Gandhi Jayanti

Hi Everyone

Today is a new holiday in India. There seems to always be one of those. And to be clear, I don’t try to say that Indians are always on holiday or vacation. But it is almost always some Holy day, or some festival somewhere in the country. You got it don’t you?

Today it is the Gandhi Jayanti, which is actually the birthday of none less than Mahatma Gandhi, also known as the “Father of the Nation”. Off course this is a day to celebrate!

A few days ago, I searched through my blog post of more than two years of blogging. And it turned out that I have hardly written anything about Mr. Gandhi. So I guess it is just right that I use his birthday to write about him.

Mr. Gandhi was born under the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi at the 2nd of October 1869. As it was quite common in India at that time, he married at an early age. Already at the age of 13 he got married to Kasturbai. Gandhi was probably not the easiest husband in the world, but Katurbai stood by his side for the rest of her life.

In 1888 he moved to London to study law. It was during his time here that he decided to be a vegetarian. In London he also got really interested in religion and read a lot of religious books in a number of religions. Based on this he started to think that everyone should live together peacefully regardless of what religion they belong to.

When he came back to India, he struggled to find himself a job. It was then easy for him to accept when an offer came to move to South Africa to work as a lawyer there. All together Gandhi went on to spend 21 years of his life in South Africa. This was where he first got really active in work against discrimination. When he took a train in South Africa he was told that he couldn’t sit in the first class compartment because he was dark. Furious about this he was part of the group that created Natal Indian Congress, an organization that worked for rights for Indians in South Africa. Due to this he had to serve his first term in jail. Totally Gandhi spent more than 2000 days in prison.

Due to his work in South Africa, Gandhi was a famous man when he returned to India in 1915. Here he joined the Indian National Congress and was introduced to the fight for independence. Gandhi was always in favor of doing the oppression against the British rulers without any violence. After the First World War was over, Gandhi and his team started to work against the British rulers. He did this by implying strikes in the country and to make the people not co-operate with the British.

One of the protests that Gandhi is most famous for is the big Salt March. Back at that time, in 1930 it was a rule that all the minerals in the country belonged to the Births and only they had the rights to use it. Gandhi was very much against this and issued a march to a place called Dandi, in Gujarat where he wanted to make salt himself. The British rulers did nothing to stop this, as they believed that the march would stop on its own. That didn’t really happen and Gandhi and his team managed to execute this march successfully.

Another thing that Gandhi was very much against was the use of Indian clothes. He insisted that all Indians should know spinning and be able to make their own clothes. Gandhi himself spent at least one our every day to spin. This he did for a number of years.

After World War Two, the British decided that they should quickly abandon India. One of the biggest issues they had to deal with then was what to do with the fact that India had a huge population of both Hindus and Muslims. Gandhi wanted all of them to live together peacefully in the same country. The Muslim leader was very much against this and insisted that the country should also be divided into two parts, so that the Muslims could have their own country. In this case Gandhi actually had to give in, and in 1947 when the British rulers left India it was divided into two countries, India and Pakistan.

After the partition there were quite a few people who were against Gandhi. Some of the Hindus meant that he hadn’t done enough for them when the country was divided. At the 30th of January 1948 Gandhi was assassinated by a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, an extremist group that held Gandhi responsible for weakening India by insisting that Pakistan should get payment when the country was divided into two.

According to Hindu tradition Gandhi was burned.  More than two million people joined in his funeral procession at the 6th of February 1948. The “Father of the Nation” as he was called, had completed his journey.

Talk to you soon!

Karsten

Writing about something you don’t see

Hi Everyone

This week it has been a bit strange to be here in Norway.  For the last two years I have been in India during the Ganesh festival, which is probably the biggest festival in India, or at least in Mumbai. This year I have only seen updates of it at friends Facebook pages and such. But when I came over this blog post over at Sharell’s blog. She writes very well, so if you haven’t seen her writing at White Indian Housewife before, I would absolutely recommend that you take a look.

Talk to you soon!

Karsten

Kumbh Mela

Hi Everyone

Have any of you who write a blog ever had that feeling that, damn; today I have nothing to write about? To be honest, I wouldn’t be that surprised if that has happened to you. For me who write about life in India as a Norwegian, I right now feel that struggle. And that’s maybe not that strange. How can you write about life in India when you live in Norway?

