Diwali 2020 At Times Square

New York City’s iconic Times Square transformed into a vision of South Asian culture, as thousands of revelers gathered for an early celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights for the past several years now. However, this year, as many others, the COVID pandemic has restricted the celebration of the light of festival on the Iconic Times Square.

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is the biggest and most important holiday in India. It lasts for five days, and coincides with the Hindu new year. Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs celebrate the religious occasion every autumn in countries throughout South Asia and beyond. In the United States, major Diwali festivals have lit up communities from California to Texas to North Carolina in recent years.

The massive Times Square event ― the largest Diwali celebration outside of India ― has been growing in size since its debut in 2013, attracting large crowds including many people from the city’s numerous immigrant communities. It’s the largest South Asian ethnic event in New York City, where at least 3 million residents ― more than one-third of the population ― are foreign-born, per the Department of City Planning.

The greater New York area is home to some 717,000 Indian citizens, according to the latest U.S. Census estimates. Nationwide, people of Indian origin represent about 1 percent of the population. In fact, India is currently the largest source of new immigrants to America, surpassing Mexico and China.

A virtual celebration of Diwali is planned on Nov 12 with the Diya lighting on the ground & Diya lighting with countdown on Times Square Tallest screen.

“This year, we can can’t celebrate Diwali at Times Square the way we used to celebrate. But we are making sure that the Diwali spirit and vibe will be high. We will continue our Diya Lighting with Countdown ceremony on Times Square’s Tallest Screen (Ball Drop Screen) on Nov 12th from 6:00pm to 6:30 pm,” announced Neeta Bhasin, the organizer of the event. .

After the ceremony, Diwali Message from the community/Organizations will be displayed. The celebration will broadcast live worldwide through TV and Social Media. On Nov. 13trh there will be a musical show and on the 14, the celebrations will culminate with a Light Up Times Square Concert, with internally renowned performers. For details, please visit: 


In Diwali Message, Vatican Calls on Christians and Hindus to Rekindle Positivity and Hope During the Covid-19 Pandemic and Beyond

In Diwali Message from the Vatican calls on people of all Faiths to dispel every cloud of fear, anxiety and worry, and fill your hearts and minds with the light of friendship, generosity and solidarity!

Here is the text of the message:

Dear Hindu Friends,

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue offers its warmest greetings and best wishes to you on the occasion of Deepavali, which you are observing this year on 14 November. Amid the difficulties of the Covid-19 pandemic, may this very meaningful feast dispel every cloud of fear, anxiety and worry, and fill your hearts and minds with the light of friendship, generosity and solidarity!

 With this year’s Deepavali Message, the Pontifical Council charged with promoting interreligious dialogue and cooperation continues its cherished tradition of sending you festive greetings and a few timely reflections. This is the twentyfifth of such Messages, which seek to acknowledge, maintain and cherish the good things present in both of our religious traditions and spiritual patrimonies (cf. Nostra Aetate, 2). Albeit a small step in the direction of interreligious appreciation and cooperation, these Messages have, over the years, enhanced and promoted Hindu-Christian dialogue and harmony at various levels. We readily continue this noble tradition for the sake of forging, fostering and furthering mutual relationships between Hindus and Christians as a means of working together for our good and for the good of all humanity.

This year, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, we wish to share with you some thoughts on the need to encourage a positive spirit and hope for the future, even in the face of apparently insurmountable obstacles, socio-economic, political and spiritual challenges, and widespread anxiety, uncertainty and fear.

Our efforts to do so are surely based upon our conviction that God, who created us and sustains us, will never abandon us. An encouragement to be optimistic may well sound unrealistic to those who have lost their loved ones or livelihoods or both. Even the boldest hope and positivity can dissipate in the tragic situations caused by the present pandemic and its grave effects on daily life, the economy, healthcare, education and religious practices. Yet it is precisely trust in God’s providence that inspires us to remain optimistic and to work to rekindle hope in the midst of our societies.

 The pandemic has in fact brought a number of positive changes in our way of thinking and living, despite the unprecedented suffering it has caused worldwide and the lockdowns that have disrupted our normal life. Experiences of suffering and a sense of responsibility for one another have brought our communities together in solidarity and concern, in acts of kindness and compassion for the suffering and those in need. Such signs of solidarity have led us to appreciate more deeply the importance of coexistence, the fact that we belong to one another and that we need one another for the well-being of all and that of our common home. As Pope Francis has rightly noted, “solidarity today is the road to take towards a postpandemic world, towards the healing of our interpersonal and social ills”, and “a way of coming out of the crisis better” (General Audience, 2 September 2020).

Our respective religious traditions teach us to remain positive and hopeful even amid adversity. In cherishing those religious traditions and teachings, may we strive in the midst of this global crisis to spread what Pope Francis delights in calling “the contagion of hope” (Urbi et Orbi Message, 12 April 2020) through gestures of care, affection, kindness, gentleness and compassion which are more contagious than the coronavirus itself.

Based on those religious traditions and teachings, our shared values and our commitment to the betterment of humanity, may we, as Christians and Hindus, join all people of good will in working to build a culture of positivity and hope in the heart of our societies, not only in these difficult days but also in the future that lies before us.

In 2018, Government Restrictions on Religion Reach Highest Level Globally in More Than a Decade

In 2018, the global median level of government restrictions on religion – that is, laws, policies and actions by officials that impinge on religious beliefs and practices – continued to climb, reaching an all-time high since Pew Research Center began tracking these trends in 2007.

The year-over-year increase from 2017 to 2018 was relatively modest, but it contributed to a substantial rise in government restrictions on religion over more than a decade. In 2007, the first year of the study, the global median score on the Government Restrictions Index (a 10-point scale based on 20 indicators) was 1.8. After some fluctuation in the early years, the median score has risen steadily since 2011 and now stands at 2.9 for 2018, the most recent full year for which data is available.

The increase in government restrictions reflects a wide variety of events around the world, including a rise from 2017 to 2018 in the number of governments using force – such as detentions and physical abuse – to coerce religious groups.

The total number of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of government restrictions has been mounting as well. Most recently, that number climbed from 52 countries (26% of the 198 countries and territories included in the study) in 2017 to 56 countries (28%) in 2018. The latest figures are close to the 2012 peak in the top two tiers of the Government Restrictions Index.

As of 2018, most of the 56 countries with high or very high levels of government restrictions on religion are in the Asia-Pacific region (25 countries, or half of all countries in that region) or the Middle East-North Africa region (18 countries, or 90% of all countries in the region).

Rising government restrictions in the Asia-Pacific region

Out of the five regions examined in the study, the Middle East and North Africa continued to have the highest median level of government restrictions in 2018 (6.2 out of 10). However, Asia and the Pacific had the largest increase in its median government restrictions score, rising from 3.8 in 2017 to 4.4 in 2018, partly because a greater number of governments in the region used force against religious groups, including property damage, detention, displacement, abuse and killings.

In total, 31 out of 50 countries (62%) in Asia and the Pacific experienced government use of force related to religion, up from 26 countries (52%) in 2017. The increase was concentrated in the category of “low levels” of government use of force (between one and nine incidents during the year). In 2018, 10 Asia-Pacific countries fell into this category, up from five the previous year..

In Armenia, for example, a prominent member of the Baha’i faith was detained on religious grounds, according to members of the community.1 And in the Philippines, three United Methodist Church missionaries were forced to leave the country or faced issues with visa renewals after they were involved in investigating human rights violations on a fact-finding mission.

 But the region also saw several instances of widespread use of government force against religious groups. In Burma (Myanmar), large-scale displacement of religious minorities continued. During the course of the year, more than 14,500 Rohingya Muslims were reported by Human Rights Watch to have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape abuses, and at least 4,500 Rohingya were stuck in a border area known as “no-man’s land,” where they were harassed by Burmese officials trying to get them to cross to Bangladesh.3 In addition, fighting between the Burmese military and armed ethnic organizations in the states of Kachin and Shan led to the displacement of other religious minorities, mostly Christians.

Meanwhile, in Uzbekistan, it is estimated that at least 1,500 Muslim religious prisoners remained in prison on charges of religious extremism or membership in banned groups. Some countries in the Asia-Pacific region saw all-time highs in their overall government restrictions scores. This includes China, which continued to have the highest score on the Government Restrictions Index (GRI) out of all 198 countries and territories in the study. China has been near the top of the list of most restrictive governments in each year since the inception of the study, and in 2018 it reached a new peak in its score (9.3 out of 10).

The Chinese government restricts religion in a variety of ways, including banning entire religious groups (such as the Falun Gong movement and several Christian groups), prohibiting certain religious practices, raiding places of worship and detaining and torturing individuals.6 In 2018, the government continued a detention campaign against Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslims in Xinjiang province, holding at least 800,000 (and possibly up to 2 million) in detention facilities “designed to erase religious and ethnic identities,” according to the U.S. State Department.

Tajikistan also stands out with a GRI score of 7.9, an all-time high for that country. In 2018, the Tajik government amended its religion law, increasing control over religious education domestically and over those who travel abroad for religious education. The amendment also requires religious groups to report their activities to authorities and requires state approval for appointing imams. Throughout the year, the Tajik government continued to deny minority religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, official recognition. In January, Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that more than a dozen members were interrogated by police and pressured to renounce their faith.

 While these are examples of countries with “very high” government restrictions on religion in Asia and the Pacific, there also are several notable countries in the “high” category that experienced an increase in their scores. India, for example, reached a new peak in its GRI score in 2018, scoring 5.9 out of 10 on the index, while Thailand also experienced an all-time high (5.4).

In India, anti-conversion laws affected minority religious groups. For example, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in September, police charged 271 Christians with attempting to convert people by drugging them and “spreading lies about Hinduism.” Furthermore, throughout the year, politicians made comments targeting religious minorities. In December, the Shiv Sena Party, which holds seats in parliament, published an editorial calling for measures such as mandatory family planning for Muslims to limit their population growth. And law enforcement officials were involved in cases against religious minorities: In Jammu and Kashmir, four police personnel, among others, were arrested in connection with the kidnapping, rape and killing of an 8-year-old girl from a nomadic Muslim family, reportedly to push her community out of the area.

In Thailand, as part of broader immigration raids in 2018, the government arrested hundreds of immigrants who allegedly did not have legal status, including religious minorities from other countries who were seeking asylum or refugee status. Among the detainees were Christians and Ahmadi Muslims from Pakistan as well as Christian Montagnards from Vietnam. During the year, Thai authorities also detained six leading Buddhist monks, a move that the government said was an effort to curb corruption but that some observers called a politically motivated attempt to assert control over temples. Government restrictions on religion in other regions

While Asia and the Pacific had the largest increases in their Government Restrictions Index scores, the Middle East and North Africa still had the highest median level of government restrictions, with a score of 6.2 on the GRI – up from 6.0 in 2017, more than double the global median (2.9), and at its highest point since the aftermath of the Arab Spring in 2012.

As in Asia, the rise in GRI scores in the Middle East and North Africa was partly due to more governments using force against religious groups. All but one country in the region had reports of government use of force related to religion in 2018, although many were at the lowest level (between one and nine incidents). In Jordan, for example, a media personality and an editor employed at his website were detained and charged with “sectarian incitement and causing religious strife” for posting on Facebook a cartoon of a Turkish chef sprinkling salt at Jesus’ Last Supper.

But government force against religious groups was much more widespread in some countries in the region. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, more than 300 Shiite Muslims remained in prison in the country’s Eastern Province, where the government has arrested more than 1,000 Shiites since 2011 in connection with protests for greater rights.

Aside from Asia-Pacific and the Middle East-North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa was the only other region to experience an increase in its median level of government restrictions in 2018 (from 2.6 to 2.7), reaching a new high following a steady rise in recent years. While government use of force against religious groups decreased in the region, both harassment of religious groups and physical violence against minority groups went up.

More than eight-in-ten countries in the sub-Saharan region (40 out of 48) experienced some form of government harassment of religious groups, and 14 countries (29%) had reports of governments using physical coercion against religious minorities. In Mozambique, for example, the government arbitrarily detained men, women and children who appeared to be Muslim in response to violent attacks on civilians and security forces by an insurgent group. According to media and local organizations, the government response to the attacks was “heavy-handed.”13

Europe experienced a small decline in its median level of government restrictions, falling from 2.9 in 2017 to 2.8 in 2018, although government use of force increased slightly (see Chapter 3 for details). The median level of government restrictions in the Americas, meanwhile, remained stable between 2017 and 2018, as the region continued to experience the lowest levels of government restrictions compared with all other regions. Social hostilities involving religion declined slightly in 2018.

This is the 11th annual report in this continuing study, which looks not only at government restrictions on religion but also at social hostilities involving religion – that is, acts of religion-related hostility by private individuals, organizations or groups in society.

The new analysis finds that globally, social hostilities declined slightly in 2018 after hitting an all-time high the prior year. The median score on the Social Hostilities Index (a 10-point scale based on 13 measures of social hostilities involving religion) fell from 2.1 in 2017 to 2.0 in 2018. This small decline was partly due to fewer reports of incidents in which some religious groups (usually of a majority faith in a particular country) attempted to prevent other religious groups (usually of minority faiths) from operating. There also were fewer reports of individuals being assaulted or displaced from their homes for religious expression that goes against the majority faith in a country.

The number of countries with “high” or “very high” levels of social hostilities involving religion also declined slightly from 56 (28% of all 198 countries and territories in the study) to 53 (27%). This includes 16 European countries (36% of all countries in Europe), 14 in the Asia-Pacific region (28% of all Asia-Pacific countries) and 11 in the Middle East and North Africa (55% of MENA countries).

Taken together, in 2018, 40% of the world’s countries (80 countries overall) had “high” or “very high” levels of overall restrictions on religion — reflecting either government actions or hostile acts by private individuals, organizations or social groups – down slightly from 42% (83 countries) in 2017. This remains close to the 11-year peak that was reached in 2012, when 43% (85 countries) had high or very high levels of overall restrictions. By this combined measure, as of 2018, all 20 countries in the Middle East-North Africa region have high overall restrictions on religion, as do more than half of Asia-Pacific countries (27 countries, or 54% of the region) and more than a third of countries in Europe (17 countries, 38%).

In this report, for the first time, Pew Research Center combined its data on government restrictions and social hostilities involving religion with a classification of regime types, based on the Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit.14 Researchers did this to discern whether there is a link between different models of government and levels of restrictions on religion – in other words, whether restrictions on religion tend to be more or less common in countries with full or partial democracies than in those with authoritarian regimes.

The analysis finds a strong association between authoritarianism and government restrictions on religion. While there are many exceptions to this pattern, authoritarian regimes are much more common among the countries with very high government restrictions on religion – roughly two-thirds of these countries (65%) are classified as authoritarian. Among countries with low government restrictions on religion, meanwhile, just 7% are authoritarian.

There is less of a clear pattern when it comes to social hostilities involving religion. There are no countries classified by the Economist Intelligence Unit as full democracies that have very high levels of social hostilities involving religion (just as there are no full democracies with very high levels of government restrictions involving religion). At the same time, there are many authoritarian countries with low levels of social hostilities involving religion, suggesting that in some cases, a government may restrict religion through laws and actions by state authorities while limiting religious hostilities among its citizens.

When looking at countries with very high government restrictions on religion, Pew Research Center found that of the 26 countries in this category whose regimes were scored by the EIU on its Democracy Index in 2018, 17 (65%) were classified as authoritarian, three were hybrid regimes (12%) and three were flawed democracies (12%). There were no countries with very high government restrictions that were full democracies.16 The three countries with very high government restrictions that were classified as flawed democracies – Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore – all are regionally clustered in Southeast Asia.

Of the 30 countries with high government restrictions on religion, there were 12 authoritarian states (40%), 11 hybrid regimes (37%) and six flawed democracies (20%), according to the EIU Democracy Index. One full democracy, Denmark, also was in this category. In 2018, Denmark fell into the high government restrictions category for the first time, with its score driven partly by a ban on face coverings, which included Islamic burqas and niqabs, that went into effect that year.

At the other end of the spectrum, among the 74 countries with low government restrictions, just five were classified as authoritarian (7%), 13 were hybrid regimes (18%), 27 were flawed democracies (36%) and seven were full democracies (9%). The countries with low government restrictions on religion that were also classified as authoritarian by the Democracy Index are all in sub-Saharan Africa: Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Republic of the Congo, Swaziland and Togo. There was no Democracy Index classification of regime type for 22 countries with low government restrictions.


In terms of social hostilities involving religion, the picture is more mixed – which makes sense given that social hostilities look at actions by private individuals or social groups and do not directly originate from government actions.

Among the 10 countries with very high levels of social hostilities, there were four authoritarian states, three hybrid regimes and three flawed democracies – India, Israel and Sri Lanka. Again, like countries with very high government restrictions, there were no full democracies with very high levels of social hostilities.

Among the 43 countries with high levels of social hostilities, nine were classified as authoritarian (21%), 14 were hybrid regimes (33%), 13 were flawed democracies (30%) and five were full democracies (12%).

The five countries categorized as full democracies with high levels of social hostilities are all in Europe – Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom – and all had reports of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents. In Switzerland, for instance, Muslim groups reported growing anti-Muslim sentiments due to negative coverage by the media and hostile discourse on Islam by right-leaning political parties. During the year, for instance, a journalist who had initiated a local ban on face coverings handed out a “Swiss Stop Islam Award” of about $2,000 USD to three recipients.

Among the 81 countries with low levels of social hostilities in 2018, there were 24 with no data on regime types (mostly small island nations the Democracy Index does not cover). Those with data are most commonly classified as flawed democracies (26 countries, or 32% of the 81 countries with low social hostilities).

But, strikingly, 17 countries (21%) with low social hostilities involving religion were classified as authoritarian – including countries like Eritrea and Kazakhstan, which have very high government restrictions on religion. In addition, several other authoritarian states with very high government restrictions on religion – such as China, Iran and Uzbekistan – have only moderate levels of social hostilities involving religion. In these cases, high levels of government control over religion may lead to fewer hostilities by nongovernment actors.

Poetic Justice in Trump’s Defeat

Donald Trump, was defeated by Joe Biden & Kamala Harris team in the most divisive, corrosive and disgraceful electioneering in modern U.S. history. It was a mockery of democratic process. For 4 years, the soul of this nation – whatever was good about its people, about this country, about its prestige in the world – was hijacked by the governance of an erratic, irrational egotist. Biden got unprecedented number of popular votes in the history of the U.S., not because he was so popular but because people wanted to vote against Trump, no matter what. In trump’s defeat, I see a ‘poetic justice’ at multiple levels. Foremost among them, the revenge that ‘covid-19’ ultimately took on him for down-playing its existence. He had no strategic plan to contain the ‘virus’ and refused to take any responsibility for its spread up either. Before he knew it, U.S. became the global capital of ‘Corona’ and a single most important issue of Yr.2020 campaign. It was a rallying nationwide cause to defeat Trump.

The deep-rooted narcissistic trait of Trump, not only was responsible in insulting, bullying numerous high-ranking government officials, but also, made them rethink their loyalty to their ‘commander-in-chief’. After he got elected, he declared that knew lot more than the Generals at his command, and then went on to insult America’s war-hero, Senator John McCann and thereafter Military veterans, as a lot. In 2016, Trump’s public call on TV – ‘Russia if you are listening’ – requesting to divulge political dirt on his opponent then, Hillary Clinton, was short of treason and did not go well with proud Americans. The result – the majority turned against him and took their revenge publicly as well as privately while voting.  

In U.S. electioneering, one of the popular issues that is often talked about is ‘family-values. In Trump, there was not a shred of redeeming noble values. He was a proven pervert, had taken advantage of countless women in his contact and ruined thousands of businesses by downright cheating and destroying countless lives, in process. Atlantic City was just one example of this. Moreover, he had been a relentless pathological liar basking in a world of his own which had no relation to the existential reality. He was everything that the Americans did not want in their leader and turned away from him. Nevertheless, he was delusional in thinking that the world shared his ‘alternative truth’ that he floated in everything, every so often. This self-deception proved to be fatal in winning the second term for the ‘White House’

When the so-called ‘Blacks’ were being shot on the streets on frivolous charges by the police, week after week, Trump took pride in their heavy handedness as the part of his ‘law and order’ policy. He misinterpreted Black American’s violence as nothing more than an excuse for criminal activities rather than an expression of pent up anger against the institutional discrimination and the unfair treatment meted out to them. He underestimated the power of ‘Black Lives Matter ‘reverberating in the country – especially among the Black, Latino community. He called ‘Latinos-Mexicans’ rapists, criminals, thieves etc. He enticed, white-supremacist and cooky conspiracy-theorists to be belligerent in asserting themselves. He completely failed in articulating Black American’s true grievances on any level. Needless to say, Blacks and Latinos went in droves to vote against him. Whatever he was dismissive about as ‘nonconsequential’ to get re-elected came hauntingly back to deny him the second term he was so obsessed with.

Trump’s behavioral pattern throughout his life confirms that he had treated women only in terms of ‘flesh’, as a commodity for personal consumption. It did not come as a surprise to anyone when he wanted to appoint a Supreme Court Judges who would vote against ‘Roe Vs Wade’ landmark law that empowered them. He also wanted to repeal ‘Obamacare’ which was a lifesaver to 20 Million economically disadvantaged people. This big chunk of ballot-section, voted for Biden who promised to take care of them. Moreover, in Biden’s corner, there was a woman, that too a Black one – of Asian American descent – to attract women, Blacks, Latinos and Asians. Whatever he stood against, at long last all came together to ‘dug him in’. A splendid ‘poetic justice’.  (By Prakash Waghmare)  

International Diwali Festival with Participants from 30 Countries Planned

Bollywood Singer Anuradha Paudwal will perform virtually at the International Diwali and Dussehra Festival, which will be Joined by people from 30 Countries, Shri Sita Ram Foundation, the organizer of the event, said in a statement.

Diwali & Dussehra is the largest festival of India celebrated by more than 1.35 billion people world wide. Shri Sita Ram Foundation has organized this festival in the Houston area on a large scale in the fall of each year since 2012 to a capacity crowd of over 10,000 people at Skeeters Stadium in Sugarland, Texas.

This festival has grown tremendously since it started and continues to grow every year, the statement said. The team is innovative in finding unique ways to promote Indian Vedic culture to people of Houston, Texas and neighboring states.

In 2019, the Foundation initiated efforts to make it international by involving Consul Generals of 15 countries in the parade. Participating Consulates this year has increased to over 20. Over the years this festival has gained more recognition and has been attended by dignitaries such as Texas Governor Gregg Abbott, Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, Mayor Zimmerman of Sugarland, other Mayors and several Congressmen, Senators, judges and members of the Consular Corps. in Houston.

This year, because of the pandemic, the event will be celebrated Semi – Virtually via Zoom,
Facebook live, and YouTube live . Virtual nature of the event has created an opportunity to
expand India’s culture and soft power rapidly to other countries than originally planned, the statement said. This year representatives of over 30 countries are participating in the event.

“Foundation has received a tremendous response to our call to join us in an International effort to celebrate this festival celebrating ‘Victory of Good Over Evil’ , and showcase India’s culture and soft power worldwide,” the statement said. “Temples, Performers and viewers will be participating from several countries as a result of this outreach effort by the Foundation team.

A highlight for this year will be the live performance by Padama Shri Anuradha Paudwal via Zoom from Mumbai. Apart from Padama Shri, Ms. Paudwal has won the Filmfare award four times, has been a recipient of the Lata Mangeshkar award and several national and international awards and recognitions.

Another feature added this year is the inclusion of major temples, worldwide. To name a few from India; Hanuman Ghari from Ayodhya, Tirmula Triputi Devastanam temple from Andhra Pradesh, Shri Jagannath temple from Puri , Prem Mandir & Shri Rangnath ji temple from Vrindaban, Kashi Vishwanath Temple , Bhadrachalam Temple- Bhadradri Sita Ramachandra swamy Devasthanam from Telangana, Radha Govind ji temple from Jaipur , Shrinath ji temple from Nathdwara and several others temples are participating .

Several temples from US, Canada, New Zealand, Myanmar, Australia, Singapore , South Africa, United Kingdom, Malaysia, Thailand , Mauritius and others are also participating in the event this year to celebrate this major festival. All temples world wide will be showcasing their temples briefly and telling the viewer how they celebrate Diwali.

Another new feature which has received overwhelming response is the Ramayan Skit contest where teams of participants from several countries will be competing with each other in showcasing skits/episodes from Ramcharit manas. Another feature which will be broadcast all over the world is Shri Sita Ram Kalyanam ( the divine marriage of Sita ji and Ram ji ) which will be enacted on stage this year by Hanuman Swami of Sri Rama Jaya Niketan , a new temple coming up in Katy, Texas

Apart from the new features added this year, the festival will present Ram Leela Play,score of amazing dances, Dussehra parade, Ravan Dahan, fire works and Maha Aarti.

This festival is from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (CST) on the 7th Nov. 2020 and can be viewed on Facebook Live

( https://www.facebook.com/ShriSitaRamFoundation) and YouTube Live ( https://youtu.be/wueMezMzQ-Y). Links are also available at the Foundation website, www.ShriSitaRam.org.

World Hindu Council of America Inaugurates its First Hindu Center in the US

The World Hindu Council of America, known by its Hindi acronym as VHPA, has inaugurated its first Hindu Center in Sugar Grove, IL. The occasion was graced by Indian Consul General of Chicago Amit Kumar and the Mayor of Sugar Grove Sean Michels who were joined by an intimate group of the organization’s leaders and their families.

The Center’s mission is to bring the Hindu community together, celebrate Hindu culture and heritage and pass it on to the next generation. As per Hindu tradition, a yagna was performed and presided over by the President of the Chicago Chapter Nirav Patel, Vice Presidents Vinesh Virani and Harindra Mangrola, Secretary Shailesh Rajput, Midwest Coordinator Sanjay Shah, and VHPA Joint General Secretary Amitabh Mittal and their spouses.

Strict social distancing norms were maintained including limiting the number of people. India’s Consul General to Chicago, Amit Kumar congratulated the organization for its efforts in bringing this ambitious project to fruition while Mayor Michels lauded the Indian American community for their substantial contributions to the US.

The Center, located at 200 N. Bond St, Sugar Grove, IL, stands on a 2.7-acre plot of land and has a built-up area of 16,000 sq. feet. The Center will offer services to the American Hindu community including Bal-Vihar for children, Vedic Math classes and Women’s Self Defense classes among other activities. Center will also be available for social gatherings and office space rentals.

Arrest of Fr. Stan Lourdswamy Condemned Worldwide

Major opposition parties in India and the United Nations backed an octogenarian Jesuit priest, jailed for alleged charges of sedition and links with Maoist rebels and demanded his immediate release.

The leaders of the Congress, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), Communist Party of India, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and the Nationalist Congress Party slammed the arrest of 84-year-old activist Father Stan Swamy on Oct. 21. The party leaders also expressed solidarity with the “genuine” work the priest had done among the oppressed tribal people and other marginalized groups.

The sickly priest was arrested at his residence in Ranchi, capital of eastern Jharkhand state, on Oct. 8 night on the grounds of being party to a conspiracy that led to violence at Bhima Koregaon, in western state of Maharashtra, on Jan. 1, 2018, in which one person was killed and several others injured.

The priest denied the allegation and said he had not even visited Bhima Koregaon in his entire life. In a video message before his arrest, he said the National Investigation Agency, the federal agency tasked with combating terror activities, implicated him by manipulating documents in the case for his relentless fight against the exploitation of tribals and other oppressed mainly in Jharkhand.

The priest is among the 16 activists who are now in judicial custody for their opposition to the policies of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party-led federal government and also the erstwhile BJP government in Jharkhand.  Civil rights group People’s Union for Civil Liberties had arranged the virtual press conference in solidarity with Father Stan and others facing trial for the alleged sedition charges.

Chief Minister of Jharkhand Hemant Soren in his message accused the federal government of trying to silence the voices of marginalized communities.” In a video message, he said, “under the present government, unity, integrity and democratic structures were under attack.”

He also slammed the federal government for “silencing the voices of those speaking for the Adivasis, Dalits and other marginalized groups.” He also deplored the way the government weakened various constitutional offices to advance its hidden agenda.

The BJP is accused of working to turn India into a Hindu theocratic and dictatorial country.

The arrest of someone like Father Swamy crossed all limits, the chief minister said. “He is someone who has been working in Jharkhand for years, in the remote faraway villages, wandering in the jungles, just so that the Adivasis, Dalits and minority populations here could be reached. This is extremely disappointing. Fr Stan (Swamy) is also suffering from many diseases,” Soren said.

“The way Stan Swamy has been arrested today, it could happen to any of us tomorrow – or it could even escalate further to people being killed,” Soren said.

Shashi Tharoor, a former federal minister and senior Congress leader, said Father Swamy deserves “respect and support,” not a jail term. Tharoor said he was convinced that “no Jesuit will indulge in any violence or entice anyone towards violence. This must stop. I appeal to the government to be fair and at least grant him bail. We stand in solidarity with Fr Stan,” he said.

They also demanded repeal of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), under which the priest and other activists are arrested. Leaders such as Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of CPI-M and K Kanimozhi K leader of DMK urged the public to break their silence over the government’s attacks on the rights of the people.

“Every law that this government passed had taken away the rights of the people. It’s time to break the silence,” Kanimozhi exhorted. Calling for repeal of UAPA, Yechury said, “it is prone to gross misuse.” He also said the federal government was working in such a way that it wants to pave the way for a “fascistic, intolerant and authoritarian Hindutva nation.” The Centre, he alleged, is using central agencies to undermine the Constitution, while shielding the real perpetrators of violence.

On Oct. 20 the United Nations too questioned the arrest of Father Stan as well as the human rights record of India. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a statement urging the Indian government to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations.

“More than 1,500 people have reportedly been arrested in relation to the protests, with many charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, a law which has also been widely criticized for its lack of conformity with international human rights standards”, the statement said.

“Most recently, the 83-year-old Catholic priest Stan Swamy, a long-standing activist engaged in defending the rights of marginalized groups, was charged and reportedly remains in detention, despite his poor health”, it noted.

Bachelet urged the Indian government to ensure that “no one else is detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – and to do its utmost, in law and policy, to protect India’s robust civil society.”

India, however, reacted to the UN strongly saying violations of the law cannot be condoned under the pretext of human rights and a more informed view of the matter was expected of the UN body.

Tools for Human Empowerment through Dharma

On October 1, the Vedic Friends Association (VFA) hosted their 2.0 Launch Event, “Tools for Human Empowerment – a Yogic Perspective”. It was a first of its kind virtual presentation via Zoom and Facebook Live, highlighting their continued commitment “to present, preserve, protect and promote the principles and practices of Universal Dharma”. The event was well attended globally as renowned scholars shared the mission behind VFA and their vision for the future.

 The event was co-hosted by Anjali Nagrani, the Joint Secretary of VFA, and the current President, Benny Tillman (Balabhadra Bhattacharya Dasa) who gave the opening remarks, expressing his delight to the panelists for their participation and to the audience for their anticipation of the upcoming discovery of spiritual tools everyone could avail themselves of to empower them for facing the future.

VFA’s founding President and current Co-Chairman, Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana Dasa) was the first speaker. He shared a brief historical overview of VFA and its progress to the present day, stressing the fact that adopting a Vedic culture could help individuals to develop their highest potential towards leading a fulfilling life. Initially, VFA’s focus was on western audiences but he soon discovered on visits to India, that Indian audiences too, needed guidance in how to preserve their own culture; particularly given the threats from political and religious elements and the influence of western materialism on younger generations.

 Our second speaker was Jeffrey Armstrong (Kavindra Rishi), Co-Founder and the current Co-Chairman of VFA. He eloquently mentioned how much Vedic wisdom emerging from India has relevance and importance in present day world order. He shared a fitting analogy comparing and contrasting the current bug, COVID-19, to another bug – the “Vedic bug”, which is rapidly spreading across the world. And unlike its counterpart, this particular bug is actually helping us! Especially in the current global pandemic environment, in simplistic ways by encouraging us to adopt ‘Namaste’ instead of shaking hands as a way to greet fellow human beings. Namaste means I respect you as my fellow time travelers, who like me, are also on a beautiful, divine journey of learning, a learning to respect others as divine beings.

Jeffrey Armstrong also described a project he has been working for the past 10 years. He believes that many ideas explained in Vedic culture (in Sanskrit) do not have corresponding words in English and that becomes a barrier in understanding Vedic wisdom for the present generation. So he has taken it as a mission to write Bhagawad Gita verses in English, with Sanskrit words embedded wherever applicable, so the concept presented by that verse does not get convoluted. Those Sanskrit words will then be described in the glossary to explain their meanings in the best possible way. He concluded with the message that if we are able to explain the tenets, principles and tools of the Vedic wisdom to new generations in their own languages, without losing the real essence of it, this would be our biggest service (sewa) to humanity. One should promote Vedic culture with calmness, respect and an open mind. There is a greater need to preach ‘Dharm-ocracy’ – the principle foundation of Vedic Culture, where we honor the thought leaders of every civilization, we honor all religions and we have harmonious relationships with everyone on the planet.

 Padma Bhushan, Dr. David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri) was the final speaker. A Vedic teacher and renowned author, Dr. Frawley spoke of his extensive travels to India, which he described as the “Land of Vedic culture”. He has witnessed the revival of Vedic culture in India and worldwide as a positive development. There are Indian communities across the world making a significant difference in the development of their resident nations. Not only are more temples being built, but there is also increased awareness of yoga, Ayurveda, and other Vedic practices globally. He concluded by explaining that one could raise their consciousness with the aid of Vedic practices, driving the use of technology for the benefit of mankind, thereby improving the quality of our lives.

 Vijai Ganapa, the current Global Coordinator of VFA, thanked the organizations who work with and support VFA, in its various projects and programs around the world. Notably mentioned are AOL, ISKCON, Sewa International, VFPA, Hindu Service Foundation and Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS). Prakash Srivastava provided technical support for the live event. The event was concluded by Balabhadra Dasa thanking the guest speakers and audience for their participation and hinted at more such events being hosted in the near future.

VFA is a Non­-Profit Organization with 501C3 and tax exempt status. It’s a Cultural organization based on Socio-Spiritual-Scientific understanding. The essence is Always Being Conscious of Dharma. Accept and Respect all Vedic traditions and paths. It’s open to all, with focus on Yoga Practitioners and Vedic Followers. Having open door policy, where all ideas are welcome. We offer services like Educational Access, Cultural Celebrations and Social Outreach.

 “Our Mission is to Present, Preserve, Protect and Promote the Principles and Practices of the Universal Dharma, in all its dimensions”. “We are a group of people, who are individually working in various ways to spread a greater understanding of what the Vedic Dharma culture and philosophy is and what it has to offer. We have been doing this for years separately but have now joined together. We invite everyone else to join us and become Dharma Ambassadors to the world”

Fr. Stan Lourduswamy Arrested By Indian Authorities On Hooked Up Charges

“The arrest of Fr Stan Lourduswamy, 83, is a violation of human rights,” said Rev. J. Felix Raj, a fellow Jesuit of Indian Origin. “We are distressed and troubled. We express our deep concern over the arrest and demand his immediate release considering his age.”

A special court in Mumbai has placed Jesuit Fr. Stan Swamy, a tribal rights activist, in judicial custody until Oct. 23 amid protests in many parts of the country. The priest, whose birth name is Stanislaus Lourdusamy, is accused of being party to a conspiracy that led to a violent clash in Bhima Korega on Jan. 1, 2018. One person was killed and several others injured.

Officials of the National Investigation Agency, which probes terrorism-linked activities, arrested the 83-year-old priest Oct. 8 at his residence at Bagaicha, a Jesuit social work center in the outskirts of the Ranchi, reported ucanews.com. Officials arrested him for alleged links to outlawed Maoist rebels, which the Jesuits and Indian rights activists say are trumped-up charges.

“We are consulting lawyers to move the appropriate court for his bail,” said Jesuit Fr. Davis Solomon, a colleague of Swamy. A statement from the Jesuits’ Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat noted that, two days before his arrest, Swamy released a video explaining his fight for tribal land rights. He said he had been interrogated by police for 15 hours over five days this summer.

“What is happening to me is not something unique happening to me alone. It is a broader process that is taking place all over the country,” Swamy said in the video. “We are all aware how prominent intellectuals, lawyers, writers, poets, activists, students, leaders, they are all put into jail because they have expressed their dissent or raised questions about the ruling powers of India.”

Fr. Stan Swamy is a Jesuit of the Jamshedpur province of the Jesuit Order. A Tamilian by birth, he joined the Jesuits and committed his entire life for the uplift of the tribals and Dalits in India, particularly in Jharkhand. Arrested in Ranchi on October 8 and taken to Mumbai the next morning, he has been sent to judicial custody till October 23.

In a statement issued here, Archbishop Felix Machado, Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, (CBCI), said, “CBCI expresses its deep sorrow and anguish on the arrest of Fr Stan Swamy from his residence by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), accusing him of being related to the Bhima –Koregaon incident.” Arrested in Ranchi on October 8 and taken to Mumbai the next morning, he has been sent to judicial custody till October 23.

Fr Stan Swamy has spent a major portion of his life giving yeoman service to the tribals and the downtrodden in the state of Jharkhand. According to our reports Fr. Stan has for decades been working to protect the rights of the Adivasis, especially their land rights. This could have worked against the interests of certain people. When questioned during the months of July- August 2020 by authorities, Fr Stan Swamy has fully cooperated with Investigating Agencies and has provided detailed statements, claiming to be innocent in the case.

Archbishop Felix Machado said, “It is difficult to comprehend the plight of an octogenarian with several morbidities, like Fr Stan Swamy to have to undergo such difficulties during this pandemic in which even a normal healthy person would hesitate to travel or would never travel risking one’s life.”

The CBCI makes a strong appeal to the concerned authorities to immediately release Fr Stan Swamy and to permit him to go to his residence. The Catholic Community has always been lauded by all as body of loyal, law abiding and service minded citizens of Mother India. The community has always been contributing to nation building and continues to collaborate with the government in working for the common good of all Indians and the progress of our nation. We earnestly urge that the rights, duties and privileges of all citizens are duly safeguarded, and peace and harmony prevail among all.

 Fr Stan Swamy is the 16th person to be arrested in the case, in which people have been booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the anti-terror law UAPA. The NIA had been interrogating him and had questioned him for 15 hours during a span of five days before the arrest.

“Now they want me to go to Mumbai…, I have said that I won’t go,” Fr Stan Swamy had said before his arrest, citing his advanced age and the pandemic. I have never been to Bhima Koregaon for which I am being made an accused,” he said. He added that he had asked for questioning through videoconference and hoped that better “human sense” would prevail.

Fr Stan Swamy said he was part of the process and, in a way, happy to be so because he was not a “silent spectator”. “I am ready to pay the price, whatever be it,” he said. Fr Stan Swamy has often raised his voice against alleged police excesses in Jharkhand, and what he describes as the government’s failure to properly implement the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution in the state.

The Fifth Schedule stipulates that a “Tribes Advisory Council (TAC)”, composed solely of members from the Adivasi community, advise governors of tribal-inhabited states on their well-being and development. Fr Stan Swamy has claimed that none of the governors — the discretionary heads of these councils — has ever reached out to the Adivasis to understand and work on their problems.

He has also taken exception to how the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA), 1996, has been “neatly ignored” and “deliberately… left unimplemented in all the nine states” with a tribal population. The Act, according to him, was the first to recognise the fact that the Adivasi communities in India have had a rich social and cultural tradition of self-governance through the gram sabha.

In 2017, he mobilised the Adivasis to fight for the rights granted to them under PESA, and this lead to the Pathalgadi movement. Fr Stan Swamy and many others were booked for alleged sedition for the movement under the state’s erstwhile BJP government, but the cases have been revoked under the current JMM-Congress dispensation.

Fr Stan Swamy has also been a vocal advocate for the release of undertrials. He says they have been unfairly lodged in jails and labelled Maoists. In 2010, he published a book about this, titled Jail Mein Band Qaidiyon ka Sach (The truth of undertrials).”

 The Catholic Church has expressed gratitude “to all people of goodwill, people from all walks of life, belonging to all religions, and all institutions that have come out in an overwhelming support for Fr Stan Swamy’s immediate release and safe return to his residence.” 


Pandemic is Time to Rethink Way of Life, Economics, Social Systems: Pope Francis Addresses UN General Assembly

Pope Francis while addressing the United Nations General Assembly, called for the organization to continue to focus on human rights and the environment. Due to the pandemic, his address was sent in a pre-recorded video in Spanish. “In these days, our world continues to be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to the loss of so many lives.,” Pope Francis said. “This crisis is changing our way of life, calling into question our economic, health, and social systems, and exposing our human fragility.”He suggested this is a time when society must separate what is necessary from what is not. This can lead to “rethinking our way of life and our economic and social systems.” The Holy Father noted the need to address many humanitarian crises around the world, including refugees, ongoing conflict, and inequality of economic opportunity. “I urge civil authorities to be especially attentive to children who are denied their fundamental rights and dignity, particularly their right to life and to schooling,” the Pope said. He also urged continued attention on equality for women. This was the second time Pope Francis has addressed the General Assembly. The first time was in person, exactly five years ago, on September 25, 2015. It will be the sixth time a Pope has addressed the UN, following Pope Paul VI in 1964, Pope John Paul II in 1979 and 1995, Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. 

Following is the full address, provided by the Vatican.

Mr. President,Peace be with all of you!I offer cordial greetings to you, Mr. President, and to all the Delegations taking part in this significant Seventy-fifth Session of the United Nations’ General Assembly. In particular, I greet the Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, the participating Heads of State and Government, and all those who are following the General Debate. The seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations offers me a fitting occasion to express once again the Holy See’s desire that this Organization increasingly serves as a sign of unity between States and an instrument of service to the entire human family.[1] In these days, our world continues to be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to the loss of so many lives. This crisis is changing our way of life, calling into question our economic, health, and social systems, and exposing our human fragility. The pandemic, indeed, calls us “to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing, a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not”.[2] It can represent a concrete opportunity for conversion, for transformation, for rethinking our way of life and our economic and social systems, which are widening the gap between rich and poor based on an unjust distribution of resources. On the other hand, the pandemic can be the occasion for a “defensive retreat” into greater individualism and elitism. We are faced, then, with a choice between two possible paths. One path leads to the consolidation of multilateralism as the expression of a renewed sense of global co-responsibility, a solidarity grounded in justice, and the attainment of peace and unity within the human family, which is God’s plan for our world. The other path emphasizes self-sufficiency, nationalism, protectionism, individualism, and isolation; it excludes the poor, the vulnerable and those dwelling on the peripheries of life. That path would certainly be detrimental to the whole community, causing self-inflicted wounds on everyone. It must not prevail. The pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to promote public health and to make every person’s right to basic medical care a reality.[3] For this reason, I renew my appeal to political leaders and the private sector to spare no effort to ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines and to the essential technologies needed to care for the sick. If anyone should be given preference, let it be the poorest, the most vulnerable, those who so often experience discrimination because they have neither power nor economic resources. The current crisis has also demonstrated that solidarity must not be an empty word or promise. It has also shown us the importance of avoiding every temptation to exceed our natural limits. “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral”.[4] This also needs to be taken into careful consideration in discussions on the complex issue of artificial intelligence (AI). Along these same lines, I think of the effects of the pandemic on employment, a sector already destabilized by a labor market driven by increasing uncertainty and widespread robotization. There is an urgent need to find new forms of work truly capable of fulfilling our human potential and affirming our dignity. In order to ensure dignified employment, there must be a change in the prevailing economic paradigm, which seeks only to expand companies’ profits. Offering jobs to more people should be one of the main objectives of every business, one of the criteria for the success of productive activity. Technological progress is valuable and necessary, provided that it serves to make people’s work more dignified and safe, less burdensome, and stressful. All this calls for a change of direction. To achieve this, we already possess the necessary cultural and technological resources, and social awareness. This change of direction will require, however, a more robust ethical framework capable of overcoming “today’s widespread and quietly growing culture of waste”.[5] At the origin of this “throwaway culture” is a gross lack of respect for human dignity, the promotion of ideologies with reductive understandings of the human person, a denial of the universality of fundamental human rights, and a craving for absolute power and control that is widespread in today’s society. Let us name this for what it is: an attack against humanity itself. It is in fact painful to see the number of fundamental human rights that in our day continue to be violated with impunity. The list of such violations is indeed lengthy and offers us a frightening picture of a humanity abused, wounded, deprived of dignity, freedom, and hope for the future. As part of this picture, religious believers continue to endure every kind of persecution, including genocide, because of their beliefs. We Christians too are victims of this: how many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world are suffering, forced at times to flee from their ancestral lands, cut off from their rich history and culture. We should also admit that humanitarian crises have become the status quo, in which people’s right to life, liberty, and personal security are not protected. Indeed, as shown by conflicts worldwide, the use of explosive weapons, especially in populated areas, is having a dramatic long-term humanitarian impact. Conventional weapons are becoming less and less “conventional” and more and more “weapons of mass destruction”, wreaking havoc on cities, schools, hospitals, religious sites, infrastructures, and basic services needed by the population. What is more, great numbers of people are being forced to leave their homes. Refugees, migrants, and the internally displaced frequently find themselves abandoned in their countries of origin, transit, and destination, deprived of any chance to better their situation in life and that of their families. Worse still, thousands are intercepted at sea and forcibly returned to detention camps, where they meet with torture and abuse. Many of these become victims of human trafficking, sexual slavery, or forced labor, exploited in degrading jobs, and denied a just wage. This is intolerable, yet intentionally ignored by many! The numerous and significant international efforts to respond to these crises begin with great promise – here I think of the two Global Compacts on Refugees and on Migration – yet many lack the necessary political support to prove successful. Others fail because individual states shirk their responsibilities and commitments. All the same, the current crisis offers an opportunity for the United Nations to help build a more fraternal and compassionate society. This includes reconsidering the role of economic and financial institutions, like that of Bretton-Woods, which must respond to the rapidly growing inequality between the super-rich and the permanently poor. An economic model that encourages subsidiarity, supports economic development at the local level, and invests in education and infrastructure benefiting local communities, will lay the foundation not only for economic success but also for the renewal of the larger community and nation. Here I would renew my appeal that “in light of the present circumstances… all nations be enabled to meet the greatest needs of the moment through the reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations”.[6] The international community ought to make every effort to put an end to economic injustices. “When multilateral credit organizations provide advice to various nations, it is important to keep in mind the lofty concepts of fiscal justice, the public budgets responsible for their indebtedness, and, above all, an effective promotion of the poorest, which makes them protagonists in the social network”.[7] We have a responsibility to offer development assistance to poor nations and debt relief to highly indebted nations.[8] “A new ethics presupposes being aware of the need for everyone to work together to close tax shelters, avoid evasions and money laundering that rob society, as well as to speak to nations about the importance of defending justice and the common good over the interests of the most powerful companies and multinationals”.[9] Now is a fitting time to renew the architecture of international finance.[10] Mr. President,Five years ago, I had the opportunity to address the General Assembly in person on its seventieth anniversary. My visit took place at a time marked by truly dynamic multilateralism. It was a moment of great hope and promise for the international community, on the eve of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Some months later, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change was also adopted.Yet we must honestly admit that, even though some progress has been made, the international community has shown itself largely incapable of honoring the promises made five years ago. I can only reiterate that “we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges”.[11] I think of the alarming situation in the Amazon and its indigenous peoples. Here we see that the environmental crisis is inseparably linked to a social crisis and that caring for the environment calls for an integrated approach to combatting poverty and exclusion.[12] To be sure, the growth of an integral ecological sensitivity and the desire for action is a positive step. “We must not place the burden on the next generations to take on the problems caused by the previous ones… We must seriously ask ourselves if there is the political will to allocate with honesty, responsibility, and courage, more human, financial, and technological resources to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, as well as to help the poorest and most vulnerable populations who suffer from them the most”.[13] The Holy See will continue to play its part. As a concrete sign of the Holy See’s commitment to care for our common home, I recently ratified the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.[14] Mr. President,We cannot fail to acknowledge the devastating effects of the Covid-19 crisis on children, including unaccompanied young migrants and refugees. Violence against children, including the horrible scourge of child abuse and pornography, has also dramatically increased. Millions of children are presently unable to return to school. In many parts of the world, this situation risks leading to an increase in child labor, exploitation, abuse, and malnutrition. Sad to say, some countries and international institutions are also promoting abortion as one of the so-called “essential services” provided in the humanitarian response to the pandemic. It is troubling to see how simple and convenient it has become for some to deny the existence of a human life as a solution to problems that can and must be solved for both the mother and her unborn child. I urge civil authorities to be especially attentive to children who are denied their fundamental rights and dignity, particularly their right to life and to schooling. I cannot help but think of the appeal of that courageous young woman, Malala Yousafzai, who speaking five years ago in the General Assembly, reminded us that “one child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world”. The first teachers of every child are his or her mother and father, the family, which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes as the “natural and fundamental group unit of society”.[15] All too often, the family is the victim of forms of ideological colonialism that weaken it and end up producing in many of its members, especially the most vulnerable, the young and the elderly, a feeling of being orphaned and lacking roots. The breakdown of the family is reflected in the social fragmentation that hinders our efforts to confront common enemies. It is time that we reassess and recommit ourselves to achieving our goals. One such goal is the advancement of women. This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women. At every level of society, women now play an important role, offering their singular contribution and courageously promoting the common good. Many women, however, continue to be left behind: victims of slavery, trafficking, violence, exploitation, and degrading treatment. To them, and to those who forced to live apart from their families, I express my fraternal closeness. At the same time, I appeal once more for greater determination and commitment in the fight against those heinous practices that debase not only women but all humanity, which by its silence and lack of effective action becomes an accomplice in them. Mr. President,We must ask ourselves if the principal threats to peace and security – poverty, epidemics, terrorism, and so many others – can be effectively be countered when the arms race, including nuclear weapons, continues to squander precious resources that could better be used to benefit the integral development of peoples and protect the natural environment. We need to break with the present climate of distrust. At present, we are witnessing an erosion of multilateralism, which is all the more serious in light of the development of new forms of military technology,[16] such as lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) which irreversibly alter the nature of warfare, detaching it further from human agency. We need to dismantle the perverse logic that links personal and national security to the possession of weaponry. This logic serves only to increase the profits of the arms industry while fostering a climate of distrust and fear between persons and peoples. Nuclear deterrence, in particular, creates an ethos of fear based on the threat of mutual annihilation; in this way, it ends up poisoning relationships between peoples and obstructing dialogue.[17] That is why it is so important to support the principal international legal instruments on nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, and prohibition. The Holy See trusts that the forthcoming Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will result in concrete action in accordance with our joint intention “to achieve at the earliest possible date the cessation of the nuclear arms race and to undertake effective measures in the direction of nuclear disarmament”.[18] In addition, our strife-ridden world needs the United Nations to become an ever more effective international workshop for peace. This means that the members of the Security Council, especially the Permanent Members, must act with greater unity and determination. In this regard, the recent adoption of a global cease-fire during the present crisis is a very noble step, one that demands goodwill on the part of all for its continued implementation. Here I would also reiterate the importance of relaxing international sanctions that make it difficult for states to provide adequate support for their citizens. Mr. President,We never emerge from a crisis just as we were. We come out either better or worse. This is why, at this critical juncture, it is our duty to rethink the future of our common home and our common project. A complex task lies before us, one that requires a frank and coherent dialogue aimed at strengthening multilateralism and cooperation between states. The present crisis has further demonstrated the limits of our self-sufficiency as well as our common vulnerability. It has forced us to think clearly about how we want to emerge from this: either better or worse. The pandemic has shown us that we cannot live without one another, or worse still, pitted against one another. The United Nations was established to bring nations together, to be a bridge between peoples. Let us make good use of this institution in order to transform the challenge that lies before us into an opportunity to build together, once more, the future we all desire.God bless you all! Thank you, Mr. President.

