Friday, January 16, 2015

I am Charlie... My two cents.

News from most western countries talk of the anger against the killing of the cartoonists in Paris; the news from some eastern countries talk of the anger of the people, mostly Muslims, against the cartoons. The world is once again divided in it’s views of the events and this reflects the disparate value systems in different parts of the world.

Until the people from all religions & cultures i.e. the  ‘entire’ world are on the same page, i.e. share a uniform value system, these types of attacks will continue.

I am against the killings in Paris and the attacks on civilians by terrorists. But I also want the people in the west to understand the reasons why some religious people are so provoked by ‘Blasphemy’. Here is my take based on my experiences of how religion affects people’s behaviour and thinking. As mentioned elsewhere, I grew up in India and I have spent about 35 years in India after which I moved to Canada. I have been in Canada for the last 11 years and have been exposed to the western thinking and lifestyle.

In India, which is a mostly Hindu populated country, religion impacts all aspects of life. Most people have a space for God’s idols and photos at home where they pray or worship, daily. The length of worship and intensity would vary with the individual’s beliefs but you will find at least one image of God even in the houses of non-believers! Many Hindus pray to the cow and do not eat beef; pray to the peepul tree, the banyan tree and would not cut down these trees even if they are interfering with their houses as they don’t want the wrath of Gods on their heads. You will never see a Hindu step on a book or sit on a book or stand on books to reach something high up. Books represent Saraswati, the goddess of learning and your studies are doomed if you show disrespect to Saraswati by standing on books!

People check with astrologers before buying a house or lot of land; they would find an ‘auspicious’ day to get married or have a house warming ceremony and if possible even to start the first day of work! People literally ‘worship’ the Gods and fear the Gods. People are in such a dilemma when they want to get rid of a broken image of God, when they want to get rid of last year’s calendar which had a photo of God on it! They don’t want to keep it as a broken idol is inauspicious and they don’t want to throw it as the Gods may be furious! I know people who go and quietly dump their Gods (broken idols and prints of Gods) in temples. They would never ever dispose it in the regular garbage.

This sounds off topic but it will connect …..There are hardly any public toilets in many Indian towns and cities. So men (not women…the poor women hold it until they reach home) pee into gutters or against compound walls whenever they get the urge to pee. The piss leaves a stink which the person inside the house or the building has to suffer. So many people(at least in Bangalore) have started painting images of Gods on their compound walls as the men will not dare pee on a God! Some have even put up ceramic tiles with images of various Gods on them on their walls to avoid this nuisance!

You will never hear anyone cursing Gods. It is extremely rare or it never happens that a Hindu would curse Gods. A few atheists/teens may do it to ‘show off’ but they are few and rare. (I have cursed but sent up an apology prayer, later, ‘just in case’, HE heard me cursing!)

The Hindus I am talking of are not religious zealots, They are the ordinary people you see all over India. They are of all levels of literacy. You will see this strong belief in Gods, acceptance of some superstitions & belief in astrology in 90% of  Hindus including highly educated Hindus such as doctors, scientists, professors, engineers, computer professionals, physicists, chemists, mathematicians, philosophers, artists, writers, journalists, etc; These people are living enigmas.

Because they have unique brains in which belief in science, reason & logic happily co-exist with belief in Gods, religious beliefs, astrology, Vastu, superstitions, etc! To give an example, I know a medical doctor who had a c section on an auspicious day so her child is born under a ‘good star’!

I am not going to write about Muslims in India and their beliefs as I know only a handful of them and I don’t want to make comments based on a tiny sample. I can say that they are as religious as the Hindus and hold on to their religious beliefs as strongly as the Hindus in India do.

Currently in the west, religion seems to be losing it’s hold.  In the west (USA, Canada, many parts of Europe & Australia) the people are not invested in religion to the extent that people in the east are. (This may be the major difference which explains why the west can casually make jokes about God and it’s ‘no big deal’ but the east becomes so highly offended by jokes about God/religion)

  I have observed that one or two churches in Toronto are going to close and be converted into condos; However in India, I have not seen any temple shutting down. In fact, more temples are being built today in India and in any countries where Hindus are. Another indication that people seem to be less religious now in the west is that many people have stopped going to churches; attendance at churches is very low and most people without children that I know of, say they don’t go to church and people with young children try to attend church at Christmas time at least.  However, in India, there seems to be an increase in religious fervour…at least it appears so by the increase in donations to temples, number of people visiting temples and the number of people participating in religious festivals.

Lots of Hindus/Indians have protested when they see ‘disrespect’ to their Gods in public places or media. I have not heard of killings but we Hindus are pretty vocal in our protest and do not stop until the “disrespect” to the Gods has stopped and an apology has been made. I remember reading about Hindus protesting when some fashion designer put an image of a Hindu God on a dress. There was rioting when a famous Indian (M.F.Hussain) painter displayed his paintings of Hindu Gods and Goddesses in the nude. He had to flee India and seek asylum in a Gulf country. He loved India but he had to flee for his life.  You will never ever see a panty, shoes or slippers with a Hindu God’s image on it as it’s considered insulting to the Gods.

Why are we Hindus so sensitive about disrespect shown to our Gods? Based on my experience and knowledge, I have given below, the reasons why Hindus are sensitive about disrespect to their Gods.

(1)From childhood, we have been so deeply inculcated with respect, fear, devotion to Gods that it becomes a part of us and will never get erased. Very few atheists emerge from Hindu households. (even now if I stand on the telephone directory to reach an out-of-reach box, I silently apologize to Saraswati, so that I don’t flunk in any upcoming exam!)

