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TOPIC: hinduism

Ideas

Rishi Sunak May Become Britain's First Hindu Prime Minister — A Lesson For India

Rishi Sunak, a Hindu of Indian origin, is in the running to become the UK's next prime minister. His religion has not factored at all into debates — a fierce contrast to a religiously divided India.

This article was updated on October 23 at 5:45 p.m. EST

-Analysis-

NEW DELHI — Rishi Sunak, a British politician of Indian origin, is now the clear frontrunner to be the next prime minister of the United Kingdom after Boris Johnson''s announcement that he won't seek the leadership of the Conservative party following the resignation of Prime Minister Liz Truss.

Sunake is the most recent person of Indian descent in the West to try to reach the political pinnacle, coming on the heels of Kamala Harris’s arrival as U.S. vice president.

Britain was once the colonial master of India. From an Indian point of view, the British prime minister is the historical political head of an empire of exploitation – and also, let us remember, an empire of reform. Were it not for British colonial rule, and the rights-oriented struggle for freedom against it, India would not have become a democratic, constitutional republic in 1947, however loudly we claim that the roots of our democracy lie in our ancient structures, whether Hindu or Buddhist.

All major aspects of our freedom struggle and colonial life were linked to the British political system. Particularly from the beginning of the 20th century, Indians considered the British prime minister the symbol of colonial rule, the man to revile or to appeal to.

Given this historical context, that a man of Indian origin stands a realistic chance of becoming the British prime minister shows how the world is changing.

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How Hindutva Tries To Steal The Best Of Hinduism — And India

The true version of Hinduism teaches that one has to respect other faiths. That has been threatened the past century by ideologues inspired by the worst ideas of our times.

-OpEd-

NEW DELHI — Of all the religions of the world, Hinduism is perhaps the most liberal and accommodating. It is one of the richest philosophies, embodying rich culture and codes of behavior.

One fundamental characteristic of Hinduism is its spirit of tolerance. True Hinduism teaches that one has to respect other faiths: “a true Hindu can go to the extent of allowing others the right to be wrong,” Shashi Tharoor writes in Why I am a Hindu. This quality of mutual acceptance of differences begets tolerance, which is the hallmark of true Hinduism.

Hinduism does not claim that it is the only way of salvation. A true Hindu believes that he follows a true path and at the same time he also understands that others also follow their own paths.

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How India's Hijab School Ban Is Destroying Muslim-Hindu Friendships

Many Muslim female students lament that several of their Hindu friends have turned their backs on them, despite the fact they have been friends for several years.

As the controversy over hijab continues to escalate in Karnataka, female Muslim students who have been disallowed from entering their schools are going through mental trauma and experiencing a sense of betrayal and discrimination from their friends and college management.

“First of all, we have lost our mental peace. Secondly, we fell out badly with many Hindu friends because of this issue,” Hazra Shifa, a student of Udupi government college, told The Wire.

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Grandmother's Memory - India's Religious Misogyny Must End

-Essay-

MUMBAI — In my memories of my grandmother, one image of her comes to my mind: that of a widow with a tonsured head, wrapped in a dull brown cotton sari worn in traditional style, a blank forehead without the usual vermilion powder or kumkum, bare neck, empty ears and hands unadorned and shorn off all jewelry. Her ankles and feet were bare too — without the traditional anklets or silver rings worn on the toes of both feet — the symbol of married women.

I also have a very vivid story of my grandmother etched in my memory. I had gone to Melkote, the idyllic temple town near Mysore — where she lived with one of her sons, my maternal uncle — during my school summer holidays from Gorur, where I studied in the local government Kannada medium school.

In those days, a favorite vacation was being taken to your mother's birth place to be with your grandmother, carefree and pampered. I must have been eight or nine. My older sister was by my side. I'm not sure what led my grandmother to recount this poignant episode, but it was heart-rending. Her eyes welled up in tears, and with dreamy eyes into her distant past, she narrated this event.

