Thursday, February 19, 2015

Say it with shame, I am an Hindu!

In the 'The Parliament of the World's Religions' on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago, Swami Vivekananda had said, "Say it with pride: We are Hindus".

He had started his speech saying, "Sisters and Brothers of America, it fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects... I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth".

Swami Vivekananda had stressed that he belongs to a religion that is the epitome of tolerance and respect, and that he firmly believes that all religion are equally true and practical.

Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speeches, has eulogized him and his ideals, multiple times, to make India the teacher of the world in terms of tolerance and accepting of all religions and faiths. Having heard Modi ji's speeches, it comes as a rude shock that Delhi's next door neighbor Agra witnessed one of the most intolerant religious act of conversion. The Muslim residents of Vednagar slum in Agra were told by Hindu activists from Dharam Jagaran Samiti that, under a development programme of the Modi Government, if they attended a 'Havan', they would get ration cards and other basic amenities. Around 250 people attended the ceremony. When the ritual was over, the participants were told that they had all become Hindus! Second fact to note is that Dharam Jagaran Samiti is affiliated to the RSS which shaped Mr. Narendra Modi as a politician. Even Bajrang Dal (the same Dal who gave Assam Bandh on a fabricated unsubstantiated news of Mr. Ajmal of AIUDF supporting terrorism) was part of this 'Ghar Wapsi' programme in Agra.

Which self respecting Hindu can stand with his head held high after hearing of such an intolerant immature act? Surprisingly, the opposite is happening with the newly powerful, self proclaimed guardian of Hindu religion, culture and traditions, the Sangh Parivar and its crony institutions. They want this shameful 'Ghar Wapsi' to be a even bigger agenda across the country. Even if one assumes that Indian Muslims were once Hindu, there should be a civil debate on this issue taking cognizance of history, religion and other social theories with experts from various parts of the country. Before embarking on a programme like 'Ghar Wapsi', there should have been attempts to understand the reasons why a sizeable percentage of people left the 'ghar' in the first place. Was there any issue with the 'ghar' that made living conditions unbearable, un-respectable to a certain section of the society? Is it imperative that we need to first build and repair the 'ghar' before asking those people to come back? Instead, these institutions want to leverage the majority mandate of the BJP Government at the centre to compel the Muslims to convert by either exercising power, or by promising Government benefits as bribes.    

I call these people at the helm of these institutions ignorant, shallow, brain-washed adrenalin junkies. The ancient Hindu ideology of selfless sacrifice, magnanimous humanity and tolerance that Swami Vivekananda had preached in the early twentieth century has no relevance or relation to the Hindutva being preached and practiced by the right-winged aggressive politics of the present India.

to be contd..

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Hopeful Thinking..

After independence, India has being shaped by politics and the power it yields.. yet, the most popular sentence about politics is 'Politics is the last resort of scoundrels'. This paradox, or irony is the reason why our standard of living in India is so pathetic, discriminatory, corrupt and hopeless.

AAP is a flicker of hope that might finally make the latter meaningless to an extent. Finally perhaps, good educated efficient simple people would join politics to serve the nation without the perks and addiction of power. It will be surely be very tough.

But there is a hope. With the kind of human resource that makes India, natural resources that builds India, and intellectual resource that ornates India, I can say with certainty that if politics become selfless, educated, benevolent and rewarding for goodness, India will be the best place to live our lives in this entire universe.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Vivekananda, Islam and Hinduism

This blog post is inspired from an article written by the Mr. Padmalochan Nath, which originally appeared on Asomiya Pratidin on 12th of January 2015. I am putting his thoughts to the best of my abilities, for the benefits of all who can't read Assamese.

Fundametalism is an enemy of the Hindus as well as the Muslims.

After British imperialism had successfully established its stronghold and they had started giving stress on modern education in India, which was then available to the upper class influential Indians, a new historically significant phenomena had got created. With modern education, these newly educated youths had developed a certain sense of inferiority on the matter of Hindu religion. They were growing up to a belief that Hindu religion was all about superstitions and archaic socially destructive traditions. A majority of these young Indians who had the fortune of British education were from Bengal, as Calcutta was the Capital of the British empire. The first institute of higher eduction, Hindu College (later renamed Presidency College) was established in the year 1817 at Calcutta. It was during this period of time Raja Ram Mohan Rai had started creating a  strong public opinion against 'Sati-dah pratha' to abolish and ban the inhuman tradition of a wife being compelled to jump in the funeral pyre of her husband, in the name of Hindu religious customs. It was around the same time when the Principal of Sanskrit College, Calcutta, Mr. Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar had started the social revolution against child marriage and for remarriage of the widows who had lost their husbands at a young age.

