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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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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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Have we forgotten God?
  By John W. Whitehead  
  "Statesmen may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand."-- John Adams.

AMERICAN society has succumbed to a rampant materialism. And now it has passed down to our young people. In fact, studies show that a large percentage of young people between the ages of 16 and 25 don't see any meaning or purpose to life at all. Another study in 2009 showed that 15% of teenagers in grades 7 through 12 don't think they will live to the age of 35, which causes them to take part in adverse or risky behavior -- drugs, wild parties, getting arrested by police, and even suicide.

As we have lost our sense of meaning, morality and spirituality, the erosion of our freedoms on virtually every front has accelerated. And, make no mistake about it, freedom in the true sense of the word is always undergirded by a common moral and religious system. As John Adams opined: "Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other."

Increasingly, we are headed toward a spiritually dead-end society as our schools and universities, reluctant to teach values, avoid religion as if it were a plague. As a result, in the words of Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "men have forgotten God." He knew of what he spoke. For a short time, Solzhenitsyn was exiled in the United States where he observed Western culture first hand. As a result, Solzhenitsyn tended to reject the Western emphasis on materialism based largely upon his belief in Christian values.

Solzhenitsyn spent eight years in Russian prisons and labor camps for criticizing Joseph Stalin. After his release in 1956, he began to write, producing some of the most intimate and detailed accounts of the inhumane treatment of the Russian people at the hands of the Communist government. His books have become classics: Cancer Ward (1968), August 1914 (1971), The Gulag Archipelago (1973), The Oak and the Calf (1980), among others.

In 1970, Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1983, Solzhenitsyn won the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. In his London address upon accepting the prize, Solzhenitsyn summed up his belief that virtually every problem we face in the West can be reduced to a single premise: "men have forgotten God." Broadly, Solzhenitsyn's point was that in our secularistic age, we have overthrown spirituality for materialism but with far-reaching ramifications, including the loss of freedom. We might pause for a moment and consider Solzhenitsyn's analysis of our state of being.

The following are some excerpts from his Templeton address:

Imperceptibly, through decades of gradual erosion, the meaning of life in the West has ceased to be seen as anything more lofty than the "pursuit of happiness," a goal that has even been solemnly guaranteed by constitutions. The concepts of good and evil have been ridiculed for several centuries; banished from common use, they have been replaced by political or class considerations of short lived value. It has become embarrassing to state that evil makes its home in the individual human heart before it enters a political system. Yet it is not considered shameful to make daily concessions to an integral evil. Judging by the continuing landslide of concessions made before the eyes of our very own generation, the West is ineluctably slipping toward the abyss. Western societies are losing more and more of their religious essence as they thoughtlessly yield up their younger generation to atheism.

Atheist teachers in the West are bringing up a younger generation in a spirit of hatred of their own society. Amid all the vituperation we forget that the defects of capitalism represent the basic flaws of human nature, allowed unlimited freedom together with the various human rights; we forget that under Communism (and Communism is breathing down the neck of all moderate forms of socialism, which are unstable) the identical flaws run riot in any person with the least degree of authority; while everyone else under that system does indeed attain "equality"-the equality of destitute slaves. This eager fanning of the flames of hatred is becoming the mark of today's free world. Indeed, the broader the personal freedoms are, the higher the level of prosperity or even of abundance-the more vehement, paradoxically, does this blind hatred become. The contemporary developed West thus demonstrates by its own example that human salvation can be found neither in the profusion of material goods nor in merely making money.

Here again we witness the single outcome of a worldwide process, with East and West yielding the same results, and once again for the same reason: Men have forgotten God.

With such global events looming over us like mountains, nay, like entire mountain ranges, it may seem incongruous and inappropriate to recall that the primary key to our being or non-being resides in each individual human heart, in the heart's preference for specific good or evil. Yet this remains true even today, and it is, in fact, the most reliable key we have. The social theories that promised so much have demonstrated their bankruptcy, leaving us at a dead end. The free people of the West could reasonably have been expected to realize that they are beset by numerous freely nurtured falsehoods, and not to allow lies to be foisted upon them so easily. All attempts to find a way out of the plight of today's world are fruitless unless we redirect our consciousness, in repentance, to the Creator of all: without this, no exit will be illumined, and we shall seek it in vain.

