Friday, November 28, 2014

One in four Indians admit to practising untouchability: biggest caste survey
Source: The India Human Development Survey (IHDS-2)

Written by Seema Chishti | New Delhi | Posted: November 29, 2014 4:23 am | Updated: November 29, 2014 4:32 am

Sixty-four years after caste untouchability was abolished by the Constitution, more than a fourth of Indians say they continue to practise it in some form in their homes, the biggest ever survey of its kind has revealed.

Those who admit to practising untouchability belong to virtually every religious and caste group, including Muslims, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Going by respondents’ admissions, untouchability is the most widespread among Brahmins, followed by OBCs. Among religious communities, it is the most widespread among Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, shows the survey, which was conducted in over 42,000 households across India by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and the University of Maryland, US.

NCAER, established in 1956, is India’s oldest and largest independent, non-profit economic policy research institute. The results are part of the India Human Development Survey (IHDS-2) — the largest pan-Indian non-government household survey — carried out in 2011-12 for economic and social variables across multiple categories. The full results of the survey will be available in 2015.

Surveyors asked respondents, “Does anyone in your family practise untouchability?” and, in case the answer was “No”, asked a second question: “Would it be okay for a Scheduled Caste person to enter your kitchen or use your utensils?”

Across India, 27 per cent respondents agreed that they did practised untouchability in some form. The practice was most prevalent among
Brahmin respondents (52 per cent). 24 per cent of non-Brahmin forward caste respondents admitted to it — lower, interestingly, than OBC respondents, 33 per cent of whom confirmed its prevalence in their homes. 15 per cent of Scheduled Caste and 22 per cent of Scheduled Tribe respondents admitted to the practice.

Broken up by religious groups, data from the survey shows almost every third Hindu (30 per cent) admitted to the practice, followed by Sikhs (23 per cent), Muslims (18 per cent) and Christians (5 per cent).

Jains topped the list, with 35 per cent respondents accepting that they practised untouchability. The survey has, however, warned that the result for Jains is “not conclusive” because of the small size of the sample.

Lead researcher Dr Amit Thorat, an associate fellow at NCAER, said, “These findings indicate that conversion has not led to a change in mindsets. Caste identity is sticky baggage, difficult to dislodge in social settings.” Currently, as per a government order of 1950, the SC quota in government jobs applies only to Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits, not Christian and Muslim Dalit caste groups.

Spatially, untouchability is most widespread in the Hindi heartland, according to the survey. Madhya Pradesh is on top (53 per cent), followed by Himachal Pradesh (50 per cent), Chhattisgarh (48 per cent), Rajasthan and Bihar (47 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (43 per cent), and Uttarakhand (40 per cent).

West Bengal appears to be the most ‘progressive’ — with only 1 per cent of respondents confirming they practised untouchability. Kerala comes next in the survey, with 2 per cent, followed by Maharashtra (4 per cent), the Northeast (7 per cent), and Andhra Pradesh (10 per cent).

Survey results suggest that high incomes do not dent the practice, but education, especially among Brahmins and OBCs, makes a difference.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Food Story: The saga of Panchmel Dal
There is something endearing about Panchratna Dal

Written by Madhulika Dash | New Delhi | Posted: November 27, 2014 11:53 am

It may not have the global reputation of Dal Makhani or the ancient connect of the Channa Dal (guguni), yet there is something endearing about Panchratna Dal (also called Panchmel Dal) that makes it one of the few lentil preparation that has a version for every state, well at least most of it.

If there is one ingredient with which Indian cuisine, and in that sense India, shares an umbilical-like connect, it has to be lentils or dals. History talks about dal recipes as old as the pre-Harappa culture, where lentils – of all kinds – were a staple food.

It was in the menu even before rice and wheat arrived in India and became an indispensable part of the Indian thali. In fact, the sheer fact that most of the dal tempering doesn’t have the culinary quintessential tomatoes indicates that dal existed during the earlier days of Ayurveda, and hence the oldest of the recipes in the Great Indian Cookbook. A fact seconded by old texts that often speak about simple recipes of dal that was served to guests as a celebratory meal. Like in the Helen of Troy and Chadragupta Maurya wedding back in 303 BC. It’s believed that a special kind of channa dal was prepared to mark the auspicious occasion. The recipe that was deemed as a culinary masterpiece among others like Malpua (Yes, it is that old!) and Patala (which is the first iteration of the gajjak) for the burst of flavours each spoon delivered was Guguni – a lentil preparation that is still prevalent in East India and can be often found being sold in street side shops as part of the morning breakfast. 

The dish was described as follows: Bengal gram soaked overnight with turmeric and coriander, boiled with cold pressed mustard oil, cumin, crushed pepper, ground ginger, bay leaf and cardamom, topped with sliced onions and cooked on dum on low heat.

For the modern day culinary mind this may not come across as something exceptional, albeit thoughts may differ, back then it did trend set two things: first the dum cooking technique that saw a full revival under the Mughal dynasty. And two, it rose Bengal gram or channa dal to the stature of the queens of dal. So much so that in years to follow, serving any other dal except channa was considered suicidal. This was the image that the advent of Panchmel or Panchratna dal helped change with its unique flavour foreplay.

