The Hindu

Air India goes veggie; The New York Times and India's The Hindu play it way, way differently

Air India goes veggie; The New York Times and India's The Hindu play it way, way differently

Sometimes a story grabs my interest simply because of its timing. That’s the case this week with a New York Times piece out of India that I came across just a day prior to flying back to the United States following several weeks in Israel and Greece. It's about an Air India decision to serve vegetarian meals only to coach passengers on all its domestic flights.

So what's this beef all about? (Bad pun, I know. I promise I'll make up for it below.)

Try humanity’s Achilles’ heel, the often toxic mix of religious identity mixed with politics -- either real or imagined -- that accounts for so much of what we think of as religion news. This story ties together some powerful symbols.

About to endure two more coach flights from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Washington, D.C. -- the last of six international flights booked for this trip abroad -- this story felt as if it was written just for me.

Perhaps that's also because I always order the Hindu vegetarian meal on international flights no matter the airline. I’ll say more about why, further down.

Here’s the top of the Times piece.

NEW DELHI -- Coming from some other debt-ridden airline, it might have been shrugged off as just another service cutback. But not this time: When Air India announced on Monday that coach passengers on its domestic flights would now be offered only vegetarian meals, the move provoked an uproar on social media.
G. P. Rao, a spokesman for the government-owned airline, said the change was made a week ago strictly to reduce waste and cut costs. But what people eat can be a sectarian flash point in India, especially since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took power.
Many members of the Hindu majority are vegetarians, while the country’s Muslims and some other minorities eat meat. So the airline’s action was seen by many as discriminatory and part of a wave of religious nationalism sweeping the country.
“Only veg food on Air India,” Madhu Menon, a Bangalore-based chef and food writer, wrote on Twitter. “Next, flight attendants to speak only Hindi. After that, stand for national anthem before flight take-off.”

The story next offered a defense of Air India’s scheme (in Indian English, “scheme” loses its negative connotation; it's used as Americans might use “plan” or “proposal”).

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A movie god for sure: Journalists stumble to explain an Indian star's spiritual appeal

A movie god for sure: Journalists stumble to explain an Indian star's spiritual appeal

Ah, you tame Americans, with your talk about "idols" and "hero worship."  Until you know something of the frenzy around Indian movie star Rajinikanth, you ain't seen nothin'.

Stories abound about the action hero, who has just turned out his first film in two years. But few western news media have captured the fevered fervor like the Washington PostAnd it does so right from the start, with the headline: "India’s biggest action-movie star isn’t just an actor. ‘He is god.’ "

The religion ghosts are dancing right out in the open, in this report. Why didn't the Post team ask specific questions about that? We will return to that subject.

Meanwhile, one fan speaks of an "unmatchable energy" in a theater during a showing. Another compares viewing a Rajinikanth film with seeing his wife's baby for the first time. And in India, some companies are treating the release of one of his films like a religious holiday:

In Chennai, some companies gave employees the day off Friday so they could go see "Kabali," Rajinikanth’s first film in two years. Others had booked entire cinemas for their staff. Air Asia flew 180 fans to the city for the first-day showing in a plane ­custom-painted with the star’s likeness. One county was giving away free tickets to people who pledged to install an indoor ­toilet, taking advantage of the movie’s popularity to address the issue of widespread public defecation.
"Rajinikanth is not a human being. He is not an actor. He is [a] god," said S. Thanu, the producer of "Kabali."

And no, the producer isn’t the only one who talks like that.

Indiaglitz calls him a "demigod." 

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Memories of Mother Teresa and a religious-freedom story worth watching in India

Memories of Mother Teresa and a religious-freedom story worth watching in India

One of the highlights of my journalism career came in 1982 in Bombay (now Mumbai) where I had the opportunity to conduct a news conference for Mother Teresa, the late Nobel Peace Prize-winning nun and current candidate for Roman Catholic sainthood. The occasion was a conference staged by the International Transpersonal Association. My wife, Ruth, and I handled the press and Mother Teresa was one of the star presenters, hence the news conference opportunity.

Her talk and media comments were boilerplate Mother Teresa. Love the unloved, love the unwanted, love the dying; love, love, love until you think you have no more love to give -- then force yourself to love even more, for that is the way of God.

The diminutive, stoop-shouldered nun repeated some variation of that formula endlessly, in her talk and in response to every question asked at her news conference, and I, for one, was impressed. So it came of something of a shock to me years later when she famously admitted -- despite her popular image of saintly devotion to the poorest of the poor and the global public's assumption that her faith gave her the strength to persevere -- that she suffered for years from a spiritual dryness that distanced her from feeling connected to her God.

I'm sure that long ago news conference was just another day on the job for Mother Teresa. For me, though, it was a day to remember.

Mother Teresa, however, was a controversial personality, despite all the charitable work done by her and the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity.

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Missing elements in NYTimes marital rape report from India

Marriage was a hot topic this week in the Indian press following rulings by two Delhi Courts. The High Court held that apostasy was automatic grounds for granting a divorce under the country’s Muslim Marriage Act, while the Court of Additional Sessions in Delhi ruled that there was no such thing as “marital rape” under Indian civil law and the Hindu Marriage Act. Religion — in this case the intersection of Hinduism and Islam — played a prominent role in the reporting of the first story. But it was absent from overseas reports on the second. The Hindu reported that a Muslim wife who quits her faith for another may be granted an automatic divorce from her Muslim husband.

A Division Bench of the High Court, rejecting an appeal of one Munavvar-ul-Islam against a decree of a family court in Saket, has held that dissolution of his marriage with Rishu Arora, who first converted to Islam but later reconverted to her original religion, was valid under the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939.

“It is an admitted fact that the respondent (Rishu) was initially professing Hinduism and had embraced Islam prior to the marriage, and then reconverted to Hinduism. … The trial court was right in specifying that the marriage stands dissolved from the date on which the respondent apostatised from Islam,” stated the Bench, comprising Justice S. Ravindra Bhat and Justice Najmi Waziri, in its 30-page verdict delivered on Friday.

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No sex please, we're Indian

Pre-marital sex is “immoral” and against the “tenets of every religion”, a Delhi court has said while holding that every act of sexual intercourse between two adults on the promise of marriage does not become rape. Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat also held that a woman, especially grown up, educated and office-going, who has sexual intercourse on the assurance of marriage does so “at her own peril”. According to The Times of India, Judge Bhat, who presides over a court set up last year in response to the nationally publicized gang rape and murder wrote:

When a grown up woman subjects herself to sexual intercourse with a friend or colleague on the latter’s promise that he would marry her, she does so at her own peril. She must be taken to understand the consequences of her act and must know that there is no guarantee that the boy would fulfil his promise. He may or may not do so. She must understand that she is engaging in an act which not only is immoral but also against the tenets of every religion. No religion in the world allows pre-marital sex.

The BBC picked up this story as well. It added this explanation for Western audiences in its story “Indian judge says pre-marital sex ‘against religion’”:

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Time takes sides in India's sex wars

Time magazine reports India’s Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the nation’s colonial era “sodomy laws”, ruling there is no “right” under the constitution to same-sex carnal relations. The court ruled that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code could be repealed but only by the legislature not judicial fiat.

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