Thursday, January 31, 2013

Creating Controversies: TV News channels dictating national agenda, fuelling passions to get viewership

Electronic media loves controversies. For the sake of higher TRPs that brings advertisement revenues, some of the TV news channels can create controversies as well.

So what if more important pressing issues get ignored and due to the pressure to speak or clarify their stand in front of nation, politicians also get into this nonsense.

The high-pitched debates 'moderated' by hysteric anchors, which lead to nothing, and repeat of the same news through out the day, is consuming all news space.

I will start with an incident involving Nitin Gadkari, who was recently removed from the post of BJP's national president. He didn't reply to TV reporters' questions [questions that were aimed to create controversies] and straight went to a programme.
Here, he said that being intelligent doesn't mean that a person will excel. Gadkari said that an intelligent person should also have focus and must work in the right direction, and then only he'll achieve success. Gadkari spoke about Vivekananda.

Later, he said that a person like Dawood Ibrahim may also be too intelligent but he used his mind in negative direction, and hence turned out to be what  he is today. So one should channelise his/her energies for the betterment of society. What's wrong?
TV reporters soon began airing, 'Gadkari compared Vivekananda with Dawood". It was not that these journalists were not aware that what he had said. But to ensure that their report was telecast during prime time [probably also to take revenge for not replying to their queries], they gave it the twist.

Shahrukh Khan
Now if channels went ahead with the news, how could newspapers be left behind. If a print media reporter would say, "No, Gadkari didn't say it", he would be chided by his bosses, 'Ye sab jhoote hain kya', 'Watch TV, see his byte'. 

Now don't we know, how 'bytes' are selectively cut to show particular scenes.  Its free country. Its fee media. People are free. But then perhaps, we should be carefree as well or take things with a pinch of salt. But we are not. We take things seriously. Everything is turned into a national issue.
There are experts called to studios and the discussions begin, as if every issue would be settled right now, once for all. Alas, nothing happens. It was a dry period recently. But  for the last couple of days, it's been a wonderful period for these news channels.

One day you have Shahrukh Khan controversy, the next day you have Ashis Nandy, the third day there is a clear effort to get someone say something 'interesting' over Yashwant Sinha's statement about Modi to create another issue and the fourth day, its Vishwaroopam.

Of course, Shahurkh Khan issue can be dragged to one or two days more, by pushing mike in front of other people and get their reaction. If they don't react, force them to do so. If they react, it's story. In neighbouring country it happens as well. Why ask them about a film star in India.

And if asked and the politician says yes security should be given, its again story and we have screaming news readers on our screens. If the politician acts mischievously to get the whole nation go hysteric, he will deliberately issue a statement that will send all our channels go ballistic.
Yashwant Sinha
Similar is the case of the movie, 'Vishwaroopam'. Our is a unique democracy. Everyone has the right to speak or stage a demonstration. We have the right to protest, which is important. If a section protests, there is always a way out, deal with them in a tough manner. 

When the movie was cleared by censore, it should be screened. If one or two groups staged protests, the Hindi channels that are rarely interested in Tamil Nadu and the serious issues there, get all worked up. This time they sensed it would get them eyeballs. So let everyone about the protest.

Project it as if all Muslims are protesting against the movie. Paagal ho kya? But then, positions are taken. Reporters take stand, rather than remaining 'impartial bystanders'. Suddenly it seems free speech or our freedom is under threat.

Arrey bhai, from 'Billu Barber' to 'Jodha Akbar' or from 'Bandit Queen' to 'Jism 2' or 'Dam 999', there is no dearth of similar controversies. 

But if one or two Muslim groups protest, it becomes minority issue! Every year Bajrang Dal members go in various cities, targeting couples and shops selling gifts on Valentine's Day. Does it make it all Hindus against V-Day. They do it because they know ten people raising slogans will be shown by TV channels, not a report on malnutrition.

Further, this report will propel them to stardom. Local cops will be recognising them as Netas, stop questioning them on street. Even if they don't have any support, you can turn them into a nationwide well-known outfit just because of some tamasha.

