No, really, South Asians for Obama

Someone on my GChat list had an intriguing link included in their status message. I saw “inauguration”, and since that historic event is still very much on my mind, I clicked it. I was led to the Boston Globe’s website, to a feature called “The Big Picture: News Stories in Photographs“.

Yesterday was a historic day. On January 20th, 2009, Barack H. Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America – the first African-American ever to hold the office of U.S. Commander-in-Chief. The event was witnessed by well over one million attendees in chilly Washington D.C., and by many millions more through coverage on television and the Internet. Collected here are photographs of the event, the participants, and some of the witnesses around the world. (48 photos total)

Picture number 38 caught my attention, setting my browndar off before I could even read the caption underneath it (which I’ve quoted, well, underneath it):

Pakistani Christian children.jpg

Pakistani Christian children hold portraits of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama during a prayers ceremony for global peace in Islamabad, Pakistan on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009. (AP Photo) [Globe]

At first glance, I didn’t notice the word “Christian”. I just saw “Pakistani children”. I thought I’d just post the picture plus a quick blurb about where I found it, and isn’t it sweet, etc. But for obvious reasons, I started surfing around, and a rambling post was born.Over the past five years, I’ve made numerous references to my family’s faith and Christianity as it exists in Kerala, but Christianity exists in every South Asian country (admittedly in miniscule numbers, in some of those nations). The first non-Indian brown Christian I ever met was my ruthless Montessori pre-school teacher in San Francisco. She was Sri Lankan and my parents strongly encouraged her to get old-school naddan on me, if I were naughty enough. That meant that if some little white kid did something wrong, they were gently scolded. If I did something wrong, I got hissed at and pinched. My parents were overjoyed that they were really getting their money’s worth.

It would be 14 years until I met another Desi who was Christian; at Davis I discovered that someone wasn’t just using an anglicized nickname. “Wait, that guy’s actually named ____??”

“Yeah. He’s Christian.”

me: Baroo?

“Not like you. He said he’s Pakistani.”

me: wow.

“Yeah. Now there are two of you…and three hundred of us!”

I still don’t know all that much beyond a vague, depressing sense that it’s rather dangerous to be a Christian (or a Hindu) in Pakistan, due to the brilliantly just Blasphemy laws, which require nothing more than the insinuation of disrespect towards Islam, to ruin someone’s life:

Ten years ago today, Bishop John Joseph, Catholic bishop of Faisalabad in Pakistan, shot himself dead on the steps of the Sahiwal district court in protest at the abuse of the country’s blasphemy laws. Ten years on, little has changed in Pakistan.
The blasphemy laws impact everyone, regardless of religion – and the tragedy is that almost every case is completely fabricated. When the laws were first introduced, they were used primarily as a tool by extremists to target religious minorities – Christians, Hindus and others. These days, however, Muslims have got wise to the potential for using the blasphemy law against each other to settle personal scores.
The reason is simple. The blasphemy law requires no evidence other than an accusation made by one person against another.
There is no proof of intent, and an inadequate definition of blasphemy. When it comes to court the accuser does not even have to substantiate the charge. If the judge asks what the accused actually said, the accuser can refuse to elaborate, on the basis that by repeating the alleged statement they themselves would be blaspheming. [Guardian]

See? Brilliant!

This made me wonder about the Christians in Pakistan; we all know that Sikhs and Hindus had been there before partition, but I’d never heard much about the history of Christianity in that country. I have a deplorably lazy habit of assuming that the answers to such questions tend to involve colonizers and missionary types. Let’s see if I get lucky:

The exact introduction of Christianity to the South Asia is a debatable topic, with the Syrian Christian community in Kerala, South India being recorded as the earliest. Missionaries accompanied colonizing forces from Portugal, France and Great Britain, but in north western Ancient India, today’s Pakistan, Christianity was mainly brought by the British rulers of India in the later 18th and 19th century. This is evidenced in cities established by the British, such as the port city of Karachi, where the majestic St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Pakistan’s largest church stands, and the churches in the city of Rawalpindi, where the British established a major military cantonment. [wiki]

