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Rohith Vemula March: The Caste Turn for Student Delhites?

16 Jan 2020

First published on February 23, 2016



Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure

 
Delhi is a city that has naturalised caste: a gardener believes he is born to be a gardener; a maid believes she was born to be a maid. Its so called efficiency has something to do with this aspect. Even among academics and students, the understanding and discussions of caste stay at their abstract best. Most of them are well meaning to be concerned about the "upliftment of Dalits" but in the busy-ness of their own professional lives, they really couldn't do much. The city kept running on the shoulders of the Dalits. Caste was a matter to be encountered only in reservation debates and that was a sort polemics only the political class could go through with.
 
But Rohith Vemula's one-note altered the caste debates in the country, from asking, "How can discrimination against Dalits be stopped?" or, "How can Dalits be uplifted" to, "Why is our society so inhumanly casteist?" or, "When will upper castes improve?", making every one ask the question, "Why are we like this?". The fact that his suicide note did not have a single word about caste discrimination, it only spoke about the need to travel from "shadows to stars" and the impossibility of it, struck a code with Delhi's students. Now they knew it was not about Dalits alone; it was more about them. Or the impossibility of being themselves ethically in this system. Now the onus was on the academic community: to make sure that Rohith is the absolute last to be orphaned to death.
 
The huge march in solidarity with JNU (against the trending #ShutdownJNU) on February 18 had many posters of Rohith Vemula and slogans such as, "JNU to bahana hai, Rohith ka mudda dabana hai" (JNU is an excuse to distract from Rohith's issue) prominently demonstrated such a change. The straight-line from FTII through HCU and OccupyUGC to JNU that students kept drawing was quite in place: the central government doesn't seem to understand the ways in which students work or think.
 
The Narendra Modi government might be good at attacking known political or social formations but students are an evolving social category and it clearly doesn't have the tools. If FTII was a clear case of trying to show "we can, so we will", OccupyUGC was an unnecessary provocation and HCU was MHRD's flexing its muscles gone terribly awry and JNU its hurried conclusions riding on hyper sensationalist jingoism. The mass media debates on national/anti-national, continued on social media, made students realise their common sense and regular discussions were stuff that could be termed "anti-national" and they found themselves in a strange situation where they had to explain their very existence to friends and family in the "tax payer entitlement" narrative. Students who were not part of any existing political formation also felt alienated and they kept telling themselves and others: students have to fight as students. In fact, they found a student issue with a cosmic objective to fight for.
 
The "Chalo Dilli" march on April 23rd and its clarion call "Delhi for Rohith Vemula" became exciting not just because more than 5,000 people walked a kilometre together from Ambedkar Bhawan to Jantar Mantar, or because there was a representation from all parties other than the BJP for the rally, but because the students had found a new icon in Rohith Vemula. It was difficult to dispute him or reject him if you didn't have party obligations or social interests.

The speciality of this icon was in its social content: caste was becoming an issue of political debate in student lives. Some Delhi students whose encounter with caste as a political issue was rather new also kept shouting "Jai Bheem" in an event primarily organised by Dalit organisations. 
 
One of the limitations of the Indian student movements has been their being floated and managed by students who socially belong to the ruling elite of the country. This is quite different from the Western situation where student movements have been political, academic and cultural manifestations of social changes. The chemical change of thinking in the 1960s was a result of socio-economic changes that ushered in women, African Americans, refugees, third world students and homosexuals into academe in huge numbers.
 
In India, such a turn hasn't happened. Nationalism and universal class wars were the concerns of student politics in earlier decades. But now the organising principle of Indian society is their problem as students. It might be the caste turn for student discourses. 
 
Surely, unlike in the University of Hyderabad, where the number of Dalit students is huge and the discourse of caste is very strong, Delhi still doesn't have such a situation. But it must now emerge to address the huge blind spot they have now realised. And Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure. 
 

Rohith Vemula March: The Caste Turn for Student Delhites?

First published on February 23, 2016



Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure

 
Delhi is a city that has naturalised caste: a gardener believes he is born to be a gardener; a maid believes she was born to be a maid. Its so called efficiency has something to do with this aspect. Even among academics and students, the understanding and discussions of caste stay at their abstract best. Most of them are well meaning to be concerned about the "upliftment of Dalits" but in the busy-ness of their own professional lives, they really couldn't do much. The city kept running on the shoulders of the Dalits. Caste was a matter to be encountered only in reservation debates and that was a sort polemics only the political class could go through with.
 
But Rohith Vemula's one-note altered the caste debates in the country, from asking, "How can discrimination against Dalits be stopped?" or, "How can Dalits be uplifted" to, "Why is our society so inhumanly casteist?" or, "When will upper castes improve?", making every one ask the question, "Why are we like this?". The fact that his suicide note did not have a single word about caste discrimination, it only spoke about the need to travel from "shadows to stars" and the impossibility of it, struck a code with Delhi's students. Now they knew it was not about Dalits alone; it was more about them. Or the impossibility of being themselves ethically in this system. Now the onus was on the academic community: to make sure that Rohith is the absolute last to be orphaned to death.
 
The huge march in solidarity with JNU (against the trending #ShutdownJNU) on February 18 had many posters of Rohith Vemula and slogans such as, "JNU to bahana hai, Rohith ka mudda dabana hai" (JNU is an excuse to distract from Rohith's issue) prominently demonstrated such a change. The straight-line from FTII through HCU and OccupyUGC to JNU that students kept drawing was quite in place: the central government doesn't seem to understand the ways in which students work or think.
 
The Narendra Modi government might be good at attacking known political or social formations but students are an evolving social category and it clearly doesn't have the tools. If FTII was a clear case of trying to show "we can, so we will", OccupyUGC was an unnecessary provocation and HCU was MHRD's flexing its muscles gone terribly awry and JNU its hurried conclusions riding on hyper sensationalist jingoism. The mass media debates on national/anti-national, continued on social media, made students realise their common sense and regular discussions were stuff that could be termed "anti-national" and they found themselves in a strange situation where they had to explain their very existence to friends and family in the "tax payer entitlement" narrative. Students who were not part of any existing political formation also felt alienated and they kept telling themselves and others: students have to fight as students. In fact, they found a student issue with a cosmic objective to fight for.
 
The "Chalo Dilli" march on April 23rd and its clarion call "Delhi for Rohith Vemula" became exciting not just because more than 5,000 people walked a kilometre together from Ambedkar Bhawan to Jantar Mantar, or because there was a representation from all parties other than the BJP for the rally, but because the students had found a new icon in Rohith Vemula. It was difficult to dispute him or reject him if you didn't have party obligations or social interests.

The speciality of this icon was in its social content: caste was becoming an issue of political debate in student lives. Some Delhi students whose encounter with caste as a political issue was rather new also kept shouting "Jai Bheem" in an event primarily organised by Dalit organisations. 
 
One of the limitations of the Indian student movements has been their being floated and managed by students who socially belong to the ruling elite of the country. This is quite different from the Western situation where student movements have been political, academic and cultural manifestations of social changes. The chemical change of thinking in the 1960s was a result of socio-economic changes that ushered in women, African Americans, refugees, third world students and homosexuals into academe in huge numbers.
 
In India, such a turn hasn't happened. Nationalism and universal class wars were the concerns of student politics in earlier decades. But now the organising principle of Indian society is their problem as students. It might be the caste turn for student discourses. 
 
Surely, unlike in the University of Hyderabad, where the number of Dalit students is huge and the discourse of caste is very strong, Delhi still doesn't have such a situation. But it must now emerge to address the huge blind spot they have now realised. And Rohith Vemula gives them the perfect point of departure. 
 

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Punjab’s Robinhood Dulla Bhatti: Why Lohri is celebrated

Every Lohri, Punjabis sing the songs of Dulla Bhatti and build a bonfire for the community. The story behind this is complex, endearing, and dates back to the legend of India’s very own Robinhood.

11 Jan 2020

PunjabImage Courtesy: rgyan.com

Most people know of Lohri as a festival of the Punjabis where they build a bonfire, dance, offer jaggery and grains to the fire and of course, indulge in lots of dancing. The story behind these traditions is in fact a tale of valour, rebellion, and revolution, initiated by Rai Abdullah Khan Bhatti fondly referred to as Dulla Bhatti.

Dulla’s father and grandfather were Muslim-Rajput landlords (zamindaars) in Lahore who opposed the taxation system levied by the Mughal empire under Emperor Akbar. They refused to pay the new taxes to the local ‘Faujdar’ (military officer appointed to collect taxes). There were frequent skirmishes between the Bhatti landlords and the Faujdar’s armies where the Bhattis pushed back and defeated the Mughal forces. Ultimately, Emperor Akbar called for their arrests and execution. They were executed 4 months before Dulla was born.

