Friday, November 30, 2012

Holy cow...myth or reality?

I get regular posts on my Facebook wall from some of my Indian FB friends about their anger against cow slaughter, how we need to save cows from getting slaughtered and how it is evil to eat cow meat and so on, basically all these posts say that it's our (all Hindus) duty to save cow because she is a sacred animal in Hindu religion. Eating or selling cow meat (beef) is a big no no in most parts of India, cow is considered as a sacred/holy animal by most of Hindus and killing her is considered as a big sin, above that selling her meat is greater sin and then eating that meat is unforgivable sin. But this should not give anyone an impression to that Indians are vegetarians (plant eaters) or they don't eat any meat or they are very protective about all animals, and believe me many foreigners do get this impression that if you are from India you must be a vegetarian, I still wonder from where and why they get this impression. So the the question to ask here is if many people in India are not against eating animal flesh then why they are so against cow meat? What is so special about this particular animal?

If any country or religion or community is against animal slaughter or using any animal products (as vegans are) then one can understand their opposition for eating animal flesh, but here opposition is not about eating animal flesh but flesh of only a particular animal (cow in case of Hindus and Pig in case of Muslims), the question is what is the logic or rational behind it? I understand that Muslims or some Christians don't eat pork just because it's mentioned in their corresponding holy books (Qu'ran and Bible) not to eat it, so it's a very simple thing, there is absolutely no logic behind this, just follow the instructions, don't ask why, just follow the book, very simple, even if this instruction was given in a book written some several hundreds of year ago (when pig was considered as dirty, filthy animal), just follow it. In this case also people are not against eating pork because they are against animal killing or care about these animals but just because some book (and remember this is not any medical science or diet book) says not to eat it without giving any logical reasons. Then what is the reason for Hindus not to eat cow? Well for Hindus there is no single book which can be called as Hindu religious text, there are many books and some of them even clearly indicate that cow sacrifice was very common practice in those days when these texts were written, so the origin of this belief (sacred cow) is not some particular book but there must be some other factors also.

So for me the question was how cow became holy or sacred in India or Hinduism? I think the main reason why cow attained this holy status was because of agriculture based economy. Cow is very useful animal in agriculture based economy as she can provide milk, cow dunk (used in dried form as fuel, insect repellent), ox/bullocks were used for farming. Cow was a very important animal in economical and social life of any family in agriculture based economy, it was very useful animal and if people kill it just to eat her meat then it would have reduced their number and in turn harmed the economy. It was economically more productive to use them as agriculture and dairy animal rather than killing them for their flesh. But then the problem was, how to convince people to stop their killing just for meat? How to solve this problem? Difficult option was to explain people the importance of cow for welfare of their family and tell them to follow some sustainable lifestyle and where they can strike a balance between number of cows so that their ratio is not adversely affected (lot of economics and complicated stuff which common people don't want to listen). We all know from experience that this strategy is very difficult to implement, we see many species becoming endangered (plants as well as animals) and some even getting extinct because of aggressive hunting or killing by humans for so many reasons (flesh, skin or for any other body parts). The easier option was to declare the thing holy or sacred, this automatically protects that object (animal, land, tree or anything). This practice is still used in India, any land or tree or any thing one wants to protect or occupy, built some temple or mosque or any religious center there and then one can see that people of that religion are willing to sacrifice their life to protect that structure or tree or animal but if one tries convincing people about necessity of having sustainable lifestyle hardly anyone pays any attention...it sounds ridiculous but it's the reality..I am sure this will change in future but right now this is the case in most parts of the country.

People who are against cow slaughter or think she is sacred animal equate cow with mother, the reason they give is we drink her milk like we drink our mother's milk as a infant, but they don't give same status to buffalo, goat (these are also animals whose milk humans drink) or to soybean or almonds (vegans and many people with lactose intolerance problem only drink plant derived milk), can they explain why they use this double standard? Why preferential treatment only to cow but not to other animals or plants? I know that they may not like this question but I am curious to know their answer (logical answers, not just a reference to some thousand year book which is no more relevant today).

