THE JOURNEY OF SURVIVORS

70,000-year history of Indian sub-continent

REDISCOVERING INDIA

Unraveling the mystery of our roots to understand the present and predict the future.

WOMEN, SEX AND PREJUDICE

Do we have it in us to give the fairer sex the place they deserve?.

CURRENT AFFAIRS

Change of world order. Religious Terrorism. Where are we heading?.

INCREDIBLE INDIA

Wanderlust Hodophiles.

Welcome to KHOJ: The search to know our roots and understand the meaning of our existence.

Prejudice is the biggest problem in the society. It can be it in terms of religion, cast, sex, skin-colour, status etc. Prejudice can also be in form of the feeling that human beings are the greatest creation, or even patriotism about artificially created borders. The motto of KHOJ is to gain knowledge and break that prejudice. But there is a word of caution for the readers. To break the prejudice KHOJ might throw upon you the concepts it believes in. If the reader believes on KHOJ’s perception without question, then KHOJ itself might incept a prejudice in the readers mind thus failing in it own motto. KHOJ is trying to break its own world of prejudice, but at times that prejudice might get reflected in its writing. Please do challenge them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

India and Intolerance

‘Intolerance’ has been the hot word for the past few months. While many people thought that the debates would die out after the Bihar elections, it clearly didn’t. The debate has been whether India has become more intolerant or whether it is just a political propaganda? We all seem to have an opinion about it, and I too have mine. The answer to the heated question about rising intolerance is not a simple one. It has two parts that one needs to understand separately. Firstly we need to understand what intolerance means and whether it is good or bad, and secondly we need to put the rise or fall of intolerance in India within a proper time framework.

‘Intolerance’ can be defined as “unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behaviour that differ from one's own.”

Going by the definition, it can be debated if ‘intolerance’ is a good thing or a bad thing. A civilised democratic society is supposed to be tolerant and have room for difference of opinions. That is a good thing. But if you are unwilling to accept views, beliefs and behaviour of groups like ISIS, then also you are intolerant. Most will agree that such type of intolerance it is not bad. So where is the thin line between intolerance becoming good or bad? Is ban on consumption of beef bad-intolerance? Is the brutal criticism of Aamir Khan’s statement good-intolerance? There is no single answer to these questions as good and bad is a perception, which depends on the person. When we talk about rising or falling intolerance we need to understand what affects people's perception of intolerance. 

Perception of ‘intolerance’ depends a lot on how media projects it. The TRP driven media can go down to lowest standards to get viewers. But, at the end of the day, it is the viewers who decide what gets them TRP. Media has, of late, projected an image of rising intolerance since BJP came to power. Let us look at some statistics reported by ‘The Hindu’. During UPA’s rule in 2013 there have been 823 incidents of communal violence while in 2014 (NDA came to power on 26th May) the number was 644. In 2015, the number was just 330 till June. What media has claimed is contrary to the statistics. Thus, the perception of intolerance and actual intolerance is not the same thing.

One thing that has changed dramatically in the last decade is the rise of social media. It has helped connect millions of Indians and gave them a platform to raise their voice at the click of a button and become a hero. Most people write post for ‘likes’ that boosts their ego and make them feel better. That is exactly what we bloggers do too. It is not a bad thing. The voices and opinions in the social media do, however, affect our perception of intolerance. Has the intolerance grown in social media? My perception is yes. The reason is the growth of the internet users in India. Also, intolerant people make more noise and thus are all over the media, even if their number is low. Bad-intolerance is when instead of debates we start insulting people having different opinions. Calling others by names like ‘feku’, ‘bhakt’, ‘sickular’, ‘pseudo-liberal’, ‘aaptards’, ‘anti-national’ etc. is a sign of immaturity. Such immaturity has filled the social media world over, not just in India. The reaction of social media to the comments of Aamir Khan is one such incident of our immaturity.