Had no idea about any of this:

Christians in Punjab and Sindh had been quite active post 1945 in their support for Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Muslim League. Even before the final phase of the movement, leading Indian Christians like Pothan Joseph had rendered valuable services as journalists and propagandists of the Muslim League. Jinnah had repeatedly promised all citizens of Pakistan complete equality of citizenship, but this promise was not kept by his successors….In the mass population exchanges that occurred between Pakistan and India upon independence due to conflict between Muslims and followers of Indian religions, most Hindus and nearly all Sikhs fled the country, but the Christians remained. [wiki]

I have a million reasons for wishing my Father were still alive, but the one which is relevant to this post has to do with Jinnah, specifically the declamatory 15-minute rant he used to launch in to upon hearing his name. When I was younger I thought it was odd that my Dad, who was born in 1937, was so much older than everyone else’s parents. Now I wish I had written it all down.

I wanted to find out more about the ceremony for global peace in Islamabad at which that picture was taken, but all I found were a few more photographs of the event and no news story. Oh, well. It’s poignant how the inauguration of our latest President has affected not just this nation, but the world. South Asians for Obama, indeed. :)

391 thoughts on “No, really, South Asians for Obama

  1. articular regions, but there is also a gigantic prevalence of endemic hunger across much of India. Indeed, India does much worse in this respect than even Sub-Saharan Africa…… It is astonishing that despite the intermittent occurrence of famine in Africa, it too manages to ensure a much higher level of regular nourishment than does India. About half of all Indian children are, it appears, chronically undernourished, andmore than half of all adult women suffer from anaemia.

    LOL DhoniPrema, et al, I find this hilarious…obviously you’ve taken Sen out of context. Among the living in India, since it doesn’t suffer famines like many parts of Africa, there is a malnourishment issue.

    Next up, in malnourishment is China…if only INdia and China both had famines like many parts of Africa then perhaps their malnourishment problem would be better.

    You are always good for a laugh Prema.

  2. And, BTW, “stand up,” I am really impressed by the compassion you display in repeatedly mocking Kiran P. You’re really a figure to be emulated.

    If you can’t argue the message belittle the messenger. It’s an old trick that he must have picked up from Chris Hitchens.

    It certainly does spare him the trouble of ever having to critically examine his own beliefs.

  3. 352 · rob said

    And, BTW, “stand up,” I am really impressed by the compassion you display in repeatedly mocking Kiran P. You’re really a figure to be emulated.

    Not just Kiran P. Don’t set your sights so low. All of Hinduism. Think big!

    No, India should aspire to such an unrealistically high standard that it gets mugged repeatedly by the bad, rough men of the world. Filipinos, Thais, etc. can be smart enough to focus on the enemy without and within, but Indians–must turn the other cheek repeatedly.

    No, you’re right. Those tribals are the enemy within, and should be treated with the same extreme prejudice that Saudi and Pakistan treat their non-believers.

    And this thread has been very valuable to me. As I said, Kiran P’s articulation of the Hindutva agenda for Christians has been invaluable.

  4. And, BTW, “stand up,” I am really impressed by the compassion you display in repeatedly mocking Kiran P. You’re really a figure to be emulated.

    Seriously, all Stand up has done is try and give clever one-liners when Kiran P has been articulate and taken his silly responses with a straight face and responded respectfully. When you have nothing to say I guess you have to try and be glib.

  5. If you can’t argue the message belittle the messenger. It’s an old trick that he must have picked up from Chris Hitchens.

    It certainly does spare him the trouble of ever having to critically examine his own beliefs.

    Word.

  6. 357 · PS said

    Seriously, all Stand up has done is try and give clever one-liners

    With a name like stand up, whaddya expect?

  7. Boy, people sure do have a lot of time around here! Must be all those layoffs.

    Kiran, I think you are new here, that is why you keep arguing. Most people here are PC, they will accept Islamic/Christian fundamentalism only if you agree that 1) you are a Hindu fundamentalist for raising the issue, and 2) Hinduism has lots of bad points. Just grant them that (and I think you don’t lose much by granting that) and they will go back to their little corners, frothing happily.

