Hindu New Year: A Celebration of Unity and Heterogeneity

The Hindu New Year or Nav Varsh is celebrated with different festivals – Navratri, Gudi Padwa, Ugadi, Navreh, Cheti Chand symbolising the intermingling of religion with local culture and rituals and celebrating the beauty of heterogeneity, cultural assimilation and diversity.

It beautifully tells us that no culture is superior, while we should be proud of our culture, we must also respect the culture of others, that unity may not always be in homogeneity, we can be different and we have to learn to respect and celebrate the difference, that there is a certain beauty in co-existing which cannot be experienced in dominating and replacing. We must understand what our festivals try to teach us.. focus on the underlying essence, the ideas not the visible, the material.

Nav Varsh ki Hardik Shubhkaamnaye!

On Women’s Day, appeal by Mission Bhartiyam to improve Safety of Women in Trains

Photo Source: Internet

To,

The Chairperson,

National Commission for Women,

New Delhi

Subject: Request to Issue Suggestions to Indian Railways to Improve Safety of Women in Trains

Dear Madam,

We, a group of responsible and committed citizens, are writing to you with suggestions to improve and ensure the safety of women in Indian railways. The Railways is an important communication link in our country. Every day, millions of Indians commute through the railways. However, there are several challenges in this sector. Recently, there have been many efforts to improve the Indian railways but a lot needs to be done for the safety of passengers, especially the women passengers.

The Railways is, unfortunately, another vulnerable space for women. Sexual assault, molestation, and even rapes have been reported in trains and are even rising. As per the information available on the Indian Railways website, the incidents of rape year wise are:  21 in 2011, 47 in 2012, 54 in 2013, 40 in 2014 and 33 (until Sept month) in 2015 whereas, crime against woman other than rapes ‘registered’ in IPC are: 154 (in Train) and 222 (in Premises) in 2011; 229 (in Train) and 215 (in Premises) in 2012; 350 (in Train) and 289 (in Premises) in 2013; 330 (in Train) and 258 (in Premises) in 2014; 260 (in Train till Sep month) and 172 (in Premises till Sep month) in 2015.  

In view of this, we have thought of several measures that can contribute to making our trains safer for women:

a) A female-only coach, especially for long distance journeys involving one or more nights of travel is still unavailable in all such trains where night journey is required. Presently there are few trains with such provisions but that needs to be

b) Emergency buttons in trains, in the washrooms, to ensure women feel safer in trains.To avoid misuse, a heavy fine can be charged in case of its violation. There may also be an emergency complaint system (with the provision of the speaker) that can connect a woman traveler directly to the security person/guard who is present in the train.  

c) Deployment of guards in every coach or at least two guards patrolling trains, especially overnight ones should be achievable.Though it is in use at present, but somehow this provision is not much effective. An analysis must be done regarding the same. Few more female guards must be deployed and they should preferably be in civil dress. 

d) Better working conditions for women employees. Since the railways have taken this initiative of deploying women officers and women staff for various other jobs at the station, they should also take care of their women employees and must provide them with better and healthy working conditions that would cater to their unique job needs. The responsibility of the Railways is huge in terms of providing necessary amenities and security to its women employees in station premises and on-board trains so that they are able to conduct their responsibilities nicely.

e) A sanitary napkin vending machine in washrooms ofrailway stations. Sanitary Napkin along with basic medicines should be one of the things that should be available (on request) in trains.  

f) Hygeine should be taken care of. A lot of women/people have complained about dirty loos and unhygienic conditions in Indian trains which in turn is the reason for the spread of a lot of diseases. Care should be taken to maintain cleanliness inside and outside the trains.

g) There should be a provision for women traveling alone or in groups to be able to change their seats during the journey. This should be authorized and facilitated by the T.T.E. If (s)he feels the people around the female(s) are of a suspicious character and condition, that request should be immediately taken into consideration.

h) Women helpline numbers (Toll-Free Helpline No. 182 and All-India Helpline No. 138) are in use at few places, but not completely effective. Also, its information has not been disseminated. A lot of women are unaware of such a helpline. We suggest that its information should be disseminated through stickers in compartments, through advertising on display boards in stations, through printing in train tickets and through broadcast and social media as well. This helpline number should also be sent by Railways and IRCTC along with Ticket information via SMS. Effective reporting and action should be planned for its proper implementation as many times such helpline numbers are busy/non-responsive. As connectivity during travel is also an issue, railways must do its best effort to improve connectivity in no signal zones or to take up the matter with telecom operators for providing shared networks for calling Helpline numbers under ’emergency’ / SOS call. 

