October 21, 2017

India’s religious right exploits faith and steps in where the state has failed

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2017

‘Direct action’

POLITICAL parties and other outfits that are based on the cult of personality and divorced from a political programme pose a threat to democracy. Despite being recently sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for a rape case reported in 2002, the head of the Dera Sucha Sauda, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, still commands an enormous following.
What concerns the workings of democracy is how he could evoke such fierce loyalties. He could not have amassed millions and acquired the power and influence he did but for political help. Once he acquired some following, leaders of political parties flocked to his doorstep to seek his support during elections. He variedly offered help to BJP, Shiromani Akali Dal and Congress. His help to BJP in 2014 reflected shrewd political judgement.
Gurmeet Singh exploited the people’s poverty, the state’s neglect of the poor, underprivileged and the wronged — and on their susceptibility to religious appeals and claims to faith healing. He provided food, subsidised ration and money to the poor. He also fostered a feeling of equality among the Dalits by asking followers to adopt the title of ‘Insaan’ and forsake their surnames, which reveal a person’s caste identity. Dera Sucha Sauda appealed to women particularly with its strong stand against liquor and drug abuse, which had played havoc with families. People found equality and dignity in its ranks denied to them elsewhere. Free medical aid was supplemented with faith healing; the Baba’s blessings or healing touch. His success provides proof of the state’s failure to do its duty — in crime detection, poverty alleviation, provision of medical and other services and, not least, in wiping out rampant caste discrimination.
India’s religious right exploits faith.
A far more instructive parallel is the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. Set up in 1966 by a cartoonist, Bal Thackeray, it sought to arouse and exploit a feeling of discrimination among the Marathi-speaking people of the state. They felt insulted at the delay in conceding their just demand for the inclusion of Mumbai in Maharashtra. It began as a movement against South Indians, accusing them of monopolising jobs in the city; moved against Gujaratis gingerly; and settled on the more promising plank of Hindutva against Muslims. Thackeray’s resort to violence remained unchecked. He was also courted by some industrialists and businessmen to curb communist influence in trade unions, as well as by prominent Bollywood figures and politicians.
Shiv Sena is in coalition with BJP in Maharashtra. Censures of an inquiry commission on the killings during the Mumbai riots after the demolition of Babri Masjid did not affect Shiv Sena or its leader — nor did the Central Bureau of Investigation’s citation of Thackeray as an accused in the demolition case. For years, successive Congress state governments have turned a blind eye to Shiv Sena’s recourse to violence and its politics of intimidation.
One of the most insightful studies of this outfit is by German scholar Julia Eckert in her book, The Charisma of Direct Action. Eckert writes of how electoral results reveal that “the Shiv Sena has been stagnating at a certain percentage of votes for several years, these turning into victories or into defeat depending on its opponents’ strategies”. These opponents hardly oppose. Its technique is to work in three spheres — the political realm, the street and homes. “Direct action replaces parliamentary politics and is considered to be superior in efficiency and moral rectitude.”
Shiv Sena set up an ambulance service in 1968. Many shakhas (branches) have their own ambulance and use it for various purposes. Shiv Sena activists organised ‘cleanup’ drives and medical camps; put pressure on the municipality on behalf of the wards for water connections and other civic amenities. “The shakhas organise leisure activities and training in vocational skills for young people. Rooms have been made available for school studies and preparation for examinations.” They offer assistance with job applications, school admissions, and other formalities which require recommendations. They also step in with advice and support when there are illnesses, births, deaths, or marriages. “Sometimes funds are collected to meet emergency situations in a family.” Women activists help to resolve “cases of marital unrest, dowry quarrels, wife-beating, alimony and other issues”.
Issues resolved range from quarrels about the rights to a specific location of a hawker’s stall, disputes over garbage sites, noise pollution, petty crime and cheating, to litigations over loans and property, to real estate disputes.
Like Dera Sucha Sauda, Shiv Sena steps in where the state has failed. Its work is translated into votes. Democracy suffers by the activities of such bodies and the failure of the democratic state to do its duty by the people. The political process is fouled. Politics cease to revolve around issues of public policy.
The writer is an author and lawyer based in Mumbai.

