South Asia Citizens Wire | 02 Jan, 2006 | Dispatch No. 2195
 Bangladesh: The fanatics and their patrons (Editorial, New Age)
 USA/India: Conversations with Indian Americans - My California
Vacation (Vijay Prashad)
 USA: The Rediff Interview/Harvard Professor Michael Witzel
 India - Chattisgarh: Court Rulings: Of Eggs and Beef (Imtiaz Ahmad)
 Myth of the tight-zipped Indian (Shiv Visvanathan)
 Upcoming Event: Beethoven's Ninth - A concert to Aid the Victims of
the October 2005 South Asia Earthquake (New York, 23 Jan 06)
New Age (Bangladesh)
December 31, 2005
The fanatics and their patrons
The threats made against a teacher of Dhaka University and his family
arouse our concern. It is but the latest sign of how much impunity
criminals calling themselves defenders of Islam enjoy in the matter of
repudiating civilised norms of behaviour. It is not the first time that
such elements of the dark have threatened to take the life of an
individual they think is coming in their way. There have been, as there
are, the moments when other teachers as well as journalists have been
threatened with death. The outrage does not stop there, for these
fanatics have even made a vow to bring down their wrath on respected
Islamic scholars who have been doing us all a world of good by
reigniting in us the essence and virtues of Islam.
For the government, the responsibilities are only too clear. These
elements, not unlike the fanatics who went about killing the leading
lights of this country as the nation waged a war to be free in 1971, are
determined to let nothing stand in the way of their destruction and
obscenity of judgement. They have killed and maimed and they will try
doing a similar thing again. The one response that can be made to them
is for the country, through its separate groups of citizens and bodies
of professional and other people, to forge a bond that will isolate
these extremists. Let no one be under any illusion about where these
fanatics may be hiding. While it is surely a happy occasion seeing the
members of the Jama’atul Mujahideen being nabbed by the security forces,
it is also necessary that the civil society organisations begin the
process of identifying the powerful men, in politics as well as the
civil administration, who have been patronising these extremists. It is
hardly any exaggeration to say that these fanatics could not have
reached the fearsome heights they have already had they not been given
encouragement by people on the perches of higher authority. The
assertion by the recently arrested Lutfar Rahman that he was witness to
Bangla Bhai’s telephonic conversations with ministers and police
officials should not be waved away. Similarly, an earlier assertion by
an arrested suspect about his links with the then home minister should
be investigated in the larger interest of the nation’s future.
The times are dark and the doings of certain men conspiratorial and
murderous. It is the nation’s job to identify these men. It is the job
of the media to expose them, relentlessly, day after day. These men and
all their patrons must be unmasked and shamed out of their nefarious acts.
December 31 / January 1, 2005/6
Conversations with Indian Americans
My California Vacation
By VIJAY PRASHAD
"Religious insanity is very common in the United States"
(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835).
Nothing is as disconcerting as looking at a jellybean painting of
Ronald Reagan. As you walk in there is a glassed in cabinet with
memorabilia of the President, the man who made the jellybean industry.
There was a time when Air Force One had a specially designed bowl to
hold jellybeans so that the President could use them to get his mind
off tobacco. Across from the cabinet is a portrait of Arnold, the man
who wants to be Reagan. Nearby, a television set shows you more of
these paintings: now of Margaret Thatcher, now Bush, now the former
Pope. The smell of sugar and artificial flavoring saturates the air.
I asked a worker if there are any jellybean paintings of Clinton,
thinking that this saccharine shrine to the reactionary pantheon might
omit him. "We have many pictures of Kennedy," he said pointing at the
Reagan display case. "He liked jellybeans." My radical pretensions
came a cropper. His slip between Kennedy and Reagan might afford some
discomfort with the lack of discrimination among the working-class, or
else, it might reveal how many see little to distinguish the apex of
liberalism and traditionalism.
The Jelly Bean Factory is just off Highway 80 down the road from
Vacaville-Fairfield. I had known Vacaville for its juvenile detention
center, where a friend of mine spent a year when we were both
teenagers. Vacaville-Fairfield has tried to reshape its image, to
promote its industries (Budweiser, Jelly Bean) through these kinds of
tours, and with a redevelopment of its downtown. All roads in
Vacaville-Fairfield lead to the Travis Air Force Base, although it
might not be the area's future or the way it represents itself.
