Saturday, April 12, 2008

A festival of lights

It's the end of Navratra tomorrow. The nine day festival of lights and fasting. And at the end of Navratra, like every year, the search begins for young maidens. It's traditional to invite back nine of these young maidens back to the house and feed them with a nine varieties of food. After which you wash their feet and seek their blessings. And traditionally like every year, women all over India start searching for nine of these young maidens who can be fed and who will in return bless them. Only year by year, it seems to be getting tougher.

As well it might. In prosperous Haryana and Punjab where Navratara is celebrated with fervor there are only 777 women for a thousand men. The rest have been killed.The number is still lower in some of the rural areas. And least in some of the metros where urbanity it can seem can go hand in hand with some extreme barbarism. While the usual process is the ultrasound followed by the quick abortion, for many others it is a quick short burial of the baby in the backyard. The social reasons could be many. But for some of the people this killing too is traditional. Which is the scary part.

The repercussions are many. In some ways a girl has become a scarce resource, and people in power have derived their power from control of these scarce resources. Which they are attempting to do now. There are bars on marrying people of a different or lower caste, different religion or marrying people of the same 'gotr'. Honor killings are rampant, and tragically so are the suicides.

Thanks to all of this Haryana seems to be getting a few new traditions. It's called the bride trade. Where a bride is purchased from another state outside Haryana. "I couldn't find a local
girl," said Chandram, who purchased a wife last year from Bangladesh.
"So I had to go outside to get married. But it wasn't cheap."
Thousands more like Chandram exist in Haryana. And they are looking for brides. Only year by year it will get tougher.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

The root of all Evil

If I were to tell you that by abstaining from one act today, you could potentially save your child from pedophiles I am sure you would happily abstain from that act. But if I were to tell you that that one act is religion?

When you light that one candle, say that one prayer, you use the word: faith. Faith in perhaps your God or your country, you worship one or the other deity. But the fundamental message there is your faith. Your belief in the absence of evidence. And the other implied message. Faith is a virtue. Belief is a virtue. Even in the absence of evidence. Especially in the absence of evidence. And once your children are willing to believe anything (in the stark absence of evidence), then it becomes a simple matter to ensure that they do believe anything. From "uncle (well auntie too) touching them is good for them" to "strapping on bombs and blowing up people".

This is one of the compelling arguments made by Dawkins (and the neo atheists) against religion today. I'll confess here. I am a Dawkins fanboy. However the argument is entirely valid. Faith (and by definition religion) leaves our kids vulnerable because we ask them to just about believe anything we tell them. So how do we ensure they only believe things which are good for them (or which we think are good for them). We simply can't. If they are going to believe anything then they will believe anything. Including stuff which is harmful to them. The only way out of this loop is if they check that evidence. Checking that evidence is what programmers call a guard.And guard it does. From a program going the wrong way to self detrimental belief.

One of the arguments trotted out immediately to the above argument is that when you check evidence you compare this evidence with a standard, you don't know what the standard is, and that by definition religion is that standard. Well it could be. I'd still like to see the evidence. If I were a Jew (or a Muslim) then one of the criteria which would be good for me would be abstinence from pork. I'd still like to see the evidence for it. Why
is it bad for me? Why is it good for others to have it, but bad for me to have it? God, said so. Fine. But why? Does it increase my cholesterol? No, it hurts me spiritually? Well then show me how?

However every time I say that the immediate response is: Physical evidence is not the only evidence. Well maybe. But then if you are going to claim otherwise the onus of proving it is up to you. I might as well claim that if there is something other than physical evidence then you are a murderer. You would then call me absurd. However when you claim that there is a God, then there is no onus of proof on you. Now that's absurd. However the two integral percepts of any religion are: a complete lack of evidence or the need to provide evidence and of course complete belief in the absence of that evidence. The only other place besides the inside of a temple (or a church) where I have seen these two percepts being held fondly ( I could say almost religiously) is with madmen (and madwomen).

This is why I have continuously and spectacularly failed to believe in a specific or a general God. I don't even believe (as my family would fondly wish) in some type of a God. I am an atheist. Through and through. I don't believe in God because there is no evidence of God. There. I said it. I am now (probably) eternally damned. That won't be a problem though. At least my children will be safe. And for that I am willing to go to Hell. Any day.

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