Published : Nov 21, 2003 00:00 IST

If we want to know how not to build a temple, we can take a lesson or two from the VHP. Its recent adventure in Ayodhya, seen clearly as an attempt to disrupt law and order, was easily foiled by a determined government in U.P. which took a "stern but tactful stand" with support from the Central government. There was hardly a ripple in the rest of India ("A flop show in Ayodhya", November 7).

For nearly a decade the VHP has been tilting at the windmill in the name of building a temple at the exact site where a mosque stood before it was torn down in full view of the media worldwide. The first lesson the VHP can and ought to learn now is that there is no way it can build a temple on the basis of `belligerent piety'. According to a section of orthodox and truly pious Hindus, Rama himself may not want a temple for Him to be built on a foundation drenched in blood. We are no more living in medieval times. The second lesson the VHP ought to learn is that there is no question of pursuing the legislative route "that will circumvent the judicial process" - to build a temple in a country with a secular Constitution. A secular government has nothing to do with matters of individual faith. Ashok Singhal's rhetoric that "secularisation is the biggest enemy of the nation" has run out of steam.

What the VHP should do now is to deflate its ego, badly injured already, and await the verdict of the High Court. Alternatively, as the Prime Minister of India has suggested, it should come to terms with the minority community and seek a consensus, "a peaceful way through negotiations".

Kangayam R. RangaswamyWisconsin, U.S.

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In the comprehensive coverage on Ayodhya, Kalyan Singh is recorded as saying: "For politicians it is an issue to gather votes and for the VHP it is a means to gather notes." Whether said flippantly or with a serious purpose, the allegation about "notes" again brings to the focus the age-old fear about money collected by various bodies being used for purposes other than what it was intended for. In the case of the VHP, way back in time, before the Babri mosque was pulled down, Ratnakar Pandey, MP, wrote a letter to Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar demanding an inquiry by a Supreme Court Judge into funds collected by the VHP for building a temple in Ayodhya. He also requested that the funds be declared a national asset and used exclusively for temple building. Pandey alleged that the VHP had earlier collected Rs.600 crores as donations in the name of the temple. Even if the sum mentioned was an exaggeration, the collections from India and the world over could now amount to a staggering amount.

The suspicion was whether the VHP was utilising the amount to meet its political ambitions. Are the kar sevaks really Ram bhakts? It is well known, in this connection, that the diaspora is always inclined to loosen its purse strings for causes in their motherland or holyland or whatever they wish to call it. Irish Catholics, for example, freely give funds to the IRA. So, too, Sikhs abroad were known to fund the Khalistan movement. In the case of Israel it is claimed that by and large it is the United States, with a powerful Jewish lobby, that is bankrolling the country. And so too some Christian and Muslim donors who give funds freely to causes, not knowing how they are employed on the whole. In any case for the diaspora, trouble far away does not affect them. They cannot be blamed, for it is common knowledge that you tend to grow more patriotic when you live away from your homeland. The danger is that the donated "notes", as Kalyan Singh crudely put it, could possibly be misused.

Jaiboy JosephChennai

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The point is not the discovery of a temple, but its historical relevance. The ASI's "discovery" at Ayodhya adds nothing to what is already known. It is a fact that Muslim invaders had demolished several temples in keeping with the temper of the medieval times when tolerance of the faith of others was virtually unknown.

It is for the Judges to decide on the ASI's final report. It is they who ordered the excavations, apparently on the assumption that the findings do make a difference to the court cases.

Jayatheertha A.Hyderabad

* * *

The Cover Story brought out in detail how the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's sankalp programme in Ayodhya turned out to be a flop show. One reason for its failure is that the BJP leaders did not extend support to the foolhardy struggles of the VHP to gain political mileage. Pravin Togadia and his sadhu brigade have been put to great shame and the RSS workers' withdrawal at the last minute must have been a shock to the organisers of the protest march.

R.R. SamiTiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu

* * *

The Supreme Court had rightly sent ASI on the fact-finding mission in Ayodhya, with the aim of ending all the rhetoric, religious claims and frenzy, with the rational, objective and verifiable "truth". However, what has emerged is just more controversial claims. Lack of transparency in its working and the identification of glaring irregularities in its report by archaeological experts have limited its credibility. The principal job of the ASI is to protect, conserve and maintain the sanctity of all Indian monuments, irrespective of the religious labels. However, it has let us down, not only in the job assigned to it by the apex court but also in its larger role as the principal custodian of the composite heritage of India.

