Desi: March 2008 Archives


It depresses me that there exists a strong South Asian folk belief in black magic. I’ve had family members tell me about the reputed power of “tantriks,” even suggesting that my health problems may be linked to long-distance black magic caused by hostile tantriks.

Indian rationalist/humanist movements working to combat superstitious or irrational belief systems have been growing over the past several years (e.g. the Indian Rationalist Association, Science and Rationalists’ Association of India, Indian Skeptic, as well as the umbrella Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations).

I enjoyed reading about Indian skeptic Sanal Edamaruku taking on a tantrik on live TV. The challenge? “Pandit” Surinder Sharma, a high-profile tantrik, was asked to magically “destroy” Sanal on TV. Sharma apparently believed in his own powers; he made a fool of himself on TV, chanting mantras, engaging in complicated “magic” practices, utterly failing to harm his intended victim. The distressed pandit complained that the atheist Sanal must be secretly worshipping a powerful god, and suggesting that he could try using stronger magic at night. The TV station dutifully fulfilled his wishes by offering a nighttime rematch, where he failed again.

Read the whole story about the great Tantra challenge…

(via Sepia Mutiny News)

I’m reading the Sarai Reader 05 which contains a fascinating paper on the legal status of the Ahmadiyya religious community in Pakistan, and how that may have been impacted by notions of intellectual property law.

The Ahmadiyyas are a small Muslim sect who believe that a man named Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was the Islamic messiah; most Muslims reject Ahmad, so the relationship of the Ahmadiyyas to mainstream Muslims is similar to that of Mormons and mainstream Protestant Christians. Pakistani Anti-Ahmadiyya legislation prevents them from using Muslim titles, building mosques, citing the Koran, etc. (I first learned of the community through my friend Naeem’s film Muslims or Heretics, which deals with anti-Ahmadi sentiment in Pakistan and Bangladesh.)

In her paper “Trespasses of the State: Ministering to Theological Dilemmas through the Copyright/Trademark” (PDF), Johns Hopkins anthropology professor Naveeda Khan shows how courts evaluating anti-Ahmadi legislation in Pakistan were influenced by notions of copyright and trademark, as they debated how best to protect mainline Islam from what they interpreted as brand piracy:

“It may appear that in calling for a legal structure analogous to copyright or trademark laws for the protection of shia’ir-e-Allah, the Supreme Court is simply actualising a potential for the use of the copyright/trademark against Ahmadis long simmering in earlier judgments. However, this Court does something slightly but significantly different. In harnessing the language of copyright/trademark to the Ahmadi question, the Court is making much more apparent that the intent of these transgressions, that is, the unlicenced use of titles, texts, modes and spaces of worship, is that of wilful deception…Neither Muslims nor the Islamic state is affectively constituted and legally armed to provide the necessary aura of protection around such objects, such that non-Muslims may recoil from using them. The judgment, in effect, calls for a feedback loop similar to copyright/trademark law, for only then will Muslims, in general, and the Islamic state, in particular, treat shia’ir-e-Allah in the appropriate manner so as to make unthinkable its improper appropriation and use.”


Anirvan Chatterjee is a San Francisco Bay Area tech geek and bibliophile.


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This page is a archive of entries in the Desi category from March 2008.

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