Thursday, April 17, 2014

The difference between secularism and tolerance

Whenever I converse with some tweeples who call themselves "staunch Bharatiyas," "nationalists" and so on, I hear the term 'pseudo-sickular' hurled at me often for questioning their faith in certain aspects of their ideology (read Hindutva). When I talk of carnage in the name of Hindutva like Babri and post-Godhra Gujarat in 2002 they use this term and bring in 1984, Kashmitri Pundits and some other riots where Hindus were also killed in large numbers.

Apart from being a logical fallacy to argue on those lines (two wrongs don't make a right) and the endless blame game (I'm only talking about Hindutva here not something else but we digress often because of this blame game), I am accused by the tweeples of being pseudo-secular.

First of all, secularism is a practice of the state, it is when the state or a country, separates itself from religion in all its activities. An individual is tolerant, he/she respects other's faith. This tolerance, however, does not mean that people ought to buy each and every tenet one's faith teaches. 

This game has been played by many of the so called "nationalists" for many years now, they have stolen the term 'secular' for their own selfish purposes and have played the role of a victim beautifully. 

I urge you to not fall prey to such peoples' jibes. Stand your ground. Oppose all aspects of violence in the name of anything, be it religion or politics.

India will be a secular state if people are tolerant. The state need not tolerate any of these atrocities in the name of secularism. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What is India to me?

Photo Credit: National Geographic 
When I turn on the TV to National Geographic, Fox Traveler or some similar channel, often enough, I come across a programme about India. Indian food, Indian lifestyle and the diversity of India is hailed by the presenters who go on to call India "exotic" and "mesmerising."

I asked myself the question, "what do I feel about my country?" And frankly I went blank. I could not find one answer. India, no doubt, is diverse. I feel it is this diversity that makes us rich. Geographically and demographically we are a conglomeration of so many different notes that come together seamlessly to form a chord.

Noted historian Ramachandra Guha calls India a "salad bowl" with its variety in colour, flavour and texture. Rabindranath Tagore epitomised our country's spirit in the great hymn Jana Gana Mana,  the first stanza of which was adopted as our National Anthem. In the second stanza, Tagore writes how the various religions of India come together weaving a "garland of love."

This was the India envisioned by our founding fathers. A country so diverse, where the entire landscape changes every few hundred kilometers and where so many cultures are intertwined, come together and sing that beautiful hymn by Tagore in their own way, but which combines into one voice which praises our unity in diversity.

The full hymn by Tagore can be seen in the above link.

However, when I ask myself if this the way India is heading today, I feel regretful. The natural beauty of India is tarnished by vandals for profit and the secular fabric of India is torn by religious fundamentalists who think India should belong to only a few. Some people have a problem with the way women dress and what they do. Evidently they do not respect our diversity
Photo by:

We see images of India's success story almost everyday. The growth and the way India has progressed is
being talked about all over the world. But still there is poverty. The divide between the super rich and the extremely poor is wide. We must look into these aspects too. Growth and development should not be exclusive to the rich and the middle-class but should include everyone.

India is comprised of over a billion people with over 70% of them living in villages. But all we hear in the 24/7 news and travel/lifestyle channels is about how cities are growing and how the middle-class is performing. This must change. We have to be inclusive of everyone.

As people of India, we must realise that all our compatriots do not belong to the same religion, have the same lifestyle, live only in cities and work in multinational companies. We must realise that all of us in some way are different and that is what makes India great. Finally, I urge each and everyone to ask themselves this same question. What is India to you?

I end this article by asking you to listen to this English hymn, 'I vow to thee my country.' Although it is a British patriotic song, we can learn from its lyrics that each of us owes a promise to our country to live in harmony.

Open the video in a new tab/browser and the lyrics are given here below.

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.
I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.
And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The argument about Intelligent Design

I'm sorry that this blog has not been updated in a while, situations were such that I could not do it. However, I will do my best henceforth to regularly update my blog.

A few weeks ago, I was part of a debate on the topic 'Is Religion Relevant in Today's World.' Needless to say, it was very stimulating and from the comments I heard after it was over, I think everyone had a great time participating in the debate. I wish to extend my thanks to everyone who made it happen including the students and faculty of the Departments of Mass Communication and Visual Communication in my College; the moderator Prof. Venkat Lokanathan; the honourable proposition who showed brilliant oratory skilll; my team who challenged the proposition to a great extent with equally good arguments and finally all those who were in attendance.

