The case for alliance

Rise of China and uncertainty over America’s role in Asia has brought Japan and India closer. Modi and Abe can overcome the bureaucratic inertia that limits the relationship’s possibilities.
That Japan was the only nation to extend public support to India during the Doklam confrontation with China is symbolic of the extraordinary transformation of relations between the two Asian powers over the last few years. Two decades ago, in the aftermath of India’s nuclear tests, Tokyo was at the forefront of the international condemnation and the imposition of collective economic measures against Delhi.
Today it is quite tempting to suggest that Japan has come closest to being India’s natural ally in Asia. Purists will certainly question the idea of an “alliance” between India and Japan. India’s international identity, after all, has long been articulated in terms of “non-alignment”. Japan, in contrast, swears by its lone alliance with the United States.
The emerging Asian dynamic, however, suggests that Delhi and Tokyo must necessarily draw closer. Whether the relationship between Delhi and Tokyo will eventually approximate to an alliance is likely to be determined less by tradition and more by the current convulsions in their shared Asian and Indo-Pacific geography.
Two factors are threatening to unravel the post-war order in Asia. One is the rapid rise of China and the other is the growing uncertainty over America’s future role in Asia. Nearly 40 years of accelerated economic growth has helped China inch closer to the aggregate GDP of the United States. Purposeful military modernisation over the last few decades has given Beijing levers to contest US military dominance over Asia.
As China closes the gap with the US, the imbalance between Beijing and its Asian neighbours has grown massively. Rising China has dethroned Japan as the number one economic power in Asia. It has also shattered the broad parity with India that existed until the 1980s. China’s GDP is now five times larger than that of India. Beijing outspends Delhi and Tokyo on defence by more than four times.
According to the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, China’s defence budget ($216 billion) is more than twice that of India ($56 billion) and Japan ($46 billion) put together. As they wake up to strategic diminution vis-a-vis China, India and Japan are also buffeted by the unprecedented political turbulence in the United States. President Donald Trump is challenging the two foundations of America’s post-war primacy in Asia — the willingness to act as the market for Asian goods and bearing the main burden of defending its allies in the region, including Japan.
There is undoubtedly much resistance from the establishment in Washington to Trump’s heresies on free trade and Eurasian alliances. But the tussle in Washington has begun to induce both Delhi and Tokyo not to take America’s political trajectory in Asia for granted. As they cope with China’s assertiveness, India and Japan also worry about the consequences of a potential American retrenchment or a deliberate decision in Washington to cede more space to Beijing in Asia.
While they hope for an enduring American role in stabilising Asia, Delhi and Tokyo also need to insure against wild oscillations in US policy. One way of doing that is to move towards a genuine alliance between India and Japan. America may have no objections to such an alliance. It has, in fact, actively encouraged closer cooperation between Delhi and Tokyo.
A potential alliance between India and Japan can neither replace the American might nor contain China. As Beijing’s neighbours, Delhi and Tokyo have a big stake in a cooperative relationship with Beijing and at the same time a strong incentive to temper some of China’s unilateralism through a regional balance of power system.
While the objective case for an alliance is evident, can Delhi and Tokyo overcome their strategic inertia and take the necessary subjective decisions? To be sure, Delhi and Tokyo have come a long way since the tensions over India’s nuclear tests in the late 1990s. But there is much distance to go before they can showcase at least an alliance-like relationship.
Successive prime ministers in Delhi and Tokyo contributed to this transformation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is in Ahmedabad this week for the annual summit with the Indian PM, deserves special credit. During his brief first tenure as PM during 2006-07, Abe outlined the broad framework for a strong strategic partnership with India.
Luckily for India, Abe has had a rare second shot at leading Japan since late 2012. He achieved the near impossible by getting the Japanese bureaucratic establishment to negotiate a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India and the political class to approve it. The conventional wisdom until recently was that Japan’s “nuclear allergy” will never allow Tokyo cooperate with India on atomic energy. On his part, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had put Japan at the very top of his foreign policy agenda. Like Abe, Modi continuously nudged the Indian establishment to think more strategically about cooperation with Japan — from high speed railway development to the modernisation of transport infrastructure in the Northeast.
Under Abe and Modi, Tokyo and Delhi have expanded their maritime security cooperation, agreed to work together in promoting connectivity and infrastructure in third countries in India’s neighbourhood. They are pooling their resources — financial and human — to develop the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor.
While all this is impressive, sceptics will argue that without a significant defence relationship, the talk of an alliance between India and Japan remains meaningless. Although military exchanges between Delhi and Tokyo have expanded over the last few years, the two sides are far from a credible defence partnership that can shape the regional security architecture in the coming decades.
That negotiations on India’s purchase of Japanese amphibious aircraft, US-2i, have been stuck for years underlines part of the problem. The time is now for Modi and Abe to demonstrate that they can overcome the bureaucratic inertia that limits the defence possibilities between India and Japan. Modi and Abe have certainly raised the expectations for a potential alliance between Delhi and Tokyo. But they can’t afford to fall short on implementation amidst the current geopolitical churn in Asia.

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Government Running Hindu Temples-A Selective Secularism