Some of these people are willing to massacre people who kill cows and all this in the name of saving the holy cow, does this make any sense? What's use of killing poor people who are trying to earn their living by doing their job (I am not talking about the owners of slaughtering houses but people who work there). I used to feel really gross when I used to see people drink cow urine (because they believe it's sacred), I still can't understand the logic behind it. I know the uses of cow dunk but I never saw people eating it, but drinking urine of some animal was totally illogical and foolish act according to me, but people used to do it (may be they still do it, as many still believe that cow is sacred). Book "The myth of holy cow" written by D. N. Jha, where he discussed various aspects related with this issue is already banned in India (as expected, no surprise) and even author was threatened, and any one can guess the reason, people just don't want to read about the other side of the story, it hurts their religious sentiments?? it's a sensitive subject, culture, tradition...regular reasons...opposition to cow slaughter is not at all related with Hinduism, this religion is much more than that but somehow few people are using this issue for their personal and political benefit. If people are so against animal killing then they should request government to ban all meat based products and make a law to enforce this action, but to create a drama using cow slaughter as a religious issue doesn't make any sense to me.

People of that time found this easy solution (declaring them sacred or holy objects) to protect cow as well as some trees (in India specially in villages still some species of trees are not cut just because people believe that they are sacred and cutting them will bring bad luck to them or their village), it was need of that time and I think this trick worked very well and served its purpose. Then the question now is, do we still need this same trick to save cows in India? After so much progress in animal husbandry and science do we have any logical reason to stop people from eating beef or pork? I am not advocating non-vegetarian diet (specially eating of beef) or slaughtering of animals for food here, this post is not in support of any particular form of diet. I am just putting a question, why a meat of only a particular animal (which is legal to sell) is forbidden for people who want to eat it? People who don't want to eat meat should not eat it, no one is forcing them but they should allow others to eat it as long as it's legal, we should learn to respect each others feelings and choices.

People who oppose cow slaughter for whatever reasons put the argument that then people will also demand human meat, will that be OK? This question doesn't have any logic, people say this just for the sake of argument. My point is, if it's legal and allowed by law of that land then people don't have any right to dictate what others should eat, diet is a personal choice like clothing. There is nothing wrong in encouraging vegetarian or non-veg diet by showing their merits and demerits but to ridicule one form of diet for some illogical reasons doesn't make sense to me. Whatever food we eat, it should be a healthy food, according to me it is hippocratic to kill and eat some animals of our own choice (like chicken  goat, sheep, deer, pig, duck, etc.) and force others not eat animals of their choice (pork or beef).

I also don't accept the logic of vegetarian people that their diet doesn't involve killing of living things, so called vegetarian diet just doesn't include animal flesh and doesn't involve animal killing, but all plants are living things and people do kill them to consume them, so these two categories are named according to their origin or source from where food originates and there is nothing pro or anti life in both of them. There is simple rule in nature, every living thing survives at the cost of other living thing, and this is true for everyone including humans. I hope that people around the world realize and acknowledge this fact and learn to respect each others choices, we need to adopt a sustainable lifestyle which is good for the health of our body, our planet and its environment, rest all is secondary.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic. 

References:
1. The Myth of Holy Cow- D. N. Jha (http://www.amazon.com/Myth-Holy-Cow-D-Jha/dp/1859844243)
2. http://www.ted.com/talks/christien_meindertsma_on_pig_05049.html 
3. http://themuslimvoice.wordpress.com/2009/05/17/why-is-pig-haraam-in-islam/ 
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unclean_animals
5. http://my.opera.com/liquid%20snake/blog/pork-forbidden-but-why (another example how Dr. Zakir Nayak uses his medical degree to fool people)
6. http://ebooks.iskcondesiretree.info/pdf/Voice_of_Cows/Voice_of_Cows_-_Newsletter_Vol-01_-_Issue-05_-_2010-02.pdf
7. http://books.google.com/books/about/Hindus_Ate_Beef.html?id=PjLxHAAACAAJ

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing) 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

I am neither a theist nor atheist..

Normally people who believe in God or the one who don't believe like to divide the whole world in two sections, one set of people who believes in God and its existence are called 'theist' and other section who don't believe in God or existence of some power like that are called 'atheist'. There are many subgroups among both these groups but normally people like to associate themselves with any one of these categories. Both groups are very passionate about their beliefs and have very strong points to support their hypothesis. I love to hear both the sides, both have many very good points and that's why it really amazes me when I see that both sides feel that other side don't have any logic  or rationale behind their hypothesis and funny thing is that both feel that other side is totally ignorant and stupid.

