Manil Suri

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Celebrating the Indian Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a colonial-era ban on gay sex, in Mumbai. Credit Indranil Mukherjee/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In a landmark ruling this week, the Indian Supreme Court didn’t simply strike down Section 377, the odious British-introduced law criminalizing homosexual acts — it did so in a judgment of remarkable scope and eloquence.

The judgment opens with a quote from Goethe: “I am what I am, so take me as I am.” It relies on knowledge from psychology and science to support its reasoning, even giving a nod to rainbow symbolism (“different hues and colours together make the painting of humanity beautiful”). Most of all, it is a heartfelt discourse from the justices to their nation on the importance of human rights and diversity, an invitation to move “from bigotry to tolerance,” to serve “as the herald of a new India.”…  Seguir leyendo »

Who Invented Zero

Carbon dating of an ancient Indian document, the Bakhshali manuscript, has recently placed the first written occurrence of the number zero in the third or fourth century A.D., about 500 years earlier than previously believed. While the news has no practical bearing on the infrastructure of zeros (and ones) underlying our high-tech civilization, it does remind us how indebted we are for this invention. But to whom is this debt owed? And how should it be repaid?

Chauvinistic politicians might loudly trumpet India’s role (as they have, more controversially, in the case of the Pythagorean theorem), but the history of zero remains unsettled enough to still be the subject of continuing quests.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Segregation of India

Each time I visit Mumbai, I make a pilgrimage to an old five-story building with crumbling balconies on Nepean Sea Road. It’s where I lived during the ’60s and ’70s — the first two decades of my life. I went back a few weeks ago. Standing outside, I thought about the diverse, cosmopolitan city I knew, and how it has changed.

We lived in a single room. Our flat was shared by four families: We were Hindu, the other three Muslim. Our landlord, who lived in the room next to ours, had a kitchen in common with us; down the hall were two communal toilets.…  Seguir leyendo »

In America, many state governments have tried to curb abortion by placing severe restrictions on providers and clinics, purportedly for women’s protection, despite opposition from the American Medical Association and other groups. If the limits are allowed to stand, self-induced abortions are expected to rise, leading to an escalation of health dangers to women, particularly those who can’t afford to travel for help.

In India, a curious inversion of this story is playing out: The government is trying to reduce the qualifications required of providers so that poor women will have easier access to abortions, while doctors are the ones opposing this relaxation of rules.…  Seguir leyendo »

India and the Politics of Yoga

Attention, downward-facing-dog enthusiasts. The International Day of Yoga is coming on Sunday. A brainchild of Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, it is being backed by more than 175 countries and heavily promoted worldwide. Last week, the Indian Embassy in Washington emailed me an invitation to celebrate on the National Mall, complete with a downloadable yoga “protocol” of exercises. Even Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, has been seen, shoeless, practicing his tree pose in Delhi.

The plans for India are even more ambitious. Multitudes of primary, secondary and college students have been summoned to perform the yoga protocol on Sunday at 7 a.m.,…  Seguir leyendo »

The sacredness of cows in India might be a cliché, but it is deeply felt, rooted in the history of Hinduism. In Mumbai, one often encounters women selling grass to feed the cow they have in tow — for a few rupees, the donation affords not only a blessing, but also a chance to feel connected to the country’s farmland roots. The cow is divinely associated with Krishna, the cowherd, and considered a mother figure because of the milk it gives. One doesn’t go into an Indian branch of McDonald’s expecting to order a Big Mac.

And yet, beef has long been available at various Mumbai restaurants — from the burger at the iconic Leopold Cafe to the marrowbone curry popular at eateries in Muslim neighborhoods.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Indian Supreme Court’s egregious judgment reinstating a 19th-century law criminalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults has drawn well-deserved condemnation from international bodies such as the United Nations and even leaders of India’s national governing party. The ruling does, however, offer valuable insights into the fallacious beliefs the court used in its reasoning. These beliefs are harbored by India’s deeply conservative society, whose cultural liberalization has been far outpaced by its economic progress, and would need to be addressed to realize true change, regardless of whether same-sex acts are eventually legalized.

The Dec. 11 ruling overturned a lower-court decision in 2009 that the colonial-era law criminalizing gay sex was unconstitutional.…  Seguir leyendo »