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Act against Samjhauta, Malegaon attackers: Ghulam Nabi Azad to govt

He said there would be no one in the House who would be against the hanging of those who had attacked the Parliament.

Asserting that every terrorist, be it a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian, should face the gallows, Opposition Leader in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad warned the government against being “selective” and sought action in Samjhauta and Malegaon blast cases. He said the government should refrain from going “slow” in some cases and going fast in others. Azad was replying to a point on terrorism raised by the Leader of Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley during a debate on the Constitution in which the latter had said one should not be seen as soft on terror and the country should speak in one voice.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>He said there would be no one in the House who would be against the hanging of those who had attacked the Parliament. “I will say, if someone is left behind, he should also be hanged,” he said. Recalling his days as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress leader said he had strongly taken on terrorism from within and those coming from across the border and said he believed that anyone who comes and attacks people with a gun, his body should be sent back.To this, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad thumped the bench along with others and said, “We appreciate you for this”.Quickly grabbing the opportunity, Azad said, “I will appreciate when action is taken against the Samjhauta terrorists, Malegaon, Hyderabad” and others.When Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral made a comment in between, Azad hit back saying that the Punjab-based party leaders had attended the last rites of militants, while he had attended the last rites of the victims of militancy. nother Akali leader raised the issue of the 1984 riots, to which Azad said law is taking its course.

Assam Guv PB Acharya stokes controversy with alleged ‘divisive’ remarks

“Hindustan is for Hindus. There is nothing wrong with that. Hindus from different countries can stay here. They cannot be outsiders,” the Governor was quoted as saying by media.

Acharaya today said that what he meant was that all Indian-origin people, including Muslims, persecuted in any foreign lands were welcome in the country.

Image Courtesy: Twitter (ANI)
Assam Governor P B Acharya has stoked a controversy after he reportedly said that “Hindustan is for Hindus”, drawing sharp criticism from Congress which alleged that it was reflective of the divisive ideology of RSS and BJP which has led to incidents like Dadri lynching. Acharya’s attempt today to clarify the alleged remarks he made yesterday at a book launch function further stirred the row after he said that “Muslims in India are free to go anywhere”.”Hindustan is for Hindus. There is nothing wrong with that. Hindus from different countries can stay here. They cannot be outsiders,” the Governor was quoted as saying by media.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>As his reported remarks came under fire, Acharaya today said that what he meant was that all Indian-origin people, including Muslims, persecuted in any foreign lands were welcome in the country. “We should keep in our mind, only because a person is persecuted because of his religion in any country, if Indian Christian is persecuted in Pakistan, he has to come to India. Where else will he go? Indian Christian, Indian Buddhist, Indian Jain, Indian Hindu. “If a European Christian is persecuted or a European Hindu…if he is persecuted in Belgium, he cannot come to India…”Indian Muslims are free to go anywhere. They can stay here if they want to stay here, many have gone to Pakistan. If they want to go to Pakistan, Bangladesh, they are free to. If they are persecuted there, Taslima Nasreen (author) was persecuted there, she came here. If they come we’ll give them shelter. India is big-hearted,” he said.Congress today termed Acharya’s remarks as “unfortunate and shocking” as they came from a person holding a “constitutional post”. “It is clearly indicative of the way RSS and BJP functionaries think and continue to think even when they are in a constitutional post. Bondage or umbilical cords with parent remote organisations, be it RSS and BJP should be severed when you assume a Constitutional post,” he said. Singhvi said that the same ideology and philosophy has led to a culture of absolute divisiveness, intolerance, mutual enmity, trust deficit in the last 18 months and incidents like Dadri. “You have been hearing from MPs, MLAs, ministers and now from Governor,” he said.

Stephen’s constitution amendment: Teachers slam principal Thampu’s proposal

College principal Valson Thampu, who is retiring in February next year, has circulated a draft amendment to select college teachers in which he has proposed that the principal be empowered to take disciplinary action against students or staff irrespective of the GB’s opinion

Valson Thampu

Teachers have slammed a proposal by St Stephen’s principal Valson Thampu for amending the college’s 102-year-old constitution even as a meeting of the Governing Body (GB) during which the draft was to be tabled was postponed on Friday.College principal Valson Thampu, who is retiring in February next year, has circulated a draft amendment to select college teachers in which he has proposed that the principal be empowered to take disciplinary action against students or staff irrespective of the GB’s opinion. He has also called for giving a major say to the Church of North India (CNI) in the functioning of the college. “The draft was supposed to be placed before the GB in a meeting scheduled on November 23, but that meeting was today postponed,” a senior college official said told PTI although he did not elaborate on the reason behind the postponement.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Meanwhile, teachers at the college claimed that the draft was prepared without consulting them and is not only going to pave the way for “dictatorial” functioning but would also make the institution inaccessible for “non-Christian” students and faculty. Thampu, however, claimed that it is the Supreme Council’s decision to amend the constitution and there is no violation of procedures or law in the same.”Whatever has been proposed is very much within the ambit of the law. I can challenge anyone to find any legal or procedural loophole in the same,” he said. Nandita Narain, mathematics professor at college, said, “This attempt by Thampu at the tail-end of his tenure is aimed at eliminating any kind of democratic set up in college. From admissions to appointments, the elected bodies will have no say in it and, on top of it, the principal will be the sole disciplinary action-taking authority.”Another teacher, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed that “the principal has to be Christian, faculty appointments have to be in favour of Christians, activities will be conducted to promote the religion”.”If the draft is approved, the college will become practically inaccessible for non-Christian students and faculty,” the teacher added. The draft says that admission of students and appointment of faculty be handed over to the college’s Supreme Council (SC), which consists of six members of the CNI. The amendment also proposes to replace St Stephen’s College Trust, which currently runs the college, with a proposed St Stephen’s Educational Society, which will have the power to establish Stephen’s-like private institutions across India.As per the draft, the GB will have to “control the policy, development and direction of the institution and administer the finances and control the income and expenditure of the institution”. It has also been proposed that the minimum teaching experience needed for a candidate to apply for the post of principal be removed.Thampu has also sought increased powers for the principal and the Supreme Council while proposing that the number of teacher representatives in the GB be cut down by half. Earlier, 15 years’ teaching experience along with a Ph.D in the relevant subject was the criteria for selection of the college principal. But, according to the draft, an applicant needs to be a “senior teacher of repute”, an Indian national and a member of the Church of North India.If the draft constitution is approved, the principal shall also have the power to decide “which staff members shall reside in the institution’s staff quarters” and also recommend increments. Making the GB “toothless”, the draft has also proposed that power be granted to CNI to “veto, over-rule, supersede, amend, modify, and/or suspend any decision taken by the Governing Body.”

Hindu woman, Christian man’s marriage not valid if either does not convert: Madras HC

The woman, who was produced in court by police after the petition was filed, told the judges that she had got married in a temple at Palani, to which they asked how the marriage was valid as per Hindu law if the man did not convert

Marriage between a Hindu woman and a Christian man is not legally valid if either of them does not convert, the Madras High Court said on Thursday.Dismissing a Habeas Corpus petition filed by the woman’s parents, justices P R Shivakumar and V S Ravi said if the couple wanted to solemnise the marriage as per Hindu custom, the man should have converted to Hinduism or she should have converted to Christianity if she wanted to do so as per Christian custom. In the alternative, their marriage should have been registered under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, if they preferred to follow their religions without conversion.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The woman, who was produced in court by police after the petition was filed, told the judges that she had got married in a temple at Palani, to which they asked how the marriage was valid as per Hindu law if the man did not convert. The woman, however, remained steadfast in her decision to go with him, which they did as she was a major.”As she is a major she can go anywhere she likes, though they had not married as per law,” the bench here said. The judges said that the girl became a major on May 29 and she was free to go to any place at her will. As per law, she did not need care and protection.

Why do Naxals never attack churches in Chhattisgarh, asks RSS leader Indresh Kumar

“Naxals have never targeted churches and priests just because they serve them or is there some other reason?” he asked.

Indresh Kumar of RSS

Calling churches and Christians to play an “active role” in eradicating Left wing extremism, senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar on Monday wondered why Naxals have ‘never targeted’ the minority community in Chhattisgarh.”Development can be achieved (only) through peace and brotherhood and not through violence. I have raised a few questions keeping in view Chhattisgarh which has been suffering from the menace of Naxalism with a high degree.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”Naxals have never targeted churches and priests just because they serve them or is there some other reason?” he asked, while interacting with reporters on the sidelines of a programme organised by Forum for Awareness of National Security (FANS) here, to discuss Left wing insurgency prevailing in south Chhattisgarh.Stating that he was putting “a few questions” before the Christian community and others working in Bastar region, the RSS leader said arms and huge sums of foreign money have been supplied to Naxals.”…People from media, society and government provide information regarding illegal activities being carried out in the region. Have churches ever tipped off media or government about such kind of violent and illegal activities in the region?” he asked.However, Indresh clarified that he was not questionning integrity of churches.”My intention is not to criticise churches. I know they are committed to India and their people believe in serving the nation, but I want their active role in eradicating Naxalism, therefore I have put forth these issues.”They should decide whether Naxal movement has brought life or death to the region, educated people or snatched away literacy from them, ensured better health or ruined health facilities, triggered development or stalled growth,” he said.Indresh also appealed to the ultras to quit the path of violence and contribute in building a new Chhattisgarh.”The movement of fear should get transformed into a movement for development. It should become a movement for humanity rather than a movement of violence,” Indresh added.

Why Naxals never attack churches in Chhattisgarh, asks RSS leader

Stating that he was putting “a few questions” before the Christian community and others working in Bastar region, RSS leader Indresh Kumar said arms and huge sums of foreign money have been supplied to Naxals.
Representational Image
dna Research & Archives
Calling churches and Christians to play an “active role” in eradicating Left wing extremism, senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar on Sunday wondered why Naxals have “never targeted” the minority community in Chhattisgarh.”Development can be achieved (only) through peace and brotherhood and not through violence. I have raised a few questions keeping in view Chhattisgarh which has been suffering from the menace of Naxalism with a high degree. Naxals have never targeted churches and priests just because they serve them or is there some other reason?” he asked, while interacting with reporters on the sidelines of a programme organised by Forum for Awareness of National Security (FANS) here, to discuss Left wing insurgency prevailing in south Chhattisgarh.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Stating that he was putting “a few questions” before the Christian community and others working in Bastar region, the RSS leader said arms and huge sums of foreign money have been supplied to Naxals.”…People from media, society and government provide information regarding illegal activities being carried out in the region. Have churches ever tipped off media or government about such kind of violent and illegal activities in the region?” he asked.However, Indresh clarified that he was not questioning integrity of churches.”My intention is not to criticise churches. I know they are committed to India and their people believe in serving the nation, but I want their active role in eradicating Naxalism, therefore I have put forth these issues. They should decide whether Naxal movement has brought life or death to the region, educated people or snatched away literacy from them, ensured better health or ruined health facilities, triggered development or stalled growth,” he said.Indresh also appealed to the ultras to quit the path of violence and contribute in building a new Chhattisgarh.”The movement of fear should get transformed into a movement for development. It should become a movement for humanity rather than a movement of violence,” Indresh added.

Karnataka: VHP leader dies, several injured in protests over Tipu Sultan birth anniversary celebrations

A youth was also injured in firing by some unidentified persons near here, police said, adding that prohibitory orders have been clamped in the entire Kodagu district and additional reinforcements sent to the area to bring the situation under control.

Image Courtesy: ANI

A local VHP leader died and several others, including policemen, were injured as violence erupted over the holding of the birth anniversary celebrations of 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan.A youth was also injured in firing by some unidentified persons near here, police said, adding that prohibitory orders have been clamped in the entire Kodagu district and additional reinforcements sent to the area to bring the situation under control.Police used tear gas shells and resorted to lathicharge as hundreds of people gathered here and clashes erupted between the opponents and supporters of the celebrations.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>According to police, one Kuttappa, a VHP leader and a former state government employee, suffered head injuries in stone throwing and died on the spot.The violence flared up even as statewide celebrations are being held by the government for the first time to commemorate the birth anniversary of Tipu which, however, is being boycotted by BJP amidst opposition by several outfits who see him as a “religious bigot”.Some outfits in Kodagu district had called for a bandh to protest against the government’s decision.Meanwhile, Home Minister G Parameshwara said additional reinforcements were being rushed to Madikeri from Chamarajanagar and Mysuru districts and appealed to people to maintain peace.BJP has announced a “total boycott” of the celebrations, saying that no public representative from their party at any level would participate in the official function.Further, the party’s state unit chief Prahlad Joshi said that Tipu was a “fanatic” and “anti-Kannada”.Several organisations and individuals, too, have opposed the state government’s move to celebrate ‘Tipu Sultan Jayanti’ on November 10.Tipu was a ruler of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore and considered an implacable enemy of the British East India Company. He was killed in May, 1799, while defending his fort of Srirangapatna against British forces.Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has defended the government’s decision to commemorate his birth anniversary even as he slammed RSS and “other communal forces” for opposing it.Mangaluru United Christian Association, too, has protested against the celebrations, alleging that Tipu was responsible for the destruction of many churches in the coastal region and also that Christians were harassed under his rule

Kerala civic body elections: this time, it does feel different with BJP in the box with Cong & LDF

Local body elections in Kerala are due on 2 November, and as I write this, campaigning is in full swing. Even though we have had a damp month or two – normally, after Onam, there is bright sunshine, but this year September and October have been rainy – there is a lot of energy on the streets. Every corner, it seems, hosts a small election meeting when I drive home after work, and you have loud, earnest-looking men (and a few women) proclaiming loudly that their party is the one you must vote for.

Kerala is obviously highly politicised and highly polarised. In years past, it has generally alternated between the Congress and the Marxists in the Assembly elections (which are due shortly), and it votes contrary to national trends. But the next Assembly election might be a watershed, and the local body elections will give the best predictions — this is truly a semi-final, and therefore observers are keenly watching what happens.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor. PTICongress leader Shashi Tharoor. PTI

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor. PTI

Shashi Tharoor, MP, who has been busy campaigning for Congress candidates in Thiruvananthapuram and vicinity, feels his party is going to win in a landslide. He thinks that the BJP will be a damp squib.

Of course, Tharoor is a good observer of the political scene and has his ear to the ground. He may well be right. But the key is in his observation about the BJP. For, after having been an also-ran, and never having won a single seat in the Kerala Assembly ever, the BJP is now on the verge of becoming a force to reckon with in Kerala. They cannot be written off any more.

When the dust settles, it may remain a duopoly between the Congress’ UDF and the Marxists’ LDF, and these two parties may well remain the ones in power. But the fact is that the BJP is making both of them rethink the electoral calculus. And the BJP may or may not be satisfied with being the swing bloc that decides which of these two alliances forms the next government. They may ask for their pound of flesh.

Despite much talk about the political maturity of the Kerala voter, my sense is that the place remains mired in considerations of religion and jati. It is quite possibly the most communal part of the country, but people are clever enough to hide it in conversations, especially with observers. Covert communalism, on the other hand, is widespread.

It is a peculiar setup, where, according to the 2011 Census, 54 percent are Hindus, 27 percent Muslims, and 18 percent Christians, although the reality is that a lot of the Hindus are Communists, and there is over-counting of Hindus due to large-scale conversions, so the actual Hindu vote is lower. Among the Hindus, there are several groups: Ezhava (OBC) 20 percent, Nair (FC) 13 percent, Pulaya (SC) 2 percent, and so forth.

Almost all these groups tend to vote in blocs. Thus the Congress has traditional voters concentrated among Christians and Nairs; the Muslim League, Muslims; and the Marxist vote has been dominated by Ezhavas. This pattern has been stable for a long time and may account for the razor-thin margins by which candidates win.

There are also regional imbalances. Northern Kerala (Malabar) is dominated by Muslims; Central Kerala by Christians, and Southern Kerala by Hindus in terms of numbers and influence.

This stable equilibrium has been disrupted by two things this year: a Hindu consolidation contemporaneous with the arrival of Narendra Modi on the national stage and the estrangement of the Ezhavas from the Marxists.

There has traditionally been bad blood between the numerically dominant Hindu groups, the Ezhavas and the Nairs – and they generally have not voted for or with each other. The result has been that a consolidated Hindu vote never emerged, whereas there are dependable Christian and Muslim votebanks.

This year, two things happened: the BJP’s Kerala cadres are working towards a united Hindu vote. In fact, most of their collateral seemed to have a triumvirate of 19th century leaders, thus symbolising a pan-Hindu movement. From the Ezhavas, Sree Narayana Guru; from the Nairs, Chattampi Swamikal, and from the Pulayas, Ayyankali. It is widely believed that such a positioning will bear fruit for the BJP.

The Ezhava organisation, Sree Narayana Darma Paripalana Yogam, has been in the forefront of this consolidation, with its leader Vellappally Natesan hobnobbing with the BJP. This will hurt the Marxists and there is a non-trivial possibility they will be routed.

The Nair Service Society demurs, and prefers the Congress, but it appears individual Nairs are being attracted to the BJP, thus hurting the Congress.

The Pulaya Mahasabha has also been openly supportive of the BJP, reasoning perhaps that as an OBC, Modi is more sympathetic to their needs.

Thus the situation is fluid. Tharoor may be right: the Congress, with its trusty Christian votebank, may not be affected very much. But they will face anti-incumbency, especially because of big scams. Just today as I write this, a Vigilance Court startled them by declaring their sitting Finance Minister would be investigated in a large and contentious alcohol-related scam. (This is important, because Keralites are the biggest consumers of alcohol on a per capita basis, alas.)

The Marxists are also vulnerable. That is partly because of pure demographics and partly because of their own missteps. Marxists hurt Ezhava sentiments by taking them for granted, and also through insensitivity. They created, in a parade, a tableau of Sree Narayana Guru being lassoed and then crucified by upper caste Hindus. The idea was that OBCs were being oppressed by upper jatis, but it came across as arrogant and sacrilegious. Besides, a series of bloody murders of RSS activists by Marxists (and vice versa) has tarnished their image.

