Sunday, August 22, 2010

Some Onam Thoughts

 Onam was my most favourite festival in my childhood.It is the favourite festival for most people of Kerala too. Why?
Is it because it is the time when we as children get new dressess?
Is it because of the 10 days of holidays we get to play and roam around?
Is it because of the 10 days of Pookalams [floral carpets] that we used to arrange on Onam days?
Is it because of the Onam feasts which may last for 3 to 4 days with some delicious preparations?
Is it because of the celebrations we used to have in campuses in the form of contests and cultural programmes?
Is it because of the 4 days of special programmes in Radio/TV?
Is it because of the Onam special editions of  newspapers and periodicals which will showcase the best works of  writers of Kerala?
Is it because of the yearly re-union of most of the family members?

On this Uthradam day morning [ Uthradam in the month of Chingam is considered as the first Onam day]  my thoughts were wandering around these questions.


Mahabali was supposed to be the grandson of Prahlad (son of Hiranyakashipu who was slain by Vishnu in his Narasimha Avataram). Prahlad, though an Asura, was a great devotee of Vishnu. Mahabali learned the love and devotion of Vishnu from Prahlad.
Mahabali became a great emperor and conquered all the 'three' Worlds.The 'Devas' did not like an Asura King conquering the World.They approached Vishnu and he came to the earth as 'Vamana'.
Mahabali was performing the sacrificial rite of the Ashwamedha Yagam. He  declared that he would give anything that anyone sought from him during this Yagam. Vamana asked for an extend of land covered by his 3 foot steps. Mahabali agreed.
Vamana grew in size until he towered above the heavens. With one footstep, he measured all of the earth. With the second, he claimed all of heaven. There was still one foot of territory that Mahabali owed him. Mahabali requested Vamana to place the final step on his head as the third step of land, for he had no other left. Vamana did so and in doing so, pushed him down to Patala, the underworld.
As a last gift, Mahabali was granted permission by Vishnu to visit his subjects once a year. Thus, Keralites celebrate the Onam festival to commemorate the memory of the Great King Mahabali who would keep his promise to visit. Mahabali fulfilled his name as the great martyr for the sake of Truth ("Satya"). The name "Mahabali" itself means Great Sacrifice.


There is mention of Onam celebrations in Sangham Literature dating back to 300 BC. Many European and Arab travellers who came to Kerala between 500 and 1500 AD have mentioned Onam celebrations in their travelogues.
Even though the legend of Mahabali is well known throughout India, the yearly return of the King is never celebrated anywhere else in India.Why?
Was it because Mahabali ruled only in Kerala?
No explanations is readily available from history or mythology.

The folk songs of Onam describes the rule of Mahabali like this.

When Maveli  ruled the land,
All the people were equal.
And people were joyful and merry;
They were all free from harm.
There was neither anxiety nor sickness,
There were no illnesses.
Death of the children was never even heard of,
There were no lies,
There was neither theft nor deceit,
Measures and weights were right;
No one cheated others.
When Maveli ruled the land,
All the people were equal.

Did such an utopian rule by a King ever exisited in Kerala?

Most probably a popular King of Kerala must have been defeated  [may be by treachery] by a conquerer from other part of India.The new rulers must have connected it to the Vamana legend so as to legitimise their rule.

Is Onam celebrations a protest against Vishnu's action of dethroning a benevolent ruler?

The pyramid shaped idols made of mud/wood that is put up in front of most of the houses of Kerala on Thiruvonam day is called Thrikakara Appan.It is generally believed that Trikakara Appan is Vamana The temple at Thrikakara is a Vamana Moorthy temple.Many believe that the idols were originally meant to be that of Mahabail. The new Rulers who de throned Mahabali might have changed the rituals.The spread of Brahmanical Hinduism may have slowly changed the practice of offering 'pooja' to Mahabali to that of offering 'pooja' to Vamana,the original 'villain'of the myth. It is also said that originally Thrikakara temple was a Buddhist shrine.

 It is believed that Mahabali will visit each and every home in Kerala on that day.So the houses are cleaned,new dresses are worn and beautiful floral designs are put up in front of each and every house to welcome him. So certainly Mahabali is the hero here,receiving a hero's welcome from his country men.

Onam can thus be called a festival celebrating sub-nationalism of Malayalam speaking people of India. Is this the reason why Hindu Nationalistic organisations like RSS always downplays Onam? They always try to project Sri Krishna Jayanthi and Ganesholtsvam in Kerala which occurs around the same time,which are mainly North/West Indian festivals unheard of in Kerala before 1970s.

So why I like Onam so much?

Onam is a colorful festival in many ways. It is more of a celebration of life than most other festivals. It is not related to a religion as such but to a region. It was closely related to agriculture and harvest. It has a powerful mythology behind it. It is mostly about reminiscenes of a real or imaginary past in which Kerala was an utopian land with everybody happy and contented.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Imposition and banning of burqas. Two sides of the same coin

I had protested against the burqa ban imposed by the French Government in two posts titled 'Sarkozy's Fatwa?' and 'Why I oppose a ban on burqa
Now the other side of the same coin.

'A teacher of Aliah University was allegedly barred from class and then transferred because she refused to bow to the “diktat” of the students’ union to wear a burqa.

