Do Religious Tendencies Divide or Unite?

While the rape of the eight year old girl from Kathua District has recently been enshrined on social media and had yet again brought forward a surge of youth activists, it has also moved the shrouded nature on Indian secularism. I am not going to talk about the horrible and inhumane acts of the rapists here, but rather on how these acts were defended.

Many supporters of the rapists, and yes it is a very sad truth that every rape story has an undeniable line of people who support the rapist, said that this gang rape was done in the name of religion.

The Hindu-Muslim communal conflict has predated Partition in the Indian society, and many religious extremists treat human bodies as commodities to be conquered in order to establish religious supremacy.

Asifa was drugged and raped in a temple with policemen and priests being the perpetrators. When her body was being taken for burial by her heartbroken parents, they were tantalized by near-by conservative Hindus and were forced to bury their daughter in another a village.

This entire situation really brings up the question whether religious tendencies divide or unite. As an agnostic, I left my belief of religion purely because I did not support an institutionalized form of antiquated ideals that were dictating how I should live my life. And while I do believe that there should be a very clear distinction that separates religion from the state and from how we treat others, I always thought that religion created a community that could bring people together for their own  mental well being.

But when communities like this start taking their freedom and respect from the state for granted, I do start to wonder if the flaw is not in the religious institutions but in the government apparatus.

Religious tendencies have done nothing but divided us in the political arena. While they do unite us in our social lives, we must realize that our religious beliefs have led us to support organizations whose actions we might have otherwise condemned.

When it comes to coming together for the sake of humanity, our wants from our state are the same: we wants our fundamental rights to be respected and ensured. But it is our tenacious grip on religious “morals” that hinders us from giving the same rights to others that we wish to get.

So I stress again on the inherent flaw in my country’s legislative apparatus: the state-controlled secularism. India is secular only within the fading lines of its constitution, but in reality it has been perforated with religious supremacists from our neighboring houses to important offices in the government. What India needs is not another candle march, but a cohesive amendment to its executive bodies.

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Capitalist Culture

Capitalism is a largely right wing belief that the state should be completely withdrawn from the internal economy of the country and that the economy should be left, quite irretrievably, at the hands of large businesspeople.
While businesses should certainly have a hand in directing the direction of the growth of the country’s economy, they shouldn’t be allowed a monopoly in this aspect that affects the lives of all the citizens. State intervention is absolutely necessary in order to oversee a sustainable and just economic growth. Entrepreneurs and businessmen participate in the economy primarily for generating profit for themselves and not for the collective growth of the society.
The capitalist culture models itself around an extreme form of laissez-faire where the government and the industries are isolated from one another. And if the break down of communist institutions since the ending of Cold War have taught us anything, it’s that an economy that functions on an extremist ground is destined to collapse.
We need a form of economy in our countries that not only allows us the space to grow as entrepreneurs and gives us the flexibility to expand our financial aspirations, but is also liable to us for creating an environment where every citizen can be guaranteed a comfortable standard of life. It is our fundamental right to be free from exploitation, and that includes the exploitation of businesses on fiscal aspect of the economy due to their advantaged position.
Most capitalists misinterpret the notion of socialism. I have heard arguments from the right wing saying that socialism is “snatching away the hard workings of one person and distributing half of it to people who don’t work as hard.” People think that socialism is dividing the hard-earned profits of one person and unfairly giving it to other people.

Ugly

Menstruation isn’t pretty. But that doesn’t mean that it’s something bad or something evil. We, as a society, are increasingly coming together to realize that menstruation is just another bodily function and it shouldn’t be overshadowed by taboos.

Quite recently, I was having a conversation with an acquaintance and he mentioned that abortion is ugly. He said that he had seen some pictures of abortion being performed and they looked ugly and that was the reason he was pro life.

He’s not alone though, many pro life advocates stand insensitivity in front of abortion clinics and throw photos of surgical abortions at women, shouting at them not to “murder” their child.

The fact is, any sort of surgery looks ugly when it’s being performed. Menstruation looks ugly. Even giving birth looks ugly. In photos, they are all bloodied and just something we wouldn’t willingly incorporate into our daily sights. But that doesn’t mean that any of these things are bad and that they should be eradicated or hidden.