The BJP has a problem with name recognition: few of its top echelons are household names, but the general trend supports them. The award-return circus and Kerala House beef circus may help or hinder the BJP, it is hard to tell. Encouragingly for them, the most recent by-election, in Aruvikkara showed them gaining a number of new voters.

Thus, the overall situation in Kerala remains murky, but chances are that the Congress and the Marxists will lose some of their support, the Muslim League will retain its, and the BJP will gain.

Kerala: Hanuman Sena activists booked for organising pork fest, inciting communal hatred

The list of arrested includes the Sena’s state president, vice-president and legal advisor.

The town police in Kozhikode booked 50 Hanuman Sena activists at Malabar Christian College while they were organising pork festival on Wednesday, The New Indian Express reports. The list of arrested includes the Sena’s state president, vice-president and legal advisor along with several other party activists.Charges of inciting communal hatred, unlawful assembly and impeding traffic have been levied against them according to the police sources, the report said.

AgustaWestland chopper deal: Open non-bailable warrant issued against UK national accused

The court’s order came on a plea filed by the ED seeking issuance of open NBW against James, who is presently in Dubai, claiming that Agusta Westland had allegedly paid a “kickback” of around 70 million Euro out of which around 30 million Euros was paid to James and his firm Global Services FZE, Dubai.
File Photo
dna Research & Archives
A Delhi court on Friday issued an open non-bailable warrant (NBW) against British national Christian Michel James, an alleged middleman in the Rs 3,600 crore VVIP chopper deal case, after Enforcement Directorate said that his questioning was needed to ascertain key aspects of the matter.”In view of the above submissions open-ended non-bailable warrant be issued against the accused Christian Michel James,” Special CBI Judge Ajay Kumar Jain said.The court’s order came on a plea filed by the ED seeking issuance of open NBW against James, who is presently in Dubai, claiming that Agusta Westland had allegedly paid a “kickback” of around 70 million Euro out of which around 30 million Euros was paid to James and his firm Global Services FZE, Dubai.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The agency claimed, “the investigations revealed that kick backs received by Christian Michel James in his company M/s Global Services, FZE, Dubai in the guise of two agreements from M/s Agusta Westland, were nothing other than that of the kickback which is thus a proceeds of crime.”ED’s prosecutor N K Matta told the court that sustained custodial examination of James was essential for furtherance of investigation in the case to know about the role played by him in the procurement of 12 VVIP helicopter deal and also to identify his accomplices and associates.Matta also informed the court that interrogation of James was necessary to know about the quantum of proceeds of crime he had received as commission for this deal from these firms, details of movable/immovable properties on which the proceeds of crime was invested and allegedly laundered by him and also for “decoding” the names of various persons figuring in the documents recovered during the probe.”It is also relevant to know that where he had parked the commission amount i.e. proceeds of crime, how he had secured the influence of various persons in India for the said procurement and how he was sending the progress report to officials and other private persons involved in the deal from M/s Agusta Westland etc,” the agency claimed.On September 24, the court had issued an open NBW against James on an application by CBI which is also running a parallel probe in the matter.During the hearing on ED’s plea, the agency told the court that based on the open NBW, Interpol India would be requested to issue a red corner notice against James. ED had in July 2014 lodged a case under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) against several persons who were named in the FIR registered earlier by the CBI.In November last year, ED had filed a charge sheet in the case against businessman Gautam Khaitan and others, including two Italian men Carlo Gerosa and Guido Haschke. CBI had named various persons in its FIR in the case which also includes former Indian Air Force chief S P Tyagi. Tyagi, and others, including European alleged middlemen Gerosa, Christian Michel James and Haschke are among the 13 individuals named as accused in CBI’s FIR. Six companies including Italy-based Finmeccanica, Agusta Westland, Mohali-based IDS Infotech, Aeromatrix, IDS Tunisia and IDS Mauritius have also been named by CBI in its FIR.CBI has alleged that during his tenure as IAF Chief, Tyagi and “with his approval”, the Air Force had “conceded to reduce the service ceiling for VVIP helicopters from 6000 metres to 4500 metres as mandatory” to which it was opposing vehemently on the grounds of security constraints and other related reasons.It had alleged reduction of service ceiling — maximum height at which a helicopter can perform normally — allowed UK-based AgustaWestland to get into the fray as, otherwise, its choppers were not qualified for submission of bids.CBI had also alleged Agusta Westland managed to introduce a comparative flight trial with non-functional engine and eventually succeeded in getting the contract for supply of 12 AW-101 VVIP helicopters from the Defence Ministry mainly due to softening of the IAF on service ceiling, after Tyagi took over as its chief.

The Dadri debate: Here’s why most arguments about beef are flawed

The recent violence in Dadri, a village in an already lawless Uttar Pradesh, has seen an incredible outpouring of self-righteous indignation in India’s editorial columns. Typical of India – and elsewhere, in all likelihood – facts followed outrage and the picture as it stands now is a lot murkier. Nonetheless, violence was done, blood was shed, and food – specifically beef – was an ingredient in the story. The disproportionate response to a relatively minor issue – even the residents of Dadri have grown tired of the media circus – is telling of the complete disconnect between English language columnists and reality.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

If one were to go by the editorials, the temporary ban on beef during an important Hindu festival is an infringement of civil liberties and the violence in Dadri is the direct consequence of a rising tide of Hindutva politics led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – never mind the centuries of cultural sensitivities or local traditions.

This argumentation reveals a fundamental flaw in the Liberal enterprise – the assumption that society, each generation, begins tabula rasa, with no history, background, or tradition. Upon this blank slate, intellectuals and activists can fashion their dystopias. Yet reality cannot be further from this scenario: each community does have its own customs and ties that bind, society does find value in things extra-rational. If history is any indication, legislation that goes against the values of the majority will undoubtedly fail; worse, it may even create resentment against the group whom the legislation is supposed to benefit.

It takes brazen blindness to believe that food is not political, particularly beef and pork. In Spain, after the Reconquista, pork emerged as the primary marker of Christianity even ahead of partaking of the Eucharist at Mass. As Christian armies swept south and forcibly converted thousands in their path, they soon began to fear that the new converts might be reverting to their old faith in private. As a result, conversion ceremonies did not simply involve a profession of faith but were done over the consumption of the meat the convert’s former coreligionists found offensive to their sensibilities.

Avoidance of pork was serious enough an offence to send people before the Inquisition as plenty of records attest even to the torture and imprisonment of the accused. In El primer rey de Castilla, a play during the Siglo de Oro by the famous author Lopa de Vega, a character explains that he hung a side of bacon on his wall “so that the King will know that I am neither a Moor nor a Jew.” The same custom of conversion over pork was carried to India by the Portuguese.

Similarly, in India, the consumption of beef has been a sensitive issue in recent years not for dietary reasons but for religious and political ones. As has been pointed out by umpteen people, there is clear evidence of the consumption of meat – including beef and pork – and alcohol, perhaps even ephedra and marijuana, in ancient Hindu texts. What all those people have missed is that the Hindu way, unlike other religions, is not doctrinaire – Hindus are not averse to changing their ways depending on circumstances. Otherwise, it would be difficult to fathom several habits of the modern Hindu. Hindu culture has constantly evolved over the years and somewhere along the way, for whatever reason, it became taboo to consume certain items.

Despite the spiritual taboo, many Hindus today, including brahmins, do consume beef. The problem arises, however, when a great show is made of doing so; the only purpose of organising beef festivals is to provoke Hindus. Unfortunately, the response to provocations can be quite unpredictable and tragic. Legal recourse can certainly punish those who forgot themselves in a moment of anger but the damage would have been done and in cases like Dadri, are irreversible. Given India’s massive beef exports and thriving leather industry, most Hindus have clearly made peace with the entire industry. What causes a few to react violently under specific circumstances is worth investigating.

India’s liberals bemoan the ban of beef as a violation of their liberty, but their opportunistic whine deserves little attention. As Bangladeshi authress Taslima Nasrin recently noted, liberalism in India is highly selective and is essentially an anti-Hindu posture. The furore over the temporary curtailment of the availability of beef during a major Hindu holiday is ample demonstration that there is no basic decency left in India. Just as it would be rude to eat in public during the day in a Muslim country during Ramadan, or for that matter, insisting on consuming alcohol during dinner with a teetotaler friend who is uncomfortable with the consumption of liquor, it would simply be the civilised thing to do to abstain from beef publically at least during certain days of the year. Of course, the use of state machinery to enforce manners is as worrying as the need to remind people of their manners.

To repeat a point that has often been made, restrictions exist all over the world for certain kinds of food. If we debate why beef should be banned, should we also consider why horse meat is banned in some places? Dog meat? Cats? Does liberalism necessarily have to have only a provocative face and not a pragmatic one? For all the talk of secularism, it is interesting to note how many countries restrict the sale of alcohol on Sunday, the Christian holy day.

One of the smartest things Mohandas Gandhi did when he returned to India was to take a trip around India. He saw and understood the pulse of real India, not of the salons of London-educated lawyers of the Congress party who had still not been able to successfully win the hearts and minds of Indians. Gandhi did not support President Rajendra Prasad’s drive to ban beef but it is equally unlikely that he would have hosted or promoted a beef festival. It would behoove many social commentators today to follow in Gandhi’s footsteps – it is all well and good to sit and discuss beef-eating in the abstract in Colaba or Hauz Khas, feeling urbane and sophisticated, but the same issue has a very different and very potent valence in Mandoli or Udupi.

If the alleged opinion shapers of the country are so disconnected – disregarding? – from the majority of the country, it must be asked what role they play in the public sphere. Perhaps we will read about how there should be no crime, hunger, or disease next. And yes, the irony of criticising op-eds in an op-ed has not escaped unnoticed!

Chennai: Engineering college’s dress-code for women sparks social media outrage

However, the college has reportedly claimed that the list being circulated is fake.

Representational image

In 2014, Madras Christian College tried to impose a dress code that left many students unhappy. Now, the rules allegedly put forth for girls in Sri Sai Ram Engineering College have irked many on social media.The list doing the rounds on social media has 14 rules for girls, that include no leggings, high heels, short kurtas and no patialas. Girls will also not be allowed to wear large watches or leave their hair loose, according to the alleged college notice.In a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), a former student of the college who went by the username – sairam_alumni – alleged that the situation in the college was not good. However, the college has reportedly told the media that the list being circulated is fake.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Dress codes in colleges are not new to Chennai. Engineering colleges have strict dress codes – especially because they are co-educational. In some engineering colleges, girls must wear only salwar-kameezes, with the dupatta draped in a V-shape.
Women’s colleges in the city, like Stella Maris College and MOP Vaishnav College for Women, too have their own dress codes. Girls are not allowed wear shorts and tight clothes are a no-no. Transparent and sleeveless tops are out too.

Govt releases religion-wise 2011 census: Muslim population grows by 0.8%, Hindu declines by 0.7%

The proportion of Muslim population to total population has increased by 0.8 percentage point (PP) in 2011, the census data said. The proportion of Hindu population to total population in 2011 has declined by 0.7 PP.

The Muslim community has registered a moderate 0.8 % growth to touch 17.22 crore in the 10 year period between 2001 and 2011, up from 13.8 crore, while Hindus population showed a decline by 0.7 % at 96.63 crore during the period, according to the latest census data on religion. While the census figure on religion was released on Tuesday, more than four years after compilation of the data, the caste data is yet to be made public.RJD, JD(U), SP, DMK and some other parties have been asking the government to release the caste census figure. The data on socio economic status of the population was released on July 3.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>As per the religious census data of 2011, released by the Registrar General and Census Commissioner on Tuesday, the total population in the country in 2011 was 121.09 crore. Hindu population is 96.63 crores (79.8 %); Muslim 17.22 crores (14.2 %); Christian 2.78 crores (2.3 %); Sikh 2.08 crores (1.7 %); Buddhist 0.84 crores (0.7 %); Jain 0.45 crores (0.4 %), Other religions and persuasions (ORP) 0.79 crores (0.7 %) and religion not stated 0.29 crores (0.2 %).The proportion of Muslim population to total population has increased by 0.8 percentage point (PP) in 2011, the census data said. The proportion of Hindu population to total population in 2011 has declined by 0.7 PP; the proportion of Sikh population has declined by 0.2 PP and the Buddhist population has declined by 0.1 PP during the decade 2001-2011. There has been no significant change in the proportion of Christians and Jains.As per 2001 census, India’s total population was 102 crores of which Hindu population comprised of 82.75 crore (80.45 %) and Muslims were 13.8 crore (13.4 %). The growth rate of population in the decade 2001-2011 was 17.7 %. The growth rate of population of the different religious communities in the same period was as Hindus: 16.8 %; Muslim: 24.6 %; Christian: 15.5 %; Sikh: 8.4 %; Buddhist: 6.1 % and Jain: 5.4 %.The distribution is total population by six major religious communities namely, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain besides ‘Other Religions and Persuasions’ and ‘Religion not stated’.

Rajasthan High Court holds Jain practice of fast-unto-death illegal

Asks FIRs to be filed against those undergoing Santhara; Jain community to appeal against judgement

Jain devotees gather around septuagenarian Mainibai in 2006 in Virar. She died undertaking Santhara.

The Rajasthan high court, in a judgment pronounced on Monday afternoon, held Santhara or Sallekhana – the controversial Jain practice, where a person gives up food and water till death by starvation – to be illegal and directed FIRs to filed against persons undertaking this practice.The court has equated Santhara with suicide while deciding on a petition which likened it to sati.The Jain community reacted with outrage. Jain studies scholar Manish Modi told dna, “It is deeply disappointing to hear of this judgement. Santhara or Sallekhana is an integral practice, custom and tradition of the Jain religion and has been so for the past thousands of years.”<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>According to him, “There is enough scriptural evidence in most ancient Jain texts composed in Prakrit, Sanskrit, Apabhramsha, Tamil, Braj, Dhundhari, Kannada, Marathi, Maru Gurjar, Gujarati etc. to show that Sallekhana was considered an ideal way of shedding the mortal coil. From ancient times till today, many Jain ascetics as well as lay followers have given up their body through sallekhana/santhara with faith in the scriptures.”Calling the opposition to this religious practice a vilification, he said: “More can be said once the judgement is read in detail but one wonders if the opposition to the practice is part of a larger conspiracy to subvert minority religions in India.””Whether it’s the Christmas controversy with which the Centre tried to needle the Christian community or the Maharashtra government’s decision to ban beef, which was clearly done to target Muslims, it seems like its achche din only for the majority community,” said a senior Jain monk. “It’s like they want to browbeat us all minorities into accepting Hinduism and its way of life,” he said.Others like Supreme Court advocate Rishabh Sancheti told dna how his phone has been ringing continuously since the judgment. “I have received several calls from across the community, seeking to challenge the decision. The outcome of the case comes as a shock to anyone who knows the core values of Jainism. Prima facie, the outcome does not appear to be correct,” he said.Despite its historical and religious significance, Santhara has been opposed by activists, citing abuse and coercion. Among them is Jaipur-based lawyer Nikhil Soni, who filed the petition.This native of Churu in Rajasthan – reputed as the world’s Santhara capital for its highest per capita incidence of the practice in recent history – recounted how, for years, he quietly watched many such fasts-unto-death. That was till September 2006, when Soni heard of one Bimla Devi being coerced into Santhara by her family.”Diagnosed with terminal cancer, the elderly Bimla Devi was too weak and depressed to protest as her relatives went about publicly announcing ‘her decision’. In her final hours, when she started screaming in a last-ditch effort for food and water, her cries were drowned out by loud bhajans sung to the accompaniment of high-decibel dholaks,” he said.”Bimla Devi’s case convinced me that Santhara is suicide, masquerading as a religious practice wrapped in the mantle of hoary tradition. At its worst, Santhara came across as nothing but ritual murder, devised to rid a family of the economic burden of caring for its elderly, seen as a burden on the family,” he said. Santhara, the filmMumbai-based journalist-filmmaker Shekhar Hattangadi has brought the focus sharply to this religion with his documentary Santhara (which won awards at both Bangalore and Kolkata short film festivals). He said, just like his film, he would not want to take sides for or against the judgement. This visiting faculty at two Mumbai law colleges, explains: “Santhara, for me, is a classic example of the challenge that all faith-based societies face as they adopt modern, secular norms of governance, and the challenge is to reconcile individual freedom and personal liberty as well as a minority community’s religious rights on the one hand, and, on the other, with the need for state intervention in matters of religion.”He pointed out how the HC has gone by the Supreme Court ruling in the Gian Kaur case of 1996. “The apex court had then ruled that Right to Life cannot mean Right to Death. The Rajasthan HC seems to have gone by that ruling,” he said.

Venkaiah Naidu bats strongest punishment, including death penalty, for terrorists and rapists

The Parliamentary Affairs Minister said that terrorists, anti-national people, rapists should be given strongest possible punishment.

Venakaiah Naidu claimed 37 persons had been hanged in the recent past including Afzal Guru, Ajmal Kasab and Yakub Memon.
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Amid a raging debate on the execution of 1993 Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon, Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu on Sunday said that strongest possible punishment, including death sentence should be given to terrorists, anti-nationalists and rapists.”Glorifying terrorists and anti-nationalists is no good. Death penalty is an issue which can be debated upon. But surprisingly, some people come out openly as and when death penalty is given to a terrorist, anti-nationalist…” he told reporters.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”Somebody is saying death penalty cannot take place. It may be their view. I am of the view that terrorists, anti-national people, rapists, strongest possible punishment including death sentence, should be given,” he said.Calling for a nation-wide debate on the topic, he said, “… Yakub Memon was hanged after 20 years of trial… Supreme Court sat up to 3.45 in the morning. That speaks for the greatness of India’s independence and judiciary. Some people are running stories of what he (Memon) had for breakfast on that day…..” he said.Noting that some people were trying to bring religion into the matter, he said, “terrorist is a terrorist. Does he have any religion? An anti-national is an anti-national. Why are you talking about his religion whether he is Hindu, Muslim or Christian?” He claimed 37 persons had been hanged in the recent past including Afzal Guru, Ajmal Kasab and Yakub Memon.”We were all in Rameswaram for the funeral of the great man, the great son of India, Dr A P J Abdul Kalam. But some of the (TV) channels were prominently showing and highlighting Yakub Memon. Are we serving the nation’s interest?,” he asked.About rapists below the age of 18 not being given serious punishment, Naidu said, “Some people do not want people below 18 years to be given serious punishment. But when they (rapists) know how to rape, torture a woman, I do not have any sympathy for him (rapist) even if he is below 18 years. So the debate goes on in these issues.”