Hindi article: Taj Mahal and Dvisive Politics

ताजमहल और विघटनकारी राजनीति के खेल -राम पुनियानी भारत, प्राकृतिक सुंदरता से भरपूर तो है ही, यहां मानव-निर्मित चमत्कारों की संख्या भी कम नहीं है। ये न केवल भारत वरन पूरी दुनिया से पर्यटकों को अपनी ओर आकर्षित करते रहे हैं। अचम्भित कर देने वाली ऐसी ही इमारतों में शामिल है ताजमहल, जिसका निर्माण मुगल बादशाह शाहजहां ने अपनी प्रिय पत्नी मुमताज़ महल की याद में करवाया था। ताज को दुनिया के सात आश्चर्यों में गिना जाता है और इसे यूनेस्को द्वारा विश्व धरोहर स्थल का दर्जा दिया गया है। कवि गुरूदेव रबीन्द्रनाथ टैगोर ने ताजमहल को ‘‘काल के कपोल पर रूकी हुई अश्रु की एक बूंद’’ बताया था। ताजमहल देखने दुनिया भर से पर्यटक आते रहे हैं और इसमें कोई संदेह नहीं है कि ये भारत का सबसे बड़ा आकर्षण है। परंतु उत्तरप्रदेश की योगी सरकार को इस सबसे कोई लेनादेना नहीं है। कुछ हफ्तों पहले, सत्ता में अपने छह माह पूरे होने के मौके पर योगी सरकार ने राज्य में पर्यटन के संबंध में एक पुस्तिका प्रकाशित की। पुस्तिका का शीर्षक था ‘‘उत्तरप्रदेश पर्यटन-अपार संभावनाएं’’। इसमें जिन पर्यटन स्थलों की चर्चा की गई थी, उनमें गोरखनाथ पीठ, जिसके मुखिया स्वयं आदित्यनाथ हैं, सहित कई स्थल शामिल थे। इस पुस्तिका का फोकस धार्मिक पर्यटन पर था। सबसे आश्चर्यजनक बात यह थी कि उत्तरप्रदेश का सबसे प्रसिद्ध पर्यटन स्थल ताजमहल इस पुस्तिका से गायब था। मुख्यमंत्री बनने के बाद योगी ने कहा था कि ताजमहल, भारतीय संस्कृति का हिस्सा नहीं है और विदेशी अतिथियों को ताजमहल की प्रतिकृति भेंट करने की परंपरा समाप्त होनी चाहिए। उसकी जगह गणमान्य विदेशी अतिथियों को गीता या रामायण की प्रतियां भेंट की जानी चाहिए। योगी के अनुसार ये दोनों पुस्तकें भारतीय संस्कृति की प्रतीक हैं। ताजमहल पर इस विवाद ने योगी सरकार के साम्प्रदायिक चेहरे का पर्दाफाश कर दिया। जब इस मुद्दे पर सरकार को मीडिया में आलोचना का सामना करना पड़ा तब एक मंत्री ने कहा कि ताजमहल भारतीय विरासत का हिस्सा है परंतु पुस्तिका में इसकी चर्चा इसलिए नहीं की गई है क्योंकि उसमें केवल ऐसे पर्यटन स्थल शामिल किए गए हैं, जिनका प्रचार-प्रसार किए जाने की आवश्यकता है। उन्होंने यह भी कहा कि ताजमहल के लिए सरकार ने अलग से धन आवंटित किया है और आगरा में अंतर्राष्ट्रीय हवाई अड्डा बनाए जाने का प्रस्ताव है। इस मामले में भाजपा के शिविर से कई अलग-अलग तरह की बातें कही जा रही हैं। कुछ लोग कह रहे हैं कि ताज एक हिन्दू मंदिर है। कुछ अन्य का कहना है कि वह कोई बहुत महत्वपूर्ण स्मारक नहीं है तो कुछ लोग यह भी कह रहे हैं कि वह भारत की गुलामी का प्रतीक है। भाजपा नेता संगीत सोम ने इस मुद्दे पर जो कहा वह मुस्लिम बादशाहों द्वारा बनाई गई इमारतों के संबंध में भाजपा के दृष्टिकोण को प्रतिबिम्बित करता है। उन्होंने कहा, ‘‘कई लोगों ने इस बात पर दुःख व्यक्त किया कि राज्य सरकार की पर्यटन संबंधी पुस्तिका में से ताजमहल का नाम हटा दिया गया। हम किस इतिहास की बात कर रहे हैं? क्या उस इतिहास की, जिसमें ताजमहल के निर्माता ने अपने पिता को जेल में डाल दिया था?...क्या हम उस इतिहास की बात कर रहे हैं जिसमें इस स्मारक के निर्माता ने उत्तरप्रदेश और भारत से हिन्दुओं का सफाया कर दिया था। यह दुखद और दुर्भाग्यपूर्ण है कि इस तरह के आततायी शासक अब भी हमारे इतिहास का हिस्सा हैं।’’ यहां यह महत्वपूर्ण है कि ताजमहल देखने आने वाले पर्यटकों की संख्या में पिछले कुछ वर्षों से कमी आ रही है और ताजमहल को एक पर्यटक स्थल के रूप में बढ़ावा दिए जाने की आवश्यकता है। प्रश्न यह है कि ताजमहल का नाम सरकारी पुस्तिका में से क्यों हटाया गया। योगी, ताज के बारे में जो कुछ कहते आए हैं उससे ऐसा लगता है कि वे ताजमहल को नापसंद करते हैं। ताज का निर्माण एक ऐसे व्यक्ति ने करवाया था जिसे हिन्दुत्व की विचारधारा हमलावर मानती है। भारतीय संस्कृति की गांधी जैसे राष्ट्रवादियों द्वारा प्रस्तुत परिभाषा, योगी और हिन्दुत्व की विचारधारा के बिलकुल विपरीत है। भाजपा और हिन्दुत्ववादियों के लिए हिन्दू संस्कृति ही भारतीय संस्कृति है। इससे भी आगे बढ़कर, कुछ संघी और हिन्दुत्ववादी कह रहे हैं कि ताजमहल एक हिन्दू मंदिर है और इसका नाम तेजो महालय था! यह दावा इतिहास और तथ्यों की कसौटी पर खरा नहीं उतरता। शाहजहां के ‘बादशाहनामा’ से यह साफ है कि ताज का निर्माण शाहजहां ने ही करवाया था। उन दिनों भारत आए एक यूरोपीय प्रवासी पीटर मुंडी ने लिखा कि बादशाह शाहजहां अपनी प्रिय पत्नी की मृत्यु से दुख के सागर में डूबे हुए हैं और उनकी याद में एक शानदार मकबरा बनवा रहे हैं। फ्रांसिसी जौहरी टेवरनियर, जो उस समय भारत में थे, ने भी यही बात कही। शाहजहां की हिसाब किताब की बहियों में ताजमहल के निर्माण में होने वाले खर्च की चर्चा है, जिसमें संगमरमर खरीदने और मजदूरी आदि पर व्यय शामिल है। ताज को शिवमंदिर बताए जाने के दावे का एकमात्र आधार यह है कि ताज जिस ज़मीन पर बना है उसे शाहजहां ने राजा जयसिंह से खरीदा था। यहां यह महत्वपूर्ण है कि जयसिंह एक वैष्णव थे और किसी वैष्णव राजा से यह उम्मीद नहीं की जा सकती कि वह शिव का मंदिर बनाएगा। दरअसल, ताजमहल की महत्ता को कम करने का प्रयास, भारतीय इतिहास के पुनर्लेखन की हिन्दुत्ववादी परियोजना का हिस्सा है। इस परियोजना के अंतर्गत इतिहास की सांप्रदायिक व्याख्या की जा रही है और तथ्यों को तोड़ा-मरोड़ा जा रहा है। दावा तो यहां तक किया जा रहा है कि राणा प्रताप और अकबर के बीच हुए हल्दी घाटी के युद्ध में राणा प्रताप की विजय हुई थी। हल्दी घाटी का युद्ध, सत्ता के लिए लड़ा गया था, धर्म की खातिर नहीं। हम सब को पता है कि अकबर और राणा प्रताप के सहयोगियों में हिन्दू और मुसलमान दोनों शामिल थे। न तो अकबर इस्लाम के रक्षक थे और ना ही राणा प्रताप हिन्दू धर्म की ध्वजा उठाए हुए थे। वे दोनों अपने-अपने साम्राज्यों का विस्तार करना चाहते थे। ऐसा लगता है कि ताजमहल और मुस्लिम राजाओं द्वारा बनाई गईं अन्य इमारतें, सांप्रदायिक शक्तियों की आंखों में खटक रही हैं। अब तक ताज को हिन्दू मंदिर बताए जाने का प्रयास किया जा रहा था। अब, जब कि इस विचारधारा में रचेबसे लोग सत्ता में हैं, ताजमहल को भारतीय इतिहास से मिटाने का प्रयास किया जा रहा है और भारत की संस्कृति में उसे कोई स्थान न दिया जाए, ऐसी कोशिश हो रही है। जिस तरह हिन्दुत्ववादियों ने ताजमहल को उत्तरप्रदेश पर्यटन की पुस्तिका से गायब कर दिया उसी तरह वे शायद मुसलमानों को भी समाज के हाशिए पर धकेल देना चाहते हैं। क्या इन लोगों का अगला निशाना लाल किला होगा जहां से भारत के प्रधानमंत्री स्वतंत्रता दिवस पर भाषण देते आए हैं? ताजमहल और इस तरह की दूसरी ऐतिहासिक और पुरातात्विक इमारतें और ढांचे, भारतीय संस्कृति का हिस्सा हैं। इनका संरक्षण और संवर्धन आवश्यक है ताकि भारत की मिलीजुली संस्कृति को बढ़ावा दिया जा सके। (अंग्रेजी से हिन्दी रूपांतरण अमरीश हरदेनिया)

