Saturday, April 18, 2009

World religions and women

Horoscopes and predictions make interesting reading. When George Bush Jr took over the USA, Nostradamus was widely quoted on his predictions that a world war would happen during Bush Jr's tenure. The war would be fought on religious lines and one religion Nostradamus predicted, would be wiped out from the face of the earth.

This got everyone wondering, would it be Christianity being swallowed by Islam? Would the Christian armies rise up against Islam like the Crusaders not so long ago that contained Islam and spread Christianity all over the civilized world? Some believed the religion slated for the aforesaid wiping out, could be Hinduism that is older than both Christianity and Islam put together.

Hinduism dates back as far as 3300BC during the beginning of the Indus Valley Civilization in the Bronze Age. The Jews believe Year 1 of the world is 3760 BC the year when Adam and Eve were created. But they believe Judaism as a formal religion began in 2000 BC. Christianity began in the Year of Christ 2000 years ago, and Islam 600 years later in the 7th Century. And now most of the wars have been fought to either defend or impose one religion on others.

The way we are headed it looks like there will be no place for more than one religion in the world. Scratch under the secular veneer and a fundamentalist lurks under most skins –ordinary people who will fight to the death to preserve their religion and belief system. The few who are genuinely secular qualify because they don’t care one way or another since they don’t believe in gods or heavens or hells.

The funny thing is three of the main religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity and Islam were all born in the Middle East and bear marked similarities in their sacred books, especially regarding their attitude to women. The Jews were scattered all over the world. Christianity spread and in 700AD Islam made a serious effort to overpower the Christian world.

The Moors crossed the Strait of Gibraltar invaded Christian Spain ruled then by the Visigoths who were a barbarian race. The Moors ruled for a little more than 800 years and introduced art, architecture and mathematics to Spain, before the Christians under King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella routed them out and proceeded to spread Christianity to South America.

The ebb and flow of nations and cultures is deeply bound to the religions of the conquerors. Look at Goa. India too has always grappled alternately with Islam and Hinduism. Now savants argue that evidence points to Islam looking for world domination again. Almost the entire continent of Africa follows Islam, the Middle East, Central Asia, and large swathes of the Far East.

My grouse with all these Middle East religions is that women are treated with contempt. They are “one-third the value of men”. Iron clad rules are created for them. Women in the Christian world earn less than men for the same work. As recently as the beginning of this month the Israeli newspaper Yated Neeman which caters to an ultra-Orthodox Israeli readership doctored the photographs of Israel’s new Cabinet by removing the two female ministers Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver and replacing them with male ministers. The newspaper considered it immodest to print images of women. And now the Taliban with its legendary contempt for women, is practically on India’s doorstep aided most ably by the likes of the Pink Panty man and his pals under the garb of Hinduism.

Hinduism is one of the few religions that started out worshipping the mother goddess until the Ram Sene began making and enforcing their own rules and regulations. Religion and women? Mankind depends on women to keep the human race going. Yet across the board, all religions of the world go out of their way to shun menstruating women as unclean. They are banned from offering prayers at places of worship, the Old Testament told men they would have to bathe outside the city and then enter if they so much as looked at a menstruating woman. Till today menstruating Hindu women cannot offer puja and believe that if they make pickles during this time the pickle would spoil. It’s all tied to iron clad religious diktat that does not realize menstruation is like an oil-change for your car. Any way you look at it – women are screwed.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shoes as missiles of change

