Category Archives: sociology

Cricket the vampire

Cricket the vampire

Forget about the cricket scam! If the Indian government would legalise betting, not only might it lessen scams, but the state would also reap huge profits. Most of the black money, cheating, smuggling, etc, happening in India is triggered by obsolete laws enacted by Nehru, which were meant to tax the rich to benefit the poor, but which in the end made the rich richer (with black money) and the poor poorer (with white money).

If only this present government would understand that it has huge popular support to make changes — forget what the secular press says — it could take bold decisions in liberalising, privatising and above all trusting the people of India. This would help the country make giant strides forward.

The government should also press forward in cuts of subsidies, also a legacy of Nehru. The present drought, for instance, is partly a result of water mismanagement, such as the farmers pumping for 24 hours without a thought for the water table, because water and electricity are free. Of course, the NDA’s allies will scream, for demagogic purposes, but they should understand that the BJP government will be in power for decades to come — with or without them. It may be because India’s time has come; or it could very well be that India’s time has come because the BJP government is in power.

But to come back to cricket, think of it thus: here is a game which is a colonial legacy of the British. It is meant to be played in cool weather on green meadows with a few spectators who shout “jolly good” from time to time, while sipping lemonade. It is not a game for a tropical country, where you have to stand for hours under a blistering sun in trousers, while frenzied fans scream their approval — or displeasure.

It is true that cricket has its beauty and that it can become engrossing once you have penetrated its subtleties. But it has become an obsession in India and has created a nation of overweight “armchair” sportsmen, who think only about cricket while neglecting their own body. Above all, cricket has totally vampirised all other sports.

There is so much (black) money in cricket that sponsors, TV networks and even the government have concentrated only on that game. The truth is that India is nowhere internationally in sport and its standard is pathetic, if not downright ridiculous, in all games, except for two more British legacies: tennis and hockey.

But look at China which in a span of 30 years has become a sports superpower in all disciplines, including nontraditional ones like swimming. Why can’t India, which gave to the world hata-yoga, which has been copied all over the West, or even pranayama, which is now spreading like wildfire, thanks to the Bangalore-based Art of Living, have a coherent and comprehensive programme which would build world-class athletes in two decades? Because of cricket!

The Indian government should restrict the number of international matches played by its cricketers both within and outside India. This will ensure automatically that cricketers get less sponsorship and have to concentrate on home turf.

The government should also evolve a bold and clear plan for developing all sports, trying as much as possible to bypass bureaucracy who stifle and kill all good plans (it would maybe make sense to privatise some of the areas such as training).

Then only will India become a sports superpower. It has the manpower, it has talent, it has brains; it could even apply its ancient knowledge of hata-yoga and pranayama to training and produce supermen, who would not use anabolics like the Chinese are rumoured to do.

P.S: A reporter from Outlook was asking `apropos’ the controversy of the Indian president’s visit to France: “How is it that the French press behaved in such a disrespectful way during his visit, when there is such a strong tradition of French academic interest in India — people like Christophe Jaffrelot or Sanjay Subrahmanyam, for instance?” The answer is: the French press behaved in the way it did with the president because of people like Jaffrelot and Subrahmanyam.

These “India specialists” in France are continuously highlighting, in the articles they write for respected newspapers such as Le Monde or in history books on the subcontinent, untouchability in India, or how this country is still caste-ridden, or the rise of Hindu fundamentalism, or how the Muslims and Christians are persecuted in India … Very rarely do they bother to mention that this country has an unparalleled history of tolerance, having given — and still giving (to the Tibetans, for instance) — refuge to all persecuted minorities of the world; that it is the Hindus who actually have been at the receiving end of persecution for 10 centuries; or that India is a unique democracy in the world, given its difficult diversity, a rampart of pro-westernism and a bulwark against the Islamisation of Asia. It is thus strange that when Jaffrelot comes to India to release his Hindu Nationalism which has greatly contributed to India’s wrong image in France, he is feted by most of the Indian press.

Mother of melting pots

Mother of melting pots

It was always thought that India was a melting pot of different influences coming from the West, either by trade or through invasions, and that she owes many of her achievements – her sciences, philosophy, or religion – to outside influences, whether by the way of the Aryan invasions, or via the Greek incursions.

But more and more discoveries, both archaeological and linguistic, are pointing to exactly the opposite direction: in the millenniums before Christ, it is Indian civilization which went gradually westwards and influenced the religions, the sciences and the philosophies of many of the civilizations which are considered today by the West as the cradle of its culture and thought.

American mathematician A Seindenberg, for instance, has demonstrated that the Sulbasutras, the ancient Vedic mathematics, have inspired all the mathematic sciences of the antique world from Babylonia to Egypt and Greece. “Arithmetic equations from the Sulbasutras were used in the observation of the triangle by the Babylonians and the theory of contraries and of inexactitude in arithmetic methods, discovered by Hindus, inspired Pythagorean mathematics”, writes Seindenberg.

In astronomy too, Indus were precursors: 17th century French astronomer Jean-Claude Bailly had already noticed that “the Hindu astronomic systems were much more ancient than those of the Greeks or even the Egyptians and the movement of stars which was calculated by the Hindus 4500 years ago, does not differ from those used today by even one minute”.

What about philosophy? French historian Alain Danielou noted as early as 1947 that “the Egyptian myth of Osiris seemed directly inspired from a Shivaite story of the Puranas and that at any rate, Egyptians of those times considered that Osiris had originally come from India mounted on a bull (Nandi), the traditional transport of Shiva”. But it is mainly Greece that was most influenced by the myth of Shiva: many historians have noted that the cult of Dionysius (later known as Bacchus in the Roman world), definitely looks like an offshoot of Shivaism.

