A MAN OF HIS WORD (GURU GOBIND SINGH PART II)

  Guru Gobind Singh isn’t just a pretty face; he was a skillful soldier, a man of letters, a philosopher, and a prolific poet.     After the Mughals killed his father and his army in 1675, a young Guru … Continue reading

IN THE TOILET

As mentioned in my last blog titled, Peed Off, peeing in public is a national pastime for men in India. I’ve read that some take pride in doing it even if there’s a toilet nearby. Some will also pee on the … Continue reading

BEEFED UP

My Cow’s Cowards blog of September 3, highlighted the increase in violence across India in the name of ‘cow protectionism.’ Three days later, the Supreme Court of India directed the 29 States and 7 Union Territories to appoint a senior … Continue reading

PEED OFF

I always hear about Kuldip’s golf woes when he gets home after playing 18 holes. The trouble he got into recently on the Chandigarh Golf Course, however, had nothing to do with either his long or short game. Kuldip had, … Continue reading

COW’S COWARDS

The introduction of Prohibition in India in 2016 was ridiculous, but the arrival of the cow vigilante two years earlier is downright dangerous.

The Diplomat, an online international public affairs magazine reported that, according to an analysis by IndiaSpend, a public interest journalism website, “63 incidents of [violence centered on bovine issues] were reported between 2010 and 2017. Ninety-seven percent of these occurred after the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in May 2014. Twenty-five of these incidents were reported in 2016 alone.

At the time of writing, 2017 was shaping up to be a record-breaking year with 20 cow vigilante attacks reported in the first six months.

As of September 1, 2017, thugs had killed 28 people, including a 12-year-old boy, in the name of “cow protectionism.” Most were either hanged or beaten to death. Eighty-six percent were Muslim. (India has a population of 1.3 billion of which around 14 percent is Muslim.) The remaining 14 percent comprised mainly Dalits (also called Untouchables) who are at the bottom of the Hindu caste system.

Muslims dominate the beef industry, but the Dalits do the dirty work. They’re the ones that skin the cows and tan the leather. Both Muslims and some Dalits are meat eaters, which is another beef related activity anathema to the cow protectionists. The latter of the two, I suspect, eat meat out of necessity.

The vigilante group that I call Cow’s Cowards is just one of numerous Hindu extremist groups that have sprung up across India since 2014 to enforce the BJP party’s right wing and anti-Muslim views.

India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, publically condemns the attacks on anyone who works with beef or eats it. But, empirical evidence exists that there is a link between his ruling party’s membership and the umbrella groups under which these cow vigilantes operate. It’s widely known, for example, that action against such violence is rarely taken, particularly in the BJP-held States and that more often than not, the victims, not the vigilantes, are punished.

Over the years the cow has become a potent symbol of the Hindu supremacist ideology called Hindutva, which defines India as a Hindu nation driven solely by Hindu values. Advocates of this ideology want a nation-wide ban on meat to foist Hindu food onto those who don’t subscribe to their religious doctrine, especially the Muslims who they despise, and it’s not far off. Slaughtering cows and eating beef is already illegal or restricted in many states throughout India.

Having the BJP in power has made it easier for groups that support Hindutva, such as the influential Bhartiya Gau Raksha Dal (BGRD), to put “cow protection’” near the top of the political agenda.

According to their website, the BGRD’s sole objective is “to care for stray, abandoned cows, bulls, retired oxen and orphaned calves.” But the results of my research illustrate that an equivalent of the RSPCA, the BGRD is not. One can easily find videos on the Internet showcasing the vicious tactics used by BGRD fanatics against Muslims and Dalits in the name of animal welfare. The scenes are brutal.

The rise of popularism combined with the emergence of extremist, right-wing factions are a reason for concern in India. A friend told me recently that, in her opinion, Modi and his ruling the BJP Party were taking India back to the dark ages and she feared for the future of her children. Based on the images I have seen and the incident reports I have read in the newspapers about the activities of the so-called cow vigilantes alone, educated people in India, like my friend, have every right to worry.