When did the panchmel dal come into the culinary scene is a fact that is hard to ascertain, as little is known about the origin of this lentil preparation.

However, many believe that the first mention of the panchratna dal was in Mahabharata. It is said that it was one of the preparations that Kunti and thereafter Draupadi, would prepare as amendment to the elaborate royal cuisine, and also to fulfill the Pandavas need of nutrition, during their exile. Folklores down East India talk about how Bhim after accidentally making the aviyal in King Virat’s royal kitchen also created the first panchratna dal by boiling all the five dals in a pot and garnishing it with a good amount of ghee. Interestingly, it was Bhim, who when asked what he made, called his dish ‘pantchratna’ or five gems, which was befitting as dal in ancient India was considered an important ingredient of every kitchen.

Whether Bhim really made the first panchratna dal or not can be a topic of another debate, but by the medieval times, the Indian culinary world had progressed to combining two to three dals together. One of the finest examples of the same is the kali dal that went on to take the shape of Dal Makhani under the expertise of Kundal Lal Gujral, who also invented the famous Butter Chicken. The real Panchmel dal first came into limelight from the Mewar Gharana, where it was introduced more out of the need to have a subtle flavour to balance the fiery flavours that were dominating the table. It was also the recipe that went beautifully with the use of curd and buttermilk. Such was the interest in this tomato-less yet flavouful lentil that it was one of the few dishes that was introduced into Akbar’s court from Jodha Bai’s kitchen that introduced many a vegetarian dishes into the predominantly non-vegetarian dining area.

The use of five different lentils aside, what gave panchmel dal, which was named due to the use of five different dal, is the nice smokey flavour that the spices tempered in ghee imparted to the dish. The marriage of the lentils and spices was such a hit that by the time Shah Jehan took over the throne, the Mughal court had a Shahi Panchmel Dal recipe that had become a month feature, and was often demanded by Aurangzeb, who being a strict vegetarian, fancied the dish more than roast meat, which was a favourite with Babar and Akbar.

Many believe that much like the dalma and aviyal that were results of a wife/cook’s ingenuity to create something interesting from limited/leftover food, panchmel dal was the necessity of creating something new for the royal meal every day. The dal, while being high on flavour, did allow immense scope for the khansamas to work around. Tempering for instance could make a lot of difference as to how the dal would taste. So they could use a series of combination to create a new dish the next time. And two, the combination of dals ensured that the dal wasn’t presented the same way at any time.

This may explain why even after all these years, tomato isn’t a part of the recipe that uses subtle flavour spices and relies heavily on clarified butter or ghee to do the trick. Understandably then this could have been a reason why the simple dal was picked up by the homemakers across India, and each household had its very own Pachratna Dal, which was slow cooked and extremely flavourful.

In fact, India currently has over 9 different varieties of Panchmel dal that is identified by the way it is tempered – which is still with ghee and no tomatoes.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Krishan Chander’s new primer for Hindi

An English translation of a selection of a satirical essay Krishan Chander wrote where he re-introduces Hindi alphabets to the readers.

ART & CULTURE |  Clean Chit Corner  |   4-minute read |   23-11-2014

Danish Husain   @DanHusain

Today, November 23, 2014 is Krishan Chander (1914-1977), the celebrated Urdu writer’s centenary birthday. Yesterday we, (Naseeruddin Shah and I with couple of more actors) were paying tribute to him at the Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai and as part of that tribute we read out few of his writings to the audience. One of the selections was a satirical essay Krishan Chander wrote called “Hindi Ka Naya Qayda,” or a primer for Hindi language where he re-introduces Hindi alphabets to the readers. After reading that piece, I thought it will be best to present a selection from the same to you too as a tribute to the man on his centenary birthday. Like any great piece of writing, this one also finds its relevance long after it has been penned down. So, here is an English translation of the same.

Hindi’s New Primer

For adolescents

Children, H for Hindu. A Hindu is one who considers a Muslim his enemy and doesn’t do things that a Muslim does. That’s why a Muslim eats meat while a Hindu eats vegetables. A Muslim shaves his head, a Hindu grooms a pony tail. A Muslim considers cow kosher and slaughters her while a Hindu treats cow as his mother and worships her. A Muslim considers pig non-kosher so the Hindu pickles it. A Muslim goes to the mosque, a Hindu goes to the temple. The Muslim offers a silent namaz and a Hindu blows a conch and beats cymbals to offer aarti. In spite of this the Hindu and the Muslim are brothers.

The Hindu holds Prithviraj Chauhan in esteem, while the Muslim honours Shahbuddin Ghouri. The Hindu worships Rana Sangha, while the Muslim writes paeans in Babar’s glory. The Hindu believes Rana Pratap is greater than Akbar, while the Muslim places Akbar ahead of Rana Pratap. The Hindu’s hero is Shivaji, while the Muslim’s is Aurangzeb. In spite of this the Hindu and the Muslim are brothers.

Hindus do not let Muslims enter the neighbourhood they stay in; Hindus do not allow Muslims to step into the rooms where they eat; Hindus would not let even a Muslim shadow cast across the room where they sleep. All Hindus drink “jal,” and all Muslims “paani.” Muslims divorce their wives while Hindus cultivate them for life. Muslims prefer to be buried after death while Hindus prefer cremation. In spite of this the Hindu and the Muslim are brothers.

