Religion and politics

TM Krishna writes: “It is an Islamic Pakistan that abolished triple talaq in 1961 while India did it just last year, making me wonder about our regressiveness.” (“The TM Krishna column: Invoking ‘Hindu Pakistan’, Tharoor belittles Islamic Pakistan to make a point”). The changes in marriage laws in Pakistan were done when a military dictator ruled. It was Ayub Khan and his Islamic Ideology Council that ushered in path-breaking changes on divorce and having a second wife. And the same refused to budge when the so-called Islamic forces in the country agitated to have the Ahmadi Muslims declared “non-Muslim”. It was a secular and socialist Bhutto who gave in to them in 1974 to save his own hold on power, and it was a new military dictator who persecuted the Ahmadis and also began a move against the Shias (when they protested against Zia-ul-Haq’s promulgation of a Zakat procurement law). Our problem in India is the half-hearted attempt to create and maintain a secular politics, with our politicos readily using religion – any religion – to keep their own seats secure and pockets full. – CM Naim


TM Krishna says “there is a distinct difference between Pakistan choosing to be Islamic and Right-Wing forces today wanting a Hindu India. This is historical, contextual, demographical and socio-cultural”. What are these historical, contextual, demographical and socio-cultural reasons? If you are going to argue that “Right-Wing” forces (however poorly defined) wanting a Hindu India is somehow worse than Pakistanis choosing to be an Islamic country, you need more than one throwaway line.

The truth is that the Islamist forces that dominate so much of the Islamic world today are no different.The same is true of the evangelical Christian forces who are permitted by the secular state to run rampant in tribal communities denigrating traditional culture to score their conversion points in the name of “freedom of religion”. The fact that the secularist so-called “Left-Wing” of Indian politics fails to engage with the fundamentally “Right Wing” nature of these two minority religious communities is the central reason for their abject political and ideological failure. If “Right Wing” is meaningful as a label at all, it is not a label applicable only to some religions, or only to communities with more than 50% demographic strength. – Sandeep S


This is a brilliant and well-balanced article. As for the plight of minority Tamils in Sri Lanka or Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar or elsewhere, I am as bewildered as the author. Perhaps, a peep into the history of Partition can help come up with some insight.

Delhi has been the seat of power for India for aeons. Punjab was the backbone of the struggle for Partition and bore the brunt of it. Post-Partition, Pakistan’s rulers, the military and the bureaucracy have come mainly from Punjab. On this side of the border, the battered and devastated Punjabi migrant from the western side took refuge mostly in Delhi.

In a sense, the unending conflict between India and Pakistan can be likened to the Mahabharata war among cousins of yore. When it comes to the North East or the Tamils, their distance from Delhi is perhaps why their cries are not heard. A complaint heard often from people belonging to these regions is that Delhi does not understand their requirements. –Muralidharan V

Across the border

Ayesha Jalal is right in saying that the Pakistani Army is much stronger than other democratic institutions in the country, explaining the backseat-driving of the country’s government by their Army (“Historian Ayesha Jalal interview: Why Pakistan is vulnerable to military rule but India isn’t”). Her assessment that the Indian situation is the converse is hardly accurate. Both nations have similar semi-feudal zamindari systems in the rural areas and cronyism between business, politics and bureaucracy. Corruption and money power are rampant in the operation of democracy in India too. The difference in the Army’s view of the democratic institutions in the two countries is in degrees and not in kind. If the chaotic political situation in India exceeds a limit, an Army takeover could happen in India as well.

Indians can hardly gloat about their situation vis-a-vis Pakistan as their nation is perilously close to a similar chaos. – Chandra Shekhar AK

New ideas

This is research in the wrong direction (“An Indian whose tech made ketchup glide out of a bottle is now making pesticides stick to crops”). Pesticides cause cancer and oncologists strongly recommend washing off the pesticides on farm produce before consumption. While this research aims to reduce problems associated with the use of pesticides, it will make removal of the harmful pesticides even more difficult, if not impossible. Farmers, the world over, should be persuaded to gradually stop using pesticides to boost their output. This can happen if agricultural research focuses on getting to the root of the existence of pests. A better alternative could be a product that provides adhesion of a pesticide till it is harvested. This should make its removal easy. – Manoj Patel

Diet debate

The article does not take into account the fact that most farmed plant food is grown to feed the artificially created 70 billion food animals we have added to the planet, who, in addition to eating most of the grown food, also urinate, excrete and use a lot of water, for drinking, irrigation, cleaning transport trucks and slaughterhouses (“Why it’s so hard to estimate how many animals are killed by farming every year”).

We can cut out the middle man and eat plants directly, which would require us to grow a lot less food (and thereby kill a lot less wild animals.) There are seven billion+ humans on the planet, and 70 billion+ food animals.

A lot of the food energy given to animals is lost in keeping them alive, so 10 pounds of grain does not convert to 10 pounds of meat – the ratio is more like 10 to 1. Fewer food animals would mean fewer plants grown, which would mean fewer wild animals killed.

