Thursday January 18, 2018

Religion and Conversation – Haldi and Hindu women in Trinidad

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Image source: knowyourindianroots.blogspot.com
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By Annesha Das Gupta

In the above video, Dr. Kumar Mahabir -an anthropologists and faculty at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, talks about his findings on the link of Hindu women and ecosystems. It may be noted that Trinidad and Tobago is home to a huge Indian diaspora. Out of 1.3 million population of Trinidad, at least 550 thousand (5.5 Lakh) people have their ancestry rooted in East Indians.

One should not be astonished, at such an approach because of the strong connection that has been exhibited by the village women with their surrounding lands, is a common knowledge for centuries in India. For instance, the famous Chipko Movement, will give a proper idea of what is been talked about here. Similarly, Mahabir, wants to explain that how some of the essential medicinal plants has been on the verge of being extinct and a unique formulation of insight by the conservationists can save us much time.

This, he states, can be done by studying the affinity which the Hindu women shares with the ‘scared’ plants like Haldi and Tulsi. Though, Mahabir here specifically concentrates his research on the cultural and religious aspects that the plant of haldi or turmeric (Curcuma domestica), still have its hold on the Indian community. And of course how it can help in sustaining, our floundering biodiversity.

While being on it we can give out some inputs that has been mentioned in Mahabir’s findings about the importance of turmeric –

  • His ethnographical researches suggest that the Hindu families readily grow this common herb in their gardens and also share it among their community.
  • The community holds the item more as an object of religious rites than as a sacred herb.
  • The plant is readily used as an ingredient in cosmetics, medicine and food.
  • In Hindu marriages, a turmeric paste, consisting of grounded stems mixed with coconut oil is applied, covering the whole body of both the bride and the groom, on the day of their marriage. This tradition indicates an aspect of the herb which is believed to have properties to increase a person’s fertility.
  • Among the medicinal benefits, there is the coating of the lower abdomen of a woman who has just given birth. It is to known to have firm the skin. While, the stems are also boiled with milk (Haldi Doodh) and drink to cleanse the stomach.
  • Other than that the mixture is used as a means of gaining a brighter complexion and still is widely popular among the womenfolk of the community.

Dr. Mahabir, wants us to acknowledge the opening of doors in the ecological research by delving into the relationships that the religious groups fosters with different herbs and plants that were used to be found easily in their backyards and thus being an almost indispensible part of their daily lives.

To give out a brief in his own words, he opines that ‘Little research has been done in the Caribbean and elsewhere on the inter-connections between religious practices and environmental protection. It is widely known that many medicinal plants face the imminent threat of extinction, as the world advances towards an ecological crisis. Hindus use hardi/tumeric (Curcuma domestica) more as an object in religious rituals than as a sacred item. They also use the plant as an ingredient in food, cosmetics and medicine. This paper uses ethnographic research to investigate exactly how Hindu women ritualists in Trinidad use, cultivate, and conserve the plants in their gardens for ready use at home and in the community. In their tireless attempts to promote biodiversity, conservationists may have adopt a new approach by working with religious groups, and demonstrate to the public at large how plant protection is related to religious values.’

This article has been prepared by Annesha DasGupta with input from a video produced by Dr. Kumar Mahabir. Follow Annesha on twitter @Dancingbluepen

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Triple Talaq: Are the concerns and efforts real?

It cannot be deied that BJP is outlawing triple talaq to gain political mileage both from sections of Muslim women and from those Hindus who will see it as Modi's distress over the sufferings of Muslim women and as a message to Muslims that the days when they were given excessive leeway by less assertive governments are now gone.

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Triple Talaq continues to plague lives of Muslim women, VOA News
Triple Talaq continues to plague lives of Muslim women, VOA News
  • Triple Talaq has been seen as way of BJP gaining popularity among Muslims, and not as a real concern for the distressed women of the community.
  • BJP leaders are often accused of Anti-Muslim statements, which further proves the point.
  • However, if the law is passed, it will be a step towards empowerment of the Muslim women.

Only the naive will believe that deep concern for the welfare of Muslim “sisters” and for the maintenance of the “dignity of women” and “gender equality” persuaded the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to introduce the bill in parliament to ban the practice of triple talaq.

