Monthly Archives: AUGUST 2016

Meet Sant Balbir Singh, Who Cleaned 160 Km Long River Single Handedly
27.08.16 - TEAM PT
Meet Sant Balbir Singh, Who Cleaned 160 Km Long River Single Handedly

Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal was honoured the 'Hero of Environment' title by TIME Magazine, becoming not only the only Indian but also the only Asian to get this distinction. 

Incase you're wondering what made TIME magazine bestow such a great honour on Sant Balbir Singh, also popularly known as Eco Baba in India and abroad, it's because he undertook the task of cleaning Guru Nanak's historic river Kali Bein, the 160-km long tributary of Beas , which flows through Punjab all by himself.

"We have proved that it is possible to restore our rivers to a pristine condition if we all come together. It is time to do that on a bigger scale,” he had told Time magazine.

The river bed of Kali Bein used to be a victim of severe domestic and industrial pollution and was teeming with hyacinth and silt and was on the verge of dying, resulting in immense water problems in the neighbouring farms.

Balbir Singh Seechewal gathered an army of volunteers and started work.

They began by teaching local people the importance of cleaning the river, enlisting more volunteers, and raising funds with the help of contributions by the residents of more than 24 villages to purchase equipment required for cleaning.

Together, they cleared the hyacinth and silt from the entire river bed.

Apart from restoring the normal flow of the clean water, the holy man also beautified the river banks with trees bearing fruits, flowers, bathing ghats and brick roads. Additionally, this also ended up solving the water problems in Punjab's Dooba area.

Seechewal, along with his team, also made sure that the people around the area were made aware of the ill effects of dumping waste in the river.

He is more than an environmentalist Sant Seechewal’s works have been widely praised across India and abroad.  APJ Abdul Kalam, in many of his speeches, has praised Seechewal’s work as a role model for the nation. 

Even the government has sought his help The Central Government has also approached Sant Seechewal for implementation of the Seechewal Model in the cleaning of Ganga. The Government is looking forward to rejuvenating the Ganga with the help of people’s participation in rural areas of the states through which it passes, as reported by TribuneIndia.

Sant Seechewal's works don't stop there. He has also been involved in setting up schools, technical centres and degree colleges, and also works toward eradicating poverty, ignorance, superstition, and atrocities against women.

A crusader for environment, Sant Seechewal has established plant nurseries at Seechewal and Sultanpur Lodhi where one lakh plants are distributed annually free of cost among the people as prasad of the Guru.

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How an Indian writer 'returned from the dead'
27.08.16 - TEAM PT
How an Indian writer 'returned from the dead'

For months after Perumal Murugan declared himself "dead" as a writer following vicious protests against his novel by Hindu and caste-based groups last year, he couldn't read or write.

"I became a walking corpse," says Murugan, who is considered to be one of the most accomplished writers in the Tamil language.

Then something happened. Murugan went to see his daughter in the temple town of Madurai, and spent a few days in a friend's house. There were two rooms on the first floor: one stacked with books, and the other had a bed.

"With nothing to do I lay dazed night and day," he told a gathering in Delhi on Monday evening.

"I wallowed in a dark hole without the urge to see or talk to anybody. But as I ruminated over my existence, there came a certain instant when the sluice gates were breached.

"I began to write."


Murugan says he wrote whenever anything struck him.

"As I started to write, I began to revive little by little, from my finger nails to my hair."

He began writing poems. After all, his first piece of writing when he was "eight or nine" was a ditty on a pet cat. Although he later became famous for his novels and short stories, poetry had always been his first love. Not many know that he has four published volumes of poetry. Poems come easily to him: his third novel, for example, took him seven years to write, but he never stopped writing poetry.

Poetry has now saved him again.
In July, a court threw out a slew of petitions demanding that Murugan be prosecuted for his writings.
"Let the author be resurrected to what he is best at: write," said the judges.

Murugan says the judges' "order" sounded both like a "command and a benediction".

Earlier this week, Murugan, 50, returned with a collection of 200 poems he had written in exile.

It is called Oru Kozhaiyin Paadalkal - A Coward's Song - many of the poems are dark and brooding, possibly reflecting his state of mind during his exile.

One of them goes:

All that is left/is to die, flesh torn/and ravaged, like a chicken/caught among crows.
I ask for nothing, sir/let me just live by the side/as a spectator/as a mere spectator.

"A writer has returned to life," rhapsodised well-known Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi. "His new poems are full of courage and imagination".

Wounds of exile

But the wounds of a painful exile haven't healed.

