The aftermath of floods in Kerala has been as tumultuous as the floods itself

The devastating floods in Kerala has shaken and stirred the country in an unprecedented manner. Nature’s fury, tragic scenes, political wrangling, communal rhetoric, diverse India uniting and a dash of comedy have ensued in the past fortnight. It all started when the Home Minister of India made a quick visit to Kerala and announced a immediate relief fund of Rs. 100 crores. Problem was, Kerala Govt. had asked for more than Rs. 1000 crores. Then the PM wanted to do an aerial survey and assessment of the affected areas with his team. Problem was, thousands of people were stranded in the floods in inaccessible areas where only helicopters could reach them. For rescue, military personnel deployed were only in hundreds. All state TV channels were impressively covering flood affected areas to the best they could. Politicians and government officials in the name of aerial survey were using helicopters that could have been used to rescue people. Moreover their aerial survey was inhibiting the rescue operations. They should have simply stayed at home and watched TV.

Then the Central govt. announced a flood relief package of Rs. 600 crores. The simmering social media erupted. A Govt. that has thousands of crores to give as loans to other countries and for building statues did not have enough money for saving it’s own people’s lives. The reasons were quite evident. The communally harmonious society of Kerala has never allowed BJP to plant it’s roots in the land even though RSS has been actively trying to find some ground. The frequent clashes between RSS and Communist cadres is the clear testimony of that. RSS has even gone to the extent of eliminating it’s own people for defaming the Communists as has been found out from police investigations in some of the cases. The Left parties won the last assembly elections and are in governance of the state now. Moreover Keralites have unanimously rejected any ban on eating beef. The Central govt. has been at loggerheads with the state govt and the Kerala society as a whole which got clearly reflected in the callous approach of the Central govt. towards the time of crisis.

What the Central govt. needs to understand is that Kerala is a part of India and is one of the highest payer of central taxes and excise duties to the Central govt. Kerala govt. had only asked for the support and assistance it is entitled to get. As per 2015-16 estimates, Kerala has 2.7% of India’s population and contribute 4.4% of its GDP. For every ₹1 Kerala pays to the centre, they get only 25 paisa back. And Kerala gets only 3.25% of its GSDP from centre. Every Malayali who stays in Kerala pay ₹12572 per year to centre in different form of taxes (2015-16 data). Rejecting the requests of Kerala govt. and offering measly sums as relief packages is clearly a violation of the federal structure of governance of the country.

Meanwhile a comical episode started off on the side when the ruler of UAE met a prominent Indian businessman and apparently told him that he would be willing to give a relief package of 100 million USD to the Kerala govt which was in turn conveyed to the Kerala CM. Then the ruler of UAE tweeted a statement of support and solidarity towards the people of Kerala which was responded by the PM with a tweet of gratitude. The next thing everyone got to know is that the Central govt. had rejected the offer of help from UAE citing an incident from the past when the erstwhile UPA govt had refused to take help from foreign countries. The ruler of UAE in turn stated that he never made any explicit offer of help. All of this made me wonder why people in important places are tweeting and talking about providing assistance for such a huge calamity on social media when they should be working towards getting help to the affected people. So essentially the Central govt. neither showed willingness to do enough for flood relief nor allowed governments from other countries to help which got totally exposed with this incident.

The communal elements across the country did not sit idle either. RSS was trying to spread it’s own organizational propaganda in the name of helping flood victims. Posts and comments started pouring in on social media about why the people of Kerala should suffer because Keralites still continue to eat beef and the women of Kerala are trying to desecrate the sanctity of Sabarimala by trying to get equal rights to enter the temple. Arnab Goswami has even gone on record to call the people of Kerala as shameless ones. All of these are stark reminders that we have only found freedom from foreign rule and we are a long way away from cleansing our society of the many evils and darkness that has taken control over our minds and thoughts.

