Monday, May 30, 2016

We need to understand, analyze and evaluate all traditions and rituals.

I was born and brought up in a conservative Hindu family, there were many rituals and traditions which were followed in our family for generations, and as a child, I used to participate in them or observe them with a lot of curiosity and interest. One thing always surprised me that no one around me actually knew the real reason or logic behind why we follow certain traditions or perform certain rituals. They just did it because it was a practice followed by their ancestors. If at all anyone raised any question, then the standard answer, "This is what our ancestors did, there must be some reason behind it and therefore we need to continue doing this." While this answer was enough to snub a curious child but it is not a rational and logical explanation to quench the thirst of an inquisitive mind. There were many questions which remained unanswered for a long time, few of them are: why to fast only on a particular day? Why not to eat meat during some religious festivals? If meat is that bad, then why people eat it at all? How come it's good to eat it on a particular day but not good on any of those so called auspicious occasions? Why women are not allowed to worship during their menstrual cycle? Why to feed rice only to crows among all birds to pacify soul of dead people? There were many questions like this and I tried to find answers to many of them on my own. Actually, it is not that difficult to search for answers to many of these questions, mostly it is a matter of applying some common sense and look at the social and economic environment at that time. But, the first necessary step is to ask a question, if your faith stops you from asking these questions, then you may never be able to find any answers related to any of these things.

Many of these traditions were result of some sort of social needs of that era, sometimes it was combination of medical, hygiene and some economic reasons. It makes lots of sense if we analyze these things with respect to that time, but things don't look that rational and logical when we do the same things today without even evaluating if we need to practice these things today or not? Without the availability of personal hygiene products, menstruation can be a difficult thing to handle, maybe that time it made sense to quarantine menstruating women and forcing them to rest. Occasional fasting can be good for our health, so it made sense to fast few days of the year. Rice was easy and cheap agricultural product and crow was one of the abundant bird species which never attained the status of being a pet bird, so maybe it was a great idea to have some ritual where everyone can feed this ignored bird so that they also survive. Meat is a very tasty food, people eating meat might get addicted to its taste and consume it in very unhealthy amounts, that's why they might have restricted consumption of meat on some particular days. Understanding and analyzing these things is very necessary and we all should do it. We can go on like this, finding some kind of explanation or reasoning for each ritual and tradition, but this is not at all the reason to practice these things blindly in today's world.

It doesn't make sense to restrict women from worshiping during menstruation when proper means are available to deal with personal hygiene. Healthy diet is important, with so much of medical advice available, what and how much food one should eat should be a personal choice. Like this we can rebut most of these outdated practices to which people tend to cling just because it is part of their culture. Cultural heritage is undoubtedly something we should study and preserve for the reference of our future generations, but we should not get trapped into it and stop moving forward. So please try to understand and analyze each and every tradition or ritual, try to find logic and reasoning behind it, learn from these things and try to apply them today, if they are outdated then don't hesitate to discard them, if they need any change then change them, but please don't get stuck in the web of cultural dogma. This heritage and knowledge should act as a launching pad of future discoveries and progress.

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

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

Friday, May 27, 2016

Problems associated with 'blind faith.'

"Faith' had been always very interesting subject for me, by 'faith' I mean anyone's belief in something without verifying the truthfulness of that particular thing. Faith is an emotion and like other emotions this can also manifest in various forms and it can play a major role in developing the personality of many of us. For many people their 'faith' is an integral part of the day to day life. It helps them in many ways and for many it has become a necessary thing for their survival, it offers them the reasons for their existence. Like many other emotions faith also is being heavily commercialized emotion and there are various products in the market of faith to fulfil various needs of people who are interested in faith and its related aspects. Religion is one of the oldest and the most popular product which is ruling the market of faith for the longest time. Faith helps people to get over many difficult situations and offers some answers to many of their questions. Whether these answers are true or false, logical or illogical is not a matter of concern for all those who put all their trust in some faith. So it seems that this phenomena called 'faith' can do wonders in some cases, we can see many people doing admirable social work or philanthropic work inspired by their faith. This is all good and desirable side of faith, but at the same time we can also see that there are some who kill innocents in the name of their faith, there are few who attack civilians in the name of protecting their faith, this is another extreme where some people are so blinded by their faith that they don't hesitate to engage in such heinous and gruesome acts.