Anushka Sharma needs GK lessons: Actress confuses APJ Kalam for freedom fighter Abul Kalam Azad, gets trolled

Former President and Bharat Ratna APJ Abdul Kalam passed away on Monday evening after suffering s massive cardiac arrest in Shillong. As soon as the news of his demise spread, Indians  took to Twitter and Facebook to pay their respects and express grief over the loss of one of India’s greatest sons.

Anushka Sharma. Agencies

Anushka Sharma. Agencies

Anushka Sharma also tweeted out her respects and expressed her sadness on the Missile Man’s death. But she had to do it three times as she got the former president’s name wrong, twice.

In her first tweet, she said,”Very sad to hear about the passing of ABJ Kalam Azad. Loss of an inspiring visionary and a wonderful soul. May his soul RIP.”

Anushka got lambasted on twitter instantaneously following the incorrect tweet. She promptly deleted the tweet, and send another one out.

“Very sad to hear about the passing of APJ Kalam Azad. Loss of an inspiring visionary and a wonderful soul. May his soul RIP.

Anushka, corrected ABJ to APJ in her second tweet, but she didn’t notice a glaring mistake. The fact that she had mentioned APJ Abdul Kalam as APJ Kalam Azad, made it seem that she didn’t know who our former president APJ Abdul Kalam was and confused it with the freedom fighter and another Bharat Ratna Maulana Abul Kalam Azad.

After facing considerable flak from a grieving twitteratti, including KRK, Anushka finally got it right the third time.

Offcourse, Twitterati would not miss the opportunity to troll her.

While Anushka does need to brush up on Indian historyHowever, she was not the only one who looked stupid when tweeting about Kalam. The top prize could go to Isha Koppikar, whose tweets on Kalam could best compared to a bad WhatsApp joke.

She tweeted first,”A great Muslim died on an auspicious day of Hindus in a Christian city. He maintained secularism and democracy in death too.”

Except we don’t know what “Hindu” auspicious day was yesterday, or how Shillong, or for that matter any city, is a “Christian” city and why does all of this even matter when a beloved former president has passed away.

She didn’t stop there.

“RIP Shall not be read as Rest in Peace for such great Legends…..it should RIP : Return If Possible…..” she tweeted out following her first “secular” tweet.

AIPMT 2015: Nun banned from taking exam, Church calls incident ‘unfortunate’

The Principal told her that she was also a Christian and understood her plight, but as per CBSE guidelines, veil and Holy cross cannot be permitted inside the examination hall.

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A Keralite nun was denied permission to take the All India Pre Medical Entrance Test (AIPMT) here after she refused to remove her veil and Holy Cross as required under the CBSE’s new dress code.Sister Saiba, who was to take the test at the Jawahar Central School here this morning, said she sought permission to write the examination with her veil and cross. However, the school principal told her about the guidelines issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). She then requested for a separate room to write the examination without the veil and cross, but it was not accepted by the school authorities, she told media persons. “I requested that I may be given a separate room where I will remove the veil and cross and write the test, but that was not allowed,” she said.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The Principal told her that she was also a Christian and understood her plight, but as per CBSE guidelines, veil and Holy cross cannot be permitted inside the examination hall. Many students were seen removing head scarfs, earrings and all other articles banned before entering the hall at various examination centres in the state. They were allowed inside only after body frisking.
The Supreme Court had refused to entertain the pleas of an Islamic organisation that Muslim girl applicants be allowed to wear ‘hijab’ (scarf), a customary religious dress while appearing for the AIPMT.”Faith is something different from wearing some kind of cloth,” a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice H L Dattu stated, adding the AIPMT was being held again at its direction and some “reasonable restrictions” were needed. Kerala High Court had earlier granted conditional permission to two Muslim girls to appear for the test wearing hijab.In the backdrop of large-scale irregularities in the AIPMT held in May this year, the apex court had directed CBSE to conduct a second test following which CBSE imposed a strict dress code, banning jeweleries, hair pins, head scarf or veils, shoes, watches and all electronic devices.Reacting to the incident, Syro Malabar Church spokesperson Father Paul Thelekkat, said it was “unfortunate” that the nun was not permitted to write the test.”The Catholic church does not consider veil as the most important religious symbol of the Catholic faith. At the same time, we do not subscribe to the view of the Supreme court Chief Justice that 3-4 hours without veil does not make any difference. It does make and it is up to the citizen to take the decision”, he told PTI.

Judgment on unwed mothers: SC may have fallen into the patriarchy trap

On July 7, the Supreme Court had to ask the country to grow up and accept the fact that a woman can take good care of a child all by herself. At least, that’s what the Supreme Court’s judgment on an unwed mother’s guardianship of a child born out of wedlock amounted to saying. While declaring this, Justice Vikramjit Sen also overturned a judgment by the Delhi High Court, which had opinions to the contrary.

Across the country, the SC judgment was hailed as a landmark one. In India where thousands of women still live behind suffocating patriarchal barriers, the court’s endorsement of a single woman’s power and right to bring up a child alone came as a breath of fresh air. In India’s traditional moral framework, being a single mother anyway touches raw nerves. A single mother is an object of pity at times, an object of relentless criticism at others. And to have a biological child out of wedlock comes with staggering promise of social stigma and shame. However, though the court recognised the same, it didn’t quite register a protest against it through its judgment.

 The  SC judgment opens with noting the predicament of a woman who found she couldn’t put the name of her son as the nominee to her savings and insurance policies. The irony here is, the woman has enough financial liquidity to have savings, insurance etc and is therefore in no dire need for the support of a man to bring up her child. She didn’t seek the same either. However, it was the convoluted system in the country, which sought to tell her otherwise by insisting that the child’s biological father be identified in official documents. Now, what role does the name of a man serve in a child being identified as the legal heir to his mother’s assets, no one knows.

Supreme Court of India. AgencySupreme Court of India. Agency

Supreme Court of India. Agency

The court explains her situation, but doesn’t call out the hypocrisy. At least, not explicitly.

“The Appellant, who adheres to the Christian faith, is well educated, gainfully employed and financially secure. She gave birth to her son in 2010, and has subsequently raised him without any assistance from or involvement of his putative father. Desirous of making her son her nominee in all her savings and other insurance policies, she took steps in this direction, but was informed that she must either declare the name of the father or get a guardianship/adoption certificate from the Court… .”

In fact, the court notes that the woman doesn’t want her name and her child’s name to be revealed. It shouldn’t have been too difficult for the apex court to figure out the kind of apprehensions holding the woman back. However, while allowing the woman her right to privacy, the court doesn’t elaborate on the need for the Indian society to evolve, so that such fears don’t stalk women.

The judgment states: “Ms. Indu Malhotra, learned Senior Counsel for the Appellant, has vehemently argued before us that the Appellant does not want the future of her child to be marred by any controversy regarding his paternity, which would indubitably result should the father refuse to acknowledge the child as his own. This is a brooding reality as the father is already married and any publicity as to a declaration of his fathering a child out of wedlock would have pernicious repercussions to his present family. There would be severe social complications for her and her child.”

The Supreme Court sums up the fears that dominate women even the educated, financially independent women in the country. However, the court doesn’t quite comment on the social prejudice that makes the absence of a father’s endorsement the cause for ‘severe social complications’. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out what the social complications would be – shame, ostracism and unfair amounts of moral scrutiny. While the court regognises the woman’s fears as valid ones and endorses her right to privacy, it would have been better if it also underlined the thriving moral hypocrisy in the country which fuels such fears.

By noting it without comment this bit of the judgment runs the risk of being read as an attestation of the moral scrutiny an unwed mother is subjected to. Ideally, having a child should not lead to severe complications and it doesn’t in many other countries. As the highest judicial body of the country, maybe, the Supreme Court needed to also criticise the root of the ‘pernicious repercussions’ it is talking about.

Even more ironical is the fact that later, the court does observe that a lot of women are choosing to bring up children alone. “In today’s society, where women are increasingly choosing to raise their children alone, we see no purpose in imposing an unwilling and unconcerned father on an otherwise viable family nucleus,” the judgment states. Maybe then, it become even more necessary for the court to call out the hypocrisy of censuring such women?

Following that, citing the laws of several other countries, the court then opines that a mother is ‘best-suited’ to take care of a child born out of wedlock. “Avowedly, the mother is best suited to care for her offspring, so aptly and comprehensively conveyed in Hindi by the word ‘mamta’,” the court observes in the judgment. However, this statement as slightly problematic since it suggests that a man, in the place of the woman in this case, would be incapable to take care of a child out of wedlock.

The court identifies ‘affection’ or ‘mamta’ as the reason why the mother should have the right to a child born out of wedlock. With this statement, the court runs an otherwise progressive judgment into the swamp of traditional “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” gender stereotypes perpetuated by patriarchal social discourses. While this judgment is being hailed as a great comment on gender equality, this statement defeats that claim, designating affection as a quality of a woman alone. A woman shouldn’t be given the right to a child because her gender comes with a notion of mamta attached to it, she should be given custody if she can successfully and independently bring a child up by herself.

More so, while it tries to encourage women, by suggesting that women possess motherly qualities by virtue of her gender, the Supreme Court inadvertently snubs women for whom the mamta of motherhood is not their defining characteristic.

However, this isn’t the first time that the Supreme Court, while delivering a seemingly progressive judgment, seems to have inadvertently endorsed patriarchal narratives around gender. A few days back, while rejecting a Madras High Court order on mediating with a rapist, the court said, “There should be no mediation and no compromise in rape cases, a woman’s body is her temple.” The statement not only invited unnecessary religious association but it also tied a woman’s body to her self esteem. Rape is criminal and reprehensible not because the body is a place of worship.

While it is necessary for the court to acknowledge social realities, and every step forward is a step in the right direction, it’s important the Court does not unwittingly perpetuate the same stereotypes that relegate women routinely to the Women and Child Welfare ministries.

Tamil TV channel for ‘degrading’ bishop and nuns

Vicar General of Coimbatore diocese that the diocese would file a defamation case against the channel and also fight it out legally if the channel did not apologise.

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About 900 persons belonging to the Christian community, including fathers and nuns, staged a demonstration in the campus of St Michael Church in Coimbatore on Saturday, condemning a program telecast by a Tamil TV channel, allegedly portraying the bishop in a degrading manner. Fr. John Joseph Stanis, Vicar General of Coimbatore diocese, alleged that a woman interviewed in the program ‘Solvathellam Unmai’ telecast on June 15 and 16, had spoken ill about fathers, nuns and the bishop. Stanis said that the diocese would file a defamation case against the channel and also fight it out legally if the channel did not apologise.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Also Read:

Hurriyat leader Geelani put under house arrest on eve of anti-India seminar

Srinagar: Several leaders of hardline Hurriyat Conference including chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani were on Saturday put under house arrest by authorities to foil the plans of the amalgam to hold a controversial seminar tomorrow that was dubbed as ‘ant-national’.

A posse of policemen has been deployed outside the residence of Geelani and no one is allowed to enter or leave the premises, a spokesman of the Hurriyat said. The police action came even as Jammu and Kashmir government said it will not allow “anti-India” activities in the state.

Syed Ali Shah Geelani. ReutersSyed Ali Shah Geelani. Reuters

Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Reuters

“No such rally or seminar will be allowed in the land of Jammu and Kashmir since we feel it will be anti-national activity,” Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh said. “The law will take its own course,” he said, adding,” no anti-national activity can be allowed on any part of the country.”

A Hurriyat spokesman said Muhammad Ashruf Sehrai, Ayaz Akbar and Raja Mehraj-ud-din were the others who were placed under house arrest on the eve of the planned seminar.

Police officials refused to confirm or deny the house arrest of the separatist leaders. Geelani, while condemning the move, said the government has shown intolerance even to peaceful programmes.

“The government has completely buried the ‘Battle of Ideas’ slogan of the (Chief Minister) Mufti Mohammad Sayeed,” Geelani said in a statement here. The Hurriyat has planned to hold a seminar to which several separatist leaders, including from Sikhs groups, and Christian community representatives have been invited.

“Hurriyat Conference has decided to organise a seminar in Srinagar on June 14 in which people from different walks of life will express their views on the topic ‘How to Resist the Indian State Fascism’,” a spokesman of the separatist amalgam said earlier this week.

Those invited for the seminar include Akali Dal leader Simranjit Singh Mann, Dal Khalsa leader Kanwarpal Singh, noted human rights activist Gautam Navlakha and representatives of the Christian community.

PTI

Surya Namaskar is fine with most Muslims; it’s Modi sarkar’s Yoga Day plans that worry

My late lamented grandmother, a devout namaazi-parhezgar Muslim, arranged many of her activities around the waning and waxing of the sun. Certain things had to be done “suraj urooj hone se pehle” (before sunrise), some “suraj ghuroob hone se pehle” (before sunset), and some “suraj ghuroob hone ke baad” (after sunset).

I can very well imagine what her reaction to the surya namaskar controversy would have been. Tying her dupatta tighter around her head – an indication that she was trying very hard to suppress her anger — she would have said:”Ahmaq hain sab; paani dalo inpar” (they’re all fools, damn them).

This doesn’t mean she believed in sun worship. In fact her sun-centric routine was entirely consistent with her strict adherence to Islamic beliefs, and she would have strongly protested any attempt to force her to go against them.

I’ve dragged my poor grandmother into it only to underline the absurdity of the controversy that has erupted around the Narendra Modi Government’s planned Yoga and surya namaskar programme in schools to mark the UN International Yoga Day on June 21 to which some Muslim groups have objected calling it un-Islamic.

After the All India Muslim Personal Board (AIMPLB) threatened a nationwide agitation and planned to move the Supreme Court against “compulsory” yoga and surya namaskar in schools, the Government clarified that the participation in it was entirely voluntary. But now a group of sadhus from Haridwar have threatened a counter agitation if the programme is diluted.

Firstpost.Firstpost.

Firstpost.

“We would not tolerate any compromise with surya namaskar… Those trying to play with Hindu religion will not be forgiven,” Swami Harichetanand said.

The fact is that the row has nothing to with religious beliefs — and everything to do with divisive politics of the worst kind. A classic time-tested trick by Hindu and Muslim right-wing elements to try and feed on each other in the name of religion.

Many Islamic practices and rituals are arranged around the movements of the sun.  Four of the five daily Namaaz offerings are linked to its rotation — fajir (dawn), zuhar (noon), asar (late afternoon), and maghreb (sunset). Likewise, Ramadan fast starts before sunrise and is broken at sunset.

This, of course, is all very different from sun worship which is what surya namaskar, invariably accompanied by recitation of Om, is. . And as Islam forbids any form of worship other than worshipping Allah, some of the more conservative Muslims might have a problem with it. But should it be turned into such a big issue as to merit a nationwide agitation, and appealing to the highest court in the land?

That’s where politics comes in.

Actually, it is misleading to describe AIMPLB’s threatened protest as a “Muslim” reaction. Its grandees who took the decision represent nobody but themselves. And this is evident from the fact that apart from the usual suspects such as the likes of All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Asaduddin Owaisi, few muslims have come out in its support of the Muslim Board’s call.

On the contrary, even as its leading lights were busy milking the surya namaskar row, young muslims were protesting outside its offices in Lucknow questioning its narrow minded agenda and demanding a say in its affairs. They also criticised the closed-door meeting at which the resolution on the surya namaskar issue was adopted, according to a report in The Indian Express.

Most Muslims I spoke to in a quick phone-around didn’t seem to care so long as nobody was forced to do it. My own nephew, Kaif Mahmood, a young academic, who is heavily into yoga said:” I’ve practised yoga for over a decade and it is one of the most important aspects of my life. I have no problems doing the surya namaskar or chanting a mantra. If God is more concerned about which direction your head is bowed in rather than what lies in your heart when you perform that pose, and at all other times, then I doubt if he/she is a god worth worshipping at all. The God that I know is less concerned with such external superficialities. At the same time, as a liberal I fully support anyone’s right to not have any kind of practice imposed on them, however absurd their reasons for objecting might be, as they are in this case.’’

Sultan Shahin, Editor of NewAgeIslam website, dismissed it as a “wholly unnecessary controversy.”

“As for expressing gratitude to the sun by saluting it, I don’t see any harm. After all, we are not an ungrateful people. We thank God and all His manifestations for being kind to us and provide us with sustenance. Ingratitude is one of the meanings of kufr. An ungrateful person is called Kafir in Islam. However, Wahhabi-Salafi Muslims who have objection can always skip that part. It’s not mandatory,” he said

So, there you’re. It is a controversy got up by two sides of the same sectarian coin.

On the one side, we have a government which instead of focusing on delivering its tall election promises chooses to stage a stunt which, for all its apparent innocence, is heavily loaded with political symbolism; and at the other end there are self-styled keepers of the Islamic flame waiting to seize any opportunity to use it to advance their own interests.

The government’s aggressive promotion of yoga is clearly politically motivated. For all its secular virtues, the fact remains that yoga is deeply rooted in Hindu spiritual tradition. That many Muslims practise it or that the Christian West has embraced it in a big way (there’s even a U.S. court ruling rejecting objection to it on religious grounds) doesn’t take away its Hindu roots. And I’m sure the Sangh Parivar will be the first to protest at any attempt to deny yoga its Hindu heritage.

