Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Complete Double Standards

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on the contentious issue of Triple Talaq of Muslim women, a practice that every Islamic country has banned, but which remains on the books in India through the convoluted system of religious personal laws. Going by some of the observations of the court that reporters are pointing out, it seems that the Court is determined to know whether the disgusting practice is really a core component of Islam or whether it can be struck down. This smacks of double standards.

That the Indian Republic has a distinctly anti-Hindu bias is no surprise - a simple reading of the RTI Act, sections of the Constitution that provide extra protection to religious minorities, the ownership of religious places of worship, and much more, all point out to the fact that, while declaring India a secular country, the founding fathers certainly seemed to believe in the Two-Nation Theory. The farce of a hearing in the Court simply reinforces that, for when it comes to Hindu cultural and religious practices, the Court seems to have no trouble in ending thousands of years of tradition. The chaos that reigned in Tamil Nadu after Jallikattu was banned by the Court is just a case in point, and it eventually led to the legislature having to step in to reverse the damage, for which the Court never seemed even mildly apologetic.

In the Triple Talaq case, the fact that the system leaves women to the arbitrary whims of their husbands, the fact that the future of children can be wrecked at the drop of a hat, or the simple fact that it is dehumanizing and causes particular angst to Muslim women, all seems to have been missed by the Court, which only wants to know whether the practice is sanctioned by Islam. So what if it is (it isn't, by the way)? Beheadings, lashings, cutting off hands and much more are also sanctioned by Islam (and practiced is the most Islamic country of all, Saudi Arabia). Does that mean they're OK? Where does the Court draw the line? And if religious traditions are really so important, what stops the Court from allowing the Ram Temple to be constructed at Ayodhya? If Triple Talaq is to crucial for Islam, then the birthplace of Ram is equally crucial to Hinduism, whereas Ayodhya does not even appear in Islamic scripture.

Let me call a spade a spade - the Court is as anti-Hindu as the rest of the Nehruvian government system. And because of the colelgium system, it is not going to be fixed by merely an election. When it comes to Hindu traditions, the Court is willing to run roughshod over all voices to impose its social view. But when it comes to minorities, specifically Muslims, it needs to be extra generous. If this is not Two-Nation Theory, what is? Separate electorates ("only Muslims can represent Muslims"), separate laws, separate courts - what was the need for Pakistan when India could've just continued to be a Mughal Empire?

I think that the Court is going to do nothing about Triple Talaq. The way it simply brushed off the related issues of polygamy and Nikah Halala points to that. In the case on Sec. 377 too, the court simply shrugged off its constitutional role in protecting fundamental rights, choosing to throw the ball at the legislature instead (but on Hindu traditions, it would never dream of waiting for elected representatives unless it is to clear the mess that the Court itself created). The court will simply say some wise words and leave it to the legislature. Welcome to the anti-Hindu Republic of India. 

A 21st Century Colony

Pakistani newspaper Dawn revealed details of a supposed long-term plan for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a part of China's Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) that the Pakistani leadership has been selling to the world as the panacea to all ills of the country. As many commentators have rightly pointed out, far from some sort of benevolent Marshall Plan, the long-term CPEC plan is a textbook outline for the Chinese colonization of Pakistan, possibly making it the first colony of the 21st Century.

Consider this: the primary aim of CPEC is agriculture, to create raw materials that will then be shipped to manufacturing units in Xinjiang, which will then presumably shipped back to Pakistan and beyond. Sounds exactly like the East India Company. But that's not all - Chinese nationals are to have visa-free travel (obviously, it won't be reciprocal), a vast surveillance grid is to be established in all cities so that the Chinese can have a say in law and order, and Pakistani state television will have to broadcast Chinese 'culture'. And to add insult to injury, Pakistan is already raising exclusive military units to protect CPEC assets! Furthermore, none of this will be through aid, it will largely be through soft loans that Pakistan will have to pay back, or else. The less said about environmental clearances the better.

It is not the case that all foreign investment is colonization. Countries can work with each other to build infrastructure and assets - almost every emerging market does it. But the key is reciprocity and fairness - for all the concessions that Pakistan is making, it seems the Chinese have virtually nothing to lose except the risk of having to directly administer their new colony should it become unstable. And that risk is quite worth it given that CPEC gives China a direct land route to the Indian Ocean, thus bypassing the American armada in the Pacific. Pakistan, of course, hopes that CPEC will create infrastructure and hence, economic growth, but economic growth is not possible if the country is to be reduced to a supplier of raw materials - which is what CPEC seems to be primarily geared toward.

The worst, of course, has to be the fact that the Chinese have demanded a role in Pakistan's internal law and order mechanism through surveillance, and a dissemination of Chinese culture to a land that is completely alien to it, whatever the elite might think. These smack of British colonialism. Of course, for a country that seems to values Partition more than independence from the British Empire, making old mistakes should not be a surprise. 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Humans of Manchester-By-The-Sea

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016)

Produced By: Amazon Studios, K Period Media, and others
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, CJ Wilson, Lucas Hedges, and others
Pros: Strong story, excellent acting, good music
Cons: Too long
Rating: **** of 5 (4 of 5)

The Academy Awards just don't gel with me - I've never heard of most of the nominations and I usually end up hating whatever movie wins anything at all, especially the big Best Motion Picture award. So when I heard Manchester By The Sea had won two of them, I had to think hard and deep about watching it, despite liking the trailers. I'm glad I did watch it in the end, though, because is is a well-made indie movie that you can't expect from mainstream movies.

The movie is very strong on two fundamentals - there is a strong story, and the director tries very hard to stick to the story without going off on a tangent (which he does a few times, unfortunately); and the acting is very good, with Casey Affleck delivering the performance of a lifetime and truly earning his Oscar, and Lucas Hedges also doing a pretty good job. This is no mean feat, for most movies made today lack on either or both of these (cough... Zoolander 2...), and just that much is really enough for me to like a movie. It is a very depressing film though, so don't go in hoping for an underdog story. Added to that are some very soulful renditions that dot the movie, which really helped me stay engaged.

And staying engaged was really a challenge, because at over 2 hours, it is a long movie, and a lot of the parts were unnecessary and tangential. I can think of at least two distinct sub-plots that could've been disposed of. It's very easy to stop concentrating on the film and come back after a few minutes, and it really doesn't make that much of a difference either. Still, on the whole, each of the sub-plots, even those I found unnecessary, added up to a beautiful movie. Watch it, certainly, and take your young adults with you too.  (OTFS)