What happened from this point onwards is part folklore, part history. Some theories believe that when Prince Salim was born, an astrologer convinced Akbar that the only way the Prince would grow up to be a strong ruler was if he was nursed by another woman whose son was born on the same day as the Prince. This woman was none other than Dulla’s own mother Ladhi who is said to have given birth to Dulla on the same day as the Prince.

It is said that in their early years, both Dulla and Salim (who would grow up to be Emperor Jehangir) were raised in the same household by Ladhi. Another legend also says that while it was typical to touch jaggery to the newborn’s mouth as the tradition of ‘Gudhti’, Ladhi touched a shining sword to Dulla’s mouth at birth, because she knew he would grow up to avenge his father and grandfather.

As the years went on, Ladhi hid her husband and father-in-law’s weapons in a closed room and kept their history a secret from the headstrong teenage Dulla. When Dulla and his friends created mischief in the village by damaging women’s water pots with their catapults, a village woman taunted him by saying, “Why do you show your strength here to women and poor people? If you are so strong, go and avenge your father”. This made Dulla ask his mother to tell him the truth and she finally opened up the secret room full of weapons. Dulla’s young blood and courage led him to form a band of highway robbers along with his friends using these weapons. They would steal from the rich traders and distribute the goods to poor villagers.Dulla became a saviour for the poor.

One such poverty-stricken Brahmin landed at Dulla’s camp with a special plea. He had two young and beautiful daughters Sundari and Mundari, who were betrothed in another village. He was too poor to afford a wedding, let alone two. Meanwhile, the local Mughal officials had their eye on the girls and a delay in their weddings would mean that they could be carried off any moment by the soldiers to be kept as slaves. Desperate to save his daughters, the Brahmin implored Dulla for help.

Dulla vowed that he would make sure the two girls would be safely wed to their betrothed and told the Brahmin, “Your daughters are my daughters”. He started a donation campaign in the neighbousring villages and people donated jaggery and grains in small and large amounts for the double wedding. On the wedding day, Dulla lit huge bonfires along the path to ensure safe passage for the wedding party.

This is why Lohri is celebrated by lighting bonfires and offering jaggery and grains. The famous folksong “Sundar-Mundriye” is sung with gusto:

 

(Original in Punjabi)

(Translation)

Sunder mundriye ho!

Beautiful girl Sundari and Mundari

Tera kaun vicharaa ho!

Who will think about you

Dullah Bhatti walla ho!

Dulla of the Bhatti clan will

Dullhe di dhee vyayae ho!

Dulla's daughter got married

Ser shakkar payee ho!

He gave one seer of sugar!

Kudi da laal pathaka ho!

The girl is wearing a red suit!

Kudi da saalu paata ho!

But her shawl is torn!

Salu kaun samete!

Who will stitch her shawl?!

 

Chache choori kutti!

 

The uncle made choori! (dish prepared with roti, desi ghee and sugar)

Zamidara lutti!

The landlords looted!

Zamindaar sudhaye!

Landlords are beaten up!

Bade bhole aaye!

Lots of simple-headed boys came!

Ek bhola reh gaya!

One simpleton got left behind!

Sipahee far ke lai gaya!

The soldier arrested him!

Sipahee ne mari itt!

The soldier hit him with a brick!

Bhaanvey ro te bhaanvey pitt!

Whether you cry, or bang your head later!

Sanoo de de Lohri, te teri jeeve jodi!

Give us Lohri, long live your pair (to a married couple)!

As Dulla’s reputation spread across the neighbouring areas, the landlords grew bolder and stopped paying taxes, as the Faujdars themselves were unable to enter Dulla’s territory. However, Dulla’s rebellion came to an abrupt end when after repeated defeats in the battlefield, the Mughal officers offered to meet and make a peace treaty with him. But this negotiation meeting turned out to be a trap and the officers poisoned his food which made him unconscious and thus he was captured, and eventually hanged to death in 1599. The famous Sufi mystic Shah Hussain recounted Dulla’s dying words, “No honourable son of Punjab will ever sell the soil of Punjab".

To this day, the people of Punjab remember this brave warrior with a heart of gold. On the morning of the Lohri day, young children team up to visit every house in their locality and sing the ‘Sundar-Mundriye’song that commends Dulla and his giving of the Lohri gift to his daughters, as a suggestion to the owner of the house to give them presents in the same way. Normally, the children are given small amounts of money to buy treats, sweets like gajak or rewri or eatables such as popcorn, til (sesame) seeds, peanuts, sugar or jaggery. If the gifts please them, they sing:

"Dabba bharaya leera da (Box filled of cloths strips)
"Ai ghar ameera da (This house is of the rich)"

But if they do not receive anything from a house, they chant:

"Hukka bhai Hukkaa (Hukka! Oh! Hukka!)
"Ai ghar bhukka (This house is full of misers!)"

This year as you wish someone a Happy Lohri, do remember the young revolutionary who was called a ‘dacoit’ by the Emperor but was beloved by the poor as their champion, their Robinhood - Dulla Bhatti.

Punjab’s Robinhood Dulla Bhatti: Why Lohri is celebrated

Every Lohri, Punjabis sing the songs of Dulla Bhatti and build a bonfire for the community. The story behind this is complex, endearing, and dates back to the legend of India’s very own Robinhood.

PunjabImage Courtesy: rgyan.com

Most people know of Lohri as a festival of the Punjabis where they build a bonfire, dance, offer jaggery and grains to the fire and of course, indulge in lots of dancing. The story behind these traditions is in fact a tale of valour, rebellion, and revolution, initiated by Rai Abdullah Khan Bhatti fondly referred to as Dulla Bhatti.

Dulla’s father and grandfather were Muslim-Rajput landlords (zamindaars) in Lahore who opposed the taxation system levied by the Mughal empire under Emperor Akbar. They refused to pay the new taxes to the local ‘Faujdar’ (military officer appointed to collect taxes). There were frequent skirmishes between the Bhatti landlords and the Faujdar’s armies where the Bhattis pushed back and defeated the Mughal forces. Ultimately, Emperor Akbar called for their arrests and execution. They were executed 4 months before Dulla was born.

What happened from this point onwards is part folklore, part history. Some theories believe that when Prince Salim was born, an astrologer convinced Akbar that the only way the Prince would grow up to be a strong ruler was if he was nursed by another woman whose son was born on the same day as the Prince. This woman was none other than Dulla’s own mother Ladhi who is said to have given birth to Dulla on the same day as the Prince.

It is said that in their early years, both Dulla and Salim (who would grow up to be Emperor Jehangir) were raised in the same household by Ladhi. Another legend also says that while it was typical to touch jaggery to the newborn’s mouth as the tradition of ‘Gudhti’, Ladhi touched a shining sword to Dulla’s mouth at birth, because she knew he would grow up to avenge his father and grandfather.

As the years went on, Ladhi hid her husband and father-in-law’s weapons in a closed room and kept their history a secret from the headstrong teenage Dulla. When Dulla and his friends created mischief in the village by damaging women’s water pots with their catapults, a village woman taunted him by saying, “Why do you show your strength here to women and poor people? If you are so strong, go and avenge your father”. This made Dulla ask his mother to tell him the truth and she finally opened up the secret room full of weapons. Dulla’s young blood and courage led him to form a band of highway robbers along with his friends using these weapons. They would steal from the rich traders and distribute the goods to poor villagers.Dulla became a saviour for the poor.

One such poverty-stricken Brahmin landed at Dulla’s camp with a special plea. He had two young and beautiful daughters Sundari and Mundari, who were betrothed in another village. He was too poor to afford a wedding, let alone two. Meanwhile, the local Mughal officials had their eye on the girls and a delay in their weddings would mean that they could be carried off any moment by the soldiers to be kept as slaves. Desperate to save his daughters, the Brahmin implored Dulla for help.

Dulla vowed that he would make sure the two girls would be safely wed to their betrothed and told the Brahmin, “Your daughters are my daughters”. He started a donation campaign in the neighbousring villages and people donated jaggery and grains in small and large amounts for the double wedding. On the wedding day, Dulla lit huge bonfires along the path to ensure safe passage for the wedding party.

This is why Lohri is celebrated by lighting bonfires and offering jaggery and grains. The famous folksong “Sundar-Mundriye” is sung with gusto:

 

(Original in Punjabi)

(Translation)

Sunder mundriye ho!

Beautiful girl Sundari and Mundari

Tera kaun vicharaa ho!

Who will think about you

Dullah Bhatti walla ho!

Dulla of the Bhatti clan will

Dullhe di dhee vyayae ho!

Dulla's daughter got married

Ser shakkar payee ho!

He gave one seer of sugar!

Kudi da laal pathaka ho!

The girl is wearing a red suit!