One of the first statements you come across on the website of the Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious & Charitable Endowments (HR&CE) Department’s website is this one: “The management and control of the temples and the administration of their endowments is one of the primary responsibilities of the state”
The irony of the government of a “secular” state running religious institutions is obviously lost on HR&CE. More so when we note that the state has been intermittently ruled by parties like DMK whose leadership has, in the past, formally professed rationalist and atheist beliefs
But we shall let that pass and presume that, despite top-level political antipathy to Hindu religion, HR&CE is willing to hold its nose and do everything it can to run the 38,481 temples and endowments under its control fairly and efficiently.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case. When you put the fox in charge of the hen-house, you don’t get better protection of your millennia-old spiritual and historical heritage, but wayward behaviour by officialdom. Beneath the surface, corruption festers, and priceless idols and valuables are bartered away for filthy lucre.
This is apparent from a recent Madras high court judgment in two cases (Crl OP Nos 8690 and 12060 of 2017), where the petitioners had complained about officials being careless in protecting idols worth crores of rupees, and possibly acting in cahoots with idol smugglers.
In the first case, petitioner R Venkataraman alleged that ancient idols from Chola-era temples in Thanjavur district were moved and “stocked unofficially, against the HR&CE norms, and the trustees, along with the Executive Officers of the HR&CE department, created records as if the idols are intact, when factually six idols, of which five belonging to Sri Viswanathasamy Temple at Keelmanakudi, and one Vinayagar idol belonging to the Arulmigu Sri Idumbeswarar Temple, were missing.” The petition alleged that instead of keeping the idols at the Icon Centre, they were kept in an “unauthorised tunnel and also in a scrap room belonging to the Public Works Department.”
In the other case, filed by public interest litigant Elephant G Rajendran, it was alleged that a senior police officer, I Khader Basha, now DSP, and two other police personnel, who were earlier part of the Idol Wing, came into possession of six idols while investigating a case involving one Arokiaraj. Two of these were allegedly sold to a noted smuggler in Chennai for Rs 15 lakh, who then resold them for an alleged sum of Rs 6 crore. But despite an FIR being filed against the police officials concerned, they were promoted, and “no further action, either by way of arrest or by departmental proceedings, was initiated.”
The high court, in an order dated July 21, 2017, by Justice R Mahadevan, had no hesitation is saying that the state was wayward in its defence of priceless heritage assets and roasted HR&CE for its failures. After noting that Indian temples had been ravaged by invaders for centuries, he added: “For the past several years, a new form of attack is carried out by smuggling the ancient idols. Foreigners and disbelievers see the idols as antiques worth only … in terms of money, but the people of this country see them in the semblance of god, culture and identity.”
The court castigated the department in no uncertain terms, pointing out that HR&CE is the custodian of most of the state’s temples and their properties, but has clearly failed to do so despite controlling large revenues. “It is startling to find that the HR&CE department, with all its income from major temples, has not been able to maintain historical temples and safeguard the idols … many temples constructed at least 1,500 years ago or much before … are in ruins. Even the daily rituals are not performed. Some temples remain closed throughout the day with no one to even lighten (sic) the lamps … this has also come to the advantage of the miscreants, who have laid their hands on the idols.”
Having come to this conclusion, the court ordered the obvious remedies: departmental action and FIRs against the alleged culprits, moving all idols to strong-rooms or Icon Centres, creation of a list of all temples managed by the state and number of priests they employ, computerisation of records and 24×7 video and electronic surveillance of these idols and other valuables.
But the scale of loot and irresponsibility goes beyond mere smuggling and illicit sale of idols. Some time ago Subramanian Swamy, BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP, alleged in a newspaper article that the Tamil Nadu HR&CE controlled “more than 4.7 lakh acres of agricultural land, 2.6 crore square feet of buildings and 29 crore square feet of urban sites of temples.” These temple-owned properties should have been earning revenues in thousands of crores, but the government collected barely Rs 36 crore.
It is difficult to authenticate these figures from three years ago. But if they are anywhere near correct we have the makings of a gigantic scandal, at the expense of Hindu devotees who contributed to this wealth. But it’s not about Tamil Nadu alone. In the five major southern states over 1,00,000 temples are being run directly or indirectly by governments, making a mockery of the idea of the secular state where separation of religious from temporal activity ought to have been a central principle of governance.
This separation is all the more important when you have cases of gross negligence, where the guardians of temples are also its predators. The fence is eating the crop.

Divided They Stand: India Stands Frozen at Partition, & America at the Civil War

Did the Civil War ever really end in America? Did Partition settle the national identity question in India? Or do they remain open wounds in the world’s largest two democracies?
Those who live in India would agree that the issue of what exactly should be the nation’s primary identity is hardly a settled matter. That might be the only thing the two sides in the argument would agree on. One camp insists that the Partition of India was a defining moment at which the Muslims chose to have a separate nation carved out for them and therefore the remaining portion of India that is Bharat should be an unapologetic Hindu nation. The other side says the Constitution of India was drawn up in the manner it was because the Republic of India would affirm a kind of secularism that would continue to accommodate Hindus and Muslims, as well as Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and what have you, in direct contrast to the religion-defined profile of Pakistan.
Between the two nations, the argument has continued for seven decades, violently, over the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Within the Indian republic, it is a critical fault line between major political parties and ideological camps. Who do we call an Indian? What truly is the idea of India?
Today the argument, which has waxed and waned over the decades, is at a high pitch. Subsets of questions keep surfacing: Who is a true Hindu? Do Dalits accept they are part of the Hindu family? If they do, why are so many fleeing to Buddhism? Does Hinduism have a fixed contour defined by the Vedas or is it a collection of traditions and practices which some 18th and 19th-century scholars and nationalist leaders defined as a collective identity? Should Muslims have personal laws in a secular state? Must all Hindus be vegetarian? Do all Hindus share a singular identity? Do all Muslims? The argument, often violent, is not over.
In the United States, the northern states and the south fought violently in the 19th century over the southerners’ assumed entitlement, in the name of states’ rights, to own slaves and to continue treating African Americans as less than human. Around seven hundred thousand died in the Civil War which ended in 1865. But did the argument end with the North’s victory?
No. Without going into details that can be found in history books, the southern states of the so-called Confederacy quickly established a system of effective apartheid. The southern states, after a period of reconstruction following the war, imposed local and state laws that from 1896 ensured continuing racial segregation. The system was not fully undone until the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1963 and ’64. But that was hardly the end of racial hatred in America.
To cut the story short, hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi white nationalists, who were presumed to be on the fringes of the socio-political spectrum, are openly enjoying a revival. After many had prematurely assumed that racism in America had been buried once for all by the election of Barack Obama as president, several observers now feel that the spell of eight years under an African American leader heightened fears among those who felt that their vision of a white America was rapidly fading, a fear deepened by the continuing influx of brown immigrants from south of the border and other parts of the world.
So they put in power a man who spoke their language of intolerance of minorities punctuated by racist dog whistles. The Klan and the so-called alt-right have welcomed his tone on racial matters and assemble now in public without face masks. Meanwhile, an anarchist “Antifa” or anti-fascist movement on the far left has become a source of gratuitous violence that has alarmed moderates and quickly been denounced by the president and his supporters as pre-planned leftist disruption of law and order.
In short, the world’s two largest democracies are straining at the seams. How they tackle the rise of violently divisive intolerance might affect the future of democracy across the world.