Our life consists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest for worthy spiritual growth. Our entire earthly existence is but a transitional stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble and fall, nor must we linger fruitlessly on one rung of the ladder. Material laws alone do not explain our life or give it direction. The laws of physics and physiology will never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly, day in and day out, participates in the life of each of us, unfailingly granting us the energy of existence; when this assistance leaves us, we die. And in the life of our entire planet, the Divine Spirit surely moves with no less force: this we must grasp in our dark and terrible hour.

To the ill-considered hopes of the last two centuries, which have reduced us to insignificance and brought us to the brink of nuclear and non-nuclear death, we can propose only a determined quest for the warm hand of God, which we have so rashly and self-confidently spurned. Only in this way can our eyes be opened to the errors of this unfortunate twentieth century and our bands be directed to setting them right. There is nothing else to cling to in the landslide: the combined vision of all the thinkers of the Enlightenment amounts to nothing.

Our five continents are caught in a whirlwind. But it is during trials such as these that the highest gifts of the human spirit are manifested. If we perish and lose this world, the fault will be ours alone. (Courtesy: Virtueonline)
The writer is with the Rutherford Institute and he can be contacted at
Christians can be Pakistanis too
  By Father John Murray  
  VATICAN CITY (UCAN) -- One of the biggest challenges for Pakistani Christians is to be seen as Pakistanis and not as an offshoot of Western culture, Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad, director of Caritas in the country, believes.

Christianity, along with democracy, tends to be seen as a purely Western force, with all the colonial overtones that entails. This, of course, is wrong but the perception in Pakistan and many other parts of Asia that it is so can be corrosive.

It poses a basic challenge before Catholicism, and Christianity in general: How to be seen as a world faith and not as some tool of Western colonial power?

Christianity was never meant to be purely a religion of certain cultures or continents, although history has sometimes made it seem this way.

The need for inculturation -- taking Christianity into the heart of other cultures -- was first identified by the bishops of Asia. But, in many respects, we have failed to pick up that gauntlet, leaving the likes of Bishop Coutts to deal with the consequences.

He knows the tensions and conflicts within contemporary Pakistan only too well as he deals with local rivalries and their tragic consequences as well as with the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.

It is not all the fault of perceptions of the Church, of course. Bishop Coutts sees that there has also been a loss -- or at least an erosion -- of the country's founding vision.

The vision of the founding father of modern Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was for a liberal, democratic and progressive nation, a principle Bishop Coutts still adheres to.

He proudly quotes Jinnah: "What you believe has nothing to do with the state. You are equal citizens in a free country. We must now all learn to be Pakistanis."Bishop Coutts, however, sees an ongoing retreat from this founding principle. While tensions have always existed, they have become more pronounced through pressures from both inside and outside the country.

Bishop Coutts warns that there is a shift from the view that "we are Pakistanis" to "we are Muslims."

This has real repercussions for non-Muslims caught in a tide of rising Islamic fundamentalism as seen in the anti-blasphemy laws discussed by Jesuit Father Frank Brennan in a recent UCA News article The Herald of India published.

But it is also seen in other ways including the mounting pressure from fundamentalist Muslims from outside the country joining forces with a growing domestic movement within Pakistan for an Islamic fundamentalist state.

And if Christianity has a problem finding a place in such a climate, what hope then for democracy?

The bishop does not blame everything that is going wrong in his country on this one issue and acknowledges there are many forces at play.

Local and tribal rivalries brook large, as Bishop Coutts, who has presided over many Christian funerals caused by such tensions, knows only too well.

In the face of all this, he remains calm and hopeful and ready to face the ongoing challenge, even if difficult, as must we all.

The struggle of a post-Vatican II Church has been one of inculturation of Christianity into Asian, African and many other cultures -- and that goes on.

It is up to us to demonstrate how to be truly Christian and truly Asian.
Augustinian Father John Murray works for Caritas Thailand. He spoke to Bishop Coutts during the recent Vatican World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees
Labyrinthine Liberhan
  By Balvinder Singh  
  DOES the Liberhan Commission report, the real or leaked one, mean anything to the common man? Perhaps, not. But if both the ruling 'collided' parties, the bruised BJP and their allied 'media partners' think so, they are mistaken to the hilt.

