Saturday, August 8, 2009

Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture-2009

Arun Shourie to deliver memorial lecture in honor of Stanley Samartha

BANGALORE, India (APEN) – Mr Arun Shourie, senior journalist, author, Member of Parliament and a former federal minister of India will deliver the eighth Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture to be held here on 26 September 2009.
About 500 people are expected to attend the lecture on "Re-thinking Religions," which is being organized by the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD), an organization founded in 2001 with the conviction that tension between religious groups can be diffused only through inter-religious dialogue.BIRD believes that "an interchange of experiences will lead to an enrichment of one another’s religious life, mutual respect, understanding, tolerance and cooperation in tackling personal, social and national problems."Organizing Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture has been one of the major activities of BIRD. It is also involved in networking with several organizations for promoting peace and communal harmony.Reverend Dr Stanley Samartha, who passed away in 2001, was an ordained priest of the Church of South India and a well known Indian theologian, who took pride in affirming that he was "a Hindu by culture, Christian by faith, Indian by citizenship and ecumenical by choice". Born on 7 October 1920, Dr Samartha rose from being a teacher of theology at Christian Seminaries in India to become the first Director of the Inter-Faith Dialogue Program of the World Council of Churches in Geneva. One of Samartha’s major theological concerns was to develop a Christology in the context of religious pluralism.Author of several books and articles on inter-faith dialogue and Christology, Samartha, who BIRD described as "Christian prophet of religious pluralism," had affirmed God alone as absolute, and considered all religious to be relative.In 2007, the Samartha Lecture was delivered by Justice K T Thomas, a former judge of Supreme Court of India, on the "Right to convert and the Indian constitution".Previous lectures were on "The need for inter-religious dialogue", "Communal harmony – A societal perspective", "Religion in 21st century – A perspective of hope", "Courage for dialogue" and "Towards an ethical code of conduct for conversion". They were delivered by Mr. Francois Gautier (2001), Dr. C.T.Kurien (2003), M.V.Nadkarni (2004), Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church Rt. Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom (2005) and Dr. Hans Ucko (2006), respectively.Mr. M.J.Akbar, the well known journalist and author, delivered the seventh Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture in 2008. He spoke on "The power of religion vs. the religion of power".Mr P N Benjamin, coordinator of BIRD has solicited support of all those who are interested in inter-religious initiatives, and those friends, former colleagues and students of Samartha in India and abroad.BIRD is supported and sustained entirely by small contributions from people of different faiths who strongly believe in the important need to preserve inter-faith amity in the true and abiding traditions of India, which is known for its religious diversity and inclusivismMr Benjamin can be contacted at

Thoughts on the centenary of United Theological College

Stray thoughts of a long-standing friend and well-wisher of UTC on its centenary

A place of sacred learning – learning designed for the making of a unique product, the pastor – the United Theological College, has in the last one hundred years of existence decisively influenced the life and thought of Churches in the Sub-Continent and Sri Lanka and neigbouring countries. Guest students and teachers from East and West have imparted to this miniscule band of scholars an academic excellence and trans-denominational comradeship without which the pursuit and practice of truth would have remained largely parochial and less than holistic.
Its achievements thus, which are many, occasion for joyful celebration. Its failures, not a few, call for a new and recognizably firm commitment to Christ, Master and Lord.

It is an occasion of release. Within the Christian world it demands a shattering of the fetters of the past, a confrontation with corruption in the historic process as a community of people, an overcoming of hubris and decay. Not mere survival, but renewal in every part.


Not mere expansion, but inner growth is what we covet for UTC today. Its origins and traffic with the West brought in many of the riches of the West. But more and more import of ideas and institutions, many of them not untouched, untainted by the cataclysmic wars and beguilements of today’s doctrine of the balance of power, is not what we would envisage for the future. In theology, as in science and technology, Western insights are an invaluable commodity. In theology, however, it is not mere information at the cognitive levels that is needed, but its incarnation in human personalities for it to pass into the Indian psyche there to generate varying models of Christian discipleship.

We in this country are not behind others in the business of killing, killing even in the name of religion. Nor does our compassion surpass that of people in the West, Christian or Pagan. It has failed to match the needs of multitudes around us, the hungry, the naked, the maimed within.
The UTC must now come out of its cave lit by light from the modern West if not air-conditioned by it, redefine its self-hood in the annoyingly distressing Indian context and re-enter the world of Karnataka, Kashmir and the rest of the Sub-Continent. Be its endowment as small as a mustard seed, the future resides in it, for it is none other than the seed of reconciliation in a land of much tearing down and breaking up, of those fallen among thieves and myriads defeated in life.
Peace-makers and the Christ-like – it does not matter if they come from the ends of the earth – constituting a community and not merely herded in lecture-rooms could conceivably attempt what this country craves for: a recognizably indigenous Christian way to live, live for another, work for the common good, worship truly.