i) A social media App R-Mitra was launched last year by Hon’ble Railway Minister for ‘Eastern Railway’ women A lot of women have complained that this app doesn’t work properly. We suggest that effectiveness of this app should be monitored and if found suitable, improved versions should be launched for other zones as well

j) CCTV cameras are installed in very few trains. We suggest these cameras should be installed in all the trains and their working must be ensured. These cameras should be installed on all routes with proper technical analysis and their installation must be feasible and effective in terms of women safety. 

k) Though railway reservation system is computerized, such possibility should also be explored where all booked tickets by a single woman or a group of women can be (even if later) combined together in the vicinity of each other.  

We appeal to you to consider these suggestions and direct the Ministry of Railways to think upon these measures and adopt them to ensure women’s safety in trains. 

Thank You

Regards,   

Devika Mittal, Madhulika Narasimhan, Ravi Nitesh and Shruti Arora

Mission Bhartiyam

Petite Women and Body Shaming: My Personal Experience

skinnyshaming1

Photo Source: Internet

We live in a web of definitions, roles and expectations weaved by the society, the threads made strong and shiny with ideal images that invokes a sense of happiness and comfort. While we are all trapped, not all of us may realise it. Some of us realise or rather are made to realise it when we fail to ‘naturally’ meet the expectation. 

While the society controls every aspect of our being, in the present context, I am talking about the expectation regarding our physical appearance. Growing up, always looking half my age and being tiny in size, l have personally experienced the societal ‘reality’, the societal expectation to be of the pre-defined ideal size, height, colour, qualities and a mindset that all these pre-defined specifications are perfectly fine.

Always been tiny, I am so used to hearing people express their disbelief at my age that it surprises me when someone doesn’t seem shocked! I don’t mind people being surprised but I certainly wish that they would keep the after thoughts to themselves though they don’t affect me anymore. I am far more used to it and at peace with myself, with my body. Though there would be a time and I must confess, still there are moments when the comments affect me, trouble me enough to force me to look for solutions.

I have gone through body shaming in childhood, during teen years, in college and even today, there are people who try. A small physical stature combined with an introvert nature, I would be assumed to be dull, docile, subordinate, powerless, incompetent and a source of pity. While growing up, not reaching a certain height by high school was supposed to be a matter of great concern and shame. I would constantly be made conscious of my height, a friend would constantly hint at how she was trying new things to speed up her growth. She did manage to grow an inch or two taller than me but I don’t remember if I congratulated her for the achievement. I remember that once a junior kid had asked me if I was a dwarf. At that time, I did feel a sense of shame as I explained I am not but now ofcourse, I realise that it is no matter of shame even if I was one. 

But back then, it was hard to fight it. I remember that once I had said to my friend that it doesn’t matter to me if I am short and she frowned which made me think if I really said something so wrong. But eventually, I started accepting myself, my body and doing so, I realized that this was much harder than to grow in height!

I am still made conscious about my tiny stature.  There are people who still treat me, a woman in mid-20s as a “kid”. The snide comments passed off as “jokes” or sentences in “light vein” do not stop. I am still asked if I am ok with looking so young. I am suggested ways to look a bit mature, given free advices on hairstyle, dress sense and way to carry myself. But this doesn’t hold me back anymore.

I have realized that the problem doesn’t lie with me but with such people. I realise that it is actually their own insecurity and failure that they try to impose on me to become happy. They themselves failed to challenge the society that teaches us to give importance to looks than to other things, to challenge the society that teaches us to be of a certain type. They fail to fight to get our right to be the way we want to, look the way we want to. They not only failed but also try to hide their failure by sustaining the order, keeping stiff the web. If they judge me, then the fact is that I judge them more. I feel pity that they could not look beyond my physical appearance. I feel pity that they can’t find a better topic to talk about other than one’s physical appearance. I don’t know and care less whether one may agree or not but this is my tiny perspective on the body that belongs to me.

