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Holy cow!

While the global appeal against American war-mongering restores faith in mankind, a self-righteous Hindutva agenda seems to be blurring our vision. BINA SARKAR ELLIAS comments.

REUTERS

Now the centre of controversy ... .

"I WOULD rather die than eat beef," asserts an indignant Mr. Vajpayee, in response to an allegation that he had imbibed the holy cow. The nation-head must exercise caution before making personal dietary fetishes into what become political statements. The fervour of such a statement can only be an endorsement of religious bigotry spiraling down to the lowest denominator and fuelling the self-righteous Hindutva agenda.

While the world teeters dangerously at the edge of a Bush-Saddam war that will devastate three generations of innocent lives, we are preoccupied with the "moral" issue of cows. While tens of thousands of outraged demonstrators converge on the streets of the United States, the United Kingdom and France condemning Bush's call for war on Iraq, we are sharpening our trishuls in Rajasthan, honing xenophobia. While a human shield of brave peace volunteers positions itself at vulnerable locations in Iraq (it may now be breaking up), we are quibbling over a piece of land in Ayodhya and preparing for our own blood-letting.

A cow is hallowed while human life is dispensable trash, fodder for riots, wars and vote banks. Never before has there been such a pall of cynicism and gloom hanging over our nation, as now. The Gujarat carnage was recently referred to as "a social mishap" by the State's industrialists, while the murder of five Dalits by upper caste Hindus over the alleged killing of a cow is already a forgotten issue.

A new brand of Hinduism is nurturing Durga Vahinis in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa, and West Bengal, insidiously working with young adolescents, training them in the Vedas and warfare. Bal Thackeray's idea of making our own suicide squads has been picked up by a Pune-based retired Colonel Jayant Chitale. His "Hindustan Atma Ghatki Pathak (Hindustan Suicide Squad") has 45 enthusiastic young men who have completed commando training and signed a bond that they are willing to die for the country. This is the Hindutva response to the Islamic madrassa and terrorist culture. Such irony that the government should encourage and condone precisely what it condemns in another religion.

To kill or die for religion is an archaic ploy dusted and re-enforced every century. We must recognise that when misused, religion is the oldest and most insidious weapon of violence and destruction.

In fact, the nexus of religion and politics has increasingly sponsored a hysteria of terrorists and devastation worldwide.

Can religion be benign? A private communication with one's preferred god, rather than a vulgar display of chauvinism? If religion is representative of a moral code for society, and all religions teach the same greater good for humanity, then why don't we peel off the labels that create discord, and just invest in working towards the greater good?

Unfortunately, religion has created the notion of identity. "Identity" as one superior to the "other" as opposed to identity as one in harmony with the other. Christians and Hindus are threatened by Islam, Islam by Hindus, Christians and Jews, Hindus by Christianity, Jews by Islam, Catholics by Protestants, Buddhists by Hindus, Shias by Sunnis, and so on; a mayhem of discord, hate and violence. All within the sanctity of religion. We are unable to confront the fact that we have allowed the misuse of religion to create chasms between individuals, communities and nations. Yet, there are people out there, in other countries, protesting in the thousands, appealing for sanity and good governance, for an end to Bush's compulsive war-mongering. This surge of shared anger and collective concern restores once more, faith in the greater good in humankind.

We have yet to experience such a magnitude of opposition to bad governance within our country. Perhaps when we are less self-absorbed, perhaps when we stop blurring our vision with cows and trishuls, madrassas and mosques, temples and trivia, can we make a qualitative difference to our lives.

The writer is Editor, Gallerie.

E-mail her at gallerie@vsnl.com

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