Islam in the State is the end of everything worthy of a 21st century life

Maryam Namazie’s opening remarks at the World Humanist Congress on 9 August 2014.

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“In this day and age, there is most certainly something about Islam.

Not because it is any worse than other religions.

As I have said many times before, all religions are equal and equally bad.

No religion looks favourably upon women, gay and lesbians, freethinkers, dissenters, other religions or atheists, and blasphemers, heretic and apostates… Punishing freethinkers is a long-standing and fundamental feature of all major religions. But there is something about Islam primarily because it is the banner of Islamism, a far-Right political movement, spearheading what I call an Islamic inquisition.

Islamists want the far-Right restructuring of societies – concretely this means a Caliphate or Islamic state, the implementation of Sharia law, the imposition of the burka and compulsory veiling, gender segregation, defending Hududd punishments like death by stoning, and the execution of apostates to name a few.

You don’t have to look far to see what Islamism is. The Islamic regime of Iran. The Saudi government. Hamas. Boko Haram. Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb Ut Tahrir and the Taliban.

And of course the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS) which has made tremendous advances over the past few days and months and which continues to shock and outrage humanity with its sheer terror and brutality.

ISIS is Islamism without its palatable wrappings often fed to people in Europe and the West where its manifestations like Sharia courts in Britain and the Law Society’s guidance on Sharia wills (which institutionalises Islamist values) – are portrayed as people’s “right to religion” even by some humanist groups.

Whilst there are differences in degree amongst Islamists as there are in any phenomenon, fundamentally they are all striving for the same things. Including groups like IERA in the UK which has charitable status and debates well known scientists and atheists whilst defending the Caliphate, death to apostates (they say beheading is painless) and segregating British universities.

Some keep telling us of such “moderate” or “soft” Islamists. There are none.

Fascism is fascism no matter how it is wrapped and dressed.

There is also, given the context, no moderate Islam. Even if there are a million interpretations, today, Islam is what ISIS tells you it is. It is what Khamenei in Iran says it is. It is what the Taliban says it is by sheer and brute force. In many places, you must either submit to their Islam or die.

When religion is in the state or has influence it is no longer a question of personal belief but of political power.

Of course when I talk about Islam I am not speaking of Islam as a personal belief or Muslims who are believers like my father and mother or some of yours.

People practice Islam and religion in innumerable personal ways; they pick and choose what aspects fit their lives and more often than not, people’s humanity shines through whatever their religion or belief.

Being Muslim doesn’t mean one is an Islamist anymore than being Turkish means you support Erdokan, or being Nigerian means you are with Boko Haram or being British means you are a supporter of the British National Party or Christian Right.

No group, community, society is homogeneous. As Kenan Malik says “secularism and fundamentalism are not ideas stitched into people’s DNA. They are, like all values, absorbed, accepted, rejected”.

In fact, Muslims or those perceived to be Muslims are the first victims and at the forefront of resistance against Islamism.

Karima Bennoune highlights nearly 300 such people and groups of Muslim heritage as she calls them who refuse and resist in her book called “your fatwa does not apply here”.

Also, over the past decades, many have “voted” against Islamism with their feet by fleeing Islamic states and movements in unprecedented numbers.

Right now, thousands of Yazidis considered devil worshipers by ISIS languish in the mountains of Sinjar with children dying of thirst and nowhere to go surrounded by ISIS.

Islam today isn’t a private matter, especially not during an inquisition.

Islam is not just the ‘opium’ of the masses as Marx has said but their genocidaire.

Of course, it is good to be balanced and speak of all religions as being equally problematic. Even after the enlightenment has removed much of Christianity’s power and influence, Christianity is still not a benign force; it creates misery where it can.

But you cannot look at ISIS right here and now and its beheadings and crucifixions and sexual jihad and speak of similar attitudes during Victorian England or Europe’s dark ages.

ISIS represents our dark ages today in the 21st century.

It is good to be balanced – particularly when you have a far-Right using the issue of Sharia law and Islamism to attack immigrants and Muslims and absurdly demanding a ban on the Koran as if the Bible was banned to stop the Spanish inquisition. A far-Right that feigns “crocodile tears” for those killed by Islamists yet cheers the massacre of innocent civilians in Gaza by the Israeli state.

