Sunday, December 17, 2017

Letter to Bapuji

Dear Bapuji,

   I do not know where to start. Sometimes I just feel like crying out loud. Sometimes I feel lost completely.Yet at other times I feel surprised.The world that we are living in today is such a bizarre one,isn't it? Or has it always been that way?

   Everyday or the other,I see helpless souls around me-young children who have lost their childhood,women who are assaulted and harassed,Dalits ,Adivasis, the poor and minorities who are discriminated,exploited and humiliated,farmers who are forced to commit suicide,thousands of ordinary men and women who burn in the fire of hatred-the list goes on.

    People often tell me that these are the naked truths of the world- realities you can never alter.But everytime someone says that ,Bapuji, your image flashes in and out of my mind.What if you had been bogged down by such pessimism?Would we ever had tasted the essence of freedom ,that we take for granted today? I ask this myself, then garner some strength and keep telling myself-may be one day I too can be the change I want to be.

    At 70 years of independence ,our country has come a long way.We have a large economy,great infrastructure,an enviable space technology and a strong position in the international arena.But still there are thousands, who struggle to get a square meal a day.Surely, our freedom has to travel miles and miles to reach its totality.

    And that is why Bapu, I sometimes wish you were here.The world needs you now, more than ever.I wish you would come, to spread the message of peace and love in a strife torn world,to spread the flame of selfless service,Ahimsa and tolerance in a power hungry society,to spread the aroma of truth amidst the false glory of the world.

     But then I remind myself that you can never comeback. That now, you have to be immortalised through us,through our actions.And when you have left behind a legacy of a life, that shouldn't be a difficult task.

      Bapu,your life has been a message for me,like it has been for many others.I have tuned in to more stories of your life than I have to stories of Batman and Superman,that now you are my superhero.A superhero with bare minimum clothes,round glasses,bald head and a smile as innocent as that of an infant. Often when I am plagued by disturbing thoughts  and doubts, I look into your smile, drawn onto a white canvas by the artist in me, framed and hung on the living room mantle.That smile for me is worth a thousand guarantee cards- an assurance of a better world yet to come.

       But if you really had been here Bapu, I would have hugged you tight and let my tears flow without pause.I would have let my emotions fly faster than my words.If only time hadn't snatched you away from me.

       But I know that you are here............
       somewhere................. an overarching shelter for all of posterity......I can feel it.I can feel the message of your life........ And the message is sure to follow me throughout.

     With lots of love and affection                                                      October 2 2017

Friday, August 18, 2017

Linguistic Chauvinism

Today we were made to take the "New India Pledge" as part of the 70th Independence Day celebrations. The pledge which was read out to us in Hindi, was not comprehended by more than half of the students. And hence it was a huge farce for us and the only thing that happened was that we had to raise our arms for quite a long time and repeat something that sounded to us like jargon.

Why is it that we are made to take a pledge in Hindi, a language that most of us here in Kerala have difficulty in understanding, rather than in Malayalam or English? Isn't this part of the agenda to impose Hindi as a national language and thereby jeopardize the 1,526 other languages and dialects that our country boasts of?

 Linguistic chauvinism should definitely be identified and fought against.

For you your language, for me mine.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

TRIPLE TALAQ - The Truth which is largely unseen

Triple- Talaq has managed to capture the time and imagination of the Indian audience, thanks to media houses and News hour debates. While eminent personalities express their thoughtful opinion in 9 0’clock debates and lawyers on each side vehemently defend their stances in the apex court, it seems extremely ridiculous and awkward to many practicing Muslims, that their Muslim brethren are defending a practice against which the Quran has unequivocally raised its voice.

The Quran which was revealed in the 7th century AD to Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) was not only a spiritual text. It was a political weapon for social upheaval. It categorically voiced against many socially unjust practices that had become the norm in Arabia as in other parts of the world. And one among them was the practice of instantaneous divorce.

It had become the standard in many parts of the world for men to arrogantly dissolve their marriage, without the approval of their wives or the consultation of others in the family. Most of these instantaneous divorces which became the monopoly of men, gave a life of misery for women who were immediately thrown out of the family, starved of any rights or maintenance.

The Quran radically reformed this practice by laying down explicit rules and regulations regarding divorce, which ensured that women were not always at the receiving end. It formalized and institutionalized the practice of divorce to ensure that marital relation neither becomes considered a relation so frivolous nor transcends into the supreme hegemony of men.