Cardinal Becciu: Vatican Official Forced Out In Rare Resignation

High-ranking Vatican official Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu has unexpectedly resigned but has revealed he was told to do so by Pope Francis. He said he was suspected of giving Church money to his brothers, and denied any wrongdoing. Cardinal Becciu was a close aide to the Pope and previously had a key job in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

He became involved in a controversial deal to invest in a luxury London building with Church funds. That investment has since been the subject of a financial investigation.

Resignations at this level of the Vatican are extremely rare and the Holy See said little in its communique released late on Thursday.

“The Holy Father accepted the resignation from the office of Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and from the rights connected to the Cardinalate, presented by His Eminence Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu,” a statement said.

But the cardinal, 72, told Italian website Domani he was being forced out because he was suspected of giving Church money to his brothers. “I didn’t steal even one euro. I am not under investigation but if they send me to trial, I will defend myself,” he was quoted as saying.

Speaking later at a news conference, the cardinal said his removal had come “like a bolt out of the blue”. He said the Pope “was suffering” when he delivered the news. “It’s all surreal. Up until yesterday… I felt I was a friend of the Pope, the faithful executor of the Pope. “Then the Pope told me that he no longer had faith in me because he got a report from magistrates that I committed an act of misappropriation.”

Cardinal Becciu insisted there had been “a misunderstanding”, adding: “I am ready to explain everything to the Pope. I have not done anything wrong. I said to the Pope: why are you doing this to me, in front of the whole world?”

The anguished words of one of the Church’s most senior cardinals – now fired and stripped of his right to choose the next Pope. Giovanni Angelo Becciu had served as Deputy Secretary of State – a role with unfettered access to Pope Francis – and was latterly head of the department that chooses future saints.

But on Thursday evening, he was summoned for a reportedly tense meeting with his boss. Cardinal Becciu had managed a controversial €200m (£180m) purchase of a London property with Church funds, including alms money. Other reports allege he propped up a failing Roman hospital which employed his niece.

“The Holy Father explained that I had given favours to my brothers and their businesses with Church money… but I am certain there are no crimes”, he told new Italian newspaper Domani.

But his denial was not enough. It’s been dubbed an “earthquake at the Vatican”.

The choreography of his dismissal may seem cloak-and-dagger – but it is a reminder yet again that the scandal and corruption that beset governments across the world also reach the highest echelons of the Holy See.

Who is Cardinal Becciu?

Giovanni Angelo Becciu, who is Italian, spent the early years of his career in the Vatican’s diplomatic service. Then, from 2011 to 2018, he had the powerful role of Substitute for General Affairs in the Secretariat of State, when he met the Pope on a daily basis.

It was Pope Francis who made him cardinal in 2018, when he took up a new role of running the department that looks after sainthoods and beatifications.

“It’s a blow for me, my family, the people of my country. I’ve accepted out of a spirit of obedience and love of the Church and the Pope,” Italian media quoted the cardinal as saying on Friday morning.

What is known of the London property deal?

It was during the cardinal’s time as Substitute for General Affairs that he was linked to a luxury property deal in a wealthy area of London.  The $200m (£155m) purchase of the apartment block in Sloane Avenue was bought out of Church money through offshore funds and companies.

Five members of staff were suspended last year following a raid of the offices of the Secretariat last year. Vatican police officers seized documents and computers. Then, in June, Italian businessman Gianluigi Torzi was arrested by Vatican police on suspicion of extortion and embezzlement.

Earlier this year, Cardinal Becciu defended the purchase.

“An investment was made on a building. It was good and opportune occasion, which many people envy us for today,” he said in February. He also denied that money collected for the poor, called Peter’s Pence, had been used in the deal.

Why now?

The cardinal’s sudden departure may not just be linked to the London deal. In his interview on Friday, the cardinal said the Pope confronted him over Church money he had given to co-operatives and businesses run by his brothers.

A co-operative in Sardinia, run by his brother Tonino Becciu, provided help to migrants and the cardinal said all the money had been accounted for. Other funding was used to renovate the Holy See’s building in Cuba.

Italian reports also suggest the Pope was unhappy with the use of Peter’s Pence funds for other investments. Last year, Italian weekly L’Espresso published a report from the Vatican’s anti-corruption authority alleging more widespread speculative investments amounting to $725m.

Cardinal Becciu will keep his title despite his resignation from the congregation. However, he will not be able to vote for the next Pope.  The last cardinal to give up his right to vote for a new Pope was Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien who resigned in 2013 amid a sex scandal. He died five years later.

Hinduism Has a Profound Influence on the West

The Hindu way of life and thinking, far from being a mystical eastern religion, has had a profound influence on the west, leading to successes on American soil, not in terms of material wealth, but in individual satisfaction with immense self- content.

Four outstanding personalities from different walks of life bore testimony to realizing this principle in their lives and showcased their stories during the 50th anniversary celebrations of the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) .

The keynote speakers set the “virtual” stage for “Reflections@50: Walking in Dharma” on Sept. 19 and 20 for an upcoming real life congregation and grand celebration next year to commemorate World Hindu Council of America’s 50 years of fostering the Hindu socio-cultural-spiritual movement.

The four speakers, Vyomesh Joshi, CEO, 3D Systems; Vandana Tilak, CEO & Director, Akshaya Patra USA; Dr. Raj Vedam, scholar in Indian history and Benny Tillman, President, Vedic Friends Association, narrated their pioneering efforts and accomplishments, based on the ancient Hindu philosophy and how it paved the way for their fruitful journey.

Vyomesh Joshi

Vyomesh Joshi, one of the biggest names in the printing industry and an influential Indian American, presently helms 3D systems, a leading manufacturing solutions company, as President and CEO.

Interweaving references from the Bhagavad Gita, Vyomesh spoke on “Authentic Leadership” and how Hindu scriptures guided him in leading global companies as well as dealing with triumphs and setbacks.

Citing a Gallup poll, he noted that followers look for four attributes in a leader, namely – Trust, Compassion, Stability and Hope.

Trust, he said, comes from Trustworthiness which in turn comes from competence and character. Humility is equally important and there’s no room for ego. Stability is the third attribute in an authentic leader.

Raj Vedam

Referring to the Second Chapter in the Gita, Verse 54, Arjuna asks for help in understanding “Sthita prajna” or a stable intellect to control the senses, mind and desires. Stability is about the present but what is needed for the future is Hope – the fourth attribute of an authentic leader: Arjuna did not want to fight but Bhagwan Krishna explains that only the body perishes, the atma or the soul never dies. Every leader must offer hope in difficult times.

Vandana Tilak, CEO of Akshaya Patra USA, called “children who have to go hungry an injustice.”

In her keynote address on “Seva – the First and Last Frontier,” she dwelt on her philosophy of looking beyond oneself and her service through a leading non-profit organization – Akshaya Patra. Akshaya Patra serves 1.8 million vegetarian meals in 19,500 government schools in India in 15 states every single day. It has also served 8.2 million meals to date to stranded migrant workers since the lockdown on March 26.

Seva, for Vandana, is an unconditional exchange of love, thoughts, words and action. Whether it is a person, animal or this planet – each one is a living breathing organism and they all “deserve the respect and dignity of seva.” We are just mechanisms and the universe conspires to do good through us, the “divinity in each of us is fulfilling the destiny of those we meet,” according to Vandana Tilak.

Continuing in the same vein, she noted that the Universe ensures that 1.8 million children are fed every day through Akshaya Patra. This one single thought connects her to what she does.

This is an opportunity for us, she said, not the beneficiaries. More importantly, seva doesn’t tolerate an ego. The minute you put yourself on a pedestal, the Universe will find a way to bring you down to earth, she said.

A student of Ayurveda, she said one of the first things that is taught is the nature of hunger. “When we are hungry, we eat healthy food and exercise. This is Prakriti or the natural flow. When we are not hungry and overeat, it’s vikrutti. But when you keep a little bit aside knowing that someone else needs it and both of you are happy and fed, that is sanskriti.”

Dr. Raj Vedam , an acclaimed scholar and co-founder of a Think tank, Indian History Awareness & Research, based in Houston, highlighted how Hindu identity has steadily come to be defined not by Hindus but by others, subverting Hindu identity.

Vedam traced the roots of modern sciences, mathematics and technology and his findings contradicted western narratives that the Indian civilization’s knowledge of mathematics and science came from outside India.

One of the consequences of the “identity crisis” is growing attacks on Hindu identity by organized groups with huge funding from abroad and within the country. The media and universities have also turned into “hotbeds of Hinduphobia.” Hindu student groups face enormous backlash and anti-Hindu pressure by hate based organizations, Vedam said.

The western narrative peddled the view that Aryans invaded India, brought in the caste system, imposed a Vedic religion and drove the original inhabitants towards the southern part of the country. One of the direct consequences of the introduction of English in India was the discontinuation of publications of books in Sanskrit and funds were instead used for the propagation of English.This distancing from Sanskrit meant that Indians could no longer connect to their roots, Vedam said.

One way to reclaim the Hindu identity, he said, is by becoming ambassadors to exemplify Dharma as a logical, rational, responsible system with solutions for global problems, living a dharmic lifestyle, learning about Hinduism, celebrating festivals, visiting temples, supporting scholars, institutions and organizing outreach talks and conferences.

Benny Tillman aka Balabhadra Bhattacarya Dasa is a direct disciple of his Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He serves as the first African American President of the Vedic Friends Association dedicated to the preservation, promotion and application of Vedic culture and philosophy.

Society, he pointed out, is confused about the real purpose of life, which according to Vedic teachings should focus on self-realization as well as material development. While living in this world, we must learn to connect these two and that’s yoga. Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not just a form of exercise, it is much deeper than that, he said.

The uncertain situation in the world today presents an opportunity for Hindu leaders to offer practical solutions derived from the Vedas. The need of the hour is to create a more accessible process to introduce Hindu culture and philosophy to the general public and reaching out to communities. He lauded the Hindu youth in Houston for their support in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Benny concluded his address with the one word that “encapsulates the entire Vedic culture” – Namaste. It is a recognition of the divine within each one of us and respecting the spiritual existence within us. We need to lift the word “Namaste” and teach people all over the world to use this to develop a better sense of love and respect for each other.

Among the highlights of the two day-webinar were eight enlightening panel discussions with well-known speakers – entrepreneurs, heads of organizations, religious leaders, academicians, dignitaries, and youth leaders.

Engaging youth in community service has been a cornerstone of the VHPA’s mission. Two panels: “Hindu Youth – Being the Change Today for Better Tomorrow” and

“Evolving Nature of Seva (service) in North America” were dedicated to youth and volunteerism to focusing on their current relevance.

Other topics like, “The Hindu Woman as Sustainer of our Timeless Tradition,” “Influence of Hindu Heritage on Life Choices and Decisions” and on early teaching, “Learning Through play,” “The Role of Dharmic Houses of Worship – Challenges and Opportunities,” “The Power of Dharma in Action” and “The Legacy of the Hindus in North America,” were discussed. World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) had earlier planned Swarna Jayanti gala event to mark its jubilee milestone, however, the occasion had to be moved to September 2021 due to the Covid-19 crisis. The virtual community conference served as a glimpse into the jubilee event planned next year

About 3,200 people registered and participated in the virtual conference. “2020 is a landmark year for Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America. Established in 1970, we have completed 50 years of leading and serving the Hindu community,” Dr. Abhaya Asthana, President, Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America said.

“That humble initiative of 1970 has blossomed into a formidable movement over five decades, with many Hindu organizations joining in partnership along the way. Every aspect of Hindu American life, for four generations, has been positively touched by VHPA through its visionary and transformational programs. As we stand at this crossroad, and behold the future, filled with aspirations and hope, we must also turn our gaze back on the amazing journey of 50 years, walking with Dharma in this land of America,” Asthana said.

“As a community, how far have we travelled on this four-laned highway of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha? Where are we? Where do we want to be? And, what do we have to do, to get there,” he asked?

Dr. Siddhesh Shevade, National Executive Director of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, congratulated all VHPA karyakartas for a very inspiring 50 years of tireless efforts.

“In this reflection conference, we learned about many new dimensions of Hindu unity and realized the needs of Hindu Society in modern times. As Hindu Americans, let us achieve those by our own efforts ‘Swayamev Mrugendrata’ in the near future, he said.

“Reflections@50: Walking in Dharma” represented a confluence of prominent Hindu thought leaders to do a “manthan” of the history of Hindu Americans in the last half century, and chart its course for the next half century and beyond, according to Dr. Jai Bansal , Conference convener.

Indian Authorities Have No Regard For The Constitution Or The Laws On The Books” – Pastor Bryan Nerren Tells At FIACONNA Event

“The authorities in India have no regard for the constitution and no regard for the laws,” said Pastor Bryan Nerren, from Tennessee, who was held captive for more than 7 months by the Indian Government under the false charges of possession of undeclared funds when he arrived in India on October 5, 2019 on his way to Nepal.  One of the Customs officials informed him also that “I have been ordered by the Central Government to arrest you.”

In other words, the officials were advised from Delhi to concoct a case against him, said Pastor Nerren, while addressing a webinar organized by the Federation of Indian Christian Association of North America (FIACONA) on the deportation of American Christian leaders from India. Besides, his lawyer has been advised as well by officials that “We have been ordered to make a case against your client and that he is here for converting people and we are going to stop American Christians from coming here, and we will make an example of him”. Pastor Nerren also narrated a story of one of the local BJP leaders visiting him and saying these chilling words “we do not help our poor children, and we don’t want you to come here and help the poor children either. God decided that they are poor, and if they die, they die!

Rev. Peter Cook, the Executive Director of the New York Council of Churches, spoke next, talked about his experience in obtaining a valid visa at the New York Consulate to travel to India along with eight other colleagues. We wanted to do some touristic stuff after meeting up with the CSI Bishop in Chennai. Once at the Chennai airport, the immigration officer got suspicious of our address that read ‘Cathedral Way.’ We were then taken to a side room and subjected to a battery of questions on Christianity and our church affiliation and was interrogated for eight hours. We were not even allowed to contact our would-be hosts. Towards the end, one of the officials said to a person in our delegation that “we don’t let Christians into our country”.

Rev. Cook then surmised by saying it may be that of our acts of charity and justice that threaten them or the egalitarian message that we convey challenges their caste system, which discriminates and exploits workers for financial gains. They may also be afraid that we may side with the Dalits’ rights in their political activity or resistance, or Christians may challenge their nationalist agenda based on discrimination and policy violence that is becoming a daily occurrence in India against religious minorities.

John Hutchinson, Field Director of ‘Greentree Global’, lamented that although India proclaims itself to be the biggest democracy in the world, they really do not practice it. He then went on to detail his story of going to India and visiting Khandamahl, Odisha, after the anti-Christian riots there.  For that reason, he has been banned from entering India again. He said, “In Odisha during those riots, 100 or so Christians got killed, 200 Churches were burned, 5600 houses were destroyed, Priests got killed, and a Nun gang-raped by Hindutva extremists”.

He further stated that he went there because he felt that it was his duty to meet fellow Christians who were in distress. “The riots were a stain on India,” he added. He reminded that India is a constitutional democracy and a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Article 18 specifically states the right to freedom of Religion. Mr. Hutchinson went on to say, “U.S and India are friends, we have no malice or ill will. We have a mutual relationship in areas of the economy as well as Military and want those relationships to continue”. He also told the story of officials telling them first that Religion had nothing to do with those riots, then another source tells them that if you stop conversions, all attacks would be stopped. He concluded by saying that India is not a Banana Republic to ban people from an allied country.

John Prabhudoss, Chairman of FIACONA, who traveled with John Hutchinson and three others, detailed about his encounter in a meeting with a Hindutva activist who threatened ‘I would make sure that you will not come back to the country again.’ he added that it turned out to be true as he traveled to India a few months later, there was a ‘lookout citation notices’ on him at the Hyderabad airport, and he was deported from the airport. He went on to say that “most of the bureaucrats in India are so hostile to Christians and every single day Christians are being deported from India, however, most of the time they keep these stories of deportation private hoping that one day they would be able go back again. It is unfortunate that American policy makers and leaders are continually being deceived.

Prabhudoss said “if you work for a Christian organization in the U.S. whether you are a Bishop, Pastor, or a Plummer, you will not be given a tourist visa. On the other hand, radical Hindutva leaders on tourist visas to this country visit temples and give fiery speeches often denigrating Christians. There is no doubt that it shows weakness while affecting America’s national interest.

“Therefore, when they do such heinous things to an American citizen, I urge any U.S. administration what they have done to the folks who are here today, there should be accountability and reciprocity.

A case in point is the story of ‘Compassion International’,  our failure in that regard today has invited more restrictions on NGOs, Christian charitable organizations in particular.  India boasts that America is weaker; they cannot do anything to us.  Let us remember that India is going the way of Pakistan, our longstanding policy of appeasement never worked there, and he warned as long as America remains muted, it will be at the cost of America’s national interest.”

Ms. Dorothy Pierce, a team member with Rev. Cook, said that we went to India to have that cross-cultural experience and traveled there in good faith but had a sad experience. Again, it is symptomatic of how certain groups of people there are treated there daily. She hoped that justice, equity, and morals would eventually triumph. Please visit www.fiacona.org or contact [email protected] for more information.

Practice Does Not Necessarily Make Perfect When It Comes to Creativity

 If you’re a relentlessly upbeat thinker, you may be enamored of the 10,000-hour rule, which holds that if you simply practice something regularly for a long enough time, you’ll eventually achieve mastery.

For a marketing professional who’s striving to be more creative, for example, this might translate into sitting down with a notepad and pen every morning and spending a few minutes jotting down as many ideas for new product names as you can. You might come up with a few Edsels at first, but once you get the hang of it, pretty soon you’ll be wowing your colleagues with the next iMac, Frappuccino, or Uber, right?Well, sorry to burst your thought bubble here, but no. According to recent research by Stanford Graduate School of Business alumna Melanie S. Brucks and associate professor of marketing Szu-chi Huang, regular brainstorming sessions are not likely to lead to an increase in unique ideas. In fact, the average novelty of your output — that is, the degree to which your inspirations depart from convention — actually might decrease over time.

“It was surprising,” says Brucks, who earned her PhD in marketing at Stanford in 2019 and now is an assistant professor of marketing at Columbia University. “People got worse at one type of idea generation, even as they thought they were getting better at it.”

Huang, who studies motivation, also admits she was taken aback by the results, which are detailed in an article, “Does Practice Make Perfect? The Contrasting Effects of Repeated Practice on Creativity,” recently published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research. “In my field, practice is always good. It’s always about practice — do it every day and you will learn and improve your skills, or at least build good habits. But it turns out that to get better at creativity, you need to do some creative thinking about creative thinking.”

Lead author Brucks says she initially was drawn to the subject as a graduate student, because she wanted to come up with better ideas herself. “There’s a ton of research out there that shows how practice seems to help with everything if you want to improve performance,” she explains. “I thought, ‘Well, OK, I can just practice creativity, and I’ll get good at it.’”

A Research Gap

As Brucks delved into the scientific literature on creativity, however, she discovered an intriguing gap in the research. While there was plenty of work on one-shot interventions — such as using visualization techniques during idea-generating sessions, for example — there was almost no research into the question of whether repetition over time would lead to increased output of conceptual breakthroughs.

To complicate things more, creative cognition actually has two components. Divergent thinking, the sort that is utilized in idea-generating sessions, involves branching off from what a person knows and coming up with new ideas. In contrast, convergent thinking requires finding linkage between different existing concepts or ideas and connecting them to context.Often, to come up with a viable concept, “you need them both,” Brucks explains. “They’re both really important, but also very different.”

Becoming better at divergent thinking is a particular challenge, because of the way the brain works. With most skills, practice tends to produce improvement by reinforcing certain cognitive pathways in the brain, making them more accessible, Brucks explains. At the same time, it de-emphasizes other pathways, cutting them off in order to allocate an optimal amount of cognitive resources to the prioritized task. But by training the brain to become more efficient and focused, that repetition also “gives you a less flexible brain,” Brucks notes.

But inflexibility goes against the nature of creativity, which continually requires the intellect to bend and stretch into new positions. To test how practice would affect idea generation over time, and what factors might affect productivity, Brucks and Huang constructed a two-part investigation.

How the Experiments Worked

In the first study, a group of 413 subjects were recruited from an online pool and then randomly assigned to practice either divergent or convergent creativity tasks for 12 consecutive days. Those who practiced divergent thinking had to spend a few minutes each day thinking of new product names. The subjects assigned to convergent practice were asked to perform a Remote Associates Test, in which they had to identify a common link between three different words. (For example, “cold” could forge a connection among the words “shoulder,” “sweat,” and “sore.”)

All of the participants had to complete their tasks between 6:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. After the study, they took a survey in which they reported their perception of how well they had performed.

To practice creativity effectively, we have to change how we define practice. The structure needs to be more dynamic. Over the 12 days, the subjects working on divergent thinking generated about 15,000 ideas total, of which about two thirds were unique — an average of 5.71 unique ideas per person, per session. The convergent thinkers solved roughly the same amount (5.69) of RAT word problems. But there was a difference. Over the course of the study, the divergent thinkers barely increased the number of unique ideas that they produced, while the convergent thinkers had a markedly higher boost in productivity as they got better at the task.

Besides just counting the quantity of unique ideas, Brucks and Huang also gave the ideas to a panel of judges to evaluate their novelty — basically, ideas that were clever and memorable. “For example, if I’m trying to come up with names for a podcast app, I can come up with hundreds of ideas that are unique, but not very novel,” Brucks explains. “I might call it Podcast Organizer, or some variation of that. All those ideas could be unique, but they’re derivative.”

In contrast, playful names such as Earworm or Peas in a Pod would be more novel. Novel ideas “come from a different perspective and depart from the most obvious,” she says. “Usually it comes from having random ideas and then incorporating them. You’re hungry, for example, so you think ‘peas in a pod.’”When it came to novelty, the subjects practicing divergent thinking actually got worse rather than better. On average, they actually dreamed up ideas that were significantly less novel on the last day of the research than they did on the first.

We’re Brightest in the Morning In the second phase of the research, Brucks and Huang took 507 subjects and assigned them to practice the same divergent product name-generating exercise in different time blocks over a 14-day period. One group worked between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m., while another got 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., and a third “flexible” group could pick whatever time they wanted between 6:00 a.m. and midnight. At the start, the subjects were asked to predict how well they would do, and after each session they had to record how difficult it had been to generate new names.

One of the researchers’ key findings was that practice increasingly hindered divergent thinking as the day progressed. As it turns out, “people are prone to habitual thinking late in the day,” Brucks explains. “They’re even less likely to diverge from already well-traveled cognitive pathways.” And contrary to the stereotype of creative geniuses staying up late, people who did their brainstorming at 11 p.m. had the worst productivity over time.

Oddly, the researchers discovered that subjects thought the idea-generating process got easier the more they practiced — even though they actually were producing fewer good ideas.But would-be marketing geniuses need not despair. As Huang notes, the results of the study don’t necessarily mean that it’s impossible to improve creative output through practice; they just suggest that people have been going about it too simplistically.

“To practice creativity effectively, we have to change how we define practice,” Huang says. Rather than focus on routinizing the creative process, it might be more useful to deliberately disrupt routines. A team leader might vary the times that brainstorming sessions are held, for example, and change up the types of exercises employed.

“The structure needs to be more dynamic,” Huang explains. Technique-wise, business brainstorming might well evolve into something closer to the improvisational exercises that acting students perform to get out of their comfort zone and unleash their creative instincts. Brucks notes that in previous research, imposing constraints upon idea generation — requiring subjects to come up with product names that have numbers in them, for example — has been shown to keep the novel concepts coming.

“You want to do something that prevents you from rehearsing the same thing over and over again,” she says. That way, people in search of inspiration “reinforce not going down the obvious path.”

 https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/practice-does-not-necessarily-make-perfect-when-it-comes-creativity coauthored by Stanford GSB Associate Professor Szu-chi Huang and PhD alum Melanie Brucks, now assistant professor of marketing at Columbia University 

Pope Francis Offers A Beacon Of Hope Amid Covid Outbreak

Just when it seemed there was no end to the woes caused by the coronavirus pandemic, there are words of solace from Pope Francis who explains in a revelatory, uplifting, and practical book why we must – and how we can – make the world safer, fairer, and healthier for all people.

In “Let Us Dream” the beloved shepherd of over one billion Catholics sees the cruelty and inequity of our society exposed more vividly than ever before. He also sees, in the resilience, generosity, and creativity of so many people, the means to rescue our society, our economy, and our planet. In direct, powerful prose, Pope Francis urges us not to let the pain be in vain.

He begins “Let Us Dream by exploring what this crisis can teach us about how to handle upheaval of any kind in our own lives and the world at large. With unprecedented candour, he reveals how three crises in his own life changed him dramatically for the better. By its very nature, he shows, crisis presents us with a choice: we make a grievous error if we try to return to some pre-crisis state. But if we have the courage to change, we can emerge from the crisis better than before.

Along the way, he offers dozens of wise and surprising observations on the value of unconventional thinking, on why we must dramatically increase women’s leadership in the Church and throughout society, on what he learned while scouring the streets of Buenos Aires with garbage-pickers, and much more.

Pope Francis then offers a brilliant, scathing critique of the systems and ideologies that conspired to produce the current crisis, from a global economy obsessed with profit and heedless of the people and environment it harms, to politicians who foment their people’s fear and use it to increase their own power at their people’s expense. He reminds us that Christians’ first duty is to serve others, especially the poor and the marginalized, just as Jesus did.

The book is the fruit of many exchanges between Pope Francis and his biographer, Austen Ivereigh, in the weeks following the coronavirus lockdown. It was written simultaneously in English and Spanish and will be published by Simon & Schuster’s audio division and Simon & Schuster’s international companies in Australia, Canada, India and the United Kingdom. Simon & Schuster Consulting Publisher Stephen Rubin and Vice President and Executive Editor Eamon Dolan acquired world rights, first serial rights and audio rights from the agent, William Barry. “Any wisdom the Pope had to offer would be extremely valuable now,” Dolan noted, “but what made me believe ‘Let Us Dream’ might actually change the world is how clear and practical his guidance is, and how deeply comforting is the voice with which he delivers it. Here the Pope sounds closer to us – and even kinder – than we’ve ever heard him before.”  

World Sikh Parliament Held

The World Sikh Parliament members from twenty-six countries deliberated over a conference call on the issue of the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal issue.  Water is the source of life. India’s Supreme Court is preparing to deliver yet another deadly blow to Punjab’s riparian rights over its own crucially important river waters. Mobilizing efforts worldwide, the World Sikh Parliament, with its partners, will challenge the decision both within the Indian subcontinent and internationally. As per International Riparian law, the state of Panjab has the first right over its waters. For decades Panjab is being robbed of their territorial waters. Hence, the common Panjabi speaking man must raise their voice, protecting themselves from being deprived of the waters and the revenue from the shared waters.

The following are the conclusions that the World Sikh Parliament reached upon:-

1. The SYL Canal issue is dear to all people living in Panjab. It’s a matter of right to their life. Hence, the World Sikh Parliament will work with civil society organizations to address this as a legal challenge within the National courts of India.

2. The World Sikh Parliament will work to bring awareness of this issue across schools, universities, colleges and will agitate peacefully.

3. The World Sikh Parliament will take forward the SYL canal issue as an international campaign. This will be a part of its broader ongoing movement to educate on the right for self-determination while pointing out that international law’s prescription on self-determination (1966 Covenants on Human Rights) states:

“All peoples have the right of self-determination …All peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources … In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence”.


Brief History


The history of this dispute dates back to before the days of the partition. In 1955, Rajasthan was allocated the majority share of water without any cost. After India and Pakistan’s formation, both the countries signed the Indus Waters Treaty in 1960, hence, settling for the unrestricted use of three rivers —Beas, Ravi, and Sutlej.

The creation of Haryana in 1966 from the old (undivided) Punjab brought in the problem of giving Haryana its river waters. Punjab opposed sharing the Ravi and Beas’ waters with Haryana on riparian grounds, arguing that it had no water to spare. The Supreme Court (SC) of India, in January 2002, directed Punjab to continue digging for the SYL canal, ordering the canal to be functional within a year. The state of Punjab challenged and sought a review of this order. The SC dismissed the review in March 2002. On July 28, 2020, the SC had directed the chief ministers of both the states to settle the dispute by way of talks within three weeks.  No resolution has been achieved as of yet. The latest Supreme Court action focusses to take even more water away to Haryana (on which it has already ruled against Punjab), but will not address the core issue of riparian rights or even deal at all with the bulk of the disputed water which is being taken by Rajasthan. This will leave India’s breadbasket, Panjab, arid and barren, directly impacting more than 30 million people. 

In a landmark judgment delivered in 2018 about the Cauvery water dispute, the Supreme Court has already made its position clear; it sees rivers as a ‘national asset,’ which ultimately New Delhi will control. As such, Punjabis of all political persuasions have no prospect of a just outcome from the Indian judiciary or the central government. The terrible Indo-Sikh conflict of the 1980s and 1990s erupted from the resistance of the building of the SYL canal. The BJP lead fundamentalist government is again heading towards this direction, leaving no choice for Panjab’s people then to agitate.  Himmat Singh, the coordinator of the World Sikh Parliament, conducted the meeting.

Emoroy Museum Presents Transcendent Deities of India

What does it mean to see and be seen by the divine? What does it mean to see the divine in new ways? These are the questions underlying Transcendent Deities of India: The Everyday Occurrence of the Divine, an exhibition of more than 70 works of art by Raja Ravi Varma, Manjari Sharma, and Abhishek Singh. 

For Hindus in India, images of gods and goddesses are an integral part of religious practice. These images inspire worshippers and artists alike, populating the art of the region for thousands of years and demonstrating their power through hundreds of millions of daily encounters as part of rituals at temples, shrines, and other settings within India and the broader diaspora. 

Transcendent Deities of India explores the visual communion between human and divine. Through prints, photographs, graphic art, paintings, and illustrations, Varma, Sharma, and Singh offer modern and contemporary interpretations of traditional imagery that position Hindu gods and goddesses within viewers’ frame of reference, ensuring their seamless applicability in new eras. 

Vishnu, the preserver, comes to earth in times of distress in order to maintain the cosmic order. Dr. Harshita Kamath, Koppaka Assistant Professor in Telugu Culture, Literature, and History, will discuss the conception of Vishnu in the Hindu pantheon and his role illustrated by the works in the exhibition Transcendent Deities: The Everyday Occurrence of the Divine and the Carlos’s permanent collection

Proof Bakeshop, whose sour cherry scones are a beloved feature of AntiquiTEA programs at the Carlos, has provided a recipe from pastry chef Mike Carmody, so you can make them at home, and have them warm from the oven when the program begins.

Of the hundreds of Hindu deities, the elephant-headed god Ganesha  is among the most beloved. Known as the “Lord of New Beginnings” and the “Remover of Obstacles,” his familiar image can be found near the entrance of Hindu homes, temples, shops, restaurants, and even on the dashboard of cars both in India and here in the United States.

This is a part of the South Asian collections of Emory’s Michael C. Carlos Museum which represent living religious traditions that originated in India thousands of years ago and spread throughout Asia and around the globe. As the third- and fourth-largest religions in the world, Buddhism and Hinduism have millions of followers, not only in Asia, but here in the United States, and even in Atlanta.

“The Everyday Occurrence of the Divine,” a collection of artwork from India on Hindu Dieties is on display at the famous Emoroy Museum from January 18 – October 18, 2020. To learn more about the Carlos Museum’s collection of Hindu art and how it is used in religious practice, visit Odyssey Online South Asia, an interactive resource.   Click here to watch Manjari Sharma’s artist talk about her Darshan series. 

The Intersection of Science and Religion

Over the centuries, the relationship between science and religion has ranged from conflict and hostility to harmony and collaboration, while various thinkers have argued that the two concepts are inherently at odds and entirely separate.

But much recent research and discussion on these issues has taken place in a Western context, primarily through a Christian lens. To better understand the ways in which science relates to religion around the world, Pew Research Center engaged a small group of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists to talk about their perspectives. These one-on-one, in-depth interviews took place in Malaysia and Singapore – two Southeast Asian nations that have made sizable investments in scientific research and development in recent years and that are home to religiously diverse populations.

The discussions reinforced the conclusion that there is no single, universally held view of the relationship between science and religion, but they also identified some common patterns and themes within each of the three religious groups. For example, many Muslims expressed the view that Islam and science are basically compatible, while, at the same time, acknowledging some areas of friction – such as the theory of evolution conflicting with religious beliefs about the origins and development of human life on Earth. Evolution also has been a point of discord between religion and science in the West.

Hindu interviewees generally took a different tack, describing science and religion as overlapping spheres. As was the case with Muslim interviewees, many Hindus maintained that their religion contains elements of science, and that Hinduism long ago identified concepts that were later illuminated by science – mentioning, for example, the antimicrobial properties of copper or the health benefits of turmeric. In contrast with Muslims, many Hindus said the theory of evolution is encompassed in their religious teachings.

Buddhist interviewees generally described religion and science as two separate and unrelated spheres. Several of the Buddhists talked about their religion as offering guidance on how to live a moral life, while describing science as observable phenomena. Often, they could not name any areas of scientific research that concerned them for religious reasons. Nor did Buddhist interviewees see the theory of evolution as a point of conflict with their religion. Some said they didn’t think their religion addressed the origins of life on Earth.

Some members of all three religious groups, however, did express religious concerns when asked to consider specific kinds of biotechnology research, such as gene editing to change a baby’s genetic characteristics and efforts to clone animals. For example, Muslim interviewees said cloning would tamper with the power of God, and God should be the only one to create living things. When Hindus and Buddhists discussed gene editing and cloning, some, though not all, voiced concern that these scientific developments might interfere with karma or reincarnation.

But religion was not always the foremost topic that came to mind when people thought about science. In response to questions about government investment in scientific research, interviewees generally spoke of the role of scientific achievements in national prestige and economic development; religious differences faded into the background.

These are some of the key findings from a qualitative analysis of 72 individual interviews with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists conducted in Malaysia and Singapore between June 17 and Aug. 8, 2019.The study included 24 people in each of three religious groups (Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists), with an equal number in each country. All interviewees said their religion was “very” or “somewhat” important to their lives, but they otherwise varied in terms of age, gender, profession and education level.

A majority of Malaysians are Muslim, and the country has experienced natural migration patterns over the years. As a result, Buddhist interviewees in Malaysia were typically of Chinese descent, Hindus were of Indian descent and Muslim interviewees were Malay. Singapore is known for its religious diversity; a 2014 Pew Research Center analysis found the city-state to have the highest level of religious diversity in the world.

Insights from these qualitative interviews are inherently limited in that they are based on small convenience samples of individuals and are not representative of religious groups either in their country or globally. Instead, in-depth interviews provide insight into how individuals describe their beliefs, in their own words, and the connections they see (or don’t see) with science. To help guard against putting too much weight on any single individual’s comments, all interviews were coded into themes, following a systematic procedure. Where possible throughout the rest of this report, these findings are shown in comparison with quantitative surveys conducted with representative samples of adults in global publics to help address questions about the extent to which certain viewpoints are widely held among members of each religious group. This also shows how Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists as well as Christians around the world compare with each other.

One of the most striking takeaways from interviews conducted with Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists stems from the different ways that people in each group described their perspectives on the relationship between science and religion. The Muslims interviewed tended to speak of an overlap between their religion and science, and some raised areas of tension between the two. Hindu interviewees, by and large, described science and religion as overlapping but compatible spheres. By contrast, Buddhist interviewees described science and religion as parallel concepts, with no particular touchpoints between the two.A similar pattern emerged when interviewees were asked about possible topics that should be off limits to scientific research for religious reasons. Many Muslim interviewees readily named research areas that concerned them, such as studies using non-halal substances or some applications of assisted reproductive technology (for example, in vitro fertilization using genetic material from someone other than a married couple). By contrast, the Hindus and Buddhists in the study did not regularly name any research topics that they felt should be off limits to scientists.

The predominant view among Hindus interviewed in Malaysia and Singapore is that science and Hinduism are related and compatible. Many of the Hindu interviewees offered – without prompting– the assertion that their religion contains many ancient insights that have been upheld by modern science. For instance, multiple interviewees described the use of turmeric in cleansing solutions, or the use of copper in drinking mugs. They said Hindus have known for thousands of years that these materials provide health benefits, but that scientists have only confirmed relatively recently that it’s because turmeric and copper have antimicrobial properties. “When you question certain rituals or rites in Hinduism, there’s also a relatively scientific explanation to it,” said a Hindu woman (age 29, Singapore).

While many of the Hindu interviewees said science and religion overlap, others described the two as separate realms. “Religion doesn’t really govern science, and it shouldn’t. Science should just be science. … Today, the researchers, even if they are religious, the research is your duty. The duty and religion are different,” said one Hindu man (age 42, Singapore).

Asked to think about areas of scientific research that might raise concerns or that should not be pursued for religious reasons, Hindu interviewees generally came up blank, saying they couldn’t think of any such areas. A few mentioned areas of research that concerned them, but no topic area came up consistently.

Buddhist interviewees described science and religion in distinctly different ways than either Muslims or Hindus. For the most part, Buddhists said that science and religion are two unrelated domains. Some have long held that Buddhism and its practice are aligned with the empirically driven observations in the scientific method; connections between Buddhism and science have been bolstered by neuroscience research into the effects of Buddhist meditation at the core of the mindfulness movement.

Pew Research Center survey of Muslims worldwide conducted in 2011 and 2012 found a 22-public median of 53% said they believed humans and other living things evolved over time. However, levels of acceptance of evolution varied by region and country, with Muslims in South and Southeast Asian countries reporting lower levels of belief in evolution by this measure than Muslims in other regions.In discussing scientific research using gene editing, cloning and reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist interviewees raised the idea that such practices may go against the natural order or interfere with nature. As one Buddhist man simply put it: “If you have anything that interferes with the law of nature, you will have conflict. If you leave nature alone, you will have no conflict” (age 64, Singapore). Similarly, a Muslim woman said “anything that disrupts or changes the natural state” goes against religious beliefs (age 20, Singapore). In a U.S.-based Pew Research Center survey, a majority of Christians (55%) said that science and religion are “often in conflict” when thinking in general terms about religion. When thinking about their own religious beliefs, however, fewer Christians (35%) said their personal religious beliefs sometimes conflict with science; a majority of U.S. Christians (63%) said the two do not conflict.

Turkey’s Historic Chora Church Turned Into Mosque

The Turkish government formally converted a former Byzantine church into a mosque Friday, a move that came a month after it drew condemnation from people around the world for similarly turning Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia into a Muslim house of prayer. A report stated here that Istanbul’s Church of St. Saviour in Chora, known as Kariye in Turkish, was handed to Turkey’s religious authority, which would open up the structure for Muslim prayers.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reconverted the historic Chora church, one of Istanbul’s most celebrated Byzantine buildings, into a mosque on Friday, a month after opening the famed Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship. The mediaeval Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, built near the ancient city walls of Constantinople, contains 14th century Byzantine mosaics and frescoes showing scenes from biblical stories.

They were plastered over after the city was conquered by the Muslim Ottomans in 1453, but brought to light again when – like Hagia Sophia – the building was converted to a museum by Turkey’s secular republic more than 70 years ago.Erdogan, whose AK Party is rooted in political Islam, has positioned himself as a champion of Turkey’s pious Muslims and last month joined tens of thousands of worshippers in the first prayers at Hagia Sophia in 86 years.

The move was sharply criticised by church leaders and some Western countries, who said that reconverting Hagia Sophia exclusively for Muslim worship risked deepening religious rifts.Last year a Turkish court annulled a 1945 government decision converting Chora – known as Kariye in Turkish – into a museum run by the Education Ministry.

On Friday, an edict signed by Erdogan and published in Turkey’s official gazette declared “the management of the Kariye Mosque be transferred to the Religious Affairs Directorate, and (the mosque) opened to worship.

The church was first built at the site in the 4th century, but most of the existing building dates to an 11th century church that was partly rebuilt 200 years later following an earthquake.

The church, situated near the ancient city walls, is famed for its elaborate mosaics and frescoes. It dates to the fourth century, although the edifice took on its current form in the 11th–12th centuries. The structure served as a mosque during the Ottoman rule before being transformed into a museum in 1945. A court decision last year canceled the building’s status as a museum, paving the way for Friday’s decision.

Erdogan’s edict on Friday did not say when the first Muslim prayers would be held at Chora, or what arrangements would be made for the Christian artworks there. At Hagia Sophia, curtains have been drawn in front of an image facing worshippers of Mary and the infant Jesus.

And as with the Hagia Sophia, the decision to transform the Chora church museum back into a mosque is seen as geared to consolidate the conservative and religious support base of Erdogan’s ruling party at a time when his popularity is sagging amid an economic downturn.

Greece’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the move, saying that Turkish authorities “are once again brutally insulting the character” of another UN-listed world heritage site.

“This is a provocation against all believers,” the Greek ministry said in a statement. “We urge Turkey to return to the 21st century, and the mutual respect, dialogue and understanding between civilizations.”

Earth’s Rarest Languages and Where to Hear Them

About 2,500 languages are in danger of becoming extinct according to Unesco, and some of them are spoken by only 30 people. By the turn of the century, it is estimated that at least 50 per cent of the world’s current spoken languages will be extinct. Unesco uses a set of five categories to define how endangered a language is:

  • Vulnerable, where most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains such as the home;
  • Definitely endangered, where children no longer learn the language as a ”mother tongue” in the home;
  • Severely endangered is when a language is spoken by grandparents and older generations, and while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves;
  • Critically endangered is when the youngest speakers are grandparents and older, and they speak the language partially and infrequently;
  • Extinct – there are no speakers left.

Millions of languages have disappeared throughout the world’s history. Many that exist today are threatened as populations move and countries adopt other, more widely spoken languages. Here are the some of the rarest languages left on Earth and where to hear them.


Dumi is an endangered language from eastern Nepal. There are four different dialects typically spoken by people in the area — Brasmi, Makpa, Lamdija, and Kharbari. As of 2007, there were only eight native speakers left in the world, according to the Endangered Languages Project. Nepal is very diverse with more than 123 languages spoken. Most people speak the official language, Nepali, which is replacing many of the lesser-spoken languages.


Ongota is another rare language with only eight native speakers left in the world. Although it’s still spoken in southwestern Ethiopia, it is being replaced with the Tsamai language. There have been several pushes to save the dying language, but it’s considered critically endangered.


On the small offshore islands of Indonesia is a group of people who speak an endangered language called Liki. There are a few hundred people who live in the remote village, but only 11 of them were native Liki speakers in 2009. The numbers continue to dwindle as time goes on. One estimate from UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Endangered Languages puts the number of speakers at just five.


Paakantyi is a language spoken by aboriginal Australian tribes — specifically along the Darling River in New South Wales. The name Paakantyi comes from the word for river or paaka. Recent estimates put the number of remaining speakers between 2 and 22, but efforts are being made to bring the language back from the brink of extinction by teaching it in local schools. Perhaps in the future, Paakantyi will no longer make the list of Earth’s rarest languages.


Tanema is an endangered language that’s spoken on the Solomon Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea near Australia. Tanema is considered critically endangered with only four native speakers left as of 2008. It has been mostly replaced by Teanu, which is the main language on the islands.


Njerep is a language that originated in Cameroon, Africa on the Nigerian border. As of 2000, there were only a few remaining speakers — between four and six, by some estimates — with the youngest speaker at only 60 years of age. Although the speakers could interact in their native tongue, none of them used it on a regular basis, which makes Njerep essentially extinct. Although the language has been extensively studied and catalogued, there doesn’t seem to be any hope in reviving it. Njerep will soon be completely extinct except in record books.


Chemehuevi is a language that originated in the Mojave Desert. It once had between 500 and 800 speakers in different Native American tribes throughout the region. When white settlers arrived, however, the tribes were relocated to Colorado. Today, although the Chemehuevi tribe is still active, there are only a handful of people — fewer than two dozen — who still speak the original language.


Sarcee, also known as Tsuut’ina, is an indigenous language from northern Canada. In 2015, there were a recorded 50 native speakers left, but there have been efforts to revive the language by offering community programs and teaching it in classes throughout the area.


Lemerig is an endangered language native to the Banks Islands off the eastern coast of Australia. It’s considered critically endangered with only two remaining native speakers. As more and more settlers move to the islands, Lemerig is being replaced by Mwotlap, a more prominent language in the area.


Kaixana is tied for the title of rarest language in the world. In 2008, there was only one remaining speaker known to UNESCO’s Atlas of the World Languages in Danger. The language originated in Brazil on the banks of the Japurá River, but it’s likely to soon be extinct.


Like Kaixana, Taushiro is a dying language with only one remaining native speaker. It originated in the Amazon rainforest in Peru, where, at one point, there were thousands of Taushiro speakers. When the Europeans came, many tribes were violently removed or wiped out by disease. Today, Amadeo García García is the very last Taushiro speaker in the world and the final member of his tribe. Once he’s gone, his native language will be too.

Spanish Language Compared to Other Languages

World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) to hold “Reflections@50: Walking in Dharma” – a Virtual Conference

A unique, first of its kind, two-day online community event “Reflections@50: Walking in Dharma” will be held on September 19 and 20, 2020. Organized by the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), this virtual conference marks VHPA’s 50 years of continuous service to the Hindu community, and will serve as a curtain raiser for a major in-person event to be held in New Jersey in 2021.

Reflections@50: Walking in Dharma comes in the wake of VHPA’s “Threads 2019” meet which last year effectively captured the multifaceted contributions of the community in the US in the present and projection on the future. Now, VHPA seeks through this conference, to gaze back to the pioneering spirit of first-generation Hindu Americans, who took the bold step of leaving the comfort of their motherland to come to the US in search of better opportunities. Reflections@50 will reprise this amazing journey of 50 years, to learn how Hindus have enriched and strengthened the strands of culture, knowledge, community engagement through their dharmic values and enterprise.