The rise of widespread violence primarily against Muslims in the name of Hinduism that’s currently spreading across India would make the country’s best-known pacifist, Mahatma Gandhi, turn in his grave.

I get it that millions of Hindus worship cows because of their motherhood status. It’s unfortunate, however, that some of them don’t equally cherish human life itself.

 

DRIVING ONE TO DRINK

It’s often hard to get one’s head around the thought processes of India’s decision-makers. Some of their judgments are, in my opinion, so preposterous that they defy explanation. This story is about one of them.

When we reached Chandigarh, one of our nieces from the U.K., Kulveen, and her husband, Nick, were here as part of a two-week holiday in Punjab prompted by a request she received from Ludhiana (two hours drive west of Chandigarh) to record two Shabads (Sikh hymns).

Kulveen sings Shabads in Sikh churches called Gurdwaras. She’s well known for her Shabad singing in her hometown of Nottingham, and her place of birth, Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the U.K. Examples of some of Kulveen Kaur Goindi’s must-see performances feature on YouTube.

Our window of opportunity to see Kulveen and Nick was small. Therefore, two days after arriving in Chandigarh, we hosted them for afternoon tea at home. The following evening we took them to Swagath Restaurant and Bar for dinner. Our friends, the Handa and Mathur families joined us.

Kuldip decided to get a cab instead of driving. He wanted to have a drink or two, or three with his mates Divye and Sunny.

When Kuldip called Sunny to tell him we were on our way in an Uber cab; Sunny asked why Kuldip did not drive since he couldn’t drink at Swagath. In response to Kuldip’s question: “What do you mean,” Sunny said that the restaurant was not allowed to serve ‘liquor.’

We assumed the alcohol ban was a short-term measure due to the civil unrest that could follow the sentencing, that day, of convicted rapist and self-appointed “God man,” Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh (see my blog In the Name of God! Part I).

When we got there, however, our friends told us that all of our favourite haunts, including Swagath, had been ‘dry’ for the past five months!

On 15th December 2016, India’s Supreme Court ordered a nationwide ban on the sale of alcohol on and within 500 metres of State and National Highways effective from April 1st the following year. The judgment was designed to decrease the large percentage of deaths on the highways caused by drink driving. Chandigarh was walloped; here’s why.

Built in the mid-2000s, Chandigarh is the newest city in India. It’s famous French architect, Le Corbusier, chose a grid system that comprises 56 sectors (or suburbs) that are 1.2 km long and 0.8 km wide. All vertical roads are designated state highways except one, which has national highway status. When one takes into account the 500 meters either side of these roads, which is also part of the ban, one doesn’t need to be a mathematician to know that ruling covered the entire city.

The Prohibition had the potential to devastate Chandigarh. Not only was the livelihood of many traders at stake, but the city coffers also stood to lose an estimated Rs 250 crore (AUD$50 million) annually in excise and taxes. The financial and unemployment impact of the future alcohol ban was overwhelming.

Chandigarh’s municipal council moved swiftly to change the nomenclature of the state highways and single national one. The tactic worked for all but two of them. They were the ones, unfortunately for Chandigarh, that ran through the social hubs, namely Sectors 26 and 35, where the name change was needed most.

In addition to the redesignation of Chandigarh’s state highways as district roads, the Punjab state government changed the existing excise law to ensure that the remaining highway alcohol vendors were not affected by the Supreme Court’s edict. The changes meant that vendors could sell alcohol as long as its consumption took place on their premises.

Some supporters of the ban were so outraged by the Punjab Excise (Amendment Bill) 2017 that they formed the Arrive Safe Society, which filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court accusing the state government of modifying the judgment of the Supreme Court. Although the Court dismissed the appeal, it prompted the Supreme Court to review its decision.

On August 30, 2017, it decreed that the ban intended to curtail the sale of alcohol near highways that connect villages, towns, and cities and it does not prohibit the sale of liquor by licensed establishments within “municipal areas.”

