Monday, February 4, 2013

Some culture!

I wanted to publish this rant a month ago but then decided to wait till I finished the last 3 posts which were connected. Changing course is as easy and quick for me as for a supertanker making a U-turn. I now find myself in the shoes of the parliamentarian who had to give a speech at the end of a long day full of speeches. He began by saying, 'Everything has been said but not everybody has said it.' Here are my comments about an incident that brought out the worst of India.

In the wake of the horrific Delhi rape, I had been watching with disbelief the various misogynistic statements made by leaders of various hues. I knew that this is a male chauvinist country but I had been living in a bubble and had not realised that the rot was so deep. I thought these sort of people would lie low for a while considering the massive protests but it was nothing of the sort. But after reading some quotes from Manusmriti. I am not so surprised.

The Home Minister said something to the effect that the protests had tarnished the image of the country. I would have thought that if there were no protests after such a brutal assault in the capital city at 9:30 p.m. (which is practically broad daylight), that would have tarnished the country's image. Like the BJP, the Congress too is caught up in the 'India Shining' image and wants to keep the rot carefully hidden, thinking like the mythical ostrich that burying one's' head in the sand will make unpleasant things go away.

And what about the godman's comments? I was listening to the spokesperson defending the godman on TV. What made it more intriguing was that his spokesperson was a woman. As expected, she was living in her own alternative universe of fairy tales where frogs turn into princes, defending the godman vigorously and not letting others speak. Some (but not all) turkeys will keep on voting for Christmas.If the problem of evil doesn't convince somebody about the vacuousness of religious preachings then nothing can. And will the godman's insane comments make the slightest dent in his following? Not a chance.

I was getting irritated that the panelists were keeping on appending the honorific 'ji' to the guy's name. It is a pernicious idea that people who wear the right uniform and decorate themselves with some powders are automatically entitled to respect. It is these same people who when told that religion makes people  closed minded and immune to reason, will say that religion promotes charities and gives solace to people in distress. (Here is an example of how religion hits minds for a six.)

As Stephen Fry says in this debate, it is like a burglar protesting in court that everyone is only talking about the theft and murder he committed and nobody is saying anything about the birthday card he gave to his father. I was glad that at least one government minister had the guts to say bluntly that religious leaders have 'been shown up for the frauds that they are' and speak more harshly about the political class than one normally expects from politicians.

That there is apathy in the government arms and that heinous crimes are forgotten is not surprising given that the bosses who control them are also woven from the same cloth. But there is also apathy among the general public, the recent protests notwithstanding, and it is not only in routine everyday activities. There have been many instances having much greater consequences where people have turned a blind eye.

Many people seem to be too self-centered and focused on their own activities. A common reaction seems to be to ignore the more unsavoury aspects of society as 'not my problem'. As Bryan Stephenson says in this TED talk, when we ignore the darker aspects of society, the positive and wonderful things are nonetheless implicated. This habit of not caring about what is happening around you reminds me of what Pastor Martin Niemöller said about Nazi Germany:
First they came for the Jews                    
and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew.                                
Then they came for the communists
and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me —
and by then there was no one left to speak out for me
I can't digest the report which said that 64%of Indians had no doubt that their culture is the best in the world. That such a huge chunk of people think that there is no scope for improvement is worrying. I recently saw some debate in which a nationalist said that no one had yet been born in this world who can beat Indians in anything. He seemed to belong to the group of people who keep saying that everything under the sun from sliced bread on was actually invented in India and can be traced back to the Vedas or some such ancient Hindu text.

There are people who display the characteristics that Orwell noted in nationalists: 'OBSESSION. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit." This in a country where the police treat some like royalty and  the majority like dirt; where politicians and those who wear the right uniform and make a great show of sucking up to various spooks can get away with anything while an ordinary citizen making an innocuous (and perfectly justified)comment on Facebook can get arrested within hours; where caste discrimination is still prevalent; where discrimination against females starts from the womb; where there are dismal social statistics, where 'honour' killings are defended, where there is a lot of media corruption...

It looks as if the level of brutality in society has increased. Every time I listen to TV news, I hear about horrors the likes of which I had not heard before - student stabbing teacher, classmates killing one of their own for a motorbike...I don't know whether I am getting this feeling because I don't roam around and come to know about such incidents from a few minutes of superficial TV news. I hope that is the case. (Is It Time to Treat Violence Like a Contagious Disease?)

The world is a pretty depressing place but it is better than yesterday (as Robert Krulwich indicates) but you will never know this by just watching TV news.But all that chest-beating talk of India dominating this century rings hollow if people can't roam around freely and fearlessly.

Amidst the gloom, I must add a silver lining: I am glad that I don't live in a society where guns are sold like consumer hardware.(Of all the conspiracy theories that I have heard, this one takes the cake.)

PS: The most outrageous word of the year.

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