The conference will have four keynote speakers: Vyomesh Joshi, CEO,3D Systems; Vandana Tilak, CEO & Director, Akshaya Patra USA; Dr. Raj Vedam, Scholar, Indian History and Benny Tillman, President, Vedic Friends Association. They will speak from experience on leadership, service, identity and melding of tradition in modern society. Eight panels featuring academicians, religious heads, charity organizations, elected officials, youth leaders and business people will hold discussions on a broad range of topics including on women, seniors, dharmic institutions, advocacy, youth and community service.  The conference is open to all who seek a deeper understanding of the contribution of Hindus in America. Please register at www.reflections-50.org

Only 37% of US churches holding in-person services are following this key CDC guideline

Since the coronavirus pandemic began in March, religion in the US has seemed a helter-skelter mix of legal disputes and defiant pastors, altered rites and sanctuaries as sites of contagion. But that picture hides a broad consensus about what congregations should be and are doing during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. Just 12% of Americans said they attended a house of worship from mid-June to mid-July. That’s down from a Gallup poll last year that found 34% of Americans said they had attended a religious service in the past week. More than half who regularly attend religious services say their congregation is open. Of those, most say social distancing and masks are required during services. But a much lower percentage (37%) say their congregation has limited communal singing, despite warnings from the Centers for Disease Control that singing in close proximity can facilitate spread of the coronavirus. The CDC recommends that organizations “consider temporarily suspending singing, chanting, or shouting during events especially when participants are in close proximity to each other.” Last March a Covid-19 outbreak swept through a choir in Mount Vernon, Washington, killing two members and sickening 53. In early July California temporarily banned singing and chanting in places of worship, citing the risks of church members being infected by “contaminated exhaled droplets.” Pew surveyed 10,211 US adults online from July 13-19. Here are four other key findings from the survey.  Most Americans want churches to follow social distancing rules The vast majority of American adults (80%) say churches should not be granted special exemptions but should be held to the same social distancing rules as other organizations and businesses. Claire Gecewicz, one of the Pew researchers behind the study, said she was most struck by the broad agreement among Americans that churches should not get special exemptions from the state. A number of churches have defied local orders against large gatherings and singing in congregations, suing their state’s governors for alleged abuses of religious freedom. The Supreme Court has twice sided with the states. “Across all religions and all demographic groups, a majority say they should be required to follow the same rules,” said Gecewicz. “That’s very striking. There’s not usually that much unity on religious freedom issues.” Almost two-thirds of churches are requiring masks. The Pew study also offers an illuminating glimpse at how houses of worship are operating. Even among the most devout — those who attend religious services regularly — just 6% say their congregations are open as normal. More than half of Americans (55%) who regularly attend worship say their congregation is open with modifications. Of those, more than 8 in 10 say social-distancing is required and two-thirds say attendance has been restricted. Similarly 63% say masks are required. Blacks and Latinos feel less safe going to church than Whites The coronavirus pandemic has been especially devastating to Black and Latino Americans, according to CDC reports. Both groups have been sick and died at disproportionate rates. Health concerns, naturally, run higher among those groups, according to separate studies, and that extends to houses of worship. While 72% of White Americans say they’re confident going to their church, synagogue, mosque or temple, less than half of Black Americans say the same. Among Latinos, 51% are confident they could safely attend worship services.  About half of regular churchgoers have turned to online services Most regular churchgoers (72%) have tuned in to watch religious services online. Half say they’ve online watched services online instead of attending in person. That’s especially true of devout evangelicals, 80% of whom are watching services online. Most Americans say they’re satisfied with the online services — and quite a few seem to be sanctuary hopping — sampling services from congregations other than their own. What this will all mean for the future of religion in American is anybody’s guess. But at least now we have a clearer picture of the present. 

Despite efforts to eradicate Ram’s existence, he lives in our hearts: Modi

Ram Lalla and ‘Vikas’ were brought together in a fine interpretation of Lord Ram in the speech by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Wednesday, August 5th after the ‘Bhumi Pujan’ ceremony in Ayodhya.

“Ram is for everyone, Ram is within everyone,” he said, while addressing the seers after the ‘Bhumi Pujan’ of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Beginning his speech with “Jai Siya Ram” chants, Modi went on to link Lord Ram with modern times and said, “Lord Ram has shown us the path of realisation and research.” He referred to the epitome of morals & dharma “Maryada Purushottam Ram” to stress on the observation of similar “maryada” (limits) in today’s life. The Prime Minister exhorted citizens to follow a similar “maryada” in times of the Covid-19 pandemic by wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. “Ram speaks, thinks, according to time, place and circumstances. Ram teaches us to grow with time. Ram is in favor of change, Ram is in favor of modernity,” said the Prime Minister.

He said that a grand temple will now be built for the Ram Lalla deity who had been living under a temporary tent for many years. “Every heart is illuminated; it is an emotional moment for the entire country… A long wait ends today,” said the Prime Minister. The event sets the ball rolling for the construction of a grand Ram Temple, a key electoral promise of the ruling party.

However, the message the Prime Minister tried to drive home was larger. “This day is proof of the truth of the resolve of crores of devotees. This day is a unique gift of a just, fair India to truth, non-violence, faith and sacrifice,” he said.

He said Ram is present in different cultures, in different areas. “Thousands of years ago, in the Ramayana of Valmiki, Lord Ram was guiding ancient India, in the Middle Ages, Ram was pushing India through Tulsi, Kabir and Nanak, the same Ram was present in Bapu’s hymns as a force of non-violence and satyagraha during the freedom struggle,” said the Prime Minister, while sending out a powerful message.

It was a speech, however, not without a subtle dig. He said, “Ram is carved in our mind, mixed with us. You see the amazing power of Lord Ram — buildings were destroyed, every attempt was made to eradicate his existence. But he still remains in our mind.”

But, at the end, the Prime Minister sent a larger message that Lord Ram stands for modernity, development and fairness and those are the aspects all Indians should aspire for, in the name of the deity, he suggested.

Playback legend Lata Mangeshkar has lauded the historic Bhumi Pujan performed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the proposed Ram temple site in Ayodhya on Wednesday. The veteran singer posted a note on her verified Twitter account to express her joy.

“The dreams of several kings, several generations and the devotees of Lord Ram from across the world, which they have been nurturing over the ages, is being fulfilled today. After years of Vanvaas, Lord Shri Ram’s temple is being rebuilt in Ayodhya today, the foundation stone is being laid,” Mangeshkar tweeted Hindi.

“A huge credit goes to honourable Lal Krishna Advani ji who performed Rath Yatra across the country to raise awareness among people about this. Credit also goes to honourable Balasaheb Thackeray ji. Today, a lot of arrangements have been made for the foundation stone, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, Uttar Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das and several other respected personalities will be present,” she added.

“Maybe lakhs of devotees of Lord Ram will not be able to be physically present over there due to the corona pandemic, but they will be praying and submitting their hearts at Lord Ram’s feet. I am happy that honourable Narendrabhai will be performing the ceremony with his own hands. Today I and my family are very happy. Our every breath and every heartbeat is chanting Jai Shri Ram,” Mangeshkar concluded.

India, Nepal Fight Over Buddha’s Birthplace

Nepal is the land of origin of Lord Buddha, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kathmandu asserted after India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar described the founder of Buddhism as one of the greatest Indians ever. The comment from the Indian Minister also drew a series of reactions from leading Nepalese figures, including former Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal, who said Mr. Jaishankar’s comments about Lord Buddha were “objectionable”.

“It is a well-established and undeniable fact proven by historical and archaeological evidence that Gautama Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal. Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha and the fountain of Buddhism, is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites,” said the official spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nepal in an official statement.

The controversy erupted after Mr. Jaishankar, during an interaction with the Confederation of Indian Industries on Saturday, referred to Buddha while discussing India’s soft power. “Who are the greatest Indians ever that you can remember? I would say one is Gautama Buddha and the other is Mahatma Gandhi,” said Mr. Jaishankar.

The spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, however, responded saying that the Minister was referring to the “shared Buddhist heritage.” The Indian statement supported the Nepalese assertion and said, “There is no doubt that Gautama Buddha was born in Lumbini, which is in Nepal.” India’s statement, however, did not clarify how Mr. Jaishankar regarded the Lumbini-born Sakyamuni or the Buddha as an Indian.

It is understood that the Nepalese side believes Lumbini is of paramount importance in Buddhism, and the Indian side highlights the importance of Bodhgaya, the place of enlightenment of the Buddha and Sarnath, where the first Buddhist sermon was delivered.

Earlier Mr. Jaishankar drew an angry retort from Mr. Nepal who described the remarks as “insensitive and wrong.” “The Indian Foreign Minister has described Nepal’s Lumbini-born Gautama Buddha as a ‘great Indian’. This amounts to misinformation and is objectionable,” said Mr. Nepal.

The war of words about the Buddha has highlighted the Buddha diplomacy that both India and Nepal have been practising for the last few years. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been highlighting India’s Buddhist heritage since 2014, Nepal, with the help of international partners, including China, has invested in developing Lumbini as a major tourism destination. During the Kathmandu visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2019, both countries agreed to collaborate on building a road connecting Kathmandu and Pokhara with Lumbini. Notably, Mr. Modi visited Bodhgaya, the place where prince Sidhartha Gautama became the enlightened Buddha. He, however, could not visit Lumbini during his visits to Nepal due to scheduling problems.

Apart from Lumbini, Bodhgaya and Sarnath, classical Buddhism also attaches high significance to Kushinagar, the place where the Buddha breathed his last. India categorically said that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini in Nepal thereby defusing a controversy about Buddha’s birth place after Nepal had responded to remarks attributed to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

Jaishankar had talked about about India’s moral leadership and how Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings are still relevant. However, reports suggest that the Nepalese media attributed remarks to him as saying that Buddha was an Indian.

India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava on Sunday said the minister’s remarks on Saturday at an event “referred to our shared Buddhist heritage”.

“There is no doubt that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini, which is in Nepal,” Srivastava said. Earlier in the day, the Nepalese Foreign Ministry issued a statement in response to Jaishankar’s remark quoted in the Nepalese media.

“It is a well-established and undeniable fact proven by historical and archaeological evidences that Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini, Nepal. Lumbini, the Birthplace of Buddha and the fountain of Buddhism, is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites,” said the Nepal Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The official spokesperson of the Nepal ministry said: “During his visit to Nepal in 2014, the Prime Minister of India H.E. Shri Narendra Modi himself, while addressing Nepal’s Legislature Parliament, had said that ‘Nepal is the country where apostle of peace in the world, Buddha, was born’.”

“It is true that Buddhism spread from Nepal to other parts of the world in the subsequent period. The matter remains beyond doubt and controversy and thus cannot be a subject of debate. The entire international community is aware of this,” Nepal’s statement said.

Former prime minister Madhav Kumar Nepal reacted to the statement attributed to Jaishankar and said the alleged statement that Buddha was a great Indian is “baseless and objectionable”. This controversy comes weeks after Nepal Prime Minister KP Oli had stirred a controversy by claiming that Lord Ram was born in Nepal and was a Nepali

China is Destroying Tibet’s Culture & Religion: It Will Backfire

Around 70 years ago, before Tibet was invaded by China, People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers were given strict instructions by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Chairman Mao to not harm the religious sentiments of the Tibetan people. The plan was to temporarily win the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people.

Not only this, later in the 17 Point Agreement of 1951, the CCP promised, through the 7th and 13th points, that: “The religious beliefs, customs and habits of the Tibetan people shall be respected, and lama monasteries shall be protected..” and “The People’s Liberation Army entering Tibet shall abide by all the above-mentioned policies and shall also be fair in buying and selling and shall not arbitrarily take a single needle or thread from the people.”

Also ReadHowever, the irony is that CCP have taken everything from the Tibetan people, even their freedom to learn the Tibetan language and practice their religion. Such kind of deceptive courtesies were practiced to fool the Tibetan people. In today’s language of international relations, this could be called “deceptive diplomacy”.


Vendors unfurl a banner from 1969 depicting former Chinese leader Mao Zedong as he “inspects the great army of the Cultural Revolution”. (Photo: AP)

Things started to change soon after PLA soldiers had completely entrenched their total control over Tibet. Taking a leaf out of Stalin and Khrushchev’s playbooks, Mao understood the importance of destroying an identity lies in destroying its language. However, in Tibet, he realized the importance of Tibetan Buddhism as an important aspect of Tibetan people’s life, hence, Tibetan Buddhism also became another major target for destruction.

With the coming of Xi Jinping, the repression became more intensive and along with the traditional surveillance, hi-tech surveillance is employed to an extreme level.

In Tibet, the further limiting the already diminishing rights of the Tibetan people indicates intensification of repressive policies under Xi. It seems rather obvious that Xi is very insecure about his own seat of power. From the time of his ascent to power in November 2012, he has initiated a sea of change within China, Tibet, East Turkistan (Xinjiang) and Inner Mongolia in curbing the little space available for religious freedom.

Sarah Cook, a senior research analyst at the Freedom House, writes, “..religious persecution has increased overall, with four communities in particular experiencing a downturn conditions—Protestant Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, and both Hui and Uighur Muslims.”

It appears that Xi has unleashed an intensive crackdown on religions all over China. Hence, it is not by mere coincidence that the security-related expenditure in Tibet increased dramatically after the 2008 Peaceful Uprisings. Without even redressing the grievances of the Tibetan people, only few months after Xi Jinping ascended to power, from 2013, the security expenditure in Tibet skyrocketed.

2008 Peaceful Uprisings

After the 2008 peaceful uprisings, the repressive measures employed by the CCP were intensified on Tibetan Buddhism particularly over the Tibetan monastic institutions. Because the 2008 uprisings in Tibet were the culmination of demonstrations by the monks of Drepung monastery in March 2008 for the release of their fellow-monks from prison, monasteries were seen as seats of dissent and spirit of Tibetan nationalism.

After the 2008 uprisings, patriotic reeducation campaign were enforced. Beginning from 2011, over 21,000 cadres were reportedly sent to villages across Tibet. In addition to political monitoring and other tasks, they reportedly carried out “patriotic reeducation sessions at religious sites and among lay believers, where the monks and nuns are forced to condemn the portrait of the Dalai Lama. Beginning in 2017, a series of notices were issued by four school authorities in Lhasa, ordering parents not to allow their children to take part in religious activities or to visit religious places such as monasteries.

In one of her poems based on her visit to Lhasa on August 23, 2008, “The Fear in Lhasa”, activist Tsering Woeser vividly depicts the dark clouds of fear hovering over the capital of Tibet.

The presence of pervasive soldiers, security cameras and invisible plainclothesmen in every corner of Lhasa has made Tibetan people vigilant in nature. According to Woeser, among Tibetans, Zab zab chi (in Tibetan, it means ‘be careful’) has become a byword.

Why Tibetan Buddhism is Still Repressed by the CCP?

There is a shared consensus in the writings of scholars and professors like Tsering Shakya(2012), Tsering Topgyal(2011,2012), Robert Barnett(2012),Dibyesh Anand(2018) with erudite researchers from rights groups such as Tsering Tsomo, the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) Sarah Cook(Freedom House), Sophie Richardson(Human Rights Watch{HRW}), and about the causes and its implications for the CCP’s application of continuous repressive policies in Tibet.

In most of their works or reports, they have emphasised the sense of perceived insecurity experienced by the CCP on the growing fascination of Tibetan Buddhism among the Chinese and total devotion by the Tibetan monks and people towards Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama.

These factors really make them highly insecure about their legitimacy and control over the Chinese and Tibetan people.

In The Perils of Insecurity, Tsering Topgyal has dissected the logics behind the CCP’s consistent pursuits of undermining Tibetan Buddhism further making the Tibetan people insecure and protective of their cultural and religious identity. This cycle of repression and resistance is the direct result of the CCP’s continuing failed policies. The destruction of Larung Gar and Yarchen Gar, the two religious academies in Eastern Tibet testifies CCP’s insecurities about their growing strengths and size. Because these academies have attracted thousands and thousands of Tibetan and Chinese followers from China and Southeast Asia countries, they have been seen as a major threat to the authority or legitimacy of the CCP’s rule.

Possible Future Scenario in Tibet

Similar to restrictions imposed during the Cultural Revolution, it appears that CCP is deliberately provoking the Tibetan people by systematically attacking traditional values which were earlier completely out of the CCP’s radar.

This writer estimates that soon a series of new extreme form of restrictions might be enforced stealthily such as forbidding the Tibetan people to wear their traditional dress and also discouraging them to eat their staple food, “Tsampa” a roasted barley or wheat flour and many others which might according to the CCP’s rulebook symbolizes Tibetaness in nature.

The current extensive surveillance systems will further cement the feeling of victimhood. The peaceful uprisings of 1959, 1989 and 2008 were all direct results of repressive policies implemented by the CCP. The increasing repressive policies will only breed more subtle resistance, more insecurities among the Tibetans about their identities, and may lead to another mass uprising given the current international politics surrounding China’s image both at home and abroad.


(Tenzin Tsultrim, PhD, is a former research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute, a think tank of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala, India. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own.)

A Big Step for Religious Freedom – A new executive order puts the neglected issue at the heart of U.S. foreign policy.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today welcomed President Donald J. Trump’s Executive Order on “Advancing International Religious Freedom,” which elevates the U.S. government’s prioritization of religious freedom in its foreign policy; increases foreign assistance funding to $50 million annually; expands mandatory training on international religious freedom to more federal officials; encourages the utilization of economic tools; and more explicitly integrates international religious freedom into U.S. bilateral and multilateral diplomacy.
We applaud President Trump for continuing to prioritize international religious freedom as a national security imperative and a foreign policy priority,” USCIRF Chair Tony Perkins stated. “This Executive Order encourages swift action by the U.S. government to hold accountable foreign governments that commit severe violations and substantially increases U.S. economic assistance to support programs that advance religious freedom around the world.
According to the Executive Order, the Secretary of State will “develop a plan to prioritize international religious freedom in the planning and implementation of United States foreign policy and in the foreign assistance programs of the Department of State and USAID,” with a budget of at least $50 million per fiscal year for programs that advance international religious freedom. These programs will assist religious minority communities, promote accountability of the perpetrators for attacks, guarantee equal rights and legal protections for individuals and groups regardless of belief, improve the safety and security of houses of worship and public spaces for all faiths, and protect cultural heritages of religious communities.
USCIRF has long called on the U.S. government to develop an overall strategy for promoting religious freedom abroad, as well as country-specific action plans, and we welcome the fact that this Executive Order requires the State Department and USAID to do exactly that,” said USCIRF Vice Chair Gayle Manchin“We also appreciate the express reference to U.S. officials working for the release of religious prisoners of conscience, which is a high priority for USCIRF.”
USCIRF’s most recent recommendations to the Administration to advance religious freedom globally can be found in its 2020 Annual Report.

India Denies Visas to US Religious Freedom Panel

India has declined to give visas to teams from a US government body monitoring international religious freedom, as it has no locus standi to make pronouncements on Indian citizens’ “constitutional-protected rights”, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has stated.

The visa snub to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Wednesday came as the US Congress released its own religious freedom report while a top Trump administration official said he was “very concerned” about the South Asian country’s situation.

The contents of the letter were reported by Indian media, including PTI, on Wednesday – just a few hours before US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released the 2019 International Religious Freedom Report in Washington.

As per the PTI report, Jaishankar had conveyed the Ministry of External Affairs’ position to BJP MP Nishikant Dubey who had raised the issue concerning the USCIRF seeking sanctions against home minister Amit Shah in case the Citizenship Amendment Act was passed, during the winter session of Lok Sabha last year.

“We have also denied visa to USCIRF teams that have sought to visit India in connection with issues related to religious freedom, as we do not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens constitutionally protected rights,” he wrote, after stating that the US government body was known to make “prejudiced” observations about India.

“We do not take cognizance of these pronouncements and have repudiated such attempts to misrepresent information related to India,” the minister wrote.

 This is not the first time that the USCIRF has claimed that its teams have been denied visas. In its 2019 annual report, USCIRF had reported that it has been unable to visit India since 2001. “…on three different occasions—in 2001, 2009, and 2016—the government of India refused to grant visas for a USCIRF delegation despite requests being supported by the State Department,” it said.

After the citizenship amendment bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, the USCIRF had recommended, on December 9, 2019, that the “United States government should consider sanctions against the Home Minister and other principal leadership”.

The MEA spokesperson had retorted that the USCIRF had “chosen to be guided only by its prejudices and biases on a matter on which it had little knowledge and no locus standi“.

India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said the government firmly repudiated the surveys of the USCIRF, which had little knowledge of the rights of Indian citizens, describing it as biased and prejudiced.

“We have also denied visas to USCIRF teams that have sought to visit India in connection with issues related to religious freedom,” he told a legislator from Modi’s governing party in a June 1 letter.

The step was taken because the government saw no grounds for a foreign entity such as the USCIRF to pronounce on the state of Indian citizens’ constitutionally protected rights, he said, adding that India would not accept any foreign interference or judgement on matters related to its sovereignty.

Reuters news agency said it has reviewed a copy of the letter to Nishikant Dubey, an MP who had raised the issue of the panel’s report in parliament.

The US embassy in New Delhi referred all queries to the commission based in Washington, DC, which was not immediately available to respond.

Since taking power in 2014, India’s Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has faced criticism for attacks on Muslims and other minorities.

In its report in April, the USCIRF had called for the world’s biggest democracy to be designated a “country of particular concern”, along with China, Iran, Russia and Syria

The panel had urged sanctions against officials in Modi’s government after it excluded Muslims from the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) passed in December last year.

“In 2019, religious freedom conditions in India experienced a drastic turn downward, with religious minorities under increasing assault,” the report said.

The USCIRF is a bipartisan US government advisory body that monitors religious freedom abroad and makes non-binding policy recommendations.

This April, USCIRF had recommended that the state department include India on the list of “countries of special concern,” alongside 13 other countries which included China, Pakistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Russia. This was the first time that the USCIRF had proposed the inclusion of India on the special list since 2004.

In the official rebuttal, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had highlighted the dissension within the commission. “We reject the observations on India in the USCIRF Annual Report. Its biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion, its misrepresentation has reached new levels. It has not been able to carry its own Commissioners in its endeavour. We regard it as an organisation of particular concern and will treat it accordingly,” he stated.

In his speech on Wednesday, Pompeo referred to China, Nigeria, Nicaragua as countries which had special issues over religious freedom. However, there was no mention of India.

Hours later, Samuel Brownback, US ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom told foreign journalists that the US was very concerned about what was happening in India in terms of religious freedom.

In response to the 2019 International Religious Freedom Report that listed out incidents of atrocities against minorities and passage of controversial CAA, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava on Thursday again dismissed it.

“The report is published annually by the department of state as part of its legal requirement to the US Congress and is an internal document of the US government. India’s vibrant democratic traditions and practices are evident to the world. The people and government of India are proud of our country’s democratic traditions. We have a robust public discourse in India and constitutionally mandated institutions that guarantee protection of religious freedom and rule of law,” he claimed

Srivastava added that India’s position “remains that we see no locus standi for a foreign entity to pronounce on the state of our citizens’ constitutionally protected rights”.

Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective USA condemns racism

Hindu Policy Research and Advocacy Collective USA (HinduPACT USA), an initiative of World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), has issued the following statement on the killing of George Floyd. Commenting on the killing on police killing of George Floyd, Ajay Shah, Convener of HinduPACT USA and Executive Vice President of VHPA said: We condemn the brutal killing of George Floyd. We stand for racial justice, equality, and civil rights. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” embodied in our Declaration of Independence should be our guiding spirit. Hindu ethos, as expressed by a Hindu poet eloquently says, “

A true Vaishnava (Hindu) is the one who feels the pain of others.” Currently, as people of faith we feel the pain of injustice and the killing of George Floyd. We call for a national dialog on race relations. We fully endorse the right to peacefully protest injustice. As Rev. Martin Luther King said, “we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

However, we are unambiguously against riots and looting, and the attacks on those entrusted to protect us. Utsav Chakrabarti, Executive Director of HinduPACT USA and Director of Advocacy and Awareness for VHPA said: The murder of George Floyd is a reminder that we must reinvigorate our pursuit for equity in our society. But those groups that are using this tragedy and the cover of the protests for looting businesses and resorting to violence, are doing a great injustice to the cause of civil rights.

It is shocking to see Pakistani-American anarchist Urooj Rahman along with Colinford Mattis, pass along fire bombs to some protestors in an attempt to kill law enforcement officers and peaceful protestors in New York City. There is nothing more sinister than trying to use injustice towards Black lives, as a tool to further one’s geopolitical agenda. Today, the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in front of the Embassy of India was vandalized by some of these elements, masquerading as protesters.

I urge Hindu Americans who form a big section of the ‘South Asian community’ to be cognizant of such mala fide efforts, and promote peace and healing in the communities they live in. HinduLounge, HinduPACT USA’s weekly Facebook Live program on Hindu American issues extensively covered the killing and the aftermath. The local VHPA chapters are working with the interfaith and community groups to work towards justice and equality. The Cincinnati, OH chapter of VHPA has signed the letter seeking justice by EquaSion and the Interfaith Community on the killing of George Floyd.

About HinduPACT USA HinduPACT USA is an initiative of the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA). HinduPACT USA aims to bring Hindu ethos and dharmic values of unity in diversity, plurality, compassion and, mutual respect amongst religions to policy and advocacy for human rights, environmental protection, gender equality, and, interfaith dialog. HinduLounge is a weekly Facebook Live program by HinduPACT USA. HinduLounge focuses on contemporary Hindu American issues. About World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) is the most prominent organization of Hindus in the USA. Founded in 1970, it has chapters across the country. VHPA runs educational programs for Hindu children and youth in addition to community service (Seva) activities, and initiatives such as Hindu Mandir Executives’ Conference (HMEC) and American Hindus Against Defamation (AHAD)

100 Ways Pope Saint John Paul II Changed the World

Book by Patrick Novecosky Who Knew Polish Saint Makes You Know Him Better Too

How can one possibly try to wrap their mind around, somewhat rapidly, the countless ways a beloved pontiff, genius, and now saint, changed the world during his 26-year pontificate that drew with a close on April 2, 2005, on Divine Mercy Sunday?
A new work by Patrick Novecosky, titled ‘100 Ways John Paul II Changed the World,’ and published by Our Sunday Visitor, seeks to do just that, and does so as today, Monday, May 18, marks the 100 year anniversary of the Polish Pontiff’s birth.
The American Catholic communicator who has traveled to 26 countries, met Pope St. John Paul II five times, often in private venues in Rome, and is a husband and father of five. The award-winning journalist has edited and written for some of America’s top Catholic publications and has been published in five languages. Patrick is Managing Partner at NovaMedia a public relations firm specializing in the Catholic space.

Shattering the Mold

In his book, he examines in one or two pages per chapter, the mystical beloved Pope’s remarkable and difficult upbringing. Remembering his friendships, and unforgettable, as well as less known, moments, it also examines his impact on the world, including being an incredibly important force in the eventual collapse of Communism in Poland and Eastern Europe.
The Pontiff who made 104 trips, and traveled enough that he, in his 775,000 miles, could have circled the planet ‘30 times’ covered two thirds of the world’s countries, and was arguably “most seen person in history.” As the author recalls, Pope Paul VI was the first pope to “break the mold” with his international travels, but John Paul II “shattered it.” The Pontiff visited almost all of Africa, during the course of 14 trips, and in addition to making important church appointments, he canonized various African saints.
He also spoke about the Pope’s affinity for the US, where he made five official visits, with stops even in Alaska. He expressed his appreciation for the ‘warm hospitality’ of the American people.
The author gives a tender look at the Pope’s friendships, including with Mother Teresa of Calcutta, US President Ronald Reagan, Padre Pio, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński (his superior, the Primate of the Poland, when the Cardinal Wojtyla was Archbishop of Krakow), Sister Faustina Kowalska, and Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
In 1984, the Polish Pope and President Reagan had established full diplomatic relations between the United States and the Holy See.

My Best Friend…

In 1989, ex-President Ronald Reagan, the book notes, received two Polish Americans and Solidarność [Solidarity] labor union representatives, whose movement, supported by John Paul II and the former US President, constituted the first independent labor union in the Soviet bloc and contributed “the first crack in the Iron Curtain, and it sent shock waves through the entire Soviet Union” beginning from the Polish Pope’s 1979 visit to his native country.
When they asked Reagan for words of political wisdom for the Solidarność members, he told them to listen to their conscience as that is where the Holy Spirit talks to you.
“Reagan then pointed to a picture of John Paul: ‘He is my best friend. Yes, you know I’m Protestant, but he’s still my best friend,’” he said.

Miraculous Cure…

Padre Pio also had a dear friendship with John Paul II, confiding in Wojtyla details he never told others.
“During a visit to Rome in 1962,” the book also recounts, “’Archbishop Wojtyła learned that one of his Polish friends was dying. He wrote to Padre Pio, asking his intercession. The letter was hand-delivered to the friar, who reportedly replied: “I cannot say no to this request.’”
“’Eleven days later, Wojtyła sent Pio a second letter thanking him for his intercession: ‘The lady who was ill with cancer was suddenly healed before entering the operating room.’”

Statues in Poland to Commemorate

The first time Wyszyński and John Paul II met after his election as Successor of Peter– Novecosky also remembers– became “one of the most touching moments” of his pontificate.
“The Polish cardinal approached the new pope to kiss his ring in Saint Peter’s Square on the day of his inauguration, but John Paul quickly rose, embraced his mentor, and kissed his cheek,” he said, observing that now hundreds of statues across Poland commemorate the moment.
The book also reflects upon the special bond and friendship he had with Joseph Ratzinger that began in 1978 during the conclave where John Paul I (Albino Luciani), would be elected, and that would lead to Wojtyla eventually making Ratzinger his closest confident, and staying, even when he would have liked to go home to his native Bavaria.  The author recounts how the two used to meet every Friday night at 6 o’clock when Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, not only as collaborators but as dear friends.

Saint Factory, or Recognizing Holiness

The book recalls that some accused the Vatican under this Pope of being a ‘saint factory.’
“Over the course of his papacy, John Paul canonized 482 saints— more than all popes of the previous 500 years combined — and beatified 1,341 men and women,” the author explains. Some of those saints included, Padre Pio, Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Faustina Kowalska, and Katherine Drexel.
He recalls that the Pope whose legacy would be impossible to give justice, lost his mother at age nine, from kidney disease and congestive failure, and his father by 21, and his brother as well. Being effectively ‘orphaned’ while still in university, he turned to Mary, and developed a filial relationship with Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Bringing God to Where He Was Denied

He also sheds light on how Wojtyla was an actor, wrote poetry and five plays, and, having discovered his vocation, worked during the day in a stone quarry, while having to study meanwhile for the priesthood in secret. Wojtyla kept his eyes on Christ, during his personal heartbreak, and during Nazi Occupation of Poland and subsequent Communism.
He practiced what he would later preach, when he would tell young people: ‘Do not be afraid.’
Early in his ecclesial career in Poland, when they created at Nowa Huta, outside Krakow, as a ‘Worker’s Paradise’ and forbid that a church be built, Wojtyla as a young bishop, and for 20 years, used to celebrate an open-air Mass there every Christmas, until eventually a church could be built. He did not hesitate to challenge authorities when one was being deprived of Christ.

No Compromising the Faith

While advancing ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, and attention to the environment, poor, China and the persecuted, the Polish Pontiff voiced a conservative, uncompromising faith, even to those who disagreed with him. He used to confront politicians whose policies did not protect life without reservations.
Pope John Paul II marked the first world leader to visit largely-Roman Catholic East Timor, ever since Indonesia invaded and annexed it in 1976. When the Polish Pope was in East Timor, and called on Indonesia to respect human rights, his fearless affirmations resulted in various newborns—the author remembers—being named John Paul in the Asian island nation.
In working toward dialogue, John Paul II became the first Pope to enter a mosque during his trip to Syria in 2001.
John Paul II, the book reminds, told the United Nations in 1995 that it must “safeguard the fundamental right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, as the cornerstones of the structure of human rights and the foundation of every truly free society.”
“No one,” he said, “is permitted to suppress those rights by using coercive power to impose an answer to the mystery of man.”

Mary’s Hand Guided the Bullet

Looking again at the pontificate itself, the author also recalls the assassination attempt on May 13, 1981, and how John Paul II, met, without handcuffs and televised, his aggressor, and forgave him. Moreover, he stresses how the Polish Pope would credit Our Lady of Fatima with saving his life, saying “one hand pulled the trigger, and another guided the bullet.”
Later the bullet that lodged closest to John Paul II’s heart was removed and welded into the crown of Mary’s statue in Fatima.
The book dives into Wojtyla’s efforts to protect religious freedom, promote a ‘culture of life,’ and combat against a ‘culture of the death.’ Reflecting on the ‘Pope of the Rosary,’ Novecosky remembers details about the Pope’s own personal prayer life, and his encouragement for families to pray the rosary together, essentially suggesting that a family that prays together, stays together.
Always sensitive to the terror attacks against the Twin Towers and Pentagon on 9/11, the Polish Pontiff also said to pray the rosary to combat against ‘terrorism.’
Looking at who he said could be considered the ‘most productive’ pontificate in history, the author looks at how under his watch, the Code of Canon Law was effectively revised in less than 11 months, as well as the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992, and various other texts.
Examining the impact of the World Youth Days, and the spiritual fruits they have given youth worldwide, Novecosky remembers how the news led the world to believe the Denver WYD in 1993 would be ‘a bust,’ when rather there was incredible attendance for the 73-year-old Polish Pontiff, and how subsequently numerous apostolates were born in Denver.

Led the Way for Francis in Havana

There are also reflections on the Pope’s disappointment that he never was able to go to Russia, nor meet the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, as hoped, in 1997, to sign a joint declaration with Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow, an act that Pope Francis would be able to achieve for him, in 2016, when meeting Alexey’s successor, Patriarch Kirill, in Cuba, on his way to Mexico.
The Pope also made great strides diplomatically, including establishing diplomatic relations with Israel and Palestinian Authority, urging an end to Catholic-Protestant violence during his 1979 trip to Ireland, and speaking out against conflict, such as violence provoked by apartheid in South Africa, the conflict in Bosnia, and against the First Gulf War, and 2003 United States-driven Iraq War, as he encouraged those involved to not be afraid “to take a chance on peace.”
He combatted against abuses of Liberation Theology, confusion promoted by some orders in the Church, and against child abuse, even if this continues to be the weak spot of his legacy, given that many argue more should have been done.
The Pope’s personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz—the author recalls in the book—has reflected that with time, the Church learned much more about what was actually happening and its gravity.

Couldn’t Say No

The author expresses that beyond his own research and personal experiences, he spoke to and drew inspiration from other experts on the Pope, including papal biographer George Weigel.
The author also shares about his moments with the Pope, including the following anecdote recalling how Wojtyła began writing poetry as a university student in 1939, often using pseudonyms, and how he continued writing poems well into his papacy.
“Among this author’s most treasured possessions,” Patrick Novecosky shares, “is a copy of The Place Within: The Poetry of Pope John Paul II, signed by John Paul on July 31, 1998,” noting: “I used to own a signed deluxe edition with a slipcover, a gift from a friend with connections to the papal household.”
“But then came a call from the Vatican in 1999: the pope did not have a deluxe version in his private library and was requesting my copy. I couldn’t say no. In return, they sent me a “lowly” hardcover version — along with the knowledge that my deluxe edition made it into John Paul’s personal library.”
This and many more anecdotes are waiting in this work for future readers….

U.S., Canada churches cautiously reopen for Mass

(Source: CNS)
Catholic dioceses around the United States and Canada are issuing guidelines and other protocols or otherwise planning for the gradual reopening of churches as various governments allow more movement by public by revising stay-at-home orders first issued when the coronavirus was declared a pandemic.
These diocesan directives follow local governments’ rules for social distancing, small-number limits on gatherings, requirements for face coverings, hand-sanitizing procedures, and best practices for disinfecting pews and other areas of churches.
Across the board these church protocols have many other commonalities, including no holy water in fonts, a prohibition on physical contact during the Our Father or the sign of peace, no presentation of the gifts, reception of Communion in the hand and for the time being the Precious Blood will not be offered at holy Communion.
As churches cautiously reopen, with the safety of congregants, priests, deacons and other parish staff foremost in the minds of Catholic officials, it will be the first time in about two months or more that most Catholics in the U.S., Canada and rest of the world have been allowed to attend the public celebration of the Mass. The continued livestreaming of Masses in most dioceses is being highly encouraged.
In the Archdiocese of Detroit, public Masses will resume for all parishes May 29, but individual pastors could, at their discretion, begin celebrating Mass publicly as early as May 19.
However, despite the reopening, “the Mass you may attend in the weeks ahead will look and feel quite different from the Mass you remember from two months ago” due to the need to continue practicing social distancing and rigorous sanitation, said Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron in his new directives, issued May 12. In addition, among other rules, the capacity inside churches may not exceed 25%.
Importantly, the archbishop noted that the Sunday obligation — the moral and canonical precept that requires weekly Mass attendance — would continue to be suspended for all of the faithful until at least, Sept. 6.
Across the state in southwest Michigan, Bishop Paul J. Bradley of Kalamazoo said public Masses can resume May 27 in anticipation of regular Sunday liturgy for the feast of Pentecost May 30.
The diocesan plan calls for each parish to establish what he called a “parish preparation team,” which would determine the proper number of people who can attend any one Mass, not to exceed 25% of church capacity.
“We plan to do everything we can to ensure the safety of God’s people and thorough preparedness is necessary,” Bishop Bradley said in a statement from the diocese. “We look forward to celebrating Pentecost with a renewed joy and hope for the future even though the number of people able to participate during our Level 1 return will be reduced due to our adherence to social-distancing guidelines.”
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, parishes were allowed to resume public Masses May 18, but — for the time being — must limit attendance to 10 people, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda said.
Minnesota’s Catholic bishops are working to determine when larger Masses may resume in light of Gov. Tim Walz’s most recent plan for the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he said in a May 15 letter.
On May 13, Walz announced that his stay-at-home order would expire as planned May 18, but that the next phase of the state’s pandemic response, Stay Safe Minnesota, would continue to restrict religious gatherings to 10 participants.
That’s far fewer than hoped by the state’s bishops, who in early May encouraged parishes to begin preparing to resume public Masses.
Under Archbishop Hebda’s three-phase plan for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis — announced May 1 and released in full May 9 — parishes could enter “Phase 2” and begin offering Masses May 18 if they followed social-distancing guidelines and limited Mass attendance to one-third church capacity.
Parishes also were expected to sanitize churches before and after each Mass, suspend the sign of peace, and offer Communion to communicants following the Masses with groups larger than 10.
Pastors of the 58 churches in the Diocese of Nashville, Tennessee, and their staffs have been busy planning to resume the public celebration of Masses. But that start could come on different days and in different ways, depending on the parish.
Bishop J. Mark Spalding announced May 7 that the public celebration of Masses could resume May 18. At the same time, he said, “Some pastors may prudently decide to wait a few more weeks. … We especially do not want to put anyone at undue risk from a hasty or ill-prepared reopening.”
The bishop’s dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days will remain in effect through June 30, and he encouraged people who are not feeling well, are in vulnerable groups, or are concerned about joining public gatherings to stay home. Parishes also will continue to livestream their Masses for people to watch at home.
One parish pastor, Father Dexter Brewer of Christ the King Church in Nashville, said he has some concern about moving too fast to bring people together and the potential of putting their health at risk.
“As the doctors say, first do no harm,” he said, adding that his idea “is to have Mass outdoors.” Father Brewer, who is a vicar general of the diocese added: “That makes me feel better.”
Atlanta Archbishop Gregory J. Hartmayer May 18 issued a schedule and conditions for the resumption of in-parish worship and access to church buildings in the archdiocese. The advisory is a combination of requirements, suggestions and best practices that will be evaluated and amended as needed.
While the dispensation from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains in effect through Sunday, June 28, attendance at daily Mass may begin Monday, May 25 on announced schedules. Churches may also be open for prayer and adoration on an announced schedule. Weekend Masses will begin on Saturday, May 30 and Sunday, May 31–Pentecost.
In an accompanying video, Archbishop Hartmayer calls the guidelines a “measured, careful approach.”
“We decided to begin our process on Pentecost — the birthday of the church,” he said. “As a theme for this reopening we pray, come Holy Spirit, fill and renew us.”
Not all dioceses are preparing for public Masses yet, however.
In Quebec, Canada, many scenarios are on the table, including outdoor Masses, liturgies of the Word, funerals presided by laypeople.
“We have an open dialogue with the government,” confirmed Msgr. Pierre Murray, general secretary of the Quebec assembly of Catholic bishops.
The Quebec Catholic Church intends to be largely inspired by the protocol reached between the Italian Episcopal Conference and the Italian government on the gradual resumption of liturgical celebrations.
Post-pandemic protocols “will have an impact on the life of parishes. The hygiene measures are likely to be permanent. On a pastoral level, the effects will be felt in the long term,” said Msgr. Murray.
Auxiliary Bishop Marc Pelchat of Quebec said the idea of changing the whole church over the last two months is illusory, but the situation offers an opportunity for reflection, he said. “A profound change takes decades,” he said. It’s been a time to stop and think about what we are doing. And to get us to do things differently.”
As many have been discussing, distribution of Communion poses a health challenge. In this regard, should we expect to one day see Communion wafers wrapped in small individual packets and distributed with tweezers?
“I hope not!” said Bishop Pelchat. “That would make them akin to an object of consumption. If health regulations prevent Communion for a certain period of time, we’ll refrain from Communion, that’s all.”
Though some parts of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, were allowed to celebrate public Masses again under government protocols starting May 15 — with 50% of the building capacity filled — Bishop Michael F. Burbidge said that until further notice, all the faithful are still dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass.
Those who are vulnerable or feel ill in any way were encouraged to avoid gatherings such as Mass. Many parishes will continue to livestream Mass.
In the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, has settled on a phased reopening of churches. In the first phase, churches opened May 17 for private prayer. The sacrament of reconciliation can be celebrated if social distancing can be maintained and masks are worn, a statement from the diocese said.
An archdiocesan task force continues to monitor public health guidance and the recommendations of the federal and state officials, who have cautioned against a rush in reopen churches until manageable safety protocols can be put in place.
Beginning May 22, in the Diocese of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, churches will be permitted to celebrate public Sunday and weekday Masses and to resume baptisms — all with very specific restrictions including limits on the number of people in attendance strict disinfecting protocols. This is the first phase of reopening, with more steps to be determined. A general dispensation from the Sunday obligation will remain in place
“We know the desire to return to your parishes, participate in the liturgy, and receive the Eucharist is incredibly strong,” a diocesan statement said, “but we ask that everyone approach this reopening with a patient, loving and charitable mindset.”

Hotelier Ashok Kumar tracks Lord Ram’s exile itinerary on the atlas

An 83-year-old hotelier, Ashok Kumar, running a prominent hotel chain in Rajasthan and many educational institutes in Haryana, UP and Punjab, has used the lean period of lockdown to find out the itinerary of Lord Ram during his exile period in the atlas of present times.

Speaking to IANS, he said, “We have found 195 places which still have the memorials connected to the events narrated in the Ramayana which directly relate to the life of Ram and Sita. These include Tamsa Tal (Mandah in UP), Shringverpur (Singraur in UP), Bhardwaj Ashram (located near Allahabad), Atri Ashram, Markandaya Ashram (Markundi in UP), Chitrakoot, Pamakuti (on banks of the Godavari), Panchvati, Sita Sarovar, Ram Kund in Triambakeshwar near Nasik, Shabari Ashram, Kishkindha (village Annagorai in Karnataka), Dhanushkoti and Rameshwar temple (in Tamil Nadu) and many others.
“Today, when people watch the Ramayana serial which is smashing many TRP records, they often ask if it is a myth or a reality that Ram went for Vanvaas for 14 years”, says Kumar.
“His travel itinerary is clearly seen on today”s atlas. Lord Ram started from Ayodhya (still exists) to Janakpur (Nepal), returned through Bihar to go south via Chhattisgarh (Bastar region), Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and finally through Tamil Nadu, reached a non-descript place where he established a Shiva-lingam which was finally called as Rameshwaram. Nearby was the stone-bridge he created to walk up to Jaffna region in today”s Sri Lanka,” says Kumar.
In Ramayan, it is mentioned that Ram”s army constructed a bridge over the sea between Rameshwaram and Lanka. After crossing this bridge, Ram”s army defeated the demon king Ravana.
Recently, NASA had put out pictures on the Internet of a bridge, the ruins of which are lying submerged in Palk Strait between Rameshwaram and Sri Lanka, he says.
“The Ashok Vatika or Sita Vatika exists in Sri Lanka even today and has been maintained as a popular tourist destination. It is over the highest hills in south of that country. They call it Sita Eliya. One has to first go to Lanka”s hill station named as Nuwara Eliya. From there, people drive further up and reach Sita Eliya,” says Kumar.
So Sri Lanka has maintained Sita”s place “even 7,078 years after a historical incident” when Ram had to fight against Ravana to bring back his wife, Sita who was abducted by Ravana, Kumar says, adding that he followed Tulsidas Ramayan to track his itinerary.
He says the geography has naturally undergone a change over so many centuries. So to revive the same grandeur may be out of question. “But something may always be better than nothing”, he says.
Running many prominent educational institutions in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, he has also asked a few professors to conduct a research on Ramayana, Mahabharat and Chanakya period to evaluate what kind of world existed in those years and how those times were different from today”s.
“We are trying to bring out four maps of the four different periods to know how the world has changed,” he says.
“I am also conducting a research on the period somewhere around 1200 years ago before the Mughal invasion of India”, he says.
Ashok Kumar is the chairman of Seth Mukund Lal Memorial Institutions which have some 23,000 students. With around Rs 85-crore turnover, he runs his hotel chains — Mansingh Hotels in Rajasthan.

Religious Freedom In India Takes ‘Drastic Turn Downward,’ U.S. Commission Says

Religious freedom in India under the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken “a drastic turn downward,” according to the U.S. government commission that monitors conditions around the world.

In its annual report, the congressionally mandated U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) says the Indian government’s enactment last year of the Citizenship Amendment Act discriminated against Muslim migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Commission vice chairperson Nadine Maenza, appointed by President Trump, said in a press conference that the deterioration of religious freedom in India was “perhaps the steepest and most alarming” of all the negative developments identified around the world. The commission accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of having “allowed violence against minorities and their houses of worship to continue with impunity and also engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence.”

The commission, for the first time since 2004, recommended that the State Department designate India as a “country of particular concern,” a status it says is reserved for “the worst of the worst.” Thirteen other countries have that status, including Iran, North Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The commission called on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on “Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom,” given its treatment of religious minorities, including Christians as well as Muslims.
In a “Howdy Modi” event in Houston last fall, President Trump called Modi “one of America’s greatest, most devoted, and most loyal friends” and said he was doing “a truly exceptional job for India and all the Indian people.”

At that event, Trump said the U.S. and Indian militaries work together to oppose “radical Islamic terrorism.” During a trip to India in February, Trump said he had asked Modi about his commitment to religious freedom but declined to elaborate on the conversation, saying he wanted to “leave that to India.” Trump insisted that Modi “wants people to have religious freedom and very strongly.” During the Trump visit, mobs attacked Muslim neighborhoods in New Delhi, with police reportedly standing by or even directly participating in the violence, a development highlighted in the USCIRF report.

Commission member Gary Bauer, a Trump appointee, dissented from the USCIRF conclusion on India, saying it placed the country “in a gallery of rogue nations in which it does not belong” and cited the country’s status as “our ally.” Another member, Tenzin Dorjee, appointed to the commission by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also dissented, saying that as a Tibetan refugee who lived in India for years, he and his fellow Buddhists “enjoyed complete religious freedom.”

The Indian government, which has long had an acrimonious relationship with the USCIRF, angrily rejected the commission’s conclusions. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said, “[The commission’s] biased and tendentious comments against India are not new. But on this occasion its misrepresentation has reached new levels.” In a retort to the commission’s recommendation that India be designated a “country of particular concern,” the spokesperson said the Indian government would now regard the commission as “an organization of particular concern and will treat it accordingly.”

The USCIRF report also highlighted China’s detention of 1.8 million Uighur Muslims, the plight of nearly a million Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh, North Korea’s reported imprisonment of about 50,000 Christians and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, among other instances of religious freedom violations. Two countries, Sudan and Uzbekistan, were said to have made “important progress” on religious freedom issues.

The USCIRF was established under the terms of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act as an independent, bipartisan federal government commission.

India Center Foundation’s Arts Resiliency Fund Gains National Grassroots Momentum

(New York, NY – April 23, 2020) As the coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll on the livelihood of artists and arts organizations across every major discipline, grassroots communities are uniting to show their support for The South Asian Arts Resiliency Fund (SAARF), a grant program created by the India Center Foundation for South Asian artists and arts workers in the U.S. who have been impacted by the economic fallout of COVID-19 because of postponed or canceled performances, events or exhibitions.

Supported by ICF seed money, a crowdfunding campaign and multiple live streaming experiences, the Fund has already raised more than $25,000, with a targeted goal of $500,000, which the organization hopes to raise over time from generous support by arts patrons and philanthropic communities. In fact, multiple solo artists and groups, like Third Eye Collective, Non Resident and Kathak Meetup NYC, have already hosted online performances and live stream festivals to benefit the Fund, while other arts/community organizations are sharing information about the program with its patrons.

 India Center Foundation's Arts Resiliency Fund Gains National Grassroots Momentum

To date, more than 80 artists and arts workers have applied for a grant through SAARF; their ancestral origins range from across South Asia, including Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and India. Sixty percent of these applicants say they have lost more than 80% of their income due to COVID-19. Applications have also originated from 10 of the 50 states in the

United States, primarily from the ‘performing arts’ field, and within that, predominantly ‘dance.’

“We are humbled by the response SAARF has been getting over the past two weeks, especially from artists, patrons and community groups” said Raoul Bhavnani, one of ICF’s Co-Founders. “But we have a long way to go to even make a DENT in repairing some of the havoc this pandemic has wrecked on the lives of the South Asian artist community. We are surviving our respective lockdowns, in part, because of the art we are consuming on a daily basis, whether it be a film or television series, a virtual museum tour or an online live music concert. Our artists’ livelihoods have been paused, and they have very few places to turn. We need everyone to pitch in to make this initiative the success it has the potential of becoming for the South Asian arts community.”


The development, creation and presentation of work requires the time and expertise of a multitude of people, not just the artist. As such, the fund will provide support for artists and arts personnel in the U.S. through project grants on a rolling basis for the development of work, particularly during the ongoing pandemic.

Examples of Projects:
Creation of music, dance, theater, film, visual arts or literature projects (ongoing or new)
Research for development of music, dance, theater, film or visual arts projects (ongoing or new)
Strategic planning by a manager or agent for an artist
Content creation for project deployment
Creation of resources for artists to support careers in the arts


Eligible applicants are United States-based, South Asian arts workers in the performing arts, film, visual arts or literature who can demonstrate loss of income because of canceled or postponed engagements due to COVID-19.

Arts Workers are defined as:
Artists such as: dancers, choreographers, musicians, poets, actors, comedians, playwrights, directors, filmmakers, writers, composers, visual artists, etc.
Arts personnel such as: technicians (lighting, sound, costume, stage management, production, editor), independent curators / presenters, producers, agents, managers, etc.