October 20, 2017

India: Kerala High Court’s indictment of ‘love jihad’ brigade is an urgent dose of secular sanity for India

Daily O, 20 October 2017

Kerala HC’s indictment of ‘love jihad’ brigade is an urgent dose of secular sanity for India
Communalising inter-faith marriages harms social harmony, said the division bench of the high court.

[by] Dailybite

Once again, Indian judiciary has stepped in to inject the much-needed medicine of everyday secularism to a sick body politick. A division bench of the Kerala High Court on October 19 said that “every case of inter-religious marriage shall not be portrayed on a religious canvas and create fissures in the communal harmony otherwise existing in God’s own country Kerala”. The bench came down heavily on the “love jihad” brigade, and quoting famous African American civil rights activist and poet Maya Angelou, uttered these beautiful words:

“Love recognises no barriers, it jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

According to the Indian Express, “the division bench of V Chitambaresh and Satish Ninan was hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Anees Hameed, a 25-year-old from Kannur, who had moved the high court seeking the release of his wife Sruthi Meledath from her family’s custody. The court ruled that Sruthi be allowed to stay with Hameed, and dismissed the petitions of the woman’s parents and a helpline run by a Christian group that wanted to implead itself in the case.”

The High Court bench said: “We are appalled to notice the recent trend in the state to sensationalise every case of inter-religious marriage as either love jihad or ghar wapsi. Disturbing news is coming from several parts of the country that young men and women who undergo inter-caste marriages are threatened with violence or violence is actually committed on them.”

It added: “In our opinion, such acts of violence or threats or harassment are wholly illegal and those who commit them must be severely punished. This is a free and democratic country and once a person becomes a major, he or she can marry whosoever he or she likes. If the parents of the boy or girl do not approve of such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage, the maximum they can do is that they can cut off social relations with the son or the daughter. But they cannot give threats or commit or instigate acts of violence, and cannot harass the person who undergoes such inter-caste or inter-religious marriage.”

In an ode to Sruthi, the woman in the inter-faith marriage in question, the judges said that they “applaud the extraordinary courage shown by Sruthi to live up to her conviction and decry the attempt of her parents to deflect the course of justice by misleading litigations. Sruthi is ordered to be set at liberty and it is for the couple to decide their future course of action without interference from her parents.”

This is an important and urgent judgement, that in fact rips apart the earlier judgement in May this year by a different bench from the same court in the Hadiya case, wherein the Kerala HC had “annulled” the marriage of a Hindu woman with a Muslim man, citing a case of “love jihad”, and giving the dubious campaign a quasi-official stamp. Since then Supreme Court had ordered an NIA probe into the marriage, thus throwing women’s autonomy to the winds.

The current order does its bit to not only dismiss, or at least provide a thorough castigation and a legal alternative to the Hadiya judgement, it also comes down heavily against the “ghar wapsi”, or the re-conversion and yoga centres that have been holding women captive, torturing them, in a bid to force them to re-embrace Hinduism.

In fact, Sruthi herself was incarcerated by her family at the Siva Sakthi Yoga Vidya Kendram, near Kochi, which helps in “reconverting” Hindu women who have crossed over to other religions voluntarily. Sruthi too had in her deposition in court claimed that she was tortured by her counselors, and was asked to leave her Muslim husband Haameed, but she refused.

It’s therefore significant that Kerala HC condemned violence against couples of inter-faith marriages, asking the government and the legal enforcement agencies to “bust institutions indulging in forcible conversion or re-conversion”.

The court added: "This is a free democratic country and once a person becomes a major, he or she can marry whoever he/she likes.”

This, in essence, sums up the secular and democratic spirit of India, which allows all its citizens to freely choose their partners, irrespective of religion. What was a constitutionally given ideal, and what had allowed India to see countless inter-faith marriages over seven decades since its independence, is now under threat and needs reiteration by the judicial bodies.

It’s extremely distressing that in all the din about religion, love jihad and ghar wapsi, the fake campaigns of those whose political sustenance is derived from communal polarisation, what gets completely silenced and sidelined is the woman’s voice, agency and autonomy. Who are these custodians of majority religion and religious purity that they override a woman’s own wish to cohabit and/or marry a man from a different religion?