I am all for learning the reason behind why certain people choose to be pro life and I appreciate hearing opinions that differ from mine, but more often than not the pro life stance is based on such antiquated and superficial ideals that it really makes me wonder if it’s even worth calling it a movement.

(Photo from Ladybird)

Incantation?

first published at Luna Luna, Incantation, Paakhi Bhatnagar

In medieval societies, women with mental disorders or women exceptionally talented in fields traditionally dominated by men (which at that time were pretty much all work areas) were called witches and donned with robes and crooked noses in the imaginations of the orthodox Christian.

This was particularly common when women and midwives performed abortions on pregnant women against the will of the clergy or the state. These midwives were called witches and burnt at the stake by the state for honoring the choice and bodily autonomy of the pregnant woman.

In this modern age, we are reclaiming the name witches in order to lament the anguish suffered by our sisters for wanting to be treated nothing less than human. We write spells, embodied through poetry, that not only remember our sisters but also remember and put forward their works and beliefs for the younger generation. We are bringing back an infamous culture and shaping it through the eyes of the victim.

This spell that I had written for the beautiful Luna Luna is a memorial of the works of past witches and a call for solidarity and open mindedness in order to face the challenges that await our sisters today.

Repeal the 8th

The 8th constitutional amendment of the Irish constitution restricts the fundamental rights of the pregnancy person, saying that the “unborn child” (fetus) has the right to life that is equal to the life of the mother. Besides the fact that this amendment fails to recognize non-binary pregnant people and trans men, it also breaches the pregnant person’s right to full bodily autonomy.

Repeal the 8th is a movement initiated to repeal this amendment through the referendum held by the current government of Ireland. This moment seeks to give back the rights to pregnant people that were snatched away by a largely conservative, male, and Catholic legislating body.

To all those who want to #repealthe8th, and to all those who trust woman and doctors and face the realities – you need to play your part. Oireachtas can pass legislation for a referendum but it’s up to us to talk to family and friends and explain why we need to repeal. Even though if you are not Irish, spreading comprehensive awareness about the need for safe and accessible abortion facilities is a key aspect through which you can play your part.

Abortions will continue to exist in the society. Whether they are legal or not, women will continue to seek abortions during situations of unwanted pregnancy. It is up to us to ensure that these women are not dying in back alley abortions due to conservative and antiquated laws that regulate the female reproductive system.

Politics, Religion, and Idealism

The vision of a polity without the perforations of religious ideals has been advocated by many thinkers, but none as ardently as the late Stephen Hawking. He articulated the negative affects of consuming political processes on the basis of a particular religion through numerous talks about atheism. He provided a starting space for many people, including myself, to dwell in the greater meaning of existence without being restrained by the antiquated conditions of religion.

Having a strong political entity and a prospering State without any appropriation of fundamental rights is only possible when a clear line is drawn between religion and the government. Ideas of development need to flourish without being superseded with religious notions.

Even first world countries that claim to be secular are shadowed with the prevalent beliefs of Christianity where politicians actively defy liberal bills on the sole standing that they are antithetical with their religious beliefs.

This undue interference of  an individual, organisation, or institution in the functioning of the government body is called religious supremacy. Religious Supremacy is the idea that religious beliefs have the authority to overpower the coherent functioning of the state in order to re-impose antiquated norms that they are accustomed to.

It is in memory of Stephan Hawking and his incredible scientific endeavors that I ask for a redefining of political institutions, including world organizations like UN, to have a clear distinction between politics, religion, and idealism.

A Dissemination of Oppression

An unfortunate thing about oppression, besides the fact that it facilitates the mistreatment of large groups of people,  is that it is quite often not very tangible to those who are not directly affected by it. And when people, who are and have been for the most part of history in a privileged position, remain untouched by oppression, they start denying its existence all together.

I was having a conversation with a close relative of mine quite recently and somewhere in between talking about nothing, we started talking about political movements, especially feminism. This relative was of the opinion that feminism has become irrelevant in today’s society because women are treated equally everywhere and that the few restrictions that are created are merely due to the biological differences between men and women. And this opinion is not altogether alien to my ears, in fact many people who have been born and brought up in relatively egalitarian conditions believe that movements like Black Lives Matter and Feminism are antiquated and just a “waste of time.”

