FaithWorld

Ghost of Hindu-Muslim riots haunts upcoming Babri mosque verdict in India

ayodhyaA court will rule on Friday whether Hindus or Muslims own land around the demolished Babri mosque in Ayodhya, a judgement haunted by memories of a 1992 riot, some of the country’s worst violence since the partition.

The case over the 16th century Babri mosque in Uttar Pradesh is one of the biggest security challenges in India this year, along with a Maoist insurgency and a Kashmiri separatist rebellion, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said. (Photo: Hindu militants demolish the disputed mosque in Ayodhya, December 6, 1992/Sunil Malhotra)

The verdict could prove a major political quandary for the government led by the Congress Party, a left-of-centre party with secular roots. A verdict in favour of the Hindus would force the government to uphold the verdict, making it unpopular with Muslims, a key vote bloc. A ruling for the Muslims would mean the government would have to push Hindu groups out of the site, a political minefield.

About 80 percent of India’s 1.1 billion plus population are Hindus, but Muslims represent 13 percent — some 140 million that put it behind Indonesia and Pakistan in the ranks of Muslim populations.

Hindu mobs demolished the mosque in the town of Ayodhya, claiming it was built on the birthplace of their god-king Rama. The demolition triggered religious riots that killed some 2,000.

New rabbi for Mumbai Jewish centre attacked in 2008

narimanIt was almost two years ago that Islamist militants attacked Mumbai and killed at least 166 people. Among them were six Jews, including Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. Most non-Jewish readers probably had no idea what a Brooklyn-based Jewish couple was doing there. Many Jews would have known right away — they were running the Chabad House, one of a worldwide network of Jewish centres run by Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic movement devoted to supporting Jewish life wherever it may be found. (Photo: Indian commandos atop Chabad centre after explosion during militant siege, 28 Nov 2008/Punit Paranjpe)

The news angle to this story is that the Mumbai centre has a new rabbi, just in time for the High Holidays, as reported in my feature here. Rabbi Chanoch Gechtman arrived there recently with his wife Leiky to take up the challenge of filling Holtzberg’s shoes. “I still can’t quite fathom that they are not here, they were such extraordinary people,” he said in an email from Mumbai. After all the damage to the original building, they’ve moved to another building not far away, but the address is not advertised on their website for understandable reasons.

gechtmanThis could be a daunting assignment, but Gechtman, 25, seemed eager to get to work. “People really believe in this city. It’s a place with a lot of energy; it’s full of life,” he said. “There is really an endless amount of work to be accomplished. And the Holtzbergs set the bar very high.” The work is literally endless — a couple that goes out on an assignment like this is expected to stay permanently. The commitment for the “shluchim,” as these emissaries are called, is supposed to be for life. And it’s a job for both the rabbi and his wife.  Running a Chabad House means offering services such as kosher Sabbath dinners, Torah classes, youth programmes, day care facilities, summer camps and women’s ritual baths. It’s an open house for any Jew who wants to participate — locals, expatriates or tourists passing through the city.

FACTBOX – Lashkar-e-Taiba charity wing in Pakistan flood relief work

dawaThe Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the humanitarian wing of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba militant group, has been providing relief to those hit by Pakistan’s floods.

It is operating in flood-hit areas under a different name, the Falah-e-Insaniyat, after the JuD was blacklisted by the United Nations following the November 2008 attack on Mumbai, which was blamed on the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Pakistan has said  it will clamp down on charities linked to Islamist militants amid fears their involvement in flood relief could exploit anger against the government and undermine the fight against groups like the Taliban.

United States Agency for International Development head Rajiv Shah toured a camp run by the Falah-e-Insaniyat on Wednesday.

from India Insight:

Are there too many sacred topics in India?

Protests and television debates on the apex court's decision to OK  the publication of a book on Maratha ruler Shivaji, banned in 2004 by the Maharashtra government, has put India back in the spotlight on the question of freedom of expression.

India is secular and a democracy but a country with a billon-plus population -- consisting of hundreds of tribes, clans and castes following myriad beliefs -- can be pretty fickle when it comes to defining 'sensitive' topics and easily susceptible to parochial politics.

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The list of subjects considered "sacred" in the country include the extended Gandhi family, Ambedkar, Periyar, Subhash Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Veer Savarkar and maybe a few thousand more people, said an editorial in the 'Mint' daily.