Take your pick: Chick, Swine or Dung

Inaction is the widest form of corruption that goes unnoticed. Yet it is the real, disastrous, and the most prevalent form.
Welcome to the Indian capital’s annual 2017 celebration. It has all the known varieties, and each one at its highest. There is almost a bonanza—try one, get the other two free. Call it a lackadaisical attitude, call it deliberate, or dampen the brunt by saying, “looked the other way”.
Around three months back, the Delhi government had announced that it is arranging extra beds in each hospital to accommodate these deadly epidemics that have become an annual celebration.
It would be stupid to be sore or disgruntled over the present and predicted situation. It’s for Lady Macbeth to wash her hands, because she was so directly involved.
The common may suffer, but disharmony shall not come to them. That the top is so completely revealed, at least puts the common man’s heart to rest to blame his indiscretions! Not this door to knock the next time! There is no follow-up on the given word. Integrity, commitment, and matters of conscience perhaps belong to the administration of a different country!
It is rather enlightening to learn, that the country has survived, and has no alternative but to persist under an unscrupulous, inefficient system, which is not answerable to man nor to nature.
I do not know about the ratio of instant or long- term components of deviations that are supposedly essential to governance, but in today’s nuclear, space-age, and economically rising India, if an annual epidemic cannot be mitigated, (if not nipped in the bud), the question of answerability does arise, and there is a need to know the report in full transparency regarding action taken (which is not the money spent, but a summary of composite unit actions taken).
This better be clarified by the government in a day or two, because the popular phrase, “the worst is still to come” has already been copy-pasted from last year to today’s print. It is time that the necessary change in strategy is spelt out immediately. Having been warned by the High Court, months ago, the judiciary in its wisdom, may feel it mandated to ask for a full report right now, even hold open session hearings.
To put it simply once again, all that is required is vector control. With a month’s rain, logging of water in pot holes, wayside, a full breed of vectors are already in the air. All they have to do is to pick up their cargoes from blood of humans already effected(chikungunya, dengue), and from animals (swine, bird, other), and transmit it to a human.
Two principles, by efficacy that come to the fore are, to defog those places which report a higher incidence. That indeed is a reason, that more often than not one finds more than a member of a family affected.
It would be the same area, where mosquito repellent creams (generics would be rather cheap, and should be in surplus, as they don’t seem to have addressed the estimates), as well as mosquito killer sprays (a part of the transparency required is how many are in stock, how many distributed, and a confirmation from the user). Subsequent monitoring of the incidence from the same area is the only yardstick that epidemiologic brakes are working. Why shouldn’t they?
The second, again no atomic science, is to clear up all the logged water in the streets, playgrounds in the same place. That would require just a tanker with a broad mouth suction tube. One can have smaller ones, for smaller by-lanes. At the same time, disinfectants may be sprayed on the cleared- up water pools. The “safai karamchari association”, know it all at the back of their palms, to guide one to the hotspots and do need a seasonal bonus for that.
In politics, to be clever, one has to be clever! Imagine a structure of a government dispensary with four A/Cs installed for the last four months, bearing the leaders’ photographs, but no dispensing! One can’t fool all the people all the time!
Way side Ads, “This year the people of Delhi shall fight dengue on their own”, showing a family, and a small mosquito, that actually scares, because there is another one that intermittently sits on it, and takes-off as you slide your car under the hoarding. The fleeting impression that passes your mind is whether mosquito on the hoarding has actually gone live, and inspires thousands of others to repeat the said act, with a full family drawn on the same hoarding! (hint: Metro pedestrian over-ridge crossing, near a large South Delhi hospital.)
Now this is serious business, which can only be revealed with some confidentiality. The first patient who succumbed to a vector borne virus bite was two days earlier than the child reported at another major hospital in central Delhi. This particular man hailed and had been to Sultanpur (UP), just two to three weeks earlier. I suppose there are cases of infection reported in people, in those who frequently visit to entertain people from such areas.
This triple bug epidemic is likely to cause expenses in terms of hospitalisations, loss of man hours (take ten days to a fortnight, for work fitness), morbidity, associated arthralgia that take months to go. Blood products as platelets are expensive, and many a time not well screened to cause other chronic infections as hepatitis, keeping in hold other dreaded ones.
An immediate action plan needs to be put into place, with a vector control agency taking charge of the protocol to be followed, and an epidemiological department to note the reduction in incidence.
The whole episode throws a suspicion as to how true, sincere, and responsible are we as a race, when it comes to pick up a responsible job!
That lack of doggedness to pursue a promise given from a chair of responsibility, when one is under oath.
Is this the weak gene of an ancient Indian Civilisation?
Are “cuts” and “shortcuts” inherent in our psyche?
We still have two months to turn the tide!
See you at the Delhi marathon, if you manage to escape the sting!
“Hamney maana ki tagaful na karogey lekin,
Khaakh ho jayengey ham tumko khabar honey tak
-Ghalib
(I know you shall not ignore me,
But I shall be close to ashes, by the time you learn of it)

