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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Scary news and views

On some days the newspaper is bland and empty of content, and then there are days when it bombards you with strange news from around the world that is bound to put worry lines on any thinking man’s brow. Today was one such.

First, here is a startling revelation of how China’s much-vaunted ‘one-child policy’ (which had lots of loopholes and escape clauses I didn’t know about) designed to check explosive population growth is now backfiring on it, and they are so worried there will be too many old people around (too many ‘unproductive’ people to support) soon that they are thinking about relaxing the rule. They have even begun to feel that one-child families are not healthy – children grow up to be spoilt or lonely (we can see that all around us in middle-class urban India, too!) But then, China is three times the size of India and already very considerably better off, so their population pressure (except in big cities) can be nowhere as nightmarish as ours…

Then there is the update on the ongoing row over the arrest of a black professor at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., USA, because the arrest was carried out by a white police officer. I was nowhere around, nor do I have the remotest chance of getting the inside story (even from neighbours of the professor), but the more I read the news the more I grow suspicious that this is a case of knee-jerk reverse discrimination: the white western world is bending over backwards to ‘make amends’ for all the nasty things that their racially biased and cruel forefathers did to the blacks in days gone by, and clever and none-too-nice blacks are having a field day taking advantage of all that accumulated social guilt… I wish that President Obama had not got into the fray with an off-the-cuff comment before checking on the details. Apparently the head of the Cambridge police department has strongly backed up Sergeant Crowley, the officer in the dock, saying that he has a perfectly clean service record, and was acting strictly according to protocol, and the prof in question, Henry Gates, had forced his hand by raising an almighty ruckus which could have been easily avoided. If Gates had been white, or if the policeman had also been a black, it might not have been news at all. Just because blacks have long been sinned against does not make all living blacks good people, nor should it be that whenever a black is ‘troubled’ by a white for what the law calls wrongdoing all society should scream bloody murder blaming the white for being racist in a stupid and dangerous attempt to prove how ‘liberal and open-minded’ they are. That only encourages opportunists and trouble-makers of all hues, until things get out of control. The same sort of thing is happening with women and other ‘disadvantaged’ groups in our country, because the law is now biased in their favour, and do-gooders with too much heart and too little brains are falling over themselves to help them regardless of whether they are guilty or not.

And then there is this article about how Britain is being taken over by folks of alien races and strange mores. It made me shiver. I shall desist from making any comments on it, beyond saying that I am all for good and healthy cultural inclusiveness (that’s what Rammohun Roy, Tagore, Vivekananda and Gandhi stood for, after all – enrich yourself by borrowing the best of every culture you encounter), and I see nothing to object to if native-born white Britons wear the burqa for fun, or vote for chicken tikka masala as their most favourite dish, or choose to marry Sikhs or Muslims of their own free will… but the things that Mr. Datta Ray has hinted make my skin crawl. Read, and you will see why. From all that I know and have read of him, I have no reason to regard him as an irresponsible and uninformed scare-monger. Maybe I won’t want my daughter to settle down in a country like Britain thirty years from now, after all!


vaishnavi said...


This made for a very informative post and I read all three articles that you have specified. It will be interesting to note how China handles this particular situation. Plausible reasons for establishing the law in the first place aside, offshoot problems like forced abortions are unpardonable.

The second article too, is somewhat disturbing. Especially in a university town like Cambridge. I agree with you that there are some people who take advantage of the fact that their forefathers had to go through great hardships, but I understand that in some places below the Mason-Dixon line, disdain for blacks is still apparent. I could be wrong but several articles over the years seem to indicate otherwise.

The third article was the most interesting, also, the most disturbing. If things are as the article says they are, then Britain and the rest of Europe, indeed the rest of the world needs to find a balance and some way out of all this inter-religious tension. This makes Gaddafi's statement a little too discomfiting.


Shilpi said...

The part which does send the shivers down my spine, Suvro da, is the third article and your veiled comments on the same. I do agree too that I have nothing against what people wear (and in any case after musings on the same I see no reason to believe that someone not wearing the burqua or the hijab or a headscarf must be more liberated than someone who does) nor what they eat or how they cook their food and even though these seem like minor points (at least they should be clearly separated from the serious social mores) I must say I disagree with one point in the article: that if people "are so committed to the burqua...they should stay where [these] are the natural order." To talk more about clothes and what people wear are not my intentions though.... The rest of the article does make me deeply uncomfortable. It seems somehow to be a case of the natural progression of cultural relativism, which steadily must go out of hand unless people are careful. First the talk is of accepting clothes and then there are folkways, which are to be accepted and then there seems not much of a problem to accept laws and mores which flout not innocuous cultural practices but basic and universal human rights.