But what these people fail to realize is that just because you don’t face a certain kind of oppression does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Women are still very much maltreated and deprived of basic human rights in many parts of the world. Female infanticide and marital rape are prevalent in India and in many other countries as well. Safe and affordable healthcare to women is still a distant dream in almost all countries, including USA. In senates all across the world, majority of legislations dealing with issues relating to abortion and birth control are decided by overwhelmingly male legislatures.

There are still many issues that need to be addressed before we can firmly say that feminism is not required in the world anymore. Just because you have been fortunate enough to be sheltered from a certain kind of oppression, doesn’t mean that it isn’t being inflicted on those around you. We must use our position of privilege to speak for those being oppressed instead of blindly denying their oppression.

Is it time for the culmination of the pro-life – pro-choice debate?

The debate over the basic human right to bodily autonomy has been going on since much before the Roe vs. Wade case, which was only a small culmination of a heated political and social notion that has divided the world into two parts: pro-life and pro-choice.

But just like most questions on rights, shouldn’t this debate have been settled and resolved by now? For years there were people who argued against giving rights to black people, there have been protests against women running for primary seats in the senate, there have been movements against giving religious minorities right to practice their preferred religion, but in the US, all of these have had a concrete settlement when it comes to politics.

While there are racists and racists in America, it is largely believed that discrimination against the basis of gender or race is a gross violation of fundamental rights.

Then why do we not have a similar notion for the right to seek and access safe abortion facilities? This issue is blatantly black and white: the pregnant sentient person has the right to bodily autonomy which allows them to make decisions that affect their own bodies without having the opinions or beliefs of others forced upon them. Right to bodily autonomy of the pregnant person should always be respected. There is no law any where that says that it’s okay to use someone else’s body without their consent.And most importantly, consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy just as much as consent to driving is not consent to getting into a road accident. However, if you do happen to fall into anyone of those situations, you should always be in a position to seek appropriate medical care.

I feel that this debate has been unduly stretched over the past decades and it is time for us to come to a concrete consensus that every singly person should respect what someone else decides to do with their body.

Can Censorship Curb Anti Nationalist Tendencies?

India enshrines freedom of speech as one of its principal values in its constitution and prescribes it as a fundamental right for all its citizens, and this is in practice quite true, but only to a certain extent. While Indian media does enjoy a great freedom in expression of opinion, there is still heavy censorship when it comes to antinationalist dissemination of information.

The pertinent question here Is whether it is right for a country that stands of sturdy pillars of transparency and democracy to curb freedom of speech of its citizens in any way to maintain internal peace?

Many people are of the opinion that it is in fact justified on the country’s part to restrict access to anti-nationalist media, especially in a country that is riddled with secessionist movements and communal disputes. There is a lot of controversy over films and books like Padmavati or The Red Sari because of their inaccurate appropriation of Indian history and society.

In countries like India where internal demand for autonomy places a threat to the unity of the country, censorship to a certain limit becomes essential in ensuring internal peace. Developing countries rightly prioritize economic and societal development and this will become nearly impossible to achieve if the country is torn with civil turmoil.

This is why censorship to a certain degree is justified, just as long as it allows space for the citizens to express their opinions and mobilize the public in a peaceful manner.

Liberalism in Education

I have been born an Indian, but I have experienced my adolescence through the sultry environment of the Middle East. In neither of these places are people especially vocal about controversial liberal topics, sexual rights being one of them.

There are no schools in the Middle East that impart even the slightest comprehensive sexual education and from what I know, the scenario in India is not that different. What most of the southern Asian culture believes is that exclusion of the topic of sex will lead to abstinence, which according to most of the adults I know, is the only motto for an unmarried person.

Receiving comprehensive sex education is extremely important for adolescents. Because we never have these sex-ed classes in school, we are never explicitly taught about consent. Sexual assault and teenage pregnancies, although they are very real in our society, are never discussed openly. Even topics as common as menstruation are hardly ever touched upon because there is a vile consensus amongst most of the people that anything to with the sexual aspect of a human being is tabooed.

I think it’s time for us to alter our (the Indian) education system in order to incorporate a more liberal curriculum that can help us excel in not only academics but also as active members of the society. For me, personally, it’s especially vital that students are taught the importance of sexual rights. Most of my peers don’t know what pro choice or pro life is. They aren’t aware of the most dynamic controversies that is plaguing our society. It is so hard to create informed citizens if the education that they are receiving is so highly censored.