Saturday 16 December 2017

Don’t confuse Wahhabi mores with Sanatani (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat
Use of state power to enforce outdated preferences on diet, dress, lifestyle and in other ways of the populace has resulted in a weakening of the liberal ecosystem.
The quintessential quality of Sanatan Dharma is its openness to the adoption of differing options and concepts, its acceptance of diversity and an emphasis on inclusion, rather than exclusion. In contrast stands Wahhabism, a doctrine enunciated in the 18th century by Abdel Wahhab, a resident of the Nejd region of what is now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The exclusivist and dogmatic tenets of Wahhabism are in contrast to the spirit of Islam, which places stress on “Ijtehad” or self-reflection. The believer is encouraged to exercise his or her own mind in interpreting doctrines, so that they reflect the realities of the day, rather than get tethered to situations that are outdated and irrelevant. As Maqbool Jafri writes, “The Almighty has put our brain in the skull and not in our ankle. The positioning of the brain at the top of the body signifies the value and importance of the mind. ” Those responsible for the recent government order blocking condom advertisements from appearing on television between 6am and 10pm have clearly not utilised their minds while taking a decision that reveals an imperviousness to current needs, and this in the name of “Bharatiya sanskriti”. In fact, such retrogressive thinking is an insult to India’s traditionally liberal ethos. Sex is certainly taboo in convents and in monasteries, but is it the contention of the drafters of such an order that the whole of India should be a giant version of such cloistered locations? Given that sexual activity will take place, even by the young, what is needed is to ensure that they are given knowledge of, and access to, methods that keep such activity disease and consequence-free. In other words, that folks should be given information about the need for condoms, including through primetime television advertising. Thanks to an absurd censorship order, such information will no longer be easily available to the overwhelming majority of individuals. This despite their needing such information to ensure both population as well as disease control. 
There are leaders in South Africa who call for the avoidance of prophylactics by the local population, a cry that, if heeded, will result in a sharp rise in the incidence of AIDS as well as other diseases related to sexual activity. However, none of such misguided individuals went so far as to ban condom advertisements in the manner now done in “modern” India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi traverses the globe seeking to enhance the image of our country. Such deeds get undercut by the retrogressive measures that unfortunately have been occurring in India even after 26 May 2014, and that too in such profusion as to generate sniggers at the very mention of India in global fora. 
Passing an order first and doing any thinking of consequences afterwards seems to have become the distinguishing mark of the bureaucracy, even in the new dispensation. The way demonetisation was implemented, liquidity got choked and millions lost their jobs as a result. A year later, cash has come back, although many of the small-scale and service outlets closed because of the 8 November 2016 withdrawal of 86% of the country’s currency remain shuttered. The GST, as finally announced in a midnight ceremony in Parliament, contains a plethora of rates and variants that make nonsense of the claim that it is a single tax. Not to mention the fact that the hyper-high 28% and the elevated 18% rate are certain to boost inflation and reduce economic growth. In another example of impulsive decision-making, the meat trade was banned with immediate notice, only to be permitted again after havoc got created in markets and homes across the country. As for Aadhaar, who will compensate those whose numbers get stolen or otherwise misused for a transaction in any of the many activities in which it is being made mandatory? Those responsible for Aadhaar should be made personally liable for every loss caused by defects in design and implementation, including safety and secrecy issues. However, in reality, many of those responsible get moved to higher responsibilities. India remains a country whose politicians reward failure and penalise success. After seeking to force all bank depositors and cellphone owners to get linked to Aadhaar, the deadline for such a move has without explanation been put off to 31 March, and even this may not be final. Instead of “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance”, a bureaucracy given too much power and freedom may inflict the country with “Minimum Governance and Maximum Mistakes”. It is time for Prime Minister Modi to snatch back control from the hands of UPA-era bureaucrats, so that he can ensure the same standard of efficacy as was visible when he was Chief Minister of Gujarat. 
Whether it be Nitish Kumar seeking to convert Bihar into a teetotal state, or Vasundhara Raje trying to reduce freedom of speech in Rajasthan to the North Korean level, the frequent use of state power and repressive law to enforce outdated preferences on diet, dress, lifestyle and in other ways on the entire populace has resulted in a weakening of the liberal ecosystem needed for growth. Our politicians have certainly won freedom for themselves in 1947, and their lavish lifestyles make this obvious, but such liberation has yet to reach the people, who remain shackled and crippled by laws, administrative practices and regulations that ought to have been discarded a century ago. Any candidate interested in winning elections in 2019 needs to understand that the people of India, especially the young, will no longer tolerate being directed and dominated by colonial-style practices. The people seek the freedom that is inherent in a genuine Sanatani system. They are chafing at the Wahhabi-style proscriptions and prohibitions the people are being bombarded with on an almost daily basis, and their patience at such practices is almost at an end.

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