The court’s decision to punish traders instead of going after the real culprits, the drink drivers, is absurd. I struggle to get my head around the notion of the ruling; that is, that the alcohol must have been consumed on, or near, the road upon which the accident happened. It’s irrational!

Although I missed out on having a classic Swagath Martini by two days, I’m delighted that Uber can drive us to drink in future.

IN THE NAME OF GOD! PART II

Yesterday’s post, In the Name of God! Part I, was about a popular self-appointed “God man” in India who was finally brought to justice for rape 15 years after he was charged. Anarchy followed the conviction.

The civil unrest delayed our arrival in Chandigarh, which was under lockdown to restrict the violence. Nevertheless, every dark cloud has a silver lining. Ours was that the roads were still empty when we left Delhi. We made the trip in four hours instead of the usual five plus.

The sleazebag guru getting his comeuppance combined with the safest and quickest journey to Chandigarh on record led this agnostic to think that there must be a God after all. What happened next confirms it.

The title of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s 1975 Booker Prize winning novel, Heat and Dust, is what India is all about; it’s hot everywhere in summer and dusty all year round. The summers are also hot where Kuldip and I live in Australia’s north. Dust exists there too, but it’s manageable. For instance, I get by dusting once a week in Queensland whereas it’s a daily must-do in India.

Imagine, therefore, the mess we arrived home to in Chandigarh after a 12-month absence. We cover the furniture before we leave, but to paint a word picture of the state of every exposed indoor and outdoor surface is beyond my literary capability. The mugginess of the monsoon makes it messier; it turns fine dust into gritty dirt.

We got home to the apartment in our gated community mid-afternoon on a Saturday. First things first: ‘hose’ down the kitchen, clean the master bedroom and ensuite and hit the sack. I did not sleep well. I dreaded the hard yards we had to put in the following day.

Early next morning a cleaner knocked on the door looking for work. It was Sunday, which is the only day India’s workforce has off per week. Opportunity knocks but once; she didn’t have to ask twice. Neither did we.

Kuldip and I wondered how she found out so quickly that we were back. When I told an Indian girlfriend, Sonia, about it, she said: “The security guards would have told her. They have nothing to do all day but gossip about the activities of the residents.”

The cleaners I have had in India in the past have been young women, girls really, who, in my experience, are more bad news than good. This woman, however, was of a mature age and, unlike her predecessors, ‘Madam’ did a thorough job, and she did it willingly.

Kuldip and I pitched in, and within two hours the unit was fit for human consumption once more. Madam insisted on doing the ‘heavy’ work such as washing the floors and cleaning the intricate, dirt-coated iron lacework and ceramic floors on each of the four balconies in the sticky 35-degree heat.

After she’d finished, Madam told us that she was the mother of Manisha who cleaned for us the year before. I asked Kuldip to interpret that I would rather do the cleaning myself than have her daughter back. She said not to worry and that she would come instead of her daughter.

Madam’s connection to our previous cleaner made me realise that there is a code of ethics among the domestic help. That is that a family retains the piece of business for as long as they want it. While house cleaning is big business in India, I’m glad it’s not dog-eat-dog. Even though all of my previous cleaners have stressed me out, I have always treated them with respect. It’s good to know that they respect one another’s territory too.

India is full of empty promises. The next day, for example, instead of honouring her agreement to do the work herself, Madam sent her daughter Manisha to do it. I was unimpressed. While her mother is heaven-sent, Manisha didn’t have a chance in hell of getting the work. Kuldip explained to Manisha why she was not invited in and told her to send her mum, which she dutifully did.

Since then, Madam has not only turned up each day; she’s turned up on time. Punctuality is a rare commodity in India where time is immaterial.

Unlike my other cleaners, I look forward to Madam’s arrival at around 9.00 a.m. for her one-hour visit, six days a week. She’s a delightfully genteel woman, and it’s a pleasure to welcome her into our home.

She’s a godsend and the second sign in as many days that there is a God after all.