1947 and Bangladesh

Question was, did Bangladesh come out of 1947 or was it already there but delayed by the birth of Pakistan that year?. The Lahore resolution was ‘adjusted’ in 1947 from ‘states’ for Muslim majority areas of India to the ‘state’ of Pakistan. But what did ‘Pakistan’ mean to future Bangladeshis ?
The Muslim peasantry in Bengal suffered under zamindars, mostly Hindus, for a long time and the emerging Muslim middle class wanted more jobs and less competition. The 1946 vote was for the end of zamindary oppression and more economic space for the middle class, not about the assertion of political identity as Muslims leading to Pakistan. At best it was for an independent state as mentioned in the Lahore Resolution of 1940, not the revised One Pakistan of 1947 as announced by Jinnah.
The Pakistan of 1947 not only delayed Bangladesh but planted the bitter tubers that bred the killing fields of 1971. It was inevitable. East and West Pakistan had very different histories of identities. To Bengali Muslims, being a Muslim mattered as much as being a Bengali, a point raised even when Muslim League was formed in 1906.
Unhappiness with the centralized Pakistan of 1947 began early in East Pakistan and protests were widespread as early as 1948 on the critical issue of language. These protests turned into rebellion and ultimately the war of 1971.
Such a not-so-long journey
Pre-1947 Bengal was ruled by the Kolkata-based Bengali Hindu elite. They were educated, well off and collaborators of the East India Company. In 1793 when zamindary was established, they had become the majority of the landlords. Peasants under them hated all zamindars, Hindu or Muslims, but most were Hindus so the class/economic hatred turned into community hostility.
The older lot displaced zamindars of the Mughal era –mostly Muslims — resisted British rule and used peasants to fight back turning resistance into a community response that influenced community participation. But the Hindu peasantry had no champions, least of all in the Kolkata elite. It took a hundred years before the British became oppressors in Kolkata’s eyes.
Bengal politics versus ‘all Indian’ politics
By the mid 19th century, the Bengali Muslim middle class began to emerge looking for jobs and professions in return for loyalty, copying what the Kolkata babus once did. As the contest between the two middle classes sharpened, so did politics.
The partition of Bengal in 1905 was a good example. East Bengalis were mostly peasants, mostly Muslims, mostly resentful of Kolkata and popular with the newly arriving Muslim middle class. In 1906 the Muslim League was formed in Dhaka which gave Indian Muslims a political voice.
But the Kolkata elite responded with the Swadeshi movement which went national and partition was annulled in 1911. Both Swadeshi as well as the Muslim League meant that there was a greater influence on Bengal politics by these organizations located outside Bengal.
Community hostility became political after 1905 but attempts to forge inter-community politics in Bengal continued almost till flag hoisting in 1947. In 1924, the visionary Chittaranjan Das proposed the Bengal Pact hoping to encourage great social harmony through affirmative action but it was rejected by the Kolkata elite and the Congress Party.
In 1937, attempt to form an alliance government also was shot down as a ‘regional’ not a national formula. Finally, the United Bengal Movement (UBM), a plan to set up an independent Bengal state outside India and Pakistan, moved by both Bengal ML and Congress also died in 1947.
But when UBM collapsed, several young Bengal Muslim League activists formed a secret group to work for an independent Bengal. All were admirers of Subhash Bose and the person they thought of as the leader of the would-be new state was a charismatic young man from East Bengal called Mujibur Rahman. He would become the founding leader of Bangladesh.
The language of violence
The decision to declare Urdu as the sole national language was not a cultural but an economic policy to cut off middle class Bengalis from seeking employment. It was met with immediate resistance by the Bengali middle class, those most affected by it.
By 1948, Dhaka observed the first protest hartal on the issue and Jinnah’s pledge to make Urdu the sole national language led to more protests. By 1952 Dhaka University protests turned militant and the consequent police firing delivered martyrs, essential ingredients for a national movement.
Meanwhile, the erstwhile Bengal Provincial Muslim League fully transformed into the Awami (Muslim) League in 1949 ending any significant presence of ‘Pakistan’ in the province. In the election of 1954, East Pakistan-based parties won almost all seats. The Pakistan Muslim league was wiped out and with it went the flag-bearers of Jinnah’s Pakistan. By 1958, when the army took over, many parties had secret ‘independence ‘ groups. East Pakistan was firmly on its way to becoming Bangladesh after a detour.
In 1970 Hindus and Muslims voted together to make Awami League the winner in elections in Pakistan but that also signed a death warrant for many. It was impossible for the Pakistan army to hand over power to a man who prioritized provincial autonomy over the ‘liberation of Kahmir’, the army’s main reason to exist. He was the man they had accused of treason in 1968 and hoped to hang. East Pakistan had become a proxy India.
When it cracked down on March 25th night, few armies had acted so sufficiently to destroy the very objective of the attack. But the journey to the final humiliation in December 1971 in surrendering to India and Bangladesh had begun long before, back in 1947, when Pakistan was born. Bangladeshis have paid a high price for both partition and unification.

The moral consciousness

We live in times where there seems to be a fracture between consciousness and morality. But an expansion of the former leads to a deepening of the latter
In the Shrimad Bhagavatam (1.13.47), composed over a thousand years ago, we find the following verse:
Ahastani sahastanam
apadani catus-padam
phalgani tatra mahatam
jivo jivasya jivanam
