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PDP Leader Mehbooba Mufti lashes out at those saying, ‘go to Pakistan’

New Delhi: Amid the ‘intolerance’ debate, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, a constituent of ruling NDA, today lashed out at those saying “go to Pakistan.” She asserted,”the nation owns us and we own the nation”. At the same time, she emphasised that there is tolerance in India and compared to the situation to countries like Pakistan and Syria where Muslims are killed where “one cannot even open their mouth”.

Mehbooba Mufti. AFPMehbooba Mufti. AFP

Mehbooba Mufti. AFP

“To those who ask (Muslims) to go to Pakistan, I want to say that the nation owns us and we own the nation,” she said in the Lok Sabha while participating in the debate on the Constitution. Her comments assume significance over the attacks on actors Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan for their opinion on intolerance.

Mufti said there is tolerance in India and the scientists, authors and historians returning the awards in protest is the biggest proof of this. “Indian Muslims follow the real Islam. This is also because the Hindu majority (community) is very tolerant. Babasaheb must have taken tolerance from Hinduism. The way Hinduism has the tolerance, perhaps no one has it. The historians, authors and scienitists have been protesting and returning their awards. The way they came out in protest keeps the nation alive,” she added.

Referring to the Dadri incident where a Musim man was lynched over rumours of eating beef, she said that in incidents like this and also in the past communal violence like the ones in Meerut, Bhagalpur and Gujarat riots, it was the system that failed, but the people kept the spirit alive.

Lauding Ambedkar for his contribution in making the Constitution, she said unlike the present day politicians who think about next election, he thought about future generations while drafting the constitution.

PTI

Jharkhand tribes up in arms, say no difference between RSS and Christian missionaries

The reactions came a day after members of Sarna tribe took to the streets against the RSS, burnt effigies of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and leader Krishna Gopal.

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat

PTI
Tribal gurus from Jharkhand have claimed that there is ‘no difference’ between Christian missionaries and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), says a report in the Hindustan Times.Bandhan Tigga, Sarna dharmguru from Oraon clan, told HT that “They (RSS and missionaries) are the same. One tries to lure us, the other forces its ideologies on us”. The tribes, who have been protesting against RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, say that while the missionaries want to convert them to Christianity, RSS wants to impose Hinduism on them.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The tribes have also alleged that the RSS preaches casteism. “They (Hindus) are divided into Rajputs, Brahmins, Shudras, Kayastas and more. We, on the other hand, are all equal,” said Laskar Soren, a Santhali tribe leader.The reactions came a day after Sarna followers in Jharkhand took to the streets against the RSS, burnt effigies of RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and leader Krishna Gopal, demanding an apology from the organisation, says HT.The controversy began when RSS sah sarkaryavah Krishna Gopal claimed on the last day of RSS’s executive committee meeting in Ranchi on Sunday, that all tribes were actually Hindus and ‘fall under the Hindu code’.Union Tribal Affairs Minister Jual Oram openly backed the RSS on Saturday, adding fuel to the fire. Krishna Gopal went on to add that Oram was absolutely right.

Patels in Surat threaten to convert for reservation

Local Patel leaders called this move as a symbolic protest against the state government, which according to them, has denied reservation benefits to the community members under OBC category.

The state-wide agitation for quota is being spearheaded by Hardik Patel, a 22-year-old commerce graduate who is hogging the limelight after organising a massive rally in Ahmedabad on August 25.
File Photo
AFP photo
With Gujarat government not heeding to the Patels’ demand for OBC status, at least 500 families of the community have threatened to leave Hinduism and convert to another religion for getting benefits of reservation in jobs and education. These families reside in Pasodara village near Surat city, around 260 kms from Ahmedabad. Local Patel leaders called this move as a symbolic protest against the state government, which according to them, has denied reservation benefits to the community members under OBC category.”At least 500 Patel families of Pasodara have decided to go for conversion in the wake of the government’s denial of reservation benefits to the Patels. We have conveyed our wish to convert to various Hindu organisations and leaders of our religion,” said Raju Bodara, a prominent member of Akhil Bharatiya Patidar Sena, a Patel group, in Surat district.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Vijay Patel, a local resident, said the families are “compelled” to take such a step.”Looking at the current situation, where the government is terrorising Patels by various means, we are left with no other option but to convert. We are compelled to do so. This government and our religious leaders should now do introspection on this issue,” he said.”We are consulting legal experts to know more about our rights after conversion. We are also studying the Constitution. There must be a law which will give us all the benefits of reservation after conversion,” Vijay added.The state-wide agitation for quota is being spearheaded by Hardik Patel, a 22-year-old commerce graduate who is hogging the limelight after organising a massive rally in Ahmedabad on August 25.

Kannada writer receives rape, acid attack threats for questioning Hindu rituals

Thirthahalli, who has written articles in various publications questioning the Hindu customs, recently took part in a rally to support beef consumption.

Chethana Thirthahalli

Facebook Page
Kannada writer Chethana Thirthahalli has been threatened with dire consequences on the social media after she endorsed beef consumption and questioned Hindu rituals.”I have been receiving threats from some fundamentalist. In the threat it was mentioned that I should not write anything critical about Hinduism and about Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After I have endorsed beef eating and participated in town hall protest, they even threatened me for life. So, I thought of lodging complaint and I did it,” said Thirthahalli.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”They have done this through Facebook inbox; they have created many fake accounts. Madhusudan Gowda is a person who has sent (the threat) through his own id and other people kept sending through their fake ids,” she addedThirthahalli has lodged a complaint with the Hanumanthnagar Police Station in Bengaluru, seeking action against Gowda, for threatening her. Thirthahalli further said that Gowda kept threatening her even after the complain.Thirthahalli, who has written articles in various publications questioning the Hindu customs, recently took part in a rally to support beef consumption.Another writer RK Hudugi while commenting on the incident said the writers are being threatened with dire consequences and this is another new incident in the same series.”The lady, who has been threatened, has lodged a complaint. This all speaks about the law and order that has taken a new turn. And the government has been taking all the precautionary measures and the police department is all alert even then the communal forces are all active. The people in the cultural field should condemn it in the serious term,” he added.

‘Response of govt seems to indicate indifference’: Ex-navy chief writes heartfelt open letter to PM Modi

Former chief of the Indian Navy and former internal Lokpal of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Admiral (retd) Laxminarayan Ramdas has written a heartfelt open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to direct his government to take action to prevent the spread of religious intolerance in the country.

Laxminarayan Ramdas. Reuters

Laxminarayan Ramdas. Reuters

“My religion taught me values of love and respect for all beings. My brand of Hinduism was not filled with the kind of violence, intolerance represented by the current brand of “Hindutva” that seems to be fanning the flames of division and fear across the country,” Ramdas wrote in his open letter to the PM.

He also said that people from minority communities, especially Muslims, were being asked to repeatedly prove their loyalty to the nation. He said their places of worship was under attack and they were even being targeted for their eating habits.

Ramdas added that the more disturbing fact, however, is that “Sadly, time and time again, the response of the government seems to indicate an almost studied, but certainly not benign, indifference . The co-ordinated response of those in government seems to be to downplay the serious and vicious nature of these allegations and attacks – by terming them ‘sad’ and ‘unfortunate’ – whereas there should be outrage and a demonstrated will to ensure that this society will not tolerate such behaviour.”

The ex-navy chief also pointed out that there were MPs and cabinet ministers were leading the way in making provocative comments.

Ramdas’ open letter comes on the same day on which Prime Minister Modi, through his Mann Ki Baat address on radio, said that diversity of religions and castes is the beauty of India and that the ‘mantra’ of unity should be carried forward through thinking and expressions.

Invoking Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel ahead of his birth anniversary, he strongly batted for ‘unity in diversity’ while asserting that peace, harmony and unity are the key to progress.

“The mantra of unity should always be the medium of our thinking, our behaviour and expression,” Modi said.

“India is full of diversity. It has different sects, different religions, different languages and different castes. There are so many diversities in our India and this diversity is our beauty,” the Prime Minister said in his 35-minute programme.

He said if this diversity was not there, “we would not have been able to feel proud. Therefore, diversity is the mantra of unity.”

Mentioning the upcoming birth anniversary of Patel on 31 October, Modi said, “Let us pay tribute to Sardar (Patel) Sahab. Take the unity mantra forward.”

With inputs from PTI

Now, young dalit writer assaulted for "anti-Hindu" writings

Huchangi Prasad, a 23-year-old student and author of a book ‘Odala Kichchu’ which speaks against the caste system, alleged that he was assaulted on Wednesday and threatened that his fingers would be cut for writing against Hinduism.

Amid continuing countrywide protests by writers over “rising intolerance”, a young Dalit activist and writer was allegedly attacked by unidentified men whom he suspects to be right wing activists, for his “anti-Hindu” writings at Davangere in central Karnataka.Huchangi Prasad, a 23-year-old student and author of a book ‘Odala Kichchu’ which speaks against the caste system, alleged that he was assaulted on Wednesday and threatened that his fingers would be cut for writing against Hinduism.”On October 21, late night, a group of eight to nine persons came to the SC/ST hostel where I reside and told me that my mother was unwell. Worried, I followed them. They took me to a place and started threatening and assaulting me for writing against Hinduism and the caste system,” Prasad told PTI.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Prasad, a journalism student, alleged, “They also smeared kumkum on my face and threatened to cut my fingers for my writings.”Prasad said he received some minor injuries in the attack, adding, “They (the attackers) said I’m born as Dalit, because of sins I had committed in my previous life.” Asked whether the men belonged to any particular group, Prasad said, “From their words it was almost clear that they are from some right-wing group but I’m not completely sure.” A case has been registered against unidentified persons at RMC Yard Police Station in this regard. Police said they are on a lookout for the suspects.”A complaint was filed by Prasad yesterday alleging eight to ten persons had attacked him and attempted to kill him,” a police official involved in the investigation said.He said the case has been registered under various sections of Indian Penal Code, including 307 (attempt to murder), as also under sections of the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act.The incident has occurred at a time when at least 35 writers from across the country have announced their decision to return their Sahitya Akademi awards to protest the “rising intolerance” in the country and the killing of Kannada writer and rationalist M M Kalburgi at Dharwad in north Karnataka.Another Kannada free-thinker and writer KS Bhagwan had also received threats for his remarks against Hinduism and its Gods which the right-wing groups saw as “offensive” and “provocative” hurting Hindu sentiments.The writers facing threats have been provided security after the killing of Kalburgi who was shot dead at point blank range by two men, who are still at large, in August.

‘Seculars’ using Dadri lynching as protein for ‘politics’: RSS

Another article in the ‘Organiser’ said, “Dadri killing is not something unprecedented, unheard of in the history of Independent Bharat. So about Kalburgi murder. The conscience of over two dozen eminent persons of literature got so severely pricked by these two incidents that they returned their awards in protest.”

Taunting ‘liberals’ for using cow slaughter as a “protein for their secular politics”, RSS organ ‘Organiser’ has accused them of using the Dadri lynching as an opportunity to attack Hindu beliefs as it termed the killing as “not something unprecedented” or “unheard of”.Citing the “killings” of Sikhs and kar sevaks in Godhra, it questioned those protesting against the Dadri incident saying why those incidents did not evoke their conscience earlier. “One fails to understand how a ban on slaughter of cows and calves would deprive people of a cheap source of protein. Were Constitution makers less protein-conscious than present liberals who of-late have shown almost athletic interest in the matters of Hindu sentiments. “But, as usual, liberals have got this one wrong as well. Beef is not the cheapest source of protein,” an article in the ‘Organiser’ said sarcastically to those protesting the Dadri incident.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Related Read: RSS mouthpiece defends Dadri lynching, calls it a ‘natural reaction’ to ‘sin’ of cow slaughterWhile ruing that the body of Dadri victim had become a site of politics, it said, “Dadri’s incident is a cruel reminder of how a dead body can become a site of political maneuvering and out maneuvering.””Every murder is unfortunate, and cruel… and calls for strict action by law enforcing agencies. But what is different about Dadri’s case is that here a murder is being used by the media and self-proclaimed seculars and liberals as an opportunity to put the beliefs of Hinduism in dock,” it added.Another article in the ‘Organiser’ said, “Dadri killing is not something unprecedented, unheard of in the history of Independent Bharat. So about Kalburgi murder. The conscience of over two dozen eminent persons of literature got so severely pricked by these two incidents that they returned their awards in protest.”It, however, cited incidents when thousands of Sikhs were killed in 1984, 59 kar sevaks were burnt alive at Godhra railway station sparking the Gujarat riots and 16 policemen involved in killing of 42 innocent Muslims acquitted after 28 years a few months ago. The article while taking on RJD chief Lalu Yadav for saying Hindus also eat beef and used to eat it in Vedic times, remarks, “This is bogus.” On SP leader Azam Khan’s comparison of Indian Muslims with those in Iraq, the article says, “Azam Khan, a secular leader of a secular outfit, compared Muslims’ situation in Bharat to that of Muslims in Iraq. Phonetic similarity between Dadri and Babri provided him a poetic concern over their impact. Azam Khan, in past, has justified the acts of terrorism.” “I wonder, why no one has ever asked him and other liberals with same views why Hindus have not become terrorists in Pakistan and Bangladesh where their temples are demolished almost every month and why they haven’t become suicide bombers?” the article in RSS organ said.It goes on to question former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah’s recent remarks that while Islam prohibited pork eating, he wouldn’t beat up anyone eating pork, and asks, “Does he (Omar) wish to suggest that pigs have the same holy significance for him as cows have for Hindus?” Calling for a probe into Dadri death, it taunts “liberals” protesting the incident, asking what exactly is their idea of India.”So, what exactly is liberals’ idea of Bharat? Is it the idea of a Bharat, where cows are slaughtered publicly, beef festivals are organized regularly, Mahisasur Day is celebrated with fanfare and concepts like ‘Qaafir’, Dar-ul-ulum and Dar-ul-harb are ingrained in the minds of adolescent, on state subsidy.Related Read: Writers renouncing honours suffer from ‘disease of secularism’, says RSS”Is this their vision of a liberal Bharat, where terrorists like Yakub Memon’s cremation is attended by hundreds and books in favour of Afzal Guru are sold in the heart of the capital? And where beef becomes the singular source of protein?” the article questions.It accuses protesters of Dadri incident of creating a false sense of growing intolerance in India and says, “Ever since the unfortunate killing of Mohammad Akhlaq at Dadri, propaganda has preponderated policies and unsubstantiated allegations have replaced reasoning. And in the eye of storm lies once again the Hindus and their core beliefs. Self proclaimed seculars are worried that the idea of Bharat is under threat from fascists.” Another article in the RSS organ said the writers and protesters are trying to create a fear psychosis and do not mind presenting India in poor light across the world.”They will create a fear psychosis and frighten minorities and others to claim that nothing is going right. They will not mind Bharat being seen in poor light across the globe. It seems they are winning the propaganda battle for now, but they will lose the ideological war, no doubt,” it said.Yet another article said, “The present award returning spree in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘secularism’ depict the symptoms of selective amnesia of Left liberal intellectuals and literary figures. These double standards demean the individuals, awards and the institutions they represent.” It also said, “Left secular lobby with the help of electronic media has succeeded in creating an atmosphere in the country and also outside since last a few weeks as if all the Hindus are out on the street killing ‘minorities’ read Muslims to save ‘mother cow’ and stop beef eating. It seems Bharat is in a time warp for more than 15 days.”All TV channels seem to have plumbed to pessimistic depth. There has been outrage all round as if Bharat is up in flames with one person’s reprehensible killing; as if before that Bharat was living in blissful harmony for earlier 67 years. ‘Sahitya Akademi’ awardees’ drama has added fuel to fire.”

Public space for discourse has become totally hateful, odious: Pradnya Daya Pawar

Pradnya Daya Pawar, daughter of well-known Dalit writer and Padma Shri recipient Daya Pawar, is the first writer from Maharashtra to return all state awards — she had five — in protest against growing religious intolerance, killing of rationalists and restrictions on personal freedom. Following her decision, more than 10 writers from the state have decided to return the awards.

In an interview with Firstpost, Pawar speaks on the reasons behind her move, on the threat to writers and artiste from fringe elements and the questions being raised on the writers’ honesty for their act.

What is the reason behind returning the state government awards?

We are going through a phase of undeclared Emergency today. This Emergency is much harsher than the one of 1975. It was only the government machinery that was keeping surveillance on common citizens then but now the ruling party and its myriad supporters are keeping a close eye on all our everyday activities such as where we live, work and move around. There is increasing hooliganism in all cultural fields like education, history, science, art and literature. The public space for discourse and discussion has become totally hateful and odious.

YouTube screen grab of Pradnya

YouTube screen grab of Pradnya Daya Pawar

Developments such as the Dadri killing, banning of Muslim youths from garba in Gujarat, killing of Dalits in Maharashtra, love jihad, beef ban and Ghar Wapsi are on the rise. The situation has worsened to such an extent that rationalists are being killed. There is no scope for a fight with them in a rational way. The killings of (Narendra) Dabholkar, (Govind) Pansare and (MM) Kalburgi clearly show that they won’t tolerate any other ideology. The issue is not just about the freedom of speech of writers or providing protection to them. It is about the common people who are living in the shadow of fear.

People around me are living under the constant fear over what to eat, what to drink, whom to love, what to wear and how to express themselves. While underlining the issue of fundamental rights of writers and actors, the government machinery is encroaching upon the rights of the common man. There’s an attempt to infringe on the core values of the Indian Constitution from all sides. To condemn these things, I have returned all the government awards with the cash prize.

Do you think has India changed in terms of intolerance?

Since the past one-and-a-half year, the situation has become worse and any sensitive person will be worried about it. The extreme elements are trying to crush the fundamental rights given to us by the Constitution. The earlier Congress-NCP government never did this. They never told us what to write or never interfered in our private spaces.

Are the intellectuals and liberals under threat from the extreme elements?

Yes, if we look at the incidents of the recent past. Still, we must continue to work without succumbing to the pressure from these. These elements do not tolerate the criticism of the Hindu religion and they have created their own definition of Hinduism, which is unacceptable.

Are the writers soft targets?

Yes. They cannot hire people for their security. No writer from Maharashtra can afford that. We feel that it is the responsibility of the state government to protect not only writers, but artists, activists and journalists as well.

Do you think that all of a sudden these fringe elements have become strong?

Rather than saying suddenly, I would say that it all started with the Babri Masjid demolition. The ‘rath yatra’ completely polarised our society. And now that they are in power with full majority, people at high positions are making provocative statements. Fringe elements are trying to outdo them or trying to give effect to these statements. As is its wont, RSS is using bahujan youth for its own ends.

