FaithWorld

India says local Islamists bombed Hindu pilgrim city Varanasi

varanasi 1 (Photo: After the blast in Varanasi December 7, 2010/Stringer)

India said Wednesday a home-grown Islamist group with ties to Pakistani militants was behind a bomb attack in one of its holiest cities, Varanasi, and local media reported two people were questioned over the attack. Home Secretary Gopal Pillai said traces of explosives were found at the site of Tuesday evening’s blast in the northern city that killed a two-year old girl and injured 37 Hindu worshippers and foreign tourists.

Pillai said the crude bomb was set off by the Indian Mujahideen (IM), a local group India says has been trained by militants based in Pakistan, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The IM claimed responsibility for the attack in an email to local media, police said. That email was traced to a Mumbai suburb and two people were questioned over it, local media said.

“The main players of Indian Mujahideen are based in Pakistan and they are definitely running the game from there,” Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjeev Dayal told a press conference. Pillai has said it was “too premature” to say if individuals or groups operating from Pakistan were involved.

India remains jittery about the threat of militant strikes, especially since the Mumbai attacks in November 2008 which killed 166 people and raised tensions with arch rival Pakistan. New Delhi says Pakistan-based groups aid and train militants to carry out attacks against India, a claim Islamabad rejects.

Read the full story by C.J. Kuncheria here.

varanasi 2 (Photo: Boats on the the river Ganges near holy “ghats” (banks) in  Varanasi July 21, 2009/Jayanta Shaw)

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Conservation, religion join to save Ganges dolphin

gangesAs the sun sets over a serene stretch of the mighty Ganges, a pair of smooth, grey dolphins arch gracefully out of the water, bringing hope that wildlife can again call India’s great river home. (Photo: Ganges sunset in Allahabad,  31 Dec 2008/Jitendra Prakash)

Millions of Indians along the banks of the 2,500 km (1,550 mile)-long Ganges depend on the river, but unchecked levels of agricultural, industrial and domestic waste have poured in over the past decades, threatening the wildlife.

In Karnabas, a small village just upstream from Narora, a local drama troupe performs for more than 150 villagers. “Humans are polluting our river!” an actor playing a Hindu god declared. “The life of our Mother Ganga is endangered! Please do something!”

from Tales from the Trail:

Golden Temple off Obama’s India agenda, Gandhi on

.INDIA/
U.S. President Barack Obama will not visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar during his trip to India next month, the White House confirmed on Wednesday

But he will make several other cultural stops, including two related to the revered Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, who is a hero to many African-Americans and was an inspiration to the U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King.

Obama is visiting the Gandhi Museum in Mumbai and will also lay a wreath on Gandhi's grave in New Delhi during his visit.

from Tales from the Trail:

No decision yet on Obama Golden Temple visit: White House

Hold onto your, er, hats.

Talk that U.S. President Barack Obama has canceled a visit to The Golden Temple in Amritsar because of a dispute over headgear may be premature, the White House said on Wednesday.temple

"We pick sites on foreign trips based on what the president wants to accomplish," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling on Air Force One. Not, presumably, the outfit he might have to wear at a given site.

Obama had been expected to visit the Golden Temple in northern India, a pilgrimage site for Sikhs, during his tour of the country next month. But Indian media reports said Obama's handlers balked at the idea of the U.S. president wearing a headscarf or skullcap while touring the site.

from India Insight:

Headscarf headache to cancel Obama Temple visit

Ask any travel agent, globe-trotter or gap-year student: The Golden Temple in Amritsar, north India, is both a site of pilgrimage for Sikhs and a must-see on any tourists' Indian itinerary.Sikh devotees gather to pay their obeisance at the holy Sikh shrine of Golden Temple on the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh in Amritsar, India. REUTERS/Munish Sharma

But India's most famous foreign tourist, U.S. President Barack Obama, who will tour the country next month, may have to forego his visit.

It was supposed to be Obama's only religious appointment on the 4-day trip to India, but a politically-sensitive row over the required headwear for the temple threatens to derail his plans.

from Photographers' Blog:

A job to do on the Srinagar streets

After offering special Eid prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, I got myself ready to cover the large Eid prayer congregation at Eid Gah in downtown Srinagar where senior separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was scheduled to address thousands of Muslims.

Kashmiris attend an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Soon after the end of Eid prayers, Farooq called for a protest march to Lal Chowk, the heart of Srinagar. Continually shooting pictures I followed the tens of thousands of demonstrators shouting "we want freedom". When they reached Lal Chowk, the shouts turned to violence and I saw protesters damaging the clock tower. Again Farooq addressed the people calling for anti-India protests. I ran to the office nearby to file the pictures.

