July 8th, 2009
“The Indian Penal Code as it criminalizes consensual sexual acts of adults in private is violative of Article 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.” These words in the Delhi High Court judgment of 1st July, 2009 have put the whole position clearly and unambiguously. Indeed, it is surprising that an outmoded colonial law introduced during Victorian times should have remained on our Statute Book for so many years since independence. The motivation for the law by our former colonial masters was clearly to prevent any physical contact between the young British civil and military officers who came out to administer India and the ‘natives’, and it was repealed in the United Kingdom decades ago. We are perhaps the last democratic country in the world to have decriminalized gay sex, and now join 126 countries around the world that have already done so. This will come as a long awaited relief to a particularly vulnerable section of society which, even if it is pegged at 2% of our population against the generally accepted figure of 10%, would involve over 20 million people.
The judgment has sparked off a lively debate on television which, along with the printed media, has been largely supportive. Some points need to be clarified. The judgment in no way propagates gay sex; all it does is to ensure the fundamental right of equality, non-discrimination and personal liberty guaranteed to every Indian citizen under our Constitution. It is also important to note that it does not decriminalize non-consensual sex or pedophilia, which will remain cognizable offence subject to severe punishment.
The argument that some religious leaders are against the judgment cannot become a deciding factor. I recall that when in the early 50s, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar piloted the Hindu Court Bill through Parliament, there were a large number of Hindu leaders including some Shankaracharyas who were strongly opposed to it, as was the then President. Nonetheless, they pushed it through, thereby ensuring that 800 million Hindus in India today live in a much more equitable and fair society than heretofore. Similarly, all Christian denominations are not against gay sex. The Roman Catholic Church certainly is, and it is also against contraception, but that does not mean that we should stop our family welfare and condom distribution programmes. As far as the Muslim community is concerned, the conservative leaders will certainly take a rigid attitude, but younger people are likely to be less dogmatic, and if one looks at the great Sufi tradition within Islam, we find that they celebrated love, both human and divine, in all its multifaceted glory.
The argument that this is against nature is also not viable. To begin with, for the gay or LGBT community, their particular lifestyle is apparently as natural as heterosexual relationships are to the rest of society. Also this argument of nature can be pushed to extremes. It is not ‘natural’ to wear clothes; or to eat cooked food. Nature is much more varied and inclusive than many realize, and alternative sexuality has been found in almost all cultures, ancient and modern, around the world.
It is often forgotten that some of the greatest artists and musicians, rulers and conquerors, philosophers and poets in history have been gay or bisexual. Same-sex love formed the basis of the ancient Greek civilization that produced such great thinkers as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle who laid the philosophical foundations of Western civilization. In India also, the Kama Sutra clearly mentions same-sex love in a very matter of fact manner, and the Khajuraho sculptures depict it graphically. In our magnificent iconography, the ultimate integration of the masculine and feminine archetypes is found in the great concept of Shiva Ardhanareshwara, while in the broader philosophical context, the Vedanta believes that the divine resides in all human beings, in which case discrimination on any basis including sexual preference is unacceptable.
To conclude, therefore, one can say that the historic judgment of the Delhi High Court marks a positive step in widening the scope of our inclusive democratic structure, and rescuing millions of citizens from the shadow of an archaic and outmoded colonial legacy.
July 8th, 2009
The Bhagavadgita has a very cool and unsentimental approach to death. In chapter two, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna - “For one who is born death is assured; for one who dies rebirth is assured; therefore, for what is inevitable, you should not grieve”. However, human relations are not as simple as this advice may sound. In life we go through multiple experiences with varying degree of intimacy. The husband and wife relationship is the closest physically, emotionally and spiritually, in a way symbolizing the union of male and female as in the unique figure of Shiva Ardhanarishwara. Recently my wife departed during the 60th year of our marriage. Having wedded when we were teenagers, we virtually grew up together and had become an integral part of each other’s lives. As I watched my elder son light the funeral pyre, it struck me sharply that fire defined our relationship 60 years apart. We were married by walking seven times around sacred fire, which was, as it were, witness to the union. This time again fire was present and witnessed her departure.
