The Candid Eye

March 14, 2012

Sri Sri in Pakistan: I’m ready to hold talks with Taliban

Filed under: Art of Living,Hinduism,India,Islam,Pakistan,Spirituality,Yoga — Abhay @ 10:48 PM
Tags: ,

From Rediff.

Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on Tuesday offered to hold talks with the Taliban to usher in peace in the region, saying it would help foster understanding among people with divergent views.

“I am ready to go and talk to the Taliban. I want to talk to them, understand them and give them my opinion. So we can definitely make a difference. We should try it again and again even if we have to try it 100 times,” Ravi Shankar said during an interaction with the public and media in Islamabad.

Responding to a question on what leaders could do to usher in peace in the region, the spiritual guru said, “Most of the trouble is created by rhetoric” and people should instead work for a future filled with hope.

“People find importance in creating such dangerous situations. They should stop and give more hope to people,” he said.

Ravi Shankar, currently on a three-day private visit to Pakistan, inaugurated a centre for his Art of Living movement at Bani Gala on the outskirts of Islamabad.

He also met with a group of Muslim clerics and some political leaders.

Answering questions from the media and the public, Ravi Shankar said decision-makers should be “calm and collective” while tackling serious issues.

Life becomes worth living, he said, when people are able to be of help to others.

“When decision-makers are in high tension or angry, they will project the same thing in their decisions. They should do some meditation and relax, especially when they have to make a serious decision that will impact a lot of people,” he said.

He said he was happy to see the enthusiasm with which the Pakistani people had welcomed him.

Highlighting the transformation in Pakistan, Ravi Shankar said, “On my last visit, I was surrounded by security personnel and holed up in the hotel. On this visit, I interacted more with people and met the youth at Forman Christian College (in Lahore)”.

“It was amazing to see the enthusiasm, inquisitiveness and willingness to know,” he said.

Though some “government people” in India had asked him not to visit Pakistan, he had decided to go ahead with his trip, he added.

Ravi Shankar identified corruption as one of the biggest problems confronting countries around the world, including Pakistan.

“The civil society should rise up and say no to corruption. Law and legislation alone won’t solve the problem, it can happen only if there is spiritual transformation,” he remarked.

He also called for inter-faith harmony and “allowing diversity to exist”.

Pakistan could earn revenues by promoting and developing tourist sites like Taxila that could attract Buddhist and Hindu visitors, he said.

“Love, peace, tolerance” is what Pakistani students shouted for when asked by visiting spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar what he should speak about. Ravi Shankar regaled the audience at the famous Forman Christian College in Lahore as he spoke about love, religion and answered number of questions.

“You better find another one from about seven billion living souls in the world. Move ahead,” was Ravi Shankar’s advice to a Pakistani student who sought his view on him being unable to forget his ex-girlfriend.

The answer led to a round of thunderous applause from the audience in Lahore.

Hundreds of students accorded a warm welcome to Ravi Shankar, who began a three-day private visit to Pakistan with an address at the college in Lahore.

The hall was jam-packed an hour before the arrival of Shankar as both students and teachers were eager to listen to him.

“I am glad to see your enthusiasm. You can do wonders in life with this energy. Do not lose this enthusiasm,” Shankar said after walking onto the stage.

He asked the students what they wanted him to speak about and the hall echoed with shouts of “Love, peace, tolerance”.

Shankar involved the students in demonstrations to make them understand the power of truth. “You tell a lie and lose power over yourself,” he said.

He told them how to control anger and mood swings and to concentrate on studies.

A student asked Shankar to comment on the “worshipping of idols”, as it is a common belief in Pakistan that Hindus worship hundreds of gods.

“Like Allah has 99 names, there are over 1,000 idols but God is not in them. God is one. Hindus also worship one God,” Ravi Shankar explained, drawing applause from senior members of the faculty.

Ravi Shankar asked the audience to make space in their lives for meditation, yoga and breathing techniques and see how this would bring about a change.Referring to India-Pakistan relations, Ravi Shankar cited the example of France, Germany and Britain living in peace after centuries of enmity and questioned why the South Asian neighbours could not do the same.

“Both countries can make progress and overcome poverty if we are united. We need to wipe away every tear…I have a dream in my life and that is about a world free of violence, anxiety and corruption,” he said.

In response to a question, he said no religion is responsible for terrorism. “What we need to do is teach a child about 10 religions. He would develop understanding about them, leading towards tolerance”.