It is important to be balanced but one must also be fair and just.

If we cannot see that there is something about Islam and Islamism, then we cannot respond as we must.

And if we don’t, who will?

Defending freethought and expression is crucial in this fight. Defending blasphemy and apostasy cases are important. Removing blasphemy laws from the legal system is key.

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain deals with hundreds of such cases every year. But it is not enough to defend free expression and thought within a limited human rights or legal context.

We must see blasphemy and apostasy laws and a defence of free expression within the larger context of religion in general and Islam in particular vis-a-vis the question of political power.

Islam in the state or with political power is the end of freethought and the end of free expression.

It is the end of democratic politics.

It is the end of women’s rights and gay rights and the rights of minorities. It is the end of everything worthy of a 21 century life.

It is a return to the dark ages.

A Humanist congress today can only begin and end united for Sinjar and united against ISIS.

It must stand unequivocally against Islamism, Sharia law and the Caliphate. This is not about “people’s right to religion”. It is about stopping Islamism’s right to kill and slaughter and oppress.

A humanist congress must stand for equality (of people – not religions and beliefs), for universal rights, and for secularism and the separation of religion from the state – not just for Europe but the world.

This is not a clash of civilisations. It’s a clash between the theocrats and fascists versus the rest of us – Muslim, Atheist and none.

As the late Marxist Mansoor Hekmat said:

“In Islam … the individual has no rights or dignity. In Islam, the woman is a slave. In Islam, the child is on par with animals. In Islam, freethinking is a sin deserving of punishment. Music is corrupt. Sex without permission and religious certification, is the greatest of sins. This is the religion of death. In reality, all religions are such but most religions have been restrained by freethinking and freedom-loving humanity over hundreds of years. This one was never restrained or controlled.”

Restraining it – controlling it – in this day and age – that is our task.”

Originally posted here

DYKE, GO LIVE IN GAZA

Originally posted on Sur place:

This directive was sent to me yesterday afternoon through Facebook, from a complete stranger. A little while later another message arrived, with an attached picture of the body of a murdered child, still lying on the floor of his bedroom –  the crime scene – with blood all around. A mezuzah is fixed to the doorframe in the foreground of the photo. The picture was accompanied by the sender’s suggestion that I am in favour of the killing of Jews.

I assume the two messages were sent by the same person, as although they had different names their profile pictures (of two men standing side by side, grinning) were exactly the same. I cannot say with absolute certainty what provoked these messages, as I immediately reported and blocked the sender(s). I am confident it is not connected to the articles I write, as I go by a different name on…

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Gandhism, Post modernism and Hindutva

The Hindu nationalist political party, BJP has taken over the reins of government in India. Though they were in power twice before, this time they have a good majority of their own, and need not depend on non Hindutva parties for support.
modi sworn in
Today the brand ambassador of Hindutva is Narendra Modi, the new Prime minister of India. He comes from Gujarat, from a place near the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi. Is it surprising that muscular and intolerant Hindutva’s strength is coming from land of apostle of non-violence, Gandhi? Not at all. Many facets of Hindutva are closely related to ideas of Gandhi. Hindutva also derives it strength from western and Indian post modernist ideas and post colonial philosophies. Though this electoral victory is recent, the hegemony of ideas of Hindutva on Indian social and cultural milieu is present for last 2 decades and was greatly strengthened by Gandhians and post modernist Leftists.
A strong proponent of the above thesis is the scholar Meera Nanda, and this post is inspired by reading her.

Gandhism and Hindutva


Vision of Gandhi and that of Hindutva are similar in many areas.
See what Meera Nanda writes:
There is no doubt at all that Gandhi himself had no sympathy for the vicious anti-Muslim and anti-Christian sentiments that mark the muscular nationalism of Hindu nationalists. Hindu nationalists themselves recognize this difference, declaring Gandhi to be “too saintly” to fully comprehend the “evil” of Islam (Agarwal 1999).
But when it comes to the larger vision of a good society, the Hindu right wing’s relation to Gandhian philosophy is far from opportunistic. Indeed, the official philosophy of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the “integral humanism” of Deendayal Upadhyaya, is almost an exact paraphrase of Gandhi’s vision of a future India. Both seek a distinctive path for India, both reject the materialism of socialism and capitalism alike, both reject the individualism of modern society in favor of a holistic, varna-dharma based community, both insist upon an infusion of religious and moral values in politics, and both seek a culturally authentic mode of modernization that preserves Hindu values (see Fox 1987).