Kudi da saalu paata ho!

But her shawl is torn!

Salu kaun samete!

Who will stitch her shawl?!

 

Chache choori kutti!

 

The uncle made choori! (dish prepared with roti, desi ghee and sugar)

Zamidara lutti!

The landlords looted!

Zamindaar sudhaye!

Landlords are beaten up!

Bade bhole aaye!

Lots of simple-headed boys came!

Ek bhola reh gaya!

One simpleton got left behind!

Sipahee far ke lai gaya!

The soldier arrested him!

Sipahee ne mari itt!

The soldier hit him with a brick!

Bhaanvey ro te bhaanvey pitt!

Whether you cry, or bang your head later!

Sanoo de de Lohri, te teri jeeve jodi!

Give us Lohri, long live your pair (to a married couple)!

As Dulla’s reputation spread across the neighbouring areas, the landlords grew bolder and stopped paying taxes, as the Faujdars themselves were unable to enter Dulla’s territory. However, Dulla’s rebellion came to an abrupt end when after repeated defeats in the battlefield, the Mughal officers offered to meet and make a peace treaty with him. But this negotiation meeting turned out to be a trap and the officers poisoned his food which made him unconscious and thus he was captured, and eventually hanged to death in 1599. The famous Sufi mystic Shah Hussain recounted Dulla’s dying words, “No honourable son of Punjab will ever sell the soil of Punjab".

To this day, the people of Punjab remember this brave warrior with a heart of gold. On the morning of the Lohri day, young children team up to visit every house in their locality and sing the ‘Sundar-Mundriye’song that commends Dulla and his giving of the Lohri gift to his daughters, as a suggestion to the owner of the house to give them presents in the same way. Normally, the children are given small amounts of money to buy treats, sweets like gajak or rewri or eatables such as popcorn, til (sesame) seeds, peanuts, sugar or jaggery. If the gifts please them, they sing:

"Dabba bharaya leera da (Box filled of cloths strips)
"Ai ghar ameera da (This house is of the rich)"

But if they do not receive anything from a house, they chant:

"Hukka bhai Hukkaa (Hukka! Oh! Hukka!)
"Ai ghar bhukka (This house is full of misers!)"

This year as you wish someone a Happy Lohri, do remember the young revolutionary who was called a ‘dacoit’ by the Emperor but was beloved by the poor as their champion, their Robinhood - Dulla Bhatti.

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One Country, Many New Years

As we enter the year 2020, let us explore the unique New Year traditions across different parts of India and appreciate the strength of our diversity.

02 Jan 2020

Indian Cultures

The big 2020 is finally here, and as the world crosses this milestone, India will celebrate various New Year festivals in the months to come. Though the exact dates may vary, most of these festivals fall in March/April of the Gregorian Calendar. The regions which follow a Solar Calendar consider New Year as the ‘Sankranti’ of the first month of Solar cycle commonly known as ‘Vaisaakh’. Generally, this day falls during 14th or 15th of the month of April. Those following Lunar calendar consider the period between two ‘Purnimas’ (full moons) as one month and the month of Chaitra (corresponding to March-April) is considered the first month.Local calendars in India fall under both these categories like Nanakshahi calendar, Parsi calendar, Hindu calendar, Islamic calendar, and many more.

Most New Year days correspond with the harvest season as India has historically been an agricultural country. Vaisaakhi is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in North India to mark the New Year. For Sikhs, it holds added significance as this was the day chosen by the tenth Guru- Guru Gobind Singh Ji- to establish the ‘Khalsa Panth’. Vaisaakhi is celebrated with much aplomb, dancing, singing, wearing new colourful clothes and attending kirtan in Gurudwaras like the Golden Temple. Vaisaakhi celebrations also remind us of the sombre history of Jallianwalah Bagh massacre which happened on this day in 1919.

Maithili New Year (also known as Jude Sheetal or Pahil Boishakh) is the celebration of the first day of the Maithili new year. It is celebrated in Bihar and parts of Nepal that fall under a common region known as Mithila. This day usually falls on 14 April on Gregorian calendar and Maithils celebrate by cooking Hilsa fish and rice. This is also called Nirayana Mesh Sankranti and Tirhuta new year. The occasion is celebrated in keeping with the Maithil Panchang, a calendar used in the Mithila region. This coincides with Pohela Boishaakh celebrated in West Bengal. Colorful displays of arts and crafts, along with music shows mark the ‘Nobobarsho’ (New Year) celbrations.

The famous Bihu dance is performed to celebrate Bohag Bihu (Assamese New Year) which lasts for seven days usually beginning on 14th April. This festival also adheres to the marking of a New Year by the harvest season and coincides with Vaisaakhi. The same day is also celebrated as Vishu festival in Kerala, Mangalore and Tulu Nadu (the regions where the language Tulu is spoken) where the first month of the year is called Medam. The day is celebrated with fireworks, wearing new clothes (Puthukodi), and the eating a special meal called Sadhya which is traditional meal prepared with multiple sweet and savoury dishes, typically served on a Banana leaf.

Ugadi or Yugadi is the New Year celebration of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. It is observed in these regions on the first day of the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Chaitra. Traditional sweets and 'Pachadi' (sweet syrup) – made with raw mangoes and neem leaves – are served with the Ugadi meal. On the same day, the Marathis celebrate the New Year asGudi Padwa by decorating Maharashtrian households with ‘Gudis’ which literally means flags erected around the household. Gudi Padwa is also associated with the arrival of spring and the harvesting of Rabi crops.

Nowruz (also known as Navroz/Navroz) is the Iranian and Persian New Year, which is celebrated worldwide by various ethno-linguistic groups. In India- Parsis, Kashmiri pandits, Zoroastrians, and some Muslim communities, celebrate Nowruz. Nowruz is the day of the vernal (spring) equinox (equinox occurs when the center of the visible Sun is directly above the equator) and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month (Farvardin) of the Iranian calendar.It usually occurs on March 21 or the previous or following day, depending on where it is observed. On equinox, the day and night become exactly equal in terms of number of hours. On this day, families gather to observe the rituals and celebrate the coming of spring together.

The Islamic New Year (Arabic: Raʿs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah), also called the Hijri New Year or Arabic New Year, is the day that marks the beginning of a new Hijri year, and is observed by Muslims on the first day of the month of Muharram. Since the Islamic calendar (which follows the lunar cycle) is usually 11 or 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar year, the date of Islamic New Year can vary. In 2020, the day will fall on 19th-20th August.

Sindhis mark the New Year with the celebration of Chetri Chand (also known as Cheti Chand). The festival date is based on the lunar cycle of the lunisolar Hindu calendar, it being the first day of the year and the Sindhi month of Chet (Chaitra). It typically falls on or about the same day as Gudi Padwa, Bohag Bihu, and Ugadi. The festival marks the arrival of spring and harvest, but in Sindhi community it also marks the birth of Uderolal in year 1007, after they prayed to Hindu god Varun Dev to save them from the persecution by the tyrannical ruler Mirkhshah. Uderolal (also known as Jhulelal) confronted and reprimanded Mirkhshah and became the champion of the people in Sindh, both Hindus and Muslims. Among his Sufi Muslim followers, Jhulelal is known as "Khwaja Khizir" or "Sheikh Tahit". Uday Chand, Amar Laal and Laal Sain are a few other names Jhulelal is addressed by.

There are many traditions with different names that mark the New Year for Indian people in various regions. Though the calendars, the languages, the rituals and their significance may be diverse, many festivals overlap, and so does the celebration. As we enter 2020 according to the Gregorian calendar, let us feel excited in anticipation of our very own local New Year festivals coming up in a few months and hope to celebrate together without the boundaries of caste, class and religion. Everyone deserves a ‘Happy’ New Year, let’s make it happen with compassion and love.

One Country, Many New Years

As we enter the year 2020, let us explore the unique New Year traditions across different parts of India and appreciate the strength of our diversity.

Indian Cultures

The big 2020 is finally here, and as the world crosses this milestone, India will celebrate various New Year festivals in the months to come. Though the exact dates may vary, most of these festivals fall in March/April of the Gregorian Calendar. The regions which follow a Solar Calendar consider New Year as the ‘Sankranti’ of the first month of Solar cycle commonly known as ‘Vaisaakh’. Generally, this day falls during 14th or 15th of the month of April. Those following Lunar calendar consider the period between two ‘Purnimas’ (full moons) as one month and the month of Chaitra (corresponding to March-April) is considered the first month.Local calendars in India fall under both these categories like Nanakshahi calendar, Parsi calendar, Hindu calendar, Islamic calendar, and many more.