Commuters who are fleeing the rising property values of San Francisco
are slowly moving to the depleted agricultural land along the
Sacramento River. Prisons and defense installations, factory-shrines
to revanchism, commuters to dead-end jobs--this is the new California
(wonderfully analyzed by Ruthie Gilmore of the University of Southern
California in Golden Gulag, forthcoming from the University of
Our fellow tourists at the factory, which produces 145 million
jellybeans a day, spoke a variety of languages. Cantonese, Gujarati,
Spanish, as well as English in a host of accents. We had gathered for
a free tour and free samples. Few of us would become the captive
consumers of jellybeans, although this is perhaps the factory's
intent: the first dime bag is often given free to kids at the school
playground to hook them. Many escaped from their small businesses or
from their exhausting day jobs for an outing at this "family firm." A
man in the queue behind us told his son that the chemical factory
where he worked smelled yucky, nothing like the sugary smell of this
plant. I imagined he worked in one of the many bio-chemical plants in
the area, or else in one of the oil refineries at Benicia.
Ethnic diversity is nothing new in California, although the state that
denies its own history discovers its immigrants every decade. There
has never been a decade in the state's history when its elites have
not startled its population with a panic over its immigrants. Mexicans
know this intimately, but so do Asians, and so do Central Americans.
California might have an Austrian governor, but he is certainly not an
immigrant. To be an immigrant today is to be of color; that's
But all immigrants are not necessarily of one politics, even as it is
the right that is far more prone to anti-immigrant rhetoric. There is
also immigrant conservatism and traditionalism. Among Asians, this is
well known. Little Saigon in Los Angeles is the Miami of the
Vietnamese community: it is the epicenter of anti-communism and of
pro-Republican sentiment. San Francisco's Chinatown played that role a
half century ago, when the Nationalists attempted to crush any
sympathy among California's Chinese for Mao and the Revolution.
Even as California's South Asian population is generally liberal, down
the road from Vacaville, in Sacramento, some of its adherents had been
involved in a diabolical endgame. Every six years, the California
Board of Education reviews its school textbooks. In 2005, the state
reviewed the books that it uses for Sixth Grade. As it turns out, it
is at this stage in their education that young Californians encounter
ancient Indian history. Certainly, the books are flawed. They
represent a tradition of disregard for the rest of the world, and of a
Christian disdain for other religions. There are elementary errors
("Hindi is written with the Arabic alphabet"), and there is a simple
discourteousness toward Hinduism ("The monkey king Hanuman loved Ram
so much that it is said that he is present every time the Ramayan is
told. So look around--see any monkeys?"). The critique of Orientalism
might seem dated to most academics, but Orientalist stereotypes are
rife in the way India is taught in secondary education in the United
That said, the important work of revision was quickly hijacked by a
couple of traditionalist outfits (the Vedic Foundation and the Hindu
Education Foundation) and a legal organization wedded to a right-wing
view of Hinduism (Hindu American Foundation). They wanted to revise
the books so that "India" would be sufficiently well branded, and that
all the contradictions of Indian history would disappear. No mention
of the oppression against untouchables (dalits), and little regard for
the virulently misogynist ideology of Brahmanism. Because all this
makes "India" look bad, it needs to be removed from the book. Here is
a whitewash in the service of globalization: if Indian culture can be
seen to be modern then business might flow to India. Facts are less
relevant, and what are least relevant are the struggles of people to
shift traditions and mold them into resources worthwhile of social
life. What these outfits want to create is an image of "India" as
eternally wonderful, and therefore without need for history and
struggle--what is needed is admiration and investment.
The logic deployed by the Hindu American Foundation is not unfamiliar:
it is multiculturalism, an ideology well suited to globalized
California. Every community is to be seen as discrete, and to have a
core cultural ethos that must be respected. Typically the most
conservative and traditonalist elements within the "community" are
licensed to determine the contours of this ethos. And even more
typically, in this globalized age, it is the religious elements of
culture that come to determine it. Orthodox clerics of one kind or
another, and their civilian minions, become the arbiters of culture
and of social life. Such is the logic of bureaucratic, bourgeois
multiculturalism, a far cry from the century long anti-racist movement
that preceded its appearance in the 1970s.
"The social science and history textbooks do not give as generous a
portrayal of Indian culture as they do of Islamic, Jewish, Christian
cultures," carped Rajiv Malhotra of the Infinity Foundation. When
asked about the oppression of dalits and women in ancient India, Suhag
Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation grumbled that "In terms of men
and women, I think, first of all if you look at Christianity or
Judaism or Islam, no-where in the textbooks is there any discussion of
women's rights. Then to pull it in for Hinduism, is a different
treatment of Hinduism." All cultures must have equal treatment, all
contemporary representatives of that culture should be able to create
their sense of self-worth based on this representation. Shukla has a
point: no tradition is in the clear on these issues. The solution is
not to brown-wash the textbooks on ancient Indian history, but to
write more honest books about the contradictions of all historical
formations, whether European or Asian.