Is the law and order breaking down and whether the state is becoming weak?

As I have said earlier, with the active support from higher up, party workers and workers of a number of fraternal organisations, for example, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Hindu Rashtra Samiti and Sanatan Sanstha are taking the law in their own hands. They issue fatwas and demand unconditional acceptance. ‘If you don’t follow our orders, we will punish you,’ this is their stance. The recent Shiv Sena attack on (Sudheendra) Kulkarni is one such example. It appears that there are various parallel governments. These elements are getting strength from the state machinery. It is because of the help of such elements that the governments came to power in the first place.

The writers are being criticised for returning the awards and questions are being raised on their honesty…

I openly challenge them (critics) to scrutinise my work and those of writers who have returned their awards. I have a question for them. Why are they so bothered about our returning the awards? They could have just simply ignored it. It shows that they are on the defensive now. Ideally, they should address the original issues but they are trying to divert attention by speaking on our action. They should keep in mind that the common man can throw them out of power. I don’t consider myself different from common people. Through my writing also, I have raised the voice of common man and that is what I am doing now. I am not a pessimistic. We are fighting and shall keep fighting to keep India democratic.

So, what is your next move?

Returning the award is just a small step. Many writers from Maharashtra have returned the awards after I did. We will come together and try to create a pressure group. I feel that in such an emergency situation we need to take a stand. Our protest is not against one or the other political party. It is against the system which is currently being run by the BJP. If the Congress comes back to power and tries to strike at the root of our Constitution, as this government is doing, then also we will protest.

India witnessed religiously motivated killings, riots and forced conversion: US report on International Religious Freedom 2014

In the India section of the Congressional mandated annual report released by Secretary of State John Kerry today, the State Department said that some government officials made discriminatory statements against religious minorities.

India witnessed religiously motivated killings, arrests, riots and coerced religious conversions and the police in some cases failed to respond effectively to communal violence, according to the US State Department report on International Religious Freedom 2014.In the India section of the Congressional mandated annual report released by Secretary of State John Kerry today, the State Department said that some government officials made discriminatory statements against religious minorities. “There were reports of religiously motivated killings, arrests, coerced religious conversions, religiously motivated riots and actions restricting the right of individuals to change religious beliefs,” said the report.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>It said that in some cases, local police failed to respond effectively to communal violence, including attacks against religious minorities, although local officials used broad authorities to deploy police and security forces to control outbreaks of religiously motivated violence. The local nongovernmental organisation (NGO) Act Now for Harmony and Democracy reported more than 800 religiously- motivated attacks from May through the end of the year 2014.Citing Minister of State for Food Processing Industries Niranjan Jyoti’s remarks at an election rally in Delhi, it said government officials reportedly made discriminatory statements against members of religious minorities. “After her remarks stirred several days of heated national condemnation and disrupted proceedings of parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in parliament that he ‘strongly disapproved of the remarks’ and ‘we should avoid using such language’. Jyoti subsequently expressed regret for her remark,” the report said. The State Department said there is restriction on free expression on basis of religion in India.Authorities continued to enforce laws designed to protect “religious sentiments” which, according to observers, at times had the effect of limiting free expression related to religion, the report said. The State Department rued that hundreds of legal cases remained pending from violence during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the 2002 Gujarat riots.The Nanavati-Mehta Commission on the 2002 riots ultimately released its Final Report on November 18. Some NGOs called into question the impartiality of the findings. Court cases related to the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Odisha continued, resulting in convictions for persons responsible for the public rape of a nun during the riots. Displaced Kashmiri Hindu Pandits continued to seek redress for crimes committed against them and their houses of worship by Kashmiri insurgents in the 1990s, it said. The State Department said some human rights NGOs and religious minority groups expressed concern over what they perceived as laws and government practises favouring Hinduism over other faiths, while some Hindu groups expressed concern over laws and government practises that they perceived as favouring minority religious communities. Some human rights and religious minority groups said state-level “anti-conversion” laws were designed to impede conversion from Hinduism, while not restricting conversion to Hinduism, according to the report.Police arrested Christians and Muslims for alleged “coerced conversion” of Hindus, the report said, adding that conversion of Hindus to Christianity occasionally resulted in assaults and arrests of Christians.The report mentioned the arrest of five Christians in Madhya Pradesh in March on charges of “coerced conversion” of Hindus to Christianity after they reportedly showed a movie about Jesus to a gathering of persons in their home. It also referred to Agra incident, saying that in December Hindu groups Bajrang Dal and Dharma Jagran Samamvay Vibhag announced that they had converted 57 families (approximately 200-250 people) to Hinduism.Muslims attending the event subsequently stated they were unaware that it was a conversion ceremony, it added. Noting that there are operative “anti-conversion” laws in 6 of the 29 states: Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, it said authorities describe these laws as measures to protect vulnerable individuals from being induced to change their faith.For example, the Gujarat law proscribes religious conversions through “allurement, force, or fraud,” it added. It also noted that during September and October last year certain Hindu groups mounted a propaganda campaign accusing Muslims of engaging in a “love jihad,” which they claimed involved a coordinated strategy by the Islamic community for Muslim men to marry women from other faiths in order to convert them to Islam.”In December Hindu groups, including the VHP, Bajrang Dal, and Hindu Sena, led demonstrations throughout the country against the Bollywood movie PK, due to its ‘objectionable’ portrayal of Hindu gods and goddesses,” the report said. “Protestors burned posters of the movie, burned effigies of the movie’s star, Aamir Khan, smashed windows and ticket booths at theaters, and called for the movie to be banned,” the report added.

BJP leader Sangeet Som slams owning ‘meat processing unit’ rumours, says ‘I don’t even eat egg’

“I did buy the land but after three months, I had sold it. I don’t know why people are repeating this issue again and again. I have all the documents related to the land,” Som told the media here.

Refuting reports that he owns a meat processing unit, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Sangeet Som on Saturday said that he doesn’t even eat egg and therefore there is no point of him owning a meat processing unit.”I did buy the land but after three months, I had sold it. I don’t know why people are repeating this issue again and again. I have all the documents related to the land,” Som told the media here.”I am a Hindu. I know each and every ritual which is there in the religion. It’s a sin to eat meat according to Hinduism. I don’t even eat egg. So, there is no point of establishing a meat processing unit,” he added.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The denial comes a day after a media report said registry documents revealed that the MLA had purchased land in Aligarh for a meat processing unit in 2009.

Nehru’s niece Nayantara Sahgal returns Sahitya award, blames Narendra Modi for ‘reign of terror’

She also accused the Sahitya Akademi of being silent (File Photo, image by Ramesh Lalwani)

Wikimedia Commons
Eminent author and niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, Nayantara Sehgal on Tuesday returned the Sahitya Akademi award in protest against increasing intolerance towards right to dissent in the country and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “silence” on the “reign of terror”. Sehgal, who received a Sahitya Akademi award in 1986 for her English novel ‘Rich Like Us (1985)’, said, “The ruling ideology today is a fascist ideology and that is what is worrying me now. We did not have a fascist government until now… I am doing whatever I believe in.”<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Citing various incidents of killings of writers and rationalists including MM Kalburgi and Govind Pansare, she alleged, “Rationalists who question superstition, anyone who questions any aspect of the ugly and dangerous distortion of Hinduism known as Hindutva whether in the intellectual or artistic sphere, or whether in terms of food habits and lifestyle are being marginalised, persecuted, or murdered.”Most recently, a village blacksmith, Mohammed Akhlaq, was dragged out of his home in Bishada village outside Delhi, and brutally lynched, on the supposed suspicion that beef was cooked in his home, the 88-year-old author said in a statement. “In all these cases, justice drags its feet. The Prime Minister remains silent about this reign of terror. We must assume he dare not alienate evil-doers who support his ideology. It is a matter of sorrow that the Sahitya Akademi remains silent….Also read- MM Kalburgi murder: Six awardees to return Kannada Sahitya Parishat honour”In memory of the Indians who have been murdered, in support of all Indians who uphold the right to dissent, and of all dissenters who now live in fear and uncertainty, I am returning my Sahitya Akademi Award,” said Sehgal, who in the past also strongly criticised imposition of the Emergency in 1975 by her cousin late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.She said that “Modi is a politician who knows how to speak. He has given long speeches. On twitter and other social media he is vocal. He should be responsible for (what is happening) in the country.”Also read- Dadri lynching: The story of Narendra Modi’s silence and selective liberal outrageReferring to recent speech by Vice-President Hamid Ansari reminding people about Constitution promises of ‘liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship’, she said, “He found it necessary to do so because India’s culture of diversity and debate is now under vicious assault.” The author further added that under Modi’s government, “India is going backwards. It is rejecting our great idea of cultural diversity and debate and it is narrowing down to an invention called Hindutva.” Read the open letter here.

Wendy Doniger all over again: Hindutva forces targeting scholar MM Basheer is just wrong

Raskhan, Taj and Maulana Hasrat Mohani are some of great Muslim poets whose verses on Lord Krishna are as powerful an expression of love and devotion as Mira and Surdas. More recently, a Christian Jesuit father Kamil Bulke was known as a scholar on Ramayana and had earned unqualified adulation from scholars of Hindu religions for his interpretation of Ramcharitmans’ verses.

MM Basheer. IBNLive

MM Basheer. IBNLive

Father Kamil Bulke died in 1982 much before the emergence of a lunatic fringe of the Hindutva family which enforces its own world-view of Hindu religion. Once again, the manner in which a Ramayana scholar MM Basheer from Kerala was targeted for writing a series on Ramayana reflected an intolerant mindset of the fringe. Basheer got threatening calls for writing on Lord Rama and attributing human qualities to the God.

Basheer is not the only one who described the limited personality of Rama. For instance, socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia, in his brilliant eassay on Lord Rama, Krishna and Shiva vividly described Lord Rama’s personality by saying, “another rich story is told of the limited personality Rama, of the circle of rules and constitution drawn around his authority which he never overstepped, to whose unquestioned submission he owes the three and four blemishes of his life.” In Lohia’s essay, Rama’s virtue as a character bound by social codes is extolled to no end.

But scholarly debates have never been forte of Pravin Togadia, Mahant Adityanath, Sadhvi Ritambhara and Dinanath Batra. Though it is still unknown as to which organisation is responsible for persecuting Basheer, there are ample evidence to prove that an American indologist Wendy Doniger had faced the persecution of the same kind by this fringe of the Hindutva forces. Her two books – The Hindus: An Alternative History and On Hinduism – were pulped by the publishers (Viking Penguin and Aleph-promoted by Rupa publishers) without assigning any reasons during the UPA regime in March 2014. Obviously, the publishers found the heat turned on them by Dinanath Batra too unbearable and recalled the books. Batra had filed cases against the publishers and Doniger and accused them of distorting Hindu mythologies and religious texts with sexual overtones.

What is particularly disturbing is the trend that Hinduism, despite its varied hues, is sought to be made into a homogenous entity. Apparently, Ramayana has different versions which are often critical of Lord Rama’s conduct. In Tamil nadu, Periyar’s movement, that resulted in Dravidian assertion in Tamil Nadu, was founded on philosophy that contradicted North India’s version of Ramayana.

However a radical group known as loony fringe of the Hindutva family is never hesitant to articulate its views on Hinduism and idea of India. This was also reflected in VHP leader Pravin Togadia’s demand to enforce two-child norm on Muslims to check their population growth. The fact that Togadia’s views found resonance in section of the Sangh Parivar raises concern. This is not the first time Togadias and certain sadhavis have been using language designed to stoke communal tension. With the BJP ruling at the Centre and Narendra Modi as the helm, these provocative utterances draw much attention. But the reality is that the governments, irrespective of their political denominations, have hardly taken any effective measure to counter this streak of growing intolerance.

MM Kalburgi murder: Ram Sene chief arrested over threatening Facebook post

Kalburgi had raised the hackles of right-wing outfits .

Mangalore police has arrested a teh chief of fringe right wing group Ram Sene activist for posting an inflammatory material on Facebook.According to NDTV, the man, identified as Prasad Attavar, reposted a threatening tweet that was sent out following controversial author scholar MM Kalburgi’s murder. The police is has taken him into custody and questioning him.The activist claims his Facebook account was hacked.Earlier, Bajrang Dal leader Bhuvith Shetty had tweeted a ‘welcoming message’ on Sunday hours after reports of Kalburgi’s death came in. He had said, “Then it was UR Ananthamurthy and now MM Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die dogs (sic.) death. And dear KS Bhagwan you are next.” However, Shetty deleted his tweet later. On Monday, the Mangalore police had arrested Shetty for his tweet.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The attackers had knocked at the door of Kalburgi’s house on Sunday claiming to be his students and as it was opened, they pumped bullets into his forehead and chest and fled. He died in a hospital.Kalburgi had raised the hackles of right-wing outfits when he made certain remarks about idol worship by Hindus that were considered “derogatory” and “blasphemous” and also led to protests by them. A winner of central and state “Sahitya Akademi” awards, he had also suggested the need for a better state anthem.

MM Kalburgi’s murder: Hubli-Dharwad police releases sketches of suspects

The Hubli-Dharwad police has released sketches of two suspected assassins in the murder case of scholar MM Kalburgi.

The Hubli-Dharwad police has released sketches of two suspected assassins in the murder case of scholar MM Kalburgi. The attackers had knocked at the door of Kalburgi’s house on Sunday claiming to be his students and as it was opened, they pumped bullets into his forehead and chest and fled. He died in a hospital.Kalburgi had raised the hackles of right-wing outfits when he made certain remarks about idol worship by Hindus that were considered “derogatory” and “blasphemous” and also led to protests by them. A winner of central and state “Sahitya Akademi” awards, he had also suggested the need for a better state anthem.​<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A CID probe was announced on Monday by the Karnataka Chief Minister into this murder case. Bajrang Dal leader Bhuvith Shetty had tweeted a ‘welcoming message’ on Sunday hours after reports of Kalburgi’s death came in. He had said, “Then it was UR Ananthamurthy and now MM Kalburgi. Mock Hinduism and die dogs (sic.) death. And dear KS Bhagwan you are next.” However, Shetty deleted his tweet later. On Monday, the Mangalore police had arrested Shetty for his tweet.

Jain organisation gifts golden Gita by Muslim artisan to RSS chief

The Gita was handed over to Bhagwat at a function of Jain monks organised by ‘Shubhmangalam’ organisation.

Mohan Bhagwat

RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat was gifted on Sunday with a copy of ‘Bhagwad Gita’, written in a special ink made from gold by a Muslim artisan, at a function of Jain seers in Surat. “We gifted a Golden Gita, made from a special golden ink, to RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat to express our solidarity and feeling of brotherhood with Hindu religion and the RSS,” said Jain seer Abhaydevsurishwarji Maharaj who handed over the copy to Bhagwat. According to its maker Yunus Shaikh, 346 grams of 24-carat gold was used in writing the 168-page Gita which has 745 shlokas.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”I have used herbs and 24-carat gold to write around 745 shlokas in 168 pages of the Golden Gita and worked on it for more than two months,” said Shaikh, a resident of Surendranagar town. Shaikh said he had earlier written holy books of Jainism and Hinduism.”I had also written many holy books of Jainism and Hinduism. I firmly believe that these religions give us a message of humanity,” he said, adding that he did not skip his schedule of offering ‘namaz’ five times daily while working on Gita. Shaikh also claimed the paper used in Gita is unique and that it will not deteriorate for the next 500 years.The Gita was handed over to Bhagwat at a function of Jain monks organised by ‘Shubhmangalam’ organisation. According to an organiser, the making of Gita cost around Rs 7.5 lakh.In his speech, Bhagwat said Gita teaches ‘karmyoga’ and its message is not to run away from problems but to face them. “Gita has a message that we should not run away from problems. If we can solve 70 per cent of our problems then remaining 30 per cent (problems) will be solved by the Almighty,” Bhagwat said while referring to the preaching of Lord Krishna to his disciple Arjuna as mentioned in epic ‘Mahabharata’.

Delhi Police, religious leaders counsel youth detained for harassing women

According to police, the youths were detained under Section 65 D.P. Act for harassing women in public places.

Delhi police in collaboration with religious leaders and non-governmental organisation held a counselling session for 70 youth who were detained for allegedly harassing women by passing lewd remarks. The youth were detained after the North-West District police had deployed personnel in civvies on selected places viewed to be vulnerable to women. The youth were supposed to be detained following counseling session in which religious leaders representing Islam, Hinduism as well as Brahma Kumaris were brought in to counsel the youth. The ‘operation’ was called Shishtachar or civility which required cops to detain those whom they see harassing women.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> According to police, the youths were detained under Section 65 D.P. Act for harassing women in public places. “They were given counseling and explained about the consequences of harassing women or passing lewd remarks at them. Religious leaders and NGOs representatives were roped in to help these youths mend their ways. Some anecdotes on moral values were told to them,” said N. Gnanasambandan, Deputy Commissioner of Police, North-west district. “They were advised to respect women as they respect their own sisters and mothers. They were also administered pledge for respecting women inside and outside their homes and not to indulge in any activity which causes harm to society in general and women in particularm” added Gnanasambandan.

‘There are 1-2 terrorists in the Parliament’: Sadhvi Prachi courts controversy yet again

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Sadhvi Prachi is at it again. This time she has stoked a fresh controversy by claiming that there are one or two terrorists in Parliament.

Sadhvi Prachi said that there are one or two terrorists in the Parliament. IBNLive

Sadhvi Prachi said that there are one or two terrorists in the Parliament. IBNLive

Talking about the terrorist captured during the Udhampur terror attack, Prachi on Thursday said that he should be handed over to Hindu organisations. “I humbly request the Centre to hand over the terrorist to Hindu organisations after getting all the information from him,” she was quoted as saying by News18.

She further alleged that even Parliament was sheltering some terrorists in the form of MPs.

The saffron leader was speaking to mediapersons in Roorkee when asked about some opposition to death penalty for 1993 Mumbai blasts convict Yakub Memon who was hanged on 30 July in a Nagpur prison. “It is a big misfortune that in the Indian Parliament, we have one-two terrorists sitting there. I do not think there can be a bigger misfortune for India than this as they who, are disobeying the judgement of a court, because the court has proved that he(Yakub) is a terrorist. When the court has already proved so, those supporting the terrorist are terrorists themselves I believe,” she said.

When she was later questioned about who she referred to as terrorists in Parliament, Prachi lashed out at the media and told India Today, “You want to twist my statement and you want me to take names needlessly.”