The Hindu considers the Muslim untouchable, while for the Muslim the Hindu is a kafir. The Muslim does not believe in caste distinctions, while the Hindu places it at the centre of his belief system. The Hindu’s sacred language is Sanskrit, while the Muslim’s Arabic. The Hindu believes that Tagore is the poet of the east, while for the Muslim it is Iqbal. The Hindu wants an undivided India, while the Muslim desires a Pakistan. In spite of this the Hindu and the Muslim are brothers.

If Hindus and Muslims are brothers then we might have to invent a new word for “enemy.” But till that time you may take it that a Hindu is a Muslim’s enemy, and they both are brothers. And both these brothers live in the same country about which it has been said, “Saare jahaan se achha Hindustan hamaara,” and “Aey Aab-e-Rood-e-Ganga.” However, in this very country there are people who prefer to call themselves ‘humans’ - Children of God! But these very people are mistaken. They are not children of god, they are godless atheists. A pack of wolves! Children, wherever you spot these people, spit on their faces. Because Inspector Saheb’s orders are so.

Hindus and Muslims, are brothers and address each other as brothers-by-nation or “desh-bhai.” When desh-bhais, overcome by exuberance and affection play with each other, it results in “riots.” “Riots” is an exciting game and is often played in India because Hindus and Muslims live in large numbers in this country. Often riots begin with a pandit or a maulvi and end with Section 144. During this period rivers of blood flow in which Hindus and Muslims bathe with joy. Later, the Police brings matters under control, and preparations begin for the next set of riots. This game is super exciting. And because Hindus and Muslims have always been busy with it, they handed over the business of dispensing justice to the British for the longest time. That is the reason the British are called justice-loving, and Hindus and Muslims are called riot-loving people. And those who are not riot-loving are called progress-loving or progressives. But these fools are very few in the country. That’s why call out aloud; H for Hindu.

Krishan Chander

Source: dailyo

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Friday, November 21, 2014

‘Horses and rhinos originated in India’

News                                                                              Washington, November 21, 2014
Updated: November 21, 2014 23:03 IST


Horses and rhinos likely originated in the Indian subcontinent, over 54 million years ago, according to a new study.

Working at the edge of a coal mine in India, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University and colleagues have filled in a major gap in science’s understanding of the evolution of a group of animals that includes horses and rhinos.

The group likely originated on the subcontinent when it was still an island headed swiftly for collision with Asia, the researchers said.

Modern horses, rhinos and tapirs belong to a biological group, or order, called Perissodactyla. Also known as “odd-toed ungulates”, animals in the order have, as their name implies, an uneven number of toes on their hind feet.

Though paleontologists had found remains of Perissodactyla from as far back as the beginnings of the Eocene epoch, about 56 million years ago, their earlier evolution remained a mystery, said Ken Rose, a professor of functional anatomy and evolution at Johns Hopkins.

In 2001, Prof. Rose and Indian colleagues began exploring Eocene sediments in western India. In an open-pit coal mine northeast of Mumbai, they uncovered a rich vein of ancient bones. The mine yielded what Prof. Rose said was a treasure trove of teeth and bones.

More than 200 fossils turned out to belong to an animal dubbed Cambaytherium thewissi, about which little was known.

In 1990, researchers at the Stony Brook University suggested that several groups of mammals that appear at the beginning of the Eocene, including primates and odd and even-toed ungulates, might have evolved in India while it was isolated. Cambaytherium is the first concrete evidence to support that idea, Prof. Rose said.

Source: The Hindu

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Musings on the Moringa

The Hindu 

    Vandana Shiva
    Maya Goburdhun

The miracle plant is considered a panacea for a variety of ailments and is delicious as well

The Tree of Life, Mother’s Best Friend, The Miracle Tree, Shobhanjan, and the auspicious tree: so many names for just a single tree, the Moringa Oleifera, a native of the southern foothills of the Himalayas, which today grows in most tropical countries. As we discover the awesome gifts offered by the murungai tree, the Tamil name from which Moringa is derived, the reason it is so special becomes self-evident.

It has been found that Moringa Oleifera contains more than 92 nutrients, 46 types of anti-oxidants, 36 anti-inflammatory agents as well as vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B4, B7, C, D, E, and K. It promotes good digestion, a property known to Ayurveda, and better mental clarity while boosting energy and regulating metabolism. It also has anti-aging benefits and since it has the unique property of containing all essential amino-acids, which the body cannot make on its own, it provides strength and health to it even as its kaempferol content contributes to proper cellular function.

Another amazing benefit Moringa Oleifera offers is that, since it can retain high concentrations of electrolyte minerals, it allows the body to remain internally hydrated even in very dry conditions. This apart, the leaves can provide us with around 125 per cent of our daily requirements of calcium as well as 61 per cent of our daily manganese needs; given that these two minerals have to be taken together for better absorption, the leaves majorly enhance bone and teeth health. The very high iron content, 24 times higher than spinach, makes the murungai a strong ally against anaemia.