We are all used to the pointlessness of various enquiry commissions that governments set up from time to time. For, none of them has ever been conclusive or result-oriented. In fact, one Commission's report, more than often, paved ways for the constitution of another one and so on.

Thus, when the news of the tabling of the Liberhan Commission's report came, 17 long years after its formation, it did not make any headlines. However, I had apprehended, due to some queer premonition, that this report, that was to deal with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, would be a boon for the BJP, whose own edifice was crumbling, perhaps, as a nemesis.

Sadly my apprehension seems to be coming true. In fact, even before its formal laying in Parliament, the report has already started giving the BJP, which till now was gasping for breath, a fresh and big breather.

Till yesterday, BJP spokespersons were either avoiding the media or busy giving coveted, but false statements that 'all-is-well-in-the-party'.

Today the same BJP, a fully divided house, seems to have bounced back.

"The BJP closes ranks behind Advani"; "Liberhan leak unites BJP". These are a couple of headlines that dotted the two national dailies I subscribe to.

However, I am sure that this time the common man would not get swayed by all such gimmicks.

It is common knowledge that if we have not been able to punish Kasab or those who were responsible for attacking Parliament, (no one knows when did the 'Aar Par Ki Ladiai' began and ended), or those who were responsible for Delhi/Gujarat massacres, or the Thakerays who have been holding Maharashtra to ransom, no one will ever be punished for the Ayodhya debacle.

We, the people, would surely forgive all the governments for the deadly delay in its presentation and the enormous expenditure that has been incurred in preparing the voluminous, but ineffectual Liberhan report. But no one would forgive or forget the deep pain that unbridled rising prices of essential commodities have, of late, been giving to the common man.
Lifeline to Afghans
  By Hector Welgampola  
  AFGHANISTAN has a rich history that could be pivotal in the much-vilified South-Central Asian country's restoration.

With links to ancient India's Gandhara civilization, part of the area was immortalized as Kandahar, a name some Westerners trace to Iskander, or Alexander the Great. The Macedonian warrior stretched his empire in 334 BC to the borders of the Sassanian Empire. Another part was Bactria, homeland of Zarathustra, founder of Zoroastrianism.

In the first Christian century, Saint Thomas the Apostle preached the Gospel in the region, leading eventually to the growth of nine dioceses and an archdiocese. The area also includes Bamyan, which had links with the Buddhist-Taoist Jesus sutras. Sadly, in 2001 the city became better known for the desperate Taliban's destruction of 6th-century Buddha statues.

Over cyclic phases of Islamization and Talibanization, the region became the cockpit of Western powers after Britain midwifed the birth of modern Afghanistan in the 19th century. As noted in Jawaharlal Nehru's "Glimpses of World History," the landlocked country was created as "a buffer State between the two great empires of Russia and England."

Soon thereafter, the puppet state and a transitory monarchy became political toys of British colonialism and Russian imperialism. The heirs and cousins of the two empires have continued to control the destinies of the nation, whose Pashtun resentment of Western influence hardened unsurprisingly into warlordism. Terror became entrenched as a local lifestyle after the United States and Pakistan took turns nurturing the Mujahideen and the Taliban.

The cycle of human history is a great leveler. Just as Alexander had failed to ensure his empire's continuity even after siring a son through an Afghan wife, Genghis Kahn too failed to hold Afghanistan for long. More recently, the Soviets' Afghan war hastened the collapse of Communism. Tad Szulc's biography of Pope John Paul II says Brezhnev's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan "undermIned the Soviet Union's destiny vastly more than Pope John Paul could have hoped to accomplish."

Not long after being trapped in the Cold War, Afghanistan became the new target in the so-called US "war on terror." And the campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban has become a proxy war for the survival of capitalism by showcasing Western-style democracy. Even this week's political show in Kabul to re-legitimize the country's Western-backed presidency will mean little to the Afghans.

Since all these exploits have contributed toward making Afghanistan a failed state, all the allied powers must re-examine their guilt from the viewpoint of the long-abused nation. The fingers pointed at the native population charging them with drug dealing, terrorism and warlordism have to be directed at the political patrons who nurtured all these evils. And the current abuse of military might to impose the panacea of Western-style democracy on an unconvinced people only pushes them to copy Western-style political corruption.

