Thursday, 22 February 2018

Can we allow Ayodhya talks to be bombed?

M Rajaque Rahman
Will #AyodhyaBribeBomb end all out-of-court settlement efforts? This was the epicenter of a recent prime-time debate in the wake of allegations of underhand bargaining. I wish it were that simple and straightforward for India! The matter at hand is not merely about who gets a Mandir and who loses a Masjid.

Sitting in the comforts of a TV studio, it might be easy to say the Supreme Court is seized of the matter and we must wait for the verdict. But what such a verdict could entail on the ground is scary. Any court verdict, irrespective of whichever way it goes, would be fraught with great risks for the nation. Even if the court rules in favour of the Muslims, the resultant feeling of humiliation and provocation among the Hindus will make it a costly victory. And if it is the other way, the jubilation among Hindus will only further vitiate the precarious communal equations. Even if the Mandir is built, the problem might come back again in the future as one community is bound to feel alienated.

Seen from this context, India can’t afford to take the shortcut of a legal verdict. The chances of an amicable solution may be very bleak, but the efforts towards it cannot, and must not, be abandoned. Unsubstantiated allegations of seeking or offering bribe are too vague a reason to stop us from such a crucial enterprise. Even if there have been demands for an underhand deal, the wise approach at the moment will be to reject and isolate them and move on. India cannot afford to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this issue.

This where the presence of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to spearhead the mission and rally around those who understand the gravity of the situation will be of immense significance. For one, Sri Sri is someone who is unlikely to be deterred by any negative propaganda or bargaining. From the beginning, he has made it very clear that any settlement must be out of goodwill, not a buyout! “Soudha se nahi, ………,” he has always maintained.

His pursuit of enlisting anyone and everyone who can influence public opinion in favour a negotiated settlement and create an ecosystem for dialogue is vital here as it’s impossible to resolve an emotive and vexed dispute like the Ayodhya without a softening of hearts and goodwill. That people are willing to talk about it itself is no mean breakthrough in a conflict that has run on rhetoric for decades and got identified with the astitva and maryada (existence and identity) of two different communities.

Sri Sri has been able to broad-base his outreach with the Muslim community. If it turns out that Moulana Salman Nadvi’s change of heart isn’t driven by motives of personal gains, then the credit must be given to Sri Sri for perpetually engaging key stakeholders. His open-ended efforts to connect heart to heart can play a vital role in preparing the stakeholders for negotiations and compromises. So far, he has been quite successful in raising the comfort level and averting the fear of being pushed into adapting to a premeditated agenda.

As the stakes are high, it’s natural that there will be clashes of egos, mudslinging and even sabotage! But the hard language used by some leaders from both sides to oppose the efforts of constructing a mutual understanding doesn’t send good omen for the country. It appears some people are hell bent to milk the issue as a cash cow.

It will be in the interest of the country to allow the progressive individuals and groups like Sri Sri to work for pulling through a settlement that appeases the majority sentiment and reassures the minority community. If they could get around the nation to building a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya without hurting the sentiments and interest of the Muslim community, it would be almost like a heavenly miracle.

An early and amicable resolution of the dispute is in the interest of the nation as it will also prevent rabble-rousing and polarisation along communal lines. But the road ahead needs to be steered with caution by a driver who can manoeuvre with the sensitivities of an emotive issue that the Ayodhya is. Is Sri Sri primed to transcend the negative agendas and lead the way? 

(The author keenly follows and write on issues that are relevant to the Idea of India. He tweets @rajaque)

Do prayers have a religion?

M Rajaque Rahman
The fuss over the secularity of the morning prayers in the state-sponsored Kendriya Vidyalayas is not just hawkish, but also a marked display of ignorance of the very concept of prayer itself. And as it stands, the Supreme Court will have to rule on whether prayer has a religion. I pray (pun Intended) the Apex Court would go by the spirit and save the education sector from getting trapped in the polarised and prejudiced milieu in the country.


For the record, the prayer in contention is a combination of a song in Hindi preceded and followed by a Sanskrit sloka. The song is a simple call of the heart to fill it with knowledge and purify the soul. The opening sloka is the popular “Asato ma sad gamaya…” which is an expression of the longing to move from untruth to truth; from darkness to light and from death to immortality. The closing sloka is a prayer seeking to move together and not to hate each other.

The prayer doesn’t invoke any deity or God. There is no polytheism, no segregation, no discrimination. And that has been the core of all common prayers of this nation. Take for example the most popular Gayatri Mantra.  It doesn’t invoke God for any small individual comfort. Instead, it calls out for inspiration and guidance for our intellect. And, where else can one find a more inclusive wish for well-being of all than in the meaning of “Sarve bhavantu sukhinah…”? This elementary prayer wishes happiness, goodness, and freedom from misery for all.