This post is not about supporting or criticizing any of these groups but it's about what I think, it is about my views, many theist people who know me think that I am atheist who doesn't believe in God or don't follow any rituals of any organized religion. Because of this behavior theist put me in 'atheist' category and above all this some posts on my blog clearly show my views about organized religion and traditional concept of God which is preached by many sects and groups. But at the same time many who see me and meet me at some poojas, festivals, religious gatherings, see me singing bhajans or aaratis (devotional songs), involved in so called spiritual discussions and gatherings think that I am kind of religious guy who needs a little more push to become a full fledged devotee. And because of many questions which I ask they also think that I need some proper guidance and a Guru so that I can also become one of them, a devotee who accepts everything without questioning (or minimum questioning). They say that if this happens then I can enjoy all benefits which come from being part of organized religious group. Many of my atheist friends like my posts and views where I question some religious concepts and traditions which are still practiced, I target specially the one which result in discrimination or suppression of particular class of society or particular gender.

I personally think that I don't fit in any of these groups, may be there is no proper definition for people like me, I am sure there are many like me who have all inclusive philosophy who are fine with concept of God or no God, any religion or no religion as long as it maintains peace, harmony, mutual respect, dignity of all beings and allows healthy discussion to improve knowledge. I also agree that my views about current from of religion and concept of God are more closer to atheism rather than theism. The problem with the conventional definition of theist or atheist is that it puts too much emphasis on presence of deity, people who believe if at least one deity exists are called theist and who don't believe in existence of deities are called atheist. Both these groups don't meet an eye to eye and try to score point against each other wherever they can. Both of them are becoming quite fanatic and extremist in their views. I don't like this constant tug of war and continuous attempts to insult or humiliate each other. I think both can learn a lot from each other and can peacefully co-exist but current format of organized religion or many cult movements or fanatic atheism doesn't allow this. As far as I read about religion, I found that Hinduism (not in its current form but in its early stages when it had no name) was the only civilization which not only allowed but encouraged questioning as a way to gain and generate knowledge. Back then it also gave the option to reject all current theories and philosophies and find something new. Thinkers of that time never forced any particular method of self realization but some how this tolerant thinking lost its ground as it developed in organized religion which we call Hinduism today. Many things changed and today it is not very different than most of other religions practiced around the world.

I feel that people of both these groups can learn lot of good things from each other. The best scenario will be where both can co-exist together and get benefited from each other. There are many who don't need religion or God to live their life, they are strong enough to live their life without need of any such support. At the same time there are many who need religion and God desperately and can not imagine their life without these things. We all no matter which group you associate with need to be sensitive to feelings of both these groups and understand their views. If people ridicule each others beliefs all the time then how we can understand each other and share our ideas? I think even common people (who are not involved in research) need to adopt the scientific mindset and logical thinking. Scientists listen to new concepts and ideas from all fields of science, don't ridicule just because they don't like it or think it's crazy. In science any question or objection is not taken as offense but an opportunity of improve and learn more, what is wrong to have this type of mindset in our real life? If everyone can think like this then slowly these labels even if they exist will stop to have rigid meanings and stop dividing people based on their beliefs. In science chemists don't hate physicist or biologists just because they belong to different field, rather they help each other and borrow ideas liberally from wherever they feel necessary, isn't it a beautiful philosophy? Isn't this thinking or approach helped us to solve some great mysteries or problems? This interdisciplinary approach lead us to invent great things which make our life more comfortable and happy. I am not preaching any new philosophy here, rather I am saying we can use same philosophy which is already in use, so no matter which religion you follow, whether you consider yourself theist or atheist but try to think like scientist and I think it can do wonders, let's be happy and make others happy.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic. 

Links:
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theism
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Balasaheb Thackeray- Ek tha Tiger

Today on 17th November 2012, Shivsena chief Balasaheb Thackeray (or Thakre) passed away in Mumbai, the capital city of Maharashtra, the city which he loved and cared for. I am sure there will be mixed reactions from various sections of society, media as well as regions of India about this news. This news has great significance for people from Maharashtra, because he was one leader from Maharashtra who focused only on this particular state and its people. I guess he was unique political leader who never even traveled outside Maharashtra for any reason, it was like a tiger who never left his den. People from other states may not understand the importance of his personality because they view him from totally different angle. One may or may not agree with his ways or policies, may hate or love him but one thing is sure one can not ignore him.