Aamir Khan’s comment came as a shock to me. Being a national icon and the brand ambassador of Incredible India my personal opinion is that he should have been more sensitive. But, people's reaction to his comment was even worse. It just proved his point. We can disagree with him and have a debate on it. We can share a few jokes and enjoy the controversy. But abusing and insulting him was immaturity. It was our show of bad-intolerance. In a democratic country, people have a right to give their opinion and feel free to express their sentiments. Did we try to understand why he said that, before we shouted in protest? The way people reacted to his movie PK and threatened him because he was a Muslim, even though the majority of the people who made the movie was a Hindu, could be a reason. From calling him a terrorist, burning his effigy,  to telling him to go to Pakistan was not a sign of our tolerance. If he or his family felt threatened, they had reasons. While the actual intolerance may not have gone up, our behaviour in the social media has increased the perception of intolerance. That is alarming because it does not take much for the intolerance to spill over from social media to our real lives. The responsibility lies with us to make sure that we do not let that happen.

The second part of this post was about putting the rise or fall of intolerance in India within a proper time framework. Is intolerance rising in India? My answer is in the affirmative. Is it rising since BJP came to power? To that, my answer will be no. Communal riots are not new to India. Over the years, since we gained Independence, India calmed down. All of that changed in the 80’s. As the popularity of Congress decreased and they became insecure they started to mix politics with religion. It was an explosive combination. Muslim Women Protection of Rights on Divorce Act of 1986 passed by Rajiv Gandhi after the Shah Bano case acted as a catalyst for the Hindutva Movement. Under Rajiv’s influence, the district judge of Ayodhya ordered the opening of locks to permit worship at a small Hindu shrine within Babri Masjid on 1st February 1986. It was a dangerous move that will become the root of the violence of 1992. 

Communal harmony deteriorated rapidly in the 90’s. Two separate episodes rocked India that challenged her claim of a secular nation. After the success of Advani’s rath yatra BJP went ahead with their agenda of creating Ram temple in Ayodha. They came to power in UP and the BJP CM Kalyan Singh himself was providing food and shelter for the thousands of volunteers (kar sevaks) coming to Ayodha to reclaim what they thought was the birthplace of Ram. It was 6th December 1992 when kar sevaks crawled over the mosque with axes and hammers, bringing down the century-old structure within hours. Advani himself did not expect the turn of events and later expressed his regrets publicly. But the damage was already done. What happened in Ayodha triggered a series of riots around India from Gujarat, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka to Assam, with Mumbai being the worst affected. Before the army could bring the city under control, 800 people had already died, of which two-third were Muslims. The riots were followed by a series of bomb blasts in Mumbai starting 12th March 1993. The attacks were made by the dreaded don Dawood Ibrahim as a revenge for the death of Muslims. This led to a division in Dawood’s D-Company as Chotta Rajan split away taking most of the Hindu gangsters with him.

The second episode was taking shape up north in the valley of Kashmir, once known as the paradise on earth. The separatist movement by Kashmir Liberation Front was now replaced by the shouts of Jihad by Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Kashmiri Pandits constituted around 15% of the population in the valley before independence. They were now the targets of the Muslim terrorist organisations. On 19th January 1990 mosques of Kashmir declared that the Pandits are kafirs and the males had to leave the valley, convert to Islam, or get killed. The women had to be left behind, to be used as sex slaves by the militants. What followed was a massacre of the Pandits and sexual violence against the Hindu women. Thousands fled away from the valley as the population of the Pandits in Kashmir reduced to 3%. The Muslim terror organisations of Kashmir got support from Pakistan and ISI. After the end of Cold War all the extremists who were fighting against Russia in Afghanistan found a new ambition: liberation of Kashmir and disintegration of India.


