Language, Religion and Everything Else

Couple of friends of mine and me had an argument which was kicked offby this peace of news. My reaction, just like many others, was, “wtf?” We all know how the government had done such a mediocre job is building new schools. The right to basic education is being denied to scores thousands of people in the state. Yet, the government goes out of the way to destroy the existing school. This clearly shows the sign of its irresponsibility. Yes, the schools were given to permit teaching in only Kannada as the medium of instruction and they did flout the law. All that govt. had to do was warn them and remind them about the condition on which the permit was given. It wasn’t necessary to take the extreme step. Let’s face it; English is the language in which science is best taught. International standardization for scientific terms has existed for long time. Social Studies, on the other hand, is best taught is the native language. When you learn about a society or about a culture, the native language obviously has the richest vocabulary to express the ideas. It was wrong on the part of the schools to have taken license for schools to run in Kannada medium and flout the rule. I can only say that, it’s now fair if the govt. gives permits to existing schools either as Kannada medium or as English medium provided the schools follow the necessary norms. Though many may hate to admit it, English medium is a necessity and not a luxury in Urban India. In rural India, perhaps, native language works the best.There had been a constant worry among Kannada activists that the language is losing importance. Some of them have taken extreme measures to burn English hoardings in Bangalore to encourage Kannada. This is not acceptable. Kannada Activists have every right to encourage Kannada, but they have no business to discourage English or any other language like they did. There are ways to popularize Kannada and other regional languages. For instance, a good comic book for primary kids and good novels to a high school kid goes a long way in developing interest and enthusiasm in a language. You can’t enforce a language on someone and hope that it popularizes it. You have to develope a natural inclination to a language. The fact that locals are offended by “outsiders” are encroaching Bangalore is laughable. Different kinds of people coming into Bangalore has added diversity and richness into the culture of Bangalore. And remember that the Indian culture we talk about has again evolved over 20 centuries. If we have to retain our identity, we have encouraged it, not prevent people from coming into Bangalore. IT is blamed for “infesting” Karnataka. Remember, IT contributes to 25% of GDP of Karnataka. Given 50% comes from agriculture, the share of IT is phenomenal. It’s up to the govt. (indirectly, the people) to use them.

Regionalism took its tool on our debate. points about how Tamilians never speak in other languages, and how accommodative Kanndigas are as they are “allowing” people to stay in Bangalore were all made by my friends. I did not agree to the fact that Bangalore was decaying because of presence of other people.

The topic of the debate swayed a little bit to how tolerant, in general, Indians are. My friend claimed this has lead to our downfall in some sense. We talked about how foolish India was for not trading POK for Lahore after the ’71 war and other passive attempts to counter terrorism. Speaking of recent comments by Manmohan Singh , I acknowledged the fact that a stronger stance was needed to counter terrorism, state-sponsored or otherwise. Then the debate turned to religion. And that’s what prompted me to write this post.

At this point I made it clear that I don’t find my life very different from a Christian Indian or Indian Muslim. I don’t consider myself a Hindu and that I am an atheist. I don’t want to assume a narrower Identity. I am a citizen of the world first, then India, then my state. This according to them was being too benevolent. They said, “We have to serve our people. One has to be a Village/Town’s person first, State next, country next and then the world.” They claimed, ‘Indians have this tendency of giving a lot to the world and not getting as much in return by being benevolent and tolerant to others.’ Despite the obscene portrayal of Hindu deities by MF Hussein, he was felicitated by the Indian Govt. Govt. was blamed for appeasing the minority for votes (obviously) and splitting the majority and successfully make a living out of it. They claimed that because of the India being a secular nation, political parties are able to use the mantra of “divide and rule”. That is, appease the minority, get their votes, split the majority, get half their votes and win election. However, it isn’t clear to me how the majority is split. Both of them went on to claim that India will be more peaceful nation if it officially a “Hindu state”.