She also said that her statement was only against those who talked about breaking up the nation. “My statement was against those who speak against the death penalty. They are insulting the Supreme Court. They should be punished,” she said.

Kuchch log Yakub Memon ke marne pe aise ro rahe hain jaise Raavan ke marne pe Mandodari chhaati peet ke ro rahi thi (Some people are crying over Yakub Memon’s death just like the way Mandodari was helplessly crying after Raavan’s death),” Prachi said.

Shortly after Yakub’s execution, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had said he was saddened by the hanging of the lone death row convict in the 1993 Mumbai blasts case and said that the “state-sponsored killing diminishes us all by reducing us to murderers too.” Tharoor also argued against the death penalty.

On being asked on what Sadhvi Prachi thought about BJP’s Shatrughan Sinha also having opposed Memon’s death penalty earlier, Prachi lost her cool again, changed her stance and said that her statements were only against “the terrorist who said it is fun to kill Hindus.”

This is not the first time Prachi has made a controversial remark.

Earlier in March, Prachi had said that Hindus should boycott movies by the three Khans of Bollywood because they promote ‘love jihad’. Not only that, earlier she even offered matrimonial advice to Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi saying he should marry an Indian girl.

In February, Prachi said that the ‘Ghar Wapsi’ programme will continue till the 15 crore people who, she claimed, have left the Hindu fold post-Independence, are “reconverted to Hinduism”.

“The ‘Ghar Wapsi’ programme launched by some Hindutva organisations would continue until all the fifteen crore people who have left the Hindutva fold after Independence are reconverted to Hinduism,” Prachi had said.

The Hindutva leader had sent out shock waves earlier by questioning the Father of the Nation title to Mahatma Gandhi and by calling it “unwarranted”.

“The title of the Father of Nation to Gandhi was unwarranted because the true sacrifice for attaining freedom was carried out by others,” she had said.

Prachi had also urged Hindus to have four children. “Earlier we used to say hum do hamare do. But now we have started saying that sher ka bachcha ek hi achha (for a lion, one offspring is enough). This is wrong…If there is one child, where all will you send him? To protect the border… or make him a scientist or he will take care of business…. So, we need four children. One can go to protect the borders, one can serve the society, give one to the saints and one to VHP to serve the nation and protect the culture. This is very important,” she said.

Prachi contested the 2012 Assembly elections on BJP ticket from Purkazi constituency in Uttar Pradesh. She was among persons accused of inciting riots through their provocative speeches at Muzaffarnagar in 2013 and was later granted bail.

(With inputs from PTI)

Wendy’s revenge: Plagiarism charge against Rajiv Malhotra is a red herring

There has been a lot of commotion over on social media lately about the books written by Indian American author Rajiv Malhotra, who has single-handedly stood up to forces in US academia who paint, according to him, a negative, motivated, and false picture of Hinduism. This is not a purely abstract issue, as it impinges on soft power, positioning, and the marketing of India to the world, something that previous governments paid scarcely any attention to, but the current one does.

Rajiv Malhotra. Image courtesy Rajiv Malhotra's Facebook pageRajiv Malhotra. Image courtesy Rajiv Malhotra's Facebook page

Rajiv Malhotra. Image courtesy Rajiv Malhotra’s Facebook page

To put it simply, the issue is as follows: one Richard Fox Young, apparently an employee of a Christian seminary in Princeton, NJ, where Malhotra also resides, has gone on the warpath against Malhotra, accusing him of plagiarism, based on some material that was allegedly quoted without explicit attribution in his books Indra’s Net and Breaking India. Young’s crusade against Malhotra is not new: I personally have had to block Young on Twitter because he bombarded me when I supported Malhotra.

Now, a disclaimer is in order: I have known Rajiv Malhotra for some years, and we have corresponded on occasion, although we have never met. While I don’t agree with him on everything, I am broadly in sync with him; and I have had no financial dealings whatsoever with him or any entities with links to him. There are friends of mine who disagree with him on style or substance, but when it comes to an external attack, we all stand with Rajiv.

On taking a brief look at the whole imbroglio, I see an old game being rehashed: certain anti-India and anti-Hindu forces are at play, and have been, in academia and elsewhere, for some years. There is a certain #DeepState at play, which I alluded to a few months ago in when I suggested that India has been deemed a part of a new #AxisOfEvil. I see no reason to change that view, as the same dramatis personae are at work here too: pals of the USCIRF – Cold Warriors of religion, focused on conversions.

I wrote about this clash of civilisations in “Fear of Engineering” in 2002, including the fact of Rajiv Malhotra, Sankrant Sanu, et al standing up to entrenched antipathy towards Hindus in American academia, led by ‘den mother’ Wendy Doniger Flaherty and “Wendy’s Children”, as Malhotra dubbed her acolytes. What was a somewhat obscure tiff in American academia then has now become quite an issue in India now.

There is an even greater link. This fuss about Malhotra’s books may be direct revenge for what happened to Wendy’s books a few months ago: upon being accused of hurting the sentiments of Hindus, her publisher unilaterally withdrew her books on Hinduism, which were allegedly a travesty of true research, not to mention full of gratuitous titillation and insults. Malhotra was the person who first challenged Wendy and her brood 15 years ago, and now the objective is to bully his publisher into withdrawing his books: sweet revenge indeed.

This is a pretty good tactic, and is an old one. The RISA group of mostly American religious academics who act as gatekeepers for Western Indology has consistently excluded those other than their own through the spurious argument of ‘scholarship’. This is defined as having been a PhD candidate under one of them: a clear case of intellectual incest. Indeed, Wendy has spawned – in nice counterpoint to Romila Thapar in India – an entire generation of Hindu-hating ‘scholars’, both Indian and Western.

They have sought to denigrate the ‘insider’ perspective of Hinduism, as experienced by practicing Hindus or sympathetic scholars, and lionised an ‘outsider’ perspective (the words ‘emic’ and ‘etic’ are used to refer to these points of view) of hostile anthropologists (or colonial administrators in British Raj days). For instance, they have kept out scholars like Michel Danino, quite possibly the foremost authority on the Sarasvati river and thereby the best debunker of the entire ‘Aryan Invasion Fairytale’. This is not surprising: let us remember Galileo Galilei, who was almost burnt at the stake for upsetting the carefully built-up sinecures of insiders who had made their careers out of heliocentrism.

But that RISA citadel is under attack, as Hindus, both scholars and lay people, have begun to question them, turning the microscope back on them, and asserting that the western world-view is not universal (which Malhotra has done explicitly, by treating the West as anthropological specimens to be viewed through the lens of Hindu philosophical systems).

No, the western view is true for all people and for all time. An example is in the concept of ‘intellectual property rights’. The traditional knowledge and intellectual property of Hindus, freely given by pundits, have been quietly expropriated by western scholars (‘embrace-extend-exterminate’, the famous Microsoft strategy), who then turn around and assert that it is their property (the U-turn Hypothesis), for which they hold IPR. Westerners zealously guard their IPRs with patents and copyrights and so on. We remember the neem and turmeric patents. The tactic is also subtler: the appropriation of yoga into ‘Christian yoga’; the demonisation of coconut oil by cleverly comparing hydrogenated coconut oil to extra-virgin olive and saffola oil; and so forth.

Hindus have a different, yet internally consistent, view of knowledge. They have traditionally created knowledge and simply put it in the public domain for anyone to use, without even signing their work. Is that wrong? Does this mean that Hindus were not innovative? Far from it. We don’t know who invented the decimal system (it was possibly Brahmagupta), but did it benefit society? Yes, it did, although it may not have benefited Brahmagupta personally through royalties, and indeed he may not have cared about the money, anyway.

In the West, too, the rise of Unix/Linux and open-source software has made it clear that ‘copyleft’ or freely opening up intellectual property, is not the end of civilisation as we know it; on the contrary, it can lead to very fine products and benefit society. Indeed, as opposed to Microsoft’s IPR-heavy Windows, 98 percent of us now carry mobile devices based on the open-source philosophy of Unix/Linux, GNU and the Free Software Foundation. So it’s clear that an alternative point of view may well be as valid as the conventional wisdom. Creative Commons is another example.

Staying with IPR for a moment, let us consider the basis of the attack on Malhotra: that he has plagiarised. Insofar as I can tell, what he is accused of is acceptable under the definition of ‘fair use’ in the US Copyright Act 1976, 17 USC Section 107, and under ‘fair dealing’ in the Indian Copyright Act of 1957, Section 52. If you peruse these provisions, you will find that the quoting of copyright materials for ‘research’ is allowed without hindrance, as it is for teaching as well, so long as it is not used for monetary benefit to the user.

Thus, there is little basis in fact for the allegation, a priori, and I suspect that if Malhotra sues, he will win. However, it is an excellent tactic, known as “throwing some mud and seeing how much will stick”. The objective is not to penalise the alleged plagiarism, but to create the impression that Malhotra is intellectually dishonest, the equivalent of accusing him of a felony, which will remain as a stain even if he is exonerated. That is the objective of Wendy’s Revenge: hopefully, it will cause him to self-censor.

This technique has been used to devastating effect in the past. One example is the Nun Rape Syndrome. In 1998, there was a big hoo-ha over an alleged rape of four Catholic nuns in Jhabua, in the forests of Madhya Pradesh, and Hindu groups were immediately accused. To be honest, it’s not clear why the rape of a nun is more heinous than the rape of any lay woman: it’s, alas, pretty routine, just ask Sisters Anita and Jesmi. Anyway it turned out that the rapists were themselves Christians. The story then disappeared, but there were no apologies for libel against Hindus.

The same thing happened in West Bengal recently. An elderly nun was allegedly raped, and since the BJP is running the government of India, blame was immediately directed at Hindu organisations. Then it turned out that the rapists were Muslims, illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, and the nun was also spirited away. Once again, the story was swept under the carpet, but no apologies.

Interestingly, Indian ‘sepoys’, the brainwashed or the mendacious, are in the forefront of the attacks. I have read several of them, and also devastating counters by Malhotra and Danino as well as an excellent piece by Atanu Dey showing up their hypocrisy.

Sadly, I also found the usual champions of ‘Freedom of Speech’ – including a bunch that went to a big conference in Singapore just weeks ago on this topic – strangely silent. But that is par for the course. They shouted from the rooftops about MF Husain’s FoS, but were quiet about Tasleema Nasrin’s FoS, even when she was manhandled by some people. They went on and on about Perumal Murugan’s FoS, but were deafeningly silent about Joe D’Cruz’s FoS. The sepoys obviously know what to think and where their selective outrage must be directed: their handlers must be telling them regularly.

Thus the entire arsenal of the #DeepState has been brought out, including the sleeper cells. The fact that the allegations are baseless will not matter, and the nasties will succeed in their objective of shutting down Rajiv Malhotra unless all of us who support our civilisation are vocal in our resistance. To start with, you could sign the petition that is circulating online here. But that isn’t enough: do get active in fighting back. This is just the tip of the iceberg in the withering assault on Hindu civilisation.

Madras HC recalls order directing mediation between a rapist and the victim

The Madras High Court has recalled a controversial verdict directing mediation between a rapist and his victim days after the Supreme Court came down heavily on such attitude, describing it “against the dignity of women.”

The Madras High Court has recalled a controversial verdict directing mediation between a rapist and his victim days after the Supreme Court came down heavily on such attitude, describing it “against the dignity of women.” The court has also cancelled bail of the convict who was granted bail and asked him to surrender by July 13. Justice P Devadass of Madras HC passed the order on Friday in view of the Supreme Court order recently in the state of Madhya Pradesh vs Madanlal case. <!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The 22-year old victim who was offered a mediation with her rapist by the Madras High Court on Friday however had already rejected the offer. She said the suspect could go to any extent to escape punishment. V Mohan was sentenced to seven years in jail for raping a 15-year-old orphan in 2008. The girl became pregnant and is now a young mother of a six-year-old daughter. “How can I marry someone who himself told me that he will be marrying his cousin. At least three times he would have told me that he will be marrying her??”, the victim, whose name is not being revealed, said on the phone to PTI.Asked whether she was ready to settle with him if Mohan offered to transfer his property in her name or the child, she said, “No way. All these are his gimmicks. He will go to any extent to cheat anyone and the court, like he did to me”Last month in a controversial judgment, Madras HC referred a case of a rapist, who was awarded seven years imprisonment by a trial court, to its mediation centre to settle the matter taking note of the future of the victim, now a mother of a child.Justice P Devadass, holding that alternative dispute resolution such as mediation is now being used in criminal cases said “In fact, even in Islam, Hinduism and Christianity there are instances of solving the disputes in a non- belligerent manner. The result of it is very good because there is no victor, no vanquished.”Granting interim bail to the accused Mohan, the judge in his order said he has already referred a similar matter in February for mediation which has yielded a good result and nearing happy resolution.”The victim-girl has become mother of a child. But as on date, she is nobody’s wife. So, she is an unwed mother. Now there is a big question mark looming large before the girl as well as her child, who is completely innocent.” “Generally, in this type of cases, the girl concerned is stated to be a victim, but really speaking the child born out of such a physical contact is also a victim. The child is a victim of circumstances. She had born to suffer a social stigma for no fault of hers. It is a great tragedy,” the judge said.In July 2002, a mahila court in Cuddalore district acquitted two others in the case but found Mohan guilty of rape. Besides Rs 2 lakh fine, he was sentenced to undergo imprisonment for seven years.But this judgement created outrage in the country with woman right activists taking strong exception to it. Also Read: No mediation, compromise in rape cases, rules Supreme CourtWith agency inputs

Want to keep Islamic State out? Address Muslims’ grievances, London think-tank tells PM Modi

London: “India’s over 150 million Muslim population is largely unattracted to extremism. India’s growing economy, vibrant democracy, and inclusive culture, encourage Muslims to seek success and social mobility in the mainstream and reduces alienation. With Indian Muslim youth increasingly comfortable in the mainstream, the pool of potential recruits is shrinking, while Muslim families and communities provide little sanction or support to extremist appeals.”—US embassy in Delhi in a secret cable to the State Department in December 2005 as revealed by WikiLeaks.

Ten years later, although things are less rosy with “the pool of potential recruits’’ expanding rather than “shrinking’’ India still has the best record in South Asia in keeping Islamists at bay.  But there are now fears that with the “inclusive culture”, which made the Indian Muslim youth “comfortable in the mainstream”, facing threat from the Hindu Right the global jihadi groups are likely to step up their campaign to attract disaffected Muslims.

AFP imageAFP image

Representational image. AFP

A leading London-based counter-terror think- tank, which advises the British government on its de-radicalisation programme, has urged  Narendra Modi  to take “swift” and “pro-active” steps to address Muslim grievances and allay their fears in order to reduce the appeal of Islamist militant  groups.

The Indian Prime Minister must also do more to “strengthen”  his government’s avowed commitment to “religious freedoms” and  “integration”, according to the Quilliam Foundation.

“We strongly urge the Indian Government to better engage with its Muslim community in order to decrease the appeal of IS’s projections of an Islamic Caliphate, as well as to reduce  the appeal of militant ideologies that cater to Indian Muslims’ grievances,” it says in a strongly-worded report on Islamist militancy in South Asia timed to coincide with the first anniversary this week of Islamic State (IS)’s so-called Caliphate this week.

Criticising “ghar wapsi” style campaigns, seen as a provocation by Muslims, it says,  “We ask the BJP to take swift, proactive steps to clamp down on coercive conversions to Hinduism, and allay fears that state welfare is conditional on Hinduism.”

About threats from  “home-grown’’ Muslim extremists, it warns, “These threats will not be quelled so long as there is the perception that Muslims are being subjugated by the Indian Government.’’

Nikita Malik, a co-author of the report who has written the India section, told Firstpost that so far Indian Muslims had mostly stayed clear of global jihadi groups (“India is the best case scenario in South Asia”) with only a handful of confirmed cases of young men fleeing to Syria to join IS. But she was concerned about the likely Muslim backlash against Hindu right-wing organisations’ inflammatory rhetoric.

“We’ll need to watch out,” she said.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, a Liberal Democrat peer, who has worked extensively on human rights issues and was present at the Quilliam report launch said the BJP’s “hostility” to Muslims was problematic from the point of view of fighting Islamist extremism.

“The BJP government of today is very different in nature from the previous BJP governments. As a Muslim if I was living in India today I would be very worried,” she said replying to questions.

But I’ll come back to the report in a bit, first a word about the Quilliam Foundation. It is important to know its background to get a perspective on its understanding of Islamist extremism.

Set up  by a group of former British jihadi insiders of Indian and Pakistani origin in the wake of the 2005 London bombings, its stated aim is to develop a counter-narrative to challenge the Islamists’ “fabricated narrative of recent history and current affairs” by drawing on its founders’ experience of “having been to hell and back”. One of them Ed Husain wrote the autobiographical best-seller The Islamist which at one time became “must” reading for counter-terror pundits.

The group, which is reported to have received about £1m in government funding, is accused by its critics of “McCarthyite smear tactics” to please its patrons which are said to include American neo-cons. It is named after William Henry Quilliam, a 19th century Christian convert to Islam who later changed his name to Abdullah Quilliam and established Britain’s first mosque and Islamic Centre in Liverpool.

So, it is a bit of a mixed bag. Progressive, but part of a growing human rights/conflict resolution/counter-terror “industry’’ with a penchant for self-promotion.

Coming back to the report, however, it is critical of  the BJP’s hawkish line on Kashmir’s special status which, it says, is fuelling anger among Kashmiri Muslims and likely to play into the hands of separatists and extremists. The high turnout in the Assembly elections in December 2014, it points out, showed that Kashmiri Muslims were “prepared to give democratic politics under Indian rule a chance’’.

“This is an opportunity to stabilise the situation in Jammu and Kashmir that must not be wasted…We strongly encourage the BJP to quell the fear that they plan to rescind Article 370 , a move which would infuriate Kashmiris and is likely to usher in a new wave of militancy,” it warns.

The report notes with some bewilderment that India has “no comprehensive policy on countering radicalisation.”

“This creates gaps in long-term effectiveness,” it says.

Nor does India have “a specific anti-terrorism law”, it points out though it is not clear whether it advocates one. But it is more pointed  in its criticism that India’s counter-terror strategy doesn’t pay enough attention to likely domestic factors behind extremism,  and is too Pakistan-centric.

A larger point the report makes in relation to extremism in South Asia generally is that it is fuelled by high levels of youth unemployment, corruption and an absence of rule of law and accountability in many countries in the region.