*Grants will be targeted to at least $1,000, depending on eligibility and financial need. Online applications have been available since April 13th at the organization’s website, www.theindiacenter.us.
About Us: The India Center Foundation is a New York City-based, non-profit organization dedicated to the study and celebration of Indian Art & Culture, as well as the exploration of India’s place in the world and relationship with The United States. Primarily through collaborations with preeminent cultural and public affairs organizations, The India Center Foundation aims to be the American home for dialogue, debate and education about the subcontinent and its Diaspora. For more information, please visit www.theindiacenter.us.

The Dalai Lama on Why We Need to Fight Coronavirus With Compassion

Revered by the Tibetans as a ‘living god’ and idolised in the Orient and the West, the Dalai Lama said prayer is not enough to fight coronavirus. Also it is high time to extend a helping hand to those who have been affected.

“This pandemic serves as a warning that only by coming together with a coordinated, global response will we meet the unprecedented magnitude of the challenges we face,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner said in a post on his official website on Wednesday.

“Sometimes friends ask me to help with some problem in the world, using some ‘magical powers’. I always tell them that the Dalai Lama has no magical powers. If I did, I would not feel pain in my legs or a sore throat. We are all the same as human beings, and we experience the same fears, the same hopes, the same uncertainties,” said the elderly monk known for wearing his trademark maroon robes.

“From the Buddhist perspective, every sentient being is acquainted with suffering and the truths of sickness, old age and death. But as human beings, we have the capacity to use our minds to conquer anger and panic and greed.

“In recent years I have been stressing ’emotional disarmament’: to try to see things realistically and clearly, without the confusion of fear or rage. If a problem has a solution, we must work to find it; if it does not, we need not waste time thinking about it,” the Dalai Lama wrote in an article published in Time Magazine on Tuesday.

“We Buddhists believe that the entire world is interdependent. That is why I often speak about universal responsibility. The outbreak of this terrible coronavirus has shown that what happens to one person can soon affect every other being. But it also reminds us that a compassionate or constructive act — whether working in hospitals or just observing social distancing — has the potential to help many.

“Ever since news emerged about the coronavirus in Wuhan, I have been praying for my brothers and sisters in China and everywhere else. Now we can see that nobody is immune to this virus. We are all worried about loved ones and the future, of both the global economy and our own individual homes. But prayer is not enough,” the Dalai Lama said.

“This crisis shows that we must all take responsibility where we can. We must combine the courage doctors and nurses are showing with empirical science to begin to turn this situation around and protect our future from more such threats.

“In this time of great fear, it is important that we think of the long-term challenges — and possibilities — of the entire globe. Photographs of our world from space clearly show that there are no real boundaries on our blue planet.

“Therefore, all of us must take care of it and work to prevent climate change and other destructive forces. This pandemic serves as a warning that only by coming together with a coordinated, global response will we meet the unprecedented magnitude of the challenges we face.

“We must also remember that nobody is free of suffering, and extend our hands to others who lack homes, resources or family to protect them. This crisis shows us that we are not separate from one another — even when we are living apart. Therefore, we all have a responsibility to exercise compassion and help.

“As a Buddhist, I believe in the principle of impermanence. Eventually, this virus will pass, as I have seen wars and other terrible threats pass in my lifetime, and we will have the opportunity to rebuild our global community as we have done many times before.

“I sincerely hope that everyone can stay safe and stay calm. At this time of uncertainty, it is important that we do not lose hope and confidence in the constructive efforts so many are making,” an optimistic Dalai Lama added. (IANS)

AAPI Organizes Candle Light Vigil and Inter-Faith Spiritual Session and Prayer

AAPI organised a solemn Candle Light Vigil and Inter-Faith Spiritual Session on Sunday, April 12th, 2020 in support of physicians and healthcare workers who have fallen victim for Covid-19. In his welcome note, Dr. Suresh Reddy stressed the importance of healthcare workers in fighting the deadly disease and introduced the moderators, Dr. Rajam Ramamurthy, past BOT Chair of AAPI and Dr. Jayesh Shah, Dr. Past President of AAPI.
The ceremony was led by spiritual leaders from almost all major religions and nearly 200 physicians from across the United States. Dr. Ramamurthy opened the Prayer Vigil by describing the significance of lighting the lamp, in each spiritual tradition. She led the participants by lighting a lamp in one’s own house as she chanted a Sanskrit Mantra and a Urdu poem. She asked the AAPI leaders to fold hands before the light that destroys darkness and evil. “We begin this auspicious moment, by the lighting of the lamp. Every participant in the meeting is welcome a light the lamp in one’s own tradition,” she said. Dr. Suresh Reddy lit the lamp on behalf of AAPI.  Dr. Devraj Nayak opened the session with a prayer seeking God’s blessings.
AAPI Organizes Candle Light Vigil and Inter-Faith Spiritual Session and PrayerCongressman Raja Krishnamurthy, in opening remarks expressed hope that everyone is doing well. Acknowledging the twin challenges the nation is facing today, namely the health crisis and economic crisis, he expressed his gratitude to the physicians and other healthcare professionals for their “dedication to the nation, for helping all to cope with the situation, guaranteeing the wellbeing of all. I am here for you and support in any ways regarding policy or economic assistance”.
Panelists on the Inter-faith meeting included Dr. Sudhakar Jonnalagadda, President-Elect of AAPI, Dr. Seema Arora, Chairwoman of AAPI’s Board of Trustees (BOT), Dr. Sajani Shah, Chairwoman-Elect of AAPI’s BOT, Dr. Anupama Gotimukula, Vice president of AAPI, Dr. Yasmeen Ansari, Regional Director, Osmania Medical Alumni Association, Dr. Birinder Marwah, Past Chair of AAPI Convention in Chicago.
Nissim Rueben, Indian Jewish Association of USA, stressed the importance of interfaith cooperation and compassion and shared about his work in supporting peoples of all faiths around the world. Lama Sean Jones, a Buddhist Priest, shared about the Buddhist tradition, and in this time of crisis how he is using online prayers from the host monetary, offering teaching and poojas and prayers, which needed more than ever now.  “We take a lot for granted in our lives and now is the time to appreciate the blessing of life and for the need to help discover oneself and support each other in this journey. We need to be grounded in our own faith. To listen to them and be compassionate We need to have self-care and keep our spirits high, have a positive attitude and we can overcome this.”
Rev. Fr. Abi Chacko, Vicar, St. Mary’s Orthodox Church, Oak Lawn, IL, stressed the  importance to stay connected and visible by using social media and offer help in reaching meds and groceries to the needy. He pointed out how the pandemic has become a unifier and the need is to instil hope and deepening our faith in God who helps us move forward positively. “It’s the Spirit of Humanity in our hearts that gives us the faith and courage to move forward.” He emphasised the need “for compassion and the tone that expresses our understanding of the feelings of the people who suffer. This is our calling and vocation not a job to be in the healthcare sector,” he said.
Mufti Hafiz Ahmed Rabbani, Islamic Association of Greater Detroit shared about the community out-reach to the members of the Masjid, and offering lectures online and distributing food and supplies to people and to health care providers in front line. Swami Ishatmanada, Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago, through a chanting from the Upanishad, led the group to pray to Goddess Durga to remove this pandemic and seeking forgiveness from God and praying. He pointed out to the two approaches the world is looking at, to heal the world off this pandemic: Scientific and Spiritual approaches.
“We should be strong in order to overcome and fight the pandemic. Life has changed so much. The role of religion is to teach us that this is a passing phase and we will overcome this one too. Prayer, meditation and enhancing spiritual power, developing  common brotherhood of all, thus and we will all together overcome. Humanity is going to win,” Swami Ishatmanada said.
David Levy, Rabbi, American Jewish Committee, while sharing of the social media to keep the community together and strong in faith, said, “The corona virus cuts across all faiths. We are in all together experiencing and facing it and supporting and helping each other.” He referred to the Hindu-Jewish Coalition, formed first time in the US and about the amazing work with people of all faiths, addressing hate crimes around the country. “This has become a Coalition of Conscience to unite the world when there are people trying to divide us.”
Bhai Mohinder Singh pointed to how we are all guests on earth and how our life will change after this pandemic, and how all faiths can work together rather than fight with each other. He said, “All life is from one seed, one source, the same God. Recognising this truth will help us all work together and for all from all religions.”
With one minute of silence with folded hands and heads bowed, the AAPI members and spiritual leaders prayed for the speedy recovery of Drs. Ajay Lodha, Anjana Samaddar, Dr. Sunil Mehra and thousands of other healthcare professionals who are in the front line and are admitted to hospital and receiving treatment.
Dr. Jayesh Shah in his concluding remarks, said, “The Healthcare workers have been feeling vulnerable as the disease can affect them and their family members and sense of duty to serve at the same time. Today’s AAPI Inter-Faith Candlelight Vigil helped to put lot of healthcare workers to ease by spiritual leaders from various faith in these unprecedented times of COVID 19 Pandemic. Spiritual leaders also stressed importance of interfaith cooperation and compassion in the face of pandemic.”
For more information on AAPI and its several initiatives to combat Corona Virus and help Fellow Physicians and the larger community, please visit: www.aapiusa.org,  or email to: aapicovidplasmadonor@gmail.com

How religions around the world are keeping the faith during COVID-19

From Michigan State University

COVID-19 has rocked everyday life for people around the world, requiring religious communities to shift worship at a time that many consider the most holiest of the year.

Daily and weekly services at churches, synagogues, mosques and temples have transitioned to take place in the home with family members as many places of prayer are closed for the first time in their history.

Experts from Michigan State University’s Department of Religious Studies discuss how different religions have adapted centuries-long traditions to adhere to social distancing, and how they’ve adopted technology to allow people to continue worshipping.

Mohammad Khalil, professor of religious studies and director of MSU’s Muslim Studies program:

“Friday prayers have been canceled at mosques throughout the United States and the world; and this is the first time that many mosques have canceled Friday prayer services.

“Mosques are typically open for five daily prayers and now that many are closed, people who are used to praying daily congregational prayers are now praying individually or with their families.

“As an alternative, some mosques are streaming devotional lectures/lessons during the time of Friday prayer, but most are careful not to call it Friday, or Jum’ah, prayer since the assumption is that people will come together physically to perform this particular weekly prayer.

“Beyond virtual lectures, Muslim communities are utilizing online technology in other ways. Some, for instance, are using social media to raise funds and provide services for those in need.”

Laura Yares, assistant professor of religious studies:

“American Jews have been adapting to the current health crisis by taking different kinds of religious practice and community gathering online, from song sessions for young children to Talmud learning for adults.

“Traditional Jewish law requires 10 adult males to be physically present in a room for daily prayer services. This health crisis has compelled a unique reframing of Jewish law to think about technology as a new modality of physical presence. This has enabled prayer services to be conducted by counting 10 people in a ‘Zoom room’ as a reinterpretation of Jewish laws about physical presence.

“Passover begins on April 8, which typically is marked by gathering together with friends and family for the Passover Seder. Traditional Jews maintain strict prohibitions around technology on Jewish holidays, but this current crisis has led rabbis to reconsider the Jewish law in this area too. The highest value in Judaism is the value of preserving human life, and recognizing that being alone for this holiday could pose a threat to both physical and mental health, many Jews are choosing to adapt their typical practice and conduct virtual Seders using technology like Zoom and Google hangouts.”

Arthur Versluis, professor and chair, Department of Religious Studies:

“American Buddhism tended to already be highly technologically savvy before the novel coronavirus, so many groups or organizations transitioned swiftly to online meditation workshops and seminars.

“Group or organizational events that in the past would have been hosted in a particular Buddhist center sometimes were both in-person and streamed online before the current health crisis, hence the swift transition was not that surprising. There is a Tibetan Buddhist center in Ann Arbor, for instance, whose events were shifted to online almost immediately after the virus became an issue. While early to be certain, this shift may well have longer-term implications for American Buddhist practitioners.”

Amy DeRogatis, professor of religion and American culture:
In partnership with The Ohio State University, Derogatis is leading the American Religious Sounds Project. The ARSP educates the public on American religious diversity by listening to its sounds. It includes hundreds of recordings of formal and informal sounds of religious institutions, including prayer, chanting and hymns sourced from places of all kinds – from churches to mosques, interfaith chapels to college football games.

“We are currently crowd-sourcing religious sounds of COVID-19 and expect to hear innovative ways that religious communities are responding to the health crisis – especially with major holidays coming up soon. We would love to have contributions from anyone who is participating in a religious community virtually or would like to share reflections on how the pandemic has impacted their religious or spiritual practices.”

Three-quarters of U.S. Catholics view Pope Francis favorably, though partisan differences persist

Americans’ opinions of Pope Francis have rebounded slightly after hitting an all-time low almost two years ago in the wake of Catholic Church sex abuse scandals, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey.

Six-in-ten U.S. adults say they have a “very” or “mostly” favorable view of Pope Francis, up from roughly half who said this in September of 2018, when the question was last asked. At that time, a Pennsylvania grand jury had just published a report revealing decades of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and former cardinal Theodore McCarrick had recently resigned because of separate sex abuse allegations.

Overall, public opinion of Pope Francis is now roughly at the same level as when he assumed the papacy in 2013, but still below higher points in 2015 and 2017, when 70% of U.S. adults said they had a “very” or “mostly” favorable view of the pontiff.

How we did this

U.S. Catholics are more likely than the general public to have a positive assessment of Francis. About three-quarters of Catholics (77%) now view the pope favorably, which is 10 percentage points lower than the share who did so in January 2017 (87%) but not statistically different from the ratings recorded in January or September 2018. (Even though the 2018 and 2020 surveys produced different estimates of the share of Catholics who view Pope Francis favorably, the differences between the current survey and each of the surveys conducted in 2018 do not pass a test of statistical significance.)

Catholics who attend Mass weekly and those who attend less often have roughly similar views of Pope Francis, with about three-quarters in each group expressing a very or mostly favorable opinion of Francis (79% and 76%, respectively).

Partisan differences

January 2018 survey found growing partisan polarization in views of Pope Francis, with Catholic Republicans holding less favorable views of the pontiff than Catholic Democrats. That polarization persists today, with roughly nine-in-ten (87%) Catholic Democrats and Democratic leaners viewing Francis favorably compared with 71% among Catholic Republicans and Republican leaners.

A majority (59%) of religious “nones” – those who describe their religious affiliation as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – rate Francis as either very or mostly favorable. This is much higher than the share (39%) who rated him favorably when he first became pope in 2013, though at that time roughly a third of “nones” were not familiar enough with Francis to rate him.

Among white Protestants there are varying levels of support for Francis. About six-in-ten white Protestants who do not identify as born-again or evangelical view Pope Francis favorably (62%). White evangelical Protestants, however, are less likely to share this positive view; 43% express a favorable view of Francis. Among white Protestants – both those who identify as evangelical and those who do not – favorable opinions of Pope Francis have increased since the decline seen in September 2018.

Anurima Bhargava on Commission on International Religious Freedom Troubled By India’s NRC, CAA

Anurima Bhargava, Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), has said that India’s controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) is “troubling” and could result in the “disenfranchisement” of India’s minority Muslim populace.

In remarks at a hearing convened by the USCIRF on March 4th on Capitol Hill, to zero in on the implications of the CAA and the “genocidal violence” against the Rohingya Muslims by the military rulers in Myanmar, Bhargava, a prominent civil rights lawyer and longtime human rights activist, and only the second Hindu American (after Preeta Bansal) to serve on the USCIRF, warned that “recent events in India, have helped bring a spotlight to the import of citizenship to our sense of belonging, identity, and collective dignity, and to the horrors that ensue when citizenship of certain targeted communities come into question.”

Bhragava said that although “Indian officials have stressed that the CAA will not impact those already residing in India, yet the fear is that this law in conjunction with a planned National Population Register and a potential nation-wide National Register of Citizens, or NRC, could result in the wide-scale disenfranchisement of Indian Muslims.”

Consequently, said Bhargava, who served in a senior position in the Obama administration’s Department of Justice in its Office of Civil Rights, and was nominated to the USCIRF by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), “This would leave them vulnerable to prolonged detention, deportation, and violence,” and argued, “We are already seeing this process being conducted in the northeastern state of Assam.”

She told the packed room of civil and human rights activists, Congressional and administration staffers, media and members of the public, that “The NRC is claimed as a mechanism for identifying migrants in the region,” but noted that “many Indian citizens, in particular Muslims, have had their citizenship questioned and challenged by local authorities by being excluded from the NRC despite their families having lived in India for generations.”

Bhargava said, “A number of citizens fear being sent to detention camps and effectively rendered stateless. With the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in place to protect non-Muslims excluded from the NRC, this process will largely impact Muslims.”

She spoke of how, “Many Indians of all faiths have been exercising their peaceful right of protest to express their opposition to this law. Yet, since its passage we have seen a deadly crackdown by government authorities against the protestors and recent communal violence in Delhi targeting Muslim communities that has resulted in the deaths, beatings, and burnings of Muslims and a few Hindus as well.”

Expressing concern over “how citizenship laws and the details of citizenship processes in Burma, India, and more broadly, are leveraged as a weapon against religious communities,” Bhargava, as did the other commissioners saying the rationale behind the hearing was to help the USCIRF develop policy recommendations for the U.S. government in response to these issues.

She said it was an effort as to “how the United States government and the international community can more effectively ensure that individuals of all faiths can freely live without fear of losing their citizenship and the many rights that come from citizenship and the difficulties and violence that come from its loss.”

Earlier, USCIRF chair, Tony Perkins, in his opening remarks, said, “The right to a nationality is a fundamental human right and serves as a bedrock for accompanying political and civil rights.”

Declaring that “it is the right to have rights,” he argued, “Denying individuals this fundamental recognition not only strips them of accompanying rights but also denies them the ability to participate in the political process and use legal pathways to seek redress for discrimination and persecution.”

India has always reacted sharply to the criticism by the USCIRF and maintained that the CAA is an internal matter of the country and asserted that the goal of this legislation is to offer succor to the oppressed minorities of the neighboring Muslim majority countries, namely Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

Last month, New Delhi slammed the comments by the USCIRF over the violence in New Delhi during the time of President Trump’s visit as “factually inaccurate, misleading’ and an attempt to politicize the issue. Raveesh Kumar, the spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, said, “We have seen comments made by the USCIRF, sections of the media and a few individuals regarding recent incidents of violence in Delhi. These are factually inaccurate and misleading, and appear to be aimed at politicizing the issue.”

On Dec. 9, the USCIRF slammed the CAA as “a dangerous turn in the wrong direction,” and called on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Home Minister Amit Shah — the catalyst behind this legislation.”

The USCIRF is “deeply troubled by the passage of the CAA originally introduced by Home Minister Shah, in the Lok Sabha given the religion criterion in the bill,” it said.

Shah, earlier in the day had introduced the controversial bill in the Lok Sabha that offers Indian citizenship for non-Muslim illegal immigrants — Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christians — who have entered the country from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, who have fled these countries in the face of religious persecution.

At the time, the USCIRF, said, “The CAA enshrines a pathway to citizenship for immigrants that specifically excludes Muslims, setting a legal criterion for citizenship based on religion.” Thus, it argued, “The CAB is a dangerous turn in the wrong direction; it runs counter to India’s rich history of secular pluralism and the Indian Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law regardless of faith.

 “In conjunction with the ongoing NRC process in Assam and nationwide NRC that the home minister seeks to propose, USCIRF fears that the Indian government is creating a religious test for Indian citizenship that would strip citizenship from millions of Muslims,” it warned.

It also complained that for more than a decade now the Indian government has ignored its statements and annual reports, and also refused to issue visas for USCIRF officials to travel to India to investigate alleged religious freedom violations against minorities.

Although established by an act of Congress, the USCIRF has no enforceable mechanism, and in the past few decades, as successive U.S. administrations and even the U.S. Congress has sought to establish strategic and economic partnerships with burgeoning economies and allies like India, human rights and religious freedom abuses and violations that were a priority of U.S. foreign policy in years past, have been largely relegated to the back-burner or completely ignored.

How Modi keeps the American Christian leadership at bay while befriending Trump

On the surface, President Trump appears committed fully to the idea of Religious Freedom. He has been very vocal about the issue on many forums that include the United Nations. To his credit, he has appointed Mr. Sam Brownback, a conservative Catholic, to the position at the State Department as the Ambassador of Religious freedom. Evangelical leaders in the U.S. are some of the most ardent supporters of this President anywhere because of his clear commitment to the cause.  To the delight of his Evangelical base, he has not only spoken against the ‘Johnson Amendment’ that prohibits Clergy from commenting on politics from the pulpit but also issued an Executive order that lessens its enforcement power and limits its bureaucratic oversight.

However, a different picture emerges if one delves deeply into the inner workings of this President concerning this very issue. As someone who has participated in the Religious Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C., I witnessed the selective application of this issue firsthand that suits his political purposes. There were many speakers from countries like China and Iran who detailed the suppression of religious freedom in those countries and the persecution of the faithful by the authorities. However, India rather conspicuously was missing any representation at the conference.

The weaponization of religion by the current Administration – so they can preserve their power -has reached a fever pitch in India, where minorities are being lynched for their dietary habits and churches are being torched by the Hindutva radicals. When questioned about this absence, an official of the State Department could only respond by saying that India was invited but declined to participate. It is hard to believe that speakers from authoritarian regimes of China and Iran somehow found their way to the conference, but Indian representatives willing to speak on the matter could not be found! Upon questioning, Mr. Brownback feigned his ignorance in this regard and said someone from India should have been present. However, according to several sources, White House appears to have given special instructions to the State Department not to bring the current BJP government’s shabby record on religious freedom to the table.

Now that President Trump is on the way to India to meet with Prime Minister Modi, whom he considers his strategic partner, it is important to examine how the wellbeing of the minority Christians in India, as well as the interests of American Christian leadership, may have been undermined by this Administration for either political expediency or plain business interests.

Firstly, let us take the case of ‘Compassion International,’ a Christian Charitable organization in the U.S. that has done incredible work around the World, including India, by clothing, feeding, and educating impoverished children by allowing their upward mobility. The Modi Government has decided to throw out the organization while knowing fully well that they are jeopardizing the futures of 145000 poor children only because the organization is considered ‘Christian.’ If the country is so opposed to foreign funding, why then the Hindu organizations like ‘Eka Vidyalaya,’ a Sangh Parivar affiliated outfit in the U.S. continue to collect funds from all Americans including Christians?

To add insult to injury, Mr. S. Jaishankar, the diplomat, turned politician who is the current Minister of External Affairs, is said to have invited the lead attorney for the organization and gave him a tongue-lashing at his office lambasting the organization and accusing its leadership of engaging in proselytizing. The organization had vehemently denied these charges often raised by anti-minority zealots who could care less about the lives of the lower caste and poor folks around them. Moreover, it is genuinely disappointing to see a diplomat who had such a rich multi-cultural global experience, including being Ambassador to the United States, to behave with such arrogance and lack of empathy.

Another arena where American Christian leadership is unfairly treated by India is in the issuance of visas to those who aspire to visit their fellow Christians to attend a conference or a convention. In a shocking display of bad faith, only a few months ago, nine leaders from the New York Council of Christian churches headed by Rev. Peter Cook, who traveled to India with valid visas were denied entry at the Chennai airport. And after subjugating them to a grueling 12-hour questioning, they were deported back to the United States. ‘The team was there to meet some people and learn,’ said Mr. Cook, who is also the Executive Director of the New York State Council of Churches.  They were even denied the basic courtesy of making a phone call to their would-be hosts. According to one of the team members, an immigration official went as far as to pronounce, ‘we don’t want Christians to come here’!

Visas are indeed considered a privilege, not a right; however, protocol and courtesy call for reciprocity. Hindu religious leaders from India appear to have unlimited access to visit or serve their fellow faithful in this country. The number of religious visas issued to Hindu temples and other religious institutions by the U.S. stand at an all-time high. However, an American Christian leader does not even have an option to apply for a visa on such a ground. If one dares to take a tourist visa and attend any of the church meetings, he/she risks not only being deported but will be banned from an entry back to India for their lifetime.

It is not only the American Christian leadership that is put under the grind but also Indians who have immigrated to this country and acquired U.S. Citizenship. Many of them took the opportunity to avail themselves of the Overseas Citizenship (OCI) card, believing that it would give them privileges on par with Indian citizens except for voting or owning agricultural lands. However, as Dr. Christo Philip from Houston found out, one of his frequent trips to India turned out to be a nightmare. He was stopped at the airport and deported back to Spain, where the flight originated, ending up in prison for a day and losing his OCI status. He was falsely accused of evangelizing though, as a medical doctor, his primary interest was to serve the needy people over their health concerns at some of the remotest parts of India. Although the Delhi high court has finally restored his OCI status, the Judge involved may have paid a higher price and said to have been reassigned since then.

The current OCI application contains obvious conditions preventing ‘Missionary work’ and ‘Journalism’ and combined with the provision in the newly passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) empowering the bureaucracy to cancel OCI card for any ‘violation of the law’ has sent shivers down the spine in the Indian Christian leadership in America. Mere participation of religious activity while visiting India could now be construed as a violation of the OCI agreement, and there are plenty folks in the RSS cadre and in the bureaucracy who are more than willing to collude in making such a participation a violation of the law that may also be beyond any judicial review. The provision of ‘journalism’ may shield the Government from any form of criticism from OCI cardholders who may want to pen their experiences in any of the media outlets.

Let me also quote from a letter recently sent by a multi-faith group to President Trump highlighting the plight of an American Pastor named Bryan Nerren that shows Religious persecution is not restricted to Indian citizens only. “In October 2019, police arrested U.S. pastor Bryan Nerren in Bagdogra airport in India. The police arrested him on the grounds of failing to declare funds, this followed after the officers in New Delhi interrogated him, asking him if he was Christian and if the money was for Christians or Hindus, they cleared him at the airport in New Delhi only to have him arrested in Bagdogra. The pastor was compliant and said he would fill out the customs form but was instead arrested. Authorities confiscated the pastor’s funds and passport, and while he has now been released, he is still waiting to receive his passport. Senator Alexander and Senator Blackburn are working on his case. The boldness of the authorities’ arrest and discrimination of a U.S. national because of his faith – shows that actors of religious persecution in India, afforded government impunity, further embolden state and non-state extremists to continue their discriminatory and abusive actions towards non-Hindus”.

The ill-treatment of the Christian leadership by the officials is not just limited to American Christians but includes leaders from other countries as well. Considering that India, which has 30 million of its citizens living abroad and more at home are looking for opportunities around the World, what the Modi government has done to a Spanish Nun who lived in India for five decades and serving the poor is deeply shameful. Sister Enedina, 86 years old, a member of the Daughters of Charity, was denied the renewal of her visa and was told by the Government that she had ten days to leave the country.  She flew August 20 from New Delhi to Spain. It should also be noted that the Modi administration has so far not extended an invitation to Pope Francis, who is eager for such a visit, despite appeals from various Christian and secular quarters.

In many of the incidents highlighted above, so far, Trump Administration appears to have taken a wait and see attitude in dealing with the Modi Administration. In light of President’s remarks at the United Nations General Assembly that it is necessary to “increase the prosecution and punishment of crimes against religious communities”, the world is waiting to see whether he will raise the issue privately with Modi during the state visit, make a public statement in support of constitutional rights similar to Obama, or remain silent. Then we will have a much clearer idea whether religious freedom is merely a political football or a sincere goal of the Trump Administration.

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)

Federation of Indian Associations Chicago celebrates India’s 71st Republic day & hosts the largest Health Fair event in Midwest

“Only a life lived for others is a life lived worthwhile….” – Albert Einstein

Chicago IL:  Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) of Chicago celebrated India’s 71st Republic Day & hosted one of the largest Healthcare Fair Event on Saturday, Jan 25th, 2020, at Rana Reagan Community Center at Carol Stream, IL.

 Keeping its past 10 year long tradition of serving the community, following its mantra, of ‘United We Stand’ and ‘We Serve!’, FIA Chicago, successfully hosted its yearly Healthcare Fair Event on the occasion of India’s Republic Day. In spite of all of us being away from our own homeland, we were blessed to be able to celebrate this very special day, when India officially got its Constitution on Jan 26, 1950, and the spirit of India with the same enthusiasm and excitement, in the country that we love and have now embraced as our home.

Over 600 people attended and availed the services provided; including 100 plus blood testing was done. One can imagine how popular this event is amongst our senior citizens, just by looking at the registration lines which started forming at 8:30am, a half hour earlier, then the scheduled start time of 9:00am. But Team FIA was ready to welcome the guests and the service providers and medical Camp personnel since 8:00am. Pratibha Jairath, Sonia Luther, Richa Chand, Vineeta Gulabani, Varsha Visal, Hema Shastri, Dr Kamal Patel, Vaishal Talati, Sunil Shah, Neil Khot, Gurmeet Singh Dhalwan, Ninad Daftari, Shital Daftari, Anu Malhotra & Bharat Malhotra, Ruchi Dabral, Bharatbhai, Haribhai and several volunteers from BSC group were seen receiving and greeting the  doctors and service providers and the other guests as well, and helping fill out with Patient registration forms, and finding their designated spots & booths. FIA leadership Team, led by Sunil Shah, Gurmeet Singh Dhalwan, Neil Khot were seen visiting each and every booth, and greeting and thanking them for their support.

Healthcare Fair section of the program, Medical Camp (Internal Medicine, Cardiology, Dentist, Phlebotomy Blood Draws, Alternate Medicine Homeopathy /Ayurveda, Nutritionist & Dietician, Registered Nurse Practitioners consultations, Scans/Imaging, Blood Glucose & Cholesterol tests, Back and Shoulder Massage Treatment), Passport and Visa Counseling and Guidance Services, Tax Consultation, Social Security, Yoga/Meditation, Mental Health, Suicide Prevention and Medicare Benefits & Community Services were provided. Food & snacks were also provided to the attending guests. This was a FREE event with no charges or costs to the guests.

A Special Educational Lecture series presented by the specialists was also a part of the Healthcare Fair Event this year. Topics & presenters included: Cardiology – Dr Paul Nguyen, Dietician – Shweta Sheth, Deepti Singh Suri, Homeopathy – Vidya Joshi, Yoga/Meditation – Anu Malhotra.

With high spirits and keeping the ‘Josh High! ‘ as well, Republic Day Cultural Program, began promptly at 12:00pm, enthusiastically hosted by the Masters of Ceremony Richa Chand & Varsha Visal. There were presentations of US. National anthem (by Malavika Gopal) and Indian National anthem (by Pushpaben Parikh), followed by a beautifully choreographed patriotic Welcome Dance, “Ae Watan” (choreography by Sridevi Ram Pandalai, and performers were: Sarirha Srijith, Nisha Roy, Prathiba Varun, Swetha JayaPrakash, Sandra Suresh).

A beautiful Lamp Lighting ceremony was performed by the dignitaries present at the event, Sunil Shah, Founder President of FIA Chicago, Chief Guest, Consul General Sudhakar Dalela, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, Onkar Singh Sangha, Founder & Past President, Gurmeet Singh Dhalwan,  President 2020, Smt. Prem  Kaur, Mother to Incoming President 2020, Pinky & Dinesh Thakkar, Guest of Honor, Ninad Daftari, President 2019, Dhitu Bhagwakar, Rita Singh, Sunny Kular, Neil Khot, Founding Members & Past Presidents, Amarjeet Singh, Founder & President Wheaton Gurudwara belonging to Sikh Religious Society, Chicago, IL ,  Haribhai Patel, President BSC group, Dr Kamal Patel, Executive VP, Amit Jhingran, CEO State Bank of India, Nimish Jani, Schaumburg Township, Krishna Bansal, Commissioner at Naperville Planning. And Advisory Board Members, Syed Hussaini, Asha Oroskar, Brij Sharma, Aishwarya Sharma, Pradeep Shukla, Keerthi Reevori.

Welcome Speeches by the FIA leadership was followed by the Introduction of FIA Board, and all FIA members were requested to join on the stage and a group picture was taken. As is the tradition for a Republic Day Cultural event, there were many inspiring speeches delivered throughout the program, including a few notable ones by Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and Consul General Sudhakar Dalela, both a keynote speaker at the Republic Day Event. Hanover Park Mayor, Rodney Craig & Trustee Herb Porter also spoke about the Indo-American community and their contributions.

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and Consul General Sudhakar Dalela helped in the inauguration of the FIA Souvenir Book and distribution of the Wheelchairs and Walkers to the needy. One Wheel Chair was received by Bharatiya Senior Citizens Group and the second one was received by Wheaton Gurudwara, IL.

There were important announcements made for the upcoming FIA Events, Indian Heritage Night celebrations, along with Windy City Bulls basketball game on February 23, 2020 at Sears Center Arena and Holi event on March 21, 2020 at DuPage Fairgrounds. For the Awards & Recognitions during the cultural program, Consul General Shri Sudhakar Dalela was felicitated and presented with a recognition plaque for Consul General Chicago’s continued support and whole-hearted participation in FIA’s numerous community service endeavors.

Guest of Honor, Pinky Thakkar & Dinesh Thakkar was also invited and recognized for their wonderful support and were presented with a recognition plaque as well. All the Sponsors and Service Providers and Supporters who helped out for this special event, were also called upon one by one, and were presented with the recognition plaques, as a token of FIA’s appreciation towards their generous support and help with the cause. Certificates were also given to all the cultural program performers, and the volunteers who helped out with this event.

To mark the conclusion of this beautiful and grand event to celebrate India’s 71st Republic Day, Anu Malhotra, Director FIA, gave Vote of Thanks, to all the guests, FIA’s senior leadership for facilitating and creating such wonderful opportunities for our community. She thanked Dr Pardeep Sood, Dr Tariq Ahmed, Dr Naveed Saeed, Dr. Huma Vaid, Dr. Mona Ghosh, Dr. Rakesh Nambiyar, Dr. Usha Kartan, Dr. Madhu Sharma, Dr. Sanjeev, Dr Niranjana Shah, Dr Utpal Parekh, Dr Imaad Shaikh, Dr. Aslam Qazi, Dr. Harpreet Singh, Dr Paul Nguyen, Dr Sara Alfano, Dr. Rubina Nguyen with S.C.A.R.F. group and others for their valuable time and service. She also thanked Promila Kumar, Shree Gurusamy, Raman Patel, Anu Bangaley, Amandeep Gill, Kinnari, Patrick, Chinttal Mehta, Chirag Patel, Prakruti Patel, Vidya Joshi, Deepti Singh Suri, Sweta Sheth, Pradeep Shukla and Consulate general of India, and all the sponsors and supporters. Only some mentioned here from the long list of all our wonderful sponsors/supporters: Syed Hussaini, VP Wintrust, Amit Jhingran, CEO State Bank of India, Pinky Thakkar & Dinesh Thakkar, Jigar’s Kitchen, Anil R Shah from World Money Exchange, MEDSTAR, Neal Patel for providing medical supplies, Dr. Neelam Bala Bhardwaj for donating Wheel Chairs and Walkers, and BSC group and committee members for all of their wonderful support to make this event a huge success.

FIA NY NJ CT’s 36th Annual Dance Pe Chance’ 2019 – 71th Republic Day Celebrations

Over 500 Participants, 21 Performances set a new high for FIA as it sores past the milestone of having touched the lives of over 18,000 children via this cultural performance competition spanning over 3 decades.

Celebrity Judges and distinguished invitees included – DCG NY – H E  Shatrughna Sinha , Actor & Kathak dancer Prachee Shah Paandya, Actor and Athlete Prachi Tehlan and the super 30 fame mathematical maestro Anand Kumar, who was the Chief Guest graced the event with their presence.

Saturday, Jan 25th, NJ – The Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) of the tristate, one of the oldest and the largest nonprofit Umbrella Organization of the Indian Diaspora celebrated India’s 71th Republic Day in grandeur with its annual show “Dance Pe Chance” promoting the 2nd generation of the Indian Diaspora while promoting the culture and heritage at the Patriots War Memorial Theatre in Trenton, New Jersey.

The show a cultural dance performance competition among the youth from various dance schools of two different states participated in the festive spirit to prove their mettle at the “Dance Pe Chance” dance competition. Thirteen dance schools performed in front of a full crowd in four categories: Minor, Junior, Senior and Adult. Aum Dance Creations, Arya Dance Academy, Aatma Performing Arts, B2Z Dance School, Dancing Shiva, Nruthu Aaloka Dance Vision, Nirmiti School of Dance, Nritya Creations, Shake it up dance school, Dance4Ever, Taal Institute of Performing Arts, Dansation, and Taraang with Mitali were among the schools that participated.

The event commenced with the National Anthem of US and India, during his welcome address DPC Chair Saurin Parikh welcomed the spectators and applauded the children parents and choreographers. He also dedicated the 36th year of this cultural performance competition to children with this year total surpassing the accumulated total of over 18000 children that have participated in this cultural dance competition that spans 3 decades.

The community event also honored the dignitaries in attendance, judges, guests and the traditional ceremony of oath for the FIA’s incoming executive committee of 2020 – Anil Bansal President; Himanshu Bhatia, Executive Vice President; Saurin Parikh, Vice President; Praveen Bansal, General Secretary; Amit Ringasia, Treasurer; Alok Kumar, Immediate Past President and Mardavi Patel, Joint Secretary. The oath was administered by Deputy Consulate General New York Shatrughan Sinha who was on hand, acknowledged and welcomed the incoming FIA Executive team. He expressed his appreciation for the role FIA has played in the community for 49 years and how working CGI-NY and FIA working in sync is pivotal and progressively benefits  the Indian diaspora here in the Northeast.

Also present was Representative from the Governor’s office, aid to the Governor – Rajpal Bath who administered the oath to two new members added by FIA to the Board of Trustees, Srujal Parikh, Past President & Andy Bhatia, Past President both long-time FIA veterans.  Chairman Ramesh Patel recognized the support of the FIA Board that currently holds a line of distinguished community leaders including Ramesh Patel, Padma Shri H R Shah, Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, Albert Jasani, Ram Gadhavi, Dipak Patel, Chandrakant Trivedi, Pravin Pandhi, Ankur Vaidya, Jayesh Patel & Yash Paul Soi.

FIA 2020 President Anil Bansal thanked the 2019 team and expressed his gratitude for trust placed on him by the FIA fraternity in electing him to lead in 2020 and assured continued engagement with the diaspora assistance programs as well as grandeur celebrations to mark FIA’s 50 years of completion.

Participants were judged by an array of talented personalities including Anindita Nanda, an exponent of Odissi, internationally-acclaimed classical dancer and an Indian vocalist,  Paromita Chakravarty an accomplished Bharatnatyam Practitioner, theater artist and choreographer, Pranaya Akula, trained in Bharatnatyam and a dance teacher, and Swati Vaishnav, the owner of a dance academy Nartan Rang Dance Dance Academy who have won multiple dance competitions both nationally and internationally. The event was sponsored by Radio Mirchi, Air India, Republic Tv, TV Asia, Parikh Worldwide Media & South Asian Times.

FIA in its first launched an e-bi-weekly diaspora news mailer and performed a beta app test for popular audience voting app which saw an accumulated total of over 7000 votes cast.  The app vote scores were not included due to the beta version of the app being tested.  FIA plans to incorporate this as a part of the counted vote score in the coming competitions.   Concluding with the announcement of results, FIA also honored all the dancers, choreographers and judges with Prize-Winning amounts, mementos, and certificates.

Sikh Coalition trains volunteers for accurate headcount in Census 2020

Within the next two months, the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy organization for Indian-Americans of the Sikh faith, plans to begin training volunteers who can help members of the community fill the 2020 Census forms which begin being mailed nationwide that month.

In a Jan. 13, 2020 press release, the Sikh Coalition said in the lead-up to the mid-March mailing of initial census forms, the Sikh Coalition will recruit and train volunteers at gurdwaras across the country who will help community members submit their census information online “in a safe and supportive environment.”

Those who are interested in assisting with this work should email [email protected], the press release said. This endeavor is a “formal partnership” with the United States Census Bureau in advance of the 2020 census. And As a formal partner of the Census Bureau, the Sikh Coalition is committed to raising census awareness and participation among the Sikh community, the organization said.

“The Sikh Coalition is partnering with the Census Bureau because Sikhs have traditionally been a ‘hard to count’ population in the United States,” Satjeet Kaur, executive director of Sikh Coalition is quoted saying in the press release. “Our community matters, and we want to make sure that Sikh families are appropriately counted and accurately resourced wherever they are across our country,” she added.

The initial work will therefore focus initially on informing the community that completing census forms is simple, safe, and essential. The census is a national headcount undertaken by the U.S. government every 10 years. The Census form asks a series of simple demographic questions about all members of each household in the nation.

“Because an accurate count is the goal, the census never asks about citizenship,” the Sikh Coalition said, adding, “It is safe for everyone, regardless of their immigration status, to fill out the census.”

Data from the census ultimately determines how the government allocates resources for things like schools, hospitals, roads, and parks; where businesses choose to move and invest; and how legislative seats and electoral votes are allocated.
Throughout 2020, the Sikh Coalition said it will be launching new initiatives to increase civic engagement. These efforts, including 2020 census and “Get Out The Vote” projects.

Retired Pope Benedict warns Francis against relaxing priestly celibacy rules

Retired Pope Benedict XVI has issued a defense of priestly celibacy in the Catholic Church as his successor considers easing a ban on married men serving as priests. Pope Benedict made the appeal in a book co-authored with Cardinal Robert Sarah.

It comes in response to a proposal to allow married men to be ordained as priests in the Amazon region. Pope Benedict, who retired in 2013, said he could not remain silent on the issue.

In the book, Pope Benedict says celibacy, a centuries-old tradition within the Church, has “great significance” because it allows priests to focus on their duties.

The 92-year-old says “it doesn’t seem possible to realise both vocations [priesthood and marriage] simultaneously”.

It is rare for Pope Benedict, who was the first pontiff to resign in almost 600 years, to intervene in clerical matters. The Vatican is yet to comment on the book, which was previewed in part by French newspaper Le Figaro before its full publication on Monday.

Vatican commentators have reacted with surprise to Benedict’s intervention, suggesting it breaks with convention.

“Benedict XVI is really not breaking his silence because he (and his entourage) never felt bound to that promise. But this is a serious breach,” Massimo Faggioli, a historian and theologian at Villanova University, tweeted.

The comments by Pope Benedict were described as “incredible” by Joshua McElwee, a journalist for the National Catholic Reporter.

A theological conservative with traditional views on Catholic values, Pope Benedict pledged to remain “hidden from the world” when he retired, citing poor health. But since then, he has made his views known in articles, books and interviews, advocating a different approach to Pope Francis, who is seen as more progressive. Pope Benedict still lives within the walls of the Vatican in a former monastery.

What is the proposed change to priestly celibacy?

In October, Catholic bishops from around the world gathered for a meeting, known as the synod, to discuss the future of the Church in the Amazon.

At the conclusion of that meeting, a document detailing issues affecting the Church was released. In it, there was a suggestion that in remote parts of the Amazon, older, married men should be ordained. South American bishops have advocated this in an effort to address the shortage of priests in the region.

Pope Francis will consider it, along with many other proposals, including the environment and the role of women in the Church. He is expected to make a decision on the matter within the next few months.

There are already some exceptions, such as priests in Eastern Catholic Churches and Anglican priests who convert.

Why is it controversial?

Priestly celibacy was introduced about 900 years ago. Before then clergy were often married – priestly celibacy is not explicitly required by the Bible but is a discipline required by the Church.

For many, celibacy is a key part of being a Catholic priest, who is supposed to devote himself to the church and not be distracted by what some consider to be worldly concerns like a wife or a family.

For traditionalists, this is about the direction in which Pope Francis is taking the Church. Some critics regard the idea of allowing married priests in the Amazon as a pretext to abolishing celibacy as a requirement altogether.

Despite having vowed to remain “hidden from view” following his sudden retirement in 2013, it is difficult not to regard former Pope Benedict XVI’s intervention as a strategically timed appeal to Pope Francis to refrain from changing the rules on celibacy.

This is also a collision between the ancient belief that celibacy is exemplified in the life of Christ and the ministry of Apostle Paul, who wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians that “I wish all people were like me”, and the demands of a modern church that is growing across the Amazon region but where there is a severe shortage of priests.

But Pope Francis has indicated, through Papal visits and his appointment of cardinals, that he recognises where the Roman Catholic Church is growing and wants to respond to its needs.

His decision on whether to accept the Amazon bishops’ request is therefore eagerly awaited and is expected in the next few weeks.

Golden Temple in Sripuram, Tamil Nadu

Golden Temple Vellore complex inside the Sripuram spiritual park is situated at the foot of a small range of green hills at Thirumalaikodi (or simply Malaikodi) Vellore in Tamil NaduIndia. It is 120 km from Tirupati, 145 km from Chennai, 160 km from Puducherry and 200 km from Bengaluru. The Maha Kumbhabhishekam or consecration of the temple and its chief deity, Sri Lakshmi Narayani or Maha Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, was held on 24 August 2007, and devotees from all religions and backgrounds are welcome to visit. This temple is gilded with 1,500 kg of pure gold, double the 750 kg gilding of the dome of the Golden Temple at Amritsar.

The salient feature of ‘Sripuram’ is the Lakshmi Narayani temple whose Vimanam and Ardha Mandapam is covered with pure gold, housing the deity Sri Lakshmi Narayani (female consort of Vishnu Narayana). The temple is located on 100 acres of land and has been constructed by the Vellore-based charitable trust, Sri Narayani Peedam, headed by its spiritual leader Sri Sakthi Amma also known as ‘Narayani Amma’.

The temple with its gold (1,500 kg) covering, has intricate work done by artisans specialising in temple art using gold. Every single detail was manually created, including converting the gold bars into gold foils and then mounting the foils on copper. Gold foil from 9 layers to 10 layers has been mounted on the etched copper plates. Every single detail in the temple art has significance from the Vedas.[2]

Sripuram’s design features a star-shaped path (Sri chakra), positioned in the middle of the lush green landscape, with a length of over 1.8 km. As one walks along this ‘starpath’ to reach the temple in the middle, one can also read various spiritual messages — such as the gift of the human birth itself, and the value of spirituality — along the way.

The Sri Narayani Hospital & Research Centre is a general hospital located near the Sripuram temple complex and is also run by the ‘Sri Narayani Peedam’ Charitable Trust.

Hardline Hindus protest huge Indian Jesus statue

By Agence France-Presse

 Hundreds of Hindu activists affiliated to India’s ruling party rallied on Monday to protest a planned Jesus statue that will rival Rio de Janeiro’s Christ The Redeemer for size.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has long been accused of intolerance towards other religions and of wanting to remould officially secular India as a Hindu nation, which it denies.

The protests in the southern state of Karnataka were led by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP’s hardline parent organisation, and others clutching saffron flags as around 1,000 police stood by.

“We want to stop (the statue), since it goes against the spirit of communal harmony and encourages religious conversions which is rampantly carried out by Christian missionaries,” Prabhakar Bhat, a top RSS functionary told Indian media.

Construction of the white granite statue 114 feet (34.7 meters) high —slightly shorter than the Rio monolith although the base will be bigger — stopped soon after it started last month after objections.

Many Hindus believe the hill where the statue is set to stand in the Christian-dominated village of Harobele is the abode of a Hindu deity, although no temple exists there.

The BJP-run state government accused the previous administration of the main opposition Congress party of illegally allotting the plot of land.

Less than one percent of Karnataka’s 65 million people are Christian, compared to around two percent in Hindu-majority India as a whole.

The state witnessed a wave of attacks on Christians and churches by Hindu radicals in 2008 over allegations of seeking to convert Hindus, including with cash.

Last year six members of a Hindu group were arrested for attacking a group of Christian pilgrims in the state.

The state government has been routinely accused of discrimination. It banned a festival to commemorate a Muslim king who fought the British East India Company.

India has witnessed a surge in crimes against its religious minorities and shrinking of religious freedoms since Modi swept to power in 2014.

Last year the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom said that religious freedom was on a “downward trend”, with a “campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities”.

The government rejected the report.

Over the past month India has been rocked by protests against a new law making it easier for persecuted religious minorities to obtain citizenship, but not if they are Muslim.

Combined with a mooted national register of citizens, it has stoked fears that India’s 200 million Muslims will be marginalized.

Legend Thomas Puthoor A Gospel singer, Rocks Chicago Evening of music, testimonies, and dedication to God

Chicago IL: Hope United Methodist Church, Naperville IL, Organized a Gospel Concert with Thomas Puthoor on December 28th, 2019, at 6::30 pm. An Orchestra also graced this program by Richard Christian, Base Guitarist: John Mall, Keyboard Players: Joel Christian, Shahjad Markas, and Sound: Tariq Khan, a Music Ministry International. It was an evening of music, testimonies, and dedication to God.

Rev Avani Christian, Pastor of Hope United Methodist Church, welcomed and invited all for the upcoming events and worship of the Church. The program started by an invocation by Pastor Paul Morris, who asked for God’s blessings and reminded us that as angels sang to Shepherd and brought a great message of Peace on earth, we may also be lifted by the music together. Blesson Macloen, who was the MC of the Program, introduced Thomas Puthoor. Thomas Puthoor is renowned international gospel singer and has sung in many languagesHindi, Gujarati, Malayalam and Swahili. Thomas Puthoor is ministering through singing for last 26 years and has done musical programs in the US, Singapore, London, Canada, Fiji Island, Australia, Kenya, New Zealand, Tanzania and India.

Thomas Puthoor introduced himself and told us about his ministry to God as a singer. He has dedicated his life to bring God’s love and worship through music for twenty-six years. He is from Kenya and is the Managing Director of one of the largest apparel manufacturing Companies in Kenya since last 17 years. He has dedicated his voice in ministry to God.

