FaithWorld

from India Insight:

No anti-Muslim ideology in party – BJP’s Anurag Thakur

Many people see Anurag Thakur, 39, as the youthful face of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition to the Congress party-led government and the party of prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi. He is the son of the former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh, and was named one of the World Economic Forum’s global young leaders this year.

In an interview with Reuters, Thakur spoke about Modi’s popularity as well as criticisms levelled against him. He also spoke about internal problems at the BJP, the party’s perceptions among Muslims, Congress PM contender Rahul Gandhi and more.

Here are excerpts from an interview:

Q: The BJP has attacked Congress over many issues - price rise and corruption being the biggest. Do you think these problems will be solved if Narendra Modi comes to power?
A: Today, when the country wants someone who has experience, and can deliver, 65 percent people of the country want Modi as the PM. During NDA regime, there was hardly any price rise. There were no charges of corruption against Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his government colleagues.

Q: But the BJP chief at the time, Bangaru Laxman, faced corruption charges.
A: I think that issue has been taken care of by the judiciary. Now he is no more with us, I don’t want to question about that.

Q: Why do you think young people will vote for Modi and not for Rahul Gandhi, who is often pegged as a youth icon?
A: Youth is upset with the Congress. They know if the country has to survive, there should be a change in government. Rahul Gandhi can’t be a youth icon only if the Congress projects him like that. People have to decide. You have to make your way into the hearts of youth, and Modi stays there. Gandhi has failed to ask any question (in Parliament) in last five years, his attendance is only 40 percent, and he has participated in only two debates.

from Photographers' Blog:

Birth in India’s “surrogacy capital”

Anand, India

By Mansi Thapliyal

A smooth, modern road in the prosperous Indian state of Gujarat leads to 35-year-old Chimanlal’s small, windowless brick hut that he lives in with his wife, young son and two daughters. Earning 2500 rupees ($38) a month as a driver, Chimanial says it is not enough to feed his children. Only his son goes to school. But in a year’s time, their lives are set to change.

Some 50 kilometers (31 miles) away is the small city of Anand, known as India’s “surrogacy capital”. Chimanlai’s wife is carrying a baby for a Japanese couple in which she will be paid 450,000 rupees ($7,200), an unimaginably large amount of money for a family like theirs.

Since 2004, over 500 Indian women have traveled to Anand from neighboring villages and towns to become surrogate mothers for families from nearly 30 countries. Dr Nayana Patel and her husband run Akanksha clinic, the city’s only surrogacy facility.

from India Insight:

Delhi shaped South Asia’s Muslim identity, Pakistani author says

Raza Rumi is based in Lahore, but the public policy specialist and Friday Times editor's new book is based in another milieu entirely. "Delhi by heart" is a kind of travelogue about a city that is the source of a shared heritage that spans hundreds of years.

By his own admission, it is a "heartfelt account" of how a Pakistani comes to India, an “enemy country”, and discovers that its capital has, in fact, so many things common with Lahore.

"I wanted to write the biography of Darah Shikoh, the great Indian Mughal prince," Rumi said. "While researching for that, and while visiting Delhi all the time, I felt really it merits a Pakistani version as well because for these five years we have been so much cut off and we have misunderstood each other so much that it is time to sort of build bridges. Hence the book."

from John Lloyd:

The coming clash of civilizations over gay rights

Supporters of gay rights have been protesting in Western cities this past week, picketing in front of Russian embassies and consulates. They’re protesting the passing of a law in the Russian parliament that bans "homosexual propaganda" directed at under 18-year olds -- which if interpreted strictly, bans all public demonstrations and much public and private discussion on the issue.

Not so long ago how a country’s administration handled its ‘homosexual problem’ would be thought of as its business. Many still think that way. But most Western democracies don’t. They haven’t just adopted legislation that enjoins equality of treatment for all, irrespective of sexuality. They have taken seriously, for the most part, the claims made by gay organizations for many years: that discrimination against gay men and women is an affront to civil liberties, and that when some states pursue discriminatory policies, those who do not should make their disapproval clear. Gay rights are now part of the world’s clash of cultures.

This is presently true most clearly in the United States and the U.K., not because they have been ahead of the pack in equality -- they have lagged a bit behind Canada and the Scandinavian states, ever the pioneers in such matters -- but because they have had, and still have, the most contentious relations with Russia.

from The Human Impact:

Death in “Dev Bhoomi” – Disaster in Hinduism’s holiest place

Prakash Kabra recites his elder brother’s mobile number and I carefully tap it into my phone – already knowing the response, but still with a naïve sense of hope.