Today, Afghanistan needs a lifeline to pull itself out of that mess, though at the people's own pace. And help must be free of frenetic time frames dictated by other countries' political agendas.

Poverty-stricken Afghans have been pushed into arms peddling and poppy cultivation for survival, but as much as they need food and economic aid, they also need to regain their selfhood through education and moral upliftment. And such help cannot come from those who demonize the troubled nation as human scum, but from sectors with a capacity to empathize with its people and their culture.

Despite the current grip of fundamentalism, the Afghan blend of Phastun and Persian traditions has been enriched over centuries by Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Taoist and Zoroastrian religious cultures. Traces of such centuries-old heritage hold out hope for the nation's future. And civil society rooted in religio-cultural traditions may be better trusted by Afghanistan than political lobbies, which have bled it throughout history.

As noted in some recent UCAN reports, Indian Jesuits and India-based Missionaries of Charity have been able to establish rapport with Afghan society. Such service-oriented outreach at an even broader level may be able to win the hearts and minds of the harried nation.

Perhaps a broad-based multireligious alliance, which shuns the language of power, may open to the Asian Church a path of dialogue, which the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC) secretary general proposed at the recent African Synod held in Rome.

The FABC reflections on relations with Muslims need to be taken beyond the discussions in Kuala Lumpur in 1979 and in the Indian city of Varanasi in 1983. In this instance, the Indian Church is best suited to take forward the stalled Varanasi mandate. Citing Biblical and Qur'anic "challenges" to do good, the FABC message will now require a Gandhian service commitment that goes beyond narrow ecclesial concerns.

This will have to go beyond the sui juris Church presence for expatriates in Kabul or dreams of Holy See diplomatic relations or FABC membership. The commitment will require the faith dynamic of missioners like Blessed Joseph Vaz and Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. Asian groups like the Bishops-Ulama Conference in the Philippines, Nahdlatul Ulama in Indonesia as well as Asian chapters of the World Conference of Religions for Peace could be effective partners.
Hector Welgampola, a Sri Lankan journalist, was Executive Editor of UCA News from 1987 until he retired in December 2001. His email address is
Instrument of peace
  By St. Francis  
  Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury,pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

High profile, low profile
  By Balvinder Singh  
  I MUST make it clear at the outset that I am no sympathiser of Manu Sharma, a convict in the Jessica Lal murder case who is once again in the news for wrong reasons.

I strongly condemn both his heinous crime and his use of powerful influence to get an easy and long parole on flimsy grounds.

The amount of unprecedented media pressure, seemingly in the form of a concerted ad like campaign that was mounted against Manu Sharma forced him to surrender even before his parole term expired.

The media's hullabaloo too stretched beyond ethical limits.

For, the case is being projected in such a manner as if it was some unknown breaking news. However, we all know it rather too well that our legal justice system is a poor pawn in the hands of the rich and the powerful.

Because both the high-profile convict and the victim in the case are a saleable commodity, the news-hungry media pounced upon the issue like anything. In the process, it tried to maul almost everyone; politicians, of all hues, in particular, for trying to duck the issue. Thus it, initially, generated some public interest and an empty debate.

Interestingly, many a media campaigner harped on the fact that had it been some ordinary person, instead of an influential Manu, he would not have got parole on such silly grounds. Right enough!

However, one can pose the same question to the media too. Had it not been the case involving high-profile people, would the media react similarly? More likely, not!

Here is an example. Last month, the Supreme Court pulled up a Punjab lower court and the High Court for virtually allowing themselves to be hoodwinked by two men accused of raping a 15-year-old girl by holding them guilty of only kidnapping.

No media follow-ups got generated. The story died its natural death soon after its publication. Perhaps, because no big names were involved in this 'low-profile' case!

But what made the media to ignore the following shocking story is not easy to digest: "At a time when voices seeking death penalty for rape are getting stronger, Punjab is remitting the sentences of those convicted for the heinous offence. If that is not shocking enough, picture this -- rape convicts in the state have been walking free within days/months of being sentenced for the crime, sometimes within one day also.

