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Don’t believe in Santa Claus? 64 children from Mizoram would beg to differ

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Over 64 children in the Christian – dominated Mizoram state still believe in Santa Claus visiting them on December 24 midnight with Christmas presents, prompting them to leave an empty plate near their beds for receiving the gifts. What happened in Saitual village, about 100 km from here, is out of the ordinary as 64 children received their Christmas presents inside the home of local petty trader Lalrinliana.Lalrinliana and his wife were farmers who had discontinued with farming and opened their own grocery shop in their own house a few years back and were doing good business, one village leader of Saitual said. A few children of the village, learning about the generosity of the couple, began to leave their plates in their home on Christmas eve and were never disappointed.The couple liked to play Santa Claus and more children came to their home for receiving presents during Christmas but this year saw the largest number of children coming for Christmas presents from the Santa Claus. Meanwhile, a small restaurant owner at Haulawng village in south Mizoram’ Lunglei district also did something extraordinary.

Kashmir’s Christian community keeps X’mas a low-key affair

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Standing in solidarity with the victims of unrest, Kashmir’s Christian community on Sunday won the hearts of the majority Muslim community by keeping Christmas celebrations a low-key affair Unlike past, the churches were not decorated and Carol singing was missing too. Churches had deliberately done away with the decorative exterior lighting.Even the customary Santa Claus was missing in the churches as a mark of respect for the people who suffered during the five months of unrest in Kashmir. “So many people have suffered. So many people have died. Kashmiris did not celebrate Eid this year. So therefore we decided to celebrate Christmas with simplicity,” Shami Joseph, an official at the Holy Family Catholic Church, told DNA.More than 90 people have been killed and over 13,000 people injured in the unrest which began after the killing of Hizbul Mujhadeen poster boy Burhan Wani on July 8.Over 1,100 people mostly teenagers have suffered injuries in their eyes when security forces fired pellets to quell the violent mobs across Kashmir. Over 5000 persons have been arrested of whom 500 detained under Public Safety Act, under which a person can be jailed without trial and bail up to two years.“So many of our brothers and sisters suffered due to the unrest. We focused on the spiritual aspect of the celebration rather than the external aspects,” said Father Roy Mathews of Holy Family Catholic Church.

AgustaWestland scam LIVE: CBI sends Letter Rogotary to 8 countries, including UAE and Switzerland

AgustaWestland scam LIVE: CBI sends Letter Rogotary to 8 countries, including UAE and Switzerland

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On Friday the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested former Air-force chief SP Tyagi in relation to the Agusta Westland chopper scam. The CBI also arrested Gautam Khaitan, Delhi-based lawyer and Sanjeev Tyagi alias Julie Tyagi, ANI reported.

Reuters

Reuters

All three arrested on the allegations of who accepted illegal gratification for exercising influence through corrupt and or illegal means, said the CBI.

In February 2010, the Congress-led UPA government signed a government contract with UK-based AgustaWestland to buy 12 AW101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force for Rs 3,600 crore. The purpose of this deal was to have chopppers fly VVIPs like the president, prime minister and others.

In 2013, however, the deal was put on hold by the government after Bruno Spagnolin, CEO of AgustaWestland and Guiseppe Orsi, chairman of the Italian parent company Finmeccanica, were arrested on charges of bribing middlemen to acquire the deal with Indian Air Force. The following day, then Defence Minister AK Antony ordered a probe into the matter.

Early in 2014, the Italian court investigating the chopper scam names former chief of the IAF, SP Tyagi in the scam, stating that he was bribed by Finmeccanica to sign the deal with AgustaWestland.

In 2015, however, reports of Tyagi’s acquital by the Italian court appeared, stating that there was no corruption by Indian officials.

First Published On : Dec 15, 2016 17:29 IST

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Idukki bishop’s anti-birth control remark sparks outrage; rationalists term it anti-democratic

A Catholic bishop in Kerala has called on Christian couples to competitively produce children till the end of their reproductive capacity.

Idukki Bishop Mar Mathew Anikuzhikattil has given the call in a pastoral letter issued on the occasion of Christmas. The letter to be read in all parishes in the diocese on any Sunday during December termed creation a divine process and predicted miseries for those who upset it.

The Bishop’s call is viewed in social and political circles in the state as a reflection of the growing concern in the Church about the dwindling numbers of Christians in the state. Several other bishops had made similar calls before Anikuzhikattil.

Some churches even offered incentives to couples to have more children. While most churches offered free education and medical care in Church-run institutions, one in Wayanad district introduced cash incentives to couples who produce more children.

The St Vincent De Paul Forane Church at Kalpetta offered Rs 10,000 as fixed deposit in the name of every fifth child born in the family in the parish. The church set aside a part of the weekly Sunday collection to fund the programme.

Rent a priest aims to bring back people to Christianity. ReutersRent a priest aims to bring back people to Christianity. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

None of these efforts seem to have brought any change in the mindset of the faithful, who continue to limit the size of families by using either natural or artificial contraception that the Catholic Church dubs as sin. Studies showed that the Christian community had the highest rate of sterilisation in the state.

According to a study by KC Zachariah, former senior demographer with the World Bank and honorary fellow at the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, the proportion of Christian couples who had undergone sterilisation by 1991 was nearly 50 percent as against 34 percent among Muslims and upper caste Hindus.

As a result of this, the population of Christians continued to decline. The 2011 census data shows that the share of Christians in the total population of the state had come down from 21 percent in 1971 to 18.4 percent in 2011.

Hindus have also witnessed a sharp decline in their population during the period. The share of the Hindus came down from 58.2 percent in 1971 to 53.6 percent in 2011. The gainer is apparently the Muslim community. Its share went up from 21.3 percent to 26.6 percent in the last four decades.

Christians had a growth rate higher than that of non-Christians in Kerala in the early part of the twentieth century. But the trend reversed by 1961, when the non-Christians started gaining upper hand. They maintained higher growth rates through the rest of the century.

After 1971, Christians grew at a rate lower than the average for other communities. By the end of the century, the rate of growth of the Christians was only 60 percent of the Hindu growth rate and less than half the growth rate of the Muslims.

Christians had outnumbered Muslims for much of the last century. The latter overtook the Christians in 1971 and is continuing their dominance. A study on religious denominations based on the 2011 census by Zachariah says that the numerical dominance of Muslims over the Christians is likely to accelerate in the coming decades.

“By the middle of the century, Muslims could constitute more than a third and Christians less than one-sixth of Kerala’s population. Similarly, by 2051, the Hindus could be less than 50 percent of the State’s population for the first time in Kerala’s history. However, they are unlikely to be outnumbered in the state by any other community at any time,” says Zachariah.

Numerically, Christians are the smallest among the three major religious groups in the state at present. They numbered just about 6.057 million according to the 2001 Census, and 6.141 million according to the 2011 Census.

None of these efforts seem to have brought any change in the mindset of the faithful, who continue to limit the size of families by using either natural or artificial contraception that the Catholic Church dubs as sin

Zachariah feels that the proportion of the Christian population in the total population would decrease to about 17 percent at the end of the first quarter of the 21st century. This means that the population of the community would come down to 5.9 million by 2031.

Zachariah believes that this would push down the Christian share from nearly one-fourth of the population before 1970 to less than one-sixth by the middle of the century. Among the Christian denominations, the non-Catholic Episcopal Syrian Christian communities and the Syro-Malankara Catholics are witnessing a decline in their population.

According to Zachariah, a major factor behind the decline is the below replacement fertility that the state reached in 1990s. Migration to other states in India and to other countries outside India and movement from one Christian denomination to another are other major factors cited by Zachariah.

The Idukki bishop has blamed the family planning for the present state of the Christian community. He believes that parents were adopting birth control measures for the sake of luxury.

“They consider children as a hurdle to their modern style of living. Our forefathers had welcomed new life even when there were no modern facilities to support life. They did not discard children by looking at their number or their quality. They treated every child as God’s gift,” Anikuzhikattil said.

The bishop said that the people who adopt birth control measures will be sowing seeds of anxiety and frustration in families. Life will be miserable for such people, the bishop said, adding that the loneliness faced by the elders was a result of this.

Describing those who say “no one needs to be born and live after they become a part of the population” as selfish and arrogant, the bishop has urged Christian couples to engage in creation as long as their body allows.

Rationalists have viewed the bishop’s call anti-democratic. U Kalanadhan, president of Kerala Rationalists Association, said that the Church was indulging in this kind of anti-democratic activities because they fear that they will lose their clout in the state.

Kalanadhan told Firstpost that the Church and other religious groups have been flexing their muscles because of the policy of religious appeasement followed by mainstream parties. He has called for the separation of religion from politics to end this menace.

Idukki diocese Family Apostolate Director Fr Joseph Kollakombil denied any motives behind the pastoral letter issued by the bishop. He said that the prelate had only tried to explain the Church’s stand on life.

“Christmas reminds us of the divine process of creation. It is quite natural for the clergy to underline the importance of life on the occasion. Bishop Anikuzhikattil has done only this. There is no need for reading between the lines,” said Fr Joseph.

However, his critics are not ready to take it without a pinch of salt, since the bishop has been raking up the issue in one form or the other for some time now. Last year, he kicked off a big controversy by accusing an Ezhava community organisation of weaning away Christian girls through ‘love jihad’.

The bishop had also come out against inter-faith marriages and delaying of marriage by youths. He termed inter-caste marriages ‘against Christianity’ and urged the faithful to resist the government’s attempts to promote them.

The bishop said that the youths were delaying marriages for the sake of education and career. He urged youths to give marriage priority over education.

Many of these remarks had created a big uproar in the state. Anikuzhikattil was forced to withdraw his statement on ‘love jihad’ and tender an apology after Hindu organisations joined hands against him. They accused him of spewing communal venom.

First Published On : Dec 13, 2016 12:12 IST

AgustaWestland and sleazy deals by Tyagi brothers: Morale of defence forces take the biggest hit

When the AgustaWestland scam erupted in May this year both inside and outside of Parliament, I wrote that “the two-term regime of the UPA… left behind a sprawling trail of institutional destruction.” Former Air Chief S P Tyagi’s arrest by the CBI in connection with the same case must be viewed in this light. While this is the first time a former Air Chief has been arrested, and as unfortunate as it is, it raises several important points.

The first is obviously, the industrial-scale compromise of institutions at the highest levels, a case of the proverbial fence preying on the field. It appears that no institution has been spared of the toxic game of political favouritism. Equally, those that don’t play this game have their professional and personal reputations sullied— among other damages— as the case of the former CAG Vinod Rai shows. Or, closer home, the fact of how General V K Singh was hounded because he took on the omnipotent arms lobby.

The second is more specific to India’s defence establishment, which to say the least is soaked in almost every conceivable misdemeanour. Tragically, this is a subject about which very little has been written—beyond some superficial ethical homilies, there has been no definitive book or investigative report at least hinting at the contours—if not delving into details—of this very critical subject. While the reasons for it are understandable—given the high level of secrecy and dangers associated, it is neverthelessan endeavour that needs urgent attention.Neither is corruption in the defence establishment restricted to India. Transparency International assesses this problem with its key factors thus:

With huge contracts and high secrecy, the defence sector poses unique corruption risks. In 2010 alone, the sector as a whole spent the equivalent to Russia or India’s GDP, but how much of that money can we follow? We estimate at least US$ 20 billion is lost to corruption in the sector every year. And that is only a modest estimation of the costs incurred when national security concerns become a veil to hide corrupt activity. Single source contracts, unaccountable and overpaid agents, obscure defence budgets, unfair appointments and promotions, and many more forms of corruption in this secretive sector waste taxpayer funds and put citizens’ and soldiers’ lives at risk.

When we closely examine the timeline of the AgustaWestland case, most of these factors strike as eerily familiar, almost like checkboxes that one can tick off.

Former Air Force Chief SP Tyagi. PTI

Former Air Force Chief SP Tyagi. PTI

If a former Air Chief staff can be arrested on grounds of accepting dirty money to broker a deal, the point is really not about his guilt or innocence — the point is more about how he even allowed fingers to be pointed at him. Tragically, the timeless truth in “Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion” hasn’t rung true in this case. But he isn’t alone: Wikileaks cables reveal how back in the 1970s, Rajiv Gandhi acted as a negotiator lobbying on behalf of the Swedish Viggen fighters. The then Air Marshal OP Mehra’s son-in-law Navin Behl was alleged to be lobbying on behalf of Viggen’s competitor, Mirage.

Indeed, the aforementioned timeline investigations reveal quite a bit. The most crucial of these revelations is the fact that but for the 2012 expose of this corruption in the Italian media, the AugustaWestland deal would have been successful with none the wiser. Bears an uncanny similarity with the Bofors arms scandal that was first reported on Swedish radio, doesn’t it?

Let’s also not forget the fact that the same Tyagi was referred to as a “gorgeous girl” by shady arms dealers, a shameful epithet that this Firstpost piece says “reduced him to the level of a gangster’s moll, a Mona Darling to Lion.”

There’s just no other way to put this: it’s a matter of national shame that the highest officer of India’s key defence arm should subject himself to such epithets. The other curious fact is the inexplicable involvement of Tyagi’s cousin, Sanjiv Tyagi in the deal, who too, was arrested by the CBI on Friday.

At the very minimum, this should’ve raised questions concerning conflict of interest.Then there’s the matter of their lawyer-businessman-friend, Gautam Khaitan who was arrested as well. This is not his first arrest though: in September 2014, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested him on allegations of kickbacks in the Rs 3,600 crore deal.

It could also be argued that Tyagi has become a political scapegoat while the real movers and shakers party on unharmed. Yet, the involvement of Sanjiv Tyagi and Khaitan (who was on the board of Aeromatrix, a front company through which the chopper deal money was routed) tells a different story.

In a way, Tyagi’s arrest is the culmination of the process that began with the FIR that the CBI filed against him in March 2013. At the moment, the name of the other key player in the sordid deal, Christian Michel, does not figure prominently. But it has once again underscored the powerful and dangerous clout of the arms lobby in the highest corridors of power, some contours of which were revealed by defence minister Manohar Parikkar.

Indeed, the role of the arms lobby is a recurrent theme in the case of arms lobbyist Sanjay Bhandari, a once-obscure businessman who swiftly gained proximity to the first family members of Congress, including Robert Vadra and Sonia Gandhi. Among his other achievements, his firm OIS lobbied hard with the Defence Ministry and won a Rs 4,000-crore basic trainer aircraft contract on behalf of the Swiss firm Pilatus.

And in both cases, the media was on the take. Note how Christian Michel had earmarked about Rs 45 crores to “manage the media,” and Bhandari had done the same, too — a May 2016 Outlook investigation revealed how “a senior, Delhi-based journalist with an English daily is also under the scanner. His call data records show that he made at least 478 calls to Bhandari.”

Perhaps the real truth about AgustaWestland will never be known but what is undeniable is the impact such sleazy deals have on the morale of the defence forces. It’s akin to how high-level corruption in civilian life sends a signal down to the last peon that it’s ok to be less than honest.What direction the AgustaWestland case takes is hard to predict but the one good thing it has done, similar to what the demonetization effort has done, is to expose the scale, manner, and innovative devices of corruption that had occurred at all levels.

Or to quote the Mitrokhin Archives, which damningly said this about the India of the 1970s: “(The KGB) had scores of sources throughout the Indian Government — in intelligence, counterintelligence, the Defence and Foreign Ministries, and the police…It seemed like the entire country was for sale; the KGB — and the CIA — had deeply penetrated the Indian government.”

First Published On : Dec 10, 2016 14:47 IST

23 nations celebrate release of Diwali stamp in US

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Over 20 countries, including two UN Security Council permanent members France and the UK, have supported a dedication ceremony hosted by India to commemorate the release of a Diwali postage stamp by the US.India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Syed Akbaruddin said at the event here yesterday the Diwali Forever Stamp is a “shining tribute to the celebration of multi-culturalism”.Noting that Diwali was commemorated for the first time this year at the UN, Akbaruddin said the celebration of Diwali at the world body is a reaffirmation of the foundational objectives of the UN Charter and its purposes and principles, which stand as a force for universal good. “Though celebrated by different communities for different reasons, the essence of the (Diwali) celebration is the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness.Philosophically, thn e fight is not only external but also withioneself,” he said.The event lauded the efforts of Ranju Batra, Chair of the Diwali stamp project who spearheaded efforts for years to get the commemorative stamp issued, reaching out to the Indian- American community members and influential lawmakers, garnering support for the stamp. “The tens of thousands of paper petitions (for the Diwali stamp) were signed not only by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists but also by Christians, Jews, Muslims and every other faith and culture,” Batra said, expressing gratitude for the support she got in her journey to get the stamp issued.Capping seven-year long efforts by the Indian-American community and influential US lawmakers, the US Postal Service (USPS) had issued the commemorative Diwali stamp to mark the Indian festival of lights. Over 170,000 Diwali stamps have been sold, making history by becoming the number one best-selling stamp in USPS history. “Today’s celebration is not of a religion or of a nation but it is of the spirit of harmonious inclusiveness and cultural understanding that all religions deserve,” she said.Earlier, 20 nations had come together to support a special stamp dedication ceremony co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of India and Belarus. Eminent Indian-American attorney Ravi Batra said the event has being supported and celebrated by 23 nations, of which “12 are Christian, one Jewish, six Muslim… 23 nations spread across the world are celebrating not only the Diwali stamp but celebrating hope itself”.The 23 nations that supported the event include Armenia, Austria, Cyprus, France, Georgia, Honduras, Kuwait, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Ukraine, the UK and Vietnam. The Diwali Forever Stamp was formally launched by the USPS in October and the stamp was issued in November.

Ban on Zakir Naik not the end; India needs vigilance to save Muslim youth

The Indian government’s five-year ban on the supremacist Islamist preacher, Dr Zakir Naik seems to have gratified many people — Muslims and non-Muslims alike — who concern themselves with the pluralistic ethos of the country. But is the story over? How could this eventual ban bring an end to the process of fanatic indoctrination ushering in the age of Internet?

