Dispatch from Uttarakhand, India
This week, India celebrates 60 years of independence. There is much to celebrate: rapid economic growth, an increasingly muscular foreign policy, expanding cultural influence, and 60 years of nearly uninterrupted democratic praxis in a part of the world long hostile to democracy. But there is also much that needs to change in India. Independence Day is an appropriate time to reflect on the greatness of a country, as well as what it must do to remain great. It is in that spirit that I file this Minority Report.
There is currently a religious festival, known as the Kanwar Mela, underway in the holy city of Haridwar in Northern India, not far from where I am based. The festival entails what the Hindustan Times characterizes as “a sea of humanity” descending on the Ganges river to collect small bottles of holy water in containers known as kanwars. Pilgrims then return to their villages and put the holy water in their local temples to honor the Hindu god Shiva.
In the same Hindustan Times article describing the festival, the author tries to summarize the pros and cons of the affair from the perspective of local residents. On the “pro” side, he notes that the influx of pilgrims has led to a boom in business for local traders. This makes sense, as do further claims, on the “con” side, about the increasing noise and congestion resulting from the sudden influx of pilgrims.
And then, suddenly, there is this surprising claim, not by a resident, but by the journalist himself: “a large number of those making kanwars are Muslims so that the Mela can be seen as an excellent example of the secular character of our society.” Now, there are many things one could say about this sentence. To start, someone coming from the American tradition of “objective” news reporting would find it difficult to understand how an editorial comment of this type could be considered “news.”