This article was published on Women Chapter http://en.womenchapter.com/a-tiny-womans-experience-of-body-shaming/

Pakistan – The Country of My Friends

Indo-Pak friends devika mittal (india) and aliya harir, saba khalid, namra nasir, raza khan (pakistan)

As I think of friendships across the border, my first memory goes back to the days of yahoo messenger, chatrooms and orkut! I would often visit the Pakistan chat room just out of curiosity. I can’t recall if I had made any friend from there through this. I owe my first friend from Pakistan to Harry Potter! Though my memory is posing serious challenges but what I certainly remember that I was able to strike not one but several conversations with so much ease with this one friend from Pakistan. I don’t even know if this person will even remember me because we lost touch and it has been so many years now but I certainly remember my first friend from Pakistan and I thank him because I think that it was probably because of him that I never ever had any hatred for a Pakistani.

The second round of friendships came with my admission time and entry in South Asian University (SAU). I will want people to genuinely believe me that one of the things that I imagined about SAU and which motivated me to apply was meeting Pakistanis! My fascination was derived out of my new found understanding of our past, the horror of our past actually. On both sides, we are often exposed to very biased and one-sided accounts of what had happened. I had got the opportunity to explore that the horror was also shared by both sides and I was filled with guilt and remorse. It makes me emotional everytime I think about what we did to each other. It disturbed me and I could not think of a way to make things fine. The only thing that came to my mind was to probably reach out to the “other”. I had befriended a Pakistani student aspirant during admission time and though he never joined the university, we became friends! His name was Zeeshan and as again my memory challenges me, I can’t remember much details. But what I clearly remember is that how when we started sharing photographs of our cities and when I saw photographs of a Pakistani city (forgetting which city it was..but I think it was Islamabad), I said “Yaar ye to foreign country lag rai hai” (This looks like a foreign country) and he laughed and said that yes it is foreign indeed.. it is Pakistan! I think this explains how our bond was. I had forgot the “difference”!

In the university with students from all 8 SAARC countries, the bonding was strongest with Pakistani students primarily because we spoke the same language. I also always feel that when Indians and Pakistanis meet, they are very extra sweet to each other! I somehow think it is because we carry the past baggage for which we try to make up for.  

My third and strongest round of friendships have come with Aaghaz-e-Dosti. It has helped me to not only get such close friends but actually family members across the border! I must reiterate that I do not like to write fancy and do not exaggerate. Visiting Pakistan for me solely meant visiting my friends. Because of the conflict and a culture of stereotypes and mutual suspicion, when we travel to Pakistan or a Pakistani travels to India, he/she is given many unwanted advices. People would say that they pray that we will come back alive. When I went to Pakistan, I also had such concerned friends in India. I must say that not even for one second, did I feel scared. Infact, I felt so much scared when I was to travel to Europe. With Pakistan, I did not feel any such feeling. I attribute this to my friends and “family” in Pakistan. My birthday was a day prior to my travel to Pakistan but I celebrated a second birthday in Pakistan. All thanks to Namra. I had really not imagined it and I don’t think I ever got a bigger birthday surprise than that in my life. There is a lot more that my beautiful, bold and so hard working friend did for me which I am not sure if I can ever return. My elder brother Raza bhai was I think on his heels during the entire trip. I don’t think I can ever say enough about how good he is. I was taken such good care by my two elder sisters – Safia didi and Summi didi. Then there were some non-Lahoris without whom my trip to Pakistan would have been incomplete. The time that I spent with the Pashto Poet-Philosopher Rauf, adorable Imrana, charming but very mischievous Huma and ofcourse Aliya without whom I cannot even imagine my daily life was when I secretly was so angry thinking about the culture of hatred and conflict that has been constructed. I had also got the opportunity to make so many new friends. While it is always customary to talk good about one’s hosts and for the right reasons that they really try so hard to get you across the border, I want to talk about the two university hosts for the bond that they had initiated which they were not compelled to. They were not compelled to wait for us hours before our arrival on the Wagah Border. They were not compelled to invite us to their home, invite us to meet their family members. Though I really feel guilty of not having done so and wish that the offer was not of limited time period, I was deeply moved by such a gesture. I had also got another new very wonderful friend named Zeeshan whom again I did not know previously but who really made sure that I didn’t ever feel alone. While I take a lot of time to talk freely with new people, I feel that he really broke that bubble so instantly through his friendly and humble nature. I met Dr. Wasif Ali Waseer who took out time from his busy schedule to be with us throughout the two days and had also made us met his really lovely wife Saba and with whom I bonded over some Indian serials.  While I think of all this, I am also reminded how these are all supposedly my enemies who were supposed to hate me. 