There is also no doubt that the impact of the Vedas and subsequent Hindu scriptures, such as the Vedanta and Upanishads, was tremendous on the different philosophical sects which flourished at different times in Greece. We know that the Greek Demetrios Galianos had translated the Bhagavad-Gita. And even William Jones, the 18th century linguist of British India, noted that “the analogies between Greek Pythagorean philosophy and the Sankhya school are very obvious”.

German philosopher Shroeder had also remarked in his book Pythagoras und die Inderòf39ó that nearly all the philosophical and mathematical doctrines attributed to Pythagoras are derived from India.

It also seems very clear that ancient India played an immense role in the making of Christianity, particularly the writings of the Gospel. Alain Danielou thus notes that the structure of the Christian church resembles that of the Buddhist Chaitya, that the rigorous asceticism of certain early Christian sects reminds one of Jaina practices, that the veneration of relics, or the usage of rosaries are all Hindu customs”.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living, which is practised in more than eighty countries, also remarks that Jesus sometimes wore an orange robe, the Hindu symbol of renunciation in the world, which was not a usual practice in Judaism. “In the same way,” he continues, “the worshipping of the Virgin Mary in Catholicism is probably borrowed from the Hindu cult of Devi”. Bells too, which cannot be found today in synagogues, the temples of Judaism, are used in churches and we all know their importance in Buddhism and Hinduism for thousands of years.

There are many other similarities between Hinduism and Christianity: incense, sacred bread (Prasadam), the different altars around churches (which recall the manifold deities in their niches inside Hindu temples); reciting the rosary (Japamala), the Christian Trinity (the ancient Sanatana Dharma: Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh), Christian processions, the sign of the cross (Anganyasa).

Hindu and Buddhist philosophies had also a great influence on 19th century Europe, particularly in Germany, where philosophers, such a Frederich Shlegel, said that “there is no language in the world, even Greek, which has the clarity and the philosophical precision of Sanskrit,” adding that “India is not only at the origin of everything, she is superior in everything, intellectually, religiously or politically and even the Greek heritage seems pale in comparison”.

Shopenhauer agrees with him and writes in the preface of his “The World as a Will and as a Representation”: “According to me, the influence of Sanskrit literature on our time will not be lesser than what was in the 16th century Greece’s influence on Renaissance. One day, India’s wisdom will flow again on Europe and will totally transform our knowledge and thought”.

This is an excerpt from Gautier’s just released book `Arise O India’ (Har Anand).

When war becomes dharma

When war becomes dharma

In the Bhagvad Gita, Arjuna once throws down his bow and tells Krishna, “I will not fight.” Many scholars consider this an exhortation to an inner war instead of a physical one, against one’s own ego and weaknesses. While the Gita is essentially a divine message of yoga — of transforming one’s own nature while reaching for the absolute — it reconciles war with the notion of duty and dharma. Since the beginning of times, war has been an integral part of man’s quest.

Yet, war is the most misunderstood factor of human history. Sri Aurobindo in his remarkable Essays on the Gita writes: “Man’s natural tendency is to worship nature as love and life and beauty and good and to turn away from her grim mask of death.” War has always repelled man: Ashoka turned Buddhist after the battle of Kalinga, American youngsters refused to participate in the Vietnam war, and we are witnessing today massive protests against the atom bomb.

Yet, the Gita says that while protecting one’s borders, wives, children and culture, and when all other means have failed, war can become dharma. War is a universal principle of our life as Sri Aurobindo argues: “it is evident that the actual life of man can take no real step forward without a struggle between what exists and what seeks to exist”. And that humanity periodically experience time in which great forces clash together, resulting in destruction and reconstruction, intellectual, social, moral, religious, andpolitical.

According to the Gita, there exists a struggle between righteousness and unrighteousness, between the self affirming law of good and the forces that oppose its progression. Its message is, therefore, addressed to people whose duty in life is to protect those who are at the mercy of the strong and the violent. “It is only a few religions,” writes Sri Aurobindo, “which have had the courage, like the Indian, to lift up the image of the force that acts in the world in the figure not only of the beneficent Durga, but also of the terrible Kali in her blood-stained dance of destruction.”

Has India understood this great nationalist message of the Gita? Yes and no. On the one hand, you have had a Shivaji, a Rani of Jhansi, and a Sri Aurobindo, who, let us remember, gave a call as early as 1906 for the eviction of the British — by force if need be — at a time when the Congress was not even considering independence. On the other hand, the Indian masses seem never to have resisted invasions for centuries. Wave after wave of Muslims intruders were able to loot, rape, kill, raze temples and govern India, because Hindu chieftains kept betraying each other and nonational uprising occurred against them; the British got India for a song, bled it dry (20 millions Indians died of famine during British rule), because except for the Great (misguided) Mutiny, there was no wave ofnationalism opposed to them until very late.

We witnessed how in 1962 the Indian army was routed because Nehru had refused to heed the warnings posed by the Chinese. Just a year ago, we also witnessed how India reacted during the hijack of the IC flight from Kathmandu: instead of storming the plane when it was in Amritsar, India’s leaders got cowed down by the prospect of human casualties from their own side and surrendered to terrorism. But in the process India’s image and self-esteem suffered a lot and the liberated separatists are now spitting even more venom and terror.