He sang his first song with a soul touching song called “Tere paas Aaata Ho” and unfolded his deep and powerful vocal in the hearts of people. Hope UMC choir for chorus accompanied him. Then he sang a Gujarati song, Magu Ishwar aatlu” which was soul searching song of strength and courage in times of difficulty and uncertainty. He continued many songs and showed God’s gift. As he ministered through his music, it seemed like each song was being used to draw people into the very presence of the Lord. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about? We should get to a point in all of our ministries that we are more than happy to reflect all the praise and honor to God!

The evening ended with dinner and Garba with Thomas Puthoor’s Garba songs. It proclaimed and gave an assurance that our life is much like the song, as we may not all have the same “part,” yet when we all do what God has called us to do, we enjoy a great sense of harmony and joy as we serve. Some parts are more visible than others minister in the background, but again, when we function where God has placed us, beautiful “music” is the result!

Gujarati Christians hold Christmas celebrations in New Jersey

Indian-Americans originally from Gujarat who follow the Catholic faith held a rousing Christmas celebration Dec. 28, 2029, at the Holy Savior Academy of Sacred Heart Church in South Plainfield, N.J.

Scores of people attended the annual event which for the first time, was organized by the Youth Wing of Gujarati Catholic Samaj of USA, according to Irena, one of the youth organizers, who spoke to ITV Gold.

The event was “packed with performances” dinner time karaoke and Garba performances by several groups, and with a live band. The singer at the event was Prakash Parmar, who told ITV Gold, he had been performing at the Gujarati Catholic Samaj Christmas event for the last 3 years.

Gujarati Catholic Samaj of USA has been organizing the annual Christmas celebration since it’s was formed in 2010.

“The festivity and tradition continues at the eve of our 10th anniversary with new, fresh, energetic youth leadership. We are so pleased and very much proud of our youth wing who has taken up the responsibilities to arrange and manage the whole event,” the GCS of USA said on its website. Among the guests present at the event was Father Andrew Nisari, Father John Alvarado, as well as Sisters Chetna and Anjana.

Father Nisari noted how Gujarati Catholics from near and far had come to celebrate the birth of Jesus. He thanked the organizers and wished everyone a \Merry Christmas and a New Year full of promise, in his interview with ITV Gold.

Father Alvarado evoked biblical scenes to make his point about the joyful occasion. Sister Chetna, speaking to ITV Gold, gave her blessings to those present and wished all a happy new year. Sister Anjana said it was her first time at the celebration, and that she was happy at being with her own community.

The mission and vision of the GCS of USA, a non-profit organization, is “to bring our community together to unite, preserve and propagate and grow the rich cultural heritage of Gujarati Catholics in the world,” the website says. In the U.S. the organization strives to bring together Gujarati Catholics with a view to providing “a forum for social, religious, cultural, educational, economical and charitable interaction among its members, of this great, blessed and adopted country… The United States of America.”

The GCS of USA organizes various programs, events, educational fundraising activities, and education developmental projects for the community, including social events, annual celebrations, entertainment, seminars on social awareness, religious awareness, and to stay connected to families, relatives and friends back home in Gujarat, the organization says.

Kathakali from the Enchanting Kerala

Merging music, vocal and instrumental, with classical dance moves and stylized acting, Kerala Natanam, a unique brand of dance popular in Kerala, offers a visual feast for all. This culturally-rooted distinct art form is believed to have evolved from the classical dance-drama, Kathakali.

Besides infusing elements of philosophy into poetry and depicting multiple emotions, Kerala Natanam embodies an amalgamation of nritha (dance), nrithya (dance with music and gestures), natya (drama), angika (body gestures), vaachika (verbal), aahaarya (costumes and make up), saatvika (of temperaments and involuntary status) abhinaya (acting), along with the thala mela (rhythm) of the traditional percussion instruments.

Guru Gopinath, the pioneer of Indian creative dance, conceptualised Kerala Natanam after his association with danseuse Ragini Devi. The idea was to create a dance form that would connect with the people more easily, unlike the classical form of Kathakali. Thus he created a new unique dance form which later came to be known as Kerala Natanam.

The essence and classicism of Kathakali can be seen in the use of padams set in the Carnatic style. But it uses costumes quite distinct from Kathakali, which makes it easier for the viewer to identify the character.

Usually, Kerala Natanam performances are done in three styles: Ekanga Nadanam (solo), Samgha Nadanam (group) and Nataka Nadanam (a dance drama). A distinct style in Kerala Natanam is the male-female pair dancing.

The essence of this art form is conveyed in its style and theme. Kerala Natanam focuses on themes outside mythology, epics and history.

Did Pope Francis say that Jesus isn’t God? Don’t believe the report, Vatican says

The Vatican said last week that an Italian journalist it has previously corrected was not speaking accurately when he claimed that Pope Francis denied Christ’s divinity. “As already stated on other occasions, the words that Dr. Eugenio Scalfari attributes in quotation marks to the Holy Father during talks with him cannot be considered a faithful account of what was actually said but represent a personal and free interpretation of what he heard, as appears completely evident from what is written today regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ,” Matteo Bruni, the director of the Holy See’s press office, said in a statement Oct. 9.

The statement came in response to a column in La Repubblica, the newspaper founded by Scalfari, in which the 95-year-old self-declared atheist said that “Pope Francis conceives Christ as Jesus of Nazareth, a man, not God incarnate.”

Scalfari did not claim that he had recently interviewed the pontiff, only saying that this was a topic he had discussed with Pope Francis at some time in the past. Scalfari mentioned examples in Scriptures in which Christ prayed, among them his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, to support his thesis that Jesus Christ was not divine.

He wrote that when he raised those points to Pope Francis, the pope told him: “‘They are the definite proof that Jesus of Nazareth, once he became a man, even if he was a man of exceptional virtue, was not a God.’”

Pope Francis has made reference to Christ’s divinity frequently. In Evangelli Gaudium, the pope speaks of the “divine life” of Jesus.

In his Dec. 24, 2013 homily, the pope said that “The grace which was revealed in our world is Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, true man and true God…In him was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst.” Speaking of Jesus last October, the pope said “God chooses an uncomfortable throne, the cross, from which he reigns giving his life.”

550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak on Capitol Hill, UN and Indian Consulate

As part of the celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev — the founder of Sikhism — the Indian Embassy in Washington, DC hosted an event and reception on Capitol Hill on the philosophy and teachings of Guru Nanak, where there was unanimity that his principles were even more relevant today in the current environment of polarization and divisiveness.

Indiana Senator Todd Young, a Republican, who kicked off the event at the Hart Senate building on Nov. 12 that was attended by nearly 300 attendees, said, “While radical for his day some 500 years ago, the teachings of the first Sikh guru who we celebrate today were consistent with our nation’s founding principles and teaching that everyone, regardless of gender, regardless of class, regardless of creed, everyone has been created equal.”

Young, who had also introduced a resolution in the Senate on the occasion of Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary, and lauded both his large Sikh American constituency and the historical, cultural, and religious significance of the Sikh Americans and their contributions to the United States, observed this profound impact across the U.S. by Sikh Americans was because of their undying fidelity to the teachings of the faith’s first guru.

Democratic U.S. Representative Judy Chu of California, the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) and also a founding member of the Congressional Sikh Caucus, said, “Guru Nanak’s life was a true example to all of us and one whose lessons we would do well to heed today.

“Guru Nanak was a true humanitarian champion in the face of entrenched discrimination. He preached against prejudices based on race, caste and status. He called it the equality of all individuals no matter what religion they practiced or caste they belonged to. He promoted the equality of all women during a time when women had low status and little respect within society,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Greg Pence (R.-Ind.), who had earlier in the day taken to the House floor to recognize the day, said that “Indiana is proud to be home of over 10,000 Sikhs that enrich our communities, embody the meaning of Hoosier values. Hoosier Sikhs are one of the fastest growing business communities in Indiana.” Hoosier is a reference to someone who is a native or inhabitant of Indiana.

Celebrating Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary, three influential Democratic U.S. Senators — Richard Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Ben Cardin of Maryland, introduced a resolution in the US Senate recognizing the historical, cultural, and religious significance of Sikh Americans and their contributions to the United States.

“Sikh Americans have added to the social, cultural, and economic diversity of the United States, including by serving as members of our Armed Forces and have contributed to fields as diverse as agriculture, information technology, hospitality, trucking, and medicine,” Durbin said.

“I’m honored to introduce this resolution with Senators Menendez and Cardin recognizing the many contributions and accomplishments of Sikh Americans and the 550th birthday of Guru Nanak.” Menendez added, “The Sikh community has made countless contributions to civic life in New Jersey and the United States across so many endeavors in the public and private sectors,” and noted, “As this resolution describes, America is a better country thanks to Sikhs from all walks of life.”

Cardin, for his part, also spoke of how “Sikh-Americans have been a proud part of the American story for generations and they continue to enrich our nation and the communities in which they live.”

“I thank the Sikh community for their ongoing social, cultural and economic contributions, and for their courage to stand up against racial and religious discrimination against their community and others,” he added.

India’s Ambassador to the U.S. Harsh Vardhan Shringla, speaking at the Nov. 12 event, said, “We are very happy of course, that on this particular day we have at the Capitol Hill such an important event that involves not only discourse on Sikh religion and history, but also the disproportionate contribution of Sikh American community to your country of citizenship.

“We are very happy that we are celebrating this historic occasion in the Senate, in Congress,” he said, and added, “It is pertinent that we are celebrating this in the U.S. which has been a beacon of the values of equality and freedom of all human beings, values that are at the core of Sikh philosophy”.

He also noted that the opening of the Kartarpur corridor between India and Pakistan was “a historic day,” and that the Indian government has taken several actions to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, both in the U.S. and across the world, in addition to the celebrations in India.

The event also featured an exhibition on the life and message of Guru Nanak, two panel discussions on the life and philosophy on him, andthe contributions of Sikh Americans to the United States.

There was also screening of a documentary on the first Indian American elected to the U.S. Congress, Dalip Singh Saund, a Sikh, who won on the Democratic ticket to represent California’s District 29 in the House of Representatives in 1956, and served from Jan. 3, 1957 to Jan. 3, 1963.

Sri Venkateswara Swami (Balaji) temple celebrates Annual Dance Festival

Sri Venkateswara Swami temple in Aurora, IL conducted their Annual Dance Festival this past Sunday, November 17th 2019. The festival has been a yearly tradition for the past several years at the Balaji temple and has been known to be the only dance festival in Chicagoland that showcases pure classical Indian dance forms for the entire event. India, a culturally rich and diverse nation has several traditional dance styles across various regions like Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Mohiniattam, Kathak etc., Over 125 performers trained in some of those dance forms from various dance schools in and around Chicagoland including Peoria participated in the event.

The program started with a Solo Bharatanatyam performance by a senior dancer, Hemalatha Vijayakumar who trained in Bangalore, India and is currently residing in Chicago. The solo performance was followed by a couple Bharatanatyam presentations from senior dancers at Noopura Dance Academy and Nrityanant Performing arts who presented a Raagamalika called Nadi – on the 5 major rivers in Maharastra. Dancers from Kuchipudi Natya Vihar and Ananda Dance Theater presented items choreographed by Guru Padmabhushan Dr.Vempati Chinnasatyam in the Kuchipudi dance style. Students of Utkalaa Center of Odissi dance presented a Pallavi-Nritta set in multiple ragas in the Odissi dance style.

Lakshmy Balachandran from Parvathy Dance school presented a Thillana in the Mohiniattam dance form. Dancers from Mythili Dance Academy, Peoria presented a vibrant Thillana with complex Nritta that mesmerized the audience. Shruthi Mothkur of Kuchipudi Natya Vihar presented Shiva Tandava Stotram, a hymn that describes Lord Shiva’s power and beauty. There were several enthralling Bharatanatyam presentations by students of Nrithyanjali School of Dance, Mudra Dance Academy, Nrithya Sangeeth, Nrithya Sanjivini, Kalakriti school of dance and Kalapriya foundation. Dancers from Samskriti foundation presented items from both Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam dance styles.

The highlight of the program was the featured Bharatanatyam duet by Nandini Bhamidipati and Krithika Varsha students of renowned classical dancer and choreographer Dr.Ananda Shankar Jayant of Shankarananda Kalakshetra, Hyderabad India. Their presentation started with a Pushpanjali, an offering of flowers to the lord and paying the dancer’s respects to the guru, orchestra and the audience. Followed by Shivoham which depicts Lord Shiva and his Consort Shakti as Ardhanarishvara, the form that represents the synthesis of the masculine and feminine energies of the universe and concluded with a brilliant Thillana in the praise of Lord Muruga.

The entire event was a musical and visual treat that captivated and enthralled the audience of all ages. Sri Balaji Temple administration and the Cultural committee finds it to be privilege and an honor to organize such events that help promote and encourage traditional art forms and provide a platform to all the educators and students in the region.

Gujarat Cultural Association, Chicago, Celebrated Diwali, a Festival of Lights, with colorful traditions

Gujarat Cultural Association, Chicago (GCA) hosted a Diwali Gala on Friday, November 15, 2019 at The Meadows Club, 2950 W. Golf Road, Rolling Meadows, IL.  The Diwali dinner was accompanied by the amazing talented Mayuri Musical Group which attracted a large number of families, friends, and community figures of the city. The program was highly successful with the active support of the Sponsors, Executive Board, GCA Members and Volunteers. Gujarat Cultural Association is the first and largest Gujarati Association in Chicago Metropolitan Area.

The program was emceed by Mrs. Amisha Patel by welcoming everyone, including Banquet Chair Mr. Jyotendra Patel and GCA, Chairman Mr. Kanti S. Patel.  The event was commenced with the traditional lighting of the lamp/Diya ceremony by Chief Guest, Dr. Subhash Patel, Consulate General of India, Mr. Sudhakar Delela, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, Mr. & Mrs, Kanti & Jyoti Patel, Mr.& Mrs. Jyotendra & Geeta Patel and other dignitaries, which include: Mr. Anil Shah, Dr. Anuja Gupta, Mr. Ashok Punjabi, Mr. Salil Mishra, Mr. Aamir Chalisha, Mr. Shrujal Patel, Mrs. Malini from Air India, Dr. Nita Patel, Mr. Bhailal Patel, Mr. Nilesh Topiwala, Mr. Mohmmad Tariq from Hanmi Bank, Mr. Richard Boykin, Mr. Hari Patel, Mr. Manu Patel from AAHOA.

Mrs. Amisha Patel invited Dr. Manish Brahmbhatt to introduce the Chief Guest, Dr. Subhash Patel for this event onto the stage.

Dr. Patel thanked Gujarat Cultural Association for tireless work by its member, especially Kanti Patel.  Mrs. Amisha Patel invited Mr. Kanti Patel to the stage to welcome our Consulate General of India, Mr. Sudhakar Dalela and Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi to speak to the guest.

Mrs. Amisha Patel announced the Awards of 2 successful individuals in the Indian Community.  Mr. Shrujal Patel and Mr. Prajesh Patel were given awards by the Consulate General of India, Mr. Sudhakar Delela and Congressman, Raja Krishnamoorthi.

Other prominent leaders, community members, and distinguished businessman were recognized on the stage by Kanti Patel, Chairman of GCA and received a Bouquet of flowers.  The following include: Leslie Danford (OYO), Mr. Mitesh Patel (Level Construction), Mr. Anil Shah, Dr. Anuja Gupta, Mr. Ashok Punjabi, Mr. Salil Mishar (Millennium Bank), Mr. Mohmmad Tariq (Hanmi Bank), and Mrs. Malini(Air India).

Wishing everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous upcoming New Year, Mr. Kanti S. Patel concluded his speech by thanking everyone for their continued support co-operation and participation in these events.  The evening ended with an amazing dinner accompanied with a Musical performance by Mayuri Musical Group.

‘My Gods are Hindu; hatred has no place in my religion’: Sunita Viswanath at IOC’s Nehru Jayanthi

“I was born in India, lived in India as a child, and again as an adult. I am 51 years old. I have grown up largely abroad, but my heart is Indian, and my Gods are Hindu, and that means that both are open, giving, inclusive, expansive, full of love. My Indian heart sings Eshwar Allah Tero Naam, and my Hindu Gods teach me, “aano bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah.” This is from the Rig Veda and means: “Let Noble Thoughts come to me from all directions.” Said Ms. Sunita Viswanath, co-founder of ‘Hindus for Human Rights’ addressing a gathering organized in coordination with Indian overseas Congress, USA, and Indo-US Democracy Foundation celebrating the Nehru Jayanthi on November 14, in Queens, New York.
“The India that was envisioned by Nehruji, Gandhiji, Ambedkarji and so many other visionaries and revolutionaries, the India that is a “sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic” which ensures “justice, liberty, equality to all citizens and promotes fraternity to maintain unity and integrity of the nation,” is in crisis. This carnage of lives, rights, and Democracy is happening in the name of our faith. There must be a Hindu response to Hindutva. After all, since Hindus are the majority, no change is possible without changing the hearts and minds of Hindus. Who will annihilate caste if not Hindus?”
Nehruji’s greatest influence and inspiration, Gandhiji, was a progressive Hindu if there ever was one. Gandhiji wrote, “Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his own faith or dharma, and so it lives at peace with all the religions.” And Nehruji said, on Gandhiji’s birthday in 1952, “If any person raises his hand to strike down another on the ground of religion, I shall fight him till the last breath of my life, both at the head of government and from outside,” Ms. Viswanath added.
In opening the meeting, Dr. Leno Thomas, the Emcee of the event, stated that Nehru understood that greatness lay in the service of our fellow human beings. “The only alternative to coexistence is co-destruction,” he said. “Without peace, all other dreams vanish and are reduced to ashes.” He saw Democracy as a means to an end, not the end itself. He saw freedom as a tool to uplift a lot of people. “The world of today has achieved much, but for all its declared love for humanity,” he said, “it has based itself far more on hatred and violence than on the virtues that make one human. War is the negation of truth and humanity. War may be unavoidable sometimes, but its progeny is terrible to contemplate. Not mere killing, for man, must die, but the deliberate and persistent propagation of hatred and falsehood, which gradually become the normal habits of the people”.
“He succeeded to a large extent in maintaining the edifice of Indian unity using Democracy, socialism, and secularism. He believed and lived the fundamental truth that all human beings had a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the very principles, and words of the founding fathers of the United States of America. Wherever we are, in whatever small way we can, let follow his example and think and live and do likewise,” Dr. Thomas added.
Welcoming the distinguished guests that included Mr. Paul Vallone, the NYC councilman, George Abraham, Vice-Chairman of the IOC, USA recollected a bit of history where India was at the time of Independence. “Congress started with zero. Electricity was available only in 20 villages across India, Telephone facilities were available only for 20 rulers (Kings) in the country, no drinking water supply, no hospitals, no educational institutions, no fertilizers, no jobs, rampant starvation in the country, four planes, 20 tankers and fully open borders, minimum roads and bridges, empty exchequer and that is what Nehru inherited”.
“Today India has the largest army, thousands of warplanes, lakhs of Industrial Institutions, electricity in almost all villages, hundreds of electrical power stations, several thousands of highways and bridges, new railway projects, stadiums, super-specialty hospitals, most of the Indian households with Television, telephone services across the country, Banks, Universities, AIMS, IITs IIMs, Nuclear weapons, Submarines, ISRO…all these were achieved under the vision of our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.  Some would talk as if this all has happened in the last five years, and it is nothing but an outright distortion of history. The attempt by the current regime to marginalize the legacy of Nehru is shameful and will not succeed,” Mr. Abraham added.
The meeting also played Nehru’s “Tryst with Destiny” speech and Mr. Paul Vallone,  who received a Humanitarian Award from the Indo-US Democracy Foundation for his support for promoting Democracy and freedom lauded Nehru for his inclusive policies that united India and appealed to the gathering to emulate the same values for their transplanted lives here in the USA. Mr. Indrajit Saluja, Chief Editor of Indian Panorama, presented him with a plaque, and Ms. Mariamma Varkey, Chairperson for Kerala Chapter’s Women’s forum felicitated him with a Shawl.
Mr. Rajender Dichpally, General Secretary, reminded everyone to read Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India’ to gain a better perspective on history. Ms. Malini Shah was applauded specially by Mr. Paul Vallone for her support and her outstanding contributions to the Asian Indian Community. Senior IOC leaders Ravi Chopra, Leela Maret, Shalu Chopra, U.A. Naseer, and Oommen Koshy also spoke on occasion. Ms. Sophia Sharma spoke on the need to get more involved in mainstream politics to support the same Nehruvian values. Other IOC leaders who were present also included Mr. Pradeep Samala, John Joseph, Satish Sharma and Rajesh Alladad, K C Chaithanya, S. Lal Malick and community leaders such as Mohammed Hack, Dilip Chauhan, Jennifer Rajkumari, Somanath Ghimire and Koshy George.

Sabarimala Temple at the center of gender dispute, opens its doors after Supreme Court allows women’s entry

For hundreds of years, girls aged 10 to 50 weren’t allowed to enter the Sabarimala Temple. However in September final 12 months, the nation’s Supreme Courtroom overturned the ban, and in January, girls entered the temple for the primary time, defying opposition from spiritual conservatives. However that call is now in query, after the Supreme Courtroom agreed to overview its landmark ruling.
Thousands of police have been deployed in the southern Indian state of Kerala as a centuries-old temple at the center of an ongoing gender row prepares to open its doors for the pilgrimage season.
It is now unclear whether women will be allowed to enter the temple when it opens its doors today despite the Supreme Court saying on Thursday that the discriminatory ban was no longer in force. 
Around 2,500 police were deployed on Saturday and more may be sent out if required, Lokanath Behera, the Director General of Police in Kerala, told CNN
During the last pilgrimage season in January, violent protests erupted across the southern state when at least one person died and police used tear gas and water cannons to deal with the disruption. Women who tried to enter the shrine were told to go back and in some cases they were assaulted. 
The Supreme Court ordered the state authorities to “take steps to safe the boldness of the neighborhood so as to make sure the achievement of constitutional values. “Organized acts of resistance to thwart the implementation of this judgment should be put down firmly,” the ruling added.
Rahul Easwar, a right-wing Hindu activist who petitioned to overturn the September 2018 ruling, referred to as Thursday’s determination a “step in the correct route. There may be an implicit admission that the sooner verdict ought to be reviewed,” he advised reporters. “We hope that the Sabrimala tradition and perception shall be protected.”In September 2018, the ban was reviewed by a 5 judges — it is going to now be dispatched to a seven-judge bench for consideration.
The Sabarimala shrine, regarded as greater than 800 years old, is taken into account the non secular dwelling of Lord Ayyappa, a Hindu god of development. Supporters of the ban on girls of menstrual age argue that since Ayyappa is taken into account celibate, permitting “impure” girls into the temple is disrespectful.
Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran has stated that Sabarimala is just not a spot for activists to show their activism and stated the federal government wouldn’t encourage such girls who wish to go to the shrine for publicity. Those that wish to go to the temple can procure a court docket order to enter the temple, he stated. However individuals who oppose the ban say that it was a type of discrimination finished within the identify of custom.

Long Island Gujarati Cultural Society Celebrates Grand Diwali

The annual Diwali celebration was held at Cotillion banquet hall in Jericho, NY on November 9th. Organized by the Long Island Gujarati Cultural Society, a 501 (C) (3) Non-Profit Organization, serving the Indian community in Suffolk and Nassau counties for over 22 years. Today, with more than thousand brothers and sisters, ranging all tristate area, with the objective  to focus on cultural, spiritual, educational, and charity events for the benefit of our members and our community and passing the cultural heritage to upcoming generation, the cultural event was a huge success.
Evening started with delicious appetizers and exchange of love and greetings during social hour. A brief cultural program started with invocation – prayer dance and other dance forms by beautiful Young girls. About 250 members and guest including New York State senator Hon. Kevin Thomas and Former Deputy Comptroller of Nassau County Hon. Dilip Chauhan Honored by Long Island Gujarati Cultural Society.  President Mr. Vijay Shah, introduced the hard working officers and Executive committee members, senior citizen forum committee members and Women’s wing coordinators. Also focused on the main objective to promote Gujarati/Indian cultural arts with Sanskrit shloka narrating the importance of “PRAKASH” in our life on this festival of lights – Diwali. The party picked up the momentum with Sumptuous Dinner and open Dance floor on the beats of DJ Bobby. In closing note President also recognized the backbone of entire event planner and coordinator LIGCS secretary Mr. Paresh Raval. 
Dilip Chauhan emphasized in speech about important of Census count  as well as how important to register to vote and active participation in civic process, he said “ If you don’t vote you don’t have a right to complaint” Also he thanked President Vijay Shah, Secretary Paresh Raval, Bhadresh Acharya and entire executive committee for organizing such a successful Diwali Celebration.

India’s Supreme Court Gives Verdict on Ayodhya – Ram Temple To Be Built At Disputed Site

The Five-Judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court of India that was hearing the sensitive centuries old Ayodhya land dispute announced the verdict on Friday, November 8th.  Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, along with CJI-designate SA Bobde and Justice Ashok Bhushan, DY Chandrachud and S Abdul Nazeer, after concluding the hearings from all sides in the Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid case stated that the disputed holy site of Ayodhya in northern India should be given to Hindus who want a temple built there, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled.

In the unanimous verdict, the court said that a report by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) provided evidence that the remains of a building “that was not Islamic” was beneath the structure of the demolished Babri mosque.

The court said that, given all the evidence presented, it had determined that the disputed land should be given to Hindus for a temple to Lord Ram, while Muslims would be given land elsewhere to construct a mosque.

The case, which has been bitterly contested for decades by Hindus and Muslims, centers on the ownership of the land in Uttar Pradesh state. Muslims would get another plot of land to construct a mosque, the court said.

Hindus believe that centuries ago a temple once stood in the city of Ayodhya, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, marking the birthplace of Lord Rama, one of the most widely-worshipped Hindu gods.

The Court observed that “the Muslims have been wrongly deprived of a mosque which had been constructed well over 450 years ago,” it said the Muslims had failed to provide evidence of the site’s “exclusive” possession.

The Supreme Court judgement affirms “the mosque was constructed in 1528 by or at the behest of [Mughal emperor] Babur”, and that until 1949, it was legally a mosque, although Hindus would worship at a surrounding wall.

But a sixteenth century Muslim mosque stood on the site for hundreds of years, until it was demolished by a Hindu nationalist mob in 1992 following a long campaign of religious agitation. In riots that followed in Mumbai, some 700 Muslims were killed. The state government, run by a local Hindu nationalist party, was accused of directing mobs toward Muslim areas and turning a blind eye to the violence.

The bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi heard appeals and cross-appeals filed by the Sunni Central Wakf Board and the Hindu side against a 2010 Allahabad High Court ruling that had partitioned the land among the three parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla, carving up the disputed 2.77 acres between the Hindus and the Muslims in the ratio of 2:1 in a manner so that the area on which the dome of the mosque once stood, before it was demolished in December 1992, went to the Hindu side.

Moreover, the judgement has acknowledged that an idol of Ram appeared inside the mosque on December 23, 1949, “not through any lawful authority, but through an act which was calculated to deprive them [Muslims] of their place of worship.” It also acknowledged that the mosque’s demolition in 1992 was a “calculated act of destroying a place of public worship,” going on to affirm “the Muslims have been wrongly deprived of a mosque which had been constructed well over 450 years ago.” The Supreme Court also acknowledged that ASI could not establish if a temple was demolished to build a mosque and yet, the ruling has gone against the Muslims.

The Ayodhya case is a land disagreement between two Hindu and Muslim groups, who both believe a 2.77 acre plot of land in Ayodhya to be a site holy to their religion. But the Ayodhya case is more than a land dispute. It’s political. And it goes to the heart of India’s identity politics.

British India had a long history of religious violence, particularly between the Hindu majority and the Muslim minority. When the country was divided under Partition in 1947, it was decided that India would be a secular state with no state religion — though there were some family laws that applied only to Muslims.

But by the 1970s and 1980s, Hindu nationalist leaders began embarking on tours of the country, drumming up support for a new kind of politics. They argued that Hindus had been discriminated against by “pseudo-secularism,” that Muslims had received a better deal, and that India should be a Hindu nation not a secular one. It was an idea that would fundamentally reshape India over the coming years.

The ruling Congress Party, while ostensibly secular, reacted by also beginning to take advantage of Hindu nationalism’s electoral potential. In 1986, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi opened the gates of the Babri Masjid — the disputed mosque in Ayodhya — for Hindus to worship inside. That act had significant consequences.

From 1500s to the 1800s, the Muslim Mughal Empire covered much of India, during which  period, the Babri masjid (the mosque in Ayodhya) was built. According to records stretching as far back as the 1850s, Hindus have been attacking the Babri masjid, claiming a temple marking Rama’s birthplace had previously stood there until it was demolished by the Mughals.

In 1949, soon after independence, a group of Hindus broke into the mosque and placed idols of Ram inside, claiming they had miraculously appeared. A legal case ensued, and in response, police locked the gates. The case proved a useful tool for the Hindu nationalist movement. A Hindu nationalist group affiliated with the BJP began a campaign to “reclaim” the site for Hindus.

In response, in 1986, Rajiv Gandhi opened the gates to Hindus. He also commissioned a TV dramatization of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, detailing the life of Rama, which aired from 1987-88. The series was wildly popular, and many considered watching the show to be a spiritual experience.

The historian Arvind Rajagopal argues it laid the foundations for the religification of Indian politics, and played into the new vision of the Indian nation being engineered by Hindu nationalists. The soap opera, he writes in his book Politics after Television, was really “an ancient epic … thoroughly scrambled with a national origin myth of more recent vintage.”

What happened to the Babri mosque in Ayodhya?

In 1990, the Hindu nationalist campaign to “reclaim” the “Ramjanmabhumi” (Rama’s birthplace) reached its zenith. L.K. Advani, then the leader of the BJP, embarked on a month-long pilgrimage around India, holding rallies agitating for a temple to be built on the site of the mosque.

He was arrested on the way, but thousands of supporters reached Ayodhya and attempted to storm the mosque. They were rebuffed by security forces, leaving 20 dead. Then, in 1992, Advani spoke at a rally in Ayodhya attended by 150,000 people. That day, a mob stormed the mosque and tore it down. The demolition led to a wave of Hindu-Muslim violence across India, in which more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed, according to the historian Ramachandra Guha.

At the next national elections in 1996, the BJP won its first majority in the Indian Parliament. Its manifesto included a pledge to build a temple to Rama on the site of the mosque in Ayodhya. That pledge was repeated in the BJP’s 2019 manifesto.

The parties to the dispute were the Muslim Waqf Board, which controls Islamic property in India, the Hindu Mahasabha, a Hindu nationalist political party close in ideology to the BJP, and the Nirmohi Akhara, a sect of Hindu monks.

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, has expressed dismay at Indian Supreme Court’s ruling that a Hindu temple be built on a site where the Babri Mosque stood for five centuries until Hindu extremists razed it 27 years ago.

 “The Supreme Court’s ruling is of a piece with the Modi government’s revocation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, and the decision to incarcerate half a million Muslims in detention centers in the state of Assam,” said IAMC National President Ahsan Khan. “It is inconceivable why the Court has not applied this standard of evidence for the Hindu plaintiffs,” the IAMC said.

The fact that the ruling party – and hence the government – is committed to the construction of a Ram temple at the site of the Babri Masjid means the path is now clear for speedy implementation of the project.

The Supreme Court has asked the government to allocate five acres for the construction of a mosque at a suitable place in Ayodhya, forgetting that the case’s significance was not about the availability of a mosque but whether it is permissible for anyone in India to use violence to dispossess a person or a community.

World Hindu Council Conference Threads 2019 Tells the Story of Hindu Americans

Attended by about 400 delegates from 30 states in the United States and Canada, the Threads 2019 conference, organized by World Hindu Council of America, concluded on Sunday after three days of thought-provoking and captivating deliberations.

Hindu-American thinkers, artists, educators, writers, public policy makers, scientists, medical professionals, technologists, entrepreneurs, business leaders came together on one platform to share their stories and journeys, celebrate their accomplishments and share ideas for brighter and better America for future generations. .

On the opening day, the conference opened with ceremonial Shankh Naad, Ganesh Stuti, lighting of lamp by dignitaries and beautiful rendition of Indian and American national anthems. Dr. Jai Bansal, the convenor, opened the conference by welcoming the 400+ delegates and dignitaries, travelling from more than 30 US states and Canada. In his welcome address, Dr. Bansal talked about how Hindu Americans have integrated into the fabric of American culture while retaining their own identity.

Welcoming the delegates, Mayor Scott Galvin of the host city Woburn, in a written statement, said, “our Hindu-American neighbors have strengthened our community in many ways, including our economy, knowledge, culture and community engagement.”

In a written statement, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and Lt. Governor Karyn Polito welcomed the delegates as well and said, “the conference is an excellent opportunity for Hindu Americans from various backgrounds to share their stories and journeys and to discuss ways to further increase recognition of their contributions.”

Rajiv Malhotra, Founder of Infinity Foundation, in his keynote address, explained how Hindu Americans’ have contributed to the American society at large. He summoned the delegates to take a leadership role in defining and integrating authentic Hindu values in the American mosaic. He said, “we Hindu Americans need to lead to redefine the American exceptionalism while maintaining mutual respect.”

While welcoming the delegates, Co-Chair of the conference Sanjay Kaul expressed the essence of the conference and how Hindus from all over the world have worked hard to realize their American dream and are making their Karma Bhoomi America stronger and a better society for their future generation.  He also talked about how the conference will put a spotlight on varied arenas of activity where Hindu-Americans have shone brightly.

The inaugural evening ended with two scintillating Carnatic and Hindustani musical performances. Young Tabla artist Vivek Pandya, accompanied by his father Shri Kalpit Pandya on Harmonium, showed the magic in his fingers and mesmerized the delegates with a beautiful performance. Violinist Aishu Venkataraman, accompanied by Trivandrum Balaji on Mrindangam and Ghatak Karthick on Ghatam enthralled the delegates with her spellbinding performance.

The second day started with Morning Ragas, followed by a captivating panel discussion about the pursuit of Indian arts and aesthetics in the Americas. The experts from the world of performing arts, culinary, music and literature collaborated in telling the story of their personal journey as the carriers of their Vedic heritage.

In an absorbing panel discussion, successful entrepreneurs from Hindu American community explored opportunities in the U.S. – India commercial relationship as well as the impact of this commercial relationship on the rest of the global economy.

The session on Public Services and Advocacy generated inspirational discourse among three state congressmen and two public policy advocates, with a focus on mechanisms to expand the role, visibility, and influence of Hindu Americans in public policy domains. The panelists discussed how to effectively train, mentor, and develop support systems and networks for young Hindu Americans to enter and succeed in the public square.

The session on Holistic Living, focussed on the realization that individual parts are deeply interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole. The panelists provided a deep insight into:  (a) how a holistic lifestyle benefits us physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually; and (b) how consistency, regularity and self-discipline is key in living a holistic lifestyle and keeping a positive outlook and attitude.

The panel on Innovation, comprised of highly accomplished entrepreneurs, investors and eminent scientists shared their own life stories and discussed how all of them believe in risk taking and outside-the-box thinking. The panel engaged in an inspirational discussion about the attributes and the non-linear thinking that makes successful entrepreneurs.

The panel on the ethics of emerging lifesaving therapies and technologies engaged in a refreshing discussion on the innovation in Healthcare. Expert panelists shared their individual perspectives on how they are collectively working across the healthcare system – in hospitals, in the pharmaceutical industry, and in academia to accelerate efficient and effective access to life saving therapies and technologies, while staying true to Hindu values and ethics.

Last panel session of the day focussed on the science of consciousness and lessons from modern science and vedanta.  Eminent scientists and philosophers from the fields of physics, medicine, biology and cosmology explored this intriguing phenomenon through their respective expertise and provided a deeper understanding for inquisitive minds in the audience.

The second day’s proceedings ended with a riveting series of 5-6 minutes long lightning talks by 12 enterprising speakers on the varied topics of arts, music, advocacy, medicine, artificial intelligence, financial literacy, and holistic living.

Concluding day started with melodious and soothing morning Ragas, followed by a thoughtful discussion about how a society’s ability to prosper and growth depends upon its people’s edification. A panel of educators, thought leaders, researchers and administrators shared their varied experiences and personal stories to inspire future educators.

The session on philanthropy focused on thoughtful, effective and  joyful philanthropy. The experts on this panel shared their passionate stories of how they found their true calling and love for giving back to the society at large.

In the final session of the conference, founder of Canadian Thinkers Forum Shri Tahir Gora and International Director of Art of Living Shri Darshak Hathi delivered the concluding keynote addresses. Mr. Gora talked about his identity as a Bhartiya and how he has been influenced by Hindu values and ethos. He also narrated Saadat Hasan Manto’s famous satirical short story “Toba Tek Singh” that examines the absurdity of India’s partition in 1947. Mr. Hathi while talking about the Vedic Hindu way of living – religious tolerance, solidarity, and brotherhood, implored the delegates to find the focal point within ourselves and focus on consciousness.

The conference finally came to an end with the host Sanjay Kaul presenting the vote of thanks to all the delegates, speakers, organizers, and sponsors.

BJANA celebrates traditional and auspicious Chaath Puja of the Sun God

Bihar Jharkhand Association of North America widely know as BJANA celebrated the most Traditional and auspicious Chaath puja of the Sun God on the banks of Raritan River in New Jersey.

Dozens of members of the community -Vratis observed the 3 day fast and puja which brought about 800 members of the community together.Chaath puja is very close to the hearts of all members of the Bihar and Jharkhand community as they have grown up watching this puja in their families back in India and have missed it here in USA.

The celebration brought back memories and bonded the community in a very special way.The event was attended by Deputy Consulate General of india,Shri Shatrughna Sinha and also by FIA President Alok Kumar.There were many Parents visiting from India and attended the puja of the setting sun and the rising sun,their comments were most precious when they said that “it feel like we were in India for Chatth this year!”

The BJANA  Executive team under the leadership of President Vinay Singh received great accolades from the Vratis and the attendees for their impeccable arrangements for this glorious puja .

108 Kundi Gayatri Maha Yagya in Long Island

Gayatri Pariwar of Long Island (www.ggkli.org) a non-profit organization who is running Bal Sanskar Shala called Gayatri Gyan Kendra of Long Island (“GGKLI”) since the year 2006 in Long Island, NY, had successfully organized 108 Kundi Gayatri Maha Yagya on Sunday, September 15, 2019 at 2 Dashon Drive.  Melville. In this yagya more than 800 people including over 150 students of Bal Sanskar Shala had attended the yagya. This was unique and first such type of yagya in Long Island, where children had participated in large numbers.

Organizer Pravin Kapadia  said ” There were two purposes behind organizing this yagya. First to give a message of Gruhe Gayatri and Gruhe Gayatri Yagya. Secondly, Vidhyarambh Sanskar of all students of GGKLI were performed. In this yagya, the meaning of all the rituals were explained in English to the Students”

Mr. Dilip Chauhan, President of New York South Asian Chamber of Commerce and John M. Kennedy, Jr., comptroller of Suffolk County were the guest of honors,  Mr. Chauhan and Mr. Kennedy honored with Traditional Garland and Shawls.

John M. Kennedy, Jr., comptroller of Suffolk County mentioned in his speech  – I really applaud the activities by Gayatri Parivar of Long Island not only limited to this event but they are forefront in many community activities including humanatarian effors in the time of need. I congratulate Pravin Kapadia and his entire team for such an amazing work.

Mr. Chauhan said – I am surprise to see number of peoples participations this is such an amazing way to keep our culture alive, what a great volunteers and divine Matra has spread very positive energy all over the place. Congratulations to organizers, volunteers. Also make sure you all help  your community to get counted during 2020 Census as well as make sure you all register to vote.

GGKLI is a unique Bal Sanskar Shala (Sunday school) run by Long Island Chapter of All World Gayatri Pariwar (www.awgp.org), Shantikunj, Haridwar, India. GGKLI is offering unique teaching program to young generation on the basis of scientific spirituality. Students also learn Yoga, Meditation, Pranayama, Indian Culture, Team Building, Vedic Math, Hindi, Gujarati and Telugu Languages.

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Bartlett, IL enlightens community through the celebration of Diwali

Chicago IL: A new year, a fresh new start.  The ancient tradition of lighting lamps, during Diwali, symbolizes the transition from darkness to light and a celebration of good triumphing over evil. The physical act of lighting lamps on Diwali represents an individual’s efforts to remove the darkness from one’s self in forms of anger, envy, greed, arrogance, and resentment. Through its thought-provoking customs and traditions, Diwali presents a time to reflect and introspect for individuals, families, and communities.

Hindus and community members gathered at BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Bartlett, IL to celebrate Diwali, a five-day celebration that culminates with the Annakut celebration (a decorative offering of vegetarian sweets and food) on the Hindu New Year’s Day.

The five days of Diwali include a set of joyous cultural traditions that symbolize new beginnings. Individuals take this time to start anew and commit to spiritual growth and familial harmony. Diwali presents Hindus an opportunity to connect with and celebrate the traditions of their roots with fanfare and a sense of community.  Hindu families celebrated the five days with lighted divos (candles), and rangoli (colorful drawings and sketches), fireworks, and a variety of food.

Local community member, Dr. Karishma Patel, stated, “I came back home from Boston just to celebrate Diwali with my family and friends.  It’s so great to see fireworks and rangoli and celebrate this festival and our traditions together.” All attendees participated by offering prayers for new beginnings and partaking in the delicious offerings of the Annakut.

Each year, the Mandir celebrates with a themed exhibition, put together by volunteer adults and children, to highlight important cultural and traditional values.  This year, themed “Timeless Truths”, the Mandir inspired visitors to bring in 2020 with a positive outlook, to overcome obstacles through faith, love and tolerance, and to seek guidance from our gurus to experience daily peace.

Upon seeing the number of volunteers who helped put together the celebration and all the participants, Consulate General of India, Mr. Sudhakar Dalela, stated, “The volunteers at BAPS are tremendous. Even children are volunteering their time to celebrate this momentous occasion!”

The celebrations were open to all communities, regardless of religion or background. Bartlett Police Officer, Kyle Rybaski has made it a point to visit the Mandir during Diwali in recent years noting, “I really enjoyed the message of having a positive outlook towards life and BAPS really gives back to the community so it’s so nice to give back to them and meet the community members here.”

Offering his prayers to Bhagwan Swaminarayan, spiritual leader of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj prayed for devotees’ spiritual, personal, and professional growth in this new year. This Diwali, Mahant Swami Maharaj emphasized the importance of leading spiritually centered lives, grounded in strong values and increased attachment to God for individuals and families.

The BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) is a worldwide spiritual and humanitarian organization that is dedicated to community service, peace, and harmony. Motivated by Hindu principles, BAPS strives to care for the world by caring for societies, families, and individuals. Through various spiritual and humanitarian activities, BAPS endeavor to develop better citizens of tomorrow with high esteem for their roots and culture. Its 3,300 international centers support these character-building activities. Under the guidance and leadership of His Holiness Mahant Swami Maharaj, BAPS aspire to build a community that is free of addictions as well as morally, ethically and spiritually pure. For more details, please visit www.baps.org.

Diwali in White House Oval Office

US President Donald Trump extends his greetings to all celebrating Diwali, saying relations are “strengthened by sacred traditions”.

President Donald Trump on Thursday marked the coming fall festival of Diwali in the Oval Office with the ceremonial lighting of the Diya, a traditional oil lamp used to decorate houses during the holiday.

Diwali, also known as the Indian festival of lights, is largely celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists every autumn. It’s one of India’s most widely-celebrated holidays and represents light overcoming darkness.

Thursday’s White House ceremony, which was closed to reporters and cameras, took place three days ahead of the formal celebration, which begins on Oct. 27 in India and lasts four to five days.

“Today, we gathered for Diwali, a holiday observed by Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains throughout the United States & around the world. Hundreds of millions of people have gathered with family & friends to light the Diya and to mark the beginning of a New Year,” he said in a message.

In a caption to a video shared on his Twitter handle showing him lighting the lamp in the Oval Office (Diya) along with a group of Indian-Americans, Trump wrote: “As Diwali commences, @FLOTUS Melania and I wish those observing the Festival of Lights a blessed and happy celebration! #HappyDiwali”, ending it with a ‘diya’ emoji.

In the video message, he said: “As we light the Diya here today, we know that our relation strengthened by the sacred traditions that bid the people together across your land made us light. May this light bring hope to all and may everyone have a wonderful Diwali.”

The Indian diaspora in the US has a significant presence, and at the recent, “Howdy, Modi!” event in Texas, President Trump shared the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Married Priests in Catholic Church?

Catholic Bishops from across the Amazon in South America have called for the ordination of married men as priests to address the clergy shortage in the region, an historic proposal that would upend centuries of Roman Catholic tradition.
The majority of 180 bishops from nine Amazonian countries also called for the Vatican to reopen a debate on ordaining women as deacons, saying “it is urgent for the church in the Amazon to promote and confer ministries for men and women in an equitable manner.”
The proposals were contained in a final document approved Saturday at the end of a three-week synod on the Amazon, which Pope Francis called in 2017 to focus attention on saving the rainforest and better ministering to its indigenous people.
The Catholic Church, which contains nearly two dozen different rites, already allows married priests in Eastern Rite churches and in cases where married Anglican priests have converted. But if Francis accepts the proposal, it would mark a first for the Latin Rite church in a millennium.
Still, the proposals adopted Saturday also call for the elaboration of a new “Amazonian rite” that would reflect the unique spirituality, cultures and needs of the Amazonian faithful, who face poverty, exploitation and violence over the deforestation and illegal extractive industries that are destroying their home.
Pope Francis told the bishops at the end of the voting that he would indeed reopen the work of a 2016 commission that studied the issue of women deacons. And he said he planned to take the bishops’ overall recommendations and prepare a document of his own before the end of the year that will determine whether married Catholic priests eventually become a reality in the Amazon.
Some conservatives and traditionalists have warned that any papal opening to married priests or women deacons would lead the church to ruin. They accused the synod organizers and even the pope himself of heresy for even considering flexibility on mandatory priestly celibacy.
They vented their outrage most visibly this week when thieves stole three indigenous statues featuring a naked pregnant woman from a Vatican-area church and tossed them to into the Tiber River.
The statues, which conservatives said were pagan idols, were recovered unscathed by Italy’s Carabinieri police. One was on display Saturday as the synod bishops voted on the final document, which was approved with each paragraph receiving the required two-thirds majority.
The most controversial proposals at the synod concerned whether to allow married men to be ordained priests, to address a priest shortage that has meant some of the most isolated Amazonian communities go months without a proper Mass.
The paragraph containing the proposal was the most contested in the voting, but received the required majority 128-41.
The proposal calls for the establishment of criteria “to ordain priests suitable and esteemed men of the community, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, having a legitimately constituted and stable family, to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region.”
The paragraph ended by noting that some participants wanted a more “universal approach” to the proposal — suggesting support for married priests elsewhere in the world.
The celibate priesthood has been a tradition of the Latin Rite Catholic Church since the 11th century, imposed in part for financial reasons to ensure that priests’ assets pass to the church, not to heirs.
Francis has long said he appreciates the discipline and the gift of celibacy, but that it can change, given that it is discipline and tradition, not doctrine.
History’s first Latin American pope has been particularly attentive to the argument in favor of ordaining “viri probati” — or married men of proven virtue — in the Amazon, where Protestant and evangelical churches are wooing away Catholic souls in the absence of vibrant Catholic communities where the Eucharist can be regularly celebrated.
The second-most contested proposal concerned ordaining women deacons, a type of ministry in the church that allows for preaching, celebrating weddings and baptisms, but not consecrating the Eucharist.
The synod bishops didn’t come straight out and call for women deacons, but rather for the Vatican’s 2016 commission of study on the female diaconate to hear from the synod about “our experiences and reflections” and make a decision. The paragraph passed 137-30.
Francis in 2016 agreed to a request from the international organization of religious sisters to set up a study commission to explore the role of women deacons in the early church, answering an insistent call for women to have greater decision-making, governance and ministerial roles given that the Catholic priesthood is reserved for men.
The commission delivered its report to Francis but the results were never released and Francis subsequently said there was no agreement among commission members.
Supporters of women deacons say there is no reason to preclude a ministry for women that existed in the early church; opponents say ordination of women deacons would spell the start of a slippery slope toward ordaining female clergy.
“I’m a supporter of having more married priests, though this Amazon experiment is the wrong way to go about it,” tweeted Damian Thompson, conservative commentator and associate editor of Britain’s The Spectator. And he added: “Women deacons will mean women priests and a Great Schism on the scale of 1054.”
The pro-ordination group Women’s Ordination Conference praised the decision to reopen debate on the diaconate, but said it was time to move beyond study commissions.
“Now is the time for the Church to not just recognize women’s leadership, but transform its institutions to honor their leadership sacramentally,” the group said in a statement.
In addition to deacons, the final document called for the institution of a new ministry of “women leadership of the community” and for a revision of a 1960s church law to allow women to be trained as lectors and acolytes.
And it said cryptically that for a limited time a bishop can hand over “the exercise of pastoral care” of a community to “a person” who is not a priest, but not necessarily male, either.
However, in a sign that women still have a ways to go in church decision-making parity, no woman was allowed to vote on the final document.
Thirty-five women, among them religious sisters and superiors, were appointed as experts to the synod and contributed to the final document, but only the 181 men cast a vote.
While the question of married priests and women deacons dominated debate outside the synod hall, the bulk of the meeting and the 33-page final document focused more on the environmental destruction of the Amazon and the plight of its peoples.
Indigenous leaders thanked Francis for highlighting their concerns and for the words expressed, but called for action to put an end to the illegal logging and fishing, building of hydroelectric dams and mining that are ruining their homelands.
“Throughout the rainforests of Latin America, we are battling governments that treat us like criminals for saying no to projects that would dam our rivers, carve roads of ruin through our forests and turn our land into lifeless deserts and our rivers into liquid poison,” said COIA, the coordinating body of indigenous organizations that participated in the synod.