In the meantime, the govt. of Kerala got pulled into a couple of raging debates. One was about the handling of excess dam water and the opening of dams which ensued in large scale flooding. OPIndia, an online news platform has falsely interpreted a NASA weather report and claimed that the timing of the opening of the dams resulted in the floods across Kerala (http://www.opindia.com/2018/08/nasa-confirms-delayed-opening-of-dams-coupled-with-rains-led-to-kerala-floods/). NASA’s report (https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/nasa-captures-monsoon-rains-bringing-flooding-to-india/) only mentions that above average rainfall caused floods in certain parts of India. Nowhere does it link floods with the management of the dams. Commonsense says same amount of water would have flowed out regardless of when the dam was opened. Only difference would have been in the amount of pressure of the released water. In normal case, rainwater swells rivers which ultimately flows out into the sea. In this case, excess rainwater swelled up river banks and water flowed into human settlements where it got stuck causing floods. Excessive rainfall, human encroachment of land, poor maintenance of drainage systems can all be blamed, but questioning the timing of opening of dams is blatant blaming and false propaganda against the Kerala govt. The Minister of Fisheries of Kerala has stated in an interview on a state TV channel that people had claimed land from the rivers for their constructions and farming and the rivers simply took back those lands which was the best way to explain what had happened. Flooding in human settlements should not be blamed on any governments in particular. The civil administration (municipalities, corporations) should be taken to task for illegal constructions, unplanned expansion of towns and cities and poor maintenance of infrastructure.

The second one was about a 2011 environmental report which stated that large scale sand mining and deforestation is damaging the environment and destabilizing the natural ecosystem of the Western Ghats. This is not for any one govt to take blame. When there is no control over population growth and we venture out into destroying nature for our needs, nature will take it’s own course of corrective actions to stabilize itself. Destruction of nature has been happening across all the states. Nature conservation and environmental protection is a national level problem which the Central govt. and all state govts should come together and discuss upon. Maybe it is time we took a leaf out of China’s development model. Every year a certain amount of forest land is acquired for development activities and at the same time a certain amount of unused or waste land is marked for conversion back into forest area.

In between such a massive tragedy and all the ensuing chaos and mud slinging three factors have stood as silver linings and shining beacons. The first one is the communal harmony of the Kerala society which has only grown stronger in the face of the calamity. In the aftermath of the floods, pictures have emerged of Muslims cleaning a temple compound, something unimaginable in most places in India. Second is the absolutely massive level of support and solidarity Kerala has received from all over India. Support in the form of relief funds and materials have flowed to Kerala right from Jammu and Kashmir. Just the ideal reminder that we may be divided by many reasons but it takes just one reason to unite our minds and thoughts.

The third one is the best of it all. The fishermen of Kerala swooped into the flood waters to save lives as if they were from another world. None of the military might of the world can match their skills in water. They ride the huge waves and choppy waters of the seas in their boats and ships like normal people walk in the park. They moved in silently into the flood waters, saved thousands of lives and went back expecting nothing in return and earning the highest respect from all quarters. When high seas ravage their dwellings and they have to rebuild their lives year after year the rest of the state lives in complete ignorance about it. It is high time the state govt. starts working towards the betterment of the fishermen community.

I am not sure if we have seen the last of the controversies yet. Someone has tweeted questioning the possibility of using the gold stored in the vaults of the Padmanabhaswami temple in Thiruvananthapuram. I am waiting to see if this is going to stir the hornet’s nest. The problem with using the gold is, if we knew why so much gold was accumulated and stored we would also know when to use it.

