Monthly Archives: January 2015

Why are we apologetic about Islamic terror?

Hundreds of children shot dead as they were reading their books. A woman beheaded in Mecca in full public view. Thousands of people slaughtered by Boko Haram.

All these have happened in the last ten days, and the only common thread among them was that the perpetrators screamed ‘Allah O Akbar’ when they killed innocents.

The response of the Indian intelligentsia circuit was predictable as always. On how we are falling into the trap laid out by the terrorists. That they want us to feel angry and lost, and moments like this require us to delve into our deep, humane side. While the terrorist delves into his pocket and pulls out a Kalashnikov.

Why is the whole gamut of rational-atheist-intelligentsia silent about Islam? Why is there always a gigantic blanket of apology over the issue? Why are we embarrassed to talk about Islam and its problems?

The other surprising fact is that the same bunch of people raise a hue and cry when a book is banned. Remember Wendy Doniger’s book? How many people actually read it? How many people did it affect? Were lives lost? Did blood flow?

I understand the common argument – that oppression is not necessarily physical. That suppressing free speech could be as heinous as any other crime. I get all of that. But what about when people are getting slaughtered in reality? What about when gunmen (who are supposedly fighting the cause of Islam, but do not possess the balls to show their face to the world) enter a building and shoot journalists? What about the freedom of speech then?

Most apologist arguments about Islam tread four main lines, each argument a hollow, half-baked dump of an idea. Let’s see what they are:

  1. Not every Muslim is a terrorist: I get pissed off when I read this. Who said that every Muslim is a terrorist? Did anybody say that? Could you show me one book, newspaper, film, or paper that calls every Muslim a terrorist? Nobody does that, not even the Hindutva bigots that you so hate. Relax!
  2. One cannot expect to offend a religion while calling oneself ‘liberal’: Really? How many children died due to the cartoon of Prophet Muhammad? While we constantly call on our brethren to reform themselves to new ideas and times, why should Islam be allowed to continue abiding by laws that were written thousands of years ago?
  3. It is a young religion, and has gone through trials and tribulations inflicted on it by the Western world: Another classic liberal-bullshit liner. Yes, what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan was wrong. But the world doesn’t exist in black and white. There are gigantic shades of grey. What about Boko Haram, then? Did the US bomb people there too? How long are we going to keep blaming the US for all of Islam’s problems?
  4. Violence is always political, Islam is being used by bigots to secure their own motives: Yes, but isn’t it worth discussing what makes Islam so vulnerable to such hijackings? Why don’t other religions (some of which are younger, and are practiced in regions that have witnessed worse horrors) come in the news for killing innocents?
  5. (And this is my favourite) Islam is actually a religion of peace: Yeah? Then how come most Muslims in the world have died in the hands of fundamentalist Muslims themselves? How can you be a religion of peace? The concept of religion in itself doesn’t allow for peace, more so one that considers non-believers as infidels. If it really is a religion of peace, why don’t the followers of this very peaceful religion raise up and condemn it?

Since the last two weeks, opening up the news has become a chore. I am a student of Journalism and understand that news images are not biased and fair. And yet, how long are we going to fall back upon these claims? How long are we going to blame everybody else, because we do not have the courage to look the problem in the eye?

And every time there is some incident, the upholders of wisdom in the country (Scroll, Kaafila, Caravan) begin their bullshit-doling. Every statement begins with ‘Tuesday’s attack was horrific, however (random bullshit argument follows).

Or, ‘While one’s heart is pained by the loss on Sunday, one must remember that (some other chutiya explanation).

It is almost to say that Yes, we understand that people are dying, but listen up to our lofty idea now.

Since I live on a university campus, my wall is inundated by such sort. Those who see red when a book is banned, and yet talk you down if you say anything against Islam. Anything at all. Which is surprising because everytime I crack a joke on any other religion (as I firmly believe that there is only one true God – Jackie Shroff), everything is fine.

This has often baffled me. How can our intelligentsia, our best-learned, our most competent, be so myopic? Why don’t the same people who flood your news feed with articles not raise a single murmur of protest as children are shot in the head, as masked men scream ‘Allah o Akbar’, and pump bullets into innocent heads?

And that is when it struck me.

Because they’re all rich. They are artists, and poets, and journalists, and influential people whose opinions are sought after. They are rich – their children will never attend schools that do not have machine gun toting security guards. They will never use public transport, to buy vegetables from the local market.

An act of terrorism is another incident to them, to sit on their high pedestal and tell us lesser mortals about how we need to base our understanding of the world. About how we must not crib and complain about Islamic terror because it is not the right thing to do.

Well, dear intellectuals. You can go fuck yourselves.

Islam is a very problematic religion.

I have known Muslim friends all my life, and it would have been incomplete without them. And yet, I am not blind to the fact that they read the same Quran that the dudes at ISIS do. They worship the same God.

Whether their ideologies are the same or not, it is Allah’s name that is uttered when a head is slit.

