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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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Living church in Asia
     
  Hector Welgampola  
  The new encyclical "Caritasin Veritate" (Charity in Truth) shows much charity in speaking the truth about integral human development. And that central theme has to be seen in the light of the ongoing papal teaching.

Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" (God is Love), interprets caritas as love, and the new encyclical begins by saying, "Love -- caritas -- leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace." His second encyclical, "Spe Salvi" (In Hope We Were Saved), says development must be spiritual and material.

Instead of engaging that holistic theme, some pundits scour the new encyclical for tidbits to support their own worldviews. Seeking a news peg for every Church move, some telescoped the world economic crisis' role in delaying the document. Released July 7, it had a message for the July 8 meeting of G8 nations in Italy, they claimed. Of course it did, as evident from the Pope's statement to the "Dives" controlling 90 per cent of world production and 80 per cent of world trade.

But much of the encyclical concerns the "Lazaruses," some of whose representatives went to Egypt for the Non-Aligned Meeting of 118 nations, 10 days after G8. And if Asian Church groups had been alert, that message may not have gone unnoticed by the more recent ASEAN meeting in Thailand. Even media reported little Asian Church comment on this encyclical. Yet, although it does not mention Asia, as a document interpreting Pope Paul VI's last two encyclicals --"Populorum Progressio" ("On the Development of Peoples") and "Humanae Vitae" (On the Regulation of Birth) -- it has historical links with Asia.

Pope Paul wrote these two controversial encyclicals after he visited India in 1964. On return, he reportedly opened a file on "human development." His direct exposure to the problems of poverty and population in India left an enduring impact. Perhaps, he steeled himself too, when encouraging young Indian bishops with words from the Upanishads, "Truth alone triumphs."

Four decades later, Pope Benedict's call for integral development is based on the two Pauline encyclicals on development and birth control. He sees the economic crisis as linked to a moral crisis that challenges "Christians' vocation to development."

The following encyclical highlights are like a charter for Asian Church action:

* The problem of food needs a long-term solution promoting agricultural development of poorer countries: equitable land distribution, rural infrastructures, irrigation, transport, organization of markets, and dissemination of agricultural technology.

* The economy needs a people-centered ethics that involves people in planning and implementing development programs. Ethical micro-financing has to be encouraged.

* Business has responsibility by proprietors as well as by workers, clients, suppliers and community of reference. When profit becomes the main goal, it destroys wealth and creates poverty. Some poor countries experience wasteful "superdevelopment."

* States offer tax cuts to foreign businesses, deregulate labor markets and downsize social security endangering worker rights. Uncertain work conditions cause psychological instability affecting life-plans, including marriage. Worker associations must be promoted. Migrant workers contribute to economic development of the host countries and their countries of origin. A migrant has fundamental, inalienable rights that must be respected through solidarity in every circumstance including retirement. But individual rights can escalate demands when detached from duties.

* Economic aid must involve the governments of receiving countries and civil society, including local Churches and the grassroots. Aid can sometimes lock people into dependence and foster oppression and exploitation in a receiving country. Some donors and beneficiaries divert aid, some aid-givers' bureaucracies consume funds intended for development. The main aid developing countries need from international markets is openness to welcome their products, thus guaranteeing their survival.

* Globalization can help redistribute wealth, but if badly directed, it can increase poverty and inequality. Governance of globalization must be marked by subsidiarity and solidarity. The former without the latter gives way to social privatism, while the latter without the former gives way to paternalist social assistance that is demeaning to those in need. Globalization can also encourage forms of "religion" that alienate people from one another and distance them from reality.

* The exclusion of religion from the public square -— and, at the other extreme, religious fundamentalism -— hinders encounter between persons and their collaboration for progress. Denial of religious freedom and promotion of religious indifference or atheism obstructs development.

