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Religious Tensions in behind the beautiful forevers

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Cameron Niemann

on 2 September 2014

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Transcript of Religious Tensions in behind the beautiful forevers

Religious Tensions in
behind the beautiful forevers

Tensions in the Novel
One major issue in
behind the beautiful forevers
is the religious tensions between Muslims and Hindus. Because India is supposed to be a secular state, both Hindus and Muslims should be seen as equal before the and law and should be treated equally, no matter their religion. However, this novel demonstrates that the principles of secularism are weakening in India.
Comparison to the Novel
"But Zehrunisa distrusted Asha as much as Asha distrusted her. Asha was Shiv Sena, anti-Muslim, like many of the officers in the station" (92).

This statement in the novel directly shows that Muslims are misrepresented in federal positions. Shiv Sena is another Hindu nationalist group, that along with the BJP is working to abolish the secular state in India. Since Zehrunisa is Muslim, it makes sense that Asha would not trust her, solely because Asha is Hindu.
behind the beautiful forevers
is a nonfiction novel about a rural village in Mumbai, called Annawadi. The book focuses on the Muslim Husain family, specifically on their teenaged son, Abdul. Abdul is notorious for rummaging through garbage and selling his finds for money. This book also focuses on the life of Asha, a Hindu teacher and aspiring "slum lord" of Annawadi. One central issue in the book is the death of Fatima. Known as the "One leg" because she only has one leg, she sets herself on fire, and before she dies, blames Abdul for her suicide. The reader never finds out whether or not Abdul is sentenced to prison, for the book ends.
Overview of India
Today, India is one of the largest countries in the world, in terms of people. While India does have over one billion people, a strong military, and nuclear weapons, the country is struggles in terms of its transition from a developing country, to a developed country. Many people still suffer in severe poverty, living without access to clean water, food, and shelter. One major aspect to Indian culture is the importance of religion. India, when it was granted its independence from the British, was established as a secular society. In a secular society, religion is completely separate from the government. All religions are looked at as equal, specifically before the law. However, this policy has been challenged because of the tensions between Hindus and Muslims.
Religious Issues in India
What is the Going on Between Hindus and Muslims?
The BJP is passionate and aggressive enough about their belief that the only way to maintain a strong Indian identity is by fostering a strong Hindu identity, that they have resulted to violence against Muslims. Muslims are not necessarily the "good guys" in these tensions, however. They too have resulted to violence; the issues revolve around how the government responds to the violence. For example, in 2002 a group of angry Muslims burned a train carrying Hindus. 58 people were killed, but the Hindu's responded by killing over 2,000 Muslims. "Indian investigators found that the massacres were Hindu nationalist groups methodically targeting Muslim homes and shops," yet both local and national police forces did not respond or do anything in response (Lal).
Hindu vs. Muslim
The two major religions practiced in India today are Hinduism and Islam.
Developed vs. Non-developed India
Developed India (Taj Mahal)
Non-developed India (Annawadi)
worship many gods and goddesses that all come from Atman in a temple, by meditating, doing yoga, and traditional worship. Hindus follow the Dharma shastras religious laws. Hindus do not believe in angels, and in order to obtain salvation, one must reach enlightenment via the Path of Knowledge, Devotion, or Good Deeds.
worship Allah, by attending Mosque, praying five times per day, fasting during certain holidays, doing charity work for the poor, and making pilgrimage. Muslims follow the Sharia law, and angels are a part of Islam. To reach salvation, Muslims must believe only in Allah, repent for their sins/
In India, the commitment to maintaining a secular society has been a very important aspect to politics. However, recent issues with passionate Hindu nationalists has caused the principles of secularism to weaken. The Hindu nationalists formed the Bharatiya Janata Party, or the BJP. The BJP has been leading India's coalition government for the past years, and members of this party believe that the secular state must be destroyed. Their reasoning? They believe that secularism gives Muslims too much power. Also, because Hinduism is practiced by 85% of India, it has been very difficult for Muslims to be elected into governmental positions. Because of this, the government is primarily Hindu, which directly allows for Muslims to be treated unequally.
Comparison to the Novel
"She smiled. 'What the One Leg should do is tell the police, 'I was born Hindu and these Muslims taunted me and set me on fire because I'm Hindu.' Then these guys would be inside the prison forever'" (Boo 98).