The current debate in Sacramento and elsewhere is misplaced. A group
of Indian historians (myself included) signed a letter asking for a
more academically sound textbook. We had it partly wrong. This is not
a fight over historical protocols. An upwardly mobile immigrant group
(the Indian Americans, in this case) wants to convert its economic
success into other domains. Alongside the Hindu American Foundation
sits various conservative and traditionalist Jewish American groups
(AIPAC, American Jewish Committee) who are eager for allies of color
as they suffer from a public relations disaster. For the Hindu
American Foundation, the group to emulate is the Jewish Americans, who
are seen to have leveraged their demographic minority into political
or at least social power (I have a long essay on this in the Summer
2005 South Atlantic Quarterly, called "How the Hindus Became Jews:
American Racism After 9/11").
Down the road from Sacramento, in Stockton, a different kind of Indian
American tried to make a different history a century ago. Displaced
peasants from the Punjabi countryside and from the lower ranks of the
British Indian Army migrated to the Pacific Coast of the United States
and Canada. From Vancouver to Imperial Valley, Punjabi men (largely,
although there were a few women) came in the thousands to work as
farmers and wageworkers, as well as students. Experienced in
anti-colonial struggles in British India, and in fights for better
rights in the US and Canada, a group of these migrants founded the
Ghadar [Revolt] Party. "The world derisively accosts us: O Coolie, O
Coolie," the Ghadarites sang, "We have no fluttering flag of our own.
Our home is on fire. Why don't we rise up and extinguish it?" The
Ghadarites called for complete independence for India a full sixteen
years before Gandhi's party, the Congress, took this position. That
history of radicalism within the Indian American community is now a
minority. Part of this is for objective reasons: the class background
of the community is different, it is mobilized as a model minority by
the establishment, and it is able to leverage multiculturalism to its
In the last election, a plurality of Indian Americans voted against
the Republicans. In Silicon Valley, Indian American computer money
filled the coffers of liberal Democrat Mike Honda in 2000 (Jessie
Singh of BJS Electronics was the main donor). But when a genuine
progressive South Asian American, Ro Khanna, ran on an anti-war,
anti-Patriot Act platform against the war-dog Democrat Tom Lantos of
the 12th Congressional District, he received minimal support from the
Indian American establishment. They preferred Lantos, whose temerity
on behalf of "humanitarian intervention" and against Islam is well
documented. Cruel cultural nationalism has become an alibi for genuine
patriotism--and all this is enabled by multiculturalism, the last
refuge of bureaucrats otherwise terrified of anti-racism and of
genuine social change.
Vijay Prashad teaches at Trinity College, Hartford, CT. His latest
book is Keeping Up with the Dow Joneses: Debt, Prison, Workfare
(Boston: South End Press). His essay, "Capitalism's Warehouses",
appears in CounterPunch's new book, Dime's Worth of Difference. His
most recent article is a review of Kathy Kelly's book in the December
issue of Monthly Review.
The Rediff Interview/Harvard Professor Michael Witzel
'I am not a Hindu hater'
December 30, 2005
Professor Michael Witzel, Wales Professor of Sanskrit in the Department
of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University, shot off a letter
to the California Board of Education on November 8 after coming to know
what he described was US-based Hindu groups's attempt to have sections
of school textbooks relating to information on ancient India, Hindu
religion and culture altered to conform to their views.
Professor Witzel warned in the letter, co-signed, among others, by
Stanley Wolpert, Professor Emeritus at the University of California at
Los Angeles, a pre-eminent American specialist on Indian history, and
Romila Thapar, India's most famous historian on ancient India and a
recent Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, that
the textbook changes proposed by these groups would lead to an
international educational scandal if accepted by California's Board of
Following the letter, Professor Witzel, who has lived and taught Mimamsa
philosophy in Nepal for more than five years and held many positions in
the US and Germany, was retained by the Curriculum Commission along with
Professor Wolpert to revisit the changes/edits approved by the ad hoc
After the commission, an advisory body, decided by vote to accept only a
dozen or so of the 58 recommendations made by the Witzel panel,
Professor Witzel spoke to rediff India Abroad Senior Editor Suman Guha
Mozumder explaining the reasons for his panel's opposition to the
corrections proposed by the Hindu groups.
Why did you choose to write to the Board of Education almost at the end
of the process? What issues were you and other scholars on India
It was the whole approach these two Foundations -- the Hindu Education
Foundation and the Vedic Foundation -- took on the issue of textbooks.
As we mentioned, the agenda of these groups proposing these changes is
familiar to all specialists on Indian history who have recently won a
long battle to prevent exactly these kinds of changes from finding a
permanent place in history textbooks in India.
The proposed revisions are not of a scholarly but of a
religious-political nature and promoted by Hindutva supporters and
non-specialist academics who write on issues outside their areas of
'I am not for rewriting Hinduism'
Could you elaborate?
