Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pak judge backtracks on 'Hindu terror' remark

Pak judge backtracks on 'Hindus behind terror' remark
Pak judge backtracks on 'Hindus behind terror' remark
ISLAMABAD: The Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif has contradicted the observation that the Hindu community was involved in funding terrorism in Pakistan, clarifying that observation was misreported and wrongly attributed to him.

A handout issued by the Lahore HC registrar on Wednesday said that it is noted with great concern at the observation made by the Chief Justice while hearing a constitutional petition on extradition of alleged foreign terrorists has been misreported and misconstrued in certain sections of press.

"Finding it malicious, and irresponsible it is strongly contradicted that the observation went to attribute financial support in terrorism to Hindus", the press release said.

The Lahore HC Chief Justice said, "It is clarified that no such observation has ever been made. This court shows sympathy for those who felt hurt at this misleading report, and expresses its belief in the rights granted by our constitutions to minorities".

The minority members of national assembly protested and staged a token walkout from parliament on Tuesday regarding a reported statement by Lahore High Court Chief Justice (CJ) Khawaja Muhammad Sharif that the Hindu community was financing terrorism in Pakistan. The members of the Awami National Party, a ruling coalition partner also joined the Hindu MPs.

The protest was the second raised in the house over press reports in as many days after the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was criticized over his appeal to Taliban in a speech to a seminar in Lahore on Sunday to spare his province terror attacks because of some shared views with his PML-N party.

The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Hindu member Romesh Lal, who raised the issue, said sentiments of an estimated four million Pakistani Hindus had been injured by the LHC chief justice’s remarks, as reported in a section of the press, that while terrorist bomb blasts were being carried out by Muslims, "money used for this came from Hindus".

The member said if a country was suspected of sponsoring such attacks it should be named, but blame should not be put on just Hindus who, he said, were as good patriots as other Pakistanis.

He appealed to Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry to take suo motu notice of Justice Sharif’s remarks. The PPP chief whip and Labour and Manpower Minister Khurshid Ahmed Shah told the house that justice Khwaja Sharif seemed to be blaming India for financing the Taliban rather Hindus. Shah said that he was sure a clarification into the matter would come by tomorrow.

EGoM clears draft food security Bill

NEW DELHI: The Empowered Group of Ministers (eGoM) on Thursday cleared the draft Food Security Bill that seeks to give legal right to the poor to get 25 kgs of foodgrain in a month at Rs 3 per kg.

The draft Food Security Bill will "hopefully" go to the Cabinet next week, Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told reporters after the eGoM meeting.

The group, headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, also decided to recommend to the Cabinet for increase in the quantity of foodgrain for the 11.5 crore families above poverty line through ration shops.

"Two items which will be taken to Cabinet are enhancing APL quota and the draft Food Security Bill," he said.

The Congress had promised in its election manifesto that every BPL family would get, by law, 25 kg of rice or wheat per month at Rs 3 a kg.

Once the Cabinet approves the Bill, it will be put in the public domain for feedback before it goes to Parliament.

The panel also extended duty-free import of pulses and the ban on their exports till March 2011, Pawar said.

PSUs such as MMTC and STC importing pulses would continue to get 15 per cent subsidy to cover the gap between the landed and selling price.

The government had earlier allowed duty-free import of pulses till March 2010 to fight food inflation which is ruling at well over 16 per cent.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Ministry withdrew its proposal to hike the minimum export price (MEP) of basmati rice.

Concerned India discusses Headley case with US

NEW DELHI/CHICAGO: India on Thursday said it was concerned that Mumbai terror suspect David Headley was to change his plea to guilty, even as New Delhi awaited his statement in a Chicago court.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram met US intelligence chief Dennis C. Blair to convey New Delhi's concerns.

If Pakistani-American Headley pleads guilty, it would affirm the suspicions of many in the security establishment in India that Headley was a double agent who worked for the CIA.

Headley, arrested by the FBI in October last year, has moved a plea bargain at a Chicago court which will come up for hearing on Thursday night before US District Judge Harry Leinenweber.

The Headley issue figured in discussions when US National Intelligence Director Blair, along with US ambassador Timothy J. Roemer, met the home minister Thursday ahead of Headley's court appearance.

The meeting was called to discuss cooperation between India and the US on counter-terrorism, the envoy said.

"We are waiting for Headley's statement," External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna told reporters here.

Krishna skirted a question on whether India will seek the extradition of Headley, accused of providing support to the Pakistani terrorists who went on a killing spree in Mumbai in November 2008.

"The home ministry will be in a better position to tell you about it," was Krishna's reply. "We are watching today's proceedings very closely."

Earlier, India had sought access to Headley to interrogate him on his role in the Mumbai carnage.

Intelligence agencies in India are trying to figure out whether Headley's purported move is part of a proffer agreement he has struck with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The home ministry has suspected that Headley was a CIA agent who infiltrated the Pakistan-based Lashker-e-Toiba terror group before becoming a double agent. It feels its fears will be vindicated if Headley pleads guilty and manages a lighter sentence.