His novel Madhorubhagan (One Part Woman) that whipped up a storm is a gripping fictional account of a poor, childless couple, and how the wife, who wants to conceive, takes part in an ancient Hindu chariot festival where, on one night, consensual sex between any man and woman is allowed.
Set about a century ago near the author's home town of Tiruchengode in southern India, Murugan explores the tyranny of caste and pathologies of a community in tearing the couple apart and destroying their marriage.

Local groups led protests against the book, saying the "fictitious" extramarital sex ritual at the centre of the plot insulted the town, its temple and its women. Copies of the novel were burnt, residents shut down shops and a petition sought the arrest of the author.

Now Murugan, a quiet and self-effacing man who is evidently uncomfortable with the limelight, says a "censor is seated inside me now".

"He is testing every word that is born within me. His constant caution that a word may be misunderstood so, or it may be interpreted thus, is a real bother. But I'm unable to shake him off. If this is wrong let the Indian intellectual world forgive me."

'Weary task'

The author of five novels who has spent 17 years as a teacher of Tamil says he is even mulling over the re-publication of his earlier writings: he will soon "begin the weary task of reviewing my books" and if required, "I will revise the text".

"I'm not sure if this is right. However, when so many things that are not quite right are happening all over, why not this? What am I to do?"

Rooted in the western region of Tamil Nadu where he was born, Murugan's stories are peopled by characters caught up in change, struggling peasants, a child bonded to work in an upper caste home to repay the loan taken by his father.

He is outspoken about the evil practice of caste discrimination which, he says, "is ubiquitous and subtly present at the same time". His writing, according to his translator Aniruddhan Vasudevan, is filled with "rich details of life, landscape, ecology and social life of a region".

Writer reborn?

"I come from a peasant family," Murugan says. "At the age of 20, I saw a house as a place to live. Before that I had lived in the open and in cow sheds.

"I have an undying passion for open spaces to this day. So my descriptions of landscape come from this experience."
So will Murugan be now reborn as a different author?

"There's a conflict in my mind. Most of my writings have been in the realist mode. I doubt whether I will write in that mode again. I may resort to other techniques [of storytelling]. Only time will tell."

When Murugan quit writing last year, he said he would not resurrect himself. He has. He once told his children that he would love to write 15 books, of which 10 would be novels. Now, he promises to speak again, through his words.
(courtesy: BBC)

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On why the chances of bigotry receding are low. We are in a trough; just have to wade through it.
04.08.16 - PREET K S BEDI
On why the chances of bigotry receding are low. We are in a trough; just have to wade through it.

