Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A few things I wasn't able to discuss with BJP leader Ram Madhav during his Al Jazeera interview


Kashmiri writer Nitasha Kaul, who was a panellist at the 'Head to Head' discussion at the Oxford Union, lists the Modi government's sins of commission and omission.

Nitasha Kaul 

The 2014 general election was a watershed moment for post-colonial India since it brought to power a national government that combines Hindu supremacism, economic neoliberalism and social conservatism. Today that government threatens the very idea of India. This has partly been helped by the global scene of unfettered neoliberalism and Islamophobia, a propitious blend for the Hindutva forces who present themselves as the bulwark against problematic Muslims and as exemplary Asian capitalists.

Much blood and ink has gone into reconstructing the Sangh Parivar’s communal Hindutva discourse for post-liberalisation India between the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 and the Dadri mob lynching in 2015. Somewhere between those horrors came the rise of Narendra Modi, largely owing to the Gujarat riots in which his government was at worst complicit and at best remiss. A recent Yale University political science study of riots in India suggests that Hindu-Muslim riots are electorally costly for the Congress, but riots in the year prior to an election result in an increased vote share for ethno-religious parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Indian politics has been radically reshaped by the twin interests of the proto-fascist paramilitaries and the corporate sector, threatening the secular and socialist aspects of Indian polity. The Sangh Parivar-backed Brand NaMo – a mix of hardcore Hindutva, business interests and facile development talk – was tested in Gujarat (a shining example of what Christophe Jaffrelot calls “a typical case of growth without development for all”) before it was unleashed on the nation in 2014 when the BJP ran the most expensive election campaign in the history of India ($115 million), but managed only a 31% vote share, the lowest of any party that ever won majority. Modi’s corporate backers gained $1.3 billion on the stock markets in the single day when he won the elections (as a hedge fund manager said: “We have a new CEO for the country and he is a good CEO”). Meanwhile, in Modi’s home state of Gujarat, the number of voters pressing the NOTA button on the voting machine was higher than the national average and especially high in tribal areas.

The portents were there before. Before the general elections, in August 2013, some students of the Film and Television Institute were beaten up by members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad (a right-wing national student organisation) outside the National Film Archives of India building in Pune after the screening of Jai Bhim Comrade (a film about Dalit oppression) and a performance by Kabir Kala Manch (an anti-caste pro-democracy cultural organisation formed after the 2002 Gujarat riots). Calling them Naxalites, the ABVP attackers demanded that the FTII students say “Jai Narendra Modi”. When they refused, they were beaten up. The FTII media release in response said:

“This incident would not be seen in isolation and we are increasingly witnessing that any individual or organisation that takes an opinion contrary to the mainstream, is labeled as anti-national, and all efforts are taken to intimidate them which can also amount to murder, especially looking at the recent case of Dr Narendra Dabolkar.”

Since coming to power, the BJP government has appointed (or attempted to appoint) people with Hindutva links to the FTII, a move resisted by the students who have protested, been on strike for a large part of 2015, and faced police crackdown. Such is the level of repression and paranoia that a few weeks ago, a student wearing an FTII shirt at the International Film Festival of India in Goa was “roughed up, hauled into custody, his wallet searched and his life turned upside down, his cell phone deconstructed, including his email account and picture galleries”.

Or take this case: Modi has consistently refused to wear the skullcap, a Muslim symbol, equating it to “appeasement” of minorities. When questioned about this during the 2014 campaigning, he said that “If a cap is a symbol of unity then why Mahatma Gandhi didn’t wear any“. Within a week of his ascension to power, Mohsin Sadiq Shaikh, a techie from Pune, was bludgeoned to death allegedly by members of the Hindu Rashtra Sena because he was wearing a skull cap and looked Muslim. Subsequently, many Muslims in Pune shunned wearing skull caps for fear of attacks. Despite several calls to do so, Prime Minister Modi never condemned the murder of this young Muslim man.

Appropriation of symbols

The BJP win in 2014 has given India a government where the prime minister and numerous others in it are proud to be lifelong members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an all-male majoritarian paramilitary organisation that purports to be an NGO carrying out voluntary social service with the explicit aim of making India a “pure Hindu nation”. In 2014, an RSS publication in Kerala, Kesari, had an article by B Gopalkrishnan (who contested on a BJP ticket in the Lok Sabha polls) suggesting that Godse should have killed Nehru instead of Gandhi.

The Modi government made sure that Gandhi’s birthday in 2014 was not a holiday but the launch of the Clean India campaign – as an aside, note that his zeal for clean-ups is such that within a month of becoming prime minister, Modi ordered the destruction of 1.5 lakh historical files in the Union home ministry – and an occasion for the state broadcaster Doordarshan to inaugurate a new tradition of telecasting live and in full the speech by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Not long after, Christmas was renamed Good Governance Day in honour of BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deemed a working day for the government.

In places, the Vishva Hindu Parishad is opposed to Santa Claus giving children chocolates and has insisted that statues of the Hindu goddess of learning, Saraswati, be installed in Christian schools. The VHP also defended the demolition of a church in Haryana, saying it was the spontaneous reaction of local people, and added that rape of nuns was part of Christian culture.

Building on its success in creating a caste Hindu electorate, the Sangh Parivar is now focusing on courting Dalits and adivasis: by suggesting that Dalits were a creation of Muslim invasion and that Islamic atrocities resulted in the emergence of untouchability, and by Hinduising the tribals through educational institutions that teach them to see Muslims and Christians as enemies.

In the run-up to the 2017 Uttar Pradesh elections, this theme is reflected in the suggestion by other Sangh outfits such as the Hindu Mahasabha which wants Gandhi’s image on Indian banknotes to be replaced with Veer Shivaji, Maharana Pratap and BR Ambedkar. An RSS functionary has said that Ambedkar, who had publicly burned the Manusmriti and converted to Buddhism, was an opponent of Hindu conduct but not Hindu philosophy. Such logic is in line with RSS statements that Buddha himself never quit Hinduism. The statements give the sense that Hindutva organisations are in a contest to spread the most vitriol: the Hindu Mahasaha (condemning the RSS as weak) openly celebrates MK Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse by commemorating the day of his death as Balidan Divas (Sacrifice Day) and the day of Gandhi’s killing as Shourya Divas (Bravery Day). In the same vein, the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena celebrate the day of Babri Masjid destruction as Shourya Divas.