I must perhaps say that school textbooks are never perfect, and are
always behind the curve. But now what these two Foundations have done
with their proposed changes is to make the textbooks even worse for the
school children of California.
Why do you think so?
The reasons are twofold.
First of all, it is a rewriting of Hinduism. Academics discuss Hinduism,
among all religions, keeping in mind that there are so many diverse
groups. If you read their edits, it would seem like Hinduism is a
monotheistic religion, like Christianity or Judaism, with God spelt with
a capital G.
It is a very narrow sectarian approach and that is being inserted into
I have no preference, but you see there are tantriks, lingayets and
others who too are Hindus, but all of them are missing (in the groups'
opinion of Hinduism) and you get only one particular, sectarian and
religiously-motivated point of view.
What is the second reason?
Number two is that history too has also been rewritten seriously. If you
had gone to the Vedic Foundation web site, you will be happy to see that
Indian civilisation is 1.9 million years old. I wonder who was around
that time in India but anyway they say it is that old.
I believe you and your panel objected to as many as 58 proposals
approved by the ad hoc committee. What were the main ones?
I do not know (because) there are so many. The main ones are on the side
of philosophy and religion. They talk only in terms of God and cut out
other gods and goddesses. Then there are many historical inaccuracies.
They would say that Hinduism is just Vedic.
If it was just Vedic then many things like the worship of goddess Kali
would not be part of present day Hinduism. Or they would say that the
ancient sacrifices or jagnas did not involve any animal sacrifice. As if
nobody knows what goes on in Kalighat (a temple in Kolkata where goats
used to be sacrificed until a few years ago) or Kathmandu (capital of
Nepal, the only Hindu kingdom in the world) every day.
They say the same things for the early Vedic period. There are
historical inaccuracies all over the place.
I believe your panel had objections about the corrections relating to
the caste system.
It is always complicated. First of all, the textbooks authors had
confused caste and class although that has been corrected. But they say
the caste system developed in the last few centuries or so. But the fact
that the caste system was there before the British came to rule India is
denied by them.
To come back to our point, what they are doing is misrepresentation of
both history and religion.
Your panel also had objections on women's rights.
Young women would be happy to learn that, as the edits suggest, that
their rights were different from the rights of men in India like the
slave owners and slaves had. Schools children will learn that, although
it contradicts what the ancient Indian texts say.
A very famous quote from Manu says 'a woman should be guarded at all
stages of her life -- as a child at home by her father, as a married
woman by her husband and as a widow by her son.' Thank you very much for
the protection, but these things are never mentioned. Only that women
and men had different rights.
The Shruti says, for example in the Satapatha Brahmana, that in war one
should not kill women.
But the next sentence says one should just rob them. It shows the rights
of women, but it also shows the position of women, too!
Could this be out of ignorance of history?
You know, I would agree with them as far as the ultimate cause is
concerned because Hindus and others living in the US notice that their
religion gets misrepresented and there is a need to correct the image. I
agree with that.
But the question is how to go about it?
The intention of the Vedic Foundation and Hindu Education Foundation was
good but the way they are doing it, as I said, is sectarian, narrow and
If they had consulted scholars in the US -- and most of them are South
Asians -- then they would have got a balanced proposal.
Of course, scholars would not always agree with the religious people and
the religious people would not agree with each other, but at least you
would have got a balanced set of proposals.
That has not happened. Instead, you get narrow, sectarian points of
views. I am hundred percent in favour of rewriting these books but not
in this way.
I believe most of the recommendations made by the ad hoc committee have
been upheld despite the suggestions/alterations suggested by you. Does
it surprise you, given the fact that you and Professor Wolpert made
I have several reports from that meeting from people who were present.
The proceedings were incorrect. They did not follow the mandate that
they had but made it up themselves. I mean the Curriculum Commission
made up their own mandate. The meeting was taken over by one of the
commissioners. In simple American language, it was really a mess.
This is something for the Californians to sort out. It was not done
properly by this ad hoc committee and it was dominated by one
commissioner who pushed for a sectarian, unhistorical narrow approach to
corrections. They also did not take into account other Hindu voices,
forget about us.
Do you think...
You see the main aim is to present India in the best light which is
fine. They are really trying to erase things that are negative. But
there are negative things. I just do not understand why does one have to
do such things? Just praise what is good. But that is never done.
Why not say we (India) had early development of maths, good surgeons and
good philosophy 2000 years ago, things that are factually correct?
I always get misrepresented that I am a Hindu hater, but I am not.
I hate people who misrepresent history.
Do you agree with the perception in certain quarters that it is a
victory of sorts for Hindus in America?
That is a very doubtful characterisation (laughs) if you follow this
particular issue. You might be angry if you know anything about history
and might not be happy.