So, when a party which has assumed the mantle of Hindu cultural nationalism seeks so zealously to promote something like this on such a big scale it assumes a political complexion. And, it knows what it is up to. It’s waving the red rag in the face of the bull on the other side of the sectarian divide hoping for a “reaction’’. And the other side is only too happy to oblige.

This is not the first time that such a row has erupted. There was a similar slanging match last year when some BJP ruled states tried to make singing of Vande Mataram compulsory in schools provoking Muslim protests. As now, it was also portrayed as an innocuous move. After all, it was just a patriotic song. ‘What was wrong in singing it?’ asked the Sangh Parivar somewhat disingenuously.

Well, if it was only about singing a patriotic song why Vande Mataram given its controversial history because of which it was not chosen as the national anthem? Why not Jana Gana Mana? What can be more patriotic than the national anthem?

The answer is: it’s the politics stupid.

Surely, the surya namaskar kerfuffle will end like the Vande Mataram tussle did—after serving its political purpose. But, readers, do keep watching this space. More of the same should be coming soon.

After ‘I am not an Indian by birth’ comment, Geelani calls for anti-India seminar in Srinagar

Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has done it again. The separatist leader announced that he will be holding an anti-India seminar and Geelani has invited several separatist leaders, including from Sikhs groups, and Christian community representatives.

Speaking to PTI on Tuesday, a spokesperson of the separatist amalgam, said, “Hurriyat Conference has decided to organise a seminar in Srinagar on 14 June in which people from different walks of life will express their views on the topic ‘How to Resist the Indian State Fascism’.”.

Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. ReutersHurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Reuters

Hurriyat Conference leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Reuters

“The personalities who have been invited for the proposed seminar include Akali Dal leader Simranjit Singh Mann, Dal Khalsa leader Kanwarpal Singh, noted human rights activist Gautam Navlakha and representatives of the Christian community,” the spokesman added.

He said it will be an important seminar in which prominent scholars, intellectuals, writers and “pro-freedom leaders” of Kashmir would also participate.

The Hurriyat handout said:

“Terming the communal and fascist agendas of the new Indian government as deadly, Chairman All Parties Hurriyat Conference Syed Ali Geelani cautioned that if this nuisance is not collectively countered, besides Kashmiris, the existence and the identity of all the minorities of India will be in acute danger and their future will be very bleak. He said that the communal forces of India want to saffronize this entire region and want to implement their fanatic Hindutva policies here. And for this purpose they are using their state power and are breaching all the moral and cultural boundaries. Geelani further said in his statement that besides in Kashmir, a public awareness campaign should be run in the whole of India to counter the dangerous and wicked agendas of the RSS and its allied parties so that the minorities can raise up to protect their existence, their identity and their religion.”

The announcement comes days after Geelani told the media, “I am not by birth Indian. It is a compulsion.” The Hurriyat leader was at a passport office in Srinagar and appeared there to declare himself an Indian while completing formalities for travel documents.

A Hurriyat spokesman had justified Geelani writing Indian in the nationality column saying “travelling on the Indian passport is a compulsion of every Kashmiri.”

“Geelani too is compelled to complete the formalities in this regard,” he added. The Centre had slammed Geelani and said that the Indian government will not tolerate any “separatist jargon.”

The issue of granting passport to Geelani had sparked a political debate with ruling BJP opposing it saying that he should declare his nationality as Indian and apologise for his anti-national activities.

Earlier in April, Geelani arrived to a rousing reception in Srinagar, after spending over three months in Delhi. He was taken from the airport to his Hyderpora residence in a procession led by Masarat Alam.

After Geelani’s speech, a large section of the youth raised slogans in favour of Alam, asking him to take the stage. Alam then raised the slogan, “Kashmir banega”. As the youth responded with cries of “Pakistan”, Alam shouted, “Jeevay, Jeevay Pakistan (long live Pakistan)”.

PTI had quoted Masarat Alam as telling mediapersons that he was not indulging in unlawful activities. “We are only promoting the aspirations of the people of Kashmir. Look at their enthusiasm,” he was quoted as saying.

The Jammu and Kashmir Police had filed a case against them under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for “provocative activities and hoisting of Pakistani flags”.

Geelani is known to organise anti-India rallies and events, and waving of Pakistani flags has become a routine at political events attended by him. The Hurriyat leader’s actions have put Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in a spot over and over again.

PM Modi’s anti-discrimination talk not aimed at Hindutva proponents, says Shiv Sena

“Hindutva is a culture and it should not be overzealous. But at the same time to convert tribal and poor Hindus to Islam or Christianity by allurement is also terrorism. Modi’s plain-talk is for such bigots,” the editorial said.
File Photo
dna Research & Archives
Shiv Sena on Thursday said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plain-talk on zero tolerance against religious discrimination was not aimed at “pro-Hindutva” forces and suggested that he might have on his mind those “bigots” who convert Hindus to their respective faiths by “deception”.”Prime Minister has taken a strong view against extremists by saying that communal intolerance will not be accepted. But the question is for whom these comments were meant for. Modi’s statement is projected as it is meant for ‘anti-Hindutvavadis’ (pro-Hindutva forces) in certain sections. But, we don’t think that Modi had only Hindutvavadis in mind when he made those comments,” Sena said in its party mouthpiece ‘Saamana’ on Thursday.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Modi had recently asserted that he won’t tolerate any discrimination or violence against any community and termed anti-minority comments by some Sangh Parivar leaders as “unfortunate” and “uncalled for,” which is viewed as his strongest response so far on growing incidents of hate speeches.”Hindutva is a culture and it should not be overzealous. But at the same time to convert tribal and poor Hindus to Islam or Christianity by allurement is also terrorism. Modi’s plain-talk is for such bigots,” the editorial said.It said the Hindutva forces were very much active under the previous Congress regimes as well. “Had it not been so the Babri mosque could not have been demolished. Because of this Hindutva wave only the BJP could achieve its current position of power,” the editorial said.Sena said Modi’s assertion also applies to those who convert tribal and poor Hindus to Islam or Christianity “by deception.”The editorial said the recent attacks on churches opened Modi to criticism from Christian community across the globe.”However, the real reasons behind attacks on churches and who were the culprits are still unknown. If these attacks (on churches) happened due to conversion row then Modi’s message was also for those who are indulged into conversion,” it said.Sena said, “Modi’s comments were also directed to those who oppose the uniform civil code and those who oppose the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution. His comments also seem to be directed to (AIMIM president Assaduddin) Owaisi who is stoking (communal) fire. Modi has also taken on those (through his comments) who unfurl flag of Pakistan in Kashmir.”

An Englishman from Varanasi has a message for PM Modi: Leave my city alone

Christopher Burchett, a 67-year-old doughty Englishman who has been living in Varanasi since 1970 and now knows its history, culture, lanes and by-lanes better than many Banarsi babus – has a pretty straight-forward message for its VVIP MP: leave Varanasi alone.

“Trying to turn Varanasi into Kyoto is an exercise in futility”, Burchett told Firstpost. This even as Varanasi Mayor Ram Gopal Mohle, District Magistrate Pranjal Yadav, Municipal Commissioner Umakant Tripathi and a host of state and central government officials returned from a week-long tour of the Japanese model heritage city Modi wants to transform Varanasi into.

“I don’t want to decry Mr Modi’s ideas but it doesn’t make much sense to me. Varanasi’s facilities should be improved rather than trying to recast it,” Burchett said.

Burchett believes Varanasi cannot be changed too much. Image courtesy: SNM AbdiBurchett believes Varanasi cannot be changed too much. Image courtesy: SNM Abdi

Burchett believes Varanasi cannot be changed too much. Image courtesy: SNM Abdi

Burchett doesn’t think that having Modi as Varanasi’s representative is such a big deal. “His (Modi’s) arrival hasn’t made such a big impact. It’s a mere fact that he is representing Varanasi in Parliament. I see no great changes. Varanasi has been a BJP stronghold and won elections here since the Janata Party days. Earlier it was Kamalapati Tripathi’s fiefdom. After Rajiv Gandhi’s rout, it became a saffron stronghold and continues to be one.”

And he’s skeptical about just what changes can be made to the historic town.

“I’m not sure how he can change the face of Varanasi except superficially. The whole charm of Varanasi is in its historicity and the religious character of the place. Varanasi doesn’t need to be industrialized. You can’t industrialise Puri or Dwarka either. There is no place for Adanis or Ambanis in Varanasi, except to put some money in the civic infrastructure,” Burchett said.

“I can’t see six-lane highways running through the heart of Varanasi. The charm of Varanasi has always been its maze of narrow and winding lanes. And that has to be preserved at all cost,” he said.

Burchett speaks flawless Hindi and Bhojpuri to boot, which is quite an achievement for a Brit born in north Wales. Educated in the University of London, where he earned his History degree, Burchett headed to India through the overland route via Europe and the Middle East.

Arriving in India 45 years ago, he roamed from Kashmir to Kanyakumari taking in the sights and sounds of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Puri, Chennai, Cochin and Madurai before settling down in Varanasi. He recalls getting involved in “overlapping activities like teaching and studying” until he landed a job in a primary school to pay his bills.

In 1982, he met Geeta Choudhury, who had come to join the school he worked in, but after she failed to get through asked him to teach her English. What began as English lessons in the afternoon at Geeta’s home, ended in marriage in 30 days flat.

“I was surprised by how quickly it happened. It didn’t happen so fast even in the West, let alone in India”, said Burchett about marrying Geeta, who is 11 years younger than him. The couple have two daughters – Bhumika and Roohi – and a son Romi. His four grandchildren are the apple of his eye. However, Burchett has retained his British nationality.His Indian visa is renewed every five years.

Burchett now works as an editor in a publishing firm in Varanasi, which produces books on subjects like Hinduism and mythology. Geeta works for the New India Assurance Company and they live in a rented house which was built opposite the landmark Durga Kund more than 100 years ago.

So what’s Burchett’s take on the controversial ghar wapsi campaigns that have been run in the state?

“Rubbish! If someone who is born and brought up as a Muslim because six generations ago his forefathers converted to Islam, how can you expect him to become a Hindu? The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal’s case is very weak. Similarly, the offspring of a Christian family which converted 100 years ago can’t be expected to become a Hindu once again.It’s not humanly possible.

“On the one hand you say Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, or the world is my family. And on the other hand you want to make an issue out of Hindu, Muslim and Christian. All very trite and childish,” Burchett said.

Burchett is a witness to Varanasi’s evolution over four and a half decades. “I was attracted by the happy go lucky way of life – taking things as they came. That’s no longer the case. Time is money.  Everything is related to money now.”

“For the first 14-15 years, there was no TV set in my Varanasi home. TV arrived just in time for Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 – the first TV tower was erected around that time.” he said.

“Besides TV, the other big influence was the influx of rich Biharis into Varanasi who wanted to escape the lawlessness and kidnappings in Bihar. Their arrival resulted in skyrocketing land prices. And now the Bihari mafia itself is buying into Varanasi as it has blossomed into the biggest mandi in entire eastern UP. Patna and Gorakhpur are also important trading centres but not as important as Varanasi,” he said.

So what are Burchett’s expectations of Modi as a Banarsi to the core?

“To be honest, I have bigger expectations of him as the country’s PM rather than Varanasi’s MP. He must create jobs. He must fulfill as many promises as he can.. He must make India proud – and he shouldn’t forget his roots,” Burchett said.

Converting ‘Father’ to acharya in Christian schools: Is Chhattisgarh govt bending to RSS whims?

Raipur:  Is there more than what meets the eye to the letters issued by a couple of district administrations in Chhattisgarh to the principals of schools run by the Christian missionaries, in which they ordered them to stop the practice of students addressing them as ‘Father’? The letters said principals and teachers were to be addressed as ‘Sir’ or ‘Pracharya’.

One of the districts, The Indian Express reported, has withdrawn the controversial order. The collector of Mahasamund, according to the newspaper, said “the order was issued by mistake”.

The matter would be inconsequential, but for the fact that in one of the districts the letter was marked to the local VHP office too. The local Bajrang Dal chief in Mahasamund claimed that the action was taken on a demand made to the collector by his organization and Sangh Parivar affiliates have been making a similar demand for some time now. Add to that the looming presence of the Sangh Parivar in the state.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“Father is an address to the teacher that is used the world over and has not been found objectionable anywhere. Why then in Chhattisgarh only it is being used to target a particular community?” Bhupesh Baghel, the president of the state Congress Committee said.

“The RSS is making the state government the tool to implement its agenda” he said.

Devendra Bahadur Singh, an ex-minister and MLA from Mahasamund district, said he never heard any complaints from the children or their parents about the practice of calling their teachers ‘Father’.

Hardly any political leader in the state finds the letters surprising though, as they have been raising their concern over the increasing influence of the RSS and other affiliates over the administration for some time now.

The state government courted major controversy in February this year when it tinkered with the decades old civil services rule book. The rules, adopted almost ad verbatim from the rule book of Madhya Pradesh, continues to prohibit a government servant from taking part in politics.

The state government, brought the near forgotten rules into the limelight when it issued a notification with the subject line “regarding participation of government servants in activities of RSS”, and said that “as far as Rule 5(1) of Chhattisgarh Civil Services  (Conduct) Rules 1965 is concerned, its restriction does not apply to RSS”. Put simply, it allowed its employees to join the RSS and to work and donate for it.

The Congress made headlines by creating a ruckus in the state assembly over the issue.

“Under our system of governance, a government official is not only supposed to remain impartial and non-aligned in his public dealings, one should also appear to be so in the public image. The knowledge of the officer’s association and sympathies with the RSS, which is the parent body of the ruling party, is bound to adversely affect the public perception,” Baghel said.

The rule has been there for decades. Umpteen instances of its violations, and past Congress regimes looking the other way, abound. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the state government, even past Congress regimes, dithered on taking a stand against the violation of its own rules for its employees or defining the political nature of the RSS in clear terms.

Take, for example, the case of Rajendra Prasad Modi. In 1954 he was adjudged the best NCC cadet of the country after the Republic Day parade in Delhi and handed the prize by Pandit Nehru. He was sent to England as the leader of the delegation of cadets where he met and earned the praise of the legendary Field Marshal Montgomery.  On his return to India, when he wanted to be an officer with the Indian Army, the interview was a cake walk.

A near-celebrity and a youth icon in his home state of Madhya Pradesh by then, the history of his association with the RSS ruined his prospects. Before he could join the services, an intelligence report played spoilsport and his appointment letter was withdrawn at the last moment. The civil service conduct rules did not allow an employee to a member of a political outfit, and the RSS was considered one such unit then.

Within months, a post fell vacant in the state police department and the Congress chief minister, fully aware of his background and the reasons behind his disqualification for an earlier government job, offered him the post which he accepted and he rose to the rank of Inspector General before retiring from the services.

State employees supporting the RSS have been known to take part in the activities of the organization, both overtly and covertly, for many years. Yet there is no evidence of the government acting against any one for the ‘crime’ of taking part in a political activity.

“The tendency to ‘overlook’ the ‘crime’ has remained a standard feature of all the Congress-led governments in the state. Mr. RP Modi’s case was overt, not exceptional” said a retired bureaucrat.

“The crux of the confusion is the inability of the government to clearly define politics,” said a senior serving official.

The Congress never stopped calling the RSS a political outfit and the RSS never ceased to reiterate its claim of being a social service organization. The war of words has continued.

With a friendly government in power, the RSS and its affiliates have been taking full advantage of it. The Christian community has always been a soft target for the BJP and RSS in the state. Health and educational institutions run by the community, in particular, are viewed with suspicion by the latter. Last year, the VHP put intense pressure on the missionary schools to have the photographs of deity Saraswati installed in classrooms besides saying that the principal and vice-principal must be called acharya and up-acharya instead of ‘Father’. Given this backdrop the letters issued by the district administrations could be more than just a lapse.

Centre to name minority welfare schemes on historic figures from community

In a bid to polish its image as a secular government, Centre will celebrate national icons from minority communities through commemorative events.

In what seems like an attempt to promote itself as a secular government, the Centre is planning to name schemes targeted at minority communities on well known historic personalities from Muslim, Christian and Parsi communities. The government also plans to hold commemorative events, reports ET. The idea is to celebrate national figures from minority communities ‘who believed in Indian nationalism and fought for it’.Some of the national icons in the list include revolutionary Ashfaqulla Khan, salt satyagraha leader Abbas Tyabji, Quit India movement leader Vakkom Abdul Khadir and political activist and freedom fighter Ubaidullah Sindhi. Women freedom fighters too are included in the list. Bi Amma (Abadi Begum), Begum Hazrat Mahal, who rebelled against British rule will be among the female figures of Indian independence struggle,<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Muslim figures who stood for unity between communities include Mughal prince Dara Shikoh and poet Iqbal who wrote the song `Saare jahan se achha’. Indian Unani medicine system scholar Hakim Ajmal Khan too figures in the list.The government reportedly wants to break the notion of associating Indian Muslims with gangsters or crime, BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said. “The Modi government wants to break that stereotype and wants everyone to know that minority communities have played a significant role in the national struggle,“ he was quoted in the report. The Centre has been careful too look past minority personalities associated with the Congress.The list also includes figures from Christian and Parsi communities. TM Varghese, George Joseph and Pherozeshah Mehta and Bhikaji Cama too are included in the list. More names could be added before the final list is made.The Centre also reportedly plans not to push the ‘Mission Empowerment’ scheme for minorities in Bihar and West Bengal which will see elections soon. In other states, the Centre has ordered a review of the scheme.Recently the Centre had come under fire by United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) for the Ghar Wapsi issue. The organisation has studied harassment of Christians, Muslims and Sikhs ever since BJP government came to power.

Modi govt slams US panel report on minorities, says it’s based on ‘limited understanding of India’

New Delhi: India on Thursday strongly reacted to a report by a US Congress-established panel claiming that minorities in the country have been subjected to “violent attacks” and “forced conversions” after the Modi government assumed power in 2014, saying it does not take cognisance of such reports.