Even more appalling was the Supreme Court decision in the Hadiya case to order an NIA probe into the matter, when the Kerala government itself said that this would be intruding into the couple’s personal space, and was an absolute breach of privacy. What good was the recognition of the fundamental Right to Privacy by the same Supreme Court when Hadiya was failed by it?

It’s obvious that the love jihad brigade that has been overactive in Kerala, and has tried communal polarisation in the politically astute state that’s India’s most literate in the buildup to BJP national president Amit Shah’s not-so-successful Jan Raksha Yatra, will not learn and take a step back.

While venom is being spewed and that too in an orchestrated, organised manner, both online and offline, we hope better sense would prevail with the millions of ordinary Indians who value our constitutional democracy, secularism and pluralism.

TV Programme: Ravish Kumar Prime Time , Story of Kashmiri Pandits (Hum Log -Ravish kumar on Kasmiri Pandit)

India: Art is subjective, but some interpretations are dangerous | Karthik Venkatesh

The Hindu - October 20, 2017

Art is subjective, but some interpretations are dangerous

The Taj mahal evokes different responses and narratives depending on the worldview of the interpreter. It could be a epitome of love, a symbol of economic inequality, or a weapon of social division.

The Taj Mahal, among the most enduring artifacts of Indian cultural history, has everyone make a point about it. Which is perfectly fine, so long as the opinion is not communally charged and divisive. | PTI
When Uttar Pradesh MLA Sangeet Som called the Taj Mahal a ‘blot on Indian culture’ and a monument built by ‘traitors’, the responses swung between two extremes. Some began name-calling Som (‘ignorant’ was the kindest word used) and others scrambled to agree with him, inventing fantastic explanations along the way.
Was Sangeet Som the first to express a view of the Taj Mahal that was contrary to the popular one? Not by a long shot. Others have expressed ‘different’ views too. Albeit of a non-incendiary sort.
Sample these extracts from an Urdu nazm written about seventy-odd years ago:
Anginat logon ne duniyaa mein muhabbat ki hain

Kaun kehtaa hai ki saadiq na thay jazbe unke

Lekin unke liye tasheer ka saamaan nahin

Kyonki woh log bhi apni hi tarah muflis thay

Beyond count are those, in this world

who have lived and loved.

Could anyone deny the truth

of their passions?

But they, like us, stay destitute,

without the means

to erect monuments to their love.


Yeh chamanzaar, yeh Jamna ka kinara yeh mahal

Manaqqash, dar-o-diwar, mehraab yeh taaq

Ek shahanshah ne apni daulat ka sahara le kar

Ham gharibon ki mohabbat ka udaya hai mazaaq

Mere mehboob kahin aur milaa kar mujhse

The lush gardens and palaces,

the Yamuna’s edge;

the exquisitely carved portals,

the arches and niches,

the handiwork of the one

emperor who, buttress’d

by infinite wealth

has mocked our very love,

our impoverish’d, destitute love.

Even so, my love,

let us meet

someplace else.

~ Sahir Ludhianvi
(Translation by Mustansir Dalvi)

Source: Wikipedia
Abdul Hayee, a.k.a Sahir Ludhianvi, (1921-1980) was a Punjabi Muslim poet and Bollywood lyricist who worked with several great music composers such as Khayyam, Laxmikant Pyarelal, S.D. Burman, and was involved in popular films such as Pyaasa, Kabhie Kabhie, and Phir Subah Hogi.
Sahir Ludhianvi, an artistically wilful individual, is known to have insisted that film scores be composed around his lyrics rather than the other way round.
The writer of this contrarian nazm, Abdul Hayee, was born on March 8, 1921, in Ludhiana, Punjab. And under the nom de plume Sahir Ludhianvi, he illuminated many Hindi films with his lyrics. As a poet associated with the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Sahir has also left behind many, many nazms, among which ‘Taj Mahal’ stands out for how it speaks truth to power.
Rather than viewing the edifice as others do — a monument to love and an embodiment of beauty — Sahir chooses to interpret and depict it differently. He chooses to focus on the many workers who toiled to create the structure. He foregrounds their poverty against the opulence of the emperor.
There are back-handed compliments to the structure itself (“the exquisitely carved portals, the arches and niches…”) But that apart, the nazm chooses to focus on the emotion that seems to have inspired such a structure. It talks of the universality of the human emotion of love juxtaposed against the lopsided structure of wealth distribution which allows some to put their feelings on display even as others go about their daily lives trapped by their livelihoods. That the powerful and wealthy make their loud statements at the expense of the meek and the humble who labour to make the earth a more liveable place is at the heart of the nazm.
Throughout the verse, while the refrain ‘Mere mehboob kahin aur milaa kar mujhse [Even so, my love, let us meet someplace else]’ crops up again and again, the primary emotion is not disgust with the structure itself, but rather a deep anguish at society’s contradictions, which end up burying the many and highlighting but a few.
Now consider what reportedly happened almost two hundred years ago when the British writ ran over many parts of the country including Agra. In 1830, the area around the Taj Mahal was witness to an unusual activity of sorts: the arrival of demolition and wrecking equipment. The intended target: the Taj.
While the arrival of the equipment and men must have caused consternation, it was perhaps lesser than what we might have imagined. As Prof R. Nath says in his work, History of Decorative Art in Mughal Architecture, “Lord William Bentinck, (Governor-General of Bengal 1828-33, and later, the first Governor-General of all India), went so far as to announce plans to demolish the best Mogul monuments in Agra and Delhi and remove their marble façades. These were to be shipped to London, where they would be broken up and sold to members of the British aristocracy. Several of Shahjahan’s pavilions in the Red Fort at Delhi were indeed stripped to the brick, and the marble was shipped off to England (part of this shipment included pieces for King George IV himself).” So the process of organised loot was underway even before the Taj had been identified for demolition. The Taj was but one more victim.