Anti-scientific outlook

How can anyone claim that saffron terrorism does not exist when BJP MP Yogi Adityanath has been filmed at a Hindu awareness rally in Uttar Pradesh where his follower refers to his leadership and exhorts Hindu men to exhume the bodies of Muslim women and rape them and still the MP remains an unapologetic part of the ruling party? This is a sitting member of parliament who has not been punished for his part in the proceedings (on the contrary consider this from BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma: “There is no case to be apologetic about Hindutva. It is a way of life and not a religion”). And who takes the responsibility when such incidents subsequently happen – when a Muslim woman is actually exhumed from her grave? The Indian apologists for the current sociopolitical climate have not a shred of decency that can cover her corpse.

BJP MP Adityanath has also said that those opposed to Surya Namaskar have no right to live in India. This is the context that gives a better picture of the Modi government’s efforts to create International Yoga Day (speaking of health priorities, there is now a Ministry for Yoga, while mid-day meals for malnourished children are being cut, not to mention a mysteriously delayed health survey that shows 41.8% of children in Gujarat are stunted and 43.8% don’t have the all the vaccinations they need). The BJP chief minister in Madhya Pradesh has opposed adding eggs to the diet of school lunch programmes (in a state where more than half the children are malnourished and underweight), saying that “the human body is meant to consume vegetarian food which has everything the human body requires“. This denying of eggs to malnourished children is common in BJP-run states to enforce the ideological beliefs of the ruling party.

Attempts to politicise food have also seen RSS members write to the Union government, demanding that there be separate canteens for vegetarian students at professional institutes such as the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management – since “non-vegetarian food leaves an adverse impact…leads to development of Tamas (dark and unrighteous) nature”. The Human Resource and Development Ministry forwarded the letter to the institutes asking them to take “necessary” action.

There are other examples of an anti-scientific outlook. A BJP Union Minister has suggested that to prevent AIDS Indian morals are better than condoms. Another BJP MP claimed in Parliament that Sage Kanad had conducted a nuclear test in the 2nd century BC (following the example perhaps of Modi, who has linked plastic surgery and genetic science with Hindu god Ganesha).

A BJP leader and Haryana state agriculture minister has said that farmers who commit suicide as a result of hardship are cowards and criminals not worthy of help from the government. Another BJP MP said that Gandhi’s killer Godse was a patriot (later retracting the statement), that “Hindu woman must produce at least four children in order to protect Hindu religion” and that “the concept of four wives and 40 children will not work in India”. Such attitudes towards women are widely held by Hindutva ideologues (including women), for after all, Mohan Bhagwat, the head of their ideological parent organisation RSS, has clearly said that women should do household chores and men should be the breadwinners, and that rapes do not happen in Bharat (rural areas), they happen in India (which is an urban westernised entity). The BJP home minister in Madhya Pradesh has said that rape is a social crime, “sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong”. The governor of Nagaland and Assam, a BJP politician, has said that all non-Muslim immigrants should be given Indian citizenship with voting rights while those from the Muslim religion can “slog and stay” in the country.

The majority's goodwill

The Hindutva organisations have a self-appointed custodianship of Hinduism which they are enforcing on the body politic, seeking that all Indians identify as culturally Hindu first and foremost (regardless of their religion). This obviously entails that everyone accept their superior identity as Hindu, within a hierarchically ordered Hindu-ness with upper caste affluent Hindus at the peak. The organisations seek to transform Indian democracy so that people do not derive their rights and their access to justice as equal free individuals in a constitutionally guaranteed relation with the state, but from being pliant to majoritarian norms (as RSS/BJP’s Ram Madhav said on the Al Jazeera show where I was a panellist: minorities should earn the goodwill of the majority for their safety). Those who challenge the diktats that follow from a Hindutva notion of identity are labelled anti-national, Pakistani or Western agents. Depending upon the context and the vulnerability of the challengers, they can be killed, raped, physically attacked, maligned, harassed, bullied, or divested of any institutional or other power they may have.

Modi’s India has seen an unprecedented turning up of the volume of violence, intolerance and intimidation against those seen as the ‘Other’ by the majoritarian Hindu nationalists. Far from being accidental, this narrowing of the space of dissent in a democracy has been systematically enabled by a government that is closely aligned to the RSS and various Sangh Parivar affiliates and consciously chooses to ignore, downplay or condone the attacks against the person, property, beliefs and symbolism of those who are marginalised.

The regulatory norms of the Hindu body politic are focused both on identifying the Hindu self and guarding it against the enemy Other. There must be promotion of Hindutva values and a cleansing of cultural pollution. Thus, notwithstanding the principles of a liberal democracy or a secular nation, Hindus must take offence at the consumption of beef (which accounts for nearly 70% of protein intake of the poor in a country that is the world’s top exporter of beef), at live-ins, at gay rights, at certain freedom-affording behaviours of women and so on. They must avenge their “honour” in word and deed when Hindu women marry Muslim men (in addition to combating such “Love Jihad” by all means – including VHP/Bajrang Dal campaigns such as Bahu Lao-Beti Bachao – Hindu women must also have as many children as possible to counter the “overpopulating Muslim”); when anyone is suspected of being involved in cattle trade or beef consumption (as an RSS spokesperson said: “killing or smuggling a cow is equivalent to raping a Hindu girl”); when there is “appeasement” of Muslims, Christians, or other minorities; when Dalit bahujan rights challenge savarna hierarchies.

In order to carry out this agenda successfully, they must be helped by institutions pliable to their aims and instruments to actuate their threat of force against non-compliance. Hence, the heads of organisations are replaced by (often under-qualified) sycophants; textbooks are sought to be censored and rewritten (‘saffronisation of education’); writers and scholars are intimidated or killed or worse; and camps are organised to provide weapons training to the youth of both genders.