Worship is where westernization is most evident. Order and decorum characterize it, elements corporate worship cannot do without. In essence, however, it is regimentation, rigid or relaxed as suits particular tradition. It smacks of triumphalism, a feature which is made to dominate some people’s funerals. Easter Orthodoxy differs in certain respects. Sanskritization and feeble attempts at archaisation or assimilation to certain indigenous Hindu forms do not appear to be the answer. In almost all, form tends to dominate content. We shall evolve as many forms as content and occasion dictate, and new symbols will emerge. They grow out of our religious experience.

Where a cultic life degenerated – a tendency to superficiality is nherent in the nature of the cult – and sincerity of heart was supplanted by dazzling rituals, forgiveness became cheapened and automatic, resulting in a recurring falseness the prophets, champions of righteousness and truth in ancient Israel, never failed to attack.

The intellectual fare of the class-room apart, how deep and true is one’s personal devotional life? None has a right to peep in here. The way a public worship is conducted, however, is often a mirror of one’s grasp of the fundamentals of worship and pattern and content of one’s private devotional life, its depth and genuineness. Some have not hesitated to impose their faulty, gimmicky ways upon public worship on occasions. How well do they know their Master? He spoke of true worship sweeping aside the thousand-year-old tradition of Jerusalem’s holiness, and added: "God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
Sacredness resides not in a place, person or words, but in human corporateness. The words of Jesus, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them", have been proved true in tens of thousands of homes around the world.


As in any place of learning the brainier ones outstrip the rest. It is often assumed that these, occasional occurrences, will jump the pastoral groove and gravitate to teaching or research after more prolonged studies here or overseas. Is there the germ of an unhealthy elitism here? Were not some of the best minds in the West nurtured in pastoral tradition?
A contra-elitism has been of those less endowed and who struck a pose of radicalism. They heard of rumours of the death of God, and without waiting to ask where and when and how, lightened their luggage including the Bible in some cases, later exhorting the faithful to go beyond it.
This pseudo-theological radicalism was soon to cloak itself in pseudo-Marxist radicalism and to champion the cause of the poor by seeking solutions to India’s poverty in expensive eating houses and jaunts overseas. Judas Iscariot, a disciple who plotted against the Master, appears in the Bible as a champion of the poor, Jesus himself is just poor!
Pastoral work is all-comprehending in which intellectual and true liberationist are all at home, and there is nothing greater than it..


Here is the nub of the question. Power attracts, and ecclesiastical power attracts for the ease with which it can be seized and the immense profit for which it can be wielded.
Well-intentioned but often misguided or ill-directed inductions of large sums of money from overseas has had the effect of re-colonising the Church and debilitating it for generations to come, priests its agents.
Power is a fact of ecclesiastical life, more so today than a couple of generations ago. The UTC should be a place where its nature, necessity, conditions of legitimacy and limits are understood to help its exercise in ways that are compatible with the spirit of Christ.
Isn’t powerlessness Christ’s way? Would UTC consider exploring this avenue?


All too quickly, perilously prematurely, a UTC man/woman is thrust into a world of men and women and children where he/she, a 25-year-old, now a specialist in spiritual matters, must solve problems, fulfill needs. This is an outcome of professionalizing a kind of service which is well nigh impossible to professionalize. There is in the Indian tradition elements, the assimilation of which into the making of a priest and pastor must no longer be ignored


Ultimately, it is the constant of human life, pain, which always confronts us. Least understood and most dreaded, pain often lurks behind a beaming face refusing to reveal itself. For anyone wishing to be of help this is an impenetrable barrier, perpetually baffling, defeating.
Christianity does not offer to abolish pain. It acknowledges its pervasive presence, infinite variety and our extreme vulnerabilities. "Pain", said one who was no stranger to it, "is a central raw material for man’s entry into that dimension of love which lies beyond evolution". Christianity offers a vision of its transformation through one like ourselves, Jesus, "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…stricken, rejected".

Somewhere along the line we would have sensed that hurts don’t go away except through forgiveness. "I learned what forgiveness is", confesses a master of pastor’s craft many years ago, " from a woman dying of poison administered by her husband". People are our teachers, their forbearance the first input. They may annoy but they will help to learn. Where two persons in pain sit alongside each other, each is a priest to the other. And the priest and the saddest are discovered in unlikely places, the ones to whom vision of God has been vouchsafed and those who have become victors over pain.
People too must learn lest they remain rooted in their childhood beliefs and prejudices of later years. Their inherited doctrines my have worked well for previous generations but today there are exciting prospects of knowledge and enrichment. Beliefs need to be dialectically related to main quest for meaning at the heart of a human cell or in the tail of a comet. Our need is not for water to be turned into wine but for wine to be turned into water to slake the parched throats of our people.
A UTC in every home! Electronic means are at its disposal to reach people with the riches of the Christian faith, the wisdom of our ancient sages, the mirth of the medieval mystics, the zeal of the contemporary liberationist. Not for the few but for the many who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
A priest/pastor is one in quest of holiness, an unattainable goal. In its moment of clarity, the UTC will own to a certain loss of holiness over the years, a scorning of transcendence, grace being misconstrued for permissiveness. Is it too much to hope for a re-born sense of obedience to Jesus, however imperfect it might be in our understanding of Him and of the world for whose good fortune He lived and died? Wouldn’t the UTC men/women, when they come out of it, wish to be known as those "who had been with Jesus" and not non-glossy professionals?