Gandhi was opposed to untouchability, but was not opposed to caste system per se. Modern day RSS takes the same view. Both Gandhi and RSS give importance to celibacy. Our new Prime minister, who left his wife for Hindutva work within weeks of his marriage, is an example of Hindu patriarchal thinking that women/sexual desires are an obstacle to performing useful work in society.
So it is not at all surprising that the Hindutva leader Modi is coming from near Gandhi’s home town.


Post modernism, Post Colonialism and Hindutva


It is difficult to define post modernism because it means different things to different people. Still it can be summarized as a philosophy which does not believe in single logical objective reasonable truth, but multiple subjective truths.
Post colonialism is a philosophy which tries to highlight and reinvent colonized people’s culture and portray it as opposite, equal or superior to Western culture.
Both did not believe in universal and culturally progressive nature of science. For a post modernist, science is just one of the several ways of attaining knowledge.
Thus a post colonial post modernist vision of India meant a new, non western model of development for India. They believed ‘western’ ideas like Capitalism, socialism, secularism, scientific temper, universality of scientific truth are not applicable in India. Main proponents of such a post modernist discourse included intellectuals like Ashish Nandy, Vandana Siva and Rajini Kothari. The Gandhian post modernists joined hands with ecological Marxists to fight against Nehruvian scientific temper
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Meera Nanda writes:
The critics accused the Nehruvian promoters of science of disrespecting and insulting the ordinary citizens by daring to suggest that they need to revise their ways of knowing. True equality demands that ordinary people should have as much right to question science from their perspective. The most common example cited was that of astrology. Inspired by Feyerabend, the self-proclaimed defenders of the common man argued that astrology was the myth of the weak, as much as science was the myth of the strong. Scientists and those who dare criticize astrology as a superstition must take the empirical experience of the ordinary people as evidence, and rethink their opposition to it. Astrology stood for local knowledge in general.
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This strengthened the hands of Hindutva forces as they were saying the same thing. Legitimacy was given to local, not scientifically tested “knowledge”. Foolish utterances of babas and swamis should be considered seriously as they form the local knowledge, which cannot be tested or known to modern science. No local inhuman customs, especially that of minorities and tribals (weaker sections) could be criticized as Universal human rights are a Western colonial concept. Science they said was a neo-colonial tool of multinational Corporations to continue control of colonies. It rapes the holy motherland and creates natural disasters.
Thus this anti-science movement saw a strange collaboration between Gandhians, Hindutva forces and some Leftists. Such an attack on science and secular liberal thoughts resulted in Indian society losing many of the progressive gains of the 50s and 60s. Identity politics based on caste, religion, language etc gained legitimacy. Superstitions became fashionable and spurious and dangerous remedies became popular in the field of health. Unscientific health care systems like Naturopathy, Ayurveda, Unani, Sidha and Homeopathy flourished under State patronage. Anti vaccine movement gained momentum. Freedom of expression suffered as the list of holy cows that cannot be criticized increased enormously.
In short, Gandhians and post modernist Leftists have played an important role in elevating Hindutva forces to power in India.
A successful fight against Hindutva or any other communal forces needs a reaffirming of our faith in scientific method, as the only way to attain knowledge. We need to propagate scientific temper in our society. Democracy and Secularism are universal concepts essential for well being of human beings all over the world. Traditions, like anything else should be rigorously questioned. Instead of sitting on the fence, rational criticism of religion and religious superstitions/ common sense should come from science movements.
Secular polity should not accept religion/traditions as another method to attain knowledge. Whether it is minority or majority religion, hurt sentiments should never be accepted to absolve criticism. Caste based groups, even of the lowest caste, represents a regressive grouping and should not be encouraged.