Advertisements

Christianity needs to shed its age old male dominated Orthodoxy to stay relevant

The Church has crossed all boundaries of blasphemy with the recent revelations about the string of sexual abuse cases in Kerala. I am writing “The Church” to represent all churches in India and across the globe. Accusations of sexual abuse from inside the hallowed walls of the Church have been flying thick and fast from across the world in recent times. I am not a Christian but I have very good friends who are Christians and I do not intend to hurt their religious sentiments in any way with this article.
I had come across an article sometime back stating that religions and especially Christianity is dying in 10 countries. When I was in the Netherlands I had noticed that people were mostly not inclined towards religions and did not engage in discussions about religions. So why is this radical shift happening now? Here is my take on it. Netherlands has a progressive and prosperous society and as they reached the present level of maturity as a society, their tendency to attribute the highs and lows in their lives to external influences must have also decreased. Every religion advises us to live good lives, work hard and become successful and not hurt anyone intentionally. These are basic human values and need not be associated with any religion which is what I observed during my time in the Netherlands. Further and latest endorsement of this is Canada banning all teachings of Christianity from classrooms.
The crux of the matter goes far deeper though. There was no religion called Hinduism till idol worship started in the Kali Yuga as mentioned in ancient Indian texts. None of the Hindu Gods have created Hinduism. Vedas were written to define and streamline the erstwhile society but they do not define Hinduism as claimed by the proponents of Hindutva. Similarly Jesus Christ did not create Christianity and the Church, his followers did. Now here’s the thing. Jesus is referred to as the son of God, so there is God, Jesus and then the Church in Christianity. Jesus never claimed to represent God and neither created a religion called Christianity nor the Church so I believe the Church cannot claim to represent him just like Hindu temples can have idols of Gods but cannot claim to represent any of them. It is a known historical fact that Constantine, the Emperor of Rome integrated the followers of Jesus into Rome and gave shape to what would become a new religion called Christianity. Now the question is, where to put our beliefs. Before Lord Krishna left earth, he had advised that in Kali Yuga, only He can hear people’s prayers so people need to pray to Him. Since Jesus is mentioned as the son of God, praying to him will be the way to reaching out to God. But going by my statement that the Church cannot claim to represent Jesus, is adhering to the diktats of the Church the way or the only way of reaching out to him?
There have been many issues attributed to or plaguing the Church through the course of it’s existence. Thousands of free thinking women were supposedly branded as witches by the Church and burned on the stakes during the Dark Ages, best exemplified by the story of the Joan of Arc. The Church also ignited the Crusades by persuading Britain and France to send their armies to Jerusalem to free the supposedly Holy Land from Muslim rule. Jerusalem was portrayed by the Church as a land flowing with milk and honey but was actually the barren arid land it still is. But the most contentious one I believe in the present times is the rule of confession. The neighborhood around every Church is under the hegemony of the Church’s priest, commonly addressed as father. The fathers are supposed to know everything that is happening in every Christian household under their watch. Done wisely and honestly, this practice amounts to uniting all those families into a community. Treating the father as a mentor and guide and confessing to him about our circumstances and actions, taking his advice and him praying on our behalf are all great practices. But to me, making confessions mandatory is nefarious and not well intended. Religions are never supposed to enforce any rules on its followers. The risk is always there that we could become hostage to our own words in case the father we are confessing to turns rogue. This is exactly what has happened in one of the latest sex abuse scandals to hit the Church. A union minister in the capacity of being a Christian has waded into the issue and is trying to gain consensus to rebuke the attempt by the National Women’s Commission (NCW) to ban the practice of confession in churches (https://thewire.in/women/reject-ncw-recommendations-to-ban-confessions-in-churches-alphons-to-pm). My take here is that the practice of confessions should only be by the free will of people and enforcing it upon them amounts to controlling and enslaving them to the Church which is draconian and law of the Dark Ages and should not be allowed to continue.
I have always felt a sense of vulnerability at young girls and women joining or made to join nunneries under the Church and spending their lives supposedly in the service of God. It places far greater moral virtuosity on the male dominated structure of the Church than is logically comprehensible. Now that this incident of sexual abuse of one nun has come out in the open, the premise opens out that more nuns could have been the prey of sexual abuse for decades or even centuries and they were hushed up and made to suffer silently in the name of Jesus and for the sake of Christianity. Though many serious and satirical movies about the state and affairs of the Church in Kerala have been made in Malayalam, one movie, The Romans, deserves special mention here and is worth a watch.
I am wondering what might Jesus be thinking if he is indeed watching all of what is happening from somewhere. My heart melts at the thought of a poor shepherd who had chosen to teach people to live well, not hurt each other and had died for them and what has got created over the centuries in his name. True followers of Islam have always maintained that none of them can indulge in violence especially against their own kind and the ones who use violence are not followers of Islam. I am inclined to believe this because no human being who prays diligently for 5 times a day can detach himself/herself from the spiritual world and embrace violence. Similarly, the Church can no longer hold on to it’s claim of representing Jesus and continue with it’s orthodox, male dominated structure and let damning incidents such as sexual abuse of women and children happen under it’s umbrella. Every organization and practice needs to be revamped and revised to stay relevant as the society evolves and no religions are exempt from it.

Jesus Christ deserves far better for giving up his life for our sins.