I BELIEVE we are the biggest hypocrites in the world. And our politicians lead the way in setting double standards. In a few days, we will be celebrating our biggest festival of the year, Diwali. Due to the current situation, the celebrations are bound to be subdued: less crowded temples and gatherings, fewer fireworks or, better still, no fireworks at all.
But Covid or no Covid, you can be sure one Diwali tradition going back to ancient times will be maintained with gusto — gambling, even though it is illegal in India. Hundreds, if not thousands, of crores will change hands at card tables, much of it “black” money. Most will be playing “teen patti” (also called “bluff”). Unlike Bridge or Chess, it is a game of sheer luck, and therefore comes under an anti-gambling law that dates back to the British days. Never mind that the British themselves got rid of it many years back and have legitimised gambling. There are establishments in the UK, like Ladbrokes, where you can gamble on virtually anything from horse-racing to the outcome of the US presidential election.
However, we, in our wisdom, continue with the old, obsolete “colonial” laws. The Sedition Act is another one, earlier used to incarcerate “natives” threatening the security of the State, which now comes in handy to put those who disagree with the government into jail for a long time. To return to gambling, true that Goa and Sikkim have casinos, but these are minor exceptions. Also, since horse-racing is considered a “game of skill”, you can bet on it, at least in Mumbai and Pune. How stupid and hypocritical! And completely out of sync with the times. Anybody can go online and play poker on one of the many sites available. Is that illegal? Nobody seems to know. Why don’t the authorities clear the confusion and make gambling legal? Every now and then, there has been talk about doing this, but nothing concrete has emerged. The result is that “matka” and other forms of underground gambling flourish, with no revenue going to the government. One pernicious effect is that when people get used to breaking stupid, outdated and impractical laws, they feel they can break other laws which are more important to our society’s well-being.
Alcohol and sex come next in my list of hypocrisies. Here, I need to turn to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Though much admired and revered, he had two major faults (every great man has them): his attitude to sex and to drinking. As he himself writes, he wanted to curb his sexual drive, which he felt was coming in the way of his main goal of achieving Independence for his country. For many, including well-known writers and philosophers, that was an eccentricity not to be taken seriously. Sadly, it was, ignoring the fact that our ancients exulted in sexuality. Witness the “Kamasutra” and the erotic sculptures in Khajuraho. I believe that in this respect, Gandhiji harkens back to the puritanical — and hypocritical — Victorian-era values when sex was a dirty word. Hence, the duality and hypocrisy in Indian society over sex.
Ditto alcohol, even narcotics, by which I don’t mean modern formulations like heroin and cocaine, but the good old “ganja” and “bhang”, smoked and ingested for hundreds of years, without anybody making much fuss. Again, Gandhiji was certainly right when he said alcohol was often the ruin of poor families. But the answer is not prohibition, which invariably leads to a smuggling-cum-black money nexus that sucks in government officials, especially the police. That’s what happened in the US and is happening in Gujarat. Noble intentions that have not been thought through systematically can lead to terrible consequences.
Let me end with a more recent hypocrisy that feeds into the current climate of toxicity and communal hatred: the ban on cow slaughter. Every Indian has the right to eat what he likes. Muslims, Dalits, tribals, many in the North-East, even some Hindus and Sikhs, eat beef. By my estimation, that means over 300 million Indians, around the population of the USA. Denying them what they like to eat is discriminatory. And come to think of it, why should cows be protected and not buffaloes? Buffaloes are just as gentle and useful. Are they a lower form of life? For that matter, are goats and sheep a lower form than cows?
But that’s the least of it. For the rest, let’s turn to a recent judgment delivered by Justice Siddharth of the Allahabad High Court. While expressing concern over the “misuse” of UP’s Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act against “innocent persons”, he questioned the credibility of evidence submitted by the police in such cases. He granted bail to one Rahmuddin, clearly a Muslim, who had been arrested and kept in jail for over two months. In his judgment, Justice Siddharth revealed a shocking situation in UP: “Whenever any meat is recovered, it is normally shown as cow meat without getting it examined or analysed… accused stay in jail for an offence they may not have committed at all.”
The UP government’s statistics show that some 4,000 persons have been arrested in the first seven months of this year alone under the Act and that over half of those arrested under the even more stringent National Security Act have been on charges of cow slaughter. Conviction under this Act can lead to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs5 lakh. Needless to say, virtually all those arrested are Muslims. The judgment goes on to relate the truly pathetic plight of stray cows, most of them abandoned after they stop producing milk or become too old. “Gaushalas do not accept them and they are left to wander on the roads, to drink sewer water and eat garbage, polythene… a menace to traffic, leading to many deaths.”
This is nothing but hypocrisy and downright cruelty, with a communal twist loaded with hatred, thrown in. Thank you, Justice Siddharth, for your boldness and honesty. We need more judges like you to straighten out Indian society.
— The writer is a veteran journalist