A liberal humanist India is possible only with more science and less religion.

https://www.eastwestcenter.org/fileadmin/resources/education/asdp_pdfs/Prophets_Facing_Backward.pdf

http://www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/July2004Vedic_Sc_MeeraNanda.pdf

Why Hindutva victory in India

As expected the Hindu nationalist Bharathiya Janata Party won the Indian Parliament election. The victory was much bigger than expected and the chief architect of the victory, the controversial leader Narendra Modi will soon take charge as the next Prime minister of India. In this post I am trying to enumerate the reasons for such a verdict by World’s largest democracy.

 

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1. The Congress party led alliance which ruled India for last 10 years was massively unpopular due to many reasons. Corruption,inflation,slow economic growth and indecisiveness in major policy matters with multiple centers of power paralyzing the Govt were the main reasons for its unpopularity.

2. The opposition party, BJP and its allies decided on Narendra Modi as their leader to fight the elections very early. This gave a head start for Modi and he utilized it properly with well organised campaign tours throughout the country.

3. Almost all the business houses backed Modi fully as they were unhappy with slow growth in infrastructure and difficulty in getting  clearances for their projects. They believed Modi will be much more friendly to Corporate needs..

4. Massive propaganda directly -through mass media ads and billboards , through social media using paid workers and non paid volunteers,-and indirectly using mass media run by friendly media houses helped in projecting Modi as a man of development, eclipsing his real image as a divisive leader. It is said that BJP has spend around 1000 million US dollars in the last 3 months of election, almost double that of rival parties.

5. Last 20 years saw increasing urbanization and industrialization of India, which resulted in blurring of caste lines and backward classes, especially the OBCs, coming up socially and economically. RSS, the mother organisation of all Hindu nationalist social and political organisations including the BJP was traditionally popular only with upper caste Hindus in West and North India. With the change in the society, more and more lower castes began to join Hindu organisations. Modi could sell his development rhetoric to a large section of  Hindu backward castes aspiring to climb up the social ladder. Propaganda machine of the RSS was also able to label Congress party as more friendly to Muslims than Hindus, though the truth is actually the reverse.

 
6. Anti Hindutva votes where divided. Although 65% of voters did not vote for BJP alliance, it was able to get 60% of Parliament seat. Lack of a credible National level opposition helped BJP. The new anti Corruption party, AAP did show some promise, but their small resources where spread too wide to have any real impact.

Thus the huge victory of Modi’s BJP need not be seen just as a victory for Hindutva revivalism. Hindutva element is there for sure, but it’s role in getting this much votes and seats is minimal. It’s more of a negative vote against corruption and utter lack of leadership of the Congress dynasty. People voted for those who displayed leadership and belief in themselves. That is why along with Modi, 3 regional leaders Jayalalitha, Biju Patnaik and Mamta Bannerjee got such a thumping victory. It’s also a vote for stable government, which people believe can give a boost to economic growth of the country and their purses.

 Hindutva Government in India is a big setback to its secular polity. At the same time the people’s verdict should be respected. Let us hope the new government will not permanently scar the secular fabric of the country and at the same time improve the living conditions of millions of poor Indians regardless of their religion.

How clean is SIT’s clean chit to Modi

Arun:

Only a die hard irrational fan of Modi can believe he is not guilty of instigating and covering up the riots

Originally posted on akhtar978:

“Hitler is essentially a moderate and decent person”, “the Times” described him despite repeated attacks on his political adversaries and jews. Most newspapers were prepared to give Hitler a chance, implying that he might settle down into a strong but conventional head of the government, once the initial crisis had been overcome. Germany was seen as the best hope of preventing the spread of Bolshevism. However objectionable it might be in some respects, Nazism they claimed, was preferable to communism ……… and, the rest is history.

This is not to suggest that Modi will start waging war on other nations once he become prime minister. I do realize that we live in a different world today, and this is just to emphasize that how conviniently people can downplay the genuine concerns, completely disregarding the dangers that might be coming along their choice.

No discussion on Modi is complete without a…

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Some Myths About Muslims

Arun:

Sanghi propagated myths about Muslims

Originally posted on Kafila:

Received via Shankar Gopalakrishnan

As the 2014 elections begin, the time has come again to state the obvious. In the context of massive propaganda campaigns, the subtle use of stereotypes, and the fact that both the Western and the Indian media share certain basic biases, many people end up believing in a range of myths about the adherents of the world’s second largest religion. This is a quick attempt at exposing those myths.

