All in the name of religion

We in India love to hold others to unmitigated suffering in the name of reiterating our faith in our religion. We have no qualms about blocking entire stretches of road (without any prior information and/or planning of alternate routes) and bringing traffic to a grinding halt for hours together in the name of conducting the night long devi jagrans, celebrating birthdays of gods/goddesses/ religious leaders, or for offering prayers to the Lord Almighty.

Yesterday, the 13th of January 2013, was another such lightless day when hundreds of hapless citizens like me were caught in insufferable traffic jams and vehicles came to a torturous standstill as the Sikhs fervently took out their annual street processions in as part of their pre-birthday celebrations (called Prakash Utsav, or the festival of lights) of their tenth and last Guru Gobind Singh, to the accompaniment of hymns, mock battles with traditional weapons conducted by Gatka parties, musical bands of all hues and denominations, sudden bursting of firecrackers, musical bands, and trucks decorated with flags and religious posters exhibiting the diverse aspects of Sikhism. The traffic police were at their inefficient best and, instead of directing the traffic through alternate routes, actually led it to the middle of the chaos and then left it to fend for itself. I wonder how many persons missed their trains or reached the hospital just too late, apart from wasting fuel and energy, even as women, men and children danced to gaiety, oblivious of what they were inflicting on others. 

I have a lot of respect for the Sikh community—for their valour and exuberance; for their community kitchen services; and for their industrious nature. But can they please (and this holds good for all of us, irrespective of the religion we profess) follow their traditions and celebrations without holding the general public to such ordeals and useless sufferings? Such hollow demonstrations of our beliefs only send out wrong messages, especially to the children and youngsters, who always form a sizable part of such processions/celebrations, that it is okay to put others to unnecessary hardships for the sake of our own enjoyment. Unless we are sensitive to the needs and wellbeing of our fellow citizens (rather than ignore their presence and existence); we can never hope to put an end to gender discrimination and violence against the under privileged. This insensitivity and total disregard towards others plagues our society and is the root cause of graver acts of injustices meted out to the oppressed classes—be they women or the marginalised communities.

Let us hold our religious/family/community celebrations within safe and enclosed spaces, sans loudspeakers, so that our leaps of faith do not land others in the ditches of discomfort and suffering.

Shobha Shukla
January 2013

Prayer for India on this New Year

Lord Tennyson had rightly said that The old order changeth yielding place to new and also that More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.

Well this is my prayer for India (inspired by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore) on this New Year…

Let the fresh rays of the sun mark the dawn of a New Order
Where women can live without fear and hold their heads high
Where the womb has the freedom to beget daughters
Where girls are not killed in the name of family honour
Where boys are not bullies and girls are not submissive
Where society is not fragmented by selfish patriarchal interests
Where words of sympathy are matched with truthful action
Where law enforcers are not predators
Where a few are not ‘more equal’ than the others
Where humility has not given way to brash arrogance
Where the light of love snuffs out the darkness of hatred
Where the dignity of womanhood is not trampled
Where women walk alongside men, and not behind them
Where all strive to live in peace and harmony
Into that bliss of existence, my country people, let us together lead in the year 2013

Shobha Shukla
Citizen News Service - CNS

Happy Hand (and Soul) Washing Day!

Today is World Hand Washing Day. Hand washing with soap is said to be the vaccine that prevents infections by rinsing away the germs of many physical diseases, thus saving many a lives. But what about the dirt which is too strong to be cleansed away with ordinary soap? - the grime of the slap it (the hand) gave to an innocent child; the sting of pushing aside others to move ahead; the smudge of someone’s tears which it could not wipe; the stink of public money which it unabashedly siphoned off. Can we wash all this away too and resolve not to tarnish our hands again with them. It is time to give our souls a spirited rinse. The fragrant balm of love, piety, respect and honesty will spruce up our mental health by wiping off the filth of hatred, contempt, anger and insensitivity which has infiltrated the marrows of our entire being. Happy hand (and soul) washing day! May we all remain healthy in body and mind.

(Shobha Shukla,

Thank you Mr President for a bump-less ride...

Yesterday President Pranab Mukherjee graced Lucknow with his visit which was laced with irritating restrictions on traffic movement on roads that crisscrossed his path. But it was a pleasant as well as a sad surprise to find a few speed bumps (or rumble strips) and pot holes perform the vanishing act overnight to give His Excellency a smooth ride sparing him even the occasional kick. My car habitually came to groaning slowdowns at expected hurdles but perked up immediately on finding none. This was the pleasant part. The sad part was that the hurdles would return in a few days. This had happened earlier too on the visit of the former President Pratibha Patil when the agonizing speed breakers on the University road had miraculously disappeared in a similar fashion.

It is only the road of lesser mortals like you and me that is full of pot holes and stumbling blocks--the powers- that- be always have a smooth drive on road and in life’s journey too—scams or no scams. Our rulers are like the famous princess who was hurt by the pea’s prick. They need to be protected from all discomforts as they scheme and plan to make the common citizens’ lives as uncomfortable and bumpy as possible—increase prices in the name of economic development, ignore violence against women for fear of losing their vote bank and hound innocent citizens in the garb of protecting national integrity.

But we are not ungrateful for small mercies. Thank you Mr President for a bump less ride, albeit for a day or two, on the few roads which were privileged to kiss the wheels of your car! Next time please bless our impossible- to- navigate by lanes with your gracious presence.

(Shobha Shukla,