I was taken aback. What sort of a country (and democracy) is it when you don’t have a freedom to choose the religion you want to follow. They went on to claim that Secularism hasn’t worked anywhere in the world. I claimed that it obviously wasn’t true. It is only in India that Secularism has worked because of Hindu Muslim conflict. The only other place where a bitter war is being fought in the name of religion (between two religion) is Israel which isn’t a secular state. Source 1, 2. The rest of the world is quite peaceful secular or not. It is easy for Hindus in India to say make India a Hindu State. What about the minority. Why should they be subjected to the torture of having to follow a religion not appealing to them. India is a free country, a secular country. For a country as diverse as ours, that’s the best.

I was baffled at this point. First, they say that my priority of considering myself citizen of the world first is screwed and second they want to make India a country which bound by laws of a rigid religion whose rules cannot be changed easily. The topic of Narendra Modi was also raised. I called him a cold blooded murderer and a terrorist. This was agreed upon. Then came the issue of conversion, Christian missionaries and of course Graham Steins. One of my friends claimed, he can justify the killings of him and his two sons.

He Explained:
It is against the Indian constitution to coax anyone into converting his religion. Graham Steins did just that. He went to tribal area, spoke to people over there. Introduced then to Christianity. Offended a lot of people. He deserved to die.

I answered back, “how the hell can you justify him being killed for that? What was the fault of his two children? Would you kill Osama’s children? The intention of the missionaries is to spread Christianity. They do a lot of social service. If they can inform people that that is what Christianity is all about. There is nothing wrong in asking them to convert as long as he doesn’t force them.”

He started, “Ok, killing his children was wrong but he still coaxed people. Its against constitution”
Me: “Coax is not a crime. It is surely not wrong. Constitution is wrong there. It should be changed. It can be changed”
Him: “Nothing is right or wrong in abstract sense. I follow what constitution says. I accept it as a norm”
My opinion: Great argument in rhetoric, hardly holds any weight otherwise.

I asked him if he thinks what missionaries is doing is wrong, does he approve of what ISKON is doing? He replied, “Yes, there are spreading Krishna Conscience, not Hindu conversion.” Logically speaking, since Krishna is Hindu God, shouldn’t an ISKON follower imbibe certain (not
all) Hindu customs and traditions? Isn’t this a hypocrisy? You can’t approve what Iskon is doing and not approve what Missionaries are doing.

He went on to speak about how he insulted people over there and that there is a written proof of that. He offended a priest in the tribe who ran away from the place and that aggravated people. I asked him, “If he was insulting them at their face, how did he even hope to convert people.” He answered, “lets not get into logistics of that.” He told me that police and ministry wouldn’t help the tribe and hence they asked Dara Singh to kill him. He said, “Dara Singh, in a way, helped them.” At some point I asked him the source of this information. He said that it was in a book by Arun Shouri. Why didn’t that surprise me? He is from BJP. He is obviously going to bend facts in Hindu’s favour.

Even then, how does it justify him being KILLED? His view was that Indians have been insulted by Graham Steins’ actions. I questioned him if he believed Christianity was an Insult. He said, “no”. He also stated that such action were “necessary” for Hindus to retain their identity. At this point I was totally agitated. He had just claimed killing was a necessary and not just that. He wanted it to happen once in a while. He continued, “tribal were threatened by him, they killed him. I don’t support the killing. But, it is justifiable.” I made the usual clichéd argument about no one having a right to take a life. I also firmly said a big NO to capital punishment to Dara Singh or to Osama.

What kind of a religion supports violence? Isn’t the intolerance expressed by my friends totally against any religious beliefs? I asked him if he supported Osama Bin Laden’s Killing. There is a parallel here. He merely claimed they were different cases altogether. Seriously, Bin Laden is killing because he feels his religion is being threatened. Dara Singh did the same. Isn’t what he did a Hindu jihad? Just that in other religions there is no name for religion sponsored killing. How can anyone who supports what Dara Singh did, not support ehat Osama is doing? They are being hypocritical.

