Friday, October 20, 2006

Lady Monk's miraculous escape: First praised, then persecuted for falling in love

First the story of female monk [Jain Sadhvi[ Siddhishri, 21, who went missing from the Sthanatk, which is the place of worship for a sect of Shvetambar Jains that do not have idols as they are atheists & against rituals.

The devotees had found ash in her room and soon the news spread that a miracle has occurred. Also, rumours of people having seen a flash light emerging from her room made rounds.

Everybody was now praising the Sadhwi for her penance and her extreme devotion to the dharma. She was credited with the miracle.

Hundreds of devotees gathered but it was later found that Siddhishri was in love with one, Raju Talwar, and that she had eloped with him. The plan was to leave behind signs everybody would consider as miracle-- result of her 'sadhna' and stop searching the female monk.

The worst part is that now everybody is gunning for her. She has been arrested and has also been charged with offending Religious Feelings under Section 295 (A) but also for criminal conspiracy, criminal mischief and other sections under the Indian Penal Code.

Raju was interested in 'darshan' of the sadhvi when he first heard of her and later turned her attendant. She also fell in love with him. Siddhishri's crime is that she is an adult and decided to marry. 

Like innumerable other monks, she was turned 'Sadhvi' at the age of 14. Like the minor [9 year old] girl whose parents said that she had shown wish to live the life of an ascetic [and the case is in Court], Samta was also turned into Sadhvi Siddhishri.

The Sadhvi or Sadhu has to live an austere life and can never marry besides shunning all blood relations. Jain monks always walk barefoot, accept small quantity of food in alms, have to move from place to place, never take up any transport and have to pluck off their hair [not cut them with razor].

Code of conduct is extensive with slight differences in various sects & sub-sects. Won't it be better if Jain Orders stop inducting minors as monks even if the parents are willing. Once they are grown up they can decide & if they still wish to devote their life then they can surely go ahead then.

Imrana gets justice

Good to see the court sending Imrana's rapist father-in-law to the jail for ten years. But what about the cleric who said that she ought to live with the father-in-law as wife? Heartening that Imrana's husband stood by her during her ordeal.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Religious Diversity in India: Iftar beside Ganges, Muslim setting afire Ravana and communal harmony!

1. Some Muslims had their 'iftaar' on the banks of Ganga [Holy Ganges river] at Hardwar and not only the loony fringe [Bajrang Dal] but also the Congress felt that the sanctity of the place was defiled.

Apparently Congress is angry because members of SP [Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party] had organised the iftaar.

2. Shahnawaz Husain, the Muslim face of BJP, went to a temple in Bhagalpur. Shahnawaz is trying his luck from the constituency on the BJP ticket.

The Saffron organisations are angry, the temple cleaned up as per rituals, besides series of agitations that how a Muslim entered the temple premises.

3. At Sangrur in Punjab the IG who happens to be Muslims was chief guest at the Dussehra event and he was asked to light the effigy of Ravana.

The Muslim official duly ignited the Ravana effigy. Now it has turned into a major controversy and the local MLA is jittery at the thought of losing votes in the upcoming elections as she is trying to convince that it was not a sacrilege.

4. Bar Girls danced at the fair at the famous Dewa [Deva sharif] Urs in Uttar Pradesh and here also a major controversy has erupted thanks to news channels, who feel it was an affront to Sufism. Ironically, the same channels that have no qualms in showing 'wardrobe malfunction' and 'chance nudes' are crying hoarse about the bar girls, who were at least dressed quite decently.

5. And last but not the least. Can you believe this? A monkey raised by a Muslim and who allegedly used to bite Hindu kids, has been in jail for years. Reason: His 'acts caused communal tension' and thus it has been caged and in police custody for a long time in Orissa.

Now animal rights activists are pressing for his release. But our major newspapers refer to him as 'Communal simian', 'Jehadi monkey' or whatever and believing that it really bit selectively. All the above mentioned five stories I saw on TV in a single day (on Sunday) when I was just cursorily changing channels. Do I need to comment any further on them!

I don't know if its a lunatic asylum we are living in or it's media madness that brings out only stories of discord in a nation of 1 billion. 'Hindustan ajooboN ka des hai', this we find uttered by historical figures a thousand years ago and I wonder if any thing has changed.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

An encounter with Urdu poet Rahat Indori at a railway station

I was standing at the railway platform waiting for the Lucknow-bound train to arrive which my chacha [uncle] had to board when a man hurriedly walked past us.

My elderly 'chacha' said, 'Arrey, Rahat Sahab'. The middle-aged man now turned his head back and acknowledged him, with a wide grin.

I don't know how but the first couplet (matlaa) of one of his ghazals came to my lips:

uski katthai aaNkhoN meN haiN jantar mantar sab
chaaqu vaaqu, chhuriyaaN vuriyaaN, khanjar vanjar sab

اسکی کتھیء آنکھوں میں ہیں جنتر منتر سب
چاقو واقو چھریاں وریاں خنجر ونجر سب

Rahat, who earlier looked in a hurry, stopped and came towards us. He was quite overwhelmed as I had recited his couplet instantly. First, like an elder he kept his palm on my head and then embraced me warmly. That was an interesting meet.