Much before current research and modern medicine discovered this miracle plant, Ayurveda and Siddha medicines were propounding its benefits. According to Ayurveda, all parts of the tree – roots, bark, leaves, and seeds – have therapeutic values. It pacifies vata and kapha doshas, increases digestive flame and heals ulcers, purifies and nourishes the blood and muscle tissues as well as acts on the bone marrow and fat tissues; it detoxifies the body by binding the toxins which can then be expelled and tones the body; it helps in deworming, controls tumours and reduces water retention, especially of the lower limbs. For the latter effect, it is advised to consume a few drumsticks with each meal. The juice of the leaves and bark relieves pain. A noteworthy benefit of murungai is its strong antibiotic activity.

In fact, given the ability Moringa Oleifera has to bind toxins, the powdered seeds are used in parts of Africa to purify water. It therefore offers a natural alternative to the aluminium-based purifying agents used industrially for water purification.

Another marvellous contribution of the seeds, which contain about 40 per cent oil, is this remarkable odourless, sweet and non-drying oil that has a very long shelf life.

It is very much in demand in cosmetology and perfumery though it is now being dislodged by cheaper chemical options. Many people feel that Moringa oil, also called benzoil, for historical reasons, should be promoted as cooking oil given its nutritive value, long shelf life and great taste; however, the price is quite prohibitive and it is mostly used for salads.

As regards culinary uses, it is in the southern part of India that many communities have adopted it and it has thus travelled far and wide with them wherever they went to seek fortune, during the indentured labour period. The leaves are used for flavouring dals, pulaos, and idlis, lending their intense aroma to these dishes while ensuring nutrition security, an element often ignored when we talk of food security. Food security is not only about calories consumed but also about nutrition received. When we have any dish using drumsticks or their leaves we are sure that we are being truly nourished. Strangely enough though, as the world is rediscovering this wonder food, for us it may have become, to use a Hindi proverb, ghar ki murgi daal barabar, and we may not be fully aware of its wonderful values.

Let us remember it and plant our Moringa Olifeira wherever possible: in our backyard, in our back lane or in a big pot.

Source: The Hindu

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Is Narendra Modi ushering India back to a vedic future

Modi is a modern techie, but is he a moderniser? He cannot be as long as he and his government propagate back-to-the-scriptures science.

Shekhar Gupta @ShekharGupta

Is Narendra Modi a moderniser or a traditionalist? Is he forward-looking or trapped in the past, however glorious? Does he aspire to lead India into a brilliant new future, or bring back "sone ki chidiya" (the golden sparrow) fantasy? I know the answer to all three questions from his many followers: he is a forward-looking moderniser who wants to lead India into a great future. He loves technology, he celebrates science. He took the cue on using social media for political campaigning from Obama and improved on it greatly. He takes selfies with fellow heads of state (Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in this case) and tweets them, and when a glamorous, star-struck Bollywood leading lady, towering a foot over him, bends over his shoulder to take a selfie he looks back in debonair style to ask, "Got it?" In more ways than one he comes across as India's most modern prime minister since Rajiv Gandhi. At which point, we need to ask yet another question. Will his government reflect his own modernism or RSS nostalgia?

The two cannot go together. Modern thinking is about science, technology, curiosity to discover what hasn't been discovered yet and humility to accept that the human race has to reach new frontiers, that what we may know yet is a fraction of what we don't. The traditionalist RSS view, on the other hand, is that whatever mankind may be hoping to imagine, discover or design in the future had already been perfected in Vedic times. All you need to do in that case is a close but open-minded reading of the Vedas, Puranas and Upanishads. We had lost it because the Hindu empire and heritage suffered with the decline of the Gupta and Mauryan dynasties and with the arrival of invaders from the West, leading to subjugation by Muslims and then Christians. Modi's rise, therefore, is India's first chance in a millennium to leapfrog backwards and connect with that past. Or, to put it more rudely, set the clock and calendar back.

This is a serious issue to raise at a point when the new government seems to be settling down. A crucial Parliament session is beginning. It needs to be raised because it is a key mainstream issue and not a mere distraction from the entertaining fringe of true believers with degrees from Dina Nath Batra Vidyapeeth.

It will be delusional to dismiss Dina Nath Batra as a lone maverick and merely the slayer of Wendy Doniger's scholarship. He represents a new force in our political and intellectual discourse even if it is a force of old think. His power over the BJP's HRD ministry is now evident. This week a new precedent was set in New Delhi as German ambassador Michael Steiner called on Batra, reasoning with him to calm down on his opposition to German language classes in schools. But you can see Sanskrit winning, in spite of all his diplomatic charm. At a moment like this, a gentle intervention was needed from a modernising prime minister. Something like, why should it be Sanskrit versus German? Sanskrit is a wonderful classical language and should be made attractive to all (and liberated from its pundit ji stereotype), and why just German, Indians must have a choice of many important foreign languages, French, Spanish and even Mandarin included. This is a globalised world, a globalising India and Modi is our most outgoing prime minister since Nehru. This is no time to go back to the depths of the old trenches of cultural and linguistic insecurities. This young India wants to go out and embrace the world, just as Modi does with his global peers. (Note meanwhile that the government of Haryana has already decided to seek Batra's advice on "modernising" its education system.)