Economic and Political Weekly
November 26, 2005
Court Rulings: Of Eggs and Beef
The ruling by the Chhattisgarh High Court that eggs should not be sold
in public places because it hurts the sentiments of vegetarians ignores
the preferences of non-vegetarians. Another judgment by the Supreme
Court upholding the ban on slaughter of buffaloes along with cows also
protects the interests of a particular community. Is the court
propagating high caste dietary preferences? In a secular democracy, the
role of the judiciary should be to promote pluralism and coexistence
rather than take sides.
Last month India’s higher judiciary pronounced two judgments which
have a direct bearing on how secularism and democratic rights should be
interpreted. One is the judgment pronounced by the Chattisgarh High
Court in a public interest litigation wherein the petitioner had
contented that the sale of eggs in public places offended his sentiments
as well as those of other vegetarian Hindus who do not consider the egg
as a vegetarian food item. The court ruled that eggs should not be sold
in public places. It directed the state government to provide specific
spaces for the sale of eggs. The other is the judgment of the Supreme
Court upholding the Gujarat Cow Slaughter Act, which banned the
slaughter of buffaloes along with cows, as constitutional. Since both
the judgments relate to practices on which there is no consensus in
society (some sections favour them while other sections consider them
objectionable or offensive), they involve the substantive question of
when the objections of one section should be sustainable and when they
should be overruled. They also bring into sharp focus the double-edged
nature of secularism and democracy.
It will be generally agreed that democracy grants citizens the right to
live according to their visions of a good life. If someone considers
eating vegetarian diet to be a part of one’s vision of a good life, he
or she enjoys the right in a democracy to practice vegetarianism.
Likewise, if someone considers eating meat to be a part of one’s vision
of a good life, he or she too enjoys the right to practise
non-vegetarianism. No one can deny this right to a citizen in a
democracy. Perhaps, the only condition to which this or any other
similar right is subordinated, is that it should not violate the
principles of equity, justice and good conscience. So long as this
condition is met, the claims of the citizen to live according to his or
her vision of a good life cannot be infringed. Both the state and
individual citizens are obliged under democracy to honour and respect
this right of the citizen. If either the state or individual citizens
were to interfere with this right of a citizen, the entire edifice of a
democratic state would spring into action and protect the affected
citizen’s right to live according to her vision of a good life.
There is imminent danger in any democratic society that the thin line
that divides one’s own right vis-à-vis the rights of other citizens to
live according to their respective visions of a good life, founded on an
obligation to honour and respect other peoples’ rights as much as one
values one’s own, may easily be lost. Citizens may start seeking to
impose their vision of a good life upon others. If someone starts doing
so, the edifice of a democratic order would stand seriously challenged.
It would automatically lead to a situation where certain visions of a
good life would be privileged and other visions would be marginalised.
Not only would this open up the possibility of a continuing play of
power in inter-citizen interactions as the less powerful (powerful in a
wide variety of ways) would be obliged to accept the visions of good
life of the more powerful without being able to impose their way of life
upon others or defending their democratic right to live according to
their vision of a good life. One of the dilemmas of nationalism is that
it propagates the idea that the culture of the dominant group would also
form the basis of building a national community. This undermines the
very basis of pluralism in society.
Pluralism can be defined as coexistence with more or less tension in the
same social space of many systems of global convictions and of the
communities who produce them. Acceptance of pluralism as a credo of
everyday living carries two simultaneous implications. As far as
individual citizens are concerned, it demands tolerance of other
people’s beliefs, values and social practices even if they offend one’s
sensibilities. So far as the state is concerned, it imposes upon the
state the obligation to refrain from sitting in judgment over whether
one group’s beliefs, values or social practices are offending the
sentiments of another community, except where such dispute threatens
public order. On countless occasions in this country, festivals coincide
and carry an imminent threat of conflict and disturbance of public
peace. The state’s role on such occasions is limited to ensuring that
public order is not disturbed by the simultaneous celebration of
festivals of different sections of society. It is not open to the state
to ban or restrict the celebration of the festival of one section of
society over that of another section.
One would have expected that keeping these explicit principles of
secularism in mind, the Chhattisgarh High Court should have dismissed
the petition seeking a ban or restriction on the sale of eggs in public
places in liminie. Quite to the contrary, the court not only accepted
the petition, but went on to pass an order directing the state to
restrict the sale of eggs at specified places. This action on the part
of the court can be faulted for the serious implications it has for the
principles of pluralism and secularism. For one thing, it opens up a
Pandora’s Box as it creates the possibility for ever new groups to come
forward with pleas that social practices of sections of society which
they do not like should either be banned or subjected to restrictions as
it offends their sentiments. For example, what will prevent a section of
society (not necessarily Muslims or Christians but Hindu atheists or
agnostics) approaching the courts tomorrow that the public display of
idols at festival times should be banned or restricted because it hurts
their monotheistic or atheistic sensibilities?