Nassau County Celebrates Diwali

On Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019 in the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building, Nassau County Office of Asian American Affairs, along with the Indian American Forum, hosted a celebration for the Diwali – the Indian Festival of Lights.

Together with over 100 constituents, the office and event’s sponsoring organizations enjoyed a bright evening celebrating with the beautiful cultural dances and instrumentals. The event was put together through the hard work of a host committee consisting of Jyoti Gupta, Pinky Jaggi, Beena Kothari, Mukesh Modi, Jasbir Jay Singh, Lalit Aery, Beena Sabapathy, Indu Jaiswal, Jaya Bahadkar, Sunita Manjrekar, Dr. Bhavani Srinivasan, Roopam Maini, Anju Sharma.

With sponsoring organizations including IAF, LILC, GOPIO, IDP USA, IALI, Vegetarian Vision, and the AAAC, the event was a resounding success for the community. County officials such as County Executive Laura Curran, Asian American Affairs Director Farrah Mozawalla, and Human Rights Commissioner Bobby Kalotee came to show their support of the diversity in Nassau by participating in a traditional lamp lighting ceremony and giving inspiring words.

The event also took the opportunity to honor some esteemed individuals for their contributions to the Indian American community. The honorees were Peter Bheddah, Vikas Dhall, Anu Gulati, Harshal Kadakia, Nilima Madan, and Rajeevi Madankumar. The performances that followed all shone uniquely and showcased the breathtaking culture of Indian Americans. Through this celebration, all the attendees had the chance to reflect on beauty of how bright Nassau shines when standing together.

Hofstra University hosts international conference on Guru Nanak

Guru Nanak’s Ek – Anek Vision, a major three-day conference marking the 550th birth of Guru Nanak concluded on Saturday, October 12, 2019, at Hofstra University, in New York. Organized by Dr. Balbinder Singh Bhogal and Dr. Francesca Cassio under the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair in Sikh Studies and Sardarni Harbans Kaur Chair in Sikh Musicology at Hofstra University, the conference was attended by over 30 scholars and artists from all over the world.

This was the eighth conference at Hofstra under the Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Chair since its inception in 2001. Bhogal welcomed everyone to the conference and laid out the aim which is to establish Gur Sikh musicological and philosophical difference – a difference that not only includes but preserves the other’s voice as its own, making its own history a shared history .

At the welcome dinner, Tejinder Singh Bindra congratulated everyone on Guruji’s  550th birth anniversary  and spoke of the secularism, universal love and equality preached and practiced by Guru Nanak , equality whether it be among nations, castes , gender or wealth. He thanked Hofstra university and for selecting this wonderful topic and bringing so many renowned and distinguished scholars and artists to the conference.

Indie Singh spoke about the importance of gurmat sangeet in their family and how happy her parents would be of seeing the progress of the musicology chair.

Both the Provost Dr. Herman Berliner and Dean Ben Rifkin thanked the generous support of late Sardar Ishar Singh Bindra and family and Dr. Hakam Singh for endowing the chairs and acknowledged the great contribution of both chairs in the department of religion at Hofstra.

Hofstra is also home of Guru Nanak Interfaith Prize, endowed by Sardar Ishar Singh Bindra,  where a $50,000 Prize is awarded every two years to a person or organization that bring religions close. His Holiness The Dalai Lama was the first recipient of this Prize.

Cassio summarized the conference as an important, and even, historic event – with some intellectual substance, in terms of inserting the Sikh voice in the debate about Indian music history, with the possibility of re-writing it, or at least registering our challenge to the way that history elides the Sikh voice and contribution.

Scholars from Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Michigan as well as Benares Hindu University, and Guru Nanak Dev University, from India, began a conversation for the first time engaging directly with the sonic evidence that Bhai Baldeep Singh (the Keynote speaker) presented. The initiation of this critical assessment and discussion was a major success in the field of Sikh studies and the Ethnomusicology of South Asia.

Being the focus of this conference is inclusivity, the organizers wanted to represent and celebrate not only Guru Nanak’s voice, with his pluriversal vision, but also the multi-linguistic, multi-geographic, and multi-authored compositions collected in the GGS, through the Sikh, Bhakti and Sufi voices, said a press release.

The three concerts presented during this conference, were, in fact, an integral part of the intellectual project that aims to showcase the pluriversality of Guru Nanak’s message in its sonic form, and how the memory of heterodox traditions has been retained through the songs collected in the Sikh Scriptures, and preserved by the Sikh community who sang these poems over the past 500 years.

The first concert was entirely dedicated to Guru Nanak. The prime exponent of the Gurbani kirtan parampara, Bhai Baldeep Singh sang compositions that have been transmitted within the pre-colonial Gur-Sikh traditions as original compositions of the founder of the Sikh faith.

In this recital, Bhai Baldeep Singh proposed for the first time to retrace Guru Nanak’s experience of the early (pre-colonial) Gurbani kirtan, accompanied by Daud Khan Sadozai on a rabab that is a replica of the rabab played by the Fifth Sikh Guru, Arjan.

The second evening the audience had the opportunity to listen to a rendition of the Kabir bani presented by Padma Shri Prahlad Tiapanya, in the traditional Malwi style from Madhya Pradesh. The conference ended with the qawwali singer Dhruv Sangari performing lyrical hymns of Sheikh Farid.

The concerts were designed to hear differences across these performative traditions, and as such, they were functional to the whole argument of inclusivity that the delegates discussed over two days of the conference.

Christian Artforms – An Amalgamation of Art and Culture in Kerala

Kerala is diversified by religions but unified by art. Every art has its own power that captures hearts irrespective of caste and creed. Christian artforms are typical examples of this.

The third most popular religion in Kerala- Christianity is rich with unique art and culture.  The Christian artforms of Kerala are an amalgamation of Christian as well as Indian culture. These are performed mostly as part of Christian festivals and wedding ceremonies. They influence the music, literature and culture of Kerala and vice verse.

When one discusses Christian artforms, Margam Kali is the first one that comes to mind. Being a popular event in art festivals and wedding ceremonies, Margam Kali performances are a delight to watch with its rapid rhythmic steps and music. The performances are usually done by 12 women performers wearing their traditional attire, consisting of chatta, mundu, kavini, mekka mothiram, and bangles. The Margam Kali Pattu is usually sung by a single person with the support of a chorus.

Chavittu Natakam is a colourful folk artform prominent among the Christian community. With its flamboyant costume, elaborate makeup, loud gestures and actions, the artform has gained popular interest. It is believed that the Portuguese introduced this artform to Kerala. Chinna Thampi Pilla and Vedanayakan Pilla are considered to be the early practitioners who popularised this art form. Stamping of the floor while dancing producing resonating sounds is the main attraction of this artform. This stamping gave it the title Stamping Drama or Chavittu Natakam. Chavittu Natakam makes use of musical instruments like Chenda, Padathamber, Maddalam and Ilathalam. Nowadays Tabala, Fiddle, and Flute are also used.

Parichamuttu Kali is a typical example of Indian influence on Christian artforms. It is similar to the martial artform of Kerala, Kalaripayattu. While performing Parichamuttu Kali, performers with a small sword and a round shield in their hands, gather around a traditional lamp, repeat the song sung by the asan (team head) and touch the shields in a particular rhythm.

A ritual artform popular in the coastal areas of Kerala from as early as the 16th century is Devastha Vili. In this ritual, the songs are performed in candlelight at night.  This artform is linked with the ‘Passion of Christ’.

Besides these, Vattakali, Poovirakkom, Kolkali,Valattu Paricha Veeshu Kali, Kadal Vanchipattu and Slama Carol are also art forms popular in the Christian tradition. Thus the choices of artforms in Christianity are many like the tradition, culture and the heritage that it holds.

Kreupasanam Pauranika Renga Kalapeedam, Alappuzha and Chaithanya Pastoral Centre, Kottayam are two cultural academies and training centers of folk and ancient Christian art forms in Kerala.

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace – An update on America’s changing religious landscape

The religious landscape of the United States continues to change at a rapid clip. In Pew Research Center telephone surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, 65% of American adults describe themselves as Christians when asked about their religion, down 12 percentage points over the past decade. Meanwhile, the religiously unaffiliated share of the population, consisting of people who describe their religious identity as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” now stands at 26%, up from 17% in 2009.

Both Protestantism and Catholicism are experiencing losses of population share. Currently, 43% of U.S. adults identify with Protestantism, down from 51% in 2009. And one-in-five adults (20%) are Catholic, down from 23% in 2009. Meanwhile, all subsets of the religiously unaffiliated population – a group also known as religious “nones” – have seen their numbers swell. Self-described atheists now account for 4% of U.S. adults, up modestly but significantly from 2% in 2009; agnostics make up 5% of U.S. adults, up from 3% a decade ago; and 17% of Americans now describe their religion as “nothing in particular,” up from 12% in 2009. Members of non-Christian religions also have grown modestly as a share of the adult population.

These are among the key findings of a new analysis of trends in the religious composition and churchgoing habits of the American public, based on recent Pew Research Center random-digit-dial (RDD) political polling on the telephone.1 The data shows that the trend toward religious disaffiliation documented in the Center’s 2007 and 2014 Religious Landscape Studies, and before that in major national studies like the General Social Survey (GSS), has continued apace.

Pew Research Center’s 2007 and 2014 Religious Landscape Studies were huge national RDD surveys, each of which included interviews with more than 35,000 respondents who were asked dozens of detailed questions about their religious identities, beliefs and practices. The Center has not yet conducted a third such study, and when the Landscape Study is repeated, it is likely to use new methods that may prevent it from being directly comparable to the previous studies; growing challenges to conducting national surveys by telephone have led the Center to rely increasingly on self-administered surveys conducted online.2

But while no new Religious Landscape Study is available or in the immediate offing, the Center has collected five additional years of data (since the 2014 Landscape Study) from RDD political polls (see detailed tables). The samples from these political polls are not as large as the Landscape Studies (even when all of the political polls conducted in a year are combined), but together, 88 surveys from 2009 to 2019 included interviews with 168,890 Americans.

These surveys do not include nearly as many questions about religion as the Landscape Studies do. However, as part of the demographic battery of questions that ask respondents about their age, race, educational attainment and other background characteristics, each of these political polls also include one basic question about religious identity – “What is your present religion, if any? Are you Protestant, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Orthodox such as Greek or Russian Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, something else, or nothing in particular?”

Additionally, most of these political polls include a question about religious attendance – “Aside from weddings and funerals, how often do you attend religious services? More than once a week, once a week, once or twice a month, a few times a year, seldom, or never?” Taken together, these two questions (one about religious identity, the other about religious attendance) can help shed light on religious trends in the U.S.

The data shows that just like rates of religious affiliation, rates of religious attendance are declining.3 Over the last decade, the share of Americans who say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month dropped by 7 percentage points, while the share who say they attend religious services less often (if at all) has risen by the same degree. In 2009, regular worship attenders (those who attend religious services at least once or twice a month) outnumbered those who attend services only occasionally or not at all by a 52%-to-47% margin. Today those figures are reversed; more Americans now say they attend religious services a few times a year or less (54%) than say they attend at least monthly (45%).

The changes underway in the American religious landscape are broad-based. The Christian share of the population is down and religious “nones” have grown across multiple demographic groups: white people, black people and Hispanics; men and women; in all regions of the country; and among college graduates and those with lower levels of educational attainment. Religious “nones” are growing faster among Democrats than Republicans, though their ranks are swelling in both partisan coalitions. And although the religiously unaffiliated are on the rise among younger people and most groups of older adults, their growth is most pronounced among young adults.

Furthermore, the data shows a wide gap between older Americans (Baby Boomers and members of the Silent Generation) and Millennials in their levels of religious affiliation and attendance. More than eight-in-ten members of the Silent Generation (those born between 1928 and 1945) describe themselves as Christians (84%), as do three-quarters of Baby Boomers (76%). In stark contrast, only half of Millennials (49%) describe themselves as Christians; four-in-ten are religious “nones,” and one-in-ten Millennials identify with non-Christian faiths.

Only about one-in-three Millennials say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month. Roughly two-thirds of Millennials (64%) attend worship services a few times a year or less often, including about four-in-ten who say they seldom or never go. Indeed, there are as many Millennials who say they “never” attend religious services (22%) as there are who say they go at least once a week (22%).

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace An update on America's changing religious landscapeWhile the trends are clear – the U.S. is steadily becoming less Christian and less religiously observant as the share of adults who are not religious grows – self-described Christians report that they attend religious services at about the same rate today as in 2009. Today, 62% of Christians say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month, which is identical to the share who said the same in 2009. In other words, the nation’s overall rate of religious attendance is declining not because Christians are attending church less often, but rather because there are now fewer Christians as a share of the population.

Other key takeaways from the new analysis include:

The data suggests that Christians are declining not just as a share of the U.S. adult population, but also in absolute numbers. In 2009, there were approximately 233 million adults in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau. Pew Research Center’s RDD surveys conducted at the time indicated that 77% of them were Christian, which means that by this measure, there were approximately 178 million Christian adults in the U.S. in 2009. Taking the margin of error of the surveys into account, the number of adult Christians in the U.S. as of 2009 could have been as low as 176 million or as high as 181 million.

Today, there are roughly 23 million more adults in the U.S. than there were in 2009 (256 million as of July 1, 2019, according to the Census Bureau). About two-thirds of them (65%) identify as Christians, according to 2018 and 2019 Pew Research Center RDD estimates. This means that there are now roughly 167 million Christian adults in the U.S. (with a lower bound of 164 million and an upper bound of 169 million, given the survey’s margin of error).

Meanwhile, the number of religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S. grew by almost 30 million over this period.

The share of Americans who describe themselves as Mormons has held steady at 2% over the past decade.4 Meanwhile, the share of U.S. adults who identify with non-Christian faiths has ticked up slightly, from 5% in 2009 to 7% today. This includes a steady 2% of Americans who are Jewish, along with 1% who are Muslim, 1% who are Buddhist, 1% who are Hindu, and 3% who identify with other faiths (including, for example, people who say they abide by their own personal religious beliefs and people who describe themselves as “spiritual”)5

The rising share of Americans who say they attend religious services no more than a few times a year (if at all) has been driven by a substantial jump in the proportion who say they “never” go to church. Today, 17% of Americans say they never attend religious services, up from 11% a decade ago. Similarly, the decline in regular churchgoing is attributable mainly to the shrinking share of Americans who say they attend religious services at least once a week, which was 37% in 2009 and now stands at 31%.

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace An update on America's changing religious landscapeThe trends documented in Pew Research Center surveys closely resemble those found in the long-running General Social Survey (GSS), a project of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, with principal funding from the National Science Foundation. In GSS surveys conducted in the early 2000s (2000 to 2004), 80% of U.S. adults identified as Christians, including 54% who described themselves as Protestants and 25% who were Catholic. By the late 2010s, 71% of GSS respondents described themselves as Christians (48% Protestant, 23% Catholic). Over the same period, the GSS found that religious “nones” grew from 14% of the U.S. adult population to 22%.

The point estimates from the GSS and Pew Research Center surveys (that is, the share of adults who identify as Protestant or Catholic or as religious “nones”) are not directly comparable; the two studies ask different questions and employ different modes of survey administration. But the fact that the direction of the trend is similar in both studies strongly suggests that both are picking up on real and significant change underway in the U.S. religious landscape.

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace An update on America's changing religious landscapeSimilarly, the GSS finds that a declining share of U.S. adults say they attend religious services regularly. In the most recent GSS studies, 43% of respondents say they attend religious services at least monthly, down from 47% in the early 2000s and 50% in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the share of U.S. adults who say they “never” attend religious services now stands at 27%, up from 18% in the early 2000s and roughly double the share who said this in the early 1990s (14%).

Catholics no longer constitute a majority of the U.S. Hispanic population. In Pew Research Center RDD surveys conducted in 2018 and 2019, 47% of Hispanics describe themselves as Catholic, down from 57% a decade ago. Meanwhile, the share of Hispanics who say they are religiously unaffiliated is now 23%, up from 15% in 2009.

These findings about the religious composition of Hispanics closely resemble those from Pew Research Center’s National Surveys of Latinos (NSL) – a nationally representative survey of U.S. Latino adults fielded almost every year. (See the detailed tables for complete trends in the religious composition of Hispanics based on both Pew Research Center political surveys and the NSL.)

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace An update on America's changing religious landscapeAmong white adults, the share of people who say they attend religious services a few times a year or less now exceeds the share who attend monthly or more (57% vs. 42%); a decade ago, the white population was evenly divided between those who went to church at least monthly and those who did not. Regular churchgoers still outnumber those who infrequently or never go to religious services among black Americans (58% vs. 41%), though the share of people who say they attend religious services a few times a year or less often has risen over the last decade among black Americans, just as it has among the population as a whole. U.S. Hispanics are now about evenly divided between those who say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month (51%) and those who say they attend a few times a year or less (49%).

There is still a gender gap in American religion. Women are less likely than men to describe themselves as religious “nones” (23% vs. 30%), and more likely than men to say they attend religious services at least once or twice a month (50% vs. 40%). But women, like men, have grown noticeably less religious over the last decade. The share of “nones” among women has risen by 10 percentage points since 2009 – similar to the increase among men. And the share of women who identify as Christian has fallen by 11 points (from 80% to 69%) over that same period.

Christians have declined and “nones” have grown as a share of the adult population in all four major U.S. regions. Catholic losses have been most pronounced in the Northeast, where 36% identified as Catholic in 2009, compared with 27% today. Among Protestants, declines were larger in the South, where Protestants now account for 53% of the adult population, down from 64% in 2009.

Religious “nones” now make up fully one-third of Democrats. And about six-in-ten people who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party say they attend religious services no more than a few times a year. The ranks of religious “nones” and infrequent churchgoers also are growing within the Republican Party, though they make up smaller shares of Republicans than Democrats.

The religious profile of white Democrats is very different from the religious profile of racial and ethnic minorities within the Democratic Party. Today, fewer than half of white Democrats describe themselves as Christians, and just three-in-ten say they regularly attend religious services. More than four-in-ten white Democrats are religious “nones,” and fully seven-in-ten white Democrats say they attend religious services no more than a few times a year. Black and Hispanic Democrats are far more likely than white Democrats to describe themselves as Christians and to say they attend religious services regularly, though all three groups are becoming less Christian.Although 2009 surveys did not include enough black Republicans to analyze separately, the most recent surveys show smaller religious differences by race and ethnicity among Republicans than Democrats.

In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace An update on America's changing religious landscapePew Research Center’s telephone political polls do not typically include the detailed questions that are needed to determine whether Protestants identify with denominations in the evangelical, mainline or historically black Protestant tradition. However, the political polls upon which this analysis is based do ask Protestants whether they think of themselves as “born-again or evangelical” Christians. The data shows that both Protestants who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians and Protestants who are not born-again or evangelical have declined as a share of the overall U.S. adult population, reflecting the country’s broader shift away from Christianity as a whole. However, looking only at Americans who identify as Protestants – rather than at the public as a whole – the share of all Protestants who are born-again or evangelical is at least as high today as it was in 2009.

The share of U.S. adults who are white born-again or evangelical Protestants now stands at 16%, down from 19% a decade ago. The shrinking white evangelical share of the population reflects both demographic changes that have occurred in the United States (where white people constitute a declining share of the population) and broader religious changes in American society (where the share of all adults who identify with Christianity has declined). However, looking only at white Protestants – rather than at the public as a whole – the share of white Protestants who describe themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians is at least as high as it was a decade ago.

Taj Express Fuses Bollywood and Broadway at The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New Bedford

After sold-out international tours, song-and-dance spectacular TAJ EXPRESS – THE BOLLYWOOD MUSICAL returns to North America, making a splash in New Bedford, MA, on Nov. 17. The cultural program will take over The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center with explosive dances, eye-catching costumes, and an endearing love story told in a way only Bollywood could dream up.

Tickets, which range from $29 to $47, are available by calling 508-994-2900, online at https://zeiterion.org/, or at the Zeiterion Box Office at 684 Purchase Street in New Bedford. Group sales of 10 tickets or more are available at a discounted rate and can be purchased by calling 508-997-5664 x123.

Set to an unforgettable soundtrack featuring the songs of Oscar winner A.R. Rahman, TAJ EXPRESS answers the age-old question: do you think with your head or with your heart? The musical explodes with the sounds of India and Bollywood, capturing the vibrant, expressive spirit of the world of Bollywood movies that have been entertaining billions of people in India for generations. Told through a fusion of film, dance, and music, this dazzling international sensation has captivated audiences from London to Hong Kong (and everywhere in between) on a live cinematic journey through modern Indian culture and society.

Taj Express Fuses Bollywood and Broadway at The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center in New BedfordTAJ EXPRESS is choreographed by one of Bollywood’s top young choreographers, Vaibhavi Merchant (Sultan, Befikre, Tiger Zinda Hai, Loveyatri) and directed by Shruti Merchant (Dhoom, Lakshya, Baghban, Devdas). They are joined by Toby Gough (writer), Salim and Sulaiman Merchant (music composers), Abhijit Vaghani (musical director), and Bipin Tanna (costume designer). Pranav Merchant serves as executive producer.

Leading the cast are some of Bollywood’s biggest film stars: Mr. Ninad Samaddar Shankar, Mr. Rajitdev Easwardas (as Arjun) and Ms. Tanvi Patil (as Kareena Kaboom). They are joined by a company of eighteen dancers, plus Chandan Raina on guitar, Prathamesh Kandalkar on percussion and Avadhoot Phadke on flute.

The Zeiterion Performing Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission to provide New Bedford and the region with performing arts programming of excellence that inspires, educates, engages and entertains. Tickets are available for purchase at www.zeiterion.org, by calling 508-994-2900, or in person at the box office at 684 Purchase Street, New Bedford, Mass.

Amnesty Reports, Hate Crimes in India Rose in 2019

Amnesty India’s hate crime tracker has recorded 181 incidents of alleged hate crimes in the first half of 2019, the steepest rise in such incidents since 2015. The count is almost double that of the same period last year, when 100 such cases were recorded.

Over two-thirds of the victims were targeted because they were Dalits, while 40 of them suffered on account of their Muslim identity. In 37 reported incidents, the victims were killed. In 30 cases, victims were raped or sexually assaulted, with sexual harassment in another 19 cases.

Between January and June 2019, 72 mob attacks were reported. Of the 37 such attacks against Muslims, the victims were lynched to death in five cases. Dalit victims were lynched to death in eight of the 28 mob attacks targeting them. There were seven honour killings and 12 cases of violence against Adivasis.…



Behind ‘Bhagwa’ Music: How Hate Is Being Sold As Entertainment (Oct 6, 2019, The Quint)

Not religion but religious leaders spreading hatred, says Ramayana actor Arun Govil (Oct 7, 2019, Indian Express)

‘It’s India vs Pakistan’: From Cricket to Polls, Fight Now Shifts to MP as BJP Leader Makes Bizarre Call (Sep 30, 2019, News18)

Monkey’s Death Takes Communal Turn in UP’s Shamli, Area Tense After Bajrang Dal Protests (Oct 6, 2019, News18)

Pope Francis Tells UN Climate Summit 2019 ‘Three Words’ He Wishes to Be at the Heart of Their Work

“I would like these three key words – honesty, courage and responsibility – to be at the heart of your work today and tomorrow.”

The Holy Father expressed this in a video message he sent on Monday, Sept. 23, to participants at the United Nations Climate Action Summit 2019 in New York, while noting the situation is not good and the planet is suffering, Francis said, “the window of opportunity is still open. We are still in time.”

“Let us open it,” he said, “with our determination to cultivate integral human development, to ensure a better life for future generations.”

The problem of climate change, Francis stressed, is related to issues of ethics, equity and social justice, adding that the current situation of environmental degradation “is connected with the human, ethical and social degradation that we experience every day.”

“This,” he recognized,  “forces us to think about the meaning of our models of consumption and production, and the processes of education and awareness, to make them consistent with human dignity.”

He reminded that there are a numerous solutions “within everyone’s reach, if we adopt on a personal and social level a lifestyle that embodies honesty, courage and responsibility.”

The Holy Father prayed those words accompany them together with his best wishes and prayer. Here is the Vatican-provided text of the Holy Father’s video-message.

I would like to thank the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr António Guterres, for convening this meeting and for drawing the attention of Heads of State and Government – and of the entire international community and world public opinion – to one of the most serious and worrying phenomena of our time: climate change.

This is one of the principal challenges we have to face. To do so, humanity is called to cultivate three great moral qualities: honesty, responsibility and courage.

With the Paris Agreement of 12 December 2015, the international community became aware of the urgency and need for a collective response to help build our common home. However, four years after that historic Agreement, we can see that the commitments made by States are still very “weak”, and are far from achieving the objectives set.

Along with so many initiatives, not only by governments but by civil society as a whole, it is necessary to ask whether there is a real political will to allocate greater human, financial and technological resources to mitigate the negative effects of climate change and to help the poorest and most vulnerable populations, who suffer the most.

While the situation is not good and the planet is suffering, the window of opportunity is still open. We are still in time. Let us not let it close. Let us open it with our determination to cultivate integral human development, to ensure a better life for future generations. It is their future, not ours. “Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities” (Laudato si’, 165).

With honesty, responsibility and courage we have to put our intelligence “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (Laudato si’, 112), capable of placing economy at the service of the human person, building peace and protecting the environment.

The problem of climate change is related to issues of ethics, equity and social justice. The current situation of environmental degradation is connected with the human, ethical and social degradation that we experience every day. And this forces us to think about the meaning of our models of consumption and production, and the processes of education and awareness, to make them consistent with human dignity. We are facing a “challenge of civilization” in favour of the common good. And this is clear, just as it is clear that we have a multiplicity of solutions that are within everyone’s reach, if we adopt on a personal and social level a lifestyle that embodies honesty, courage and responsibility.

I would like these three key words – honesty, courage and responsibility – to be at the heart of your work today and tomorrow. May they accompany you together with my best wishes and with my prayer.

Thank you very much.

Pope Francis

Hundreds of devotees gather to celebrates Festival of Devon Ka Raja; Ganesh Chaturthi

Chicago IL: Ganpati Bappa Morya! Regal Foundation, a non-for-profit organization of Regal Jewels and Regal Sari and Regal Law group hosted its 6th annual Ganesh Chaturthi celebration, Starting Monday September 02, 2019 and concluding on Wednesday September 12, 2019 in Chicago. Hundreds of devotees flocked to Shree Ganesh Temple to have Darshan and get blessing from the God whose big attribute is to remove evil and bring happiness in the lives of people.

The idea of Devon Ka Raja was the brain child of Nirmal Shewakramani and his wife Gurbachanji. They had hefty backing of Ramesh Mehtani of Resham and Hemant Brahmbhat of Hi India. This was the Sixth year in succession that Devon Ka Raja came and conquered the Devon Avenue with flourish and the credit goes largely to the trio and the huge army of devotees and a good number of volunteers who gave their selfless service and got recognition from Nirmal Shewakramani at the end.

India is a land of Rajas and Maharajas, but mini-India Town on Devon Avenue that has thick Indian population, had none so far. A well minded community activist, inspired by the famous “Lal Bagh Ka Raja, event in Mumbai India, Regal Foundation started their community event as Devon Ka Raja (“King of Devon”) in response to the imminent need of a house of worship right on Heart Of India or Devon Avenue. The Raja was none other than popular Indian God, his highness, Shri Ganapati, designated as Sukh Karta (giver of happiness) and Dukh Harta (destroyer of unhappiness- impediments.)

Entire Puja was performed by Balaji Temple priest Sri Begur Nagendra Rao. His education from Rigveda Mula – Poorva and Apara Prayoga (8 yrs course on Hindu Philosophy, Hindu Tradition and Hindu Religious Rights) Sanskrit – Sahitya (8 yrs course in Sanskrit Scriptures and Literature)

Community activists were led by president of Hindi Lovers Club, Mrs. Gurbachan Singh, and many Devon area businessmen, friends and well-wishers joined in these celebrations.  They transported in a huge life size idol of Lord Ganapati, crowned it as Devon Ka Raja and placed in Shree Ganesh Temple of Chicago, 2545 W Devon Ave, Chicago, IL for the occasion. Nonstop 11 days, it was literally festive ‘Mela’ every day for a huge number of Indians flocking in not only from suburbs but also from neighboring States of Indiana and Wisconsin.

Daily there were two prayers (Aartis) in the morning and evening with Bhajans, Garbas, special discourses and Prasads to everyone were other features of the celebrations.  The last day saw a special finally or ‘Visarjan’ procession symbolized by immersing the idol in water after the Aarti.

Hundreds of devotees and visitors joined the pomp grand procession fir for the divine king of king, with live band. Throughout the procession of hundreds of worshipers were chanting and dancing as the festival sponsors hoisted the Lord Ganesh in decorated ‘Palakhi’ upon special open truck. 4 block of Devon street was closed

Along the route, King Shri Ganesh showered the surrounding businesses and homes with His blessings, pausing for a special prayer offering good wishes to Sahil Exclusive, Sukhadia’s Sweets, Hindi Lover’s Club, Udapi Palace, Uma Sarees, Punjabi Dhaba, India Sari Palace, Resham’s Handicrafts, NPHi-India Newspaper, Lakshmi Jewelers, Patel Handicrafts, Patel Brothers, Regal Traders, Fresh Farms International Market, Andaaz Jewelers, Joy Allukas, Kamdar Plaza, Raj Jewels, Vitha Jewels, Shewakramani Partnership, Uru-Swati Resturant, Regal Jewels, and Sari Sapne.

After the procession the priest and worshipers bid Ganesh a final farewell as they submerged him into water. Local businesses along with countless volunteers dedicated hours of assistance, offerings of sweets, food and flowers, and praise to the Lord Ganesha, without whom this event would have been impossible.

After the overwhelming success and positive community response, Regal Foundation vowed to celebrate this event every year. The Ganesh Chauthurti has always been welcoming of participants of all faiths to come together and celebration of one of most well-known and revered Hindu gods.

In addition to hosting the annual Ganesh Chauturthi, Regal Foundation is striving to meet the needs of the community by establishing a permanent Ganesh Temple on Devon Ave.  Last but not least, the event couldn’t go smoothly and successfully without the hard work of Kaajal Shewakramani Gill and Rahul Gill they are family members.

Regal Jewels is a family owned and operated corporation, established in 1987. Spanning the retail and wholesale markets throughout now India and Pakistan, we have migrated through several countries before establishing ourselves in Chicago. We have proudly served the Chicagoland community for over three decades and through two generations. Visit our website: www.shreeganeshtemple.com Facebook: Devon Ka Raja

Cultural extravaganza at Onam celebrations by MASCONN in Trumbull, CT

(Trumbull, CT: September 22nd, 2019): Cultural extravaganza showcasing the rich cultural traditions of India displayed elegantly in dance, music and drama along with the traditional Onam Sandhya were some of the highlights of the 10th annual Onam celebrations organized by Malayalee Association of Southern Connecticut (MASCONN) at Madison Middle School, Trumbull, CT on Saturday, September 22nd.

The unique and rich traditions of Kerala with renditions of traditional and modern dances and the integration of Hindu, Muslim and Christian cultures were elegantly showcased in nearly three hours of beautifully presented before an audience of over 400 people from the Fairfield County in the state of Connecticut.

Cultural extravaganza at Onam celebrations by MASCONN in Trumbull, CT

This fast growing presence of the Indian American community was evident when more than four hundred people from across the southern state of Connecticut came together to participate in and cherish their rich cultural heritage and be part of the annual Onam celebrations. The more than four-hours long cultural extravaganza was in many ways “reliving the culture and traditions” and a “cherishing the past with a view to pass it on to the future generation.”

Men, women, children and youth dressed in traditional attire, were welcomed with a colorful Pookoalm and the traditional lamp at the entrance of school, giving them a warm traditional Indian welcome.

The cultural programs began with the lighting of the traditional Nailavilakku or lamp by honored guests of MASCONN and the executive committee members. Legendary King Mahabali was welcomed to the stage with “Pancha Vadyam” and a warm traditional welcome dance by a dozen beautiful girls elegantly dressed in traditional attire of Kerala, who later on performed Thiruvathirakkali, a folk dance, typically a Keralite dance, well known for its essence, grandeur and simplicity.

Cultural extravaganza at Onam celebrations by MASCONN in Trumbull, CTIn this traditional dance form, women clad in traditional Kerala attire with gold brocade attached to it and wearing jasmine garlands on their heads, rhythmically moved around a lighted Nilavilakku, singing and clapping their hands, to the tune of a particular genre of songs called Thiruvathirappaattu, which  is meant solely for this graceful dance.

 “Onam awaits one very special visitor, Kerala’s most loved legendary King Maveli. He is the King who once gave the people a golden era in Kerala. The King is so much attached to his kingdom that it is believed that he comes annually from the nether world to see his people living happily. It is in honor of King Mahabali, affectionately called Onathappan, that Onam is celebrated,” a young child on stage explained the story behind this cultural festival of Kerala, a southern Indian state.

Cultural extravaganza at Onam celebrations by MASCONN in Trumbull, CTThe cultural events consisted of several live dances, classical Bharatnatyam, fusion, Bollywood, folk and contemporary dances, live music and songs, sung in Malayalam, a language spoken by Malayalees around the world. Children from the ages of five to older adults delighted the audience with their melodious voices, and several dances both cinematic and traditional art. Through “Oppana” another traditional art from Kerala, a group of young talented kids presented yet another tradition of Kerala.

A special to Onam celebration this was a fusion of dances incorporating semi-clasical, Thiruvathira and Bollywood dances beautifully performed by a group of women, who have come to be known as the “Dazzling Girls” of MASCONN.

Cultural extravaganza at Onam celebrations by MASCONN in Trumbull, CTAnother attraction and a much appreciated item powerfully portrayed by a group of talented young girls was a Dance Drama called “Jatayu Moksham” derived from the Epic Ramyayana, where Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, who was instigated by his sister Shurpanaka, who wanted to take revenge on Ram and Lakshman for “humiliating’ her by not giving into her urges to marry her.

“MASCONN an offshoot of the natural growth of the Indian-American especially Malayalee Community in the southern Connecticut region,” said Wilson Pottackal, President of MASCON, in his welcome address. “In a very short period, we have grown by leaps and bounds and we strive to meet the growing needs of our community.

Cultural extravaganza at Onam celebrations by MASCONN in Trumbull, CTIn his Onam message, Mahabali told the audience that the “beauty of the festival lies in its secular fabric. People of all religions, castes and communities celebrate the festival with equal joy and verve. Onam also helps to create an atmosphere of peace and brotherhood by way of various team sports organized on the day,” he added.

The whole ambience was filled with nostalgia since it was an occasion for all the Malayalees in Connecticut to cherish their childhood memories, especially everyone enjoyed the sumptuous Onam Sadhya (meal), the most important and main attraction of the day with different traditional dishes and ”payasam” that was served on banana leaves.

Living in countries that are far away from their homeland, in the midst of different cultures, busy with the day-to-day mundane work and home tasks, the Non Resident Indian (NRI) community made this “land of opportunities” their home, have brought with them these cultural traditions and have sought to pass them on to their children, who are often born and raised here.

Cultural extravaganza at Onam celebrations by MASCONN in Trumbull, CTCultural extravaganza at Onam celebrations by MASCONN in Trumbull, CTOnam is a festival celebrated in the south-western state of Kerala, India. The Keralites or the Malayalees, the illustrious people of the beautiful state are known around the world, celebrate the festival of Onam wherever they are.

The celebration of Onam festival provides them with a perfect opportunity to encourage the new generation of children of Indian origin to witness, learn and appreciate these rich traditions, even while it offers the first generation NRIs to stay connected and cherish the rich cultural heritage they hold so dear to them.

Malayalee Association of Southern Connecticut (MASCONN) which was formed elevan years ago, the cultural extravaganza was in many ways “reliving the culture and traditions” and a “cherishing the past with a view to pass it on to the future generation.”

World Hindu Council of America Announces Three-Day, Inaugural Threads 2019 Conference in Boston

World Hindu Council of America, a national cultural organization dedicated to raising awareness, serving the community and cultivating Hindu values, announced that it will hold its first national Threads 2019 Conference in Boston on Nov. 1-3, 2019.

The Threads Conference, which will be held at Hilton Woburn Hotel in Woburn, MA, is the first of its kind, with a mission to tell the story of Hindu-Americans and their contribution to American business, society, technology, education and health, among other areas. Thread aims to bring together thinkers, educators, public policy makers, scientists, entrepreneurs, business leaders and more to share their stories, engage with each other face-to-face, explore how their roots have made them successful, and share their ideas for brighter, better America.

Threads is a conference which focuses on inclusion and collaboration and showcases the strength of unity in diversity. Threads is not a religious conference and the term Hindu refers only to a people and a civilization. The conference is educational in character. It is about reaching out and engaging with the American community to shape a collective future. Thus, Threads invites delegates and guests from various communities to educate them about the multi-dimensional contributions of Hindu-Americans as well as learn from them.

 “Hindu-Americans immigrated to the United States from across the world and are deeply interwoven in the fabric of America today. They are strengthening American culture, knowledge, community engagement and enterprise, and have enriched all aspects of American life with their contributions,” said Abhaya Asthana, Ph. D., President of the World Hindu Council of America. “We are excited to bring people from all walks of life to engage, explore and share ideas for a better world.”

Speakers for this conference include luminaries from various fields. Their names will be announced later this month. The 3-day conference will welcome people of all disciplines, denominations and cultures who seek a deeper understanding of the Hindu-American narrative. Planned events include keynotes and panels covering a broad array of topics, as well as lightening talks on unique projects and poster presentations.

World Hindu Council of America is an independent, nonprofit, tax exempt 501(c)(3) and volunteer-based charitable (socio-cultural-spiritual) organization serving the needs of Hindu community in the United States. World Hindu Council of America was founded on October 19, 1970 and incorporated in the state of New York on May 16, 1974 to address social, educational, cultural, intellectual and spiritual needs of the Hindu society in the US and to network with other Hindu organizations with humanitarian causes worldwide.

According to World Hindu Council of America, Hindus are those who believe in, practice, or respect the spiritual and religious principles having origins in Bharat (India), which includes Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and people, worldwide, of various religious sects within the Hindu ethos. For more information and to register, visit www.threads2019.org or contact [email protected].

Thousands Salute India at India Day Parade in New York City

India’s cultural diversity and economic and technological progress was on display on Madison Avenue in Manhattan August 18th as thousands of men, women and children packed the barricaded sidewalks to watch the 39th India Day Parade, marking the country’s 73rd anniversary of India’s Independence Day celebrations.

Organized by the Federation of Indian Associations, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut (FIA-NY, NJ, CT), the annual parade, described as the largest India Day parade in the world, saw thousands marching with Indian flags and chanting Bharat Mata Ki Jai, sharing their patriotism and love for their motherland, India.

Grand Marshal Suniel Shetty, the star of yester years, Adam Silver of NBA, actress Hina Khan, a native of Kashmir, Gulshan Grover, the ‘bad man’ of Bollywood, Consul General Sandeep Chakravarty, Indian American State Senator Kevin Thomas, State Senator John Liu were among the other stars of attraction.

Thousands Salute India at India Day Parade in New York CityThe cultural show on the stage near the Madison Square Garden after the parade too drew very few people than earlier years, thanks to the rising temperature.  Participation from different religious groups was noteworthy this year too – Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Muslim (Ahmadiyya) and Christian groups marched in the parade with their banners showcasing the inclusive culture of India.

As usual, the Brahma Kumaris, dressed in white, marched in large numbers carrying billboards calling for peace and respect for all. The Jains of America and several Hindu groups marched with their own billboards advocating peace and love.

As in earlier years, TV Asia, Parikh Worldwide Media, and Royal Albert’s Palace, Air India, SIEA, the Consulate and others came out with colorful floats.

The many marching bands and dancing on the street by women captivated the people. The Maratha contingent, with colorful dress, drum beating and dances stole the hearts. Bands with colorful dress added sound and charm to the festivities.

The marching groups included the following among several others- Ananda Marga, Bharati Center/ISCKON, CRY-Child Rights and You, Cultural Association of Bengal, Dada Bhagwan Institute, Dhol Tasha Jellosh, USA, Heart and Hands for the Handicapped, Jai Bharati Dhol Tasha, USA, Share and Care Foundation, National Association of Asian Indian Christians in the USA, to name a few.

Thousands Salute India at India Day Parade in New York CityA few people associated with an organization named ‘standwithkashmir.org’ organized a protest march on the pavement. They claimed that the ‘people of Kashmir are in the grip of state terror imposed by the Indian state–a human rights crisis of massive proportions is unfolding behind a communications blockade.’ One of the marchers said they object fascism everywhere.

‘Support our troops, Salute our troops’ was the theme of the parade. ‘This year’s Parade is dedicated to those who have and continue to sacrifice their lives for the citizens of both our adopted country, America and our motherland India. These men and women who risk their lives go beyond the call of duty to keep us safe are the real reason we are here..’ Alok Kumar, president of FIA said earlier. ‘The parade is an embodiment of our culture and provides a way for us to interact with the community,’ he noted.

Secretary Amit Yadav stated, ‘It is my extreme pleasure to convey my heartiest greetings to you on the occasion of celebrations of 73rd Independence Day of India. I would like to take this opportunity to salute and pay respects to the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of India. It is my honor to be part of the next generation of FIA servers.’

GOPIO-CT Celebrates India’s Independence Day with Flag Hoisting, Kite Flying, Cultural Events

The Mill River Park in Stamford, CT on Saturday, August 17th wore a festive look as Indian Americans gathere din large numbers to celebrate India’s 73rd Independence Day wit an annula India Festival. Dressed in colorful traditional Indian attire, with melodious music from the popular Bollywood world, dances depicting the wide variety of Indian culture, kite flying, spicy Indian cuisine, colorful booths decorated with Indian dresses and face art.

Earlier at the City Center, during the flag hoisting ceremony, Stamford Mayor David Martin proclaimed August 17th as India Day to commemorate Indian Independence when Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru raised the Indian flag at the Red Fort on August 15, 1947.

GOPIO-CT Celebrates India’s Independence Day with Flag Hoisting, Kite Flying, Cultural EventsThe City joined hands with the Indian Diaspora in Connecticut for a celebration organized by the Connecticut Chapter of Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO-CT) by hoisting American, Indian and Connecticut flags at the Government Center in Stamford. Mayor Martin, who was present at the flag hoisting ceremony along with Indian Consul Vipul Mesariya, and Connecticut Attorney General William Tong.

In his proclamation Mayor Martin said that the Indian Independence was marked largely by non-violent resistance and civil disobedience and the Independence Day is celebrated by the Indian Diaspora worldwide. The proclamation further noted that Stamford city will honor Indian community which is an integral part of city’s diversity, success and great future.

 In her presidential address, Anita Bhat described the many flagship events the organization organizes every year. “Our mission at GOPIO-CT is to be active participants in the local community through involvement in community events and local politics, and by providing services to the Indian community at large here in Connecticut.

“The India Festival in Stamford, CT is a tribute to a strong and vibrant Indian-American community that has excelled in almost all areas of life in this adopted nation of ours,” Dr. Thomas Abraham, Founder President and chairman of GOPIO International, who is also a Trustee of GOPIO-CT, said.

GOPIO-CT Celebrates India’s Independence Day with Flag Hoisting, Kite Flying, Cultural EventsThe celebration sponsors are First County Bank and Wadia Associates of New Canaan.  The program included remarks by the honored dignitaries, brief entertainment of music, presenting a community service award and recognizing high school graduates followed by flag hoisting. If you know any 2019 high school graduates from Connecticut School Systems,.

Independence Day Liberty Award 2019 Recipient for Service to GOPIO-CT and Community Causes was given to Pradeep Govil, who has served as a Board Member and the Executive Vice President of GOPIIO-CT for several years. Pradeep is Program Manager at the World’s largest and successful semiconductor company ASML. He has received over 21 patents and published numerous articles in international journals. Pradeep is an Adjunct Professor at Fairfield University since the early 90’s.

WHC to Hold 3-Day Conference ‘THREADS 2019’ in Boston

The World Hindu Council of America has announced that it will hold a three-day conference here from November 1-3, 2019. The purpose of the event is two-fold: exploring and chronicling the contributions of Hindus to America and, paying tribute to the largesse of America and its warm embrace of Hindus.

WHC’s conference ‘Threads 2019: Share, Appreciate and Engage-To Shape a Collective Future’ will bring together a community that is maturing and making its mark every day in America. Speakers who are leaders, scholars and leading lights in various aspects of life – philanthropy, science, arts, technology, media, business, medicine and academia – will narrate their story so each thread can be picked up and woven into a fabric that tells the larger tale of the impact of Hindus on American society.

Conference Convener Dr.Jai Bansal said, “The aim is also to look forward.  We are bringing together people in one place so they can meet and engage in a way that ideas for a roadmap for the community, on how to keep gainfully contributing to America will emerge.”

Attendees will be treated to a wealth of details which will inform, empower and nurture. The conference will cover a broad range of topics: Science and Technology, Arts and Literature, Holistic Living, Education, Medicine, Industry and Commerce, Public Service and Advocacy, Service and Philanthropy. There will also be lightening talks on unique ideas, projects and poster presentations.

The three-day conference welcomes people from all disciplines, denominations and cultures who seek a deeper understanding of the Hindu-American narrative.  Registration is open at:www.threads2019.org.

The World Hindu Council of America is an independent, nonprofit and volunteer-based charitable organization serving the needs of the Hindu community in the US since 1970.

Just one-third of U.S. Catholics agree with their church that Eucharist is body, blood of Christ

Transubstantiation – the idea that during Mass, the bread and wine used for Communion become the body and blood of Jesus Christ – is central to the Catholic faith. Indeed, the Catholic Church teaches that “the Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’”

But a new Pew Research Center survey finds that most self-described Catholics don’t believe this core teaching. In fact, nearly seven-in-ten Catholics (69%) say they personally believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine used in Communion “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.” Just one-third of U.S. Catholics (31%) say they believe that “during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.”

In addition to asking Catholics what they believe about the Eucharist, the new survey also included a question that tested whether Catholics know what the church teaches on the subject. Most Catholics who believe that the bread and wine are symbolic do not know that the church holds that transubstantiation occurs. Overall, 43% of Catholics believe that the bread and wine are symbolic and also that this reflects the position of the church. Still, one-in-five Catholics (22%) reject the idea of transubstantiation, even though they know about the church’s teaching.

The vast majority of those who believe that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ – 28% of all Catholics – do know that this is what the church teaches. A small share of Catholics (3%) profess to believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist despite not knowing the church’s teaching on transubstantiation.

About six-in-ten (63%) of the most observant Catholics — those who attend Mass at least once a week — accept the church’s teaching about transubstantiation. Still, even among this most observant group of Catholics, roughly one-third (37%) don’t believe that the Communion bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ (including 23% who don’t know the church’s teaching and 14% who know the church’s teaching but don’t believe it). And among Catholics who do not attend Mass weekly, large majorities say they believe the bread and wine are symbolic and do not actually become the body and blood of Jesus.

The survey also finds that belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is most common among older Catholics, though majorities in every age group (including 61% of those age 60 and over) believe that the bread and wine are symbols, not the actual body and blood of Christ.

India’s Parliament OKs ending instant divorce for Muslims

Indian lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill to end the Muslim practice of instant divorce two years after the Supreme Court ruled that it violated the constitutional rights of Muslim women.

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the bill’s approval by the upper house of Parliament reflects the empowerment of women and India’s changing profile.

The more powerful lower house approved the bill last week. It will become law after India’s president approves it, which is a formality.

Most of the 170 million Muslims in India are Sunnis governed by the Muslim Personal Law for family matters. The law has included allowing Muslim men to divorce their wives by saying “Talaq,” the Arabic word for divorce, three times — and not necessarily consecutively, but at any time, and by any medium, including telephone, text message or social media post.

More than 20 countries, including neighboring Pakistan and Bangladesh, have banned the practice.

The 99-84 approval last week was a victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The opposition had blocked the bill for more than a year, as the ruling party lacked majority support in the upper house. A split in the opposition ranks helped the government cross the line.

Ghulam Nabi Azad, a Congress party leader, said the opposition parties were opposed to a clause providing a three-year jail term for a husband who divorced his wife in such a way, arguing that no other religion has such a punishment. The opposition also said the bill had no clarity on spousal support if men were jailed for an instant divorce.

Both houses of Parliament rejected the opposition stand and also refused to refer the bill to a parliamentary committee to consider those provisions.

Europe experienced a surge in government restrictions on religious activity over the last decade

From national laws regulating religious dress to local laws banning public worship by Muslims, religious restrictions have in recent years become more common in Europe. Indeed, while the Middle East-North Africa region had the highest levels of religious restrictions in the world, Europe saw some of the biggest increases over the last decade in certain types of restrictions.

These findings come from a recent Pew Research Center report that analyzes restrictions on religion (by both governments and private individuals or social groups) from 2007 to 2017. The report measures various types of government restrictions and social hostilities across eight different categories on a scale from zero to 10.

In one of these categories – government limits on religious activity – Europe’s score doubled over a 10-year period. This was one of the largest increases in any of the five global regions analyzed. (An explanation of the methodology is available here.)

A number of factors contributed to Europe’s higher score in this category. To begin with, numerous European countries and cities have banned people from wearing religious symbols or religious clothing, either completely or in certain circumstances (such as at public service jobs or photographs for official documents). For example, France in 2011 outlawed full-face coverings, preventing Muslim women from being able to wear the burqa or niqab in public. And in Spain in 2010, several cities in Catalonia banned the burqa and niqab, as well as face-covering veils, in public buildings.

