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.

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Why there is no intent of cow worship and their protection in cow vigilantism

After the bloodbath during Indian independence religion was used again to spark tension and polarize society on a large scale when the Ram Janmabhoomi fire was stoked. But the intensity of that fire has waned with time. So a new issue has been fired up and wind has been blowing steadily to fan and spread this fire. Cow worship and ban of cow meat because of which gruesome lynching is fast becoming a common practice now.

I have been watching over these incidents but I have never once noticed anyone talk about the background of cow worship. Cow worship has it’s roots in the mythical stories of Kamadhenu (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamadhenu) in the ancient Indian texts. So why is cow actually worshipped? Because every aspect of a cow is useful to us. Cow’s milk and products made from cow’s milk have sustained and nourished the population of India for thousands of years. Cow’s urine and dung are supposed to have medicinal properties. Burning dried cow dung is supposed to keep mosquitoes away. In Kerala, coconut trees are treated in a similar vein. They come under the category of what is called as ‘Kalpa Vriksha’. Every part of such trees are useful to us. So it seems to me that a cow goddess was created and divinity was associated with cows to make people respect them.

Because of the Kamadhenu association, Hindus have largely refrained from eating cow’s meat for a long time. But times have changed and now a large section of Hindus including a sizable portion of the Brahmin community are indulging in beef and pork meat. Increasing Christian and Muslim population have increased the demand for cow’s meat. Here is my contention about all the fracas that has been going on in the name of cow. How does demand increase? When there is adequate supply. This means enough cow meat is being supplied to the market to meet the demand so people are asking for more cow’s meat. So where does all this cow meat come from? Cows are not being hunted from forests. They are livestock we have been rearing for thousands of years. They are made to procreate and reproduce so that the supply can be kept in line with the demand.

So the Hindu fanatics who are masquerading as cow vigilantes want cow slaughter for meat to be stopped. Fine. Then what is to be done with all the cows? Here is a summary of the hapless state of cow shelters (https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1027185557237989377.html).  Cows are supposed to be worshipped as divine mother (coming from from the legend of Kamadhenu) but all over the country cows can be seen roaming around the streets. I have stayed abroad and I have observed that one of the favourite pastime of foreigners is watching videos on YouTube of traffic on Indian roads littered with garbage, groups of cows lying and standing, hawkers lined up on footpaths and are mesmerized by how people navigate their vehicles through what is a maze of insanity for them and people are driving in all the directions at the same time. Forget worship, I would be happy if people were to show minimum respect to the cows for what they are getting from them and not let them wander on streets all day long. I don’t see the cow vigilantes showing any distress at the pathetic state of their “mothers”.

So here is the crux of all of this mess. If we look at nature, the population of every being is meticulously controlled. At no time does the population of any being goes out of control. Problem here is we are not part of nature’s food chain. So anything we cultivate and the animals we domesticate and nurture does not come under the control of nature. If nature has created buffaloes and deer to keep vegetation under control it has also created lions and tigers to keep their population under control. We raise livestock for our own use so we ourselves have to figure out how to use them and control their population. If cow vigilantes want cow meat consumption to be banned they should ban the procreation of cows first and not let cows reproduce.

Now cows are worshipped in Hinduism but not in other religions. They have no reason to bow down to the diktat of the cow vigilantes. Here is when the fundamentalists inside the vigilantes will rise up with the agenda of making India a Hindu Rashtra. But the mindless ignorant ones do not stop to think that all the people of other religions in India are descendants of people who converted from Hinduism to those religions. So what is this all about? One simple reason. Politics stoking fire in the name of religion to polarize the population and create vote banks.

I was a reluctant meat eater from my childhood and stopped eating meat when I realized that flesh of all beings including ourselves are made of muscle fibers. So eating any animal’s meat to me feels like eating my own flesh. Moreover flesh of any being has no taste because muscle fibers are tasteless. Carnivores have no taste buds and they are created that way because their purpose is to control the population of herbivores. We cannot eat raw meat and we take so much effort to cook meat before it can be eaten. What we ultimately enjoy is the combination of the taste of all the ingredients that go into the cooking of the meat. I prefer adding all those ingredients to vegetables rather than to the meat coming from another being whose life was excruciatingly taken away. So it feels idiotic when people ask me if I don’t eat meat because of my religion.