So, in order to keep this blog alive, I’m very much dependent on things to really happen in India. And I also have to do a lot more research in order to be able to write anything. So when one of my friends in Pune posted a link about Kumbh Mela on Facebook a few days ago, I decided that this could be a good topic to write about.

Kumbh Mela is probably the biggest religious festival in the world. It is hosted in the five holiest cities in the Hindu religion (Allahabad, Haridwar, Mathura, Nasik and off course the holiest of them all, Varanasi). By coincidence I visited Haridwar around New Year in 2009. There were no festival there that day, but we could see the enormous constructions that they had already started to prepare. We could also the huge camping area where all the pilgrims would put up their tents. You can see at the picture below all the banks (or gaths as they say in Hindi). During the Mela these will be completely swamped by pilgrims. It might be that I remember wrong, but I actually think that the open areas you see in the background are used for all or at least some of the millions of tents that will be there.

So what is this Kumbh Mela all about? Kumbh derives its name from the immortal Pot of Nectar, which the Demigods (Devtas) and Demons (Asuras) fought over, described in ancient Vedic scriptures known as the Puranas. It is these Vedic literatures that have stood the test of time, out of which the tradition has evolved into the one that the world now knows as The Kumbh Mela. Legend tells a tale from the bygone days of the universe when the demigods and the demons conjointly produced the nectar of immortality. The demigods, because cursed, were crippled of fear that eventually made them weak. The task being too sturdy for them alone, the demigods made a mutual agreement with the demons to complete it in full and share the nectar of immortality in half. It is said that the demigods and the demons assembled on the shore of the milk ocean that lies in the celestial region of the cosmos. And it began!

The next Mela is in Allahabad in January and February 2013. It sounds difficult for me to get there, but well, let’s see. Or at least maybe I can get someone who go there to help me put up a blog post from that event.

Talk to you soon!

Karsten

The Assam problem

Hi Everyone

A few days ago I wrote a small blog post about the max 5 SMS’es pr day issue, which I at that time thought was just a joke.

Now it turns out that it is far away from any joke. The background for the issue is riots in the northern state of Assam. There have been issues in Assam for a number of years. But this particularly incident started around July 20th. Four people were axed to death in a small place called Duramari, which is the home to some 15.000 Muslim settlers. Two days later a much larger mob, this time assisted by armed militants of the outlawed National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NBDF), launched a full-scale assault, forcing an exodus. The official numbers of dead people is not more than 70 and more than 400.000 people are displaced.

It seems like this riots have now spread to other parts of India also. I can read in the newspaper today that there is planned yesterday. There have also been stories about Assamese leaving Bangalore because they fear from their life.

What’s going on? How can this happen? Most of this blog post is taken from a story in India Today at the 13th of August. As so often before, it seems like the root cause of the problem is religion. Assam shares the border with Bangladesh, which is a country with a huge Muslim population and much poorer than India. Over the years there have been a number of refugees that have escaped Bangladesh for the North-East states of India, like Assam. Now the Muslim population in these states grows with a much higher rate than the Hindu population. In a number of areas the Muslims are now about to overtake the Hindus when it comes to number of people. As we have seen so many other places in the world, this lead to ethnic confrontations.

This have also given the effect that people from North-East of India are being discriminated in other parts of India. They have a clearly distinct look, compared to people from south, so it is easy to recognize them from being from this area. I remember to have seen friends from that region posting on Facebook (sorry, but I can’t find the actual article so not possible to link to it) that they ask people to distinguish between regional issues and religion issues. Off course it is impossible to see just by looking at a person if he/she is a Muslim or a Hindu.

Now it seems like the Indian government also try to stop people from using social media to discuss this topic. Well, I surely don’t want my blog to be shut down due to some “governmental issue”, so I guess I better stop this story here.

I really hope that these things do not escalate. One of the great things with India is that people from a number of different religions have managed to live together almost peacefully for so many years. Must that continue!

Talk to you soon!