There were two significant waves of social reforms in Bengal then. One was led by Raja Rammohan Rai, Keshub Chandra Sen and Debendranath Tagore with their monotheistic reformist and renaissance movement called Bhakti Movement, and the other was led primarily by the students/alumni of Hindu College with their radical free thinking Young Bengal movement, started by a young teacher of Hindu College, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio.

Raja Rammohan Rai was fluent in Arabic, Parsi and English. He had studied and researched Islam and Christianity, and had formed an opinion that the strength and positivity of Persia's Islam and Christianity of the West came from their institutionalized one Supreme God theology. As a result, Rammohan Rai stopped the idol worship of numerous Hindu Gods and Goddesses and started worshipping the form-less Brahma as the whole and sole, reforming the ancient Hindu religion to create the 'one-formless-supreme God' dharma called the 'Brahmo Dharma'. On the other hand, Head Master of Hindu College Henry Louis Vivian Derozio - a great scholar and a thinker, started influencing a group of intelligent boys in the college to think freely, to question existing religious beliefs and not to accept anything blindly. It started a new wisdom based on hardcore logic and atheist ideology. It was in the same period, when a Hindu College student and a son of an influential rich family of lawyers, Madhusudan Dutta stood against the illogical caste led atrocities, blind beliefs and customs prevalent in the Hindu society of the 19th century Bengal, denounced Hinduism and got converted to Christianity. He was expelled from Hindu College. This expelled student of Hindu College later became one of the greatest poets of Bengal literature and the father of the Bengali sonnet, Michael Madhusudan Dutt.

It was in such a juncture of ancient and modern times in the 19th century of Bengal, Narendra Nath Dutta was growing up in a affluent Kayastha Bengali family to be known as Swami Vivekananda later. He was sensible and an extremely intelligent student. Initially, he was influenced by the Brahma movement started by Raja Rammohan Roy and Devendranath Tagore. However, very soon the short-comings of the Brahma Samaj became evident to him. Brahma Samaj was essentially a fraternity of the rich and educated, and did not have any effect on, or relation with the greater general public of Bengal. In his search for answers, Narendra Nath finally met the renowned priest of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, dedicated to the Goddess Kali - Ramkrishna Paramahamsa. Being a Brahma Samaj follower, Narendra Nath initially opposed idol worship, polytheism and Ramakrishna's worship of Kali. As he grew ready to renounce everything for the sake of realizing God,he finally accepted Ramakrishna as his Guru. Ramakrishna taught him the ideals of 'Jata Mat, Tata path' through the teachings of the Vedanta. He showed him the path of unity in diversity and confluence of differing thoughts. Narendra Nath later took monastic vows and ascended to Swami Vivekananda. Irrespective of that, he was not too convinced and happy about the ideologies of the Vedas. He could not find social solutions to the existing problems of the present material realistic world. Vedantic teachings were all about Gods, spiritualism, renunciation, sacrifice and death. Therefore, Swami Vivekananda started to define and describe the glory of ancient Indian philosophy, keeping the 'present' of that period of Bengal. He devoted himself to express 'Advaita Vedanta' as a religion of the general public. He brought out neo-vedantic teachings to preach Hinduism in a new light which was above all the narrow-mindedness and doggedness of Hinduism. He presented Hinduism with the ideals of the upanishads, without the social evils based on superstitions to the whole world, and gave Hinduism a new meaning and stature. In the 'The Parliament of the World's Religions' opened on 11 September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago, Swami Vivekananda, in reference to the perceived inferiority complex of the Hindus said, "Say it with pride: We are Hindus". Having said that it should be noted that 'that pride of being Hindus' did not have even an iota of ill-feeling or dis-respect to other religions. According to Swami Vivekananda, if one religion is true, then the other religions are true as well.

Indian subcontinent is an union of innumerable religious, linguistic, ethnic, historical and regional diversities. That is why, Swami Vivekananda did not present India as a country of one religion. When he said, '.. we are Hindus', he didn't mean it as a religion. He meant it as a civilization. He presented it as the land of the wisdom of the Advaita Vedanta - the blessed land of virtue where humanity has attained its highest towards generosity, towards purity, towards calmness, and above all, as the land of introspection and of spirituality. He had immense respect for Islam. On his speeches about the prospect of Advaita Vedanta becoming the future religion of humanity, he maintained that although India was fortunate to be ahead in knowing about the theories of advaita, yet it was the Arabs who were first in propagating its practice through their religion of Islam. He very clearly said, "if ever any religion approached to this equality in an appreciable manner, it is Islam, and Islam alone". He was upfront in appreciating the equality that Islam had in both theory and practice. As for India, he stressed that the religion of renunciation to attain ultimate salvation is not as good as the real religion of being in this real world and working towards removing poverty, illiteracy, social evils like untouchability, caste differences and diseases. It is not advisable to run away from the material world, but to bravely face the problems and challenges of the material world. Swami Vivekananda had always stressed that the British imperialism always feared the unity in the diversity of India. They feared the power that emanated from the peaceful co-habitation of the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other religions of India. That is why, British imperialism always tried to use the existing fallacies in the Indian societies to divide us and continue their rule.

