Category Archives: Religion

India – Sizzling economically but a moral pygmy!

A lot has been made of the fact that a large number of Non-resident Indians (NRIs) are going back to India because of her sizzling economy and a desire to be close to family. However, the recent spate of controversies over the right to free speech and the lack of India’s commitment to it should be reason enough to give freedom loving people a reason to reconsider their decision. If I ever decide to return back to India (or if I am forced to, given the green card mess in the US), I would be more worried about my rights rather than the supposedly sizzling economy. Here are some of the recent controversies and issues that really have made me disappointed and angry:

  • A 26 year old blogger gets arrested in Bangalore because he supposedly posted some pictures of that great Maharashtrian icon, Shivaji on Orkut and Airtel ratted on him. Compare that to what happened recently in the US where the US Congress took Yahoo to task because their Chinese subsidiary gave him a political activist in that country. Jerry Yang, Yahoo’s co-founder and CEO got an earful from the Congress and apologized to the mother of the Chinese dissident.
  • Madhuri Dixit’s comeback vehicle, “Aaja Nachle” gets banned in certain states because apparently it contains some derogatory references to a particular community. C’mon folks – for how long will Indian political leaders continue pandering to special interest groups?
  • Tasleem Nasreen gets booted from, yes of all the places, Calcutta. Goes to prove that political expediency is certainly thicker than both, claims of intellectual honesty and cultural and ethical relations. After all, the left has always boasted about its commitment to free speech and of course, Tasleema Nasreen is a fellow Bengali. India made a royal mess of things and became a laughing stock with the spectacle of this courageous woman being carted around in an attempt to appease a group of extremist Islamists. It really made me ashamed of the country of my birth.
  • Fittingly, the disgusting behavior meted out to Ms. Nasreen brought back memories of the “Satanic Verses” controversy. It has been pointed out that Indian intellectuals and Indian extremist Muslims had the head start in starting this controversy. The Indian political establishment promptly capitulated and Khomeini joined in the fun soon after. I have a copy of Satanic Verses on my shelf and it is on my to-read list. Unfortunately, people in India have been denied this right.

So folks, gloat all you want over the well deserved giant strides that India has made recently in economic development, but when it comes to moral standing in the world over freedom of speech rights and the ability of the state to treat all its citizens equally, India has a long way to go.

A Journey Down the Ganga

Philip Reeves, the National Public Radio (NPR) correspondent has just finished a brilliant radio series on his journey along the Ganga river in India. In five parts of about 10 minutes each, he explores life along the river. NPR has archived the entire series on its website – it is a fascinating journey and well worth the time spent listening to it.

Some of you might feel offended by the fact that Mr. Reeves talks about the uglier facts about India’s economic progress, the people who are being left behind and might attribute it to the propensity of the foreign journalists to highlight only the bad aspects about India. My thinking is that, “Hey! don’t kill the messenger”. In fact, it is a shame that for decades, we have to rely on foreign journalists to bring us such thoughtful and provoking pieces of reportage. Listen to it and see if something stirs in your middle-class soul.

Turkana Boy

What is the most dangerous product or idea exported from the US to the world? Foodies might say Big Mac and Coke! Rugby purists might say American Football! Health concious migh say their portion sizes! Fashion concious might say Paris Hilton!

While all these might be valid choices, I contend that one of the most dangerous exports from the US is evangelical Christianity. Not the entire spectrum of evangelical Christianity but a rather virulent and violent strain of it that unfortunately, like all mutated organisms is spreading fast. This particular form of Christianity insists on the Bible being the literal truth and instinctively opposes scientific enquiry. In the US, it manifests itself in the form of anti-abortion movememnt, anti-gay rights movement, anti-evolution movement, anti-stem cell movement and finally [tongue firmly in cheek] the anti-intelligence movement which marks the two time victory of the current US President as its ultimate success.

Now, this strain has reared its head in Africa. Here’s what’s going on:

Feb. 7, 2007 — Deep in the dusty, unlit corridors of Kenya’s national museum, locked away in a plain-looking cabinet, is one of mankind’s oldest relics: Turkana Boy, as he is known, the most complete skeleton of a prehistoric human ever found.

But his first public display later this year is at the heart of a growing storm — one pitting scientists against Kenya’s powerful and popular evangelical Christian movement. The debate over evolution vs. creationism — once largely confined to the United States — has arrived in a country known as the cradle of mankind.

“I did not evolve from Turkana Boy or anything like it,” says Bishop Boniface Adoyo, head of Kenya’s 35 evangelical denominations, which he claims have 10 million followers. “These sorts of silly views are killing our faith.”

He’s calling on his flock to boycott the exhibition and has demanded the museum relegate the fossil collection to a back room – along with some kind of notice saying evolution is not a fact but merely one of a number of theories.

Really Mr. Adoyo? Just one of a number of theories? Just like Mr. Bush never tires of saying that Global warming is merely one of a number of theories? Just like the theory that the confusing butterfly ballot and an openly partisan election board in Florida and Supreme Court lead to Mr. Bush’s “victory” in 2000?

These unreasonable and unscientific men have already done enough damage to scientific enquiry and this seems to be a worldwide phenomena. The worst aspect of fundamentalism in religion is not that it is fundamentalism, but that fundamentalism in one religion, specially in a well connected world like ours, encourages other religions to be even more fundamentalist. There have already been fears that the actions of hardcore evangelist Christians are fueling religious tensions in the middle east and other tinderboxes around the world. Africa, the cradle of civilization, with its vast illiterate and desperately poor population could soon become the next battleground between the two “revealed” religions.