Karsten

Eid 2012

Hi Everyone

Today is the Muslim holiday of Eid. As I’m in Norway and not in India, I must admit that there is not really any huge celebration going on here. But last year, I made a blog post of the celebration that time.

This year the festival has in some way been overshadowed by the riots in Assam. Assam is a state in the North-Eastern part of India. During the last few weeks, there have been major riots here. It seems like the main reason for this is a clash between Hindus and Muslims. Many of the Muslims are said to be refuges from Bangladesh. This riot has now spread to other parts of India, and it will be interesting to see how this affects the celebration and also the daily life in India.

But until then; have a very happy Eid everyone!

Talk to you soon!

Karsten

More about caste mobility

Hi Everyone

My previous post about the caste system triggered quite a few comments. I have also got some other response from a number of people. When you write a blog, there is nothing better like that! Like someone (I think it was maybe Michael Jackson) said; “it is much better to get bad feedback than to get no feedback”.

Let me also stress that I’m not at all an expert in this area. I write about it because I think it is interesting and something that is still present in India today, even if not very visible.

So, back to the theme about caste mobility. In my previous blog I said that it is possible to move from one caste to another. That was maybe not exactly as precise as it should have been. What I tried to write about was the possibility for one caste to move (ideally upwards) in the caste hierarchy. My input was based on a book called “Social changes in Modern India” by M.N. Srinivas. And I should stress that the book was written in 1966, so “modern” is maybe not the correct word anymore. What he did was to look at the different censuses that was conducted, and then to see how the different castes was placed.

Today people are not grouped into castes in the census. But I do think that there are other ways to see the caste mobility. As Srinivas stressed in his book, it is not just about the official census. It is also about how different castes behave and what they do. He uses an example on how one low caste started to engage in trade. Back in the sixties communication got improved so that it was possible for these lower castes to do things that they had not done before. Today the communication is even extremely much better. This should lead to more opportunities for lower castes. The idea about micro economy and banks lending money to the poor will also help in this situation. And off course industries like the IT-industry help in breaking down the “barriers” between different castes. Here there seems to be opportunities for everyone.

What will happen with the caste system in the future? Will it disappear? Well, I don’t have the crystal ball, so it’s a bit difficult for me to look into the future. I have discussed with some friends about if there will ever be any “gender revolution” in India, and if we will see any huge female movement. My Indian friends say that this is quite unlikely to happen. Traditions are too strong, and India is a too huge country, so a revolution like that is not possible. I guess the same will hold true with the caste system. Things will probably change gradually, but not like any revolution.

Do you agree? Maybe you have some insight into this that you would like to share? I’m more than happy to hear it.

Talk to you soon!

Karsten

The caste system

Hi Everyone

One question that I get quite frequently by Norwegian friends and colleagues is about the Indian caste system. What is it all about? How does it affect the everyday at the office?

Let me start with the last part first. I have never seen anything in the office that indicates that caste is important. Not any discrimination or anything like that. That off course does not mean that it does not exists. What I have noted is that you can understand a lot by reading the name of a person. For example; people with the sir name Patel are most often from Gujarat, while people with the sir name Patil are likely to be from Maharashtra. In Gujarat Jainism is quite common, while Maharashtra is mostly a Hindu dominated stated. So if someone introduces him/herself to you and say that the sir name is Patel, you can maybe ask: “Ohh nice, so you’re a Gujarati Jain?” But be careful. It is not always like that. It is also said that in Maharashtra people with last name that ends with “kar” have names that indicates where they come from. But even here you must be a bit careful. If it was 100 % like this, the famous cricketer Sachin Tendulkar would have been from Azerbaijan.

I have heard people in HR asking new joiners where they are from based on their name. But that seems to be more of the curiosity than to check about whom they are or anything like that.

So what is this caste system then?

First of all I would like to point out that it is not restricted only to Hinduism. In India you find the caste system also among Muslims, Buddhists and Christians. And you find the caste system in countries like Yemen, Spain and Japan.

Any discrimination of people due to caste has been illegal since 1950. It is actually stated in the Indian constitution.

Traditionally the castes have been divided into four groups. These are the Brahmins (priests or scholars), Ksatriya (marshal or royals), Vaishya (merchants), and Sudhra (who are the labors). Below this is the dalits, or the untouchables.