In the Vedic tradition, fire has always been held to be sacred, and Sri Aurobindo calls his translation of the Vedic verses ‘Hymns to the Sacred Fire’. In the Vedas themselves there are many hymns directed towards Agni which was considered to be the interlocutor between the human and the divine, and which, through the Yagna, conveyed human aspirations to the higher power. In several western civilizations also fire has occupied a very special place. We may recall how the brave Prometheus brought down the fire from heaven to humanity, for which the jealous Gods have punished him with eternal torment and torture. Also, the Zoroastrians still have their fire temples. The discovery of fire by early humans in fact marked a major milestone in the evolution of human civilization.
With its dual quality - benign as well as destructive - fire was always cherished. To quote a Vedic hymn to Agni from the Rigveda:
“Virtuous Agni, we set thee, a Sage, around us as a fort, thee triumphant in thy colour, day by day, destroyer of the treacherous foe. Through Agni man finds prosperity, nourishment from day to day, glory and greatest pride in heroes. To thee, Agni, dispeller of night, we come with prayer day by day, offering thee our obesience.” (Rigveda VI.44)
Shiva Nataraja carries the fire in one of his hands and is often depicted dancing within a fiery nimbus. The famous Isha Upanishad closes with the verse - “O Agni, lead us by the fair path that we may reap the good we have sown. Thou knowest all our deeds. Lord, destroy all crooked going sin in us. We salute Thee with our words again and again.”
Let us also keep in mind that the outer fire is but a symbol of the spiritual flame that burns in the deepest recesses of our hearts, whether or not we are aware of it, and that fanning the spiritual spark into the blazing fire of divine realization is the true, deeper purpose of our existence in this time life dimension. However, there are lower dimensions of fire also, as in the insatiable desire for worldly possessions, or negative aspects such as emotionally disturbing manifestations of anger and revenge. Robert Frost has a small but evocative prose entitled Fire & Ice. It goes like this -
Some say the world will end in fire
some say in ice.
From what i’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
Though if it had to perish twice
I think I know enough of hate
to say that for destruction ice
is also great and would suffice.
On our decision as to which dimension of fire we choose, will depend the contours of our inner life.
June 8th, 2009
Lord Shiva, one of whose appellations is Mahakaleshwar, the Great God of Death, has decreed that my beloved wife Yasho should move on in the sixtieth year of our marriage. We wedded as teenagers and virtually grew up together. It has been a unique blessing for me to have partaken of her love, generosity and compassion. She departed surrounded by her loving family including all six grandchildren. While we mourn her passing, we wish to celebrate her vibrant and luminous life as will her numerous friends and well-wishers around the world. As the Upanishad says “May her journey into light be auspicious”.
January 5th, 2009
29 December, 2008 - Published in The Asian Age
The Prime Minister’s statement that nobody wants war, echoed by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Gilani, has come not a day too soon. I have been aghast at the manner in which, over the last few weeks, a virtual war hysteria has been worked up, mainly through television news channels. Our media is certainly one of the most dynamic anywhere in the world, and we are proud of this, but in this particular instance our anchors, many of whom are personal friends, seem to be trying to outdo each other in war like programmes. One of the straw polls purported to show that 70 percent of Indians were in favour of war with Pakistan, while in others, various retired defense personnel have held forth upon the options before us and generally supported ‘surgical strikes’ which could well lead to an all out war.
Nothing can assuage the terrible trauma caused by the fidayeen attack in Mumbai which cost so many precious lives, Indian as well as foreign, and held the nation in horrifying thrall for three days. No words are too strong to condemn this gruesome attack and certainly we have every right to press that the perpetrators and planners of this event, all of whom undisputedly belong to Pakistan, should be brought to book. It is also true that Pakistan’s attempt to deny any responsibility, direct or indirect, for the attack is disappointing and extremely irritating. This said, however, we need to maintain a sense of balance in our response. We should certainly try and mobilize international opinion in our favour, and the UN Resolution has been an important achievement in this regard. The United States, Great Britain, Russia and even China have supported us in our insistence that Pakistan must act to dismantle the terror groups function from its soil. However, talk of an all out war or for “surgical strikes” that could well spark of a massive conflagration, is unwise.