His personality and movement which he started for Marathi manoos (which brought him in lime light), his speeches had a great influence on people of Maharashtra, he made his quest to fight for problems of 'Marathi manoos' and that's what made him popular among masses, as I said one can question his methods or even criticize him for some of his actions but according to me his intentions were honest, he totally believed in his philosophy and was totally focused about his goal. He made his own place in state politics without any godfather. I first heard his speech when I was still a school boy, never understood much apart from that he was a really good orator with very good grip on audience. His style and way of delivering his speech was unique and people loved it. Even media used to wait eagerly for his speech which he used to deliver at Shivsena gathering on occasion of vijaya dashami every year.

Maharashtra and specially Mumbai was facing unprecedented load of immigrants from other parts of India when Balasaheb entered in politics, he started his political career with his movement against immigrants, it was about attack and dominance of immigrant population from other states in Mumbai over locals. National media projected him as one of the most divisive figure of regional politics, may be in technical terms he was but for me there was always some substance in his allegations, as I said his methods might have been wrong, but his intention wasn't and he raised quite important issues which mattered for locals and that's the only reason he got support form people. 

Painting him as the political person playing only divisive politics or preaching intolerance is utterly misleading and wrong, he was definitely much more than this. In Indian politics every political party caters its own vote bank and he did the same to survive in this game, so what's wrong in it? No one calls it divisive when Mayavati or Mulayam does it, or Congress does it, but it seems it's divisive only when Thackeray does it. He played by the same rules which other parties play. He raised some valid questions like what locals should do when immigrants reject and insult their local culture, what to do when they don't even learn the local language but rather try to impose their own? Can anyone imagine living in USA for 25 years but not knowing English, or in Tamilnadu (or Chennai) and not knowing Tamil rather making fun of these languages? But there are people in Mumbai who are living there for last 20-25 years and don't even bother to learn or respect Marathi rather make fun of it, is it right? May be but Thackeray didn't think so and based on the support he got there were many people who thought like him. I agree that it's their choice to learn or not to learn any language but to mock the local culture is not a right thing to do and that's where he came into picture, they (locals) found their voice in him, terming him as dictator or a man who injected culture of intolerance is insult to all people who supported him. 

I am not trying to justify his political career or all of his activities here but trying to explain this phenomena called Balasaheb from my own point of view. I disagreed with his views on some issues and supported him on some and I think that's the way I look at every person or situation, there will be always good and bad things, I like to take all that is good for me and leave the rest. I never voted for Shivsena in any national election but I always favored their candidates in local elections as long as I was in Pune because they took active interest in our day to day problems and they were one of us. One can definitely analyze and criticize his political career and show many flaws in his political philosophy but in spite of all these things he stood out and attracted big fan following, developed one regional party which is controlling Mumbai municipal corporation for last 15 years or so, his party along with BJP was the only party which ruled a full term (5 years) in Maharashtra which is continuously ruled by INC (Indian national congress) and by any standards these are not a small achievements.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic. 

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ram, a great king but a bad husband?

Recently senior supreme court lawyer and former law minster of India Mr. Ram Jethmalani was in news (off course not for the first time) for his comment about Ram (not about himself because his name is also Ram, but lord Ram, a central character from great epic Ramayan), he called him a bad husband for not standing by his wife when she needed his support most after someone from his kingdom questioned her character. I am sure many political parties, religious organization will come against this statement and Jethmalani will receive lot of criticism from all quarters of society. I wrote one post related with Sita and her significance for women of today's world few months back on my blog. I personally think that Ram failed as a husband to protect her wife on two occasions, on first occasion it was not entirely his fault but on second occasion (when some one questioned her chastity) he could have protected his wife who already suffered enough trauma in captivity of Ravan and already proved her innocence (by giving agnee pariksha) but he choose to remain neutral, a silent spectator and tried to make his people happy rather than delivering justice.