This argument is not about an individual, but about a state of mind. Where you confuse rationality with tradition, curiosity with scripture. It gets more complicated. In 2001, I was among the many senior journalists on Atal Bihari Vajpayee's entourage to Iran. And it was every bit worthwhile, particularly as we all reached Persepolis, the ancient city wrecked by Alexander the Great. As we surveyed the ruins, an eminent RSS intellectual in the group started "educating" all of us on "history". He said, see, what a terrible man Alexander was. This is precisely what he wanted to do to India. But he was defeated by a minor Hindu king, Porus, whose real name was Paurush (manhood). He was fleeing India in fright, his army disintegrated, and died a forlorn man. At which point I tried to intervene saying that history was quite different, but was ignored. My much wiser friend, and strategic affairs pundit, C Raja Mohan tapped me on the shoulder and said, don't argue with them, they confuse history with faith. His words come back to me often these days.

Because history has been a political and ideological football in India for long, you can probably understand why RSS intellectuals now want to get even with those of the Left, who reigned all these decades and brought in their own loaded, secular distortions. History can still survive robust disagreements and debate, even if it is often as irrational as arguing that the Taj Mahal was a Hindu temple. But a much bigger challenge arises when not just history, but even science is confused with faith. Which is the provocation for this week's National Interest.

Last week home minister Rajnath Singh nearly stole the headlines from Modi in Australia with his statement (in a speech on Hindi Divas) that physicist Werner Heisenberg had learnt his famed Uncertainty Principle from the Vedas. (It is a different matter that some over-enthusiastic spin master in his ministry had not heard of Heisenberg and issued a press release calling it Eisenhower's Uncertainty Principle instead.) This is a tricky pattern of thinking.

It fits in with the larger, enduring mythology that anything being discovered by the western world now had been developed in Vedic times already. Lord Ram returned with Sita and Lakshman in Pushpak Viman from Lanka to Ayodhya, so see, we had airplanes then. You talk about ICBMs with multiple warheads, Patriots which intercept incoming missiles, Strategic Defence Initiative, what were the "shakti-bans" that Ram and Ravan traded routinely in the battle for Lanka? Or Arjun with his awful Kaurava cousins? Ramanand Sagar worked so hard to remind you of this "heritage" in his endless tele-serials. Never mind that today we can't even put together a reliable assault rifle for our troops.

Nobody is denying that our scriptures (Vedas, Upanishads) and epics (Ramayana, Mahabharata) are truly ancient, and also brilliantly capacious in their imagination and wisdom. It is likely that we imagined mechanised flight much earlier while our intellectual rivals, the Greeks and Romans, were still fitting giant bird wings to human forms, from Icarus to Phoenix. Of course Aryabhata and disciples visualised, debated and documented many astronomical facts and ideas for which wise Europeans were burnt at the stake or poisoned hundreds of years later. Possibly, someone even imagined plastic surgery, animal to human organ transplants, stem cell research, surrogate motherhood. But to say we already "had" all of these is not just funny, it is dangerous. We are a country steeped in tradition and superstition. Our missile scientists perform pujas and break coconuts before test-firing a new Agni. Our space scientists take a model of Mangalyaan to Tirupati to be blessed by Lord Balaji before the launch. If you also tell them they are simply replicating, if not reverse-engineering, what we already had millennia ago, it will be dangerous. Because many of them may not even contest it.

This is Modi's big challenge going ahead. He does have a modern, even a techie mind. But he and the ideological/cultural juggernaut propelling him also have delusions of ancient grandeur. The two, scriptural mythology and quest for modern new discovery, cannot coexist. If there is one leaf Modi needs to take from Nehru's book, it is scientific rationalism.

Meanwhile in Pune, at the feet of Aryabhata: I had the privilege last week to spend a few hours with Prof Jayant Narlikar, by far the most eminent Indian astrophysicist today and co-author of the Hoyle-Narlikar theory questioning Big Bang. He had built the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) at Pune University and his central garden has large statues of the greatest of all times: Newton, Einstein, Galileo and, most certainly, Aryabhata.

Narlikar is also among India's bravest and most thick-skinned rationalists. Even at 76, his eyes light up when you mention superstition and ancient beliefs. Nothing irritates him more than people confusing his science with astrology. The Pune phone book usually lists IUCAA as a centre for astrology.

To make a point, he says, he collected a couple of hundred horoscopes of the most brilliant student achievers and mentally-challenged children and gave them to India's most eminent astrologers. None was able to pick the right ones.

Narlikar says astrology is bunkum and that to call it Vedic is a travesty. In Vedic tradition, he says, there was no astrology, no Mangal ruining marriages, no Brahaspati spreading beneficence and no Shani messing it all up unless you presented the tribute of mustard oil and cash every Saturday. All of this, he says, came from Greece. Alexander had also brought along many "wise" men with his army, some stayed back and spread astrology, to which our ancestors, Hindu or not, Porus or Paurush, took so warmly. So whatever else, let's at least not blame our Vedas for the faults in our stars.