I don’t know if Allah exists. But if he does, I imagine he’s sitting up there, looking down at us. His eyes permanently welled up with tears, his heart broken.

Wet Dreams in a Dry State

If there is one state in India that has the most polarised opinions, it is Gujarat.

There are primarily two opinions of Gujarat. One is of development – swanky roads and flyovers and drones delivering khandwa at 4.30 in the morning. The other is of a state where Hindu bigots have terrorised Muslims into submission by force, and there is actually poverty and fear that is being masked by a gigantic advertising campaign.

I have been to Gujarat earlier, but it wasn’t as hotly contested back then. Also, high school romance and general worldisrosiness. But my visits were restricted to Ahmedabad only, and that is hardly enough to get a fair picture.

So when I got an opportunity to visit Gujarat for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas event, I jumped at it. This time, I had planned to visit the interiors too, to speak to people, and try to get a better picture for myself.

Gandhinagar and Ahmedabad as cities are impeccable. The roads are wide, the streets are clean. Public transport is abundant and safe. Gujarat must also have among the friendliest cops I have seen. They speak politely (unlike the ones in Hyderabad, who constantly confuse you for the son of the bonded labour who spent thirty years at his ancestral home), and you actually feel like asking for their help.

Autorickshaws still have posters of film stars inside the vehicle, are surprisingly educated and comfortable with technology, and do not look to eat into your fixed deposits. A 23 kms journey cost us 200 rupees; in Hyderabad, it would have been a kidney, and some change.

And yet, in spite of everything, the place is a little stifling. Like the distant, moralistic aunt who frowns when you don’t toe the line.

If you’re a teetotaler Shakahari Shambu, Gandhinagar is the place for you. However, if you have any bad habits, Gujarat is a pain in the chhaas. I did not find a single shop that served non-vegetarian food, alcohol is banned, cigarette shops are few and far between Ramdev Ice Cream and Sri Krishna Photo Studio. In what would certainly draw the wrath of the erstwhile Nizam, Hyderabadi biriyani is vegetarian, sweet, and sprinkled with raisins.

You’ll find women comfortably using public transport late in the night, and yet not a single couple so much as holding hands. In the three university hostels I came across, there are strict timings to return (some as early as 9.30), and the hostels are locked up. If you are a woman and wish to smoke, you suddenly transform into the 8th wonder of the world.

If the adage ‘You are what you eat’ is true, nobody epitomises it like Gujaratis do. All the ghee, sweet, and dhokla has resulted in a people who are sweet to a fault. Every single person I came across was polite, friendly, and helpful.

The whole place seemed to work in a corporate-like precision. You pay a price, and are offered a certain efficient service for it. If an auto-driver doesn’t know your destination, he’ll look it up on Google maps for you and drop you safely. However, there is no bargaining involved.

A standard bargaining experience with a Gujarati auto goes like this –

‘Bhaiyya, Mahatma Mandir. Kitna?’

‘200’.

‘150’

Vrrrrooooooooooommmmm.

I found one guy with a poster of Anil Kapoor inside his auto. I told him I was a fan too, upon which his heart melted, and he gave me a discount of ten rupees. 190 de dena.

At one place, I had chai on the roads for 15 rupees. To put that in perspective, you can get chai on Baga beach on New Years Eve for ten bucks. As an outsider, one gets a feeling that everyone you meet is intent on making money. And yet, not in a nasty, surreptitious manner.

There couldn’t be a greater example of this than a Baba I met near the Somnath temple. Now, near any famous Shiva temple in India, you’ll find a few Baba Marleys doing their thing. If you speak to them, and ask politely, they’ll give you some of their pot, and throw in some blessings for free. The dude I met near Somnath confirmed that some prashad was available, and promptly asked for hundred rupees. He was an ascetic and all – living in the lap of nature, but Gujarat.

The entire trip was a series of contrasts. On one hand, the swanky event with NRI businessmen rubbing shoulders (not literally – PDA is frowned upon). And on the other hand, a visit to Jhunagad, Gir, and Somnath showed a picture of Gujarat that doesn’t feature in the Amitabh Bachchan 1080p ads.

The NRIs were all jingoistic, often bursting into a ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ in the middle of an address. They were all mostly middle-aged, dressed in blazers, and wielding strange borrowed accents that suffered from an identity crisis.

And yet, the one striking image of them was the manner in which they lech. Our group had a few girls, and almost every single male subjected them to the Indian Body Scan (Face-Boobs-Ass-Face-Creepy Smile). It’s probably something that comes naturally to us Indians. You can take the guy out of India, but you can’t take the ………

Gujarat, in many ways, is just like any other Indian state.

There are the very rich, and the poor. A glitzy apartment complex is quickly followed by a shanty slum that has been nicknamed ‘Hollywood’ by the richsters of the city. There are poor, brown-haired kids taking a dump on the road, watching Audis zip by. There are Adani skyscrapers among lush green fields.

In many ways, Gujarat is just like any other Indian state.

Only, no daaru, no non-veg. Which kind of sucks.