“The story isn’t quite over yet,” says a Firstpost article. “Banning Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) will not undo the messages he has preached to youth all these years… There is a need to keep a continuous vigil. Naik might be planning his next moves sitting in Dubai, where he is currently believed to be,” it adds.

The above remark is not difficult to understand, bearing in mind that many Muslim youth from Maharashtra left their home to join the Islamic State (IS) earlier this year, some of them allegedly inspired by Naik.

Peace TV owner Zakir Naik. CNN-News 18

Peace TV owner Zakir Naik. CNN-News 18

Only recently, an alleged operative of IS was arrested in Sikar district of Rajasthan. This IS sympathiser was involved in raising funds from India, Bangladesh and UAE, and transferring to the IS for the last two years through hawala, PTI had reported.

Here, it is quite pertinent to note that the alleged IS operative was in contact with other sympathisers of the global jihadist organisation via social networking sites. An MBA graduate, who was previously working as an assistant financial manager at a reputed firm in Dubai, he has a wife and children in Mumbai. But instead of caring for his family and earning a livelihood — the most essential duty in Islam — he joined “those who are fighting for a cause”, and is “completely remorseless” in supporting the IS!

There are two crucial points that emerge from this instance of fanatic indoctrination:

First, at a time when extremist preachers like Naik and his organisation, IRF are banned in India, it is equally important to unravel “the cause” which attracts Muslim youth to such indoctrination and join the IS.

Second, as it is clear from the above incident, Muslim youth in India are being indoctrinated through online and digital channels a lot more as compared to the offline activities of the extremist Islamist outfits. Thus, countering online fanaticism is more urgent a challenge before India than banning a radical organisation and a preacher for a few years. Though the latter too is a gigantic task to accomplish, it is no less lethal than the violent spade of terror that attacks through bomb blasts from Mumbai to Kolkata and Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

Coming back to the first point, the major “cause” which lures the youths to quit their education and career and join a global jihadist outfit like IS is the apocalyptic theory being misconstrued by the Islamist preachers today.

The apocalyptic worldview or millenarian thesis of the radical Islamist preachers is a large part of the attraction for Muslim youth even in India. As propagated by the IS ideologues, we are living in “end-time” (an era close to the doomsday). Therefore, the IS exhorts the Muslim youth to engage in the end-times battle, al-malhama, an Islamic synonym of the Christian theory of Armageddon which refers to the final war between human governments and God.

Though nearly all world religions have prophesies on the end-time, much of the violent political abuse of this concept is seen across the Muslim world. The very apocalyptic theory was an inspiration behind the ideologues of al-Qaeda as well. Much before Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Jordanian radical Islamist ideologue Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden and other radical Islamist mentors also talked about it but they did not give it primacy.

But for IS, the apocalyptic theory or millenarian thesis is central to its violent ideology. It believes itself to be one of the earliest armies to fight the end-time battle to defeat the governments of kuffar (infidels) and establish the puritanical Shari’ah in its global Islamic state. In order to achieve this long-term goal, the IS has actively engaged in the fulfillment of the pre-requisites of its self-imposed caliphate, such as the revival of pre-Islamic slavery in Arabia. The IS mouthpiece in English Dabiq has published an article which concludes that the revival of slavery before the Hour (doomsday) is imperative. The third article in this issue of Dabiq, entitled “The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour” clearly says: “Enslaving the families of the kuffar (infidels) and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Shari’ah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Koran and the narrations of the Prophet… and thereby apostatising from Islam”.

The anonymous author of this article who seems to be well-versed in the classical Islamic jurisprudence, further writes: “This large-scale enslavement of mushrik families is probably the first since the abandonment of this Shari’ah law. The only other known case – albeit much smaller – is that of the enslavement of Christian women and children in the Philippines and Nigeria by the mujāhidīn there. The enslaved Yazidi families are now sold by the Islamic State soldiers… .”

Image courtesy: Inside the Caliph

Image courtesy: Inside the Caliph

This IS author justifies the enslavement of not only the kuffar and mushrikin (non-Muslims) but also the Muslim sects other than the Salafis who follow the 12th century puritanical Islamic scholar, Imam Ibn Taimiya. Addressing the question whether Yazidis (the members of an ancient Kurdish sect that borrows elements of Islam) are entitled to enslavement, as they are “deviant” and “apostate” Muslims, the author avers: “Yazidi women and children (are to be) divided according to the Shari’ah amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations (in northern Iraq).”

In a foot-note, the author also takes up the question of whether the enslavement would be meted out to the different groups of the Shiites. The answer is as follows: “The enslavement of the apostate women belonging to apostate groups such as the rāfidah, nusayriyyah, durūz, and ismā’īliyyah is one that the fuqahā’ (Islamic jurists) differ over. The majority of the scholars say that their women are not to be enslaved and only ordered to repent because of the hadīth, ‘Kill whoever changes his religion,'” it says referring to Sahīh al-Bukhārī, one of the six hadith collections of Sunni Islam. “But some of the scholars including Shaykhul-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah and the Ahnāf (Hanafis) say they may be enslaved,” the author adds.

Notice the resemblance between the above remark of the IS ideologue in Dabiq and that of the star Salafist preacher in India, Naik answering a similar question in one of his public talks. Naik justified rather more heinous crime of slavery, “sex slavery” with his masterful misuse of the religious texts of Islam. In the same tone and tenor as that of the IS author, Naik justified sex slavery in 2010 in his public speech (check this video) on the question, “Is sex allowed with slave women in Islam.”

Similarly, Naik’s views on death penalty for those who are declared “apostates” have no conflict with what the IS author has pointed out. According to him, if somebody wanted to convert to any faith other than Islam, the capital punishment would be the most “humane punishment” for such a person. This video of his talk on “capital punishment for apostates” leaves no doubt in the complete replication of Naik’s theology to the inhuman ideology of IS and Taliban.

Thus, through his TV channel and in other so-called Islamic Da’wah programmes, Naik has preached precisely what IS ideologues have. Several articles in Firstpost have candidly exposed Naik as an Islamist supremacist who speaks of sex slaves, wanton killing of apostates and justifies the terror crimes as heinous as suicide bombing. At a time when the world’s progressive Islamic scholars are outraged at the pre-Islamic practice of keeping sex slaves that the IS has now revived, Naik has justified the vile custom.

Just as Dabiq misleads the ordinary English-speaking Muslims of the Middle East, the first Salafist television in India, Peace TV founded and conceived by Naik has misguided scores of English-speaking Indian Muslims who are either gullible or oblivious to the grave threat posed to the tolerant Indian Islam.

At a time when the IS is flogging the fiction of its pre-conceived apocalypse in its bid to revive the vile pre-Islamic custom of slavery and establish its own caliphate, Naik and many other self-styled preachers of Islam have helped the extremist cult expand in the Muslim community the world over. But merely banning the extremist indoctrinators is not sufficient enough to stem the tide. As clearly evidenced above, this extremist tribe is growing more rapidly in the virtual world. The online media is being increasingly used to spread the Islamist radicalism. Therefore, the government needs to provide digital literacy to the Indian youth and civil society organisations, religious scholars and media experts to counter the online indoctrination of the Muslim youth and rescue them from the extremist ideologies.
The author is a scholar of comparative religion, classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. Views are personal. Write to him at: [email protected]

First Published On : Nov 21, 2016 15:57 IST

VVIP choppers deal: CBI to seek extradition of middleman Christian Michel from UAE

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The CBI will soon approach UAE authorities seeking extradition of British national and alleged middleman Christian Michel James in connection with its probe in the Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland VVIP choppers deal.Official sources said the agency will seek cooperation from their counterparts in the United Arab Emirates in order to take the probe forward regarding suspected “bribes paid to politicians and bureaucrats” in the case.Michel is one of the three alleged middlemen being probed in the case, besides Guido Haschke and Carlo Gerosa, by CBI and Enforcement Directorate.Both the agencies have notified an Interpol Red Corner Notice (RCN) against him after the court issued a non-bailable warrant against him even as the ED has already made a similar request to UAE authorities against Michel.Michel, said to a “key” man in the deal, was extensively interviewed by the Indian media in Dubai earlier this year and both the agencies want him to join their respective probes in the said case.ED has filed a charge sheet against him in June under money laundering charges and it had said Michel received Euro 30 million (about Rs 225 crore) from AgustaWestland.It had said that the money was nothing but “kickbacks” paid by the firm to execute the 12 helicopter deal in favour of the firm in “guise of” of genuine transactions for performing multiple work contracts in the country.ED had also brought on record, in the charge sheet, that the three middlemen “managed to” make inroads into the Indian Air Force (IAF) to influence the stand of the officials into reducing the service ceiling of the helicopters from 6,000 m to 4,500 m in 2005. AgustaWestland became eligible to supply the dozen helicopters for VVIP flying duties after this change.On January 1, 2014, India scrapped the contract with Finmeccanica’s British subsidiary AgustaWestland for supplying 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers to the IAF over alleged breach of contractual obligations and charges of paying kickbacks to the tune of Rs 423 crore by it for securing the deal.CBI had also got issued Letters Rogatory (judicial requests) to multiple countries to gather more leads and evidences in this case.

Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon described PM Modi’s win as a ‘global revolt’

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> US President-elect Donald Trump’s newly named chief strategist Steve Bannon once described Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s victory in the 2014 elections as part of a “global revolt” against the prevailing system.”I think you’re going to see it in Latin America, I think you’re going to see it in Asia, I think you’ve already seen it in India,” Bannon told a small Vatican audience via skype in the summer of 2014.”Modi’s great victory was very much based on these Reaganesque principles, so I think this is a global revolt, and we are very fortunate and proud to be the news site that is reporting that throughout the world,” he said, according to the transcripts of his Skype address released by Buzzfeed.Bannon said there is global reaction to centralised government. “Whether that government is in Beijing or that government is in Washington or that government is in Brussels.So we are the platform for the voice of that,” he said. “I’m not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents, because he eventually is the state capitalist of kleptocracy. However, we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism and I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing,” he had said.”I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the US, and I think it’s what can see us forward,” he added.He had described Putin as an interesting character. “He’s also very, very, very intelligent. I can see this in the US where he’s playing very strongly to social conservatives about his message about more traditional values, so I think it s something that we ha ve to be very much on guard of,” he said. Responding to a question, he had advocated a very aggressive stance against radical Islam. “I realize there are other aspects that are not as militant and not as aggressive and that s fine,” he had said.

Bill to amend 150-yr-old Christian divorce law in winter session

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Christian couples’ wait for two years for seeking divorce by mutual consent may soon end as a nearly 150-year-old law is set to be amended to lower the requisite separation period to one year following persistent demand from the community. The government has put the Divorce (Amendment) Bill, 2016 in the ‘tentative list of government legislative and financial business’ expected to be taken up during the winter session of Parliament beginning November 16.However, the proposal to amend the provisions dealing with Christian marriages is yet to be cleared by the Union Cabinet.According to the Law Ministry proposal, the Divorce Act, 1869 would be amended to halve the separation period for couples from the present two years to one year before they can file for divorce by mutual consent to bring it at par with laws governing other communities.The separation period under the Hindu Marriage Act, Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act and the Special Marriage Act is one year. Section 10A(1) of the Divorce Act, added through an amendment in 2001, says that a couple seeking divorce should be living separately for a period of “two years or more”.Against the backdrop of a Supreme Court order in April last and persistent demands by members of the community, the Law Ministry has decided to move the proposal to reduce the separation period. Questioning the existing law, the Supreme Court had urged the Centre to make necessary amendments. “Should Christians stay separated for minimum two years when the period prescribed for others is one year? It does not make sense to us. It is a pure question of law and you (government) should have acted on your own,” a bench of Justices Vikramjit Sen and A M Sapre had observed.The bench delivered the order on a petition filed by a Delhi resident. Some high courts have also struck down the provision of two-year separation. The ministry has also proposed another amendment in the law to enable any of the spouses living in India to file for divorce. As of now, both husband and wife should be living in India when the petition for dissolution of marriage is moved.Also, if the law is amended, then it will allow a woman to move the divorce petition in the district court within whose jurisdiction she ordinarily resides. As per the existing provisions, a petition can be filed only where the marriage was solemnised or where the couple reside or last resided together.The Law Commission had on several occasions in the past recommended amendments to the Divorce Act to make it more women-friendly.

Personal laws have to be consitutionally compilant: Arun Jaitley on ‘triple talaq’ debate

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Amid the ongoing debate over ‘Triple Talaq’, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today said the government is of the clear view that personal laws should be constitutionally compliant and in conformity with norms of gender equality and the right to live with dignity.In a Facebook post titled “Triple Talaq and the Government s Affidavit”, he said that governments in the past have shied from taking a categorical stand that personal laws must comply with Fundamental Rights but the present one has taken a clear position on the issue.”Personal laws have to be constitutionally compliant and the institution of Triple Talaq, therefore, will have to be judged on the yardstick of equality and the Right to Live with Dignity. Needless to say that the same yardstick would be applicable to all other personal laws,” he said. Observing that the constitutional validity of ‘Triple Talaq’ is distinct from the Uniform Civil Code, he said as of today, the issue before the Supreme Court is only with regard to the constitutional validity of Triple Talaq.In its affidavit in Supreme Court on October 7, the Law Ministry argued that polygamy and Triple Talaq should be done away with, and said that such practices “cannot be regarded as essential or integral part of the religion”.”The academic debate with regard to the Uniform Civil Code can go on before the Law Commission. The question to be answered is that assuming that each community has its separate personal law, should not those personal laws be constitutionally compliant?” Jaitley said.He said there is a fundamental distinction between religious practices, rituals and civil rights. “Religious functions associated with birth, adoption, succession, marriage, death, can all be conducted through rituals and customs as per existing religious practices.”Should rights emanating from birth, adoption, succession, marriage, divorce etc. be guided by religion or by constitutional guarantees? Can there be inequality or compromise with human dignity in any of these matters?” Jaitley said.Some people may hold a conservative, if not obsolete, view that personal laws need not be constitutionally compliant, he said, adding “the Government’s view is clear.Personal laws have to be constitutionally compliant…”.Jaitley said the constitutional framers had expressed a hope in the Directive Principles of State Policy that the State would endeavour to have a Uniform Civil Law and on more than one occasion, the Supreme Court has enquired from the government its stand on the issue. “Governments have repeatedly told both the Court and Parliament that personal laws are ordinarily amended after detailed consultations with affected stakeholders,” he said. As regards the Uniform Civil Code, the Law Commission has initiated an academic exercise to elicit views of public on the issue.”This academic exercise by the Law Commission is only a continuation of the debate in this country ever since Constituent Assembly had expressed the hope that the State would endeavour to have a Uniform Civil Code,” he said.”Irrespective of whether the Uniform Civil Code is today possible or otherwise, a pertinent question arises with regard to reforms within the personal laws of various communities,” he said.Jaitley said that Jawaharlal Nehru’s government had brought about major reforms to the Hindu Personal Laws through legislative changes and more recently Manmohan Singh’s government came up with legislative changes with regard to gender equality in the Hindu Undivided Family.Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government, after active consultations with stakeholders, amended the provisions of marriage and divorce relating to the Christian community in order to bring about the gender equality, he added.”Reforming the personal laws, even if there is no uniformity, is an ongoing process. With passage of time, several provisions became obsolete, archaic and even got rusted. Governments, legislatures and communities have to respond to the need for a change,” Jaitley said. As communities have progressed, there is a greater realisation with regard to gender equality. “Additionally, all citizens, more particularly women, have a right to live with dignity. Should personal laws which impact the life of every citizen be in conformity with these constitutional values of equality and the Right to Live with dignity? “A conservative view found judicial support over six decades ago that personal laws could be inconsistent with personal guarantees. Today it may be difficult to sustain that proposition. The government’s affidavit in the triple talaq case recognises this evolution,” Jaitley explained. He said there is a fundamental distinction between religious practices, rituals and civil rights.On September 2, All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) told the Supreme Court that personal laws of a community cannot be “re-written” in the name of social reforms and opposed pleas on issues including alleged gender discrimination faced by Muslim women in divorce cases. AIMPLB, in its counter affidavit filed in the apex court, had said the contentious issue relating to Muslim practices of polygamy, triple talaq (talaq-e-bidat) and nikah halala are matters of “legislative policy” and cannot be interfered with. The AIMPLB has also decided to boycott of Law Commission’s questionnaire on the Uniform Civil Code.

Nearly 80% of divorced Indian Muslims are women, shows Census 2011 data

By Alison Saldanha

In India, for every divorced Muslim man, there are four divorced Muslim women, an IndiaSpend analysis of Census 2011 data shows.

Muslim womenMuslim women

Representational image. Reuters

Across religious communities, except Sikhs, there are more divorced women than men. But the gender skew is particularly sharp among Muslims (79:21), followed by “other religions” (72:28), and Buddhists (70:30).

Among divorced Indian women, 68 percent are Hindu, and 23.3 percent, Muslims, according to Census 2011 data on the marital status of Indians. The data were recently cited by Muslim groups protesting the national law commission’s formulation of a uniform civil code, especially a ban on triple talaq, according to this report in The Hindu.

Among divorced men, Hindus account for 76 percent, and Muslims, 12.7 percent. Both Christian women and men cover 4.1 percent of their gender-respective divorced groups.

What do the ratios imply?

Women’s rights activists believe that the gender imbalance in the numbers implies that more men than women are remarrying. “If there are 100 divorced couples, it should show a 50:50 sex-ratio. The skewed ratio plainly shows that after divorce, not only is it easier for men to remarry but also that they show a greater need or want to remarry,” Flavia Agnes, legal scholar and women’s rights activist, told IndiaSpend in a telephonic interview.

