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The many faces of faith

If there was an opinion poll on who should get a Nobel Peace Prize, Asma Jehangir would win, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Sep 02, 2006 02:32 IST

If there was a public opinion poll conducted in the subcontinent (comprising Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) on who is the most deserving person for a Nobel Peace Prize, I have no doubtthat Asma Jehangir of Lahore would emerge as the outright winner. And for good reasons. She is a Muslim living in a mullah-military-male-dominated country in a stifling atmosphere of suspicion and where hatred of India thrives; where Draconian laws are used to stamp out heresy and punish blasphemy with death. She has been speaking out against all these for many years; attempts have been even made to silence her.

Pakistan, India and Bangladesh face similar problems; the upsurge of religious fanaticism (kattarpan) which often turns to violence against people of other faiths. Pakistan and Bangladesh are Islamic states on either side of India, ostensibly secular and largely Hindu. If the Pakistanis had their way, they would put the likes of Asma Jehangir in a burqa. But she refuses to wear one, leads demonstrations against repressive measures. Takes up cases of men and women persecuted by the government. She is often condemned for being an Indian agent.

Bangladesh is going the Pakistan way. Take a look at Hiranmay Karlekar’s Bangladesh: The Next Afghanistan (Sage). You will understand how serious religious bigotry has become. It has not thrown up a leader to fight it; woman like Taslima Nasreen who has a fatwa of death had to flee to Europe and is currently seeking asylum in India. I hope our government will extend her a visa.

Both Pakistan and Bangladesh find it convenient to let extremist elements turn to India for their ill-conceived jehads (holy wars) and get the martyrdom they seek. In its turn Hindu bigots preach hate against Muslim bigotry; both thrive on mutual hatred.

Our secular roots nurtured by Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Nehru, Badruddin Tyabji, Netaji Subhas Bose, Maulana Azad and others are being destroyed by Hindu fundoos. They also preach hatred against Pakistan and Bangladesh. However, we do have a free press and quite a few willing to fight them. Efforts have borne fruit. The forces of religious fundamentalism are in retreat.

Religions were a powerful force when they were established. Gradually they became forces of backwardness and divisiveness because of preaching superiority over other religions. We are witnessing this phenomenon in all the three countries.

In many ways Asma Jehangir’s life has been like that of Aung San Su Kyi of Burma who has been under home arrest for many years. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace some years ago. Asma has been roughed up by the police, put under house-arrest and jailed. She had to send her children abroad for safety but continues to raise her voice against oppression and injustice. Can you think of anyone more deserving than her?

Marriage and hardship

Had it occurred to you that all jokes about marriage are made by men, where they portray themselves as victims. It is ironic as in most marriages, it is the wives who have to put up with more hardships. Their life is an unending life of drudgery with very limited opportunities. On the other hand, most husbands are away from home all day, with money in their pockets, opportunities to cheat on their wives and return home expecting a dinner. Or they take it out on their wives, chide them for being poor and not warm enough in bed. Occasionally, they beat them. None of this deters men decrying the institution of marriage and speaking poorly of their spouses. Even Socrates was of the opinion that if a man is lucky enough to get a good wife, he is happy. If he gets a bad one, he becomes a philosopher.

What kind of philosopher? Marriage is conceived as the only war in which one sleeps with the enemy. Sacha Guitry once advised a friend: “When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her.” If men get so fed up with their wives, why do so many remarry? Patrick Murray once admitted it did not work out for him: “I had bad luck with both my wives. The first one left me, the second one didn’t.”

It often happens that second marriages are more successful. By then both men and women have their edges rubbed off and are willing to accommodate. Is having two or more wives under one roof, a better solution? No. Islam permits up to four wives at a time but forbids women more than one husband at a time. Personally, I don’t approve of harems as a solution nor a Draupadi-type of existence as a happy marriage. Try one out; if it does not work, don’t try it again.

Pay hike for the MPs

They too have to life, they too have a family to feed
Our MPs deserve a pay hike indeed
Because the principle is
To all according to their work, to teach according to his need,
First work: They have to sweat, fret and frown
They have to shout the Speaker down.
They have to run into the well,
And turn the House into a hottest hell.
They have to walk out and walk in the sun.
And every day march to the Rashtrapati Bhavan
And most importantly, they have to ensure
That no work gets done.
Now the need. Their motto being service to the people,
For themselves, they need not a thing
But people mustn’t be ungrateful
And must pay for them to live like a king;
And then, they are entirely corruption-free,
So they deserve a big raise in salary.

(Courtesy Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

First Published: Sep 02, 2006 02:32 IST