Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Secular Beautiful India

On a chilly morning on December 14th 2012 a 20 year old mentally disturbed man walked into the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut - and shot 20 innocent little children to death. The incident prompted massive soul searching in America and a urgent effort for gun control in the US. For a moment it really did seem like America might move past being a gun crazy nation where 85 year old grand ma's need to own machine guns without questions or background checks .. but it was alas a fleeting moment. After a lot of hoopla the needle on gun control barely nudged a hair and the US remains at least in regards to guns pretty much the same nation as pre Sandy Hook. Most of the gun control activists having cried themselves hoarse eventually gave up. 

At the heart of the issue is the US constitution - a truly profound and timeless document in most aspects - it enshrined the rights of ordinary citizens to wage armed war against the government.  This can not be understood without the historical context in which the constitution was written. The Americans having gotten tired of Britian's unfair taxation and their inability to shape England's policies resorted to an armed independence struggle. After many bloody battles, the British were finally overthrown and a free America was born.  Its founders quite logically viewed the right of citizens to weild weapons and fight for their rights as sacred. Afterall that is how they got their independence - should the American Government at some point in the future become something that the people can't live with - they indeed should have the right to wage war as the freedom fighters did!

Four centuries later the US Government is undoubtedly the most powerful military presence in the world. It has battle ships the size of city blocks and nuclear weapons to destroy the world many times over. And yet the 65 year old graying farmer in Arkansas expects to be able to overthrow his government with a machine gun ... This is the legacy of  the 'Right to Bear Arms' from the consitution - the second ammendment. Though its original intent is no longer practical it continues to shape the contours of todays democratic America.

Being from India I have always struggled with this aspect of American life. But it was not until the Sandy Hook shooting that I realized how truly superior the Indian freedom struggle was.  Most Indians value and honor their freedom fighters - but few actually appreciate its true greatness and character - that of non violence.  In fact you'll find a large contingent in India who would argue that Indians might have been freed far sooner had they all taken up arms ... and yet if they had we would have to live with the bullet's legacy. And in an India of millions of people of different shades and faith that would have been a truly devastating legacy to live with. 

The genius of Mahatma Gandhi in insisting upon a non violent movement was not only to prove that such a struggle could triumph - but that for a truly secular democratic form of governance it was the right path to conception.  It is that innate non-violence, its quiet strength and the acceptance of all faiths that helped India survive as a new country - that even till date shapes its policies.

If you go to my home town tomorrow in Maharashtra you will see many make-shift temples erected upon the city streets in celebration of Ganesh Chaturthy - and more importantly you will see Hindus, Muslims and Christians decorate the sarvajanik Ganpati and vie to win city contests .. We should be thankful to have been born in such a place and we should be grateful for the thousands of years of spirituality our ancestors left for us in our DNA.

And on that note I wish you all a very Happy Ganesh Chaturthy - may you fight for our India to remain secular and may you fight to preserve everyones right to worship any God they choose. 

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