He added, “A person who thinks he will go to heaven and the rest to hell, in fact creates hell for the rest”.After he concluded his speech, students rushed up to the spiritual leader to take photographs with him.Shankar arrived in Lahore on Monday via the Wagah land border crossing. He visited the historic Badshahi Mosque and held some private meetings with followers of his Art of Living movement.

He will travel to Islamabad tomorrow and open a new Art of Living centre.From the federal capital, he will travel to the southern port city of Karachi, from where he will leave for India on March 14.

 

June 19, 2010

The art of healing

The art of healing

SUHEL SETH, Jun 8, 2010, 03.43pm IST

I was in Chandigarh watching television on May 30 when the news of an assassination attempt on Sri Sri Ravi Shankar flashed across all screens and then began, in typical Indian fashion, the analysis of this near-fatal event without an iota of accuracy or on the basis of an informed decision. I have to confess, while I am neither a member of the Art of Living Foundation nor have I ever done a course, I have, for many years admired the manner in which Sri Sri has galvanized millions of people across the world to believe in a simple set of values: all of which revolve around human character and happiness. I wanted to call him and check how he was but in the interim, I was disappointed at the positions that everyone began taking. It was no rocket science to understand the silence of the state Government of Karnataka: no one in their right minds would have wanted to say anything on the subject when they were preparing to host their first Global Investor’s meet barely four days later. But it was P Chidambaram who surprised me the most and this was a very different Chidambaram. Not the one I had seen address the press admirably early in the morning of February 14, 2010 when the German Bakery in Pune had been the target of a vicious bomb attack the night before. At that time, Chidambaram was measured and was clear that he would offer a view only after thorough investigations were done.

But this time round, when the attack on Sri Sri took place, Chidambaram alluded to some dangerous theories; one that Sri Sri was not the real target and second that this could have been an inner-ashram feud. Yes, comments made without even a whiff of an investigation: made perhaps in passing but ones that, in hindsight have proven to be more damning than Chidambaram can imagine. This then triggered off a wave of theories: something that only we in India are brilliant at: commenting on things that are in circulation but have no roots.

I finally called up Sri Sri to enquire about his well-being and he was more amused than angered. He was more concerned about his assailant and anguished at the allegations that were circulating. But not once did I hint even a dash of anger or for that matter frustration. He talked about the calmness at the ashram and the happiness quotient therein. He talked about forgiveness and moving on and then said, he couldn’t understand why things were being said when there was no truth in them. This article will hopefully help him understand an India that is not so calm and not so happy. This is an attempt to awaken Sri Sri from the oasis of peace he resides in and fosters. And something that reflects on the general malaise that has come about in our society.

Television has made many of us instant commentators: silence is no longer a virtue nor is smiling away your troubles: you are either seen as guilty or as one who has something to hide. So Sri Sri should have never been silent or for that matter happy that his followers, one of whom was shot, were alive and more importantly happy. He should have given a dozen television interviews and made it to the front pages and prime time headlines: that would have kept him in currency not for peace but for violence: exactly what the terrorists and now the Maoists feed off.

But before we march into the next crisis, let’s pause and think what all of this has really done: it has created an impression of an inner feud which doesn’t exist; it has made Sri Sri come across as publicity-hungry which he clearly isn’t: he was as well-known before May 30; but the damage it has done is considerable: we have almost, without unsettling Sri Sri, created a level of cynicism and anguish amongst his followers in this country’s rule of law; in our ability to forget and forgive and most importantly to move on. With all the utterances around, we have confused and confounded some very happy people living in that ashram and who are helping the poor and the distraught. So while we may serve the cause of TRPs and individual one upmanship, have we really addressed the larger malaise of unhappiness and anger? Of desolateness and isolation? Of social stigmatization and separatism?