If such genuine calls for righteousness, wisdom, eternal light, happiness and wellness of all beings are to be called non-secular and unconstitutional, then the cry for amending the Constitution will only start looking justified.

The point is that these prayers are universal in the language and the content. They unite the entire creation into a bond of divine blessing, and they nowhere limit whom you should pray to. Allah, Jesus, Krishna, Ganesh or Shiva don’t seem to matter. Hence, there is no question of contravening with the Article 28(1) of not providing religious instruction.

The ignorant attitude that everything that has its origin in India is Hindu and non-secular has done a lot of harm to the nation. In the guise of being secular, we have denied the nation from making such deep prayers  for righteousness and wisdom a part of the national consciousness. Those who protest such prayers in the name of secularism not only expose their ignorance of their meaning but also do the biggest disservice to the ideals of secularism. If everybody is blessed with these attributes, the essence of secularism will be a fait accompli.

The prayers which are the being questioned are more of spiritual pursuits of attaining highest attributes in life rather than being ritualistic and superstitious. They are an important part of the indigenous repository which is full of values that are essential for promoting unity and universalism and weeding out fanaticism from young minds. It’s a national tragedy that an aspiration for such higher attributes isn’t inculcated through our education system.

The time has come to sensitize all Indians to praying for the highest attributes in life and imbibe the human values of compassion, caring and sharing. That alone can prevent fanaticism in young minds. The best place to do it is at schools. And, it’s not a tall order. We just need to find non-controversial ways of spiritualising Indian education. The need of the hour is to shift the national discourse from saffronisation to spiritualisation and come up with a policy that will integrate the ancient treasures for which generations of people from all over the world have been coming to India.

(The author keenly follows and write on issues that are relevant to the Idea of India. He tweets @rajaque)

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

When doctors need emergency treatment!

The recent incidents of reputed private hospital declaring dead a baby along with its stillborn twin when it was actually alive or another one overcharging the family of a seven-year-old dengue patient at an average of over Rs 1 lakh per day, have once again raised the alarm bell that all may not be well with the tribe of healers. The prevailing sickness may be much more critical than what is assumed and must need an emergency treatment!

Such incidents justify the narrative that some doctors might be fishing in the pond of clueless customers. The scale of suspicion might be exaggerated, but there is no denying that the lure for money is making doctors happy when they see sickness! But it will be too cruel to cast all doctors in one mould. There are doctors who heal. There are doctors who consider a pep-talk session with the patient equally, if not more, important as the medicine they prescribe. For me, there are two types of doctors. One spiritual and other non-spiritual. Not in the sense of being religious, but being holistic in seeing life.

The first type honours the power of the spirit and aspires to become a part of its healing mechanism. They aren't rigid and procedure-driven. They take a holistic view of the patient's condition and are willing to adopt a multidimensional approach to heal it. Such doctors need to be supported by a providing an ecosystem that encourages a systematic integration of the traditional and more holistic approaches like Ayurveda into the healthcare system.

The other type sees illness as their opponents that needed to be outsmarted or out-procedured. If their's will be done, nobody will ever die. They call it alive as long as they are breathing, even if it's ventilator-induced. Sometimes, they conduct emergency surgeries on "dead bodies". They care very little about wellness. They just love to handle interesting cases and often forget no patient ever wants to be an interesting case.

Despite the ugly head of the black sheep rearing more often, the former tribe is not extinct yet. But there are enough pointers to suggest that the rapid rise in C-Section deliveries, spinal fusion surgeries and the like might be driven to some extent by doctors' financial incentives. Experts say that more than half of the spinal fusions performed globally could be without good reasons. Remember the ‘Operation Jonk' expose in 2014 that suggested some doctors earn as high as 40-50 percent commission on the tests being prescribed by them!

But it's not just money though. There is a huge problem of approach and orientation. As doctors become more and more specialised, the sphere of possibilities has been curtailed. To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Like that, surgeons like to solve medical problems by cutting, just as physicians first seek solutions with drugs. And they don't see anything beyond. Their vision becomes so narrowed that they can't see illness beyond the problem of pain. They end up becoming problem fixers rather than healers.

And as they become more and more worldly, the stress level also seems to be catching up and eating into their commitment to value life. It may be time for doctors to take some treatments to free themselves of stress and maintain a centred and equanimous mind. Doctors with a meditative mind is a good news for patients as they more likely to have a stronger intuitive power. They are more likely to arrive at a more precise diagnosis, and with fewer tests and imaging. Probably, the tribe of healers need a deep-breathing therapy and a dose of Sudarshan Kriya and the like.

A concoction of medication and meditation may just be the right prescription the doctors should be writing for themselves. And for the patients, they have to just do a scan of the doctor before he could wheel them in for an expensive scan!

(The author is a social commentator who posses a pair of prejudice-free eyes and is free from envy and jealousy.)