(2)There is lot anger against the foreign invaders who invaded India and both destroyed & looted temples. Both  Christian invaders from Europe and Muslim invaders from Asia are against idol worship according to their religions. Both of them destroyed the idols which are very sacred to Hindus. Even I felt sad and a bit angry when I saw the wanton damage done to the intricately carved temples built several hundred years ago. The carvings are beautiful and labours of love and devotion. I was thinking, “Okay. You don’t believe in idol-worship, fine. But how could you destroy something so beautiful and something which many workers took years and years to carve? Does your heart not feel bad to break with an axe, what someone has taken so much pains to do? Does your religion ask you to hate beauty?”

(3)Lots of Hindus/Indians share the belief that they have been exploited by foreign invaders. Reading the history of India, maybe some negative emotions are  rekindled in the new generations against invaders. Wealth form India was looted; temples destroyed, people forced to convert to alien religions; those who resisted were killed; several atrocities happened by invaders and now Hindus/Indians continue to hold the anger and this leads to irrational behaviours today…long after these things happened. So anyone making fun of Hindu Gods, etc is going to get an ‘over-reaction’, because of these painful memories or vengeful attitude or a hyper vigilant attitude, based on previous experience where the Hindus got burnt.

(4) The people who react the most or most violently to real or imagined slights to their Gods or religion are:  

(a)the most religious and most easily offended 

(b) not really religious but unemployed  youth who are looking to cause mischief and loot during the riot. 

(c)rowdies in the hire of politicians and local goons who want any excuse to create mayhem and exploit the situation (most riots in India are instigated and maintained by crooked politicians, would be politicians who are hand in glove with the criminal elements). These people have no great belief in religion but create this riot to loot shots, or cause problems to the ruling government 

(d) there is a low-level but nevertheless, ongoing, never ending anger/hate/distrust between different communities and religions in India. So there are periodic flareups between the different communities due to real or imagined insults to the respective religions/gods. 

(e) I think one of the biggest reasons for riots about insults to religion or Gods happens in India because of the egos of the people involved.  Assuming that God/Gods/Goddesses(G) exist, I am sure G would not feel insulted if people said or did something to G’s image or cursed G. I cannot believe G would get so angry with someone he created if that person said or did something insulting G. It would as unreasonable as a mother punishing her baby for peeing on her! Several stories in Hindu mythology depict the forgiving nature of the Gods and their soft corners for sinners. There is Krishna who forgave 100 mistakes of Sishupala; Shiva calming down and forgiving various demons and sinners, the rishis forgiving, etc (there are stories of God’s wrath too but that is a different story)

Though the Hindu Gods are forgiving, the Hindus themselves, can become pretty shirty when they think their religion has been insulted! I think this is because the offended Hindus probably have very fragile egos, which are easily hurt. Why are their egos so easily hurt? Why are they not tolerant? Is it due to low self-esteem issues? Do they compensate for the sense of inferiority they have by reacting aggressively and being intolerant to real or imagined slights? Do they feel superior when they accuse someone of insulting them and then getting an apology from the person? Do we lack maturity and don’t have the capacity to tolerate when someone pokes fun at our religion? Are we afraid of being perceived as weak if we tolerate others making fun of our religion? Do we want to take revenge on what happened to Hindus hundreds of years


The Paris tragedy makes me realize that Perception (of things, attitudes towards various things like God, religion, human life, what is sacred and what is not) varies from culture to culture.  

Freedom of speech is considered as very important in the west; Human Life is sacred and important in the west. But in many cultures, God and respect to God is considered as more valuable than human life. In India, who knows, there may be people who consider a cow’s life more valuable than a human being’s! As I said before, Perception varies.

This bloodshed will stop when people across the world share the same values and ethics system. Until then, each faction will fight for what the faction thinks is valuable; the factions will continue to disregard what is ‘unimportant’; And God forbid, if they disregard what some other (short-tempered) faction considers as important!

Living in India, I came across some people for whom God was the most important thing in their life. My grandmother for example was deeply religious. She was either paranoid or had lost trust in most/all human beings due to a series of bitter experiences in her life. The one unshakable trust she had was in God. She spoke to him daily, she prayed twice a day for an hour at a time and her belief gave her tremendous mental and physical strength. She is one of the most strong-willed persons I know. I believe her strength came from her belief in God.

Similarly, I have met or read or heard about many people who are either ordinary people with immense faith in God or are monks, saints, sanyasis, heads of mutts, gurus, etc. These people’s lives are dedicated to the pursuit of spirituality. They are not involved in the pursuits of most other people such as career, marriage, kids, property, vacations, etc. They are dedicated in the pursuit of Moksha. None of these people would kill if people insulted their Gods but they would definitely be hurt. Most or all would be mature enough to tolerate or forgive your insulting God or try to talk to you to convince you to change your ways (i.e. make you stop insulting God). They may have a philosophical debate with you to prove to you the existence of God.

First of all, I don’t think, I would make fun of religion or Gods, ‘to their faces’ as it would make me look like an immature fool trying to provoke them. Secondly, if I did have the nerve to do it, I would, probably stop very soon, feeling embarrassed. I might continue, only if I could develop a thick-skin like the Borat guy!

What I am trying to say here is that, for an atheist, for someone not too invested in religion, the cartoons about God will not have any impact at all. It is something they are not provoked about as they are not invested in it. However, for a deeply religious person, the cartoons are  hurtful because you perceive them as ‘mocking’.

In the west, making fun of subjects such as handicapped people, jokes about rape and say, pedophilia are considered hurtful and in poor taste. When someone is stupid enough to make a joke, people are disgusted and don’t laugh. Jokes about religion and Gods, though not hurtful to ‘God’, definitely hurt people who are deeply invested in religion.  
The religious and the not religious have to work out a system so that they are on the same page or at least learn to co-exist on the same planet...until we could find separate planets for each religion!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice article.