External Affairs Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, “Our attention has been drawn to a report of the USCIRF which has passed judgement on religious freedom in India.

PM Narendra Modi. Reuters

PM Narendra Modi. Reuters

“The report appears to be based on limited understanding of India, its Constitution and its society.”

He further said, “We take no cognisance of the report.”

In its 2015 annual report, USCIRF (US Commission on International Religious Freedom) said, “Since the election, religious minority communities have been subject to derogatory comments by politicians linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and numerous violent attacks and forced conversions by Hindu nationalist groups, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP).”

The report further said, “In advance of the programme, the Hindu groups sought to raise money for their campaign, noting that it cost nearly 200,000 rupees per Christian and 500,000 rupees per Muslim. After both domestic and international criticism, the day was ‘postponed’ according to Mohan Bhagwat, an RSS leader.”

The panel said Hindu groups also reportedly give monetary incentives to Hindus to convert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. In early December, hundreds of Muslims reportedly were forcibly “reconverted” to Hinduism in a mass ceremony in Agra.

“Members of the RSS allegedly tricked dozens of Muslims families into attending a meeting by telling them they would be provided financial help, but instead a Hindu religious leader performed a Hindu conversion ceremony; an investigation is underway,” it said.

The USCIRF said in September 2014, the Dalit Seventh-day Adventists filed a report in Uttar Pradesh that they were forcibly converted to Hinduism and that their church was converted to a Hindu temple.

It is not known if a police investigation was conducted in the matter.

The nationalist groups also allegedly target Dalits if they are believed to be considering conversion away from Hinduism, it said.

According to the report, at an event honouring Indian Catholic saints in February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated publicly, for the first time, that his government “will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence”.

This statement is notable given long-standing allegations that, as Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2002, Modi was complicit in anti-Muslim riots in that state, it said.

“Moreover, religious minority communities voice concern that high-ranking BJP members protect or provide support to these groups. In light of these concerns, Prime Minister Modi’s statement in support of religious freedom made after the close of the reporting period (discussed more fully below) was a positive development,” it said.

The USCIRF said Indian courts are still adjudicating cases stemming from large-scale Hindu-Muslim communal violence in Uttar Pradesh in 2013 and in Gujarat in 2002, Hindu-Christian communal violence in Odisha in 2007-2008, and Hindu-Sikh communal violence in Delhi in 1984.

“NGOs, religious leaders, and human rights activists allege religious bias and corruption in these investigations and adjudications. A one-member special judicial inquiry commission is still investigating the 2013 riots in Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh that left dozens, mostly Muslims, dead and tens of thousands, mostly Muslims, displaced.

“Cases stemming from the 2002 Gujarat violence also continue, including a special court case pertaining to the killing of 68 people, including former Congress Party Parliamentarian Ehsan Jafri,” it said.

Incidents of religiously-motivated and communal violence have reportedly increased for three consecutive years, the panel said in its key findings.

Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan tend to have the greatest number of religiously-motivated attacks and communal violence incidents.

USCIRF asked the Obama Administration to press the Indian government to publicly rebuke officials and religious leaders who make derogatory remarks about communities and to boost religious freedom standards in India.

It also said that despite the country’s status as a pluralistic, secular democracy, India has long struggled to protect minority religious communities or provide justice when crimes occur, which perpetuates a climate of impunity.

It may be mentioned here that US President Barack Obama had twice made a strong pitch for religious tolerance in India.

PTI

David Headley writes memoir in prison on 26/11 attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba training

Excerpts from the draft offer a “unique window” into Headley’s turn toward extremism and his training with Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Pakistani-American LeT terrorist David Headley, serving 35 years for his role in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, has written a memoir in prison detailing how Lashkar’s “dedication” to the cause of the “liberation of Kashmir” inspired him to join the terror group.American public affairs TV programme Frontline was given access to a draft of the memoir Headley, 54, wrote in jail.Excerpts from the draft offer a “unique window” into Headley’s turn toward extremism, his training with Lashkar-e-Taiba and his preparations for the Denmark attack against the Jyllands-Posten newspaper.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In one of the passages in the memoir, Headley writes about his first encounter with LeT militants in October 2000.”On one of my trips, October 2000, I made my first contact with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), quite by accident. I attended their annual convection in November. I was very impressed with their dedication to the cause of the liberation of Kashmir from Indian occupation,” Headley writes.He writes that for the terror attack on Mumbai, the plan was to capture an Indian fishing vessel that would not raise alarm with the Indian Coast Guard as it transported the LeT terrorists to Mumbai’s shores.”The plan was to capture an Indian fishing vessel, which constantly strayed into Pakistani waters, and commandeer it all the way to Mumbai. The hope was that the Indian Coast Guard would not notice an Indian vessel. The boys would carry a GPS device which would guide them directly to the landing site, I had selected earlier,” he writes.Headley also writes in detail about his decision to join Lashkar “full time” following the 9/11 attacks, and says that by 2002 the group asked him to take “the Daura Aamma, the basic military training course offered by LeT.” In 2005, Lashkar asked him to change his name from Dawood Gilani to a “Christian sounding name” so that he could travel easily between the US, India and Pakistan and make it difficult for intelligence agencies to track his activities.”Finally, in June, my immediate superior, Sajid Mir, instructed me to return to the US, change my Muslim name to a Christian sounding name and get a new US passport under that name. He now informed me I would be going to India, since I looked nothing like a Pakistani in appearance and spoke fluent Hindi and Urdu it would give me a distinct advantage in India,” he said.Describing the training he got at Lashkar camps, Headley writes “we hid most of the day in caves and under trees, while we were given instructions on various lessons.” He says most of the “practical aspects” of the lessons were carried out at night and during the course, he was trained in “infiltration, survival, camouflage, raid/ambush tactics, hide out, hiding and retrieving weapons caches, more than a dozen night marches, target practice with AK-47 and 9 mm pistol, RPG, grenades, among other training.

Hindu temple vandalised in US, symbols of devil worship painted on door

New York: In the latest attack on Hindu houses of worship in the US, a temple has been vandalised in Texas, horrifying both Hindus and non-Hindus, who have offered to help the temple clean the damage, media reported.

Representational image. Agencies

Representational image. Agencies

In the attack at the North Texas Hindu Mandir in Lake Highlands suburb of Dallas, vandals painted symbols of devil worship on the temple’s door, media reports said on Saturday.

The attackers left behind on a shed at the temple the mark of Mara Salvatrucha, an international gang originating among immigrants from the predominantly Catholic nation of El Salvador and active in the US.

The 11CBS network in Dallas-Fort Worth area reported that a temple board member, Krishna Singh, said mandir members discovered the graffiti last Monday. “That was a big shock, really,” the network quoted her as saying.

“It makes me sad inside,” a nine-year-old child, Gracie Reed, told 11CBS. “To me, it’s really horrifying because I don’t know who would do this to a church,” the child said referring to the house of worship.

Dallas police have sent detectives from their gang unit to investigate the incident, according to WFAA, an ABC network affiliated local station.

While the administration of President Barack Obama, who has criticised India over religious tolerance, and Christian leaders have not reacted as of Sunday to the Texas vandalism, non-Hindu neighbours have offered to help the temple. WFAA reported that a clean-up effort was scheduled for Sunday.

Ted Hoffman, who lives across from the temple, told 11CBS, “We all find it appalling” and the neighbours have offered to help paint over the symbols.

The gesture of help from neighbours was welcomed by Hindus. WFAA quoted the temple treasurers Karen Snorton as saying she found the offer reassuring. “They’ve been here so that’s a positive thing that’s come out of all of this.”

In a statement, Universal Society of Hinduism president Rajan Zed thanked the neighbours for offering the temple help.

To counter such attacks, Zed urged fellow Hindus to educate Americans about Hinduism. “Basics of major world religions should be taught in high schools of the country and first responders should be imparted cultural competency training,” he added.

The temple supports community charities like food banks for the poor and an organisation that helps victims of child abuse.

Snorton told WFAA that MS-13 was spray-painted on one of the sheds. MS-13 is the abbreviated name and tag or signature of Mara Salvatrucha.

According to 11CBS, “666” and an upside cross were painted on the temple door. They symbolise devil worship.

Some Christian leaders, including a former candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Pat Robertson, have called Hinduism “demonic”.

Robertson is a pastor who has a following of millions in the US and abroad and his TV show, Club 700, is carried on Christian Broadcasting Network, which says on its website that it operates in India.

The attack is the latest in a series attacks on Hindu places of worship. Two temples were vandalised in Washington State in north-west US in February.

In August, a statue of Shiva at the Vishwa Bhavan Hindu Mandir in Monroe in the state of Georgia was desecrated with black paint. The local sheriff’s office arrested two people in connection with the attack.

Between July and October in Loudon County in Virginia, police have documented 17 separate incidents of anti-Hindu vandalism, the Hindu American Foundation said.

The attacks come amid anti-Hindu propaganda by Christian fundamentalist leaders.

Besides Robertson, Christian pastor Franklin Graham, had denounced Hindus as followers of a “false religion” and said that “none of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation. We are fooling ourselves.”

When Zed was invited to say the opening invocation at start of an Idaho state Senate session last month, some legislators protested.

Senator Sheryl Nuxoll said she boycotted the invocation because she said she believed the US is a Christian nation and “Hindu is a false faith with false gods”.

However, Catholic Church’s leadership in Idaho state criticised her and declared her denunciation of Hinduism “do not represent the opinions or teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, (Boise) Bishop Peter Christensen or even our Holy Father, Pope Francis, who has been an outspoken supporter of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue.”

IANS

Church vandalised in Agra: Miscreants damage statue of Mother Mary and baby Jesus

Agra: A church in the Cantonment area here was allegedly vandalised by unknown miscreants in the wee hours today, triggering outrage among the members of the local Christian community.

According to police, alleged miscreants vandalised St Mary’s Church in Agra Cantonment’s Pratabpura area in what is the latest in a spate of attacks on such institutions across the country.

AFP image.AFP image.

AFP image.

An FIR has been registered at Rakabganj police station against unknown persons, they said, adding that two statues on the church premises were found damaged along with its main gate.

Speaking to NDTV, Father Lazarus, a priest of the church said that he woke up after his car alarm went off and he found damaged statues of Mother Mary and baby Jesus.

“Around 3.30 am I heard the alarm of my car. When I came out, I found all four doors of the car open and the wind-screen was smashed,” Father Lazarus said.

According to a report in The Hindustan Times, the miscreants wanted to hurt the religious sentiments. Speaking with HT, Father Lazarus said, “The intruders intended to hurt our religious sentiments as they placed the head of child Jesus Christ in the hand of Mother Mary and attached a dog chain to the neck.”

District and police officials reached the church in the morning to review security arrangements, police said.

Meanwhile, Christian community leaders in Agra are furious over the incident and have demanded firm action against the culprits within 24 hours, a PTI report said.

Last month, an elderly nun was allegedly gangraped at a convent school in West Bengal by miscreants who also looted cash from its lockers. Two Bangladeshi nationals have been arrested in connection with the March 14 incident.

A cathedral premises and a missionary school where people had gathered for a religious convention were vandalised allegedly by Hindu activists in Jabalpur of Madhya Pradesh on March 20. Six persons allegedly belonging to a right-wing Hindu group were apprehended over the incident but were later let off on bail.

Earlier last week, in a speech at the UNESCO in Paris, Prime Minister Modi had emphasised on his vision of inclusiveness and said cultures, traditions and religions should be used to overcome the rising tide of extremism, violence and divisions across the world.

“We have built a modern state in an ancient land, with a timeless tradition of openness and co-existence and, a society of extraordinary diversity,” PTI quoted PM Modi as saying.

Modi had assured minorities in India that rights and liberty of citizens of all faiths will be protected and equal place ensured for them, comments that come against the backdrop of anti-minority campaign by Hindutva elements.

With inputs from agencies

VK Singh and the P-word: Media should learn to take it on the chin

“There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with… The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting (of) an independent press?”

The above quote of John Swinton, former chief of staff and columnist of The New York Times in the 19th century, is possibly an exaggerated version of the limits to media freedom and independence – or even Swinton’s own views. But few journalists today – in India or elsewhere – will fail to recognise some elements of the truth in the statement, some 145 years after Swinton is reported to have made it.

One quotes Swinton here because there has been a hullabaloo over Minister of State for External Affairs, VK Singh’s tweets about “presstitutes” in the media. Swinton would probably have agreed with that term in applying it to at least sections of the media. Recently, Singh appears to have taken on Arnab Goswami of Times Now, as well as his old bete noire, The Indian Express, which put out a damaging – and questionable – story a couple of years ago on how the UPA establishment was spooked in January 2012 when there were army movements near Delhi when Gen Singh was Army Chief. Just as the Express invoked the “C” word (coup) to damage Gen Singh when he was fighting with the government over his retirement date, the latter invoked the “P” word against Express and Goswami.

V-K-Singh_Sandip-RoyV-K-Singh_Sandip-Roy

Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh. (Firstpost image)

While there is no gainsaying the fact that the ex-general need not have waged verbal war that could only have dented his own reputation and that of his government – which anyway faces a hostile or distrustful English media – the fact is the only people who should really protest against the word “presstitute” are commercial sex workers. They have been trying to put the pejorative term “prostitute” behind them before Singh coined a similar cussword to describe sections of the media who he considers to be compromised.

That said, the media should grow up. When the media has the right to criticise any public figure and damage his or her reputation in the name of free speech, it should be equally willing to take some criticism – even verbal abuse – from those who are at the receiving end of its unwelcome attentions.

The reality is that the media is not always above board when it comes to fairplay. In many ways its biases are not only not apparent, but seldom disclosed. I am not someone who believes that there can be truly neutral journalism, for media institutions, owners, editors and even journalists come with their own ideological and personal biases and baggage. For example, a third of media houses has political linkages. Others are either owned by corporations (Firstpost publisher Network 18 is owned by the Reliance Group), or are dependent on advertising for survival – which makes them extremely careful about what they say about some big corporates, though this bias may not always be obvious. Over and above this there is editorial orientation and predilection.

Just as in the US there are Right-wing and Left-wing and centrist publications, in India too journalists have to learn to accept the reality that they are not always neutral – however high an individual’s personal standards may be. At best they can try and be a bit more balanced – and be humble enough to accept that they may not always be doing what is right. After all, they have jobs to keep, EMIs to pay and families to feed.

Like commercial sex work – where some do it because it is easy money and others because they have no other way to make a living – a significant part of journalism in India (and also abroad) is slanted one way or the other. So when we hear accusations of paid media, we have to acknowledge this reality even though a journalist (or his publication) may not actually accept direct bribes in lieu of coverage – or non-coverage.

Then, of course, there are truly larger than life editors who are on their own trip. A certain Goswami comes to mind. Having adopted a populist approach like the Christian right-wing Fox channel, Goswami seems to decide in advance who his target (or victim) for the day should be and goes after them. Is this journalism? Certainly asking tough questions is. But Goswami goes beyond that and is not above name-calling once he has chosen his victim for the day. So VK Singh calling him names is par for the course. Goswami’s show is about him, and his style is inquisitional. He would have been a huge asset to the Catholic Church’s Spanish Inquisition.

Times Now

‘s superstar anchor seldom asks open-ended questions – or waits for answers he does not want to hear. Its more like: “Have you stopped beating your wife? Yes or no?” All answers are self-incriminating so its best to talk about the weather and watch the fun on his shows. Goswami’s journalism is a form of vigilantism and voyeurism – and will probably die a slow death once people wise up to it. It should be seen as part of Bollywood entertainment where the hero gets to rail against the injustices of the world, rather than just journalism. Whether this makes him eligible for Singh’s P-word, of course, is a matter of opinion.

Going beyond Goswami, the point to underscore is that bias and tendentiousness are omnipresent in Indian journalism – as it is in the west. The difference lies is how sophisticated you are in putting out bias without making it seem like one. The gratuitous writing on India’s societal problems – patriarchy, caste, gender oppression – by eminent publications like the NYT, WaPo and The Economist can only be read as bias masquerading as concern for the unfortunate. The anti-BJP (or anti-Modi) bias of the west is also obvious when rape, racism and killings are as rampant in the US as in India (Thursday’s papers talk of a white US cop killing a black man and an Indian being shot dead by unknown assailants).

This attitude permeates large sections of the English media based in Delhi too. Or why would they tom-tom a petty robbery in a church or a nun’s rape as anti-Christian attacks? Once it became clear that the rape of the 72-year-old nun in West Bengal may have Bangladeshi linkages, the media suddenly lost interest in the case because it is now difficult to beat the BJP with it. Is the rape now less of a crime since the perpetrator is not your designated villain? Media bias lies not only in how it reports, but what it chooses not to report – which was part of Singh’s grouse too.

The Broadcast Editors Association has blasted Singh’s “presstitute” statement as beyond “normal behavioural decency”. It should chill. While it is true Singh should mind his language, it is equally important for the media to grow up and learn to take harsh language in its stride. It should not play crybaby when its targets pay it back in the same coin.

Shorn of its pejorative and patriarchal connotation, “presstitute” is just a harsher word for “paid media” – a term Indian journalists themselves accept as a real issue hampering journalism.

Those who feel entitled to dish it out should be equally willing to take it in the chin.

Uncle Sam may be indirectly funding religious conversion in India

By Rupa Subramanya

Are church and state really separate in the United States? And how does that affect US foreign relations with countries such as India?

An unsettled and ongoing debate in the area of foreign development assistance concerns the extensive role played by faith-based organisations (FBO). In the US context, in particular, FBOs have been heavily involved in the delivery of both domestic social and foreign development assistance activities funded by the US government. On the foreign front in particular, the involvement of FBOs is seen by its proponents as a projection of US soft power in the area of foreign policy.

Despite uncertainty about whether it is even constitutional, given the US First Amendment’s “establishment clause” separating church and state, FBOs have played an important role, starting during the administration of President Bill Clinton, carrying through that of George W Bush in a significant way and continuing into that of Barack Obama.