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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pucker up, young Indians

Amrit Dhillon

Contributed to The Globe and Mail           
Published Monday, Nov. 17 2014, 3:00 AM EST
Last updated Monday, Nov. 17 2014, 3:00 AM EST

As we all know, the best way to defang a bully is to take them on. The moment they know you’re not afraid, they back off. This truism has finally struck the minds of young Indians who used to scuttle away, shame-faced, whenever their country’s self-appointed moral guardians attacked them for celebrating Valentine’s Day, holding hands in public or drinking in a bar.

By launching the Kiss of Love movement, Indian men and women have asserted their right to behave as they wish, provided it’s within the law. Their kissing offensive is a delightfully cheeky way to rattle the old fogies.

It began in Kochi, Kerala, when Hindu conservatives attacked a café where they suspected “immoral” activities, namely canoodling, were taking place.

In the past, the café would have closed out of fear and its customers vanished. This time, a group of youths decided to hold a protest day when couples would kiss publicly. A Facebook drive sparked tremendous interest, which has spread to other cities.

This unprecedented defiance has maddened conservative hardliners, Hindu and Muslim, who believe public displays of affection belong to “Western culture” and fear it will corrupt the “purity” of India’s.

I salute these young Indians, who are taking them on and reclaiming their public space. For too long, they have been docile and too accepting of what their elders told them. This campaign marks a coming of age.

There are two reasons why it’s taken so long to reach this point. One is the natural fear of violence. The other is a residual sense of guilt – the fear that public displays of affection are indeed un-Indian behaviour, the kind of thing their parents and relatives might also disapprove of.

It’s not just traditional Indian culture that leans toward such conservatism. Look at how the Chinese reacted to Russian President Vladimir Putin gallantly draping a shawl around his Chinese counterpart’s wife at the APEC summit. For the Chinese, this harmless gesture was inappropriate.

India is not very different. The conservatives cannot abide manifestations of love in public but feel no dislike for manifestations of hatred, as witnessed in the vitriolic speeches they like to make. Nor do they ever come out onto the streets to protest against the less appealing aspects of Indian culture, such as female feticide and honour killings. For years, they have had the upper hand, imposing their morals on other Indians even if it means roughing up young couples in parks.

Conservatives must realize that culture is not pickled in aspic; it must adapt and change. Change, of course, is what they fear. It may only be kissing today, but tomorrow it could be living together before marriage, love marriages and disregard for caste.

Another disturbing feature in this story is the fact that Kochi police intervened – on behalf of the louts. They should have been protecting the right of the couples, who came under attack despite breaking no laws.

The government must show that it is against moral policing. Someone on Facebook wrote, “Love is a personal thing. Enjoy it and don’t make a drama out of it.” Wrong. If expressing love in public is not a personal thing to the moral brigade, why should it be so to those who want this freedom?

Love is political and has to fight to preserve its space in public life. To those who have unleashed this new energy against the fossils and the feudalists, I say kiss away.

Amrit Dhillon is a writer based in New Delhi.

Follow us on Twitter: @GlobeDebate

Source: The Globe and Mail

Blogger Comments:
Moral police (whatever their stripes may be) should stay away and don't create 1960s counterculture movement of USA in 2014 India. Don't bring in religion, culture, caste or race for argument as warts and all will come to haunt, and embarass the Nation. Remember! that we don't have a good track record on how we treat our women (mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, in-laws and friends), patriarchal traits still in vogue.


Monday, November 17, 2014

90 Per Cent of Poor in India, South Africa Are Minorities: Former Justice Yacoob

By Express News Service     Published: 16th November 2014 06:21 AM
Last Updated: 16th November 2014 08:40 AM
Former Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, Zakeria Yacoob sharing a lighter moment with CSD-SRC, Hyderabad regional director, Kalpana Kannabiran (left) and CSD managing committee chairman PM Bhargava at the CD Deshmukh memorial lecture in Hyderabad on Saturday | A SURESH KUMAR

HYDERABAD: Achieving equality in society is the only solution to eliminate poverty in this world, said Justice Zakeria ‘Zac’ Yacoob, Retired Justice of Constitutional Court of South Africa at the 13th CD Deshmukh memorial lecture here on Saturday. His lecture was on the topic ‘Equality, Non-discrimination, Religion and Disability: South Africa and India’.

“Once everybody in the society treats everyone equally, poverty will automatically be eliminated,” he said. He reminded that more than 90 percent of the poor in South Africa and India are from the minority classes.

Yacoob, who has been working in the field of Socio-economic Rights for a long time, said he strongly believes that discrimination is based on various factors such as race and religion. It has become one of the biggest hurdles in the path towards development across the world. He said both India and South Africa stand on the same position when it comes to inequality and discrimination against the vulnerable groups.

However, Yacoob felt that ‘race’ has been the most common factor for discrimination in both the countries. “Perhaps that is the reason, constitutions of both the countries chose to give reservations based on race,” he said. From his research on the social development of both the countries for past few decades, he said minorities have always been oppressed, while the majority section continues to dominate.

In the context of formation of Telangana state, Yacoob felt the new state is the result of discrimination that Telangana people faced for years. And now the state has manyopportunities to achieve social and economic development. “Every time a new state is formed, there is a great desire for development,” he said.

He said he finds hope in the fact that oppressed communities such as the Dalits in India and Black Africans in South Africa are now doing well in various fields like education and business. “The change is happening, but it is at a slow pace,” he added.