Even in India, a robust democracy with constitutional trappings of rule of law, access to justice is hard, time-consuming and tilted in favour of the rich and the powerful, says Baroness Falkner. This breeds frustration and alienates the disadvantaged, especially the youth.

“If it takes 20 to 25 years to get justice it is frustrating,’’ she said adding that India also suffered from high levels of violence, notably against women.

Many in India will accuse Quilliam of offering gratuitous advice and  interfering in the country’s internal affairs but the fact is that it contains many unpleasant home truths that must be confronted if groups like the IS are to be kept at bay.

It’s Hindu, but not exactly: Modi sarkar assumes Catch-22 asana on International Yoga Day

The government has gotten itself into a curious yoga posture. It’s an asana known as the Catch-22 asana where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Making sure the world understands that Yoga is #MadeInIndia has been unquestionably one of Narendra Modi’s soft power PR success stories. It’s just been a little too successful and now yoga is paying the price.

Basically right-wingers on the saffron end have wanted it both ways. They have feared that yoga’s Hindu roots have been excised, erased and elided even as yoga has become phenomenally successful in the West. It’s not an unjustified fear. In fact the more successful it has become, the more many of yoga’s western gurus shy away from its roots. Somewhat like Bobby Jindal.

On the other hand now that Narendra Modi has tried to successfully “reclaim” yoga, and its Hindu roots are showing, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has found a golden opportunity to have its moment in the sun and claim that the government is trying to foist Hinduism on everyone. The padmasana is being equated to the BJP lotus.

Reuters image.Reuters image.

Reuters image.

That has led the government to twist itself into knots to appease all sides. The PM, it’s now been announced will not personally do yoga. There will be no surya namaskar though that’s being couched as accommodating people with “backaches and spondylitis”. Sushma Swaraj has been reassuring everyone that no one will be forced to do yoga. And by the way, 47-member states of the Organization of Islamic Countries supported the International Yoga Day resolution, so there! Yoga, she insists, is not linked with any particular religion. Wonder what her colleague Yogi Adityanath thinks about that backflip.

Honestly, while some might wonder whether a Guinness Book world record should even be the aim of yoga, no Indian really has problems with yoga getting its own moment in the sun. The AIMPLB is hardly the voice of Indians Muslims either. The fact is as Hasan Suroor writes on Firstpost the, “grandees (of AIMPLB) who took the decision represent nobody but themselves.” And only the usual suspects like All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Asaduddin Owaisi have come out in vociferous protest. Many Muslims in India have happily been doing yoga for their health, suryanamashkar included. My Jesuit missionary school included yoga on the curriculum without any problem. And it was not optional either.

Shahani Fatima writes for Newslaundry and says that she finds many similarities between yoga and the basic Muslim prayer of salah which also activates the chakras. And she reasons just as blindly following the postures do not constitute salah, doing yoga asanas for better health do not make it an underground passage to Hinduism. In fact, she quips, “In the case of yoga, it is better to do some asanas and sweat it out rather than starting the day with Nihari and ending it with Paya.”

Yoga in India had always felt unquestionably Indian. It never had the identity crisis it had in the West where some Western practitioners had just made it their own the same way the British made the Kohinoor their own property. That was the genesis of the Take Back Yoga campaign spearheaded by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF). They were justifiably upset that even the Yoga Journal refused to led a mention of Hinduism cloud the eternal sunshine of their yoga mind. A Take Back Yoga campaign in India however would inevitably become a sort of gharwapasi. And the current hullabaloo has inadvertently made something that was generally accepted as Indian into something that now has to defend itself against being overtly Hindu.

All of that puts the government in this tricky position where they first seized on yoga as a prime example of the soft power of the golden days of a Hindu civilization but now have to downplay the Hindu roots in order to make it a state-approved mega spectacle on Rajpath on June 21st.

Suddenly they realize that they have to choose a side – is yoga part of Hinduism or can yoga be secular? The government would like to have it both ways but is increasingly finding it harder to do so. Not just because of the Owaisis of the world but also because of the Yogi Adityanaths.

HAF has had to think long and hard about this. They understand that if they just Hindu-stamp yoga, it will lead to lawsuits like the one in Encinitas, California where some parents objected to yoga being taught in schools on the grounds that it was religious. HAF issued very nuanced guidelines about how to not let yoga’s roots get in the way of yoga’s growth.

“Under the First Amendment, public schools may offer yoga-based programs, such as asana-only programs, as part of their curriculum because asana alone is not yoga. Public schools should not offer programs that go beyond the instruction of asana and other physical components of yoga. As such, community groups are free to offer more comprehensive yoga programs during non-school hours using school facilities on the same basis as other community groups sponsoring religious and secular programs for youth.”

As a result the lotus position can become the more American-sounding criss-cross apple sauce but yoga stays in schools.

In a way, the Modi government by eliminating the surya namaskar is going down that same road. But it could actually be more explicit about spelling out the difference between the asana and more holistic idea of yoga. The way out of this quandary could lie in the Upanishad. As HAF states, according to the Dhyanbindu Upanishad, yoga has six limbs of which only one is the asana. Instead Swaraj is putting out rather disingenuous face-saving excuses about backaches and spondylitis. The government, especially its Hindutva proponents, should understand that sometimes it can get tricky when you want to have your yoga and propagate it too. Then you end up being hoisted on your own leotard.

Having your yoga and eating it too: How the Modi government has tied itself in knots over Yoga Day

The government has gotten itself into a curious yoga posture. It’s an asana known as the Catch-22 asana where they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Making sure the world understands that Yoga is #MadeInIndia has been unquestionably one of Narendra Modi’s soft power PR success stories. It’s just been a little too successful and now yoga is paying the price.

Basically right-wingers on the saffron end have wanted it both ways. They have feared that yoga’s Hindu roots have been excised, erased and elided even as yoga has become phenomenally successful in the West. It’s not an unjustified fear. In fact the more successful it has become, the more many of yoga’s western gurus shy away from its roots. Somewhat like Bobby Jindal.

On the other hand now that Narendra Modi has tried to successfully “reclaim” yoga, and its Hindu roots are showing, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has found a golden opportunity to have its moment in the sun and claim that the government is trying to foist Hinduism on everyone. The padmasana is being equated to the BJP lotus.

Reuters image.Reuters image.

Reuters image.

That has led the government to twist itself into knots to appease all sides. The PM, it’s now been announced will not personally do yoga. There will be no surya namaskar though that’s being couched as accommodating people with “backaches and spondylitis”. Sushma Swaraj has been reassuring everyone that no one will be forced to do yoga. And by the way, 47-member states of the Organization of Islamic Countries supported the International Yoga Day resolution, so there! Yoga, she insists, is not linked with any particular religion. Wonder what her colleague Yogi Adityanath thinks about that backflip.

Honestly, while some might wonder whether a Guinness Book world record should even be the aim of yoga, no Indian really has problems with yoga getting its own moment in the sun. The AIMPLB is hardly the voice of Indians Muslims either. The fact is as Hasan Suroor writes on Firstpost the, “grandees (of AIMPLB) who took the decision represent nobody but themselves.” And only the usual suspects like All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s Asaduddin Owaisi have come out in vociferous protest. Many Muslims in India have happily been doing yoga for their health, suryanamashkar included. My Jesuit missionary school included yoga on the curriculum without any problem. And it was not optional either.

Shahani Fatima writes for Newslaundry and says that she finds many similarities between yoga and the basic Muslim prayer of salah which also activates the chakras. And she reasons just as blindly following the postures do not constitute salah, doing yoga asanas for better health do not make it an underground passage to Hinduism. In fact, she quips, “In the case of yoga, it is better to do some asanas and sweat it out rather than starting the day with Nihari and ending it with Paya.”

Yoga in India had always felt unquestionably Indian. It never had the identity crisis it had in the West where some Western practitioners had just made it their own the same way the British made the Kohinoor their own property. That was the genesis of the Take Back Yoga campaign spearheaded by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF). They were justifiably upset that even the Yoga Journal refused to led a mention of Hinduism cloud the eternal sunshine of their yoga mind. A Take Back Yoga campaign in India however would inevitably become a sort of gharwapasi. And the current hullabaloo has inadvertently made something that was generally accepted as Indian into something that now has to defend itself against being overtly Hindu.

All of that puts the government in this tricky position where they first seized on yoga as a prime example of the soft power of the golden days of a Hindu civilization but now have to downplay the Hindu roots in order to make it a state-approved mega spectacle on Rajpath on June 21st.

Suddenly they realize that they have to choose a side – is yoga part of Hinduism or can yoga be secular? The government would like to have it both ways but is increasingly finding it harder to do so. Not just because of the Owaisis of the world but also because of the Yogi Adityanaths.

HAF has had to think long and hard about this. They understand that if they just Hindu-stamp yoga, it will lead to lawsuits like the one in Encinitas, California where some parents objected to yoga being taught in schools on the grounds that it was religious. HAF issued very nuanced guidelines about how to not let yoga’s roots get in the way of yoga’s growth.

“Under the First Amendment, public schools may offer yoga-based programs, such as asana-only programs, as part of their curriculum because asana alone is not yoga. Public schools should not offer programs that go beyond the instruction of asana and other physical components of yoga. As such, community groups are free to offer more comprehensive yoga programs during non-school hours using school facilities on the same basis as other community groups sponsoring religious and secular programs for youth.”

As a result the lotus position can become the more American-sounding criss-cross apple sauce but yoga stays in schools.

In a way, the Modi government by eliminating the surya namaskar is going down that same road. But it could actually be more explicit about spelling out the difference between the asana and more holistic idea of yoga. The way out of this quandary could lie in the Upanishad. As HAF states, according to the Dhyanbindu Upanishad, yoga has six limbs of which only one is the asana. Instead Swaraj is putting out rather disingenuous face-saving excuses about backaches and spondylitis. The government, especially its Hindutva proponents, should understand that sometimes it can get tricky when you want to have your yoga and propagate it too. Then you end up being hoisted on your own leotard.

No Surya Namaskar on International Yoga Day: Modi govt axes asana to soothe irate Muslim groups

After protesting against Modi government’s plans of including surya namaskar as part of Yoga drill in schools on 21 June, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) finally got its way. A Times of India report said that after repeated protests by the minority body, the government has decided to “trim” the drill and not include surya namaskar asana.

The government has been making grand plans of celebrating 21 June after the United Nations declared it as the International Yoga Day in December 2014. Dubbing celebrations on Yoga Day as “Hindu religious practices”, AIMPLB on Sunday had planned nationwide agitation. Reports had quoted an AIMPLB member as saying, “We have decided to constitute a committee of our members headed by Maulana Wali Rahmani and launch a country-wide campaign against the move of making ‘Surya Namaskar’ and Yoga compulsory in schools.”

Image from Twitter: @MEAIndiaImage from Twitter: @MEAIndia

Image from Twitter: @MEAIndia

The AIMPLB also informed that they will discuss issues like attack on freedom to propagate one’s religion in a separate session and have plans to launch a campaign in this regard. The central government quickly reacted to the allegations and said that participation in celebrations to mark 21 June was not mandatory.

Speaking to PTI, Shripad Naik, Minister of State for AYUSH, the coordinating ministry for the Yoga Day events, said, “It is yoga and has nothing to do with religion. The event is not a compulsory one and it has no connection with religion. We have not made anything mandatory. We request everyone… It is an opportunity for everyone in the country to showcase before the world our ancient legacy. This initiative has nothing to do with any party. This will help us bring pride to the country. If one doesn’t want to do a certain part, then don’t do it. If you don’t want to say ‘Om’ while practising yoga, then don’t do it. At least one can perform yoga.”

The controversy around the International Yoga Day has been brewing for a while. While the minority communities feel its the Modi government’s way of enforcing “Hindu practices” on them forcefully, the government has maintained that 21 June celebrations have nothing to do with religion. Modi’s idea to take Yoga to schools is a great idea but only till it is kept away from politics and religion. As Sandipan Sharma of Firstpost says yoga is linked to Hinduism has become like Kung Fu and transcended religious and cultural barriers.

Even a US court in an April ruling said that yoga taught in a public school is not a gateway to Hinduism and does not violate the religious rights of students or their parents. “While the practice of yoga may be religious in some contexts, yoga classes as taught in the [San Diego] district are, as the trial court determined, ‘devoid of any religious, mystical, or spiritual trappings’,” the Californian appeals court was quoted by Associated Press, after two parents claimed yoga in schools promoted Hinduism and inhibited Christianity.

However, yoga and Islamic organisations have always been at loggerheads. In 2008, Malaysia issued fatwa against yoga because it feared it would corrupt Muslims. Even though the rule was not legally binding but many Malaysians abide by fatwas.

“Many Muslim scholars say that yoga is against the fundamental tenets of Islam – to pray to the sun, for example,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of the Parliament. “Why make this a nationalist issue? Just because I do not want to do yoga does not mean I am not a patriot.”

Yoga is a healthy way to life and there is no way to refute that. Teaching children how to exercise and be fit in school has got hardly anything to do with religion. Quoting Farid Hamza, a yoga teacher and a blogger, Sandipan Sharma said there is more than one thing common between yoga and Islam.

“A lot of people don’t realise this but if you look at the Muslim prayer, the actual routine, it is very similar to yogic poses. It has the mountain pose, hero’s pose, forward bend, child’s pose and a hand mudra. To someone like me, there are many similarities between these two deeply spiritual practices and I find a natural flow and balance in living as a Muslim yogi. I am NOT saying that Islam came from yoga, or vice versa, I am simply saying that yogis and Muslims are more alike than people realize,” she said in her blog.

Honest effort or photo op? Critics, experts have mixed reactions to International Yoga Day

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Honest effort or mere photo op? Critics, experts have mixed reactions to International Yoga Day

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PM Modi and Amit Shah pay tributes to Veer Savarkar

PM Modi & BJP President Amit Shah paid their tributes to independence movement activist Veer Savarkar on his 132nd birth anniversary..

Indian pro-independence activist Veer Savarkar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah on Thursday paid their tributes to independence movement activist Veer Savarkar on his 132nd birth anniversary.”I bow to the great Veer Savarkar on his birth anniversary. We remember his indomitable spirit & invaluable contribution to India’s history,” Prime Minister Modi said on twitter.”Veer Savarkar’s undying love for India made him fight injustice against our Motherland. He inspired many others to join freedom struggle,” he added.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”We salute Veer Savarkar for his emphasis on social reform & remember his writing & poetry that ignites the spark of patriotism among people,” the Prime Minister further said.Shah also paid homage to Savarkar, saying his love, valour and sacrifice cannot be defined in words.”I bow to one of the bravest freedom fighter Veer Savarkar on his birth anniversary. His love,valour & sacrifice can not be defined in words,” Shah said on twitter.Savarkar was born on May 28, 1883 in Bhagur, Nashik. He was a poet and writer besides being a politician and advocated dismantling the caste system in Hinduism.

The Mosaic distinction: Why the Abrahamic faiths remain outsiders to Indosphere

By Jaideep A Prabhu

(I would like to express my gratitude to Rangesh Shridhar for reading through the first draft of this essay and countless hours of debate, discussion, and hair-pulling!)

One often hears Indian traditionalists arguing that not all religions are equal, and that the Sanskrit word ‘dharma’ does not translate as the English word ‘religion’. In essence, the Gandhian phrase, sarva dharma sama bhava, which is considered the root of Indian secularism (though it speaks more to pluralism, actually) does not apply to the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

AFP imageAFP image

AFP image

Why are the latter two of these three religions – Judaism presents a complication that will be discussed later – considered “outsiders” to the subcontinent despite having existed in the subcontinent for over a thousand years? In India, what passes for debate and discussion on this issue in the public sphere has so far been high on politicisation and wanting in scholarship. In academia, however – ironically, even the Western variety that many Indian traditionalists like to ignorantly scoff at – there have been some articulate expositions of why the Abrahamic religions are fundamentally different from and unequal to the faith systems of the cultural Indosphere and elsewhere. The argument runs that the differences between the two groups are not simply about what to call the sine qua non (God) or even if it is indeed sine quibus non (many gods) but involve a radical difference in views on the political order as well.

How Many Gods?

Theo Sundermeier, professor of theology at Heidelberg University, makes an insightful distinction in his Was ist Religion? Religionswissenschaft im theologischen Kontext between primary and secondary religions. The former, Sundermeier explains, developed over hundreds, if not thousands, of years, usually within a single culture, society and language with which the religion is inextricably intertwined. These would include the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian religions as easily as Hinduism. The latter category of religions are those that originate from an act of revelation or foundation and are monotheistic, universal, and of the Book. Secondary religions denounce primary religions as paganism, a collection of superstitions, and idolatry. The three Abrahamic faiths fit this description well.

This seemingly obvious categorisation holds an evolution of great import. From primary to secondary, religion changes from being a system that is irrevocably embedded in the institutional, linguistic, and cultural conditions of a society to become an autonomous system that can transcend political, ethnic, and other boundaries and transplant itself into any alien culture. As Jan Assmann, an Egyptologist at the University of Konstanz, describes in his Die Mosaische Unterscheidung: oder der Preis des Monotheismus, this change, which he calls the Mosaic distinction, is hardly about whether there is one god or there are many gods, but about truth and falsehood, knowledge and ignorance.

Monotheistic faiths rest firmly on the distinction between their true god and the falseness of other gods; their truth does not stand in a complementary relationship to other truths but relegates any such claims to the realm of falsehood. They are exclusive, antagonistic, and explicitly codified and clearly communicated. As Assmann explains, the truth to be proclaimed comes complete with an enemy to be fought – only they know of “heretics and pagans, false doctrine, sects, superstition, idolatry, magic, ignorance, unbelief, heresy, and whatever other terms have been coined to designate what they denounce, persecute and proscribe as manifestations of untruth.”

Secondary religions do not evolve from primary religions – rather, the emergence of the former represents a revolution, a rupture with the past that uncompromisingly divides the world between “Jews and Gentiles, Christians and pagans, Christians and Jews, Muslims and infidels, true believers and heretics.”

Truth and Falsehood

Such orthodoxy was unknown to the followers of primary religions and they found secondary religions intolerant. Indeed, this is an age-old argument that has been most vividly captured perhaps by David Hume in The Natural History of Religions. What is the root of such unyielding intolerance, or to put it in more sympathetic terms, conviction in their version of the truth? Assmann argues that the Mosaic distinction created an entirely new category of truth – faith – and draws an interesting parallel with a scientific development that Werner Jäger, a 20th century classicist at Harvard University, described as the Parmenidian distinction in Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture.