Since then the communal polarisation has only increased. Politicians have misused that to their own advantage. The social media is giving it a platform to grow. BJP, being in power, have to handle the situation carefully. Oppositions are going to play all cards, as BJP did when they were in opposition. It is upto BJP to be mature enough and take strong actions before things get out of hand. Not just India, intolerance has been on the rise the world over. Religious conservatism is starting to gain ground once more. Comments about i-card for US Muslims from US Presidential candidate Donal Trump and still being one of the strong candidates is a proof of that. 'Islamophobia' and religious intolerance has been rising even in a liberal democracy like US. Indian politicians say a lot of stupid things, but a candidate running for the post of prime-minister and giving such a blunt statement is going to make him loose all votes. While ISIS carry out terrorist attacks and behead innocent people, such brutality is still not thinkable in India. But, as intolerance rise world-over, India will not be left behind. We need to be very careful about the future we choose for ourselves.
Intolerantly shouting and claiming that we are tolerant is not going to help us. 
While ISIS like brutality in not expected in India, such brutality was not unheard of in this land. Thousands were raped and brutally murdered during the partition. The Sikh and Gujarat Riots were no different. Given an opportunity, we can be as brutal as any other community in the world. Let us not give ourselves the opportunity to become brutal.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

HAMPI TRIP PART 1: Empire of Apes


We have been planning this trip for years. Finally after six months of planning we were ready to head towards Hampi, Karnataka. We could have never anticipated that the ‘green-tax’ imposed by Delhi government was going to jeopardise our entire trip. The new tax that was suddenly collected from mid-night led to chaos and a seven-hour long traffic jam starting from Gurgaon-to-Delhi MCD toll booths. Luckily, we were quick to realise it and took a u-turn before getting stuck in the traffic. To catch the flight we had only one option - drive in Gurgaon like a Gurgaoite. Which means driving the wrong way on the highway. Thanks to the efficiency of Delhi police, after breaking almost all the traffic rules we managed to reach Delhi airport without getting caught. Check-in and security went smooth and we boarded the flight on time. The captain announced that the Jet airways flight was going to start before its schedule as per their no-delay policy. The announcement was the only thing they did before schedule. Suddenly, out of nowhere, fogs engulfed the airport. The fog was here before winter as if to see us off. The flight finally took off after a delay of more than an hour. Despite the unexpected start, our much-anticipated journey has begun.

Hyderabad Airport

Our flight reached Hyderabad at around 10:30 AM. It was our first visit to the newly created state of Telangana. We took a cab to Kacheguda Railway station, from where we were supposed to take the train to Hospet. The train was scheduled for departure at 9:00 PM. We checked in a hotel near the railway station. There are plenty of options for short stay near the station. We had half a day to roam around Hyderabad. Since we were short of time we fixed our priorities. Right on the top in the list was Hyderabadi-Dum-Biriyani. We headed straight to Paradise Food Court. The mutton-dum-biriyani was good, but we did feel that the place was over-hyped. Later, we tried Shadab [https://www.zomato.com/hyderabad/hotel-shadab-ghansi-bazaar] which we liked better. Next in our list was the Golconda Fort. Originally a mud citadel of Kakatiyas, it was rebuild in 16-17th century by Qutub Shahi kings. Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah was a king and a poet. Much to the dislike of his father, he fell in love with a Hindu courtesan named Bhagmati. Against all odds he married her and gave her the Muslim name ‘Hyder-Mahal’. The king later built a new city outside Golconda Fort. The city was named Bhagnagar after his queen’s original name. Later the city was renamed to Hyderabad after her Muslim name. Charminar, the icon of Hyderabad, was built by him in the city that he made his new capital. Another interesting tale from Golconda is that of the Taramati Mosque. The amazing fact is that it is a mosque named after a woman, and what is even more surprising is that she is a Hindu courtesan. Abdullah Qutb Shah must have fallen for the two beautiful dancing sisters Taramati and Premamati. Though the sisters were not lucky enough to become a queen like Bhagmati, they made sure that their name got written in history. The king was so pleased with their performance that he declared in public that he is going to grant any wish that they want. Instead of money the sisters asked for fame, they asked for a mosque to be built inside Golconda for women that will bear their name. The king had to agree. The legends of Golconda will bring a smile on your face even after the long walk around the fort.

Map of Hyderabad

Golconda Fort entrance

Inside Golconda


Bhagmati Mosque

Seesham tree trunks were used as pillars to built the fort

Internal pipelines to supply water from the tank on the top of the fort to the rest of the fort.

Ruins of Golconda...Most of the fort was destroyed during Aurangzeb's raid. 