Monday, June 29, 2009


The BIRD was formed in 2001 by a group of Hindus, Muslims and Christians in Bangalore to promote inter-faith amity, understanding and pluralism in line with our native wisdom of inclusivism for preserving India's religious diversity. Towards that end, BIRD conducts seminars, consultations, panel discussions etc.
An Evening with Gandhi’s favourite hymns and prayers -30 January 2008 – 50th anniversary of Gandhi’s martyrdom organized by BIRD jointly with United Theological College and ACTS Ministries
Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture series
The signature event of BIRD’s activities is the annual Rev. Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture series organized in the month of October since 2001 in honour of that "Christian prophet of religious pluralism" who took pride in always affirming that he was "a Hindu by culture, Christian by faith, Indian by citizenship and ecumenical by choice".
BIRD has so far organised seven lectures in this series since 2001.
"The Need for Inter-religious Dialogue",
"Communal Harmony – A Societal Perspective",
"Religion in 21st Century – A perspective of Hope",
"Courage for Dialogue",
"Towards an Ethical Code of Conduct for Conversion",
the "Right to Convert & the Indian Constitution " and
"The Power of Religion vs. the Religion of Power".
They were delivered by Mr. Francois Gautier (2001), Dr. C.T.Kurien (2003), Dr. M.V.Nadkarni (2004), Rt. Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom, Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church (2005), Dr. Hans Ucko of World Council of Churches(2006), Justice K.T.Thomas (2007) and Mr. M.J.Akbar (2008) respectively

First Samartha Memorial Lecture 6th Oct. 2001
Well known French journalist and author Francois Gautier delivered the first Samartha Memorial Lecture at Bishop Cotton Boys’ School in Bangalore on 6 Oct. 2007

The 5th Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture 2006 on 23rd September 2006 on the Theme "Towards an Ethical Code of Conduct for Religious Conversions was held at St. Mark's Cathedral. Dr. Hans Ucko, Programme Executive, Inter Religious Relation and Dialogue, World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland, delivered the lecture
This programme was organized by Bangalore Initiative for the Religious Dialogue, in association with Young Men's Christian Association and St. Mark's Cathedral

Justice K.T.Thomas, retired judge of Supreme Court of India, delivered the 6th Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture on 8th October 2007 at St. Mark’s Cathedral. He spoke on "the Right to Convert and the Indian Constitution"
The seventh Samartha Memorial Lecture was delivered by
M.J.Akbar, well known editor and author on 9th October 2008 at the United Theological College.

News reports
SAMARTHA MEMORIAL LECTURE-2008'Don't challenge the logic of any faith' 10 Oct 2008, BANGALORE: Journalist and writer M J Akbar said India's harmony was being threatened by "phenomena that have emerged only recently" , having nothing to do with India's rich ancient tradition of tolerance and secularism.
Delivering a lecture on the connection between religion and power at the United Theological College here on Thursday, Akbar said India was bedevilled by arbitrary violence in the form of bomb attacks and attacks on communities and their property. "Innocents are dying. No religion in the world subscribes to such mindless and meaningless mayhem. We cannot survive if we go on permitting such violence." Akbar argued that people had to learn to live with each other's faith - the key to India's peace, secularism and harmony. "We don't have an alternative - we need to allow people to keep their faith without challenging the logic of any faith. We have to keep our faiths and yet get along. India's secularism can only arise from among its many faiths." There was no justification for conservatism of any sort in any faith, Akbar pointed out. "Everybody is equal within and outside faith and that includes men and women. There is no rationale to treat any person as an unequal. If the dialogue between faiths doesn't happen as equals, we will be in peril," he warned. One of the great attributes of ancient Hinduism has been tolerance for all faiths and beliefs. "That is what we need to continue with. We should have a composite , broad and catholic vision that is respect for all faiths. Nothing comes out of defaming faith. The mistakes of a few cannot be held against the faith itself." Akbar traced the history of major religions of the world, moving from Asia to the West and back, proposing that the one focus of all religions in the 21st century had to be peace. "The 21st century gives us everything but peace. Peace comes with better understanding , understanding comes with dialogue and dialogue happens between equals. This is the lesson for all of us." http://timesofindia .indiatimes. com/
Secularism allows parallel faiths: M J Akbar
Express New Service 10 Oct 2008 BANGALORE: The 21st century gave us many a good thing, but forgot to give us peace and nothing else has disturbed peace in our times as religion has, said senior journalist and author, M J Akbar, here on Thursday. He was speaking at the seventh Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture at the United Theological College on ‘The Power of Religion Vs The Religion of Power’. "Religion is not uni-dimensional; it is like a prism that shifts and changes colour. Problems begin when institutionalisation of faith starts. When power adopts religion, the religion flies out of the window," he said. On incidents of communal clashes, including the recent attacks on churches, Akbar said: "This is a new phenomenon to disturb the harmony in our society. Indian secularism permits people to believe what they want to believe in." "There is a substantial potential for friction in our country but secularism implies existence of parallel faiths without challenging each other’s logic. Faith by itself is irrational and hence, in India, there is no space for the Bajrang Dal attacking churches or for anyone who is part of a church saying things that are unacceptable to the Hindus. Being angry about the Babri Masjid demolition doesn’t give one the right to criticise Rama or Krishna." Peace cannot be established without understanding, understanding cannot come without dialogue; and dialogue cannot happen except among equals, he said. http://www.expressb
Don't blame religion for acts of individuals: Akbar
DH News Service, Bangalore: Democracy is a great system, but the temptation to get votes makes political parties seek strife, said veteran journalist M J Akbar.He was delivering the Stanley Samartha memorial lecture in the city on Thursday on ‘The power of religion Vs the religion of power.’He said, "A State cannot remain secular if they do not allow people to practice their faith. We permit everyone to follow their faith or belief without challenging its logic or sneering at it. But some people seek strife because it is politically advantageous. "Questioning the Western nations’ tendency to oversimplifying differences to Islam Vs West, he said: "How can you discuss Islam with geography? Unless there is a sub-text that implies everything West is progressive and forward thinking, while everything Islamic is barbaric and medieval." He also questioned the habit of blaming the religion for the acts of individuals. "Do I blame Christianity for Hitler," he asked.The real problem for Muslims in India, he said, was not from other religions but from poverty, ignorance and gender bias. The bias does not exist in Islam but in Muslim society, he claimed. When the Shah Bano case was decided, he said that the State could have taken up the issue of reforms, but did not do so and a good opportunity was hence passed up. "The hysteria of Muslim response alienated the Hindus, who did not understand why a community did not want reforms," he opined.He concluded by saying that these issues could not be addressed without following what we preached to others. http://www.deccanhe Content/Oct10200 8/city2008101094 m/ Content/Oct10200 8/city2008101094 356.asp

