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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I am a Hindu and this is why I don’t need to patronize the Hindutva Agenda

I was born into a Hindu family with a Brahminical lineage on my father’s side till 3 generations back. My great grandfather married a Nair lady and since Kerala is a matriarchal society, the following generations did not inherit the Brahmin roots. My father and mother were born and brought up in Kolkata and Mumbai respectively and even though they eventually settled in Kerala, I was brought up in a completely cosmopolitan household. Caste based discussions used to happen rarely but there were no religion based ones. We do lament the fact that being upper caste Hindus do not accord us any governmental privileges like the lower caste people. I studied with kids from all walks of life from school to college and religion and caste based discussions never came up.

Being a Hindu never mattered till the Ram Janmabhoomi (Lord Ram’s birth place) issue flared up. I was in my teens at that time and didn’t understand much about all the fuss. Bricks and funds were being collected from every house to be taken to Ayodhya to build the temple. What people didn’t know at that time was, it was a political game kick started by Rajiv Gandhi and the Congress party to woo Hindu votes which would end up in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, provide BJP the political platform to become a national party and plunge the country into the perpetual darkness of communalism. The Hindutva card has been used time and again by the BJP to call for the conversion of India into a Hindu Rashtra (Country).

Now, according to the dictionary,

Hindutva is an ideology seeking to establish the hegemony of Hindus and the Hindu way of life.

According to Wikipedia

Hindutva (“Hinduness”), a term popularised by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in 1923, is the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India.

Savarkar’s Hindu nationalism included in its fold the followers of all Indian religions including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, but excluded the followers of “foreign religions” such  as Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism.

When leaders are not sensible and do not have enough knowledge and commonsense to take balanced decisions, the repercussions can ripple through the society for decades and generations. Islam and Christianity are the biggest practiced religions in India after Hinduism and both of them are indeed “foreign religions” but who are the followers in India of both religions? Every Christian and Muslim in India has Hindu lineage. Both these religions came to Kerala first and were accepted into the society wholeheartedly. The first Christians in India were Brahmin families who converted to Christianity. Savarkar and his band of nationalists clearly didn’t know India’s history nor did they have the measure of how diverse and accommodating Indian society and mindset is. People from all major countries have aspired to travel to India, have come and done their bit be it with trade or ruling large parts of the country. Indian society has undergone unprecedented cultural exchanges with all these countries and in spite of going through monumental changes, Hindu culture has remained untouched and has actually thrived. The enormity of being part of the most diverse land in the world is yet to hit in the face of every Indian.

The proponents of Hindutva should first understand that Hinduism is and has never been a religion. In the pantheon of Indian deities there are Gods who represent all natural forces such as rain, wind, etc. The earliest humans used to worship nature as part of their lives and Hinduism has it’s roots right in the dawn of modern humanity. Now this is where it gets interesting. Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism all have their roots in Hinduism. Christianity and Islam have their roots in Judaism. What does this imply? New religions sprouted out as improvements to the older ones. All religious texts mention about an entity who is going to arrive and liberate humanity from the clutches of darkness and sins. For Hindus it is Kalki, the 10th avatar of Vishnu, for Christians it is the return of Jesus Christ. Logic says only one entity is coming. If every religion is saying the same thing, it has to be based on some fact. From the moment the entity arrives, will any of these religions have any significance? Every human being is supposedly going to be evaluated and rewarded/ punished based on his/her karma. If belonging to any religion is going to be immaterial then, what relevance do religions have now? Every religion may be meant to guide humanity as communities to the time of arrival of that entity which is why newer religions have improved rules for societal life.

Now what is the proof that Ayodhya in UP is the birth place of Lord Ram? Ayodhya has been described as the biggest city on Earth in Ramayana but absolutely no evidence of such a city has been excavated yet. There are many places called London and Delhi in the world so just because there is a place called Ayodhya does not mean that is the birthplace of Lord Ram. Facts and fiction about places and incidents merge and become inseparable with time. Let me propose a theory for consideration. Both Ramayana and Mahabharata speak about weapons of mass destruction that were deployed in wars and annihilated thousands and even millions of soldiers. Scientific expeditions to Mars have concluded that the planet was just like ours in the distant past and two massive nuclear wars seem to have destroyed the planet’s surface and it’s atmosphere making it the red planet it is today. What if the incidents mentioned in Ramayana and Mahabharata happened on Mars and the stories managed to reach somehow to Earth?