Pakistan means a lot to me and the reason are my friends and I have all kinds of friends, I should say. I have friends who are as good as family. I have brothers like Umair Bhai, Raza Bhai, Mujtaba, Adil, Zuhaib, Jahanzeb, younger brothers like Hussain, Syed Zeeshan Ali Shah, Faizan, Owais, sisters like Nazzia didi, Saba, Natasha, Imrana, Warda, Zoya, Suraya and very adorable younger sisters – Fatima and Mahrosh. I have friends like Poonamchand, Warda, Faisal and Asad on whom I can always depend on. I have found friends like Ashraf, Sehyr, Shabbir, Zeeshan Ahmed and Saif with whom I can engage in discussions on even critical issues. Pakistan has given me friends, mentors, inspirations. It continues to bless me with friends. With this, I must mentioned my newest friend from Pakistan – Dr. Munir whom I met in a conference on Human Rights Education in Germany. The Conference had seen practitioners and scholars from different countries and while it was an honor to interact and learn from all of them, the interaction with the Pakistani participant was certainly very different. It didn’t take us even seconds to bond and the bonding became so strong that once I ended up counting 4 Indians in the conference (there were 3 Indians and 1 Pakistani).

My friendships have helped me to understand conflict, to understand it from different angles, understand the complexities and more importantly, on how futile the conflict is.

Returned with Love: My Experience of Visiting Pakistan

Devika Mittal - lahore trip

As an ardent supporter of Indo-Pak peace and having many friends in Pakistan, visiting Pakistan was a long-awaited desire for me. Having worked actively as a member of Aaghaz-e-Dosti, a cross-border Indo-Pak friendship initiative, I didn’t have many pre-conceived notions about the country. I was far too excited that I would finally visit Pakistan.

The literally golden opportunity was an academic conference on inclusive education that was organized by University of Management and Technology (Lahore). When my co-authored paper was selected, I and my friend Madhavi Bansal knew that this was only the first step forward. The second and most difficult step was getting a visa. Our apprehensions were right. The struggle for visa comprised of standing in a long queue outside the embassy waiting endlessly, being on the verge of rejection with a host of terrible sounding suggestions that are not listed on the embassy website, troubling our hosts with emails to intervene more and offering daily prayers. To our great surprise celebrated with tears of joy, we were finally granted the visa to visit Lahore.

The moment of crossing the border filled me with emotions. The white line on the border reminded me of Manto’s stories, especially of Toba Tek Singh. I imagined seeing the spot where the story had concluded. I was to cross the border and enter the land which is prejudiced, which we have been taught is different and opposing.

In a span of six days, we were to discover if this was actually true. While we had been talking to people from Pakistan through our peace activities, the people would mainly be those who were already convinced somewhere about peace so this was the first experience of interacting with people who may have had no experience of interacting with Indians. However, as expected, it largely turned out to be a myth.

Because of our language which was apparently “Urdu”, people could tell that we are non-Lahoris, but we being Indians was not what they would imagine. We were travelling in a rickshaw. While directly, the driver smiled at some words that I used and I thought that he had found out. He asked me where we were from and on discovering that we were Indians, his eyes widened and he exclaimed, “Masha Allah!” He said that he knew that we were not from Lahore but had thought that were probably from Karachi. He shared that his grandparents had migrated from India. He told that both Hindus and Muslims prayed to God but only used different words and that there wasn’t really a difference. “There is no hatred but politics”.

The expression of disbelief, the wide eyes and giving us a second look when we would inform people that we were Indians were unforgettable and something that I enjoyed. After they found out, they would change. They would become more welcoming towards us. We were invited for lunch at home by complete strangers.

Even in the university, the environment was way beyond friendly, it was quite special. There were people who came for our presentation only because we were Indians. A more special thing was that before our presentation, the moderator of the session welcomed us with a quote of Mahatma Gandhi. We were cared for far beyond what we could ever expect.

