when I say that society has never criticized or rebuked any man who has shamed me or cheated me; it is I who has always had to bear the brunt of all abuse. I used to be in love with and was married to poet Rudra Muhammad Shahidullah a long time ago. In the second volume of my autobiography Utal Haoa (Restless Wind) I have written about his treatment of me, terrifying stories of his regular visits to brothels even after marriage and bringing back STDs to infect his wife with. After reading these accounts Bangladeshi society had felt no hatred for him; all their hatred had been directed at me. I had dared to speak about sex in public and that must make me a bad woman, a fallen woman. Because to them the only good woman is the kind that silently tolerates all abuse and torture at the hands of her husband, and the woman who successfully hides all her husband’s misdeeds is the one with the strongest character. In fact, after the revelations about Rudra nothing happened to his social standing other than his consistently surging popularity. This is unthinkable in a civilised nation. In the third volume of my autobiography Dwikhondito (Split) I have written about renowned author Syed Shamsul Haque’s frank admissions regarding his relationships with teenage girls. He had once taken me on a trip and force me into sharing a room with him at night. Even though I had averted any untoward incident the whole thing had been terribly uncomfortable. Did Syed Haque have to apologise after these revelations? Did he have to bow his head in shame? Did his social standing suffer? Not at all. He continued to lie with his head held high, went to court and hit me with a hundred crore lawsuit and got my book banned by the High Court. Syed Haque is no more but my book is still prohibited in Bangladesh. Those who were expected to be on the same side as freedom of speech and the independence of women, they had sided with Syed Haque, sang his praises and thrown the choicest of abuses at me, all because I had dared to publicly reveal the misdeeds of the great man.

This is our patriarchal misogynous society. Sunil Gangyopadhyay, the ex-president of Sahitya Akademi, had once groped me; I had been stunned by his audacity. Even after revealing this on social media no one had accused Gangyopadhyay of any crime, they had directed all the abuse at me. Many had figured out I was speaking the truth but they had sided with him nevertheless. They were convinced that a man had the right to sexually harass a woman. When Sunil had devoted himself to banning Dwikhandito he had repeatedly remarked that whatever happens between two people behind closed doors has no business being discussed in public. Since I had done exactly that in the book I was pronounced guilty and the men who had committed the actual crimes were deemed not guilty simply by virtue of the fact that they were men. What would Sunil have said about Me Too? Would he have also rebuked the western women who are revealing the abuse they have faced at the hands of men behind closed doors? No he wouldn’t have. He would have hailed them precisely because they are from the west, while had it been a woman from this region he would done all in his power to drive her out, to silence her, to bring down devastation upon her.
I am talking about my own experience but this can as well be the experience of any woman in the subcontinent. A Ram Rahim or an Asaram Bapu is punished, not to give women their due rights, but because such punishments help one reap immense political profits.

Unlike West’s ‘MeToo’, subcontinent’s men don’t hang their heads in shame. Women do