* Responsible procreation can contribute to integral human development. The Church urges respect for human values in the exercise of sexuality, which cannot be reduced to pleasure or entertainment. Sex education cannot be reduced to technical instruction to protect the interested parties from possible disease or the "risk" of procreation. Populous nations emerged from poverty thanks not least to the size of their population and the talents of their people. Smaller families can impoverish social relations.

* States must promote centrality and integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, provide for its economic needs and respect its relational character. But some governments promote contraception, abortion and euthanasia. Economically developed countries and some NGOs export such ideas in the name of cultural progress. Some donors link development aid to birth control measures.

* The Church must defend earth, water and air as gifts of Creation. She must promote a human ecology that sets the tenor of society and restores man's spirituality. Humans interpret and shape the environment through culture, which is given direction by the responsible use of freedom, in accordance with the dictates of the moral law.

* Some states and companies hoard non-renewable energy resources blocking development in poor countries, which lack access to such energy or finances for research into alternatives.

* International tourism can help economic development and cultural growth, but can also lead to exploitation and moral degradation. Tourism must promote understanding without undermining healthy recreation.

* The United Nations, economic institutions and international finance need to be reformed, giving real teeth to the family of nations and a voice to poorer nations.

* Development requires upright citizens, financiers and politicians. It must give attention to spiritual life, reliance upon God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice and peace. Courtesy: www.ucanews.com
------------
Hector Welgampola, a Sri Lankan journalist, was Executive Editor of UCA News from 1987 until he retired in December 2001. His e-mail address is hwelgambo@yahoo.com
 
   
   
Indifference to God
     
  Priyanka  
  Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion
Edited by: Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Roberta Green-Ahmanson
Oxford University Press
Pages: 220

I HAVE to admit, I don't understand religion. In fact, to be honest, as a journalist, I have never even given it much thought either. So, to be reading a book that is interspersed with essays on the big and the 'real' stories that journalists have missed out on, by turning a blind eye to religion, is, well, rather ironic.

Having said that, I must add that "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion" has made me question a number of things, some of which were answered during the course of the book.

During the Mumbai terror attack in November last year, The New York Times had claimed that the Jewish center was an "unlikely target" and, added, "It is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen or if it was an accidental hostage scene." Did I think the same way? Yes, of course, I did. The NYT had said so and that's exactly what I wanted to believe as well. Because, bad enough, the Islamic fundamentalist groups were targeting Hindus, but to target the Jews as well, was something I hoped was accidental. And when the fog cleared, I could not help but feel foolish.

I suppose, it is journalism like this that throws you off guard. And it's stories like these that set you thinking. Most of us are in search of a reason, other than religion when it comes to news.

And while, the power of reason has been on one side, it now seems that God is back to winning. You see, according to this book, any religion -- whether it is evangelical Protestantism, Jewish Zionism, Hindu nationalism or even Buddhist revivalism -- is not only assertive but the political motive the world over.

So how come we missed the resurgence? Here's why. In the foreword to this book, Michael J. Gerson, Senior Editor, US News and World Report, has talked about how many journalists often equate modernity with secularism, succumbing to a sort of indifference to politico-religious stories which are waiting to be told. He calls this "wearing secular blinders" and thereby "missing out on the 'most historical important trends of our times."

One of the two essays that have strategically pointed at these blinders is the on religion and terrorism. Paul Marshall says that the real story behind the 9/11 attack has been underplayed. While the Al-Qaeda has time and again justified their action with the fall of the Caliphate, journalists have often tried to ignore fundamental religious dimensions and tried to fit everything into Western pre-conceptions. In another essay, Allen D. Hertzke talks about the passing of important acts like the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 et al and calling them the "most important human rights movement since the cold war", something that the American media has missed out completely.

Most of the essays are based on the American media's representation of religion. A lot of it rings true. For example, while the media paid a lot of attention to the death of Pope John Paul II and his role in the fall of communism, it missed out on what the Church really described and thought of him as.