Besides the university conference, our other main focus was to meet our friends and interact with people. We got the opportunity to interact with school and college students. The interactions helped me to know how people of Pakistan, especially the youth thought. People of both countries hold stereotypes and misconceptions about each other and the reason is that there are very few platforms to know each other. The sessions, thus, helped to answer the curiosities. We were asked about different religions in India and I informed that India was a land of religious diversities just like Pakistan. The constitution of India even legally recognized and respected agnostics and atheists. Similarly, a student in Punjab University asked about Pathans in India. They inquired about how they were perceived. There were questions on how Pakistanis are perceived in India, how Pakistanis serials and movies were seen there. And I spoke about the success of Zindagi channel that has provided a great alternative to the never-ending and boring saas-bahu sagas that dominate the Indian TV industry. For movies, there is still a big void and people hardly know the great movies that Pakistan has produced.

What also came out of the interactions was that youth of Pakistan, like youth of India, are not much aware of the issues, the complexities yet embroiled in the conflict, in the culture of stereotypes sustained by the biased media and lack of people-to-people contacts. In Punjab University, over the discussion on the restrictions of visa, a student justified the city-specific visa by saying that Indians would come and spy on our weapons. Another important part of the discussion was on the role that people can play in improving the relations. Interestingly, I was asked the same question during a discussion in a university in Gujarat (India), some months back.

The questions that we were asked in Pakistan were exactly the same as asked during discussions in India on this issue. This shows that people on both sides are curious, have the same apprehensions, perceptions about each other. Having these interactions also helped as they highlighted the fact that on both sides, people preferred peace over conflict. The students were excited to hear us and wanted to interact and connect personally.

While the six days in Pakistan gave way to new bonds, it also strengthened the existing ones. While Lahore didn’t seem much different and definitely not part of a different country, my friends, three of whom came all the way from Islamabad and one from Peshawar made sure that it didn’t even seem like a different city. Six days in Pakistan and few hours before my scheduled departure, I was wondering if I could stay back even for one more day – this says enough of how Pakistan treated me. I came back with new thoughts, knowledge to break some more stereotypes and more importantly, a new strength to work for peace between the two countries. Let people of India and Pakistan meet and I am confident that each one will pen down a similar story.

This article got published on Dunya News Blog (Pakistan)

Homosexuality is not unnatural; also present among animals

Source: Think being gay is unnatural? These 11 animals will prove you wrong

If diverse sexualities are not natural, then why is it found in most animals? If diverse sexualities are not natural then why do we need so many measures to impose heteronormativity?Here are some animals that prove diverse sexualities are a fact of nature:

1) Dragonflies: Dragonflies are among the most highly evolved predators in the insect world and they are also among the most demonstrative—engaging in spectacular in-flight ballets as well as serious sensual encounters with other dragonflies.

2) Giraffes: Young male giraffes, prior to mating with a female, sometimes engage in same-sex encounters and short term alliances

3) Rams: Domestic rams are statistically among the most extensively gay mammals in existence. Scientific studies have shown that up to eight percent of male sheep may form exclusively male-to-male pair bonds, forsaking all contact with the female ewes.

4) Dolphins

5) Rams

6) Western Gulls

7) Australian Black Swans: Homosexual behavior has been documented in wild Australian black swans, which sometimes form threesomes involving two males as they establish a nest site

8) Penguins

9) Laysan Albatrosses: In 2007, scientists studying the laysan albatrosses of Oahu noticed that sixty percent of birds present were female, and that thirty-one percent of all the albatross pairs were lesbian.

10) Bonobos: Bonobos, which resemble miniature chimpanzees, are not only among the world’s most intelligent animals but are in fact humanity’s closest relative. Since many of the conflicts occur between two males or between two females, homosexual bonding is a frequent occurrence among these amorous apes.

11) Cock of the Rock: Andean “cock of the rock” are spectacular forest songbirds with an extremely dramatic appearance, combining brilliant orange with a huge crest. Natural selection has led to some rather outlandish feather adornments. Remarkably, up to forty percent of males engage in same sex activity.
12) African Lion: A good percentage of male African lions have been found to engage in same-sex sexual activities

Why we should support Raif Badawi

raifOn 17 June 2012, a Saudi Arabian Blogger Raif Badawi was arrested under the charge of “insulting Islam”. Raif Badawi had created “Free Saudi Liberals”, a website which encouraged debates on religious and political issues in 2008. The website promoted the idea of secularism and criticized religious extremism. He was charged of insulting Islam through this website.

The Saudi Supreme Court held him guilty and pronounced a sentence of 10 years in prison, 1000 lashes (50 lashes on every Friday) and a fine of 1 million riyals. After he serves a decade in jail, he is also forbidden to travel for the following decade and from participating in the media.