In addition, there have been problematic political moves such as bans on various activities; policy-making through the use of ordinances; central directive to clear forest land permission for Adani’s power project in Maharashtra; reinstatement of a suspended accused IPS officer in the Ishrat Jahan fake encounter case by the Gujarat BJP government, reinstatement of another IPS officer accused in the Sohrabbudin Sheikh fake encounter case by the Rajasthan BJP government; successful recommendation to the Supreme Court of lawyer Uday Lalit (who represented Amit Shah in criminal cases) after the rejection of Gopal Subramaniam (who had assisted the government in the Sohrabbudin Sheikh case); considering P Sathasivam for appointment – contested by lawyers since he isn’t just the former Chief Justice of India but also a BJP appointed Governor of Kerala – as chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission; the passing of a bill to change the law and allow the appointment of former head of a regulatory body (Nripendra Mishra, retired telecom regulator) to the Prime Minister’s Office as Principal Secretary after retirement.

The Great Leader

Independent scrutiny of these policies is increasingly minimised. For instance, restricting the functioning of civil society organisations is a big plus, and so, 10,000-plus NGOs have recently had their licences cancelled or limited in scope (including a crackdown on some well-known ones such as Amnesty, Ford Foundation, Greenpeace and others); while RSS-linked NGOs can claim at government-backed seminar that LGBT orientation is a psychological disorder caused by Western/American lifestyle and can be cured by alternative medicine. Community radio stations are being disciplined. India now tops the Facebook content restriction request list. Moreover, journalists who question the right-wing agenda are labelled presstitutes (in itself a telling phrase in its gendered and sexual connotations) and, along with those in the wider public who raise questions, called “pseudo-sickular”.

Perhaps to address this comprehensively, the Modi government plans to spend Rs 200 crore to establish a journalism university based on the Chinese model (institutes that are an arm of the state where journalists can be trained – into propaganda machines). If all this fails, there is an army of virtual devotees, the Modi bhakts, who take it upon themselves to combat opposition by resorting to insult, innuendo or worse.

Contrary to the assertions of the Hindutva brigade, the atmosphere of violence, intimidation and narrowing of dissent is not a mere figment of the imagination. Rights activists have documented at least 43 deaths in over 600 incidents of communal violence in the first 300 days of Modi government, 149 targeting Christians and the rest Muslims. Recently, the former Navy chief Admiral L Ramdas wrote an open letter to the prime minister and the president reminding them of the oath to uphold the Constitution and saying that he felt shame at the RSS’ attempts to create a monocultural Hindu rashtra in India. The Hindutva response to such voices of conscience is whataboutery (ignoring conveniently that what we are witnessing now is not just violence, but a consistent and cohesive multi-spectrum attempt to enforce a fascist Hindutva agenda where the BJP government and the RSS have revolving doors) or the argument that this happens elsewhere too (Saudi Arabia is their favourite example).

The Hindutva ascendancy over the recent years will create a terribly toxic legacy for the future of India with a generation of young people inculcated in hate towards fellow citizens. New authoritarian traditions are being created, such as one where students are forced to listen to the prime minister’s speech on Teachers’ Day every year. A recent survey of 10,000 high school and college students from 11 cities all over India found that half would prefer military rule over democracy, 65% agree that boys and girls from different religions should not mingle, over half believed that women “provoke” men by how they dress, close to half believe that women have no choice but to accept violence and that migrants should go back home. One student is quoted as saying that the country needs an authoritative leader.

There is a Great Leader now. A leader who wears clothes emblazoned with his own name in gold, who jets around the world to spread his message but does not have 15 minutes in Bhopal to meet with the NGOs seeking justice for the biggest industrial gas leak disaster in his country. A leader with followers who are so enamoured of him that they make a temple to him where devotees recite Modi Chalisa. They make picture books of him as a child – Bal Narendra – that present him as a valiant hero in the making who can do no wrong. The chief of the national censor board makes a hagiographic video of him, while government-appointed head of the national cultural diplomacy organisation repeatedly says that the Leader is an incarnation of God.

Though there is an active resistance on several fronts, there are still many in India who are, for the moment it seems, willing to overlook everything around them – including the postcolonial state capture by fascist crony capitalism – in the name of building a powerful Hindu India serving elite class and caste interests while oppressing the religious minorities, secularists and critics.
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Thursday, December 24, 2015

A brief history of religious intolerance in India


From very early times, India has witnessed religious and sectarian antagonisms.

DN Jha and Mukul Dube  · Today · 05:30 pm


At a time when religious bigotry has vitiated the air around us, it is worthwhile to investigate how old the idea of tolerance is and remind ourselves of the intolerance of our ancestors. Although early India had strong traditions of cultic and religious syncretism, there is plentiful evidence to prove the prevalence of religious and sectarian antagonisms from very early times.

In the 2nd century BC, Patanjali tells us that the relationship between Brahmins and Buddhists is like that between the snake and the mongoose; and its actual violent manifestation is supported by a plethora of historical evidence. Similarly, there is copious proof of the Shaiva-Vaishnava antagonism. The persistent animosity between Shaivism and Jainism, and the persecution of the latter by the former, is also well documented. In the 11th century Alberuni tells us that the Hindus are “haughty, foolishly vain and self-conceited” and “believe that there is no religion like theirs”.

But ignoring all this, Indian politicians constantly chant the aphoristic statement “vasudhaiva kutumbakam” (the world is one family) out of context.

Privileging Hinduism over others

The construct of tolerant Hinduism seems to be of relatively recent origin and to have first acquired visibility in the Western writings on India. In the 17th century, Francois Bernier (1620-1688), the French doctor who travelled widely in India, was one of the early Europeans to speak of Hindus as a tolerant people. In the 18th century the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Von Herder (1744-1803), the forerunner of the Romantic glorification of India, referred to the Hindus as “mild” and “tolerant” and as “the gentlest branch of humanity”. Around the same time, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) said that they “do not hate the other religions but they believe they are also right”. Such views find a more prominent place in the writings of Orientalists like William Jones, according to whom, “the Hindus...would readily admit the truth of the Gospel but they contend that it is perfectly consistent with their Sastras”.

