Archive for February, 2010

Better Safe than Sorry?

Posted in India, Law with tags on February 5, 2010 by salaamreaders

With our sexual mores changing significantly in the past few years, sex outside marriage has gained certain social acceptance. Incidents of live-in relationships, pre-marital sex and adultery appear commonplace now. Behaviour once considered socially undesirable, even deviant, is increasingly being thought of as ‘cool’. But beware, the Delhi High court does not approve and if their recent ruling is any thing to go by, promiscuous men may even land in jail. They just have to fall foul of their girl friends! Here’s how.

It has been reported, that, the court has ruled recently that sex outside marriage amounted to rape. It denied anticipatory bail to a man for this reason. The bare facts of the case were, that, a man engaged to a woman had repeated consensual sexual intercourse with her. When he refused to marry her, she filed a police case alleging rape. The court held, that, sex on the basis of a false promise of marriage amounted to rape. Normally, the Indian law defines rape as sexual intercourse when it is:- 

i)          Against the will of the woman;

ii)         Without her consent;

iii)         With her consent, if she has been put under fear of death or hurt;

iv)        With her consent when the man knows that he is not her husband but she believes he is;

v)         With her consent, if it is obtained under unsoundness of her mind or intoxication etc; and

vi)        With her consent if she is less than sixteen years of age.  

Even consensual sex, therefore, is rape under the last four conditions. Now, the court has added another category-when consent is obtained on a false promise of marriage-when it will be considered as an incident of rape. The new expanded meaning has been taken, ostensibly, for protecting innocent girls from victimization and exploitation by unscrupulous and mischievous persons who take undue advantage by promising marriage with them. 

Normally, the accused in a rape case is required to prove his innocence, as the victim’s statement is taken to be true. This is so as it is generally believed, that, no Indian woman would level false charges for fear of social ridicule. In the present case, since the two were engaged, it was not difficult to draw an inference, that, she might have consented because they were in any case to be married. But it may be difficult in other cases to prove whether a false promise was held out or not. If a woman, therefore, alleges rape on this ground, the boy friend may land in serious trouble.

So if you would rather be safe and not sorry-ABSTAIN.

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The Journeys of Ibn-Battuta

Posted in Books, History, India, Travel with tags , , , , on February 3, 2010 by salaamreaders

Sometimes even Hindi films may serve the cause of history! Gulzar’s song, Ibn-e-Battuta, bagal mein joota, has caught public imagination like anything. Hopefully, it may even generate some interest in the life and times of Ibn-Battuta who came to India in 1333 after travelling for eight years, having left his home in Tangiers, Morrocco in 1325, at the age of 21 years, to undertake Hajj at Mecca and Medina. He returned home only after 30 years, having completed 75000 miles all across Africa, Europe and Asia. It must have been some journey! His book “the Rihla” describes his voyage across much of the then known Muslim world most vividly and is fascinating to read.

He reached India when Muhammad Tuglak was the Sultan at Delhi. He favoured foreigners over Indians and most of his courtiers, officers, generals and relatives were foreigners. Battuta appears to have heard of this and came in the hope of benefitting from his largesse. He was not disappointed as the Sultan was pleased with him and appointed him the qazi of Delhi on an annual salary of 12000 dinaars and other gifts.

Battuta lived in Delhi for nine years, married several times and fathered many children. He admits in his book that he was perpetually in debt and the Sultan had to bail him out from time to time. He was generally well received by the Sultan, but feared for his life from his eccentricities. Battuta thought that the Sultan was generous, well read and religious but ruthless and blood-thirsty. He had people beheaded, quartered, trampled upon by elephants or even skinned alive routinely.  Battuta has described several incidents of his blood lust when many well-known and respected persons were killed at the slightest pretext. He served the Sultan for many years but still feared for his life. So he begged leave of the Sultan to go on Hajj, which was actually a polite way of running away. However, he was appointed ambassador to China and was ship wrecked at Calicut while on his way there. Having lost all the gifts that the Sultan had sent with him, he did not return to Delhi fearing his wrath and went to Maldives instead.