Representational image. AFPRepresentational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

One of the principal avenues through which FBOs receive taxpayer support is the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Indeed, several major US-based FBOs, which receive USAID funds, are active in India in a big way.

An obvious concern is that when explicitly religious organisations are funded by tax dollars, what happens if those organisations are tempted to use the funds for proselytising activity rather than just the intended humanitarian or charitable purpose?

In theory, this is not supposed to be an issue. USAID has strict rules which prohibit FBOs from using government funds to engage in proselytising or other explicit religious activities. But this is problematic for at least two reasons. First, nothing prevents an FBO from quickly transitioning from a humanitarian activity such as disaster relief to evangelising to the same group of people — and such activity is widely reported. Second, as monies are fungible, the fact that FBOs receive government support means that they can transfer money away from humanitarian activity toward proselytising, and still come out ahead financially.

In Africa, American evangelical Christian groups (some funded by the US government, others not) have brought not just humanitarian assistance and a proselytising mission, but have an explicit agenda to promote socially conservative values, such as opposition to abortion and homosexuality. Here in India, Human Life International, a far right Catholic group that is against a woman’s right to choose and is widely seen as anti-Semitic and homophobic has established a centre in Goa, which was inaugurated in 2011 and praised to the hilt by former Congress minister Eduardo Faleiro.

One of the most important and controversial American evangelical organisations active in Africa and India and which receives substantial US government support is Samaritan’s Purse. Headed by the influential evangelical leader Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, the organisation has received support from both Republican and Democratic presidents — despite their support for anti-homosexual and anti-abortion rights around the world. Franklin Graham also said made no secret of his disdain for other religions. After visiting India as a young person, he spoke of “hundreds of millions of people locked in the darkness of Hinduism… bound by Satan’s power”.

Samaritan’s Purse has also encountered controversy with “Operation Christmas Child”, which is active in India and elsewhere. The program gives shoebox gifts, packaged in the US and other western countries by donors and distributed to needy children in the developing world. These boxes contain toys, clothes and other accessories and are accompanied by bibles and invitation to learn the Gospel and the Christian faith. Samaritan’s Purse’s own
promotional video shows young children in India being presented with gifts, starting to attend church as a result, and then converting to Christianity.

As Samaritan’s Purse’s shoebox gifts makes clear, proselytisation takes many forms and is an increasingly sophisticated and savvy enterprise. It’s much more than the traditional modus operandi of a missionary going to a backward community with a loaf of bread in one hand and a bible in the other.

Take Partners Worldwide, another recipient of US government money which is active in India through an Indian NGO, Business Seva. They’re a Christian network devoted to a “business as mission” (BAM) model, which sees business activity not just as profit-making but as an avenue for evangelising. One of their success stories in India is Olive Technology, an IT company based in the southern city of Hyderabad.

The company offers bible lessons and other support services for their Christian employees and provides IT support to other Christian missionary organisations. The company’s founder suggests that Christians ought to be “overt and zealous” in the public expression of their faith, with the BAM model being one avenue for doing this.

While the opacity of funding arrangements would make it difficult or impossible to prove that US taxpayer money has directly supported evangelical activity, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that US-funded FBOs such as Samaritan’s Purse and Partners Worldwide are heavily proselytising in India, quite apart from whatever humanitarian or charitable work they may be doing. And this is leaving aside all of the non-government funded US-based evangelical organisations active in India, which don’t even have to maintain the pretence of separating humanitarian from evangelical work.

This sort of activity, blending charity and Christian evangelism, has aroused the concern of the Indian government. “Can social service not be performed without resorting to conversion and will any country allow changes to its demographic character?” asked India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh recently while addressing a government commission charged with protecting the rights of minorities in India.

As it happens, such concerns are not new. Because of India’s history of almost two centuries of British colonial rule, Christian missionaries have been extremely active in the sub-continent long before independence in 1947. Indeed, Mahatma Gandhi himself expressed a similar sentiment before India’s independence, when he said, “I hold that proselytising under the cloak of humanitarian work, is to say the least, unhealthy. It is most certainly resented by the people here.”

Quite apart from the distaste that people may feel for proselytisation piggybacking on top of humanitarian work is the very India-specific issue that the country’s majority religion, Hinduism, is along with Judaism, the world’s only major non- proselytising religion, which creates an un-level playing field when confronted with aggressively proselytising faiths such as Christianity and Islam. That, in turn, has fuelled a debate on whether the central government ought to pass legislation to restrict conversion (some Indian states already do).

Indeed, concerns about Christian proselytisation have recently flared up in neighbouring Nepal, which until recently was a Hindu kingdom in which conversion was not allowed. After a secular constitution came in 2007, there was an influx of Christian missionaries and apparently a sharp rise in the Christian population, provoking a a backlash from the majority Hindu, Buddhist and Kiranta (a blend of animism, Hinduism and Buddhism) communities.

At present, the backlash against widespread Christian proselytisation in places like Nepal and India is largely localised, but one cannot rule out the prospect of a serious blowback on the United States.

Advocates of the use of FBOs as soft power tools of US foreign policy, such as President Obama and various scholars, have stressed that FBOs with ties to local religious organisations may be less intrusive than official US government intervention as administered directly by USAID. But this misses the fact that US FBOs active in India and elsewhere carry considerable baggage, namely the evangelical mission itself, which in reality is their self-proclaimed raison d’être.

The Indian experience with FBOs such as Samaritan’s Purse and Partners Worldwide, to name just two discussed here, suggests strongly that the next US president, whichever party he or she may belong to, ought to seriously reconsider the way that the US government supports FBOs working overseas.

Despite being couched as support for FBOs broadly, the reality is that under Presidents Bush and Obama, this has really meant supporting Christian organisations to the exclusion of almost all others. According to Lee Marsden, a professor of international relations at the University of East Anglia in the UK, and a critic of the role of FBOs in US foreign policy, the first five years of the Bush presidency saw only two out of 159 major grants to FBOs being awarded to Muslim organisations, despite the large number of projects being undertaken during this period in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Marsden documents that this trend has continued into the Obama administration, with very few US-based Muslim organisations receiving any USAID funding. Marsden’s research corroborates a year long Boston Globe investigation which found that USAID grants heavily favoured evangelical groups engaged in proselytisation overseas.

This is to say nothing of Hindu, Buddhist or other non-Christian FBOs which simply aren’t in the picture.

If the US government doesn’t act to change its policy stance, there may well be a policy reaction by the current Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The government has already put under the scanner foreign funds flowing into environmental NGOs which it believes are detrimental to the country’s economic development. If dissatisfaction with large foreign funds supporting large-scale Christian proselytisation continues to grow, it’s conceivable that the Indian government may restrict or at least scrutinise such inflows as well.

It’s noteworthy that the principal concern of one US-based Christian charity, Christian Mission Aid, which funnels money into India for proselytisation, is not the alleged persecution of the Christian minority in India but rather the concern that the flow of foreign funds into India might stop and therefore jeopardise their evangelical mission.

Either way, it seems unlikely that the status quo is sustainable, and irrespective of what countries such as India do, it’s in the US national interest to revisit the use of FBOs as a tool of foreign and development policy.

Going forward, either grants to FBOs should be genuinely inclusive, and widely engage non-Christian FBOs, or the next administration should seriously consider turning the clock back to the days in which the makers of US foreign policy and development assistance took seriously the First Amendment.

VVIP chopper deal: Enforcement Directorate questions ex-IAF Air Marshal

New Delhi: Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Thursday questioned former IAF Air Marshal Gautam Nayyar in connection with its money laundering probe in the multi-crore AgustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal.

Sources said Air Marshal (retd) Nayyar was questioned by ED investigators for over eight hours as they also recorded his statement under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

ReutersReuters

Reuters

Nayyar did not talk to the waiting media after he emerged from the ED office in New Delhi.

Sources said he “denied any wrongdoing in the entire deal as he said he was not in-charge of the procurement division of the IAF which handles new acquisitions.”

The agency had summoned Nayyar as it had detected that the retired top IAF commander had got some funds allegedly from European middlemen and an accused in the case Christian Michel James.

“Nayyar was questioned about funds that have been remitted in his accounts reportedly by Michel or on his behest. The amount under suspicion is to the tune of Rs 80 lakh,” sources said.

They said the agency had tracked these payments being made by Michel to Nayyar and his junior, a Group Captain rank officer, as “personal unexplained payments” which includes reimbursements made in connection with some foreign travels.

ED suspects the money received in a private consultancy firm floated by the former IAF officer had links to “kickbacks” paid by the Italian firm to crack the Rs 3,600 crore deal.

PTI

‘Ghar wapsi’ has become a bad phrase despite Article 25 guaranteeing it

“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”, says Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Caroll’s Through the looking Glass.

To which Alice asks, “The question is whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

Humpty Dumpty’s reply: “The question is which is to be the master, that’s all.”

It speaks much for the agenda-setting powers of the Lutyens elite and large segments of the mainstream English media, and the poor communications ability of its bete noire, the Sangh parivar, that words uttered by the latter can be forced to mean what the former chooses it to mean.

Nothing illustrates this point more than the term ghar wapsi – a term used by the RSS and its ideological fronts as code for converting non-Hindus to Hinduism. Ghar wapsi is something the RSS is committed to, as indicated by the recent meeting of its top body, the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha. It has now relabelled it as dharma jagran (religious awakening), which, The Indian Express informs us, is the same as ghar wapsi.

However, in Indian “secular” discourse, the term is used not to describe a religious conversion activity – which every liberal is keen to defend, including President Barack Obama, who gave us a lecture on it in January – but as code for communalism with negative connotations.

Thus, when a nun gets raped in Ranaghat in West Bengal, a state minister happily attributes it to “ghar wapsi”. This is how Bengal Minister Firhad Hakim linked the rape to ghar wapsi. “Religious intolerance in the name of ghar wapsi is at work, sometimes in Odisha and sometimes in Bengal. This may be one of the reasons (for the rape of a 71-year-old nun).

Even someone more sensible than Mamata Banerjee’s ministers, former Punjab DGP Julio Ribeiro, thinks ghar wapsi is something negative. In a poignant article in The Indian Express, where Ribeiro shared the anguish of the Christian community over some toxic statements from the Sangh, Ribeiro wrote: “Ghar wapsi, the declaration of Christmas as ‘Good Governance Day’, the attack on Christian churches and schools in Delhi, all (have) added to a sense of siege that now afflicts these peaceful people.”

While one can certainly agree with some of his points, the inclusion of the term ghar wapsi in the same category as attacks on churches is questionable, especially when the “secular” consensus is in favour of freedom to preach and propagate a religion of your choice.

Chief Mohan Rao Bhagwat  of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)Chief Mohan Rao Bhagwat  of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)

Chief Mohan Rao Bhagwat of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)

This shows how the Sangh has lost control of the meaning of its own branded phrase – and, in the process, the topic itself. The crass way in which some of the practitioners have boasted about “ghar wapsi” may have something to do with it, but so has the pretense that it is not a conversion programme.

What is ghar wapsi, really? It is essentially a Hindu effort to convert (or reconvert) people from other faiths – a freedom guaranteed to everybody under article 25 of the constitution.

However, the Sangh does not want to call a spade a spade – an issue any Hindu will understand, but the secularists choose to misunderstand deliberately.

Since Hinduism believes that one can be a Hindu only by birth, “ghar wapsi” is essentially a way of getting around this doctrinal ban on seeking converts. By pretending that it is only bringing back former Hindus back to the fold, the Sangh is pretending that it is not running a conversion programme, but merely advocating a return to old religious roots.

The problem with the Sangh’s terminology is that there cannot be anyone called an original Hindu who can automatically become Hindu again without active conversion. Once someone is identified as Muslim or Christian, the only way he or she can become Hindu again is by conversion. At best, one can call the return of a recent convert to the Hindu fold as ghar wapsi, since the conversion and reconversion happened within one lifetime. All other conversions have to be called conversions.

However, one need not quarrel with the term ghar wapsi itself. If that is how the Sangh chooses to call it, so be it. A conversion programme called by any other name would still be a conversion programme.

The Sangh is losing the argument and the meaning embedded in the term ‘ghar wapsi’ because it has wrongly chosen to call for a ban on religious conversions. There can be no ban on conversions in a liberal society – unless the reasons are related to coercion or fraud.

By insisting on a ban, the Sangh’s own conversion programme can be deliberately misinterpreted by its enemies as amounting to coercion and fraud.

It is time the Sangh started taking advantage of the constitutional guarantee under article 25 and openly acknowledge that it wants to convert more Indians (and presumably foreigners) to Hinduism. When the Pope can make calls for the “evangelisation” of Asia and Africa, and still not be branded communal, why is the RSS courting a bad name by pretending it is not into conversions? There is nothing wrong in the RSS wanting to convert people to Hinduism.

It is time the RSS reclaimed the meaning of the term ghar wapsi. In the hands of its rivals, the phrase has been mangled out of shape.

The West Bengal gang-rape and church attacks have left me aghast: A nun speaks out

The incident of a nun being gang-raped in West Bengal’s Nadia district has left the country outraging, yet again.

The 71-year-old Sister Superior of the convent school in Ranaghat sub-division was brutalised on Saturday by dacoits who also decamped with Rs 12 lakh.

A student protests against the gangrape of a nun in West Bengal. PTIA student protests against the gangrape of a nun in West Bengal. PTI

A student protests against the gangrape of a nun in West Bengal. PTI

And as the septuagenarian recuperates in the hospital, everyone from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has expressed concern and shock over the incident.

As the incident occurred after several attacks on churches across the country, some have suggested the incident was not only an attack on women, but also an attack on the Christian community.

Reacting to the incident, principal of Sophia College for Women in Mumbai, a nun herself, Dr Ananda Amritmahal , writes in Quartz that the incident was first an attack on womankind, then an attack on Christians and also an attack on nuns.

Calling the incident an eyeopener for the country in terms of “the intersecting levels of rampant communalism, religious fundamentalism, political manoeuvring and economic imperatives”, Amritmahal, says:

“As a woman, I am involved every time a woman is attacked, raped, killed. Rape has always been the “ultimate” weapon against not just a woman but against all womankind, and against the entire community to which the raped woman belongs. Imposing what a patriarchal mindset calls a “fate worse than death” upon the victim, it proclaims the power and supposed invincibility of the rapist. It underlines the vulnerability of the victim, and worst of all, it imposes the burden of shame and guilt upon the victim. She, not the perpetrator, is “dishonoured.”

The brutalisation of the nun also comes at a time when the Narendra Modi government is already being criticised for emboldening religious fanatics. While the PM has made several statements reassuring the people of the country that there was no place for religious bias in India, fringe Hindutva groups have continued their ‘ghar wapsi’ programme and the likes of Sadhvi Prachi have continued to make communal remarks.

The gangrape has also elicited reactions highlighting the possibility of a communal angle in the incident.

The Hindustan Times quoted West Bengal education minister Partha Chatterjee as saying, “We can sniff political conspiracy in the incident. It may be designed to malign the state government.”

And it isn’t only the West Bengal government that speaks of this being an attack on Christianity. Amritmahal in the Quartz article says:

As an Indian Christian, the attacks on the community and on Christian places of worship in my own country leave me aghast, shaken to the foundations in my belief that as Indians we bring a large acceptance and understanding to our multiculturalism. Shaken also in my belief that this is fundamentally a law-abiding country. Questioning the value of our protected status as a minority community, guaranteed by the Constitution. Confused, bewildered, struggling to cope with a sense of a betrayal of trust. Struggling to hold on to my belief that we are essentially good people, that my neighbours and I are essentially one people, united in our plurality.

Like any other rape case, or act of communalism, our elected representatives have promised strict action. And despite several protests and promises, our country sees such acts of violence quite regularly. This has made many, including Amritmahal skeptical.

Read  Dr Ananda Amritmahal’s full article on Qaurtz here.

VVIP chopper deal case: ED issues summons to two former IAF officers

New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has issued summons to two former Indian Air Force (IAF) officers in connection with its money laundering probe into the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal case.

Officials said that two retired officials — an Air Marshal and a Group Captain — have been allegedly found to have been associated with European national Christian Michel — the alleged middleman in this case — vis-a-vis some monetary transactions.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

ED sources said that the agency has tracked purported payments, running into lakhs, made by Michel to these officials as “personal unexplained payments”, which includes reimbursements made in connection with foreign travels.

“They (ex-IAF officials) have been asked to join investigations and explain their connection with Michel that the agency has detected,” sources said.

They said that the two officers were operating a private aviation and air defence consultancy firm and hence were in touch with Michel and other suspected middlemen and businessmen working in the international aviation domain.

ED, which has registered a criminal case under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) to probe alleged financial violations in the deal for the 12 VVIP choppers, is also set to attach the assets of Michel which it detected under a “benami” category in Delhi.

Michel’s assets, including a posh flat in the Safdarjung Enclave area, was purchased by a Delhi-based travel businessman, but the purchase was allegedly funded by the European businessman.

The agency arrested businessman-lawyer Gautam Khaitan in this case last year and he is currently out on bail after ED filed its first charge sheet in the case.

PTI

Chopper deal case: ED issues summons to two former IAF officers

New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has issued summons to two former Indian Air Force (IAF) officers in connection with its money laundering probe into the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper deal case.

Officials said that two retired officials — an Air Marshal and a Group Captain — have been allegedly found to have been associated with European national Christian Michel — the alleged middleman in this case — vis-a-vis some monetary transactions.

ED sources said that the agency has tracked purported payments, running into lakhs, made by Michel to these officials as “personal unexplained payments”, which includes reimbursements made in connection with foreign travels.

“They (ex-IAF officials) have been asked to join investigations and explain their connection with Michel that the agency has detected,” sources said.

They said that the two officers were operating a private aviation and air defence consultancy firm and hence were in touch with Michel and other suspected middlemen and businessmen working in the international aviation domain.