In the 19th century, some Indians also began to speak of the tolerance of Hindus, but they clearly privileged Hinduism over other religions. Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883), who founded the Arya Samaj in 1875, claimed to believe “in a religion based on universal values... above the hostility of all creeds...”. But as a champion of the Vedic religion, he sharply opposed all other religions: to him, Mohammad was an “impostor” and Jesus “a very ordinary ignorant man, neither learned nor a yogi”. His contemporary Ramakrishna (1836-1886) spoke of the equality of religions, but in his view “the Hindu religion alone is the Sanatana Dharma”.

His disciple Vivekananda (1863-1904) also laid emphasis on toleration and picked up the famous Rigvedic passage “ekaüsad viprà vahudhà vadanti” (The wise speak of what is One in many ways) in support of his vision that “India alone [was] to be...the land of toleration”. But this was incompatible with his view that “from Pacific to the Atlantic for five hundred years blood ran all over the world” and “that is Mohammadanism”, even though his Rigvedic quote has become a cliché through being endlessly milked by politicians.

Similar views continued to be held by some leaders in the early 20th century. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920), for example, couched his views in the vocabulary of tolerance and quite often cited the above Rigvedic passage but, in reality, espoused militant Hinduism. Even the Muslim-hater MS Golwalkar (1906-1973) spoke of the Hindus as the most tolerant people of the world, although this sounded like the devil quoting scripture, for he identified Muslims, Christians and Communists as internal threats to the country. It would appear that these leaders, from Dayananda to Golwalkar, used tolerance as a camouflage for Hindu belligerence: they privileged Hinduism over other religions and did not provide enough space to them. Unlike them, Mahatma Gandhi, who lived and died for communal harmony, genuinely found Hinduism to be the most tolerant of all religions even if his excessive pride in its inclusivism may have tended to make it exclusive.

Emphasising the syncretism

Many historians and social scientists have also spoken and written about the inclusive character of Hinduism and have produced much literature which highlights its syncretic traditions. Several instances of mutual accommodation among the various Hindu sects have been cited.

It is rightly held that the Buddha, founder of a heretic religion, emerged as an avatara of Vishnu around the middle of the 6th century AD. He figured as such in several Puranas and other texts including the Dashavataracharita of Kshemendra (11th century) and the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva (12th century) as well as in inscriptions and in the Kitabu-ul-Hind of Alberuni (11th century). Even sacrifice to him was recommended for those desirous of beauty. But, interestingly, he was also reviled as a thief and an atheist, and Shiva is believed to have appeared on Earth in the form of Shankara to combat the Buddha avatara, even though Shankara himself is described as an illegitimate child in a 14th century Vaishnava text.

The Vedantist philosopher Madhava Acharya (14th century) is often said to have displayed an exemplary tolerance of opposing points of view in his Sarvadarshanasamgraha (Collection of All Systems), which begins by presenting the school of Charvakas, criticises it and ends with Shankara’s Advaita “as the conclusion and crown of all philosophical systems”. But it is forgotten that this was in keeping with the traditional Indian practice of presenting the opponent’s view before refuting it.

Further, Adinatha (Rishabha), the first tirthanakara of Jainism, was accepted as an incarnation of Vishnu in the Bhagavatapurana. Christ was sometimes included in the incarnations of Vishnu, and the Muslim sect of Imam Shahis believed that the Imam was himself the tenth avatara of Vishnu and that the Quran was a part of the Atharvaveda. Akbar was sometimes thought of as the tenth avatara of Vishnu and Queen Victoria too was accepted as a Hindu goddess when a plague broke out in Bombay following an insult to her statue by some miscreants.

It is, however, missed in all this that neither Adinatha, nor the Imam, nor Christ, nor Akbar, nor even Victoria occupied an important place in the Brahmanical scheme of things. In other words, non-Brahmanical religions were not treated on par with Brahmanism but as religions which, although unwelcome, did exist and so had to be tolerated. It is difficult to say that the status of Islam and Christianity is no different in present-day India, although there is the argument that the attacks on them by the proponents of Hindutva do not represent Hinduism and Hindus.

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What did Jesus really look like?

Religious Matters

We all know his name, but the face of Christ remains frustratingly elusive... doesn't it?

Meredith J C Warren, The Conversation  · Yesterday · 11:30 pm 


Currently making the news is a report on a reconstruction of what is being called Jesus’s face. The reconstruction, by British anatomical artist Richard Neave, is actually more than a decade old, but it recently has started doing the rounds again – fitting given the time of year. Rather than intending to show precisely what Jesus might have looked like, the project sought to demonstrate what an average Judean in the first century of the Common Era might have looked like.

While this impression, of a dark-haired, brown-skinned, and brown-eyed man whose face appears weathered from a career of physical labour outside, is probably not identical to the appearance of the historical Jesus, it is likely a closer approximation than many of those that frequently appear in popular culture.

Jesus Christ Superstar’s lead, Ted Neely, is a good example of the typical Western Jesus: long, blondish hair, pale, wrinkle-free skin, and a placid expression. But what evidence do we have to support any reconstruction of what the historical Jesus actually looked like?

An elusive face


A contemporary icon
Source: Christian Cable/flickr, CC BY

The question of what Jesus looked like is complicated by the absence of any description of his physical qualities in early Christian texts. This isn’t because appearance in general wasn’t important in antiquity; indeed, we have a description of the apostle Paul in a third century narrative about his work.
Acts of Paul and Thecla (2.3), an apocryphal story of Paul’s influence on a virgin woman named Thecla, says that Paul was “a man little of stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining, and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace: for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel".

Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro 

Source: Phil Whitehouse/flickr, CC BY

When Jesus does appear in literature, people seem not to be able to recognise him, even in the New Testament. The Gospel of John includes two examples. First, Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener when she goes looking for Jesus’s body after his crucifixion; it is only when she hears his voice that she realises the man is Jesus.

Then, after his resurrection, Jesus meets his disciples as they are fishing. Again, they don’t recognise him when they see him. One of the characteristics of Jesus in later Christian literature is that he appears to his followers in many different forms, for example in Acts of Peter (3.21), one of the first apocryphal Acts of the Apostles.

Have you seen this man?

The earliest pictures we have of Jesus come from frescoes painted on the walls of catacombs and carvings made to decorate stone coffins. These pictures generally come from the third century, about 200 years after Jesus’s death, so none of them could have been done by an eyewitness to the living Jesus.


Church at Dura Europos, ca. 235 CE; depiction of Jesus healing the paralytic.Marsyas
This fresco, painted on the wall of a third-century church in Dura Europus, Syria, shows the story of Jesus healing the paralytic. While it is difficult to see facial details, this Jesus has short hair and is clean-shaven.

Jesus’s appearance reveals quite a lot about how portraits of him begin to function in early Christian communities. Jesus is wearing a garment typical of Roman men: a tunic with pallium. Jesus is usually depicted, regardless of his facial features, as conforming to Roman expectations about how virtuous men appear.

Jennifer Awes Freeman writes more about how imperial iconography might be at play in the earliest depictions of Jesus in her article: “The Good Shepherd and the Enthroned Ruler: A Reconsideration of Imperial Iconography in the Early Church.”

As the Christian churches grew and expanded, people began creating icons, images of holy men and women. These icons were not just decorations but were objects of veneration. The oldest surviving icon depicting Jesus comes from the sixth century CE (below). We can clearly see the emerging tradition of depicting Jesus as longer haired, pale-skinned, and bearded. Here he is also wearing the dark brown garment typically associated with monastic communities, illustrating the shifting values imbued in depictions of Jesus.


Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator), a sixth-century encaustic icon from Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Mount Sinai.
One of the main things we can take away from these early images of Jesus is that from the very earliest images, Jesus’s appearance is imagined as matching up with societal expectations of what people ought to look like.

Normalising the extraordinary

It is no surprise that many contemporary depictions of Jesus show him as representing what is upheld by Western standards of “normative” (that is, culturally imposed and valued) male beauty. This goes equally for formal portraits displayed in places of worship and for the phenomenon of pareidolia, images of Christ (or other revered figures) that people claim “spontaneously appear” on everything from Marmite to tortillas and windows.

Our images of Jesus, then, say more about us as a society than about his historical appearance.


 Will we ever know?

Finally, why do we keep asking the question, what did Jesus look like? As Michael Peppard notes in his article, “Was the Presence of Christ in Statues? The Challenge of Divine Media for a Jewish Roman God”, the desire to know what Jesus looked like is far from uniquely a post-modern quest; in the 19th century, Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony, imagines Anthony himself yearning to be able to visualise his saviour.

Today, our images of Jesus more often reflect the diversity that has always been a part of our world; in turn, the high value our culture gives to the careful process of scientific discovery is part of why this reconstructed image of a first-century Jew has caught our collective attention.

Meredith J C Warren, Lecturer in Biblical and Religious Studies, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Joshua Dubois: What the President secretly did at Sandy Hook Elementary School

Below is an excerpt from The President’s Devotional by Joshua Dubois, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He’s recounting events that occurred Sunday, December 16, 2012 — two days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members. Dubois had gotten word the day before that the President wanted to meet with the families of the victims:

I left early to help the advance team—the hardworking folks who handle logistics for every event—set things up, and I arrived at the local high school where the meetings and memorial service would take place. We prepared seven or eight classrooms for the families of the slain children and teachers, two or three families to a classroom, placing water and tissues and snacks in each one. Honestly, we didn’t know how to prepare; it was the best we could think of.

The families came in and gathered together, room by room. Many struggled to offer a weak smile when we whispered, “The president will be here soon.” A few were visibly angry—so understandable that it barely needs to be said—and were looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Mostly they sat in silence.

I went downstairs to greet President Obama when he arrived, and I provided an overview of the situation. “Two families per classroom . . . The first is . . . and their child was . . . The second is . . . and their child was . . . We’ll tell you the rest as you go.”

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.

The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.

From The President’s Devotional. Copyright 2013 Joshua Dubois.

 Children waiting outside the school after the shooting. [photo: Michelle McLoughlin]

Source: Vox Populi

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Watch: 'My name is Suzette, I'm not the Park Street rape victim'

Crime Against Women

What Suzette Jordan said when she chose to fight back against her rape and identify the criminals.

Scroll Staff  · Yesterday · 01:02 pm

Satyamev Jayate Season 2 Undying Spirit Inspiring Moment English

Suzette Jordan is dead. All five men accused of raping her in a moving car on February 6, 2012, have been found guilty. Jordan, who died of encephalitis in March 2015, chose not to stay anonymous but to reveal her identity, to fight back.

"I'm a person," she told the host Aamir Khan in an episode of Satyamev Jayate, "and I want my life back." In the video above, Jordan recounts how visiting the site of the rape and murder of another woman in a village near here home – "I could smell the blood" – made her decide not to seek refuge as a victim but to do all she could to ensure that the perpetrators were brought to justice.

The rape was initially dismissed by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee as a "fabricated incident". On Thursday, a Kolkata court found all five accused – two of whom are absconding – guilty. It's come too late to bring any sort of closure to Suzette Jordan herself, but the judgment vindicates the courage with which she withstood all the pressure to drop the charges, along with the stigmatisation.

Banerjee is yet to respond to the judgment on either her Facebook or Twitter page, on both of which she is quite active.

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

53 years after India incarcerated 3,000 of its Chinese-origin citizens, the internees speak out

Sunday, 29 November 2015 - 7:10am IST

India incarcerated 3,000 of its Chinese origin citizens during the 1962 war. Now the 'Deoli Camp Internees' are calling for justice through testimonies in films and books, Gargi Gupta reports.

