Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Uttar Pradesh: decoding the enigma

I must confess at the beginning that the heading is a bit misleading but I liked it so much that I decided to keep it that way. Perhaps no one will ever be credited with fully decoding the enigma that Uttar Pradesh is so I must not have high hopes of being the exception. I have often thought why UP is treated the way it is treated and what exactly makes it so unique and in some cases scary. Why UP and UPites are ‘lawless’ broadly speaking and why they are looked upon with fear in large parts of India.
As a young man I was extremely offended when people talked in unflattering terms about the state as I belong to a family which has been a resident of the state for nearly two centuries. In the last five years when my sudden urge to visit Hindu pilgrim sites took me to remote areas of India as well as the metro cities; I have understood that notoriety of UP and UPites is well earned.
We have to understand that the real pathos of the situation lies in the fact that UP is the land of Rama and Krishna the greatest heroes if not Gods of Hindus. Lord Rama it must be added was ‘Maryada Pushottam’ meaning a person who zealously clung to honour and led an honourable and exemplary life. It would appear logical then that the inhabitants of the state would be more ‘religious’ and gentle then the other states of India but this is clearly not the case. This in itself is very mystifying! Apart from this UP has been the birthplace of some of the greatest saints of modern times like Swami Brahmananda Saraswati who trained some of the most famous saints like Swami Shantananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. So clearly religious richness of a state, almost the cradle of Hindu civilization was not lost. The state also gave birth to a lot of Sufi saints and great masters from other religions. What then went wrong or what then was always wrong?
I am yet to meet an intellectual who can fully decode the enigma that is UP. Yes that is one of the biggest enigmas yet unsolved. What is wrong with the land of Gods? Well I guess therein lies the answer – Gods; a part of answer though. Gandhi Ji was a great thinker there can be no doubt about it. Great people sometimes make mistakes but they were great because their thinking was original. They sound ridiculous because their ideas were not in sync with contemporary beliefs or even modern beliefs. I am sure many ideas of Gandhi Ji were too repulsive to people back then. I have a feeling that his stay in foreign countries opened up his mind. He had access to some of the greatest literature of his time and this is what enabled him to look at Hinduism with a near objective viewpoint. He got it right or nearly right when he said that Hindu epics are full of violence, when I first read it some three decades back I thought it was only his obsession with non-violence that made him say it. Like I said in the beginning he got it nearly right. The great Hindu epics though seemingly full of violence are no different from Bible in this regard. I am quoting the example of Bible because I have read major parts of it and many parts of Bible appeal to me very strongly, but if Bible is read by a layman without the help of an expert it could be a big disaster similarly with Ramayana and Mahabharata. My Guru of journalism used to say if Bible is read, specially the Old Testament, without the help of an expert or a good book of commentary one could find parts of it indecent. I may add that he himself was a devout Christian.
Another aspect that one has to remember is that in Hinduism popular belief is that if God is happy with a person He will give him whatever he desires whether the person deserves the things or not. It is my belief that large parts of UP where these epics were actually played out have in their ignorance extracted events and sayings of the epics without expert guidance and in isolation of other events. For e.g. killing of his own relatives by Arjuna, well and it makes me laugh, Arjuna was most averse to doing what he did and then he was guided by the very Lord - Krishna himself. Ordinary people are not supposed to do what Arjuna did; they have no need to do it. But killing is dramatic it is fascinating to most people; it is populist so this particular aspect is extracted and the very intricate sermon by Krishna is discarded.
Every Tom, Dick or Harry in UP wants to play the violent king and people of UP so obsessed by the wrong things in the epics, love to be afraid and rally behind such dons/gangsters. We must be having thousands if not millions of these small time dons in UP. They give assurance that once you come under their benevolent shadow they will give you everything whether you deserve it or not and they will create all the loopholes you need for bypassing all the inconvenient laws. This type of thinking is absolutely at odds with modern institutions and laws. But in UP religion is supreme.
The region tolerated the British for a hundred years, suffering and saying nothing but the moment the British interfered with religion we had the so called ‘Mutiny’ of 1857! The British managed to escape being annihilated by the very skin of their teeth in this one! They were good and quick learners, they never again interfered with the religion of the ‘natives’ in a crude kind of way. They perfected the fine art of divide and rule and our politicians took on from where the British left off.
So belief in fate and too much religion and total lack of respect for laws and modern institutions is what UP is all about. Another thing that may or may not have happened is that the British had a very tough time in UP and of course Bihar, remember Mangal Pandey was from far eastern UP that is one of the most backward areas of UP. Could it be that the British deliberately allowed the recalcitrant areas in the two states to remain backward, without modern education and helpless in the hands of local war lords? Though giving eight prime ministers to the country except for Atal Bihari Vajpayee no one seems to have done anything revolutionary for the state. Did it suit the politicians in general to keep the largest state in India in poverty and poor education so that they could manipulate the voting patterns? This is what I found on the internet, I do not agree with it completely. My belief is that there is a bit of truth in it but the soil of UP was fertile for such mischievous ideas. People in UP never believed that the government is beholden to the populace in a democracy, that the government simply has to perform. They probably believed that according to the epics, it was their fate to suffer in poverty. They had their epics to run to for solace.
One may argue that it is not only the Hindus that live in UP a very large Muslim population lives in the state too. Yes that is there but my belief is that on the core issue Muslims are not much different from Hindus and unconsciously they have learnt the habits of Hindus. Both communities rose up as one when their religion was touched in 1857. A UPite is a UPite first and a Hindu or Muslim later. The belief that all rules will be kept aside in granting riches if one is in good books of God is not an alien concept in any religion so far as I know; only in UP it appears the belief is specially popular.
This does not of course mean that there are no non-violent and progressive people in UP but yes they are not mainstream. What makes matters worse is that mainstream media never shows a mirror to the majority it only shows what the majority wants to see. This was not always so but this has been the greatest tragedy, a global tragedy in the last two decades. It makes it worse for progressive ideas to be spread far and wide.
The worsening of reputation of UP in the last two decades in UP is clearly due to rise of regional parties and fanning of communal and casteist emotions. Even the most suave, educated and polished person in UP has some casteism in him, and yes I have met quite a few. Casteism permeates everything be it academic institutions, business or politics. This has been very unfortunate for UP. The institution of caste has to be shattered with a sledge hammer but with the rise of regional parties bent upon splitting society on casteist lines, we are getting away from an ideal casteless society. This again is in keeping with epics very few of which discourage a casteist society. Once caste comes into play backers of a candidate from a particular caste are ready to condone the most horrible crimes the man in question might commit leave aside the very question of asking him to perform. This is very convenient for professional politicians most of whom are there only for money.
In epics and most religious books characters are in black or white there are no shades of grey, which happens only in Hollywood; Bollywood is yet to get there fully. So likewise in UP you will find either a blood thirsty fiend or a perfect monk like holy person. This reminds me of an incident in Allahabad where the head of an ancient temple gave me his own footwear, the only pair he had and went about barefoot for days as mine had been stolen from outside the temple. I have also had the opportunity as a journalist to meet at least two people who later went on to become dreaded dons. Even policemen were dead scared of them. They were pure evil and in typical UPite don style they promised to do absolutely anything for me I just had to ask them and they would not refuse any request.
This is an ongoing research and as I meet new and more intelligent people both physically and on the internet perhaps I will be able to unravel fully the enigma that is UP.
Please feel free to comment!