Through this blog post, I wish to bring to notice one of the arguments by the proposition during the debate, that of 'Intelligent Design.' It was put forth by the proposition as an 'equally good theory' to evolution if my memory serves me right. I wish to explain what Intelligent Design is and why it is not even a 'theory' (scientifically speaking), let alone being 'equally good.'

Intelligent Design is the theory that since living organisms are too complex to have evolved by random chance, there must have been something (or someone) who 'designed' the organisms in their present state itself. It is promulgated by the Discovery Institute, a politically conservative organisation from America and is an extension of the creationist argument that the Judeo-Christian God created this world is six days about 6000 years ago. More on Intelligent Design can be found here.

The arguments from Intelligent Design include the concepts of complexity and the fine tuned nature of the universe and I will try to refute these notions here.

Complexity: One of the complexity theories was propounded by Michel Behe (1996) which said that is that biological systems are too complex to have evolved from simpler systems. The examples they give for such complex systems include the human eye and the flagella in bacteria. However this was refuted by Niall Shanks And Karl H. Joplin (1998) in their paper Redundant Chemicals (use your JSTOR id or if you have UGC inflibnet id, that also works). In their paper they said that systems satisfying Behe's characterization of irreducible biochemical complexity can arise naturally and spontaneously as the result of self-organising chemical processes. They claim that Behe overestimated the significance of irreducible complexity because of his simple, linear view of biochemical reactions, resulting in his taking snapshots of selective features of biological systems, structures and processes, while ignoring the redundant complexity of the context in which those features are naturally embedded. They also criticized his over-reliance of overly simplistic metaphors, such as his mousetrap.

This, put simply means that nature can naturally give rise to complexity by itself. Many examples can be given of this property of self-organisation in chemicals like the the Belousov-Zhabotinsky (BZ) reaction.

The complexity theory can also be refuted by what is called 'exaptation' that is the process where precursors of complex systems may be useful to perform other functions. Examples for this include the middle bone in the mammalian ear M. Brazeau and P. Ahlberg (2006). 

The Fine Tuned Nature of the Universe: This is the proposition that the conditions that allow life in the Universe can only occur when certain universal fundamental physical constants lie within a very narrow range, so that if any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different, the Universe would be unlikely to be conducive to the establishment and development of matter, astronomical structures, elemental diversity, or life as it is presently understood. (Source)

This was refuted by Victor J. Stenger (1999). Some of the counter arguments for the fine tunes nature of the Universe are that if the Universe were fine tuned for the sake of existence, then the entire, or atleast, a large part of the universe must be conducive to life. However, as far as we know of the universe till now, we have only found the earth as a planet that is able to harbour life. Stenger's full paper can be accessed here.

Intelligent Design also argues based on the 'God of the Gaps' principle, that is, it argues that whatever science has not explained so far, is the work of the 'designer.' This is a foolish statement to say the least. Just because science has not found everything it does not mean that anything other than science can answer that question. To answer a question that science has not found evidence to with an argument that in itself has no evidence is only an insult to the intellect of humans and our curiosity that has led us to so many discoveries.

Science has eradicated many diseases and even conquered outer space. It has not yet found answers to everything but it is certainly working on the answers and to attribute the unanswered questions to a 'designer' or 'God' is simply not good enough as an answer either because it begs the question 'Who is this designer or God then?' And we have no evidence for that either.

Are we so perfect as Intelligent Design claims? If we are 'created' or 'designed' to lord over this world, then shouldn't we be perfect? But then, why is our eye not as good as an eagle's or our ear not as good as a dog's? Why are we not the strongest of species on the earth or the most agile?

We are not perfect, we have organs like the appendix which is of no use to our bodies. An infected appendix can even kill us! Why would any 'Intelligent Designer' give an organ that is completely useless and can potentially kill us? Why do men have nipples? Why is the male scrotum in such a vulnerable place and not even protected while its there? Is this 'intelligent designer' playing the fool or just plain stupid?

These are a few questions I shall leave you all with. And remember, as Carl Sagan once said, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Caste and justice

Sushma Tiwari (Image from The Hindu)
I came across this article in The Hindu about a woman, Sushma Tiwari, who was responding to a petition filed by her brother, Dilip Tiwari. Dilip has murdered Sushma's husband and four others of her marital family. It was a case of honour killing. Sushma's husband, Prabhu, was a man of a lower caste from Kerala while Shilpa was a Brahmin from UP. The complete article can be found by clicking here,

A clear case of honour killing has taken place. The case at the Magistrate level and at the Bombay High Court resulted in a sentence of capital punishment for Dilip, but after appealing in the Supreme Court, the sentence was reduced to imprisonment for 25 years.