One question that have been asked me a number of times is if it is possible to move from one caste to another, and also if it is possible for one caste to increase its status. Well. That was maybe two questions in one. But I guess that these questions are so closed connected that I will try to answer them together. And I would like to stress that what I write about here is something that is somewhat disputed, and that there are probably not one single true answer to these questions.

When it comes to move between castes, my understanding is that this is something that is quite very difficult. You’re born into one caste and you will belong to that caste for the rest of your life. It is only when you die and reborn that you can eventually move upwards to another caste. One slight exception to that rule might be that of a marriage. If you marry someone from a higher cast, I do think that it is possible for you to join that caste. Or am I completely wrong here?

Regarding the possibility for one caste to move upwards (or downwards for that case) in the hierarchy, the opportunities are greater. There is a concept called Sanskritisation that describes this concept. This is the situation where people in a caste of a lower rank start to do rituals that have previously only been done by higher castes. The caste system is highly complex and quite strict about what different castes can do or not. Let me take one example. This is not a real example, but meant as an example of how it could be… Let’s say that a cricket team consists of people from different castes. You might have some who belong to the higher “batting caste” or “bowling caste”. While some belongs to the lower “fielding caste”. People from that caste are allowed to neither bowl nor bat. As those of you who follow cricket know, if everyone from the “batting caste” gets out, you have to turn to the people from the “fielding caste” to do the batting. If they perform well, the whole idea of a “fielding caste” might get removed. Another example, which might be closer to real life, is what happens in Varanasi. Here there are some people who are responsible for the fires where people are cremated. I spoke to one of these people when I visited Varanasi last year. He told me that he had inherited the job from his father. I do then presume that he belongs to a specific caste that is responsible for executing this specific task. At least it sounded like this the way he spoke. I can only guess that there are people from a different caste who are responsible to get all the firewood that is needed for the fires. What if some people from this caste someday also require working on the fire? Most probably they will initially get refused. But maybe this will change over time and that they will be given these new tasks. By doing it this way a whole caste can get new tasks and move upwards in the hierarchy.

Talk to you soon!

Karsten

Bengali New year

Hi everyone

For a number of times, I have written about new year here in India. It is actually quite interesting, or maybe I should say funny, to live in a country where you have some many new years, or maybe I should say “new years”. First we had the Parsi New Year. We have had the Gudi Pawda, which I think is mostly a Maharastrian new year. We have had Eid, which I think is some kind of a new year for the Muslims. And I’m sure there are a few more new years that I have in some way or the other missed.

But well, today is Poyela Boishakh, which is the first day of the Bengali calendar, and then hence the new year according to that calendar.

The Bengali calendar is closely tied with the Hindu Vedic Solar calendar, based on the Surya Siddhanta. As with many other variants of the Hindu solar calendar, the Bengali calendar commences in mid-April of the Gregorian year. The first day of the Bengali year therefore coincides with the mid-April new year in Mithila,Assam, Burma, Cambodia, Kerala, Manipur, Nepal, Orissa, Punjab, Sri Lanka, Tamil Nadu and Thailand.

Celebrations of Pohela Boishakh started from Akbar’s reign. It was customary to clear up all dues on the last day of . On the next day, or the first day of the new year, landlords would entertain their tenants with sweets. On this occasion there used to be fairs and other festivities. In due course the occasion became part of domestic and social life, and turned into a day of merriment. The main event of the day was to open a halkhata or new book of accounts.

In Kolkata, Pohela Boishakh (and indeed the entire month of Boishakh) is considered to be an auspicious time for marriages. These days people wear new clothes and go about socialising. Choitro, the last month of the previous year, is the month of hectic activities and frantic purchases. Garment traders organise a Choitro sale and sell the garments with heavy discounts.

Pohela Boishakh is the day for cultural programmes. Prayers are offered for the well-being and prosperity of the family. Young ladies clad in white saris with red borders and men clad in dhuti and kurta take part in the Probhat Pheri processions early in the morning to welcome the first day of the year.

This day being auspicious, new businesses and new ventures are started. The Mahurat is performed, marking the beginning of new ventures.