He had been previously charged for “apostasy” in 2008 as well but was released after questioning. “Apostasy” which means renunciation of one’s religion is chargeable with death sentence in Saudi Arabia. In 2012, the prosecutors wanted to charge him under apostasy as well but in 2013, he was cleared for it. According to sources, he may face the charge of apostasy again.

Raif Badawi is undergoing the punishment for the charge of “insulting Islam”. He is imprisoned. He had received the first 50 lashes in January. But since his wounds remain unhealed, the punishment has not been repeated.

Badawi has support from the international community. He receives support from the United Nations, United States, the European Union, Canada and several other countries. Human Rights Activists and Organisations around the globe have expressed their support with him. In January 2015, the United Nations had issued a last-minute appeal to Saudi Arabia to stop the scheduled second round of flogging for the activist. They had also appealed the Saudi Government to review this type of penalty. However, the Government remains unmoved. While the punishment is being delayed, there is no news of any relief. Infact, the Saudi officials have asked the international community not to “interfere” in the ‘internal’ matters of the country.

Badawi’s case is or should be for everyone who speaks and respects “Freedom of Speech”, “Secularism” and “Justice”. Here’s why we all should support him and demand his immediate release:

Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression

Freedom of Speech and Expression is one of the most important rights given to an individual. It is one of the important rights given in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the article 19 of which states,

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

It applies to all member countries of United Nations. Since Saudi Arabia is a member country, it is applicable for it as well. Going by this, Raif did nothing wrong. He has the right to freely express himself and to have an opinion. As the right mentions, he also had the right to seek information, learn from other sources regardless of the frontiers and this is what he had done. No Government should try to define the boundaries of knowledge.

Badawi has the right to think and decide for himself. He has the right to form his own opinion, choose what he may believe in. His website conducted debates on different issues. It cannot be regarded to be illegal and unacceptable. What is unacceptable is the behavior of the Saudi Government to restrict knowledge. Controlling freedom of speech, dissent is a mark of autocratic and barbaric states, not modern nation-states.

There is a difference between “Insult” and being “Critical”

Badawi has been accused of “insulting Islam” but how has he done so? There are no concrete evidences available to prove that he had “insulted” Islam. There is a difference between insulting and being critical and the latter cannot be regarded to be illegal or objectionable. Everyone has the right to be critical. It is important to understand and know what exactly had Badawi said that is considered to be against Islam. What was objectionable? Was his way of holding a debate over religious practices objectionable? If yes, then this very thinking is against Islam. Islam was born out of questionings, as a response to the contemporary sociopolitical situation. Islam is rational in its essence. Every practice that Prophet Mohammad had ascribed was given with reasons which were clearly specified. This method meant that he wanted that people should know why a certain practice has been prescribed. The underlying motive seems to be to challenge blind acceptance and to promote thinking and rationality. Thus, debates cannot be considered to be un-Islamic. Debates to think about the religious practice, to explore the true essence of islam cannot become unacceptable. A true Muslim who knows about the life and teachings of Prophet Mohammad will know it.

Prophet Mohammad laid down several practices and they all responded to the specific conditions at that time. The overarching ideology was to promote peace and justice. Even if Badawi may have challenged some of the practices, he did so by being under the ideological paradigms of Islam. So he could not have “insulted” Islam. He may have been critical which is allowed not only by the Universal Right to Freedom of Opinion but by Islam itself.

His writings targeted extremism, not Islam

As about the claims, it is again important to re-iterate the fact that no concrete evidences are available to show how he had “insulted Islam”. His website was shut down. What remains are some of his writings that have appeared in other websites. What emerges from his writings are his rejection of extremism of all sorts. He had not insulted islam, he had insulted extremism, blind following which as stated earlier, is antithesis to the spirit of Islam. Here are some extracts from his writings:

On the Israel-Palestine issue, Badawi wrote, “I’m not in support of the Israeli occupation of any Arab country, but at the same time I do not want to replace Israel by a religious state … whose main concern would be spreading the culture of death and ignorance among its people when we need modernisation and hope. States based on religious ideology … have nothing except the fear of God and an inability to face up to life. Look at what had happened after the European peoples succeeded in removing the clergy from public life and restricting them to their churches. They built up human beings and (promoted) enlightenment, creativity and rebellion. States which are based on religion confine their people in the circle of faith and fear” (Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi)

In another account, Badawi wrote on an incident in which an astronomer was punished on the grounds of being critical of sharia beliefs,