Aliah University, an autonomous institution under the West Bengal State government’s Department of Minority Affairs and Madrasa Education, was set up in 2008. It has been granted the status of a minority educational institution. Though the university does not prescribe a dress code, the West Bengal Madrasa Students’ Union insisted that all women teachers wear burqa in the classroom.
Sirin Middya was appointed a lecturer in March this year. In April, she was told by the Students’ Union that she would be allowed to conduct classes only if she wore a burqa.
“The students have no business imposing such a diktat on teachers when the university guidelines clearly state that there is no dress code. I will wear a burqa only when I feel like,” she told The Telegraph. “I was first barred from the classroom and then transferred to the university’s Salt Lake campus,” she said. There, for the past three months, she has been limited to library work though she was appointed as a Bengali teacher.
The students’ union of the university alleged that the teacher was “indecently dressed” and she would not be allowed to teach if she did not get into a burqa.“We admit there is no dress code for teachers in the university, but considering the character of the institution we insist that lady teachers wear only traditional dresses,” said Siamat Ali, the state general secretary of the West Bengal Madrasa Students’ Union. The teacher wrote to vice-chancellor Syed Samsul Alam, Anwar Hussain Dafadar, the university registrar, and Abdus Sattar, the minister of state for minority affairs.
Sirin Middya could now be allowed by the university to continue her classes, thanks to the intervention of the State Minister. “I have spoken to the Vice-Chancellor of the [Aliah] university. Such an imposition is a violation of the Constitution and it goes against our culture and will under no circumstances be tolerated….The issue will be sorted out shortly,” Minister for Minority Development Abdus Sattar told The Hindu..
On Monday, Ms. Middya received an assurance from the university that she would be allowed to conduct classes on the main campus even if she chose not to wear the burqa.
“I have received a verbal assurance, but not received any official confirmation,” Ms. Middya said.
Though pleased with the development, she said she had not yet been given a date on which she could resume her classes.

Imposing the burqa by Right-wing Islamist student Unions and banning burqa by Right-wing French politicians are two sides of the same coin of Communalism/Fundamentalism .Both should be fiercely condemned..

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kashmir boils

The recent disturbances and killings of scores of civilians in Kashmir made me read a book about Kashmir once again. The book 'Curfewed Night' written by a Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer published in 2008 is a disturbing account of the life of Independent India.
  The first part of the book deals with the early childhood of the author in Kashmir.Kashmir was peaceful then and armed militancy has not started yet.Later he describes how the deep sense of injustice fueled street wide protests after the rigged elections of 1987 and Gawkadal Bridge massacre by CRPF in January 1990. This went on to trigger armed militancy.
Now in 2010 history it seems is repeating itself. Kashmir is on the boil and  a deep sense of injustice prevail among the civil society of Kashmir.The shouts of 'Freedom' reverberates. Instead of the armed militants funded by ISI it is the stone throwing Kashmiri youth who are in fore front protesting against the high handedness of security forces.
As Kashmiri journalist  Dilnaz Boga writes

Even schoolchildren have been shot in the streets during protests – 11 during June alone, with more deaths in July, indicative of the extent to which the militarisation of the Valley has impacted normal life. Despite the lack of a visible insurgency, the military apparatus continues to remain all-powerful. With the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) not equipped to deal with civilians – as stated by no less an authority than E N Rammoham, former inspector-general of Kashmir – the repercussions of the heavy presence of military and paramilitary forces are being felt across the Valley. 

Yesterday was the bloodiest day in recent history of Kashmir with 7 civilian deaths. The spiral of violence is continuing with each death creating more protest marches and more firing by security forces. Protesters are becoming more violent attacking Government buildings and vehicles and storming Police Stations.

Situation is completely out of control of the Government and political leadership, both in Delhi and Srinagar has been found clueless how to control the situation.

Indian mainstream media is gagged and most of the truth are not coming out.
Sanjay Kak a documentary filmmaker based in Delhi. the maker of Jashn-e-Azadi (2007) about Kashmir writes

The CNN-IBN correspondent, happily embedded inside an army truck as it made its way through Srinagar, was extolling the impact of the flag march (even as an official was busy denying that there had been any such thing). NDTV provided its usual high-wire balancing act, with Barkha Dutt dredging up the ‘pain on both sides’. The grief of the mourning father of 17-year-old Tufail Mattoo, killed when his skull was taken apart by a teargas shell, was weighed against a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) commandant ruing the damage to his truck’s bulletproof windscreen. But such expedient journalism paled before far more damaging hubris. While these ‘national’ reporters had the run of curfew-bound Srinagar, they omitted to mention that their Srinagar-based colleagues – local, national and even international journalists – had been locked in their homes and offices for three days

The lack of objective coverage by media is one of the reason for lack of protests against civilian killings from rest of India.Other reason may be the cry of 'Azadi' from the Kashmiri protesters which make them less acceptable to rest of Indians.But prominent Indian Civil Rights activists have issued an appeal to stop violence against unarmed civilians in Kashmir.

Why the Kashmiri youth is angry? What do they want?

Sanjay Kak writes

Most of all, even before azadi, they want justice. As they watched the Indian Army columns moving through Srinagar last month, Kashmiris would have been reminded that the protests this summer started with the Army in the killing fields of Machil., where soldiers of the Indian Army (including a colonel and a major) were charged with the murder of three civilians, presenting them as militants for the reward money So, just as elections cannot be confused with democracy in Kashmir, an elected government is no substitute for a working justice system. Meanwhile, the prolonged use of the Public Safety Act, and the dangerous license of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, is slowly wearing thin for the young.

There has been no progress in ensuring justice to victims of Pathribal fake encounter killings of 2000 in which 5 civilians were killed Government is yet to give sanction to prosecute 5 soldiers charge sheeted by CBI in that case.

The best thing that the political leadership can do is to repeal or severely dilute the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and allow prosecution of all security personals accused of high handedness The Act has proved to perpetuate more violence and injustice not only in Kashmir but the whole of North East India. 
Such a move may help in turning the tide against the cycle of violence and bring peace into the Kashmir valley. Otherwise get ready for a new round of Armed militancy in Kashmir and perhaps more bomb explosions in Cities of rest of India.