I genuinelybelieve we have many lessons to learn. Our media today is playing into the hands of vulgar sensationalism and our politicians are falling into this trap. We as a nation think it to be hip and cool if we knock the good that our fellow country-men are engaged in. We love to pull the ones that are doing good down with a ferocity that is seeped in negativism. Rather than praise the good work, we invest emotions mired in cynicism and disbelief. Are we increasingly becoming a nation that is suspicious and bitter? Or will we allow ourselves to be happy and optimistic. Many a time, each one of us that has the option to speak in public or write in newspapers want the easy way out. Criticism and not critique are the birthmarks of this India. But then this is a downward spiral. It will make us even more miserable than we need to be. It will make us despondent when we don’t need to be and more than anything else, our very attitude will deter people from pursuing the path of good and nobleness. Sri Sri runs the Art of Living program. But given what one sees around, there is a crying need for us to invest in an Art of Healing program. We need to placate and please; we need to progress and prosper and not be bitter and banal about every thing good around us. Perhaps May 30 was a lesson which we need to learn from; a signal to every Indian to be proud and not picky about everything good about our own people; our own values and our own culture. It is easy to cast stones at everything but very difficult to pick up the pieces of shattered souls. The time to stop this is now. The time to move on is now.Sri Sri has the ability to move on and he will; the happiness quotient will not see any dip or turbulence except that we will make every human being question his own integrity and his own belief system, the next time he wants to say what he really feels. Sri Sri was happy when I spoke to him. No words of rancour or remorse. But then, he is evolved. What if he wasn’t? Do we want soap operas in this country every time a tragedy occurs or do we actually have it in ourselves to let our silence heal us: from within and comprehensively?

June 18, 2010

How fruit trees in Indian village save girls’ lives

Bhagalpur, BiharSneha Surabhi (Photo: Prashant Ravi)Sneha, four, says she regularly waters the trees her father planted for herPhotos: Prashant Ravi

In India, where traditionally boys have been preferred over girls, a village in backward Bihar state has been setting an example by planting trees to celebrate the birth of a girl child.

In Dharhara village, Bhagalpur district, families plant a minimum of 10 trees whenever a girl child is born.

And this practice is paying off.

Nikah Kumari, 19, is all set to get married in early June. The would-be groom is a state school teacher chosen by her father, Subhas Singh.

Mr Singh is a small-scale farmer with a meagre income, but he is not worried about the high expenses needed for the marriage ceremony.

For, in keeping with the village tradition, he had planted 10 mango trees the day Nikah was born.

The girl – and the trees – were nurtured over the years and today both are grown up.

Dowry deaths

“Today that day has come for which we had planted the trees. We’ve sold off the fruits of the trees for three years in advance and got the money to pay for my daughter’s wedding,” Mr Singh told the BBC.

“The trees are our fixed deposits,” he said.

Dharhara village in BiharThe village looks like a forest or a dense green patch

In Bihar, payment of dowry by the bride’s family is a common practice. The price tag of the bridegroom often depends on his caste, social status and job profile.

The state is also infamous for the maximum number of dowry deaths in the country.

But the mango trees have freed Nikah’s parents of undue worries. And their story is not unique in Dharhara village.

With a population of a little over 7,000, the village has more than 100,000 fully grown trees, mostly of mango and lychee.

From a distance, the village looks like a forest or a dense green patch amidst the parched and arid cluster of villages in the area.

‘Great value’

And most residents can be spotted sitting in the cool orchards outside their homes.

“Now, we’ve stopped doing traditional farming of wheat and paddy. We plant as many trees as we can since they are more profitable and dependable,” said villager Shyam Sunder Singh.

Shatrughan Prasad Singh (Photo: Prashant Ravi)The villagers have been planting trees for generations

Mr Singh paid for the weddings of his three daughters after selling fruits of trees he had planted at the time of their birth.

“One medium-size mango orchard is valued at around 200,000 rupees ($4,245; £2,900) every season. These trees have great commercial value and they are a big support for us at the time of our daughter’s marriage,” he says.

The villagers say they save a part of the money earned through the sale of fruits every year in a bank account opened in their daughter’s name.

The tree-planting has been going on in the village for generations now.

“We heard about it from our fathers and they from their fathers. It has been in the family and the village from ages,” says Subhendu Kumar Singh, a school teacher.

“This is our way of meeting the challenges of dowry, global warming and female foeticide. There has not been a single incident yet of female foeticide or dowry death in our village,” he says.

His cousin, Shankar Singh, planted 30 trees at the time of his daughter Sneha Surabhi’s birth.

Sneha, four, is aware that her father has planted trees in her name; the child says she regularly waters the saplings.

As yet she doesn’t know what dowry is, and says the trees will bear fruits for her “to eat”.

The village’s oldest resident, Shatrughan Prasad Singh, 86, has planted around 500 mango and lychee trees in his 25 acres of land.