This book is a must-read for someone who wants a clearer picture of the political-religious-economic status of the world. It's a good refresher course in history, with a seemingly unbiased perspective. There are wars and then they are wars, but the kind the essayists are fighting for is the quest for true knowledge. The viewpoints are strongly American, but have strong repercussions as to what the world views as true wholesome news.

And does the same kind of journalism hold true in the Indian media? Do we dismiss religion while talking about today's stories? I think not. Here almost everything can turn religious and is even often reported with just about that much gusto. Religious groups and their take on Varun Gandhi's hate speech or decriminalising of homosexuality, a frivolous film or even political drama -- everything here has a religious link to it.

Almost all major turns in Indian political history have a religious angle to it. Whether it was Mahatma Gandhi's assassination or the fall of Babri Masjid or the 2002 Gujarat carnage -- religion has been the trigger for all of this. In fact, Indian media has gone so far as to scrutinise almost everything from the religious aspects, perhaps sometimes even going overboard.

So don't believe everything you read and don't blame secularism, it just tries to set an equi-religious balance. Blame it on scepticism, that's what makes journalists indifferent.

 
   
   
Advani's swan song
     
  A.J. Philip  
  My Country My Life
L.K. Advani
Rupa & Co
PP 986, Rs 595

FEW leaders, particularly those in active politics, write an autobiography. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru did so much before they became national icons. Small wonder that when L.K. Advani's massive tome was published with great fanfare, it caught almost everyone by surprise. The curiosity it aroused kept the copies flying off the bookshelves as more and more translations of the book appeared in print.

Most politicians do not want to write for fear they would antagonise fellow politicians. Advani does not make any harsh comments on leaders who are alive and can react while he condemns some like Nehru, Indira Gandhi and V.K. Krishna Menon for the Partition blues, the defeat in 1962 and the failure to use the victory in 1971 to end the Kashmir problem.

That raises the question, why did he write the pretentiously titled book? For a person who has been in public life for as long as the country has been independent, an ego trip was unlikely. A self-confessed lover of books, who first heard about the RSS while playing tennis in his hometown Karachi, he would have found in an autobiography a perfect medium for an image makeover.

Among all political leaders, Advani is unique in many respects. He arouses passions, both for and against him in equal measure. I have heard an editor of a national daily describe him as "the leader of leaders". In contrast, those who portray him as a political evil incarnate are not few in number. While even those who can't stand the Hindutva brand of politics are comfortable with Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the helm, many even dread the possibility of Advani making it to the post of Prime Minister.

This dichotomy in the public perception of the tallest political leader today has been bothering Advani. Of course, he won't care so long as people see in him the characteristics of Sardar Patel, the Congress leader he thinks would have solved most of the pre and post-Partition problems if he were the first Prime Minister. Pages after pages are dotted with fulsome praise of Patel, whose photograph adorned the far-corner room on the first floor of North Block Advani occupied as Home Minister.

The author would like the reader to believe that candour is his forte. But not when he blames Jinnah and the Muslim League alone for the two-nation theory forgetting that at least two decades earlier, his ideologue V.D. Savarkar had given expression to the theory while expounding Hindutva.

Advani is at his exuberant best when he says Sindh "had the highest number of pracharaks (RSS) per district in all of India". He does not mention how the ever-growing shakhas and armed processions of the khaki-clad would have impacted the Muslims.

"The organised strength of the RSS reassured the Hindus that they would be able to safely stay in their own province even after the creation of Pakistan". How fallacious the thought was, was borne out by the mass migration that followed the Partition.

On no other issue is the author as excited as on the nuclear policy the BJP-led government followed. It is true that right from the days of the Jan Sangh, he and his compatriots have been strong votaries of the bomb.

However, Pokharan II did not arouse the kind of national fervour he boasts of. And whatever little enthusiasm it generated disappeared when Pakistan went in for a test at Chagai a few weeks later. During a fortnight-long visit to Pakistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, this reviewer heard several Pakistani politicians claiming that Chagai established Pakistan's military parity with India, first time since Independence. In any case, the bomb did not prevent the Kargil war.