"The number you are calling is either switched off or unreachable at the moment. Please try again later," says the automated reply.

It’s a response Prakash has heard countless times over the last six weeks. Yet he continues to call, hoping against hope that his brother – missing since deadly floods and landslides devastated India’s Himalayas – will answer.

from India Insight:

More pilgrims mean more trouble for shrines in north India

Nestled in the Himalayas, Uttarakhand attracts increasing numbers of visitors every year. Between 2001 and 2010, the number of visitors to the state rose nearly 200 percent to 30.3 million. With major Hindu shrines located in the state, about 70 percent of the tourists who visit the state visit religious sites. That is a worrying sign for ecologically fragile areas such as Kedarnath – a small temple town located 3,583 metres (11,755 feet) above sea level and almost entirely washed out in recent flash floods.

The rush to the Himalayas has been accompanied by a haphazard pattern of growth that might not be sustainable. A study by infrastructure group IL&FS IDC Ltd showed that the carrying capacities – maximum number of persons an environment can support -- of various tourist centres in Uttarakhand reached saturation levels in 2010.

It is in this context that some environmentalists have been calling the devastating floods a man-made catastrophe. “Ecological fragility sets limits. Today these limits are being violated … and the pilgrimage to the Char Dhams is being turned into crass consumerist mass tourism,” said activist Vandana Shiva in an email conversation with me. (To see pictures from the flood crisis, click here)

from India Insight:

Book lovers in India lap up myths with a makeover

Mriganka Dadwal knows everything about the Ramayana, the ancient Hindu epic that tells the story of warrior-god Rama and the abduction of his wife Sita by the powerful demon king Ravana.

The journalist-turned-entrepreneur says she would love to read the epic from the point of view of the vanquished Ravana. And now she can.

With several mythological tales getting a modern makeover and imaginative retellings crowding bookshelves, Dadwal and millions of urban, educated Indians who prefer to read in English have more choices than ever before.

from India Insight:

Photo gallery: Spirit of Holi in Delhi’s Sadar Bazaar

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

The festival of Holi is easy on the pocket. All one needs is a packet of gulaal (coloured powder), buckets of water, friends and family; and perhaps some music and alcohol.

Holi, the festival of colours, is celebrated to mark the beginning of spring and harvest season. In places associated with the Hindu god Krishna, Holi is traditionally played over several days with revellers flinging coloured powder and water at each other.

from India Insight:

‘Nobody can stop you if you engage in art with dignity’: Zila Khan on singing and Islam

The members of Praagaash, an all-girl band in Kashmir, split up this week after an influential cleric deemed their music un-Islamic. Zila Khan, one of India’s most popular sufi singers and daughter of sitar maestro Vilayat Khan, spoke to Reuters about how singing is closest to worship and meditation and how children should be allowed to sing.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Questions about Grand Mufti of Kashmir and Islam are best answered by experts in the field of religion. I am an expert in music, it will be no use pondering on subjects that I am not an authority on. There will be more experts to say better things on this issue. I can, however, talk about music, on my journey as a singer and the issue of women’s rights.

Obviously, I feel children should sing.

I feel the art of music and especially singing is the highest form of art in the world and in the cosmic cycle. To have the ilm (idea) and knowledge of this art is itself a blessing because it is much higher than any other form of art or work as such.

from Photographers' Blog:

Exorcism at the ghost fair

Malajapur, India

By Danish Siddiqui

Malajpur is a small but not ordinary village in central India. In fact it is probably the only village in India which has been hosting a ghost fair for the past several years. People from across the country come to this fair to get rid of ‘evil spirits’ that they claim to be possessed by.

As night falls on Paush Purnima (full moon night) the 'possessed' are taken to the local shrine to be exorcised. People who bring their relatives here feel the latter's bodies have been 'taken over by ghosts of the dead' and that exorcism is the only release for them. Interestingly, most of those who come here to be exorcised are women. When I asked the priest the reason he said, “They are emotionally weak and hence easy target for spirits."

On the first day when I went to the temple, it looked to me like any other temple complex. But suddenly from the middle of the crowd I heard a woman scream as she started running around the temple courtyard. According to priests the ghost inside people becomes weak the more they run around the courtyard in an anti-clockwise direction. For those who don't run voluntarily (which is the case often) relatives or priests make them do so by pushing or kicking.