This issue is subject of many debates and discussions for many years and many people have expressed their opinion about this issue, some favor Ram and call him great king who put interest of people of his kingdom before his personal happiness, some criticize him for failing to protect his wife just because few males raised objection about her chastity and character. According to the epic, Sita was abducted forcibly, many blame her for crossing the Lakshman rekha (line drawn by Lakshman to protect her), she crossed the Lakshman rekha willingly but she was tricked to do so, she stayed in captivity of Ravan almost for a year, resisted all his advances towards her and protected herself from him. But that was not enough to prove her innocence, just because she was a women and people couldn't believe that a single women can protect herself against a mighty king? They thought, Ravan must have polluted her (??). Some people in Ayodhya (Ram's kingdom) were not convinced about her chastity, they refused to believe that she was chaste or pure anymore after staying for a year in captivity of another man away from her husband, so I am pretty sure what they mean by this is that she was raped or willingly had sex with Ravan. So, it was not a question of Sita's moral character but it was matter of her sexual behavior, and what does people of kingdom have to do about any women's sexual behavior. Does this mean if a wife gets raped she is not pure or deserve to be a wife anymore? If this is the case then these pople don't even deserve to be heard. Having more than one wives (Ram's father Dashrath had three wives) was not considered as bad in Ramayan, men were allowed to have multiple sexual partners at the same time but women were not (even rape was considered as her fault), and there was just an element of doubt in Sita's case not any proof. Ram is considered as 'maryada purushottam' (I think by this they mean a person honoring all rules) so how did he fail to honor his duties as a husband? Why did he rescue Sita if wanted to abandon her after bringing back to Ayodhya? If he could leave the kingdom to honor a promise which his father gave to one of his three wives  (which was clearly not a wise decision) then why he didn't leave the same kingdom to protect his wife and her honor?

One can ask many questions like this and debate this issue endlessly, for me this was a clear case of using double standards for men and women, no one objected Ram's character because he also stayed away from his wife for almost a year and was a royal guest of few kings (like Sugreev), he must have met many beautiful women during that one year, but no one even thought about asking him any question or told him to prove his chastity, any one wonders why? Just because he was a man? Why this dual standard, just because Sita was a woman?

I am not interested here to decide whether Ram was a better king or a bad husband but I see one thing clearly that he failed to protect and support his wife when she needed his support most, he just abandoned her and never bothered to check what happened to her afterwards, he didn't even cared to check if she was alive or not, that says a lot about his attitude towards his own beloved wife and Ramayan doesn't give any proper explanations for his behavior. Ram is considered as a God and worshiped in many temples across India, that is why any comment against him or questioning any of his actions generates lot of controversy and uproar from conservative section of Hindu population, I read that someone has announced reward of five lakhs (approx. 10,000 USD) for anyone who spits on Jethmalani's face, these people didn't bother to explain their point of view but want to punish Jethmalani for expressing his views. This is strange but true face of  organized religion where disagreement is not tolerated rather it's punished using harshest way possible so next person thinks twice before questioning anything. Hinduism, once which was a very liberal lifestyle is becoming dictatorial just to survive in presence of many other organized religions who have similar style, I feel bad but this system has been damaged beyond any repairs and people who follow this are not helping it to repair either, but there is an element of hope, questions like this, posts like this keep the fire of disagreement burning and one day people might realize that all humans deserve to be treated with equal respect and honor regardless of their beliefs, race and gender, till then keep discussing and have patience.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

References:

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing) 

Friday, November 9, 2012

When Yash called Krishna a thief and a murderer..

This is not a post about any particular subject but about one very funny incident happened in my home few days back. We talk regularly with my parents and other family members in Pune via gtalk or Skype, it's always fun to talk with them and kids enjoy very much interacting with their grandparents and cousins in Pune. These talks are mostly weekly affair and they are entertaining for me as well as kids and tend to get quite interesting sometimes for various reasons.

Few days back Parth, very adorable character, son of my brother recited one of my favorite bhajan (devotional song) 'Om jai jagadish hare' he did really good job and I was amazed that he remembered whole song and it sounded really cute because the way he sang it, still his pronunciation is not very clear for some words so it turned out to be very unique song which only Parth can sing. Yash joined to listen the song and then after the song was finished I started asking Parth some questions like do you know who is Jagdish? why you sing bhajans? Then we also discussed why one can not sing 'Munni badnam hui'  as a bhajan instead of  'Om jai jagdish'...and we also argued for some time over why my song (Munni) can not be a bhajan but his song can be, so it was fun and we both were enjoying our discussion. 