Ask a random set of people the values their religion preaches and chances are you will be played back more or less the same words by all. Love, peace, compassion, forbearance and so on. 
With so much synergy one would imagine religion would be the strongest binding factor for humanity. But no, over 20 million lives have been lost in wars in the last two millenniums for no reason other than religious hegemony. Millions more have also died as a result of religious persecution and events like the partition of India and the Jewish pogrom in the Second War etc. 
Exact figures are irrelevant. But why should even one life have been lost to the pursuit of such honorable human values? 
To understand how religion has emerged as the world’s largest killer after old age let us deviate. A bottle of ordinary packaged water costs you Rs 20 while a bottle of Evian may cost you Rs. 120. Why so much variation for a chemical compound in which each molecule comprising two atoms of Hydrogen and one of Oxygen? 
We are told that Evian is no ordinary water. It is bottled at source in 15000 years-old glaciers and each drop of water takes years to sieve through a natural aquifer in the mountains and is ideal for detoxing the body, preventing and removing kidney and liver stones, helping the body heal and generate new cells in the body. No wonder Evian manages to sell at six times the price of normal bottled water. 
Old rule of marketing. Add frills and fancies, mix hope and hype and there is nothing you cannot extract from any product. Religion is no different. 
Love, compassion and forbearance are commodities just like water. Religion takes these values, issues guidelines, mandates symbols and rituals and simply converts the magnificent to the mundane. Making what and when you eat, what you wear and how you pray more important than the values you stand for. Unsurprisingly, millions are willing to die for temples, churches and mosques while you hardly ever hear a moral crusader fasting to death for love or even peace. As Gandhi once used to.
What Evian does to increase margins, religion does to possess your soul. So as to create armies of cattle who will accept that Hanuman could carry a mountain but reject virgin birth as being fantastical. Or swear by the Day of Judgment but find the idea of rebirth unacceptable. Or find pork acceptable and beef unacceptable. And vice versa.
And this this is not new. 
After being founded in the seventh century, Islam grew rapidly sparking off a war of attrition between Christianity and Islam. It was a time of competitive conversion and drew heavily on the ability of religious leaders to create fierce loyalty and intense hatred. The rhetoric became shriller with terms like ‘infidels’, kafirs’, ‘sacrilege’ and ‘heresy’ started gaining currency. 
By dividing the world into believers and non believers, the Bible and the Quran abetted the process. In fact the Old Testament happily suggested death by stoning as punishment for non believers. By the eleventh century matters reached their nadir with commencement of the Crusades. 
The gratuitously named ‘Crusades’, suggesting a kind of lofty spiritual objective were nothing but a shameless effort to prove length and size. They started with one Pope Urban-2, raising an army of Catholics to ‘free the promised land’ from the Muslims. Yes, the Pope personally led the thuggery. The Crusades see-sawed intermittently for over four centuries during which time 15 million lives had been lost to the excesses of religion. 
And the Holy Land remained where it had been.
While this was going on in Europe and the middle-east, in the sub-continent, the Hinduism concept was fighting an unequal battle with invaders from the West who decided to make India their home and become a part of the Indian landscape. 
Hinduism was all that Islam and Christianity were not. It was less a religion and more a sort of a federation of faiths with no unifying system, no central authority and not even a common place of pilgrimage. Almost nothing could be said about Hinduism without the opposite not being equally true. In revealed religions at some point the debate ends at ‘because god says so’. Not so in Hinduism. Even the sacred texts were more philosophic than prescriptive in nature. And since there was no revelation from god nor any rules set by him, there was also no concept of sacrilege or heresy. 
Walking out of Hinduism was easy. And perchance you strayed in, you didn’t know what to do next. This plurality was a strength as it enabled the religion to endure a thousand years of being ruled without giving up its culture but also a weakness as it prevented consolidation against invasions. 
By 1947 we had been under Muslim and later Christian leadership for over a millennium but also had the legacy of a democracy and a secular constitution which kept religion and governance apart. 
The turning point came in 2014 when BJP won with a decent majority. As the VHP Chief Ashok Singhal had famously declared, this was the first time India was to be ruled by the Hindus. Not true in a democratic and secular system but easy to see what propelled him to say so. When the NDA had won under Vajpayee, Hindu credentials of the BJP had been suppressed or at best kept very low-key. 
The RSS, of which BJP is the political front, was formed in 1925 with a view to forging ‘the present-day scattered Hindu society into an organized and invincible force both on the plane of Adhyaatma and on the plane of material life’. Though this objective vitiated the concept of the vibrant pluralistic faith Hinduism is, perhaps it was inevitable. No king likes to rule over a kingdom with undefined boundaries, with no rules and regulations, different languages, and different cultures. 
Two related aspects muddied the water. Islam and Christianity encouraged conversion but in the absence of a well-defined and coded framework, Hinduism could never return the favor. What do you convert a person to? There is no one Hindu template. The Hindu from Jammu may be completely different from the one in Jharkhand. Hence the need to create that template, both as a defense against perceived losses to conversion as well as reconverting when possible. 
But how?
Focus at the foliage and it you can see a million shades of green but focus on the sky and the foliage appears just green. That is what the RSS decided to do. Define Hinduism not in terms of intrinsic common values but in terms of practices that differentiate it from Islam and Christianity, particularly the former. It was important to keep Islam as the target as Hindu Muslim relations had always been testy. They also knew that such is the diversity in India that if they strayed away from targeting Islam they could end up in no man’s land. The recent anti-dalit accusations proved their fears were right. 
Unfortunately, at the very heart of this strategy is conflict. To make it work, you have to establish that the target religion is not just different but is wrong. By design, success will always be proportionate to the amount of conflict and hatred you can generate. 
If Islam accepts beef, Hinduism must settle for nothing less than life-sentence for cow-slaughter. If Muslims prefer non-vegetarian food for its nutrition, Hindus must ask for meat-free days, if Muslims want a personal law, Hindus must ask for its repeal, if Muslims can be ultra-sensitive about the Prophet, so must Hindus be about their gods and goddesses. If a secular law, in some way or another appears to favor Muslims it must be mocked at for being appeasement. If it appears in any way to be against the stereotypical interests of the Muslims, it is nationalist. 
The binary is endless. A minister went further and divided the country into Ramzadas, the believers and Haramzadas, the non-believers with the kind of ferocity that was explicit in terms like kafir and infidel a millennium ago.
Though it appears recent, the attempt to codify Hindu practices has been on the RSS agenda for very long though with only spikes of success.
The first serious effort happened during the Ram Janam Bhoomi movement. This included developing a passion for the color saffron, the practice of wearing a trishul on your person and the salutation Jai Shri Ram. More recently an aggressive love for the cow has been added to the list. And the stereotyped passive and accepting personality has been transformed with into shrill aggression.
The problem is that while Islam and Christianity were unified in a different era under the authority of god or his messengers, Hinduism is being sought to be codified by a loud social service organization with limited moral stature in a secular constitutional democracy. The result is a curious mix of majoritarian muscle-flexing, mobocracy and vigilante justice. 
Will the codification of Hinduism actually happen? Will there be a time when Hindus across the country will conform to a common set of practices? Most unlikely. But that is unimportant. In this one instance the journey is the trauma. 
So what does the future bode?
At least for me, more of the same. And with the current momentum, it is very unlikely that any party at the center will be very different. We are in a trough; just have to wade through it for a while.