"Among them is (one) Surinder Singh, a rape convict lodged at the Hoshiarpur district jail, released on August 23 last year. The irony -- he was sentenced to 10-year rigorous imprisonment for the crime on August 22 -- just a day before he was released under the remission of sentence granted by the state government on Baisakhi." (The Tribune, March 5, 2008)

Should the media continue its crusades -- damp squibs -- against Manu Sharma in which people seemingly have lost their interest?
Break the walls
  By Virginia Saldanha  
  AS people recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the news was full of euphoric memories as well as critical analysis. Berlin's Archbishop Cardinal Georg Maximilian Sterzinsky pointed out that there are still fundamental differences across that former East-West border.

People from the West are "far more individualistic in their way of thinking and how they present themselves," the cardinal observed. In contrast, "people who come from East Germany have a way of feeling and thinking that is more collective."

Many in Asia would make a similar differentiation between West and East on the global map. In the East we think in terms of family and community, whereas in the West people seem to be more individualistic. However, this is changing.

The older generation in the West is longing for family and community, while media and market influences the world over lead members of the younger e-generation to make choices that present a great pastoral challenge.

Reading the signs of the times toward the end of the 20th century -- growing individualism and materialism -- while walking the dedicated path of the triple dialogue of faith with economic reality, culture and other religions/faiths, the 5th Plenary Assembly of the FABC in 1990 articulated their vision for the Church in Asia. It envisioned a participatory and co-responsible Church living as a communion of communities.

Several member conferences of the FABC have adopted the vision of a "New Way of Being Church" as their pastoral preference. Along with this, the AsIPA (Asian Integrated pastoral Approach) desk, part of the FABC Office of Laity & Family, has been busy offering training programs and creating modules for use by animators of Small Christian Communities (SCCs) and Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs).

India has adapted AsIPA as DIIPA (Developing an Indian Integral Pastoral Approach). And Bishop Bosco Penha, auxiliary bishop of Bombay, developed another approach in the archdiocese, which he has shared with other dioceses and countries.

In the Philippines, Bukal ng Tipan (wellspring of covenants), a center that promotes lay participation in the Church, has evolved its own methodology to suit the local environment, considering that BECs in the Philippines pre-date AsIPA.
"My own experience drawn from several visits to Germany, as well as living in Europe with my daughters' families, gives me the gut feeling that an adapted SCC movement could revive the faith of people there."

While we were at the recently concluded 5th AsIPA General Assembly in Davao, southern Philippines, the presence of a large number of local BEC leaders reminded us that the seeds of BECs/SCCs were first sown in this region 40 years ago. They were a response to the political crisis that gripped the country during the Marcos reign of terror. The prophetic commitment of the pioneer BEC leaders of that time cannot be forgotten.

Today, the structures for the New Way of Being Church are falling into place. People who are involved appreciate their role in being part of this Church. The change from the old individualistic focus of saving one's soul to living as a faith community is perceptible and is being valued.

Change is a process that requires time and patience. There are several success stories of faith lived in SCCs that continue to give hope and life to this movement in Asia.

Through the association of the German Church agency Missio with the AsIPA project, the Church in Germany has gotten interested in this new way of being Church. Ten Europeans from Germany, Switzerland and Britain were present at the General Assembly to learn how they can adapt this pastoral approach to their own reality, which increasingly is interreligious and intercultural. It is interesting to note this "mission in reverse" -- from East to West -- in the Church.

My own experience drawn from several visits to Germany, as well as living in Europe with my daughters' families, gives me the gut feeling that an adapted SCC movement could revive the faith of people there. Coming from India, I note the strong Christian values that underpin European society.

Individualism and materialism seem to be eroding these values, but I sense that people want to forge friendships. They need each other, but are afraid of crossing the "sacred line of privacy."

The big question that needs answering in the West is: Where does privacy end and community start? When children are young, when people are old or in crisis, when we need to celebrate and mourn, we need community.

The Church provides community. But this community has to extend beyond the "walls" of Church. Times have changed. The Church has to recognize that it cannot expect the present generation of young people to return to the old model of the Church. The old ways of thinking and operating a parish form a conceptual Berlin Wall that needs to be broken down so people can live their faith in a way that is more relevant to the times we live in.

There is growing disenchantment among the laity with the quality of priests. These pastors could be the ones who push young people out of the Church in Asia. The SCCs or Faith Communities could help keep people in the Church.