Vegans worked this out long ago, and there is an ethical difference between unintentionally killing an animal versus purposely breeding, confining, exploiting, harming (through sexual violation, removal of children, and standard mutilations) and slaughtering a being that wants to live. – Laurie Powell

RTE changes

The amendment will definitely lead to an increase in dropouts and breach a child’s fundamental right to education (“Amendment scrapping no detention policy will weaken the entire Right to Education Act, say experts”). So many threads of the issue have been left out, leaving education in the doldrums. Shelve it or reframe it. – Vibha Sharda

Muslims in India

When Meursault, the protagonist of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, killed an unknown Arab on a sweltering summer day in Algiers, many said it was easier for him to do so, for he did not kill an individual but an Arab (“BJP is done marginalising Indian Muslims. It has now started demonising them”). It would have been harder had he known the victim’s name. And, perhaps due to this reason, he was condemned for not crying at his mother’s funeral. The murder remained a trivial affair, used as evidence to chisel out a behaviour pattern. Implicitly, he was absolved of the murder. It can be deduced that the judge saw himself, the lawyer, including Meursault, not as individuals but as French people pitted against the Arabs at large – the classical binary of us versus other.

It can be further said that the Arab was killed as an identity, not by Meursault alone but by a collective French identity. Contrarily, another pattern emerges, involving mass violence, where victims are duly asked for their names. If the introduction does not proffer much credibility, a more intimate inquiry initiates, of looking into private parts. Sometimes, the victim may be asked to recite a religious verse. Depending on the outcome, life is taken or spared. However, the clinical approach, so designed, despite collecting so much individual details, does not rescue the individual out of its bag of identities. Rather, the examination precisely delivers victims as the others shorn of all other identities, including one of humans. The narrative of the “other”, like any other narrative, survives on story-telling. However, it involves a failure, if not lack, of imagination.

In popular imagination, the contours of the other’s cultural mores are hardened, with no recognition of their inner fluidity or outer intermingling. The other, though possessing speech, is often voiceless, for his or her words are already painted with meaning disregarding any inherent one whatsoever. The other’s behaviour is always anticipated, as one does of adversaries during war, thus creating and sustaining a sense of hostility, and waiting for the first sign of flare-up.

Sometimes the flare-up, as in The Stranger, can just be an intensely warm afternoon at a beach. However, every otherness exists inseparably with its selfness. This not only creates both in each other’s image but also a relation of interdependency and passion. Denying this amounts to denying one’s own self and thus the fulcrum of reality itself. Therefore, in a narrative where the self is pitted against the other, and not as self and other, loss of individual behaviour is universal. One, without fail, begins to imagine oneself as belonging to sets of identities. These identities form a tightly wound fabric around the self, and mummify the individual. And, when even a single thread of it is pulled or accidentally touched, the whole of the fabric vibrates. It entails rage. And what is rage if not some poorly expressed, unbearable grief. If only we, both self and other, know to acknowledge each other’s sorrows, much of the rage would be shorn of its destructiveness.

If only we know that behind each identity lives an individual, a man or a woman, each different as snowflakes, each with its own way of laughing and living, it would be much harder to hate. If only we imagine a man or a woman carefully; if only the face, the freckles on the cheeks, uneven arrangement of the teeth, how the hair comes falling over the forehead, it would be impossible to hate. Hate is just a failure of imagination. – Tabish Nawaz

Taking note

I don’t know why the bank union created such an uproar over the advertisement featuring Amitabh Bachchan (“Watch: A bank union denounced this ad with Amitabh Bachchan for creating distrust in banking”). The ad is right. It can be harrowing to visit an Indian bank. The clerk passes the buck to another counter. My family members and I think twice before going to the bank and I always ensure that my father comes along with me because the bank staff just do not listen to young people. – Geetinder Pardesi

Adultery law

Adultery is a crime that does not leave any blood but destroys entire families and scars children (“India has no reason to retain its archaic adultery law – but will the Supreme Court strike it down?”). Everybody should be held accountable – married, unmarried, female or male. Marriage is a sacred institution, built on morals and values, and nobody has the right to break it.

Let us make people aware of the real meaning of marriage. Instead of matching horoscopes, let medical reports match, let them be counselled before getting married and see if they are fit to be married. There are families, children, society involved. Adultery is a crime conducted in the name of love that destroys the fabric of society. – Archana Mittal

Defamation row

It is good that the hammer of justice has ruled in favour of journalism that does not spare the alleged misdeeds of corporations, however big they may be (“Gujarat: Court sets aside criminal defamation complaint against The Wire filed by Adani Group”). The Wire stands vindicated for exposing the controversies surrounding Adani, the blue-eyed business man of Gujarat. The article’s author should also be reinstated. One hopes that the legal suit of Jay Shah, son of Amit Shah, meets the same fate. – Chandrasekaran C

Campus dissent

Thank you for bringing out the ongoing issue at Manipur University (“As protests shut Manipur University for almost two months, an old hill-Valley divide resurfaces”). However, I have some concerns about the reportage. When the headline says “old hill-valley division”, it makes for good reading but it gives a wrong impression to readers. History shows that such divisions exist only for political reasons. But your headline paints everything black and white.

Secondly, I wish the report included the range of allegations and demands of Manipur University’s students, teachers and staff against the vice-chancellor along with the claim by student organisations representing tribal groups. A Joint Tribal Students’ Bodies member is quoted as saying, “In spite of all his limitations and shortcomings, he [the VC] has done some tremendous things.” There are no “limitations and shortcomings” but in fact serious allegations that needed to be addressed for the welfare of all those connected with the university. I hope will be much more careful with its choice of words in the future. – Robert S Meitei