Why people react so differently while following same faith? Why some are extremely kind and some are extremely violent, but they both claim to have faith in same ideology? What makes some to perform extreme noble acts and some to take the path of gruesome violence while claiming to follow the same book of their faith? One can only say that, maybe the problem lies in 'blind faith.' Any product used without knowing about all its effects and side effects is bound to produce extreme reactions. Some of its side effects can be bad or even fatal and this is the main reason why blind faith on some holy book or religion produces such an extreme response to the good as well as bad side or human behavior spectrum. Someone might argue that faith is always blind, as whenever people put their faith in something they generally don't question it. May be this was true in the past but in today's world we are trained to question everything, and we should question as many things as possible. Questioning is the only way to move forward, inquiry is the first step in the direction of solving any puzzle or problem, no matter how complicated it is. If any faith or discipline is forbidding questioning beyond a certain point, then it means that it doesn't have answers to those questions, and the worst part is, it don't even want to seek those answers. This attitude is the main reason for existence of blind faith, any discipline or religion which can allow questioning can cultivate what I call a 'rational or logical faith,' this is exactly opposite of 'blind faith.' The difference between 'rational faith' and 'blind faith' is that in one case people believe in something by recognizing the fact that their beliefs can be questioned, challenged and there can be some problems associated with that which they should try to resolve. This system is much less dangerous than the system which commands 'blind faith' in anything.

I don't have to go into more details to describe the problems we are facing today because of issue of blind faith in today's world, issue of terrorism is just one of them. Many of these problems can be resolved or at least their impact can be minimized if people from the same 'faith system' take initiative to reform their faith so that such a blatant misuse of this very important human emotion can be curbed. Emotions like faith are here to stay, as humans we cannot get rid these things as they play a role of support system for many of us, but we all can definitely work to make these things better and I think the time has come where we all need to challenge the system of 'blind faith,' no matter which discipline or which religion is practicing it, we need to challenge it as misuse of this system has the potential to harm entire humanity.

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

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

Indira Gandhi- an intriguing personality.

I have been always curious about life of India's third prime minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi. She became prime minister for the first time after the death of second prime minister Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1966. She held that position until 1977 and then again from 1980 to 1984 until she was assassinated by her own bodyguards. I read her biography written by her friend Mrs. Pupul Jaykar long time back and recently I finished reading another book about her by Katherine Frank. There is no doubt that anyone who reads about the life of such an intriguing personality will be overwhelmed by the series of events such people go through during their lives, I am no exception to this. Mrs. Jaykar's account is somewhat biased because of her close association to Mrs. Gandhi as a friend, but still it has lots of useful information which only a close confidant can tell about her, but she is very sympathetic towards most of her acts, good or bad. I suggest reading Katherine's book to anyone who want to read somewhat unbiased account about Mrs. Gandhi, I am sure people can find fault with this book also but it is relatively unbiased compared to other books on the same subject.

My first traceable memory about Indira Gandhi is the incident when I heard the news about her assassination. It was way back in 1984 when there were no 24 hour news channels, cell phones or social media. One of my friends told me that someone killed Indira Gandhi, maybe someone from his family heard it on radio and told him about it. But I didn't believe him, I ridiculed that guy and said to him that it was Mahatma Gandhi who was assassinated, that too long back not Indira so he must have confused the names, but I was wrong by evening it was clear that Indira Gandhi was killed by her own bodyguards. That time I did not know about her impact on Indian politics or anything about what resulted in the tragic end of her life. When I started reading about her, I came to know various aspects about her political and personal life. I never appreciated her economic policies. I still feel that nationalization of all major industries like banking, steel and cloth was a horrible idea. I feel that 'licence raj,' a term used to indicate excessive control of government over industrial sector  via totally unnecessary rules and regulations hampered India's industrial progress tremendously. These policies were largely responsible for India's pathetic industrial and technological growth during that time. I guess everyone knows about her special love for article-356 of Indian constitution, which she used very freely for political purpose, the declaration of emergency was another decision which very few can justify. Actually, one can find such anomalies in life of any powerful political leader, who has ruled any country for a considerable time and she is no exception to this. There is no doubt that she was a very powerful leader who wanted to have total control of her party and her government. As a woman she must have faced many challenges and issues in Indian society and I think she discovered her own ways, to deal with each of those issues. Whether those ways were right or wrong, it is up to us to decide. There is lots of gossip and trash talk about her personal life, some of it might be true, but many of those things really don't matter much as far as politician Indira Gandhi is considered.