Yes, the Talaq is said three times. But the only difference is that there is a gap of 3 months between each of the Talaqs, designated for mutual compromise and reconciliation.
The laws of Quran advocate that attempts for restoration of marital relations through arbitration, if necessary involving family members is a must for any divorce. A three month waiting period, called Iddah is meant for restoring normalcy in relations. This period begins soon after the pronouncement of the first Talaq and is mandatory for any process of divorce to be considered valid.

Surah 65:1 says,” Prophet, when you [Muslims] divorce women, divorce them for [the commencement of] their waiting period and keep count of the waiting period, and fear Allah, your Lord.”

Surah 2:228 says, “And divorced women shall wait (as regards their marriage) for three menstrual periods, and it is not lawful for them to conceal what Allâh has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allâh and the Last Day”

Thus, through Iddah, the Quran establishes that dialogue and mutual compromise requires time and commitment of both parties and is the best method to solve problems in marital relations.
If both parties are willing, the Talaq can be withdrawn during the period of Iddah. If they feel that they cannot reconcile, they can go for the second Talaq. The second Talaq also follows the same procedure of Iddah during which the couple can try to reunite. If they still feel that the relation is not working, even after sincere arbitration and consultation, they can opt for the third Talaq which is finalized, irrevocable and meant to be done in a respectful manner.

Surah 65:2 says,” And when they have [nearly] fulfilled their term, either retain them according to acceptable terms or part with them according to acceptable terms.”

Thus, the Quran makes it clear that instantaneous divorce by mentioning Talaq thrice in one sitting can have no acceptability and validity in a progressive society. Thus whether the number of Talaqs said in one sitting is three or thirty, the divorce will have no validity unless the period of Iddah is observed and attempts to harmonize relations are made during this period.

Divorce had by then become an extremely sharp weapon for physical, mental, emotional and economic harassment of women. The Quran explicitly lays down norms to ensure that women do not suffer setbacks during the process of divorce. It gives an equal footing for women in relation to their rights over their partner and their family.

Surah 2:228 says,” And they (women) have rights (over their husbands as regards living expenses) similar (to those of their husbands) over them (as regards obedience and respect) to what is reasonable, but men have a degree (of responsibility) over them.”

This degree of responsibility awarded to men, doesn’t provide them the authority to subjugate and dominate their wives. Rather it makes them responsible for their upkeep and welfare. Several verses of the Quran give clear instructions to men not to harm, harass or oppress women during divorce.

Surah 65:1 says, “. Do not turn them out of their [husbands'] houses, nor should they [themselves] leave [during that period] unless they are committing a clear immorality. And those are the limits [set by] Allah. And whoever transgresses the limits of Allah has certainly wronged himself.”
Surah 2:231 says,” And so, when you divorce women and they reach the end of their waiting term, then either retain them in a fair manner or let them go in a fair manner. And do not retain them to their hurt or by way of transgression; whosoever will do that will indeed wrong himself.
The Quran also makes it unambiguous that the husband may not demand anything from his wife during the process of divorce or after it unless and until the wife is willing to give it without coercion.

Surah 2:229 says,” (While dissolving the marriage tie) it is unlawful for you to take back anything of what you have given to your wives  unless both fear that they may not be able to keep within the bounds set by Allah. Then, if they fear that they might not be able to keep within the bounds set by Allah, there is no blame upon them for what the wife might give away of her property to become released from the marriage tie. These are the bounds set by Allah; do not transgress them. Those of you who transgress the bounds set by Allah are indeed the wrong-doers.”

It is 2:229 which also validates divorce that is initiated by women which is known as Khula in which case the women gives away her mehr (Bridal gifts given by the groom) or a part of it, in order to get separated from her husband. Thus in a land where divorce had become the unabated monopoly of men, the Quran revolutionized the concept by giving an equal right to women in the matter, thus reiterating values of equality.

It had also become customary in Arabia for men to arbitrarily pronounce and revoke divorce any number of times, thereby increasing the hardship of women who could neither live happily with them nor enter into a fresh marriage contract. This is why the Quran has restricted the number of times the divorce is pronounced to three and the third time it is said, the divorce becomes irrevocable.

Surah 2:230 says,” Then, if he divorces her (for the third time, after having pronounced the divorce twice), she shall not be lawful to him unless she first takes another man for a husband, and he divorces her.253

It is drawing upon 2:230 that certain sects within Islam arrange the practice called Nikkah Halala in which the after the third divorce the woman is made to enter into a fresh marriage and obtain divorce from that marriage so as to revoke the relations with her former husband. However, this would merely be an act of sheer corruption and adultery that violates the fundamental principles that the Quran lays down. 2:230 was merely intended to ensure that the former husband does not prevent the wife from entering into a new marriage contract and not to create practices like Nikkah Halala which work against the morality of the society by degrading the status and dignity of women.