A 'gamchha' on the shoulder is their passport to any office and they will be able to mediate in issues, sort out land deals, get works done without paying bribe [instead they can take commission from person who approaches them for work].

Epidemics in rural UP or caste violence in Tamil Nadu or even migration of tribals from Bundelkhand will never be an issue. You just need 10 people who are ready to shout and claim, 'We will not let it happen', to make it to a national issue.

Kamal Hassan
Firstly, it is not just a fringe, it is a micro minuscule fringe. But you give space to them. Then, you let it become an issue by giving disproportionately more coverage than it deserves. After that keep asking others for their opinion. 

From political leaders to intellectuals and CMs. So if there was no issue, it becomes an issue. How come? There are 120 crore people and as many opinions.

Daily there will be issues in some places, naturally. Will this be used to issue war cries and make cynical statements like 'cultural emergency' because of a nonsense somewhere in the 32 lakh sqkm land of this country?
Intellectuals can argue on free speech but the truth is on ground level, it's an altogether different scenario. In Europe, there is free speech to such an extent that they write about religious figures in extremely offensive way.
But at the same time, if someone questions that whether Jews faced Holocaust, he gets jailed. In India, we have so many communities and groups. We have different form of tolerance. We have a culture of coexistence.
In India, ordinary folk [not the urban middle class] feel that 'if our fellow brother feels offended, should his feelings be hurt'. People say, 'Kisi ke baare mein ghalat nahi dikhana chahiye'. Perhaps, some more educated guys may feel differently.
When photos of religious figures are printed on clothes or holy symbols on footwear in America or West, we feel offended and protest. It is also a right. Let the ones who are offended, feel it. But don't let the voice of ten people overshadow others just because a vast majority doesn't want to comment or speak on every damn thing.



They need not speak and prove their allegiance or stand each time. Then, these reports are aired, repeated in such a manner so as to whip sentiments and also polarize society. Please, can't we lead our lives in our own manner. Getting Shiv Sena leader lecture the society on right to freedom of expression is another interesting aspect.

But then, versions that can create war of words is required. There is outrage visible subsequently. People react, off line and online, begin tweeting frantically, writing on Facebook. Hindi media watchdogs had rightly said, 'News TV is a Bhasmasur'.

It is a monster. Stop this hysteria. Fed up. Farooq Sheikh rightly said in this interview about a section with 'vested interests'. The first ten minutes of Sagarika Ghose's Face the Nation (FTN) are must watch. I believe that this war for TRP is harming our society, seriously.

No, we are not becoming more intelligent or aware because of the explosion of news around us. All this is making us more dumb than ever. Big circus. After reading the above nonsense, do you feel offended?

Monday, January 28, 2013

BJP back to its basics: Must the party oppose Tipu Sultan university?

Tipu Sultan
On one hand, BJP tries to project itself as an alternative to the Congress at the national level. Its leaders repeatedly announce that the party will treat Muslims alike and there would be no injustice.

But when it comes to actions, its leaders can't even bear symbolism. They are not willing that a university is named after a King who valiantly died fighting the British, unlike rulers who made pacts with East India Company.

Tipu Sultan could have saved his throne and secure his personal interests just like the Nizam or Marathas. But he took a bold stand, tried to form an alliance with other rulers, and finally died in the battlefield.

Tipu had no foreign lineage. He was born here and died here. Still, the 'Swadeshi' BJP has serious problems with him. Isn't it just blind hatred? As per plans, this university has to be established in Srirangapatna [Srirangapatnam] in Karnataka.

Now there are a few states where BJP is no longer seen as an 'enemy' among sections of Muslims, as in MP and Chhattisgarh. The case of Bihar is different because here JDU is playing the dominant role and hence Nitish Kumar overrules BJP leaders' objections.

In MP also,  BJP didn't let the AMU branch open, due to RSS pressure. But there were no fiery speeches or statements. In Karnataka, BJP leaders are openly hostile to the project. They are also spreading baseless propaganda. They claim that the university would need a large chunk of land, which is wrong.