    I think such debate is pointless. More on what else to do is here.

    I suggest you read a little beyond Rajiv Malhotra. Even though he makes interesting points, and gives money for interesting projects, if you are really interested in Hinduism, you should go beyond the political discussion, and understand the philosophic schools. All this rhetoric about protection of Hinduism is pointless if you don’t understand what you are trying to protect.

  8. 350 · Kiran P said

    I hope I will not be banned by SM for speaking the truth.

    You mean “truths” like: whites are to blame for India’s societal evils (even though these evils have been around long before whites ever came to India)? Or your claim that the charge that dalits are raped, assaulted and murdered on a daily basis is christian “propaganda” (despite the Indian govts own data)? Or that “true sikhs” do not care that thousands of them were murdered in a pogrom conducted overwhelmingly by hindus (despite sikh websites that say the opposite)?

    Getouttahere you shameless liar!

  9. 364 · Sarvepalli said

    they will go back to their little corners, frothing happily.

    Not me. A self-aware Hindu fundamentalist is still a Hindu fundamentalist.

  10. 353 · Lupus Solitarius said

    Yes. Our white masters shall not be blamed for colonising us, looting our economy, creating famines which killed millions,exploiting our religious divides and catalysing the partition of our country.No sir. How can they – they are white after all!

    India has been independent for 3 generations now. When will you spineless, callous ostriches stop blaming whites for all of India’s social and economic problems?

  11. blaming whites for all of India’s social and economic problems?

    Why just India? They are responsible for pretty much all of the world’s problems.

    Hear out self-aware Susan Sontag:

    “Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Balanchine ballets, et al. don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history.” (Partisan Review, Winter 1967, p. 57.)

    Sontag later offered an ironic apology for the remark, saying it was insensitive to cancer victims.

  12. 354 · PS said

    I find this hilarious…obviously you’ve taken Sen out of context.

    I guess you find hungry children hilarious then? When you are not studiously ignoring them that is.

    The context here is India’s callous indifference to the hunger of its own citizens (most of the hungry indians happen to be hindus BTW). So what part of Amartya Sen’s quote do you find “out of context”:

    “India has not, it should be absolutely clear, done well in tackling thepervasive presence of persistent hunger. Not only are there persistent recurrences of severe hunger and starvation in particular regions, but there is also a gigantic prevalence of endemic hunger across much of India. Indeed, India does much worse in this respect than even Sub-Saharan Africa…… It is astonishing that despite the intermittent occurrence of famine in Africa, it too manages to ensure a much higher level of regular nourishment than does India. About half of all Indian children are, it appears, chronically undernourished, and more than half of all adult women suffer from anaemia. In maternal undernourishment as well as the incidence of underweight babies, and also in the frequency of cardiovasculardiseases in later life (to which adults are particularly prone if nutritionally deprived in the womb), India’s record is among the very worst in the world

  13. Prema said

    India has been independent for 3 generations now. When will you spineless, callous ostriches stop blaming whites for all of India’s social and economic problems?

    Do you think India’s colonisation has nothing to do with her economic situation at present? Why don’t you buzz off and celebrate your humiliation day?

    you spineless, callous ostriches

    Hahaha!! you are so funny, you pseudostratified triploblastic catamite...

  14. Close to 400 comments and not even 10 are relevant to the subject of religious discrimination in Pakistan. Good job commenters. :-)

  15. 370 · Sarvepalli said

    >blaming whites for all of India’s social and economic problems? Why just India? They are responsible for pretty much all of the world’s problems. Hear out self-aware Susan Sontag: “The white race is the cancer of human history.”

    Wow, so much hatred for whites among the hindutva gang. Did whites teach you how to treat low caste and outcaste hindus with cruel inhumanity and contempt? Did whites teach you to treat widows like pariahs and even burn them alive? Did whites teach you temple prostitution, child prostitution, child marriage? Are whites stopping Independent India from feeding its children? Are whites forcing indians to keep millions of hindu children in slavery/bonded labor? etc, etc?