Headley faces six counts of conspiracy involving bombing of public places in India, murdering and maiming people in India and abroad and providing logistical support to terror groups.

He also faces six counts of aiding and abetting the murder of six American citizens in India.

A US court said on Wednesday that Headley was scheduled for a plea-bargaining hearing Thursday before US District Judge Harry Leinenweber.

Headley, also accused of plotting attacks against a Danish newspaper, originally pleaded not guilty to 12 charges in connection with attacks in India.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Deeply disappointed at Pak statement alleging Indian hand in Lahore blasts: India

NEW DELHI: "Deeply disappointed" over the charges by Pakistan regarding its involvement in blasts, India on Saturday said it was unfortunate that by repeating such "unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations" that country puts strain on the bilateral relationship.

"Unequivocally" condemning the allegations, India rejected charges of any involvement in such acts or activities and said Pakistan should "concentrate on dismantling the infrastructure of terrorism directed against India and adversely impacting on Pakistan itself".

India "unequivocally condemns the series of bomb blasts in Lahore on March 12, 2010 which claimed the lives of scores of people, including innocent civilians, and injured many more, among them women and children. Our condolences go out to the families of those killed by these acts of terrorism," external affairs ministry said in a statement.

"At the same time, government is deeply disappointed by statements emanating from Pakistan alleging an Indian hand in yesterday's attacks in Lahore, and other terrorist acts and disturbances elsewhere in Pakistan.

"We categorically reject, once again, the allegations of India's involvement in such acts or activities. Government has reiterated on several occasions, and at the highest level, that India has no interest in destabilising Pakistan."

Pune blast probe: Top cop blames German bakery staff

PUNE: A month after a blast in Pune killed 17 people, city police commissioner Satyapal Singh on Saturday charged the staff of the German Bakery and its customers with "utter negligence" and said the bag with the bomb had been lying unnoticed for over 90 minutes.

"It was not a few minutes or 10-15 minutes, more than one-and-half hours and yet nobody bothered to notice it... This is sheer carelessness on the part of the people," he said, addressing a rally of over 1,000 students at the Azad campus here. The event was organised by the Sakal Social Foundation.

According to Singh, the presence of the bag was also brought to the notice of the cashier by some customers of the bakery, but he was "too busy" in his work to even take note of it or bother to inform the police.

"Barely 20 minutes later, the bomb exploded there. I am sure that if the German Bakery staff and its patrons had exercised more awareness, the blast could have been prevented and so many innocent lives could have been saved," Singh said.

The pre-Valentine's Day blast on Feb 13 in Koregaon Park killed 17 people, including five foreign nationals. Despite the multi-pronged investigations by several state and central agencies, the investigators seem to have drawn a blank in the motives behind the blast or its perpetrators.

State Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) chief K.P. Raghuvanshi said the investigations are progressing and they hope to crack the case soon.

"We are examining it from all possible angles, nothing is being ruled out. But I will not speculate on whom we suspect. As soon as we are through, it (details) shall be made public," Raghuvanshi said.

So far, over 100 suspects have been questioned and allowed to go.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Pune residents, including foreigners and students from scores of colleges participated in 'nirbhayta', or fearless, rallies in different parts of the city here Saturday. The people paid homage to those killed in the blast and took a pledge not to be cowed down by terror threats.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sex and the Swami

The priest as transgressive protagonist has been the subject of many books in fiction. But suddenly they seem to have jumped right out of the pages and into real life, blurring boundaries between the profound and the profane. Has saffron been irredeemably stained?

Sex," said Henry Miller, "is one of the nine reasons of reincarnation; the other eight are unimportant." He was paraphrasing an unnamed source from Buddhism, a religion which, not incorrectly, is seen as an offshoot of Hinduism. And it is the Hindu 'godmen' - read, fakes or fraudsters - who have for the past week been swathed in infamy for sex and sleaze.

While one of them, Swami Nityananda of Chennai, was caught having sex with a Tamil actress, the other, going by the laughable moniker of Ichadhari Sant Bhimanand (ichhadhari, literally, means one who merely has to wish for things to happen) was arrested and charged under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) for running a prostitution racket. Interestingly, the 'saint' has been to jail five times.

Bhimanand, whose actual name is Shiv Murat Dwivedi, has been filmed doing the 'naagin (snake-woman ) dance', seemingly drunk, to the tune of the famous snake song Man doley, mera tan doley. His cronies, writhing in front of a large picture of Shirdi Sai Baba, match him step for step. Check it out on YouTube; a more grotesque and hilarious sight will rarely be seen. And Nityananda's "disciple", the actress Ranjitha, has said that her videographed romp with the so-called swami was her "service and offering to him". She said she offered it like she offered other services: bringing Nityananda food and giving him a massage. She seemed to see nothing wrong in what she was doing.