 1. The Deoli prisoner of war camp in west Rajasthan 2. Yin Marsh and (r) former Deoli prisoner late Yap Yin Shing 3. Effa Ma, mother of journalist Joy Ma (r)

It has taken more than 50 years for them to speak out, but now the small band of 'Deoli Camp Internees', as they call themselves on Facebook, are eager to tell the world their story. Last month month, four members of the community, citizens now of the US and Canada, flew down to India for just this purpose. At public screenings of Rafeeq Ellias's Beyond Barbed Wires: A Distant Dawn, a documentary film that records the testimonies of several of the earlier generation of Deoli detainees and addresses to the media, they spoke about the pain and humiliation they, or their parents went through, and how they'd like the Indian government to acknowledge its mistake, if not say sorry.

But first the details of the story, which has come out in driblets in sections of the Indian media but is still not widely known. During the 1962 war, around 3,000 Indians of Chinese origin - women and young children among them - were picked up from Calcutta, Siliguri, Darjeeling, Shillong and other places in eastern India, and transported to a World War II prisoner of war camp built by the British in Deoli, a town in west Rajasthan. Most of them had lived in India for generations and had prospered as leather or tea merchants. Though none of them had anything to do with the war, their businesses and establishments were seized as "enemy property" and houses ransacked. They were kept at the Deoli camp for four years, before being released. But that wasn't the end of their travails - from being well-off, eminent citizens, they now found themselves poor and needy, shunned and looked upon with suspicion.

It's a story that does not show the Indian dispensation of the time in a good light, but no different from the detention of Japanese Americans in the US during World War II, or of German-origin citizens during World War I. It happened elsewhere too - the imprisonment of 32,000 Germans and and Austro-Hungarians in the UK from 1914 to 1919. The discovery of historical precedent may provide a context, but it does not take away from the pain and humiliation the Deoli internees suffered.

In the absence of government succour or even acknowledgment that it caused grievous harm to innocent citizens, it is art - books or films - that often brings a sense of closure. Think of books like Farewell to Manzanar, the documentaries Topaz and History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige and how they exposed the shocking brutality of meted out to the "Nisei".

The Deoli camp internees are now embarking on somewhat similar project.

Besides Elias's documentary, which has recorded interviews with several very old internees, there's now an Indian edition of Yin Marsh's book, Doing Time With Nehru, which she'd self published in 2012. The book, which takes its name from the fact that Jawaharlal Nehru had also apparently been imprisoned for a time in Deoli, gathers her memories of the camp, where she was sent off when she was just 13.

Canada-based author Kwai-Yun Li wrote An Oral History of Chinese Indians from 1962 to 1966 in 2011, which is also available on the Internet. Joy Ma, a journalist from San Francisco who was born in the internment camp, is now writing a book on her mother's experience.

Disclosure may be necessary, but it's not easy. "I've been writing about the camp and internment in the form of short stories and personal projects for several years," says Joy. "The camp and its aftermath were such a difficult time for my family, it was hard to find the right perspective to write it."

Source: dnaindia


Monday, December 07, 2015

Home ministry vs home ministry: Were there 644 or 1,227 communal riots last year?

The ministry has ordered a probe to find out why its data on communal incidents vary from those of its subsidiary, the National Crime Records Bureau.


India experienced 644 communal riots in 2014, according to data released by the Home Ministry. But if you believe data released by the National Crime Records Bureau – a Home Ministry subsidiary – there were 1,227 riots that year.

The data discrepancy, reported by, a data journalism portal, is important because as an intolerance debate roils India, much attention is being focused on whether such riots have increased or decreased since Narendra Modi took over as prime minister in May 2014.

The Home Ministry has now ordered a probe to find out why its data on communal riots vary from those of the NCRB, which it controls.

IndiaSpend previously reported how Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are India’s communal tinderboxes, according to data tabled in the Lok Sabha.

Is the way hate speeches are listed the cause of the data dispute?

The NCRB numbers could be high only because hate speeches qualify as “incidents” and are listed under riots in NCRB data, while they might not be counted as incidents by the human rights division of the MHA.

Even so, the NCRB numbers should be higher in every state.

The only plausible reason for the discrepancy is faulty reporting by state police and intelligence departments, calling into question the sanctity of government data.

The biggest difference in data is in Uttar Pradesh

India had 1,227 communal riots in 2014, with 2,000 people listed as victims, according to the NCRB data.

Leading the list is Jharkhand with 349 incidents, followed by Haryana with 207. Tamil Nadu is third with 120 incidents followed by West Bengal (104), Maharashtra (99), Bihar (59) and Gujarat (57).

Jharkhand, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal do not have significantly more riots, according to the MHA data.

Indeed, there are less than 20 riots in each of those states, as per the MHA data. Uttar Pradesh, which had the highest number of riots (133), as per the MHA, is eighth in the NCRB list with 51 communal riots.

The data disagreement extends to Haryana, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Telangana, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

Both data sets list about the same number of victims: the MHA 2,016; the NCRB, 2,001. There are other points of commonality.

What the home ministry and NCRB agree: 13 states reported no riots

Home Ministry and NCRB data match only for 13 states/UTs, and these are states where both NCRB and MHA report no riots.

There is a double-digit difference in 11 states, and the difference is significant in 10 states. The MHA reported only 10 riots for Jharkhand, while the NCRB reported 349.

How the NCRB changed its method of data collection

The NCRB maintains a secure national database of crimes, criminals and law enforcement agencies, collecting data from state police departments, compiling it into an annual Crime in India report.

The NCRB made significant changes to collection and dissemination of crime data in 2014.

In its new template for collection of crime data, there is a section on riots as defined under Sections 147, 148, 149, 150 and 151 of the Indian Penal Code.

There is a separate section for data on offences that promote enmity between different groups, as defined under Sections 153A and 153B of the IPC.