Thus, when the Quran lays down such explicit and unambiguous laws regarding divorce, which stresse the importance of arbitration and compromise and which ensure gender parity in the process, what is the validity of  Triple Talaq that is mentioned nowhere in the Quran and works against the very principles that the Quran tries to establish? When the Quran says that a period for reconciliation of relations through arbitration is a must for divorce, does the Triple Talaq which dismisses marital relations in a matter of seconds even stand a chance as being Islamic?

It is disheartening to see eminent advocates putting forward flimsy arguments in the Supreme Court that compare Triple Talaq to the belief that Ayodhya is Ram Janmabhoomi, thereby trying to justify the practice. Though both are issues that involve religious ideals, Triple Talaq is more than just a religious belief. It is a social evil, one against which the Quran itself has fought, one which reminds of an uncivilized and brutal Arabia that Islam reformed.

The issue of Triple Talaq unlike what the Attorney General said in the Supreme Court, is not a battle between Muslim men and Muslim women. It is a battle between what is really Islamic and what is thought to be Islamic. A battle between the truth and the false. A battle between the right and the wrong. A battle to overthrow the innumerable prejudices and false beliefs about Islam that have been actively perpetrated by Muslims themselves. A battle to establish an egalitarian, democratic and peaceful society that true Islam aimed to create.

PS: The original post was published on 10 th June 2017 , many  weeks  before the Supreme court verdict on the Triple Talaq

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Bahubali - A Propaganda Movie?

It is very depressing to see some reviewers and journalists categorise Bahubali as an upper caste Hindu film. Certain articles in newspapers and journals somehow picturise it as a film that promotes the caste hierarchy as it emphasises on Kshatriya Dharma in a few instances. Some say that it reinforces Hindu iconography as it shows giant elephants and Brahmin priests chanting shlokas and conducting yajnas; that it somewhere, somehow has transformed itself into a Hindu propaganda movie.

Bahubali, no doubt is very similar to ancient Indian mythology that most Indians are familiar with. But does depicting Indian mythology in a film make it a propaganda movie? Does depicting giant elephants and Brahmin priests suddenly make the movie divisive?

Values that real Hindutva embody, contrary to what right wing elements spread today, are values that can be considered true learning lessons of life. Bahubali is no different. The movie depicts a great prince (who unfortunately was not crowned the king), an epitome of good leadership who commands loyalty and trust over his entire kingdom not just because of his great skills as a warrior, but because of the great human being that he was. Contrary to his cousin who was crowned the king, Bahubali is loved and respected by his aam aadmi for the humility and greatness he exhibits. Even when he is ousted out of the palace precincts, he happily lives with the same aam aadmi in their tiny huts, helping them out with their daily chores, eating the food they eat and wearing the clothes they wear.

Going by the verbatim of these writers, the aam admi depicted in the movie are farmers,tillers and craftsmen, people who belong to the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy in India. But Bahubali, who belongs to the upper caste, living with them and eating out of their hands especially in a system which has rigid restrictions on sharing of food, are all instances where he tries to break the caste barrier rather than reinforcing it.

Bahubali is an example of what a leader should be. And unlike the writers who say that the film shows that Kshatriyas are destined to command and others to obey, Bahubali was the people's choice. This is not to say that what worked in the kingdom of Mahishmathi was democracy. But Bahubali indeed was a great leader, and a popular one too.

Now, even if the above statement by the writers saying that the film glorifies absolute authority of Kshatriyas is meant to indicate the crowning of Bhallaladeva contrary to popular opinion, a very valid justification prevails. Bahubali is a story set centuries back when Kshatriyas were the ruling class, while democracy came in India just 70 years back. Rajamouli has tried to depict that mythological era and has no reason to not show Kshatriyas as a powerful class, as that was a historical reality. Just because they affect certain sentiments, the truth and the past needn't be hidden from the public eye.

But what Rajamouli did is break the stereotypes regarding the perfect Kshatriya. By depicting Bahubali as a humble Kshatriya who willingly gave his service and time to the poor people of Mahishmathi who were most likely to be Shudras, Bahubali creates a new image of the perfect Kshatriya.

Bahubali might not be a perfect movie. But it is definitely not a propaganda movie. If it had indeed been one, how would millions of people, irrespective of caste and religion throng the theatres everyday, standing in long queues, just to watch this movie? The kind of support and warmth the movie has received from its wide audience itself is a proof of its acceptance.