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An Engine Of Cowardice - Arnab Goswami's treachery towards the Indian Constitution
02.08.16 - Ruchir Joshi
An Engine Of Cowardice - Arnab Goswami's treachery towards the Indian Constitution

Let me explain Arnab Goswami to you. Or, rather, since I'm not Arnab Goswami, please allow me to place before you how I see Arnab Goswami of Times Now TV. Actually, first let me explain why any time at all should be spent on someone like Goswami. If, like me, you accept that India is exceptional among our immediate neighbours, that despite its many ongoing tragedies it's a better country to live in than, say, Pakistan or Myanmar, then you also have to say why this is so. In this, I would list our Constitution, which guarantees secularism and free speech at its core, as the first crucial thing that differentiates us from our neighbours. Preceding the Constitution, but bolstered and protected by it, is a tradition of a free press that is unique in South Asia. This press may fluctuate from time to time between being more or less free, being pushed around by the governments or large bits of it bought out by business interests, but the tradition the best practitioners of Indian journalism uphold is one of loudly and clearly saying uncomfortable and even unsayable things to the people in power. Now, it's one thing for a minister to demand the gagging of the press, one thing if some oligarchic business house tries to squash a book, but it's quite another if a prominent news anchor demands the arrest of fellow journalists on the grounds that they are 'anti-national'. This is what Arnab Goswami is doing right now, and it constitutes the worst, slimy, jingoistic, profit-seeking attack on democracy, the free press, the Indian Constitution and, therefore, on the Indian Republic itself.
Wherefore the questions come up: who is this rich and powerful traitor in our midst? And how are we to understand him and his motives?
Most of us have suffered school bullies. The bully is that boy, perhaps physically a bit bigger than others, who uses all means at his command to control smaller students and push them around. If he can, the bully will beat you up when the teachers aren't looking; if he needs to, the bully will start a campaign against some other kid, to cow him down and make him miserable; when faced with authority the bully will not hesitate to use outright lies; if the bully is met with physical resistance, paid back in his own coin, so to speak, he will also not hesitate to run to the teachers and tearfully complain that he has been beaten up, no matter that it was he who started the fight. There may be some differences in the modus operandi but this kind of bully is to be found among both girls and boys.
The bully may not necessarily have physical heft but, invariably, she or he will have the will and stamina to cause unprovoked harm, and invariably he or she will follow only one mantra: me, myself and I above everyone else - me always - right or wrong, I must be the one who prevails - by whatever means, fair or foul.
Sometimes these bullies grow up and modulate their characters, but all too often they carry this bullying nature into adulthood, assuming it will continue to reward them with power and success. Far too often, they are not disappointed. These bullies appear in society, in every walk of life.
Upon the evidence of his TV show, Arnab Goswami is a classic example of just such a bully. In fact, the next time you watch his show, try doing a mental exercise: take this man out of his suit and put him in various different costumes and situations - the local boys' club secretary who leads the gang aggressively demanding puja contributions, the one standing behind a gang of thugs who eggs them to get violent in any altercation, the cop who beats up a defenceless riksha-walla or a thela-walla, the Chief Minister's or the Prime Minister's political Rottweiler, who does the savaging on behalf of his fakely dignified master, the corrupt magistrate who thunders down a sentence on the victims of a crime while letting free the perpetrators, the semi-suave high society gentleman who turns ugly at the drop of a hat, the rich man in an SUV who hits an auto-riksha and then gets out and beats up the auto-walla, claiming damage to his fancy car. See if you can recognize Arnab Goswami in these men and vice versa. In case you feel this is an ad hominem attack, that this is a personal takedown of the man rather than the issue, I would simply point out that the public persona Goswami has assiduously created for himself, his self-righteousness, his loud, spitting, hectoring style on national television, is at the core of the issue. It doesn't matter what 'politics' Goswami espouses; the issue would be the same - and his behaviour equally odious - if he was a Stalinist bully, say nominally of the 'Left', demanding a lynch mob to string up people he deemed 'counter-revolutionaries'.