Source: Census 2011

The skewed ratio among Muslims could be attributed to two problems, according to Hasina Khan, founder of the Bebaak Collective, a Muslim women’s organisation based in Mumbai. “The first is the absolute powers given to men under the Muslim Personal Laws by allowing triple talaq and so on. For women, getting married provides security of shelter and food with few rights for negotiation,” she said.

The other reason is the state’s failure to empower Muslim women, she added.

“There is little political will to address the needs of this sub-group. The socio-economic condition of Muslim women in India continues to deteriorate with inadequate access to good education, job opportunities and so on,” Khan said.

Maharashtra has most divorced women

With a total population of 8.5 lakh divorced persons, the Census recorded more failed marriages in rural India where a higher proportion of the nation’s population still resides. In urban India, there were 5.03 lakh divorced persons.

Maharashtra, with 2.09 lakh persons, recorded the highest number of divorced citizens. The second-most populous state also holds the largest disproportion of men-to-women divorcees. About 73.5 percent or 1.5 lakh divorced persons in the state are women.

The highest population of divorced men in the country — 1.03 lakh persons – resides in Gujarat, accounting for 54 percent of the state’s divorced population.

Goa, with 1,330 divorcees, holds the lowest record of failed marriages.

More women than men deserted after marriage

More women than men in India are separated — out of a marriage without a formal divorce – the Census data showed. Activists believe that this indicates widespread practice of polygamy across India.

“Men often desert their wives in a separation, withholding from them the freedom to remarry. The data incongruence clearly shows that more men are into polygamy, obtaining second and third wives, while society gives no rights for women,” Agnes said.

Within religious communities, the highest imbalance of separated women-to-men ratio has been recorded among Muslims, with women accounting for 75 percent of the separated population. Christian women, who comprised 69 percent of the separated population within their community, follow. Another significant disparity has been recorded among Buddhists, where separated women comprised 68 percent of the demographic group within their community.

Source: Census 2011

Over the decade ending 2011, there was a 39 percent rise in the number of single Indian women including widows, divorcees and unmarried women, and those deserted by husbands, IndiaSpend reported in November 2015. However, the number of bachelors (58 percent) still exceeds unmarried women, according to the Census data, indicating a higher pressure on women to get married.

The triple talaq debate

On October 7, 2016, the National Law Commission published a list of 16 questions seeking public opinion on the need for a uniform civil code for India. Apart from probing citizens’ perception of gender equality in prevalent personal laws across religions, a question asked if the practice of triple talaq should be abolished, continued or amended. Another question sought views on strengthening Hindu women’s rights to inherit property.

The Muslim Personal Law Board has criticised the legal panel’s exercise, claiming the law commission is not acting independent of the central government that opposed the triple talaq law in Supreme Court the same day. Responding to a batch of public interest litigations filed by NGOs and women’s rights groups on the issue, the Centre said the practice cannot be regarded as an essential part of religion, according to this Times of India report.

“There are gender discriminatory personal laws across India’s religious communities not merely among Muslims. Though it claims to aid vulnerable sections, the law commission’s plans for the uniform civil code do not deal with these in the right spirit. The uniformity it speaks of would only dilute India’s plural cultures while bringing in the same patriarchal bias,” Khan said.

Hindus comprise about 80 percent of India’s population, while Muslims account for 14.23 percent. Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains comprise 2.3 percent, 1.72 percent, 0.7 percent and 0.37 percent, respectively, of the population.

Religious persecution will never be allowed, says Rajnath at India Christian Council meet

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Describing India as a “university of tolerance”, Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Friday asserted that religious persecution will never be allowed in the country. “Tolerance is essential for peaceful existence. People from all religions live peacefully in India and practise their religion without any fear of discrimination. That is why India is a university of tolerance,” Singh said at a meeting of Christian leaders organised by India Christian Council here.Singh said Christianity came to India almost 2,000 years ago and Kerala is home to St Thomas church which is one of the world’s oldest churches. He said India cannot forget the contribution of Christians — from Saint Thomas to Mother Teresa — who tried to eradicate evils from our society. “There were incidents of attacks on churches in Delhi which came up in the run up to elections (to Delhi Assembly). But I would like to say that religious persecution will never be allowed in India whether it is before or after election,” he said.Targeting Pakistan, Singh said while India chose to be a secular country, Pakistan declared itself a theocratic state and was now pursuing terrorism as state policy “In 1947, India was divided on the basis of religion and despite that, it chose to be a secular state. “The nation (Pakistan) separated from it declared itself a theocratic state. That country uses terrorism as a state policy.” It is very unfortunate that some countries make terrorism a state policy. There can be differences between people that can be resolved through dialogue but not by taking up guns, he saidSingh said a terrorist does not belong to any cast, creed on religion. “Not only India, but many countries in the world have been affected by terrorism. A terrorist is a terrorist who does not belong to any caste, creed or religion. Although, some people link terrorism with religion but it is wrong,” he said. The Home Minister said in India, people from all religions get respect and it is the only country where all sects of Islam are found. “All important religions find place in India,” he said.The meeting was attended by BJP MP and National Chairman of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organisations Udit Raj and Joseph D’Souza, Moderator Bishop, Good Shepherd Church, India and President of All Indian Christian Council. D’Souza asked the Christian community to stand with the government and support it in the fight against terrorism. The Council requested Singh to send a circular to state governments and police to ensure protection of Christians and places of their worships.

India is a university of tolerance: Rajnath Singh at All India Christian Council

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh attended the All India Christian Council on Friday and spoke on religious tolerance and terrorism. He called India a ‘University of Tolerance’ as it has high tolerance for different religions. He also added that terrorism affects all countries and the global community should fight it together. “All sects of Islam are found in India. All the important religions of the world are found in India. Even if you leave others out, you will find Jews, Parsis in India and everyone have the freedom the practice their own religion. That is why I say it won’t be an exaggeration to call India an University of tolerance, because tolerance is important for peaceful existence,” Singh said. “Even when India was divided on the basis of religion, we did not allow it to become a theocratic nation, but India is a secular state,” he added. Addressing the gathering, Singh said, “We have a lot of challenges. When it comes to terrorism, if a nation makes it a part of state policy it is very unfortunate. We might have differences in our thinking, but do we need to take the help of guns to resolve these differences. If we have differences, we can sit and resolve those issues. Terrorism not only affects India, but many other countries and the entire global community should come together to fight terrorism,” he added.

AIMIM decides to reply to Law Commission’s questionnaire on Uniform Civil Code

Hyderabad: Stating that Uniform Civil Code is not good for the country, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi on Thursday said his party would nevertheless reply to the Law Commission’s questionnaire.

File image of Asaduddin Owaisi. PTI

File image of Asaduddin Owaisi. PTI

Owaisi said that while he respects the decision of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board to boycott the questionnaire, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) as a political party had decided to respond to the questionnaire.

The Hyderabad MP, who is also a member of the board, said the AIMIM took the decision despite the questionnaire being heavily loaded in favour of Uniform Civil Code.

Talking to reporters, Owaisi reiterated that Uniform Civil Code was not good for diversity and pluralism of this country.

He said that in a country with different religions, cultures and languages, a Uniform Civil Code will not help.

“Can there be an agreement on inheritance according to Mitakshara and Dayabhaga schools? Can we take away cultural rights which Constitution has given to Nagaland and Mizoram?” he asked.

“Every community or caste in India whether it is Hindu, Muslim, Dalit, tribal Christian or Sikh has its own culture. This country celebrates the diversity of culture and religion.

“Those who want to impose Uniform Civil Code are deliberately not understanding the beauty of pluralism. You cannot impose one culture one language on the country,” he said.

He also wondered why Muslims were being denied Hindu undivided family tax rebate and asked if this was not gross violation of right to equality and right to freedom of religion.

Owaisi said the government wants polarization through efforts to impose Uniform Civil Code. He alleged that it also wants to divert people’s attention from its failures on all fronts.

He hoped that other communities would also understand that this was the real agenda of the government and not development or revival of the economy.

“Surveys show 84 percent Hindu girls who marry are in the age group of 10-16 years but they don’t want to talk about this. They just want to blame Muslims and do polarization,” Owaisi said.

The MP wanted to know why the government was focusing on one directive principle and not another which says that there should be a law banning alcohol.

“There is empirical evidence that more than one lakh people are dying every year under influence of alcohol.”

He said the government had completely failed to revive the economy.

“The industrial output is negative. The last five years have seen highest unemployment. The dollar has touched Rs 70. In the recent auction of spectrum, the government had set a target of Rs 5.5 lakh crore but got only Rs.5,000 odd crore. These are the questions which nobody asks.”

Let’s protect Sitas of our home: PM Modi appeals to people on Dussehra

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday advocated giving equal rights to women from all faiths and appealed to people to stop discriminating between a girl and a boy and protect “Sitas of our homes”.”The discrimination between daughters and sons signifies the Ravan mentality. Be it educated, uneducated, poor, rich, urban, rural, Hindu, Musilm, Sikh, Christian…They can be from different economic or social backgrounds, but daughters should get equal rights,” he said at a Dussehra event in Lucknow.”Today is the World Girl Child Day. On this day, I want people to stop discriminating against the girl child and protect Sita of our home,” the Prime Minister said.Appealing people to save the girl child, he said, “We burn effigies of Ravan, who took away Goddess Sita, every year and the tradition will continue. We should also protect the Sita of our home by stop discriminating between a girl and a boy. How many Sitas we kill in the womb?…We should celebrate more when a girl child is born.”Acknowledging the feat achieved by sportswomen at Olympics, Modi said, “At the Rio Olympics, our daughters made the country proud. Women of the 21st century should get justice.” Terrorism has no boundaries: PM ModiMaking terrorism the centrepoint of his over 20-minute speech, he said terror was the worst enemy of humanity and called upon the world community to speak in one voice against the menace to put an end to it.”Terrorism does not have any boundaries. It is bound to destroy all…a need has arisen to root out those who spread terrorism. Those who help terrorists and provide shelter to them can no longer be spared,” he said in an obvious reference to Pakistan without taking its name.”Terrorism is against humanity. The entire world is being destroyed…if you think that we are insulated against terrorism, then we are wrong. It is a virus affecting our societies. All forces across the world have to talk in one voice and end it. It will not be possible to save humanity without eradicating terrorism,” the Prime Minister said.”The forces of humanism should unite globally to end the menace,” he said.”No one should have this misunderstanding that they are safe from terrorism as terrorism has no boundary, no morality, it can go anywhere and it is bent upon crushing humanity…it is essential for all to come together against terrorism,” Modi said.”The entire world is being harmed. For the last two days we are seeing the picture of a little girl of Syria….and so today, when we are buring Ravana, all human forces as one will have to resolve to fight terrorism as humanity cannot be saved without bringing an end to it,” he said.

Perfumer Monica Ghurde found murdered in Goa; police sends teams to neighbouring states

<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Banking on a few leads, Goa Police has sent teams to neighbouring states to nab the absconding accused in the murder case of high-profile perfume specialist Monica Ghurde.”We will be able to crack this case soon. We are working on different theories. on Friday, we have sent teams to different locations including neighbouring states,” Deputy Inspector General of Police Vimal Gupta told PTI today.The 39-year-old photographer-turned perfumer was found dead in her rented flat in posh Sangolda village on October 6.Police suspect that she was raped and murdered somewhere between October 5 afternoon and night, as she had not been in touch with anyone since that time.The cops are ruling out robbery as nothing was missing from the flat raising suspicions that the killer might have been known to Monica.Gupta said the woman originally hailed from Nagpur and was married to a photographer Bharat Ramamrutam from Tamil Nadu and was residing at Porvorim near here before she separated from her husband and shifted to Sangolda this year.”Police investigations have revealed that she had shifted to Sangolda in July this year and was staying alone,” the DIG said.He said the police are waiting the postmortem report, which would reveal the exact cause of death.Gupta said the murder came to light when the maid who came around 9 AM on October 6 found that the door was locked.When Monica did not open it despite repeated knocks she raised an alarm.”The maid later informed Monica’s brother (Anand, based in Mumbai) who in turn called her husband (Bharat) and then her neighbour, an American woman who had spare keys following which the door was opened and the body was found,” he said.A case has been registered under section 302 (murder) of the IPC.The perfumer, who was a regular on Goa’s social circuit is said to have met Ramamrutham in Mumbai while she was a photographer. She had done her photography course from Mumbai’s JJ Institute of Applied Arts.Subsequently, she moved to Chennai in 2009 to pursue her interest in perfumes, and later shifted to Goa in 2011. Monika had set up her perfume-making company Mo Lab, and was also researching perfumery. She collaborated with eminent designers such as Jean Francois Lesage, Christian Louboutin and Anand Kabra.

How the socio-political, cultural narrative about India set in motion in the Colonial era, persists

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a paper presented at the National Seminar held in Bengaluru by the Indian Council for Philosophical Research in September 2016.

Two features become immediately evident in any study about India: One, it is the only surviving non-Abrahamic ancient culture and civilisation, and two, its cultural and civilisational continuity dating back to such antiquity.

And this continuity has been more or less maintained intact in almost all realms of human activity in India: in dress, family life, social interactions, basic ethical conceptions like dharma, religious rituals, institutions, places of worship, traditions, art, music and so on. The reason why this continuity has been preserved owes to India’s fundamental philosophical conceptions rooted in the Vedas and the numerous Dharmashastras. The aforementioned realms are, in a way, the practical or outward manifestations of these fundamental conceptions.

Robert Clive (1725 - 1774), British governor of India receives from Shah Alam, the Mughal Emperor of India, a decree conferring upon the East India Company the administration of the revenues of Bengal, Behar and Orissa. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)Robert Clive (1725 - 1774), British governor of India receives from Shah Alam, the Mughal Emperor of India, a decree conferring upon the East India Company the administration of the revenues of Bengal, Behar and Orissa. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Robert Clive (1725 – 1774), British governor of India receives from Shah Alam, the Mughal Emperor of India, a decree conferring upon the East India Company the administration of the revenues of Bengal, Behar and Orissa. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In brief, stress must be laid on the phrase that India is the “only surviving non-Abrahamic ancient culture and civilisation” for the purpose of contextualisation and clarity of discourse, terminology etc.

Dr S Radhakrishnan in his preface[i] to the fifth volume of P V Kane’s History of the Dharmashastras holds that

True religion should have three sides to it:

  1. State of Mind
  2. Relationship to reality and
  3. A way of life

And PV Kane himself, in the same volume notes[ii] that our “ancient sages laid the foundation [for philosophical and social harmony] by insisting upon this that there is and must be harmony between man’s spirit and the spirit of the world and man’s endeavor should be to realize in his actions and his life this harmony and unity…social reforms and politics have to be preached through our age old…philosophy. If our leaders and people throw away or neglect religion and spirituality altogether, the probability is that we shall lose both spiritual life and social betterment.”

And to realise this harmony of spirit and the world, ancient India realised that a fundamental attitude — or state of mind — was required. This attitude, to put it in simple terms, is how one regards life itself. Our ancients regarded life as one of celebration in all its variegated aspects; life was worth living to the fullest with all enjoyments — for example, as the celebrated Chamaka Prashna shows us — as long as our enjoyment didn’t violate Dharma. Or as Kane himself quotes Sita’s address to Hanuman holding that “Joy rushes to surviving men even though he has lived for over 100 years. This adage appears to me to be true and auspicious.”[iii] The key here is the note on “over 100 years” as opposed to the widespread notion of “waiting for death in the sunset of our years” and so on.

In a line, what this shows is that one of the central features of India’s philosophical underpinnings is the near-total absence of pessimism. Both happiness and sadness are but mere phases, which attitude in turn is rooted in our conception of time as cyclic.

However, both the major Abrahamic religions stand out in sharp contrast in this fundamental conception of life, and in the sense of Dr Radhakrishan’s “relationship to reality”. While Christianity conceives birth and life itself as sinful, the core doctrines of Islam take this to violent and extreme ends. And from this conception arises the need to convert — violently if necessary — the entire world to their respective religions.

Which then brings us to an even more fundamental point: the definition of the term “religion” itself. From what we have seen so far, there can be no fundamental congruence if we include the Vaidika or Dharmic system of ancient India (henceforth referred to as Hinduism or Sanatana Dharma) in the same definitional bracket as that of the Abrahamic religions. And yet, in almost all of contemporary discourse on comparative religions etc, Sanatana Dharma is given the label of “religion” in the sense of Abrahamic religions. And this incongruent discourse become mainstream — in the media, TV, talk shows, and so on — and has almost become received truth so to say.

Needless, this state of affairs has a long history and in the specific case of India, it is a case of history that continues to repeat itself in the facets of colonialism, economic oppression, societal fissures, and especially, after World War II, driven by alien ideologies.

The approach to studying the history and consequences of colonialism in India is perhaps best given by Prof RC Majumdar that “Real history…teaches us that the major part of India lost independence about five centuries before, and merely changed masters in the eighteenth century,” referring to the first external Muslim invasions into and subsequent imperialism over large parts of India.

Yet, a key difference between the protracted Muslim rule in India and the British rule is the fact that while Muslim Sultans settled in India, the British never made India their home. Their purpose, it appears, was one of relentless economic exploitation of the country for the enrichment of England at untold cost and suffering of generations of Indians. One may refer[iv] to the chapters, Rape of a Continent and Economic Destruction in Will Durant’s A Case for India, and Madhushree Mukherji’s Churchill’s Secret War, among other notable works for a more comprehensive discussion.

Along with this, the British also spearheaded a fundamental change that in one stroke profoundly altered the national and social character of India. The introduction of English education — which was simultaneously accompanied by the comprehensive destruction of our traditional modes of learning — and a massive impetus to Christian missionaries, who not coincidentally, came to monopolise the educational sphere. Without going into too many details, one may recall Ananda Coomaraswamy’s early warning that an English-educated Indian would be cut off from his roots and become an “intellectual pariah who does not belong to the East or the West, the past or the future. The greatest danger for India is the loss of her spiritual integrity. Of all Indian problems the educational is the most difficult and most tragic”. [v] And when we observe the ideological battles being fought in the education establishment today, we notice how this tragedy has escalated almost irreversibly, if I may add.