His grand-daughters, Nishi and Ruchi, are confident the trees mean their family will have no problem paying for their weddings.

“The whole world should emulate us and plant more trees,” says their father Prabhu Dayal Singh.

June 17, 2010

If you are a Swami and a victim, remain silent!

If you are a Swami and a victim, remain silent!

– by Swami Sadyojathah, Jun 10, 2010, 01.50pm
I think 30 years of selfless service has not attracted the eye of our media as much as a bullet. Ironically, the victim had to justify why the bullet was found close to him!

A Swami is expected to remain silent irrespective of the seriousness of offence against him whereas strong voices of support are heard for terrorists and anti-social elements. Corrupt officials are not condemned and the society’s silence implies it is fine with them.

‘Swami’, a title much revered in India in the past only raises eyebrows in suspicion now. Swamis and Sadhus were respected for dedicating and sacrificing their lives for society and now they are being condemned. This shows the unfortunate deterioration of the Indian culture. Is it not a systematic psychological warfare against Swamis?

We also see a section of the media in our country jumping to hasty conclusions especially in matters concerning swamis and spirituality.

‘You have the right to remain silent…’ is usually a warning given to a suspected criminal under arrest. However, paradoxically if you are a Swami or a Guru, you are advised to remain silent even if you are a victim. In spite of being a victim, you are perceived to have done something wrong. The overwhelming undercurrent of prejudice against Hindu swamis and Gurus cannot be underlined enough.

How strange that a culprit can walk away, but the victim is doubted, questioned, harassed and expected to prove his innocence! The Indian Constitution holds that you are innocent until proven guilty, but a swami is necessarily guilty until proven innocent.

This has been the way of the world, which has always demanded from the living legends to prove their innocence. Be it Kabir or Jesus or even Mahatma Gandhi who was called a fraud a number of times. The degradation of society is measured by its attitude towards its spiritual leaders. Is it not Kaliyuga where the onus is on the victim to prove that he is not guilty?

Usually a victim is encouraged to speak up. But if you are a swami, you are counseled to forever hold your peace, even if you are surrounded by white lies.

The other thing isthat it does not pay off in the worldly sense to keep calm and live in knowledge because the gap between the real world and a meditator’s world is far too much. A layman may not understand the world of yogis, where they remain poised, calm and there is not an iota of worry or concern in their expression, even in extenuating circumstances. This is baffling to the common man or in this case of gun shot the investigating cops.

Recently, I was at a function in Vigyan Bhavan in Delhi, where I observed the sheer reluctance of people in interacting with a Swami in saffron robes sitting in the front row of the audience. This was immediately after the scandals of some so-called swamis had hit the headlines in the media. Nobody wanted to look at him, let alone talk to him, as if he were an untouchable. It was appalling to see the prejudice against Hindu swamis. In a way it was beneficial to the swami because he need not care what the world thinks of him, but for an onlooker it looked odd how people were overtly prejudiced.

In Bollywood, in the last 15 to 20 years, since Dawood Ibrahim ostensibly started funding the film industry, a man with a tilak or in saffron robes has been systematically depicted as a villain or part of villain’s team. This portrayal has only added a mass prejudice and overwhelming bias against the swamis of India.

The two main allegations against swamis are sex and money. A true swami will never fall prey to fleeting attractions of sensual pleasures. Without adequate investigation, this kind of blanket generalization is unfortunate and highly deplorable. Every spiritual organization is supposed to do charity and one cannot do charity with an empty bowl. There is no point in taking charity and doing charity. Earning money is not a crime but doing so in a wrong way definitely is.

The idea that all spiritual education should be free, or the notion that spiritual training was free in ancient India is a fallacy. Spirituality is also an education and all education needs to be paid for. Those who know their history know that people in Vedic times had to “invest” far more to get a spiritual education than we do today!
The concept of ”Dakshina” is from the ancient Vedic times.

The vow of poverty is a concept alien to our land. Here, the primordial Guru, Lord Narayana is wedded to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Material progress goes hand in hand with spiritual growth. There are some pseudo intellectuals and historians who argue that only Ramana Maharishi and Mahatma Gandhi were genuine. They praise only the dead and abuse the living. One historian while condemning the appearance of spiritual masters in media went to the extent of saying that Sri Aurobindo never appeared on television, forgetting that there was no television at that time in the first place! Going by the fact that Sri Aurobindo had used the print media so well, I am sure he would have done the same with television had it existed then.