Why is this nationalistic message of the Gita forgotten? There are two main reasons: Buddhism and Mahatma Gandhi. Buddhism made of non-violence an uncompromising, inflexible dogma. Thus it was literally wiped-off the face of India within a few centuries. Buddhism indirectly influenced Hinduism and Mahatma Gandhi, whose sincere but rigid adherence to non-violence may have indirectly precipitated the 1947 Partition.

Today, well-meaning “secular” Indians intellectuals still borrow from th Buddhist and Gandhian creed of non-violence to demonstrate why India should not have the bomb and get wiped-out by Pakistan or China, countries which have no such qualms.

There is, however, a lining in the sky: the Kargil war has shown that Hindu, Muslim and Christian soldiers can put their country above their religion and fight alongside each other. Today, we see a new wave of nationalism, both in India, as well as amongst its influential expatriate. 

Being Indian abroad

Being Indian abroad

What is it to be an Indian abroad — in the United States for instance? How much of yourself do you give to your American identity — and how much space do you preserve for your Indian-ness? This what Indian expatriates should ask themselves today. Many second generation Indians whose parents settled in the US twenty or thirty years ago, have merged themselves totally in the American way of life, speak with an American accent, think American… and in the process forget all about their wonderful Indian culture…

What is it in the American way of life that fascinates so many Indians? The fast life? Right: fast is exciting; but Americans live so fast — eat breakfast in their cars, gulp down meat and French fries, and often grow immensely fat. They also run the risk of getting ulcers and heart attacks by the age of 65. What else dazzles Indians in the American way of life? The lights? True, New York is a fascinating city, with its illuminated skyscrapers, its million of pulsating lights, its giant electronic billboards, its fancy bars, that one feels a kind of throbbing vitality entering as one walks the streets by night. But what a waste of energy, when the world is fast losing its sources of energy; and isn’t this a kind of artificial vitality, that fades away when one wakes up in the morning, with a hangover and one has to face the reality of life?

What else? America’s nature? No doubt, the United States boasts of some wonderful natural beauty and Americans have shown us what it means to plant trees and live in a green environment. But nature can also be an illusion here: a highway is never very far from the forest, with its thousands of cars pouring out millions of cubic feet of carbon dioxide, which annihilates natures’ bounty, as the Los Angeles smog amply demonstrates. Besides, America is an unending suburban concrete jungle, with its boring repetition of mega stores, parking lots, and KFCs. When you have seen a city, you have seen them all.

What else? The ‘quality’ of American life: barbecue parties, beaches, tattoos, fun and frolic? Yes, except that one out of three American couples divorce within three years, one out of four Americans consults a psychiatrist for depression, bulimia, schizophrenia or plain boredom, and American children often indulge in shooting other children, just because they are exposed to so much violence…

Is this the legacy you want to bequeath to your children, O Indian brothers and sisters, who long for the American way of life? For this great brain drain that has been going for so long, does not affect only the ordinary middle and upper class ‘secular’ Indian, but also many good Hindus. They put their children in the best US universities and accept the fact that their children will settle in the American way of life and will probably never go back to India. True, their kids get heftier pay cheques in the US, better facilities, escape the Indian bureaucracy, corruption… But what are they going to bequeath to their own children in the long run: insecurity, violence, divorce, depression… Above all their offspring, unknowingly, will be afflicted by a loss of identity. They will not know, nor feel like their grandparents did, this natural space of Indian-ness, which automatically confers certain qualities. What is that Indian-ness?

First and foremost it is this belief: ‘I accept you; I accept that you may be White or Black, Red or Yellow, Christian, Buddhist, or Muslim. I am even ready to go and worship in a church or a mosque, besides my temple. I accept that my Gods are avatars, incarnations of the Divine, but so is Jesus Christ, and also Buddha and even Mohammed.’

This an extraordinary statement and a marvellous instrument towards world peace, at a time when the two great monotheist religions of the world, Islam and Christianity still say: ‘There is only one true God in the world — mine — and if you worship any other god, you are an infidel and a pagan and it is my right to convert you by any means, or even to kill you.’

The September 11 attacks are nothing but a result of that dangerous theorem. As a result, Indians adapt easily wherever they go, particularly in the West, as they are very open to Western culture. Of course, Indians also go to the other extreme: ‘not only I accept you, but I am going to become exactly like you — not even Whiter than the White: I am going to denigrate my own culture, spit on my religion, belittle my countrymen.’ This is why so often in the US you can come across negative articles on India written by Indians — nay by Hindus. The Gujarat massacres were actually a great opportunity for these Hindu haters, such as Pankaj Mishra, to come out full blast and prove to the world that India is a land of Hindu fundamentalists where nobody is safe, particularly the Muslims ‘who are regularly victims of pogroms.’

Mishra conveniently forgot to mention that India is an extraordinary country of freedom, where all persecuted religious minorities in the world have found refuge over the centuries, whether Jews, Parsis, Syrian Christians, or today the Tibetans.

What else? ‘I have inherited from my ancestors the tools to become a better man, whatever my religion, ethnicity and profession: a better Christian, a better Hindu, a better Muslim, carpenter, or CEO, IT engineer, or sailor.’ What are these tools? Hata-yoga, India’s gift to the world, which has been copied and imitated everywhere (although Time magazine did a story on yoga without mentioning the name ‘India’ once). What else? Meditation, this extraordinary technique of coming back to one’s self, of settling the mind and the body, which is today practiced by millions around the world — another bequest of India to humanity. Pranayama, the science of respiration, perfected by Indians for three millenniums. ‘Does the breath have any religion?’ asks Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of the Art of Living movement, which has spread today in 140 countries.

