Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Let them eat cakes!

It appears that Kim Davis has exhausted her fifteen Andy Warhol minutes.  She might be gone from our news radars, but the struggle between faith-based personal values versus the larger collective, social policies will continue on for a very long time.

Here in the US, we might struggle through the issues, yes.  As that cigar-chomping English racist remarked, Americans will always do the right thing, only after we have tried everything else.  Makes me wonder why we always have to take the long, long, long road to do the right thing.

But, at least here we end up doing the right thing.  I increasingly worry that the trend in the old country is one of doing the wrong things.  Today's exhibit:  vegetarianism.

Of course, this is not the first time that I am blogging about the vegetarian existence.  But, here is an important distinction to keep in mind: I don't make an "ism" out of a preferred way of life.  The moment an "ism" is framed, it immediately leads to an us-versus-them, which is what is rapidly unfolding in India.
The problem is that when vegetarianism—and what you eat in general—is associated with morality, it serves to strengthen distinctions, marking class, education and other indicators of status.
Any holier-than-thou approach, especially in the political space, is bound to be disastrous.
In a national landscape moving towards a narrow definition of what it means to be Indian—specifically, Hindu and high caste, and specifically not Muslim—such distinctions have potentially serious consequences.
Ah, yes, the caste issue comes up again.  The religion issue comes up again.  And you thought food is an easy topic, eh!
We can already see its effects in cities such as Mumbai, where the discourse of purity and pollution around what you eat is so powerful that certain groups are denied access to the housing market on account of their dietary choices. If you belong to the “non-vegetarian” groups—including anyone from Muslims to Christians to Maharashtrians to Dalits—it can be difficult to purchase or rent an apartment. Potential buyers are turned away, presumably, because smells from their kitchen might pollute a neighbour’s flat. With vegetarianism used as a distinguisher between “us” and “them”, Mumbai is becoming an increasingly hostile place for religious minorities.
The struggle will not be resolved anytime soon in the old country.  Nor here in the US.  When individuals claim that their "faith" prevents them from supporting a commercial transaction, societies will have quite a struggle trying to resolve the incompatibility between a secular political democracy with those faith-based practices.  Here in the US, chances are high that the food fight will end up in the Supreme Court.  Remember the bakery here in Oregon that refused service to a same-sex couple?  The baker in Colorado?

The ACLU (yes, I am a card-carrying member) argues:
There’s a growing body of court decisions saying that while religion is central to what makes America America, religion can’t be used as an excuse to discriminate
The other side argues:
Government has a duty to protect people’s freedom to follow their beliefs personally and professionally rather than force them to adopt the government’s views
Here it is cakes.  There it is meat.  All I know is this: we Americans will always do the right thing, only after we have tried everything else.  I can't say that about the old country, however.


Anne in Salem said...

You have written before about persecution of those who do not follow Modi's strict interpretation of rules and policies, particularly the Muslims. This is most disturbing. I wonder how many of the businessmen actually believe what they say, or whether they discriminate against Muslims and Christians as a result of outside pressures. It is interesting that the financial motive is not sufficient for businessmen to assert their preference to stay financially secure.

Sriram Khé said...

As Salman Rushdie wonderfully coined it, the "Modi Toadies" have become a lot encouraged to go after practices that they consider to be against the Hindu religion. Almost always, such zealots are uninformed and mis-informed.

Meanwhile, at the individual level, most people in India, whether or not they are Modi fans, do seem to confine their lives to their respective castes and religions. And such practices extend to commercial transactions too--like renting or selling homes. This individual habit is, unfortunately, not anything new--India has always been highly divided in daily life, which is one of many issues that I have with the old country. The new dimension is that the Modi Toadies have amped all that up to a whole new level.

Ramesh said...

The banning of meat on some days in some days is a stupid move and is all political rather than religious - the Shiv Sena, one of the most radical of Hindu outfits is agitating against the ban. What a waste of time trying do such ridiculous stuff, when the country has so many pressing problems.

"All I know is this: we Americans will always do the right thing, only after we have tried everything else" . Really ???????

Sriram Khé said...

"we Americans will always do the right thing, only after we have tried everything else" ... yes.
Even Oklahoma's governor has gotten around to acknowledging that the earthquakes there are related to fracking! I looked up to see if pigs were flying ;)
The US is one chaotic federation of states and localities. It is often frustrating, yes, but eventually the country gets around to doing the right thing. And then people wonder why it took so long to get that done. Setting up the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, are all classic examples. And all those were done via the legislature. Recently though the legislative side has become so incompetent that it is the judiciary that is making us do the right things, like with gay marriage and Obamacare.

Anne in Salem said...

Those are your examples of the US getting it right? There are some seriously awful issues with most of your examples. As my opinion is not a surprise, I'll leave it at our standard agree to disagree. Family Medical Leave Act is a better example.

Sriram Khé said...

Oh yeah, there are plenty of examples, like the Family Medical Leave Act too. I listed a few examples, fully aware that some of a different political persuasion will not agree with the list. After all, even Social Security is still contested! My point there was that between the legislative and the judicial branches, we do end up doing the right thing after exhausting all the possibilities.

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