Attempts at Sanskritisation
The second implication of the Chhattisgarh High Court judgment is even
more serious. It is that the court has by its order, appropriated to
itself a sanskritising role which is prohibited by the Constitution. M N
Srinivas, who originally formulated the idea of sanskritisation, used it
to denote a process whereby lower castes adopted the customs, values and
preferences of the higher castes that were more sanskritised. Thus, they
shifted from non-vegetarianism to vegetarianism or changed their ritual
Under theocratic dispensations during the ancient period the ruler
sometimes decreed sanskritisation, but after the establishment of “Pax
Britannica” the state ceased to play this role. It is another matter
that many changes introduced during British rule helped sanskritisation
of lower castes and social groups. The Chhattisgarh High Court has the
uncanny merit of taking us back to the times when the state decreed
sanskritisation as it definitely privileges sanskritised dietary
practice over non-sanskritised diet patterns and that too in a state
which is overwhelmingly tribal and where poultry is the mainstay of
These observations are equally relevant in the context of the Supreme
Court judgment upholding the Gujarat Cow Slaughter Act. In terms of the
secular principles, the state should have been indifferent that certain
sections of the Indian society eat beef and certain sections hold the
cow as sacred and dislike cow slaughter. Both sections should have been
allowed to live by their respective dietary preferences. This situation
did not come to prevail in India. Instead, the state took upon itself to
enact legislations prohibiting cow slaughter. This initiative did not
flow out of the secular principles enshrined in the Constitution. It
flowed from the directive principles of state policy wherein a provision
was incorporated that the state shall enact laws to ban cow slaughter.
It is well known that there existed divergent constituencies in the
constituent assembly. Each constituency was keen to get its demands
incorporated quite irrespective of whether or not their demand could be
incorporated without seriously jeopardising the secular character of the
Constitution. This gave rise to a prolonged process of negotiation and
compromise by which it was ensured that the core principles on which a
clear consensus existed went into the enforceable part of the
Constitution. Whatever was of a controversial nature or on which a clear
consensus could not be reached was relegated to the directive principles
of state policy if a sufficiently strong constituency existed to back a
demand. This is how the provisions relating to enactment of a uniform
civil code and cow slaughter came to be incorporated into the Constitution.
There had been a strong Hindu undercurrent in the national movement
right from the beginning. After independence, the constituency wanting
that this Hindu undercurrent should be reflected in the Constitution,
came forward with the demand the protection of the cow, considered
sacred by high caste Hindus, should be built into the Constitution
despite historical evidence that during ancient times cow sacrifice was
common and partaking of beef was practised. This political constituency
also received a degree of legitimacy from a streak of Gandhian
philosophy. Since this was a sectional demand and no consensus could
evolve on it, the founding fathers could not incorporate this demand in
the enforceable part of the Constitution. At the same time, the demand
could also not be nipped in the bud as the lobby pressing this demand
was quite powerful. Accordingly, almost by way of a compromise, banning
of cow slaughter was put into the directive principles in a bid to
appease the orthodox Hindu lobby.
Since the commitment to the secular spirit informing the enforceable
part of the Constitution was not shared strongly by the state-level
leaders, some of them allowed themselves to be brow-beaten by orthodox
Hindu opinion. This is how the plethora of legislations banning cow
slaughter came to be passed by state legislatures even if they caused a
degree of resentment among those who looked upon beef as an item of
diet. They were too weak and defensive to even protest when such
legislations were being adopted. By its recent judgment the Supreme
Court has gone beyond the ban on cow slaughter. It has extended the ban
to bulls and buffaloes. One is left to wonder whether the court has not
been influenced in this decision by the intent to propagate high caste
dietary preferences one step further. If this is even remotely the case,
this augurs badly for the future of secularism as a way of life and the
spirit of toleration which constitutes its core value.
The Times of India
November 27, 2005
Myth of the tight-zipped Indian
by Shiv Visvanathan
The Khusboo affair (pun unintended) has to be placed in perspective. It
has to be located within the wider debates on sexuality in India. We are
immediately confronted with a problem.
Indian social science or governance has no equivalent of an official or
national report on sexuality. We might have the report on the Indian
middle class but we have no equivalent of the Kinsey, or Hite report on
In the absence of master (sic) tests, all we have are media surveys of
sexuality or anthropological monographs. The anthropological monographs
make a powerful point which sets the base for understanding the politics
of sexuality, or even sexuality as politics.
They emphasise that discussions of sexuality, of issues such as
premarital sex, were reformist moves marked by the shadow of Victorian
notions of propriety, missionary ideas of such activity or Sanskritic
modes of behaviour.