Do the people who talk of war have any idea of the sort of consequences that could flow from an all out conflict between two nuclear and missile armed countries? Do they have any idea of the unimaginable risks of such a conflict which could destroy large parts of both the countries, jeopardize millions of lives and destroy all our efforts for economic growth and poverty eradication? Does the chatterati in Delhi really grasp the outcome of what could result from an all out war between India and Pakistan? Regretfully, it seems to me that the answer to all these questions is in the negative.
The irony is that the terrorist infrastructure has become even more of a threat to Pakistan itself than to India. The situation in that country, particularly in Baluchistan and the Frontier Provinces is spinning out of control and the Taliban are threatening not only Kabul but also Peshawar. It is they, not India, who are threatening the sovereignty of Pakistan. In such a situation, one should hope that instead of a media war between us, Pakistan would take urgent and effective steps to rein in the terrorists operating from their soil. Without going into details, the UN Resolution specifically names four persons in Pakistan whom it holds responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attack. We should press that these four should be tried in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, so that the broader infrastructural details can be unraveled. If there is no response from Pakistan at all, we could consider a break of diplomatic relations and also some economic sanctions, but the loose talk of war going around needs to be firmly checked.
Finally, it needs to be restated that if India is to attain is full stature as a world power it will have to sort out its problems with its neighbours, particularly Pakistan. As I said in my intervention in the Rajya Sabha debate, the peace process should, under no circumstance, be jettisoned despite a serious set back. In the final analysis, the destiny of India and Pakistan remains intertwined, and it is only if we are able to build up a harmonious and mutually supportive relationship that both countries can hope to flourish in the years and decades ahead.
December 11th, 2008
From the Indian Express in the past week:
“Senior Congress leader Karan Singh’s combative posture at the recent Congress Working Committee meeting took many of his colleagues by surprise. While many CWC members and those especially invited to the meeting like Union ministers Kamal Nath and Kapil Sibal were training their guns at Shivraj Patil on the plea of accountability, Karan Singh was reportedly blunt: “Mr Shivraj Patil, I think you must resign and leave it to the Prime Minister and the Congress President to decide whether to accept it or not.” While his tough stance did reflect the mood in the party, the style of delivery did take many by surprise.”
You can see this article at http://www.indianexpress.com/news/resign-mr-patil-said-karan-singh/395452/.
November 7th, 2008
I have been following the U.S. Presidential Elections now for exactly 60 years. In 1948, as a boy, I was in a New York hospital during the Truman/Dewey’s election, and in Washington for President Truman’s inaugural parade in January 1949. Since then I have followed each American election with much interest. This year’s one has, by far, been the most exciting and one of the most historic in American history. That a man of African descent, Barrak Husein Obama, could overwhelmingly win the election to the highest office in the United States is itself an astounding event, given the appalling history of cruelty and discrimination against blacks for centuries.
Each century produced one outstanding President, George Washington in the eighteenth, Abraham Lincoln in the nineteenth and Franklin Roosevelt in the twentieth. Will Obama be the one in the twentyfirst? Here is a man who comes across not only as an eloquent and mesmerizing speaker but as one possessing maturity, compassion and steadfastness. I was particularly impressed that at the height of the battle he took fortyeight hours off to visit his dying grandmother in Hawaii. His campaigns, first against Hillary Clinton within the Democratic Party and then with Senator McCain were a model of how such exercises should be organized. Obama never once lost his temper or raised his voice, and reacted with amazing grace to the often vicious attacks and smear campaigns of the opposite camp. Apart from the racial aspect, which has for so long bedeviled America, there are some other aspects of this campaign that are of special interest.