Other government actions also raised Europe’s score in this area. In 2012, several local councils in Moldova banned public Muslim worship. And in Germany, a court in Cologne classified circumcision as assault when not done for medical purposes. After protests from Jewish and Muslim groups, the federal government passed legislation allowing the practice for religious reasons.

Europe’s score also rose sharply in the category of government harassment of religious groups. In one year of our analysis, 2015, religious groups in 38 out of 45 European countries reported at least limited levels of harassment. Some of these incidents related to the increase in immigrants to Europe. For instance, Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders campaigned against the growth of Muslim populations in the West, lamenting what he called “a tsunami of refugees from Islamic countries who threaten our women and our civilization.”

In addition to government actions, there also was a dramatic increase in Europe in some measures of social hostility to religion. Europe’s score in the category of social hostilities related to religious norms increased by a factor of four over a decade, exceeding the global average. The number of European countries reporting individual or group violence or threats of violence aimed at forcing people to adopt religious beliefs or practices different than their own rose from four to 15 (out of 45 European countries) over the decade studied.

Examples of this kind of harassment include a case in 2015 in Ukraine, where four Jehovah’s Witnesses were held at gunpoint, beaten and forced to confess Orthodox Christianity as the only true religion. In 2016 in the United Kingdom, a Sunni Muslim killed an Ahmadi Muslim for allegedly disrespecting the Prophet Muhammad. And in Germany, religious groups reportedly used the fear of deportation to encourage thousands of refugees to convert to Christianity.

There also was an increase in Europe over the decade in the category of religious hostilities by organized groups. The number of European countries where organized groups used force or coercion to promote their perspective on religion rose during this period from 21 to 33. These incidents included not only multiple attacks by those pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, but also cases such as one in Finland, where a neo-Nazi group called the Nordic Resistance Movement published anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim materials and organized rallies. The group also coordinated antireligious activities in Sweden in 2017.

Of eight categories we measured, the only one where Europe saw a decline in restrictive activity was in the measure of interreligious tension and violence. This also was the only category for which the global average declined.

20th JAINA Convention Attracts Thousands Of Devotees

Thousands of Jain devotees from around the United States and the world met in the massive Ontario Convention Center, Ontario, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, July 4-7, to celebrate their religion, observe its tenets, enjoy entertainment, listen to experts and professionals, and explore  modern Jainism.

The very successful Convention was not phased by the July 4 earthquake that shook the building where it was being held. Sadhvi Sanghamitraji began reciting prayers leading the crowd of attendees, and organizers assured the crowd, “The show will go on,” Dr. Navin Shah, co-convenor of the Convention, told Desi Talk.

Every two years JAINA, which was founded in 1981, works along with a local Sangh, hosts a biennial convention, this year with 3,450 attendees and 600 volunteers, 90 speakers, including 22 sadhu/sadhvis, organizers told Desi Talk.

The theme for this convention was “Celebrating Jain Religion in 21st Century” where people shared how values of this ancient religion work in today’s volatile society to promote values of ahimsa, anekantavada, and aparigraha, and have a positive impact in their communities.

The organizers strove to deliver a “well-rounded” experience to attendees, according to the website jainaconvention.org.

In addition to sessions on ‘Jain Philosophy’ and ‘Jain Virtues’, there were panels on ‘Devotion’, Compassion’, ‘Transformation of Our Lives’, as well as on current events in Jain communities and current world challenges.

These themes were incorporated in youth programming as well. Pre-recorded speeches were played from renowned Jain gurus like Acharyas Shri Yashovijayji Maharaj, Shri Ratna Sundar Maharaj among others.

Numerous dignitaries of multiple faiths delivered keynote speeches that highlighted the  themes of the convention.  Among them were Yogi Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev who is involved in social and environmental initiatives; U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, the first Hindu to be elected to Congress, sent a three-minute video blessing the event and expressing her sadness at not being able to attend despite giving a commitment; Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA); animal rights activist Philip Wollen; ISKCON Monk Motivational speaker, life coach and engineer, Monk Gaur Gopal Das of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON);  and Nipun Mehta, founder of Servicespace.org, a volunteer-based non-profit.

Newkirk urged those present to spread their values to others. “There’s nothing more wonderful than Jain values, so please press them on everyone you meet without any excuse, unfailingly and always,” Newkirk said.

The convention featured five distinct tracks of learning about Jain principles and practices during the afternoon sessions — Seva, Satsang, Samarpan, Sadhana, and Self-Realization — representing the steps in a path of the spiritual journey towards achieving moksha, the final liberation.

For the first time in its history, the JAINA Convention held a seva health camp morning on the first day, treating many for dental and eye conditions. Fifty eye-glasses were handed out and 52 dental treatments given free of charge, sponsored by Dr. Atul Karia who gave his clinic space for free, Dr. Nitin Shah, co-convenor of the Convention told Desi Talk.

Seva activities also included preparing 1,008 backpacks put together by Jain youth, with basic essentials, for distribution at three homeless shelters in Annaheim, Santa Ana, and San Diego through the organization You Turn Lives. This was sponsored by the Sarva Mangal Family Trust.

On the first night Parth Doshi, Kalpesh Kharwa and Shilpi Paul sang and led the traditional Raas-Garba. Multiple speakers and dignitaries shared examples to demonstrate how a ‘Jain Way of Life’ could make a profound impact on an individual and allows them to influence those around them.

Several awards were handed out during the Convention. Among them was the JAINA President’s Award from current president Gunvant Shah, which was presented to Padma Shri Dr. Sudhir Parikh, chairman of Parikh Worldwide Media and ITV Gold; and Purvin Vakharwala. The two institutions that received this award included Jaya Rehab Institute of Bidada Sarvodaya Trust, and Ratnanidhi Charitable Trust.

Gunvant Shah described Dr. Parikh’s achievements and awards and recognitions when announcing the JAINA President’s Award. “I would like to give one of the JAINA President’s Award to Dr. Sudhir Parikh and Dr. Sudhaben Parikh,” Shah said. Dr. Parikh said he was very touched by the affection and love. “But more important, you have recognized the work of Life Global which is really helping the poorest of poor women to make them self-sufficient,” Dr. Parikh, who is president of Life Global USA, said in his speech, thanking all those who support activities of Life Global, a non-profit based in India and reaching out to North America.

The JAINA Executive Committee also gave out four awards to Acharya Chandanaji, late Gurudev Chitrabhanuji, Acharya Lokesh Muniji, and Gurudev Rakeshbhai. The JAINA Ratna Award went to Minnesota-based mechanical engineer who founded the Jain Center of Minnesota, Rama Gada.

Speakers included not only Jain sadhu-sadhvis, but also professors, doctors, scientists, authors, swadhyaykars, Jain scholars, and spiritual guides.  They included Acharya Shri Chandanaji, founder of Veerayatan and first Jain Sadhvi to receive the title of Acharya; Acharya Dr. Lokesh Muni, social reformer, thinker, writer, poet; Acharya Namra Muniji (via live video conference) – considered by Jains as a ‘revolutionary saint with extraordinary dynamism’; Gurudev Shri Rakeshbhai Jhaveri, spiritual leader and founder of Shrimad Rajchandra Mission in Dharampur, India.

The BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir of Los Angeles helped at the event with all of the food services, covering 10 freshly prepared meals for thousands of attendees during the Convention. A ‘Grand Procession’ featuring colorful artifacts and represented by all Jain Sangh’s of North America, was held on July 4. The procession was followed by an unveiling ceremony of a model of a Jain Temple that covered more than 5,000 square feet of prime floor space of the convention center.

The competitions held included the Jain Academic Bowl (JAB), launched a decade ago, a jeopardy style vocabulary game in which young Jains compete with other teams. The Jain Center of Metropolitan Chicago and the Houston Jain Society were the winners.

Evening entertainment included a Jain’s Got Talent (JGT) competition, a Jain Cultural show, and a Bollywood concert. The JGT competition participants showcased their special performances on July 6 night, followed by a “Bollywood Night” show conducted by Rex D’Souza, Mauli Dave, and Sunny Jadhav. “That Bollywood entertainment literally brought the house down,” Dr. Nitin Shah said, adding, “I don’t even like dancing, and I joined it.” The Cultural Program “One World, One Rhythm” included non-stop music, dance, and drama performances by artists of all ages on July 5. It featured 19 dances from countries across the world. The special Jain Connect program also featured, allowing youth aged 21 to 42, to build networks and form genuine connections, organizers said.

For the first time in its history the JAINA Convention featured Shatavdhan. Jaynesh Jain demonstrated his ability to memorize scores of questions (cut to 45 due to sheer interest of time, organizers said), from a live audience.  Kartik Trivedi, whose impressionist paintings are hanging in well-known galleries offered a hands-on 3-hour art workshop. Shanti Parakh and Arun Yogi, morning Yoga sessions on July 5 and 6.

Sachchidananda Swamiji, L. Subramaniam play together at meditation and healing concert at Kennedy Center. Amidst a huge gathering, His Holiness Sri Dr. Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji of Mysore, India performed ‘Raga Maya Raga Sagara,’ a meditation and healing concert at the John F Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington DC, on July 6, 2019 .

At the concert, Swami Chidatmananda of Chinmaya Mission offered a garland to Sri Swamiji.  Special invitees, Ambassador P K Kapur, former Indian Ambassador to Chile, and Cambodia, honored Sri Swamiji with a Vastram, and Rajan Natarajan, Transportation Commissioner, and former Deputy Secretary of State for the State of Maryland, presented a memento to Sri Swamiji from the State of Maryland.

Another special invitee Shambhu Hakki, First Secretary and Spokesperson for the Indian Embassy in Washington DC, who represented the Indian Ambassador to the US, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, honored internationally acclaimed violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam, who played alongside Sri Swamiji at the concert.

At the press conference, prior to the concert, in the Kennedy Center, Sri Swamiji said that he was happy to be performing at the Kennedy Center, and talked about the importance and benefits of attending the Music for Meditation and Healing concerts.

Soon after the concert Sri Swamiji conveyed that the Kennedy Center concert had been planned for a long time but finally the star, date and time aligned and the concert happened.  He played two new ragas, Chandika and Kamavardhini and their combination turned out very well.  He appreciated special guest, violinist Dr. L. Subramaniam for an excellent performance, and the overall troupe for their musical support.

The main raga, Kamavardhini, a very powerful healing raga, played during the concert, worked on the entire body, all chakras, all zodiac signs, and all five elements. Sri Swamiji also played Rushyaketupriya, Kapi, Mohana, Chandika, Kamavardhini, Madhuvarshini, and Sama ragas. The ragas played during the concert are helpful in Cervical Spondylosis, Computer Related Stress, Thyroid diseases, Laryngeal Disorders, Hyperacidity, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Arthritis, High Blood Pressure, and Insomnia to name a few. Regularly listening to these ragas help relax persons with such ailments, according to a press release.

During the concert, Sri Swamiji walked amidst the audience with a crystal rod and identified people with chronic diseases and channeled healing energy and vibrations.

At the concert, artists Jaitra Varanasi (Violin), Shankar Ramesh (Mridangam), Mahesh Bhatt (Tabla), and Mani (Keyboard), and Jaya Datta (Cymbals) from Sri Swamiji’s Celestial Message Troupe accompanied Sri Swamiji.  The event was jointly organized by Datta Yoga Center, DC Chapter and Yoga Sangeeta, Sri Swamiji’s non-profit organization based in New Jersey.

This concert was part of the US and Switzerland concert tour 2019.  Thus far, Sri Swamiji has performed in Houston, and Washington DC.  Other concerts are planned in Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, and Davos, Switzerland.

Indian Americans urge US to take a stronger stance on violence against minorities in India

Coalition welcomes USCIRF’s statement on Tabrez Ansari’s lynching; calls for India to be placed in Tier 1 of “Countries of Particular Concern”

The Alliance for Justice And Accountability (AJA), a coalition of progressive organizations across the United States, today urged the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), to move India into Tier 1 of “Countries of Particular Concern,” on account of the continuing deterioration in the human rights and religious freedom situation in India.

USCIRF had recently issued a statement, condemning the brutal and merciless lynching of Tabrez Ansari in the Indian state of Jharkhand. While the AJA coalition welcomes USCIRF’s statement on a shameful and inhuman murder of a young man on the basis of his religious identity, we believe the US needs to take a stronger stance on the rapid intensification of violence against religious minorities and “lower” castes in India. The first step would be to acknowledge the fact that the state of religious freedom in India at this point has reached a new low, far below the levels of Tier 2 where India had been placed by the USCIRF even before the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) gained power in the national elections of 2014.

Tabrez Ansari’s mob lynching is particularly nerve-wracking since the beating, caught on video tape, continued for about 12 hours, at the end of which police took the victim into custody. He was taken to hospital only after 4 days, where he died of his injuries. The fact that the state was complicit in Ansari’s lynching is clear from reports that the police threatened the family with a similar fate when they begged for Ansari to be given medical attention. In the jail, the family found the main perpetrator of the violence berating Ansari, asking why he was not dead yet despite the severe beatings. While eleven villagers have been arrested, past incidents of mob lynching do not instill confidence in the prospect of justice being served.

Ansari happens to be the 11th victim of mob lynching in India this year. “According to web portal lynch.factchecker.in, cow protection was the most common excuse for attacks triggered by religious hate since 2014, with 77 such hate crimes being reported in the last five years,” said Dr. Shaik Ubaid, a coalition leader. “Overall, 124 cow-related hate crimes were recorded between May 24, 2014 and April 30, 2019,” added Dr. Ubaid.

“The inhumanity of the mob that beat Tabrez for hours, forced him to chant Hindu slogans and circulated the video of the beating on social media is undoubtedly shocking. However, the complicity of law enforcement and the lack of outrage in large sections of the Indian polity, is a sign that India’s descent into fascism is rapidly accelerating, ” said Mr. Umang Kumar, a coalition constituent.

Activists in India are rightly alarmed about what the future portends with hateful rhetoric occupying so much of the national discourse. Indian social activist Harsh Mander is a founding member of Karwan-e-Mohabbat (“Caravan of Love”), a solidarity campaign for victims of hate violence, including lynchings. Mr. Mander recently stated, “An environment has been created across the country that enables and encourages this kind of violence.”

The BJP’s landslide victory in the recent polls has emboldened Hindu supremacist groups in India to carry out mob lynchings against minorities and Dalits. In many cases, victims are targeted for reasons as varied as suspicion of possessing beef, protesting against caste discrimination or simply for their religious or caste identity. Last week a Dalit deputy “sarpanch” (village head) was beaten to death by upper caste men in Gujarat. This was the third such incident in that region in less than a month.

AJA has also noted with alarm, the direct assault on civil society in the form of the ruling party’s vendetta against whistleblowers and human rights activists. Sanjiv Bhatt, the IPS police officer who reported having been at a meeting where Mr. Modi gave the green signal for the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, was recently sentenced to life imprisonment in a 30 year old case of custodial death. The entire case and his eventual conviction is widely seen as the ruling party’s payback for Mr. Bhat speaking truth to power.

The Alliance for Justice and Accountability has pledged to work with people of all faiths to defend India from the onslaught of hate and divisiveness.


The Alliance for Justice and Accountability

Email: [email protected]


Forced to Chant Hindu Slogans, Muslim Man Is Beaten to Death in India


Cops Denied Tabrez Ansari of Medical Treatment, Threatened His Family


The Modi Years: What has fuelled rising mob violence in India?https://scroll.in/article/912533/the-modi-years-what-has-fuelled-rising-mob-violence-in-india

USCIRF Statement on Mob Lynching of Muslim Man in India


Equality Labs Report on Facebook India


Ways to Hindu-Muslim unity?

There are plenty of heartwarming stories of Hindu-Muslim unity but it’ll be hard to top the one that took place in Houston recently.  The Indian Muslims Association of Greater Houston (IMAGH) invited Ramesh Bhutada, Advisor to the Hindus of Greater Houston (HGH) and Vice President of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, USA (HSS) as the Chief Guest for their annual Eid Milan celebrations. In what turned out to be the evening’s epic moment, Bhutada’s simple yet powerful speech on Hindu-Muslim unity was met with a long standing ovation from every seat in the room including the Consul General of India Dr. Anupam Ray who was among the first to rise and applaud.

Bhutada, a Houston based industrialist, began his address by wishing the members of the Association Eid Mubarak and commended IMAGH on their mission of fostering amity across cultures, communities and religions.  The organization was formed 10 years ago to foster harmony, strengthen relationships between religions and cultures, and enrich the community as a whole through various Outreach programs. It is a non-profit, non-political and non-religious organization.

Bhutada deliberately reiterated his introduction as a leader of the HSS and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organization that inspires him, because he explained, he “wanted to have an open dialogue.” The RSS and HSS, he emphasized, are primarily involved in character building of the youth so that its members can become proud citizens of the country they live in.

Bhutada expressed his concerns about the false propaganda in sections of the media and certain politicians who have sought to separate both communities for their vested interests. He assured the gathering that “the RSS and the HSS would like communal harmony and unity amongst all religions.”

Elaborating on this point, he recalled an interview 10 years ago when RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat, then General Secretary of the RSS, was staying at his house.  During the course of the interview, the journalist Haider Kazim asked Mohan Bhagwat, “Sir, what do you think of minorities’ development and progress.” Without missing a beat, Mohan Bhagwat replied, “India’s development cannot be complete without the development and progress of the minorities.” As Bhutada framed it, this statement came “straight from the horse’s mouth.” He also recalled spending several hours in discussions with Mohan Bhagwat on matters of India’s national interest.

Coming to the core of his message, he continued, “We all have historical baggage – let’s acknowledge that, but we cannot look backwards. We have to look forward and that is the only way we can lead a peaceful life in this world.”

How powerful is looking forward? To explain this, Bhutada alluded to Speaker Richard McKinney’s keynote. McKinney had served in the Marines for 25 years and harbored a deep hatred for Muslims. But a chance meeting with some members of the Muslim congregation changed his life dramatically and he became a Muslim. Bhutada noted that when McKinney was looking backwards, he was stuck in the mire of hate but the day the Marine began looking forward, his anger faded and was replaced by love. Bhutada observed, “This is the same person but look as the transformation.”

Weaving one more example in his message, Bhutada spoke of another member in the audience – Consul General Dr. Anupam Ray. In 1947, Dr. Ray’s father had to flee East Pakistan, now Bangladesh and in 1971, religious violence forced his maternal grandparents to leave Bangladesh too. But Dr. Ray chose not to let these incidents dictate his life. A few weeks ago, the Consul General had “the heart and the courage” to hold an Iftar dinner at the Consulate, not because he had to as Consul General but because he wanted to. The only way, Bhutada said, we can win the hearts of people is by love and peace, cooperation and unity. That’s the only way the world can progress.

Bhutada briefly touched on his support of the Kalam Center – an NGO started by a young Muslim youth Arshad Sheikh, in the old city of Charminar, Hyderabad. Bhutada did this on a friend’s recommendation and he has been funding their programs for the past four years. Today, the Center provides vocational training to 500 young Muslim boys and girls for ages 8 and up and 70% of the beneficiaries are girls. During the day, the children attend the Madrasas and from 5-7 in the evening come to one of the 20 centers spread across the old city to acquire vocational training in subjects taught in Urdu. Bhutada urged the gathering to support these poor children and give them a chance in “becoming proud citizens of India.”

Lauding this much needed message of harmony and unity, IMAGH’s Past President Latafath Hussain, in a statement said “While we had no doubt that his presence and speech will add charchand to our Eid Milan, even we were overwhelmed when 500+ guests gave a standing ovation to his speech. He delivered it from the heart and the message of not looking back but forward was appreciated by all.”

According to Vijay Pallod, an Advisor on the Board of IMAGH, the Kalam Center Project is just one of Bhutada’s many philanthropic endeavors but Bhutada himself is extremely reticent in talking about them.

Dr. Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji to perform at Dr. Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji

His Holiness Sri Dr. Ganapathy Sachchidananda Swamiji of Mysore, India, an internationally renowned artist in the field of Music for Meditation and Healing, will be performing at the Concert Hall at the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC on July 6, 2019 at 7 pm.

The event, Raga Maya Raga Sagara, is jointly organized by Datta Yoga Center, DC and Yoga Sangeeta, Sri Swamiji’s non-profit organization based in New Jersey. Over 2,000 people from the US and around the world are expected to attend this event. There is also a public welcome function for Sri Swamiji at the Gaithersburg High School Performing Arts Center, Maryland on July 5th evening.

“Sri Swamiji has been performing Meditation and Healing concerts all over the world for over three decades and has received numerous awards and honors. These concerts promote harmony and focus on bringing inner tranquility and peace.  This special performance is specifically designed to bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds and different beliefs thereby providing them with the benefits of music and healing,” said Media and Policy Consultant, Vishnu Jayaraman.

Vishnu, also a member of the organizing committee for this concert, said that this performance will be attended by political personalities, diplomats, prominent members from our community, accomplished musicians, and hundreds of Sri Swamiji’s devotees from around the world.  In addition, the event will also be live telecast for the benefit of Sri Swamiji’s devotees around the world. Sri Swamiji has undertaken more than 150 international musical tours and has performed more than 200 large-scale concerts.  He has performed in some of the world’s most prestigious concert halls, such as the Lincoln Center in New York, the Esplanade concert hall in Singapore, and the Royal Albert Hall in London, amongst others.

In January 2016, Prime Minister of India Shri. Narendra Modi visited the Avadhoota Datta Peetham in Mysore and lauded Sri Swamiji for his efforts in promoting music for Meditation and Healing, community service, and social welfare projects. During his visit, Mr. Modi also urged Sri Swamiji to continue his good work and spread the message of peace and harmony, added Vishnu.

The Guinness World Records has recognized Sri Swamiji multiple times for special events focusing on world peace.  He has lead marathon sessions of chanting the Hanuman Chalisa for world peace, with participation from tens of thousands of people.

Sri Swamiji, composes in multiple languages (Sanskrit, Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Gujarati, and English), and plays a variety of instruments.

“The power of vibrations connects, in some manner, all things and all beings in the universe on all places of existence. Nada vibrations work through the chord of sympathy existing between man and his surroundings. The human body has about 72,000 astral nerves (nadis) which continuously vibrate in a specific rhythmic pattern. Disturbance in their rhythmic pattern is the root cause of disease. The musical notes restore their normal rhythmic pattern, thereby bringing about good health. Listen with your heart and not with intellect,” says Sri Swamiji.

The benefits of Sri Swamiji’s Music have been recognized by Institutions of higher learning, and high-level national and international officials.  His music is also being played in surgical centers and post-operative care, as a means to help both physicians and patients alike.  Recognizing Sri Swamiji’s international stature, the United States Administration has given special O-visa status to him to render Healing Music throughout the country.  Many US Senators, members of the House of Representatives, and other government officials have either attended Sri Swamiji’s events or received his blessings over the years.

Importantly, Sri Swamiji, in 1994, was invited by the Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi, India and performed a Meditation and Healing concert when Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma was the President of India.  In 1998, Shri. Krishan Kant, Vice-President of India inaugurated the ‘Raga Ragini Nada Mantap,’ in Mysore along with former President of India Shri. Venkataraman.  In 1999, former Prime Minister of India Shri. Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Home Minister of India Shri. L.K. Advani accorded a civic reception to Sri Swamiji at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi, India.  Sri Swamiji was also invited to perform at the Raj Bhavan in New Delhi.  Sri Swamiji has also been recognized by Governors, and Chief Ministers of several Indian states. Sri Swamiji’s work often appears in global newspapers and publications. In 2016, the World Classical Tamil University, London also recognized Sri Swamiji with an Honorary Doctorate in the field of Music.

Sri Swamiji has established many ashrams and has devotees world-wide spreading the message of peace.  Notably, in Trinidad and Tobago Sri Swamiji has built an 85-feet Lord Hanuman statue, the tallest idol outside India. Sri Swamiji also supports numerous social projects and has setup hospitals and schools in India to help the poor, elderly, and needy. The SGS hospital at the Mysore ashram caters to the medical needs of the poor and needy. The ashram also holds free medical camps for cardiac screening, diabetes, orthopedic, vision, and dental care, among others.

More information on Sri Swamiji’s work and mission can be accessed at www.dattapeetham.com and www.yogasangeeta.org.

Modi says India’s minorities are living in world of imaginary fear. Minorities disagree

On May 23, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won another landslide victory in the country’s mammoth general elections. He was sworn in as Prime Minister again on Thursday, ushering in another five years of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rule.

While much of the country celebrated the stunning victory of a man who has promised economic reform and development, others, especially minorities and liberals, have grown increasingly concerned about the impact of the BJP’s Hindu nationalist background on the country’s secular fabric.

The BJP has its roots in the right wing-Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — of which Modi is a member — and many of its members are adherents of the Hindutva ideology that promotes a Hindu-first India. It’s a stance that worries liberals and minorities, including more than 170 million Indian Muslims in a country of 1.3 billion people.

Minorities and liberals have grown increasingly concerned about the impact of the BJP’s Hindu nationalist background on India’s secular fabric. The violence has cast a pall over many communities and the family said, though they haven’t been impacted themselves, they will not take what they see as a risk and travel.

“There are a lot of effects (from nationalism), majorly on Muslims and it’s going to get worse,” a member of the minority community in Delhi, was quoted as saying. Several members of India’s Muslim community say they don’t feel safe traveling to other towns and villages.

Attacks under the name of “cow protection” have risen since Modi came to power, according to a Human Rights Watch report. The group said that between May 2015 and December 2018, 44 people suspected of killing or transporting cows for slaughter, or even just eating beef, were killed in vigilante attacks. That number included 36 Muslims.

Human Rights Watch said many of the murders went unpunished in part due to delayed police investigations and “rhetoric” from ruling party politicians, which may have incited mob violence.

“Muslims are scared, very scared,” said Alauddin. “The cow protectors, what they have done in all these places. Muslims are affected.” In Old Delhi, Mateen said goats and buffalo used to be slaughtered in the neighborhood, but no longer. “Everything has to go to the slaughterhouse and then the meat is transported here. They are shifting the slaughter house further away,” Mateen said.

It’s not just cow vigilantes that are cause for concern, according to activists. Human Rights Watch South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly points to a larger theme of right wing nationalists targeting anyone they disagree with, saying many Indians — not just Muslims — now fear a “culture of mob violence.”

“BJP’s supporters have attacked people whether it is to oppose an inter-community relationship, or because they claim to be protecting cows, or simply for their religious identity. They have also disrupted meetings, book readings or film screenings, and threatened activists, because they are ‘offended,’ and declared that opposing views are ‘anti-national,'” she said.

In August, Modi condemned the vigilante attacks and has called on the states to prevent mob violence. “I want to make it clear that mob lynching is a crime, no matter the motive,” Modi said. “No person can, under any circumstances, take the law into his own hand and commit violence.” Yet reports of mob attacks continue.

“We are not safe going to other towns or villages,” said Mateen. “We are not safe. We see in the news, it’s very scary actually. That’s why we won’t go.”

Yusuf Qureshi, president of the Muslim All India Jamiatul Quresh Action Committee, which provides legal aid and support to India’s Muslims, said the problems faced by minorities under Modi run deep.

“They are closing all opportunities for us — education, employment — all the doors are being shut.” He repeated Modi’s motto used during campaigning, “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas,” which means “everyone together, development together. If you want us together with you, then give us development also,” he said.

Rise of right-wing groups

In 2014, Modi was elected with a massive mandate to reduce corruption and create jobs. He also promised to be a champion of minorities. But the appointment of hardline nationalists to key posts during his first term had observers questioning these promises.

In 2017, Yogi Adityanath was made chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the largest and key election state with almost 40 million Muslims. Adityanath, a hardline Hindu ascetic who is known for anti-Muslim comments, has called for India to become a Hindu state, and has expressed views against inter-faith marriage.

BJP President and Modi’s right hand man Amit Shah called Muslim migrants from Bangladesh “infiltrators” and “termites” and promised to “remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs.”

India’s minorities fear return of Modi

He promised to do so by implementing the National Register of Citizens nationwide. The NRC is a hugely controversial policy mooted last year in Assam, a region of India which shares a porous border with Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the BJP-picked Pragya Singh Thakur, who was elected to Parliament in recent elections, and is currently facing terrorism charges connected to a bomb attack on Muslims several years ago. Thakur denies the charges.

The BJP has portrayed the case against her as a conspiracy by its opponents to tar the country’s Hindu community. However, as campaigning ended in the 2019 election, Thakur made headlines again when local media quoted her as calling the hardline Hindu who murdered independence leader Mahatma Gandhi a patriot.

The party censured her and initiated disciplinary action, she apologized and Modi, speaking to a local television network, said he would never be able to forgive her. But she remains one of the BJP’s flag-bearers. “They are all very dangerous people are running India,” said Alauddin.

Modi’s own track record with the Muslim community has come under intense scrutiny. A few months after Modi assumed office in Gujarat in late 2001, the state was rocked by riots, in which more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

Modi was criticized for not doing enough to halt the violence, but was not charged with a crime. The US State Department denied Modi a visa in 2005 over the issue.

There are fears among minorities and activists that another five years of Modi will embolden right wing Hindu groups, which observers say have become more vocal during Modi’s first term.

Alauddin fears the right wing will grow. “When they come to power, nobody is going to move them. They can do anything — whatever they like.”

Human Rights Watch’s Ganguly said the old Delhi family is not alone in its fears. “There is great concern that Hindu extremists engage in violence because they believe they enjoy political patronage,” she said. “It is for the state to uphold rule of law, including to take action against those that might back the ruling party’s political ideology.”

Speaking to members of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in parliament’s Central Hall this week, Modi promised to win the trust of minorities.

“Vote bank politics created this imagined fear, this imagined atmosphere and an environment of dread was created,” he said. “In 2019, I am coming to you responsibly with a certain expectation; I am standing in front of the constitution with my head bowed and making this plea to you. We need to break this deception.”

But Yusuf Qureshi questioned whether Modi has the will, or even the power, to halt the right-wing or extremist elements of his support base. “He has said these things but the organizations associated with the BJP — which harass us — they are not under his control it seems. Every day we see incidents circulating on social media where minorities are being beaten and abused, he should be able to control them and punish them,” said Yusuf Qureshi.

“Based on the past five years, I think there is no point in trusting unless he does something substantial — gives us educational opportunities, gives us employment.”

Ultimately, the family is concerned about what kind of India their children will grow up in. “They are not secure,” said Adnan Qureshi, of the Old Delhi family. “We are worried about our next generation and their next generation. They are not at all secure in any means. If Hindutva comes, then we have no means to live. No power, nothing.”

Key facts about Asian origin groups in the U.S.

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing major racial or ethnic group in the United States. More than 20 million Asians live in the U.S., and almost all trace their roots to 19 origin groups from East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Significant differences exist by income, education and other characteristics among the nation’s largest 19 Asian origin groups. These differences have been central to debates about how much data governments, colleges and other groups should collect about Asian origin groups, and whether it should be used to shape policies.

Here are some key differences between Asian origin groups in the U.S. and how they compare with Asian Americans overall.

1Six origin groups – Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese – accounted for 85% of all Asian Americans as of 2015. These groups together largely shape the overall demographic characteristics of Asian Americans. The remaining 13 origin groups each made up 2% or less of the nation’s Asian population. These groups have a variety of characteristics that can differ greatly from the largest groups.

2About half of Asians in the U.S. ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or more in 2015, a higher share than other races and ethnicities, but this share varies greatly by origin group. Those of Indian, Malaysian or Mongolian origin, for example, were more likely than other Asian origin groups to have at least a bachelor’s degree. By comparison, fewer than 20% of Cambodians, Hmong, Laotians and Bhutanese had a bachelor’s degree or more. Roughly a third of all Americans ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or more.

The differences in educational attainment among origin groups in part reflect the levels of education immigrants bring to the U.S. For example, 72% of U.S. Indians had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2015. Many of them already had a bachelor’s degree when they arrived in the U.S. with a visa for high-skilled workers, such as an H-1B visa. Half of H-1B visas, which require a bachelor’s degree or equivalent, have gone to Indians since 2001.

3Seven-in-ten U.S. Asians ages 5 and older speak English proficiently. Large majorities of Japanese (84%), Filipinos (82%) and Indians (80%) spoke English proficiently in 2015. By contrast, Bhutanese (27%) and Burmese (28%) had some of the lowest rates of English proficiency.

4Income inequality is rising more rapidly among Asian Americans than other racial or ethnic groups, reflecting wide disparities in income among Asian origin groups. Asian households in the U.S. had a median annual income of $73,060 in 2015, higher than the $53,600 among all U.S. households. Only four Asian origin groups had household incomes that exceeded the national median for Asian Americans overall: Indians ($100,000), Filipinos ($80,000) and Sri Lankans and Japanese (both $74,000). By contrast, most of the other 15 origin groups were well below the national median for Asian Americans, including the two with the lowest median household incomes – Nepalese ($43,500) and Burmese ($36,000).

5As with education and income, poverty rates vary widely among Asians in the U.S. Asians overall had a poverty rate of 12.1% in 2015, 3 percentage points lower than the U.S. poverty rate (15.1%). Bhutanese (33.3%) and Burmese (35.0%) had the highest poverty rates among all Asian origin groups – more than twice the national average and more than four times the poverty rates among Filipinos and Indians (both 7.5%).

6Immigrants make up a higher share of some Asian origin groups than others. Among all Asians in the U.S., nearly six-in-ten were foreign born in 2015, significantly larger than the immigrant share among Americans overall (13%) and other racial and ethnic groups that same year.

Some Asian groups arrived as immigrants more recently than others. For instance, 85% of Burmese in the U.S. are foreign born, and many of them arrived as refugees starting in 2007. Eight-in-ten Burmese immigrants (81%) have been in the country for 10 years or less.

But not all U.S. Asian groups have high foreign-born shares. For instance, the first Japanese immigrants came to the U.S. in the 19th century as plantation workers in what is now the state of Hawaii. More recently, fewer Japanese immigrants have arrived to the U.S. compared with other Asian origin groups. This history is reflected in the low share of Japanese Americans who are immigrants (27%). Additionally, among Japanese immigrants, two-thirds (64%) have been in the country for more than 10 years.

7Among Asian immigrants, 58% have become U.S. citizens, though naturalization rates vary widely. Nearly eight-in-ten Hmong and Vietnamese immigrants are U.S. citizens (77% and 75%), the highest shares among U.S. Asian groups. Differences in naturalization rates reflect how long immigrants have lived in the U.S. Large numbers of Vietnamese and Hmong arrived in the U.S. as refugees starting in the 1970s and have had more time to naturalize. By contrast, many Bhutanese have arrived in the U.S. as refugees starting in 2008 (98% of Bhutanese immigrants have been in the U.S. for 10 years or less) and only 6% have naturalized, the lowest share of any group.

For more information on Asians in the U.S., see Pew Research Center’s detailed fact sheets for each national origin group and the methodology for the analysis.

India’s growing religious divide: BJP’s anti-religious minorities agenda

As the election season is winding down and the nation is anxiously looking forward to the results, one cannot escape but witnessing India’s slide towards complete polarization based on the politics of religion.  Prime Minister Modi’s ascension to power has resulted in growing Hindu intolerance of Christianity and Islam. Radical elements within his party are pushing an agenda to marginalize these two groups whom they consider ‘foreign’ and would like to see them disappear!

Although Indian constitution guarantees the freedom of religion to all its citizens, the political dogma of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), the parent organization of BJP, enunciated by its erstwhile leader and theoretician M S Golwalker is still mostly the guideline for many of its loyal adherents.  In fact, he argued in the book ‘our nationhood defined’ that as long as the Muslims and the Christians failed to abandon their own religion and culture they cannot but be only foreigners in this country and if they stayed here without losing their “separate existence” they might be treated as “enemies”, at best as “idiots”. His arguments tilt more favorably towards treating all Christians as “hostiles” who are agents of International movement for the spread of Christianity.

It is important to note that RSS gurus have been inculcating the idea of bigotry and hate to the mindset of many generations for the last 95 years. It is no surprise then that Modi’s rise to power has now led to an explosion of anti-Christian attitudes and fiery speeches creating an environment conducive to even physical attacks on Christian Institutions and its leaders. Prejudice against the minorities, especially Christians and Muslims, are a growing trend in the Indian society and for the BJP, it means electoral gains and seats of power! They couldn’t care less about the political instability, whether it wreaks havoc across the country or the negative impact it may have on the economic health of the nation.

According to news reports in the National Review magazine, during the 2017 Christmas season alone, there were 23 incidents. Most dramatic was the arrest of 30 priests and seminarians singing Christmas carols in Madhya Pradesh state. They were accused of violating the State’s anti-conversion law, which has been on the books since 2013. Similar legislation is in force in seven other states. Eight priests who came to the carolers’ aid were physically assaulted, and their vehicles were set on fire. Police officers reportedly stood by without intervening. That scenario is all too common. By some accounts, hundreds of anti-Christian incidents have occurred in the past year.

“We are losing confidence in our government,” said Cardinal Baselios Cleemis of Thiruvananthapuram, former President of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of India (CBCI). He added that “the country is being divided on the basis of religious belief” which he labeled a threat to the “democratic credentials of our country.” The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently released an annual report and its key findings include the observation by the Supreme Court of “deteriorating conditions for religious freedom in some states in 2018, stating that “certain state governments were not only not doing anything to stop violence against religious minorities, and in extreme cases, impunity was being granted to criminals engaging in violence.

The report also highlights Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on these issues, saying he “seldom made statements decrying mob violence,” and noting that “certain members of his political party have affiliations with Hind extremist groups and used inflammatory language about religious minorities publicly.” The report notes that in 2018, Minister of State at the Ministry of Home Affairs Hansraj Ahir told Parliament that 111 people were killed and 2,384 people were wounded in 822 communal clashes in 2017. By contrast, in 2016, 86 people were killed, and 2,321 were injured in 703 clashes, the report offers, later adding that independent organizations that monitor hate crimes found that 2018 saw more than 90 religion-based hate crimes that resulted in 30 deaths and many more injuries.

There is also a secret war being waged against Christian NGOs (Non-Governmental Organization) that are engaged in welfare work for the very poor in rural India. By throwing out the ‘Compassion International USA’ that housed and educated 145,000 destitute children and shutting down of the work of the ‘Caritas International’ that works with 360 NGOs across India that boasted about a force of 25,000 volunteers are good examples of Government’s authoritarian agenda that works in concert with whims of the Hindutva militants to marginalize the Christian Community and remove them from being a visible and positive force from the public’s eye.

In Modi’s India, Christian Institutions are being strangled by denial of FCRAs, freezing of the bank accounts, unending investigations, frequent auditing and harassment of principals who are in charge. These moves appear to be consistent with the Hindutva philosophy that the Modi government has embraced to advance the saffron agenda that challenges the very idea of India as a multi-cultural and pluralistic society. Modi appears to pay lip service to Gandhiji’s concept of India upon his visits abroad but remains silent when Institutions that are supposed to promote those principles come under attack back home. It should also be noted that Christianity came to India in A.D. 52, long before Ireland or England have embraced that religion. To judge the Indianness of its nationals only through the prism of one’s faith is not only just unfair but preposterous!

While the BJP Government is hard at work restricting Christian NGOs from receiving funds from abroad, no such limitations are placed on the Sangh Parivar organizations that collect millions of dollars from western democracies. Another report from USCIRF states that “while the Indian Government continues to use the FCRA to limit foreign funding for some NGOs, Hindutva supported organizations have never come under the scrutiny of FCRA. With the amendment championed by the Modi government, the foreign-based radical Hindu organizations will be able to send funds to India, without restriction, to support hate campaigns. Under the revised definition of FCRA, so long as the foreign company’s ownership of an Indian entity is within the foreign investment limits prescribed by the Government for that sector, the company will be treated as “Indian” for the purpose of FCRA.”

It is also common knowledge that Christian church leaders from the United States have a harder time obtaining visas to visit their fellow faithful in India or attend a conference while no such restrictions are placed on Indians based on religious affiliations. It is hypocritical for India to deny a religious conference visa to an American citizen while shedding crocodile tears for a reduction in the number of available H1B visas that could take jobs away from American citizens. The recent cancellation and court-ordered restoration of OCI card of an Indian American Christian who was accused of proselytizing while working as a physician volunteer in India during summer months have sent shock waves to the community. It once again shows the wanton disregard for fairness and due process by the bureaucrats who are so eager to please the current policy makers!

Meanwhile, India’s 180 million Muslims are affected as well by mob violence on suspicion of having eaten beef or slaughtered a cow, animals sacred to Hinduism nationwide. The recent election campaign by all parties show the reluctance of the leadership across the board to overtly court Muslims or seek their votes in public forums. Modi’s rule also emboldened Hindu extremist elements to translate their religiously ordained contempt and hatred for Dalits into systematic violence against that community as well often lynching them on suspicions of transporting cows for slaughter. According to a report in the New York Times, Indian courts have consistently acquitted most perpetrators of massacres of Dalits. Conviction rates in violent crimes against Dalits and indigenous tribes are a mere 28.3 percent and 16.4 % compared with 40.2 percent in general criminal cases.

India has a religion problem, and it should be given careful attention by policymakers in Washington as it can have long term repercussions towards the future. It appears that the sectarian line-up of political conflict is going to dominate the political landscape of India as long as BJP retains power. History has taught us that if the salience of the State is undefendable, regionalism or tribalism may become rampant and weaken a nation-state. Religious oppression is a clear sign of instability for any nation, and as the US is eyeing India as a strategic partner against the rising threat of China, an increasing level of communal tensions or sectarian conflicts in the sub-continent may not bode well for that relationship.

(Writer is a former Chief Technology Officer of the United Nations)

Religious freedom conditions in India on a downward trend in 2018: US Commission Report

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently released an annual report that examines the state of religious freedom in several countries around the world, including India. The countries are categorised into two tiers, with India once again being placed in Tier 2, “for engaging in or tolerating religious freedom violations that meet at least one of the elements of the “systematic, ongoing, egregious” standard for designation as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA),” the report states. In its key findings, it notes that India saw religious freedom conditions continued on a downward trend in 2018, noting that last year, “approximately one-third of state governments increasingly enforced anti-con- version and/or anti-cow slaughter laws discriminatorily against non-Hindus and Dalits alike.”

The report adds that, in 2018, “approximately one-third of state governments increasingly enforced anti-con- version and/or anti-cow slaughter laws discriminatorily against non-Hindus and Dalits alike,” and notes that Christians were also the targets were mob violence “under accusations of forced or induced religious conversion.” Moreover, the report notes that in cases involving mob violence against a person over false accusations of forced conversion of cow slaughter, “police investigations and prosecutions often were not adequately pursued.”

In its key findings for India, the report takes note of the Supreme Court of India’s highlighting of “deteriorating conditions for religious freedom in some states” in 2018, stating that the court concluded that “certain state governments were not doing enough to stop violence against religious minorities, and in some extreme cases, impunity was being granted to criminals engaging in violence.” The report also highlights Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on these issues, saying he “seldom made statements decrying mob violence,” and noting that “certain members of his political party have affiliations with Hindu extremist groups and used inflammatory language about religious minorities publicly.” These were some of the points the report notes to explain why India was once again termed a Tier 2 country.

The report outlines recommendations to the United States’ government, saying that it should “press the Indian government to allow a USCIRF delegation to visit the country and meet with stakeholders to evaluate conditions for freedom of religion or belief in India”. It calls for working with the Indian government to formulate a years-long strategy to curb religion-driven hate crimes by “pressing state governments” to prosecute public figures, including government officials, “who incite violence against religious minority groups through public speeches or articles.” The recommendations for this strategy also include bolstering the training and capacity of state and central police forces to prevent and punish instances of religious violence, encouraging the passage of the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2018, and assisting the law ministry to work with states to increase prosecution of hate crimes and hate speech targeting religious minorities, among others.

The report says that the conditions for religious freedom have declined in the last decade, stating, “A multifaceted campaign by Hindu nationalist groups like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang (RSS), Sangh Parivar, and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) to alienate non-Hindus or lower-caste Hindus is a significant contributor to the rise of religious violence and persecution.” It notes that in 2017, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) “reported that communal violence increased significantly during 2016,” highlighting that human rights organisations criticised the NCRB last year not adequately including data on mob violence or lynching. Given this, “the NCRB delayed its 2018 report to collect data on nearly 30 new crime categories, which will include hate crimes, lynching, and crimes based on fake news,” the report states.

The report notes that in 2018, Minister of State at the Ministry of Home Affairs Hansraj Ahir told Parliament that 111 people were killed and 2,384 people were wounded in 822 communal clashes in 2017. By contrast, in 2016, 86 people were killed and 2,321 were injured in 703 clashes, the report offers, later adding that independent organisations that monitor hate crimes found that 2018 saw more than 90 religion-based hate crimes that resulted in 30 deaths and many more injuries. However, the report also notes that in December 2018, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said that communal attacks had declined 12%, compared to the peak in 2017.

The report also notes how “institutional challenges” have contributed to religious freedom concerns, with “the police and courts overwhelmed,” and highlighting how “worsening income inequality has left more Indians suffering from poverty and has exacerbated his- torical conditions of inequality for certain religious and social minorities.”

The report takes note of anti-conversion laws that are in force in seven states in India, noting that the fundamental right to freedom of religion “includes the ability to manifest one’s beliefs through expression intended to persuade another individual to change his or her religious beliefs or affiliation voluntarily.” The report outlines that in 2018, anti-conversion laws were primarily enforced against Christians and Muslims who were proselytising, and says that religious minority leaders and others were also arrested under these laws. It highlights the case of Hadiya, whose marriage had been embroiled in accusations of ‘love jihad’. The report does not mention this phrase, but takes note of “inflammatory allegations of an organized campaign to coerce Hindu women to marry Muslim men and convert to Islam,” stating that the National Investigation Agency investigated this alleged campaign and eventually concluded that there was no evidence for it. Meanwhile, the report mentions ‘ghar wapsi’ ceremonies, in which those born as Hindus who converted to another religion are converted back, stating that “In some cases, these conversion ceremonies reportedly involve force or coercion,” but noting that it is difficult to determine if such conversions are voluntary or not.

Notably, the report, while discussing the role of Hindutva/Hindu extremist groups, highlights that “moderate and extreme forces within the Hindutva movement point to the rise in the Muslim population from constituting 10 percent of the national population in 1951 to 14 percent in 2011, which in their view necessitates “mitigation” against the growing Muslim community.” It later takes note of the fact that numerous cities have been renamed, such as Allahabad and Faizabad, abandoning the names that had been given during the Mughal period, stating that this “has been perceived as an effort to erase or downplay the influence of non-Hindus in Indian his- tory and as an attack on Muslims within India today.”

The report also discusses cow vigilantism, noting that “cow protection” mobs, “a new phenomenon,” have engaged in more than 100 attacks since May 2015 that have led to 44 deaths and around 300 people being injured. “In 2018 alone, cow protection lynch mobs killed at least 13 people and injured 57 in 31 incidents.” It also takes note of hate crimes against religious minorities, including anti-Muslim rhetoric in West Bengal in April 2018, threats against Christians in Tamil Nadu in October 2018.

Per the report, impunity for large-scale incidents of communal violence persists in India, “without proper accountability or recompense.” Probes and prosecution of those allegedly responsible have been “ineffective” or “absent,” and victims have said that the government has not adequately helped in rebuilding “destroyed neighborhoods, homes, and places of worship.” The report emphasises that while the Supreme Court and fact-finding commissions “have noted common characteristics and causes of such violence, including incitement to violence against religious minorities by politicians or religious leaders,” the failure “to address those common characteristics and causes or to hold perpetrators accountable have contributed to a culture of impunity for such violence.”

Other than incidents and threats that are communal, the report also discusses the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 1976, and details how it has been used to target non-governmental organisations “with missionary and human rights portfolios,” who have been banned from operating in India. It notes that in November 2018, the government “demanded that 1,775 organizations provide further explanation for their failure to submit use of foreign funds over the last six years; these organizations included many non-Hindu religious groups, some Hindu trusts managing major temples, and secular human rights groups.” The report explains that some Hindus, including some “Hindutva extremists,” “perceive Christian missionaries converting Dalits to be particularly threatening, as there are nearly 200 million Dalits in India,” adding, “Many observers assert that it was this fear of mass conversion that led to the 2017 shutdown of Com- passion International, a U.S.-based Christian charity, which provided services to nearly 150,000 Indian children.”

The report also has a section on Assam’s National Register of Citizens (NRC), which has jeopardized the Indian citizenship of more than four million people. “Widespread concerns have been raised that the NRC update is an intentional effort to discriminate and/ or has the effect of discriminating against Muslims, and that the discretion given to local authorities in the verification process and in identifying perceived foreigners to be excluded from the draft list will be abused,” it notes. It also highlights the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, saying that “concerns about the targeting of Muslims through the citizenship process were separately exacerbated” by its introduction and passage in the Lok Sabha; the bill, which would have provided citizenship to migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan “as long as they were not Muslim,” was dropped in the Rajya Sabha in February 2019, after the reporting period.

The report also discusses religious freedom for women, highlighting the Kathua case, in which an eight-year-old child was “abducted, gang-raped, and murdered as a message and threat to her Muslim nomadic community in Kashmir.” It notes that a priest, his son and a special police officer were charged in the case, and other police officials were charged with covering up the crimes. The report notes that while many protested the incident, “several others organized in support of the men charged, including members of the BJP.” It also highlights the Sabarimala Temple case, saying that following the Supreme Court’s ruling that adult women be permitted to enter the temple, “women attempting to enter the temple were physically attacked and others who publicly stated that they would try to enter the temple received hate mes- sages including death threats both online and in-person.”