He surely loved being recognised and more so because he heard his own couplet from someone. What a coincidence it was!

I have posted this ghazal earlier, I guess:

jis din se tum ruuThiiN, mujhse ruuThe ruuThe haiN
takia vakia, chaadar vaadar, bistar vistar sab.

You can read Rahat Indori's ghazals in Roman, Urdu and Hindi scripts at BESTGHAZALS

Meanwhile, the blog of Adil Najam and his friends, has the lead story of Desecration of Hindu Temple in Karachi: Stop It. NOW!. It is laudable the way the blog has expressed concern over the minorities' issue (Hindus in Pakistan). It's a popular blog and would surely create awareness.

The article starts with: Religious intolerance must never be tolerated. To be silent in the face of intolerance is intolerance itself. And I absolutely agree. Heartening to see these voices, which are necessary in all evolved societies.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Communal bug bites Mangalore: Clashes, rioting reaches Southern India

Riots in Mangalore! I am really surprised. Even the beautiful town in the West Coast is no longer immune to communal violence.

Though Karnataka has seen riots in the last ten-odd years ever since the issue in Hubli was raised apart from riots in Bangalore, Bhatkal and other places.

Now Mangalore has also seen this polarisation on religious lines. Clashes have been going on for a couple of days now.

Most of the Mangalore Muslims belong to Beary community that is spread across the coast. They speak Tulu [Isn't Aishwarya Rai a Tulu?] and other local languages.

Kannada, Konkani and Urdu are also spoken here. Mangalore is part of Dakshin Kannada district, part of the cultural region knows as Tulu Nadu. The riots that led to two deaths and over 100 injured, began when a truck carrying cattle for slaughter was stopped by Bajrang Dal activists.

The Karnataka Home Minister has blamed VHP and Sri Ram Sena [ever heard it's name] for the violence. The name of Muslim organisation like SIMI has also been reported in a couple of news reports. Ironically, most riots start over the familiar conflicts.

Last week's riots in towns in small towns in Northern India were mostly over the route of processions, raising of communal slogans in front of religious places etc. This has been going on for ages. So sad that we are yet to devise strategies to stop such mindless act.

Mangalore means an 'auspicious place' and hopefully the situation would normalise soon and peace prevails. Latest reports have confirmed the death of Abdul Ghafoor, 26, Imam of the mosque at Bijai, who was killed by suspected Bajrang Dal activists.

 Also, an ambulance carrying injured was attacked. Karnataka government surely needs to take drastic steps to end the violence and arrest the perpetrators. (Above a photo of Mangalore's MG Road)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Santhara or Sallekhana: Can Jain tradition of Fasting to death be banned?

The body kept for darshan
Even as the Rajasthan High Court is hearing the petition challenging the 2,300 year old Jain practice of Santhara as per which a person decides to stop taking food and water until death in order to attain salvation ['moksha], similar deaths are reported from all over Rajasthan.

After Vimla Bhansali died by oberving Santhara in Jaipur and Amarchand Kaswan also died in this ritual in Ajmer, now it is Dhani Devi Pugalia who is in her 20th day of Santhara fast in Bikaner.

She is member of Terapanthi sub-sect of the Shwetambar sect of Jains, is on deathbed. Meanwhile, Monk Merubhushan has also announced that he will take the similar route to end life. Another lady Keila devi has also vowed the same. And these are just reports from urban areas of Rajasthan.

I spoke to a friend of mine whose family had two Sallekhana (the Digambars call it Sallekhana Vrata) recently in MP. Is it a form of suicide, euthanasia or a practice like the Sati that should be stopped legally.

Practically, I think it is not easy to stop Santhara. Jainism is one of the oldest religion in the world Mahavir, the last of 24 Tirthankars was a younger contemporary of Gautam Buddha, and Jains claim that India got the name Bharat owing to the name of Bharat, son of first Tirthankar Rishabh.

Religion as surname

The tradition exists for long and every year hundreds commit sallekhana. Never the need for curb on the practice was felt as Jainism went into near-extinction and was almost considered a part of Hinduism until the revivalism when Jains [mostly Digambar sect] decided to drop their surnames.

The commonest of Jain surnames include Shah, Sheth, Lodha, Godha, Khandelwal, Kasliwal, Bakliwal, Baid, Sethia, Sanghvi, Surana, Banthia, Bansal, Bhandari and even some Agarwals. Now, they instead write Jain.

Thus Jains became a unique people, a majority of whom [not in Gujarat though where surnames like Shah were not replaced [began writing their religion as their surname to appear more in number. Ever heard a Rajesh Hindu, Salim Musalman or a David Jew!