Yash was listening all this; I asked Parth, "Do you know who is this 'Jagdish' for whom you were singing this bhajan?" 
He looked at my mom because he didn't know the answer and finally said Jagdish means Krishna
Then I said "Why you are singing bhajan for Krishna, he was not such a nice guy" 
At that point Yash joined the conversation and then the interesting part of conversation began,
Yash, "Parth do you know Krishna used to steal food from people's homes and he also killed his own uncle and not only that after killing his own uncle (Kansa) he also incited Arjun to kill his relatives".....
I was surprised by this comment from Yash, my mom was shocked and parth was taken aback by what Yash said...but it was interesting, I didn't say anything, I allowed him to continue with his statement as I was curious to know how he justifies his statement. 
My mom to Yash "No Yash, he was not thief or murderer, he was God"
Yash, "Then why he used to steal food from people's house, don't we call such people thief?"
Mom, "No, he was not thief, he was just a little naughty boy, and those people used to have plenty of food and didn't mind Krishna taking some from their house"
Yash, "We also have plenty of sweets in our shop then will it be OK if some little naughty boy comes and steal them from our shop?"
Mom,"But he never used to eat alone, he used to share with his friends."
Yash, "What if that boy also shares sweets stolen from our shop with his friends, will that be OK"
Now my mom started loosing her patience, she used her final weapon which every religious person uses whenever they run out of options, "Krishna was God and because he was God he can do anything he wants we won't be able to understand it because we are humans"
Yash did pretty good job in justifying his statement and because of this I was smiling during this conversation, and finally my mom said, "Yash, you are becoming like your father, normally son picks up qualities from  his father"
Yash, "No, that's not true, Krishna didn't become like his father, even dad (me) is not like grandpa both are in different profession, so it's not necessary that every son will become like his father and I am also not like that" 
During all this discussion Parth got really confused and finally said that he will think about Krishna as some things about him sound little strange (stealing and killing) and then we changed the subject.

The discussion was interesting, later I and Yash discussed why he thought like this about Krishna and how there are many other angles to his personality in Mahabharat which one should look into and learn from his character. Krishna is one of my favorite characters from Mahabharat and I am truly fascinated by his character and role he played in that epic, I already wrote couple of posts about him on my blog few months back.

According to me the discussion was not at all insulting towards Krishna or that bhajan (which some people might feel that it was and I totally understand their view), it was just a different perspective, one can look at any incident with many angles and each angle  or approach can provide a unique view. Yash choose to look at Krishna's character and its actions in his own way and derived his conclusions, he had his own reasons to do that, we all choose our own ways to look at many situations we face in our lives and based on our approach we form our opinions and beliefs, for me this was simple example of how two people can look at the same incident or person in totally different way and both feel that they are right about their opinion about that person or situation, there is nothing strange in it we all do that without even realizing it....

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic. 

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)

References:
1. http://selfrealization-vinay.blogspot.com/2012/04/krishna-man-or-god-part-i.html
2. http://selfrealization-vinay.blogspot.com/2012/04/krishna-part-ii.html

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Karva Chauth...is it only about love?

Every year 'Karva Chauth' (करवा चौथ) is celebrated, mainly in northern parts of India. I don't know when this ritual has started but it must be very old, I guess it must have started centuries ago when political situation in Indian subcontinent was very unstable and there used to be frequent wars, men used to take part in many of these wars or travels (for business) and in those days all these things involved great amount of risk and uncertainty, so this ritual must have started to wish men good luck for their future journey and safety. This festival has been glamorized by many movies and TV serials, so now it has become popular in many other parts of India also. I am not against any festivals or celebrations, they are nice and very good way to get together, relax and have fun and there is nothing wrong if people want to have fun and enjoy. But if we look carefully it's not that simple and I am not doing this as an intellectual who is trying to bring issue of gender equality in each and everything. Many people like me are blamed or criticized for bringing topic of gender equality or superstition or organized religions almost in each and every issue we face, we do this because all these issues are so interrelated that we can't help it and I hope this post will explain why I am discussing this particular festival as an example (please remember this is just an example, the post is not only about this particular festival), a ritual which looks very harmless and simple can have deep effect on psychology of people.