While his claim that he played an important role in all the major post-Independence events is excusable, he has deftly glossed over his failures as Home Minister like preventing the attack on Parliament. He defended Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi even when Vajpayee felt he should have resigned. He does not even think that though the riots might have helped the party in Gujarat, it took much of the gloss from "India shining". In fact, Vajpayee made an honest admission that the 2004 defeat was due to Gujarat, though he was forced to retract later.

The way he quotes Mahatma Gandhi, one may even suspect Advani to be a Gandhian but then that has been part of the Sangh Parivar's strategy of appropriating icons, regional and national, from Sri Narayana Guru to Netaji Bose, when the RSS's own contribution to the freedom struggle was no better than that of a collaborationist. Similarly, even when he rubbishes Nehru, he quotes him profusely to argue that reservation for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims would be calamitous.

When all is said and done, his leadership of the Ayodhya movement would be considered as his single most important contribution to national life. All his explanations of why he felt it was the "saddest day" of his life when the Babri Masjid was pulled down fail to convince the reader when in the same breath he also boasts that no power on earth would be able to remove the makeshift temple at Ayodhya.

'National security in the days of terror' could have been a sub-title, for security is a recurring theme of the book. Again, while he lambasts successive governments for their inaction in nipping terrorism in the bud, he does not even mention why a Cabinet minister, whose autobiography preceded Advani's, had to personally deliver three dreaded terrorists to the hijackers of an Indian aircraft at Kandahar in Afghanistan.

Advani is certainly on surer ground when he defends his statement on Jinnah, the matter of the fact being that he was more sinned against than sinning in this case. Instead, he should have been pilloried for his convoluted defence of the killers of the Australian missionary Graham Staines and the inaction on Gujarat. Under an able editor, the book would have become racier and at least half its present intimidating size. Nonetheless, it will remind readers like this reviewer of what the much-despised Nehru said, "When the minority communities are communal, you can see that and understand it. But the communalism of a majority community is apt to be taken for nationalism". My Country My Life is a celebration of this nationalism. (Courtesy: The Little Magazine)






 
   
   
Why things don't go better for Coke
     
  By J. Sri Raman  
  The Real Thing -- Coke's Bumpy Ride Through India by Nantoo Banerjee, Frontpage, Kolkata, Pages 260, Rs. 395.

COCA-COLA or Coke may have lost quite a bit of its earlier political fizz but, for long years, it was among the major symbols of American imperialism. It belonged to the big league of the United Fruit Company (which reigned in the "banana republics" of Latin America) and the currently broke General Motors (which boasted, "What is goods for GM is good for America".)

The soft drink made from a famously "secret formula" is now among the products of US multinational corporations to have met with stiff resistance in many of the roughly 200 countries making up its market.

These countries include India, where the Coke attempted a conquest twice, facing and causing much trouble. Some may remember the way it was thrown out in 1977 by George Fernandes, then a fiery Socialist as well as Industries Minister in the post-Emergency Janata regime (and as staunch an opponent of nuclear weapons as then Prime Minister Morarji Desai).

The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) staged a comeback in the early nineties, and stayed on to make further strides during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee dispensation, without problems from Fernandes (then the Defence Minister who presided over the Pokharan nuke tests).

This book is about the Coke's second life in India. And Nantoo Banerjee writes about it as both an outsider and an insider. After decades as a journalist, observing this and other corporates from outside, he joined the TCCC in 2000 and served as its communications director. He does not seem to have admired Fernandes' heroics, describing the Coke's eviction from India as the decision of "an ill-assorted band of politicians". He did not come to admire, as an official of the company, the brash and brazen way it conducted business, either.

Coca-Cola, as we know, has long been a butt of politically inspired jokes, often provoked by its obviously pompous and pretentious slogans and jingles.