What struck me is not the sentencing by the SC (I am against the death penalty personally) but the judgement it delivered. The Court said in paragraph 41 of the judgement, "It is a common experience that when the younger sister commits something unusual and in this case it was an intercaste, intercommunity marriage out of the secret love affair, then in the society it is the elder brother who justifiably or otherwise is held responsible for not stopping such affair. It is held as the family defeat. At times, he has to suffer taunts and snide remarks even from the persons who really have no business to poke their nose into the affairs of the family." I was stunned! What did the Court just do? 

So what if the brother receives snide remarks or taunts? Does that justify his act? What made me even more worrisome is the fact that this case can be cited in the SC in case of further honour killings. What then? Will every honour killing done to avoid remarks from others be justified and the sentence reduced? I urge all of you to read the entire judgement and see for yourselves the way this case has been handled.

In my opinion, the SC has in effect made  the use of violence as a retaliation to snide remarks justifiable. The Court which is supposed to protect the people and especially the Dalits from such atrocities has dealt a blow to them. In Sushma's own words quoted from The Hindu this reasoning by the Court, "is wrong and totally illegal under our Constitution and various laws of the land like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989” and “can never be made a ground for lessening a sentence. In fact, these feelings of caste hatred are themselves criminal." I do not  oppose the commutation of the death sentence. But I cannot say I agree with the statement made by the Court which I have mentioned before.

Sushma had filed a review petition challenging this decision. I hope this case is a lesson to all. Marriage is between a man and woman who have given their consent. The caste, religion or any other societal label should not be a hindrance to the marriage of two consenting adults of marriageable age. The courts should set an example in enforcing this. Honour killings must never be encouraged.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Communalism, the bane of free India

The recent clashes in Kishtwar on the day of Eid are another grim reminder of how our country is still in the grip of communalism. The violence in Kishtwar resulted in two people being killed, around 80 injured, curfews being imposed and the Amarnath Yatra being cancelled for some time. Political statements about the riots were also abundant and Parliament flared up in debate on the issue with Arun Jaitley, objecting to the prohibition from visiting the region, saying that his detention was a “censorship” by the state government. He was in turn rebutted by former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir Farooq Abdulla who said “Nobody was allowed into Gujarat after the riots,” referring to the post-Godhra clashes that occurred there in 2002.

India has a terrible history of communalism and has seen brutal clashes in the past 100 years. The ones that come immediately to mind are those that followed partition, the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 and those of Gujarat in 2002. All these clashes resulted in tremendous losses of life and also left many homeless.

The minorities have borne the brunt of fundamentalism in recent times. In Karnataka, attacks on the Christian community escalated between 2008 and 2012 when places of worship were vandalised and the clergy assaulted. Coastal Karnataka has also seen violence against the Muslim ‘Beary’ community where young boys and youths were assaulted just for being in the company of Hindu girls. These heinous crimes were committed by fundamentalists on the pretext of protecting their culture and even the police and the state government at the time were mute spectators.

India is a secular country according to the preamble of our Constitution which also states that every citizen is secured the liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship. By secular, it means the Government of India will not encourage religion, but will not restrict anyone from practicing and propagating any religion of their choice. India’s history is full of writings praising its religious tolerance. From the times of the Roman Empire itself, historians have recorded how India was peaceful and where people of all faiths could live in harmony. However, this secular fabric is being torn by religious fundamentalists who with their own personal agenda have begun to launder hate of other religious communities in the name of protecting their own.

Religion is supposed to be a personal affair. It is not supposed to be brought out into the streets and it is not meant to be used to justify violence. If religion is itself the cause of creating tensions among people, then one wonders what the purpose of religion itself is. Religion is claimed by its adherents to be a guideline to a righteous life, but the same teachings from the same holy books are used by those who claim to be equally fervent adherents to commit murder and other atrocities on fellow citizens.

Religion must be separated from politics and the government. But unfortunately vote bank politics make parties depend on religion as a tool to infuriate the masses. Communalism will continue in our country only as long as we the people let it. We must not let this dangerous idea go any further.