In the event, the auction of the marble stolen from the Agra Fort was not a success. The minions of the Company are likely to have done their Math rather quickly and decided that the demolition of the Taj wasn’t quite worth the effort and expense. Therefore, the Taj Mahal survived.
William Bentinck is regarded as something of a progressive among Company Governor-Generals. He forbade sati, instituted the Sharada Act that attempted to curb child marriage and also played a role in bringing to an end the esoteric practice of thuggee. But for all his progressive moves, he was ultimately a representative of the East India Company, an early version of the profit-seeking corporation. Then too, as is now, corporations let nothing come in their way as they ground their way to becoming more and more profitable.
The Taj was for him therefore merely an expensive building whose value he chose to calculate solely on the basis of the value of the marble that went into its construction. He was innocent of architectural appreciation and other subtleties. Plus, the Taj was ‘Oriental’ after all. As a hard-boiled Englishman, it’s a matter of doubt whether he would have been able to transcend the prejudices of his race and upbringing, and probably used ‘tropical sentimentality’ or some such phrase to describe the love story that infuses the Taj’s raison d’être.

Sahir’s view, on the other hand, was a nuanced one. His own background of personal tragedy and political involvement were no doubt deeply influential in giving him a certain worldview. Equally, one views Sahir’s take on the Taj against the background of his life’s work. The writer’s oeuvre is a considerable one and provides context to the nazm. Which makes it key to interpret a statement in the context of the speaker’s worldview.
If a remark comes from a mindset that does not permit history to nuance one’s views, or allows for zero engagement with the ‘other’ for such engagement might humanise the ‘other’, we have cause to worry. The Taj would appear therefore to be merely a ‘Muslim’ monument to someone like Som. Not the love story that inspired it, not the fact of Shah Jahan’s partly Hindu parentage, no other fact is likely to be permitted entry into his narrativisation of the Taj.
Be that as it may, he is likely to stop short of calling for the Taj to be destroyed and instead choose to milk the monument for its full divisive potential. Should this agenda succeed, the response may well alternate between a wringing of the hands in despair in a liberal setting and flaunting the ‘we did what we said’ credentials in others.
Clearly, before Sangeet Som, some did ‘see’ the Taj Mahal very differently. But of those who chose to do so, is Sangeet Som’s the worst? Certainly.