As a sort of a handmaiden of giving English education to Indians, Indology began making steady but massive forays in the realms of higher learning especially when British rule was at its height. The biggest “contribution” of Indology over the last two-odd centuries is undoubtedly the Aryan Invasion Theory, which may rank as one of the world’s greatest intellectual hoaxes in the service of colonialism. Of course, in our own time, the AIT has been repeatedly shown to be false from multiple angles: archeology, genetics, Vedic textual evidence and so on. Offshoots of Indology include the current attempts to politicise and offer spurious interpretations of the Vedas, epics, Puranas, the Sanskrit language, folklore and indeed, anything that can be considered “native”, and valuable.

And as is well known, the Communists who began gaining prominence in the mid-1930s employed the Western Indology and missionary discourse about India with destructive zeal and consequences. Indeed, they elevated historical and colonial distortions to an art form as documented copiously by Sita Ram Goel, Arun Shourie, Ram Swarup, Dr K S Lal, Shatavadhani Dr Ganesh among other scholars. This distortion in the early years after India attained freedom took the two-pronged approach of whitewashing medieval Islamic atrocities on Hindus and portraying Hindus as oppressors, and reached the nadir when the Marxists began to deny history, most notably during the Babri Masjid affair.[vi] Equally, on contemporary events, Marxists — or their new self-description as liberals — continue to act as apologists for Islamic terrorism.

Curiously, but understandably, India is perhaps the only country in the world where the mutually hostile troika of Islamism, Christian Evangelism and Marxism are friends with each other because their goals remain the same as we shall see.

Both the Evangelical West and the Middle East do not make a distinction between the varna of Hindus because the core doctrines of their religions enjoin treating both a Brahmin and a Dalit as a heathen or Kaffir. Logically, nothing else explains why various Christian denominations continue to invest massive resources in converting say, Dalits en masse, or use subtle discursive techniques to convert, say the mostly-urban “upper castes.”

Most notably, the Christian West never gave up studying India and Hinduism in all its aspects. As the concept note of this seminar states, scholars like Sheldon Pollock continue to undertake this study for achieving purely political ends. When we observe the fairly recent history of say South Korea, Philippines and East Timor, it becomes clear that India is the last non-Abrahamic bastion to be subverted and bloodlessly conquered by the West. The aforementioned countries have now become mere Christian outposts of powerful nations of the West.

***

[i] PV Kane: History of the Dharmashastras Vol 5, Part 2: Preface by Dr. S Radhakrishnan, pp 2
[ii] PV Kane: History of the Dharmashastras Vol 5, Part 2: pp 1708-09
[iii] Valmiki Ramayana. Sundara Kanda: 34.6
[iv] Will Durant: A Case for India: pp 7, pp 44
[v] Ananda Coomaraswamy: “Education in India,” Essays in National Idealism
[vi] Koenraad Elst: Negationism in India

Fading glory

London-based photographer Karan Kapoor records some of India’s dying Christian communities who are trying to preserve their identities in rapidly changing times.

AugustaWestland case: ED conducts raids at 10 places in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad

New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate on Monday conducted raids at 10 places in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad in connection with its ongoing money laundering probe in the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland helicopter deal.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

“ED conducted searches at 10 premises located in Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad in AgustaWestland case,” an ED official said.

The official said the agency also issued freezing orders under Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) against shares worth Rs 86.07 crore owned by companies in Dubai, Mauritius and Singapore.

ED is probing the case in which Rs 360 crore were allegedly paid as kickbacks by Finmeccanica, the parent firm of AgustaWestland, to execute the deal for 12 helicopters in its favour in the “guise of” transactions for performing multiple work contracts in the country.

The agency had lodged a case in July, 2014 against former Indian Air Force chief S.P. Tyagi, businessman Gautam Khaitan, his wife Ritu, three Italian middlemen – Christian Michel James, Guido Ralph Haschke and Carlo Gerosa – and 13 others in the case.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is also conducting separate investigation into the AugustaWestland’s AWA101 helicopter deal.

Delhi University’s Stephen’s College maintains highest cut-off for English at 99% in first list

Delhi University’s prestigious St Stephen’s College announced the first cut-off list for the 2016-17 academic session on Saturday with the highest requirement being for English honours at 99% even as the institution saw a dip in the number of applications this year.The cut-off for admission to the college remained almost similar to that of the previous year. The college had last year received a record 32,100 applications but this year only 23,500 have been received for the 400 seats.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The cut-off for a seat in the Stephen’s English Honours class works out to 99% for Commerce, 98% for Science and 97.50% for humanities, the highest for the subjects on offer at the college.
ALSO READ St Stephen’s, Jesus Mary college to join DU’s centralised admission processFor Economics, the cut-off is 98.25% for commerce students, 97.25% for science and 96.75% for humanities.For History, BA Programme, Mathematics, Sanskrit and Philosophy, the cut-offs are 98, 97, 96.50, 80 and 97% respectively.
ALSO READ Stephens molestation row: DCW summons principal Valson Thampu, professorLast year too, the highest cut-off was for English at 99%. However, the cut-offs for BA programme, Economics and Maths have actually dropped for certain streams this year.Stephen’s being a minority institution follows a schedule and procedure for admission which is different from other Delhi University colleges. But for the first time, the college was asked to join the centralised registration process and hence those applying to St Stephen’s had to register on DU’s admission portal first.
ALSO READ St. Stephen’s sexual harassment row: Victim alleges she was denied stipendStephen’s offers Honours courses in Economics, English, History, Philosophy, Sanskrit, Mathematics, Chemistry along with the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) pass courses.There are separate cut-offs for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (non-Christian), Christian Scheduled Tribes, Church of North India (CNI), CNI Delhi Diocese, Other Christians, Christian Person with Disability, Person with Disability for some particular subjects, and for Urdu students.Unlike other DU colleges, Stephen’s conducts an aptitude test of 30-minute duration and personal interview for those figuring in the cut-off list. The interview and aptitude test will begin from June 20 and the list of those eligible for it will be put on college’s website by Sunday.

dna Evening Must Reads: From the latest in VVIP chopper scam to how coffee is carcinogenic

1. VVIP chopper scam: ED files fresh charge sheet; names middleman Christian MichelED has filed a fresh charge sheet, delving specifically into the role of British national and alleged middleman Christian Michel James and his few Indian associates, in connection with its money laundering probe in the Rs 3,600 crore VVIP chopper deal. Read more here.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>2. All you need to know about new civil aviation policyThe Union Cabinet approved the new civil aviation policy on Wednesday. The new civil aviation policy focuses on taking “flying to the masses” and to make it “affordable, convenient, cheap.” The long-awaited policy will make it simpler for new domestic airline companies to start flying international routes, will make short-span travel cheaper, and lots more. Read more here.3. US Senate fails to recognise India as ‘global strategic and defence partner’The Senate has failed to recognise India as a “global strategic and defence partner” of the US after a key amendment necessary to modify its export control regulations could not be passed. Read more here.4. Prove you are Indian: MHA tells RTI applicant before disclosing Ishrat Jahan probe detailsIn a rare instance, the Home Ministry has asked an RTI applicant to prove he is an Indian before disclosing details about the one-member panel looking into the missing files related to the alleged fake encounter case of Ishrat Jahan. Read more here.5. Is coffee carcinogenic? Only if it’s very hot, say WHO scientistsThere is no conclusive evidence that drinking coffee causes cancer, the World Health Organization’s cancer agency will say as it downgrades its warning, but it will also say all “very hot” drinks are probably carcinogenic. Read more here.

Activists say condition of Bangladeshi Hindus horrible; urge India to take up matter

In the wake of a series of attacks on Hindus in Bangladesh, the minority community there wants Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian government to take up the matter with Dhaka to ensure their safety and security.”The Hindu community, which is the biggest minority community in Bangladesh, is vulnerable in Bangladesh. Fundamentalist and Jamat forces are trying to wipe out Hindus from Bangladesh. We feel that India being a Hindu majority country, should do something. We have high hopes on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He should act and take up the matter with Bangladeshi government and ensure the safety and security of Hindus,” Rana Dasgupta, general secretary of Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council and noted Human Rights activist, told PTI.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>A 60-year-old Hindu ashram worker, Nityaranjan Pandey, was hacked to death on June 10 by suspected Islamists, becoming the fourth person from the minority community to be killed in a series of brutal attacks on secular activists in the Muslim-majority Bangladesh.
ALSO READ At least 3,000 arrested in Bangladesh crackdown, PM vows to catch killers”The religious majority and the fundamentalist groups want to eliminate the Hindu community. Since last two years, this religious cleansing has gained further pace. Stability in the Indian subcontinent region can never be achieved with Bangladesh turning into a fundamental state. So if India wants stability in the region it should act to stop the annihilation of minorities in our country,” Dasgupta, who is also Prosecutor of International Crimes Tribunal, claimed.Pandey’s murder comes within a week of killings of a Hindu priest, a Christian grocer and wife of an anti-terror police officer. In February, militants stabbed to death a Hindu priest at a temple and shot and wounded a devotee who went to his aid.
ALSO READ Bangladesh: ISIS claims responsibility for Hindu ashram worker’s murderIn April, a liberal professor was brutally hacked to death in Rajshahi city. In the same month, a Hindu tailor was hacked to death in his shop and Bangladesh’s first gay magazine editor was brutally murdered along with a friend in his flat in Dhaka by Islamist forces. Bangladesh has also seen a series of attacks on secular and liberal bloggers in 2015.”The condition of Hindus is horrible in Bangladesh. Although we have a secular government of Awami League party, but at grass-roots level the situation is grim. Rapes, murder, loot, arson, destruction of property of Hindu and other minority communities is rampant. Until and unless India puts pressure on Bangladesh, the fundamentalists won’t budge,” well-known actor of Bangladesh and former managing director of Bangladesh Film Development Corporation Piyush Bandopadhaya said.”India is a major power in the region, it can’t sit idle when Hindus are being brutally slaughtered in a neighbouring country,” he said.Bandopadhaya, who along with Dasgupta, lauded the quick response of Indian High Commission in Bangladesh, which had sent its officials to meet the family members of the Hindu priest and colleagues in the ashram, but said India needs to do more.Human rights groups and Hindu leaders in Bangladesh have been demanding more security for religious minorities. Although the minority leaders are expecting Indian government to take up the cause of the minorities in Bangladesh, a senior Bangladesh minister feels the attack on minorities are actually aimed at creating hurdles in the functioning of the secular and liberal Awami League government.”This is actually a ploy by fundamentalist and Jamat forces to put up a bad image of Bangladesh. These attacks are not aimed at minorities, but the real target is to malign our government and turn our country into a fundamentalist state. We will never let that happen. We have taken several steps to ensure the safety and security of minorities and strict action will be taken against the culprits,” Bangladesh Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu told PTI over phone from Dhaka.When asked what would Dhaka do if India wants to take up the cause of security of Hindus, Inu said, “India and Bangladesh share very good relations. India is our friend. If India wants to take up a matter with us, we will talk. There is no harm in it.”

After Kerala polls, BJP sets eyes on Christian votes

After the Kerala experience, BJP president Amit Shah wants his state unit to connect with Christians, hoping to get the community’s backing ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.At the same time, with the party’s performance in the recent assembly polls in the state falling short of its expectations, Shah has asked party leaders to find out who scraped away the BJP’s votes. He is likely to himself visit the state to explore the reasons, sources said.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The BJP managed to win just one seat, Nemom, but its vote share increased in Christian dominated areas in central and southern parts of the state, giving the party hope that the community could become a potential supporter.Shah told a party delegation led by Kerala unit chief Kummanan Rajasekharan this week that the BJP should reach out to the Christians and win over their trust, according to the sources.A party leader said that the BJP would have to build bridges with leaders of the community, which also held a sway in electoral politics in the 25 seats of northeastern states, in preparation for the next general elections in 2019. Of the nearly 45 per cent minority population in Kerala, Christians constitute 18.38 per cent.Senior Christian leaders feel they should have a voice in the government. PC Thomas of the Kerala Congress, an ally of the BJP in the state, met Shah and has placed a string of demands, like including him in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to Rome in September for the canonisation of Mother Teresa. In a letter to Modi, he has pointed out that “though a religious function, the citizens of India and Christians all over the globe, are viewing this auspicious occasion of giving great acceptance and honour to Mother with high esteem.” He also recalled that when Mother Teresa was declared “Blessed”, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had deputed him to represent India in Rome.Thomas’s list of proposals also includes representation for Christians in appointment of central government advocates in various courts in Kerala and posts in bodies like rubber board and spices boards.A BJP leader admitted that there was a strategic disconnect with the Christians as the party failed to project its alliance with the community leaders as much as it did in the case of BJDS leader Vellapaly Natesan, an ezhava leader.The party had hoped to win around ten seats. In eight seats, it lost by a margin of less than 10,000 votes.

China should give more market access for Indian products: President Pranab Mukherjee

Guangzhou: Seeking a “more equitable” bilateral trade, India on Wednesday sought from China greater market for its products like drugs and pharmaceuticals, IT and IT–related services and agro-products.

“Although the trade balance continues to be in favour of China, we look forward to expanding our commerce to make it more equitable,” President Pranab Mukherjee said while addressing a meeting of the India-China Business Forum on the second day of his four-day visit to China.

“India would like to see a greater market for our products in China – particularly in sectors where we have natural complementarities – as in the areas of drugs and pharmaceuticals, IT and IT –related services and agro- products,” he said in the southern Chinese industrial hub.

Trade deficit between India and China has risen to USD 44.7 billion during April-January period of 2015-16.

A file photo of Pranab Mukherjee. PTIA file photo of Pranab Mukherjee. PTI

A file photo of Pranab Mukherjee. PTI

India’s exports to China stood at USD 7.56 billion during the period whereas the imports has jumped to USD 52.26 billion in April-January. In 2014-15, the deficit was aggregated at USD 48.48 billion, according to official figures.

The president also promised a conducive environment for Chinese investors and urged them to participate in ‘Make in India’ and other flagship programmes of the government to boost bilateral trade.

“We will facilitate your efforts to make your investments in India profitable. We must take advantage of the opportunities that abound in the growth of both our economies,” he said at the forum, attended by industrialists and businessmen of both sides.

He said China’s economic achievements are a source of inspiration for India.

“We believe that stepping up our two way trade and investment flows will be of mutual benefit to both our nations. Our bilateral trade has grown steadily since the turn of this century. From USD 2.91 billion in the year 2000, it reached the level of USD 71 billion last year,” he noted.

Guangdong province boasts of a USD one trillion economy with high manufacturing and other industries along with being a powerful export house of China. It has sister province relationship with Gujarat and Maharashtra.

A pilot smart city cooperation project has been announced between Shenzhen and the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City in Gujarat last year.

Referring to the links of 2nd century before the Christian era between Guangdong and Kanchipuram through a direct sea route, Mukherjee said this is an exciting time for India and China to reinforce the old linkages and join hands for new.

UGC’s directive to universities to chant ‘om’ on Yoga Day draws flak

A fresh controversy broke out on Tuesday over the UGC’s directive asking universities and colleges to follow Ayush ministry’s yoga protocol that begins with chanting of ‘Om’ and some Sanskrit sholakas during Yoga Day celebrations on June 21.While Congress criticised the BJP-led government for being “insensitive”, saying yoga, a great discipline of ancient India, does not belong to the saffron party, JD(U) termed it as yet another attempt to “impose the communal agenda” on Indian masses.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”Yoga is a great knowledge of ancient India. It is not something that belongs to BJP. It should be made more acceptable system for the people to practice…Probably this government is unconcerned about these sensitive aspects,” Congress spokesperson P C Chako said.Senior JD(U) leader K C Tyagi flayed the government, saying “This is again (an attempt) to impose the communal agenda on Indian masses. We are opposed to that. How can you say to a Muslim, Sikh, Christian to say ‘Om’. For me, I am a Hindu and I have no problem, but how can you ask people of other religion (to do it). This is again communalism… the divisive agenda of RSS. We condemn it.”UGC’s DirectiveIn his letter to universities last week, UGC secretary Jaspal S Sandhu had sought the “personal indulgence” of Vice Chancellors in celebrating yoga day in their varsities as well as affiliated bodies.”I request you to draw action plan for International Day of Yoga and also ensure wide participation of students and teachers of your esteemed University in the yoga day celebrations,” the senior UGC official said in his letter along with the Ayush ministry’s 45-minute protocol for practising yoga.The protocol starts with a two-minute prayer preceded by chants of ‘Om’ and some Sanskrit Shlokas and followed by 18 minutes of yoga postures and pranayam. As per the protocol, participants would sit in a meditative pose for 9 minutes and there would be ‘Shanti Paath’ towards the end.AYUSH Ministry says no compulsion to chant ‘Om’However, the government and BJP insisted last year’s protocol has been maintained and no changes have been made.”There is no compulsion to chant ‘Om’,” a senior Ayush Ministry official said.BJP national secretary Shrikant Sharma said, “There is no compulsion. Some people are linking yoga to religion while it is essentially meant for holistic well being. It should be a matter of pride that the UN celebrates Yoga Day and about 196 countries follow it. The dirty tricks department of the Congress is behind the controversy.”RJD and CPI(M) also slammed the Modi government, alleging it was adopting a sectarian attitude which was not good. RJD spokesman Manoj Jha said, “In terms of the broad democratic ethos, you cannot force me to do something. If I say I do yoga not because of any other reason (but) simply because I believe in physical activity more and not in chanting ‘Om’, that kind of freedom is in tune with the idea we have seen… We are making nasty compromises on that. These kind of indicators which emanate from the highest office, they unsettle us. That’s a dangerous thing.”CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat said the government has no right to make chanting of ‘Om’ mandatory.”This is not going to work. They just want to push a very sectarian agenda. Their agenda is known to everybody and that is to try and impose religion and religious belief on other communities or those who are non-believers. Nobody is going to accept this,” she added.Actor Anupam Kher said the International Yoga Day has brought reputation to India. “It was performed in more than 100 countries. We have given yoga to the world. And ‘Om’ is attached with Yoga. It would be better if it is not made a controversy.”Last year also, a similar proposal had created a controversy after which a clarification was issued by the Ayush Ministry that chanting ‘Om’ was not compulsory.