On an average four hundred people many of whom are college and journalism school students, young and old professionals, thinkers and writers and members of various organizations and others attend this prestigious lecture which is followed by an interactive session.
Workshop and Seminar
BIRD organised a three-day Workshop cum Seminar on "Basics of interfaith education and peace building" at YMCA on 26 – 28 APRIL 2007.
Its objectives were:
To understand the importance and potential of peace and religious diversities
To Introduce the group to methods of communication and peace education,
To build a constituency of supporters of interfaith dialogues
To develop skills to project achievements to gain support & hold small events to raise awareness and
To outline an annual interfaith dialogue and peace education plan in schools and colleges.
There were 60 participants. They included heads of NGOs, High School teachers and college lecturers.
Faculty consisted of Fr. Dr. George Koovakal (Messengers of Peace & Harmony of the Catholic Diocese of Delhi), Rev. Dr. Kiran Sebastian of UTC Bangalore, Koshy Mathew, Communications Consultant, P.N.Benjamin, Coordinator, BIRD & J.D. Suhas, Sr, Secretary, Bangalore YMCA.
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD), in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister of India on January 1, 2007, signed by more than five hundred Christians of the city stated:[8]
While we decry the attempts of religious leaders and fundamentalists of all varieties to convert and re–convert, we pledge to work diligently for inter–faith amity in the best traditions of Indian culture. We hereby call on all Indians to join in our efforts to preserve a pluralist India founded on secularism and religious inclusion and governed by a Constitution that guarantees all its citizens all freedoms vital to the functioning of a modern democracy

Dialogue Liberates People from Religious Intolerance
Prof. N.S. Ramaswamy who was recently awarded the "Padmabhushan", while addressing the gathering, the inter-religious dialogue was the best means to liberate the people from religious intolerance and fanaticism. The meeting was organized on 27th April 2006 by BIRD and dialogue wing of the City YMCA Bangalore called Movement for Inter Religious Understanding and Harmony (MIRUH).
The programme started with the recitation of "Shlokas" by Prof. Ramaswamy . BIRD coordinator P.N.Benjamin, the welcomed the gathering. Fr George Koovakal, President Messengers of Peace and Harmony and P.N.Benjamin of BIRD felicitated Prof. Ramaswamy for receiving the much coveted "Padmabhushan" Award.
Peace for Progress - Independence Day Celebration
BIRD Celebrated Independence Day on Saturday, the 12th August 2006, on the Theme: "TOWARDS PEACE FOR PROGRESS" Students from different schools participated in the events and performed cultural programmes like group songs, dance, play on the theme. This programme was jointly organized by BIRD and the YMCA Mr. King Das. M, Chairman of the Task Group presided over the function
International Peace Day Celebrations
The Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) and YMCA’s Task Group on Secularism organized the International Peace Day Celebration in association with IARF (International Association for Religious Freedom and DBM (Dharma Bharati Mission) on 23rd September 2006 at YMCA.
Lecture Series - 2005-2006
Dharmaram Vidya Niketan, Bangalore, Center for the Study of World Religious (CSWR) along with YMCA Bangalore BIRD (Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue), FIREFLIES ASHRAM, (Bangalore Forum for Science and Religion) (BFSR) organized a six months' Certificate Course which started on 13th Sunday, August 2006 at 10.30 a.m. at CSWR Multimedia Hall. During the six months course relevant contemporary Inter Disciplinary and Inter Religious themes were discussed by prominent personalities in respective fields. This year's Lecture Series theme was: 'RATIONALITY, RELIGION AND PROSPERITY".