What first generations Indians in the States should ask themselves today is: ‘How can I repay my debt to India’? After all not only did they get a nearly free education in India which was good enough for them to obtain well paid jobs in the US, but did they also not inherit that certain Indian-ness, which has been a great help to adapt to the American way of life? As for second, or third, or even fourth generations Indian Americans, what they need to tell themselves is: ‘what can I do for my country’? ‘In what way can I contribute to this great nation which is India, which is so maligned and sidelined in the United States’?

The first thing they can do is to counteract the highly unfair and biased press coverage which India gets in America by writing to editors, or challenging the shameful coverage of CNN (which depicts Vajpayee as an old feeble man, but gives hours of live retransmission of the recent Pope’s visit to Canada), or canvassing their elected representatives.

Finally, because of the continuing confrontation between Islam and the United States (Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan etc), even though Mr Bush thinks that the problem will be over once he kills the elusive Bin Laden, Hindus in the US are going to come more and more under threat. It will not matter that they speak with a perfect Yankee accent and think of themselves as one hundred percent Americans — they will be seen in the streets as ‘coloured’ Asians and could be mistaken as Afghanis or Saudis and targeted like the unfortunate Sikh after the September 11 attack.

The only solution for them would be that they start regrouping themselves under an ‘Hindu American’ banner. Not only will it rekindle in them an ancient beautiful and powerful identity, but also grant them protection, as it will quickly become known that Hindus in the US are upwardly mobile, Western friendly and themselves a target of Muslim fundamentalism. How will it be done? By the force of circumstances, probably, because left to themselves Hindus are too passive and selfish to do anything. Committed Hindus groups should also apply pressure on them, as the LTTE does on expatriate Tamils with funds and lobby.

Being Indian abroad, II

My article, Being Indian abroad, I triggered such a massive reaction that I felt it is better writing another column to respond to points made by readers, rather than answer e-mail.

Obviously, America is not only fast food, artificial lights, cars and a superficial vitality. There is a certain openness about America, a willingness of the American people to listen to other points of view, which is unique. Yes, America is also a land of freedom where in the last 300 years, people from all nationalities, social classes, have been given the chance to make it good. They have in turn responded to this unique trust by giving the United States their 100 per cent, which makes it the leading industrial and military nation in the world. One finds too a sense of collectiveness, a caring for others, which gives America some of the best road systems in the world and first-class public amenities, such as the community centers found in many American cities.

But is America really the benevolent, casteless society some readers are convinced it is? Well, I am not sure. For one, what the White Americans did to the Blacks not that long ago must rank amongst some of the saddest deeds perpetuated by one class of humanity on another; not to speak of the terrible and shameful treatment inflicted upon the hapless Red Indians, the original inhabitants of their land, a karma the US will have to pay for sooner or later.

There are also a lot of inequalities in the States: extremely rich people and some incredibly poor folks, mostly Blacks, for such a country of tremendous wealth. Secondly, are the Blacks today on a truly equal footing with the Whites? I am not convinced either. Barring a few exceptions here and there, one still finds an invisible and subtle ghetto, an unwritten caste system existing in the US between the two communities and their problems are far from solved.

India has had an untouchable President. Has the US ever had a Black president, or vice-president? American journalists and human rights activists like to highlight the ‘oppressed’ condition of women in India. But as early as the late sixties, India democratically elected a woman prime minister, the highest post of the nation — and that for nearly twenty years. Can the country of triumphant feminism and gender equality boast of a woman President? The problem is that most Indians suffer too much from an inferiority complex vis à vis the West, to point this out to the Americans who are constantly criticising India for its human rights in Kashmir and Gujarat.

Yes, in America one enjoys the liberty to do whatever one wants without bureaucracy and heavy taxation that one is subjected to in India, or even in industrialised countries such as France. But after September 11, freedoms have been heavily curtailed in the US, especially if you have brown skin. Compare this to India: I have lived here for 33 years, I have gone to the most remote places, traveled to sacred spots with my cameras, tape recorder and white face. And never once have I been aggressed, never once has my passport been asked for in the streets (try traveling in the subway in Paris if you have a brown face and a leather jacket), never once have I been mugged at late nights in Delhi, Mumbai or Chennai, whereas in Washington, the capital of the ‘land of freedom,’ we were told not to go out alone in certain parts after 8 pm.

Some e-mail dealt with the extraordinary ‘religious freedom one can enjoy in the US, where nobody bothers whether you are a Jew, a Hindu, or a Christian.’ Fair enough. But let’s put it that way: the American population is overwhelmingly Christian and nobody there finds anything to say that the President of the United States is sworn in on the Bible, or that in some states a Christian prayer is uttered before the start of the school.

India has a thumping Hindu majority (80 per cent), but imagine the uproar if Atal Bihari Vajpayee had been sworn in on the Bhagavad Gita! And remember what happened when Murli Manohar Joshi wanted to introduce the chanting of the Saraswati Vandana in schools. Yet, India has today a Muslim President, the third one since Independence. Did the US ever have a Muslim President?

Some of you have a point: when I say all Indians settled in the US should regroup themselves under a ‘Hindu American banner,’ it does look as if I want to exclude Christians, Muslim and Sikh Indians. Indeed, most of the protesting e-mail were from Christians, Muslims and Sikhs. Let’s answer the objections from Christians first. One Christian reader tells me: ‘Christians have no freedom in India, or else they are killed like Australian missionary Graham Staines.’