“I advise NASA to abandon its telescopes and, instead, turn to our Sharia astronomers, whose keen vision and insight surpass the agency’s obsolete telescopes. Indeed, I advise all other scholars the world over, of whatever discipline, to abandon their studies, laboratories, research centres, places of experimentation, universities, institutes etc. and head at once to the study groups of our magnificent preachers to learn from them all about modern medicine, engineering, chemistry, microbiology, geology, nuclear physics, the science of the atom, marine sciences, the science of explosives, pharmacology, anthropology etc. – alongside astronomy, of course. God bless them! They have shown themselves to be the final authority with the decisive word in everything, which all mankind must accept, submit to and obey without hesitation or discussion.” (Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi)

Through his writings, Badawi had criticized persecution of other religions in Saudi Arabia and the conservatism of Saudi Clerics, their attitude towards secularism.

This is not to argue that all his writings were unproblematic but what is true is that his larger ideas were right. There were no false claims. A glance at the Saudi Arab’s human rights record can testify it.

More importantly even if his ideas were problematic, his writings were one-sided or biased, the fact is that they were only articles. They were also not provocative. He also did not have the same authority as Saudi clerics did. Unlike them, he could not issue any fatwas to impose his view.

Death sentence for ‘Apostasy’ is barbaric

The Saudi authorities are trying to charge Badawi for apostasy for which he can be granted death sentence. Badawi would not be the first to be the victim for apostasy. Saudi Arabia has a terrible record of executing people. As reported by Amnesty, Saudi Arabia ranks among the top five executioners in the world. In 2014, 90 people were executed. So far in this year, 54 people have been reportedly executed in the first three months of 2015. (Source: https://www.amnesty.org/en/articles/blogs/2015/04/the-ultimate-punishment-saudi-arabia-ramps-up-beheadings-in-the-kingdom/ ) Apostasy is one of the top charges for execution. Apostasy means the renunciation of one’s faith and conversion to another.

Simply put, it is a barbaric practice. Everyone has the right to think and decide for oneself. Secondly, it again cannot be a rule that may have been given by Prophet Mohammad. The rationalist that he was, he would not have forced people to follow his teachings. He wanted people to follow his teachings by understanding them, their importance. Prophet Mohammad was also not opposed to people of other religions. His teachings did mark a deviation from them but he had not permitted the use of violence against them.

Killing people over their religious beliefs is un-Islamic and inhuman. More importantly, if one is truly religious, one will know that religion is a sacred thing. All religions teach the same thing. They teach love, justice and humanity. Only a person who is not familiar with his/her religion will fight over it. Religion is not an identity, it is a belief. If someone does not believe in or follow the religious practices, how does it matter if he/she is a follower or not?

A last point is that by giving death sentence or lashes as punishment, will the glory of Islam be established? Will people who do not believe or respect Islam start respecting it? There are better and more civil ways to tell people that what they are thinking is wrong. Violence is never the solution.

Badawi punished for opposing Saudi Arab authority, not Islam

Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights’ record. The Saudi Arab authorities severely restrict freedom of expression, impose censorship, have discriminating laws against women and non-muslims, have detained and sentenced without trial, many Government critics and political activists. Badawi had written about this at length. He had particularly criticized the government for suppressing dissent. There is a possibility that Saudi Arabian authorities have suppressed Badawi not for his views held to be against Islam but against itself. The lack of concrete evidence as well as the writings of Badawi hint at it.

Badawi’s case, thus, needs to be seen in a more complex way and should be supported by anyone who supports Freedom of Speech, Secularism and understands Islam. While Badawi’s case is not the first case, there is a chance to make it the last one or move towards a better tomorrow.

References

Amnesty International’s Annual Report: Saudi Arabia 2013 http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/annual-report-saudi-arabia-2013

“A look at the writings of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi – sentenced to 1,000 lashes” by Ian Black published in The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi

“What Blogger Raif Badawi’s new book reveals about Saudi Arabia” published in Deutsche Welle (DW) http://www.dw.de/what-blogger-raif-badawis-new-book-reveals-about-saudi-arabia/a-18353234

“Why Saudi Arabia is so afraid of Raif Badawi” by Sara Yasin published in Los Angeles Daily News http://www.dailynews.com/general-news/20150119/why-saudi-arabia-is-so-afraid-of-raif-badawi