Most New Year days correspond with the harvest season as India has historically been an agricultural country. Vaisaakhi is one of the biggest festivals celebrated in North India to mark the New Year. For Sikhs, it holds added significance as this was the day chosen by the tenth Guru- Guru Gobind Singh Ji- to establish the ‘Khalsa Panth’. Vaisaakhi is celebrated with much aplomb, dancing, singing, wearing new colourful clothes and attending kirtan in Gurudwaras like the Golden Temple. Vaisaakhi celebrations also remind us of the sombre history of Jallianwalah Bagh massacre which happened on this day in 1919.

Maithili New Year (also known as Jude Sheetal or Pahil Boishakh) is the celebration of the first day of the Maithili new year. It is celebrated in Bihar and parts of Nepal that fall under a common region known as Mithila. This day usually falls on 14 April on Gregorian calendar and Maithils celebrate by cooking Hilsa fish and rice. This is also called Nirayana Mesh Sankranti and Tirhuta new year. The occasion is celebrated in keeping with the Maithil Panchang, a calendar used in the Mithila region. This coincides with Pohela Boishaakh celebrated in West Bengal. Colorful displays of arts and crafts, along with music shows mark the ‘Nobobarsho’ (New Year) celbrations.

The famous Bihu dance is performed to celebrate Bohag Bihu (Assamese New Year) which lasts for seven days usually beginning on 14th April. This festival also adheres to the marking of a New Year by the harvest season and coincides with Vaisaakhi. The same day is also celebrated as Vishu festival in Kerala, Mangalore and Tulu Nadu (the regions where the language Tulu is spoken) where the first month of the year is called Medam. The day is celebrated with fireworks, wearing new clothes (Puthukodi), and the eating a special meal called Sadhya which is traditional meal prepared with multiple sweet and savoury dishes, typically served on a Banana leaf.

Ugadi or Yugadi is the New Year celebration of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. It is observed in these regions on the first day of the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Chaitra. Traditional sweets and 'Pachadi' (sweet syrup) – made with raw mangoes and neem leaves – are served with the Ugadi meal. On the same day, the Marathis celebrate the New Year asGudi Padwa by decorating Maharashtrian households with ‘Gudis’ which literally means flags erected around the household. Gudi Padwa is also associated with the arrival of spring and the harvesting of Rabi crops.

Nowruz (also known as Navroz/Navroz) is the Iranian and Persian New Year, which is celebrated worldwide by various ethno-linguistic groups. In India- Parsis, Kashmiri pandits, Zoroastrians, and some Muslim communities, celebrate Nowruz. Nowruz is the day of the vernal (spring) equinox (equinox occurs when the center of the visible Sun is directly above the equator) and marks the beginning of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It marks the first day of the first month (Farvardin) of the Iranian calendar.It usually occurs on March 21 or the previous or following day, depending on where it is observed. On equinox, the day and night become exactly equal in terms of number of hours. On this day, families gather to observe the rituals and celebrate the coming of spring together.

The Islamic New Year (Arabic: Raʿs as-Sanah al-Hijrīyah), also called the Hijri New Year or Arabic New Year, is the day that marks the beginning of a new Hijri year, and is observed by Muslims on the first day of the month of Muharram. Since the Islamic calendar (which follows the lunar cycle) is usually 11 or 12 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar year, the date of Islamic New Year can vary. In 2020, the day will fall on 19th-20th August.

Sindhis mark the New Year with the celebration of Chetri Chand (also known as Cheti Chand). The festival date is based on the lunar cycle of the lunisolar Hindu calendar, it being the first day of the year and the Sindhi month of Chet (Chaitra). It typically falls on or about the same day as Gudi Padwa, Bohag Bihu, and Ugadi. The festival marks the arrival of spring and harvest, but in Sindhi community it also marks the birth of Uderolal in year 1007, after they prayed to Hindu god Varun Dev to save them from the persecution by the tyrannical ruler Mirkhshah. Uderolal (also known as Jhulelal) confronted and reprimanded Mirkhshah and became the champion of the people in Sindh, both Hindus and Muslims. Among his Sufi Muslim followers, Jhulelal is known as "Khwaja Khizir" or "Sheikh Tahit". Uday Chand, Amar Laal and Laal Sain are a few other names Jhulelal is addressed by.

There are many traditions with different names that mark the New Year for Indian people in various regions. Though the calendars, the languages, the rituals and their significance may be diverse, many festivals overlap, and so does the celebration. As we enter 2020 according to the Gregorian calendar, let us feel excited in anticipation of our very own local New Year festivals coming up in a few months and hope to celebrate together without the boundaries of caste, class and religion. Everyone deserves a ‘Happy’ New Year, let’s make it happen with compassion and love.

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Christmas is a Seven-Point Star

A reflection for Christmas 2019 and the times to follow

26 Dec 2019


Image Courtesy: Wikipedia


Christmas is a seven-point star. The seven-point star which guides, directs and protects! In Christianity, seven has from time immemorial been regarded as a perfect number. The seven-pointed star also represents the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the Lord, and delight in the Lord.  Very significantly the seven points of the Christmas Star all begin with the letter ‘S’; they are:

Christmas is a song: the one of the angels! The words are unequivocal, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to all men and women of goodwill!” The song is inclusive. The lyrics, the melody can and needs to be sung by all and at all times. It transcends narrowness and pettiness; xenophobia and jingoism; divisiveness and discrimination! The song needs to be lived and communicated to others, if we are serious about Christmas. Peace is a vibrant, dynamic one which has to be lived in the small and simple realities of our daily lives.

Christmas is shepherds: simple, unlettered, marginalized folk; their expertise was in tending sheep. Their life was difficult: with long nights spent in the open, biting cold. Their sheep were precious: each one had a name and they knew them by name; they smelt of the sheep. When one was lost they went in search of that one, until found. When they were given the “good news” of the birth of the Saviour they leave their sheep behind (their attachments) and ran in haste to worship him, their priorities are very clear: they had to be the first witnesses to the herald of the angels! The shepherds are representatives of the poor and the marginalised, the exploited and the excluded of today.

Christmas is a search: the ‘Anawim’- a broken people, waiting in patience and hope, searching for the Messiah; someone who would liberate them from their suffering, from the shackles of bondage. The relentless search of a people for truth, light and a new tomorrow! The search by Mary and Joseph for a place to stay the night, knocking on doors, only to be told that “there is no place in the inn”. The search by the Shepherds and the Magi for the Saviour. The search by refugees Joseph and Mary, for safety and security as they flee into Egypt! 

Christmas is a stable: a powerful image and reminder of the meaning of the birth of the Saviour: total simplicity and abject poverty; the smell of the animals, the squalour of the stable is the warm, welcoming home for the king of kings. It is a place far out of the city, in the peripheries, away from the comfort zones, the materiality, the wealth, the pomp and the neon lights! The stable has no decorations, no tinsels or baubles; none of cosmetics or sham which we have made of Christmas today! Sadly the stable also reminds us of the ‘detention camps’ which have begun mushrooming in India today where those who are rendered stateless by draconian, discriminatory policies of today!

Christmas is silence: “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright Round yon Virgin, Mother, Mother and Child, Holy infant so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace! Ever since it was first composed and sung in a small town of Austria on Christmas night 1818, it is the all- time favorite carol. It is reflective of the ‘profound silence’ that permeates the earth when Jesus is born! A silence pregnant with meaning: peace, joy and hope. Christmas today is relegated to ‘merriment’: from wishing others “merry” Christmas to noisy celebrations and crass commercialization! Rediscovering the silence of Christmas is essential today!

Christmas is sharing: God our loving Father sharing himself with us by giving us his only begotten son. The shepherds bring for the Child the best from the little they have. The little drummer boy plays his drum for the new-born king; the only thing he could bring as a gift. The magi brought gold, frankincense and myrrh; but, in order to save the Child from the wrath of Herod, they would have advised Joseph to flee, gifting him with some of their camels to do so! Christmas is sharing ourselves with the poor, the excluded, the victims of an unjust and inhuman society; those who are victims of the CAA, the NRC and the NPR; those who will not be able to pay us back or for that matter say “thank you” to us!

Christmas is the SAVIOUR: The long point of the seven-pointed star. The centripetal and centrifugal force of the festival. There is NO Christmas without the Saviour: we celebrate his birth on Christmas day; we celebrate the opportunity we have for eternal happiness. Sadly, the Christmas Season in some places is referred to as ‘Holiday Season’; what gains prominence is Santa Claus and the Christmas tree.  The world relegates the essence of the day to materialism. We are caught up in this web: we need to put Christ our Saviour- back into Christmas!