What's not okay is this: the two outlaws - one an obnoxious fraud and the other a spiritual swami with a more than apparent empty core - are not alone; there have been a number of deviants calling themselves sadhus and sanyasis, all fighting dark allegations in various courts of law across the country for crimes like rape and murder. So how does one square up spirituality and sex, or, for that matter, spirituality and crime?

Whatever the connection between spirituality and sex, there's of course no link between spirituality and crime - notwithstanding the number of supposedly significant Hindu religious leaders fighting legal battles. Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham's Swami Jayendra Saraswati, Dera Sacha Sauda's Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, and Asaram Bapu in Gujarat being the most glaring examples. Has their karma caught up with them? Or have they been framed? The jury is still out.

But, to focus on sex and spirituality, ever since Osho Rajneesh's extraordinary success in teaching that sex could be transcended only through experience and not through its renunciation, many "swamis" appear to have rampantly and readily misunderstood what he said. Rajneesh's take on sex - he wrote the controversial book Sambhog se Samadhi (From Sex to Superconsciousness) - was backed by a cogently argued philosophy.

According to him, forced celibacy was not just wrong, it was damaging to the soul of man. It was against man's natural instincts and his essential nature. Celibacy as a vow had to be voluntary, and under the guidance of a capable preceptor. Otherwise there was every possibility of the act of self-mortification destroying the initiate. Going by Rajneesh's dictum, someone like Nityanand was ill-prepared for a life of complete detachment.

But there is a need to first understand the monastic order in Hinduism and its provenance. Hinduism borrowed the concept of monasteries - and its peculiar kind of celibacy - from Buddhism. This was because Buddhism had grown to become one massive umbrella that held vast swathes of the Indian subcontinent in near-total control by the 8th century. When Adi Shankaracharya arrived on the scene to take Sanatan Dharma out of the morass, he selected some of the attributes of Buddhism to reinvent Hinduism. It was also his own tribute to the success of Buddhism.

In other words, there was no concept of renunciation in Hinduism until Shankara arrived, at least not in any organised sort of way. The best that exists in Sanatani philosophy on the subject is Patanjali's statement, 'Swa-ang jugupsa, parai asansargah'. It means that with increasing spiritual insights, with greater realisation, with the mind's constant attachment with truth, there develops apathy for the physical body, and it loses its physical affiliation with others. This is considered a high state of spiritual being, and that is what has made celibacy the plinth of sanyas. Before Shankara, Indian rishis were known to have families and children. Shankara was merely following the "market leader" of the time, Buddhism, and in the process institutionalised renunciation to help Hinduism survive the crisis it was in because of Buddhism.

What's truly lamentable about those donning saffron but flouting the principles they erroneously pledged to uphold - including celibacy - is that they have forgotten the deep Sanatani value that their raiment represents.

Interestingly, in this as well, in the idea of a single-colour garment to represent a monastic order, the competitive interplay between Buddhism and Hinduism is evident. The Buddha had selected yellow as the colour of renunciation; yellow being the shade of falling leaves at the end of the Indian winter. Yellow signified a bhikshu's final departure from the world of desires.

Shankara, too, wanted to give the Sanatani monastic order he had created a mark of distinction out of the cultural necessity to successfully compete with Buddhism. He found the colour saffron - a bright orange - from the sacrificial fire. He said anyone who wears this robe must imagine himself sitting on 'chitaa' or the funerary pyre, burning all his past samskaras and making sure that no new ones are added. For it was only after all the samskaras were burnt that vairagya or dispassion could develop, and with it the spiritual insights for which one had made the conscious decision to become a sadhu or a sanyasi.

It is obvious that none of this terribly excites the likes of the Ichadharis and Nityanandas. But it would only be fair to pose that, in the process, our true saints must not invite derision or ridicule. It would be folly to tar all the saffron-robed monks with the same brush. Instead, what is needed is more discernment among people in choosing their preceptor - that is, if they think they need one in the first place.

Indeed, charlatans like Ichadhari would not become an embarrassment in the name of religion without the help of blindly-worshipful people. The success - howsoever temporary - of these fake swamis also exposes the alarming levels of ignorance in society. Tantriks, exploiting the superstitions among people, are routinely in the news for rape and murder for money, making them no different from thugs and mercenaries. In March 2009, the Mumbai police arrested a tantrik, Hansmukh Rathod, and the parents of a girl who was sexually violated by her father, to improve his business.

There is no reason to believe such things will come to an end, especially when there has been a spate of scandals involving the hollow 'holy' men. As Swami Dharmendra said on a TV talk show this week, "If adulterating medicines is a crime, then adulterating faith, too, should be a crime. Bhakti must remain pure in the heart of the bhakta."

Moderate quake shakes Northeast, no damage

SHILLONG: A moderate intensity quake shook parts of Northeast early on Saturday.

The quake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale had its epicentre at a place along the Indo-Myanmar border and occurred at 4.50am, Met officials said.

The tremor was felt in many parts of the region including Guwahati. There was no report of any loss of life or damage to property.