Consultation on Peace Education
As we are well aware, that the Peace & Communal Harmony has become one of the most urgent needs of our country, which was, till recently known for its positive attitude & openness towards the followers of all faith. Many factors have contributed to the present day development of hatred, violence & even riots in the name of religions. This has certainly poisoned the minds & hearts of our young people.
With this background Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue(BIRD) YMCA Bangalore Benedictine Inter Religious Dialogue (BID) and Messengers of peace and harmony organized, two days consultation on peace education for teachers. This programme was organized at Benedictine Inter Religious Dialogue centre at Asirvanam, Kumbalgodu. Nearly 65 teachers, educators attended the two days residential workshop on December 2006. Rev. Fr. GEORGE NELLIYANY delivered the welcome address. The Inaugural address was given by Rev. Fr. Stephen OSB, Fr. George Koovakal Director MPH Delhi gave orientation to the whole Programme. The following were the resource persons who spoke on the different perspective on peace education: M/s: A.S.K Vasishtha - Hindu Perspective of peace Education, A.D. Shah - Jain Perspective of peace Education, Rev Fr. Pradeep Sequrian S.J.-Christian Perspective of peace Education, M.A. Siraj B.B.C (Journalist)-Islam Perspective of peace Education, H.S. Bhatia -Sikh Perspective of peace Education, Master Bhodi Bhushan - Buddhist Perspective of peace Education. His holiness Jagadguru Sri Sri Sri Shivapuri Mahaswamy delivered his peace message to all the participants. Rev. Fr. Jerome OSB, BID Secretary, proposed the vote of thanks.
Dialogue Partner's Meet
More than 25 participants representing the various Inter Religious dialogue centers, groups and associations and a few individuals actively involved in promoting peace and communal harmony in Bangalore met together at City YMCA on 28th March 2007. The programme was jointly organized by the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD), the Task Group on Secularism, YMCA and the Messengers of Peace and Harmony, Delhi.
The meeting started with an inter-religious prayer. Fr. George Koovakal introduced the theme and also explained the dynamics of the meet.
Following organizations Participated in the meet: M.P.H. (Messenger of Peace and Harmony), MIRUH (Movement for Inter Religious Understanding and Harmony), PUCL (Peoples Union for Civil Liberties), Ashirvanam Inter Religious movement, Sisters Inter Religious Groups- Bridjitine, C.S.I. Inter Religious groups, SATSANGH, GURUDWARA Inter religious wing, CSWR (Centre for study of World Religions), MALA (Mapala Art

Hinduism – A Gandhian Perspective
Prof. M.V.Nadkarni’s book, Hinduism: a Gandhian Perspective, was released by the Governor of Karnataka, at the Raj Bhavan in Bangalore on 25 October 2006. BIRD coordinator P.N.Benjamin (seen 3rd from left) was one of the main speakers, reviewing the book. Others in picture from L-R are: Prof. Nadkarni, ANE Books chief executive,P.N. Benjamin, former chief Justice Rama Jois, the Governor Chaturvedi & Prof. Rao.
L-R: P.N.Benjamin, Justice Jois, Governor Chaturvedi, Prof. Rao & Prof. Nadkarni

A Panel Discussion on Hinduism – A Gandhian Perspective
The Panelists were Dr. C.T. Kurien, (Eminent Economist and Professor Emeritus MIDS), Dr. N. Jayaram (Director, Inst. For Social & Economic Change), Dr. Narendra Pani (Sr. Editor, Economic Times), Dr. Ali Khawaja (Banjara Academy).
An Introduction to the book was provided by Prof. M.V. Nadkarni (Former Vice Chancellor of Gulbarga University
The programnme was moderated by Mr. Siddartha (Director FIREFLYS) Ashram
Programme was organized by BIRD, in association with YMCA Bangalore and St. Mark's Cathedral on 30th January 2007 at St. Marks Cathedral Auditorium at 5.00 p.m. Rev. Vincent Rajkumar welcomed the gathering. BIRD coordinator P.N.Benjamin proposed a Vote of Thanks.
Lecture on inclusive growth and Budget 2007 was organized where in the eminent economist C.T. Kurien spoke extensively on "A high growth rate without inclusive measures generates not only millionaires, but also beggars", he said while delivering a talk on the above. Achieving inclusive growth was not all that easy as the generation of huge incomes at the top-level would always have a tendency towards exclusion of people at the lower level from the development process, he cautioned. He cautioned that the country might face an economic crisis in the course of time if no steps were taken to check the high inflation, as offshoot of high growth rate. At present, there was an imbalance in economic growth