The report also mentions a handful of positive developments with regards to religious freedom in India, such as the decline in communal violence in 2018, and the Supreme Court’s directive to the state and central governments to tackle mob violence, asking them to “pursue an 11-point plan, including compensation to hate crime victims, fast-tracking prosecutions, assigning senior police officers to deal with communal issues, and other provisions.” The report also mentions some progress in mob violence cases, citing June 2017’s Alimuddin Ansari lynching case, in which 11 accused were sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2018. Per the report, the Ministry of Minority Affairs was also granted a 12% increase in its budget.

Separately, Tenzin Dorjee, chair of the USCIRF, wrote a note in which he disagreed that religious freedom in India was deteriorating, stating, “While India must address issues related to religious freedom, I respectfully dissent on the views that India’s religious freedom conditions continued on a downward trend, the government allowed and encouraged mob violence against religious minorities, and some states are involved in ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom.’” He notes that in the 30+ years he spent living in India as Tibetan refugee, he “mostly witnessed the best of India and sometimes worst due to intractable interreligious conflicts.” He acknowledges that “religious divides and power struggles” resulted in the Partition of India and Pakistan, and also “contribute to egregious violations of religious freedom and tragedies,” but says that in spite of these concerns, “India exists as a multifaith and secular country.” Dorjee says that as a Tibetan refugee, “the most vulnerable minority among all minorities” in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, where he lived, he “experienced full religious freedom,” citing China’s systematic attacks on the Tibetan community in comparison. Dorjee also highlighted isolated incidents of religious harmony, such as a Muslim village donating land and money to build a Hindu temple, and a Hindu head priest carrying a Dalit youth on his shoulders into the Chilkur Balaji Temple’s inner sanctum amid cheers from a huge crowd. He takes note of Nathowal village in Punjab, where Hindu and Sikh communities helped rebuild an old mosque, and Muslims and Hindus helped work at a Sikh gurudwara. “People in this village reported to the Times of India that they celebrated together annual multifaith festivals such as Diwali, Dusshera, Rakhi, Eid, and Gurupurab,” Dorjee writes, opining that such “stories speak for India’s multi- faith civilization, religious freedom, and interreligious harmony.” He ends with an appeal to the Indian government “to continuously respect religious freedom and strive to promote India as a vibrant country of and for the multifaith people.”

The complete report may be read here. The section on India is on pages 174-181.

Sadhguru To Lead Spiritual Discourse During AAPI’s 37th Annual Convention in Atlanta

(Atlanta, GA: May 10, 2019): Understanding the inherent humanity that unites all nations, religions and cultures, Sadhguru is recognized for his pioneering efforts to nurture global harmony, Dr. Naresh Parikh, President of American association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), said today, while announcing spiritual discourse led by Sadhguru during AAPI’s 37th Convention in New York.
The 37th Annual AAPI Convention & Scientific Assembly will be held from July 3rd to July 7th, 2019 at the fabulous and world famous Omni Atlanta at CNN Center and Georgia World Congress Center. Expected to have a record attendance of more than 2,000 delegates including Physicians, Academicians, Researchers and Medical students, “the annual convention offers extensive academic presentations, recognition of achievements and achievers, and professional networking at the alumni and evening social events,” Dr. Parikh added.
“Having Sadhguru at the Convention with his unique ability to make the ancient yogic sciences relevant to contemporary minds, and act as a bridge to the deeper dimensions of life, will make the convention and the delegates from across the nation richer, in so many ways,” said Dr. Sreeni Gangasani, Chairman of the Convention. “His approach does not ascribe to any belief system, but offers methods for self-transformation that are both proven and powerful,” Dr. Gangasani added.
Named one of India’s 50 most influential people, Sadhguru is a realized Yogi and mystic who works tirelessly towards the physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing of all. Sadhguru’s work has deeply touched the lives of millions worldwide through his transformational programs.
“We need to create a culture of Health in society, instead of investing in just healthcare,” Sadhguru says. “What we call feeling healthy, is not just the absence of disease, but having a sense of wholeness within us.  If we feel like a complete being in our body, mind and spirit, that is when we are truly healthy.”
An author, poet and internationally renowned speaker, Sadhguru’s wit and piercing logic provoke and broaden our thoughts and perception of life. Sadhguru has been an influential voice at major global forums including the United Nations, World Economic Forum, the UK House of Lords, TED among many others.
Just as he has stated, “Your success in this world essentially depends on how well you can harness the prowess of this body and this mind,” Sadhguru believes in dedicating his life for the service of humanity. He established Isha Foundation, a non-profit organization supported by over three million volunteers worldwide. From powerful yoga programs to large-scale humanitarian projects for rural upliftment, education for the underprivileged, environmental restoration, as well as holistic and healthy living, the foundation’s activities are designed to create an inclusive culture and establish global harmony.
His fundamental vision is to offer the science of inner wellbeing to every human being – a science vitally helping realize the ultimate potential within. From this vision stem a multitude of projectsprograms, and methods, all towards the same aim: to raise every human being to the peak of their potential, be exuberant, all-inclusive, in harmony within themselves and the world.

Perhaps Sadhguru’s mission is most succinctly summarized in his own paradoxical words: “I have no mission of my own. It is just that when you see a certain need around you, you do what you can do – that’s all. But I have a dream, that someday, walking on a street anywhere in the world, I would be able to meet lots of enlightened or realized beings. That would be the greatest blessing to happen to the world.”
As though responding to the growing need: “Physician, heal thyself,” especially when there are growing signs of burn out among physicians, AAPI is focusing on themes such as how to take care of self and find satisfaction and happiness in the challenging situations they are in, while serving hundreds of patients everyday of their dedicated and noble profession.
The annual convention this year is being organized by AAPI’s Atlanta Chapter. In addition to offering over 12 hours of cutting edge CMEs to the physicians, CEOs Forum, fabulous entertainment, and women’s leadership forum. The convention will be addressed by senior world leaders, including US Senators, Presidential candidates, Nobel Lauretes, Governors, Congressmen, and celebrities from the Hollywood and Bollywood world.
Representing the interests of the over 100,000 physicians of Indian origin, leaders of American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), the largest ethnic organization of physicians, for 37 years, AAPI Convention has provided a venue for medical education programs and symposia with world renowned physicians on the cutting edge of medicine.
“Physicians and healthcare professionals from across the country and internationally will convene and participate in the scholarly exchange of medical advances, to develop health policy agendas, and to encourage legislative priorities in the coming year. We look forward to seeing you in Atlanta!” said Dr. Naresh Parikh. For more details, and sponsorship opportunities, please visit:  www.aapiconvention.org   and www.aapiusa.org

Wisconsin Honors Sikhs at Temple Where 6 Were Killed in 2012

This year, Wisconsin joined Colorado, Utah, Washington and Connecticut in passing first-time resolutions. These states joined others that have previously issued proclamations like California, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
Additionally, 33 local proclamations and resolutions were passed, including first-time recognitions in Salt Lake City, UT; Lexington, KY; Olathe, KS; and more. Many of these successful initiatives were supported by the Sikh Coalition, putting Sikh community leaders in direct touch with their elected officials on both sides of the political aisle.
Nearly four million Americans were wished a “Happy Vaisakhi” by their own elected officials through social media posts that the Sikh Coalition worked to facilitate in time for April 14th.

Last week, the Governor of Wisconsin visited the Oak Creek sangat at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin to deliver the first-ever statewide proclamation declaring April Sikh Awareness & Appreciation Month. Gov. Tony Evers chose the Oak Creek gurdwara to honor and remember the victims, including my father-in-law, when six of our own were killed by a gunman with neo-Nazi ties on August 5, 2012.

A Milwaukee-area Sikh temple where a white supremacist fatally shot six parishioners in 2012 hosted Wisconsin’s governor Tuesday to make April Sikh Awareness and Appreciation month in the state.
The celebration had been months in the making but came at a time when houses of worship have been targets of violence recently. On Saturday, a gunman opened fire in a California synagogue where about 100 people were celebrating the last day of Passover, killing one and injuring three others. Last month, 50 people were killed during attacks at mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch .
Saturday’s attack is on the minds of parishioners in Oak Creek, but they say they’re not deterred. “There’s always a bit of fear when something like this happens,” said Pardeep Kaleka, 42, one of the parishioners at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek. “But at the same time … that’s what faith really is. It’s to have courage in times when you do feel fear. I think we’re more excited than anything else.”
The national Sikh Coalition in New York has gotten 33 Sikh Awareness and Appreciation proclamations so far, including some from states, counties, cities, and school districts. The latest in Oak Creek has special significance because of its tragic past.
On Aug. 5, 2012, a gunman killed six parishioners and injured four others at the Oak Creek gurdwara — what Sikhs call their temples of worship. Kaleka’s father, Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, the founder of the Oak Creek temple, was among those killed.
“I don’t think shootings have a deterrent effect on faith communities. I think it actually strengthens faith communities,” Pardeep Kaleka said, noting that their congregation has doubled since 2012, going from about 1,000 members to somewhere between 1,700 and 2,000.
At the temple where parishioners were attacked, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers presented Sikh congregants with a plaque making the proclamation official, telling them “the state of Wisconsin is committed to better understand, recognize, and appreciate the rich history and shared experiences of Sikh Americans.”
After the Wisconsin shootings, the Sikh Coalition reached out to about 300 gurdwara’s across the country to encourage them to have safety plans in place, said Satjeet Kaur, the coalition’s executive director. Those plans were updated after the church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 and the attack at Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in Pittsburgh in October, Kaur said. That has meant assembling security task forces, adding cameras and asking local police for increased vigilance at temples, she said.
At the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, security staff has been added, windows with bullet-proof film have been installed, and an emergency plan for dealing with active shooters has been created, Pardeep Kaleka said.
Jaspreet Kaur Kaleka, 37, Pardeep Kaleka’s wife, was on hand to receive the proclamation from Evers. She said her congregation has made it a goal to raise awareness and understanding about their religion. Every year, temple parishioners participate in a 6K run in Oak Creek to remember the shooting victims and raise money for six scholarships — one in the name of each of the people killed.
“We need to tell people what we’re about, what we do, because at the end of the day we pretty much all believe the same thing,” Jaspreet Kaleka said. “We just want to be good people, we believe that there’s a greater being and just treating everybody basically how we want to be treated — and that goes across all religions.”
This grassroots effort was directly supported by the Sikh Coalition. They worked with local Sikh community leaders to help secure the proclamation and then facilitate the visit by the governor to the Oak Creek gurdwara. Everything, including media outreach and support, was handled by their team and helped further raise educational awareness so that we could focus on what truly matters: the community.

Millennial desi women on a mission to make Kathak a household name

New York Kathak Festival produced its first festival at the Ailey Studios and Ailey Citigroup Theater this weekend on April 19-21, 2019. The first of its kind, the New York Kathak Festival attended by over 750 was a confluence of artists and Kathak aficionados coming together as a community to learn, share, and connect over the 3-day event in the heart of Manhattan.

Originating in India, Kathak is a classical dance that carries history in its very form. The New York Kathak Festival is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit run by a team of 10 young professionals. “The NYKF organizing team is mostly millennial women who live and work in the New York + New Jersey area. The festival is our passion in addition to our careers,” said Meenakshi Lala, on behalf of the festival. Anisha Muni, also on the festival team said, “we created this event with the intention of using art to bring community together and create a platform for Kathak to blossom in New York City. We’re on a mission to make Kathak a household name.”

The festival created space for performance, teaching, and discussion. Raoul Bhavnani of the India Center Foundation, co-sponsored panel discussions on critical conversations relevant to Kathak dance. He commented: “An honor to co-host an expert panel on the present, past, and future of Kathak dance today during the Kathak Festival weekend. Well done to all the panelists who grounded us in the living tradition, gender, and the idea of the divine. Inspiring conversation.” Eminent artists contributed to the festival, including Pandit Divyang Vakil, Dr. Pallabi Chakravorty, Dr. Purnima Shah. Dr. Sitara Thobani, and many others. Consul General Sandeep Chakravorty and Air India supported this important event.

The concert lineup included 50 dancers and 10 musicians from all over the world. Prashant Shah, an Indian dancer now based in New York closed his showcase of traditional and contemporary Kathak to a standing ovation. Shivangi Dake Robert traveled the furthest—all the way from Singapore—and was electric. The weekend was closed with a finale by the festival’s guest of honor, legend Pandit Birju Maharaj and his foremost disciple, Saswati Sen. Speaking about the event’s organizers, Sen said, “what the seniors couldn’t do, these children have done: bringing everyone together for Kathak.” Maharaj, 81 years old and a highly celebrated 7th generation artist added, “now you must support them.” The FIA is a proud community partner of the New York Kathak Festival.

The New York Kathak Festival is a newly formed organization that presents and promotes dancers, scholars, and practitioners of Kathak, a classical dance tracing its origins to India. We produce a festival bringing together established and emerging artists from across the United States and beyond. The New York Kathak Festival is produced by the American Kathak community, inspiring creative exchange between local Kathak artists and diverse New York audiences.

The 19th Annual New York Indian Film Festival Announces Full Lineup May 7 – May 12

New York –April 24, 2019 –The New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) announced the full lineup at the Launch event for their 19th year of celebrating Independent, art house, alternate, and diaspora films from the Indian subcontinent (May 7– May 12) at the Village East Cinemas in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (181-189 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10003).  Dedicated to bringing these films to a New York audience, the festival will feature 32 screenings (29 narrative, 3 documentary and 32 short films). NYIFF will be featuring 7 World Premieres along with an International Premiere and 5 US premieres and the rest of the films being NY premieres.  NYIFF has been the go-to festival to see South Asian diaspora films that have not been seen in New York City and is continuing with this mission for the nineteenth year.

This year NYIFF has the largest number of regional (non-Hindi) language films – 20 in total. The languages focused on are Assamese, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi, Kannada, Ladakhi, Punjabi, and Harayanavi and all the films will have English subtitles.

NYIFF Festival Director Aseem Chhabra said “We are thrilled to share our lineup for this year. The NYIFF programming team has spent a number of months watching, tracking films and we now present to the audience the best of Indian cinema.”

Returning to NYIFF is award-winning filmmaker, Gurinder Chadha with her new film.  The festival will be hosting a Special Spotlight of Chadha’s Blinded by the Light, which will be making its New York debut after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is inspired by the true story of journalist Sarfraz Manzoor and his lifelong love of Bruce Springsteen.

Bengali Master Buddhadev Dasgupta’s Urojahaj (The Flight) will be a part of the special focus on Bengali cinema that NYIFF will be presenting this year. Seven features will be a part of this presentation, many by first time filmmakers, putting a spotlight on a resurgence of films from West Bengal.

Arijit Singh, a widely popular Bollywood singer will be highlighted at the festival with his second directorial venture Sa- a tribute to Satyajit Ray and Ravi Shankar. Anoushka Shankar plays sitar for the film.

Other highlights of the festival include Assamese filmmaker, Rima Das whose last film Village Rockstars was India’s official entry for the 2019 Oscars.   Rima’s new film Bulbul Can Sing will have its NY premiere at NYIFF along with Assamese master and National Film Award Winner Jahnu Barua’s World premiere of his new film Bhoga Khirikee (Broken Window).

Short Filmmakers Ashuman Sharma (Jalebi) and Vick Krishna (Mokshi) were in attendance at the NYIFF Launch event on Thursday, April 18 at the Consulate General of India, New York.  They are a part of NYIFF’s four short programs that includes a total of 32 short films.

Also announced at the NYIFF Launch, Celebrity Chef and filmmaker Vikas Khanna was named the Brand Ambassador of the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC).  Khanna is a Michelin-star chef as well as a cookbook author, humanitarian, filmmaker and was once voted New York City’s hottest chef. Khanna’s The Last Color starring Neena Guptawill be the prestigious Closing Night film for the festival and will be honoring mothers around the world on Mother’s Day.

Said Sunil Hali, Executive Director and President, IAAC,”We have received tremendous support from Ambassador Sandeep Chakravorty and Consulate General India, New York. Corporate sponsors such as AIR INDIA, State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, ICICI Bank amongst others have come forward with significant contributions. The PIERRE from Taj Group continues to expand the relationship with IAAC. Local regional and community associations such as “Sadhu Vaswani Centers” continue to help in supporting our expanded mandate to promote regional films. Film schools have joined hands and now the leading broadcaster, IndiaCast with Viacom18 has confirmed as our exclusive broadcast partner for NYIFF2019 in USA in “powered by” category. A special 30-minute curtain raiser and a 90-minute special on NYIFF2019 will be produced by IndiaCast and aired on “Aapka Colors” and “Colors Rishtey”. We look forward to building such relationship to make NYIFF2019 a great success”.

5th Annual DFW SAFF Unveils Entire Festival Lineup: Eight Features, Two Docs & 11 Shorts over Four Days

(Dallas, Texas – May 1, 2019) The 5th annual DFW South Asian Film Festival, presented by Toyota, is proud to announce its entire festival lineup, which consists of ONE World Premiere, TWO North American Premieres, ONE U.S. Premieres, 14 Texas Premieres and THREE Dallas Premieres.

The four-day movie event, taking place from May 16th to 19th at various locations including Victory Park, Addison and the Design District, boasts 21 shorts, documentaries and feature films, Q&A sessions with attending filmmakers/actors and nightly after-parties for festival-goers. For the entire festival schedule, please click HERE.

The centerpiece film (also men’s programming) is the U.S. Premiere of Vasan Bala’s(in attendance) action-packed film MARD KO DARD NAHIN HOTA (The Man Who Feels No Pain), marking the acting debut of Bollywood actress Bhagyashree’s son, Abhimanyu Dassani (in attendance). The movie will screen at the AMC Village on the Parkway 9 on Saturday, May 18 at 7:15 p.m., followed by an after party at Saffron House in Addison.

The festival closes with the Texas Premiere of Aijaz Khan’s (in attendance) emotional Kashmiri drama about a boy in search of his missing father, HAMID, starring Rasika Dugal of MADE IN HEAVEN, DELHI CRIME and QISSA fame. The closing night film will take place at the AMC Village on the Parkway 9 at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 19, followed by an after party at the Design District’s Center Stage.

Annual Festival of Colors celebration, SURATI HOLI HAI, takes on New Avatar in 2019

(New York, NY – Tuesday April 30, 2019) “When everyone is colorful, no one is different,” states Surati’s motto, celebrating equality and brotherhood across boundaries. 2019’s SURATI HOLI HAI, the country’s LARGEST Festival of Colors, epitomizes that sentiment, as a special partnership emerges this year between two neighboring New Jersey cities, Hoboken and Jersey City. 

The day-long event on Saturday, June 15, 2019, will promote peace, equality and unity through cultural diversity, color play, a color walk, live performances, cultural, educational and interactive workshops, interactive art, food & drink vendors, a children’s zone, DJ,  dancing and much more.

The festival will begin at 10 a.m. in downtown Jersey City with the Hudson River Fitness Color Walk featuring yoga, fitness, dance and drumming. Health professionals and organizations will offer workshops, lectures and fitness demonstrations. The walk will continue along the Hudson waterfront route to Pier A, Hoboken, where the Spring Festival of Colors will begin at noon. T-shirts, color packets and water will be given to registered walkers.

“What I love about our festival is that it is attended by all, irrespective of their cultural backgrounds or nationalities, thus spreading the message of love, brotherhood, acceptance and peace,” said Rimli Roy, Founder/Artistic Director. “Through the arts and culture of India, Surati Holi Hai is growing to be the tristate area’s most talked about, meaningful and unique celebration of the Spring Festival of Colors, with an incredible impact across diverse communities in the United States and beyond.”

Today, Surati Holi Hai is possibly the United States’ and definitely the East Coast’s most popular family-friendly cultural festival, having attracted more than 12,000 people in 2018 who registered from 22 U.S states and six countries around the world. To watch a video from previous events, please click HERE.

 Surati Holi Hai is organized by award-winning 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization Surati for Performing Arts, an organization that has been bringing quality performing arts, programming and festivals to the Hudson County communities and beyond for almost two decades now. Surati has performed at the United Nations Headquarters, The Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, The University of the U.S Virgin Islands – Reichhold Center, Alaska PAC to name a few. Our programming is currently funded by NJ State Tourism, Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs / Tourism, City of Jersey City, City of Hoboken, The Indian Govt – Consulate General of India in New York, Carepoint Health, NJCU (New Jersey City University), NY Waterway etc. Our past events have been sponsored by Comcast, State Bank of India, NY Life, Zee TV, TV Asia, Lycamobile, Mack-Cali, Silverman, BCB Community Bank, Bira to name a few. Our work and events have been featured in The Vogue, NY Daily News, Jersey Journal, Star Ledger, Hudson Reporter, News India Times, Desi Talk, Times of India and The Statesman, just to name a few. For more information, please visit www.suratiholihai.org.

Forum on “Understanding Hate Crimes and Protection of Places of Worship” Held

On 6th April, Hindus of Greater Houston (HGH) hosted a first-of-its-kind Forum on “Understanding Hate Crimes and Protection of Places of Worship” for faith based and community leaders to learn how to prevent and respond to hate crimes against places of worship. Facilitated by the United States Department of Justice Community Relations Services (CRS), it held presentations by representatives from the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, Harris County District Attorney’s office, FBI Houston Field Office, Department of Homeland Security and Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

About 40 faith based organizations attended the forum which was held at the Houston Durgabari Society. The event touched on four issues: Hate Crimes Prosecutions Overview, Hate Crimes Statistics and Symbols of Hate, Preventing and Responding to Active Shooter Situations and a Panel Discussion on Protecting Places of Worship by Interfaith leaders.

A brain child of HGH Past President Partha Krishnaswamy, the forum sought to educate custodians, caretakers and members of temples, churches, synagogues, gurudwaras and mosques on tackling the uptick in hate crimes against places of worship.

Almost all the presenters pointed out that expressing hate, name calling and the display of offensive symbols, no matter how vile, are not in-and-of-themselves criminal. The Constitution is bound to protect the rights of even those who indulge in hate speech. It has to rise to the level of a criminal act before law enforcement agencies can take action.

Recent attacks against religious sites include the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C.; Victoria Islamic Center, Victoria, Texas, the Oak Creek, Wis., Sikh temple; and the Overland Park Jewish Center in Kansas.

Moderator Harpreet Singh Mocha and Kim Milstead, both from the US Department of Justice were instrumental in putting the program together.

Deputy Chief US Attorney Office of Southern District of Texas, Sharad Khandelwal kicked off the program by highlighting the January 28th 2017 attack on the Victoria Islamic Center, a mosque about 80 miles in Victoria, Texas. Residents around the center woke up to a fire that engulfed the entire mosque and raged for hours eventually burning down the mosque to the ground. It was emotionally devastating for its congregation but Khandelwal noted the outpouring of support from the community. A prayer vigil was attended not just by Muslims but by other local communities with churches and synagogues providing their premises for worship until the mosque was rebuilt.

A squad of law enforcement agencies such as the ATF, FBI, Victoria Fire and Police Department used “every single law enforcement method and technology to crack the case.” The perpetrator was charged with a hate crime that got him 24 years of prison time. This was the repeated assurance offered by Khandelwal that in the event of a hate crime, the Department of Justice will not hesitate “to call it a hate crime and make sure justice is served.”

Bureau Chief-Special Crimes Harris County District Attorney’s Office Ruben R. Perez who works for Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg also reiterated that their office was there to help and protect people and would prosecute all cases of arson, graffiti, theft, vandalism and aggravated assault on a place of worship. He encouraged the gathering to dial 911 as a first responder if they saw something that was out of the ordinary, or call CrimeStoppers with tips and speak up if they notice an overt display of hate speech against a community or race on social media.

FBI Houston Supervisory Special Agent Tricia Sibley recommended two sites helpful in understanding hate crimes, hate symbols and their incidence – Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program FBI and StopHoustonGangs. In a recent report, Federal Bureau of Investigation logged 7,175 hate crimes in 2017, a 17% increase from the prior year that was caused by growing attacks against racial and religious minorities. The number represented the third consecutive year that hate crimes went up and the biggest year-by-year increase in hate crimes since 2001. Due to an increase in attacks on Hindu temples and individuals, the FBI began tracking hate crimes against Hindus since 2013.

FBI Houston Supervisory Special Agent Chris Johnson offered some broad based guidelines and resources on securing places of worship and how to survive an active shooter. Since 2014, 1016 hate crimes motivated by religious bias were reported and occurred at churches, temples, mosques, gurudwaras and synagogues.

While entering to a place of worship should be a welcoming experience, some easy security measures he suggested were: Invite local law enforcement personnel to your building during larger prayer services or meetings. Other than the main access points, all other access points should be locked during services. Fire alarm and sprinkler systems should be tested regularly

Ushers can be the first line of defense. They should be positioned at the main access points and trained to spot “something that doesn’t add up” such as nervous behavior, excess clothing or constant adjusting of clothing. Have ushers greet and talk to newcomers in the congregation Install surveillance cameras in conspicuous and inconspicuous places. The perception of surveillance could change someone’s behavior and help law enforcers apprehend the perpetrator. 74% of active shooters enter through the main access point. If you have only one camera, install it at the main access point.

Security cameras should employ good lighting.

In case of a suspicious item, do not touch or tamper with it. Dial 911 immediately.

In case of a threat by phone, do not hang up. If possible record the conversation, ask questions and write down the exact wording of the threat.

In case of a suspicious person, note down license plates, write down descriptions of what the person looked like and what they did. Such evidence is critical for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute if necessary.

A case of vandalism, no matter how minor, must be reported. Follow up with the appropriate officer regularly on the progress of the case. “See something, say something.” Call 911 if you spot suspicious behavior. Develop a plan and educate members of the congregation on the plan.

In case of an Active shooting:

In the wake of the 2012 shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek Wisconsin, Special Agent Johnson noted a dangerous trend in that the attacks are getting deadlier almost “as if the shooters are trying to outdo the previous shooting.”

A study of 160 active shooters in the US from 2000-2013 showed that 3.8% or 6 of them were at places of worship. 69% of the 160 incidents ended in 5 minutes or less. Law enforcement response time was 3 minutes and 67% of the incidents ended before the police arrived.

Some do’s and don’ts:

In case of an active shooter, evacuees should leave all personal belongings behind.

Avoid using elevators and escalators to escape. He recommended viewing a film on YouTube called “Run. Hide. Fight. Surviving an Active shooter.” During an active shooting, the three basic response actions are Run, hide or fight. Individuals can run away from the shooter, seek a secure place where they can hide or incapacitate the shooter with improvised weapons such as fire extinguishers or chairs. When hiding, silence electronic devices like cell phones, lock and barricade the door with heavy furniture, turn off lights and remain silent.

Provide first responders with a site plan including information about door and window locations as well as locks and access controls.

Commander Criminal Intelligence Division Houston Police Department M. Wyatt Martin clarified that the average response time after a 911 call is 5 minutes. He also encouraged the gathering to call Stephen Daniel at 713-308-3246 for a site security assessment and training in how to protect the place of worship.

Developing a strong relationship with the local commander is important in helping protect a place of worship. One can also text 911 now for emergencies while the non-emergency number is 713-884-3131.

Officer Martin strongly suggested the need for a plan of action, a plan of evacuation and a security committee to create a security plan. A good idea when entering a public place, he cautioned, is to check out the exits on the property. In a concluding panel discussion, representatives from Interfaith ministries – Rev. Gregory Han – IMG Interfaith, Dr. Zahra Jamal – Rice University, Jason Plotkin from the Synagogue, Kedar Thakker – BAPS Mandir and Morris Grunill from the Fort Bend Church shared the security protocols they utilize to protect their place of worship.

Security is a high priority for the BAPS Mandir. Ketan Thakker stated that BAPS looked at security through 2 perspectives – IT and people perspective. Since they host several events a year which sometimes attract almost eight thousand people, they take precautionary steps such as installing several cameras that are monitored, invite law enforcement to temple events, have officers present but in the end, he emphasized that “human vigilance is best.”

The Fort Bend Church has a carefully thought out multilayered system of security. Members are first greeted by parking lot attendants, then greeters and ushers. Security Officers are present on campus. During the week only one entrance is used except Sundays when all 6 entrances are used. An in house security committee meets once a year to review and revise security measures.

Other suggestions included conducting fire drills or exercises to make a quick departure from the space, “using proactive fellowship” to check out newcomers, monitoring social media for hate feeds, asking first time people to stand and be acknowledged, knowing the people in your immediate vicinity and “finally educate and create awareness without creating panic.”

The Hindu American Foundation, a non-profit advocacy group based in Washington D.C., has been actively working for years with the Department of Justice, law enforcement, and legislators across the country to track and address bias motivated attacks on Hindus and other religious and ethnic minorities. HAF also requests help in tracking incidents of identity-based or bias-motivated intimidation, threats, harassment, and violence being experienced in our communities by filling out the Bias-Motivated Crime Data Collection Form, if they or someone they know has experienced or witnessed an incident. Contact HAF for assistance at [email protected] or 201-223-8222.

FEMA had a grant program of $150,000 to enhance the security of religious centers that are at risk for hate crimes. Organizations can apply at https://www.fema.gov/nonprofit-security-grant-program.

Other resources:

Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service (CRS) Visit justice.gov/crs

Find your regional FBI office at fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices

Learn about the FBI’s hate crime reporting process and statistics at fbi.gov/investigate/civil-rights/hate-crimes

Find hate crime data collection guidelines and a training manual at ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime-data-collection-guidelines-and-training-manual.pdf

Protector Security Advisor Program (PSA) provide voluntary security surveys and assessments of facilities. Visit dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/PSA-Program-Fact-Sheet-05-15-508.pdf.

Federal Emergency Management Agency: www.fema.gov/protecting-houses-worship

After Fire Destroys Parts of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Macron says new cathedral will be ‘more beautiful’

In the latticed shadows of the medieval masterpiece that was Notre Dame de Paris, centuries of history unspooled: two calamitous world wars, bubonic plague, revolution, the sprawling, messy intricacies of daily life. Its mighty bells clanged at momentous junctures — when Paris was liberated from the Nazis in 1944, in tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

A massive blaze at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris devastated large parts of the 850-year-old church. The fire is now out, but the cathedral’s iconic spire fell during the hours it took to battle the blaze. French President Emmanuel Macron, in an address to the nation, promised Parisians that they will “rebuild this cathedral together.”

Onlookers wept and gasped in horror as more than 400 firefighters fought the ferocious and fast-moving blaze, which broke out about 6:45 p.m., destroying large parts of the 850-year-old Gothic monument.

Firefighters said the roof had been mostly destroyed, and at one point they feared the entire structure could collapse. Flames licked up the tall spire, which eventually buckled and collapsed in on itself, but by midnight, with the fire’s intensity finally fading, officials at the scene said the cathedral structure, including the two towers on the main facade, had been saved.

On Monday, it was the bells of Paris’ other churches that tolled — in an anguished, prayerful gesture of solidarity and support for the burning cathedral.

The cathedral was minutes away from total destruction, officials say.

But despite Mr Macron’s pledge experts say its reconstruction could take decades.

Fifty people will investigate the cause of the fire. Paris public prosecutor Rémy Heitz said there was no obvious indication of arson and that the blaze was being treated as an accident.

A combined €800m ($902m; £692m) has already been pledged by a number of companies and business tycoons to help rebuild the Unesco World Heritage site.

In a televised address on Tuesday evening, President Macron suggested he wants it rebuilt by the time Paris hosts the Summer Olympics in 2024.

“We’ll rebuild Notre-Dame even more beautifully and I want it to be completed in five years, we can do it,” said Mr Macron, who had already pledged to launch an international fundraising scheme for the reconstruction.

“It’s up to us to convert this disaster into an opportunity to come together… It’s up to us to find the thread of our national project.”

But Eric Fischer, head of the foundation in charge of restoring the 1,000-year-old Strasbourg cathedral, told AFP the Notre-Dame may take “decades” to rebuild.

Frédéric Létoffé, the head of the group of companies for the Restoration of Historic Monuments, put the timescale at between 10 and 15 years, warning substantial work would be needed to secure the site before restoration can begin.

The blaze – which was discovered at 18:43 (16:43 GMT) on Monday and was fully extinguished almost 15 hours later – destroyed most of the cathedral’s roof and led to the collapse of its iconic spire.

Experts have not yet been allowed on site to assess the damage and firefighters have sent a drone to survey the scale of the destruction.

The main structure, including the two bell towers, was saved in a time window of 15 to 30 minutes by a team of 400 firefighters, he said.

In his speech Mr Macron heaped praise on the fire services, saying they took “extreme risks” to tackle the blaze.

Volunteers from 92 cultures convene to plan the 29th Annual Skokie Festival of Cultures

Representatives from 92 different cultures convened on Monday – April 15, 2019, to organize the 29th Skokie Festival of Cultures  scheduled to take place on May 18 & 19, 2019 at Oakton Park. The three-day event is expected to draw an estimated 25,000 people from the Village of Skokie and surrounding areas.

The festival will kick- off on Friday evening with an International Short Film Festival and feature more than 60 ethnic performances throughout the weekend as visitors experience the cultural diversity existing within Skokie through the event theme “Passport to the World.”

John Marquardt, chairman of the Planning Committee and Pamela Zeid from the Village of Skokie led the volunteer meeting to finalize the cultural booth selection criteria.

This year’s event is expected to feature cultural booths highlighting cultural diversity existing within the Skokie community.  The purpose of the festival is to bring together people from the Village for an entire weekend allowing them to celebrate one another’s customs and cultural backgrounds in a fun and colorful setting.

The food vendors for this year’s event include Skokie Rotary, Windsor Ice Cream, Blackhawk BBQ & Seafood, Lee Concessions, Tamale Express, LC Restaurant, Uncle Zorba’s Greek Foods, Urhai Community Service Center and the Perk & Pickle Food truck.

This year’s event is sponsored by Geico, NorthShore University HealthSystem, State Farm, Nicor Gas, Renewal by Andersen, Bright Horizons Early Education & Preschool, Byline Bank, Chiro One Wellness Centers, Eye Level, Power Home Remodeling, First Bank Chicago-Highland Park, the Illinois Arts Council, and the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs of Skokie Valley.

John Marquardt, and Pamela Zeid who led meeting did an excellent job at addressing questions from participating organizations; and generating enthusiasm and excitement of the upcoming event.

Krishna Goyal, Member, Skokie Human Relations Commission, who has been serving the Village of Skokie for more than 20 years and Chandrakant Modi, M.D. Chairperson, Gandhi Memorial Chicago, also attended the meeting. Due to Easter Sunday Babu Verma could not attend this meeting however he is part of cultural committee executive member in Village od Skokie.

“This is the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and we are elated to be participating in this event to celebrate Gandhi’s life through literature and photos,” said Chandrakant Modi, M.D.

Gandhi Memorial Chicago will also participate in Skokie’s annual Fourth of July Parade.  Arnold Oskin who organizes the parade shared that slots are starting to fill up and those who care interested can register on the website.   Gandhi Memorial Chicago float will be part of Fourth of July Parade in Skokie.

For businesses or community organizations interested in supporting the festival through donations may contact Jon Marquardt at 847- 674-1500, ext 3520. In return for their support Friends of the Festival will receive advertisement during the event Skokie Park District facilities and lobbies.  The planning committee is also looking for volunteers for the event.  Volunteers may go to the Festival website and submit an online application.

6th Annual Turban Day on Times Square

Thousands of people from the New York region came together to the city’s iconic Times Square to celebrate  ‘Turban Day in Times Square’ relishing the experience of having a turban wrapped around their head by enthusiastic volunteers who took the opportunity to raise awareness about Sikh faith and culture.

The event was organized by Sikhs of New York in association with the Consulate General of India in New York. Turban Day, which started in 2013 at Baruch College, is celebrated annually to spread awareness about the Sikh community and promote its culture and identity. Chanpreeet Singh, co-founder of Sikhs of New York, told PTI that more than 38,000 turbans have been tied in the past seven years.

Sikhs in the United States have borne the burden of post-9/11 hate crime and Sikh children experience continue to experience bullying in schools according to organizations that have been active around the country and engaged law enforcement to help prevent verbal and physical violence on the Sikhs. One of the worst incidents of violence was the Aug. 5, 2012 massacre at the Oak Creek Gurdwara in Wisconsin by a White supremacist. And just days after 9/11, a Sikh man in Arizona was shot dead as reprisal for the attack on the World Trade Towers in New York City.

This was the 7th year of Turban Day, and according to Sikhs of New York, the main organizers of the event, to date 38,000 turbans have been tied, the event has received 1 million live views; reached more than 12 million digitally, and receives massive international coverage. More than 10,000 volunteers have come forward to help out over the years. Anjleen Kaur of the National Sikh Campaign which collaborated with Sikhs of New York to organize the day in the Big Apple, told the media. “What Turban Day really represents is justice and equality.”

This time round there was an added incentive. Renowned ice-cream makers Ben & Jerry’s joined the Turban Day campaign, putting it on their social media sites. and giving out coupons for their delicious scoops. At the event, Ben & Jerry’s gave away coupons to some 500 lucky New Yorkers, Kaur said.

Deputy Consul General of India in New York Shatrughna Sinha said the Consulate is commemorating the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak with Gurubani recital programs.

As part of the commemoration of Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary as well as to mark Baisakhi, this year the Consulate associated with The Sikhs of NY on Turban Day, Sinha said.

“This is a great environment and ambience and the crowd is fantastic,” Mr Sinha said, sporting a blue turban as he took part in the commemoration. There is no better way than this to raise awareness about Sikhism as well as propagating the message of universal brotherhood and humanity of Guru Nanak Dev ji,” he told PTI.

Sikhs of New York co-founder Chanpreet Singh said in the seven years that Turban Day has been organized in the city, there has increasingly been awareness about Sikhism, not just through people who are getting turbans tied but by the thousands others on social media following the event.

Pope falls to the knees in South Sudan, a dictator falls in Sudan

Pope Francis on Thursday last week knelt in front of political leaders of South Sudan and kissed their boots. “I express my heartfelt hope that hostilities will finally cease, that the armistice will be respected, that political and ethnic divisions will be surmounted, and that there will be a lasting peace for the common good of all those citizens who dream of beginning to build the nation,” the Pope later said.
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011, ending Africa’s longest-running civil war. But that did not bring peace in the new nation. In 2012, South Sudan and Sudan fought over the control of an oil-rich region, until an agreement was signed six months later. But later, South Sudan fought among itself, after President Salva Kiir sacked the cabinet and accused Vice-President Riek Machar of planning a failed coup. That civil war has displaced over 2 million people and killed thousands. A ceasefire was declared in June 2018, but a UN report says “hostilities have persisted“.
In Sudan, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was ousted by the nation’s military on Thursday, after nearly four months of protest, dozens of deaths at the hands of the security forces and endless chants of “revolution!”. al-Bashir had ruled the impoverished nation for 30 years and is wanted by the International Criminal Court for playing “an essential role” in a genocidal purge in Darfur.
Yet, the protesters did not get the revolution they were hoping for, as Lt. Gen. Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf, the defence minister, took charge. He announced the new terms: Political prisoners will be released, but Sudan will undergo a two-year “transition” under the military, during which the Constitution will be suspended. There are similarities to this in Algeria, where President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had to resign after 20 years in view of protest earlier this month, only to be succeeded by interim leader Abdelkader Bensalah, the upper house speaker.

Police charge Bishop Franco of raping nun

Police have charged Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Jalandhar with raping a Catholic nun multiple times, nine months after she complained in southern India’s Kerala state. The police team probing the allegations filed charges on April 9 before a magistrate in Kottayam district, where the nun’s convent is based.

A 2,000-page charge sheet listed charges of wrongful confinement, rape of a woman incapable of giving consent, causing grievous bodily harm during rape, unnatural offense and criminal intimidation.

If found guilty, the bishop faces imprisonment of not less than 10 years or up to life in jail. The charge sheet also lists 83 witnesses, 40 of them Catholic leaders including Cardinal George Alencherry, the major archbishop and head of the Syro-Malabar Church.

Three bishops — Joseph Kallarangatt of Pala, Kurian Valiakandathil of Bhagalpur and Sebastian Vadakkel of Ujjain — and 25 Catholic nuns and 11 Catholic priests are also named as witnesses.

The nuns, who have been campaigning for justice for the alleged victim, have termed the development a turning point in a case that has attracted international attention.

“We have only crossed one major step in the fight to ensure justice for our sister,” said Sister Anupama Kelamangalathuveli, one of the nun’s supporters.

The alleged victim is a former superior general of Missionaries of Jesus, a diocesan congregation that functions under Bishop Mulakkal’s patronage.

She complained to police on June 27 last year that Bishop Mulakkal had sexually abused her 13 times from 2014 to 2016 when he visited her convent in Kuravilangad village in Kottayam district.

Sister Anupama and four other nuns have been supporting their former superior. They also joined a public protest organized by the Save Our Sisters (SOS) forum, formed by a group of social activists.

Following the public protest, police arrested Bishop Mulakkal on Sept. 21 and placed him in judicial custody. He was later released on bail by Kerala High Court. He has always maintained his innocence.

The Vatican removed him from his administrative responsibilities and appointed an administrator. The prelate, however, continues to stay in the bishop’s house in Jalandhar in the northern state of Punjab.

“We know the bishop is powerful and influential and can do anything to subvert the case,” Sister Anupama told uanews.com.

“We bank on the justice of God that sustained us throughout this fight for justice,” she said, adding that the powerful Catholic hierarchy “will do everything to influence the witnesses.”

The way in which the hierarchy responds to the case will decide the future of the Catholic Church in India, according to Shaiju Antony, joint convener of SOS.

“The people in India, irrespective of religion, believe Catholic priests and nuns. If a priest or nun is a witness in a case, they believe they will tell the truth and the victim will get justice. But in this case the situation is entirely different,” he told ucanews.com.

Antony said police have video-recorded statements of witnesses in case they retract them under pressure from the church leadership.

Father Augustine Vattoli, who was forced to quit the post of SOS convener after his superiors castigated him for his involvement in the case, sees the latest development as “very positive.”

“This will pave way for the renewal of the Catholic Church in the country as it gives a message that, however mighty one might be, the law will take its own course,” he said.

Source: UCAN

Pope Francis blames Europe, US weapons for children killed in wars

Pope Francis blamed Europe and the United States for the deaths of children in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, saying Saturday that wealthy Western countries fuel conflicts by selling weapons in war zones.

Speaking to students and teachers of Milan’s San Carlo Institute, Francis said the reason there are so many wars around the world is “the rich Europe and America sell weapons … used to kill children and kill people.”

Without such firepower, the pope added, there wouldn’t have been war in countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria. .

“A country that produces and sells weapons has on its conscience the death of every child and the destruction of each family,” Francis said.

Talking about the need for countries to welcome and integrate migrants, the pope refuted the crime concerns governments cite to keep out asylum-seekers.

Foreigners aren’t the source of most crime in Italy because “we also have lots of them,” Francis said.

“The Mafia has not been invented by Nigerians. Mafia is ours,” he said. “All of us have the possibility of being criminal. Migrants bring us wealth because Europe has been made by migrants.”

Pope Francis arrives in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican for a audience with students and teachers of the San Carlo Institute of Milan, Saturday, April 6, 2019.

IAPC Confers Life Time Achievement Award on Kanchana Poola IAPC receives full-throated support of Indian community at Induction Ceremony

Kanchana Poola, a community leader and philanthropist, best described as the unassuming power-house of the Indian community, was awarded with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Induction Ceremony of the Indo-American Press Club (IAPC) on March 31st here on Long Island at the at the popular Antun’s by Minar in Hicksville, NY.

During the solemn ceremony attended by community leaders, diplomats, political leaders and hundreds of community members, a new Team led by Sunil J. Koozhampala as the President of IAPC assumed charge for the coming year.

Sunil J. Koozhampala took the oath of office as IAPC President along with his Executive Committee for 2019. New Board members were also inducted and executive committees for New York Chapter & Philadelphia Chapter installed. Sunil is the publisher and MD of Rashtra Deepika Ltd and Deepika, a reputed Malayalam newspaper from Kerala. He also has hospitality interests in the US and Costa Rica. He called IAPC founder chairman Ginsmon Zacharia a visionary leader.

In its mission to offer a common platform for media professionals of Indian origin and improve their working conditions, Indo-American Press Club received encouragement from over 250 community leaders and dignitaries as it celebrated 6 years of growth & expansion and held a induction ceremony for its 2019 team.

Kanchana Poola served as the President of New York Tamil Sangam (NYTS) for several years and currently serves as an advisor of the decades old Sangam. She is a Life member of FeTNA and has been associated with American Tamil Entrepreneurs Association. Kanchana and Jagadeesan Poola have contributed to the Harvard Tamil Chair Fund.  They are Co-Chairs of The Asian Era and Aksharam magazines. In her acceptance speech, Kanchana Poola said her father instilled in her the value of giving —  for education, for the poor and the needy. The Poola couple were also honored by the NYTS.

Others who were honored at the colorful ceremony included:

* Dr. Neeta Jain, Democratic Party and Civic Community leader

* Mr. Devadasan Nair, Consul Community Affairs, Indian Consulate, New York

* Mr. Ashok Vyas, Program Director of ITV Gold

* Mr. Ven Parameswaran, Senior Columnist, Writer & Critic

* Mr. Varkey Abraham, Business Entrepreneur

* Guruji Dr. Dileepkumar Thankappan, Renowned Yogacharya

* BCB Bank – Manager Roopam Maini

* Mr. Mohan Nannapaneni, Co-Founder of non-profit organization TEAM Aid.

* Sujeet Rajan, Executive Editor, Desi Talk  and News India Times


IAPC, which was founded by a group of Kerala origin group of media persons, felt overwhelmed by the presence of crème de la creme from other communities as well–Tamil, Gujarati, Rajasthani, Telugu, Punjabi…. you name it.  The official business of induction ceremonies was interspersed with presenting plaques to the evening’s honorees, speeches by the Guests of Honor and entertainment.

 “The ceremony was a sure sign of the strong support from the Indian community,” said Ginsmon Zachariah, Founder Chairman of IAPC. “The presence of IAPC leaders, past and present, leaders of various community organizations as well as many accomplished people in their fields, not to speak of the media professionals, were in attendance, was indeed encouraging for the member sof IAPC to move forward with courage and pride.”

Indeed, IAPC already has 12 chapters and has become the fast growing syndicate of print and electronic media professionals of Indian origin working in USA, Canada and Europe. It is committed to enhance the working conditions of journalists, offering educational and training opportunities to its members.  It has hosted 5 International Media Conferences in USA, with topnotch media professionals coming from as far as India and Australia.

The incoming General Secretary Mathewkutty Easow in his welcome speech said:  “Like any other successful organization, IAPC is forging ahead with 7 “P’s” – Purpose, Pathway, Passion, Perseverance, Positivity, Patience and Principles to become a source of pride to its members and envy to other organizations.”

Kamlesh Mehta, IAPC Board Member and Publisher of The South Asian Times, called IAPC a strong platform for Indian ethnic journalists who are not well paid and do not enjoy benefits like a pension plan. He asserted that IAPC is working toward providing some security to them with support from the community.

Neeta Jain, Democratic District Leader of NY’s 25th assembly district (Part B) and Civic Community Leader, in her acceptance speech said that the media’s role is important because “your pen and words can make a big change in the world.”

Devadasan Nair, Consul – Community Affairs with the Indian Consulate in New York gave this advice to IAPC in his speech: “Media shall always bring the truthful and right news to the public. IAPC should attract and include media persons hailing from all regions of India and it shall grow to be an internationally renowned organization.”

From the Guests of honor, Dr. Toshiya Hoshino, Japan’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, in his address highlighted the strong ties between Japan and the US and Japan being a partner country of India. Deepak Misra, Minister, Permanent Mission of India to the UN, graciously attended the entire proceeding of the evening.

Congressman Tom Suozzi and Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino sent messages of good wishes to IAPC. Kevin Thomas, New York State Senator, was held up with the state budget work.

As for the prominent attendees, here are just a few names: Bobby Kumar, Bhuvana Rao, Dr. Raj Bhayani, Jagdish Sewhani, Nagendra Gupta, Shaker Nelanuthala, Sunil Hali, Sharanjit Singh, Dr Raj Uppal, Lalit Aery, Arvind Vora, Rajesh Shah, Sunil Modi, Rizwan Qureshi, Dr. Thomas Mathew, Thomas Koovalloor, Sibi David, Gunjan Rastogi, Beena Kothari, Bina Sabapathi, Nilima Madan, Pinki Jaggi, Dilip Chauhan, Ravi Bhooplapur, Andy Bhatia, Shiv Dass, Arjen Bathija, Dave Sharma, Indu Gajwani, Rashmi Sinha,  Roopam Maini, Davendra Vora, Anand Ahuja, Dr M.N. Krishnan & Sashikala, Dr Bala Swaminathan, Dr & Mrs Kasinathan, Gobind Munjal, and Dr Syed Yousuf.

Dr. Parikh complimented IAPC for its six-year journey during which it has moved “from strength to strength,” and thanked the organization for honoring two people from his organization. He complimented IAPC for going from strength to strength over 6 years.

Air India’s Regional Manager – Americas Bhuvana Rao told ITV Gold in an interview at the event  that the Indian media plays a constructive role as it contributes to bringing the Indian community together as well as India and US closer as partners.

A coffee table book titled ‘Global Religions’ compiling seven issues of the interfaith journal, One World Under God, was released at the event. It is published by Global Interfaith Foundation, which was started last year by Darshan Singh Bagga, a real estate developer, and is edited by Parveen Chopra, the Managing Editor of  The South Asian times.

Scintillating  entertainment was  provided by a group displaying Chenda Melam drum art of Kerala, and  Soormay bhangra group.  Dance performance was given by Sowparnika Dance Academy headed by Ms. Malini Nair.

Vineetha Nair, Director IAPC Board, kicked off the meeting and handed the mike to young emcees Jinu Ann Mathew and Andrew G Zacharia. The vote of thanks was given by Biju Chacko, National Secretary. IAPC Chairman Babu Stephen Could not attend because of family emergency.