Hindu party BJP wants beef ban at 2010 Commonwealth Games in India

gamesThe Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party in the Indian parliament, wants to ban beef from the menu at this year’s Commonwealth Games in New Dehli on Oct. 3-14 to showcase the country’s “cultural values and age-old traditions”.

The cow is worshipped in India and and a majority of Hindus do not eat beef. The slaughter of cattle is also banned in several states. (Photo: The New Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010 mascot in New Delhi, October 3, 2009/Parth Sanyal)

Rajnath Singh, a senior member of the BJP, demanded the ban in a letter to the organising committee of the  Games, the DNA newspaper reported on Thursday.  “Cow is considered sacred in India. This thought has been integral to our cultural ethos for ages,” the paper quoted from the former BJP president’s letter.

Afghan Hindus and Sikhs grapple with uncertain future

kabul view (Photo: Kabul, December 30, 2009/Marko Djurica)

They thrived long before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century and for a long time dominated the country’s economy, but Sikh and Hindu Afghans now find themselves struggling for survival.

“We have no shelter, no land and no authority,” says Awtar Singh, a senator and the only non-Muslim voice in Afghanistan’s parliament. “No one in the government listens to us, but we have to be patient, because we have no other options,” says the 47-year-old Sikh.

In a brief idyll in 1992, after the fall of the Moscow backed-government but before civil war erupted, there were around 200,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan compared with around just a few thousand today.

from India Insight:

India must ask: where is the honour in killing?

Three men were arrested by Delhi police this week for "honour killings" days after the Supreme Court asked eight Indian states to stop these so-called "honour" killings, where family members, typically men, kill daughters and their husbands for apparently bringing dishonour to the family by marrying below their caste.

An Indian brideThe killings, in a posh neighbourhood in Delhi, brought the tragic and shameful story of honour killings closer home to Delhi residents, who had so far dismissed the rising instances of these killings as a feature of rural India, equating them to a more traditional and conservative India they claim not to inhabit.

The clash between tradition and modernity is not new and is not unique to India, where more than two-thirds of its population lives in rural areas, and where more than half the population is below the age of 25 years.

In season of optimism, Kashmiri Hindus dream of returning home

kashmirTwo decades after they were forced to flee Kashmir, thousands of Hindu Pandits seek to return to their ancestral homeland, their hopes lifted by a fall in Islamist rebel attacks against New Delhi’s rule. (Photo: Kashmiri Pandits perform prayers during an annual Hindu festival at a shrine in Khirbhawani, June 19, 2010/Danish Ismail)

Exiled Pandits gathered Saturday by the green chinar trees and sparkling streams at the Khirbhawani shrine for an annual festival, chanting hymns to the goddess of peace who is the deity in this holy spot 30 km east of Srinagar.

“My motherland is regaining its peace and beauty, I can feel it. I feel the time has come to return and live here with Muslim brethren,” 52-year-old Ravinder Sadhu, a migrant who lives with his family in the western Indian city of Pune, told Reuters.

from India Insight:

An easier end to unhappy marriages in India?

India's cabinet this week cleared a proposal to amend the Hindu Marriage Act to allow "irretrievable breakdown of marriage" as a ground for divorce.

Hindu brides sit during a mass wedding ceremony in Noida December 26, 2009. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/FilesThe amendment had been resisted earlier and been pending for nearly three decades now. Other grounds for divorce, which can take anywhere from six months to 20 years, include cruelty, desertion and adultery.

The amendment, if approved by parliament, will make divorce easier for estranged couples, experts say, particularly in cases where a partner is deliberately delaying proceedings. Even family courts are notoriously ineffective and insensitive when it comes to separation, with judges often admonishing the woman to be more "adjusting" or offering advice thinly disguised as rulings.

from India Insight:

In Kashmir, nearly half favour independence

Nearly half of the people living in the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir want their disputed and divided state to become an independent country, according to a poll published by think tank Chatham House.

A man walks past closed shops during a strike in Srinagar June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/Files London-based Chatham House says the poll is the first to be conducted on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), a military control line that has separated Indian and Pakistani controlled Kashmir since the U.N.-brokered ceasefire between two rivals in 1949.

The poll has produced startling results. On average 44 percent of people in Pakistani-administered Kashmir favoured independence, compared with 43 percent in Indian Kashmir.