  16. 372 · Lupus Solitairus said

    Prema said
    India has been independent for 3 generations now. When will you spineless, callous ostriches stop blaming whites for all of India’s social and economic problems?
    Do you think India’s colonisation has nothing to do with her economic situation at present?

    India’s record is shabby even when compared to the nations that were also colonised by europeans. Hunger is the most extreme form of poverty and India leads the world in both percentage and absolute terms in this damning statistic. People like you who keep blaming whites for India’s miserable performance economically (even after 60 years of independence from whites) and even for its numerous ancient social evils are the real enemies of India.

  17. so much hatred for whites among the hindutva gang

    Now Susan Sontag is also part of Hindutva?

    She is kinda cool, Susan Mata ki Jai, Sontag Mata ki Jai!

  18. Prema First of all a warm namaskar to your glolious mothelland. I Can search google too.

    Did whites teach you how to treat low caste and outcaste hindus with cruel inhumanity and contempt

    No. They believed in treating all of us with the above

    Did whites teach you temple prostitution, child prostitution, child marriage

    No. We picked up a few tricks from China . Once again I warn you, if you start pointing fingers, you will miss your patriotic re-education classes. Capiche?

  19. Are ostriches known for being callous or are Dhonis narrow-minded stereotypes of that venerable bird as wrong-headed as his understanding of Hinduism?

  20. Kiran – I would like to second the the comment above that you need to move beyond Rajiv Malhotra, even though I agree with most of what he says. He criticizes the colonial mindset but does not acknowledge that he himself is a victim of it. All of us are, of course, but once one understands this, I think it’s a bit absurd to think that all of the Indian elite fell victim to this phenomenon except the few of us who read an article here or there and were somehow cured. These things are deeply internalized and one has to relearn everything from scratch. One of the first things to reconsider is how absurd it is to continue to call hinduism a religion. The “way of life” cop out does not serve any purpose.

    I think a good way of looking at it is as a form of inquiry. Was there any knowledge produced as a result of this inquiry? What was this knowledge and how can we access it again? Notice how no-one condemns the west for “inflicting” science on the rest of us. If something is genuinely worthwhile the whole world welcomes it. This is precisely how the knowledge of ancient India spread to Indonesia, Cambodia, China, etc. It’s not that anyone converted to anything. That would be like saying I’ve converted to using a calculator instead of an abacus! So it’s about geometry, architecture, poetry, agriculture, medicine and of course self-inquiry – with a huge dollop of mythology (and alas superstition).

    The only way that hindus can have a dialog with the monotheists is at the level of inquiry and the results of this inquiry. It is futile to address beliefs or to be coerced into respecting them. By beliefs I mean such notions as God, his son, his prophet, etc. These are central concepts in monotheistic religions without which the religion will fall apart. This rules out the possibility of any honest dialog with the establishment, including academia, and leaves open the possibility only of informal discussions, such as on SM.

    Now, once the stupid religion business is out of the way, the social evils can be addressed. If we’re talking about the status of women, let’s compare and contrast. If we’re talking about caste, let’s again compare and contrast. We will likely see that the west does not come out with such flying colors as they think they do. And while India at least has poverty as an explanation for its ills, what’s up with the west? There is much potential for having a go at really trying to tease out what is wrong and where, instead of the same old hindus suck and muslims suck worse type of stuff.

  21. Karen #383, the minute you start paying the intern’s salary, you can complain about their “being asleep at the wheel”. Moaning about how a volunteer moderator on a private site is “slow” is pointless and ungrateful.

  22. my beef is with the fact the post has nothing in common with most of the comments. Maybe if you scroll up and read the comments you will understand why. Being a volunteer doesn;t give you an excuse for doing a shoddy job.

  23. I thought the topic that Anna was talking about was the treatment of christians in Pakistan. Yet most of these comments seem to be about what going in India.