This article and your comments tie up with the second article and your comments in a way though - oddly or not-so-oddly enough. "People bending backwards..." to suit others from groups considered to be minority groups. That said I somehow think the second incident is much too cloudy for me to paint it either way, and I followed this news bit since it popped up on BBC. The only thing I do believe and very strongly is that President Obama should have waited awhile before commenting. The incident may not have been explicitly racist but there are still too many conflicting reports, and about seemingly minor things. The official report says that Sergeant Crowley repeatedly requested Professor Gates to step out onto his porch. Later, Sergeant Crowley reports that the Professor could have diffused the situation by stepping inside his house. I don't for an instance assume that the professor didn’t throw a fit either (and if people know a little bit more about his background they would know why he wouldn’t be quiet) - but could he have been violent or disorderly enough (on his front porch) to merit an arrest? And if he weren’t would the Sergeant have made the arrest? Sergeant Crowley must have sensed the mayhem that would ensue had he made an unwarranted arrest of a black professor teaching at Harvard University. And then why were the charges dropped? Your wider point is something that I have felt for a long time - that of reverse discrimination. It doesn't merit much attention because most people think it's not important enough somehow to even talk about. Maybe though I may write a bit more on this at length elsewhere….

The first article (on China) doesn’t strike any bells or gongs in my head for now, and I can’t add a thing. Sorry.
Thanks for the post…. Take care.

Shilpi said...

Sorry about the word error. I meant "instant" of course - not instance. I don't for an instant assume....
I would have retyped the whole comment but the bin seems to have disappeared again.

Harman said...

Dutta-Rays article is speculative and incendiary. No one in Britain is holding a gun to people's head to convert to Islam (although that had been done in the past, both by Christians and Muslims).

If people have chosen to follow a certain way of life of their own free will, I have no problem with it.

Besides, Sarkosy can hardly be held up as a moral leader whose judgement is sacrosanct. He cares more about his political career than oppression of women. The fact that his wife is paraded around naked in most magazines does not make her a liberated woman either. I am sure many would take offense to that and deem it degrading to women.

I do not have a problem with either Sarkosy's wife's decision to pose naked or an islamic lady's decision to wear the burka. These are personal decisions and should be respected, as long as they pose no harm to the greater good.

Maybe Dutta-Ray should be focusing his efforts on the shortcomings of religions that people are leaving behind to convert to Islam, instead of trashing Islam for its rapid growth. Introspection is always more difficult. Placing blame is easy.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Well, you are entitled to your opinions, Harman, but I do get this feeling that either you did not really read the article in question carefully enough, or shot a comment off the cuff... anyway, thanks all the same.

Shilpi said...

Harman, if I may say so - you would do well to re-read paragraphs 4, 5, 6, and 7 (at least) of Mr. Datta Ray's article.
He isn't just talking about clothing rights and things that are matters of preferences and/or tastes.

Harman said...

"But the attempt to foist an uneducated immigrant minority’s social prejudices on the more cultivated and enlightened lifestyle of an established host society is unpardonable. If they are so committed to the burqa, halal or Friday closure, they should stay where these are the natural order."

-- If this statement of Dutta-Ray does not reek of bigotry and racism, I do not know what does!
It reminds me of those morons who every now and then yell obscenities from their cars and tell me "to go back to my country," mistaking me for an Arab or Muslim. I am sure most of them, if asked, would not have the first clue of what Islam or Sikhism stands for.

It is this kind of attitude that is the cause of strife all over the world: a group of people thinking that they are intellectually, morally, and spiritually superior to another.

It's Dutta-Rays kind of logic that gives rise to the Hitlers of the world.