ED, which has registered a criminal case under the provisions of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) to probe alleged financial violations in the deal for the 12 VVIP choppers, is also set to attach the assets of Michel which it detected under a “benami” category in Delhi.

Michel’s assets, including a posh flat in the Safdarjung Enclave area, was purchased by a Delhi-based travel businessman, but the purchase was allegedly funded by the European businessman.

The agency arrested businessman-lawyer Gautam Khaitan in this case last year and he is currently out on bail after ED filed its first charge sheet in the case.

PTI

Not sure if BJP can check elements behind Ghar Wapsi, says ex-IPS officer Julio Ribeiro

Asked if he expected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to act against such elements, Ribeiro said “people are not listening to him”, in an apparent reference to the Sangh Parivar.

Former IPS officer Julio Ribeiro on Monday created a flutter when he said that as a Christian, he felt like a stranger in his own country, and that he was not sure if the ruling party can check “elements” indulging in campaigns like “ghar wapsi”.”To say that I belong to one particular religion and therefore, I am an Indian is funny,” Ribeiro, who made a deep impression as Punjab police chief told PTI.Asked if he expected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to act against such elements, Ribeiro said “people are not listening to him”, in an apparent reference to the Sangh Parivar.To a query whether he thought the BJP could check such elements, Ribeiro said, “I don’t know if they can rein in such elements”.”Can they (BJP) do it? I am not sure. What we need now is inclusive development of all people in the country and not just some sections,” Ribeiro, who also served as an envoy to Romania said.

India’s favourite cop Julio Ribeiro protests Hindutva: “Reduced to a stranger in my own country”

In the wake of a series of assaults targeting the Christian community,  retired Indian police officer and civil servant Julio Ribeiro has written a deeply personal op-ed for the Indian Express expressing his anguish as an Indian Christian who feels alienated in his own country.

“I am not an Indian anymore, at least in the eyes of the proponents of the Hindu Rashtra,” he writes, adding, “is it coincidence or a well-thought-out plan that the systematic targeting of a small and peaceful community should begin only after the BJP government of Narendra Modi came to power last May?”

JulioJulio

Julio Ribeiro. Image from IBN live.

The op-ed is a response to the series of events/attacks targeting the Christian community, be it the saffron parivar’s Ghar Wapsi campaign, the decision to observe 25 December as Good Governance day, the RSS attack on Mother Teresa, a series of church vandalizations in Delhi, along with a school in Vasant Vihar, Delhi, and most recently the vandalisation of a church in Hisar, Haryana.

“Many schools, colleges, related establishments that teach skills for jobs have been set up and run by Christians. They are much in demand. Even diehard Hindus have sought admission in such centres of learning and benefited from the commitment and sincerity of Christian teachers,” said Ribeiro, speaking about the various contributions of the Christian community.

“Should they desist from doing such humanitarian work for fear of being so admired and loved that a stray beneficiary converts of his or her own accord? Should only Hindus be permitted to do work that could sway the sentiments of stricken people in need of human love and care?” he added.

The op-ed is particularly damning as it is penned by one of the famous and beloved police chiefs in the country. Ribeiro is most famous for leading the Punjab police during the Khalistan insurgency in the eighties. He also won a Padma Bhushan award in 1987 for the same. “The country’s defence forces have countless men and women in uniform who are Christians. How can they be declared non-Indians by Parivar hotheads out to create a pure Hindu Rashtra?” he writes.

Speaking about his experience as a Christian police officer during the Emergency, he recalls, “When 25 RSS men on parade were shot dead in cold blood one morning, then Punjab Governor S.S. Ray and I rushed to the spot to console the stricken families. The governor visited 12 homes, I visited the rest. The governor’s experience was different from mine. He was heckled and abused. I was welcomed.”

Ribeiro’s op-ed comes in the midst of increased alarm over what is perceived as a resurgent saffron fringe which has been openly asserting its muscle. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, Dharm Jagran Samiti leader Rajeshwar Singh organised a reconversion programme across a Protestant Church, where he reportedly thundered, “We will cleanse our Hindu society. We will not let the conspiracy of church or mosque succeed in Bharat.”

The latest gang-rape of a missionary nun in Bengal has added fuel to the fear of rising communalisation, specifically targeting Christians (though it is not clear whether this was a communal incident). The Modi government has been under pressure to keep the radical right in check, and Ribiero’s op-ed is only likely to turn up the heat.

Crying wolf: Narrative of the ‘Delhi church attacks’ flies in the face of facts

By Rupa Subramanya

Is the Christian community in Delhi under threat now that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power? Many people would like you to think so.

Since December 2014, six specific incidents, all in Delhi, of alleged attacks on churches and, most recently, on a Christian school have been widely reported and commented upon by the media, both domestic and foreign.

The burden of this spate of reportage and commentary is to suggest that the recent attacks reflect a broader trend of rising intolerance against religious minorities, in this instance Christians in particular. It’s also suggested that this, in turn, is a result, either directly or indirectly, of the rise to power of Narendra Modi and the BJP in May 2014.

PTIPTI

PTI

Even US President Barack Obama chose to pinpoint the issue of religious intolerance in India in widely publicised speeches, both in India and on his return to the US. While he made no specific mention of the BJP being responsible, his comments were widely read as a veiled critique of the Modi government.

While it’s hard to quantify the impact, the church attacks also figured in the recently concluded Delhi assembly election which swept the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Arvind Kejriwal to a landslide victory. Minority communities, both Muslim and Christian , appear to have heavily favoured the AAP, and church leaders in the recent past have made no secret of the fact that their preferred party was indeed AAP.  In fact, in the aftermath of AAP’s victory in the Delhi elections, the Catholic Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto celebrated the BJP’s defeat.

It’s routinely assumed that Hindu groups support the BJP, which many do. Yet many in the mainstream establishment refuse to acknowledge the obvious fact that minority religious groups, both Muslim and Christian, themselves play an overtly political role.

It’s no wonder then that church leaders, including the same archbishop, have proclaimed there’s a pattern to these recent alleged attacks.

But do the facts actually bear out the claims being made? In a word: no.

The first of these six alleged attacks, the fire that resulted in the burning of St. Sebastian Church in Dilshad Garden, is currently under investigation by a Special Investigative Team (SIT) set up by the Home Ministry shortly after the incident occurred in December.

In a second incident in Jasola it was alleged that a group of miscreants threw a stone and shattered a window pane. The police commissioner, as reported here by a news editor and here said it was due to a group of kids playing outside, which resulted in a stone landing inside the church. There is no evidence as yet of any communal angle.

The third incident in Rohini, in which the Christmas crib was charred, was determined by the police to be the result of an electrical short circuit.

The fourth incident in Vikaspuri, in which a small group of men allegedly vandalised a church, turned out to be the result of a drunken dare. What’s more, they were caught on CCTV and arrested shortly thereafter by the police and have confessed to the crime. Again, there’s no evidence whatsoever of a communal angle.

The fifth incident in Vasant Kunj, allegedly a case of burglary, is currently under investigation by the police.

The sixth and most recent incident, in Vasant Vihar, of a burglary at a Christian school, has been determined by the police and the school itself to be a case of theft— Rs. 8,000 was reported to have been stolen — again, no communal angle.

And, according to the Delhi Police themselves, there’s no evidence whatever that these six incidents in Dilshad Garden, Jasola, Rohini, Vikaspuri, Vasant Kunj and Vasant Vihar are related or part of a pattern of attacks on minority institutions. Further, again according to the police themselves, and as noted above, there’s no evidence that communal sentiment animated any of these attacks.

It’s also necessary to keep the nature and quantum of these incidents in the proper perspective.

According to the Delhi Police’s own statistics, in 2014 there were 155,654 incidents of crime in the city, of which there were 10,309 burglaries and 42,634 “other” incidents of theft, that is not involving motor vehicles or houses. Total crimes reported almost doubled from 2013 to 2014, reflecting, according to the police themselves, more diligent filing of reports by them rather than a huge jump in the incidence of crime.

Crucially, it’s not just churches that are periodically vandalised and robbed in India. With incidents of theft alone, according to the Delhi Police, 206 temples, 30 gurdwaras and three churches (out of some 200 or more churches in Delhi) and 14 mosques were burgled in 2014. And such crimes didn’t mysteriously start to occur in May 2014 after the BJP’s victory — as with other crimes, they routinely occur every year in Delhi as the data show.

Despite the facts pointing in one direction, church leaders and commentators, both in the domestic and foreign media who parrot their line, continue to insist that there’s a pattern to the incidents, the motivation is communal, and the BJP or affiliated groups are somehow responsible. An entire narrative of a rising tide of religious intolerance in India has been crafted, on the back of unpersuasive evidence, such as these six incidents and misinformation around the conversion and reconversion debate in India.

Even in an open and shut case like the Vikaspuri incident in which the perpetrators were caught and confessed to the drunken dare, Archbishop Cuoto maintains in the face of the evidence that he was dissatisfied with the police explanation, without explaining how the CCTV footage and the perpetrators’ own confession somehow bears a different interpretation.

Of course, the police aren’t infallible, and if church leaders or those who toe their line have any evidence of a communal angle or the involvement of Hindu groups in any of these incidents, they’re surely obliged to come forward with whatever facts they may have to back up their assertions. They haven’t done so, which suggests that their assertions are based on prejudice or a pre-determined agenda, not facts.

Unfortunately, the authorities reinforce the erroneous impression that minorities are under threat when, for example, as reported here they propose to set up special protection for minority religious institutions in Delhi. As we’ve seen, houses of worship of all faiths are subject to burglary and vandalism, so why extend this preferential treatment to only minority institutions? Aren’t temples equally worthy of protection?

This is where the Modi government must step up to the plate and improve the messaging. Reacting passively and with a lag to loud cries that minorities are under attack only reinforces that narrative of persecution. What is needed is a positive counter-narrative which stresses that the problem is not crimes against Christians but the larger problem of law and order, which affects everyone regardless of religious affiliation.

And all of us should be asking why exactly are church leaders and their friends in the media so eager to establish there’s a communal angle to these recent incidents when the facts say the opposite? What are they hoping to gain?

Church leaders and their media acolytes have every right to dislike the BJP or Hindu groups if they so wish. But it’s irresponsible and downright dangerous if they promote their agenda in the face of the facts.

Rupa Subramanya is a Mumbai-based economist and commentator. On Twitter @rupasubramanya

Crying wolf: Narrative of ‘Delhi church attacks’ flies in the face of facts

By Rupa Subramanya

Is the Christian community in Delhi under threat now that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power? Many people would like you to think so.

Since December 2014, six specific incidents, all in Delhi, of alleged attacks on churches and, most recently, on a Christian school have been widely reported and commented upon by the media, both domestic and foreign.

The burden of this spate of reportage and commentary is to suggest that the recent attacks reflect a broader trend of rising intolerance against religious minorities, in this instance Christians in particular. It’s also suggested that this, in turn, is a result, either directly or indirectly, of the rise to power of Narendra Modi and the BJP in May 2014.

PTIPTI

PTI

Even US President Barack Obama chose to pinpoint the issue of religious intolerance in India in widely publicised speeches, both in India and on his return to the US. While he made no specific mention of the BJP being responsible, his comments were widely read as a veiled critique of the Modi government.

While it’s hard to quantify the impact, the church attacks also figured in the recently concluded Delhi assembly election which swept the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Arvind Kejriwal to a landslide victory. Minority communities, both Muslim and Christian , appear to have heavily favoured the AAP, and church leaders in the recent past have made no secret of the fact that their preferred party was indeed AAP.  In fact, in the aftermath of AAP’s victory in the Delhi elections, the Catholic Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto celebrated the BJP’s defeat.

It’s routinely assumed that Hindu groups support the BJP, which many do. Yet many in the mainstream establishment refuse to acknowledge the obvious fact that minority religious groups, both Muslim and Christian, themselves play an overtly political role.

It’s no wonder then that church leaders, including the same archbishop, have proclaimed there’s a pattern to these recent alleged attacks.

But do the facts actually bear out the claims being made? In a word: no.

The first of these six alleged attacks, the fire that resulted in the burning of St. Sebastian Church in Dilshad Garden, is currently under investigation by a Special Investigative Team (SIT) set up by the Home Ministry shortly after the incident occurred in December.

In a second incident in Jasola it was alleged that a group of miscreants threw a stone and shattered a window pane. The police commissioner, as reported here by a news editor and here said it was due to a group of kids playing outside, which resulted in a stone landing inside the church. There is no evidence as yet of any communal angle.

The third incident in Rohini, in which the Christmas crib was charred, was determined by the police to be the result of an electrical short circuit.

The fourth incident in Vikaspuri, in which a small group of men allegedly vandalised a church, turned out to be the result of a drunken dare. What’s more, they were caught on CCTV and arrested shortly thereafter by the police and have confessed to the crime. Again, there’s no evidence whatsoever of a communal angle.

The fifth incident in Vasant Kunj, allegedly a case of burglary, is currently under investigation by the police.

The sixth and most recent incident, in Vasant Vihar, of a burglary at a Christian school, has been determined by the police and the school itself to be a case of theft— Rs. 8,000 was reported to have been stolen — again, no communal angle.

And, according to the Delhi Police themselves, there’s no evidence whatever that these six incidents in Dilshad Garden, Jasola, Rohini, Vikaspuri, Vasant Kunj and Vasant Vihar are related or part of a pattern of attacks on minority institutions. Further, again according to the police themselves, and as noted above, there’s no evidence that communal sentiment animated any of these attacks.

It’s also necessary to keep the nature and quantum of these incidents in the proper perspective.

According to the Delhi Police’s own statistics, in 2014 there were 155,654 incidents of crime in the city, of which there were 10,309 burglaries and 42,634 “other” incidents of theft, that is not involving motor vehicles or houses. Total crimes reported almost doubled from 2013 to 2014, reflecting, according to the police themselves, more diligent filing of reports by them rather than a huge jump in the incidence of crime.

Crucially, it’s not just churches that are periodically vandalised and robbed in India. With incidents of theft alone, according to the Delhi Police, 206 temples, 30 gurdwaras and three churches (out of some 200 or more churches in Delhi) and 14 mosques were burgled in 2014. And such crimes didn’t mysteriously start to occur in May 2014 after the BJP’s victory — as with other crimes, they routinely occur every year in Delhi as the data show.

Despite the facts pointing in one direction, church leaders and commentators, both in the domestic and foreign media who parrot their line, continue to insist that there’s a pattern to the incidents, the motivation is communal, and the BJP or affiliated groups are somehow responsible. An entire narrative of a rising tide of religious intolerance in India has been crafted, on the back of unpersuasive evidence, such as these six incidents and misinformation around the conversion and reconversion debate in India.

Even in an open and shut case like the Vikaspuri incident in which the perpetrators were caught and confessed to the drunken dare, Archbishop Cuoto maintains in the face of the evidence that he was dissatisfied with the police explanation, without explaining how the CCTV footage and the perpetrators’ own confession somehow bears a different interpretation.

Of course, the police aren’t infallible, and if church leaders or those who toe their line have any evidence of a communal angle or the involvement of Hindu groups in any of these incidents, they’re surely obliged to come forward with whatever facts they may have to back up their assertions. They haven’t done so, which suggests that their assertions are based on prejudice or a pre-determined agenda, not facts.

Unfortunately, the authorities reinforce the erroneous impression that minorities are under threat when, for example, as reported here they propose to set up special protection for minority religious institutions in Delhi. As we’ve seen, houses of worship of all faiths are subject to burglary and vandalism, so why extend this preferential treatment to only minority institutions? Aren’t temples equally worthy of protection?

This is where the Modi government must step up to the plate and improve the messaging. Reacting passively and with a lag to loud cries that minorities are under attack only reinforces that narrative of persecution. What is needed is a positive counter-narrative which stresses that the problem is not crimes against Christians but the larger problem of law and order, which affects everyone regardless of religious affiliation.

And all of us should be asking why exactly are church leaders and their friends in the media so eager to establish there’s a communal angle to these recent incidents when the facts say the opposite? What are they hoping to gain?

Church leaders and their media acolytes have every right to dislike the BJP or Hindu groups if they so wish. But it’s irresponsible and downright dangerous if they promote their agenda in the face of the facts.

Rupa Subramanya is a Mumbai-based economist and commentator. On Twitter @rupasubramanya

AAP vs BJP: A proxy fight between two Grand Narratives of India

By Rajiv Malhotra

Beneath the dramatic victory of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) hides a serious long-term issue – there are two competing Grand Narratives of India. One espouses unity and identity based on our ancient civilisation that once thrived across the subcontinent. The other nurtures smaller sub-identities with separate Grand Narratives for each – such as minorities, Dalits and other marginalised groups. The latter sees India as a messy collection of ‘fragments’ forced to share a geography.

Both visions promise modern economic prosperity, good governance and transparency. But their differences represent the divergent poles in India’s polity, of which Delhi was a loud expression.

Partha Chatterjee’s famous 1993 book, “The Nation and its Fragments”, became an intellectual milestone in encouraging many such fragments. It positioned India and its majority as the common enemy of all the fragments. My own book, “Breaking India”, treats these fragments as a serious threat to India’s sovereignty. I show that these fragments often serve foreign nexuses. They cannot be understood as purely domestic phenomena. They need to be evaluated as instruments of global clashes and competing interests of various kinds.

Seen in this light, AAP has (consciously or unconsciously) served as the latest vehicle for these fragments to come together and assert power. We are witnessing the Fragments versus Nation clash in a new form. But this is not a local phenomenon, not even merely a national one.

Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal.Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal.

Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal.

Neither AAP nor BJP fully understand this clash, although they are the main combatants in it. Some AAP leaders might be consciously serving such divisive nexuses, but my sense is that many leaders are naïve about the broader ramifications of their actions. They see themselves playing on a small game board to win, and are oblivious of the bigger Kurukshetra in which their actions produce long term consequences. The masses who follow are insufficiently educated on world affairs to be able to understand the full picture; AAP is merely a means to better local governance.