A protester holds an Islamic flag on Kashmir's clock tower as he shouts anti-India slogans during an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.   REUTERS/Danish Ismail

As I finished filing I received a call from Sheikh Mushtaq, Reuters Kashmir correspondent, he told me protesters had set fire to police and government buildings. I rushed out to take more pictures. By the time I finished transmitting them I had worked 14 hours straight and, having fasted all day, was extremely hungry.

Indian Muslims are angry with Ayodhya verdict, but the country remains calm

ayodhya 1 (Photo: A Hindu priest walks past a mosque during Friday prayers in Ayodhya, October 1, 2010/Mukesh Gupta)

Indian Muslim clerics and leaders rallied on Friday against a court ruling over the disputed Ayodhya site that largely favoured Hindus, raising fears of further alienation of the minority community. The decision has been met with calm throughout India, despite fears the ruling could spark religious riots.

A court in Uttar Pradesh said in a judgment on Thursday that the site of a demolished mosque should be split between Hindus and Muslims. The court ruled Hindus would get two-thirds of the land and be allowed to keep a makeshift temple that was built over the razed mosque’s central dome.

In Delhi’s Jama Mosque, one of India’s largest, the chief cleric rejected the verdict.  “If we do not get our rights we will never be able to walk in this country with our heads held high,” said Shahi Imam Bukhari to shouts of “Allahu Akhbar”, or “god is greatest” by thousands of Muslims after Friday prayers. “It is our responsibility to maintain the peace, but we will not be broken, we cannot be broken. If the Supreme Court endorses the High Court’s decision, I will urge all Muslims to consider the matter with all seriousness and concern.”

Indian court says Ayodhya dispute site to be split between Hindus and Muslims

ayodhya 1An Indian court ruled on Thursday that the site of a demolished mosque in Ayodhya would be divided between Hindus and Muslims, in a ruling that could appease both groups in one of the country’s most divisive cases. (Photo: Hindu priests cheer after verdict was announced, 30 Sept 2010/Mukesh Gupta)

The court in Uttar Pradesh also ruled that Hindu idols could stay on the disputed land, lawyers added. The demolition of the 16th century mosque by Hindu mobs in 1992 triggered some of India’s worst riots that killed about 2,000 people. More than 200,000 police fanned out in India on Thursday to guard against any communal violence.

Times Now TV editor Arnab Goswami called it “nobody’s verdict, nobody’s solution,” referring to the fact there was not one clear winner. There were no immediate reports of violence after the ruling.

Security alert in India ahead of verdict in Hindu-Muslim dispute over mosque

india 1India has put tens of thousands of police on the streets and the air force on high alert ahead of possible violence when a court on Thursday rules on a century-old religious dispute between Hindus and Muslims.

The issue is haunting the ruling Congress Party, a left-of-centre party with secular roots, which will have to stand by a verdict that is likely to upset one or other major voter bloc. (Photo: Rapid Action Force personnel patrol in Allahabad,  September 28, 2010/Jitendra Prakash)

“My humble request is that whatever be the decision, please accept it in the highest tradition of magnanimity,” Sonia Gandhi, Congress party chief and the country’s most powerful politician, said in a statement. Read the full story here.

Hindu and Muslim Bollywood stars urge calm before Indian mosque verdict

priyanka002It’s a sign of how explosive the Ayodhya mosque verdict in India could be that several Hindu and Muslim film stars in Bollywood have issued a public appeal for calm once the decision is announced. As we’ve posted here on FaithWorld, an Indian court is due to announce on Thursday whether Hindus or Muslims own land around the Babri mosque, which Hindu nationalists demolished in 1992. The Hindu-Muslim riots that followed killed some 2,000 people. (Image: Priyanka Chopra in screengrab from ANI/Reuters video)

Bollywood, the Bombay (now Mumbai)-based Hindi-language film industry, walks a tightrope in making mass-audience films in what may be the most religiously diverse country in the world. Some of the most popular Bollywood stars are Muslim, although the majority of viewers are Hindu (Muslims make up 13% of the Indian population). Like the actors and actresses in this appeal, many of them publicly work, play and love (see here) across the religious divide. But tensions like those after the Ayodhya mosque riots — including riots in Mumbai itself — have left their scars. Some Muslim writers (see here and here) say suspicion of Muslims is a recurring theme in Bollywood films.

farhanIn the video below, the stars mostly speak in Hindi sprinkled with occasional English words. That’s nothing unusual and can be useful as well. For example, when actress and former Miss World Priyanka Chopra says (at 00:48) that “in our country all religions have been living together for so long…”, she uses the English word “religion.” That was a neutral alternative to local words she might have used with either a Hindu (dharma) or Muslim (din) background.