Organised by the Council for Social Development, the memorial lecture was attended by the research scholars and students from Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), University of Hyderabad (UoH) and Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

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Saturday, November 08, 2014

Wedding Tomorrow, Sex No Idea!

I attended a wedding in a small town in Rajasthan recently - a beautiful, colourful, blissful event. Of course, I spoke to all the girls and also the bride.

The wedding was arranged, the bride came from a traditional background. After the Sangeet, one day before the wedding, I asked the girl whether anyone has spoken to her about sex. She smiled shyly, and said no. 

I was shocked! It’s one day before your wedding night, and nobody has spoken to you about sex? What on earth are you going to do? The bride was really afraid of what was going to await her… knowing nothing at all about it.

I spoke to my other friends there, too. They said that people in their community do not speak about sex, and so none of the girls really know what to expect.

A colleague of mine shared with me another anecdote: Her friend is a gynaecologist and once had a couple coming in who had been desperately trying to get pregnant for three years, without success. All the fertility tests were positive. They were helpless!

After some talk, it turned out that nobody had ever spoken to the couple about sex before they got married. She asked the husband to point out where he penetrates on a model of the female body. He pointed to the belly button!

I have heard numerous similar stories, some from close friends. Gosh, 2000 years ago, the Kama Sutra, Tantra and the whole science of sex had their genesis in India. And now, the same country has some people who do not actually know anything about sex.

Of course, many people in India are educated about sex. However, the lack of sex education is a huge problem.

Many girls, like the bride I met, are afraid of marriage because they do not know what to expect. This fear is not a good basis for an intimate relationship. What's more, it seems unnecessary to make anyone go through such fear. Intimate life should be something to look forward to.

Another problem is that young people learn about sex in inadequate and almost dangerous ways: Studies show that many Indian boys who do not receive sex education from their parents, learn about sex through pornographic mediums.

This almost sounds like an oxymoron to me: What kind of image of women and of sex will boys get when they learn about sex through pornography?

Porn mostly displays women in a subjugating positions, objectifying them as “things” who came into existence to please all of man’s sexual desires. It gives a distorted and dangerous image of what sex is supposed to be like.

Sex ‘education’ through porn is no basis for establishing an intimate relationship in which both partners are to be respected.

Other people learn about sex inadequately in school - as a recent YouTube video which went viral vividly portrays. Others do not learn about it all - like my friends from Rajasthan.

HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise too – something which adequate sex education could help prevent.

Despite this, the new Health Minister recently proposed banning sex education in India altogether – which in most cases is insufficient or non-existing anyway. There seems to be a movement from parents in support of this ban – with them being afraid of the sexualisation of culture.

However, the point is that people will eventually have sex anyway – educating them in adequate ways can help prepare them for that and prevent a form of destructive sexualisation through pornography, as also help promote healthy and respectful intimate relationships.

About Jane: Jane von Rabenau, 22, grew up in Frankfurt, Germany. She is studying Philosophy and Economics at the London School of Economics. She has travelled across India and many parts of the world extensively. An Indophile, Jane (pronounced Yana) currently lives in Delhi and is researching tribal land rights in India. She is fluent in Hindi and tweets @Jane_vonRabenau

Source: newsflicks


Thursday, November 06, 2014

How I became an atheist and escaped God's wrath

People find it so difficult to believe that a breed of people do exist who do not need to thank and blame god for every damn thing.

Ananya Bhattacharya    @ananya116

About half a decade back, I chose to give up religion. I’d always been more-than-adequately sceptical about it all along, but the final step required the comfort of a solitary life. In a family known for its love of home deities, choosing not to perform the post-shower puja, or refusing to be a part of the shondhya-aarti, was not only unthought of, but also lethally blasphemous. And that they had a hardcore rebel with an appetite for not-doing-exactly-what-she-had-been-asked-to-do for a daughter, never made the task of force-feeding religion an easy one for my parents. And then there were the Jesus-worshipping nuns in school. From entire hour-long periods in the daily time table devoted to a subject called "prayer", to weekly moral science classes when we’d be taken to the school chapel just to sit, close our eyes and pray, we’d been at the receiving end of it all.

From the all-destroying Goddess Kali at home to the all-forgiving Father in school, religion was something that I could never imagine a life without, back then. We were taught, back home, in the family, to close our eyes and pray to Adya Ma (an incarnation of Kali) before going to sleep. And in school, we were taught to thank God Almighty before going to sleep. However, the tired-to-the-core, juiced-out 12-year-old body of mine fell asleep, many a time, halfway through the process of thanking these numerous gods. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.

In a somewhat modern, progressive, nuclear Bengali family, the puja-paath rituals end up taking a backseat, most of the time. When the numerous with-a-nose-for-criticising-whatever-came-their-way relatives dropped by for a visit, however, it was a different tale altogether at home. The week or so that one of this species would spend at our home, used to be fraught with tension at the least and panic at the most.

"Your daughter sleeps till 1pm on Saturdays. Why don’t you say something? Why doesn’t she have a bath on time and do the daily puja?"

Groggily, with half-opened eyes, I retorted saying that it was a Saturday. Her god could wait for me.