There is no denying this was a horrible crime and that its perpetrators should be punished — and they are in the process of being punished. But this is an isolated case and our friend disregards what the Christians have done to Hindus over centuries. The first Christian community in the world, that of the Syrian Christians, settled in India in the first century. They were not only allowed to practice their religion in peace, but they prospered here, whereas at the same time they were persecuted in Rome and later in many Arabic countries. But when Vasco da Gama landed in India in the 16th century, the Portuguese, with the active collaboration of many Indian Christians, unleashed a reign of terror in Goa and some parts of Kerala, crucifying Brahmins, razing temples, forcibly marrying their soldiers to Goanese women.

The British, even if they did not use such violent means, gave a free hand to missionaries to convert huge parts of India, particularly in the Northeast. Today, American or Australian dollars are used to still convert unethically, by using the economic incentive amongst tribals and untouchables, teaching the new converts to hate their culture and customs and creating a spirit of separatism, as the Christian Bodo and Mizo militants have shown.

A few Sikh friends also resented my not having mentioned Sikhism. Let me quote straightaway from Sri Aurobindo: ‘The Sikh Khalsa was an astonishingly original and novel creation and its face was turned not to the past but to the future. Apart and singular in its theocratic head and democratic soul and structure, it was the first attempt to combine the deepest elements of Islam and Vedanta. But it could not create between the spirit and the external life the transmitting medium of a rich creative thought and culture. And thus hampered and deficient it began and ended with narrow local limits, achieved intensity but no power of expansion…’

Unfortunately, the Sikhs, because they had to defend themselves against the terrible persecution by the Muslims, cut themselves from the mainstream spirit of Hindu tolerance — from where they originally came, and where they might ultimately return. But do they not come from the great Hindu family? Has not till lately every good Hindu family donated one of their sons to Sikhism? Do not Hindus still today go to gurdwaras? Yet today, many expatriate Sikhs want to have nothing to do with Hinduism, and sometimes even with India.

What about Indian Muslims? Today we see, even though they benefit in India from a freedom they would not have in Saudi Arabia, or even in Pakistan, Indian Muslims often feel their first allegiance goes to Islam and not to India. The irony of it all is that Muslims invaded India, ran it with an iron hand, attempted to make India a totally Islamic country by forcibly converting millions of Hindus — and today they manage to portray themselves in the eyes of the world as the persecuted.

Another strong objection from some readers: religion divides. First let me say Hinduism, as Sri Aurobindo or Vivekananda, or Sri Ramakrishna envisioned it, is not a religion but a living spirituality which has given to the world — and still gives it today — wonderful tools: hata-yoga copied all over this planet, meditation, or pranayama. Secondly, at a time when the two largest monotheistic religions of the world, Islam and Christianity still claim their God is the only true one, while Hindus, through the extraordinary concept of the avatar, recognise that God manifests himself at different times, in different countries, under different names and thus grant to everybody the right to worship God under any form. This is a very precious spiritual (and not religious) knowledge which has been lost to the world and which, even the most humble Hindu peasant spontaneously practices.

It is also true that things in India are not as they should be. Hindus there are not united, India is divided along caste and religious lines by unscrupulous politicians. Yes, Hindus can also be racists, as one rediff reader remarked; they do suffer at the same time, as another one commented, from a big inferiority complex, as well as one of superiority, quite an achievement! Yes, it is as well correct that expatriate Indians do often tend to become more conscious of their roots than India Indians: they will send their children to learn Bharata Natyam and will remember all the festivals. Good, there is a whole generation of upper middle class kids in India who are so desperately aping the worst of the West, that they are lost for India.

Yes, Hindus can be selfish, passive, cowardly, miserly, whereas many of them are extremely rich. But nevertheless, they remain a wonderful people, alive with an inbred joy and spirituality.

Contrary to what one of the readers assert, there is a definite atmosphere in India, something special, something unique, which is there nowhere else in the world. Those of you who spent a lot of time abroad will notice a certain quality in the atmosphere as soon as you enter India, if you are a little sensitive.

Indian Americans or Hindu Americans? To start with, there are already Indian Americans, those that Columbus mistook for real Indians and you can’t usurp their names. Secondly, it ultimately depends on the Christians, the Sikhs and the Muslims, who in the last few decades, have drifted more and more from the Indian psyche, striving to strike a fundamental identity of their own. We have also seen that the numerous Indian Americans associations in the US, where there are indeed Muslim, Christians and Sikh Indians, are frequently paralysed by these three groups.

Thus, if Hindus in the United States regroup themselves under a ‘Hindu American’ label it might prompt the three minorities to wake up to the reality of a stronger, overwhelmingly Hindu majority. It will give a clear-cut identity to Indians in the States, dissociating them from the Pakistanis, the Bangladeshis, the Saudis, or the Afghans. It will also help make known to the average American the extraordinary achievements of the Hindu community in the US.

Lastly, it will help the Indian government, by creating a powerful and effective lobby in the US, free from the shackles imposed by Christian, Sikh and Muslim Indians. Ultimately, it will be up to these three minorities to decide whether they want to re-join this great family that is ‘Induism.’ For we should then give back to ‘Hindus’ its proper meaning: Indus from the civilisation of the valley of Indus, probably the most ancient civilisation of the world still active today. Once upon a time, Indian Christians, Parsis, Muslims and Hindus were called ‘Indus’ by the invaders without differentiation of caste and religion. Is it not time to put back this habit into practice?

Finally, is America going to be perpetually the El Dorado that still make Indians dream? Not sure. There are certain signs which show that the US economy is entering a period of darkness: the slump in the stock market, the packing up of half of Silicon Valley, the near bankruptcy of many American airlines, and more than that, the erosion of the American confidence.