Yes, Christmas is a seven-point star: a song, the shepherds, the search, the stable, the silence, the sharing and the Saviour. A star which guides the magi, in their relentless pursuit of truth. These were men who studied the ancient manuscripts. They were no pushovers; they knew their stuff. But sometimes their arrogance and self- confidence did them in and they lose sight of the star. In their helplessness they even go to Herod, who recognizes their worth; in his own cunning way, he tries to convince them to return to give him the news. The seven –point star is actually a lodestar that guides them to take a different path; to stand against the Herods of today; against the power of all evil!

As we enter Christmas let us hitch ourselves to this seven-point star, so that we can truly celebrate the beauty and significance of the day and live the essence of Christmas every day of our lives!
 

(The author is a human rights and peace activist. He is also a prolific writer and poet Contact:[email protected] )

Christmas is a Seven-Point Star

A reflection for Christmas 2019 and the times to follow


Image Courtesy: Wikipedia


Christmas is a seven-point star. The seven-point star which guides, directs and protects! In Christianity, seven has from time immemorial been regarded as a perfect number. The seven-pointed star also represents the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the Lord, and delight in the Lord.  Very significantly the seven points of the Christmas Star all begin with the letter ‘S’; they are:

Christmas is a song: the one of the angels! The words are unequivocal, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to all men and women of goodwill!” The song is inclusive. The lyrics, the melody can and needs to be sung by all and at all times. It transcends narrowness and pettiness; xenophobia and jingoism; divisiveness and discrimination! The song needs to be lived and communicated to others, if we are serious about Christmas. Peace is a vibrant, dynamic one which has to be lived in the small and simple realities of our daily lives.

Christmas is shepherds: simple, unlettered, marginalized folk; their expertise was in tending sheep. Their life was difficult: with long nights spent in the open, biting cold. Their sheep were precious: each one had a name and they knew them by name; they smelt of the sheep. When one was lost they went in search of that one, until found. When they were given the “good news” of the birth of the Saviour they leave their sheep behind (their attachments) and ran in haste to worship him, their priorities are very clear: they had to be the first witnesses to the herald of the angels! The shepherds are representatives of the poor and the marginalised, the exploited and the excluded of today.

Christmas is a search: the ‘Anawim’- a broken people, waiting in patience and hope, searching for the Messiah; someone who would liberate them from their suffering, from the shackles of bondage. The relentless search of a people for truth, light and a new tomorrow! The search by Mary and Joseph for a place to stay the night, knocking on doors, only to be told that “there is no place in the inn”. The search by the Shepherds and the Magi for the Saviour. The search by refugees Joseph and Mary, for safety and security as they flee into Egypt! 

Christmas is a stable: a powerful image and reminder of the meaning of the birth of the Saviour: total simplicity and abject poverty; the smell of the animals, the squalour of the stable is the warm, welcoming home for the king of kings. It is a place far out of the city, in the peripheries, away from the comfort zones, the materiality, the wealth, the pomp and the neon lights! The stable has no decorations, no tinsels or baubles; none of cosmetics or sham which we have made of Christmas today! Sadly the stable also reminds us of the ‘detention camps’ which have begun mushrooming in India today where those who are rendered stateless by draconian, discriminatory policies of today!

Christmas is silence: “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright Round yon Virgin, Mother, Mother and Child, Holy infant so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace! Ever since it was first composed and sung in a small town of Austria on Christmas night 1818, it is the all- time favorite carol. It is reflective of the ‘profound silence’ that permeates the earth when Jesus is born! A silence pregnant with meaning: peace, joy and hope. Christmas today is relegated to ‘merriment’: from wishing others “merry” Christmas to noisy celebrations and crass commercialization! Rediscovering the silence of Christmas is essential today!

Christmas is sharing: God our loving Father sharing himself with us by giving us his only begotten son. The shepherds bring for the Child the best from the little they have. The little drummer boy plays his drum for the new-born king; the only thing he could bring as a gift. The magi brought gold, frankincense and myrrh; but, in order to save the Child from the wrath of Herod, they would have advised Joseph to flee, gifting him with some of their camels to do so! Christmas is sharing ourselves with the poor, the excluded, the victims of an unjust and inhuman society; those who are victims of the CAA, the NRC and the NPR; those who will not be able to pay us back or for that matter say “thank you” to us!

Christmas is the SAVIOUR: The long point of the seven-pointed star. The centripetal and centrifugal force of the festival. There is NO Christmas without the Saviour: we celebrate his birth on Christmas day; we celebrate the opportunity we have for eternal happiness. Sadly, the Christmas Season in some places is referred to as ‘Holiday Season’; what gains prominence is Santa Claus and the Christmas tree.  The world relegates the essence of the day to materialism. We are caught up in this web: we need to put Christ our Saviour- back into Christmas!

Yes, Christmas is a seven-point star: a song, the shepherds, the search, the stable, the silence, the sharing and the Saviour. A star which guides the magi, in their relentless pursuit of truth. These were men who studied the ancient manuscripts. They were no pushovers; they knew their stuff. But sometimes their arrogance and self- confidence did them in and they lose sight of the star. In their helplessness they even go to Herod, who recognizes their worth; in his own cunning way, he tries to convince them to return to give him the news. The seven –point star is actually a lodestar that guides them to take a different path; to stand against the Herods of today; against the power of all evil!

As we enter Christmas let us hitch ourselves to this seven-point star, so that we can truly celebrate the beauty and significance of the day and live the essence of Christmas every day of our lives!
 

(The author is a human rights and peace activist. He is also a prolific writer and poet Contact:[email protected] )

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Communal Harmony triumphs, Imam Inaugurates Kali temple

Sabrangindia 05 Dec 2019

In a heartwarming incident of love and empathy, the residents of Basapara, in Birbhum district of West Bengal, have proved that harmony always triumphs over hate and disinformation.

A Kali temple that was demolished two years ago for a road-widening project, was inaugurated on October 27th by the Imam of the local mosque, who not only came forward to help but also raised 7 lakh rupees to redevelop the temple.

Speaking exclusively to SabrangIndia, the Imam, Hafez Nasiruddin Mondal said that though he never imagined the Muslim community to be inaugurating the Kali temple but the thought of both Hindu and Muslim communities coming so close for an event made him extremely proud and happy.

Kashinath Kundu, the Chairman of the Temple Committee said, "They came to us first, offering help. When we told that we don't have any money apart from the land they said that they will help out in every possible way if we come forward and partake in the redevelopment."

The Deputy chief of Basapara Panchayat said, " though the media is creating propaganda to distract the public, we haven't fallen in that trap. Our only focus should be on the administration and development."

Communal Harmony triumphs, Imam Inaugurates Kali temple

In a heartwarming incident of love and empathy, the residents of Basapara, in Birbhum district of West Bengal, have proved that harmony always triumphs over hate and disinformation.

A Kali temple that was demolished two years ago for a road-widening project, was inaugurated on October 27th by the Imam of the local mosque, who not only came forward to help but also raised 7 lakh rupees to redevelop the temple.

Speaking exclusively to SabrangIndia, the Imam, Hafez Nasiruddin Mondal said that though he never imagined the Muslim community to be inaugurating the Kali temple but the thought of both Hindu and Muslim communities coming so close for an event made him extremely proud and happy.

Kashinath Kundu, the Chairman of the Temple Committee said, "They came to us first, offering help. When we told that we don't have any money apart from the land they said that they will help out in every possible way if we come forward and partake in the redevelopment."

The Deputy chief of Basapara Panchayat said, " though the media is creating propaganda to distract the public, we haven't fallen in that trap. Our only focus should be on the administration and development."

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The Language of Hate - BHU students protest Muslim Sanskrit teacher

As we watch yet another pointless controversy unfold with a handful of BHU students protesting the appointment of a Muslim teacher in the Sanskrit department, we have to question the big picture.The brighter side is the larger number of students who came out in Prof Khan’s support

22 Nov 2019

Sanskrit teachers

On November 22, 2019, the BHU students who had been protesting for 2 weeks against the appointment of Muslim teacher Firoz Khan in the Sanskrit Department of the University, have decided to end the protest after assurances from the Vice Chancellor that “corrective” measures will be taken within 10 days. It is not the first time we have seen religion and caste-based ‘protests’ by Savarna Hindus hold administrations and governments ransom. Yet, a lot of aspects of this latest controversy are surprising. For example, Muslims teaching or excelling in Sanskrit is not something that is happening for the first time.

Ashab Ali, who retired in 2010 from the post of Head of the Department- Sanskrit at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya University, Gorakhpur, had a 33 years long career as a much-loved teacher despite the Department being dominated by Brahmins and Thakurs. Ashab Ali had topped both his BA and MA exams in Sanskrit in 1969 and 1971 . He then completed a PhD on a comparative study of Vedic and Islamic myths under the then head of department, Atul Chandra Banerjee, who also played a key role in his appointment which led him to hold the highest position of HOD eventually.