Parmenides was a Greek philosopher who lived in the 6th century BCE and articulated something that is so taken for granted today in science that it would be difficult to imagine a world without such an obvious principle: Being is, and Notbeing is not; that which cannot not be, and that which is not, cannot be. Thus, knowledge is based on the distinction between true and false cognition and the irreconcilability between the two. In a sense, we can speak of scientific knowledge as intolerant too, as Hume did of monotheism.

Before the Mosaic distinction, knowledge and faith were not separate concepts. Pagans knew their gods but did not believe in them for they were not objects of faith; like myths, they were unverifiable to science but not necessarily devoid of knowledge. Before the Mosaic distinction, there were four kinds of fundamental truths: experiential (water is wet), mathematical (two plus two is four), historical (the life of Mokshagundam Visveswaraya), and truths conducive to life (ethics). The Mosaic distinction cleaved faith from knowledge and installed the former as a fifth truth that claimed knowledge of the highest authority even if it could not be verified on scientific grounds.

The psychological and social impact of this differentiation is most visible in how Greek or Hindu science never conflicted with its philosophy, myths, or religious practices – each operated in its own domain. In fact, there are several anecdotes of highly acclaimed Hindu scientists subscribing to superstitions – S Ramanujan’s belief in astrology and CV Raman’s concern about the ill-effects of a solar eclipse come most readily to mind. But the monotheistic preoccupation with untruth in conjunction with faith-as-truth caused much acrimony in Christendom and the Dar al-Islam.

Alterity and Exclusion

If the conflicts between primary and secondary religion had been merely about how many gods there were, the world might have been spared much strife. Hans Zirker, emeritus professor of theology at the University of Duisburg-Essen, sees monotheism also as a statement against being influenced by strife between divine powers, being divided permanently between a dualism of Good and Evil, or being trapped in the incessant wars of self-affirmation of pluralist people. This is the political dimension of monotheism. Eric Santner, professor of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago, suggests that the universalism of monotheism is imposed upon all, thereby forcing them to acquiesce to the Mosaic distinction or to be regarded as failures.

In The Psychotheology of Everyday Life, an obvious play on the title of Sigmund Freud’s work on psychopathology, Santner makes a case for the stranger – pagan? – to be the Other not for his spatial exteriority but because of his internal alterity (otherness). Externalities could be tolerated or influenced but internal alterity was far more insidious as it challenged faith-as-truth.

Ibnlive imageIbnlive image

Ibnlive image

What makes Judaism different from Christianity and Islam, Assmann argues, is that Jews posit this universalism to be implemented at a messianic end-time whereas Christianity and Islam see it as an event at the time of their foundation. Judaism is no less exclusive than its Abrahamic descendents but as a result of a future date of redemption, Jewish communities have excluded themselves from the social and cultural customs of local gentile populations. Self-isolation has no need to resort to violence or persecute those with differing beliefs; for the Jews, goyim (usually meaning non-Jewish peoples) were free to worship whomsoever they wished. As a result Jewish communities have existed in harmony amidst pagan societies or found themselves to be co-victims of their own monotheistic cousins, alongside pagans, in the lands which came to be dominated by secondary religion.

In contrast, Christianity and Islam excluded the pagan rather than themselves. The Great Commission of Christianity and the Islamic obligation of da’wah not only excludes the pagan but directly puts them on a path of conflict. This intolerance stems from the absolute certitude that faith brings to Christianity and Islam. As Assmann points out, it makes no sense to talk of tolerance in pagan systems because there is no notion of incompatibility: one can tolerate something that is incompatible and irresolvable with one’s own views but how does one tolerate something that is not so steadfastly oppositional?

Translatability

Among the practitioners of primary religions, there has always been a translatability of divinity – the cosmology of different communities was believed to be compatible with each other. In a practice that has been the norm since at least Sumerian times, pagan communities sealed contracts upon oaths to their gods. For example, if the Akkadians wanted to consecrate a treaty with the Egyptians, the former would swear by Utu and the latter by Ra, the solar deities of their respective civilisations. There was no question of the falsehood of the other’s cosmology. The worship of each others’ gods was not unknown either – the Egyptian goddess Isis had a popular cult in Rome and the Syrian Atargatis and Phrygian Cybele and followers all around the Mediterranean. Usually, these gods would travel to foreign lands with traders and with increasing commerce and familiarity, would be established in the local pantheon as well.

In the Indian context, the spread of Vedic Hinduism in India occurred along similar lines. The philosophical precepts of the Vedic Hindus were laid over the beliefs of the local communities and their gods were integrated into the Vedic pantheon. Many temples in Indian and Sri Lankan villages are dedicated to gramadevata – village deity – the legends behind whom trace their lineage back to a Puranic deity.

This is not to say that there were no conflicts among pagans – there were, and quite a few, but to go to war over theological differences was largely incomprehensible to them. In fact, conquerors often stole the idols of the vanquished to re-consecrate the deities back home with the dignity due to them. Hercules has thus been around the Mediterranean quite a few times in the wars of Phoenicia, Greece, Carthage and Rome. Religion, however, functioned as a medium of communication rather than as a criterion to exclude and eliminate. Varro, the Roman scholar who lived at the end of the 2nd century BCE, did not understand the need to distinguish between Jupiter and Yahweh as “the names are of no importance so long as the same thing is intended.”

The Mosaic distinction prevented this translatability, for Allah could never be Zeus nor Jesus be Apollo. This is another political ramification of monotheism.

Dominus Unum

The Mosaic distinction, if understood correctly, is, thus, a new political order rather than a cosmological order. The importance of this can be seen in that the primus inter pares status of the Abrahamic god and the prohibition of graven images is cemented in the first two of the 10 commandments in every version. According to Assmann, this implies that monotheism does not deny the existence of other gods but merely holds them to be false and their worship, therefore, is not meaningless but disloyalty. The former is a cognitive category, a matter of knowledge, while the latter is a political category. In essence, one could not serve two masters. Christians themselves felt the repercussions of this tenet during the Reformation in the Early Modern era when Catholics were viewed with suspicion by monarchs belonging to the breakaway sects.

Historically, monotheistic faiths made outlandish accusations against pagan religions to keep their base radicalised while turning one community against another. The Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, for example, spoke of pagans sacrificing their children in sacrifices and secret ceremonies, living in communities defined by adultery, murder, theft, corruption, and all other manner of immoral behaviour. Idolatry, the faithful are told, is the beginning of spiritual fornication and the corruption of life. Thus, idolatrous religions are depicted as completely lacking in ethical orientation. Though this critique might be dated to a specific period of monotheistic radicalisation during the third century, it nonetheless lays claim to proper worship and ethical conduct. This dispute is not merely about the number of gods one worships but about the negation of all gods but one.

Strictly speaking, most polytheistic faiths do not claim there to be many gods but that a singular divine presence animates itself in many ways. In that sense, the unity of divinity is not a monotheistic invention. However, the monotheistic spiritual binary is incapable of allowing for a primary god and several subordinate gods – it must insist on the exclusion of all gods but theirs.

There was no such paranoia in the lands where primary religions flourished. Monarchs patronised all religions in their kingdom despite their personal beliefs. Admittedly, at times, some received greater favour than others but never was a faith and its adherents exiled or made into second class subjects. Such pluralism was evident even in recent times. In Nepal, during the monarchy, Hindu and Buddhist holy days were both observed despite the official status of the state as Hindu and an overwhelming portion of the population – about 85 percent – being Hindu. The closeness between the Hindu and Buddhist communities has historically been so great that it is difficult to demarcate the two in terms of social customs even today. During the famous Bunga Dyah Jatra festival in Laliptur, for example, the Hindu kings of Nepal participated during the climactic Bhoto Jatra phase during which they had to climb up the ceremonial chariot and display a sacred vest to the crowds.

Disenchanting the World

Another reason monotheism stands as the Other is that unlike polytheistic faiths, it disenchants the world. Pagan myths usually involved humans cavorting with the gods, in war as well as in love. This entanglement gives structure to the cosmos, describing its oppositional and synergetic forces in a manner that can be easily grasped by all. Furthermore, the gods bring order to society: with each trade, settlement, and resource associated with a patron deity, a network of duties and obligations is created. Each cult, so to speak, must be balanced with others in the greater community. As Assmann argues, this can even be extended to human destiny in that the stories of the gods give meaning to human relations as well. “By telling stories about the gods, myths bring order to human life.”

Polytheism is synonymous with cosmotheism, and the divine cannot be divorced from the world. It is this theology that monotheism attacks. The divine is liberated from its ties to the cosmos, society, and the people, and in its place is the relationship of the individual with a divinity that stands outside the world, time, and space. Monotheism changes not only the image of god but man’s image of himself as well; instead of being in a seamless and symbiotic relationship with nature, he now stands alone and above it, to rule over it freely and independently, subservient only to a true god. To secondary religions, divinity is transcendent whereas for primary religions it is immanent. Through this distinction between transcendence and immanence, the mosaic distinction also achieves a distinction between man and the world.

Ethics, the Law, and Justice

The disruption from culture and history, the certitude of a new type of truth, the exclusive rejection of other gods, the falsehood and criminality of the Other, the demand of fealty, and the disenchantment of the world pave the way to one of monotheism’s most important claims – that it is the religion of justice. Again, this is a political rather than theological claim. The key point of this claim is that ethics gained entry into religion precisely through biblical monotheism since the gods of Babylon, Assyria, or Rome had nothing to do with ethics in this sense.

For the first time in history, justice, law, and freedom are declared to be the central themes of religion and the sole prerogative of god. Though technically true, this is a misleading statement. The monotheistic point of view is that since god is the true authority, only he can be the final arbiter of justice; the temporal laws of man are inferior to the divine. The story of the exodus from Egypt ties in well with ideas of liberation of the Jewish people from slavery. Furthermore, their escape, divinely sanctioned, also took the power to sit in judgment over them away from the pharaoh and invested it in god. The Shemot, or the Book of Exodus, is thus more concerned with political theology than with idolatry (the story of the golden calf). Thus, in monotheism, the political role of justice was given to religion. The authority of the king was superseded by that of the high clergy, god’s representatives on earth, as papal power well into the Early Modern era demonstrated. This fusion of the political with the religious in secondary religions, but not primary belief systems, is exactly what makes secularism a requirement solely of the former in the modern era.

In pagan religions, justice was of this world for even the gods were of this world. A Roman or an Egyptian who had been wronged could appeal to the local magistrate for justice for its own sake without reference to the gods. Indeed, in Hinduism, dharma is not only properly a function of kaala, desha, and paristhiti but the chaturanga purusharthas mention it along with artha and kama as one of the three goals of mortal life. The ultimate goal, moksha, is beyond short-term earthly consideration. As Hindi novelist Gurudutt explains in Dharma tatha samajwad and Dharma, sanskriti, aur rajya, the individual is free to interact with the divine in a manner of his choosing but wherever he must interact with another, their conduct must be guided by the precepts of dharma, artha, and kama. Ethics and the law were intrinsically this-worldy and had no business to be under divine purview. Thus, justice, or ethics at least, existed much before secondary religions came on the scene but were not truly a part of the religious system.

In a world enchanted, this caused no philosophical problems. The famous story of Indra, the king of the Hindu pantheon, being cursed by Gautama Maharishi for seducing his wife, Ahalya, illustrates how virtue reigns even above the gods in Hinduism. Monotheism did not usher law, justice, or ethics into the world; these had long been in existence. Yet monotheism first made justice a matter of direct interest to god; before then, the world had not known a law-giving god. Any claim that law, morality, and justice are terrestrial and not celestial goods still arouses feelings of deep unease in theological circles; even today, the Church defends the dogma of the inseparable unity of monotheism and justice.

*     *     *     *     *

Behind the Mosaic distinction between true and false in religion, there ultimately stands the distinction between god and the world. This worldview is not only fundamentally alien to Hindus but it is also antithetical and inimical to their way of thinking. The emphasis of secondary religions on universalism and all its attendant political baggage keeps them at an arm’s length from the pagan practices of the sub-continent. Were the rejection of Christianity and Islam by Indian traditionalists merely a matter of geography, it would be silly. Yet the grounds for suspicion and Otherness are two-fold – a predatory proselytism of exclusive monotheisms and the entire cosmology of secondary religions. Neither of these traits has mellowed over the 1,000-plus years secondary religions have been in India, and until they do, the two religions will remain outsiders to the Indosphere.

Beef ban: After Maharashtra, Jharkhand to enforce prevention of cow slaughter

Ranchi: Jharkhand will strictly enforce the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 2005, to stop cow slaughter and sale of beef in the state.

Jharkhand will enforce beef ban in the state. Reuters

Jharkhand will enforce beef ban in the state. Reuters

“The deputy commissioners have been asked to enforce the Act strictly,” Animal Husbandry Secretary Pradip Kumar told PTI in Ranchi on Monday.

The Act was already there and letters have been sent to all district deputy commissioners in this regard, he added.

During his budget speech on 3 March last, Chief Minister Raghubar Das had underlined that the Act would be enforced effectively in Jharkhand and a complete ban would be imposed on smuggling of cows.

PTI

Sikh group praises US panel report on minorities for recognising violations against them

Washington: A Sikh rights group has commended a US Congress-established panel for recognising “violations against Sikhs” in its annual report on religious freedom.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“Sikhs are often harassed and pressured to reject religious practices and beliefs that are distinct to Sikhism, such as dress, unshorn hair, and the carrying of religious items, including the kirpan,” the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its report for 2015.

“India’s Sikh community has long pursued a change to Article 25 of India’s constitution which states, Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly,” the report said.

The lack of recognition of Sikhism as a distinct religion denies Sikhs’ access to social services or employment and educational preferences that are available to other religious minority communities and to scheduled caste Hindus,” it added.

Calling panel’s report a “landmark” for recognising the labeling of “Sikhs” as “Hindus” in Indian Constitution, attorney Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, legal advisor to Sikh For Justice (SFJ) said “recognition of Sikh with separate identity issue by US will shore up the support for Sikh community’s demand for right to self-determination”.

“Now we will approach the world community seeking their support for referendum in the state of Punjab,” Pannun added.

Ahead of US President’s visit to India in January 2015, SFJ had petitioned Barack Obama with 100,000 asking him to raise the issue with the government.

PTI

Minorities facing violent attacks, forced conversions under Modi govt: US panel

Washington: Religious minorities in India have been subjected to “violent attacks, forced conversions” and ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaigns by groups like RSS after the Modi government assumed power in 2014, a US Congress-established panel has said.

In its 2015 annual report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom 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.

communalriotscommunalriotsThe panel 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.

Incidents of religiously-motivated and communal violence reportedly have 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.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and religious leaders, including from the Muslim, Christian and Sikh communities, attributed the initial increase to religiously-divisive campaigning in advance of India’s 2014 general election.

“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 said.

USCIRF said in December 2014, Hindu groups announced plans to forcibly “reconvert” at least 4,000 Christian families and 1,000 Muslim families to Hinduism in Uttar Pradesh on Christmas day as part of a so-called ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (returning home) programme.

“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,” it said.

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 longstanding 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.

Take no cognisance of such reports: Govt

India 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.

“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.”

PTI

Minorities facing violent attacks, forced conversions since Modi sarkar: US panel

Washington: Religious minorities in India have been subjected to “violent attacks, forced conversions” and ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaigns by groups like RSS after the Modi government assumed power in 2014, a US Congress-established panel has said.

In its 2015 annual report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom 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.

communalriotscommunalriotsThe panel 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.

Incidents of religiously-motivated and communal violence reportedly have 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.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and religious leaders, including from the Muslim, Christian and Sikh communities, attributed the initial increase to religiously-divisive campaigning in advance of India’s 2014 general election.

“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 said.

USCIRF said in December 2014, Hindu groups announced plans to forcibly “reconvert” at least 4,000 Christian families and 1,000 Muslim families to Hinduism in Uttar Pradesh on Christmas day as part of a so-called ‘Ghar Wapsi’ (returning home) programme.

“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,” it said.

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 longstanding 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.

Take no cognisance of such reports: Govt

India 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.

“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.”

PTI

‘Beef party’ and 12-hour bandh to greet BJP chief Amit Shah in Meghalaya

BJP president Amit Shah will be greeted in Meghalaya with a ‘beef party’ and a 12-hour bandh.

Amit Shah in a file photo. AFPAmit Shah in a file photo. AFP

Amit Shah in a file photo. AFP

The ‘beef party’, organized by a pressure group called Thma U Rangli-Juki (TUR), will discuss attacks by Sangh Parivar outfits on democratic and secular ideals near the BJP office in the state capital, according to Hindustan Times.

“The beef party is not just eating beef burgers or sharing beef soups but a platform where we will have songs, ideas against the party, its ideals and its leader Amit Shah,” Tahelka quoted the group’s conveners Angela Ryngad and Tarun as saying.

Meanwhile, security has also been tightened across Shillong in view of the bandh called by banned militant outfit Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC), to protest against alleged atrocities on minorities, NDTV reported.

“Cow meat is a source of food, but alcohol and tobacco do not have any benefits. The BJP, RSS, VHP and other allied organizations, without any shadow of doubts are using the culture and history of India to promote the concept of a Hindu nation and their purpose is to consolidate Hinduism around a specific religious ethos selectively chosen by political leaders,” The Indian Express quoted from a statement issued by HNLC.

The report also quotes state BJP general secretary Dipayan Chakraborty — urging the groups to withdraw the bandh and boycott of Amit Shah’s meetings.

Amit Shah is scheduled to arrive on a day-long trip to Shillong on Wednesday.

Annual Char Dham yatra to begin in Uttarakhand on Tuesday

Dehradun: Amid frequent rains and snowfall in Uttarakhand, the annual Char Dham Yatra will begin on Tuesday, with the opening of the gates of Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines on the auspicious occasion of “Akshaya Tritiya”.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

To attract more people to the annual pilgrimage this year after the devastating deluge in 2013, the state government said that it has taken all measures to ensure smooth passage of the yatra.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Harish Rawat and senior officials have toured Kedarnath, Badrinath and other areas to take stock of the preparations for the pilgrimage.

The Gangotri gates will be opened at 12.30 pm on Tuesday, said Suresh Samewal, secretary of Gangotri Temple Trust. The gates of Yamunotri in Uttarkashi district will be opened at 11.30 am on Tuesday.

The gates of the other two shrines – Kedarnath and Badrinath – will be opened at 8.30 am on 24 April and 5.15 am on 26 April respectively.

With all the four shrines located above 10,000 feet, the temple doors remain closed in October-November owing to low temperatures and heavy snowfall, and are reopened in March- April.