My own favourite is the story about a Coke sales officer sent into a wild country without a name, armed with all ad material. Cannibals catch him and tie him to a tree. Their chief arrives and announces, as in the case of the officer's predecessors, a certain part of his body will be cut off before he is killed. Why cut off the thing, he cries. "Because", booms the chief before breaking untunefully into the jingle,"things go better with Coca-Cola!" Similar cracks have been heard about the song, "I would like to give the world a Coke..."

Banerjee does not indulge in such banter, based on an opposition to "Coca-Colanization", as it came to be called. His is more of a meticulous record of the company's methods that mired it in legal and other problems for much of its second innings in India.

He recalls that the nineties opened with India "opening out" to the world and the initiation of "economic reforms" by former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao and his then protege Manmohan Singh. Rival PepsiCo was quick to take the cue and establish business here. "Was that the reason", asks the author, "why Coke chose to ignore the ground realities or why it rushed into an ill-advised joint venture with an Indian businessman of small scruples and big ambitions?"

The reference was to the notorious Singapore-based tycoon K. Rajan Pillai of Keralite origin. The tough conditions for foreign investors' entry, prevalent till the "reforms" kicked in, made the company seek the services of the wrong non-resident Indian (NRI). When the conditions were relaxed, the services became redundant and the company drove him -- by fighting him on unequal terms -- to death in 1995.

Banerjee brings this episode up to date: Rajan's widow Gopika Nina Pillai sued the company in August 2000 for damages of Rs. 1 billion on charges including "criminal breach of trust, criminal intimidation, forgery, use of forged documents, and criminal conspiracy" and the case is still on.

Coke has got into endless troubles everywhere from charges related to public health. Chroniclers of the company's colourful history say that, from the late 1800s, the cola contained varying amounts of cocaine until 1929, when cocaine was finally removed from its formula. A health-centred controversy erupted in India, when an NGO, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) told an excited media on August 5, 2003, that "India-made Coca-Cola carried 45 times more pesticides than allowed in the EU."

All hell broke loose, and soon the beverage came to be renamed Pesti-Cola in media comments and caricatures. Banerjjee shows how the company made the situation worse for itself by its arrogant and unhelpful response.

Coke has also courted trouble round the globe by its activities as a phenomenal "guzzler" of water. As US health activist Mike Adams wrote once, "As an example of just how important profits are to Coca-Cola, take a look at the company's effort to wipe out competing beverages -- like water!"

Banerjee goes into this part of the company's game in some sordid detail in a chapter captioned "Water Thief". Plaichimada in Kerala claims a special place in the anti-Coke struggle for its long campaign to prevent its ground water from becoming the company's preserve.

Notwithstanding all this, the author ends on an optimistic note for the company. In his assessment, it "seems to have learnt from its past mistakes in dealing with the government, the public and NGOs..." Time will tell.

Coke, however, is more than a carbonated beverage, it is a metaphor. Coca-Colas of the West, in this sense, will continue to face hostility in the developing world as long as the international economic order remains iniquitous and globalisation a grotesque misnomer, in many instances, for an escalation of transnational exploitation.

This is the "real thing" about resistance in poverty-stricken parts of the earth to Coke and other consumer products of multinational corporations.
--------
J. Sri Raman is a senior journalist, author and columnist based in Chennai.

 
   
   
Promise in another land
     
  A.J. Philip  
  The Last Jews of Kerala
by Edna Fernandes. Penguin/Viking.
Pages 205. Rs 495

ON a visit to the Jew Town at Mattanchery in Kerala, I accosted an old Jewish woman selling souvenirs and booklets to know a little more about her community, but she simply refused to talk. Twenty years ago, the Jews of Kerala had already become a Museum community with tourists harassing them with awkward questions and some even invading their privacy in their homes by peering through their windows.

Edna Fernandes, a journalist, also faced the same Jewish disinterestedness in talking to strangers but she persisted and the result is this wonderful book that reads more like a travelogue, than a book of history.

Of course, she has not skipped on the origins of the Jews of Kerala, which lie in Biblical times. "The available history is a patchwork of folklore, fable and historical fact.