Those without hands are prey to those with hands
Those without legs are prey to those with four legs
The weak are food for the strong
Life feeds on life
This verse observes the ways of the jungle, where might is right. The phrase used for this in ancient Vedic literature is matsya nyaya, or fish justice. This is not supposed to be the way of culture. For humans have the wherewithal to overturn the ways of the jungle.
In culture, the mighty must not feed on the meek; the mighty take care of the meek. This is dharma. When the mighty feed on the meek, when humans behave as animals do, adharma is said to prevail. This is Hindu morality. We find the first glimpse of this idea in the 3,000-year-old Shatapatha Brahmana (11.1.6.24) where the gods establish dharma in the northern direction, which is indicative of stability owing to the presence of the pole star, with waters, which is indicative of fecundity and economic prosperity. “When the waters come, there is abundance and dharma. When the waters do not come, there is scarcity, the mighty prey on the meek, and there is adharma.”
In the 2,500-year-old Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (1.4.11-14), we learn, “A weaker man demands of the stronger man through dharma just as one appeals to the king.” Thus, the king’s role in establishing dharma, and creating an ecosystem where the mighty do not exploit the meek, is established. Rules and traditions, niti-riti, are simply tangible manifestations of the idea of dharma. A rule or a tradition is in line with dharma only if it keeps the way of the jungle out of society. In the Ramayana, the mighty Ravana succumbs to adharma, when he abducts Sita and keeps her in Lanka against her consent. In the Mahabharata, the mighty Duryodhana succumbs to adharma, when he refuses to share a needlepoint of land with his five orphaned cousins, the Pandavas.
Hinduism also recognises that the world is not static or homogenous. Everything is constantly changing (anitya). Hence, rules and traditions cannot be static. Just as Vishnu takes a different avatar in the different yugas, as per the Puranas, the Dharmashastras say that all rules and tradition must be contextualised to place, period and people (desha-kala-patra).
The ability to do this requires that one expands one’s consciousness, and outgrows the ways of the jungle. This means while an animal is driven by the instinct to see other creatures as predator, prey, rival or mate, humans have the ability to outgrow such instincts, and empathise with the other. This allows for emotions such as compassion and actions such as generosity. Greater awareness means one can see, without feeling threatened, the hunger and fear of oneself (sva-jiva) and of others (para-jiva).
This expanded consciousness allows one to adapt rules and traditions as per context, while still being true to dharma. This is how Vishnu is able to function differently in the Treta yuga, when rules are respected, as Ram, the eldest son of a royal family, and in Dvapara yuga, when rules are manipulated, as Krishna, the youngest son of a cowherd family. The 3,500-year-old Rig Veda refers to the society it observed as an organism made up of four groups of people (chaturvarna). The 2,000-year-old Manusmriti, however, uses it as a justification for social hierarchy and casteism. This came to mean that the brahmana (priests) is superior to kshatriyas (landowners), who are superior to the vaishyas (general public) who are superior to the shudra (servants). This has been used to justify Dalit exploitation and indignities. This goes against the morality of an expanded consciousness described in the Bhagavad Gita (5.18).
Vidya-vinaya-sampanne brahmane gavi hastini
shuni chaiva shva-pake cha panditah sama-darshinah
The wise one, full of humility, views equally a brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater.
Here, there is awareness of the different groups (jati) of humans and animals but one looks beyond the physical, psychological and status differences at the common soul (atma) that enlivens all beings. This is what is alluded to as a single social organism in the Rig Veda. In this state of self-realisation (atma-gyan), one is secure enough not to feel the urge to venerate the “superior”, or humiliate the “inferior”. One realises only insecure minds need to dehumanise others to feel good about themselves. Binaries such as superior/inferiority are delusions born of a crumpled consciousness. The desire to destroy diversity, and replace it with homogeneity, is also a sign of crumpled consciousness. Thus, morality is expressed in the expansion of one’s consciousness. The more expanded one’s consciousness is, the more moral one is.
This is embodied in the idea of a raja-rishi, a king-sage, like Janaka of Mithila, who has expanded consciousness and so is able to uphold a moral code of rules and traditions.
We live in times where there seems to be a fracture between consciousness and morality. Consciousness has become the realm of the guru and morality the realm of the activist and the policeman. This has perhaps the result of making consciousness expansion a private activity, rather than a social one. Consciousness is expanded not just by shutting our eyes in dhyana (contemplation) but by opening our eyes to darshan (insight) into the ways of nature and culture, animal and human. Failure to see the other leads the inflated, rather than expanded, self to be self-indulgent at the cost of the other, encroach lands (as in case of Duryodhana), and disregard consent (as in case of Ravana).
In the world of expanded consciousness, one is deeply aware of the web of causality (karma) woven by each action. After Lakshman cuts the nose of the belligerent Surpanakha, neither Ram nor Sita know happiness for the rest of their lives. Calamity follows calamity. And Krishna, though he establishes dharma, has to accept the curse of Gandhari, the mother of the Kauravas, as collateral damage. This is what makes dharma, hence morality and consciousness, a subtle (sukshma) idea, not simply an act of being good or bad, in the eyes of an approval-bestowing judge.

