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February - March 2007

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A bastion of Hindu caste-ism crumbled this week in the face of more enlightened times. In a landmark ruling, the Orissa High Court in India legislated that Dalits – ‘outcastes’ from the traditional Hindu caste system – could no longer be banned from entering any Hindu temple.

"Every Hindu, irrespective of his caste, has a right to enter any Hindu temple which is open to other persons professing the same religion," a division bench of Chief Justice Sujit Burman Roy and Justice M M Das observed.

The dispute over whether dalits should be allowed to pray in the Jagannath temple in the Keredagada village in Kendrapara district reflects an earlier statement issued by Mr. Pravin Togadia, the international general secretary of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) regarding foreign nationals belonging to ISKCON (Hare Krishna movement) being allowed full access to Hindu places of worship , including the large Jagannath temple in Orissa : “There is no harm in allowing inside temples foreign nationals who practise Krishna worship. They are like ordinary Hindus who pray to Lord Krishna. They should not be denied the opportunity to offer prayers at Hindu temples,” said Mr Togadia.”

Anil Bhanot, General Secretary of the Hindu Council UK, welcomed the decision of the High Court: “Banning people from worshipping in a Hindu temple based on their social status or philosophical belief is completely antithetical to the principles of Hinduism. We therefore welcome this significant ruling of the Orissa High Court and demand that any Hindu temple, whether in India or the UK, which practices such bannings immediately cease this morally unlawful discrimination. Hinduism has a long tradition, grounded in our ancient Vedic scriptures, of accommodating all classes of men and all schools of thought and no one has the right to prevent anyone from offering prayers to God."

Mr Bhanot explains how the well meaning scriptural order is turned upside down by man to appease his arrogance, "at the beginning of civilisation, the first civilised Man, Adi-Manu, says in his Samriti ( scripture), that Brahma the creator has unified four functions of a civilised life into Man. Symbolically the illustration is given as Brahmins (education & metaphysics) as Brahma's mouth, the Kashatriyas (defence & politics) as Brahma's arms, the Vaishyas (trade and agriculture) as Brahma's thighs and the Shudras (labour and hygiene) as Brahma's feet. Each function is equally important and Man is not complete without either one of them. Adi-Manu then goes on to say that the feet touch the Mother earth which must be worshipped as Brahma's divine energy. Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha treated all as equals and the Ramayana, the Gita and all other scriptures have several verses to testify that.

Contributed by Suraj Sehgal

Director for Defence and Security

Hindu Council UK

Sunita ninth woman to walk in space

Indin-American astronaut Sunita Williams has successfully made her spacewalk debut, joining an exclusive club of eight women who achieved this feat since the first ever space walk in 1965.

Sunita spent over seven hours on the walk in an effort to retract a jammed solar panel at the International Space Station - a job that remained incnclusive.

For the 41-year old Williams it was a great outing as she stepped out from the station into the vacuum of space for an Extra-vehicular activity, a venture that by its very nature is regarded as hazardous.

Balakrishnan appointed Chief Justice of India.

Known as ‘Bala’ among his colleagues, Balakrishnan takes over from CJI Sabharwal who was Chief Justice for 14 months. He is the first dalit’ to reach the top position in Indian Judicial system. His term will last up to May12, 2010.

Born in Keral, dist. Kottayam, Balakrishnan graduated in law from Maharaja Law College, Ernakulam and became an advocate in Kerala bar Council, Kochi in 1968.. following his promotion as additional judge of Keral High Counr on Sep26, 1985, Balakrishnn was appointed Chief Justice of Gujarat high Court on July 16, 1998. He then moved to Madras High Courtr in 1999, before being appointed as judge in the Supreme Court.

Manmohan Singh’s plea for ‘Muslims entitlement to first claims on resources’

Addressing the National Development Council, the Prime Minister took up the issue of devising “innovative plans to ensure that minorities, particularly the Muslim minority are empowered to share equitably in the fruits of development”. He emphasised that these (minorities including Muslims) must have first claim on resources.”

Is it a ploy to woo the Muslim vote? or genuine concern of the Prime minister for the backward communities?

We leave it to the readers to decide and send us their comments.

To help the readers we reproduce India’s first Prime Ministe Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru’s letter sent to chief ministers on June 27, 1961. One has to read it to see the contrast - between the high ideals that inspired him and the cynicism and opportunism which spur our leaders today.

The extract

“I have referred above to efficiency and to our getting out of our traditional ruts. This necessitates our getting out of the old habit of reservations and particular privileges being given to this caste or that group. The recent meeting we held here, at which the chief ministers were present, to consider national integration, laid down that help should be given on economic consideerations and not on caste. It is true that we are tied up with certain rules and conventions aboutt helping the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. They deserve help but, even so, I dislike any kind of reservation, those particularly in service. I react strongly against anything which leads to inefficiency and second-rate standards. I want my country to be a first class country in everything. The moment we encourage the second-rate, we are lost.

The only real way to help a backward group is to give opportunities for good education. This includes technical education which is becoming more and more important. Everything else is provision of some kind of crutches which do not add to the strength or health of the body. We have made recently two decisions which are very important: one is, universal free elementary education, that is the base; and the second is scholarships on a very wide scale at every grade of education to the bright boys and girls, and this applies not merely to literary education, but much more so, to technical, scientific and medical training. I lay stress on the bright and able boys and girls because it is only they who will raise our standards. I have no doubt that there is a vast reservoir of potential talent in this country if only we can give it opportunity.

But if we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis, we swamp the bright and able people and remain second-rate or third-rate. I am grieved to learn of how far this business of reservation has gone based on communal consideration. It has annoyed me to learn that even promotions are based sometimes on communal or caste considerations. This way lies not only folly, but disaster. Let us help the backward group by all means, but never at the cost of efficiency. How are we going to build our public sector or indeed any sector with second rate people?

(Jawaharlal Nehru, Letters to chief ministers 1947-1964, Vol5, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp 456-7.)

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