The story of another Sanskrit scholar- 85 year old Pandit Ghulam Dastagir Birajdar- is endearing. As former General Secretary of Vishwa Sanskrit Pratishthan in Varanasi, and presently Chairman of the committee to prepare school textbooks for Sanskrit in Maharashtra, he has such mastery over the language that he is often asked by local Hindus to solemnise marriages, preside over pujas or perform last rites. Even though he declines such requests, he has taught many Hindus how to recite and perform Hindu rituals.

Dr. Meraj Ahmed Khan, who is an Associate Professor of Sanskrit at Kashmir University says, “What we teach in universities is modern Sanskrit which has nothing to do with religion”.Adding that he was never discriminated against for being a Muslim scholar of Sanskrit, he said, “If they did, they wouldn’t award me a gold medal in MA”.

Dr. Salma Mahfooz, renowned Sanskrit scholar from the Aligarh Muslim University was the first Muslim woman in the world to be awarded a PhD in Sanskrit. She has taught Geeta, Vedas, Upanishads and guided more than 15 PhD scholars during her career. Commenting on the BHU row she quipped, “Mazhab apni jagah hai, taleem apni jagah” (Religion has its own place, and education and upbringing has its own place).

The examples are endless. The Sanskrit Department’s Chairman at Aligarh Muslim University is Prof Mohammed Shareef; retired associate Professor (Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan Delhi) Dr. Mohammad Haneef Khan Shastri was conferred the title of “Shastri” by former President of India Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma; even the person at the centre of the present controversy, Firoz Khan, is not the first in his family to study Sanskrit. His grandfather Gafur Khan would sing bhajans for Hindu audiences in Rajasthan and his father Ramjan Khan studied Sanskrit would often preach on the need to look after cows in Jaipur's Bagru village.

While it remains to be seen if BHU administration upholds Firoz Khan’s appointment, on the other end of the spectrum, Ramzan Khan and Ganesh Tudu have been appointed as assistant professors of Sanskrit at the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira in west Bengal. This is for the first time in Bengal when a Muslim and a Tribal teacher, both of whom are non-Hindus, will be teaching in an autonomous college.

Historically, Sanskrit was studied ardently and was part of the Mughal culture. According to Audrey Truschke’s book- Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court,Mughals sought to integrate the culture of the Sanskrit language and literature in the evolution of the Mughal state system… a worldview that envisioned the Mughal court and by extension the Mughal state as a multi-cultural and multi-lingual cosmos…”

The study of any language is a foray into its beauty and the richness of its literature. Language is not and has never been the domain of any religion. So why is it suddenly an issue now? The current political climate is enhancing a divisive movement on the basis of any differences that seem to not align with the majority- be it religion, caste, language, or even diversity in sexuality and gender identities. These create distraction tactics for the youth who face abysmal future prospects in a crumbling economy. The nation seems to be coming apart at the seams and yet the so called ‘Nationalist’ agendas are only hampering nation building. It has been said time and again that our burgeoning population can be our biggest asset to move up on the path to development. But as long as the population is divided and distracted by meaningless controversies, we conveniently play into the hands of politicians who are looking for their own short-term benefits. How is this any different from the divide and rule tactics of our colonizers?

As we look at the big picture, the logic is clear and simple, and yet logic does not work to counter the divisive sentiments like the ones at play in the BHU case. Margaret Atwood says,

Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.”

Maybe the human touch is the only solution we have, to reach out to fellow citizens and preach a language of empathy. If we have a universal language of understanding, maybe we wouldn’t resort to the language of hate anymore.

 

The Language of Hate - BHU students protest Muslim Sanskrit teacher

As we watch yet another pointless controversy unfold with a handful of BHU students protesting the appointment of a Muslim teacher in the Sanskrit department, we have to question the big picture.The brighter side is the larger number of students who came out in Prof Khan’s support

Sanskrit teachers

On November 22, 2019, the BHU students who had been protesting for 2 weeks against the appointment of Muslim teacher Firoz Khan in the Sanskrit Department of the University, have decided to end the protest after assurances from the Vice Chancellor that “corrective” measures will be taken within 10 days. It is not the first time we have seen religion and caste-based ‘protests’ by Savarna Hindus hold administrations and governments ransom. Yet, a lot of aspects of this latest controversy are surprising. For example, Muslims teaching or excelling in Sanskrit is not something that is happening for the first time.

Ashab Ali, who retired in 2010 from the post of Head of the Department- Sanskrit at Deen Dayal Upadhyaya University, Gorakhpur, had a 33 years long career as a much-loved teacher despite the Department being dominated by Brahmins and Thakurs. Ashab Ali had topped both his BA and MA exams in Sanskrit in 1969 and 1971 . He then completed a PhD on a comparative study of Vedic and Islamic myths under the then head of department, Atul Chandra Banerjee, who also played a key role in his appointment which led him to hold the highest position of HOD eventually.

The story of another Sanskrit scholar- 85 year old Pandit Ghulam Dastagir Birajdar- is endearing. As former General Secretary of Vishwa Sanskrit Pratishthan in Varanasi, and presently Chairman of the committee to prepare school textbooks for Sanskrit in Maharashtra, he has such mastery over the language that he is often asked by local Hindus to solemnise marriages, preside over pujas or perform last rites. Even though he declines such requests, he has taught many Hindus how to recite and perform Hindu rituals.

Dr. Meraj Ahmed Khan, who is an Associate Professor of Sanskrit at Kashmir University says, “What we teach in universities is modern Sanskrit which has nothing to do with religion”.Adding that he was never discriminated against for being a Muslim scholar of Sanskrit, he said, “If they did, they wouldn’t award me a gold medal in MA”.

Dr. Salma Mahfooz, renowned Sanskrit scholar from the Aligarh Muslim University was the first Muslim woman in the world to be awarded a PhD in Sanskrit. She has taught Geeta, Vedas, Upanishads and guided more than 15 PhD scholars during her career. Commenting on the BHU row she quipped, “Mazhab apni jagah hai, taleem apni jagah” (Religion has its own place, and education and upbringing has its own place).

The examples are endless. The Sanskrit Department’s Chairman at Aligarh Muslim University is Prof Mohammed Shareef; retired associate Professor (Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan Delhi) Dr. Mohammad Haneef Khan Shastri was conferred the title of “Shastri” by former President of India Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma; even the person at the centre of the present controversy, Firoz Khan, is not the first in his family to study Sanskrit. His grandfather Gafur Khan would sing bhajans for Hindu audiences in Rajasthan and his father Ramjan Khan studied Sanskrit would often preach on the need to look after cows in Jaipur's Bagru village.

While it remains to be seen if BHU administration upholds Firoz Khan’s appointment, on the other end of the spectrum, Ramzan Khan and Ganesh Tudu have been appointed as assistant professors of Sanskrit at the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira in west Bengal. This is for the first time in Bengal when a Muslim and a Tribal teacher, both of whom are non-Hindus, will be teaching in an autonomous college.

Historically, Sanskrit was studied ardently and was part of the Mughal culture. According to Audrey Truschke’s book- Culture of Encounters: Sanskrit at the Mughal Court,Mughals sought to integrate the culture of the Sanskrit language and literature in the evolution of the Mughal state system… a worldview that envisioned the Mughal court and by extension the Mughal state as a multi-cultural and multi-lingual cosmos…”

The study of any language is a foray into its beauty and the richness of its literature. Language is not and has never been the domain of any religion. So why is it suddenly an issue now? The current political climate is enhancing a divisive movement on the basis of any differences that seem to not align with the majority- be it religion, caste, language, or even diversity in sexuality and gender identities. These create distraction tactics for the youth who face abysmal future prospects in a crumbling economy. The nation seems to be coming apart at the seams and yet the so called ‘Nationalist’ agendas are only hampering nation building. It has been said time and again that our burgeoning population can be our biggest asset to move up on the path to development. But as long as the population is divided and distracted by meaningless controversies, we conveniently play into the hands of politicians who are looking for their own short-term benefits. How is this any different from the divide and rule tactics of our colonizers?

As we look at the big picture, the logic is clear and simple, and yet logic does not work to counter the divisive sentiments like the ones at play in the BHU case. Margaret Atwood says,

Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.”

Maybe the human touch is the only solution we have, to reach out to fellow citizens and preach a language of empathy. If we have a universal language of understanding, maybe we wouldn’t resort to the language of hate anymore.