She was married off as a child-bride of 13 to a boy — also young, just 16 — who was studying to be a Sanskrit pundit and training to become a purohit (priest) in Melkote, a Srivaishnavite pilgrim center founded by Ramanuja a thousand years ago. When she was in her late 30s, her husband took ill and died. She had three children — two boys and a girl, my mother. They were all in their teens and in school.

As she was bent, broken in sorrow, the barber shaved her head.

She was in total shock and grief. But what she remembered with unbearable pain was the day the various ceremonies and rituals were performed in public in the presence of relatives and other locals of the village, the manner her widowhood was formalized and announced. She was seated on the floor amid two priests who, surrounded by many relatives, chanted various mantras.

First they removed all her ornaments, including her mangala sutra — the holy necklace that her husband had tied around her neck on the day of her wedding. Then they smashed the glass bangles on her wrists contemptuously, removed the rings in her ear lobes and her toes, unfastened the anklets, erased her vermilion roughly even as she shook and sobbed inconsolably and was drowning in her sorrow.

A village barber, ready and waiting with his sharpened blades, was ushered in to perform the ritual of tonsuring her head. As she was bent, broken in sorrow, the barber shaved her head. She recalled, in tears, how her copious and luxuriant tresses fell to the ground. The chanting continued. She was dizzy and overwhelmed by the events. Then she was led to the bath; after her relatives poured water on her and scrubbed her, she was given a plain brown cotton sari that became her prison uniform for the rest of her life.

Indian women praying — Photo: Subhash Sharma/ZUMA

The message was clear and writ large: She was now branded a widow. She was deliberately disfigured, made over to look ugly and divested of all her finery and her jewels, condemned to live an austere life in a corner permanently with a tonsured head, to be shaven twice a month — to ensure that she would never be attractive to other men.

Landmark rulings

That story and those soul-piercing images still haunt me whenever I think of her. And images of other widows that I occasionally saw in many homes float before me as I imagine the cruelty and horror they must have endured when their husbands died.

Thankfully, such abominable rituals and barbaric practices — a curse from the Vedic past — are rare these days. But discrimination against widows and their ill treatment is still prevalent in many parts of India. Widows remarrying are no longer uncommon. Untouchability is still practiced in devious ways but assertion, affirmative action and empowerment of Dalits and stringent punishment guaranteed under the law are good deterrents.

Those soul-piercing images still haunt me.

Child marriage and the practice of "sati" (widow immolation) are all things of the past fortunately, thanks to visionary and courageous reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and others. Many young people today can never believe that such terrible and inhuman practices existed not so long ago.

When you pause and consider all of this, you are shocked at the reactions of many fire-breathing fanatics, frothing at the mouth on television panel discussions, hysterically protesting against the entry of women of "menstruating age" (arbitrarily decided as age 10 to 50) into the Sabarimala temple — even after the recent Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the temple to end any kind of gender discrimination against women.

The Supreme Court judgment was in line with with the spirit and broader tenets of the constitution when it passed many recent landmark rulings — notably against the "triple talaq" instant divorce practice, criminalization of homosexuals, discrimination of LGBTQs and a few others. The hypocrisy of both the Congress and BJP stands out — and is laughable and shameful.

The Congress, a party that presents itself as progressive and liberal while painting the BJP communal, has no qualms in blissfully opposing triple talaq — all for the sake of Muslim votes — just as it opposed the historic Shah Bano judgment while Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister by amending the law.

Different strokes for different religions.

The BJP is hell bent on enforcing the triple talaq law to consolidate a Hindu-majority vote bank by portraying itself as anti-Islamic. In Sabarimala, the BJP lawmakers — though in the ruling party — are making a laughing stock of themselves, without even a pretense to a fig leaf of concern to uphold the constitution. The party is brazenly defying and disregarding the Supreme Court verdict, offering warped logic justifying the ban on entry of women into the Sabarimala temple, while in same breath welcoming the triple talaq judgment.

What is good for the goose is not good for the gander. Different strokes for different religions. While the BJP is displaying a reformist zeal to liberate Muslim women, it has no hesitation to trample on the rights and dignity of Hindu women. Endorsing Khap panchayats, or imposing medieval dress codes or banning entry of women to temples are all attempts to create a feudal society along the lines of an Islamic State.