There are bound to be more terrorist attacks on the US in the next few years, as Samuel Huntington’s prophecy of a ‘clash of civilizations’ between Islam and the West, with China siding with Islam (let’s us not forget that Beijing already gave Pakistan the technology to build its nuclear weapons) and Hindu India allied with the West, will prove more and more true. This in turn will trigger more panic, more loss of confidence amongst Americans and eventually a stock market crash on the lines of the one which happened in 1929.

On the other hand, India, this ‘Third World country,’ has learnt to live with Islamic terrorism, its people do not panic as Americans do, it has a relatively stable stock market, its software business is still expanding and is beginning to offer salaries which will compete with the West. Could it be that this great brain drain towards America could be reversed and that NRIs start coming back to their country of origin in search of greener pastures? One could even dream: today one still sees this huge humiliating queues in front of the US embassy in Delhi, where visa applicants are treated like cattle. Will we one day witness Americans waiting in line in front of the Indian embassy in Washington to obtain working visas in India? It will happen my friends. One day.

Post Script: Out of the 350 e-mails, nearly 80 per cent were messages of praise and encouragement from Hindus. Out of the 20 per cent who disagreed, 14 per cent were (surprisingly) from Indian Christians, 3 per cent were from Sikhs, 2 per cent from Muslims and 1 per cent from Hindus.

Francois Gautier

Cricket, the Destroyer

Cricket, the Destroyer

February 09, 2003

Cricket fever has once more gripped India. This time for the World Cup. It is said nothing unites India more than cricket: youngsters can be seen practising on a makeshift pitch from the gullies of Srinagar to the fields of Tamil Nadu and during an India-Pakistan match, passions run high. It is even said ‘cricket diplomacy’ could help thaw the frost between New Delhi and Islamabad, as table tennis contributed in the seventies to break the ice between China and the US — yesterday’s enemies, today’s friends.

Yet, both India and Pakistan should consider this: cricket is a colonial game, a leftover of the British Empire. Cricket was played in the 19th century by rich, idle maharajas and upper class Indians, who wanted to look more British than the British and aped the English in whatever they did, whether it was hunting tigers, owning a Rolls Royce, or playing the ‘gentleman’s game.’

It was never a sport for the masses. It is a pity that after Independence, both the governments of India and Pakistan encouraged cricket. This South Asian obsession with cricket has had catastrophic consequences on the national psyche of these countries.

Cricket is a game meant to be played in British conditions. In cool weather on green English meadows, with a few spectators shouting ‘jolly good’ from time to time while sipping lemonade. It is not a sport for a tropical country, where players have to stand for hours under the blistering sun.

There is unfortunately a conspiracy between the Government of India and the big business corporations to inflate the importance of cricket because they make so much money out of it. The amount spent by multinationals and national companies, for instance, on the pre-publicity for the present cricket World Cup is nothing short of shameful in a country where basic necessities such as drinking water are badly lacking.

It should also be said that Doordarshan, a television channel that even today has not been able to put its act together, has to bear a greater part of the responsibility for this sad state of affairs. They are the ones who set-up the whole trend, cashed the dollars, while not caring to use the money to upgrade their performance.

It is equally disgraceful players, however talented they are, endorse any product, from soft drinks to cars, from electronics to foreign credit cards. As sportsmen of international standing, they should show some sense of balance in the choice of products they associate their image with. Crores of rupees are spent on artificial, tasteless ads for Coca-Cola and Pepsi that not only incarnate American imperialism but also lead to obesity and chemical imbalance in the body. If only the profits of multinationals would benefit poor Indians, but they mostly go in the pockets of American multinationals and a few rich Indians.

Cricket stifles all other sports. Because of the sponsorship and advertisement solely focused on cricket, much more deserving and physically harder sports, such as track and field are neglected and other athletes get very little sponsorship and media attention. As a direct result, India’s world position in sports, considering that there are a billion Indians, is abysmal and nothing short of disgraceful.

Instead of concentrating on cricket and hiring foreign coaches, the Indian government could do well to use India’s greatest gifts to the world: hata-yoga, pranayama and meditation for the development, stamina and concentration of its sportsmen. With a little rigour, discipline and training techniques borrowed from the West, India would quickly produce outstanding athletes of world caliber in all disciplines.

It is also high time that sports be taken off the hands of politicians and bureaucrats, who have shamelessly exploited it for selfish purposes and left it in the mire it is now.

But as usual, we see that even the present government, supposedly ‘Hindu,’ is more interested in aping the West, including cricket, at the expense of traditional Indian sports such a Kalaripayat, which gave birth to Kung-fu and Karate and is still widely practiced in the villages of Kerala.

At a time where millions of Westerners practice meditation, when multinationals have included pranayama and hata-yoga for relaxation seminars, when many Western sportsmen use pranayama and meditation for improving performance, it is ironic and tragic that these disciplines are not taught in Indian schools, except in the Art of Living-run schools and institutes.

If they were, India would quickly produce children who will not only be rooted in their own culture, but would naturally excel in sports. But, of course, if such a move was initiated in India’s education system, there would be an outcry from India’s secular Hindu intelligentsia and from the Christian and Muslim minority that sports and education were being saffronised.

Saffronised? Does breath have a religion? Is not meditating on one’s thoughts or watching one’s respiration, something that can be practiced by anybody — Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian? And would it not help in improving the performance of a Muslim cricketer, a Hindu high jumper, a Buddhist swimmer, or a Christian tennis woman?

Pranayama and meditation would certainly do South Asian cricketers (a few Indian cricketers have done the Art of Living basic course) a lot of good, because often many of them are spoilt brats, flying first class, staying in palaces and getting millions of rupees from endorsements.

If only Indian cricketers would win!