Rachita MittalChennai


This has reference to the Special Feature "Oceans in 21st Century" (November 7). Frontline deserves many thanks for the efforts taken for the publication of the series of articles on oceans.

Except in the north, India is surrounded by water. We know little about oceans. The Special Feature deals with various aspects of sustainable development of ocean resources. The article on `the ocean for economic development' is informative. The excerpts from the interview with Dr. Harsh Gupta provide clear perceptions about the Development Vision document. It is happy to note that the Ocean Resource Commission is bringing out a book for high school children to generate ocean awareness among them.

B.S. TimmoliShimoga (Karnataka)


The article on Marad brings out how intricate the issues are ("Between fear and hope", November 7). The continuing vendetta between two communities can only be solved with decisive and impartial action from the government and, more importantly, the political parties. But what is seen these days is that political parties are utilising this as an opportunity to gain political mileage.

These parties, instead, should cooperate with the State government in its efforts to bring peace to the area. The Muslim political leadership should come forward openly against the militant elements in the community who are using religion as a banner for creating social unrest. They have a very important role to play in this regard.

The government on its part needs to be more active, not only in rehabilitation but in early detection of unrest in society through the intelligence agencies. If it continues its stupor, that will be detrimental to peace not only in Marad but in entire Kerala.


China's feat

Now that China has successfully sent its first "taikonaut" to space, it is high time India followed suit ("Long March to space", November 7).

Although the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has achieved competence in providing operational services like broadcasting, telecommunication and meteorology and in designing and developing satellites and launch vehicles, a lot needs to be done for a successful manned space mission (sustaining a human in zero gravity being a highly complex affair).

But what we must bear in mind is that if a developing country like China can do it, so can India with its huge pool of dedicated scientists and engineers.

Paramdeep SinghKanpur

Congress crisis

This has reference to the Cover Story "Congress crisis in Kerala" (October 24). The Congress is a mass based party and it ruled the country for more than 45 years. Even today it rules many States in India. Mahatma Gandhi wanted the Congress to be a social organisation and not an outfit of the ruling classes. But Congressmen have forgotten this.

When the Congress high command and the KPCC(I) failed to take K. Karunakaran's criticism seriously, he revolted against the party to prove that he is the real boss and can do anything.

But, it is unfortunate for the Congress that an octogenarian leader like Karunakaran worked against the Chief Minister A.K. Antony and also the party high command. It is high time Karunakaran, Antony and Congress president Sonia Gandhi sat together to revive the party before the coming general elections.

Bidyut Kumar ChatterjeeFaridabad

Animal sacrifice

The article on the Tamil Nadu government's ban on animal sacrifice was timely ("A decree on animal sacrifice", October 10). Animal sacrifice by Hindus is not limited to Tamil Nadu. The practice prevails in Nepal. All those raising a hue and cry over animal sacrifice should first try to eliminate such antiquated Hindu practices like "widow-sacrifice" called sati. There still exists a temple for Rani Sati and a school in which students sing praises of her.

Historic and literary records show that cattle sacrifice was practised by priests in the Vedic period. It was competition from Jainism that inspired a section of Hindus to take to vegetarianism. There is nothing in Hinduism that prohibits animal sacrifice.

The ban cannot be enforced because it is difficult to send policemen to each and every temple in the State. The Tamil Nadu Village Temples Priests Association has already expressed its displeasure over the ban.

G. Raja BharathiChennai

Peaceful co-existence

The article "Between two worlds" (October 24) should open the eyes of Indian politicians who harp on issues relating to the minority communities to corner votes. The peaceful lives led by the German minority in Denmark and the Danish minority in Germany, thanks to the statesmanship of the leaders of the two governments.

This has a parallel in the Indian subcontinent: The Muslim minority in India and the Hindu minority in Pakistan. But, unlike Denmark and Germany, what is lacking here is statesmanship. A humane and realistic approach can do wonders in the case of Muslims in India, Hindus in Pakistan, Pandits in Kashmir and Bangladeshis in Bihar. Here, the problem is easier to address because Muslims have a Hindu origin and Bangladeshis have a Bihari origin. Basically we are one. But, strangely, our religions have divided us.