The senior office-bearers of the party are mouthing an imaginary figure of 2,000 acres [required for the university] which is 20-40 times more land than is required for the project. Barely 50-100 acres would be needed. But the aim is to make a mountain out of a molehill and inflame passions.

The BJP government has refused to give land. The Centre has said that it doesn't need state government's ascent or land. Waqf property and local Muslims are willing to provide the land or it can be in a private-public partnership model.

 Still, BJP leaders are saying that they would not let this university come up in Karnataka. When local party units and their leaders act in this manner, shouldn't central leadership tell them to mend ways?

Can BJP leaders remember the GREEN in their own flag!
Of the hundreds of universities, there are barely a few named after Muslim freedom fighters or legendary personalities belonging to minority community.

Even this symbolic gesture is not palatable to the BJP. It shows that either their cadre remain as lumpen as they were in eighties and nineties.

Or, they are total fools that they expose their intentions by openly opposing such nominal things.

Rather than trying to reach out to Muslims, they continue to act in bizarre way. It is understandable if Shiv Sena does it, but it is against political acumen, if a national party does it.

Now see the double standards. The then Maharaja of Gwalior [Scindia] had sided with the British in 1857 and in a BJP ruled state the line from the famous poem on Laxmi Bai*, that terms Scindia as 'Friend of British' during the revolt [first freedom movement], was removed. History changed to remove the blot!

The party has no objection to this dynasty. Was it just for Vijayraje Scindia's closeness with RSS? Though the titles were abolished long back, the BJP government establishes institutes named as 'Rajmata' Vijayraje Scinda University. See link here.

Naming an institution after her is fine. But why such feudal honorifics that in fact glorfiy Raj? Which other personality, other than freedom fighters, has ever been given such respect? Once again, in the present case, the Saffron party gives a message that it is against Muslims.

Such pettiness of mind of many party leaders is the reason that BJP keeps stumbling in its bid towards capturing Delhi. Already, BJP is facing a serious crisis in Karnataka. After Yeddyurappa's exit, there is little hope for the party to form the next government.

Then, why it is hell-bent on turning it into an emotive issue and distancing Muslims further! Think, if, Atal Bihari Vajpayee would have opposed naming the university after Tipu Sultan?

[*'Khoob ladi mardani voh to Jhansi wali rani thi'--Poem by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan]

1. Who is afraid of Tipu Sultan?
2. Tipu Sultan University caught in politics

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

National Heroes of India: Who are the real icons, makers whose actions and thought shaped modern India?

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

If you are asked about personalities who made biggest contribution for this country, certain names would instantly come to your mind.

As we've got independence just over six decades back, names of freedom fighters are bound to dominate this conversation. They surely deserve to be remembered and eulogized.

Then, you might remember a few social reformers or historical figures who single-handedly took on the ills and regressive customs prevailing in the society.

But what about a list of 10 to 25 persons who made the greatest change in shaping the idea of India?
It depends on your perception, the region you belong to and of course your political alignment or the culture you were raised in.

If you are born in Maharashtra or Bengal, you may recall names of the heroes belonging to your region, which is understandable. There was an era when Bengal alone produced dozens of personalities of high intellect [during Renaissance].

One remembers umpteen names ranging from Raja Ram Mohan Roy to Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar from this region alone. But there are personalities whose work was not made known to people in other parts of the country for long, due to a host of factors.

And, it is not just about ignoring certain figures in text books. In an earlier post [on which I closed comments long back], I had commented on a calendar featuring Indian heroes.

It didn't name any Christian or Muslim. Besides, it neglected heroes of medieval India and social reformers but looked back at royals. Frankly, everyone is entitled to his/her ideology and can draw inspiration from them.

But there are certain names on whom you can't disagree much. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was bestowed the title of Father of the Nation. He dominated the 20th century political and social discourse in the sub-continent.

Dr BR Ambedkar, who framed our constitution and the real champion for the rights of the unprivileged, has the strongest following in modern India. He instilled self-respect among Dalits, [around 250 million Indians] in the country.