This quote from the novel also agrees with the religious tensions between Muslims and Hindus. Because Boo claims that if Fatima said she was Hindu, and that Muslims were taunting her which caused her to set herself on fire, then the Muslims would get arrested just because the police have no principles of equality towards Muslims. This directly correlates with the Hindu incident in 2002, where Muslims were killed, but because the Hindus were the ones doing the killing, the police didn't intervene. This example from the text shows that the police are partial towards Hindus, and treat Muslims significantly worse.
Comparison to the Novel
"'Asha should take the One Leg to the hospital,' someone said. 'She's Shiv Sena. The police won't fuck with her.'" (97)

This also shows that the police are very unequal towards the Muslims, and shows that Hindus are treated better. In context, Fatima, because she is Muslim, could not receive a ride from the ambulance. So, the villagers suggest that Asha take her because she is Hindu, and the police will not ask questions about what is going on.
Comparison to the Novel
"Though Karam and Zehrunisa occasionally spoke in whispers of the city's 1992-1993 Hindu-Muslim riots and the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in the bordering state of Gujarat, they raised their children on a diet of patriotic songs about India, where tolerant citizens of a thousand ethnicities, faiths, languages, and castes all got along.
Better than the entire world is our Hindustan
We are its nightingales, and it our garden abode" (Boo 32)
This passage from the novel directly references to the 2002 riots mentioned earlier, which shows the validity and thorough research done by Katherine Boo. This passage also shows that India is supposed to be a secular state, especially when the patriotic song is mentioned at the end. It shows that India is supposed to be united as one, regardless of religion. However, this quote points out that most people in India are not actually following the national songs, and are not tolerant of all citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, language, etc.
Comparison to the Novel
"There were too many people in Mumbai for everyone to have a job, so why wouldn't Kunbi-caste Hindus from Maharashtra, instead of hiring a Muslim of garbage-related provenance? But Mirchi said that everyone was mixing up nowadays, that old prejudices were losing strength, and that Abdul just couldn't see it, spending his days with his head in teh trash pile" (14).
This passage shows that Muslims are treated unequally in the workforce, as they would not be hired because that would mean that some Hindu people would not be employed. This agrees with research that the secular state of India is weakening as Hindus are assuming more power.
Comparison to the Novel
"Most of the other boys in his barrack were Muslim-- across India, Muslims were overrepresented in the criminal justice system-- and when they sat on the floor to eat, they laughed about the terrible food" (Boo 127).

This passage states that Muslims are overrepresented in the jails, and the reason for this is not because Hindus are not committing crimes, but it is because Hindus are not being arrested for the crimes they do commit. This is proven by the 2002 incident where Hindus killed over 2,000 Muslims. Even though it was investigated that the Hindus were directly targeting Muslims because of their religion, police did not arrest any Hindu. This also supports the fact that the secular state of India is declining and becoming less secular. Because the police are not prosecuting Hindus for their actions but are obviously prosecuting Muslims, it shows that Hinduism is seen as superior to Islam.

The religious tensions presented in
behind the beautiful forevers
are valid. Because certain events in the novel directly correlate or mimic actual events that occurred in India, we know Katherine Boo's statements are true. Research from scholarly databases and organizations clearly pointed out the decline of India's secular state, and this novel indirectly focused highly on the decline of secularism and the rise of inequality among different religions, specifically Hindu and Muslim. Through research, the Hindu-Muslim divide presented in
behind the beautiful forevers
is proven to be correct.
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