 

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Build Peace and Friendship on the Foundation of Kartarpur

22 Nov 2019

Kartarpur

It was heartening to hear NarendraModi praise Imran Khan, for facilitating the opening of the 4.7 km corridor so that Sikh pilgrims from India could visit the GurudwaraDarbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan, after a mostly anti-Pakistan narrative first during the general elections and then, after the decision related to Jammu and Kashmir was taken by his government. Full credit must go to Imran Khan for taking the initiative of opening the corridor and standing by his decision in spite of a relentlesslybelligerent Indian posture during his tenure. And although his own party has abandoned him on this issue, Navjot Singh Sidhu’s relationship with Imran Khan has also played a small role in this, and Sidhu too, like Imran, has stood by the decision, in spite of adverse criticism at home for having embraced Pakistani Army chief during Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony. In the history of India-Pakistan relationship, most of the times Pakistan has been the aggressor and India desirous of peace, but for a change Pakistan is making moves for peace and India is not reciprocating. Otherwise, in the usual tit-for-tat relationship between India and Pakistan, NarendraModi should have used the occasion of opening of Kartarpur corridor to announce a similar arrangement for Pakistani citizens, who desire to visit Ajmer Sharif dargah through a passage built across the border in Rajasthan.

It is also an irony that on the day when India was taking away the right of its minority Muslims to have a mosque at the place where it stood before 1992, which, as the recent Supreme Court judgement on Ayodhya case describes, was removed as a result of ‘unlawful destruction,’ Pakistan was offering another Indian minority, Sikhs, an opportunity to worship at a shrine, without the requirement of visa and with a warm welcome.

Going by the reactions of Sikh pilgrims, who have had a chance to go across the corridor to Kartarpur, it appears Pakistan has left no stone unturned to make it a pleasant experience for them. By this one gesture, Imran Khan has won the goodwill of Indians. However, it will be better if he also removes the requirement of Passport as an identity document because a vast number of poor Indian citizens do not possess it. As one of the ordinary visitors to the border on the Indian side suggested, they should allow Aadhar Card instead. From our experience during theDelhi to Multan peace march in 2005,onfoot in India and by vehicles in Pakistan, we can remember a number of common Indians, especially from rural areas, wanting to travel across the border whowere disappointed when they were told that they required a passport and visa to do so. The service fee of $20 is also quite high. Pakistan must make it free so that it does not hinder any Sikh citizen from fulfilling her dream of visiting the resting place of Guru Nanak. There are other ways of generating income from this project itself for the maintenance of the corridor and the shrine.

The 2005 Delhi-Multan peace march was undertaken with three objectives: (1) India and Pakistan must resolve all their disputes through dialogue, including the issue of J&K, which should be resolved  according to wishes of the people belonging there, (2) India and Pakistan must give up their nuclear weapons immediately and reduce their defence budgets so that resources could be freed up for developmental activities on both sides in the interest of the common people, and (3) the two countries should remove the requirement of passport-visa and allow free travel across the border. It was the third demand which attracted the most applause in the rural areas and concern among the urban educated. One TadiKirtan singer in a Gurudwara, as we were approaching Jallandhar, came to us and suggested that the above-mentioned third demand should be made the demand number One. His logic, and we were astonished at the soundness of it, was that once free travel across the border is allowed, it would be much easier to resolve the first two issues. We must admit, we felt humbled being educated by a common man on the street. He has left an indelible impression on us, more than any of the university professors who’ve taught us inside the four walls of a classroom.

The 2005 peace march was received by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the present Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who also happens to be the SajjadaNashin of the mazar of a Sufi saint,BahauddinZakariya in Multan, where the march terminated. That day, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was not yet a politician, said something in a crowded public meeting to welcome the Indian marchers, which is easier said in India than in Pakistan, ‘One day, Pakistan and India will reunite like the two Germanys.’ Such was the congeniality created due to the peace march.

Even if you look at the mood on the day when NarendraModi was flagging off 562 pilgrims from the Indian side and Imran Khan was receiving them on the other side, all the acrimony between the leaderships of two countries had disappeared like magic. Our experience from several visits to Pakistan is that the official enmitybetween the two governments, maintained artificially but easily gives way to bonhomie whenever the atmosphere is more conducive, doesn’t percolate down to the level of common people. After all, it is the same people who speak the same language.

If the two governments exhibited more benevolence and allowed citizens to meet freely, the animosity between the establishments would melt away. Indian side looks at the present initiative of the Pakistani government with suspicion. They think that the Pakistani Army or the Inter Services Intelligence might have some ulterior motives in encouragingKhalistani protagonists to create disturbances in India. That is something that the Indian security establishment should worry about. But it should definitely not come in the way of promoting peace and friendship on the foundations which have been laid in Kartarpur. If we are to be always suspicious of the other, then no relationship, based on trust, can take off. For peace between the twe countries, the stakes are so high, and it will make life of so many so much easier, that it is worth taking the risk.Punjab Chief Minister,Amarinder Singh, has said that he will talk to the Indian Prime Minister to persuade Pakistan to open access to more historical Gurudwaras there. Hence, in spite of the nature of official relationship of the two governments, easier travel across the border remains a popular demand, at least in the border areas on both the sides.

The Indian position - that unless Pakistani government has totally taken care of the problem of homegrown terrorism, it will not dialogue with it - is slightly untenable. It is like saying that unless Yogi Adityanath takes care of all criminals and rapists in the BhartiyaJanata Party’s state unit, it will not deal with the Uttar Pradesh government. With the recent demonstrations against the Imran Khan government in Pakistan, the possibility of more fundamentalists dominating the establishment are very real. Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are probably the most friendly leaders that India can expect Pakistan to have and to deal with it. It should not fritter away the opportunity.

NarendraModi should also realize that his RashtriyaSwayamsewakSangh training has taught him only one way of mobilizing public opinion - by considering Muslims and Pakistan as enemies. If he were to change his nature of politics, by appealing to the better sense of people, to promote peace and friendship between the two countries and communities, he could mobilise public opinion in his favour equally successfully. The mood of the people and politicians, on both sides of the border, on Novermber 9 must have given him some idea of how much potential this alternative viewpoint holds.

 

RELATED ARTICLES

  1. Ganga-Jamunitehzeeb: Muslims help with Guru Nanak Jayanti celebrations
  2. Promoting inter-faith harmony: Pakistan to reopen, restore 400 Hindu temples
  3. Opinion: Chest thumping and war mongering must give way to trust, peace and friendship

Build Peace and Friendship on the Foundation of Kartarpur

Kartarpur

It was heartening to hear NarendraModi praise Imran Khan, for facilitating the opening of the 4.7 km corridor so that Sikh pilgrims from India could visit the GurudwaraDarbar Sahib at Kartarpur in Pakistan, after a mostly anti-Pakistan narrative first during the general elections and then, after the decision related to Jammu and Kashmir was taken by his government. Full credit must go to Imran Khan for taking the initiative of opening the corridor and standing by his decision in spite of a relentlesslybelligerent Indian posture during his tenure. And although his own party has abandoned him on this issue, Navjot Singh Sidhu’s relationship with Imran Khan has also played a small role in this, and Sidhu too, like Imran, has stood by the decision, in spite of adverse criticism at home for having embraced Pakistani Army chief during Imran Khan’s swearing-in ceremony. In the history of India-Pakistan relationship, most of the times Pakistan has been the aggressor and India desirous of peace, but for a change Pakistan is making moves for peace and India is not reciprocating. Otherwise, in the usual tit-for-tat relationship between India and Pakistan, NarendraModi should have used the occasion of opening of Kartarpur corridor to announce a similar arrangement for Pakistani citizens, who desire to visit Ajmer Sharif dargah through a passage built across the border in Rajasthan.

It is also an irony that on the day when India was taking away the right of its minority Muslims to have a mosque at the place where it stood before 1992, which, as the recent Supreme Court judgement on Ayodhya case describes, was removed as a result of ‘unlawful destruction,’ Pakistan was offering another Indian minority, Sikhs, an opportunity to worship at a shrine, without the requirement of visa and with a warm welcome.

Going by the reactions of Sikh pilgrims, who have had a chance to go across the corridor to Kartarpur, it appears Pakistan has left no stone unturned to make it a pleasant experience for them. By this one gesture, Imran Khan has won the goodwill of Indians. However, it will be better if he also removes the requirement of Passport as an identity document because a vast number of poor Indian citizens do not possess it. As one of the ordinary visitors to the border on the Indian side suggested, they should allow Aadhar Card instead. From our experience during theDelhi to Multan peace march in 2005,onfoot in India and by vehicles in Pakistan, we can remember a number of common Indians, especially from rural areas, wanting to travel across the border whowere disappointed when they were told that they required a passport and visa to do so. The service fee of $20 is also quite high. Pakistan must make it free so that it does not hinder any Sikh citizen from fulfilling her dream of visiting the resting place of Guru Nanak. There are other ways of generating income from this project itself for the maintenance of the corridor and the shrine.