"Isshh. Ki baaje meye! (Such a terrible girl!) You people have spoilt your daughter with so much of affection ("laai" is the actual word that was always used. An exact translation is impossible to zero in on.)

"Baaje meye" that I was, I always went back to sleep, not paying any heed to my Mejo Pishi’s numerous complaints. She’d be gone in a week, the logical part of my brain reasoned. And any which way, I was always the one tainted and painted with the "baaje meye" tag. Big deal. No god rescued me from the clutches of these insidious relatives. The task, yet again, fell on my 13-year-old somewhat-frail shoulders. One fine morning, when this particular Pishi of mine began her tirade, I went ahead and asked her to leave me alone. All hell broke loose. But then, who cared. Good riddance, goodbye.

Once in college, safely away from the eagle-eyed surveillance and 24x7 caustic comments of relatives, I found my new religion by bidding goodbye to the earlier mishmash of Kali-Jesus, etc. I discovered atheism. And thought that I’d received my salvation. There were no long prayers of asking forgiveness from a certain god at the end of the day; and sleep was still uninterrupted. Nothing of the sort that we’d been threatened by for years – "thaakur paap debe" (God will punish you if you don’t pray, etc.) – happened. But an extremely religious roommate happened.

This roommate’s first question when we met was – "You are a Bhattacharya. You must do your pujas several times a day, no?", which was followed by her gasps when I said that I was an atheist. My fate in that room that we shared was pretty much decided right then. I was an atheist. Ergo, an untouchable. Conversations between the two of us were few and far between and totally driven by basic needs if they happened to happen, after that. My roommate conducted her own pujas, with her miniature gods safely tucked away inside the cupboard (for the fear of being stolen by her atheist of a roommate, maybe, who knows). At times, I stared at her stealthily, amused at her ways; at others, I shamelessly slept through her morning rituals, ignoring her mutterings and curses. Back then, there was even a rumour doing the rounds of the hostel – this particular roommate had apparently pleaded with the warden to shift her to a different room, with a different person, but the plea had fallen on deaf ears of the not-as-religious warden of ours.

Later, I faced the frowns and fears and frightened stares of even more roommates. "Aap ko yeh kaise hua?", like atheism was an incurable disease that I needed to be rid of; "Aap kaise manage kar leti hai without praying?", to which, my response was mostly that I didn’t need to pray and that I was fine without praying, too, followed by glares of disgust.

Many a time, I’ve had to deal with questions like, "But what do you do when something goes wrong?" People find it so difficult to believe that a breed of people do exist who do not need to thank and blame god for every damn thing that goes right or wrong in their lives, respectively. In this haven of frenetic god-worshippers called North India, atheism is nothing less than AIDS; Ebola, in current time – perhaps more incurable a disease. You see, proclaiming to people that you are an atheist or filling in the word "atheist" in the column marked "religion" in an interview, categorises you instantly. You are "the other". The one to be scared of; since you are not scared of an omnipotent omniscient God-with-a-capital-"G".

There is a certain need for people on the other side of the fence to realise that yes, we do exist. We are living, breathing creatures, who go through the same ups and downs that they do. It’s just that we don’t have a god to run to every single time something goes wrong. We’re atheists, not aliens. Forgive us Father, but we haven’t sinned!

Source: daily O

Read life and works of Gora (Goparaju Ramachandra Rao), Indian social reformer and atheist activist. He started his activism against superstition in 1920s. He published Nasthikatvamu: Devudu ledu (There is no God) in Telugu in 1941 (English translation: Atheist Centre is a social change institution founded by Gora (1902- 75) and Saraswathi Gora (1912 - 2006) in the year 1940 at Mudunur Village in Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh, India.


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Drawings of Harappan era discovered near Hampi

National » Karnataka                           Ballari, November 5, 2014
Updated: November 5, 2014 00:37 IST
Pictographs of the Harappan era in Gondi dialect found near Hampi, Karnataka. Photo: Special Arrangement

Five of 20 pictographs drawn on a boulder deciphered by expert

Pictographs of the Sindu (Harappan) culture have been discovered on rocks near the world famous Hampi. As many as 20 drawings were found on a boulder on top of a hill near Talwarghatta, adjacent to river Tungabhadra.

Experts in Gondi script, including Dr. Moti Ravan Kangale and Sri Prakash Salame of Nagpur, have identified them as Sindu (Harappan) culture-based script in Gondi dialect.
Gond culture

They also pointed out that such drawings are found in Chhattisgarh and also in interior structures of Gotuls (learning centres for youths) in Bastar region, K.M. Metry, Professor and Head Department of Tribal Studies, Hampi Kannada University told The Hindu.

“Dr. Kangale identified as many as five of the 20 pictographs of Gondi dialect – aalin (man), sary (road/way), nel (paddy), sukkum (star/dot), nooru (headman).

His observations strengthen the belief that Gond culture has been transmitted to the Tungabhadra basin,” Prof. Metry said. Prof. Metry felt that with this discovery, there was need for a thorough research to find out Gotuls in and around Hampi.

Source: The Hindu


Monday, November 03, 2014

శ్రీ కౌముది నవంబర్ 2014