For a party whose founder in its previous incarnation, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, thought that only a civil war can solve the Hindu-Muslim problem, as Tripura’s Governor, Tathagata Roy of the BJP, reminded us recently, and a BJP candidate in the Gujarat elections sought a reduction in the numbers of “topi and dadhiwalas” (sartorial allusion to Muslims), it strains credulity to believe that it has been guided solely by laudable motives to put an end to an admittedly reprehensible custom.

The belief will persist, therefore, that it is a desire to “garner votes” which is behind the decision, notwithstanding Law Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad’s disavowal of such an intention.

Few will deny, of course, that the practice itself is highly condemnable, not least because it is illegal even in Islamic countries. For a secular country, therefore, to allow it to prevail will point to a flawed outlook whose roots lie deep in the political calculations.

It cannot be gainsaid that the BJP is outlawing triple talaq to gain political mileage both from sections of Muslim women and from those Hindus who will see the proposed law, first, as an example of “brother” Modi’s distress over the sufferings of Muslim women and, secondly, as a message to Muslims in general that the days are gone when they were given excessive leeway by less assertive governments.

The “secular” rulers of the past, on the other hand, also thought that they will gain votes by pandering to the predilections of the obscurantists among the minorities.

The worst example of this regressive attitude was the Shah Bano episode, when the Rajiv Gandhi government negated a Supreme Court verdict in favour of alimony for a divorced Muslim woman on the advice of Muslim fundamentalists.

Shayara Bano case was one of the biggest milestone cases in history of India which intensified the previously buried matter. Wikipedia Common
Shayara Bano case was one of the biggest milestone cases in history of India which intensified the previously buried matter. Wikipedia Common

The BJP’s rise from the sidelines of politics to the mainstream, can be traced through that event in the mid-1980s. The Congress will have to tread carefully in deciding on its stance on the bill which has followed the Supreme Court’s recent declaration of triple talaq as unconstitutional in a case involving the litigant, Shayara Bano.

The difficulty for the Congress is that it has given secularism a bad name by making the concept virtually synonymous with minority appeasement. While the BJP will not mind being closely associated with Hinduism, the Congress has been trying to shed the impression that it has become “mussalmanon ki party” or a party of Muslims, as the Congress leader, Ashok Gehlot, has said, ever since the 2014 defeat made him aware of this unwelcome image, as the A.K. Antony report pointed out.

The triple talaq bill gives it an opportunity to refurbish its reputation by articulating a rational position on drafting the law, aiming at protecting Muslim women from cruel and whimsical divorces and at the same time ensuring that the legislation does not lead to a police witch-hunt targeting men. Since the bill has to still pass through the Rajya Sabha, Parliament’s upper house, there is ample scope for fine-tuning it for smoothing out the rough edges, the most egregious of which is to introduce an element of criminality in a civil legal procedure.

If the Congress and other “secular” parties play a leading role in ensuring that the new law will unequivocally serve the ends of justice where no one — neither the women, nor the men, nor the children of divorced parents — will suffer, then these parties will be able to retrieve much of their lost reputation about cynical kowtowing to bigots in the Muslim community and reassure the country in general that politics can rise above partisan and opportunistic considerations.

From this standpoint, the bill provides a golden opportunity to the secular outfits even if the BJP runs away with much of the credit for introducing it.

Outside of politics, what is noteworthy is the failure of the Muslims to deal with the problem on their own. But ever since partition robbed the community of bold, educated leaders and self-confidence by inducing the minority complex of being forever under siege under the numerically superior Hindus — unlike other minorities like Sikhs and Parsis who have retained their poise and self-belief — the Muslims have come under the retrogressive influence of the mullahs with the result that they have remained stuck in the past.

Not all Muslim have the freedom to do whatever they want. They are still in the clutches of Triple Talaq.
Not all Muslim have the freedom to do whatever they want. They are still in the clutches of Triple Talaq.

Triple talaq is one manifestation of such backwardness along with polygamy and the veiling of women as they reinforce the age-old patriarchal norms. Only a small section of upper middle class women — film stars and sports personnel being prominent among them — has been able to extricate themselves from the grasp of medievalism and enter the modern world. But the majority of the poor and lower middle class women have been denied the opportunity of advancement by orthodox Muslim society. The new law offers them a ray of hope. IANS Live