Battuta must have been a keen observer with a fantastic memory as he has commented minutely on what he saw or heard when he was in India.He marvelled at the excellent postal system then prevailing in India. It was of two kinds- through horse and on foot. Horses were provided by the Sultan and were changed every four kos or miles. For the other type, there were Dawah or stage posts every 1/3 Kos or mile where runners or Harkaras would be waiting. They carried bamboo poles, on one end of which were tied brass bells. They would start running the moment they received a letter and on reaching the next stage hand it over to the next person who having been alerted by the sound of bells, would carry the letter at full speed. This was even faster than sending post by horses and it reached the sultan at Delhi in five days from Multan. If it were true, it must be said that the system was quite efficient!

He recalled having seen a rhinoceros after crossing the Indus. This is quite remarkable as rhinoceros are now found only in north-eastern India. He has described Indian fruits like mango, jack-fruit, jamun, mahua and pomegranate; grains like rice, wheat, and barley; lentils like moong, moth, chana etc. He wrote that khichri with ghee was a popular dish and samosas, chapattis, pooris, and halwa were served at meals. The diet of the commoner was of coarse grains like barley and maize. Indians used to eat pickles and relishes also. They used to put mustard oil in their hair and offered betel leaves and nuts as mark of respect. Coal was unknown then, sati was prevalent, Ganga was revered and Hindus were obsessed with purity and pollution. He has described Indian coins, weights and measurements and a thousand other details about the daily lives of Indians which make for wonderful reading.

 Though Battuta wrote ( or rather dictated) his book in the fourteenth century, he remained generally obscure till the nineteenth century when he was rediscovered and translated in English and other languages. Now thanks to Gulzar he may gain another lease of life. Amen!

The Kitabul’ Hind-a Medieval Reality Check

Posted in Books, History, India with tags , , on February 1, 2010 by salaamreaders

It is often instructive, for people as well as races, to listen to what others have to say about them. In the absence of such a reality check, one is apt to be swayed by one’s own exaggerated notions of one’s own self. Precisely such a check was provided to the Hindu society, in the eleventh century, by an Iranian Muslim scholar, Al-Biruni, who was perhaps a hostage at the court of Mahmud of Ghazani. Now Mahmud needs no introduction as he had successfully raided India several times; killing, plundering, enslaving and desecrating all that was dear to Hindus.

Al-Biruni was a prolific writer, for it is mentioned that the weight of his books exceeded a camel’s load! Among the many books that he wrote, Kitabu’l Hind stands unparalleled in the range of topics that it examined concerning the Hindus. How and why did he get interested in their lives is not known, but he was deeply interested in mathematics and astronomy, subjects on which there was considerable Hindu literature. He must have had access to such literature and also contact with learned pundits who may have similarly been held hostage at Ghazani. Whatever may have been his motivation for studying Hindu society, his work provides a deep insight into those distant times.

His book digs deep into Hindu religion, science, literature, philosophy, social organization, geography, astronomy, life, customs, festivals etc. There is hardly a subject which he left untouched. His work was perhaps the first major exposition of Hindu thought and life by an Islamic scholar and it sheds great light on the then Hindu society which then was facing a challenge to its very existence from Muslim invaders. Though Islam came to India in the eighth century from the Arabian Peninsula, it was then limited to certain areas in Sindh only. Mahmud of Ghazani was the first to systematically exploit the fissures in the Hindu society and launch a sustained attack on Hindu kingdoms all over the north and the west.

Al-Biruni was aware of the deep differences between the Hindu and Islamic way of life. He observed that Hindus were so different in all aspects of their language, religion, manners, usages and customs from Muslims ‘as to frighten their children with us.’ Their aversion against Muslims increased with the conquest by Mahmud by whose exploits ‘the Hindus became like atoms of dust scattered in all directions.’ He thought that ‘the Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no king like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self- conceited, and stolid. They are by nature niggardly in communicating that which they know, and they take the greatest possible care to withhold it from men of another caste among their own people, still much more, of course, from any foreigner. According to their belief, there is no other country on earth but theirs, no other race of man but theirs, and no created beings besides them have any knowledge or science whatsoever. Their haughtiness is such that, if you tell them of any science or scholar in Khurasan and Persis, they will think you to be both an ignoramus and a liar.’ He however acknowledged that ‘If they traveled and mixed with other nations, they would soon change their mind, for their ancestors were not as narrow-minded as the present generation is …’

Though his views on Hindus need to be examined in the overall context of his work, there is no gainsaying the fact that eleventh century Hindu society was moribund, stagnant and inward looking for a variety of reasons. It had lost the glory that it once had and it seemed to want to wish away the foreigners by erecting mental walls against them. If only they had taken Al-Biruni’s seriously, their history might have been different!

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