This is my message to the cow vigilantes. Have you seen how cows are bundled into vehicles when they are transported? They do not even have enough place to stand in those vehicles. Cows wander around on the streets all day long. When you talk about protecting cows, talk about the agonized lives of bullocks as well. They are made to plough fields, pull carts and do everything else we make them do and when they are not fit to work anymore they are sold to slaughter houses. Before you start worshipping learn to respect whatever you are going to worship. Moreover when you say beef should be banned, my understanding is that beef constitutes both cow’s and buffalo’s meat. So are you asking only for ban on cow-beef and not buffalo-beef? Why? Is it because there is no buffalo version of Kamadhenu in Indian texts?

If you believe you need to get the minimum respect for yourself then you also need to understand that all other living beings feel the same way. Why ban cow meat only? Would you take up the cause of all other hapless animals who are slaughtered for their meat every day? I don’t see you doing it because your objective is not to protect cows but you have other sinister agenda in the shadows. This is precisely why the people of Kerala have from all religions have rejected your attempt to impose the ban of eating cow meat on them. Regardless of whether they see through your agenda, the ban makes no sense to them.

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.

People’s indifference amidst global recognition

Thrissur, the town where I was born and brought up has been in the news recently. The most prominent temple in the town, the Vadakkunathan temple around which the town itself has been built has received an award from UNESCO for best conservation of an archaeological site. (http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/Vadakkumnathan-Temple-Conservation-Gets-UNESCO-Award/2015/09/03/article3007495.ece) The irony which was lost upon most people is that it took an international award to bring the temple to national prominence.

First of all, I am not sure if it was built as a temple at all. Built on top of a hillock with mighty entrances on all four sides, it has all the typical characteristics of a fortress. But there are more intriguing things about the temple. There is not a single historical record to show when the temple was built. Some say the temple is more than a 1000 years old and that is mostly based on the fact that Sankaracharya, a revered Hindu saint had visited the temple in the 9th century AD. This would mean that the temple is much older than that. The irony is, the entire area was covered in teak wood forest for a very long time so how could a construction of such a large scale within the forest go unnoticed and be not mentioned anywhere? Was the temple built much before the land around it became forested? We may never know.

About the temple complex itself, the legend goes that it was not build by human hands. It is said that the demon servants of Lord Shiva built the temple in a single night. Whatever the legend may say, a few visible facts do seem to confirm the association of a non human entity with the temple. First, the entire construction of the temple and especially the wall that runs around the temple. Huge wall, mighty stones, worthy of a pyramid like debate about how it’s creation. Second, the architecture and wall paintings inside the temple. In 1973, when part of the temple got damaged during a festival, it couldn’t be restored to it’s original form because relevant knowledge do not exist with present day artisans. Third, a mountain of hardened butter stands on top of a normal sized Shivalinga (Phallus), the result of pouring butter as offering to the linga for numerous years. How it maintains itself on top of the linga is a complete mystery. In the late 18th century, Tipu Sultan, the King of Mysore went to war against most of the Kings in South India. He gained the notoriety as an idol breaker during his conquest. He would take his army into Hindu temples wherever he could find them, ransack them and break the idols there. He entered Vadakkunathan temple as well and set up camp there, but for some mysterious reason, he neither entered the sanctum sanctorum of the temple nor destroyed any part of the temple. The temple closes at around 8:30 pm every evening and it is forbidden to enter the temple after that as Lord Shiva, his family and his demon servants supposedly visit the temple. It is also said that there is a passage inside the temple that leads directly to the temple at Kashi, the most prominent Shiva temple in India. Stories and legends do not get created out of thin air, so there is definitely something about the temple that is beyond our understanding.

Because it lies in the southernmost state of India, it hasn’t received any of the recognition it truly deserves. The temple was declared as a world heritage site that is why it’s age old grandeur is still being maintained. It is an accepted fact that no artisan can recreate any part of the temple if it gets destroyed. What is vexing is the respect it gets from the local people. The large area of land around the outside of the temple complex is largely neglected. All kinds of shady people hang around there and people urinating on the walls is a common sight. A festival every year in the temple’s premises makes it completely dirty and it takes days to clean. The fireworks after the festival shakes out a lot of tiles in it’s roof. The tragedy in 1973 happened due to the fireworks of this festival which burned down part of one of the entrances and was never repaired to it’s original form. Another tragedy cannot be ruled out and what it can do to the temple is unimaginable.

The questions to be asked are, how relevant is this award when people show scant respect to it’s magnificence? When the risk of another tragedy due to incessant fireworks during the yearly festival is always looming, how can UNESCO be assured of it’s conservation and the steps being taken for it’s conservation are enough? The governing body of the temple shows no interest in cleaning up the land around the temple. This award eventually means nothing other than something natives can boast about when they talk about the place where they come from.