Reform, whether image or fact, emphasised propriety. Upwardly mobile
lower or middle castes will guard their image of propriety as part of
their efforts towards mobility.
The protection of the image of virginity was sometimes more vehement
than the protection of virginity itself. Choice Vs Propriety Actress
Khusboo, in fact, suffered more from this syndrome.
In a spontaneous way, she attempted to define freedom for women in a
patriarchal world where women are still exchanged and seen as objects.
But her defence of freedom, of choice was resisted or misunderstood.
She deconstructed the question as one of feminism, as one of freedom,
maybe even recognition of the freedom for sexuality. Unfortunately,
Khusboo spoke the language of choice.
It is still a dialect. What she confronted was the language of
propriety. The language of choice retreated before the more orthodox
idea of society, of law, of structure.
There is a second issue we must emphasise here. Khusboo ignored the
performative, dramaturgical aspects of her statement. Premarital sex is
seen as primordial, animal, uncontrollable.
It is a fact of biology that must be subsumed under culture. But Khusboo
moved a social fact from the backstage to the front-stage.
The violent response was a double attempt; one, to suppress Khusboo's
voice but secondly, to push the facts of premarital sex backstage.
There is a third set of facts we must confront: the danger of AIDS which
is threatening India. Surveys reveal that it's men who are less aware of
The Khusboo controversy is a chance for opening up the space of
hypocrisy, indifference and illiteracy. Premarital sexuality has to be
seen as a domain of knowledge to be understood openly, therapeutically.
AIDS thr-eatens the hypocrisy about premarital sexuality. Brahminic
propriety cannot shovel the facts of AIDS backstage. New Age, New Values
Khusboo opened up not just a can of worms but a black box.
It triggers not only a moral police, but a thought police insisting that
we stop deconstructing sexuality.
It pretends codes are eternal when what we confront is new values, new
spaces, new technologies which have created a new space for premarital
Taboos often dissolve in new contexts. In that sense, the Khusboo affair
must be seen as text, pretext and context for a wider debate.
We need to create and publish the anthropological works on sexuality
to destroy the myth, if there is one, of the tight-zipped Indian. Two,
we need to look at the plurality of ways of narrating premarital sex in
Three, we need the help of feminism and human rights to open up this
space. What is constructed as a scandal hides
deeper scandals and it is these deeper issues we need to open up as
politics, as sexuality, as choice, as freedom, as right.
Khusboo should be thanked for opening up the silent spaces of our life
 UPCOMING EVENT:
PR Contact: Bob Gallo
Tel: 212 873 2297
Conductor contact: George Mathew
BEETHOVEN'S NINTH FOR SOUTH ASIA
A Benefit Performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
to Aid the Victims of the October 2005 Earthquake in South Asia
MONDAY, JANUARY 23, 2006, 7:30 PM
ISAAC STERN AUDITORIUM, CARNEGIE HALL, NEW YORK CITY
Conductor George Mathew will lead a specially formed orchestra and
chorus in a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in Stern
Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, Monday, January 23, 2006 at 7:30 pm. This
historic event has been organized to raise funds and awareness for the
survivors of the October 2005 cataclysmic event in South Asia that left
3 million people homeless. Mr. Mathew, who is also the Artistic
Director, conceived the idea of bringing together some of the world's
finest orchestral players, to perform Beethoven's masterpiece in a
politically neutral setting to help those suffering from the ravages of
the harsh conditions in the mountainous regions of a stricken land.
Tax deductible tickets range in price from $30.00 to $175.00 and are
available at the Carnegie Hall Box Office and may be ordered through
CarnegieCharge (212-247-7800) or www.carnegiehall.org.
The work to be performed is Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with orchestra,
soloists and choir. Musicians from the New York Philharmonic,
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, The
Philadelphia Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey
Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of St. Luke's, Albany Symphony Orchestra,
Pennsylvania Ballet Orchestra, Amsterdam Sinfonietta (The Netherlands),
Brentano and Emerson Quartets, students, graduates and faculty of the
Manhattan School of Music, Juilliard School, and Mannes College of
Music will be participating. The performance will feature a quartet of
both renowned veterans and rising stars and a chorus of 150-200
assembled from the major choral ensembles in New York City. Musicians
continue to be added on a daily basis. Artistic Director George Mathew
will conduct and Glenn Dicterow of the New York Philharmonic will be
The following statement by George Mathew about why Beethoven's Ninth was
chosen to be performed, sends a powerful message to the world:
"What is heard may sound like the familiar tune of the Ode to Joy from
the 9th Symphony. It is that and much more. The percussion instruments
come to us from the Turkish Military Bands of that time. What Beethoven
is saying here, is no longer the utterance of an individual, but that
of a civilization reaching out to fellow civilizations. What we hear is
a German drinking song, embellished and elevated by Turkish music, music
of the Islamic world. This sums up the possibility that stands before us
today of artists, listeners, nations and civilizations embracing each
other and being embraced by art and because of art. There has perhaps
never been a moment when it was more appropriate or more urgent to send
out Beethoven¹s and Schiller's cry of "Seid Umschlungen, Millionen! (Be
Embraced, You Millions!)"