Another much-misplaced conception is that a true spiritual person should remain poor and that Gandhi never associated with the rich. They conveniently forget that Mahatma Gandhi has lived and died in Birla House, one of the most affluent people of that time.

Of course, every field will have people who are not genuine. However, that doesn’t warrant every one being painted with the same brush. It is as foolish as saying that because you unearthed a quack one day, we
should shun all doctors.

It was Pandit Nehru who said in the assembly debates, “If I was asked what is the greatest treasure which India possesses and what is her finest heritage, I would answer unhesitatingly—it is the Sanskrit language and literature, and all that it contains. This is a magnificent inheritance, and so long as this endures and influences
the life of our people, so long the basic genius of India will continue”.

It was Babasaheb Ambedkar who had proposed Sanskrit as the first language of India and who had great reverence for sadhus of this country, Kabir being his most favorite. It was Mahatma Gandhi who would read the Bhagawat Gita every day and meditate and do satsang with people from all religions.

The father of our nation is a saint. The architect of the Indian constitution, our first Prime Minister and countless others have sung praises of the spiritual knowledge of our saints. Then, I do believe, a sensitive and responsible Indian should take a proactive role in reinstating these values and arrest the prejudice drive against the swamis and saints of this holy land.

(The author is director, international affairs, The Art Of Living)

April 26, 2010

A girl is burnt again

Filed under: Hinduism,India,Indian Media — thecandideye @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A thought provoking article by Tarun Vijay appeared in TOI.

On any scale of significance, is the burning alive of a helpless dalit girl less important as a news story than the murky IPL concerning only the rich and influential? Why we are seeing the scandalous people every day on front pages and the girl’s murder by arrogant agents of state power relegated to oblivion?

Five years ago, Gohana had happened. Now it’s Hisar. What I wrote on Gohana was thus reported by PTI (http://tarun-vijay.blogspot.com/2010/04/c.html).

And on Hisar the news report says: An argument between a dalit and a jat over the former’s dog led to near-unbridled violence in a village in Hisar district, which was tense throughout Thursday after an 18-year-old physically challenged dalit girl and her father were burnt alive on Wednesday. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Two-Dalits-burnt-alive-after-clash-over-dog/articleshow/5846407.cms).

Those who say they belong to a caste that’s higher than the other Hindus are fossils. Like Khap people. The real low caste are those who claim to be savarnas, or belonging to some kind of an upper caste. Who gave them this right to call themselves ‘upper’ and the others ‘lower’? Those who say they are ‘upper caste’, in reality belong to the lowest class of human values and they abuse their dharma, which they say is Hindu.

Dalit Girl

Hisar must anger this nation, which is deeply engrossed in the IPL mud. We have sham pillars of democracy that thrive on casteism and hot money. Valmikis (dalits), tribal and other marginalized segments together form the majority of this nation. Yet, they are pushed out of every higher decision-making forum. Either they are hated and kept at bay by a cartel of influential caste-based groups or patronized — “well, you see they have to be accommodated, SC ko to lena hi padega na … mazboori hai”. These are the clichés we often hear in the power corridors. So-called dalit leaders are fake. They either consolidate their base through the easy way of spreading poison for other castes, using bad and strong language and aligning with deadlier elements of Islamist groups who use them for undermining Hindu solidarity. None of them have ever been seen helping their community through better schools and providing healthcare and sanitation facilities in their areas. Most of them learn to climb the stairs of political happiness through subjugating the interests of their flock and licking the boots of the political patrons.

I have seen an intrinsic hatred for the so-called low-caste people among the best of sermonizers who otherwise wax eloquent on the need of building a casteless society. I was abused, verbally assaulted by those who mattered just for taking up the cause of my Hindu brothers on the basis of what I have learnt in the RSS and hence got rid of my caste identity from my name. They, the all so-called fake high-caste conglomerate, would never allow a dalit girl’s burning taken up as a challenge to the Hindu society and discussed threadbare on channels and newspapers. Everywhere we see an abysmal absence of these segments, more so in the media. The channels, so passionately performing their duty on a Sania-Shoaib nikah or IPL-Tharoor masala, keep a studied silence with cursory mentions on issues of atrocities on dalits, especially on Valmikis.