With western education, when a section of upper caste philosophers and writers started feeling inferior about being superstitious and started demeaning the viability of the concept of Hindu Rashtra, a new political concept of Hindutva nationalism started gaining foothold. It influenced a significant number of freedom fighters of that era as well, who were biased toward one religious way of life, i.e., Hinduism. In the midst of all that, there were Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das and Bal Gangadhar Tilak who believed in religious unity and found ways and strategies to promote the strength of Hindu-Muslim unity in India's freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi was very fond of both these leaders. He had said, "His (Chittaranjan Das) heart knew no difference between Hindus and Mussalmans.." Bal Gangadhar Tilak once said, "Religion and practical life are not different. To take sanyasa (renunciation) is not to abandon life. The real spirit is to make the country your family work together instead of working only for your won. The step beyond is to serve humanity and the next step is to serve God". However with the untimely death of both these leaders, their philosophy of Hindus and Muslims fighting for India's independence together could not be sustained. In the subsequent times, India saw the steep rise of zingoist Hindutva led political efforts to label Indian Muslims as non-Indians in the fight for independence. In reaction to that, the concept of 'Pakistan' for Muslim self-rule started to get public acceptance, and it marked the arrival of the divisive communal politics during India's freedom struggle. The freedom movement led by the Congress was not that significant and strong then that it could have curbed the advances of these two divisive political ideologies. The leadership of the freedom movement had fallen into the divisive trap of the imperialist British raj. Mahatma Gandhi became helpless. As a result, India was divided into two countries in the name of Independence. Lakhs of Indians died in the ensuing riots and migration to and from Pakistan. What's worse, even the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi had to lay his life to the same jingoist Hindutva brigade.

Swami Vivekananda's idea of independent progressive India that was blessed by the wisdom of the Vedanta was not this. He wished for brotherhood, mutual respect and fondness between the followers of Hinduism and Islam. For a developed India in the future, he wanted a progressive unity between these two great religious ideologies. He had said, "For our own motherland, a junction of the two great systems - Hinduism and Islam: Vedanta brain and Islam body is the only hope". Swami Vivekananda wanted to nourish and nurture 'Indianhood' by conjoining the Vedanta brain and the Islam body. However, it is quite the opposite picture that the present Hindutva politics is painting in the name of development, in the name of Swami Vivekananda. They are even trying to negate and erase the contributions of Islam to the history and heritage of making of India. The term 'Hindu' of Hinduism was coined by the Muslims from Persia, when they couldn't pronounce 'Indus'. The word 'Hindu' neither has its origin in Sanskrit, nor is it found in any of the vedic / ancient literature. Hindu was not even a name given to a religion. First Greek and then Muslim invaders referred to the region of civilization by the banks of the Indus river as 'Indus' and 'Hindus'. So, the name on which the political concept of Hinduism rest, had come from the followers of Islam. Isn't that a contribution?

It was during the times of Buddha and Ashoka, the influence of the culture and traditions prevalent in the region of the present day India had spread all across Asia. That is the reason Gautama Buddha is also called the 'Light of Asia'. When the word Hindu had started getting acceptance as a religious identity, history does not have any mention of any Indian crossing either the Himalayas, or the Indian Ocean for culture and traditions to travel outside. Megesthenes from Greece and Hsuan-Tsang from China had come to India. There is no historical evidence of any Indian going to either Greece or Germany. The Indian religions of today, starting then, have lost their dynamism and somehow are busy preserving their status quo through, at best, reactionary strategies. If effect, religions are nurturing a fundamentalist extremism, rather than doing the opposite. As a result, the ordinary common man of each of the religions are facing various hardships, atrocities and deaths. The worldly Hazrat Muhammad's teachings had unified the whole of Arabia and civilized the various barbaric tribes and sects. Before his death, most of the Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam, and he had united Arabia into a single Muslim religious polity. Islam slowly became one of the major religions of the world, giving rise to wealthy powerful civilizations across the world. However, the present day Taliban, ISIS, Boko Haram and other such terrorist organizations are bringing these progressive Islamic civilizations back to the barbaric period. The wordly Saint Hazrat Muhammad had advised one to even travel to China for education and knowledge. However, Taliban is shooting innocent girls in their heads for they had wanted to get educated. In India as well, a certain set of religiously blind fundamentalist Hindu leaders are trying to portray the killer of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi as a patriot, and want to building a temple in his name. They are trying to eulogize and give public respect to the first fundamentalist Hindu terrorist of Independent India, by building a memoribilia in his name.