Saturday Special: King Without a Crown: The story of a king being reclaimed by a new generation of Sikhs

It is a bit of a mystery as to why it has taken over a century for Duleep Singh’s tragic life to come into mainstream narratives. Director Kavi Raz, whose film The Black Prince, the first feature film on Duleep Singh’s life, set to release in July, believes it is down to the belated interest in Sikh ancestry and the quest for identity through history. “The Khalistan separatist movement may have fuelled the fire and aroused interest in the mighty kingdom of Punjab or the Khalsa raj. It was the last stronghold against the encroaching British Empire and it was stolen from the Sikhs by the political manoeuvre of divide and rule,” says Raz.
At the age of 15, in 1853, the then rightful heir of the kingdom of Punjab received a gift from the Viceroy of British India, a book that would forever change the course of his life — The Bible. Maharaja Duleep Singh was thrust into power at the age of five by the death of his father, Ranjit Singh, who left behind a kingdom both feared and courted by the British. What followed was a tragic journey that, in the eyes of many Sikhs living in Europe, has still not ended, even 124 years after his death.
The Bible that Lord Dalhousie gave to army surgeon John Spencer Logan to hand over to his ward, Duleep Singh, marks a significant moment that altered the history of not only the kingdom of Punjab, which was soon annexed by The East India Company, but that of colonial India as well. After winning the First Anglo-Sikh War, the British had imprisoned Maharani Jind Kaur, but retained Duleep Singh as the nominal ruler. The young prince was separated from his mother and taken far away from the kingdom’s seat of influence in Lahore. He lived in exile in Fatehgarh, in present-day UP, in a camp built specially for him, under Logan’s guardianship. In April 1853, Duleep Singh set sail for the United Kingdom, having converted to Christianity. He was promised an elite education and a noble life in the Queen’s court, as well as a standard pension in exchange for his treasures, including the famed Kohinoor, that he had been forced to bequeath to the crown. Duleep Singh never returned to the land of his birth, and in having the young boy convert to Christianity and shipped to the Britain, Dalhousie had achieved what he brazenly remarked in a letter to a friend: “it destroys his influence forever”.
Upon arrival in mainland Britain, and especially in the courthouse of Queen Victoria, the young Maharaja found himself at the centre of attention. A young boy, adorned with jewellery, a talwar (sword), a pagdi (turban), a rajah like no one had seen in Britain, Duleep Singh was the first Sikh to step on the Raj’s home turf, and also the first one to never return.
Even before Duleep Singh was lifted off his homeland, his image of an enigmatic, young and handsome prince had grown within English circles. In 1852, artist George Beechey, painted the first ever “foreign” portrait of the young king. It depicts Singh, clad in royal jewellery, looking regal and unlike a prisoner, which he was. Before Beechey came along, Duleep Singh had been painted on canvas and carved in stone, like any other prince in the land. His earliest known portrait dates back to the year 1843. But when the squint-eyed, yet innocent-looking prince arrived on the shores of the British mainland, it aroused in the people a certain curiosity. As early as 1854, Queen Victoria commissioned a portrait of the young Maharaja, done by in-house artist Franz Xaver Winterhalter and so began the Maharaja’s tryst with attention and objectification that would eventually contribute to his downfall.
By the time the young Maharaja came to terms with the way the world looked at him, he had begun to grow disenchanted with his gilded life. As early as 1857, Duleep Singh, having heard of the rising number of mutinies back in India, expressed his desire to go back to his homeland. But in line with Dalhousie’s initial plans, the Empire acted in acknowledgement of what it would mean to those fighting against the British if the true heir of the kingdom of Punjab were to return. The young, disillusioned king remained under the Queen’s watch. Part of the reason why he could never fight his way out or rebel was his relatively lavish lifestyle that he was allowed to afford from a young age. But that would change, when the young Maharaja would meet his mother Jind Kaur after 13 years abroad, a meeting that Raz says is “the most powerful moment in his life and in the film.”
The story of Maharaja Duleep Singh, despite being so vital to India’s colonial history, remains relatively unknown in India. It was the same for about a hundred years after his death in the UK as well, until in 1993, the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust was formed, and as its first order of business, it commissioned a portrait of the Maharaja by British artist Anthea Durose. In a phone interview, Harbinder Singh Rana, chairman of the trust, says, “We commissioned the portrait because we wanted to claim him from the British. In 1997, we also commissioned a sculpture of him that stands in Elveden in Suffolk where he lived. It is an attempt to reclaim from the empire what is an important part of history of the Sikh community, not just in the UK, but related to India as well. There have been a number of events over the years that the trust has done to remind people of his legacy”.
Like Rana, historian and writer Peter Bance has been on the trail of the Maharaja’s story for almost 17 years now. “You need to understand that this was a young boy — a delusional young prince that the Queen presented or displayed like a trophy. He was bound to have an effect on the British. People started to talk about him in elite social circles, and even though he neither had his kingdom, nor its glorious riches, what he did have was the attention of the English folk and a lavish lifestyle that he couldn’t really complain about,” says Bance, when we meet in Delhi.
Bance, a Sikh whose family shifted to the UK in 1936, and who released a book on the Maharaja, Sovereign, Squire and Rebel, five years ago, says that his own first encounter with the little known legacy of Duleep Singh, was accidental. “I was driving through Elveden (between Norfolk and Suffolk) with some friends when we heard of this ‘Black Prince’. When I saw his home and the museum in Thetford, a few miles from his estate, where the painting by Durose was hung, I was stunned. He was one of us and I did not know of him. It prompted me to start inquiring about him,” he says. Bance began collecting information on him, talking and writing to people in and around the community in Elveden. Soon, letters and information started to pour in. In no time, he had turned collector and now owns nearly half of the available visual evidence of the Maharaja’s life in Britain.
In 1861, Duleep Singh, then 22, was finally allowed to travel to Calcutta to meet his mother, who came from Kathmandu, where she had been living in exile. The meeting between the son and his ailing, nearly blind mother, Bance believes, was the turning point in Singh’s life. “Jind Kaur was a woman proud of her history and she despised the British. She was shocked to see that her son had become one of them, and it is safe to say that she let him know how delusional his new avatar was. Imagine meeting your son after 13 years, and not being able to identify with the boy you gave birth to. When Sikhs who were serving in the army around Calcutta learned that the Maharaja was in town, they gathered around the premises where he was staying, and raised slogans in his support. Duleep Singh felt, at least momentarily, that he belonged. His life would never be the same again,” says Bance.
The Maharani accompanied her son to the UK, but died a couple of years later in 1863. Though the British wanted to give her a Christian burial, dissenting Sikhs within the British ranks — the Maharaja included — ensured that she was cremated in Bombay.
The Maharani had left her mark on her son. However, Duleep Singh’s actions were never decisive. During his trip to India to cremate his mother, Singh stopped in Cairo, Egypt, where he regularly visited the missionary schools. He met and married his first Bamba Muller, daughter of a German merchant there. They settled in England, but Singh was torn between his life there and fulfilling his mother’s wish to return to his homeland and reclaim his throne.
“The pension that was promised to him was never fully paid. When he got married and had children, he got more and more delusional. Financial constraints stopped him from revolting outright. He was balding, growing fat and losing his influence. He kept churning the pot through bureaucracy — writing letters to rajas back in India, to kings in Russia, seeking help. But that was never going to be enough,” Bance says. By the 1870s, the Maharaja was growing old and had lost his influence in the British community. An 1871 caricature of him by Spy in an issue of Vanity Fair shows a Maharaja on the decline, at least physically.
Eventually though, the son in him got the better of the family man, and he announced that he would return to India. In 1886, the Maharaja tried to escape to India, but was stopped. He was forced to return from Aden in Yemen by the British. A defeated and resigned Duleep Singh did not return to England. He lived on quietly in Paris until his death in 1893.
But before he went to Paris, Singh had allegedly converted back to Sikhism, an act that has given rise to the debate on whether his body, buried in Suffolk, should be exhumed and returned home for a proper Sikh cremation. “I would love to see Maharaja Duleep Singh receive a proper cremation according to Sikh rites, but the question that troubles me is that who will be in-charge of this, if it were to happen — the Punjab government or the government of India or even Pakistan? Where will he be cremated? Where will the mausoleum be built to honour his memory?” asks Raz. Bance disagrees with the idea of exhumation. “His will clearly stated that he wanted to be buried. Why would you then disturb a grave? He is buried beside his son and wife. What will be done about them? Besides, Punjab was partitioned long after Duleep Singh died. Technically, he was the King of Lahore, so are you going to distribute the ashes in half? I think it is a little pointless, and, maybe, politically motivated,” he says.
In 2009, Liverpool-based Rabindra and Amrit Kaur, popularly known as The Singh Twins, were commissioned by The National Museum of Scotland to draw the Maharaja again. The painting was a landmark, not only for its brave depiction of the things that were taken from the Maharaja — including the Kohinoor — but because it was the first portrait to be drawn by artists from within the Sikh community. “Duleep Singh’s life is a fascinating tale of tragedy, political intrigue, manipulation and struggle. It has all the ingredients of a great drama that is compelling and appeals emotionally to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike. It makes his story a perfect subject and inspiration for artists, writers and filmmakers. But, it is also inextricably linked to key aspects of Anglo-Sikh relations and the global history of colonialism, as well as the wider story of British migration and multiculturalism,” they say. Such has been the potential of this compelling material that the Maharaja made his debut in popular culture in 2016 as part of the popular video game Assassin’s Creed: The Last Maharaj.
Bance largely concurs with the Twins on the belated interest in the Maharaja. Duleep Singh’s story, Bance says, has resonated with third generation Sikhs in Europe, primarily because their previous generations were too busy settling down and making a living. “The Sikh diaspora probably identifies with him a lot more than Sikhs in the homeland because they feel equally displaced by the idea of home. As for India, it is probably a sad case of people thinking that he betrayed the Punjabis and fled to Britain,” he says.
In the eyes of the Maharaja Duleep Singh Centenary Trust, however, the story still has a missing last chapter, one that Rana believes they will help write. “We have proof that he converted to Sikhism before he died. His last rites, therefore, have simply not been performed. It was his right to be cremated with honour back in India and we are doing every thing to get it done. Bureaucratic hurdles will be there, but we are preparing ourselves for the long haul,” he says-