In our daily life, the society intrinsically shows signs of hatred or at best aloofness from those whom we despicably refer to as scheduled castes and tribes. I know the arguments will be given how many extraordinary benefits these segments are receiving at the cost of the so-called higher castes. And even these castes have their poor who are forced to do menial jobs due to poverty. My only response to all these sham arguments is: “Try to live a day as an untouchable. Without friends in the circles that rule, be unlisted, ignored or patronized, always considered as ‘in becharon ko kuchh de do’ kind of people. Always blamed for the lethargic work in the offices and no-intelligence-just climbing up on crutches section. Then realize what it means to be a Valmiki. To be economically poor is bad. But to be poor and ‘untouchable’ is to be like a sub human. Choose.”

The test of your large heartedness and all-inclusive behaviour lies in self-introspection and not in quoting religious books advocating harmony and equality. Don’t quote the Gita or the Ramayana to Valmikis, they know what is written in it and what is not practised by the eloquent preachers. Answer the following:

1. Have you ever tried to celebrate Diwali or Rakhi with those who are called ‘untouchables’?

2. In your list of personal invitees, how many of these can be considered as your friends and visit your place with family as frequently as ‘others’?

3. In a puja or a family celebration do these ‘untouchables’ ever sit with you and perform the rites with Panditji as naturally as ‘others’?

4. If your daughter wants to marry a person of her choice and that happens to be a Valmiki, would you approve or disapprove?

5. Have you ever tried to know how these segments that have been around you and your ancestors and were not treated as well as they should have been, live their lives? Like the safai karamchari, whom you see every day, and try to avoid a ‘touch’ with her? Do they send their children to as good schools as you afford? And then do you also join the chorus that the government has given them too many facilities and the only sin that you have committed is to belong to a ‘higher caste’?

6. Can you describe the thread or the element that makes you feel that you belong to some sort of a higher caste and these, the ‘other’ people to a lower caste”?

7. Do you feel that the present-day pandit system, the priests’ order, needs a refreshing change and let the pujaris be more learned, with a good knowledge of Sanskrit, must get higher and reasonably good offerings (dakshina) and also the Valmiki youth, well trained and groomed for the job, be inducted as priests in Haridwar and all other temples and pilgrim centres? Let the opportunity to rise in society through IT, medical education and also priesthood be open to all Hindu sections without any caste-based discrimination?

8. How many ashrams, centres of spiritual rejuvenation and religious retreats would have these Valmiki and tribal segments of the society as devotees and as equal participants? Does it bother you if you find they are scantily represented even if they outnumber your castes?

9. Would you feel encouraged to ask a question to these high-profile gurus and saints that how many times in the last 10 years have they been to a Valmiki basti or have addressed a congregation for these segments in tribal areas, bringing the dharma and culture’s contemporary faces and flow to such areas also?

10. Have you ever thought that those who were declared outcastes by our common ancestors deserve a better deal through you and lets visit their house to see their condition and extend a hand of friendship, just for the sake of it, even if no other help can be given, and this act will not be an act of charity but a proactive action on part of those ancestors of ours who must be regretting their illogical behavior?

No offence intended indeed. Just try to hear the last cries of the physically challenged girl for help who was burnt for no crime except that she belonged to a caste, which the tehsildar didn’t.

Now, the last word for this piece.

The solution: produce more dalit journalists.

One of the better solutions to me is to help more and more youths from dalit and tribal segments to join mainstream journalism without the crutches of reservation. Have them trained in multimedia courses, through various schools of journalism. I am on board of a national university of journalism and can help. Even otherwise, would like to help as many young friends as possible through a specially crafted course and environment. I am sure friends will be there to help from all quarters. But at least it will do wonders to fill a very wide gap we see today. There is hardly any noticeable presence from these segments in our channels, editors’ groups and media houses. Why? Try to find an answer without blaming them with a bullshit — oh, they don’t come up on merit.

April 19, 2010

A temple where upper castes bow to Dalits

Stories of socially marginalised people not being allowed into places of worship are common in India. In such a scenario, a Dalit family presiding over an Uttar Pradesh temple for ages is nothing short of exemplary.

It’s only Dalits who have been priests of the Kali Mata temple, dedicated to goddess Durga, in Lakhna town in Etawah, some 300 km from Lucknow, ever since the shrine came up around 200 years ago.

‘Caste divisions and discrimination may not have given Dalits a place of respectability in society, but here as priests they are revered,’ Ram Dular Rajbhar, who owns a grocery store in the town, said.