Following the 2013 calamity, the state had witnessed a steep fall in the number of tourists with 2.09 crore visitors as opposed to 2.84 crore tourists in 2012, Uttarakhand tourism minister Dinesh Dhanai said.

The number increased to 2.26 crore visitors in 2014, he said.

The state government has taken various steps and also launched a campaign to boost confidence of tourists, officials said.

After touring the Char Dham by road and taking a stock of the preparations, a team led by state Tourism Secretary Umakant Pawar claimed that almost 95 percent of the preparations have been done.

Also, the condition of roads is far better that what it was last year, they added.

Pawar said that in view of intermittent rains, JCB machines have been sent to landslide-prone areas so that roads could be reopened quickly following any such incidents.

PTI

Valmiki conversion in Rampur or ghar wapsi, genuine religious conversions are rare

In December last year, the Sangh Parivar managed to get everybody riled by orchestrating the “conversion” of a few Muslims to Hinduism in Agra. The lure seems to have been the promise of Aadhaar cards or some such mundane benefits. There was no genuine change of heart on the part of the alleged convertees to become Hindus. They have probably reverted to their old faith.

Wednesday’s Times of India reports that some 800 Valmiki Hindus in Rampur, fief of Samajwadi Party strongman Azam “Buffalo” Khan, may become Muslim in order to avoid a demolition of their homes. Again, there seems to be no spiritual or heart-felt reason for the proposed conversion.

Anecdotally we can see that many people with illnesses land up on the doorsteps of godmen or swamis, not to speak of churches, mosques and temples, in the hope that they will be able to relieve their sufferings by drumming up faith. Once more, genuine belief in a different god or religious dogma may have little to do with this kind of faith change. It’s almost like trying out a different doctor if the existing one cannot help you.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Many illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, in order to find local acceptability and to merge seamlessly into Indian society, seek jobs as maids or cooks by sporting a “sindoor” – sign of a married woman in many parts of India. There is no conversion here at all, but there is an effort to look “Hindu” in order to find acceptability. Many recently-converted Christians sport Hindu names, possibly for the same reason – and to obtain reservation benefits, too, if they are SC/STs. Here, the pretense is of non-conversion for political and economic reasons.

After the Sangh parivar’s dogged refusal to give up its “ghar wapsi” reconversion programme, it is clear that the issue of conversion will remain on the national agenda in the foreseeable future.

The question is: how should a liberal society deal with the challenge of religious conversions?

My answer is this: only conversions induced by force or fraud – which are anyway covered by the Indian Penal Code – are actionable by the state. Conversions for short-term material or spiritual gains ought to be okay. This means even Ghar Wapsi with inducements is fine, as long as there is no intimidation or coercion.

That said, there is also a need to acknowledge a more obvious truth: most conversions happen not because of a genuine change in spiritual beliefs, but for opportunistic reasons. My definition of a genuine conversion is a change in faith purely for non-materialistic, theological or spiritual reasons that follow from an individual seeking higher truths. BR Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism can, in theory, be called a genuine conversion, but it is a borderline case. Reason: he made it clear that he did not want to die a Hindu because of caste oppression. But at least he studied all religions carefully before choosing Buddhism. Many subsequent conversions to Buddhism by thousands of Dalits can only be labelled as political. Here, the need for a collective statement on rejection of caste is seen as more important than embracing the spiritual content of Buddhism.

Genuine conversion happens slowly and over a long period of time. It can happen only with individuals, and not groups. You see a faith, adopt some of the things in that faith that appeal to you, and if you see the need for formally converting, you may sometimes do so. A genuine conversion cannot be exclusive – for good ideas exist everywhere.

A genuine change in religious practice or thought also needs no formal conversion. If I like to fast on Ramzan, I can do so without changing my faith. If I want to end casteism, I don’t need to opt out of Hinduism – or Islam or Christianity, which too have not found an answer to caste. If I worship Allah, I can do so without changing my name from Jagannathan to Jehangir. Nor do I have to abandon my current religion just because I also like what Christ stood for. Gandhi, for example, was a Hindu who was moved by Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. According to him, this sermon alone defined Christianity, not the rest of church dogma. He adopted it as his personal guiding philosophy. But Gandhi also believed in the Gita, and gave it his own interpretation. True belief is non-exclusive for truth cannot be contained in neat little boxes of exclusive faith.

Formal conversions, on the other hand, are about politics and power. They are about numbers and how many can be counted as belonging to a particular faith. The very fact that you are not expected to worship both Krishna and Christ if you convert from one religion to another shows you that men of the cloth want you to choose sides – which is an aspect of projecting power, not genuine faith.

The concept of an exclusive god – when the idea of god itself is a human invention – makes no sense because all assertions about him/her/it are the result of auto-conviction or group affirmation, not established and observable truth. If god is about how many people believe in him/her/it, then, by definition, god is about politics – since this is the one area where numbers count and result in power. Faiths that seek numbers are more about power, less about spirituality.

Similarly, when wealthy religious institutions pour billions of dollars into converting people, it is about headcount and power, not spiritualism. Rubbishing another faith and calling yours the only true one makes you a marketing guru – not spiritual leader. In the world of consumer products, it is important to tom-tom the merits of your product and claim it as the only possible choice. The rest are either me-toos or bad products. Religions that go this route are essentially marketing organisations building their god brands.

As for mass conversions, my personal view is that they are soul-killing. Cleaving an entire people from their past faiths and identities is traumatic both for them and the ones they left behind. It can only alienate people from people, resulting in bad blood and even violence.

We need to bring sanity to the discussion on religious conversions. They should be seen for what they are: an attempt to build numbers by the offer of material or non-material inducements. This is perfectly legal in a liberal society, for the reason why one converts is not material, as long as force and fraud are not at work.

Sometimes, the pull factor of a religion is aided by the push factor of your current religion – as was the case with Ambedkar and many Dalits.

But in the vast majority of cases, conversions aren’t the result of genuine changes of heart at all.

Valmiki conversion in Rampur or ghar wapsi, genuine conversions are rare

In December last year, the Sangh Parivar managed to get everybody riled by orchestrating the “conversion” of a few Muslims to Hinduism in Agra. The lure seems to have been the promise of Aadhaar cards or some such mundane benefits. There was no genuine change of heart on the part of the alleged convertees to become Hindus. They have probably reverted to their old faith.

Wednesday’s Times of India reports that some 800 Valmiki Hindus in Rampur, fief of Samajwadi Party strongman Azam “Buffalo” Khan, may become Muslim in order to avoid a demolition of their homes. Again, there seems to be no spiritual or heart-felt reason for the proposed conversion.

Anecdotally we can see that many people with illnesses land up on the doorsteps of godmen or swamis, not to speak of churches, mosques and temples, in the hope that they will be able to relieve their sufferings by drumming up faith. Once more, genuine belief in a different god or religious dogma may have little to do with this kind of faith change. It’s almost like trying out a different doctor if the existing one cannot help you.

Representational image. PTIRepresentational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Many illegal Bangladeshi Muslim immigrants, in order to find local acceptability and to merge seamlessly into Indian society, seek jobs as maids or cooks by sporting a “sindoor” – sign of a married woman in many parts of India. There is no conversion here at all, but there is an effort to look “Hindu” in order to find acceptability. Many recently-converted Christians sport Hindu names, possibly for the same reason – and to obtain reservation benefits, too, if they are SC/STs. Here, the pretense is of non-conversion for political and economic reasons.

After the Sangh parivar’s dogged refusal to give up its “ghar wapsi” reconversion programme, it is clear that the issue of conversion will remain on the national agenda in the foreseeable future.

The question is: how should a liberal society deal with the challenge of religious conversions?

My answer is this: only conversions induced by force or fraud – which are anyway covered by the Indian Penal Code – are actionable by the state. Conversions for short-term material or spiritual gains ought to be okay. This means even Ghar Wapsi with inducements is fine, as long as there is no intimidation or coercion.

That said, there is also a need to acknowledge a more obvious truth: most conversions happen not because of a genuine change in spiritual beliefs, but for opportunistic reasons. My definition of a genuine conversion is a change in faith purely for non-materialistic, theological or spiritual reasons that follow from an individual seeking higher truths. BR Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism can, in theory, be called a genuine conversion, but it is a borderline case. Reason: he made it clear that he did not want to die a Hindu because of caste oppression. But at least he studied all religions carefully before choosing Buddhism. Many subsequent conversions to Buddhism by thousands of Dalits can only be labelled as political. Here, the need for a collective statement on rejection of caste is seen as more important than embracing the spiritual content of Buddhism.

Genuine conversion happens slowly and over a long period of time. It can happen only with individuals, and not groups. You see a faith, adopt some of the things in that faith that appeal to you, and if you see the need for formally converting, you may sometimes do so. A genuine conversion cannot be exclusive – for good ideas exist everywhere.

A genuine change in religious practice or thought also needs no formal conversion. If I like to fast on Ramzan, I can do so without changing my faith. If I want to end casteism, I don’t need to opt out of Hinduism – or Islam or Christianity, which too have not found an answer to caste. If I worship Allah, I can do so without changing my name from Jagannathan to Jehangir. Nor do I have to abandon my current religion just because I also like what Christ stood for. Gandhi, for example, was a Hindu who was moved by Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. According to him, this sermon alone defined Christianity, not the rest of church dogma. He adopted it as his personal guiding philosophy. But Gandhi also believed in the Gita, and gave it his own interpretation. True belief is non-exclusive for truth cannot be contained in neat little boxes of exclusive faith.

Formal conversions, on the other hand, are about politics and power. They are about numbers and how many can be counted as belonging to a particular faith. The very fact that you are not expected to worship both Krishna and Christ if you convert from one religion to another shows you that men of the cloth want you to choose sides – which is an aspect of projecting power, not genuine faith.

The concept of an exclusive god – when the idea of god itself is a human invention – makes no sense because all assertions about him/her/it are the result of auto-conviction or group affirmation, not established and observable truth. If god is about how many people believe in him/her/it, then, by definition, god is about politics – since this is the one area where numbers count and result in power. Faiths that seek numbers are more about power, less about spirituality.

Similarly, when wealthy religious institutions pour billions of dollars into converting people, it is about headcount and power, not spiritualism. Rubbishing another faith and calling yours the only true one makes you a marketing guru – not spiritual leader. In the world of consumer products, it is important to tom-tom the merits of your product and claim it as the only possible choice. The rest are either me-toos or bad products. Religions that go this route are essentially marketing organisations building their god brands.

As for mass conversions, my personal view is that they are soul-killing. Cleaving an entire people from their past faiths and identities is traumatic both for them and the ones they left behind. It can only alienate people from people, resulting in bad blood and even violence.

We need to bring sanity to the discussion on religious conversions. They should be seen for what they are: an attempt to build numbers by the offer of material or non-material inducements. This is perfectly legal in a liberal society, for the reason why one converts is not material, as long as force and fraud are not at work.

Sometimes, the pull factor of a religion is aided by the push factor of your current religion – as was the case with Ambedkar and many Dalits.

But in the vast majority of cases, conversions aren’t the result of genuine changes of heart at all.

From Ramanuja to Periyar: Re-integrating Brahmins into Dravidian narrative

By Rohit Vishwanath

For nearly a hundred years, advocates of Dravidianism often deceived the people of Tamil Nadu into believing that they knew higher truths than the vedantins – or students of Vedanta. They aggrandised power at the cost of cleaving society in the name of countering Brahminism. But they are now close to conceding the truth. On 5 April this year, The Hindu reported on Chief Minister M Karunanidhi’s attempts to appropriate Saint Ramanuja (or Ramanujacharya), a patron saint who is revered by the Vaishnavite Iyengar Brahmin community. (The Iyer Brahmins, more numerous in number, are smarthas who do not differentiate much between Shaivism and Vaishnavism). Ramanuja broke caste barriers, Karunanidhi acknowledged.

In the old Tamil world, Brahmins were the society’s store-keepers of knowledge. They were the equivalent of today’s researchers and teachers. The only difference was they did not work – as conventionally defined then – to earn a living. They sustained themselves by either begging for alms or making ends meet with whatever dakshina they received. It enabled them to seek higher levels of truth. Their understanding of the truth influenced the sciences, arts, politics and all other aspects of the society of that age. Ramanujacharya was a product of this system.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

Although Brahmins deserved criticism and condemnation for perpetuating caste discrimination, the Dravidian movement managed to alienate them completely. It is a pity that post-independence Tamil Nadu failed to accommodate Brahmins in its Dravidian narrative. The Dravidian parties succeeded in wiping out their indigenously evolved knowledge systems entirely – without documenting them. Today’s Dravidian leaders owe an explanation to society for having erased the collective memory of an entire community and driving them out of their homelands to seek their fortunes outside Tamil Nadu. In many ways, the atrocities suffered by Tam-brahms – a short-form for Tamil Brahmins – are similar to those inflicted on the Kashmiri Pandits. Except there was no violence of the kind seen in Kashmir. It happened through sheer ideological discrimination.

It is in this situation that the BJP – once seen as a pro-Brahmin party, but now growing out to embrace all castes – is trying to make its mark. Can it break the anti-Brahmin Dravidian narrative without alienating the vast bulk of non-Brahmin castes in the state who have benefited from the Dravidian parties’ nearly 50 years in power?

In this article I have made an attempt to bring Brahmins back into the Tamil social narrative. It is based on my understanding of the truth.

Dravida Nadu (once identified as all peoples south of the Vindhyas) is where many avatars were born. They, the great leaders of Dravida Nadu, out of compassion for the common masses, laid out a path for common people to achieve the highest human goal of self-realisation. As early as in the treta yuga, this region witnessed the advent of Vamana, a dwarf, who reined in a king whose ego had grown so grotesque that it was threatening dharma. Since then, it has been a tradition. Every time the law of nature seems subverted, a saviour rises.

Dravidian philosophers like Adi Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, and Madhavacharya belong to the same lineage. They are renowned the world over for bringing back dharma, or rationality, to prevailing social narratives. Centuries later, sage Vidyaranya brought this philosophy to public administration and policy when he impelled Harihara and Bukkaraya to create the kingdom of Vijayanagara. In the Maratha land, Swami Ramdas played a similar role. The great achievements, in war and in peace, of the Pallavas, Cholas, Cheras, Pandyas and several others who ruled the Dravida regions stems from this solemn relationship between metaphysics and public policy.

Dharma permeates all aspects of social behavior. That is why it is a way of life. It is different from what we know today as religion. Religion has been reduced to a set of mostly irrational practices, like prayers and rituals, which form the private pursuit of individuals. History tells us that man has the tendency to lose sight of dharma, time and again, because of his penchant for avidya (ignorance or irrationality) which causes maya (delusion). The avatars who descend to earth serve to remind mankind of the supreme truth which can be understood only through enquiry and logic. Every avatar packaged and repackaged the same message using relevant contemporary social narratives and language. The message is greater than the messenger. That is why in the Indian tradition, myth and folklore dominate history.

Adi Sankaracharya re-established dharma in his times by crusading against prevalent irrationality and injustice. By falling at the feet of an (untouchable) Chandala, he underscored the fact that all humans deserve respect and that even a person of the lowest caste could be a king among jnanis. The importance he gave to the rational enquiry of the truth cannot be overstated. He has written an entire treatise, Vivekachudamani (crest jewel of rationality), on the subject. The philosophy he propounded, that of advaita, is the epitome of logic and rational thought. It establishes man’s supreme identity.

Centuries later, Ramanujacharya was so moved by the same adharma in society that he decided to defy the then contemporary social norms and made it his life’s mission to show the downtrodden the path to salvation. He may perhaps have well been the first person to use a variant of the Harijan, Thiru Kullathar, for the oppressed castes.

More recently, in the 20th century, when our land was again plunged in the dark ages, when man became reduced to the level of a leech living off the blood of fellow human beings, rose another great saint. His name was Periyar E Ramasamy Naicker and he was no less than the Shankaracharya. His teachings are a perfect synthesis of Shankara’s non-duality and Charvaka principles. It is, therefore, best suited for our times.

Periyar espoused the same message of rationality and human dignity that the avatars of previous ages did before him. He saw that religion was being exploited to deceive innocent people and, therefore, he fought against superstitions till his last breath. Through his participation in the Vaikom Satyagraha and through his self-respect movement he crusaded for the truth that all men are equal.

If Periyar was Aristotle, Annadurai, the first DMK Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, was his Alexander. Annadurai interpreted Dravidian philosophy to influence statecraft. It is because of him that Tamil Nadu leapfrogged into the league of the most advanced states of India. He gave clarity to Periyar’s views on god. Onre Kulam, Oruvanae Devan, he declared, mirroring the highest truth of non-duality.

Periyar’s action of breaking clay images of deities is comparable to the story of Guru Nanak, founder of Sikhism, who was alleged to have shown disrespect to the Kaaba in Mecca because he had his feet in the direction of the stone. The guru retorted and asked to be shown a direction which was godless.

If Periyar’s modern successors had genuinely accepted and propagated his thoughts, avidya and maya would not be wreaking havoc in Tamil society, as is the case now. It would have been far steeped in scientific temper and rationality, in humanism, and would have been far closer to nature than it is today.

At the heart of Dravidianism, fortunately, is the quest for the same truth that the Upanishads speak of. As the BJP plans its strategy for breaking into the Dravidian fortress ahead of the 2016 state elections, it may do well to reflect on the above parallels. It must take on the Dravidian parties for having bred a bunch of power-hungry politicians who used the great message of Periyar, misrepresented it and exploited it to promote their vested interests. The idea of oneness with nature was vulgarly distorted to marginalise only Brahmins. It was not an anti-caste crusade – for caste continues to rule Tamil Nadu even today. It is a pity that Dravidianism has come to be seen as a movement based on alien or antithetical principles because of power-hungry politicians. In reality, it is part of the intellectual wealth of Hinduism that is devoid of the colourful paraphernalia of bhakti traditions the religion is famous for.

The BJP could gain by reinstating Tamil Nadu’s intellectual glory by reintegrating Brahmins into the mainstream. As recently as the 19th and 20th centuries, Brahmin luminaries like mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, scientists CV Raman and his nephew S Chandrasekhar, administrators like C Rajagopalachari and CP Ramaswamy Iyer, poets like Subrahmanya Bharati and vedantins like Ramana Maharishi, S Radhakrishnan and Kanchi Mahaperiyaval, dotted the Tamil skyline.

Swami Vivekananda’s presentation in 1893 at the Parliament of World’s Religion positioned Hinduism as a solution to global challenges of that age. BJP campaign managers would want to look at a similar positioning of Dravidian dharma, as an key offshoot of Hinduism, which has the possible answers to the problems of the 21st century.