Before 2014, all the data related to riots were collected under one head called riots. From 2014, the data on riots is categorised into many different sub-heads, namely communal riots, industrial riots and riots for political reasons etc.

The data collected under Sections 153A and 153B is counted as communal riots.

The NCRB gets data from state police departments. These data are based on the sections of law mentioned in the first information report.

The NCRB also follows what is called the ‘Principal Offence Rule’ for counting crime. So, among many offences registered in a single case, only the most heinous crime will be considered as a counting unit, thereby representing one case.

This article was originally published on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.
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Saturday, December 05, 2015

శ్రీ కౌముది డిసెంబర్ 2015

What really happened when Vasco Da Gama set foot in India


The Portuguese explorer came in search of gold and spices, but ended up unleashing political fury.

Manu Pillai · Today · 05:00 pm


In July 1497 when Vasco da Gama set sail for India, King Manuel of Portugal assorted a distinctly expendable crew of convicts and criminals to go with him. After all, the prospects of this voyage succeeding were rather slender considering that no European had ever advanced beyond Africa’s Cape of Good Hope before, let alone reached the fabled spice gardens of India.

Da Gama’s mirthless quest was essentially to navigate uncharted, perilous waters, and so it seemed wiser to invest in men whose chances in life were not especially more inspiring than in death. Driven by formidable ambition and undaunted spirit, it took da Gama ten whole months, full of dangerous adventures and gripping episodes, to finally hit India’s shores.

It was the dawn of a great new epoch in human history and this pioneer knew he was standing at the very brink of greatness. Prudence and experience, however, dictated that in an unknown land it was probably wiser not to enter all at once. So one of his motley crew was selected to swim ashore and sense the mood of the “natives” there before the captain could make his triumphant, choreographed entrance.

And thus, ironically, the first modern European to sail all the way from the West and to set foot on Indian soil was a petty criminal from the gutters of Lisbon.

For centuries Europe had been barred direct access to the prosperous East, first politically when international trade fell into Arab hands in the third century after Christ, and then when the emergence of Islam erected a religious obstacle in the seventh. Fruitless wars and bloodshed followed, but not since the heyday of the Greeks and Romans had the West enjoyed steady contact with India.

Spices and other oriental produce regularly reached the hungry capitals of Europe, but so much was the distance, cultural and geographic, that Asia became a sumptuous cocktail of myth and legend in Western imagination. It was generally accepted with the most solemn conviction, for instance, that the biblical Garden of Eden was located in the East and that there thrived all sorts of absurdly exotic creatures like unicorns, men with dogs’ heads, and supernatural races called “The Apple Smellers”.

Palaces of gold sparkled in the bright sun, while precious gems were believed to casually float about India’s serene rivers. Spotting phoenixes, talking serpents, and other fascinating creatures was a mundane, everyday affair here, according to even the most serious authorities on the subject. But perhaps the most inviting of all these splendid tales was that lost somewhere in India was an ancient nation of Christians ruled by a sovereign whose name, it was confidently proclaimed, was Prester John.

It was long believed that there lived in Asia a prestre (priest) called John who, through an eternal fountain of youth, had become the immortal emperor of many mystical lands.

Some accounts said he was a descendant of one of the three Magi who visited the infant Jesus, while a more inventive version placed him as foster-father to the terrible Genghis Khan. Either way, Prester John was rumoured to possess infinite riches, including a fabulous mirror that reflected the entire world, and a tremendous emerald table to entertain thirty thousand select guests.

Great sensation erupted across Europe in AD 1165, in fact, when a mysterious letter purportedly from the Prester himself appeared suddenly in Rome. In this he elaborately gloated about commanding the loyalties of “horned men, one-eyed men, men with eyes back and front, centaurs, fauns, satyrs, pygmies, giants, Cyclops” and so on. After vacillating for twelve years, Pope Alexander III finally couriered a reply, but neither the messenger nor this letter were ever seen again.

Luckily for Europe, the travels of Marco Polo in the thirteenth century and of Niccolo di Conti in the fifteenth painted a rather more rational picture of Asia on the whole, but they were still convinced of the presence of lost Christians there, egged on by religious fervour and the commercial incentives of breaching the monopolised spice trade.

If (Vasco) da Gama and his men, weighed down by centuries of collective European curiosity and imagination, anticipated the legendary Prester as they stepped on to the shores of Kerala in India, they were somewhat disappointed. For when envoys of the local king arrived, they came bearing summons from Manavikrama, a Hindu Rajah famed across the trading world as the Zamorin of Calicut.

This prince was the proud lord of one of the greatest ports in the world and a cornerstone of international trade; even goods from the Far East were shipped to Calicut first before the Arabs transported them out to Persia and Europe. Until the Ming emperors elected to isolate themselves from the world, huge Chinese junks used to visit Calicut regularly; between 1405 and 1430 alone, for instance, the famed Admiral Zheng He called here no less than seven times with up to 250 ships manned by 28,000 soldiers.

In fact, even after the final departure of the Chinese, there remained for some time in Calicut a half-Malayali, half-Chinese and Malay community called Chinna Kribala, with one of its star sailors a pirate called Chinali.

The city itself was an archetype of commercial prosperity and medieval prominence; it hosted merchants and goods from every worthy trading nation in its lively bazaars, its people were thriving and rich, and its ruler potent enough to preserve his sovereignty from more powerful forces on the Indian peninsula.

Da Gama and his men received one courtesy audience from the Zamorin and they were greatly impressed by the assured opulence of his court. But when they requested an official business discussion, they were informed of the local custom of furnishing presents to the ruler first. Da Gama confidently produced “twelve pieces of striped cloth, four scarlet hoods, six hats, four strings of coral, a case of six wash-hand basins, a case of sugar, two casks of oil, and two of honey” for submission, only to be jeered into shame. For Manavikrama’s men burst out laughing, pointing out that even the poorest Arab merchants knew that nothing less than pure gold was admissible at court.