‘Be it Brahmins, Thakurs or people from any of the other higher castes, after coming inside the temple, all have to bow before the Dalit priests and touch their feet. For others it may be surprising, but it has become a custom for us,’ he added.

Goddess Durga

Situated along the banks of the Yamuna river, the temple is sought after by the residents of Lakhna town for holding marriages, ‘mundan’ (tonsure ceremony of Hindu children) or other rituals particularly performed by Brahmins or members of the upper caste.

‘It’s not just a temple. It’s a place that is an example of social equality,’ said Umesh Dixit, who owns several garment shops in Lakhna town.

‘People in Lakhna also approach the priests to name their babies as it is believed that names given by Dalit priests would bring good luck and prosperity to the children and their families,’ he added.

According to locals, there’s a story behind the custom of Dalit priests. They say King Jaipal Singh, who got the temple constructed, made it mandatory that the priest of the temple would only be a Dalit.

‘While the construction of the temple was under way, Jaipal Singh noticed a Dalit labourer, Chhotelal, was being assaulted by a group of upper caste people for touching the idol that was to be placed inside the temple,’ said another resident Ram Raksha Pandey, who owns an eating joint in Lakhna.

‘Jaipalji soon intervened in the matter and said only Chhotelal and his family would be taking care of the temple after its construction. Since then, the practice has been alive,’ he added.

At present two brothers, Ashok Kumar, 43, and Akhilesh Kumar, 45, who are fourth generation descendants of Chhotelal are the priests at the temple.

Source: Sify

April 17, 2010

Bill banning inter-district recruitment passed amid Jammu shutdown

Another separatist activity by J&K government. Where is secularism now!? Is this what we want in a free country like India!?  From TimesOfIndia:

JAMMU: A controversial bill banning inter-district recruitment in Jammu and Kashmir was passed by voice vote amid uproarious scenes in the state legislative assembly on Friday even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) observed a complete shutdown in Jammu to protest its provisions.

The bill that bars applicants from seeking jobs in districts other than their native ones was passed after it was amended to keep eight percent jobs reserved for the Scheduled Caste community.

The amendment to the bill was moved by Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ali Mohammad Sagar, immediately after the House assembled for the day. Earlier, Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party (JKNPP) leader Harshdev Singh and Congress MLA Ashok Kumar had sought the amendment.

The amendment said that eight percent jobs reserved for the Scheduled Caste would stay, but the candidates of other communities would not be eligible for applying for jobs in districts other than their own.

The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party members were on their feet as they were opposed to the amendment and wanted a blanket ban on inter-district recruitment with no reservation for any category.

Party legislator Zulfikar Choudhary wanted to speak but he was asked by his own senior colleague and former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Beig to sit down. BJP and JKNPP members also stood up shouting slogans.

Amid this uproar, Speaker Mohammad Akbar Lone said he would put the bill to a voice vote following which the treasury benches shouted a loud “yes”.

“The bill is passed,” Lone said.

Infuriated over this, the opposition PDP legislators rushed into the well of the house and created a ruckus by uprooting the mikes. They also entered into scuffles with the assembly secretariat staff.

The Speaker adjourned the House till 3pm.

Meanwhile, all shops and business establishments were closed and traffic was off the roads in Jammu region amid a shutdown call by the BJP.

While valley-based parties, the National Conference (NC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, favour the ban on inter-district recruitment, Jammu-based parties like the BJP and Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party are opposed to it.

Congress, which is a constituent of the ruling alliance in the state, is divided as its Jammu-based legislators are opposed to the ban while those from the valley support it.

Protesters set up road blockades by burning tyres and held noisy demonstrations at several places.

The police, however, cleared one of the main bridges over river Tawi that connects Jammu city with the rest of the country.

Both the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley and Hindu-dominated Jammu region have their own reasons for supporting and opposing the bill.

While the valley feels that inter-district recruitment limits Kashmiri youths’ employment opportunities as jobs are reserved for the Scheduled Caste community, the Jammu region feels that the bill seeking to ban such recruitment overturns the constitutional provision of reservation of jobs for the socially marginalised people.

The Scheduled Caste community constitutes about 20 percent of the five million population in Jammu. The state has a population of over 10 million. The community has no presence in the valley where Muslims are in an overwhelming majority, with less than 3,500 Kashmiri Hindus as a microscopic minority.

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