The Congress party's actions are as regressive as they are perched on two blinkered horses, both on a gallop. On the one hand it's trying to outdo the Muslims by supporting triple talaq to ingratiate itself into their demographic, and the other trying to appease the Hindu vote bank by upholding primitive traditions that are a blot on a civilized society.

Hindu women all over India do not generally visit any public temples, voluntarily avoiding the visits during menstruation even where there are no bans of any kind. They do not even light lamps of deities or offer any prayers even in their own homes. It's a self imposed restriction based on their personal beliefs. It's voluntary and there's no policing. It's discreet and dignified.

But imposing a ban by male priests in a public place of worship on women who are of menstruating age is medieval, discriminating and humiliating to human dignity. Decades hence, when we look back at the Sabarimala incidents, they will hopefully be part of our shameful past — consigned to the dustbins of history — and our grand children will look at them incredulously, just as they now think of sati or tonsuring of widows.

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blog

Wish Upon A Line

Members of Sri Lanka"s Hindu minority have a religious custom where they tie a piece of colored cloth to a line. Every knot signifies a wish.

India
Bismillah Geelani

Barred From Worship Sites, Indian Women Fight Back

A woman's movement challenging a centuries-old practice of denying women entry into the most sacred areas of worship in Hindu temples and Muslim shrines is generating a heated debate across India.

NEW DELHI — At Hazrat Nizamuddin shrine in this Indian city, a group of musicians is performing a Qawwali, or a Sufi devotional song. Hundreds of men and women, including many foreigners, are seated in a circle around the musicians listening attentively to the Urdu and Persian lyrics.

The song is in praise of the 14th century Sufi saint Nizamuddin Aulia, who lies buried in the shrine. It is one of the world's most famous Sufi shrines, and equally popular among Muslims and non-Muslims.

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blog

Polychrome Religion

Children were playing next to a man painting a wood panel for one of the countless Hindu festivals in Kathmandu, Nepal.

blog

Poor, Hungry, Holy

For the sadhus ("good men") of India and Nepal, recognizable by their ash-smeared bodies and saffron-colored clothes, asceticism through hunger and poverty is a way to reach moksha, which in France we call libération.

blog

Balinese Balancing

Religious offerings are important on the Indonesian island of Bali. Long processions of women can be seen threading their way to the Hindu temples, carrying towers of flowers, fruit, cakes, meats and eggs on their heads, often for long distances.

food / travel
Bismillah Geelani

High Stakes In Battle Over Beef Ban In India

MUMBAI — Thirty-five-year old Praveen Kumar worked as a deliveryman at a slaughter house, carrying meat to retail markets around Mumbai. But last month, he lost his job when the slaughterhouse was shut down following the state government’s new ban on beef.


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blog

While Monkeys Roam Free In India, Humans Live In Cages

PACHMARHI — Anil Yadav has lived in the hilltop town of Pachmarhi for the past 16 years, but over the past three he says that the monkey population has expanded beyond control. So much so that humans are now being forced to live in cages.

In India, monkeys are sacred and worshipped by Hindus as they are seen as the living representatives of the cherished god Hanuman. Hindu tradition also calls for feeding monkeys on Tuesdays and Saturdays. But now, people are starting to see them as pests.

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Geopolitics
Shadi Khan Saif

Pakistan's New Tallest Building Threatens Hindu Temple

The construction of Pakistan's next tallest building in Karachi is seen by the country's Hindu minority yet another attack in this Muslim-majority country of 180 million.

KARACHI — For 150 years now, the Shri Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple has been the center of spirituality and festivity for the Hindu worshipers living in this southern Pakistani city. More than 25,000 pilgrims, coming from all parts of the country, gather here every year for a grand, spiritual festival.

Yet this Hindu temple is now under threat. Just a stone's throw away, property tycoon Malik Riaz is constructing the country's future tallest building — a large commercial plaza. To ease the flow of traffic near the project, a flyover and an underpass are also being built.

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