Swami Vivekananda and food

In a recent speech Prime Minister Narendra Modi reminded students of the achievements of Swami Vivekananda. This column, written some years back, explored a lesser known area of the Swami’s life, but one that perhaps people can relate to more easily – his love of food.
I had a small book of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings and found the maxims sounded worthy, but also a bit bloodless, more resonant than real and touching, at least for me.
And that was the impression I formed of Vivekananda, from what I read of his teachings, from the museums and monuments devoted to him, and the way he was treated in popular culture. They all seemed to show him as a heroic, yet rather remote reformer and defender of Hindu values.
The one exception is a book by Sankar, the Bengali novelist, originally published as Achena Ajana Vivekananda in 2003, and brought out by Penguin India in an English translation as The Monk as Man.
It’s subtitle ‘The Unknown Life of Swami Vivekananda’ might seem to hint at lurid revelations, but in fact it is a very effective attempt to bring Vivekananda to life, depicting the context he came from and the contradictions that he, like anyone, was full of, but which did not come in the way of, and may even have aided, his ultimate achievement.
Perhaps a novelist was needed to pull off such an act of imagination that involves neither hagiography nor denigration. Sankar writes in the introduction that he went through approximately 200 books on Vivekananda, and in particular drew on letters and reminiscences by his associates. No sources are cited and the stories sometimes verge on wishful anecdotes, but overall it hangs together, as a vivid portrait of Vivekananda’s character, if not entirely orthodox history.
Sankar treats his life through themes. The first is Vivekananda’s family problems, including the endless property related court cases that caused him much stress through his life. The details can get as tedious as these cases were, but they do give a realistic image of Vivekananda’s family life. The fact that he never quite escaped his family’s demands on him makes one appreciate the real-life basis of his teachings.
But much more entertaining are the next two chapters which deal with Vivekananda’s love for food and cooking, and his passion for tea. The big surprise here is that Vivekananda wasn’t vegetarian and didn’t just eat fish, but also mutton (though he drew the line at beef).
This is less surprising when one leans he came from the cosmopolitan Kayastha community and while his mother’s family was vegetarians, his father’s family was not. The Ramakrishna Mission, which he set up, mostly serves vegetarian food in its different centres, but this is more reflective of what people who go there expect from such places, and also the practicalities of running large kitchens. There was no original decree about vegetarian food, and the decision on what to serve is left up to individual centres and monks.
Sankar writes that in his youth Vivekananda set up a ‘Greedy Club’ and did “extensive research on cooking.” He bought books on French cooking and happily invented new dishes, one of which Sankar describes as a dish of khichuri (rice and dal) to which eggs, peas and potatoes are added.
One of his brothers, who was then vegetarian, recalled being forced by his brother to eat meat for the experience. All this was from the happy eating phase of his youth, which then gave way to long periods of near starvation, when he became a wandering monk, not begging, but accepting whatever was given to him.
Sankar devises an engaging way of conveying all this information, which also conveniently blurs the distinctions between strict facts and vaguer anecdotes. He puts it in the form of conversations between himself and an older, rather overbearing friend, who wants him to write a six-volume book on “Swami Vivekananda and Contemporary Eating Habits.”
This friend has apparently been researching Vivekananda’s love for food, and also tea, particularly in his years abroad and imparts the nuggets of his research to Sankar. This includes Vivekananda’s observations on foreign eating habits, and his attempts to get Indian ingredients to cook dishes for his hosts, though they tend to be appalled at the levels of spiciness that he loved.
All this parallels the experiences of other Indians abroad at that time, though Vivekananda was rather more open than most – an aspect, perhaps, of his practical approach to life. It probably also helped that in crucial aspects he was able to find acceptable alternatives abroad, most notably for the hilsa that he adored.
This was almost definitely shad, an American fish of the same family which was as relished on the East Coast of the USA, as hilsa is in Bengal. He wrote from New York to his gurubhais in Calcutta, “These days you get hilsa in abundance and one can eat to one’s fill…. They use a variety of spinach which tastes like nate, and what they call ‘asparagus’ tastes like the young stalk of dengo.”
Being able to find hilsa and Bengali-like greens was vital since Sankar concludes by debating which was Vivekananda’s favourite food. The ice-cream that he encountered and loved in the US comes close, but doesn’t make the final cut “because, after Swami Vivekananda developed diabetes, he could no longer have it.”
It comes down to shukto, the characteristic Bengali dish of bitter greens, with banana flower curry (mochar dalna) and hilsa with Indian spinach, which is the creeper called pui-shaak or Malabar spinach. Sankar decides that the latter wins, due to an incident when Vivekananda was traveling down the Ganges and found hilsa, but insisted on looking for the spinach as well. One man said he had some and would happily give it, if he could get some wisdom from the Swami, who willingly gave him some in exchange for the leaves.
There’s a lot more of interest in the book, including Vivekananda’s thoughts about the healthfulness of Indian food which, like Gandhi later on, he would come to question after exposure to the health food movement in the West.
It all adds up to a suddenly vivid picture of Vivekananda which, frivolous as it may seem, does more to interest me in larger teachings than all the lifeless memorials to him.