Firstly, although Senator Obama comfortably outspent his opponent, his funds have been mostly made up of small donations from a very large number of people. Unfortunately in India we have not adopted this practice, as a result of which huge funds for our elections are far from transparent. Indeed this whole question of funding our elections is one that needs closer attention. The Election Commission has tried to make some improvements, but they do not seem to have demonstrably changed the situation on the ground. Perhaps the Obama model could be attempted in India also.
Another point that impressed me was the manner in which, for two whole months, both the candidates crisscrossed the country, speaking directly to people from all walks of life, addressing huge public meetings as well as small Town Hall and village square gatherings. This requires each candidate to answer questions and to spell out clearly the policies that they intend to adopt. Here again, while our MLAs do go virtually from door to door, senior leaders from all parties are confined to large public meetings where they cannot be directly questioned. Perhaps a series of television debates could help fill this gap.
Senator Obama represents a major transition in American leadership in terms of demography, race and public participation. The President of the United States is the most powerful man in the world, and therefore to see a person of such caliber being elected in these very troubled times is a matter of satisfaction far beyond the boundaries of his own country. Without going in the specifics of Indo-US relations, which will need a separate in-depth analysis, it is worth noting that as a key player in the emerging global society India has a vested interest in the U.S. projecting a progressive and visionary leadership. Obama’s pro-poor, inclusive agenda is in line with our own approach, as is the pattern of a mixed economy that is emerging from the debris of the global financial meltdown.
I recall the thrill that my generation felt when Kennedy was elected President way back in 1960. I was attending a Governors’ Conference at Rashtrapati Bhavan when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru got a message and made the announcement. Now, almost half a century later, there is again a thrill of anticipation and hope generated by Obama’s victory as the President of the second largest democracy in the world. With Indo-American relations having strengthened over the years, including a strategic relationship, one can look forward to a new dimension in which our two nations could together become a major force for peace and harmony in a troubled world. An aggressive unipolarity must give way to a more inclusive and enlightened paradigm that can effectively meet the challenges of climate change, global warming, terrorism and poverty elimination that are faced by the emerging global society.
October 13th, 2008
On behalf of the Temple of Understanding, an international Interfaith organization of which I am Chairman, and on my own behalf, I strongly condemn the recent incidents of violence by organizations that claim a Muslim or Hindu name but act in a barbaric fashion. Attacks upon defenseless churches, burning and raping are a disgrace to a religion that prides itself on its long history of tolerance and non-violence, and terrorist attacks around the country which target innocent citizens and created a general sense of insecurity are the negation of religious or spiritual values.
Stern measures by the State and Central Governments are needed to quell such activities and bring the guilty to book. If, in fact, literature is being circulated denigrating and insulting Hindu deities then action on that front also needs to be taken urgently under the law.
We fervently appeal to all right-thinking citizens, regardless of their religious or caste affiliations, to rally in condemning all such activities that sully the fair name of Indian culture and bring our great civilization into disrepute around the world.
Dr. Karan Singh
9th September, 2008
September 3rd, 2008
1 September 2008
It is a welcome relief that after many weeks of turmoil and agitation, an agreement has, at last, been reached between the State Government and the Sri Amarnath Sangharsh Samiti. I urge that all concerned in Jammu as well as in the Valley should now accept the Agreement in good grace.
Apart from the reconstitution of the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board, what is urgently needed are measures by the Government of India, the State Government and civil society to try and make up the massive losses that have been incurred both in Jammu and in Kashmir by disruption of normal trade, commerce, tourism and daily life. The autumn tourism season is still ahead of us, and it is imperative that normalcy be restored in the State so that the season is not disrupted.
Special measures will need to be taken to help students overcome the backlog so that they do not lose an academic year. For this purpose coaching classes will be required at the school and college levels. I also hope that compensation to the next of kin of those who died in the course of this prolonged agitation, both in Jammu and in Kashmir, is paid expeditiously.