Global flooding ‘will threaten billion’

Kolkata and Mumbai will be among the cities most at risk of catastrophic flooding by 2060 as a result of climate change, a UK charity warns.

Almost two-thirds of Germans think Islam doesn’t belong to their country – poll | Reuters

BERLIN Almost two-thirds of Germans think Islam does not “belong” to their country, a survey showed on Thursday, indicating changing attitudes following militant Islamist attacks in Europe and the arrival of more than a million, mostly Muslim, migrants last year.

Former German president Christian Wulff sparked controversy in 2010 when he said Islam belonged to Germany, a comment repeated by Chancellor Angela Merkel last year.

Six years ago, 49 percent of Germans agreed with Wulff and 47 percent did not.

Thursday’s poll, carried out by Infratest dimap for broadcaster WDR, showed that the mood has shifted, with 60 percent now saying that Islam does not belong to Germany. It showed 34 percent thought it did belong.

Scepticism about the religion was greatest among older people, with 71 percent over the age of 64 believing Islam does not belong to the country.

Germany is home to around four million Muslims, about five percent of the total population, and unease over the religion is on the rise, especially in the wake of deadly Islamic State attacks in Brussels and Paris.

Earlier this month members of the anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) backed an election manifesto that says Islam is not compatible with the constitution and calls for a ban on minarets and the burqa.

Just over half of Germans are concerned that the influence of Islam in Germany will become too strong due to the influx of refugees, the Infratest dimap poll showed.

Fears about an Islamist terrorist attack in Germany are also rife, with almost three-quarters of Germans worried about the possibility.

The survey of 1,003 Germans was conducted between May 2 and May 3.

(Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Toby Davis)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

The Maneka Gandhi column: Have you put snail goo on your face yet?

Snails are defined by children as beings who carry their houses on their backs. This does not just apply to the small horned beast on land with a large coiled shell on its back that it can retract into. It is used for sea snails, freshwater snails and slugs as well. Snails that lack a shell are called slugs. Both can’t hear but they have eyes on tentacles on their heads and a sharp sense of smell. They are most active at night. They are hermaphrodites — each snail has the reproductive organs of both sexes and produces sperm and eggs. They have a top speed of about one centimetre an hour! The snail retreats into its shell and seals the entrance with slime in dry weather to protect its body from drying up. During very cold weather or winter, it hibernates in the ground. It lays about 80 eggs several times a year in holes in the soil concealed with a mixture of soil, mucus and excrement. Snails eat living and decaying plants. They control algae in ponds, recycle organic matter. They are food for beetles, earthworms, lizards, snakes, toads, turtles, and birds. Many birds rely on snails for the extra calcium they provide. During egg-laying season, female birds eat 40 percent more snails than normal. If there are no snails, you won’t have a large number of bird species.

Yet, humans have these attitudes towards snails:
– They are slimy and repulsive pests and toxic pesticides and salt are used to kill them.
– They are gourmet food for the French.
– For those who find the eating of snails too awful to even contemplate, I suggest you look at your cosmetics.

The snail moves by creeping on a flat ‘foot’ underneath the body. The band of muscles in the foot contracts and expands and this creates a rippling movement that pushes the snail forward. The “foot” has a special gland that produces slimy mucus to make a slippery track. The slime hardens when it comes into contact with air allowing the snail to move on pointed needles and vines without being injured. The slime trail that the snail leaves behind is often visible as a silvery track on surfaces such as stone or concrete. Mucus is used by a snail to adhere passively to surfaces such as rock,lubrication, repulsing predators and to cover its eggs when they are buried in the earth.

It is this slime that is now being used in medicines and cosmetics.

About 20 years ago, the potential of snail slime was noted by Chilean snail farmers who found that skin lesions healed quickly, with no scars, when they handled snails for the French food market. This observation resulted in the production of ‘Elicina’, a Chilean snail slime-based product. In 2010 ‘Missha’ then launched Super ‘Aqua Cell Renew Snail Cream’, claiming that its 70 percent snail extract ‘soothes regenerates and heals skin’. Now, snail slime based products are claimed to be the new miracle face-fixer where they are used to treat acne, reduce pigmentation and scarring, and combat wrinkle.

Fast track pursuit of beauty? AFPFast track pursuit of beauty? AFP

Fast track pursuit of beauty? AFP

In Italy, slug mucus has been used for many years to treat warts and dermatitis, inflammations, calluses, and acne, and to promote wound healing. In the UK a 1898 exhibit, in the natural history museum, is a slug impaled on a thorn which says ‘Go out alone and find a large black slug. Secretly rub the underside on the warts and impale the slug on the thorn. As the slug dies the warts will go’. Warts are growths caused by an infection caused by human papilloma virus. Does slug slime have antiviral abilities? It would not be surprising if such properties existed, for slugs and snails have a moist skin and live an in environment heavily contaminated with potential pathogenic agents, and thus might be considered to be at particular risk of developing infections. Mucus (or snot), present in our noses for example, functions as a physical barrier between us and the stuff in the air we breathe in.

Slugs produce two types of mucus; pedal mucus, which is relatively thin and contains about 96-97 percent water, and a thick and sticky glue which is produced over the entire body.

Mucus consists of a complex mix of proteoglycans, glycosaminoglycans, glycoprotein enzymes, hyaluronic acid, copper peptides, antimicrobial peptides, and metal ions. The glue contains zinc, iron, copper and manganese, which may have particular relevance for wound healing.

Studies have also shown that mucus contains peptides, such as mucin, which possess antibacterial activity against both Gram positive and Gram negative bacteria. These antimicrobial peptides not only act as natural antibiotics, but also stimulate many elements of the immune system, including barrier repair and inflammatory cell recruitment. Slug slime is also said to contain a local anaesthetic, and for this reason there are anecdotal accounts of live slugs being used to treat toothache. In the US, a patent has been filed for the use of slug slime in the treatment of burns.

Scientists have found that the common garden snail, helix aspersa, contains antioxidants which are substances that protect cells from the damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals. The authors also reported that the snail slime stimulated cellular regeneration, so could be useful in repair of wounded tissues.

In the last few years, covering your face in snail slime has become a major skincare trend and shows no signs of slowing down. There are thousands of products available that contain snail slime that claim to improve your skin, prevent ageing and wrinkles and plump up the skin. There are a number of specialized farms throughout the world that specialize in obtaining snail slime. The slime is then sent to special laboratories where it is turned into SSF, the cosmetic ingredient. Serums and creams on the market have approximately 10 to 15 percent SSF.

Anna Cerutti, from Northern Italy, runs a natural cosmetics company, La Natura Siamo Noi; she says, “snail creams are our best-selling products”. In Russia, beauty salons do slime massages of the Giant African land snail to speed up the regeneration of the skin and eliminate scars. In France, Louis-Marie Guedon from Champagnolles has developed a secret technique to harvest the slime and has started industrial-scale snail mucus extraction operation with a target to harvest 15 tonnes every year. He has contracts with cosmetic labs that mix cosmetics for some of the biggest names in consumer beauty products. Spas in Tokyo offer facials using live snails that crawl across the face leaving their fresh slime on the reclining client.

Snail face creams, serums and masks have surged in popularity in Japan and South Korea. Companies such as Biocutis, Misshaus, Alternative Secrets, Réelle Skincare and Peachandlily provide snail gel products.

Just as lipstick contains fish scales, and baby placenta, and bird droppings are in spa facials, cosmetics manufacturers are now including snail slime as the latest ingredients. The use of slugs and snail is not without risk, however, as their slime can carry ecoli and other dangerous bacteria and rat lungworm. Lungworms are dangerous because once ingested they head to the brain where they can cause meningitis type symptoms, with damage to brain tissue and swelling of the brain.

How weird human beings are! Ask a regular person to touch a snail and they recoil in horror. The body of the snail is long, moist and slimy. The slime that snails secrete is seen as disgusting. In Christian religious text, Psalms 58:8, snail slime is used as a metaphorical punishment and yet uses snail slime as a metaphorical punishment. And yet, what will the human not do in pursuit of beauty!

Mumbai: Education dept orders inquiry against Robert Money School

After complaints from parents and teachers of , the deputy director of school education BB Chavan has ordered an inquiry into the matter.Last month, Robert Money School decided to shift as many as 34 students to another school in order to shut shop. The school in 2013 had shut down their junior college and also terminated the teachers. According to parents, the school management gradually started shutting the primary section and this year the management decided to shut from the secondary section — Std VI to IX.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The parents were forcefully being handed over the leaving certificate on the report card day by the school that angered many parents. Following this, many approached the local police as well as the deputy director of school education office.The parents and teachers also lodged a complaint at Christian Reform United People Association (CRUPA), which also wrote a letter to police and education department to take necessary action. BJP MLA Mangal Prabhat Lodha also requested the education minister to look into the matter as it falls in his constituency.Thus, Chavan wrote a letter to education inspector of south zone education department on May 4. The letter stated that since the school is shut illegally and is forcefully issuing the LC to the students, it is requested to make an inquiry and take appropriate action. The south zone education inspector has also been said to send a detailed report to the deputy director’s office.

VVIP chopper scam: Anurag Thakur alleges senior Congress leader secretly met with Agusta middleman Christian Michel

BJP’s Anurag Thakur hit out at Congress over the AgustaWestland deal saying that a senior leader from the party had a held a secret meeting in Dubai with the company’s middleman Christian Michel.Thakur said that a Congressman had gone to Dubai to meet with the middleman whose extradition has been sought by India. “Recently a senior Congress leader went and met Christian Michel in Dubai… does the union government know about it?” Mr Thakur asked.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Michel has denied playing any role in the deal and said it was a ploy to topple down the opposition political parties in India and Italy. A court in Italy had earlier named Sonia Gandhi and her advisors in its judgment. Anurag Thakur (BJP) said the way Defence Minister has put his points, truth will come out about “who all have taken the bribe. Was only Tyagi family involved in this? How much time the Defence Minister will take in this investigation, I want to know. If there is any corruption involved, it should be investigated,” he said.Thakur took on the Congress saying the party has “completely ruined the system” and also indulged in corrupt practices.Watch Thakur’s speech in the Rajya SabhaIn all the defence scams, Congress’ involvement is there. “Who are the people involved in the AgustaWestland deal? Why was the company favoured,” he asked.He also asked why an Italian company was chosen for the deal and why the parameters of height changed and “if they were not the original equipment manufacturers, why the contract was given to that company”.Why the field trials happened in a foreign country and not in India, he asked, alleging that people like the SPG chief and the National Security Advisor were given constitutional posts so that they could not be questioned.Thakur said the contract was given to the company by “going out of way. So what does

AgustaWestland: Christian Michel arms govt by confirming ‘Signora Sonia’ note

When Rahul Gandhi made a one-line statement claiming, “I am always being targeted, happy to be targeted”, without stopping or slowing his hurried walk inside Parliament, he would not have anticipated that only hours later Rosemary Patrizi Dos Anjos, the lawyer of Christian Michel, the middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam — now a wanted criminal in India — would appear live on Times Now. Or that she would accept that her client had written a note naming Sonia Gandhi and describing her as ‘driving force’ behind the deal.

This has hit Congress where it could hurt it most.

Michel’s lawyer’s admission came at a time when the party is doing everything in its command to deflect the heat from its Sonia Gandhi‘s alleged involvement in the deal. This is additional ammunition for Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar when he rises to make a statement on the AgustaWestland scam on Wednesday in the Rajya Sabha.

The problem for the Congress and its first family is that the continuing revelations have cast a shadow on Rahul as well. BJP MP Kirit Somaiya has linked the family of Rahul’s aide Kanishka Singh with the other middleman Guido Ralph Haschke. Singh has denied the charge but Somaiya has made some fresh charges against Rahul Gandhi — of buying two shops in MGF Metropolitan Mall, Saket. And although Rahul owning a shop in that mall, or leasing it to MGF and finally selling it to MGF for profit does not have any direct connection with Choppergate per se, it does suggest that Haschke had his ways around the corridors of power in Delhi.

Somaiya tweeted:

MGF is part of Emaar MGF and in September 2009, the company appointed Haschke and Gautam Khaitan as directors on its board. The same company had built the Commonwealth Games villages in New Delhi and hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons with the Union Urban Development Ministry and the Delhi Development Authority going out of the way to sweeten the deal for Emaar MGF.

This coupled with the revelations that the then defence minister AK Antony approved the blacklisting of AgustaWestland only on 12 May, 2014 — after it had become certain that the Congress was about to lose power at the Centre with the last phase of poling done and exit polls indicating that the Narendra Modi-led BJP was way ahead — will add to the Congress’ discomfort. The order banning procurement was finally issued on 3 July, 2014 by then defence minister Arun Jaitley.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The other question that the Congress will have to answer is why the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) virtually slept on the files for over one year, from March 2013 when the FIR was registered till May 2014 — the time the UPA government was ousted.

The Congress had so far been claiming that the Manmohan Singh government had blacklisted AgustaWestland, ordered a CBI, ED inquiry and it is the Modi government that should be blamed for inaction on the issue. Unfortunately for the Congress, after each of their claims, evidence has emerged that the party was consciously indulging in speaking half-truths or plain lies.

Patrizi’s stating, “I know about that note” in response to a query about the veracity of the note sent by Michel to Peter Hullet, who then helmed India operations of AgustaWestland, will have a damning effect on the Congress party because her statement negates the Congress’ claims about the authenticity of the unsigned note.

When Parrikar speaks in the Rajya Sabha, the Congress benches may have to deal with some moments of deep discomfort.

The former prime minister and former defence minister should be present in the House. However, it remains to be seen whether the Congress will allow Parrikar to make his full statement, also how Singh and Antony, if at all, counter him.

Three days ago, Parrikar on his part had made clear what he intends to do in Parliament.

“I will place the detailed chronology, giving facts about the chopper deal before Parliament on Wednesday. I will place the detailed chronology, giving how and when necessary clauses or provisions were relaxed to suit the companies. Those who received kickbacks will not leave behind the proof for us to prosecute them, but we will have to prove it (that kickbacks were received).Why no action was taken against the company till 2014? Why was the company not blacklisted by then UPA government? I challenge the Congress to show the UPA government’s order blacklisting the AgustaWestland company. Let them reply first why it was not banned.”

As for middleman Michel offer’s to turn approver (made by his lawyer to Times Now on Tuesday night and denied later by Michel a little while later) with certain conditions attached that he would not be arrested, treated wrongly and so on, the government has already clarified that there would be no deal with him.

“It is well known that any understanding/agreement with an accused outside the frame of law is a criminal act in itself. James Christian Michael is a criminal wanted by the Indian law enforcement agencies. We are pursuing all legal means to arrest him and have him extradited to India. Mr Michel should submit himself to the Indian legal system rather than make elliptical references to offers that are suspect in intent and reality. We are determined that the law must take its course against Mr Michel and his associates in this matter,” the government said.

AgustaWestland twist: Is Christian Michel willing to turn approver?

After an Italian court’s judgment mentioning Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh in relation to the AgustaWestland scam, the issue has already become a full-blown political controversy. Now, in a development which could be a further source of worry for the Congress’ first family, Christian Michel, an alleged middleman in the deal, may have expressed his willingness to turn an approver in the case, as reported by Times Now. While the claim about his willingness was made by his lawyer, Michel himself has unequivocally denied the possibility as of now.

In an interview with the news channel, his lawyer Rosemary Patrizi said that while Michel would like to travel to India and make the truth known, but not with an arrest warrant against him.

However, Michel, in an interview to India Today strongly denied this possibility, saying that turning approver “was out of the question.” However, he said that he is willing to submit proof related to the case through the Indian embassy.

This means that he could share inside information with India’s investigation agencies on who is involved in the alleged bribery scandal, in exchange for immunity from prosecution in India. Whether this will mean skeletons tumbling out of the closet will be seen in the time to come.

An AgustaWestland helicopter. File photo. ReutersAn AgustaWestland helicopter. File photo. Reuters

An AgustaWestland helicopter. File photo. Reuters

India has sought the extradition of Michel, and is also pursuing the extradition of other middlemen Carlo Geruso and Guido Haschke Ralph.

Michel is accused of having played a major role in clinching the deal, which is said to be worth Rs 36,000 crore. According to a report in Economic Times, Finmeccanica executives paid Michel £26 million to help finalise the deal. He serves as a director in three companies as of now, including Global Oil Ltd, Global Trade and Commerce Ltd and Fitness First (Curzons) Ltd.

In December last year, Interpol issued a Red Corner Notice against Michel, two months after a Delhi court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against him. Michel is facing charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating, illegal gratification and abuse of official position.

CBI officials had then said that immigration authorities had been requested to issue a lookout circular against Michel in view of the Interpol notice.

With the AgustaWestland controversy reverberating in Parliament, Congress President Sonia Gandhi is at the centre of a political storm because of the reference to “Signora Sonia” as the “driving force” behind the purchase of the helicopters in a letter written by a middleman, James Christian Michel, to the India head of AgustaWestland, Peter Hulet.

An Italian court has also noted that there is “reasonable belief” that the helicopter deal was not fair or above board. Two former chiefs of the Indian Air Force, SP Tyagi and NAK Browne are under the scanner in relation to the case.

AgustaWestland’s Rs 3,600 crore contract for supplying 12 VVIP choppers to the Indian Air Force was scrapped by the then UPA government over charges of paying kickbacks to Indian agents.

In January 2013, India cancelled the deal and the CBI was assigned to investigate the matter.

With inputs from IANS

VVIP chopper scam continues to haunt Congress: Rahul says he’s happy to be targeted

New Delhi: Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday sought to brush aside BJP’s attempts to drag him into the CWG and VVIP chopper scams, saying he is “happy to be targeted”.