Ambedkar's name inspires a large segment of population. Jyotirao Phule [popularly known as Jyotiba Phule], and his wife Savitri Phule, played a vital role in curbing social evils and spreading education in the 19th century. They were indeed pioneering social reformers.

Jyotiba Phule was formally given the title Mahatma when Gandhi was just a teenaged law student in London. Either its the couple's work to educate women or fight untouchability, the Phules laid the foundation stone for building the new social order in Maharashtra.

Phule was a rationalist and made efforts to inculcate scientific temper among the people. Savitri Phule [1831-1897] founded the first school for girls in the country. The school was open to girls belong to all castes [that included shudras] and religions. It was a revolutionary step in the conservative society then.

She went on to establish many more schools and also homes for orphans and widows. A pioneering Marathi woman poet, she opened well to the 'untouchables' and passionately worked for widow remarriage. She was also the first woman to light her husband's funeral pyre, way back in 1890.

In fact, her name ought to be written in golden letters in the history of this nation. In the East, Raja Ram Mohan Roy [1772-1833] was a pioneering reformer. The British were now the masters and the Mughal emperor was a mere puppet.

In this era of transition, when Hindus and Muslims were looking at the British with suspicion and hostility, Roy didn't look back towards past glory but instead he focused on future. He took up cudgels to abolish Sati and Child marriage.

Syed Ahmad Khan*, another important figure, played a major role because he spotted how Muslims had withdrawn after the war of 1857. With British ire more directed at Muslims, the community needed an able advocate and a person who could come to terms with the changing situation and reconcile with the rulers.

Gandhi: Hailed as Father of Nation, Couldn't stop partition
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan exactly did that. In process, he received brickbats, the wrath of the mulla and the abuse of the society.

But he remained steadfast to his cause. He succeeded in invigorating the Muslims and managed to draw them towards modern education.

In fact, India has been a land of numerous faiths and religious. Great personalities including Hindu sages and saints were born here.

The founders of three great religions viz. Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism also belong to this land. No wonder, spirituality flourished here throughout the ages including the medieval era.

To begin with, I consider Sufi Saint Moinuddin Chishti, one of the most inspiring and representative figures. Not just because his message brought Hindus and Muslims together, but also for eradicating the social differences of class, caste, religion and even gender.

The Saint preached humanity and love. Ajmer [Rajasthan] remains one of the most venerated shrines in India, frequented by people of all sections. Just like him, Nizamuddin Auliya's hospice in Delhi, became a place of succour for the common folk. Women also sections flocked to the hospice.

Emperors resented him because of his influence on the people but failed to act because of his popularity.
The phrase 'Hunoz Dilli Dur Ast' tells how Ghayasuddin Tughlaq was on his way back to Delhi. The King had warned the mystic and asked him to leave the City before his (King's) return.

But the Saint's words proved prophetic. Delhi remained far for Tughlaq who died when the gate of a newly built structure fell on him, just outside the capital. Among the socio-religious reformers, Guru Ravidas [also Raidas] has influenced a large number of people.

With time, his message his spread further. Another important name is Kbair. There are many legends about Kabir's birth as well as his death. Hindus and Muslims claimed him as their own for ages. Then, a new religious sect Kabirpanthi was formed by his followers. The weaver-poet is a unique figure in medieval India.

Tipu Sultan gave the toughest challenge to British ambition in India. While the Nizams and Peshwas would make and break treaties with the British, Tipu took a bold stance against the East India Company forces and defeated them convincingly.

Though, he could have saved himself but he didn't submit to the British authority. The innovator of rocket technology, he was also a just ruler. Among kings of the numerous princely states in India, the Sher-i-Mysore was one who was feared by British and earned their respect for his valour.

Tipu Sultan tried hard to form alliance of Indian states and didn't yearn to secure privileges for his own state. This was the strength of his character. Unlike his father Hyder Ali, Tipu was not an able judge of people's character and it was this weakness which also cost him dearly.

