New Internationalist

‘It won’t be the normal sort of wedding’

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In the aftermath of India's elections, 'there's hope for India yet'. Colin under a Creative Commons Licence

India’s election results were out on 16 May. The BJP or Bharatiya Janata Party won – a landslide victory no less. Our fate for the next five years is sealed. Since I’m firmly against this pro-corporate, pro-Hindutva (or right-wing Hindu) party, I’m not celebrating.

Instead let me talk about something that gives me hope for India. Last week, we attended a wedding. It was that of the daughter of Stan’s old friend Professor Ravivarma Kumar, the Advocate General of Karnataka. ‘It’s a sign you’re getting old, when you begin to have friends in high places,’ Stan joked.   ‘This won’t be the normal sort of wedding,’ he added, ‘the Professor is known for his simplicity.’ But as everyone may or may not know, Indian weddings by definition are big fat affairs, because if you don’t invite everyone you know they will consider themselves insulted. And probably cut you off for life.

As we entered the reception venue, we saw police everywhere. Then the penny dropped. Because of his Advocate General status, the Chief Minister and Governor would attend. So there was enhanced security, sniffer dogs, police. The simple professor was now a VIP. Our fears were soon allayed, thankfully. True, a few thousands would be fed. But that is the case for many an Indian wedding. Interestingly, and I suppose predictably, there were fewer guests flashing diamonds and dripping with gold jewellery than one would expect to see at such a function. Instead, there were the usual suspects, given Kumar’s background. Many farmers dressed in simple khadi (homespun cotton), flaunting their signature green shawls – the trademark of the Karnataka farmers’ movement. The same people who burned down the Cargill seed storage complexes in protest against Cargill’s destructive seed policy, two decades ago. There were old men, some in wheelchairs, who had fought huge battles alongside Professor Kumar since the early 1970s against repressive policies of all kinds. Village people, students and VIPs were all there in full force.

The internet told me some things about the man that I didn’t know. In 1991, after Nelson Mandela’s  release, the African National Congress invited Professor Kumar to South Africa to evolve the affirmative action policies for  incorporation in South Africa’s New Constitution. He was also invited by Amnesty International, Chile, to define the legal principles by which Heads of State who violate human rights can be prosecuted anywhere in the World. The allegations against Pinochet and Milosevic of gross human rights violations, had made necessary this international exercise to prevent recurrence.

In 2003, Ravivarma Kumar was invited by the World Farmers Organization, La Via Campensina. His task? To prepare the Charter of Farmers’ Human Rights for submission to the United Nations, on the lines of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This professor believes in practicing what he teaches. He spearheaded a rationalists’ movement against superstition, to develop a spirit of inquiry and scientific temper among Indians. When he and  a group of rationalists organized a friend’s wedding they chose an inauspicious day, a forbidden time and did everything against the book. Normal Hindu weddings are conducted only after an astrologer prescribes that the couple’s horoscope is well matched and an auspicious date and time is specified. They also had widows present to the horror of the conventional guests in attendance. All these are considered bad omens.

The professor’s daughter is called Belle. Definitely not a traditional Hindu name. Like her father, she is an advocate and apparently rejects orthodoxy and blind convention. So the groom is a forward looking Muslim called Ghoshal, a name inspired by a Sufi saint. As we watched the young couple exchange flower garlands, the equivalent of rings for a western couple, a lump came to my throat. I said a prayer for their happiness and I thought ‘there’s hope for India yet’.

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  1. #1 priya thomas 21 May 14

    Thank God for people like the professor and his family.i once knew a Ramkrishna mission priest who had a picture of Jesus in his room-and he said he believed in Jesus too-how many of us have actually even visited another religion's place of worship-truly noble-these persons could teach us all a thing or two about communal harmony and coexisting peacefully- religous hegemony is not and should not be an issue-the greater good of all is

  2. #2 Josette 21 May 14

    Indeed, Mari, there is hope with such people in leading positions! And it applies not only for India. it is needed everywhere. Let's be thankful and keep hope!

  3. #3 Ludwig Pesch 21 May 14

    Back from my mother's 85th birthday celebration, your blog makes my day (again) – when reading it, her question was still resonating in my mind: “Why is there so little of good news being reported?”

    Well, here it is, and even better: It shows that a role model like Prof. Kumar stands for more than just courage. Like his daughter, he shows that there is no reason why one should follow the path set out by anybody else even while being thoughtful.

    Describing the most important social event in any Indian's life, your piece is also a timely reminder of this: We are all gifted with a conscience and should make good use of our freedom, that is by applying it. This equally holds true for VIPs and anybody else.

    Good news as this from India rarely makes headlines. That's quite understandable because the investigative journalism that makes us read the NewInt is duty bound to scratch the surface and question the self-righteous poses of politicians or business leaders. It is much needed because of the opinions we all like to see confirmed rather than question.

    This blog is special for the real people it describes, not just representatives of any particular institution or community; here about a person coping admirably with the others' expectations in terms of status and customs. It doesn't matter whether, seen from a cultural or religious angle, these customs are meaningful or not.

    Looking forward to yet another lesson in lucid writing that sustains my interest in all things Indian!

  4. #4 Sushil 21 May 14

    Thank you Mari. This gave me so much hope in the despair I've been feeling this past week after NaMo's victory.

  5. #5 david cohen 22 May 14

    Having lived though awful elections in the US, I can relate to Mari Marcel Thekaekara's
    blog about a lovely, loving and tasteful Indian wedding as an immediate way to deal with a an outcome that spells disaster. We appropriately seek comfort in the personal, that which satisfies immediately and represents a joyous life cycle event.

    Our public work will begin soon enough. Perhaps the first lesson is that this was an
    anti-Congress vote and not a pro BJP vote. Witness the results outside of the Hindi
    speaking belt which were anti-Congress and clearly not pro-BJP

    My second take away is that the BJP, controlling 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, has no
    excuse not to perform. The job of people centered advocates is to point out whenever
    there is a rising tide that doesn't lift all boats. Will India's gross inequality of incomes be addressed? Will poverty be reduced? After all there are more people poor in INdia that there was population in India at the time of independence.

    For a useful reference see: http://psainath.org/many-waves-and-a-media-tsunami/

    David Cohen
    Washington, DC
    May 22, 2014

  6. #6 Roy Trivedy 22 May 14

    Wonderful piece of writing by Mari. Inspires hope.

  7. #7 Marie from France 25 May 14

    Thanks Mari for this interesting and hopeful article. Why dont we have more Professor Kumar in this world?...In China there is a tradition that the women who delivered a baby must not go out of the house for 1 month (not even open windows)... I told my chinese collegue who is pregnant: ’Why are you afraid to go out? Nothing will happen to you! Just try!’ Now I feel a little like professore Kumar!..

  8. #8 Betty 30 May 14

    I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe

    Dalai Lama

  9. #9 Francesco 30 May 14

    Elpis, The Spirit of Hope, the last thing that came out of Pandora's
    Box. It's what keeps the world going around, and keeps us sane and happy

    Francesco

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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