Will we overcome? Pramada Menon

This is a guest post by PRAMADA MENON

Sundays are days for doing nothing much. Often I sit in front of the television and surf and watch many, many movies until all the story lines start merging into one. It’s fun because it does not require you to think. If one switches on a news channel, the chances are that you will start to splutter like mustard seeds in oil, since there is so much to splutter about – Nirmala Venkatesh, a member of the central government’s National Commission for Women, was put in charge of a three-member panel to investigate the attack on the women at a pub in Mangalore at 4pm in the evening. The way she sees it, Venkatesh is supposed to have said, women have the right to enjoy themselves but should also recognize societal limits. As part of her inquiry, she said, she plans to meet with the attackers, the bar owner and the families of the young women to see whether their parents
allowed them to go out to pubs every night at midnight. “My personal advice: Women should be very careful,” she said. “I can’t just roam after midnight.”

Ashok Gehlot, the Rajasthan CM believes that girls and boys should not hold hands since it is against Indian culture – one wonders whether he is tacitly a supporter of gay rights! A show I happened to watch last night had B.P.Singhal waxing eloquent in the falling in moral standards and the need for parents to step in and guide their children, Shaina N.C. almost made a direct link between drinking in pubs and alcohol addiction and violence. So as you can see, a plethora of views that can keep one engrossed as well as raise one’s blood pressure.

This evening, in the process of flipping channels I moved to what seemed an incongruous enough channel CARE WORLD. Nothing on the screen caught my attention, until I chanced upon Sadhvi Rithambhra , she of the inflammatory speeches during the ram janmabhoomi days, addressing a large gathering at a meeting of the Dharma Raksha Manch, Sankalp Sabha. Seated on the stage were many sadhus in different shapes and sizes, mostly male and when I tried hard enough I could catch sight of one or two women – the Sadhvi included. The recognizable faces were those of Ashok Singhal, International President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad; Subramaniam Swamy, a politician; Pravin Togadia I think, though I am not sure and Asaram Bapu who appeared to be the host of this major event in Sion, in Mumbai today.

I tuned in when the Sadhvi in eloquent terms denounced the drinking of alcohol. This was obviously in reference to the attacks on the Sri Ram Sene activists who stormed the pub Amnesia, in Mangalore, to protect Hindu culture. The activists method of protecting culture was to physically attack the women seated in the pub. And the protectors of the faith have taken umbrage at the fact that many people feel that the activists of Sir Ram Sene need to be punished. For her alcohol vitiated culture. She challenged the secularists, and claimed that the 26/11 Mumbai attacks happened because the government has been soft in not hanging Afzal Guru and as a result India appears weak in front of the “others”. She stated that whenever the Hindus rose to claim their heritage or to right the wrongs the state has done, people turned around and called them the Hindu Taliban or the Hindu terrorists. She got the entire gathering – sadhus and listeners – to take a solemn vow to protect their religion and go around the country convincing everyone of the greatness of the Hindu religion and Indian culture. Very similar to the days when people went into the villages of India and got people to buy a brick for the temple to be built in Ayodhya.

Asaram Bapu spoke next. He is a “self realized saint” who preaches the existence of “One Supreme Conscious in every human being; be it Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh or anyone else” according to his website http://www.ashram.org.  He spoke at length. Not for him fiery speeches, his was more tempered and he addressed the audience much as a parent would address his children. He clearly stated that there was no greater religion than Hinduism. For instance, he said that “foreigners” at a World Religion Conference kept telling him that Christ was the only god and he denounced that by giving two examples: within Hinduism, god actually appears whereas in Christianity the son is sent and in other cases the paigambar or prophet appears but not god. Apparently it is only the Indian culture that gives shape and accords reality to god. Secondly, Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross and died before Pontius Pilate and nothing could save him, whereas in Hinduism, Sri Krishna had only to put his feet into the river yamuna, which was in spate, and the river abated. That is the greatness of the Hindu faith!

What was amazing were the ways in which all topical issues concerning religion and culture were dealt with in one speech. He obviously understands intersectionality much better than most of us. He stated that Sadhvi Pragya was wrongly blamed for the blasts in Malegoan. He felt that as a culture , we needed to revisit the logic of one wife per man since within Indian religion Dashrath had more than one wife. And this was made in reference to the fact that another religion permitted four wives and may be Hindu men would need to do the same so that Hindu women stayed within the fold. This a reference made to inter-religious weddings. He also made sure that he included the Sikhs within the fight for reclaiming Indian culture by constantly referring to the followers of the Granth Sahib.

Asaram bapu also had opinions on medicine. For instance, he threatened his followers, in a joking manner, that he would appear in their dreams at night and scare them if they had cardiac surgeries since he believes that all one needs to do is to let “the surya narayan kiran enter your body for 7minutes every day from the front and back” and there would be no need of cardiac surgery!

So why do I write all this?

I cannot believe that this horror actually happened, that the media has not covered this in any of the news.
I cannot believe that all of us who are working to end sectarianism and fundamentalism are not able to organize mass rallies like these and inflame people to move on paths that embrace peace, unity and equality.

I cannot believe that we are unable to engage with issues of religion in a constructive manner, and that we are unable to defeat these defenders of the Hindu faith, who actually have nothing in common with us. Yet are able to have millions of followers who will go out into the streets and attack.
I am shocked at my own ineptitude in dealing with these issues.

The violence against the girls in the pub and the moral policing upset a large number of us and to protest we will organize rallies, protests, talk shows, debates.
What the protectors of the Hindu faith will do is use this incident as a rallying call to get more people on board and start a forum to protect Dharma and not religion. Since Dharma is generally defined as righteousness or duty, people have no objection to taking vows to protect it or promote it.

And we sit by the wayside singing “We shall overcome”…?

February 1, 2009

2 thoughts on “Will we overcome? Pramada Menon”

  1. and that’s how my hero Pramada Menon continues to inspire me. I have read this article just now 3 years later and can’t agree with it more how much lack of media attention towards the real issues continue to haunt us.


  2. What ever Ram Sene had done at the Mangalore Pub was illegal but this is what happened with the full force of law:


    I was told by a friend hailing from Mangalore that there were about 50 Bouncers at the Pub on that day. What were they doing when the goons attacked the Customers? How the TV Cameras were strategically placed to record every event in minute detail?


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