“I am always being targeted, happy to be targeted,” he told reporters while entering Parliament House.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. PTICongress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. PTI

Union Minister V K Singh, however, chided Rahul for playing the victim. According to this report in the NDTV, Singh said, “A lot of people like to play victim. If he wants to play that, he’s welcome to.”

ANI tweeted Singh as saying:

Another Congress leader Shrikant Sharma reacted to the AgustaWestland scam and said:

Gandhi was asked about BJP MP Kirit Somaiya’s letter to ED and CBI asking them to check Gandhi’s links with a real estate developer allegedly involved in the CWG scam and also the alleged connections of his political aide with a middleman in the AgustaWestland deal.

Somaiya had said that Guido Haschke, an alleged middleman in the chopper deal is common in both the scams and that he is linked to Christian Michel, an accused in the VVIP chopper scam.

Previously, Sonia Gandhi had rejected as “baseless” allegations linking her and party leaders to bribes in the chopper deal, calling them an attempt at character assassination.

“I am not afraid of anyone cornering me as there is no basis to that. All the accusations they are throwing at us are false,” Gandhi had said a few days back as the BJP sought to target her on the deal.

“Where are the proofs. They are lying,” Gandhi had said.

With inputs from PTI

VVIP chopper scam: BJP MP Kirit Somaiya trains guns on Rahul Gandhi, aide; allegations denied

Training his guns on Rahul Gandhi, a BJP MP has asked CBI and ED to “check” his links with a real estate developer allegedly involved in the CWG scam and also the alleged connections of a political aide of the Congress vice president with a middleman in the AgustaWestland deal. Kirit Somaiya said this in a letter to the chiefs of the Central Bureau of Investigation(CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate(ED). <!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Kanishka Singh, who is Rahul’s aide, rejected as entirely baseless, false and with an ulterior political motive the allegations levelled by Somaiya against him.Referring to his earlier letters to the agencies, Somaiya said Guido Haschke, an alleged middleman in the chopper deal, is common in both the scams and that he is linked to Christian Michel, an accused in the VVIP choppers scam. “I would request you to check the cross connectivity and do the needful,” he said.

Madhya Pradesh’s Minority Welfare panel member wants pastors to be charged with sedition charge

A member of MP Backward Classes and Minority Welfare Commission on wanted sedition charge to be slapped on four pastors and believers for allegedly helping an OBC couple enter into a wedlock unlawfully at a church in Satna district that was foiled by right wing activists. Laxmi Yadav said he has sought legal opinion on whether sedition charge could be invoked against the four Christians for “waging a war against the country”. The four are already facing prosecution in connection with the event on April 27.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”The clerics and the faithful have waged a war against the state by trying to convert the Other Backward Classes (OBC) Hindu couple clandestinely and marry off a minor,” Yadav said.”I have sought legal opinion on whether sedition charge could be invoked against the Christians for waging a war against the country,” he said and argued that when Patidar quota stir leader Hardik Patel can be charged with sedition why the pastors can’t face similar charge. Yadav said he was going to petition Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, State Home Minister Babulal Gaur and Director General of Police to slap sedition charge on the reverends after seeking legal opinion. “The pastors and believers have tried to convert (groom) Arun Kushwaha and (bride) Subhadra, (both who are allegedly Hindus) to Christianity. A Christian network with a centre in Satna is working in the country to convert Hindus, a community which is on decline in India,” he claimed. “Ten people including four reverends and believers have already been booked for conversion and trying to facilitate a minor girl’s marriage,” he added.Church of God pastor Sam Samuel told PTI that the only mistake he had committed was that he did not check Subhadra’s birth and school certificates. “Her parents told me that she was 19 years old as per her birth certificate and 18 according to her school certificate. I personally did not check it given that the girl’s parents were believers and coming to Church since last three years,” the pastor said. “I did not indulge in any conversion or wrongdoing.Along with me, pastors Stephen Raj Kumar from Tamil Nadu, Gyan Das and Gaya Pratap were also arrested,” he added.

Swamy seeks discussion on ‘paid news’ in AgustaWestland deal

BJP leader Subramanium Swamy on Friday sought a discussion in Rajya Sabha over reports that money was allegedly paid to middlemen for managing the Indian media to produce favourable news on the AgustaWestland deal.During the Zero Hour, the nominated member said the Parliamentary Standing Committee in its 47th report laid on May 7, 2013 had dealt with the issue of ‘paid news’. “Now the paid news has acquired the character of a cancer in our democracy. Recently in the AgustaWestland deal also.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Perhaps one of the news channels had published a contract, which was signed between the middlemen and the company for managing the Indian media to produce favourable reports on the deal,” he alleged. “I am rising here to request the House, through you (Deputy Chairman P J Kurien), that this is an important matter that should be discussed in short duration in the House,” he said.Yesterday, the BJP had raised the AgustaWestland chopper deal issue in Lok Sabha, expressing concern over the reported misuse of media by the Italian company which had earmarked Rs 50 crore for the purpose to clinch the VVIP chopper deal. Meenakshi Lekhi had suggested that middleman Christian Michel had been given the amount to ‘manage’ the media.Reports had it that Christian Michel, a British businessman and an alleged middleman in the deal, was paid millions of dollars by AgustaWestland. Interpol had issued a red corner notice against Michel on India’s request in December 2015.

‘Sinister conspiracy’ behind reports that Modi had met Italian PM, says Venkaiah Naidu

Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu on Thursday saw a “sinister conspiracy” in reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi on the sidelines of UN General Assembly in 2015.”It is apparent that a huge conspiracy is on to malign the NDA government led by Modi by stooping to the level of giving credence to baseless and false claims made by an accused”, Naidu told reporters.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>He was reacting to media reports which recounted allegations by James Christian Michel, a middleman in the AgustaWestland chopper deal, that Modi and Renzi had met in New York where Modi allegedly asked for evidence of “wrongdoing” against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in the copter deal in return for freedom for the imprisoned Italian Marines.The Minister termed as “mischievous propaganda” quoting “highly objectionable” reports and denid there was any meeting between the Prime Ministers of India and Italy.”There appears to be a sinister conspiracy behind the patently false claim to defame and tarnish the image of Mr. Modi and the Indian government by setting up this smokescreen as fallacious diversionary ploy,” he said.He said “firstly, no such meeting had taken place between the two Prime Ministers. Secondly, how could anybody claim that a discussion took place between them for an alleged trade-off when there was no meeting.”The Minister said official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs has already clarified on this issue. He said the “so-called unauthenticated” letter written by Italian middleman James Christian Michel to Modi “made no mention of the purported deal made by Modi with the Italian Prime Minister for freeing two Italian marines on trial for killing Indian fishermen in exchange for information against Gandhi family”.He raised strong objections to giving credence to the allegations of an accused against Modi and Indian government.Talking about Michel, Naidu said government has promptly registered a case and various law enforcement agencies are proceeding against him under Prevention of Corruption Act and Prevention of Money Laundering Act. He said a non-bailable arrest warrant was also issued by the Special Judge of CBI against him on September 24, 2015.Following a CBI request, the Interpol headquarters has issued a Red Corner notice on November 25, 2015 and CBI also made a request for provisional arrest for extradition to the United Kingdom authorities on January 4 this year.A separate Red Corner notice was also sent by Enforcement Directorate seeking his arrest and extradition from the UK on February 29, 2016, he said.

NEET verdict: Confusion over exams prevails as Centre mulls phased implementation

In a decision that can impact lakhs of medical aspirants, the Supreme Court on Wednesday told the Centre to implement the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) from the academic year 2016-17 itself. The decision comes in the wake of the 11 April verdict in which the bench headed by Justice Dave recalled the 2013 directive scrapping the NEET, and directed the Centre to administer it for admission into all medical colleges across the country.

The Supreme Court was hearing a petition filed by an NGO called Sankalp Charitable Trust. “A student seeking admission in a medical college has to shell out lakhs of rupees in taking an examination and most of the tests are not conducted in a fair manner. There is no impediment in way of implementing NEET after the Constitution bench verdict and the Centre should be directed to enforce the order in association with MCI and CBSE,” The Times of India quoted advocate Amit Kumar as saying.

Supreme Court. AFP

Supreme Court. AFP

The decision has had a impact on the All India Pre-Medical Test, which is conducted for admission into many MBBS and Dental colleges across India. The exam, which is to be held on 1 May, may now be conducted in two phases. While the first phase will be held on 1 May, the second phase may be held in July, reported The Asian Age.

Another report in The Times of India said on Thursday that the health ministry is likely to ask the Supreme Court to treat the 1 May test as the first phase of NEET. Those who have not applied for the test this year will appear for the second phase of NEET in July.

“We have worked out a tentative schedule which will be submitted to the SC,” the report quoted an official as saying.

From 2013 onwards, private and minority medical institutes had their own entrance exams. This was made possible after a group of institutions, including the Christian Medical College in Vellore, moved the Supreme Court, contending that having a common entrance test violated the rights of minority institutions “to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice, as guaranteed under Article 30 of the Constitution”. The hearing in the case, resulted in the Supreme Court quashing a notification by the MCI for the 2013 NEET.

With the NEET back, the competition for securing the 52,000 plus seats in the MBBS course may get a lot tougher for lakhs of studnts across the country.

VVIP chopper scam: Neither Congress nor BJP blacklisted Finmeccanica

After fresh revelations in the VVIP chopper deal, even as the Congress has turned the tables on BJP, accusing it of removing Finmeccanica from the blacklist, turns out that the firm and its affiliates were never ‘blacklisted’ but procurement from them was only put on hold, official documents accessed and reviewed by dna show.Much political furore has been made out of who blacklisted Finmeccanica and its subsidiaries, one of which is AgustaWestland, and who waived the embargo,.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>While the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) under the nose of which the alleged corruption in the VVIP chopper deal occurred, did put on hold all procurements from the firm but never blacklisted it, the BJP led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government too went soft on it, documents reveal.On February 12,2013, the ministry of defence’s (MoD) under UPA handed over the case to the CBI after canceling the AgustaWestland deal on the ground that ‘integrity pact’ was violated. On February 10, 2014, the MoD began proceedings to blacklist the firm and its parent company Finmecanica and all contracts with them and affiliate companies were put on hold.Under NDA, while an MoD’s vigilance wing order dated July 3, 2014, more than a month after the Modi government took over in May, did reinforce putting on hold any acquisition cases “in the pipeline with Finmeccanica Group Of Companies” on August 28, through a modification order, it came out with new policies in dealing with the ‘same firms, this time going rather soft on them.The new modified policy said that “there is no reason not to proceed with the contracts” “where contracts are under execution when or other company under the umbrella of Finmeccanica Group of Companies” and also “where contract has already been executed, but spares, upgrades etc, are still required on a regular basis”.The same order. however, did say that Finmecannica and affiliates should be barred where tender process is yet to commence or where the tender process is on-going and no vendor has been picked up, or where the vendor (Finmecannica and affiliates) has been declared the lowest bidder.Defence minister Manohar Parrikar on Wednesday told reporters here that the Congress must produce the blacklisting order. “Ask them what date the order was issued? Show me the copy of the order,” he said.Congress leader and defence minister during UPA government at the time of Agusta deal AK Antony said that “we started the blacklisting procedure for Finmecannica” even while he accused BJP of “unleashing a malicious propaganda” against his party. “It were us who canceled the deal. Why haven’t the Modi government completed the investigation which was instituted by us?”he asked.The fresh controversy began after an Italy court’s April 6 order described how the firm paid bribes to top Congress leaders and lobbied to bag the Rs3,600-crore deal. The court sentenced to jail Finmeccanica’s former chief Giuseppe Orsi and former CEO of AgustaWestland Bruno Spagnolini.1) Status of case in IndiaEven as the Italy court has pronounced judgments, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in India are still probing the case. The ED booked then Indian Air force Chief SP Tyagi and his relatives along with four other European Nationals and firms – Finmeccanica, AugustaWestland besides Chandigarh- based IDS Infotech and Aeromatrix, and two companies based in Mauritius and Tunisia whose names figured in the CBI complaint. While Tyagi, his cousins and others are, according to the complaint involved in taking kickbacks worth Rs 423 crore to award the deal, ED has booked five properties in Delhi and nearby that belonged to him and his relatives.2) MEA response on middleman James Christian Michel’s allegation:In response to a question on allegations made by Mr. James Christian Michel on purported meeting between PM Modi and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy on the sidelines of UNGA in September 2015, the Official Spokesperson said:There was no meeting between Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Renzi of Italy as part of PM’s bilateral meetings at the UNGA in September 2015.In so far as Mr. James Christian Michel is concerned, various law enforcement authorities of India are proceeding against him in cases relating to the Prevention of Corruption Act and Prevention of Money Laundering Act.An open ended non bailable arrest warrant has been issued by the Special Judge of CBI against him on 24.9.2015. Upon a CBI request a Red Corner notice against him has been issued by the Interpol Headquarters on 25.11.2015. A request for provisional arrest for the purpose of extradition was made to the UK authorities on 4.1.2016 by the CBI. The Enforcement Directorate, another autonomous agency to handle private money laundering and foreign exchange irregularities, has also separately sent a Red Corner notice seeking arrest and a request for his extradition from the UK on 29.2.2016.?3) So far three BJP MPs Meenakshi Lekhi, Bhupendra Yadav and Anurag Thakur have given notices in parliament for debate over the issue. Congress leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Jyotiraditya Scindia and RSP leader NK Premachandran have given counter notices.

Watch: Congress members go berserk after Subramanian Swamy names Sonia Gandhi in VVIP chopper scam

Congress members, who called Swamy names, created bedlam, forcing repeated adjournments of the House. The drama began with Swamy, bete noire of the Gandhi family who took oath as a nominated member only yesterday, began his new innings raking up the chopper deal and sought to drag Gandhi’s name during the Zero Hour soon after the House met for the day. All hell broke loose triggering angry exchanges between the opposition and treasury benches. At one point, there appeared to be a possibility of an ugly showdown as some Congress members menacingly rushed towards the treasury benches, prompting a couple of marshals to step in to act as a wall. Members of the treasury benches too got up from their seats to counter the opposition.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Congress members, who called Swamy names, created bedlam, forcing repeated adjournments of the House in the pre-lunch session. However, Chairman Hamid Ansari prevailed on the agitating members to take up the Question Hour later. Swamy referred to the allegations reportedly made by Christian Michel, the controversial middleman in the chopper deal, through a letter to the High Court of Italy.
ALSO READ VVIP chopper row: Swamy storm hits Rajya Sabha, Congress incensed over Sonia allegation

AgustaWestland case: All you need to know about the VVIP choppers scam

Rajya Sabha proceedings were continually disrupted on Monday and Tueday by the Opposition, seeking a probe into the Ishrat Jahan case as well as the Uttarakhand crisis. Next on the agenda is India’s biggest defence scam after Bofors, the AugustaWestland case.

In a move that could spark political controversy, the BJP may name Congress president Sonia Gandhi with respect to the controversy, especially after the Italian Court investigating the scandal has acknowledged then Air Force chief SP Tyagi’s role in the choppergate.

Before the issue is addressed in the Upper house on Wednesday, here is all you need to know about the AugustaWestland chopper scam:

What is the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper case?

In February 2010, the Congress-led UPA government signed a government contract with UK-based AugustaWestland to buy 12 AW101 helicopters for the Indian Air Force for Rs 3,600 crore. The purpose of this deal was to have chopppers fly VVIPs like the president, prime minister and others.

In 2013, however, the deal was put on hold by the government after Bruno Spagnolin, CEO of AugustaWestland and Guiseppe Orsi, chairman of the Italian parent company Finmeccanica, were arrested on charges of bribing middlemen to acquire the deal with IAF.

The following day, then defence minister AK Antony ordered a probe into the matter.

Early in 2014, the Italian court investigating the chopper scam names former chief of the IAF, SP Tyagi in the scam, stating that he was bribed by Finmeccanica to sign the deal with AugustaWestland.

In 2015, however, reports of Tyagi’s acquital by the Italian court appeared, stating that there was no corruption by Indian officials.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

How was Tyagi involved in the scam?

The Indian Air Force had urged the Defence Ministry to purchase helicopters that were capable of flying in high-altitude areas like Siachen and Tiger Hill. After careful evaluation of the AW101, it was ascertained that it was not capable of flying 6,000 m and above and could only reach up to 4,572 feet.

The alleged middleman in the deal, Guido Haschke, revealed that while AW101 did not meet the technical requirements of the IAF, the deal was signed after Haschke tweaked the contract with the help of his Indian contacts.

AugustaWestland allegedly paid €30 million in bribes, of which €20 million was routed through Haschke and Carlo Gerosa.

A CBI report that came in later said that prior to Tyagi being appointed as Air Force chief, the IAF had ‘’vehemently opposed’’ the lowering of the altitude requirement. This changed after Tyagi came into the picture and the IAF “conceded to reduce” altitude requirements, allowing AugustaWestland to re-enter the bidding process.

Initial investigations by the Italian prosecutor said that Tyagi had personally met Haschke before, and that the bribery took place via Tyagi’s cousins Julie, Sandeep and Dosca. Tyagi, however, has denied any claims of having met Haschke.

In recent investigations by the Milan Court of Appeals, particularly in its 225-page judgment, Tyagi’s name appeared more than once. The judgment said, “So, in the absence of contrary indications, it must be concluded that the reward bestowed to ‘Tyagi family’ for their work in support of AW in relation to the race of the Government (of) India for military helicopters amounts to €10,500,000.”

Why is Sonia Gandhi’s name being brought into this?

The Milan Court of Appeals, in its judgment, took note of the conversations between the three middlemen — Carlos Gerosa, Christian Michel and Guildo Haschke — who mention ‘Mrs Gandhi’ as being the ‘driving force behind the VIP’ and her close aides Ahmed Patel and Pranab Mukherjee — the latter is referred to as being the ‘British High Commissioner’.