Sectarianism: Freedom of Expression

Sectarianism suppressing democratic right of Expression Ram Puniyani Freedom of expression has been the core value which accompanied the struggle for India’s Independence. The British did attempt to stifle the voices of dissent but the freedom fighters did see this as a crucial mechanism of rooting democratic ethos in the society. At heavy cost the major leaders had to face the wrath of British colonialist powers for upholding the foundation of a democratic society through freedom of expression. The same values got enshrined in our Constitution, with various articles and clauses upholding it. What we are witnessing today is a stifling of dissent from the ruling party, the ruling ideology of sectarian nationalism. The suppression of dissent and freedom of giving expression is not just through control of media and stifling of writers. Ruling party; through control of a section of media; is using heavy hand to control the free thinkers. One major and frightening phenomenon accompanying this attempt to muzzle the dissenting opinions has been to eliminate the thinker’s writers physically. We know that sometimes state can outright control the media, as happened during emergency. The censoring of media, raids on the publication houses had been resorted to by the authoritarian state. The current phenomenon is slightly different. Here along with the heavy hand of the big brother watching, those inspired by the communal nationalism, are taking the law into their own hands, with full knowledge that the ruling party-state is with them and they can get away with their crimes of eliminating those thinkers and activists, whom they can’t oppose at ideological level. By nature most of the ideologies which promote nationalism in the name of religion are grossly intolerant and indulge in the street violence and killing to promote the communal divides. The matching phenomenon to what we are witnessing in India is also seen in Bangla Desh, where those inspired by the Islamic nationalism have been targeting the bloggers and have been physically eliminating them. During last several years we have tragically witnessed the murders of the writers-social activists who have been upholding rational thought, those who have been opposing the hold of values which support caste, those who have been opposing the politics in the name of Hinduism. When Narendra Dabholkar was shot at, the trend began at the abominable level. Dabholkar was active in promoting rational thinking, and had formed Andh Shraddha Nirmula Samiti (Committee for eliminating blind faith) in Maharashtra. Govind Pansare, a dedicated saintly worker for human rights, was not only promoting rational thought, he was also opposed to sectarian nationalism, he promoted a rational version of Shivaji story, which presented him humane king, taking care of his subject irrespective of their religion and who in his administration had Hindus as well as Muslims. M.M. Kalburgi a rationalist scholar was opposed to the Brahmanical values and so talked to promoting Lord Basvanna’s teachings of social equality, he also articulated that Lingyats should be regarded as religious minorities, away from the grip of Brahmanism dominated prevalent Hinduism. In the sequence to this came the tragic murder of Gauri Lankesh, a fearless journalist, who opposed the politics of Hindu nationalism at grass root level, who supported the rights of religious minorities, participated in the local communal harmony groups to oppose the politics being constructed around Baba Budan Giri and Id Gah ground. She was also for recognizing Lingayats as a religious minority. The impact of these activists was perceived as a threat, they were wring in regional languages and were perceived as a thorn in the flesh of divisive ideology. The pattern of their murders was similar, motor bike riders coming and shooting them. The investigations have so far not yielded much and except one worker of Sanatan Sanstha, ideologically close the dominant political tendency today, no arrests have been made. As such these murderers are like tip of the iceberg. These murders are accompanied with the growing intolerance in the society, which has also lead to killings beatings of Muslims-Dalits in the name of Holy Cow Beef. The killing of Mohammad Akhlaq, Junaid Khan and Una floggings has been the major incidents amongst the brutal acts unleashed by the growing intolerance in the society. While intolerance has grown gradually from last decade or so, during last three years in particular, there is a qualitative change in the nature of intolerance. How do we understand the growing communalization of society, worsening intolerance and killings of those standing for democratic norms? In independent India first major act of ideological murder, killing for political goals, prompted by intolerance was murder of Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi. Godse was the killer and RSS was banned. Saradar Patel, the then Home minister wrote to RSS chief Golwalkar, “As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha… our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (RSS) an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible.”– Sardar Vallabhai Patel, India’s first home minister, on the assassination of Gandhi, in a letter dated July 18, 1948 to Shyama Prasad Mukherjee. (Sardar Patel Correspondence, Volume 6, edited by Durga Das) The type of suppression we saw during Emergency of 1975 was the one imposed by an authoritarian state, now the present phenomenon is not just the one brought in by the state. State, since is being controlled by narrow nationalism is playing its role, but the deeper and more damaging part is the one brought in by the so called fringe elements, the storm troopers of the ideology motivated by communal hatred. The divisive ideology is creating Hate not only against the religious minorities but also against those who are trying to uphold democratic, plural and diverse values in society. Diverse opinions, debated in an open spirit are the best guarantee for democratic society. The sectarian ideologies are opposed to democratic ethos and so they are pushing the intolerance worse possible levels. There is a need to protect the democratic freedom by combating communalism.

Taj Mahal as Tej Mahal - Once again "There is a Bee in the Bonnett" (subhash gatade)

Taj Mahal as Tej Mahal

Once again "There is a Bee in the Bonnett"

- subhash gatade

It was probably late sixties or early seventies – when a gentleman called P N Oak started appearing in Marathi magazines peddling his weird theories about well known monuments in and outside India. An article which made lot of news then was centred around Taj Mahal where it was claimed that it was ‘Tejo Maha Aalay’ or hindu god Shiva’s abode. It tried to establish through various ‘explanations’ that a Shiva Temple was destroyed to build Taj Mahal and if we dig deep we can find ‘remnants’ of the earlier structure. Mr Vinay Katiyar's latest advice to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath that he "should go into the Taj Mahal and see the Hindu signs inside it" reminded one of P N Oak.

Looking at the fact that ideas of Hindutva had still not caught the imagination of the people then, hardly anyone - apart from a minority of Chitpavan Brahmins who believed in turning India into a Hindu Rashtra - looked at Oak's 'theories' seriously. Definitely nobody could then have the premonition that such claims – that their places of worship were buried beneath the Mosques as a lame excuse to demolish them - would become order of the day, in Hindutva politics.