The Bangalore Peace Forum Initiated
Bangalore has been a peace loving city, a city that has been growing in recent times beyond all proportions, where people of different languages, cultures, religious, economic strata, political affiliations etc., daily rub shoulders, yet live in peace. Hence it is important for Bangalore to remain a peace-loving city. If the cancer of violence – whether for political, linguistic, religious or economic or a mixture of these spreads and is not nipped in to bud, Bangalore will no more be a safe city, and all its great socio-economic potential will be washed down the drain.
In this context BIRD has formed a new group, Bangalore Peace Forum, to promote inter religious / inter linguistic peace and harmony in the Metropolitan City.
The Forum would include all like-minded groups that are involved in working for religious and communal harmony.
Remembering Gandhi and his ideals Herald - Bangalore, IndiaBy Nina C. George The Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD), the ACTS Ministries, the Basel Mission Christian Association and the Rainbow Forum have joined hands to put together an evening of Gandhijis favourite hymns and prayers. India plunged into sorrow, the day Mahatma Gandhi was shot. Today 60 years later as the death anniversary of the Mahatma draws near, we remember the man who bought us freedom and also recall that Gandhiji was a staunch secularist whose unshakable faith in universal brotherhood is reflected in his fascination for the hymns from the Bible, Gita and Koran. An evening of hymnsThe Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD), the ACTS Ministries, the Basel Mission Christian Association and the Rainbow Forum have joined hands to put together an evening of Gandhiji’s favourite hymns and prayers, on January 30 at 4.30 pm at the Charles Ranson Hall – United Theological College, to pay homage to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi on the 60th anniversary of his martyrdom. It is an inter-faith programme where choirs from Cluney Convent School and the United Theological College will sing Gandhiji’s favourite hymns and songs. There will be readings from religious scriptures as well as from Gandhiji’s own writings and also tributes paid to him sixty years ago and later by Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini, Einstein, C F Andrews, Stanley Jones, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. Lead Kindly Light, Abide with me, When When I survey the Wondrous Cross and Rock of ages are among his favourite hymns. Some popular bhajans which were sung during the prayer meetings of Gandhiji will also be sung on January 30. Some of the Christian songs moved Gandhiji deeply. His choice of hymns shed much light upon his own religious personality. The hymn, `When I survey the wondrous Cross,' touched his inner most feelings. To Gandhiji, God was truth and light. As in Gandhiji's own words: "I am in the world feeling my way to light amid encircling gloom. I often err and miscalculate. My trust is solely in God". And the song `Lead kindly Light,' composed by Cardinal Newman always gave him strength. The ancient hymns and prayers sung or read during such meetings included famous passages from the Gita, the Bible, and the Koran that proclaimed the power of truth. Then there were the songs of Tulsi Das, Sur Das, Kabir, Nanak, and Narasimha Mehta — they all glorified renunciation, self-purification, and the brotherhood of all mankind. Some of these songs will be sung during the concert. Gandhiji was free from any kind of religious dogmas and biases. His universalism in this regard was unique and unequalled. "I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim and a Jew," he said. It was Gandhiji's conviction that the one whose mind is untroubled in the midst of sorrows and is free from eager desires amid pleasures, from whom passion, fear and rage has passed away, he is a sage of settled intelligence.

Building a Culture of Peace Gandhi's Vision: Inter-Faith Harmony in Southern India
By Douglas Norell
Excerpts from the article in the 2007/08 winter issue of PEACE IN ACTION

…. UTC’s heritage and its strong ecumenical base enhance inter-faith contacts, which it often has undertaken in partnership with a sister organization, the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD). For example, UTC hosted a worship service featuring Gandhi’s favorite Hindu and Christian hymns with BIRD and other groups to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his martyrdom. The event showcased Gandhi’s universalism, tersely manifested in his famous statement. "I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew."

Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)
For its part, BIRD explicitly stated in a January 1, 2007 open letter to the Prime Minister of India, the U.N. Secretary General, the European Union, and the U.S. State Department that it supports peaceful coexistence among Indian religions and opposes aggressive proselytism. The letter was signed by some 650 Christian leaders including BIRD’s founder and coordinator, P.N. Benjamin, and Rev. Dr. Jayakiran Sebastian, Professor of Theology and Ethics at UTC.
Benjamin has spotlighted poignantly the futility of exclusivist religious truth claims by pointing out that not only Hindus bear responsibility for mistreating the Dalits or "untouchables." He echoes Dr. Razu’s perspective by arguing that even Christians "… have miserably failed in taking care of 16 million Dalits converted to Christianity."
BIRD members profess the Christian faith, but they value the Hindu tradition of Dharmic tolerance. BIRD not only writes about religious tolerance and pluralism; it also provides forums for mutual dialogue such as lectures, workshops, and conferences. These discussions lead to the formulation of action plans for peacebuilding in India, the U.S., and around the world. BIRD further organizes cultural tours, offers articles and commentary in the media, and conducts rallies and campaigns.
Of special note, BIRD joins with Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), a sister Hindu organization, in sending intervention teams to quell outbreaks of inter-religious violence and to set a framework for post-conflict resolution. In 2002, for example, it intervened to help squelch Hindu-Christian tensions arising from an attack on Mysore’s Holy Family Church. An article in the March 1, 2002 National Catholic Reporter said that a priest and a dozen Catholics were injured in the attack, and the new church was ransacked.
The joint fact-finding team condemned violence on the part of Hindus, while encouraging the Christians to evangelize with awareness that they "… should not cross the limits of decency and should not hurt the sensitivities of adherents of other faiths." The report thereby pinpointed the Hindu misperception of aggressive proselytizing as a root cause of the violence while reassuring Christians that the joint team shared their anxieties. The joint team also recommended formation of a permanent Hindu-Christian community forum for dialogue "… to prevent recurrence of such incidents in the future…."
In conclusion, I found on my tour that the minority Christian community of South India has contributed substantially to building a culture of peace. This is reflected in the history, curriculum and programs of three ecumenical seminaries and a Christian advocacy group. These institutions have manifested Christian pluralism by embracing the religious stranger and learning from other faith traditions. In joining hands with Hindus and Muslims through education and reconciliation, these Christian institutes have helped thousands of people in southern India to realize Gandhi’s – and Samartha’s – vision of inter-religious harmony and social justice.


Activities of BIRD
The beginning
On 7th October 2001, BIRD organized the first Rev. Dr. Stanley Samartha Memorial Lecture at the Bishop Cotton Boys’ School. Francois Gautier delivered the lecture on "the Need for Inter-Religious Dialogue". More than 500 invitees attended. Among them were a large number of VHP-RSS-BJP activists as well as disciples of Guru Sri. Sri. Ravishankar. They were surprised to learn that there ever lived a Christian thinker like Dr. Samartha – "the Christian prophet of religious pluralism" as Francois Gautier has described him.
Immediately after the lecture, the RSS-VHP-BJP leaders expressed their desire to enter into dialogue with Christians and the first meeting took place at the Dharmaram Vidya Shektra (Catholic Theological University) in the last week of October. Since then we have been meeting each other regularly once a month and also on special occasions at the RSS headquarters and the Bible Society of India’s central office in Bangalore.
In October the coordinator wrote an article in The Hindu – "Who is afraid of dialogue?" and following which The Week magazine requested him to write an article on the need for inter-religious dialogue.
In November 2001 BIRD participated at the national dialogue between Christian spiritual leaders and RSS leaders at Aluva, Kerala.
Meeting with RSS leaders
Christian members of BIRD were invited to the RSS camp held in Bangalore. They met top-ranking national leaders of the RSS, including Shri. Sudarshan, on 26 January 2002 and discussed problems faced by the Christians. BIRD coordinator invited the RSS leaders to hold the next round of national level talks with Christian leaders in Bangalore on 22 March 2002.
Panel discussion
A panel discussion on "the scope for dialogue between RSS and Christians" was held on 13 Feb. It was addressed among others by Mr.H.T. Sangliana, police commissioner, Mr. Francois Gautier and Mr. Allen Mendonca of Times of India. More than 200 people participated.

Fact-finding team
At the first round of monthly meeting at theCentral office of the Bible Society of India in Bangalore between the representatives of RSS and BIRD, the RSS leaders assured the Christians that in future if there would be an attack on Christians/Christian institutions anywhere in Karnataka, they would rush to the trouble-spot immediately along with the Christian representatives of BIRD and help bring peace and normalcy immediately. And they fulfilled that commitment on 19th March by sending a joint fact-finding team led by Dr. Upendra Shenoy to Mysore as soon as the news about the attack on the Holy Family Church was flashed on the electronic and print media world-wide. The report of the team has turned out to be a milestone in peace making. And since then there has been practically no report of violence against Christians in Karnataka.
National-level talks
BIRD hosted, along with the Christian Alliance for Communal Harmony, the 6th round of national-level talks between RSS and Christian leaders at the initiative of Mr. John Joseph, member, National Commission of Minorities, at the United Theological College, in Bangalore on 22 March. It was a roaring success. About 200 representatives of the Christian community from all over Karnataka participated in the dialogue with Mr. Sudarshan and other leaders of the RSS.
On January 20, 2003, Mr. Sudarshan and other top leaders of the RSS, on a short visit to Bangalore invited BIRD representatives for friendly exchange of views and ideas to further strengthen relationship. Prof. Thomas George, Advocate Dr. Vincent Panikulangara, Mr. Derrick Fullenfaw and Mr. P.N.Benjamin spent more than three hours with the RSS leaders.
Release of Ian Stillman
A deputation consisting of representative of the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue( BIRD) met Miss Uma Bharati, then Minister in the Central Cabinet, on 24 June 2002 and submitted the following memorandum to be passed on to the Prime Minister. She had said at that time that she was moved by the plight of Mr. Stillman and would do everything possible to free him from the Shimla jail. Later on BIRD was in touch with its friends in the RSS and VHP to use their influence with the Government of India to see that Stillman was released.
As a humanitarian gesture, the Government of India freed on December 7, 2002, Mr. IAN STILLMAN, a disabled British Charity worker who was undergoing a 10-year sentence in Himachal Pradesh on charges of possessing 20 kg cannabis, a charge he refuted. Fifty-year old Ian was handed over to the British High Commission officials in Shimla.
Father Harry Stocks
Long before the actual formation of the BIRD, its members had established friendly relations with the leaders of RSS and VHP in Karnataka. Their proven honesty and integrity, credibility and sincerity, in words and deeds, played a major role in February 2001 in getting the deportation order issued to Fr. Harry Stocks, a Canadian Roman Catholic priest, cancelled and his visa extended. Fr. Harry has been working among the deaf in India since 1967.
BIRD has been able to establish contacts with various organizations in Bangalore as well as other parts of Karnataka, encouraging peace initiatives similar to what it has been engaged in the past one year. In Bangalore alone BIRD has joined hand with the Temple of Understanding, YMCA, Senior Citizens Forum, Indian Heritage Academy, Institute of Universal Consciousness and Islamic Voice in promoting peace and communal amity.