The author is a Chennai-based analyst. Twitter Handle:@srichakram

RSS, Congress fight to topple Ambedkar’s reformist agenda yet again

What’s happening to the legacy of Dr B R Ambedkar at the hands of the RSS/BJP and the Congress on the occasion of his 125th birth anniversary is perhaps the biggest travesty of social and political history of India.

The man, an intellectual giant and peerless social reformer, who fiercely fought Hinduism till his death and was highly critical of Gandhi and the Congress, is today being misappropriated by both the Sangh Parivar and the Congress. And both are making elaborate plans to celebrate his anniversary.

The RSS will come out with commemorative collector’s editions of its mouthpieces Panchjanya and The Organiser, while the BJP will roll out year long celebrations with a particular focus on social welfare. The Congress, under a special committee chaired by Sonia Gandhi, also will ride on the glory of Ambedkar throughout the year. Prince Rahul will join the misappropriation plan.

The most outlandish and fallacious claims have been made by the RSS. It has said that Ambedkar’s work was similar to that of its icons such as Veer Savarkar and Madan Mohan Malaviya and that he even supported its polarising idea of “Ghar Wapsi”. The laughable irony of this claim is that Ambedkar’s politics was anchored in his uncompromising opposition to Hinduism, particularly the practice of caste or “varnashram”. He was so vocal in his antagonism to Hindu religion that he converted to Buddhism a few months before his death. While becoming a Buddhist, he had said that he felt free by renouncing Hindu religion and was no more an untouchable.

But an opportunist RSS sees Ambedkar’s lifelong fight against Hinduism as an attempt to reform the religion. In its stilted eyes, Ambedkar is a Hindu reformist. It doesn’t see his sufferings or the subjugation of Dalits at the hands of caste Hindus, but find great affection for Hinduism in his conversion to Buddhism because he turned down the overtures of Muslims and Christians. For the RSS, a person who didn’t want to convert to Islam or Christianity is a loyalist of the Hindus even though he was trying escape the cruelty of the Hindu caste-system.

ReutersReuters

Reuters

The RSS has one more reason to misrepresent Ambedkar – that he was highly critical of the Muslims and did not support Pakistan. Ambedkar indeed went to great lengths to assert that “Muslim Society is even more full of social evils than Hindu Society is” and how it sanctioned and perpetuated slavery and subjugation of women. He was highly critical that there was no organised social reform movement in Islam. He also said that a “Muslim woman is the most helpless person in the world” because “Islam has set its seal of inferiority upon her, and given the sanction of religion to social customs which have deprived her of the full opportunity for self-expression and development of personality.”

These words do qualify him to be a severe critic of Islam and do make him a darling of the RSS, but what’s conveniently obscured is that in the same breath he had said that “in a ‘communal malaise,’ both groups (Hindus and Muslims) ignore the urgent claims of social justice.”

Social justice and social equality for all had been the centrepiece of Ambedkar’s politics and reforms agenda, and he believed that they had to precede any form of political freedom. He famously had said that “a democratic form of government presupposes a democratic form of society. The formal framework of democracy is of no value, and would indeed be a misfit if there was no social democracy.” He didn’t value India’s freedom that was not consistent with its social freedom.

This is the point that Gandhi and the Congress refused to acknowledge. The Congress and its freedom fighters thought Ambedkar was a lackey of the British when he put social democracy before political democracy and engaged with them in pursuance of his agenda. He was certain that the untouchables, or the “depressed classes” as he called them, will never get justice if the British left without giving them their due. Political freedom, as Gandhi and the nationalists saw, had little significance to him. As he had said, “the politicals never realised that democracy was not a form of government. It was essentially a form of Society.” He also had said that the “animosity of the Congress Press towards me can to my mind, not unfairly, be explained as a reflex of the hatred of the Hindus for the Untouchables.”

Clearly, for him, the Congress and the Hindu-forces represented the same side of the coin.

Ambedkar didn’t see the subjugation of the untouchables by caste-Hindus and the lack of political freedom as two separate situations. For him, if the nation wanted to be free, it had to be free from both. “It may not be necessary for a Democratic society to be marked by unity, by community of purpose, by loyalty to public ends, and by mutuality of sympathy. But it does unmistakably involve two things. The first is an attitude of mind, an attitude of respect and equality towards their fellows. The second is a social organisation free from rigid social barriers. Democracy is incompatible and inconsistent with isolation and exclusiveness, resulting in the distinction between the privileged and the unprivileged.”

His clash with Gandhi in fact combined both – the tyranny of the Hindu caste system and the wilful neglect of social democracy. Nothing can be more direct to show that the ideologies of Gandhi and Ambedkar were at loggerheads when it came to the former’s belief in the caste system: “I am a Hindu, not merely because I am born in the Hindu fold, but I am one by conviction and choice. There is no superiority or inferiority in Hinduism of my conception. But when Dr. Ambedkar wants to fight Varnashram itself, I cannot be in his camp, because I believe Varnashram to be an integral part of Hinduism.” In other words, Gandhi believed in the caste-system that Ambedkar fought against throughout his life.

Today, the Congress and the RSS/BJP indulge in historical revisionism for political aggrandisement. A mendacious BJP wants to usurp and misrepresent Ambedkar’s legacy by making invidious comparisons to attract Dalit votes and to take on the BSP in UP, while a status quoist Congress wants to continue misleading its tradition Dalit vote-base.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the Congress and the BJP alone that do injustice to Ambedkar’s legacy, but also Dalit parties such as the BSP. They had long since compromised with Hindutva forces, caste-Hindu organisations and Muslim fanatics, and what’s happening now is another political farce in a farcical democracy. An what we lose in the process is a great opportunity to revive his social reformist politics and discover the immensity of his scholarship.

Marathi Film Screening: Shobhaa De welcomes relaxation of norms

De also got Ram Jethmalani to defend the scholar Wendy Doniger, whose book on Hinduism was taken off shelves last year after protests and a lawsuit.

Columnist and author Shobhaa De today welcomed the Maharashtra government’s move to allow multiplexes to increase the time window to screen Marathi films and stated that it should have been done earlier. “The controversy is now finished… I feel they have taken a step in the right direction. This should have been taken earlier,” De told PTI.She was speaking on the sidelines of a celebration to launch a book authored by noted lawyer and MP Ram Jethmalani at his residence here with Chief Justice HL Dattu as chief guest.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>De had invited the wrath of the Shiv Sena over her tweet in which she slammed the state government for its directive asking private multiplexes to screen Marathi films in prime time slots between 6PM to 9 PM. Faced with criticism from the film industry and others, the government later extended the time window for screening from 12 noon to 9 PM.De said that when asked, Jethmalani had agreed to defend the scholar Wendy Doniger, whose book on Hinduism was taken off shelves last year after protests and a lawsuit. “He called me up last evening when I asked him if he was interested in taking on a case to defend Wendy Doniger to which he said he had never heard of the author,” De said.De said the senior lawyer agreed to defend Doniger after De explained that the scholar was in a lot of trouble. “He just said consider it done…It is a kind of spontaneous decision that he takes…” De said.The event hosted by Jethmalani and Penguin Random House was attended by several parliamentarians including LK Advani, Sharad Yadav, Naveen Jindal, Amar Singh and Abhishek Manu Singhvi. Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit was also present.Meanwhile Jethmalani recounted incidents from his life, including his entry into the legal profession at the age of 17 and his love for teaching, all included in “The Rebel: A Biography of Ram Jethmalani” authored by Susan Adelman.Born in Sindh in Pakistan, the lawyer said his dream was to completely “restore the Kashmiriyat in Kashmir” before he died. “Sindh is a replica of the Kashmiriyat of Kashmir. I love Kashmir as much as I love Sindh and it is my dream that before I die I would ensure that Kashmiriyat is completely restored in Kashmir.”He talked about the “beautiful synthesis of Islam and Hinduism” in Sindh and recalled his childhood days when he used to get new clothes on Eid while Muslim children would do so on the occasion of Diwali. “I am very unhappy that the Kashmiriyat which is a replica of Sindh culture is made to dilute itself and sometimes in the same sector it is made to disappear completely,” Jethmalani said.

I’m vegan, I work for animal rights and I oppose Maharashtra’s beef ban

By N. Surabhi

I have spent the last ten years fighting animal abuse. It’s been both a personal campaign as well as a professional career. I’ve travelled across India and beyond to understand the circumstances in which animals are mistreated and why there’s so much apathy towards suffering in the land of ahimsa. I have witnessed and documented the agony that animals experience right from the time they are bred, bought, transported and killed – usually in the most horrific of conditions, all to be ‘used’ in various industries.

Reuters image.Reuters image.

Reuters image.

Considering my experiences, you’d think I’d be among those who would be happy about the recently imposed beef ban in Maharashtra, but I’m not. I’m an animal rights’ advocate, have been vegan for over a decade and I oppose the beef ban. I am also deeply disturbed by the support and call for support by some stalwarts of the animal protection community.Why? Because vegetarianism fuelled by religion is very different from making an informed choice on animal welfare.

For most in India, vegetarianism does not stem from any kind of ethical belief about how animals are being treated or should be treated. The time that I have spent working in this field has taught me that cow protection, an animal welfare issue, is mostly linked to religious one-upmanship in India. The beef ban is an excellent example. The rationale governing the ban is ostensibly this: the cow, considered sacred by Hindus, deserves ‘protection’ because of its special religious status.

Yet, if you look at the Vedas, the cow was revered but at the same time, beef was relished by all classes and castes of society, including the upper castes.

In ‘Untouchability, The Dead Cow And The Brahmin‘, Dr. BR Ambedkar wrote that the texts suggest Hindus were indeed a beef-eating lot and that the ousting of beef from the Hindu diet was a result of the attempt at hegemony by the Brahmins over the Buddhists. The Buddhists were the ones who opposed animal slaughter and when they started gathering popularity, the Hindu vanguard responded by appropriating some aspects of Buddhism. And so, despite the Hindus’ supposed proclivity for beef, the cow came to occupy a venerable position in Hinduism and cow-killing became sacrilege.

In the 20th and 21st century, the issue of cow protection vis-à-vis slaughter has been used to deepen the fault lines between the non beef-eating Hindu majority and those that eat beef (religious minorities as well as members of “lower” castes). The ban in Maharashtra is an instrument of power play in the hands of the country’s political class and it makes a joke of the real issue of cattle welfare.

If the beef ban has been imposed for ethical reasons – that is, to prevent the suffering of animals – then how is a cow different from a chicken or a goat or even its close relative buffalo? Why aren’t other animals included within the ambit of this law? If your argument is that chicken and mutton comprise a vital part of people’s diets, here is a fact for you to chew on. Beef, which was half the price of mutton, was a cheap source of protein for India’s poor. Simple economics tells us that pulling beef off the shelves will lead to an increase in the prices and demand for other meat especially chicken, which will in turn increase the suffering of countless animals. There’s nothing ethical about the conditions in which most chicken are raised, incidentally. I would argue that of all the animals raised for food, hens and chickens suffer the most.

Proponents of the ban point to the alleged atrocities by the meat industry and the cruelty of slaughter. However, if the cow is sacred because of her milk, her suffering is because of that milk too.

Most cows in India are reared for use in the dairy industry. Those that are fit for milk production are constantly impregnated, separated from their calves and pumped with hormones in order to keep up milk production. Male calves are either abandoned at birth or sold to slaughterhouses. Some may be used as working animals on farmland while selected bulls are used for breeding. However, once these cows and bulls lose their productive value, these ‘spent’ animals are either abandoned or slaughtered for use in the beef and other industries.

If the point of the ban is to uphold the sanctity of the cow and ensure its welfare, then the problem is far from solved. India is the world’s largest producer of milk. In a growing economy, consumption of dairy is bound to increase, which means more cruelty to cattle both during and after their use.

Abandoned cattle are commonplace in India and with a ban on slaughter, this number will only shoot up. In the course of my work, I have visited many gaushalas (independent organisations that take in abandoned/stray cattle). I have found that often the upkeep of these animals is dismal, either because of lack of funds and infrastructure to provide adequate care or because of apathy towards to the plight of these animals. Don’t be surprised if the situation of abandoned cattle gets significantly worse and more cattle show up on the streets in Maharashtra.

I am not the only one to have seen countless cattle die painful deaths on the roadside because they ingested plastic from the garbage we discard thoughtlessly. Many have had more than 20kgs of plastic removed from their stomachs. These ‘stray’ cattle risk being transported illegally to other states where slaughter isn’t banned. This means enduring horrible journeys. Cattle are cramped into the back of trucks. Often, they’re so tightly packed that they their tails break at the joints. The animals are kept hungry, suffer fatigue and face the risk of disease.

Simply put, everyone who is holding a glass of milk is responsible for the slaughter of the holy cow.

Animal welfare is more than just animal rescue and worship. It’s a fact that our sustenance is derived from the environment, which includes animals. Welfare needs to encompass empathy for these creatures by negating the suffering that we may bring upon them, to the least possible extent. Ethics and moral compass is not a political ordinance. They should guide us to build a society that privileges non-violence – the same ahimsa that we tote internationally – rather than a society divided by religion. If the interests of cattle are indeed our concern, it requires a comprehensive overhaul of the systems that govern industries that depend on cattle; stringent enforcement of animal welfare laws; and most importantly, individual lifestyle changes. All this requires the individual and collective exercise of our will.

This hollow ban on beef does nothing for cattle in India. If anything, it hurts more than it helps because it’s more about a regressive conservatism and politics. Why support a ban that affects only minority communities? Because it serves a political and religious agenda. And if it turns out that the state government will relax the stipulations and allow beef to be imported into Maharashtra, then there might even be an economic agenda.

Sadly, the state of the cow’s affairs, however, is the least of anyone’s concerns.

N Surabhi is an animal rights advocate and has worked in several animal welfare projects all over India.

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.

Rajnath Singh is right: A debate on religious conversions is probably overdue

Not for the first time has an important leader from the BJP-Sangh Parivar stable (Home Minister Rajnath Singh himself) called for a national debate on religious conversions. And not for the first time will India’s Lutyens mafia probably duck for cover – or shift the debate to communalism. Only in India will so-called liberals run away from a debate where the stronger arguments are possibly on their side.

That Rajnath Singh raised the conversions issue at a conference of state minority commissions on Monday (23 March) is significant. It means the parivar is serious about flagging its concerns and will not allow the issue to die out easily. Atal Bihari Vajpayee raised the issue when he was PM, but he did not have it in him to push the argument, handicapped as he was by his own liberal credentials. Singh seems to be trying his luck now.

A debate on ghar wapsi and religious conversion is long overdue. PTI

A debate on ghar wapsi and religious conversion is long overdue. PTI

It is a debate worth having, even if you disagree wholeheartedly with the parivar point of view.

The Sangh is clear and unambiguous: it wants a ban on religious conversions. Rajnath Singh made the same point, but then muddied his argument by asking: “Do we need to impose the supremacy of our faith over others? Can’t we decide that serving humanity is fine, but why do people have to be converted to another faith? Why are religious conversions being carried out?”

All faiths consider their own versions of god and scripture superior, but the question of imposing anyone’s supremacy does not arise at all. So Rajnath Singh made a needless observation here. More relevant is his question whether those who do service to humanity need to convert. But the answer is equally simple: the motivation behind one’s humanitarian activities is irrelevant, even if it is important to understand it.

While reassuring the minorities that the NDA government will address their insecurities and protect them, Singh said the government was concerned about the possibility of demographic change through conversions. The Indian Express quotes him as saying: “If we go to the US and try to hurt the identity of that country, will they accept it? Why do we want to change their identity? There should not be any such attempt. How can a country like India allow changes in its demographic profile and character? Let India’s character remain the same.”

In the context of the demographic changes that have already happened in the north-east due to illegal migration, and in Jammu & Kashmir through the ethnic cleansing of the Pandits from the Valley, Singh is certainly right to flag worries about demographic change. However, it is difficult to attribute this change to conversions alone – though some of this may be happening in areas where aggressive evangelical organisations are at work.

Singh is certainly right to demand a debate, since these are not isolated concerns of only the Hindu fringe. These are mainstream concerns, though not articulated so far by ordinary Hindus due to the fear of being branded “communal” by the “Liberal-Left” secularati.

The so-called English-speaking “liberal” elite has always been uncomfortable about discussing conversions and prefers to talk about communalism, as though the two issues are the same.

This is one reason why the media discourse on “ghar wapsi” has been relabeled as one about communalism when this Sangh programme is really about countering conversions through reconversions.

There can be arguments for and against conversions, but there can be none against having an honest discussion in public spaces.

The “liberal” argument against banning conversions is hypocritical – but valid. It wrongly conflates freedom of religion with the freedom to convert – though the two are different things. The “liberals” have no problems with conversions away from Hinduism, but get vocal when attempts are made to reverse or stem this process (as their opposition to ghar wapsi demonstrates). Ghar wapsi thus becomes an attempt to create communal tension, as though conversions away from Hinduism do not have the same effect.

However, the liberal aversion to banning conversions is valid. In a truly liberal state, freedom of religion should also mean the right to propagate and convert someone to your point of view. The only things that can be banned are conversions through force and fraud. Even conversions through inducements (whether psychic or real, like the promise of heaven, virgins, cash or jobs) cannot be proscribed, for each individual is free to accept or reject what he or she believes is in his or her interest. If a politician can get elected by promising free power or laptops, one cannot take a stand against missionaries promising jobs or cash for changing faith.

But there is also another point of view on this. We don’t take this kind of absolute approach to other freedoms. The government bans majority foreign ownership of news media – which is also about freedom to propagate views. We ban even purely commercial activities (multi-brand retail, for example) on the argument that it affects this group’s interests or that. So, the sanctity given to creating a “free market for souls” is inexplicable. What is so special about the harvesting of souls that commerce in this must be free, but not in regular goods and services? Are we saying a Wal-Mart type of religious enterprise like the Catholic church must be entirely free to acquire market share in souls from kirana-shop belief systems?

Why is not reasonable to curb the flood of foreign donations for conversion activities without in any way circumscribing freedom to practice religion or curtailing the activities of proselytisers locally?

Also, if ghar wapsi is a bad idea, why is aggressive evangelisation also not equally bad or condemnable?

A debate on conversions is not a bad idea at all. It is overdue. We don’t have to ban anything, but it’s time to talk about it openly. A discussion on conversion is not a communal activity.