According to Swami Vivekananda, the primary objective of religion is to inspire or awaken the positive energies within an individual. He meant to use this positive energy to kill or weaken all the negative energies. The key notion of a civilized world is good-will for each other and spirit of tolerance for well-being of all. According to Swami Vivekananda, the religion (or religions) which cannot impart tolerance and peaceful co-existence of all is not a religion in reality. Like Islamic fundamentalism is an enemy to the common Muslim, Hindu fundamentalism is also an enemy to the common Hindu. It is the time when we - the Hindus and Muslims of India, have to come out of the blinds of our religious fundamentalism to realize the dream of Swami Vivekananda of a progressive united India where all of us unitedly struggle to remove poverty, to provide education and health facilities to the teeming poor of our country.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Explaining AAP online donation system..

We, as responsible global Indian citizens, need to understand how money travels in case of online payments. Aam Aadmi Party is the first political party in the world which have thought and designed an online donation module which is transparent and secure and regulated. We need to encourage such systems of funding elections to better our democracy, to reduce corruption.

To understand the supposed scam by AAP as alleged by the BJP, you have to read the following few paragraphs.

It is one of the top priorities of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to regulate various modes of online payments; be it airtel money, paypal, mobile wallets and other online payment tools. That is the sole reason why Paypal was not allowed to do business in India for quite some time, as it had a risk of money laundering.

Let us understand how AAP gets funded through their online donation module.

  1. People with credit cards, debit cards, INR saving accounts, INR current accounts, mobile wallets like Airtel Money only can donate to AAP. This practically negates the misconception that foreign funds are coming to AAP.
  2. AAP has payment gateways that can only accepts payment instruments like the above mentioned list which are Indian Rupee based. AAP payment gateway cannot accept an American or European or a Saudi Arabian credit or debit card.
  3. So, we should understand that AAP can receive money from Indian Bank Accounts only. Now India has one of the best KYC (know your customer) policies in the world. It is so foolproof that it even acts as a barrier to opening accounts in rural India because identity and address documents are sparsely kept in rural India. So when a customer or a company opens an account, both these identity and address documents have to be provided. It is the onus of the banks to check the veracity of these documents so that a criminal or a scam company does not get to enjoy banking facilities.
  4. When a donor is making an online donation, there are three or more banks involved in the transaction. Let us take a case of 3 banks. The bank of the donor, the bank of the payment gateway like billdesk, CCAvenue etc and the bank of the receiver (AAP in this case). Money flows from the donor bank to the AAP bank account via the bank of the payment gateway. We need to note that the interbank money flow is via secure RBI RTGS servers. RBI RTGS servers can only be used by Indian Banks dealing in Indian Rupees.
  5. RBI has fixed a maximum time limit of T+2 days for the settlement process of these online transactions. Two donations given in two consecutive days may come to the bank account of AAP in one single day. That is not a discrepancy. It is simply the settlement processes that banks have.
  6. Important to note that when AAP receives money through the online module, it does not get to know any detail about the donor. At most, it may get the account number and the bank name in case of net-banking transactions. As for credit and debit card payments, AAP does not even get to know the card numbers. There are strict privacy laws against disclosure of such information to third parties. So, effectively, AAP has to depend on whatever the donor declares in the donation form just before going to the payment gateway webpage for payment. The donor provides his or her name, his or her mobile phone number, his or her email ID, and his or her state/city of domicile. The donor may give his name as 'BARACK OBAMA' and AAP has to accept it as such. There is no verification possible. As long as the money is coming from a legitimate bank account via a legitimate channel, AAP has absolutely nothing to worry or hide. 
  7. AAP cannot ask for account numbers, card numbers and such details as that would violate privacy laws. These details are only filled in the webpage of the payment gateway service providers, which are registered with the Reserve Bank of India after due diligence and regular audit processes.
  8. So AAP has minimum available data to do any cross verification of the donors. The primary responsibility of verifying the donors lies with the banks, as they are the customers of the banking system with strict KYC laws.
As for cheques, banks offer a cheque collection service for account holders with sizable number of incoming cheques. As part of their service, the bank provides an MIS (mostly excel) with all cleared cheque payments which can be uploaded into the AAP website by giving them transaction IDs.

I have tried to explain the AAP online payment of donation system to the best of my abilities. If there are any questions, please ask and I will answer each one of them.

Thank you.

Please vote for AAP.