The 2005 Delhi-Multan peace march was undertaken with three objectives: (1) India and Pakistan must resolve all their disputes through dialogue, including the issue of J&K, which should be resolved  according to wishes of the people belonging there, (2) India and Pakistan must give up their nuclear weapons immediately and reduce their defence budgets so that resources could be freed up for developmental activities on both sides in the interest of the common people, and (3) the two countries should remove the requirement of passport-visa and allow free travel across the border. It was the third demand which attracted the most applause in the rural areas and concern among the urban educated. One TadiKirtan singer in a Gurudwara, as we were approaching Jallandhar, came to us and suggested that the above-mentioned third demand should be made the demand number One. His logic, and we were astonished at the soundness of it, was that once free travel across the border is allowed, it would be much easier to resolve the first two issues. We must admit, we felt humbled being educated by a common man on the street. He has left an indelible impression on us, more than any of the university professors who’ve taught us inside the four walls of a classroom.

The 2005 peace march was received by Shah Mehmood Qureshi, the present Foreign Minister of Pakistan, who also happens to be the SajjadaNashin of the mazar of a Sufi saint,BahauddinZakariya in Multan, where the march terminated. That day, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was not yet a politician, said something in a crowded public meeting to welcome the Indian marchers, which is easier said in India than in Pakistan, ‘One day, Pakistan and India will reunite like the two Germanys.’ Such was the congeniality created due to the peace march.

Even if you look at the mood on the day when NarendraModi was flagging off 562 pilgrims from the Indian side and Imran Khan was receiving them on the other side, all the acrimony between the leaderships of two countries had disappeared like magic. Our experience from several visits to Pakistan is that the official enmitybetween the two governments, maintained artificially but easily gives way to bonhomie whenever the atmosphere is more conducive, doesn’t percolate down to the level of common people. After all, it is the same people who speak the same language.

If the two governments exhibited more benevolence and allowed citizens to meet freely, the animosity between the establishments would melt away. Indian side looks at the present initiative of the Pakistani government with suspicion. They think that the Pakistani Army or the Inter Services Intelligence might have some ulterior motives in encouragingKhalistani protagonists to create disturbances in India. That is something that the Indian security establishment should worry about. But it should definitely not come in the way of promoting peace and friendship on the foundations which have been laid in Kartarpur. If we are to be always suspicious of the other, then no relationship, based on trust, can take off. For peace between the twe countries, the stakes are so high, and it will make life of so many so much easier, that it is worth taking the risk.Punjab Chief Minister,Amarinder Singh, has said that he will talk to the Indian Prime Minister to persuade Pakistan to open access to more historical Gurudwaras there. Hence, in spite of the nature of official relationship of the two governments, easier travel across the border remains a popular demand, at least in the border areas on both the sides.

The Indian position - that unless Pakistani government has totally taken care of the problem of homegrown terrorism, it will not dialogue with it - is slightly untenable. It is like saying that unless Yogi Adityanath takes care of all criminals and rapists in the BhartiyaJanata Party’s state unit, it will not deal with the Uttar Pradesh government. With the recent demonstrations against the Imran Khan government in Pakistan, the possibility of more fundamentalists dominating the establishment are very real. Imran Khan and Shah Mehmood Qureshi are probably the most friendly leaders that India can expect Pakistan to have and to deal with it. It should not fritter away the opportunity.

NarendraModi should also realize that his RashtriyaSwayamsewakSangh training has taught him only one way of mobilizing public opinion - by considering Muslims and Pakistan as enemies. If he were to change his nature of politics, by appealing to the better sense of people, to promote peace and friendship between the two countries and communities, he could mobilise public opinion in his favour equally successfully. The mood of the people and politicians, on both sides of the border, on Novermber 9 must have given him some idea of how much potential this alternative viewpoint holds.

 

RELATED ARTICLES

  1. Ganga-Jamunitehzeeb: Muslims help with Guru Nanak Jayanti celebrations
  2. Promoting inter-faith harmony: Pakistan to reopen, restore 400 Hindu temples
  3. Opinion: Chest thumping and war mongering must give way to trust, peace and friendship

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Assamese Gamosa gets international recognition, granted GI Tag

The traditional Assamese scarf known as ‘Gamosa’ has been granted a Geographical Indications (GI) tag.

21 Nov 2019

Assam

Different objects and artifacts have deep cultural significance with myriad beliefs, pride, and identity attached to them. One such Assamese symbol, the Gamosa, has been granted a Geographical Indications (GI) tag.

In noting the addition of the traditional scarf to the GI Registry, the 124th Geographical Indications Journal states, “The Gamosa is a traditional textile and a symbol of Assamese culture.”

The word “Gamosa” means a woven towel. It comes from the Sanskrit word “Gatro Marjoni,” meaning the piece of fabric used to absorb water / to wipe body after taking bath. It is essential a hand-woven piece of white cloth with a beautifully woven red motif on two borders. It is four-feet long and two-feet wide.

As a symbol of respect, it is gifted to elders with a betel nut or used to welcome guests. It also has a special place in the Bihu dance—dancers wear it around their head and waist, while the musical instruments used in the dance are also wrapped in it.

Historian Dr. Leela Gogoi said that the Gamosa has been around since the Ahom days. The GI application for the traditional scarf states that temple altars and Satras are decorated with the Gamosa that has floral motifs along with words “Krishna”, “Ram”, “Hari” as butties all over the fabric.

A GI tag is a sign that indicates that a given product has a specific geographical origin and possesses the standard of quality usually attributed to products of that origin. The GI tags are granted to special products with identifiable features. A GI tag ensures that only quality products from authorised users of the identified region get to use the product name.

The application for Gamosa was made by the Institute of Handicraft Craft Development in Golaghat. The grant of the tag is likely to boost the market economy.

Along with the Gamosa, the Chokuwa rice of Assam has also received the GI tag. This rice is used in social and religious ceremonies. Other Assamese products like the Boka Chaul, Muga Silk, Joha rice and Tezpur litchi have also earned the GI tag.

Related:

Swimming against the fascist tide: What writers, artists and intellectuals can do

How the Indian Economy should be revived

Stop Nationwide NRC: Activists gather in Protest

In Her own image: Re-imagining great art with Pakhi Sen and Samira Bose

 

Assamese Gamosa gets international recognition, granted GI Tag

The traditional Assamese scarf known as ‘Gamosa’ has been granted a Geographical Indications (GI) tag.

Assam

Different objects and artifacts have deep cultural significance with myriad beliefs, pride, and identity attached to them. One such Assamese symbol, the Gamosa, has been granted a Geographical Indications (GI) tag.

In noting the addition of the traditional scarf to the GI Registry, the 124th Geographical Indications Journal states, “The Gamosa is a traditional textile and a symbol of Assamese culture.”

The word “Gamosa” means a woven towel. It comes from the Sanskrit word “Gatro Marjoni,” meaning the piece of fabric used to absorb water / to wipe body after taking bath. It is essential a hand-woven piece of white cloth with a beautifully woven red motif on two borders. It is four-feet long and two-feet wide.

As a symbol of respect, it is gifted to elders with a betel nut or used to welcome guests. It also has a special place in the Bihu dance—dancers wear it around their head and waist, while the musical instruments used in the dance are also wrapped in it.

Historian Dr. Leela Gogoi said that the Gamosa has been around since the Ahom days. The GI application for the traditional scarf states that temple altars and Satras are decorated with the Gamosa that has floral motifs along with words “Krishna”, “Ram”, “Hari” as butties all over the fabric.

A GI tag is a sign that indicates that a given product has a specific geographical origin and possesses the standard of quality usually attributed to products of that origin. The GI tags are granted to special products with identifiable features. A GI tag ensures that only quality products from authorised users of the identified region get to use the product name.

The application for Gamosa was made by the Institute of Handicraft Craft Development in Golaghat. The grant of the tag is likely to boost the market economy.

Along with the Gamosa, the Chokuwa rice of Assam has also received the GI tag. This rice is used in social and religious ceremonies. Other Assamese products like the Boka Chaul, Muga Silk, Joha rice and Tezpur litchi have also earned the GI tag.

Related:

Swimming against the fascist tide: What writers, artists and intellectuals can do

How the Indian Economy should be revived

Stop Nationwide NRC: Activists gather in Protest

In Her own image: Re-imagining great art with Pakhi Sen and Samira Bose

 

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Stop Nationwide NRC: Activists gather in Protest

Sabrangindia 19 Nov 2019

On 13th November, Molded and Minority Development Council organised a meeting to oppose the nationwide implementation of NRC and Citizenship Amendment Bill. The meeting was attended by progressive politicians and Activists.

Stop Nationwide NRC: Activists gather in Protest

On 13th November, Molded and Minority Development Council organised a meeting to oppose the nationwide implementation of NRC and Citizenship Amendment Bill. The meeting was attended by progressive politicians and Activists.

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