So being a micro-minuscule minority Jains grappled with a serious problem of preserving their identities like their beliefs [they are atheists and don't believe in God], places of worship 'Jinalaya' that is generally known as Jain Mandir and other unique traditions.

Can there be a consensus among Jain sects?

You can't simple ban the Santhara because it is about a community that is very minor [around 50 lakhs in India or just 0.4% of the country's population] and further divided in sects and sub-sects demographically spread in such a way that a consensus is very difficult.

Being less in number, they are more sensistive about their religion and it age old practices. An example is that of Parsis whose number is dwindling [they are barely around 75,000 in India] and still they are not ready to accept half-Parsis [those who marry outside the community] even when their survival is at stake.

Apart from the arguments in favour--like the oft-quoted claim that Santhara is not a social evil because both men and women go for it unlike Sati or that it is not forcible and people take the vow themself, there are  other aspects to it as well.

Arguments against Sallekhana ritual

Firstly, it's illegal and it is surely a crime to take one's own life. Secondly, it is a fact that majority of those who take Santhara are women and often in rural areas, the 'old person who is of no use' goes for it and the family often encourages it because in rural areas they gain prestige and also other monitory benefits in some regions, not all. 

Thirdly, some other Jain traditions like the practice of making children as monks [a 9-year-old girl was sent by her parents to go and live a celibate ascetic for life] are not entirely agreeable in a free democratic society. The case of the girl was in the court until I knew and her parents and the Jain community claimed that she had herself volunteered to become a monk!

Still, voices against Santhara should come from within the Jains. Has anybody heard any voice against it from them? Not a single one. Even the most fiery social activists including women [belonging to Jainism] who keep voicing their concern on all social 'evils' just keep mum when it comes to Santhara or Jain Nuns' plight or the 'deeksha' at an early age.

If a Guru's permission is necessary before embarking on Santhara, then the Gurus [Monks] can be urged by governments to not give such a permission. But is it practical? Most Jains believe in Santhara and they consider death as a celebration unlike other communities.

Even governments will not be able to force them. A clear majority of Hindus is against Sati today and condemns it. However, it is difficult to find a Jain who does not believe in Santhara tradition. The practice has been existing since time immemorial.

Just because of the media boom, people have come to know about it. It could probably have been banned in the years after independence but government can't take such a step just because media is highlight something that is occurring for centuries.

Didn't the great emperor Chandragupta Maurya abandon his kingdom and died of Sallekhana? Jains are the most educated community in the country with a vast treasure of literature preserved in their libraries and unless a reformist movement comes out from within, nobody can force a change.

[The photograph shows Vimla Devi's body kept for darshan, after she died of Sallekhana]

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Indian Muslim in Durga Puja celebration: Among the Bengalis, Enjoying the Delicacies

An Indian Muslim's visits to Pujo Pandals
The little Bengal had descended on this small Kali Bari teeming with the 'bhalo bhadralok' and pretty girls, a Manna De song on Calcutta's coffee house was turning everybody nostalgic.

And I was just focused on food--almost an hour after Iftaar [It's Ramzan, yaar]. So my Bengali friend, a bachelor away from his hometown, and I were roaming in the Kali Bari.

For Bengalis, it's an important part of the year. No matter if the person is religious or not, a Hindu or of any other faith, as long as he is a Bengali, this part of the year his cultural roots call him out to the Kali Baris in their towns.

The menu for just one outing [Saturday] could be an indication for you, that how much I enjoyed myself at the 'Pujo' Pandal.

1 Started with veg snacks 'Bhejitabal..' [as written in Hindi on the stall just like Bengalis pronounce]
2. Fruit Chat
3. Chana Jor Garam
4. Fried Fish Fingers
5. Chicken Tikka [Halaal-shop, a Muslim's I had ensured]
---------Smoking/ Cigarette Break---------
6. Biryani [though in a small 'dona']
7. Chicken Roll
8. Lots of Gol Gappas [Paani Poori]
9. Cold Drink

The menu changed everyday but remained this long.


Many of my friends are Bengalis and so I share their enthusiasm during the Durga Puja. Away from families they turn nostalgic. I can't read Anand Bazar Patrika or understand Bangla but can surely give them company.

This year I too I ensured that everyday I visited the place for at least an hour in the evening with my friend though it is tough because my working hours [6 pm-11 pm] don't permit that easily. This is the time, when Kali Badis in every city that has a Bengali population, turns into Little Bengal. I've been to them in many cities.


My friend took care of the pretty girls. I, being a married person, am not that interested [or I pretend!]. And of course all my attention was towards food. For three days I kept eating like a glutton and my stomach braved this gastronomic assault.

All sorts of cultural programmes like drama, songs, Ramlila and other cultural events were part of this Durga Puja celeberation. Already having best of snacks and non-veg dishes at home due to Ramzan [Ramadan], the khaana-peena an extension of iftaar at Kali Bari made this another unforgettable experience.