Myth: ‘Muslim’ countries are never secular. Muslims do not tolerate minorities in ‘their’ countries but demand minority rights in other countries.

The world’s largest Muslim majority country is Indonesia (total population approximately 25 crores, larger than Pakistan). Indonesia is a secular democracy. Indeed, its population is almost a mirror image of India’s – 88% Muslim, 9% Christian, 3% Hindu, 2% Buddhist, etc. (as compared to India, which has a population that is 80% Hindu, 13.4% Muslim, 2.3%…

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My Son would Never Rape a Woman

Arun:

Different ways of victim blaming indulged by patriarchal society excellently described with sarcasm

Originally posted on Krshna Prashant:

sad-alone-cute-girl-waiting-someone-window My son would never rape a woman. It is brutal, disgusting and immoral. He simply isn’t capable of such a thing. She has obviously enticed him. __________________________________________________________

She was at the club when it happened. Short black dress, tall black drink. She stood in the middle of the dance floor, moved her hips slowly. She made eye contact with him. She even smiled. He walked up to her and asked her to meet him at his car. When she declined, he grabbed her arm.
And what a scene she created! She fought, screamed and kicked. You want this, he told her as he pulled her out of the club. NO, she screamed, yelling as he dragged her to his car. You don’t know what you want, you’re drunk.

She sat alone in the parking lot a few hours later. Disgusting girl, she reeked of smoke and alcohol. What…

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Why I do not want Modi to become India’s Prime minister

It is Parliament election time in India. The right wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the front runner and is assured of getting more seats in Parliament than other political parties. According to the opinion polls BJP lead alliance may get close to absolute majority. BJP is projecting Narendra Modi as the Prime minister. So if the opinion pollsters are right he will be Indian Prime minister by end of next month.
As the title of the post suggests I do not want Modi to be Indian Prime minister.
Let me try to explain rationally why I do not want him as Prime minister or BJP as the ruling party.

1. As an atheist and a rationalist I do not want a right wing political party founded on religious and national pride to rule my country.
BJP is a political party based on Hindutva ideology. It is the political wing of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the RSS.

What does RSS stand for?
“The Hindu culture is the life-breath of Hindusthan. It is therefore clear that if Hindusthan is to be protected, we should first nourish the Hindu culture”.

No rationalist can support politics based on religion.

2. BJP being a religion based party stand for many irrational things. See some of these excerpts from BJP manifesto.
“Ram Mandir: BJP reiterates its stand to explore all possibilities within the framework of the constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya”

“Cow and its Progeny: In view of the contribution of cow and its progeny to agriculture, socio-economic and cultural life of our country, the Department of Animal Husbandry will be suitably strengthened and empowered for the protection and promotion of cow and its progeny. Necessary legal framework will be created to protect and promote cow and its progeny.”

Ram is a Hindu god and Cow (not buffalo or goat) is a considered as sacred in Hinduism.
How can a rationalist support them?

3. BJP’s PM hopeful Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat when a genocide like situation happened. Gujarat riots were the most violent of all riots of 21st century in India. More than a thousand were killed, a large majority being minority Muslims, including a Member of Parliament. The riots occurred after the burning down of a railway coach and death of around 60 people who were a part of Viswa Hindu Parishad’s (an RSS affiliate) pilgrimage tour. The cause of the fire is still not clear, but probably occurred after a skirmish between Muslim vendors and RSS activists at the Godhra railway station.
Before starting of any enquiry, even before a first information report was filed by local police, Modi reached the site of tragedy and declared it is a conspiracy. He said:
“It (burning of the Sabarmati Express) was a pre-planned act. The culprits will have to pay for it. It was not communal violence. It was a violent, one-sided, collective act by only one community.”

A very irrational and dangerous statement deliberately made to instigate violence on minority Muslim community.
The following days saw large scale violence against Muslims all over Gujarat, with the Modi controlled Police not being much effective in protecting the life and property of citizens.
How can a rationalist support such a person who deliberately instigated violence in name of religion? He becoming PM can result in further riots and deaths of innocent lives. It is true that in India, most political parties indulge in tactics which may promote religion based violence. But the main instigator was always been RSS and its affiliated organizations, because majority religion always benefits from religious divide of society.