I was talking to a media person about the Shoe Incident Day, when an angry Sikh reporter chucked his shoe at Home Minister P Chidambaram.
“This flinging of shoes at politicians has to stop,” she said. “First that Iraqi reporter chucked his shoes at George Bush, now this Indian copycat flings his shoe at PC. The Iraqi should have patented his action. We Indians always copy.”
“First a small correction,” I said. “The Iraqi actually flung his shoes at Bush. He put a lot of shoulder action into it and he flung both his shoes. Jarnail Singh merely lobbed one soft trainer shoe in PC’s direction. He was angry but the shoe throwing was symbolic. And it worked because the Congress is re-thinking fielding Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar. They’re calling this form of activist journalism “Jarnailism”.”
“Far as I’m concerned, he copied the Iraqi,” she said.
“Jarnail Singh knew that a boot in hand works better than flinging two at the Bush,” I said.
“These Delhi journos must be earning huge salaries,” she said enviously. “You know how expensive shoes are and to just go around flinging them at people is the height of extravagance.”
“These men were angry about grave injustice done to their people and that was why they threw shoes,” I said.
“I will never throw shoes,” she said. “Do you know how difficult it is to get shoes of my size? Whenever I am lucky enough to find a good pair that fits me, I buy two pairs.” There seemed nothing more to say to that so we walked on in silence. But she was not finished. “Then there’s the other thing,” she said.
“What other thing,” I asked.
“Now they will have shoe detectors along with metal detectors and we will all have to leave our shoes outside the press conference and walk around barefoot,” she said.
“That would be nice,” I said. “I like walking barefoot.”
“Don’t be silly,” she said, “We’ll have to have pedicures regularly and I just can’t fit that into the salary I earn. I could give myself a pedicure, but nail polish too is so expensive. This Jarnail Singh is really going to cost us media-persons dearly.”
“Making journalists take off their shoes for press conferences won’t solve anything,” I said. “Anger will find its release any way, anywhere. They can throw anything. Politicians will just have to wear bullet proof jackets and crash helmets.”
“Throwing a heavy book would have been better,” she said.
“Shoes don’t hurt so much,” I said, “And anyway Jarnail Singh’s shoe was a soft trainer shoe. It would have been like throwing a small pillow at the Union Home Minister.”
“That’s the thing,” she said. “He did it in such a half-baked fashion and now we all have to suffer for it by going around barefoot like M F Hussain. Have you seen how terrible Hussain’s feet look?”
“If Singh really wanted to make an impact, he could have thrown a hob-nailed boot, or an army boot, even a lady’s stiletto heel,” I said.
“What I say is if you are planning to do something; you should do it properly,” she said, “especially when you know that lots of your colleagues will suffer. Now we have to go through all this indignity of being told to take off our shoes, when all he did was lob a soft shoe in Chidambaram’s general direction. And he threw his shoe like a girl.”
“I think you are being too hard on Singh,” I said, “He asked Chidambaram a question about the Sikh riot accused and Chidambaram was quite sharp with him and refused to answer.”
“I am afraid politicians may not want to take any more risks and will make the media wear government-issue overalls at press conferences. All clothes, belts, shoes, watches, cellphones, laptops, handbags and briefcases, will be kept in a holding area. Can you imagine how silly we will look on TV?” she said.
“If someone wants to throw something they will,” I said. “They offer samosas and tea at press conferences. A hot flying samosa with its three sharp corners can do a great deal of damage.”
“Chidambaram should have worn Jarnail Singh’s shoe and taken the other one too. Then all our problems would be over,” she said.
“How would that help?” I asked.
“Because according to Mahatma Gandhi: Three quarters of the miseries and misunderstandings in the world would finish if people were to put on the shoes of their adversaries and understand their points of view. All Bush and Chidambaram had to do was wear those shoes. The shoes would be missiles for change. Gandhiji would have liked that,” she said.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Job Security for All

There are some people who are easily impressed. When times are bad they find silver linings. They are silly and setting themselves up for a fall. I dislike these types because I am one of them.

I was so impressed with a presentation on Poetry Films. But there were many in the hall who watched the short films flash on the screen with growing indignation. At discussion time they flatly said they didn’t understand any of it and there was no future in poetry films.

To me it was like looking at abstract art. The trick is in not trying to figure out what the monkey was thinking when he flung paint at the canvas, but what conclusions I could draw from that work of art. Ditto with poetry films. And then I heard the chief guest Vishnu Wagh Spokesperson for the Congress Party in Goa, speaking bracingly about a good future for the genre in Goa. I was so impressed.

The very next day Wagh gave a press conference with the employees of the Maharaja casino breathing down his neck, saying that the Congress was for casinos and that if they were shut down or swept out to sea, 3000 young Goans would lose their jobs. And I was filled with wonder and awe. Ah, a messiah had spoken.

As the official spokesman for the Congress the large and equally large-hearted Wagh brought into his fold the unwanted and the miserable. Civil society frowns heavily on gambling but Wagh in essence, said come to me all ye who are slotted by the slot machines, and poked by the poker chips while the government plays Russian Roulette with their immediate futures.

And I thought here is solace for the other pariahs of civil society. Sex workers – at least 40 per cent are Goans and they are being pushed out of business. Their Russian counterparts take the high end tourists and the Lamanis get the low-end tourist. They have families dependent on their earnings.

Builders – they behave exactly like bosses of prostitutes (and one hears a number of them do own brothels), because they organize the rape of Goa and sell her off over and over again. Now they have families and employees and labourers heavily dependent on them. They need the construction business to continue unhampered. A lot is being done to help them, but there are some who complain.

Drug peddlers – it’s such a huge network as the Narcotics Cell will tell you. There are groups and sub-groups, pushers and carriers, those that get young people hooked onto their products, and then hound them for cash, or recruit them into the business of drug dealing. If they are stopped, hundreds and thousands will be affected, yes, Goan families too.

Matka bookies and agents – they are all over, under the policemen’s noses, in markets, at bus stops, the network is more amazing and marvelous than the tiffin carriers of Mumbai. I know one small time agent in Chimbel who has now retired, but who supported not just his wife and two children on his earnings as a matka agent, but his mother-in-law, sister-in-law and her son, his son’s wife and children, and his daughter’s husband and children. The interest he earns from his fixed deposits keeps his family and extended family fed and clothed even in these strange times of zero inflation with the price of food going through the roof. Can you imagine the misery this agent and all the thousands like him all affiliated to the head offices at Kalyan and Mulund in Mumbai, will suffer if matka is closed down?

Congress continues the good work of saving all these illegitimate livelihoods. Now maybe they could spare a thought for all those Goans who are jobless because their employers shut down their legitimate operations in Goa? Maybe, just maybe, they will stop hanging themselves from ceiling fans, rafters and trees?