In a letter dated 15 March, 2008, Christian Michel wrote to Peter Hulet, the then head of India region sales and liaison for AugustaWestland, saying “Dear Peter, since Mrs Gandhi is the driving force behind the VIP, she will no longer fly with MI8 … Mrs Gandhi and her closest advisers are the aim of the High Commissioner, senior adviser Prime Minister Manmohan Singh obviously the main figure, then there’s Ahmed Patel Secretary”.

Current progress

In April 2016, Guiseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolin were sentenced to four-and-a-half years and four years imprisonment respectively. The court also ordered the two executives to pay €7.5 million euros ($8.5 million) — a sum related to the amounts deemed to have been allegedly paid in bribes.

A CBI probe into the matter is ongoing in India.

With inputs from agencies

If Hindus have two kids, even Muslims should have two to keep ‘our’ daughters safe: Giriraj Singh

Union Minister Giriraj Singh kicked up a controversy with his remark that if the country’s population policy is not changed to mandate a two-child norm across religions then “our daughters” will not be “safe” and might have to be kept “under the veil” like in Pakistan. Opposition parties today slammed Singh, a senior BJP leader and a party MP, for his remark made yesterday, saying his basic purpose is to create a “divide” between the Hindus and the Muslims for “short term political gains” and virtually demanded that he be sacked from the government.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”Hindus should have two sons, Muslims, too, should have two sons. Our population is coming down. Bihar has seven such districts where our population has gone down. Population rules have to be changed, only then will our daughters be safe. Otherwise, like Pakistan, we too will have to keep our daughters under the veil,” he said while addressing a cultural event in Bagaha in West Champaran.”There should be such a law in the country that same number of children should be allowed for families across religions whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian,” he said, adding, “The population policy should be the same for all. And if you want our country to be a developed nation, population control is necessary.” Under attack, Singh today sought to defend his remark, saying it was said in the interest of the country.”I said this in the interest of the nation like how China brought the population control law in 1979…Today Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh have brought this law. There should be strong law in India also that should apply to all families across religions whether Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Christian,” he said.”I said in many districts and states the Hindu population is declining which is a matter of worry because we need to maintain social harmony. So there should be strong law like if Hindus can have two children then Muslims, Sikhs or Christians should also have two each.” JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav said Singh’s remark was in bad taste and that he should first ask his governmetn what it thoght about the population control issue. Another JD(U) leader Pavan Varma said Giriraj Singh’s devotion to Hindutva is an “inversse proportion” to his knowledge of demography. “His basic puropose is to create a divide between the Hindus and the Muslims on the basis of cooked up facts for short term political gain,” he added. RJD spokespersond Manoj Jha said Giriraj Singh does not have any understanding of the demography of the country.”If hate speech has any kind of award then it should go to Giriraj Singh,” Jha said, adding the prime minister should look into why this kind of minister should be in the ministry.”This kind of people should not have any space in public life,” he said.

Chhattisgarh: Church attacked in Bastar, pastor and pregnant wife barely escape

In another attack on churches, unidentified miscreants attacked a church at Tokapal in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region. They also tried to set afire a pastor and his pregnant wife after assaulting them, reports The Times of India. The incident happened over the weekend. No one has been arrested in the incident so far. The pastor and his wife just about managed to escape in the nick of time, but the extent of their injury is unclear. According to Chhattisgarh Christian Association president Arun Pannalal, police is trying to put a lid on this incident. He said that in a place like Tokapal, everyone knows each other and hence registering a case against unidentified people indicates that the cops are trying to protect the accused.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>According to the FIR, the miscreants destroyed electronic equipment in the church, and set afire religious scriptures. The well-armed culprits also tried to burn down the pastor’s house. There has been a spate of such incidents in the last few years, including the one at Kachna near Raipur in March, where nine people were arrested for attacking a church.

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In God’s own country, BJP eyes cardinal role

Anticipating triangular contests in at least 30 of Kerala’s 140 seats, the BJP has set its eyes on the aftermath of the elections.As a third force in a state which has so far witnessed bipolar Congress-led UDF versus CPM-led LDF politics, the BJP is likely to play a crucial role after this election result, a senior state leader of the party said.With a strategy targeted at bringing the Hindus under one umbrella, and capturing a section of the Christian vote, the BJP’s campaign will be launched on April 10 by party president Amit Shah from Pathanamathitta, near the Sabaramila hill shrine, and where the Marthoma, Catholic and Orthodox churches are situated.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Shah is also expected to attend a programme at North Kerala’s Thalaserry, the hotbed of political violence, to highlight the “anti-democratic” attitude of the Left, sources said.After firming up an alliance with Natesan Vellapally’s BJDS, PC Thomas’s Kerala Congress and three other players, the BJP’s ambitions have soared to new heights. A party leader exuded confidence that the vote share of the BJP, which is hoping to scrape away from the shares of the UDF and LDF, would go beyond the record 11 per cent in Lok Sabha election and 16 per cent in local body election.The alliance with the BJDS has given the BJP hopes of capturing the ezhavas (OBC) vote, over which the Left had a sway. The BJP is reaching out to marginalised sections among Hindus, the party leader said and added that this would be the first time that ezhavas and dalits will vote together.Besides, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as a face of development, is a vote catcher in the state, another party leader said.The 30 constituencies where the party is expecting triangular contests fall in the districts of Thiruvanathapuram, Pathanamathitta, Allaphuzha, Thrissur, Palakkad, Kozhikode, Kasargod, Kottayam and Kollam, BJP sources said. The calculation was based on the result of the local body polls where BJP got more than 25,000 votes. In 20 of the seats, the BJP won more than 30,000 votes.However, the BJP’s political journey in a state with a 48 per cent minority population is far from easy. Of the 140, there are 60 constituencies where the minority population is in high concentration. While party sources claim that the Christians were not taking an anti-BJP position, particularly with Thomas on board the NDA, the Muslims are an influential factor in 25-30 of these seats which would be unfavourable to the party.While the BJP has already roped in prominent adivasi leader CK Janu, who will fight from Sulthan Bathery in Wyanad, it is reaching out to KR Gouriamma-led JSS.

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Indian priest Tom Unzhunnalil crucified by ISIS on Good Friday: Report

According to a report in Washington Times, Thomas Uzhunnalil, an Indian priest who was kidnapped in Yemen in March was crucified by ISIS on Good Friday. His execution was done in the same method that Romans were believed to use on Jesus on Good Friday. The report claims that his execution was confirmed at the Easter Vigil Mass by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Earlier, the Indian government had confirmed the capture of Father Tom Uzhunnalil, the Indian priest from Bangalore, who was kidnapped by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in Yemen and said that efforts were underway to ensure that he is released. “Fr Tom Uzhunnallil – an Indian national from Kerala was abducted by a terror group in Yemen. We r making all efforts to secure his release,” External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted. Her reaction comes after a growing alarm among the Christian community following an ominous report by the terror outfit to crucify him around EasterTom Unzhunnalil was kidnapped from the Missionaries of Charity’s home for the elderly in Aden where he serves as a chaplain on March 4. A spokesman for the Bangalore province of the Salesians was quoted saying that no group has taken any responsibility yet. A post on the group’s South Africa page has been taken down. Earlier, the Yemen authorities blamed ISIL for the attack on March 4. The External Affairs Ministry had said only one Indian nurse was killed in the terrorist attack in strife-torn Yemen’s Aden city.16 people were killed in Aden when a group of terrorists stormed an elderly care home run by a Kolkata-based Missionaries of Charity and sprayed bullets at the residents. There are around 80 residents living at the home, which is run by Missionaries of Charity, an organisation established by Mother Teresa.Missionaries of Charity nuns also came under attack in Yemen in 1998 when gunmen killed three nuns in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida.

Bharat mata slogan row: What is wrong in worshipping mother, asks Venkaiah Naidu

In a dig at AIMIM president Asaduddin Owaisi for his refusal to raise the ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ slogan, Union minister and senior BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu on Sunday asked what is wrong in worshipping mother.”It has become a fashion now to make an extreme meaning of everything and mocking at it. I won’t say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ even if my life is taken out. Before he reached gallows, (freedom fighter) Bhagat Singh said ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’,” Naidu said at an event here.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Naidu, who did not name Owaisi, said, “During the freedom movement, ‘Vande Mataram’ united all Indians. It means ‘Mata’ (mother), salutation to you. What ‘Mata’? not Christian ‘Mata’, Hindu ‘Mata’, ‘Muslim ‘Mata’, forward ‘Mata’, backward ‘Mata’. ‘Mata’ is ‘Mata’. What is the objection in that. Why, (it is said that) there is worship in that. Which religion said not to worship mother. Let me know. I am trying to know. I am ready for a debate”.Alleging that such comments are made for vote-bank politics, Naidu asked if “he” (Owaisi) is the only leader of Muslims”.”Did Muslims say ‘Bharat Mata’ is not needed,” he said, adding that religion is personal.’Bharat Mata ki Jai’ does not mean worshipping the image of ‘Bharat Mata’ but having such a feeling inside, the Union Urban Development Minister added.According to him ‘Bharat Mata’ encompassed all Indians. In a veiled attack on Congress, Naidu added “those who looted the country” express solidarity with those seeking “azadi” from corruption.On the assertions of freedom of speech made in various quarters, the Minister said one’s freedom of speech should not inconvenience others.The freedom of speech should not lead to social disharmony or law and order problems and that it should be within parameters of the Constitution, he said.Earlier this month, amid the charged debate over patriotism, Owaisi had ruffled some political feathers saying he won’t chant ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ “even if you put knife to my throat”.

Suicide bomber kills 65, mostly women, children in Pakistan park | Reuters

LAHORE/ISLAMABAD, Pakistan A suicide bomber killed at least 65 people and injured more than 280 others, mostly women and children, at a public park in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Sunday, striking at the heart of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s political base of Punjab.

The blast occurred in the parking area of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, a few feet (metres) away from children’s swings.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which occurred in a busy residential area during the Easter holiday weekend. Police said it was not clear whether the attack had deliberately targeted mainly Muslim Pakistan’s small Christian minority.

Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people, is plagued by a Taliban insurgency, criminal gangs and sectarian violence. Punjab is its biggest and wealthiest province.

Eyewitnesses said they saw body parts strewn across the parking lot once the dust had settled after the blast.

“When the blast occurred, the flames were so high they reached above the trees and I saw bodies flying in the air,” said Hasan Imran, 30, a resident who had come to Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park for a walk.

Salman Rafique, a health adviser for the Punjab provincial government, put the death toll at at least 60 people.

“There are more than 280 injured people,” Rafique said. “Many are in operation theatres now being treated and we fear that the death toll may climb considerably.”

Mustansar Feroz, police superintendent for the area in which the park is located, said most of the injured and dead were women and children.

“MAY GOD SHOWER HIS WRATH”

Media footage showed children and women standing in pools of blood outside the park, crying and screaming and rescue officials, police and bystanders carrying injured people to ambulances and private cars.

Dozens of women and children were seen being wheeled into hospitals, covered in blood. Many of the injured were transported to hospitals on taxis and auto-rickshaws due to a shortage of ambulances. Hundreds of citizens arrived outside hospitals to donate blood.

Local television channels reported that many of the dead bodies were being kept in hospital wards as morgues were overcrowded.

“We were just here to have a nice evening and enjoy the weather,” Nasreen Bibi said at the Services Hospital, crying as she waited for doctors to update her on the condition of her two-year-old injured daughter.

“May God shower his wrath upon these attackers. What kind of people target little children in a park?”

Soon after the attack, the Punjab government ordered all public parks to be closed and announced three days of mourning in the province. The main shopping areas were shut down and many of the city’s main roads were deserted.

The army was called in to control crowds outside the park. Some distraught, sobbing relatives clashed with police and rescue officials.

Punjab has traditionally been more peaceful than other parts of Pakistan. Sharif’s opponents have accused him of tolerating militancy in return for peace in his province, a charge he strongly denies.

Last year, a bomb killed a popular Pakistani provincial minister and at least eight others when it destroyed the minister’s home in Punjab.

(Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik, Editing by Gareth Jones)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi extend Easter greetings to Christians

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, DMK President M Karunanidhi today greeted Christians on the eve of Easter to be celebrated on Sunday.”Easter Day commemorates the resurrection of Lord Jesus three days after he was crucified on Good Friday. On this special day, I appeal let love and peace prevail and people follow the preachings of Lord Jesus and live in unity”, Jayalalithaa said in a release here.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Karunanidhi in his greetings, listed out the welfare measures taken by DMK for the Christian community when his party was in power. During DMK regime, the party always maintained “good” relations with the Christians and DMK was the only party to be “supportive” of the community, he claimed.People Welfare Front Coordinator and MDMK chief Vaiko, PMK leader Anbumani Ramadoss also extended their Easter greetings.

Telangana: Makeshift chapel burnt down in Nizamabad

A makeshift prayer hall belonging to the Christian community in Gopanpally village of Nizamabad in Telangana was burnt down by unknown people.The Nizamabad Superintendent of Police said that the village Panchayat had objected to the construction of the prayer hall, following which unknown people burnt down the hall late at night on Friday.The police is yet to make an arrest but a case has been registered.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>According to reports, earlier a local pastor and members of his congregation in Nizamabad were beaten by a mob of 40 Hindu radicals after they allegedly tried to convert Hindus to Christianity.The attack, which occurred during a prayer gathering, resulted in the hospitalisation of six persons, including a four-year-old girl whose leg was broken, according to locals.”It was a very scary scene. They tore my cassock and I received blows, punches, kicks from all directions as I was their prime target. Bibles were snatched from us and were tore and trampled. Believers ran to all directions as they were chased by the mob,” Pastor Nitin Kumar said.Last Sunday a Pentecostal church in the Chhattisgarh state was also attacked during prayer services by a mob, believed to have been a part of the Bajrang Dal organisation.

RSS flip-flop on homosexuality indicates gay men in India remain in exile, writes Ashok Row Kavi

By Ashok Row Kavi

The Times of India headline stopped quite a few heartbeats on both sides of the political spectrum on 18 March. The article reported the RSS’ joint general-secretary Dattareya Hosabale as having said: “(homosexuality) is not a crime as long as it does not affect the lives of others. Sexual preferences are personal issues”. The right-wingers were left wringing their hands at this downfall of a citadel of conservative Hinduism whereas on the Left, opinions varied wildly.

Some thought “good sense was dawning” while my friend Meena Seshu, who runs a prostitutes union in Sangli, sniggered that the “bubble would burst”, chortling with glee when a half-hearted turn-around was attempted by Hosabele. It was as if she were exercising her prophetic powers not knowing that advocacy by gay groups was working in fits and starts.

Quite a few of these great “activists” — actually cabals driven by agendas that are not the least bit ‘revolutionary’ — have worked among themselves with Hindu-hate as the main pillar of their work. Few understood that activism means not working with the converted but trying to bring about a change of heart in the conservative camps. It was intriguing to see during the Delhi Pride Parade last year, an activist carrying a banner proclaiming “”Homos hate BJP” not seeing the irony in how this was an antithesis to the “inclusivity” doctrine they shout from the rooftops otherwise. Besides openly propagating “hate”, a word they impute so easily to Hindutva groups.

The fact is that hundreds of self-help groups of sexual minorities have been working ceaselessly since the overturning of the Delhi High Court judgment by the Supreme Court in November 2013 to change attitudes and sensitise hitherto stubborn populations on sex, sexuality and gender issues with simple narratives and what can be called “jan-soonwayis” (public hearings).

IS the RSS really trying to re-invent its image? Representational image. AFP

IS the RSS really trying to re-invent its image? Representational image. AFP

One such jansoonwayi was held by a large group of young homosexuals, bisexuals and transgendered youth called Yaariyan in Mumbai last year titled as an “acceptance meet”. This youth group of sexual minorities has over a 1,000 youngsters from sexual minorities and forms part of the bigger network called the Integrated Network of Sexual Minorities (INFOSEM) whose membership is now well over 200 community-based groups of homosexuals, bisexual women, hijras and transmen (female to male transgenders).

What Yaariyan did was to specifically invite the city BJP chief Ashish Shelar as chief guest along with the Yogesh Pratap Singh, the retired cop, to the jan-soonwayi, to engage with lawyers, sexual counsellors and scores of parents, office and hostel mates of those belonging to the LGBT community. The meeting was explosive in the sense that Shelar tweeted that he was now against Section 377 and it needed to be “immediately removed”.

Singh was so outraged by the cases of extortion, blackmail and sexual violence by the police that he asked LGBT members and NGOs to file cases against such police personnel.

This is just one example of what LGBT groups have been doing throughout the country and the battle for sexual and gender rights has been taken right into the camp of the Sangh. In rural Madurai, for example, a young inter-sexed Hindu ex-monk Gopi Shankar, has been working with Hindu religious leaders, BJP and RSS leaders to sensitise them on issues of sexuality and gender. His books were released last year by Vanathi Srinivasan, of the Tamil Nadu BJP.

On 6 March this year, Shankar’s organisation, Shrishti, launched its website in the presence of the central minister Pon Radhakrishnan and scores of RSS volunteers. In both Delhi and Kolkata, INFOSEM members have been getting in touch with Sangh leaders to reach out to the shakhas and sensitise them to sex, sexuality and gender issues.

Akkai Padmashali, the brilliant transgendered communicator from Bangalore, has been reaching out to all Lok Sabha MPs in an effort to explain the issues of LGBT and there has been little resentment to her efforts in Delhi last year as she and her delegation from Karnataka reached out to each party MP across the political spectrum.

Yet what saddens me is the low level of discussion on the transgender bill that followed the NALSA judgement offering a revolutionary new venture to free Male to Female (M2F) transgender, of whom hijras/aravani/kinnar are a visible segment, of stigma and discrimination. Hijras were called a “sacred third gender” and valourised as important augments of society even though they were reviled and marginalised in public and private spaces. Though the NALSA judgment called for affirmative action by reservations and special privileges for this highly visible sexual minority, precious little ground has been covered through any kind of government action. The Transgender Welfare Boards that came up in Tamil Nadu and announced in Maharashtra have hardly taken off the ground and remain paper dreams.