Pohela Boishakh is the beginning of all business activities in Bengal. The Bengali Hindu traders purchase new accounting book. The accounting in the halkhata begins only after offering puja. Mantras are chanted and স্বস্তিক shostik (“Hindu swastika”) are drawn on the accounting book by the priests. Long queues of devotees are seen in front of the Kalighat temple from late night. Devotees offer puja to receive the blessings of the almighty.

On Pohela Boishakh various fairs are held in West Bengal. The most famous of these is Bangla Sangit Mela, held at Nandan- Rabindra Sadan ground. This fair is conducted by the Government of West Bengal.

Pohela Boishakh coincides with the New Years in many other Southern Asian calendars, including:

  • Assame New Year, or Rongali Bihu (in Assam)
  • Malayali New Year, or Vishu (in Kerala)
  • Oriya New Year, or Maha Vishuva Sankranti (in Orissa)
  • Tamil New Year, or Puthandu (in Tamil Nadu)
  • Tuluva New Year, or Bisu (in Karnataka)

So let’s see if there can be some more celebrations soon…

Talk to you soon

Karsten

Angry brides

Hi everyone

This post is based on an article I read in the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten while I was back there last week. Unfortunately I have not found the article on-line, so I cannot provide a link to it.

The article is about a game called Angry Brides that you can play on Facebook. As you can understand from the title, the game is very much inspired by the very popular game Angry Birds. In this game you are a potential bride who has three suitors. The problem is that all of them require dowry. You are armed with shoes, tomatoes and frying pans and your task is to throw this at your suitors! Every time you hit them the dowry decreases.

Why such a game you might ask? Well, probably because dowry is still a huge problem in India. It has been illegal since 1961, but is still common. As the wealth have increased in the country the value asked for have also increased. This makes a huge problem for families who are not able to pay. In 2010 there were officially 8391 cases there girls were killed due to disagreements over the dowry. Off course I have no access to the unofficial figures, but can only guess that they are much higher.

Talk to you soon

Karsten

Durga Puja

Hi Everyone

Yesterday was the last day of the Durga festival here in Mumbai. This is probably my favorite of all the festivals! Last year I told you about the Garba dance. This year I really felt that I was more able to take part in the whole festival as such. One interesting thing is that this festival is celebrated in distinct different ways in different parts of India. As Mumbai is the melting point it is, there are people from all over the country here, and it was celebrated in different ways in the area where I live.

Yesterday I had some visitors from Norway. So I decided that it was a good idea to show them both the versions of the celebration that happened close to where I live. First we went to Hiranandani Foundation School, where the celebration was in Gujarati style. There was a band playing, and a lot of people doing the Garba dance. My visitors were really thrilled with what they were taking part of! Garba is basically danced in two different ways. One ways is that people dance around in a huge circle, and make moves that I have hardly seen in any other dance. The other version is that people dance with sticks. They do either dance in pairs, or they dance in groups. Most people have one stick in each hand, and they have a special rhythm where they click the stick against each other. The rhythm is quite nice, and as soon as you have got it into your head it is really difficult to get it out again.

Dancing Dandiya

After the Dandyia dancing, we went to another area. Here the festival was celebrated in Bengali way. This is a completely different way of celebrating the same festival. A bit more religious I would maybe say. If it is possible to really feel any religious with so many people around, and security blowing their whistles all the time in order to try to get people to move on quicker. In West Bengal it is quite common to build what is called pandals, which is basically a temporary construction where people does their puja ceremonies in front of the goddess Durga. In my local area in Powai, there is build a replica of a huge temple, and idols (statues) of Durga is placed inside the temple.

The Durga pandal

The actual worship of the Goddess Durga as stipulated by the Hindu scriptures falls in the month of Chaitra, which roughly overlaps with March or April. This ceremony is however not observed by many and is restricted to a handful in the state of West Bengal.

The more popular form, which is also known as Sharadiya (Autumnal) Durga Puja, is celebrated later in the year with the dates falling either in September or October. Since the Goddess is invoked at the wrong time, it is called “Akaal Bodhon” in
Bengali.

For me, it is quite interesting to see how different societies can celebrate one such festival in so completely different ways. It is really true what people say, that India
have it all…

Talk to you soon!

Karsten