My India trip for this past month has shed new light on the new BJP government. I had assumed it would have a high priority to formulate a unified Grand Narrative, to educate the leaders and intelligentsia about it, and to embed its policies and political messages in this narrative. But I was seriously wrong in my assessment.

I find the BJP and its related organisations preoccupied in immediate political tactics, with no sign of serious strategic thinking of the kind I have tried to engage with. In fact, I did not meet anyone who would be qualified and experienced to carry out such work. This kind of thinking takes years and must be ongoing. It is amazing that the government has not yet appreciated its importance.

BJP has roughly 30 percent vote share and non-Hindus comprise 20 percent of the population. This leaves a huge 50 percent of the population who are broadly “Hindus” but not BJP supporters. These are the voters who swing in various directions and decide the outcomes. These ‘non-Sangh Hindus’ are without a Grand Narrative which they would accept as theirs. They are rootless, and vulnerable to political promises, rhetoric and the influence of fresh scandals.

President Obama’s recent scolding of India on charges of religious intolerance and human rights took the Indian government by surprise. It was timed to be just a few days before the Delhi elections. This advice to Obama came from the notorious US Commission on International Religious Freedom, the official US watchdog set up to track such opportunities for foreign intervention by the USA. It has not a single Hindu member, and is dominated by the Christian Right.

Organisations such as Dalit Freedom Network based in Denver (run by Christian fundamentalists), World Vision, Joshua Project, Mormon Church and Lutheran Church, as well as several other groups, have a well-oiled machinery for global political activism on behalf of India’s fragments. Their Grand Narrative is against the legitimacy of a unified Indian past. It sees India as an artificial nation-state, one that oppresses its fragments.

I am not saying that Obama alone caused the AAP sweeping victory. But his statement helped make the victory bigger than it would have been. Though I wrote details on this in my 2011 book, BJP leaders seem to have ignored the mechanisms that cause such interventions. The nexus of fragments is what got a major boost in Delhi.

AAP-like movements will now emerge in other states – bringing all anti-BJP parties behind one party, and consolidating the vote. Such state-level successes could then be the basis for a national revival of a Third Front type of concept – uniting the anti-incumbency sentiments into an alternative. My point is not about whether this materialises in the near term or not. The deeper issue of conflicting narratives will remain even if AAP fails, because the same fragments will create yet another (reincarnated) body to show its head.

Has India crossed the tipping point where the fragments spin out of control and unity becomes ever more difficult and tentative? Rather than ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ or even ‘AAP-mukt Bharat’ slogans, it is time we started to discuss ‘fragments-mukt Bharat’. Why has the BJP failed to understand this?

(Rajiv Malhotra is the author of the widely-acclaimed Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism, Breaking India and Indra’s Net. The first part of this article can be read here)

Modi 2.0: Is the PM doing an Advani by donning a secular hat?

The Delhi defeat seems to have triggered a strong churning for Prime Minister Narendra Modi who looks set to turn a new leaf and reinvent himself as a secular, visionary statesman – not a hardcore Hindu fundamentalist leader that most people within India and the world believe him to be.

Or else how does one explain PM Modi summoning Delhi Police Commissioner BS Bassi and instructing him to investigate recent incidents of “vandalism”?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. ReutersPrime Minister Narendra Modi. Reuters

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Reuters

Modi summoned Delhi Police chief – a job which could well have been done by his home minister Rajnath Singh but he chose to do it himself – mainly against the backdrop of rising incidents of vandalism against the Christian community in Delhi. Six cases of vandalism directed against Christians have thus far been reported from Delhi, the last one having taken place on 13 February in a convent school where HRD Minister Smriti Irani had studied.

Modi’s purported image make-over signals a massive shift in his stated ideology close on the heels of a rap on his knuckles twice by none other United States President Barack Obama – first on the last day of his India trip and then a few days later from the American soil.

Also, Modi’s unusual summoning of the Delhi Police chief over rising cases of vandalism against Delhi’s Christian community comes at a time when he is expected to visit four countries within the next four months.

The Prime Minister would be visiting Germany and France in April and China in May. All these would be bilateral visits. In June, PM Modi would be visiting Russia for attending the BRICS summit, a multilateral event.

Modi meeting Delhi Police Commissioner may well signify a radical change in his approach towards the minorities. He may not be reinventing the wheel but he is definitely reinventing himself and his image.

A brief press release from the PMO on Modi’s meeting with BS Bassi on 13 February does not specifically mention the Christian community or vandalism of Christian assets, including churches. But the message is clear. Sample the PMO press release.

“The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, today summoned the Police Commissioner of Delhi, Shri B S Bassi, and expressed his deep concern and anguish over the rising crime rate in the Capital. The Prime Minister asked the Police Commissioner to speedily investigate the recent incidents of vandalism and ensure that the guilty are brought to book. The Prime Minister also spoke over telephone to the Union Home Secretary, Shri L.C. Goyal. The Prime Minister asked the Home Secretary to pay special attention to the rising incidents of crime, and vandalism, and to work towards ensuring the safety and security of women in the Capital.”

Significantly, PM Modi’s silence was deafening when churches in Delhi were being vandalized. That was the time when Delhi assembly elections were yet to take place and Delhi was in a campaign mode.

Modi’s summoning of the Delhi Police Commissioner occurred only after the BJP got its worst drubbing in Delhi assembly polls.

Suddenly you have PM Modi who is now signaling zero-tolerance to violent attacks on the minorities. This seems to be a part of a well thought-out strategy wherein he is donning the mantle of a no-nonsense secular leader.

Is this Modi 2.0?

Well, one will have to wait and watch. After all, he has not said a word since his American friend “Barack” twice reminded him about the importance of religious tolerance. But this could be his well thought-out answer and approach to the issues flagged by President Obama.

But this is a mined road that PM Modi may be wishing to tread. His benefactor LK Advani had tried his hands in this change-of-heart strategy by saluting a “secular” Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Father of Nation for Pakistan in June 2005 from the Pakistani soil. Incidentally, Adavni’s game-changer politics had come about during a visit to Jinnah’s tomb in Karachi and praised the man he was accused of plotting to murder six decades ago.

But when Advani made his famous remarks on Jinnah from the Pakistani soil he was in the opposition. The experiment proved disastrous and Advani fell from grace within the BJP and the RSS since then and was eventually marginalized.

In contrast, Modi’s purported transition to secularism is taking place at a time not only when he is the Prime Minister but also the sole undisputed leader of the BJP. Here he enjoys an advantage over Advani.

The question, however, is whether Modi would be able to take along his party and the Sangh Parivar as he projects himself as a secular leader? Coming weeks and months should provide greater clarity in this regard.

Not sure how long we can remain secular: Supreme Court raps India on religious divisions

While the country threw a fit over Barack Obama saying that the religious intolerance in India would disappoint Gandhi had he been alive, a similar warning has come from someone closer home. Amplifying the apprehensions of a section of India, the Supreme Court said that it was not sure for how long India can claim to be ‘secular’.

The Times of India reports: “It is a secular country but I don’t know how long it will remain so,” Justice Vikramjit Sen said during the hearing on a PIL seeking recognition for Christian courts set up under its personal law.”

The Supreme Court. Agencies.

The Indian Express reports: “The bench was hearing a PIL by advocate Clarence Pais, who wanted the apex court to put its stamp of approval on the decrees of divorce and other such decrees issued by an ecclesiastical court or tribunal. An ecclesiastical court, set up under the Canon Law, is an institution for Catholic Christians.”

The comment comes at a time when the country is really more divided on religious lines than ever before. While the Hindutva groups have started programmes like Ghar Wapsi based on the spurious logic of ‘love jihad’, other groups have seen their tolerance level for comments on their religion dip. For example, comic group All India Bakchod recently apologised to Christians for cracking jokes on their ‘roast’ – the format of the roast traditionally is to be offensive and scathing. The Christian group, like Hindutva groups to0 lodged an FIR against AIB.

Pais has demanded that the Supreme Court endorse the provisions of dissolution of marriage under the Canon Law as legal. He also wanted the Supreme Court to issue a directive saying that no law of India can try a Roman Catholic for bigamy, except the Canon Law.

The SC shot down Pais’ counsel Soli Sorabjee’s argument that the matter was related to the crucial issue of religious freedom in India. The apex court suggested that, in fact, religion shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with civil issues.

“This cannot be accepted, otherwise every religion will say it has a right to decide various issues as a matter of its personal law. We don’t agree with this at all. It has to be done though a decree of a court,” the bench said. 

Pais’ petition had cited that if marriages can be dissolved by Muslims in accordance to the Mohammedan law, Christians should be allowed to do the same.

Obama spoke or reality, pro-active action, says Christian community

New Delhi: The Christian community, which has been critical of the BJP government following “attacks” on
churches, on Friday welcomed US President Barack Obama’s comments on religious intolerance in India, saying he spoke about the reality and pro-active action was required to ensure social harmony.

Director and Spokesperson of Delhi Catholic Archdiocese Father Dominic said the US President remark on religious intolerance was a major issue and asked the government to take the challenge seriously.

Barack Obama. AFP

“Mahatma Gandhi is the father of the nation and it is good for us to be reminded by anybody in the world what Mahatma Gandhi said,” he said, adding government must take steps to ensure that people from all faiths live in harmony.

Yesterday, the US President had said in Washington that the “acts of intolerance” experienced by religious faiths of all types in India in the past few years would have shocked Gandhi.

Angry over a spate of “attacks” on churches, members of the Christian community yesterday had staged a major protest in the city. They have been accusing the BJP government of inaction in ensuring security to the churches and the community in the city.

“The high handedness brutal force the police used was the most shocking thing and we are wondering whether we are in a democracy or in a dictatorial system of government,” Dominic said about police crackdown on protesters yesterday.

Another leader from the Christian community Jenis Francis said it was “unfortunate” that Obama had to react to an internal issue.

“That Obama had to react to our internal issue is unfortunate. But having said that, it also shows the
lackadaisical approach of the government in addressing the serious issue,” he said.

The community is outraged over “attacks” on various churches in the city since November last year. The community alleged that it is part of a “hate campaign”.

PTI

Dil ki Baat: PM Modi and Obama turn ‘Mann ki Baat’ into gooey love-fest

After the morning’s pregnant-with-hidden-meaning remarks by Barack Obama on the need for religious tolerance in India, the evening’s Mann ki Baat featuring him and Narendra Modi turned into a veritable love-fest between a US President and an India’s Prime Minister.

Efficiently RJ-ed by Modi, the Tuesday night radio programme was carefully choreographed to focus on softball issues that few could misinterpret. It was converted into a veritable Dil ki Baat rather than just a Mann ki Baat. Not surprising, since Obama had already spoken what was on his ‘mann’ at Siri Fort, a speech that was read differently by Modi baiters and Modi bhakts.

But Modi had no intention of turning his pet programme into a controversial discussion on all kinds of ideas. He deftly anchored the discussion away from hard political topics to gooey, sentimental stuff that could not go wrong.

Customers at a radio and tv shop listen to Mann ki baat

This is not to cynically dismiss the Mann ki Baat as just goody-goody stuff, for we got nuggets of info about Modi that we have never heard of before. Throughout the programme, Modi played generous host to Obama’s courteous guest.

Despite the elaborate answers from Obama on everything from bringing up daughters to dealing with obesity to what inspires him to the role of today’s youth in a globalised world, it was Modi who dominated the radio show by bringing in his own heroes, his own anecdotes, and generally presenting us with his softer side. This is not the side we usually get to see of Modi.

His reason for bringing out the soft stuff is best explained in his own words: “If we discuss what comes from the heart, and repeat it, hum it, we get a new energy.” (Read the full transcript of their conversation here)

Modi’s research team obviously must have done some homework before the programme, for he began by trying to give us the meaning of Barack. He said: “In Swahili language, which is spoken in parts of Africa, Barack means one who is blessed. I believe, along with a name, his (Obama’s) family gave him a big gift.”

The reference to Barack’s African lineage allowed him to link an Upanishadic idea with an African one. “African countries have lived by the ancient idea of ‘Ubuntu’, which alludes to the ‘oneness in humanity’. They say, ‘I am, because we are’. Despite the gap in centuries and borders, there is the same spirit in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family), which (we) speak of in India. This is the great shared heritage of humanity. This unites us.”

When he lobbed the ball to Obama, the latter talked about how Modi and he were making “a lot of history in a short time.” It was a reference not only to the India-US nuclear and other agreements of the previous two days, but also to the fact that this was the first ever visit by a US president on Republic Day, and the first-ever joint radio programme involving two top leaders of the world’s biggest democracies.

also see

Modi-Obama Mann Ki Baat address to be aired at 8 pm on Tuesday

Full text of Mann ki Baat: Modi and Obama discuss social issues

Obama’s ‘mann ki baat’: What PM Modi wants to hear from the US President

A subtle difference in how Obama and Modi saw the world was the former’s efforts to bring in god into the conversation. At Siri Fort, where Obama talked of the need for countries to ensure religious freedom, he had referred to his Christian faith. He said: “In our lives, Michelle and myself have been strengthened by our Christian faith.” In Mann ki Baat, Obama exhorted everyone to “endeavour to seek God through the service of humanity because God is in everyone.”

Modi, despite references to Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Upanishadic ideas, made no direct references to God. Americans apparently need God more than Indians, despite the ubiquity of temples and mosques in India.

Also interesting was Modi’s choice of heroes. He mentioned Henry David Thoreau, who inspired Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement, John F Kennedy (Modi liked his personality), Martin Luther King, and, most importantly, Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding figures of America, author, politician, scientist and many other things. Modi had an epiphany after reading Franklin’s biography. “I find his life truly inspiring. And I tell you too, if you read his biography, you will find ways to transform your life too.”

What Modi liked about Benjamin Franklin was his ability to talk about everyday issues and how to deal with them. Questions like: “If we feel excessively sleepy, how can we reduce that? If we feel like eating too much, how can we work towards eating less? He has addressed such issues in his biography. And I tell everyone, we should read Benjamin Franklin’s biography. Even today, it inspires me.”

What Modi and Obama found they had in common was their humble origins, with both recounting the time when they looked at the White House from the outside, little imagining that one day they would both meet inside it. One of the listeners to the radio programme apparently remarked that he had seen a photo of Modi standing outside the White House when he had gone there as a tourist. The photo apparently shows Modi looking at the White House from outside an iron fence.

PTI

It gave Modi an opportunity to relate a story about Obama’s gift to him when he went to the White House last September as an official guest. “When I visited the White House, one thing touched my heart. I can never forget that Barack gave me a book, a book that he had located after considerable effort. That book had become famous in 1894. Swami Vivekananda, the inspiration of my life, had gone to Chicago to participate in the World Religions Conference. And this book was a compilation of the speeches delivered at the World Religions Conference. That touched my heart. And not just this. He turned the pages of the book, and showed me what was written there. He had gone through the entire book! And he told me with pride, I come from the Chicago where Swami Vivekananda had come.”

Relating the incident also allowed Modi to repeat his favourite phrase that becoming Prime Minister was never his goal. He said: “For a long time, I have been telling everyone, never dream of becoming something. If you wish to dream, dream of doing something. Don’t dream of becoming something, dream of doing something.”

Obama, for his part, also talked about his own outside-in look at the White House in his youth.

“When I first went to the White House, I stood outside that same fence, and looked in, and I certainly did not imagine that I would ever be visiting there, much less living there. You know, I think both of us have been blessed with an extraordinary opportunity, coming from relatively humble beginnings. And when I think about what’s best in America and what’s best in India, the notion that a tea seller, or somebody who’s born to a single mother like me, could end up leading our countries, is an extraordinary example of the opportunities that exist within our countries.”

The only hint of Mann ki Baat’s tangentially political messaging came when Modi talked about Communism in the past tense. He said: “Once upon a time, there were people inspired primarily by the Communist ideology. They gave a call: ‘Workers of the world, Unite.’ This slogan lasted for several decades. I believe, looking at the strength and reach of today’s youth, I would say, ‘Youth, Unite the world’. I believe they have the strength and they can do it.

That’s as subtle a put-down of the Left as you can get.

Yesudas turns 75, offers musical worship at Mookambika temple in Karnataka

Music legend and playback singer KJ Yesudas turns 75 today and celebrated his birthday by visiting Mookambika temple at Kollur in Karnataka where he offered ‘Sangeetharchana’ before the Goddess.The iconic singer, who has enthralled music fans over five decades through thousands of film songs in Malayalam and other Indian languages, performed Carnatic recital at the shrine as he used to do on most of his birthdays in recent years.He was joined by members of his family, disciples and scores of fans who gathered at the shrine knowing that he would be there on his birthday. When some in the gathering urged him to make a brief speech, Yesudas said he would rather concentrate on music rather than making speeches or posing for photos.Born on January 10, 1940 at Fort Kochi in Kerala, son of stage actor-singer Augustin Joseph and Elizabeth, Yesudas took early lessons in music from his father. After completing schooling in his home town, he took music as his main subject joining RLV Music College and later in the Government Music College in Thiruvananthapuram from where he graduated with top honours.His film career began by singing a score composed by eminent music director M B Sreenivasan in Kalapadukal in 1961. The song, whose theme was the message of social harmony propounded by saint-reformer Sree Narayana Guru, was well-received.Since then he has rendered songs of leadingMalayalam lyricists like Vayalar Rama Varma, P Bhaskaran, Sreekumaran Thampi and O N V Kurup and music directors including K Raghavan, G Devarajan, M S Baburaj, Salil Chowdhury, M S Viswanathan and Ravi. Every music director has acknowledged the quality of his voice, ability to quickly learn compositions and render songs without losing the emotion they sought to reflect.An advocate of inter-faith harmony, Yesudas has also sung hundreds of Hindu, Christian and Muslim devotional songs, with the most famous being Harivarasanam… played every evening at Sabarimala before closure of the portals of the hill shrine. Winner of several awards, he has rendered compositions in many Indian languages as well as in English, Russian, Arabic and Latin.