  24. Karen, if the job we do is “shoddy”, go elsewhere. We’ve had internet issues today, so the thread went its own way, but that’s no excuse to react in such an ungrateful manner.

    You said “do your job, intern”? This isn’t our job. Try and understand that simple fact, maybe then you’ll be less irrationally disappointed.

  25. India’s record is shabby even when compared to the nations that were also colonised by europeans. Hunger is the most extreme form of poverty and India

    This is just false. The worst hunger is where famines occur. It’s funny that you even dare quote Sen, who has written much of India’s conquest of famines, it’s agricultural production is now enough that it can feed its population, the democracy that you, the self-racist deny is part of India’s culture, Sen directly attributes to India’s long history within Hindu philosophy. Back when the parts of the West were having untouchability stamped in its laws – blacks can only sit here or there, they must be separate from whites – India went right ahead and stated untouchability is illegal. MLK has written much of the influence Gandhi’s hinduism in his own fight for equality in the US – his own fight to overcome “America’s shameful untouchability”. If a vast and incredibily wealthy country as the U.S. has taken …. let’s start with the civil war….more than 100 years to overcome it’s untouchability laws than I have much hope for India, and the tenets of our philosophy, much of it reflecting hinduism and buddhism, that would allow a democracy to flourish, in a part of the world, that is all dictators and puppet govts.

    It’s funny that you write so hatefully at Indians as spineless. When India becomes so insecure that it abolishes a free press, and people like you would be tortured in jail b/c it criticizes the govt, than you can talk about spinelessness.

    Malnourishment in India is a problem as the Indian press readily stresses alongside fools in the press who ignore it. As Sen recently stated at the IIT’s the fact that India is a democracy with a free press, has been a huge factor in having it overcome Famines – that have plagued AFrica, and China. He also states “There were also glaring inequalities in the coverage provided to events affecting the rich and the coverage to the more chronic and continuous problems faced by the poor, and this had to be addressed to reduce poverty, Dr. Sen said.” freely in Indian society and I am so glad he can state these issues.

    He goes on to state there are more, malnourished in South Asian than subSaharan Africa – notice the word is malnourished, not famines not undernourished.

    India, is and has been, since it’s creation doing much better than many of these countries. We’ve got so much to improve but let’s not self-racism, get in the way of what the data actually states. And then when you bring in factors such as democracy and a free press, well that makes me very glad that I’m born in India than in Sudan or China.

    Malnourishment is something, Sen states, India should be able to overcome b/c we have the resources, despite having a population density much worse than say many countries in subsaharan Africa, and since our people aren’t dying of famines, that means more people to suffer malnourishment – understand?

    Here’s a link to undernourishment — Different than malnourishment. India is doing much better than parts of Africa, but all of South Asia have to do better, no doubt.

    It’s unfortunate that you are allowed to quote Sen, a man who heartily recognizes the equality in Hinduism, the tolerance of multiculturalism in Hinduism – something that you like to pervert and say only one interpretation of Hinduism exists and other cultures and religions is so much better…ha; It’d be interesting if you were born in Saudi, Prema.

    Sen also goes on to state in his address to IIT Madras, that India will no doubt be a superpower and it can overcome the problems of malnourishment (doesn’t talk about undernourishment or famine that is much worse in other countries) and he doesn’t state that the only way we can overcome that is to become a tribal culture or convert enmass into Islam or throw out Hinduism. He specifically has stated that one major factor that prevents famines as those that plague Somalia, China (in earlier decades), Ethiopia, etc. is a democratic values…India is light years ahead in that manner.

    Finally check your stats on the status of women – India is not near the worst countries in the world for women. I’m sure you’d like to pick one factor, female infancticide, as the only factor (b/c it looks bad for India) but you have to couple a myriad of factors to decide what is the most misogynist society — it’s a joke if you think India is. You have to look at education, education value, literacy, political voice, marriage choices, spousal abuse, etc, and India does not in any way factor close to the bottom.

    You are full of shit.