To understand the concept of Hindutva, we need to look at who needs Hindu nationalism. If we go by the Hindu caste system, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas were the warrior and business clans respectively who were busy with their respective occupations and had little to moderate time for religious affairs. Sudras, the menial class did not even have the right to pray to God. People of all these 3 castes have successfully integrated into the modern society. Its the Brahminical class that has been steadily losing their relevance in society just like the might of the Church has waned off in many western countries. The proponents of Hindutva all belong to the Brahminical class which is again a minority group within Brahmins itself. I am bemused by their multi-fanged agenda about treating cows as our Mother. Cow is mother everywhere except in Goa and North East states and cow is mother for everyone except the Hindus who own the largest exporters of beef in the country. This is why Kerala society has chosen it’s culture of eating beef over the Hindutva diktat.

I would like to know how many of the self professed agents of Hinduism are actually aware that idol worship as a practice started only at the beginning of Kali Yuga and Kali Yuga started after the demise of Lord Krishna as per Hindu texts. Only one God has been mentioned as being worshipped in ancient times, even by Lord Rama and Lord Krishna. The perpetual and omnipresent Lord Shiva and I am quite sure most of these Hindutva preachers may not be knowing why. Destroying and subsequently paving the way for new creation is the most important and most intense activity which requires using the entire energy of the Universe with utmost focus and without any remorse, empathy and compassion. Temples are meant to be places of rejuvenation of our chakras and the energy flow in our body rather than the residence of Gods. So what relevance does building the Ram temple have for people who are being choked with inflation, lack of employment and education and struggling to make their ends meet? Only political. That’s why it flares up during elections and whimpers to its demise afterwards.

None of the above are indicators that I am an atheist or anti-Hindu. So much has been written in ancient Indian texts that it is impossible to assume everything as fantasy stories. We are just not technologically advanced to interpret them correctly. I am proud of my Hindu lineage but not arrogant to desire for a Hindu land. For thousands of years through the invasion of India by foreign kings and countries and their subsequent rule, Hindus haven’t felt threatened about losing their identity. There is no such danger now and there will never be.

A shameful murder and disgraceful soul shaming

India is aghast and agitated over the cold blooded murder of noted journalist Gauri Lankesh. I am coming across many theories being put forward as the motives for her murder. That she was staunchly allied towards the left and was extremely critical of right wing ideologies. That she was also in the process of hunting down the nefarious activities of some business houses and was planning to bring their veiled secrets to light. Looks like she was fighting battles on many fronts simultaneously.

It does not seem like she was killed for political vendetta. Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were incarcerated as political prisoners when they could have been easily bumped off. Reasons for assassinations run much deeper. When a friend and ex-colleague informed me a few months back that he had got in touch with some people in Bangalore who were working to start a union for IT employees in the state and the state IT minister was actively taking interest in resolving issues of employees who were being fired by IT companies, I immediately grew apprehensive. How was it that no IT union was formed for so many years? How did IT companies manage to come under the Shop and Establishments act under which they could hire and fire people at their will? These IT companies must definitely be funding political parties especially during elections so I told my friend not to have any expectations from the IT minister. He eventually washed his hands off claiming there were only performance based layoffs and he had no control over it. He cannot be blamed though. He is just a pawn in a system that is designed to work in specific ways for specific purposes and entities. Politicians are just the front men who clear all the hurdles for the corporate to set up and expand their business interests. Political equations change and politicians come and go so there are no long term interests in any particular politician big enough to order a hit on noted and well known people, that too a senior journalist on their behalf.

Corporate gets into elimination mode only when there is an imminent threat to their existence and sustenance. Gauri must have got her hands on to something extremely sensitive and damaging and if she did, she may have been warned enough to let it go and stay low. A case in point here is Arvind Kejriwal. He had made quite a few sensational revelations about businessmen in the past but never backed them up with enough proof. Now he has gone on silent mode and is working wholeheartedly on developing and improving Delhi. I do not know if commonsense prevailed on him and he decided to focus on governance or he was warned off to not pursue his expose agenda.

Left leaning ideologies seem to have their roots in their comrades attaining martyrdom to strengthen and further their cause. There is a movie (Red Wine) in my native language (Malayalam) about a social worker who works for the betterment of tribal people and is warned off from interfering in a business proposal to build a resort on forest land which he brushes off with disdain. The business tycoon is shown telling his people that the social worker belongs to the firebrand category of leftist leaders who can never be swayed from his chosen path, even with the threat of death. The only way to move forward is by eliminating him. Looks like Gauri belonged to the same firebrand category and because of her left leaning tendency she was probably never afraid of death as she knew she would be honored and remembered as a martyr by the people and the journalist community. Maybe she should have chosen a wiser path of discretion and bided for the right time, but none of us including her supporters and detractors have lived her life to judge her and make comments. She knew what she was doing, what she was up against and what could possibly come her way. I wish all of us could become a bit more sensitive and would not resort to stooping low and shaming someone even after her death. Those who are claiming to be the protectors of Indian culture are not doing themselves any good or to the country by abusing her unabashedly.

In her death, she has once again proved that there are no weapons more powerful and scary than the pen and an iron will. Amen to her soul.