Notable among the qualities of young people everywhere are honesty and eagerness to reach out to help. These are qualities that are needed in building and sustaining a community. If creatively tapped, the Church in both the East and West can give be a vibrant center of a living faith.

"The old ways of thinking and operating a parish form a conceptual Berlin Wall that needs to be broken down so people can live their faith in a way that is more relevant to the times we live in."

The Church needs to take a greater interest in educating the laity by setting aside resources and personnel. Once guidelines are set in place, the adults who are properly formed in living their faith need to be trusted to carry on. They can live their faith in their community without being monitored around the clock to check if they are doing the right or wrong thing. This will increasingly be necessary both in the East and West, where vocations to the priesthood are dwindling.

The SCC/BEC movement in Asia is being carried forward largely by the laity, particularly women at the grassroots level. In dioceses where there are insufficient priests, these lay animators keep the faith of the community alive and minister to pastoral needs, with a priest visiting to celebrate the Eucharist periodically.

It is said that the fall of the Berlin Wall was not a planned action, that it was spontaneous. But the deep longing of the human spirit on both sides to see that wall come down cannot be disputed. That longing then grew into a surge of strength at a perceived cue for action.

It can similarly be hoped that the great longing in people's hearts the world over for building a new world order, for building peace and community, will develop into a movement that will bring about the desired change to make the New Way of Being Church a reality! (Courtesy:
Virginia Saldanha lives in Mumbai, India. She is executive secretary of the FABC Office of Laity and Family, and former executive secretary of the Commission for Women in the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.
Nirdhan Brahman!
  By Balvinder Singh  
  "Ek gaon mein ek Nirdhan Brahman rehta tha": why is "a Brahmin always a nirdhan" in our folklore?

MY journalist friend Swaraaj Chauhan explained thus; "In the "Chanakya" TV serial it was shown that the Brahmans were the advisers to the ancient Mauryan kings. It was presumed that for public welfare it was most important that advisers should lead austere lives and have limited wants.

So the serial showed Brahmins begging for their food and sleeping on the floor. Now the advisers to the rulers revel in comfort and luxury... and we see the condition of the society.

A Brahmin's son did not automatically become a Brahmin. This was so for other castes too. The ancient "Shrutis" were clear that all human beings were born "shudras". A Brahmin earned that status if he/she had an aptitude and then underwent a rigorous training.

Even after that, the divine powers were tested. So Brahmin=Nirdhan. In fact, "rich Brahmin" is a contradiction in terms. Even President Dr Radhakrishnan's family was so poor that they could not afford a plantain leaf and ate off the floor.

"Also, there is a belief that Laxmi (Goddess of Wealth) and Saraswati (Goddess of Learning) are rivals and rarely stay together at one place. So, a real artist or a man of learning generally remains poor or hard of cash, and Saraswati rarely resides where there is too much money or riches.

"The info about the rivalry between Laxmi and Saraswati was provided to me by an old friend Indrani Rehman, the famous Bharatnatyam dancer, whose husband was the Chief Engineer of the CPWD, New Delhi, and was also a friend. I miss them both. They passed away quite some time ago and were a great source of learning and fun".

And this is how another philosopher friend, Satya P. Gautam, currently Vice-chancellor of a university in UP, tried to explain: The above cited information, "in my view, was created and spread by the same Brahmins who wrote the stories begining "ek gaon mein ek nirdhan Brahman..."

A careful look at the past, and present, may show that all Brahmans were/are not 'nirdhhan'.
"My conjecture is that those who constructed and spread these stories about 'nirdhan' Brahmans were definitely not nirdhan (in ideas as well as wealth!). Spreading the word that Brahmans were not only nirdhan but never aspired to be 'non-nirdhan' may have been invoked to inspire/encourage their new generations to value ideational/ cognitive/cultural pursuits, more than the material pursuits.

Such stories may have also helped in creating an image of Brahmans which became the source of a respectable position for them as well as support from the non-Brahmans".

This 'face-book-discussion' that I initiated seemingly has another angle too. Originally the title Brahman, or say 'pundit, perhaps, was given only to a highly intellectual literate person.

However, since the adoption of the term Brahman as a caste, the word lost its inherent actual meaning. Just as today the word democracy has lost its original meaning in the labyrinth of dynastic politics in our country!