4. BJP being a religion/nationalism based party has its own distorted view of history which is in much variance from the actual history.
Here is what historian D.N Jha has to say about distorting history by Hindutva forces:
“The quest for India’s national identity through the route of Hindu religious nationalism began in the nineteenth century and has continued ever since. In recent years, however, it has received an unprecedented boost from those communal forces which brought a virulent version of Hindu cultural chauvinism to the centre stage of contemporary politics and produced a warped perception of India’s past. This is evident from the indigenist propaganda writings which support the myth of Aryan autochthony, demonise Muslims and Christians, and propagate the idea that India and Hinduism are eternal.”
Can a rationalist support a political party whose core ideology is based on distorted history?
5. BJP being a faith based political party staunchly supports god men and women, who fool the naïve believers by selling spirituality. Leaders in spiritual business like Sri Sri Ravisankar, Baba Ramdev and Mata Amrithanandamayi support BJP and BJP supports them strongly. Rationalists who question these god men are many a time physically assaulted by BJP cadre.
6. RSS, the force behind BJP is a men’s only club holding medieval patriarchal values. For RSS, role of women in society is only as good mothers and wives, nothing else.
I can come out with many more reasons for not supporting Narendra Modi, but these are the core issues.
I will conclude by saying a vote for Modi/BJP is a vote for a faith/hyper nationalism based Government which will actively promote divisiveness in society, irrational beliefs, patriarchy and distorts history.
That is why I do not support BJP/Modi.

Links
RSS
BJP Manifesto
History distortion
on Gujarat riots

An appeal to all voters in India

Dear fellow citizens

Sixty seven years ago, independent India adopted a democratic constitution that created a platform for equality and justice by ensuring the participation of all. Our constitution-makers were concerned to maintain a secular society free from any divisions of caste, sect and religion.

What has become of that vision? A large part of the population lives in extreme poverty. Millions of Indians are denied their fundamental rights. There are strong linkages amongst powerful capitalists, biased officials and unscrupulous political representatives. The political system is in danger of being taken over and run for the benefit of the rich, rather than for the vast bulk of the Indian people. Communal forces of all colours thrive in our society. Their growth has been evident since the Delhi carnage of 1984. Biased behavior has appeared in the media, police, bureaucracy and executive. We are witnessing the criminalisation of the state. One example of this is the operation of private armies all over the country.

The Sixteenth Lok Sabha elections are an opportunity for us to preserve democracy. The RSS has emerged as a direct participant, discarding its ‘cultural’ mask. It has openly intervened in the major decisions of the BJP. Its ideology is based upon a fanatic version of nationalism . The so-called Parivar has been implicated in numerous communal incidents and the destruction of Babri Masjid in 1992. Today vast amounts of money and cadre have been mobilized in the cause of the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate. This person is an incompetent Chief Minister who presided over the crime committed in Godhra and the orgy of rape, murder, arson and looting that followed. In many cases, intervention from outside Gujarat was required to secure justice. Zakia Jafri’s husband and neighbours were butchered, and she is still asking the courts to indict Modi for criminal conspiracy. A police investigation report is being hailed as if it were a judicial acquittal. In 2003 Modi’s rival Haren Pandya was killed in a so-called terrorist attack – his widow is still fighting for justice. Modi has tried to boost his popularity through fake encounters and accusations of assassination plots, many of these cases are still in the courts. Gujarat’s anti-terrorist police units were directed to spy upon a woman who was not even suspected of being a terrorist. Narendra Modi bears responsibility for the collapse of law and order in Gujarat. We may note that Gujarat’s state assembly has functioned on average 30 to 32 days per year.

One of Modi’s ministers has been convicted of illegal mining practices. Another was in office until she was charged with conspiracy and murder. Modi resisted the appointment of a state Lokayukta for ten years from 2003. When the Governor and Chief Justice selected Justice R. A. Mehta for the post in 2011, Modi spent crores in legal fees to challenge the appointment. After the Supreme Court upheld it, the state government refused to cooperate with Mehta, leading him to decline the position. Then it amended the Lokayukta Act to make it a toothless body. Modi may have learned a lesson from the fate of his friend Yedyurappa, former BJP Chief Minister of Karnataka. Yet he talks of rooting out corruption!