The Never Ending War

Trump has come down hard on Pakistan. Of course Pakistan is coddling jihadis who have rendered untold damage to American forces. But what exactly has it done now that has made the Americans so irate?
Left to themselves, the Americans would have been long gone from Afghanistan. But, heck no, Trump’s appears set to be the third presidency to be consumed by the “forever” war. The constant concern has been what will happen if Kabul were to fall to the Taliban. Once again the sheltering of jihadis like ISIS and other Al-Qaeda variants?
That is probably going to be the case. Jihadis worldwide are seething with America at what it’s done in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, et al. So there is every chance of retribution.
But what irks America so much is not just that Pakistan has brought it to its knees in Afghanistan, but that it is gloating over its impending victory. Pakistan has left out the Americans from Afghan talks, but has included China and Russia.
Neither country is contiguous with Afghanistan. China one can still understand, given how close Islamabad and Beijing are, but Russia? Putin is loathed among vast swathes of American policy makers; one of the few who does not despise him is Trump, which makes Trump himself despised.
This is the same Russia that Pakistan kicked out of Afghanistan. It’s never been clear why Brezhnev decided to wade into Kabul. The Russians have had an enduring fascination with Afghanistan for a long time, and perhaps Brezhnev, in one of his drunken stupors, deluded himself to conquer the unconquerable.
There is a theory that the Russians were after the warm waters of Pakistan but it has remained just that, a theory. Even in 1979, when the Soviets invaded, and the Yanks panicked, offering Zia-ul-Haq four hundred million dollars for his support, the Pakistanis laughed off the figure, calling it peanuts. Only when it climbed to well over a billion dollars did Zia bite the bait.
With so much money flowing in from America and Saudi Arabia, even if much of it was going to line the pockets of the generals in Rawalpindi, the country’s economy stayed robust. The educated middle-class Pakistani did not see the downside of victory: millions of Afghan refugees on her soil, the fabric of what was once considered a progressive Muslim nation soiled by the stains of jihadism, the Yanks upping and leaving as soon as the Soviets fled.
But the generals in Pindi exulted. They now had Afghanistan under their control, which they would use to export “non-state actors” to India. Now, actually for the last decade or so, Pakistan stands at the cusp of victory but on the horns of a dilemma as well. The victory is sweet but its taste is bitter. Pakistan has become a pariah in the West. India has not relinquished its grip on Kashmir one bit. The only thing that prevents a full-scale assault on Pakistan are its nukes.
Its nukes are what much of the world is terrified of. In the wrong hands, they would prove a catastrophe not just for the world but also for Pakistan. The West has inflicted such pitiless damage on Afghanistan and Iraq that jihadis would have no qualms in detonating something nuclear in the West. America would rather believe that it has safeguarded Pakistan’s nukes; it knows that such is not case. Beyond a close look, Pindi’s generals will not let the Yanks anywhere near their crown jewels.
Trump wants India to get more engaged in Afghanistan. India is already training the Afghan national army, but the sad truth is that put an Afghan in uniform, and he loses all his fighting instincts. Leave him be in his shalwaar-kameez, and a warrior emerges. Perhaps India will send special forces to Afghanistan to lessen the burden on the Yanks. Nothing will make Pindi’s generals see more red.
Pindi’s generals will not give up their nukes. They fervently believe that the West, India, Afghanistan, and Iran have hatched Plan B: that of dismembering Pakistan. Balochistan has been on the boil for decades. The Pakistani Baloch has his cousin across the border in Iran. The Pakistani Pathan his counterpart in Afghanistan. Sindh is always unhappy with Punjab, and the Muttahida Quami Movement looks to India (funny how those who fought for India’s partition now want to kiss and make up).
Left is Rumpistan, in other words Pakistani Punjab. Over fifty percent of Pakistan’s population, much of it’s territory, with most of its military originating from there. Rump it might be, but a pretty big rump it would be. Would Plan B then succeed and neuter Pindi?
No one knows the answer to that one. Each country is going along its merry way. Even if Trump wins reelection, Afghanistan promises to continue being the forever war. His will then be the third presidency that Afghanistan would have trumped.

 

Victimizing Women: Islamic Laws vs. Multiculturalism

In a recent landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court followed the lead of 22 Muslim countries — including Pakistan and Bangladesh — by outlawing the Islamic practice according to which a husband is able to divorce his wife instantly by uttering the word talaq (Arabic for “divorce”) three times — including by text or voice mail. The decision was not unanimous. A minority of the judges argued that banning “triple talaq” would be a violation of the Indian constitution, which protects religious freedom.
The majority of the judges nevertheless determined that “triple talaq” was actually “against the basic tenets of the Holy Quran,” and “what is bad in theology is bad in law as well.” According to the decision, the practice was in violation of Article 14 of India’s constitution, which guarantees the right to equality.
The verdict was the result of a petition filed by five Muslim women whose “triple talaq” divorces left them destitute, all because of undue powers bestowed upon their husbands by radical clerics. The verdict was an enormous relief to them, and other women like them across India. Its broader message, however, needs to serve as a road map. And a warning. In the West, the supposed dangers of multiculturalism are still regarded as more important than human rights.
In Britain, abusive practices against Muslim women are still undertaken by Sharia Councils with impunity. These practices include “triple talaq,” halala (a ritual enabling a divorced Muslim woman to remarry her husband only by first wedding someone else, consummating the union, and then being divorced by him) and iddah, a mandatory waiting period of three menstrual cycles before a divorced woman is allowed to remarry.
These Sharia Councils in the U.K. have been running unofficial parallel justice systems “everywhere in the country,” performing weddings and decreeing divorces according to the strictest interpretation of Islam.
In spite a liberal marriage contract issued in 2008 by the Muslim Institute, guaranteeing equal rights to British Muslim women (including the banning of forced marriages) — which was endorsed by the Muslim Council of Britain, the Islamic Sharia Council and other prominent Islamic groups — virtually nothing has changed. Britain’s Forced Marriage Unit reported 1,428 cases of forced marriages in 2016 alone. All Britain would need to do is enforce its own laws.
Haitham al-Haddad is a British Sharia Council judge, and sits on the board of advisors for the Islamic Sharia Council. Regarding the handling of domestic violence cases, he stated in an interview, “A man should not be questioned why he hit his wife, because this is something between them. Leave them alone. They can sort their matters among themselves.”
The U.K. is not the only Western country afflicted by and succumbing to such practices. In Australia, for instance, a self-appointed arbitration group called Sharia Mediation has been handling family disputes on issues covered by Australian law. In other words, as in Britain, Australia has a parallel Islamic legal system operating under its nose.
In the United States, as well, a body was established in 2015 in Dallas, Texas to arbitrate disputes among the area’s growing Muslim population. Although this Islamic “tribunal” is said to issue nonbinding decisions — and is being likened to Jewish rabbinical courts and Catholic tribunals — its opponents fear it will mimic Sharia courts in the Middle Eastern countries.
In Canada, the practice has been going on for more than a decade. In 2004, the province of Ontario authorized the use of Sharia arbitration in matters of “property, marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance.” The law enabling this — the Arbitration Act — was passed in 1991, to ease the “overloaded court system.”
What supporters of this form of multiculturalism fail to realize — or refuse to acknowledge — is that the very existence of Sharia-compliant tribunals is not only a threat to modern justice, but necessarily abets the abuse of Muslim women, lack of equality, and the total lack of equal justice under law.
It is crucial for Western democracies to outlaw archaic practices that rob women and others of their rights, and to cease enabling these laws in the name of “religious freedom.” In truth, justice is denied. India just took a stand in the right direction. Britain, Australia, the U.S. and Canada can and should follow.