Whenever I try to discuss about the impact of any political leader of her status in Indian politics, I find that most people talk based on information they receive from non reliable resources. They go more by perceptions, they don't even bother to cross check or confirm the information which they receive. Very few really study about the person they want to praise or criticize, rarely there is an informed opinion. This is true for any leader of today's politics as well as for any past leader including leaders like Mahatma Gandhi. People go by their perceptions rather than trying to find facts, these perceptions are based on region, religion or party their family supports. This makes most discussions very futile and at the end people end up arguing or abusing these people rather than trying to discuss and understand the person and their impact on India. I recommend readers who are interested in knowing about any person to read as much as possible about them. Try to read various accounts, positive and negative both to get the complete picture of that person. Life of Indira Gandhi was very interesting and her impact on Indian politics is huge, may be more than her father Jawaharlal Nehru. If you want to understand her, please read as many books and articles as possible about her, I am intrigued by her personality, even though I don't support many of her policies and actions, I am interested in knowing your opinion about her impact on India and Indian political culture.

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

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

Left hand and right hand, which one is right?

I have seen very few left handed people in India, especially during my childhood, it was very rare to spot a left handed person. But, when I came to USA I was surprised to see so many left handed people, this sharp difference made me to look to some reasons behind it. Is it genetic? or due to different climate or there is some other reason. While looking for possible reasons, I realized that it has to do with culture and tradition more than anything else. In India left hand is considered as a 'wrong' hand and many parents force their kids to use their right hand the time they realize that their child is using the left hand, especially while eating or writing. This happens at a very young age when the child is still trying to learn to perform his or her tasks on their own. Because of this cultural dominance of right handedness many kids change their 'wrong' way and switch to the correct way, the ultimate result: they start using their 'right' hand for eating and writing and hence they ultimately become right handed. 

Now, slowly things are changing for good, even in India parents are more tolerant towards their kids using whatever hand they prefer while eating or writing, but this was not the case during my childhood, this is why I think I didn't see many left handed people around me. During my son's first India visit since he started eating on his own, when my mom saw him eating with left hand she was really shocked. She blamed me that as a parent, I didn't take any efforts to correct this fault of his. She was worried about him using his 'wrong' hand to do pious tasks like eating or writing or some religious rituals. My mom is not the only one who thinks like this, most people of her generation think like this and still there are some who believe in these type of traditions. Most of them are fine with a person being a leftie in sports, rather lefties get special attention in popular sport like cricket in India, but if same person uses his or her left hand while eating then the reactions are totally different.

I am completely opposed to this notion of right being a 'right' hand and left being a 'wrong' hand. It should be a choice of an individual to decide which hand want to use as their dominant hand. There is nothing right or wrong in this, it really doesn't matter. I am glad that slowly people are trying to understand this simple fact, but still it is not accepted to use left hand during religious rituals. Priests often try to force a person performing the ritual to use their right hand and many oblige to this order just to avoid any confrontation or they themselves somehow think that using left hand is a wrong thing to do. I am sure this happens because of brainwashing since early childhood. I feel left handed people should stick to their guns during religious ceremonies also, let these priests understand that there is nothing wrong in using the left hand, let others understand that there is nothing wrong in being a leftie, one hand is not more pious than the other, both are equal. I know this is not easy, it might result in some struggle, also it might create some unpleasant situations or arguments, but someone needs to take the stand so that others don't suffer the same discomfort and humiliation. It will be interesting to see how my son reacts when he will be told to use his right hand during some religious ritual (if at all he bothers to participate in any). I am interested in knowing about the experiences of left handed people where they feel they got discriminated or treated differently just because they use their left hand. We need to correct this bias, it is not that serious, but still it is a bias and we need to correct it.

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

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