The brave warrior-king was outdone by the Company's cunning [as also his own men's treachery] and lost in the fourth battle of Mysore against the joint forces of Nizam and British. It was his philosophy that a Tiger's life for a day is better than a jackal's long life.

Birsa Munda [1875-1900] is a hero and an inspiration figure for tribals [Scheduled Tribes] or Adiwasis--the indigenous people. He died when he was just 25. Birsa Munda who was born in Bihar [today's Jharkhand] fought against the British, opposing the 'lagaan' [or land tax].

Armed with bows and arrows, Birsa Munda and his men who led the munda rebellion had become a thorn in the flesh of the British. The Mundas defeated the British in a war in 1898. He was arrested two years later and died in mysterious circumstances.

Today he is revered in the entire tribal belt stretching from Bengal to Chhota Nagpur [Jharkhand], Orissa, Kodagu region [Karnataka], Maharashtra and in MP-Chhattisgarh. Jawaharlal Nehru [1889-1864] was our first prime minister.

Nehru was one of the most popular leaders in India then. You may question certain decisions Nehru made as Prime Minister or you may like Subhas Chandra Bose more than him, but the fact remains that Nehru laid foundation for a modern, industrial country, and took the fledgling nation on a secular path.

For this we must be thankful to him. It was his personality that was instrumental in instilling secular ideals instilled in the administration in the formative years of Republic. He had the authority to subdue the powerful regressive lobbies within the Congress.

Lovingly called, 'Pandit Ji', he was a statesman, a world leader, historian, author and free from orthodoxy. He was inclusive, a quality, which India needed at that juncture, soon after independence. Nehru has to be in this list without any doubt.

Bhagat Singh [1907-1931] has inspired youths for several generations now. He was hanged when he was just 24. Born in a Sikh family in Punjab, he is one of the most charismatic faces of Indian freedom movement. Bhagat Singh died young but his vision and maturity of his thought are truly astonishing.

In South, especially Tamil Nadu, the role of EV Ramasamy Naikar 'Periyar' [1879-1973] in the political and social awakening among Dravidians in 20th century is matchless. He was born in a Kannada speaking family in Madras presidency.

Periyar is remembered for the self-respect movement, which made a strong attack on caste based discrimination. His philosophy had deep impact on Tamil society. Mother Teresa' who made Calcutta her home, brought the attention of the world towards the plight of the poor and the destitute.

Her dedication and lifelong work make her worthy of inclusion in any such compilation of greatest Indians. The list represents personalities representing different regions, eras and almost all religious communities. It has 14 names. You have every right to differ.

From Akbar to Ayyankali and Shivaji to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, we could have added more names. Then there is a large number of heroes from our freedom struggle and during the 19th-20th century. I have listed the individuals whom I consider as heroes in terms of LASTING CONTRIBUTION to society. You can suggest more.

If you don't agree, you might look at the post about another list HERE. This list has neither Dr Ambedkar, nor the Phules. No question of Nehru either. It certainly encompasses a far larger period--thousands of years. Perhaps, you may like it more. Its your choice. My post ends here. Thanks.

[*UPDATE: Of late, views of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan over his use of casteist terms have been brought to public. This has got attention and is being widely discussed. We will talk about it now, in a new post]

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Now a 'communal riot' in Dhule in Maharashtra: When will this end?

The news of a 'riot' in Dhule town in Maharashtra almost got ignored in the national media.

It is debatable if it was a riot, especially, in the sense this word is used in India.

It started from a small fight which turned into a clash and later six people were killed in police firing. But the incident failed to raw the attention of mainstream TV channels, which were far busy with issues that could fetch TRP from urban areas. 

Dhule [also known as Dhulia] is not close to Mumbai. The outrage over Delhi gang rape, the firing at the Line of Control and the latest incident of Naxals inserting bombs in the bodies of CRPF personnel [14 killed in Jharkhand] had made it a newsy fortnight. 