Definitely the article on Taj Mahal by Oak was not a one off affair. Similar articles /books kept appearing here and there where Oak engaged in rectifying what he believed to be "biased and distorted versions of India's history produced by the invaders and colonizers" and a section of the Marathi Brahminical elite - which always entertained sympathies towards the idea of Hindu Rashtra - provided legitimacy to these ideas by their reception. Oak argued that modern secular and Marxist historians have fabricated "idealized versions" of India's past and drained it of its "Vedic context and content". And he went on propagating his ideas writing articles, publishing books and also initiating the work of 'Collecting Local History' by forming 'Bharat Itihas Sankalan Samity' which also use to bring out a journal in the 80s. A rough estimate tells us that he has written nine books in English, 13 books in Marathi and 8 books in Hindi. One of his books which according to a scholar summarises his life's work is titled 'World Vedic Heritage: A History of Histories, Presenting a Unique Unified Field Theory of History that from the Beginning of Time the World Practised Vedic and Spoke Sanskrit.'

For laypersons who have never heard of him it would be opportune to name the list of few of his other books which appeared in English which can give one an idea about his key argument : Christianity is Chrisn-nity, ISBN 978-81-88388-77-6, Islamic Havoc in India (A. Ghosh Publisher, 5740 W. Little York, Houston, Texas, 77091), The Taj Mahal Is a Temple Place (Alternate title, The Taj Mahal is a Hindu Palace), Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi (online version: hindusarise.com), Who Says Akbar Was Great? (Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi), Agra Red Fort is a Hindu Building (Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi), Some Blunders of Indian Historical Research (Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi), Some Missing Chapters of World History (Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi), World Vedic Heritage—A History of Histories (Hindi Sahitya Sadan, New Delhi), Taj Mahal — The True Story (ISBN 0-9611614-4-2), Was Kaaba a Hindu Temple?, Learning Vedic Astrology etc

Analysing Oak's work Srinivas Aravamudan noted that it typically resorts to "deep punning" – associating Sanskrit sound-alikes with non-Sanskrit religious terms such as Vatican=vatika "hermitage", Christianity=Krishna-netti or Chrisn-nity "ethics of Krishna or the way of Krishna" Islam=ishalayam "temple of God", Abraham as an aberration of Brahma, and George as an aberration of Garg.Based on this, Oak claimed that both Christianity and Islam allegedly originated as distortions of "Vedic" beliefs. Aravamudan concluded that via "deep punning" Oak is "creative in proliferating these delusional etymologies." (Srinivas Aravamudan, Guru English: South Asian Religion in a Cosmopolitan Language Princeton University Press (2005), ISBN 0-691-11828-0).

While his weird theories like ‘Christianity and Islam being both derivatives of Hinduism’ or ’Like Taj Mahal, Catholic Vatican, Kaaba, Westminster Abbey were once Hindu temples to Shiva’ or ‘Vatican being originally a Vedic creation called Vatika and that the Papacy was also originally a Vedic Priesthood’ or his complete denial of Islamic architecture in India could not find any takers in the mainstream, in fact were rejected in academia, they gathered a popular following in the Hindu Right which is still in search of a grand theory to further its agenda. Interestingly the Belgian orientalist and Indologist Koenraad Elst- who is sympathetic to Hindutva -seems to be an exception. Underlining Oak's 'lasting popularity'in NRI/PIO circles and debunking Oak's varied 'historical and linguistic theses' regarding Taj Mahal, Red Fort and Vikramaditya he rather focusses his attention on the 'gross immaturity'among Hindu activists :

The popularity of PN Oak’s theses is a sign of gross immaturity among contemporary Hindu activists. It indicates confusion regarding the facts of religious conflict in Indian history, along with a narcissistic greed, a morbid desire to lay ludicrous ownership claims to all manner of precious objects produced by outsiders (as if Hindu Dharma’s genuine achievements weren’t enough to be proud of)


Vinay Katiyar’s latest rant just goes to show the unending traction of ‘Oakisms’( as Koenraad Elst says) among Hindutva followers.

It is now history how Oak had even petitioned the Supreme Court to rewrite the history of Taj Mahal as being built by a Hindu King during NDA’s first stint of power at the centre. Perhaps the then conducive political atmosphere might have prompted him to gain further legitimacy but he was sadly mistaken. A two member division bench of the Supreme Court dismissed the ‘misconceived’ petition with these remarks ‘Somebody has a bee in his bonnet, hence this petition’. (2000)