Saturday, December 01, 2007

a chill in uttar pradesh

this week in the north indian state of utter pradesh, temperatures have begun their slide to winter lows. as are the indian monks in this photo, with their shawls and wool hats, i am feeling the chill as daytime temperatures now hover around 70 degrees and can dip into the mid 60s at night.

far greater causes for chill, though, are the bombs set off last friday across the state. it seems earlier in the year, defense lawyers across this state had decided as a group that they would not defend people accused of terrorism-related crimes. now, some terrorist group or other planted bombs that exploded almost simultaneously at courthouses across the state, including that of nearby varanasi. the junior home minister (the ministry in charge of internal security, police etc) told the new york times, in discussing the attacks:

“Uttar Pradesh is so large, lapses can happen,” Sriprakash Jaiswal said.

at least 15 people died in varanasi alone, with many more injured. the following day the right-wing hindu political groups took vigorous advantage of the opportunity to stage a protest, calling for the resignation of the current government of india, and shutting down sections of varanasi. too bad, as the strikes prevented some from attending a dazzlingly beautiful hindu festival in which thousands of candles are set afloat on leaves on the ganges river.

so you have caught lawyers making a statement against terrorists, then right-wing and highly political hindu fundamentalist groups calling strikes against the terrorists and the government that it says is too soft on them, preventing hindu devotees from honoring their goddess ganga. and the government itself effectively calling its own territory unpoliceable - too large to prevent 'lapses.'

in the same complex that binds religious fundamentalism and politics rather tightly here in india of late, a muslim female writer has met with a decidedly mixed reception. this exceptionally outspoken woman, taslima nasreen was threatened with death by muslim clerics in her native bangladesh, after writing novels questioning women's status in her muslim culture. she had a valid indian visa, so came here to stay in the state of bengal that is adjacent to bangladesh and shares much of its culture and langauge, though the state of bengal is predominantly hindu while bangladesh is muslim. but upon arriving, she found that the communist party that runs the state was none too happy to have a prominent target of muslim ire around. (the communist party draws heavy support from the muslim population of the state, it seems.) after they succeeded in forcing taslima out of the state, the other states have been falling over themselves trying to pass her off to another state... except gujarat - a state whose government is most vocally pro-hindu fundamentalism. it seems in the delicate balancing act between the potentially volatile 'communal groups,' this courageous woman has fallen deep into the gap. some of her books, meanwhile, are banned in india.

for those who missed the ny times articles, they are still available online at this link and this one.

just to make clear, it is not all fun and games - or all elephants and relics - here.

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