A few newspaper did focus on Dhule. Of the six people who died, all of them were hit by the policemen's bullets. Was it necessary to control violence or it was excessive use of force? A CID inquiry has been instituted [which is the norm in Maharashtra], not a judicial inquiry. 

1. Did we hear anything about COMPENSATION TO VICTIMS & THE AMOUNT? 
2. Any discussion yet on how the police suddenly went on FIRING SPREE?
3. Were Rubber Pellets, Water Cannon, Cane-Charge or Tear Gas tried INITIALLY?
The magisterial and CID inquiries are believed to be mere eyewash. The record of Maharashtra government regarding implementing Sri Krishna Commission report is well-known. Over a dozen corporators and deputy mayor here have threatened to resign if a high-level inquiry is not ordered. 

This report 'Dhule, A Town Divided' says that minorities claim the local police have animosity towards them and selectively fired, which resulted in so many deaths, and further says that even BJP and Shiv Sena members assert that it was not a communal or Hindu-Muslim clash, but a Police-Muslim clash

If this is true, then isn't it alarming! Role of police in riots has been questioned for decades. The exhaustive report by Zeeshan Shaikh also reveals how the local police had earlier made strong and biased comments in a charge sheet in similar violence in Dhule. 
Sometime back we had a series of riots in UP, now its Maharashtra. Yes in Congress-ruled Maharashtra. Now, I too feel, that had it been a BJP ruled state, there would have been some more outcry in national media. Maybe I'm wrong! But that was a bad beginning to the year 2013. Communal riots continue unabated. 

Will this ever end? Barely a few months back I had written a post on the ugly trend of similar incidents in UP and other parts of the country. Read the post on Street protests and Crowd control. Just hoping that there will be a probe which would find the reasons for the incident and if the firing was excessive, action is taken. 

Indian Express reported how even a Deputy Tehsildar lost his son in police firing. 
The Hindu report says that most of those killed were not involved in riot at all and were going about their daily lives when they were hit. 

Sunday, January 06, 2013

A non-vegetarian family cornered among vegetarians during a train journey

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi

I was travelling in a North-bound train, perched on the side upper berth when I witnessed this interesting spectacle in the compartment.

Often during journeys, one or two people due to their nature, change the atmosphere of the 'coupe' and then everyone gets into talkative mode and turn friendly. So it was the case here.

There was a couple, in late 30s, who hailed from Bihar, on the lower seats in front of me along with their children. There was another family--Mr and Mrs Maheshwari with their kids. Apart from them, two other men, one of them was Mr Agarwal from Bhilai (Chhattisgarh). Another was Mr Garg who was basically from Indore.

Mr Agarwal brought out a pack of cards and soon he was playing cards with Mr Garg and another person from a nearby seat who came there. He was cracking jokes also. The children were also taking interest, and were keenly watching the three 'uncles' play 'taash'.

From 4 pm when I boarded the train, till 8 pm, they had all got friendly with each other. The kids were loving this new 'uncle' [Mr Agarwal] who could show them all sorts of 'jadus' [tricks with cards] and tell them jokes apart from recalling funny anecdotes about his family including his nephews and nieces.

All of them had become a big middle-class family, who had discussed everything under the sun in these four hours. They were quite aware about each other, now--the jobs, the places where they lived and whose parents or in-laws stayed where in India.

You eat 'Non-Veg'....

It was at around 8.30 pm when the family [Bihar origin] decided that the kids should have their dinner. The Tiffin was brought out. Mrs Pandey opened the boxes one after the other. As the aroma wafted in the compartment, Mr Agarwal asked, 'Non-veg hai kya'.

At that moment, the chirpy Mrs Pandey seemed to have lost all her confidence. Mr Agarwal was surprised, 'Aap log non-veg khate hain'. Poor Mrs Pandey was embarrassed though Mr Agarwal was so mild. Now Mr Garg also jumped into the fray, 'You people are Pundits, na!'

Mrs Pandey was totally on back foot now. She was fumbling for words. 'Bachchon ko khila dete hain' [we let the children eat it]. The guys said, "no we don't have any objection but...". Mrs Pandey had now put the lids back on the dibbas.