Dr. Karan Singh
August 18th, 2008
The most unfortunate controversy regarding the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board has now dragged on for several weeks, and has already caused tragic loss of life, massive destruction of property and acute inconvenience to common citizens both in the Jammu region and in Kashm
ir. The situation is repeatedly deteriorating and unless urgent measures are taken to bring about an amicable solution, the whole matter may well spin out of control. I have been anxiously following developments and would now like to suggest a 5-point formula that, in my view, could help to defuse the situation and restore peace and tranquility in this crucial and sensitive border state.
I am making these proposals not in any party or partisan capacity, but because I have been associated with this sacred Yatra for six decades and am still Chairman-Trustee of the Mahadev Veer Dashnami Akahara Trust where, near the Badshah bridge in Srinagar, the Chhari Mubarak (the Sacred Mace) of Lord Shiva resides under the care of the Mahant. It is the movement of this Chhari which is still considered to be the major religious function connected with Yatra, leaving Srinagar on Naga Panchami and reaching the holy cave on Raksha Bandhan Purnima. Let us remember that this whole issue revolves around a sacred cave dedicated to Lord Shiva, and must therefore be approached with humility and devotion. It is in this spirit that I am making the following proposals.
1) Unfortunately, the arrival of the new Governor Shri N.N.Vohra marked the beginning of the second phase of serious unrest, this time in Jammu, which is showing no signs of abetting. I have high personal regards for Shri Vohra, but under the circumstances I am obliged to suggest that he should be considered for some other state where his administrative experience and skills can be better utilized.
2) I suggest that in his place Gen. J.J.Singh, who is at present Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, be appointed as Governor of Jammu & Kashmir. Apart from his outstanding professional qualifications, he also happens to come from the State, with his family home being in Marwah in Doda District.
3) The relevant Act states, inter-alia that “the Governor of the State of Jammu & Kashmir, if he be a Hindu, shall be the ex-officio Chairman of the Board, and if the Governor be not a Hindu, then he may nominate any eminent person of the state, professing the Hindu religion, and otherwise qualified to be a Member to function as the Chairman of the Board.” With the appointment of Gen. Singh, the Amarnath Shrine Board can be reconstituted under a new Chairman with Members drawn from the Hindu community in Jammu & Kashmir including Kashmiri Pandits. For Chairman of the Board I suggest the name of Chief Justice (Retd.) A.S.Anand who also belongs to Jammu & Kashmir.
4) While the land continues to remain with the Forest Department, the State Government should work out and announce a time bound programme for construction of adequate facilities for pilgrims including shelters, cooking, sanitary and other arrangements. These should preferably be completed before the Yatra begins next year. The Yatra itself used to be traditionally for one month culminating in the Shravan Purnima on Raksha Bandhan day which falls in August. However, in view of the tremendous increase in the number of Yatris, the pilgrimage should be extended to two months starting from 1st July and ending on 31st August every year. During this period the entire management of the pilgrim facilities as well as arrangements for the Puja in the holy Cave should be given to the Shrine Board and the land itself could be leased on a temporary basis to the Board for these two months.
5) Victims of police firing in Kashmir and Jammu during this agitation should be paid suitable compensation to the next of kin of those killed, as well as to those injured. Blockade of the National Highway is not acceptable under any circumstances, and should be lifted immediately in the larger interest of the nation and its security.
I appeal to all concerned in Jammu as well as in Kashmir to now defuse the situation and not allow it to escalate further. I am acutely aware of the very strong feelings that have emerged on this issue in both regions. In a way these are a symptom of a deeper problem involving the relationship between the three regions of the State still with India – Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh.This fundamental problem needs to be looked into carefully and a national consensus arrived at, but that can be done only after the next round of national and state elections. Meanwhile, the immediate imperative is to bring the law and order situation back to normal, so that people who are suffering acutely can once again resume their normal activities. Already tens of crores of rupees worth of tourism, trade and property have been damaged in both the regions. Enough is enough, and we must now return to the path of peace, harmony and cooperation. I sincerely hope that the 5-point programme I have outlined above will expedite this process.
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February 2nd, 2008
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Dr. Karan Singh
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