"The Old Testament indicates that the first Jews landed on Indian shores thousands of years ago, sailing from Israel on trade missions from the court of King Solomon. Biblical accounts depict sailors and merchants docking at Kerala's main harbour, charged with procuring spices and exotic treasure such as 'elephant's tooth, peacocks and apes'.

A further wave of immigrants arrived after the Roman capture of Jerusalem and destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, a ruthless act of conquest which sent the Jews into exile, scattering Israel's tribes across the globe like seeds of hope".

In later centuries also, waves of Jews arrived in Kerala as either immigrants or traders. They were caught in local warfares as when the Zamorin of Kozhikode detested the Portuguese, who, misusing his hospitality, began to lord it over the seas harassing and killing Arabs, who had been trading with his subjects for millennia.

It took a while for the Jews to be heard by the benevolent rulers of Kochi, who not only gave them safe havens at Mattanchery and Chennamangalam in Ernakulam where at one time they numbered several thousands with at least eight synagogues catering to their spiritual needs.

In the caste-based social order that existed in Kerala then, the Jews faced little problem in integrating themselves in the Malayali society while retaining their distinct identity. They were in any case too few to pose any threat to the dominant Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

In fact, the Jews of Chennamangalam took pride in the fact that theirs was the only village in the world where one could hear the shofar of the synagogue, the peel of the church bell, the trumpet of the Hindu conch shell and the cry of the muezzin. The famed tolerance of the Malayali helped them preserve their ways of life, keeping the Sabbath and eating kosher meat.

A small minority, concentrated in a small area, enjoying all creature comforts should have been thriving and not dying. "No, we are not dying. We are already dead". Why are the Kerala Jews so small in number that they can be counted on one's fingers? It is appropriate that the author begins with a description of the last journey of Shalom Cohen, last of the priestly line of kohanim in Kochi.

Once the old Jews die and the only Jewish woman of reproductive age in Mattanchery, who refuses to marry, reaches menopause, it will mark the end of the white Jewish community in Kerala. Seen against this backdrop, the inscription on the synagogue clock tower -- "Our days are like Passing Shadows" (Psalms 144: 4) -- appears so prophetic and so real.

The creation of Israel in 1948 and the open invitation to the Jews the world over to return to the "Promised Land" saw what the author calls the 'Cochini Jews' migrating to the new nation in large numbers. The young and the healthy migrated to the new nation, leaving the old and the infirm in idyllic Kerala.

It is well known that unhealthy interbreeding is what brought the Jews to their present sad demographical state but what is not so known is the internecine war they fought over the centuries, not on doughty theological issues but on petty colours of the skin.

The black Jews were looked down upon by the whites who believed that they belonged to the menial class -- workers, cooks and machine operators -- when they began their journey from Jerusalem in search of a safe sanctuary. The whites kept the blacks at a distance, though they read the same Thorah, ate the same meat and kept the Sabbath.

They overlooked the lines in Leviticus that said, "you must not slander your own people; you must count them as one of your countrymen and love them, for you yourselves were once strangers in Egypt". Forget white-black marriages, the black Jews were not even allowed inside the synagogue until a Gandhian among them, A.B. Salem, saw to it that the divide in the synagogue was ended for ever. The realisation about the futility of the war within occurred to them only when the white Jews were forced to buy kosher meat from a black Jew, who alone knew how to slaughter chicken according to the Jewish custom.

The author provides pen-portraits of two Cochini Jews, who went to Israel as young men, to make a new beginning in life. One of them, Eliahu Bezalel, has earned national and international recognition for proving that flowers can be grown in the arid deserts of Israel and exported profitably.

Another is Abraham, who despite living in the war-torn Israel for 60 long years still yearns to return to the peace of Kerala, a peace that history has rarely bestowed on the Jews. Edna Fernandes' is a moving account of a community on the countdown mode for which births and marriages are history while deaths and funerals are a living reality. (Courtesy: The Tribune)
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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