Rajnath is right: A debate on religious conversions is probably overdue

Not for the first time has an important leader from the BJP-Sangh Parivar stable (Home Minister Rajnath Singh himself) called for a national debate on religious conversions. And not for the first time will India’s Lutyens mafia probably duck for cover – or shift the debate to communalism. Only in India will so-called liberals run away from a debate where the stronger arguments are possibly on their side.

That Rajnath Singh raised the conversions issue at a conference of state minority commissions on Monday (23 March) is significant. It means the parivar is serious about flagging its concerns and will not allow the issue to die out easily. Atal Bihari Vajpayee raised the issue when he was PM, but he did not have it in him to push the argument, handicapped as he was by his own liberal credentials. Singh seems to be trying his luck now.

A debate on ghar wapsi and religious conversion is long overdue. PTI

A debate on ghar wapsi and religious conversion is long overdue. PTI

It is a debate worth having, even if you disagree wholeheartedly with the parivar point of view.

The Sangh is clear and unambiguous: it wants a ban on religious conversions. Rajnath Singh made the same point, but then muddied his argument by asking: “Do we need to impose the supremacy of our faith over others? Can’t we decide that serving humanity is fine, but why do people have to be converted to another faith? Why are religious conversions being carried out?”

All faiths consider their own versions of god and scripture superior, but the question of imposing anyone’s supremacy does not arise at all. So Rajnath Singh made a needless observation here. More relevant is his question whether those who do service to humanity need to convert. But the answer is equally simple: the motivation behind one’s humanitarian activities is irrelevant, even if it is important to understand it.

While reassuring the minorities that the NDA government will address their insecurities and protect them, Singh said the government was concerned about the possibility of demographic change through conversions. The Indian Express quotes him as saying: “If we go to the US and try to hurt the identity of that country, will they accept it? Why do we want to change their identity? There should not be any such attempt. How can a country like India allow changes in its demographic profile and character? Let India’s character remain the same.”

In the context of the demographic changes that have already happened in the north-east due to illegal migration, and in Jammu & Kashmir through the ethnic cleansing of the Pandits from the Valley, Singh is certainly right to flag worries about demographic change. However, it is difficult to attribute this change to conversions alone – though some of this may be happening in areas where aggressive evangelical organisations are at work.

Singh is certainly right to demand a debate, since these are not isolated concerns of only the Hindu fringe. These are mainstream concerns, though not articulated so far by ordinary Hindus due to the fear of being branded “communal” by the “Liberal-Left” secularati.

The so-called English-speaking “liberal” elite has always been uncomfortable about discussing conversions and prefers to talk about communalism, as though the two issues are the same.

This is one reason why the media discourse on “ghar wapsi” has been relabeled as one about communalism when this Sangh programme is really about countering conversions through reconversions.

There can be arguments for and against conversions, but there can be none against having an honest discussion in public spaces.

The “liberal” argument against banning conversions is hypocritical – but valid. It wrongly conflates freedom of religion with the freedom to convert – though the two are different things. The “liberals” have no problems with conversions away from Hinduism, but get vocal when attempts are made to reverse or stem this process (as their opposition to ghar wapsi demonstrates). Ghar wapsi thus becomes an attempt to create communal tension, as though conversions away from Hinduism do not have the same effect.

However, the liberal aversion to banning conversions is valid. In a truly liberal state, freedom of religion should also mean the right to propagate and convert someone to your point of view. The only things that can be banned are conversions through force and fraud. Even conversions through inducements (whether psychic or real, like the promise of heaven, virgins, cash or jobs) cannot be proscribed, for each individual is free to accept or reject what he or she believes is in his or her interest. If a politician can get elected by promising free power or laptops, one cannot take a stand against missionaries promising jobs or cash for changing faith.

But there is also another point of view on this. We don’t take this kind of absolute approach to other freedoms. The government bans majority foreign ownership of news media – which is also about freedom to propagate views. We ban even purely commercial activities (multi-brand retail, for example) on the argument that it affects this group’s interests or that. So, the sanctity given to creating a “free market for souls” is inexplicable. What is so special about the harvesting of souls that commerce in this must be free, but not in regular goods and services? Are we saying a Wal-Mart type of religious enterprise like the Catholic church must be entirely free to acquire market share in souls from kirana-shop belief systems?

Why is not reasonable to curb the flood of foreign donations for conversion activities without in any way circumscribing freedom to practice religion or curtailing the activities of proselytisers locally?

Also, if ghar wapsi is a bad idea, why is aggressive evangelisation also not equally bad or condemnable?

A debate on conversions is not a bad idea at all. It is overdue. We don’t have to ban anything, but it’s time to talk about it openly. A discussion on conversion is not a communal activity.

Ghar wapsi: Nearly 2,000 people have re-embraced Hinduism in MP, says RSS

Bhopal: RSS on Monday sought to justify its reconversion programmes by saying it was “national necessity” while it claimed that ‘ghar wapsi’ was going on “unnoticed” in Madhya Pradesh and nearly 2,000 people have re-embraced Hinduism in the state during the last few months.

On the spurt in attacks on churches, RSS Madhya Bharat Prant (Central India Region) ‘Karyavaha’ (secretary) Ashok Agrawal told reporters that “some people deliberately exaggerate figures on the issue.”

Representational image of a mass reconversion. AFPRepresentational image of a mass reconversion. AFP

Representational image of a mass reconversion. AFP

However, Agrawal said that the recent rape of a nun in West Bengal was “very unfortunate” and such incidents should not be repeated.

“Ghar wapsi has been going on in Madhya Pradesh continuously and 2,000 people returned to Hindu faith in the state during the last few months,” he said.

Agarwal had gone to Nagpur to attend the three-day brainstorming session of ‘Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha’, which is the top policy and decision making body of the RSS.

He said that ‘ghar wapsi’ has been going on unnoticed in MP continuously and it did not become a talking point since it never became controversial.

Answering a query, Agrawal said that RSS is against casteism and considers all people a part of Hindu society. He said that casteism is on the “decline”, adding that it is “negligible” in the young generation.

He said that the “evil persisted among some old people” and Sangh activists are creating public awareness and working in rural areas to end it.

Elaborating about the resolution passed at the Nagpur RSS meet that primary education should be imparted in the mother tongue, he said that the Sangh wants to start this “from within”.

Asked whether the RSS plans to ask BJP leaders, whose children study in English medium schools to switch to Hindi medium, Agrawal said that the resolution stressed on primary schooling in the mother tongue.

To a poser, he said that all people are in favour of a ban on cow slaughter but enactment of a law on the issue won’t serve the purpose completely, adding that “public awakening” on the issue was needed.

He said that the Sangh runs cow conservation centres in 450 districts out of 800 in the country from where public awareness campaigns on the issue are also being run.

He said that ‘charnoi’ (grazing land marked by government) should not be given to industrialists in Madhya Pradesh and said Sangh would make efforts in this direction.

PTI

A person can be accorded SC status on his reconversion to Hinduism: Apex court

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Religious Census 2011 sucks: Hindu population may be seriously overstated

In dribs and drabs, the 2011 religious headcount data from Census 2011 has been surfacing since mid-2014. In the coming weeks, or maybe one or two months, the data will be officially released. We cannot know if the official data will contradict or amplify the leaked data, which show a dramatic fall in the proportion of the country’s Hindu population by 2.1 percent, and an equally dramatic rise in the Muslim proportion by 0.8 percent, but one thing is clear: it will be seriously misleading.

The real problem is that Census 2011 – like many before it – is a substantial piece of fiction. It has been computed with unsound methods and will not represent a true and fair picture of religious affiliations in India. It is a scandal that we can compile data with such little regard for statistical rigour or method. I will explain why I say this a bit later.

Census 2011 will probably be a gross overestimate of the real Hindu population, possibly an underestimate of the Muslim and Christian populations, and probably unreliable about those who may not want to be counted under any religion, including atheists.

Representational image.

The fundamental error in the religious census is the fudge it manages between people who may be civilisationally grouped as Hindu and those who are Hindu by religious affiliation and practice. The only sound way to list anyone under a particular religious head is by self-affirmation and self-selection. It cannot be a default condition, or done by adding people to the Hindu count in case he or she does not claim to be Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh or Jain.

The census surveyor is (as this blogpost suggests) allowed only six options for indicating religion: the above five and Hinduism. Moreover, while a scheduled tribe (ST) citizen can indicate any religion of his or her choice, a scheduled caste (SC) Indian can only belong to Hinduism if he or she claims to be SC. This is because reservations based on caste status can only be given to SCs who are Hindu. This itself suggests that Christian SCs may be undercounted, making the Hindu total bloat to that extent.

Given the significant proselytisation and conversion activities of Muslim and Christian religious organisations, the chances are a large chunk of the SC population has probably formally been designated as Hindu to avoid being made ineligible for reservations.

As for Muslims, given that a significant chunk of them are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in border states such as Assam and Bengal, what is the chance that they all declared their true religious affiliations? I have heard anecdotal stories of Bangladeshi maids in Mumbai who wear the sindoor and claim to be Hindu Bengalis in order to avoid detection as illegal immigrants.

Not surprisingly, even though the Muslim population proportion has risen in almost every single Indian state between 2001 and 2011 (barring Chhattisgarh, Manipur and Daman & Diu) it is more than likely that even this data undercounts Muslims.

Also, given that there is no category called “atheist”, and also given that most atheists are likely to be ex-Hindus (from hard-core Dravidian partisans to Communists and Naxals), there is more than a passing chance that the Hindu totals have been seriously over-counted. Since anyone who does not claim to belong to any of the six major religions has to declare his religion separately, which has to be noted down on the survey sheet separately, one can visualise the possibility where some may just get listed as Hindu.

Can any self-respecting country call this above-board data?

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The question then is this: is this mere incompetence, or something deliberate?

My own suspicion is the latter, for India’s “secular” state would like all of us to believe that all Hindu fears of being gradually outnumbered are baseless. So declaring the Hindu population to be an overwhelmingly large number – whether 80.45 percent in 2001 or 78.35 percent in 2011 – is considered vital for vote bank politics. This is enough to rubbish Hindu fears of going down in numbers due to lower birth rates and illegal immigration, even while frightening Muslims into voting en bloc for the “secular” parties.

This is why the Marxist-Left-secular groups consistently contradict themselves while arguing with Hindu groups that talk of being gradually outnumbered. While this fear may be exaggerated, it has been borne out in Assam, and is increasingly being realised in Kerala and West Bengal.

First, they will say that Hindus are a very huge proportion of the population, and then they will criticise Hindu groups for claiming tribal populations as being part of Hindu totals or for trying to convert them through “ghar wapsi” or other mechanisms. But the same rules don’t apply to proselytisers of other religions.

Second, secular critics will deny that there is large-scale immigration in Assam and Bengal, and then, when the data points in the other direction, they will say this is the historical trend and its over. Nilim Datta, writing in Kafila, came to this conclusion two years ago: “It would be pertinent to point out that…(the) high population growth rate in Assam has declined since 1971 and has remained lower than that of India, categorically refuting assumptions of continuing illegal immigration from Bangladesh.”

How then does he explain the huge jump in the Muslim proportion of Assam’s population by a stupendous 3.3 percent – from 30.9 percent in 2001 to 34.2 percent in 2011. The stork didn’t get these extra people. Or a significant number declared themselves as Hindu in 2001 and now changed their minds.

Third, the critics will say Muslim birth rates are higher because they have been discriminated against and are poor. But this can’t be entirely true, even granting that Muslims are among the poorer sections in India. Both Pakistan and Bangladesh are poorer than India, but still have lower birth rates. According to Business Standard, Muslim decadal population growth is 24 percent in India, 20 percent in Pakistan and just over 14 percent in Bangladesh. The Hindu decadal growth in India was 14.5 percent, according to The Indian Express.

Our own state-wise data shows that the poverty argument for showing high birth rates for Muslims is not the whole truth. In Kerala, where Muslims are not poor by any Indian standard, the Muslim proportion has actually risen substantially in 2011 from 24.7 percent to 26.6 percent.

So, when overall Muslim decadal population growth exceeds the Hindu decadal growth by almost 10 percent, one has to consider cultural and political factors as important variables in Indian Muslim demographics. This needs investigation and effective counter-strategies for promoting family planning.

The purpose of this article is not to raise unwarranted fears among Hindus or to advocate anything drastic, but to point out that we cannot have such shoddy data collection which explains nothing.

The only sensible way to collect religious data is by having a questionnaire that asks every adult Indian the following:

#1: Which religion do you belong to? Apart from the known big religions, which can be just ticked, there ought to be several others mentioned, including atheism (or no religion).

#2: All non-adults should be excluded from religious totals, and listed separately as under-age children belonging to parents whose religion is clear. If a child is born to parents who profess two different religions, we need a separate category for it, for the child could end up adopting any of the two, or neither. The non-adult totals should be mentioned separately, with religion merely being indicative and not for real.

#3: Scheduled castes and OBCs should not be excluded from reservation benefits just because they don’t declare themselves Hindu. In fact, a lot of OBCs converts who now get reservations may also be misdeclaring their religions for fear of losing quota benefits. Making quotas contingent on which religion one belongs to is the surest way of getting doubtful data.

Our religious census data sucks. We need better and more honest data collection.

Kumbh Mela is VHP’s platform for Ram temple campaign

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) will enlist the support of Hindu religious heads during the Kumbh Mela in Nashik and Tryambakeshwar this July, to turn up the pressure on the Narendra Modi-led government for the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya and a ban on religious conversions. The VHP will also seek the seers’ support in pressing for a ban on cow slaughter and removal of untouchability. This development was confirmed by VHP central secretary Prof Venkatesh Abdeo. WHY CHOOSE THE KUMBH?Because the Kumbh Mela draws millions of devotees from across the country, VHP considers it the ideal site to draw the attention of the masses to the centrepiece saffron agenda. WHAT PART WILL THE SEERS PLAY?”An action plan in this regard will be declared,” said Abdeo, adding that the ‘sants’ may also lay down a deadline for the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. He pointed out that the seers had given a similar impetus to the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation in the past. IS VHP BECOMING MORE HARDLINE ABOUT THE TEMPLE ISSUE?Abdeo’s statements signify that the VHP is prepared to be more aggressive over the temple issue even today. Earlier, VHP international secretary general Champat Rai had told dna that before the bill to construct a Ram Temple at Ayodhya was passed, the Muslim community had to be “persuaded” to withdraw their claim on the disputed land and their case from the Supreme Court. He had said that the verdict of the Allahabad high court was sufficient for the government to make a law for the temple. WHAT IS THE VHP’S MASS CAMPAIGN?Now, the VHP will hold a mass campaign covering one lakh villages, including 9,000 in Maharashtra, to create a mass wave behind the Ram temple issue. The VHP’s campaign lasting from Gudi Padwa to Ram Navami in March, will consist of processions, religious discourses, keertans, speeches and contests. The VHP is seeking a law for the construction of the temple. WILL GHAR VAPASI BE PART OF ANTI-CONVERSION LAW?Speaking of pressing for a law banning conversions to religions other than Hinduism, Abdeo added that VHP would not stop its ghar vapsi programme (which re-converts Muslim and Christian converts to Hinduism). The VHP wants ghar vapsi to be left out of this legislation, as ghar vapasi signifies the reversion of converts to their original fold. Abdeo said the religious heads will also pass resolutions against undesirable social practices such as untouchability. Abdeo added that the VHP, which was formed in Mumbai in 1964, had brought about reform by allowing women to chant the Vedas and training women priests to perform religious rites.

Dalit groups in UP use ‘ghar wapsi’ as bargaining chip

Representational image.

Certain underprivileged Hindu communities such as the Dalits and the Valmikis are using ‘Ghar wapsi’ as a bargaining chip to demand better treatment. Firstpost reports of two instances in Meerut and Agra where Hindu groups have been asking for certain demands to be met, threatening to convert to other religions if refused.According to the report, members of ten Dalit families in Meerut district have asked that they be allowed to worship at a famous Valmiki temple in Balaini. The group has set a deadline of January 26 the families have said should their demands not be accepted, they will convert to Islam. Certain locals say that the issue may have to do not with worshipping at the temple but with the land adjacent to temple. The families want to use the to carry out a shobha yatra to the temple and the temple priest is said to have disallowed use of the land. Local leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad are also reportedly getting involved in the matter even as the local administration tries to calm the situation.In Agra, a group of Hindus in Sikandrapur are using the same method to have their longstanding demands for better facilities met. The group had threatened to quit Hinduism but have been temporarily allayed by an assurance from Fatehpur Sikri BJP MP Babu Lal Choudhary the meeting has been put off.The reports says that conversions that take place simply to facilitate inter-faith marriages have been voided by a recent ruling of the Allahabad High Court.The Ghar Wapsi row came to the fore on December 8, in Agra, when at least 100 persons from 37 families were reportedly re-converted to Hinduism at a ceremony organised by an offshoot of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The incident led to uproar in Parliament with a united opposition stalling Rajya Sabha and pressing for a response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the issue. To quell the matter, Union Minister of State for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi had said that a national level anti-conversion law could be brought if all political parties agree to it.”If everybody is ready and if all political parties are ready, then anti-conversion law should be passed. Many states have an anti-conversion law. Conversion is not a new issue. It’s an old issue. There is no problem in bringing a law against forceful conversion, but all political parties and people should agree to it,” he said. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) wanted its ‘Ghar wapsi’ programs, as part of which thousands of Muslims and Christians have been made to convert to Hinduism, to be left out of this legislation. They justified their stance saying they were reconverting people to their original faith.

Will not allow conversion of Hindus says VHP chief Pravin Togadia

Vishva Hindu Parishad President Praveen Togadia on Wednesday said his organisation would not allow anymore conversion of Hindus and urged Muslims to return to the Hindu-fold. “We will not allow anymore conversion of Hindus… In the last ten years, VHP saved about ten lakh Hindus from conversion,” Togadia said addressing a public meeting in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh.Inviting Muslims in UP and rest of the country to return to the Hinduism, Togadia said, “The day they do it, I would welcome them myself.” Criticising what he described as “anti-Hindu” policies of the UP government, he claimed that education of the Muslim children was being funded by it. “The government should also give money for education of Hindu children,” he said.He claimed the state government doles out Rs 22,000 per person for Hajj (annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca) but gives no money for pilgrimage to Hindu holy places. Togadia said that no Hindu farmer would be allowed to die of hunger and no Hindu patient would die for want of medical aid as VHP has constituted a team of doctors for the purpose.He also said that VHP would celebrate its golden jubilee in the country only when the Ram temple comes up in Ayodhya.