Thursday, May 27, 2010

Time for India to flex its muscles?

We’ve always known that India is a soft state. We have never attacked or invaded another country and as the former Deputy National Security Adviser Satish Chandra says “India’s problem is that we have never imposed a price on any nation for action taken against us. We keep silent and accept whatever comes our way.” While our restraint and deliberate response to events are mostly praiseworthy, every so often I feel our country is letting its people down by being too soft.

A lot has already been written about David Headley, formerly known as Daood Gilani who was primarily responsible for scouting the locations and providing intelligence to the 26/11 Mumbai attackers. He has accepted his role in the attacks and is currently in a Chicago prison as part of a plea deal that the US struck with him that guarantees that he will never be extradited to India. The deal itself was shocking to most Indians. Here was a country waging a global “war against terror” striking a bargain with someone responsible for killing almost 200 people in Mumbai.

If you dig in to the saga of David Headley, you realize there is a distinct possibility that this guy was a CIA double agent. To give you a little background, Daood Gilani as he was called then, was arrested for smuggling heroin into the US in 1997. He was sentenced to 15 months jail and 5 years of supervised release. But 2 months after 9/11, the US attorney’s office applied to have him discharged! He then made several trips to Pakistan supposedly to assist the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), changed his name to David Headley and started travelling to India. This constant travel between the US, Pakistan and India by someone who has prior drug ties apparently did not raise any suspicions. Also, lets not forget that the US had warned India specifically of imminent attacks via the sea and attacks on 5-star hotels and other locations. Since the warnings were part of a series of other warnings, this one was not given adequate attention. Skeptical? Then just think about this – why give him a plea deal when there is so much evidence against him that any jury would have found him guilty?

Which brings me to another question - would such a plea deal ever be offered to the people currently being investigated as part of the attempted Times Square bombing in New York (where no one actually died)? In fact, the US has put so much pressure on Pakistan that they have made arrests (including the arrest of a Major in the Pakistani Army) within a few days! Compare that to Haafiz Saeed (the chief architect of the Mumbai attacks against whom the evidence is unquestionable) who is scot free despite repeated “requests” from India to hand him over. Of course, no one is taking India seriously because of our past record. Our plane was hijacked and we negotiated, our parliament was attacked and we sat quiet, bombs keep going off on our streets, in our trains and we just sit there and do nothing! In fact, we’ve all become so accustomed to being screened and frisked every time we go to the movies, the mall, hotels etc., that being constantly scared of an attack seems like a natural state to us.

Compare this to Israel’s response and attitude. If you followed the news recently, you’d have heard of the James Bond style assassination carried out by a Mossad team of hitmen of a Palestinian terror suspect in Dubai. It sent a clear message – DON’T MESS WITH US OR WE’LL COME AND GET YOU! It was similar to their deadly retaliation against the group that killed Israeli athletes in Munich (the movie Munich goes into the details of this retaliation). They called it Operation Wrath of God! Isn’t it time that the Indian state sends this message to our enemies? Isn’t it time for us to flex our muscles?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sikhism, its growing distance with the youth and the story of outrage over a tattoo

I didn’t intend for my first post on this blog to be about religion. After all the blog is all about politics in India and the youth's role in bringing about a change. But I just couldn’t help it after coming across this headline in the Times of India the other day –

Mandira's tattoo leaves Akal Takht fuming

What's the controversy here? Well Mandira Bedi a devout Sikh, got an Ek Onkar (god is one) tattoo on her back. Here's a picture so you know what I'm talking about –

This tattoo has created so much controversy that the Sikh leaders at the Akal Takht have threatened to excommunicate her from the community unless she gets it removed.

Which brings me to why I felt I had to write on this issue. When I look at my fellow Sikh youth today, I see more and more of them not understanding the tenets of Sikhism and feeling ashamed to stand out in a crowd by displaying the 5K's. Most have grown up with no teaching of Sikh history and therefore don’t understand the essence that makes Sikhism such a great religion and way of life.

Even a brief look at our history will tell you that Sikhism has been one of the most progressive and liberal religions of modern times. It was our gurus that first said that all men are equal and completely set aside the caste system. They introduced a community kitchen (langar) so everyone, irrespective of their caste, religion or social background would eat together. This at a time when Brahmins would not even eat food made in the same utensils that were used to make food for the lower castes. Our gurus spoke openly against sati, idol worship and equality of women - all really controversial topics of their times. They were true social reformers and as Sikhs our commitment to their cause of social reform and justice is represented by our outward symbols of faith - the turban, the kara etc.

But it seems our Sikh leaders of today are out of sync with what our religion represents. Every other day we read reports of fights breaking out in the streets of Punjab because of caste tensions. I did not even know I belonged to a caste until we started looking for a groom for my sister and people started to ask me "what caste we were- Jats or Khatris"? Isn’t this the sort of thing that the Akal Takht should be worried about? Our gurudwaras get immense amount of donations from Sikhs across the world. But what is that money being used for? To put more gold on more gurudwaras? Isn’t that money better served by opening more hospitals, schools, institutions of higher learning and for the promotion of Sikh values? If only the focus was this, the youth today would relate more to our community and would feel compelled to live their lives according to the tenets of our gurus.

The world, being as divided as it is today, needs to hear about our values more than ever. And Sikh leaders need to ask themselves - what would our gurus do? They were some of the most progressive people of their times with radical views on equality and social justice. So really, should you focus on a tattoo that a celebrity gets on her back or on the alarming rate of male to female ratio in regions most densely populated by Sikhs? I have a Khanda Sahib tattooed on my arm. It was not out of disrespect but out of love for my religion that I got it. I suspect Mandira Bedi's reasons were similar to mine.

So lets get our acts together! And my fellow progressive Sikhs - lets stand by Mandira Bedi and tell her that she need not get that tattoo removed. Our guru's certainly would have advocated for personal freedom of expression!