These are some features of the ‘Gujarat model’. What will result under a central government controlled by Modi and his corporate backers? We have seen how peaceful protests against the Patel statue, or a nuclear power station in Bhavnagar have met with police repression. Gujarat records the highest number of attacks on RTI activists. Gujarat remains a bastion of Dalit oppression. Surveys have found the practice of untouchability in over 90% of villages and manual scavenging present even in Ahmedabad. Seizures of land at low prices, violation of environmental regulations, erosion of workers rights, phone-tapping and contempt for the rule of law will affect farmers, workers, women, democratic activists and honest officials. Modi has used his position to accuse India’s Defence Minister of being a Pakistani agent. Soon anyone daring to criticise Modi will be hounded as a traitor. Is this what we need in a prime minister?

The health of Indian democracy requires that such political forces be checked and defeated. Despite their talk of development, their strong links with corporate interests should warn us of the danger of political tyranny. If this continues, it will endanger the rights not only of this or that particular group, but the very survival of constitutional democracy. Do not be fooled by talk of a stable government. Only dictators think stability is more important than constitutionally guaranteed citizens’ rights.

We must choose political forces that stand for humanity, equality and justice. Choose an inclusive, not divisive idea of India. Use your vote for socio-economic emancipation. Defend your right to obtain justice, to think freely, to protest and to struggle for a better life. Reject communal hate and choose mutual respect and dialogue. This is our vote. This is our country. We call upon voters to defeat authoritarian forces in the coming elections.

In Solidarity,

People’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism

For feedback, query and suggestions please mail us to padsprocess@gmail.com
Originally posted here

Holy Hell of an Ashram

This post written by me was first published in Taslima Nasrin’s blog here

It has been few weeks since the book written by former disciple of the so called hugging saint Amrithanandamayi has started making waves in social media in Kerala in south India. The book named “Holy Hell, A memoir of faith devotion and pure madness” is written by Gail Tredwell, a former devotee and close assistant of Sudhamani (Amrithanandamayi). The book reveals the dirty underbelly of the Ashram with revelations of rape, sexual encounters between Sudhamani and her senior “celibate” swamis, financial irregularities and cut throat rivalries between those in the Spirituality business. By contrast the mainstream media, always hungry for controversies and scandals, strangely remained silent until the Ashram made its first public statement of denial. Though there is no definite proof of veracity of revelations, the book it seems to me is a highly credible account of her experiences at the ashram.