However, the real tragedy is the visible exile of gay men even as they await the announcement of the five member constitutional bench that is to hear the curative petition admitted a month ago. Though there is legislative recognition and acceptance of transgender/hijra issues, the effort seems vto be to push gay men’s issues deep into the societal matrix as a “sexual preference”, a wilful “choice” of a sexual behaviour that deserves to be corrected. The statement of Zeenat Shaukat Ali, the reformer Islamist scholar comes to mind: “However reformist and progressive Islamist jurisprudence will be, Muslims will not accept homosexuality as a normative sexual orientation”. And this is despite scholars agreeing that the Prophet himself never condemned either homosexuals or transgender; with much of the condemnation coming from questionable Hadiths referencing the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from the Old Testament.

What the RSS needs to break with; and urgently so, is to recognise that homophobia is a Judeo-Christian concept that came in with the British. Despite more than 500 years of Islamist rule, not even the bigot Aurangazeb imposed laws against homosexuality. Section 377 was hatched in Britain where it came into British Criminal Law from the laws of the King James Bible. The king himself was brutally murdered for his homosexuality but that’s another story.

However, it is true that this law was imported wholesale into India by Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay who had scant regard for Hindu religion and tradition and who is reviled by the Sangh. How is it that the premier Hindu organisation is not sensitive to the fact that their homophobia can be directly attributed to a Christian law imposed surreptiously through a colonial law giver who should be contested by the Sangh?

There is no doubt that unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the largest sect in Christianity, and the Islamists in India, the Sangh has come a long way from refusing to see homosexuality as a “sin” or a “crime” to something psychologically wrong in the homosexual personality.

So my submission to the Sangh is: “You’ve come a long way. Now listen to the scientific evidence and make up your mind as true Hindus”. The World Health Organisation has removed homosexuality from its list of mental diseases over two three decades ago. The Indian Psychiatrist Association has officially given a clarion call that homosexuality is a “normal variant of human sexual behaviour”.

Except for a yoga teacher called Baba Ramdev, few Hindu religious leaders have actively campaigned in public for a defence of Section 377 so why not see the obvious and move forward? You have moved on gender issues and freed the temples for women and thus removed gender discrimination whereas no church or masjid will allow a woman to lead the congregation or even enter a mosque. Women priests are a long way off in the Catholic Church just to stress the point.

And it’s time you moved on homosexuality too.

Chhattisgarh: Four more arrested in church vandalisation incidence

Four more youths have been arrested in connection with the alleged vandalisation of a church on the city outskirts, taking the total number of those taken into custody so far to nine, police said on Monday. “In all, nine persons have so far been taken into custody in connection with the alleged vandalisation of the prayer hall located at Kachna village on the outskirts of the state capital,” Inspector General of Police, Raipur Range, G P Singh told PTI here today. Out of the nine held, six are minors, he said.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Singh said interrogation of the nine youths was on and information was also being sought about the group to which they belong. The miscreants fled the spot when the police arrived there. However, motorcycles of two youths were left behind at the premises, based on which the nine were arrested. As per information received so far, the villagers in Kachna area had complained to the administration that some people had set up a prayer hall by encroaching upon a land in the village. Police is enquiring with the villagers taking this also into account, the IG said.What exactly happenedA group of about 15-20 youths allegedly sporting saffron bands on their forehead on Sunday barged into the church while prayers were underway and vandalised the premises and thrashed those present.Meanwhile, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh condemned the incident and said that police was conducting a probe into it.He said that strict action would be taken against the guilty and the offenders will not be spared. The president of Chhattisgarh’s Christian Forum, Arun Pannalal, had on Sunday alleged that the slogan-shouting attackers belonged to Bajrang Dal and that women and an infant were also not spared while the police in the state capital remained tight-lipped on their identity.They damaged chairs, fans and other articles in the premises and even beat up the people present, he said. Pannalal said yesterday’s incident was the fourth attack on a Christian place of worship in the past one month in the state.

Chhattisgarh: Youths vandalise church, thrash worshippers; five arrested

A group of about 15-20 youths sporting saffron bands on their forehead and allegedly belonging to right wing Hindu outfit Bajrang Dal today barged into a church on the city’s outskirts while prayers were underway and vandalised the premises and thrashed those present.Raipur Additional Superintendent of Police Neeraj Chandrakar said five youths have been arrested in this connection. The president of Chhattisgarh’s Christian Forum Arun Pannalal alleged that the slogan-shouting attackers belonged to Bajrang Dal and that women and an infant were also not spared while the police in the state capital remained tight-lipped on their identity. “Around 15-20 youths entered the church premises located at Kachna village while prayer was underway,” Chandrakar told PTI.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>They allegedly damaged chairs, fans and other articles in the premises and even beat up the people present, he said. The accused were reportedly sporting saffron bands on their forehead, he said. They fled the spot when the police arrived, he added. Based on the victims’ complaint, a case has been registered under sections 452 (house-trespass after preparation for hurt), 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class) and 147 (rioting) of the IPC, he said. Three motorcycles belonging to the accused were seized from the spot, he said, adding efforts are on to nab the miscreants.
ALSO READ Chhattisgarh: Church in Raipur vandalized by alleged Bajrang Dal mob, 5 injuredPannalal claimed that today’s incident was the fourth attack on a Christian place of worship in the past one month in the state. “Around 15-20 men with saffron bands on their forehead entered the church while Sunday prayer was under way at around 12 PM, and started vandalising the premises and started breaking everything,” Pannalal said and claimed that the “Bajrang Dal youth indulged in sloganeering and were raising Jai Shree Ram slogans”.”They started damaging chairs and fans. They did not spare women and even tore up their clothes. They also thrashed an infant,” he said. The assailants were heard accusing that people were being converted in the church, he said.”A group of 40-50 people from downtrodden families in the village had set up the church under a tin shed, where they perform prayers every Sunday,” he said, refuting the conversion charge. He said, “We are thankful to the police that they reached immediately and took the necessary action.”

Concern over religious freedom, 34 top US lawmakers write to PM Modi

Expressing serious concern over violence against religious minorities in India, 34 top American lawmakers have asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take immediate steps to protect their fundamental rights and bring the perpetrators to justice.”We urge your government to take immediate steps to ensure that the fundamental rights of religious minorities are protected and that the perpetrators of violence are held to account,” the lawmakers, including eight Senators, said in a letter to the Prime Minister.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>”Of particular concern is the treatment of India’s Christian, Muslim and Sikh communities,” said the letter dated February 25, which was released to the press today by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.Among others the letter was signed by Senators Roy Blunt, Amy Klobuchar, James Lankford, Al Franken, Tim Scot, Ben Sasse, John Boozman and Steve Daines.The letter was signed by 24 members from the US House of Representatives including Joseph Pits, Keith Ellison, Brad Wenstrup, Jim Costa, Trent Franks, Ted Poe and Mark Walker.”We also urge you to take steps to control the activities of groups, such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and instruct Indian security forces to enforce the rule of law and protect religious minority communities from religiously- motivated harassment and violence,” the lawmakers said.”On June 17th, 2014, more than 50 village councils in the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh adopted a resolution banning all ‘non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers, and speeches’ in their communities,” the letter said, adding that the Christian minority community has been dramatically affected.”The ban effectively has criminalised the practice of Christianity for an estimated 300 Christian families in the region one day after a mob, which included members of the Vishva Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, seriously injured six Christians in the village of Sirciguda.”Since the ban was implemented, Christians in the Bastar District reportedly have been subjected to physical assaults, denial of government services, extortion, threats of forced expulsion, denial of access to food and water, and pressure to convert to Hinduism,” they alleged.Expressing concern over beef ban in India, the lawmakers said this is increasing tensions and encouraging vigilante violence against the Muslim community.They also raised additional concerns about the lack of recognition of Sikhism as a distinct religion, which prevents members of the community from accessing social services and employment and educational preferences available to other religious communities.Congressmen and Senators applauded Prime Minister Modi about his statement on religious freedom and communal harmony, including his promise in February 2014 that his government would “ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others.””We urge you to turn these words into action by publicly condemning the ban on non-Hindu faiths in the Bastar District of Chhattisgarh, and the violent assaults and other forms of harassment against religious minorities throughout India,” the letter said.

Book claiming Christ was Tamil Hindu relaunched amid protest in Mumbai

A controversial book penned by brother of Hindutva ideologue V D Savarkar, claiming Jesus Christ was a Tamil Hindu, was re-launched in Mumbai on Friday, 70 years after it was first published.The book was relaunched at the Swatantryaveer Savarkar National Memorial in Dadar on Friday evening amid threats of protests by Christian organisations, who have objected to the book. Members of Alpha Omega Christian Mahasangh had threatened to gather outside the venue of the launch, carrying black flags to protest against the contents of the book. But no such protest took place.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The book, penned by Ganesh Savarkar, elder brother of V D Savarkar, was re-launched on the death anniversary of V D Savarkar. It was released by historian Pandurang Balkawade. President of the Swatantryaveer Savarkar National Memorial Ranjit Savarkar, who is the grandson of Ganesh Savarkar, said Christians will feel proud after reading the book.The book, first published in 1946, claims that Christianity was initially a Hindu cult and that Jesus died in Kashmir. It claims that people from the Essene cult rescued the crucified Christ and revived him with medicinal plants and herbs from the Himalayas. It also says Christ attained ‘Samadhi’ in Kashmir.The book- Christ Parichay – goes on to claim that Jesus was a ‘Vishwakarma Brahmin’ by birth and Christianity was a sect of Hinduism. The Marathi book is being brought out by Savarkar National Memorial, a trust that preserves and propagates the Savarkar brothers’ literature and ideology.The book claims that the present day Palestinian and Arab territories were Hindu land and that Christ travelled to India, where he learnt yoga. The book says Christ’s real name was Keshao Krishna, Tamil was his mother tongue, and his complexion was dark.Asked about the claims in the book, senior priest and director of the Bombay Archdiocesan Heritage Museum, Father Warner D’Souza, said such books will not shake the faith of Christians. Five other books written by Ganesh Savarkar were also relaunched at the event.

dna Morning Must Reads: From updates on JNU row to when Indian skipper MS Dhoni lost his cool

1.Live | JNU row: Sedition accused Umar Khalid, four others return to campus; say they were ‘framed’ using ‘doctored video’Five JNU students, including Umar Khalid, who the police have been looking for in connection with a sedition case, on Sunday evening surfaced on campus. Read more here<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>2. Jat agitation: Govt blinks, says Haryana Jats will get OBC quotaEight day into mayhem in Haryana over the Jat reservation stir, that led to the loss of 12 lives and property worth nearly Rs 20,000 crore, government on Sunday said it will give the Other Backward Class (OBC) status to the community. Read more here3. Jammu and Kashmir: Two special forces officers among six killed as siege continuesTwenty-seven hours on and six casualties including three from the elite Special Forces, security forces are battling a group of highly motivated militants holed up in a multi-storey building of J&K Entrepreneur Development Institute (EDI). Read more here4. When Captain Cool MS Dhoni lost his coolDhoni gets irritated when asked about retirement, says his answer will remain same for ‘considerable period of time’. Read more here5. Many US Catholics unfazed by Pope Francis’s clash with Donald TrumpUS Catholics voiced support for Pope Francis on Sunday after he criticized Donald Trump’s immigration stance as ‘not Christian’. Read more here

Pope says Trump ‘not Christian’ in a sign of global concern | Reuters

NEWBERRY, S.C. Pope Francis forcefully injected himself into the U.S. presidential campaign on Thursday, assailing Republican candidate Donald Trump’s views on U.S. immigration as “not Christian” in a sign of growing international concern at the billionaire businessman’s prospects of winning the election.

Trump struck back, swiftly dismissing the leader of the world’s Roman Catholics as “disgraceful” for questioning his faith.

“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis told reporters during a free-wheeling conversation on his flight home from a visit to Mexico.

No stranger to controversy, Trump, the longtime party front-runner in national opinion polls, has accused Mexico of sending rapists and drug runners across the United States’ southern border and vowed if elected president to build a wall to keep out immigrants who enter illegally.

It was not the first time U.S. allies have voiced concern over comments by Trump.

More than half a million Britons signed a petition to bar him from entering the country, where he has business interests, in response to his call to ban Muslims from entering the United States. British lawmakers decided against a ban as a violation of free speech.

It was not clear what impact the pope’s remarks would have on the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Asked if American Catholics should vote for someone with Trump’s views, Francis said, “I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.”

It remained to be seen if the pope’s comments would strengthen Trump, whose swipes at rival candidates and heated exchanges with others have bolstered his standing in nominating contests and opinion polls.

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, speaking in Columbia, South Carolina, said he would not question anyone’s relationship with God. But Bush, a Catholic, said, “It only enables bad behaviour when someone from outside our country talks about Donald Trump.”

ISLAMIC STATE

Trump, a real estate developer and former reality TV show host, said, “If and when the Vatican is attacked by ISIS, which as everyone knows is ISIS’s ultimate trophy, I can promise you that the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president.”

Trump was in South Carolina, which on Saturday will hold a Republican nominating contest.

He said that in Mexico the pope heard one side of the story and did not see what Trump called the crime, drug trafficking and negative economic impact Mexico’s policies had on the United States.

“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” Trump said, adding that he was a proud Christian.

Thomas Groome, director of the Boston College Center on the Church in the 21st Century, said Francis’ comments were entirely in keeping with his focus on mercy.

“The pope is commissioned to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s his job,” Groome said. “So when he was asked a direct question, he gave Trump the benefit of the doubt, he said we have to be sure he said this, but if he said this, it is not Christian.”

“People often think, ‘You can’t question my faith,’ but of course we can …,” Groome said. “There are rules … we call them commandments and if you deny them or ignore them you can’t just say, ‘I’m a good Christian.’”

Groome called Trump’s suggestion that Islamic State militants would target the Vatican egregious. “Now it becomes a challenge to ISIS,” he said.

‘A POLITICAL PERSON’

Trump has said he would deport millions of illegal immigrants if he wins the White House. Last week, responding to the pope’s plan to visit the U.S.-Mexican border, he said Pope Francis did not understand the issues.

“The pope is a very political person … I don’t think he understands the danger of the open border that we have with Mexico,” Trump told the Fox Business Network last week.

Asked about being called a “political person”, Francis said on Thursday, “Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as ‘animal politicus.’ So at least I am a human person.”

Republican Catholics appear to support Trump more than other Republicans do, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll. It shows 43 percent of likely Republican Catholic voters support Trump, compared to 38 percent of Republican voters generally.

The pope was winning the social media battle on Thursday with overall sentiment for Trump negative and for Francis positive, according to social media analytic firm Zoomph. Author Dan Dicker @Dan_Dicker tweeted, “Let’s see @realDonaldTrump insult his way out of this.”

Trump’s social media director Dan Scavino @DanScavino tweeted, “Amazing comments from the Pope – considering Vatican City is 100 percent surrounded by massive walls.”

Evangelical Christian leader Jerry Falwell Jr., who has endorsed Trump, described him as generous to his employees and family, adding, “I’m convinced he’s a Christian. I believe he has faith in Jesus Christ.”

Trump was not always at odds with the pope. In 2013, the year Francis began his papacy, Trump compared himself to the pope favorably. “The new Pope is a humble man, very much like me, which probably explains why I like him so much!” Trump tweeted on Christmas Day 2013.

(Reporting by Emily Flitter and Steve Holland in South Carolina and Philip Pullella aboard the papal plane; Additional reporting by Anjali Athavaley, Susan Heavey, Chris Kahn, Emily Stephenson, Amy Tennery and Mohammad Zargham, Scott Malone; Writing by Howard Goller; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Toni Reinhold)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Leading China pastor probed for suspicion of embezzling funds – church authorities | Reuters

BEIJING One of China’s leading Christian pastors Gu Yuese is being probed for suspicion of embezzling funds, state-backed church authorities in Zhejiang province said, a move that comes after the pastor opposed a campaign to remove crosses from atop churches.

“We feel deeply shocked and filled with regret,” the government-backed Hangzhou Christian Council said in a statement on its website regarding Gu’s investigation, adding that the investigation was due to his individual conduct.

The Council gave no further details of the charges or evidence against Gu in its post late on Friday night.

It said it had been notified by a “relevant department”, but did not say who was conducting the investigation. Police in Hangzhou did not immediately respond to calls for comment.

Gu could not be reached for comment.

Zhejiang, on China’s eastern coast, is known for its large Christian population. Previous campaigns by authorities there to dismantle crosses on top of churches have incensed the local religious population.

Gu’s Chongyi church, which has a congregation of 10,000 followers, is known internationally as the largest Protestant church in the Chinese-speaking world.

Gu, who had frequently met with visiting foreign guests and appeared at government-organised ceremonies, previously spoke out against the campaign to tear down crosses, according to a few of his followers.

Two Gu supporters in Zhejiang told Reuters by phone on Friday that they had not been able to get in touch with him, and he had recently sent a message to followers that was critical of the cross removal campaign. They declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

It was unclear whether Gu’s investigation was linked to the note.

“Ironically, he was kind of elevated as almost a poster boy in the government established system for showcasing religious freedom in China,” said Bob Fu, director of the ChinaAid Association, a Texas-based Christian nonprofit that advocates for freedom of religion in China.

Authorities in the region have said crosses are removed because they violate regulations against illegal structures. Rights groups say demolishing crosses restricts Christianity and religious freedoms.

The ruling Communist Party says it protects freedom of religion, but keeps a tight rein on religious activities and allows only officially recognised religious institutions to operate.

Protests broke out in 2014 in the heavily Christian city of Wenzhou, also in Zhejiang, over the government’s cross demolition campaign.

(Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Ryan Woo)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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