Similarly, locally speaking, the word 'Gyani', supposedly a knowledgeable person, too, lost its original sense and flavor when every Tom, Dick and Harry started wearing 'Gyanism' as a mask.

I am sure that even Guru Nanak while despising Brahman-waad must not have in his mind Brahman as an intellectual but as a blind pursuer of religious doctrines called ritualism. During that period the term 'Brahm Gyani', one who possessed the knowledge about the creator of the universe, also was very popular.

Thankfully no cult of 'Braham Gyanis' came into existence. Otherwise, we would now be having a dynasty or class of Braham 'Gyanis' too!

Thus the reference 'Nirdhan' Brahman of folklore must be to the dynastic Brahmin, or say the one who belonged to priestly caste/class that handled religious ritualism as a profession, and not the one having real intelligence!
The writer is a Chandigarh-based art critic
True Gandhism
  By Perumal Koshy  
  GANDHISM and Gandhigiri are distinctly different. Wearing a Gandhi-topi or emulating Gandhian methods does not qualify a person or a movement to be termed as Gandhian.

For Mahatma Gandhi, freedom was part of a larger reality. It was a search for the truth or Satyagraha. The Gandhian concept of freedom was very comprehensive and had economic, political, social and spiritual implications.

To learn more about this, we need to look at the history of the Indian freedom movement. For Gandhi, freedom was a comprehensive term. He wanted freedom, which would ultimately come along, to be meaningful and relevant to the common man. Hence, there was an attempt for empowerment at every level. He addressed the issue of freedom in its totality. Political freedom was just a systemic part of this.

Unfortunately most of his political contemporaries could not grasp his ideals. For a section of the Indian National Congress (INC) leaders, it was an opportunity to establish their presence in the political arena and get a share in the power structure. For Gandhi, freedom was empowerment of the people. He wanted the INC to stay away from the power struggle and be an instrument of nation building. The idea was rejected.

Sixty-three years after power was transferred to Indian hands, the aam admi does not feel free. Programmes meant for poverty alleviation or employment generation are, in fact, helping to enhance dependency and 'un-freedom'.

Economist V.N Prasad recently doubted if welfare programs were of any good to its beneficiaries -- did it reach them at all? Citing the UPA government's flagship National Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes (NREGS), he asked if the income generated from these schemes gave beneficiaries access to better education and health care facilities. (V. N Prasad, Women Empowerment by promoting SMEs, GSME News, September 2009

By dolling out money, the ruling elite is only keeping the electorate happy and clinging on to power in Delhi. However, this strategy of fighting poverty is increasing dependency. The Gandhian way is long forgotten.

Self-sufficient villages and Gram Swaraj, a Gandhian dream, are far away. Village shopping malls are in plenty, as are schemes to pump in money to enhance rural purchasing power and facilitate brisk business for MNC brand products. At the same time, teachers in Sarva Siksha Abhiyan Schools, where village children study, get salaries as low as Rs 1,000 per month, or in some cases they work without any pay. And the aam admi continues to live in distress, till the next election period when they get to hear soothing sermons!

By promoting rural and village industries, Gandhi envisioned the eradication of poverty. The government in Delhi, on winning freedom, forgot the Gandhian plan for economic revival, Gram Swaraj and village self-sufficiency.

Gigantic PSUs came into being, offering jobs to engineers and technicians. Simultaneously, the Tatas and Birlas of the private sector got state patronage. The Licence Raj literally killed the emerging private sector, small-scale enterprises as well as ventures in rural India, thereby increasing unemployment, rural poverty and migration to urban slums.

Freedom for Gandhi was empowerment: economic, social and spiritual. With terms such as Gandhigiri and other symbolic expressions, we are, in fact, undervaluing Gandhi's way of living. It was not mere symbolism. He meant what he preached.

Gandhigiri has no Gandhism. This is because the end objective of the Gandhian way has to be Satyagraha.
Crown of India
  By Afsana Rashid  
  The Valley of Kashmir, a multicultural society, ruled by many foreign rulers, has been a center of confluence of cultures.

In the past, the culture and heritage of the Valley have been in a constant state of flux. Being the hub of cultural and social activity, it has been called the "Seat of learning of the East". So, not only for its geographic location but also for its rich cultural heritage and a glorious past, Kashmir is known as the "Crown of India".

