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The Daily Fix: With debate on whether Rahul Gandhi is Hindu, Indian politics has sunk to a new low

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The Big Story: Touching faith

On the face of it, there is little in common between Zahid Hamid, who was Pakistan’s Federal Law Minister until Monday, and Rahul Gandhi, vice-president of India’s largest Opposition party.

Yet, in a curious coincidence, political debate in their countries walked the same path this fortnight as both these figures were accused of concealing their true religious identities for political gain. Hamid was attacked for going soft on the Ahmadis, a religious group whose members identify as Muslim even as Pakistani law refuses to accept them as such. They are have frequently been the target of vicious violence from other Muslims in Pakistan, who see the Ahmedi creed as heretical. This resulted in a siege Islamabad last week as clerics demanded Hamid’s resignation, suggesting that he was Ahmedi himself. Alarmed, the minister released a video message denouncing the Ahmedi creed. He resigned a little while later.

Meanwhile in Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party jumped up to accuse Rahul Gandhi of not being Hindu. This claim was based on an allegation that Gandhi had registered as a non-Hindu when he visited the Somnath temple on Wednesday. Amit Malviya, the head of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Information and Technology cell, accused both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi of not being Hindus, asking rhetorically, “Gandhis lying about their faith?”

Large parts of the media took the BJP’s cue to make this a major news point on Wednesday. Zee News asked if “Rahul Gandhi is not proud to be a Hindu” and Times Now conducted its prime time debates with the hashtag #RaGaSomnathSelfGoal. Republic TV bluntly asked #RahulGandhiHinduorCatholic even as the Times of India ran with the story on their front page on Thursday. Amidst this, an anchor on CNN News 18 declared categorically that he was a “proud Brahim and proud Hindu”.

Alarmed at this charge, the Congress refuted the allegation on social media and even held a press conference. Like Hamid a few weeks earlier, the Congress sought to reassure people about Gandhi’s faith and even his caste. A senior Congress leader said that not only was Gandhi a Hindu but a “janeu dhari”, a Hindu who wore the sacred thread that would mark him out as a Brahmin.

The accusation that Gandhi had registered as a non-Hindu was later found to be false – a fact backed up even by the temple.

That, of course, is hardly the point. The real concern is how easily controversies about religious heresy and excommunication have come to find takers in India. This phenomenon is witnessed frequently across the border but is new for India. While religion has been part of Indian politics for some time, the manufactured controversy around Rahul Gandhi’s faith represents a new level of cynicism: even the personal religious beliefs of leaders have now become fodder for their rivals.

Centering politics around religious hysteria has few benefits, as Pakistan’s experience shows quite clearly. The BJP is pulling out all stops to win this month’s Gujarat election. But its decision to infuse debates about religious heresy and personal faith into mainstream politics will have an impact that will go far beyond just one election.

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  • Pakistan’s original sin: It is its treatment of Ahmedis. It needs to overcome that anxiety to liberate itself on several fronts, writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express.
  • India’s reticence on the Rohingya crisis undermines its democracy and global standing, argues Suhasini Haidar in the Hindu.
  • Do Gujarati Patidars “constitutionally” qualify for reservation, asks Alok Prasanna Kumar in Bloomberg Quint.


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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.


During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.