Doctors Without Borders, the Concert Beneficiary Proceeds from the
concert will go to Doctors Without Borders/Medecins San Frontieres
(MSF), an international independent medical humanitarian
organization. It delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed
conflict, natural or man-made disasters or exclusion from health care,
in more than 70 countries.
MSF works in Pakistan and India. At their operations in the Mohammad
Kheil (Pakistan) refugee camp, home to about 16,000 Afghans, MSF has
created a centralized health care clinic that provides basic services
to the camp's inhabitants as well as the approximately 3,000 local
residents. In India, at the economic capital of Mumbai, MSF is working
to improve the lives of those living with diseases such as tuberculosis
and HIV/AIDS. MSF continues to respond to emergencies such as the
tsunami that hit India in December 2004.
Within days of the October 8, 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, MSF
physicians, nurses, mental health specialist, and logisticians began
providing medical assistance and distributing relief and medical
supplies to those affected by the disaster. MSF's 566 local and
international humanitarian relief workers have vaccinated more than
20,000 children against measles tetanus and polio, and distributed 1,115
tons of relief goods, including 12,000 family tents, and 140,000
blankets. With an estimated 80,000 wounded, MSF mobile clinic teams
worked quickly to aid the wounded. Today, MSF medical teams are
supporting two district hospitals that were disrupted by the earthquake.
MSF physicians and nurses continue to consult daily with approximately
1,000 afflicted, in 10 permanent sites.
Concert Goal: To Raise $500,000
The performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony will raise funds and
highlight the plight of the victims and the work that is being done in
the two countries most affected - Pakistan and India. Proceeds from the
concert will go to Doctors Without Borders (MSF), now involved in key
relief work on the ground in both countries. Reports from the field and
other relief agencies estimate a death toll of over 90,000 people,
including more than 17,000 children killed in the first hours of the
disaster, and leaving over 3 million homeless or otherwise severely
affected. United Nations aid agencies UNICEF and other NGOs have
estimated the emergency need in the next six months to be $550 million
(USD) and the amount of aid required to rebuild infrastructure and the
economy of the affected area to be at least $5.2 billion (USD). The
situation on the ground remains extremely severe and the need for
immediate help is still dire.
Raising funds is an essential step in the success of this concert, and
more broadly, in the relief work the concert supports. It is operating
under the fiscal sponsorship of Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation,
Inc., an organization exempt under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal
Revenue Code.Proceeds from this concert will go directly towards
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) USA has agreed to be one of the recipient
agencies. Tax deductible donations should be mailed to:
Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.
One Tampa City Center, 201 North Franklin Street, Suite 1100
Tampa, FL 33602
(Please specify "Beethoven¹s 9th for South Asia")
The profile of the disaster and its human aftermath has slipped to
bafflingly low levels in the American and global media. The catastrophe
occurred in a part of the world that has incalculable strategic
importance to the Western world at the moment. However, we neglect the
situation at our own peril. Moreover, the situation also presents a
unique opportunity for the West, and the U.S. in particular, to build
human and cultural bridges to a region in the heart of the Islamic
world, at its moment of acute need. The phenomena of
"disaster-and-donor-fatigue" are unacceptable. Artists and citizens,
must respond by keeping the world's attention on the South Asian
Sir Colin Davis
President and CEO, American Symphony Orchestra League
Professor, Columbia University
Professor, Qaid-e-Azam University
CEO, Ethan Allen, Inc., Chair, Refugees International
WGBH-Boston & PRI
Executive Director, American Society for Muslim Advancement
Sir Roger Norrington
Chair, World Music Institute
Consul-General of Mexico, New York
Robert Sirota, President
Manhattan School of Music
Dean of Students, Columbia University, School of Journalism
Robert A.F. Thurman
Professor, Columbia University
Ambassador of Liechtenstein to the United Nations
Managing Director, Barclays Capital
Robert van Zwieten
Advisor, Doctors Without Borders, USA
76 West 86th Street
New York, NY 10024
Buzz on the perils of fundamentalist politics, on
matters of peace and democratisation in South
Asia. SACW is an independent & non-profit
citizens wire service run since 1998 by South
Asia Citizens Web: www.sacw.net/
SACW archive is available at: bridget.jatol.com/pipermail/sacw_insaf.net/
DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed in materials carried in the posts do not
necessarily reflect the views of SACW compilers.