Surrounded by lofty mountains, Kashmir didn't have much contact with the outside world but its rich cultural heritage attracted the attention of kings, historians, philosophers and 'compelled' them to pen down their accounts of visit, which later on formed rich and authentic historical records.

Kashmir has a written history of more than 3,000 years, which is mostly in poetic form. Poetry and other forms of literature have not been able to open pages of history as much as folk tales have.

Folk tales have been a potent source of perseverance of Kashmiri ethos and milieu. They depict cultural heritage in a lucid manner.

Since folklore is embedded in tradition, it undergoes transformations with the passage of time by adopting new trends. Folklore as it exists today is not essentially the same, as it appeared a couple of centuries ago.

The Kashmiri folklore or oral tradition has received the attention of scholars in several fields like linguistics, anthropology, history and so on.

Folk tales being popular in Kashmir are loved and liked by people over centuries. They have played a role in depicting the socio-cultural and traditional life of the Valley. Folk tales vary -- some are funny, some reasonable and some have historical significance. They have a purpose and convey a message.

Folk literature, one of the strongest and richest medium of collective social expressions, bears imprint of human activities. It can be rightly termed as primary and reliable historical source.

'Ladishah' one of the significant forms of Kashmiri folk songs contain information about yearnings, aspirations, beliefs, customs and superstitions practiced by the masses.

'Rof' and 'Waniwun' (songs associated with festivity and marriages) form a commentary on different aspects of women in their social life. Horrifying memories connected with inhuman practice of 'beggar' [forced labour] are pathetically recorded.

Folk literature narrates deep-felt expressions rooted in the ethos of the Kashmiri society. Different genres of Kashmiri folk literature like proverbs, sayings, riddles, songs, tales contain volumes of information about past.

Folklorists bring into focus popular religious shades, food habits, modes of dress, means of amusement, recreation and thereby derive a picture of complexities of socio-cultural style of region and its people.

Unfortunately, little effort has been made to study culture, traditions and social life. Study of folklore as a source of information has been neglected, which could provide useful index to the lifestyle of the people.

Folklore or folk literature holds unique characteristics that symbolizes the past and ought to be valued and preserved.
Welcome home, Husain Sahib!
  By Balvinder Singh  
  IT is heartening to know from media reports that things have, at last, started moving to end M. F. Husain's self-imposed exile.

As was expected, both the artist community and the media seem to have gone gaga over the issue.

However, this whole episode has brought one startling aspect to light -- the bulldozing behaviour of us all, mostly the drawing-room discussants, who more than often wage a wordy war for an elusive and selective freedom of expression.

For, I do not see much difference between those who, in the present context, can be called Husain haters and those who have been going all out for 'his' so-called freedom of expression. In fact, both have behaved in equally irrational and unjustifiable manners.

Much has been penned with regard to the Husain haters. But do we, the banner bearers of freedom of artistic expression, not sail in the same boat when we go overboard and start making comparisons between great Khajuraho sculptures and Husain's unexciting paintings to justify Husain's repeated controversial arty acts?

One should not forget that Khajuraho sculptures, a classic example of sculptural art of international acclaim, were not created to gain cheap publicity by scores of anonymous sculptors. They were, in fact, parts of a larger sacred environment and cannot be seen or evaluated in isolation.

Despite having erotic overtones, these sculptures do not look irrational or out of place in any way. Not so surprisingly some of the depicted 'asans', despite being humanly impractical, are so well woven in the whole pattern that they portray an elated power of imagination of their creators and thus raise their status from mere craftsmen to creative artists of invaluable courage and worth.

However, my concern in this regard is for those few middle-rung artists, in all fields of artistic endeavour, who, through such isolated happenings, get emboldened to believe that even their foolish, non-palatable and at times sentiment-hurting arty attempts would also be justified.

They, perhaps, fail to see the ground realities. For, if hounded out for one or the other reason, right or wrong, most of them do not have the resources equivalent to that of Husain's for self-imposing an exile in luxury! And mind it, even the media and the so-called protagonists of whimsical 'freedom of expression' would not necessarily come to their rescue.
The writer is an artist and former Principal of Chandigarh Arts College
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