Now let's look at this festival of Karva Chauth, where wife fasts whole day (in many cases without drinking even a drop of water) for the prosperity and long life of her husband and in the evening after some rituals they get gift of their choice from their husbands and eat only after seeing face of their husband, this festival is exclusively for married women whose husband is still alive. Festival looks very benign and many people think it's full of love and devotion, what's wrong in fasting like this? Fasting is part of many festivals, Muslims also do it in month of Ramadan. Actually nothing wrong in fasting, wives definitely have right to wish for happiness and long life of their partner. The festival looks like very harmless ritual, beautiful way to express love and dedication by wives for their husbands (but notice that in traditional format of festival husbands don't fast, it's not a big deal but just a noticeable difference). Perfectly fine as long as it's voluntarily, without any obligation, but does it happen like this? In most cases the answer is 'No'. According to me fast should be performed by both because I believe respect and love in any relationship should be mutual, but rarely I see this. I have also seen many mother-in-laws (including my own mom) calling their daughter-in-laws day or two days before such festivals and reminding them that they should keep that fast to make sure that their son's welfare and longevity is not jeopardized (and there are quite few festivals like this, they differ in names but the ritual is same, wife fasting for husband's well being, there is no festival which I know where husbands fast for well being of their wives)  and believe me guilt feeling if they don't do this is very strong, as if they missed a crucial dose of some life saving medication or something.

This post is not a criticism about the festival or traditions or culture but it's about the mindset which gets perpetuated in the name of festival, traditions, etc. Unmarried women and widows are not allowed to participate in this festival, I can understand about unmarried women but I wonder how widows in family must be feeling about this festival. As I mentioned this festival is supposed to be for welfare and long life for husbands and it seems that many wives and mothers believe that it's necessary to do this fast to achieve this goal other wise something bad might happen, and because of this fear many try to follow this ritual even during sickness, poor health or during pregnancy even when it might affect their health, many women get praised for doing this in adverse conditions for their dedication, love and total respect towards their husbands. So the question comes to my mind, is it only about love and dedication? or is it fear of loosing that person or something bad might happen if that ritual is not followed (superstition)? I also see many women who suffer physical and mental abuse, many who are abandoned by their husbands for other women or for whatever reason observing these type of festivals for welfare and longevity of their husbands, does this makes any sense? this reminds me of Stockholm syndrome, I am sure something like that is going on here. I am sure this festival is about total surrender but I have doubt if love is very much part of it or not.

I know that every issue has positive and negative sides, there are many families where this festival must be fun and nice way to celebrate, they may not see anything wrong in it (even exclusion of widows), I am fine with their stand but for me this is not right. I am against any festival which forbids participation of certain section of society just because of their gender or martial status (widows), rather I believe that concept of widows being barred from participating in many rituals or considering them as a bad omen must have started from traditions and festivals like this, imagine how they must be feeling when all these women are celebrating and they are not allowed to participate just because their husband is dead, just to remind how unfortunate they are, it's a cruel joke played on them. I am not saying that married women should not express their love or should not celebrate just because few widows are around, no that's not what I meant, everyone has right to express their love and respect for their partner but why not to include all women and men in these type of celebrations, if necessary change the format of the festival, make it where all (irrespective of gender or martial status) can express love for their partner or friend, living or dead shouldn't matter. If it's about love, dedication, etc. then does it matter if that partner is alive or not, male or female?

Many people who know me also know that I am not very big festival fan but when I participate in any family function (like any festival or marriage) I want to have fun and for me fun is when everyone can participate in it, just for comparison when I see festivals in USA like Halloween, thanksgiving, valentine's day, etc where everyone can participate there is no age limit, gender or martial status restrictions (may be for marketing purpose, but they are open for all) why can't we take this very good thing from them  and include in our festivals any way we are copying many other unwanted things which we don't need in India for sure so why not take some good things also. But I know that it's not easy to change these rituals and many people may not like my comments and suggestions, they will think this post as one more attempt to bring issue of gender equality and criticize grand old traditions, I am fine with all this criticism but I feel to express my opinion about this even if there are many who don't care about this issue.

 Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Links:
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karva_Chauth
2. http://hinduism.about.com/od/festivalsholidays/p/karwachauth.htm
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome

Friday, November 2, 2012

Pregnancy...a God's wish or just a biological phenomena?