V.V. PrabhuKollam, Kerala

A development model

I was delighted to read the article "The Bilgaon model" (October 24). The country is heading towards a possible energy crisis. Decentralised alternatives such as micro-hydel projects are the need of the hour. The activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) and the Peoples School of Energy (PSE) deserve praise for their effort. It was good to know that all the work was `shramdan' (voluntary). The people of Bilgaon should also be congratulated for their involvement in the project.

Vasudev SripathyChamaraja Nagar, Karnataka


PunjabThe main flaw in Praveen Swami's story "Inventing genocide" (November 7, 2003) on the report Reduced to Ashes is his politically retrogressive approach towards human rights. There are broadly two approaches towards the human rights discourse and movement in India. The politically progressive approach locates the roots of human rights violations in States like Kashmir, Punjab, Nagaland and Mizoram in the Indian state's repressive treatment of minority dissent in these States. This approach recognises that the failure of the Indian political and legal system to provide adequate safeguards against the security forces' violations of human rights leads to a deepening of resentment among the religious/national minorities located in these States. The articulation of this resentment is then used by the rightwing forces of Hindu nationalism to legitimise the politics of aggressive majoritarian nationalism. The progressive approach sees a link between the rise of aggressive Hindu nationalism and the weaknesses of institutional structures against human rights violations in India. This approach, therefore, recognises the enormous moral and political significance of the human rights movement in India for strengthening democratic culture, secular federal politics and human development in India.

The politically retrogressive approach towards human rights condemns human rights investigations for damaging the morale, credibility and reputation of India's security forces. The critique of the security forces' actions is then portrayed as an attack on India's territorial integrity. The human rights activists are condemned as secessionists or friends of secessionists from an aggressive nationalist perspective. Such an approach provides a political environment conducive to the rise of authoritarian political tendencies like that of the Congress under Indira Gandhi and the Hindutva forces now. I have discussed, in some detail, these two diametrically opposite approaches in my paper "Sectarianism in the Human Rights Discourse: Politics of Human Rights in Post-Colonial Punjab" in Michael Anderson and Sumit Guha (eds.) Changing Concepts of Rights and Justice in South Asia, Oxford University Press, 1998 which makes a case for enlarging the culture of respect for human rights.

Praveen Swami's passionate pro-security forces approach has landed him, perhaps unintentionally, in the trap of the politically retrogressive approach towards human rights. The logic of this approach leads him to a shortsighted condemnation of human rights investigations. From a long-term perspective, it is vital that even the security forces are retrained to respect and value human rights. The dehumanisation of security forces that takes place in the process of violation of human rights can only be rectified by a sensitive retraining of the forces in favour of valuing human rights.

We need to recognise that a systematic documentation of human rights violations and a nationwide campaign to establish a robust system of accountability for such violations is central to the building of a secular and democratic movement in India. The pioneering and painstaking work of Ram Narayan Kumar, Ashok Agrwaal and others in producing the report Reduced to Ashes needs to be seen and appreciated from this perspective.

Pritam SinghResearch Leader,Department of Economics,Oxford Brookes University,Oxford, U.K.

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Praveen Swami's article is in ideological continuity with the political tendency that refuses to acknowledge that there were serious human right violations committed by state authorities in Punjab. This tendency of collective amnesia is best documented by the Report itself, which notes the then Union Home Minister L.K. Advani calling for general amnesty and K.P.S. Gill noting that the cases against police officers were based on concocted evidence by the investigating agencies acting under undue and extraconstitutional pressures.

Praveen Swami's response skirts the key point made by the Report by seeking to question the veracity of around 10 of the testimonies. For the record, the Supreme Court of India has in its order disclosed 2,098 illegal cremations, including 582 fully identified, 278 partially identified and 1,238 unidentified, carried out by the state agencies at three crematoria in Amritsar district. Praveen Swami never bothers to ask the question as to what does it mean that there are 1,238 illegal cremations at three crematoria in one district in Punjab. Does this on the face of it disclose massive violation of human rights? The Supreme Court notes that the CBI report discloses flagrant violation of human rights on a massive scale. Justice Kuldip Singh noted that in case it was found that the facts stated in the press note were correct even partially, it would be a gory tale of human rights violations. It is horrifying to visualise that dead bodies of a large number of persons - allegedly in their thousands - could be cremated by the police unceremoniously, with a label `unidentified'.

What the Supreme Court takes on board, Praveen Swami denies.

Arvind NarrainReceived on email

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