  26. No. We picked up a few tricks from China . Once again I warn you, if you start pointing fingers, you will miss your patriotic re-education classes. Capiche?

    lol – that was funny.

  27. So has anyone figured out what Prema’s deal is yet? Why the irrational hatred of Hindus and Hinduism?

  28. So has anyone figured out what Prema’s deal is yet?

    Patriotic re-education, as I have mentioned before.

  29. I think it’s sad when people use a critical eye to look at their own culture, and this is labeled “self-racism”.

    I think it’s sad that when people try to look at issues critically, and try to find solutions wile still respecting human rights, that they are labeled “Hindu Haters”

    I think it is these kind of people, who use accusations and labels against people just trying to identify issues and work out problems, that discourage people from speaking up, that discourage people from trying to change things.

    If trying to understand a problem, truly, with all it’s complexities, is so wrong, how will we ever be able to work together, to move forward, to find solutions to problems that persist, like communalism, like discrimination, like poverty?

    These people, who try to push this “Hindu Uber Alles” agenda above all, are the ones who cause problems to persist, while others are working towards solutions, one step forward, they are taking two steps back.

    They love to spout the greatness of the Indian constitution, and it is great, but they leave out the most important part of the constitution. The part where it is a democratic, secular nation. They didn’t chose to put orange AND green stripes on the Indian flag for no reason.

    They use quotes of India’s great attempts towards creating this democratic secular nation as an example when it serves their purpose, but ignore it when they feel threatened– then suddenly they forget the secular and democratic ideals– and talk about wiping out religious groups– to make things normal again.

    They talk about Indian history– but they only refer to the parts that make those ancestors of their blood look good. They ignore the great history of Indian pluralism– they ignore the immigration and emmigration that makes India and the countries of the world what they are today.

    These people- they are the ones who are a sickness to the world– a sickness of hatred, of twisted words, of inflammatory actions and the use of violence to reach their goals. While those who want to see a world were the human race can respect each other and live in dignity– they want to divide us– like a colonizer– and pit us against each other.

    As part of a majority and a dominate class– they don’t want to give up their positions to power- they don’t want to compete with others who may, with access to what’s needed to succeed, might actually beat them out for universities and jobs. They don’t fear a disintegration of a nation- they fear the disintegration of their own positions of power.

  30. 387 · PS said

    This is just false. The worst hunger is where famines occur. It’s funny that you even dare quote Sen, who has written much of India’s conquest of famines, it’s agricultural production is now enough that it can feed its population

    Utterly shameless and heartless. No amount of facts will convince this deluded lot. What part of Amartya Sen’s quote is “false”? Show us:

    India has not, it should be absolutely clear, done well in tackling thepervasive presence of persistent hunger. Not only are there persistent recurrences of severe hunger and starvation in particular regions, but there is also a gigantic prevalence of endemic hunger across much of India. Indeed, India does much worse in this respect than even Sub-Saharan Africa…… It is astonishing that despite the intermittent occurrence of famine in Africa, it too manages to ensure a much higher level of regular nourishment than does India.”

    For you to try to dismiss chronic malnutrition, which causes millions of deaths every year in India, as being no big deal compared to famines is really disgusting. Grow a spine and cultivate your conscience.

  31. Dhoni/Prema alias Jackass,

    Every time you cut and paste some tendentious load of crap, there will be three posters who will take apart your BS in a trice. Your endless capacity for self-delusion, will get you nowhere on this blog. Even if this thread is closed, and you happen to have the last word, there will be another thread where whatever BS you post under yet another alias will be ripped apart. Keep posting, and you may yet learn something in about three generations. If you have nothing to say about Christian Pakistanis, you should simply take your tashreef elsewhere.

  32. 114 · Ponniyin Selvan said

    I think Dalits should show some patience and remain Hindu and take the leadership role in Hinduism.

    ah yes, nice work once again PS. not only is this unrelated, it’s totally not your call. and what sage advice: clearly, all india needs is a replication of the divisive, corrupt, and morally bankrupt mayawati model.