It is high time the Indian government enforces a limitation on the number of international cricket matches played abroad and starts focusing a little more on other sports. India lags 30 years behind China and 50 years behind the West in most sports.

Shame on you cricket, the destroyer.

Francois Gautier

Cricket: Creator & Destroyer

Cricket: Creator & Destroyer

March 23, 2004

Whenever I have gone to Pakistan to cover political happenings there, I have always been struck by the fact that a Pakistani Punjabi from Lahore strikingly resembles an Indian Punjabi from Delhi in his looks, mannerisms, habits — everything but religion. And does one wear one’s religion on one’s face?

Every time I had this experience, I remembered what Sri Aurobindo said it in 1947: ‘But the old communal division into Hindu and Muslim seems to have hardened into the figure of a permanent division of the country. It is hoped that the Congress and the nation will not accept the settled fact as forever settled.’

Today we see an intense aspiration amongst Indians — and maybe also in some lesser degree amongst Pakistanis — to let go of the tensions, to forget the four wars (if you count Kargil) that the two countries have bitterly fought, and avoid a fifth war, which could be nuclear.

Here comes cricket, the passion that unites both countries. Remember the so-called ping-pong diplomacy? For a long time the US regarded China as the Red Evil. The first contacts between the US and China in the late 1960s were initiated by an American table tennis team. After that relations went on a roll. The US is today the biggest investor in China. Can cricket play the same role in South Asia ?

There are two points of view, of course. The first one is that sports unites. When you are on a field, you tend to forget, at least after a while, the colour, nationality and religion of your opponent. Let the best win. Sports helps the unfreezing of confrontational relationships, as it is the case today between India and Pakistan. Viewed from that angle, politicians should never interfere in sports and should allow the innate instinct of man for games take the lead. Let natural bonds establish themselves. This has been the motive of the Frenchman De Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics.

There is another perspective which says that sports today has been intensely corrupted, whether it is the rough tackling in football, the doping of many athletes, or match fixing in cricket. We also see that sport is often used by politicians for their own self interest — witness India, where there is total interference from the world of politics in the realm of sports — or by sponsors and television who are only interested in making money out of athletes.

More than that, some critics say, sports has become so commercial that it does not reflect the reality of life anymore. Take cycling, for instance. The most prestigious cycling event is the Tour de France. But the different legs are so physically demanding; television viewers demand more and more drama that it is impossible to complete the gruelling month-long tour without doping oneself.

Thus, some people might oppose sports as a diplomatic tool. In the case of these India-Pakistan matches it could be argued that it changes nothing to the confrontational reality. While Mr Vajpayee repeatedly goes out of his way to stretch a hand of peace, in Lahore, Delhi or Agra, while Indian peace activists lead candlelight marches at the Wagah border, even while cricket matches are played, Islamic militants kill innocent people in Kashmir. The Pakistan government does not have the decency to delay by a few days the firing of its long-range missile, which can carry nuclear warheads to any part of India. Who knows, even a Kargil might be planned in Islamabad at this very moment.

As a Frenchman and as a lover of sports, cricket in India is also the destroyer. It attracts media attention and huge sponsorship money on a few privileged ones and leaves in the lurch thousands of more deserving sportsmen, such as long distance runners, swimmers, or football players, who toil much more to achieve results, barely get their travelling expenses paid and have to stay in dingy hotels when they are playing.

It also creates an entire nation of armchair sportsmen, who only exercise slouched on their sofas, a cola in one hand and a packet of chips in the other, while watching the India-Pakistan series. It becomes a tool in the hands of media savvy politicians: Are Sonia Gandhi’s children really interested in cricket, or do they think it will bring the Congress votes by going to Pakistan to support ‘our’ boys?

It is used shamelessly by newspapers to boost their sales; If you look, for instance, at an average Times of India front page, it proposes to its readers lots of cricket, quite a dose of sex, some scandals, Bollywood gossip and very little of politics. The Times of India thinks it is wooing the young and hep in this way, but in the long run, a national newspaper of this stature which offers nothing of substance is committing suicide.

Sports is finally not encouraged in Indian schools and colleges. Only cricket, a colonial legacy of the British meant more for cooler climates, is promoted. As a result, India, a nation of over a billion people, has a pathetic showing in athletics, swimming, football, basketball, you name it…

Look at China. When ping-pong diplomacy began in 1968, China was nowhere in other sport. But in less than 40 years, it became one of the world’s sports superpowers, having the best divers, a world class football team, the best women long distance runners, some of the fastest swimmers and top class basketballers. There is no way India can become the industrial and political superpower it rightly aspires to be unless it matches it by also becoming a Sports Great. But for this to happen, cricket will have to be put on the backburner, so that sponsors and the media take a little more interest in other deserving sports.

The best would be for the government to limit international cricket matches to four or five a year and encourage domestic cricket so that young poor Indian boys can come up.

This being said, we must give a chance to peace between India and Pakistan and if cricket is to be that instrument, so be it. Long live cricket the creator — and destroyer.

Francois Gautier

We need an India based on merit, not on caste

July 03, 2006

You knew about OBCs, Other Backward Classes. Now you have to learn about OUC — Other Upper Castes, a term coined by a bureaucrat from the Union home ministry.

The Congress has become adept at cornering the votes of Dalits and OBCs, that is enough to bring any government to power. But do they know that Brahmins and OUC, according to the National Sample Survey’s 1999 report, constitute 36 per cent of India, a huge vote bank which ignores its own power?

And are the Brahmins and OUC aware that together they may constitute more than the OBCs vote bank, if one excludes Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Trtibes, which constitute 13 per cent of the 52 per cent Mandal OBC list?