All of this happened between 1am and 5am. Raising my voice of several occasions and repeating many times, “how can anyone ever justify killing?”, I was waiting for an answer. I still am.

[PS: Ironically, this post on a heated argument had to come right after my post on lack of social interaction in IITM]

Of Lost Times and Lab Slots

Picture this: Two people, moving in the opposite directions on the same road happen to bump into each other and start with the formalities. They are absolutely not related to each other but for the fact that they had been classmates in college twenty years ago. “Hey, how have you been? What are you doing now?” “I am fine. I am working in……. What about you?” “I am working in ……” “I did not expect to meet you like this.” “Me too.” “See you around then” “Yup! Good bye!” As they slowly drift apart, both of them can’t help but wonder, “What is his freakin’ name?”I’m pretty sure this will happen to me. After having been in classroom with 110 students for over three years now, there are at least 60 of them with who I have not had a ‘decent’ conversation with for over a minute. It is not that I am an introvert or they are introverts. Almost every person I know in my college agrees with me. Despite many students in a class, out social interaction is highly limited. All of us tend to form groups and our own circle of friends and don’t venture beyond that.

The generation which I am proudly a part of is one which thinks it not courteous not ask for a treat on ones birthday, and not snatching a bag of chips from a good friend is sign of a person not having his priorities right. All of this does paint a rose tinted picture of a close-knit generation. At the same time, one has to remember that the geeks we are, we also use orkut to ask our neighbour if they are going to mess. Tech Savvy or not, we all do crave for a much closer correspondence. For instance, be it vicarious, we mail each other “hey, listen” and not “hey, read this”.

In my first year in college, three of us (other freshers) were put in a room in our hostels. All of us wanted our privacy and we did not like this idea initially. To be honest, life seemed a lot more fun those days. There were no computers in our rooms as there were just too many people in there. Internet wasn’t provided in our rooms then. When 2nd year came, almost all of us had computers and progressively out social interaction got confined to the hostel mess.

Even orkut really can’t come to rescue. I find ample number of scraps that go, “What a relief from Chennai’s hot climate, no?” If you ask me, talking about weather is indirectly saying, “We are left with nothing else to talk about buddy. I have given up trying to think about things to talk about. But …I don’t want to give up talking altogether.” I honestly hope I don’t resort to weather predictions and global warming to bridge the communication gap.

By the end of my third year, a mega mess was built for all hostels to dine in a single place. As far as I have seen, this too hasn’t helped in building a good interaction. Somehow, it in contrary to our disposition to smile or even acknowledge the presence of the person whom you are sharing a dining table with. Among some reasons given to start the mega mess, or Himalaya as it is called, two were to increase inter-hostel interaction and reduce rivalry after certain incidents in inter-hostel competition. Unfortunately, the former is not happening and I’m not sure about the latter.

The best conversations I have had with my class-mates have been in lab hours. Be it, dumb charades in Milling and Shaping workshop or endless debates on whose performance is worse in the tests. Being is fourth year now, we have no labs and all of us are engrossed, if I may use the word, in our rooms with our computers and the B-Tech Projects.

Still, we all do, desperately, if may add, to fit in. There are those nine point “the” ones who join orkut’s ‘iitm give-up junta’ community. If there is one non existent quality in us that conquers all, it is humility. I don’t know why, it is a weakness in us to confess that we have done well in tests. I really don’t know what to believe when my friends’ gtalk status message says “f***ed up” and they end up getting one of the highest scores. There are others who constantly use swears to “express” themselves. Those who think that’s cool, I have one piece of advice. When you call someone, please don’t couple ‘b***nc**d’ and ‘saala’.
[PS: I started the post before the notice of reflections organising a GD tonite on “Social Interaction in IITM” was up on the notice board]
[PPS Don’t try to fit in and say, “you have already started working on project, I haven’t even started”]