WHY LET RE­LI­GION DE­STROY IN­DIA?

Sunday Express - - OPINION - T J S GE­ORGE

What’s hap­pen­ing to our coun­try? A huge and di­verse land of 135 mil­lion peo­ple, 29 states and 22 sched­uled lan­guages, yet we are caught in a sin­gle ob­ses­sion—re­li­gion. All dis­cus­sions, all de­ci­sions, all poli­cies are shaped by re­li­gion. Sabarimala is on the edge of civil war. “Hin­dus are los­ing their pa­tience,” a Union min­is­ter tells the Supreme Court after it post­poned the Ay­o­d­hya case hear­ing. Ut­tar Pradesh changes Allahabad into Praya­graj. Soon Aza­m­garh will be Aryam­garh, Ali­garh will be Hari­garh, Muzaf­far­nag a r wi l l b e L a x mi n a g a r, a n d Ahmed­abad will be Kar­na­vati. Will they be­come model cities as a re­sult, all civic prob­lems solved?

It’s not that we don’t have real is­sues both­er­ing us. In fact we are im­mersed in is­sues that threaten us from mul­ti­ple sides. The Re­serve Bank is fight­ing the Fi­nance Min­istry. CBI, of all things, is sab­o­tag­ing CBI. Breath­ing in the na­tional cap­i­tal has be­come more in­ju­ri­ous to health than smok­ing. More and more young­sters are end­ing up job­less. Ed­u­ca­tion has be­come a scan­dal. Not one In­dian uni­ver­sity is among the world’s top 100. In­di­ans are com­mit­ting un­be­liev­able crimes, like rap­ing a 100-year old woman. Our food has largely be­come un­fit for hu­man con­sump­tion. No party talks about these sub­jects. Re­li­gion alone counts.

Food, the ev­ery­day food we eat, has be­come a threat. Chem­i­cal farm­ing is so wide­spread that hardly any veg­etable es­capes resid­ual dangers. Pes­ti­cides that are banned glob­ally are used in In­dia. Even en­do­sul­fan was sup­ported by min­is­ters like Sharad Pawar de­spite the hor­ri­ble de­for­ma­tions it caused in a gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple. The “Amer­i­can way of farm­ing” was in­tro­duced in Pun­jab in 1960s to usher in the Green Rev­o­lu­tion. The re­sult was the Can­cer Train that left the farm­ers’ town of Bathinda every night for Bikaner, where treat­ment was more af­ford­able. Overuse of pes­ti­cides turned t h e G r e e n Revo l u t i o n into a night­mare.

Did politi­cians do any­thing? Did peo­ple learn any­thing? To­day farm­ers in sev­eral parts of Tamil Nadu use ex­ces­sive pes­ti­cides on crops meant to go to neigh­bour­ing states, and less on por­tions meant for lo­cal con­sump­tion—a ver­sion of parochial pa­tri­o­tism. Fish is pre­served in chem­i­cals used to keep hu­man corpses from de­cay­ing too fast. Ac­cord­ing to UN re­ports, In­dia ranks among the top coun­tries whose agri­food prod­ucts are re­jected in the US and the Euro­pean Union. In­dian ex­ports are sent back be­cause of the pres­ence of mi­cro­tox­ins, mi­cro­bial con­tam­i­na­tion, vet­eri­nary drug residue, heavy me­tals, unau­tho­rised food ad­di­tives, pes­ti­cides rem­nants and wrong prod­uct com­po­si­tion.

If our best is so of­ten re­jected by ad­vanced coun­tries, what would be the state of the food we keep for our own con­sump­tion? No won­der ad­vanced coun­tries ex­port their worst to In­dia. In 2008, as many as 35 large con­tain­ers of haz­ardous Amer­i­can waste were found rot­ting in Tu­ti­corin port for three years. Who al­lowed it to come there? Who kept it unat­tended for so long? How many made how much?

In 2003, Par­lia­ment went to the ex­tent of ban­ning Coca Cola and Pepsi from its can­teens be­cause of too much toxic pes­ti­cides. But there was no ban out­side Par­lia­ment. That means, what was bad for MPs was okay for or­di­nary folks. MPs them­selves lifted the ban after a while. The Coca Cola fac­tory in Plachi­mada was closed be­cause the waste flu­ids from it made neigh­bour­ing ar­eas un­fit for agri­cul­ture. But other fac­to­ries in other cities con­tin­ued. Be­fore the power of lob­bies, our pol­i­cy­mak­ers bend their knees.

Colour­ing agents, among the most dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals that go into food, are al­lowed free play. A look at Di­wali hal­was will show how colour­ing can even look un­healthy. Ev­ery­body knows that adul­ter­ants are used widely—saw dust (in chilli pow­der), coal tar (in tea), dyes (in turmeric, green chill­ies, ap­ples). Most colour-en­hanc­ing dyes are highly car­cino­genic. In re­spon­si­bly gov­erned coun­tries these prob­lems are con­tained. In Sin­ga­pore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, the au­thor­i­ties en­sure that street food is not only clean but good enough to be a tourist at­trac­tion.

If oth­ers can do these things, why can’t we? Be­cause we are ob­sessed with re­li­gion and its pol­i­tics. Noth­ing else mat­ters. In Mad­hya Pradesh, five sad­hus were ap­pointed min­is­ters of state. Union min­is­ter Giri­raj Singh warned Mus­lims of “con­se­quences” if they did not sup­port the Ram Mandir. As t h e d i s t i n g u i s h e d n ove l i s t Mukun­dan said: There are no hu­mans in In­dia any longer, only Hin­dus, Mus­lims, Chris­tians and Dal­its. We have turned re­li­gion, meant to be a pos­i­tive force, into a de­struc­tive idea. We spread ha­tred, at­tack oth­ers, lynch peo­ple in the name of God. No God will for­give us.

We are ob­sessed with re­li­gion and its pol­i­tics. Noth­ing else mat­ters. As the dis­tin­guished nov­el­ist Mukun­dan said: There are no hu­mans in In­dia any longer, only Hin­dus, Mus­lims, Chris­tians and Dal­its. We have turned re­li­gion, meant to be a pos­i­tive force, into a de­struc­tive idea. We spread ha­tred, at­tack oth­ers, lynch peo­ple in the name of God. No God will for­give us.

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