Charminar

From Golconda we went to see Charminar and Mecca Mosque. We strolled around Hussain Sagar lake in the evening, and then headed straight to the railway station. We took the 17603 KCG YPR EXP to Hospet. Our car was already waiting at the station. We pre-booked a car for entire 8 days. 
The car was booked through Mr. Doddamani and we had a wonderful experience. Following is his contact details.

EMAIL ID kartourinfo.doddamani@gmail.com
MOB: number *8884007796 *9845342325 *9481736812  *8147210882
DODDAMANI M.D  
KARNATAKA  TOURISM INFORMATION AND TRAVEL BOOKING CENTRE 
BANGALORE and HUBLI

Prashant, our driver, was very quiet and gentle. Being used to the cab service of Haryana, his punctuality and humbleness was striking; and at times irritating.  When he was talking in his phone Prashant kept saying ‘sorry sir’ after all the sentences. Only later did I realise that ‘sari’ in Kannada meant ‘correct’, and he wasn’t being apologetic. My first lessons in Kannada. We went straight to our hotel KSTDC Mayura Bhuvaneshwari. The hotel is in a great location, very close to Hampi attractions. Food is good, and they have both veg and  non-veg options along with kingfisher beer. There's a green lawn and plenty of trees inside the hotel complex. Rooms, however, are not great. Beware of the guides roaming around the hotel claiming to be government recognised, they are mostly fraud. For genuine guides go to the tourist information center in Virupaksha Temple. 

Tasting the Thunder

Hampi is a place filled with mythological events. The place takes its name from the original name of Tungabhadra River, Pampa. Pampa, Brahma’s daughter, was a devotee of Shiva. Impressed with her devotion, Shiva asked her for a wish. All she wanted was to marry him, and Shiva agreed. During their marriage gods showered golds, from which was formed Hemakuta Hills. Hemakuta literally means a ‘heap of god’. One can trek up the hill to see the sunset. 
After having lunch in the nice little restaurant called “Mango Tree” [http://www.tripadvisor.in/Restaurant_Review-g319725-d1194465-Reviews-Mango_Tree-Hampi_Karnataka.html],  near Virupaksha temple, we took a ferry and went on the other side of Tungabhadra River. This place, Kishkinda, was once the abode of monkey gods. Walk the road for few minutes and you will reach the auto-stand. Hire an auto that will take you to the important places. The nearest spot to visit is Anjaneya Hill, the birth-place of Hanuman. The first thing that is going to catch your eye in Kishkinda is it’s breathtaking landscape. The large boulders scattered around, similar but grander than Alabama, is going to make you wonder what happened here? Legend has it that the boulders made their way here because of the war between Bali and Sugreeva, fighting for the throne of the Empire of Apes. During the fight they threw boulders at each other that got piled up all around. The boring truth, however, is that the unusual landscape formed by millions of years of (spheroidal) erosion of the granites, solidified acidic magma, that formed billions of years ago below the surface of Hampi. Even if for a moment you ignore the mythologies and the rich history of this place, just the scenic beauty of the landscape is going to make you visit it again.
Ancient Bridge

Tungabhadra River

Ignored sculptures near the ferry point

Bounders of Kishkinda


The whole trip on the other side of Tungabhadra river is going to take 3-4 hours. You would like to visit the following places: 
  • Ancient Bridge
  • Anjaneya Hills
  • Laxmi Temple
  • Pampa Sarovar (we did not go there)
  • Durga Temple
  • Ranganatha Temple
  • Tungabhadra left canal on reservoir road.


Map of important locations


Don’t forget to hop on to the coracles. These are circular boats, locally called Teppa or Harigolu, is made of cane and leather, and has been used by the local people for centuries. Domingos Paesa, a Portuguese traveller, described these boats 500 years ago. Nothing has changed over the years. If you have guts ask the boatman to spin the boat. It is an awesome experience. 

A Coracle
By the time we returned back to Virupaksha temple it was 4:30 pm. We booked our guide for the next day from the tourist center. The guide costed us 900 INR for a duration from 10am to 2 pm. Rest of the evening we walked around the ruins just by ourselves. The main part of our trip had just begun....