Da Gama tried to make up for the embarrassment by projecting himself as an ambassador and not a mere merchant, but the Zamorin’s aides were not convinced. They bluntly told him that if the King of Portugal could afford only third-rate trinkets as presents, the mighty Zamorin had no interest whatever in initiating any diplomatic dealings on a basis of equality with him. Manavikrama, it was obvious, could not care less about an obscure King Manuel in an even more obscure kingdom called Portugal, and with a pompous flourish of royal hauteur, he brushed aside da Gama’s lofty ambassadorial claims.

The Zamorin was not unreasonable, however. He clarified that the Portuguese were welcome to trade like ordinary merchants in the bazaar if they so desired, even if no special treatment was forthcoming. Da Gama, though livid at his less-than-charming reception, had no option but to comply, having come all the way and being too hopelessly outnumbered to make a military statement to the contrary.

And so his men set up shop in Calicut, under the watchful eyes of the Arabs, peddling goods they had brought from Europe; goods, they quickly realised, nobody really wanted here in the East.
The hostility of the Arabs did not help either; for they, recognising a threat to their commercial preponderance, initiated a policy of slander, painting him and his men as loathsome, untrustworthy pirates. When complaints about this were made to the Zamorin, they were met with yawning disdain, not least because the Portuguese had precious little to contribute to business or to the royal coffers. The first European trade mission, thus, was a resounding flop as far as the Indians were concerned, and when da Gama’s fleet departed Calicut three months later, they left behind a distinctly unflattering impression on the locals.

Excerpted with permission from The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore by Manu S. Pillai, HarperCollins India.

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Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Dictum & Diaspora: Silence or near silence on intolerance ill behooves PM Modi

Just as Prime Minister Modi can't ignore a foreign military attack on India, he doesn't have the option of turning a blind eye or of remaining silent in the face of intolerance, communal strife and religious violence within the country.

Written by Ujjal Dosanjh | Updated: December 3, 2015 8:40 am

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking in Lok Sabha.

The intolerance being felt in the country is a serious threat to the idea of India. So is Prime Minister Modi’s silence or near silence about it. Recently my mind focussed on what it meant to be Indian – above and beyond the intolerance debate – when in answering a question from columnist Tavleen Singh, Aamir Khan criticised the extremists of all varieties including ISIS asserting he didn’t consider ISIS to be Muslims even if they held the koran in one hand butchering people with the other. Not satisfied with the answer, Singh went on to excoriate him in her column “Intolerance of the real kind” as a “Muslim leader” for not leading other Muslims in denouncing ISIS to the exclusion of all other extremists. I found it perplexing.

I have always thought an Indian is an Indian – no less than any other Indian. Aamir Khan is an Indian who happens to be an actor and a Muslim just as Tavleen Singh is an Indian who happens to be a columnist and hails from a Sikh family. None of that should matter and isn’t worth wasting even a smidgen of ink over. But it made me wonder whether any journalists had made an issue of any non Muslim Bollywood stars’ pronouncements or of whether they had ‘adequately condemned’ their coreligionists’ condemnable misdeeds. Recently, PTI reported Amitabh Bachan… on ‘growing intolerance’ as saying “Indian films taught… to banish communal prejudices”. He emphasised India’s social unity… at a time when “cultures are being questioned and prejudices against the communities are dividing the world.”

Nandita Das declared “I don’t think freedom of expression has ever been so threatened.” Ranbir Kapoor said as much in describing his father Rishi’s battles with the Twitterati: “Unfortunately in this country you can’t really speak your mind”…without being misconstrued. No one has questioned Amitabh’s, Nandita’s or Ranbir’s patriotism; no one has called them “Hindu leaders”. That is as it should be in a democracy.

While citizens’ outspokenness makes for a better society, in a democracy they are nonetheless free to be silent and no one should be shamed or forced into speaking up on any issue including for or against his/her coreligionists no matter how wonderful or vile the latter may be. No matter how disagreeable or cowardly the silence of citizens may be, they only have a moral obligation to speak up.

VIDEO: Rahul Tears Into Govt, Rajnath Defends: Parliament Debate On Intolerance

On the other hand, the Prime Minister has both a moral and a legal obligation to lead on these issues. Over and above working for India’s economic progress, maintaining its territorial integrity and defending its borders, the Prime Minister of India is the legal guardian of the peace, order and good government in the country. Just as he can’t ignore a foreign military attack on India he doesn’t have the option of turning a blind eye or of remaining silent in the face of intolerance, communal strife and religious violence within the country.

Peace and harmony within India goes to the core of who we are as Indians; I say we because what happens in India has an impact on others’ perception of us even in the diaspora. Even if the level of intolerance in India is the same as it was before or more it must be fought. The stifling of free expression must be challenged. The communal and religious tensions must be defeated whether they are as bad as before or worse. No matter when it all began, who started it, who further fuelled it or whether it also happened under the previous regime, unfreedom, intimidation, violence or disharmony in the nation mustn’t be greeted by silence and can’t be vanquished by Prime Ministerial silence.

The Prime Minister is the ultimate official, legal and moral trustee of India’s heritage, its inherent diversity and social solidarity. His continuing silence on these fundamental matters is a serious threat to the survival of the idea of India – of multitudes of different ethnic, faith, cultural and linguistic groups.

Instead of haranguing Aamir Khan who professes to be nothing more than an Indian and an actor – the last I checked he hadn’t contested elections to even be a dog catcher for Mumbai let alone the PM of India – we should be urging the otherwise prolific speech maker PM Modi and politicians of all stripes to more vigorously speak up and stand up for Indian diversity, equality and freedom of expression; and to strike a strong and lasting blow against the forces of hate, division, fear and denigration of minorities. Uttering mealy-mouthed pronouncements on diversity and pluralism will not strengthen the idea of India for all Indians one whit. Modi must invoke the ancient Indian ethos of peaceful coexistence to robustly and loudly urge upon all Indians a compassionate, just, inclusive, strong and peaceful India. Silence – even near silence – isn’t an option.

Dosanjh is former Premier of British Columbia, and former Canadian Minister of Health. Views expressed are personal.

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Source: indianexpress

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