As with all bullies, what drives Goswami is an engine of huge cowardice. This is plainly in evidence in the way the man conducts his TV show. The first fear (and one with which he has sadly infected several competitors) is of losing TRPs. Goswami and Times Now have to know what they are doing is poisonous for the intellectual environment of the country they claim to love so much; yet they are bound to ride the monster they have created, they cannot afford to change tack even in the face of proof that they have been caught out as liars, as news fabricators, and for providing provocation for the worst tendencies in a fast-changing, young society. The construction of the monster goes like this: 1. find a news item or an issue that can magnet high emotion from the viewer, 2. define the headline in the most dishonest and dumbed-down terms, 3. pass a verdict on it even before a word has been spoken in the 'debate', 4. find scapegoats on the wrong side of the 'verdict' and bash the living daylights out of them, giving the viewer the satisfaction of having participated in a virtual blood sport.
In this, the enemies of the profit-project are people who articulately challenge Goswami's pre-trial verdict and, equally bad, the ones who try and bring some complexity and nuance into a discussion. So, Goswami's cowardice is in evidence from the very start of his show - if you're against what he is proclaiming that evening, He. Will. Not. Let. You. Speak. Period. Cheap trick #1: Goswami will speak long and loud in a preamble and then grandly say, 'The debate is now open! Answer the question!' As soon as the hapless victim opens their mouth to answer, Goswami will (often using the sound delay between cities) jump in and stomp on the poor sap, Cheap Trick #2: Someone will get half a reply out, with the main point still to come, when, again, they will be ambushed by brutal interruption, Cheap Trick #3: these maulings will force the victim to reply in sound bites, not something everyone is good at, and AG will claw some de-contextualized phrase out of the answer and repeatedly punch the 'guest' with it, Cheap Trick #4: If your English happens to be ever so slightly shaky, Goswami will jump on that like a tiger on a tied goat (his own English, it should be mentioned, is atrocious - a few pompous phrases that he repeats incessantly, in the grotesquely mutated psuedo-Shakespearean delivery he must have learnt in school).
Again, all of this is a problem because what India needs desperately is tough journalists asking straight questions of the people in power. Goswami's barrage not only obfuscates that need but also creates an environment in which such questioning becomes almost impossible. In comparison, let's just take two examples of how Boris Johnson caught it from the press over the last month or so. The first was the American journalist who asked two knock-out questions during Johnson's press conference with John Kerry: the questions were politely put yet pulled no punches - as Foreign Minister, what will you say to such and such world leaders about whom you've previously written this and this? Standing next to Johnson, Kerry visibly blanches; Johnson (plenty of time to answer, long rope) squirms from foot to foot, talking panicky nonsense in reply. Middle stump uprooted. Point made. Second, senior British TV journalist Andrew Marr eviscerates Johnson in a one-on-one interview about Boris once encouraging a man to beat somebody up. The long question ends with the words, 'You're quite a nasty piece of work aren't you?' But, again, it's done quietly, with plenty of room for Johnson to answer, or not, or squirm (Johnson fudges and squirms). Both the interrogations work precisely because there is never any feeling that anyone is shouting down Johnson, or denying him space to speak.
Now, the thing is, there is no reason why in India we cannot subject both so called 'anti-nationals' and self-proclaimed 'gau-rakshaks' to this kind of public questioning. As a sophisticated people, we totally get pauses and nuance and telling silences, it's just that for someone like Arnab Goswami, giving space to nuance and contradiction is not profitable - he and his marketing crew need to bulldoze that sort of thing because it would destroy their monster model. Far better for Goswami to be a fawning mouse when faced with Narendra Modi and far better for him to swallow serious questions about the well-being of his supposedly beloved Indian military (What about the fiasco of Modi's impromptu Rafale deal with France? Why are ancient, now dangerous, Ukrainian aircraft still the workhorses of the IAF? Why was the Mountain Strike Corps 'shrunk' by this government after having been 15 years in the planning?). Why is the Patriot Missile Arnab Goswami missing in action on asking these questions of the government? It may be totally cowardly, and totally perfidious to the spirit of our Constitution, but in these times, it's far safer to attack fellow journalists for asking sensible questions about when the AFSPA might be lifted from Kashmir and the Northeast, and about why - no matter what Burhan Wani's crimes were - are so many Kahsmiri youth out on the streets risking their lives after Wani's death?
Courtesy : The Telegraph

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Comment by: Anil Sarwal

An article so well written that it reminds me of Addison's Spectator!



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