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Gail Tredwell was born and educated in Australia. Coming from a dysfunctional family background, she reached India on an Asian tour in search of elusive happiness and meaning of life. She was 19 when she landed in India in 1978. Falling instantly in love with Indian spirituality, she began her search for a guru to show her the way to salvation. Finally in 1980, her search ended as she became a devotee and assistant of Sudhamani. Sudhamani was then called Ammachi and was a member of fishermen community near Kollam in South Kerala. During those days she used to act as Krishna and Devi (gods of Hinduism) at her family shrine and bless devotees by hugging. Her fame spread as there were stories of her performing miracles. As the disciples increased, including some people of white skin, her popularity surged. An Ashram was constructed and later she became Mata Amrithanandamayi as she proclaimed herself to be a saint. By the time the disillusioned Gail Tredwell left the Ashram after 20 years of devoted service, the mutt has grown up to a multimillion dollar empire comprising of several branches all over the world, hospitals, several colleges and schools and even a deemed University.
With in 2 years of service at Ashram, Tredwell came to know about one of the lies that are being spread about Sudhamani. Her devotees where told that she is ‘pure’ and do not have menstruation. But one day Tredwell was witness to the event. See how she describe it in her book
For a moment I was in shock. But I let it go. This discovery did not affect my faith. It made me feel trusted and special. She had her menstruation every month from that day onward, and I did my best to help her conceal the fact. I always knew it was a secret. Not once did it ever cross my mind that it was a lie. I was so wound up in my devotion and in holding onto my dream position that the full implications of the deception were lost on me. I either blocked out or completely forgot the truth. Her biography clearly stated that she was“pure.” Amma obviously knew this claim to be incorrect. She allowed it to be published anyhow”.
Tredwell was in such a blind devotional trance that she could not understand this as plain deception. Also this underlines the patriarchal basis of Indian Spirituality, were a menstruating woman could not be called a saint.
Tredwell describes how the second in command of the Ashram, Balu raped her several times. Why she never reported it to Amma? She explains.
“I tried to argue and plead my way out, but he was obsessed and relentless. I felt trapped. If I didn’t oblige, he would start sulking and acting weird. People would begin to wonder what was going on. If this ever came to light, I would be the one to suffer. I would be the one punished—not Balu. Amma had never shown any leniency to me before, so I had no reason to believe this time would be any different. The common notion in India is that Western women possess loose morals. I believed I would be blamed, possibly kicked out of the ashram, and most definitely no longer allowed to serve Amma. I knew I couldn’t live with such consequences. I felt I had no other choice but to succumb to his demands—to his manipulation“.
She also talk about sexual encounters between senior Swamis (who were supposed to be celibate) of the Ashram and Sudhamani. There are also vivid descriptions of the verbal abuse and physical assaults Tredwell and few other women disciples had to endure from Sudhamani.
Within a few months of getting my robes, history began repeating itself. Once more I was being hit, kicked, slapped, and thrown out of her room. She even invented a new form of punishment for me when she was really angry. Grabbing me by the throat with one hand, she would dig her nails
in and rip towards the center, scraping the skin as she went. I was then left with bright red scratch marks across my throat, and sometimes blood
”.
To a keen observer of such spiritual ashrams of India, the book is never shocking. Such tales has been told by several former disciples about gurus and swamis of all hues. It’s said that there are two types of spiritual gurus and god men. Those caught out as fake and those yet to be caught.
Most interesting about this book is how beautifully it reveals the mind of a theist. Gail Tredwell was convinced that there is a hidden meaning for life, which can only be revealed to her by a guru. She was in search of elusive happiness outside her material world. Though she receives setbacks after setbacks she remains convinced that all these bad experiences were there to test her devotion. See how she rationalizes the sexual encounters between Sudhamani and Swamis.
“I didn’t want to leave the ashram and give up what I believed to be the opportunity of many lifetimes. This was my life, my family, all I knew, and all I wanted. I had myself convinced that I was on the express train to God, and I couldn’t imagine being pushed off at full speed. In that moment I made a choice. I vowed myself to silence. Mustering every ounce of justification juice, I accepted this behavior as Amma’s way of “keeping it in the family.” Because she is one with God (I explained to myself), she’s beyond any form of human desire, longing, or attachment. She’s letting these senior fellows release any pent-up sexual frustration upon her as part of the bigger picture in her mission to save the world”.

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Gail Tredwell rationalized like this for 20 years, before she became wise enough to escape. Even then for several years she continued to suffer from severe mental trauma. Only now she could come out of her closet to write a memoire, to get everything out of her system. She writes
“I offer my story with the sincere hope that it will illustrate to spiritual seekers the downside of blind faith, and that surrender to a guru/teacher is sometimes mind control in disguise. Perhaps some readers will now recognize that they too have turned a blind eye to reality in order to protect their beliefs. I hope that those who doubt will feel free to question, those with questions will find answers, and those already suffering the wounds of betrayal and disillusionment will find consolation and validation.
Ultimately, I hope this book will empower those trapped in any form of abusive relationship or unhealthy situation to find the courage to step away and to trust that an amazing life awaits them—a life full of unexpected blessings and wonderful people”.

This book if widely read may slightly reduce the popularity of Mata Amrithanandamayi. But the vast majority of susceptible theists will continue their elusive quest for salvation, going from one guru to another. As long as there is demand, the product of spirituality will sell like hot cakes.
Scientifically speaking life happened spontaneously, not for some definite purpose. Bacteria, mosquitoes or cows do not worry about the aim of their lives. It’s the highly developed human brain that makes us think about aims of life. Gail Treadwell’s experiences underline the fact that one has to find one’s own meaning for life and find happiness ourselves. Humanistic ideals can serve as a guide, but ultimately we are on our own. No guru or mata can help you. Only the lazy theist waits for an elusive guru or become a fundamentalist believer of a book or prophet or a mythical god. A rationalist finds her way herself.