Few days back US senate candidate from Indiana Richard Mourdock was is news for his comment about abortion. Many so called pro-life people (I don't know on what basis they call themselves pro-life) are against abortion and they debate heavily about when human life begins and how we can't reject a gift of God even if the person who is receiving it don't want to have that gift. It's really surprising but even in developed country like USA this debate is going on for decades and still people don't have some logical consensus on this issue. 

The whole notion or hypothesis of human life is a gift from God sounds very unrealistic to me, we are also product of biological process of reproduction like any other animal or insect on this planet. People don't call earth worm's life as a gift from God, we don't call cancer, Malaria, small pox (which had name of some goddess in India) as gift from God and try to preserve it, we rather call them deadly diseases and fight against them, then whats so special about fertilization or conception? We interfere in many natural processes (what people call God's will or wish) like earth quakes, hurricanes, diseases, our original appearance (by doing plastic surgery, make up, growth hormones, etc.) but no one calls these acts as sin and condemns our efforts to fight them or stop them, rather the techniques or inventions who help us to fight against all these things are considered as boons for human race and we all feel lucky to have them. Rather if we look closely  human history is full of incidents about our fight against natural calamities (one can call them God's wish), many battles we won and some of them we are still fighting.

This post is not pro or anti abortion, I personally think abortion is and should be the choice of women, after all she has to bear that child and she has right to decide what is good for her health and her life. When we bring topic of God and its will in to discussion of abortion and issues related with it clearly we are going off the track and blowing this issue out of its proportion. This so called pro-life activist don't like to support gun ban in US even after so many incidents which prove that it's a dangerous, because they consider it as a fundamental right given to them by constitution (nothing pro-life here) but when it comes about abortion they think we ( and most of them are males) should not interfere in God's will, there is no question here about fundamental rights of women about their health and body. They don't think it's pro-life to support fight against global warming, many of them don't even accept that human actions contribute towards global warming process. They even want to get rid of environment protection agency (EPA) which helps in protecting environment and people but still they call themselves 'pro-life' because they want to protect every fertilized women egg, no matter by what means it gets fertilized and whether that women wants it or not.

Natural beginning and end of human life (or for that matter any life) is purely biological or natural phenomena, there is nothing divine here, we are product or I must say byproduct of some act which humans do for their pleasure, this is a simple fact about origin of our life. For most animals sexual acts is a mere seasonal or biological phenomena for reproduction so that their species can survive, but not for humans and like many other things (like eating, clothes, shelter) we have glamorized this act also and there is nothing wrong in it. We are different from other animals in many ways because of our behavior and imagination and that includes our reproductive and sexual activity. Biologically it's the same, to fertilize the egg, sperm has to meet with the egg and this initiates the reproductive process, there is nothing divine in it, reproduction won't happen unless these two things come together (whether God's will or not doesn't matter). Today because of advanced technology same thing can be done in test tube and if we want we can create new life in lab (another proof that there is nothing divine in it, because even humans also can do it). At least in case of other animals their sexual desire and act is controlled by environment and mating seasons but we humans are immune to this, we ourselves control our sexual desires and acts. Rape, sexual abuse, extramarital affair, casual sex or for that matter any sexual act between male and female has a potential of creation of new life, it's not that only after certain rituals or permission (like marriage) this thing happens, so why are these people still pretending that there is something more (divine) in it? Whats the problem in accepting that it's a mere biological phenomena?

It's a woman who has to bear a child and face psychological and physical issues related with pregnancy and its aftermath, so she should get to choose when she wants to take that responsibility that's why it's her right to have options of contraception available and in case by mistake if something goes wrong then also it should be her decision to choose what she wants to do with her pregnancy. Teen pregnancy is a social issue and we need to educate kids about it but in general pregnancy is not a social phenomena where politicians and law makers should decide whether women should bear child or not, it's very much personal and persons (or I must say a person, in this case female) should have right to choose, I know it's not a easy decision for anyone to take but nature has given her that right and choice and we should not mess with that.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic. 

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing) 

Reference:
1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/richard-mourdock-god-at-work-if-rape-causes-pregnancy/2012/10/24/dc81932f-480d-468d-bae5-5c8dea35e97c_video.html
2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/24/richard-mourdock-rape-pregnancy_n_2008385.html?utm_hp_ref=elections-2012
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shitala
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Todd_Akin_%27legitimate_rape%27_and_pregnancy_comment_controversy