There are further post-1931 caste census adjustments to be made, due to the merger of Rajput-Dominated Princely States with the rest of India, which took off 4 per cent; and another 4 per cent due to migration at the time of Partition in 1947.

Thus we come to an OBC actual population, All Religions Taken, excluding Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, of 22.5 per cent.

People think that Brahmins and OUC are rich, arrogant and cut off from society. We have already shown that today Brahmins and OUC work as toilet cleaners, coolies, rickshaw pullers, that temple priests sometimes earn less than Rs 350 a month.

But what about the Thakurs, the farmers and landlords, who have such a bad reputation in Bihar and UP, as having huge lands and exploiting the lower castes?

A paper by D Narayana, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthpuram (‘Perception, Poverty and Health: A Contribution’ CICRED Seminar on Poverty and Health, February 2005), shows that 69.8 per cent of Brahmins and OUC never went past the 12th standard, that 52.4 per cent of Brahmins and OUC farmers don’t own land bigger than 100 cents, quite insufficient to nourish a family, and that that 53.9 per cent of the upper caste population is below poverty line.

So much for the clich�s and prejudices in India about Brahmins and Thakurs.

Narayana thus concludes: ‘Just as the higher ritual status of Brahmins does not necessarily translate into economic or political supremacy, those lower in the ranks are able to move up in the local hierarchy through the capture of political power, the acquisition of land, and migration to other regions. A combination of these strategies and India’s policy of quotas or reservations have particularly benefited the so-called backward castes, or Shudras. Referred to as ‘other backward classes’ (OBCs) in administrative parlance, backward castes are defined as those whose ritual rank and occupational status are above ‘untouchables’ but who themselves remain socially and economically depressed. Contrary to the general presumption that the OBCs belong to the deprived sections of Hindu society, few groups in independent India have made progress on a scale comparable to the OBCs.’

We are often shown Tamil Nadu as an example of successful reservation policies. But the Dravidian movement’s success has its origins in the anti-Brahmin movement launched in the first part of the 20th century.

One century on, the DMK continues to stoke those feelings. Most of the Brahmins who once enlightened Tamil Nadu have now fled to other parts of India and abroad, probably one of the greatest migrations of intellectuals from any country in the world.

It is true that thanks to reservation, social justice has returned to Tamil Nadu. But at what price?

The only Brahmins left there are priests and the DMK, back in power, is on the verge of also stripping them of this last privilege. But it takes decades to master the art of Sanskrit and puja and priesthood today is not a very lucrative career, as many Pandits are wallowing in poverty.

So how many takers will there be for their post? This is another empty vote bank posturing, which will split India more on caste lines.

This is the third part of the article on Brahmins. rediff has received a considerable amount of messages. We get huge amount of mails from Brahmins and OUC, grateful that someone has at last taken note of their plight, but also a few mails (3 per cent) from people saying that we are anti-Dalit.

First, I would like to say that after so many years in India, particularly in the cities, I am still not able to see the difference between a Dalit and a Brahmin, except if I see a Brahmin wearing a sacred thread and a Dalit in a loincloth, which is never the case in cities.

Second, we live partly in the South near Pondicherry, where most of the local inhabitants are Vanniars, an OBC caste, just above the untouchables. I play basketball with them, our marriage witnesses were both Vanniars and our best friend there is a Tamil OBC.

Thirdly, as all Westerners (and French), I am revolted by social inequalities. When during the tsunami in Pondicherry, Vanniars stopped Dalits (whose access to their burial ground had been flooded), from crossing their village to bury their dead, I was appalled.

When in Banares during a recent survey, a few Brahmins tell us that they still will not let a Shudra enter their house, I am revolted and I think to myself that Brahmins deserve the treatment they are getting today.

Today the Hindus, the huge majority of this country, they whose culture is the backbone and the genius of India, with virtues of tolerance, spirituality, acceptance of all, are treated like a minority by the Congress and more and more ostracised.

It may be true that chunks of India are still ruled by some of the erstwhile upper classes; but the 36 per cent upper castes of India — the Brahmins, Thakurs, Vaishiyas, Jains, Marwaris, Baniyas — are more and more marginalised, their voices are not heard, and their children have to emigrate abroad, because merit is not any more sufficient to get admission in a university or a government job.

When will this great brain drain stop?

What a terrible loss for India. Not only Brahmins and OUC kept alive India’s old age spirituality carried down throughout the ages, India’s sacred texts, including the Bhgavad Gita, humanity’s Future Bible, but they are also some of the top most scientists, engineers, software people, writers, artists of this country…

Will this 36 per cent so-called upper castes forever remain disunited, silent, and see its role more and more diminished, India more and more Christianised, Islamised, de-Hinduised, Marxist-ised? This may be the dream of the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress, but that will spell the doom of the India we all love.

Today, although outwardly many of the OUC still control parts of India there are many areas, such as the bureaucracy, schools, universities, hospitals, where the backward classes, often without merit, exercise huge control.

We need an India based on merit, not on caste. Indians should feel Indians first and then belonging to that caste or that religion after. But what is happening at the moment, under the Congress reign, is that Indians are made to believe that they are first OBC and then Indians, first Muslims and then Indians, first Christians and then Indians. This is very wrong and has got to be fought.

O Brahmins and OUC, awake, not against the lower castes, who are your brothers and sisters and whom you did sometimes mistreat for centuries, but against this cynical government that is trying to divide India more and more along caste and religion lines.

Let go of your centuries’ old disunity and selfishness, and unite. The power is still with you.