"I will send the children to the XYZ's seat [perhaps a relative or acquaintance was travelling in same bogey] at the other end of the compartment'.

"No, no you don't need to do that", Garg sahab said, touching his nose. Koi problem nahi hai. We are not used to anyone eating non-veg.

"We don't even eat eggs. My wife in fact doesn't touch onion or garlic", he added. All the fun had ended by now.

Mrs Pandey murmured: We make it for kids. She seemed really sorry for her existence. "We don't eat regularly now.

Actually we are from Bihar na, Brahmins eat mutton in Bihar", she said. Her husband who was squirming, said something about the days every week when they keep fast.

Vegetarian Virtues

Mr Maheshwari, who wasn't talking much, suddenly joined the conversation. "Once my brother's friends had come and cooked mutton on our 'chauka' in our absence. You know, she [pointing at his wife] had got the entire cooking platform washed so many times. She didn't step in until we had the kitchen white washed again", he said with pride.

It was going too far now. Politically speaking, a 'vegetarian majority' here was psychologically crushing a minority non-vegetarian family which had allowed itself to be bullied. It was like, 'We thought you were just like us, how come you be so different'.

One felt like intervening but then they were all so close just a while ago that interference would have seemed odd. The Pandey couple was silent. But Mrs Pandey's behaviour and mannerism suggested that she was 'apology personified'.

Being Brahmins [highest is caste ladder, the other three families were Vaisyas and veggies], they were supposed to uphold the vegetarian values but here, they were caught 'red-handed' and that too when passengers all around [coupe's on either side] were listening to this conversation.

Apologetic about Eating Habits

"Arrey bhai, bachchon ko khane do", said one of the veggie brigade. The discussion on Indian values and how non-vegetarian food [taamsik] leads to corruption of not just soul but also body, took off. Even Mr and Mrs Pandey were supporting the virtues of vegetarianism.

They said how because of their upbringing in Mithila region, they had this habit, but that they no longer cherished mutton or chicken. Mrs Pandey suggested that even the kids were not too fond of it and will perhaps shun it once they are old enough.

It was sad to see the two kids [bhai-behen] go towards the window, sit and eat without talking. The elders' conversation continued about how people in Rajasthan and Gujarat have 'saatvik' food and that it is so tasty. The wonders of desi spices and the miracles the 'maida' and 'besan' can do, were discussed.

From 'baati' to 'baafla', we heard about all unique vegetarian delicacies. And how celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan don't eat non-vegetarian food. If the couple had any plans to eat the food brought along by them, they couldn't dare to think of it.

The ordered the 'thaali' and had it along with others. After all, they had claimed that the non-vegetarian food in the Tiffin was for kids.

Call it 'Food Fascism' or just a funny episode!

Though it was a pretense. Perhaps, the veggie brigade also knew it. None of them asked the couple that they  should eat the non-veg food.

The Bihar couple was clearly under massive moral pressure and feeling guilty. No one had blamed them. They should have spoken for themselves.

Had they taken a stand and said that food habits had got nothing to do with religion or given examples and said that 'Look, its our choice what we eat', the situation wouldn't have taken such a turn.

They could have said how Brahmins originally in the Vedic era ate mutton but later under the influence of Jainism or due to other factors, quit it.

But they did nothing of that sort. They sounded apologetic. Perhaps, because they really felt that being Brahmins they should have protected the 'tradition', which all the Bania families around them were doing with such conviction.

The manner in which they got cornered was a bit sad. It took a while before the topic of conversation changed. But it couldn't get as lively as in the earlier phase. However, as the journey was coming to an end, they all noted each others phone numbers and promised that if they visited each others cities, they would make a call.

The kids said goodbye to the uncles. Perhaps, they will remember them for a long time. Often people get friendly during train journeys but the promises to call or meet are forgotten once they get off the train. But this episode will surely stay with me for quite sometime.

Is there any moral to draw from this incident?

READ my experience of journey along with members of Tablighi Jamat AT THIS LINK