Let me be clear here that I do not condone the subjugation of women. If I were living in Britain, as a Sikh, I would not go to Sharia court to get my matter resolved, I would go to a British court. Even as a Muslim (and I have several friends in the UK who are Muslim), I do not need to go to Sharia court. Once again, none of the "minorities" in UK are trying to overthrow the British justice system, they are merely trying to co-exist. They provide an alternate from of dispute resolution, and once again, people can "choose" where they want to go to resolve there conflict. It the "enlightened" people of Britain don't think highly of the "uneducated immmigrant minority's social prejudices," why is Dutta-Ray so afraid that these "enlightened" people will en-mass convert to Islam??

If you parse each religious doctrine apart and look at certain aspects of it in isolation, I am sure one can come up with draconian conclusions. I can point to an isolated shlok from the vedas that translates "Drums and women should be subject to frequent beatings," or to the Bible when it says that "Eve was created from the rib of Adam." I can further point out that child marraige and Sati was and still is (in some remote villages in India) an acceptable practice in Hinduism, or that several thousands of women were burnt at the cross by the church by being labeled as "witches". I do not condone any of the above treatments of women. But to dismiss a whole body of thought as trivial based on such isolated conclusions is flawed logic. If that were the case, Christianity and Hinduism do not seem any more "enlightened" than Islam. Maybe Dutta-Ray should reconsider who these "enlightened" races are that we should be preserving...

Rest assured, racism is well and alive in both Britain and the US. Its not the Sikhs, or Muslims, or Iranians out on the streets of New York discriminating or profiling "the cultivated and enlightened" white man, it is often the other way around.

By the same token, it would be wrong to conclude that every white man is prejudiced. In fact, a great majority of them are cordial and kind. And it was our Hindu neighbors who saved my Dad's life during the 1984 riots. Generalizations and stereotypes do not do anyone justice, whether it be an "enlightened" majority or the "uneducated" minority.

Allow me to attach a recent article from the Telegraph that should lay Dutta-Ray's fears of minority domination of the world to rest.


Harman said...

Here is the link to the telegraph article that I mentioned in the previous post:


Suvro Chatterjee said...

Now now, don't get hot under the collar, Harman, that's the best way to say things you'd regret afterwards, offending or hurting people you had no intention of hurting. I have been reading SDR for more than 20 years, since he was editor of The Statesman, and I am convinced (I am not easily convinced about anything) that he is a rational, well-informed man who is not given to scare-mongering through overstatement. Picking stray sentences out of a long essay to give a deliberately wrong impression about what the author was trying to say on the whole, we are taught in humanities courses, is a reprehensible practice. I also find it hard to follow what you found so offensive about the article, or about my comments on it. I thought you knew me to be a decent, level-headed and moderately educated man, and all that I said was that I do not like the sound of the way a certain country is going, so I'd not like my daughter to settle there. I get it that you don't like what I said, nor wish to agree that I have a point. Fine. Please do me the favour of letting go of it at that point, all right?

Also - this is for all other readers - I'm getting a little bored that nobody seems to have noticed two other articles I also linked on this blogpost. I dislike people getting fixated over one thing...

Harman said...

Suvro Sir,

With all due respect, I was responding to SDR's article, not writing a rebuttal to what you had said. I thought the whole reason for you to post those articles was to generate discussion about them.

I can see why you would have a problem having your daughter settle in that country when there are so many reports about oppression of women stemming from there. If I had a daughter, I would be apprehensive too. That is reasonable, and I agree with you.

But that is not the problem I have with SDR's article. I just do not like him stereotyping entire religions, peoples, ways of life as "superior" and another "inferior." That is what I disagree with, and I think I gave enough specific examples to prove my point that even the "superior" ways of life that SDR condones have had their specific problems.

I did not spend an hour and half at 2 am last night trying to write a response because I disrespect your opinions. On the contrary, I think very highly of you and what you write. Working 110 hour weeks, I do not even spend that much time talking to my parents in a whole month. So, its clearly not an issue of me thinking that your opinion is trivial.

I just thought you would be interested to know my take on the article. And even if I were to disagree with something you wrote, it would not diminish my respect for you. There is nothing wrong to respectfully agree to disagree on an issue.

Honestly, when I was writing it, I was thinking of SDR's article. I thought you would be happy to hear my take on it, even though it differs from yours in this instance. If it offended you, I am truly sorry.

I will hold my disagreements to myself in the future.



Suvro Chatterjee said...

That's all right, Harman, I get you loud and clear.

Now, aren't there some other readers who would like to chip in with comments of their own; especially those who are capable of reading the blogpost as a whole, instead of in bits and pieces?