Future plans

BIRD proposes to embark on a three-year programme with four specific programmatic components and they are:
Inter-faith dialogues
That will consider organization of inter-faith dialogues among religious leaders, institutional hierarchies, professionals, service clubs, Non-government organizations, corporate houses, students of schools and colleges
Forum for artists, orators and writers
Organisation of exhibitions, publications and debates on communal amity inviting well known artists, orators and writers and also upcoming aspirants to be able to express their opinion and thus arouse the social concern of the masses.

Campaign for creation of larger mass base
Creation of a larger mass base to be able to embark on a movement approach; where all people could be helped to thing and act alike in one accord with concern and compassion for the fellow being

Monday, May 25, 2009

A jewel among men

Forty-five years ago on 27 May 1964, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, died in harness. He was a phenomenon that inspired not only several generations of Indians but also a vast number of intellectuals and visionaries throughout the world. Gifted with an intellect that could assimilate the philosophy and experience of the ages and project a vision of the future for all mankind, Nehru was greater than the epoch in which he was born and which he influenced decisively.
Nehru "possessed an acute sense of history". He was fascinated with the history of ideas and the progressive unfolding of the human mind. Nehru’s was a scientific approach with due concern for pragmatism. He frequently alluded to idealism. Pragmatism for him was not opposed to idealism but "practical idealism for social betterment". The means-centered ethics distinguished Nehru as the "most exciting thinker of our time, restless, searching, incessantly reflecting – involved and detached at the same time – a man more deeply religious in mind than he admitted".

Nehru glimpsed world history and discovered India for us. He gave us sermon after sermon on parliamentary democracy and secularism, five-year plans and public sector.
Some of the glimpses from Nehru provide remarkable insights into his approach to the building of Indian democracy. "I entirely agree with you that as a people we have lost the public sense of social justice. To put it differently, our standards have fallen greatly. Indeed, we have hardly any standards left except not to be found out… We drift along calmly accepting things as they are. We see the mote in other people’s eyes and not the beam in our own or friends’ eyes. We are strong in condemnation of those who are our opponents, but we try not to see the obvious faults of our friends. What are we to do? I confess my mind is not clear, although I have thought of this a great deal," wrote Nehru to B G Kher on July 26, 1949.
Nehru was convinced that the only system of government, which could hold so vast and diverse a land together, was democracy. He brushed aside arguments that it was unwise to give the vote to India’s illiterate masses. He showed a deep understanding of and respect for parliamentary government even when it meant tolerating vitriolic attacks by his opponents.
Nehru enjoyed the cut and thrust of parliamentary debates. He would be deeply disappointed if he could see the decline in Indian parliamentary standards today. But his faith in democracy has been vindicated by several free elections and remarkably smooth changes of government through the ballot box. Despite mass illiteracy, the Indian voter has shown again and again a robust common sense that is quite capable of seeing through the promises of politicians.
It is said: "Nehru was a prophet frustrated, with his hopes unfulfilled". But, to the end he laboured, taking on burdens that would have broken the back of most other people. And he worried that he had ‘promises to keep’ to his people and to posterity. No less than his critics he was conscious of the vast tasks still undone, but he knew no way, consistently with his convictions and his view of men and things, along which he could go ahead faster and without damage to values that he cherished. Here, indeed, lay his historic failure – the failure to achieve change for fear of the price that might have had to be paid and the deep concern for the right means so that the future was not to be garish and crude.
He knew when society was purged of the dross and ages, one wakes, as it were, into a common world of air and light, a world which is the patented preserve of no elite but belongs to all. He knew also that the transition was difficult and prolonged and painful and yet had to be made, for the very meaning of history lay in such human, and often necessarily fallible, endeavour. He knew he had great authority and this authority needed to be wielded for helping vast majority of Indians. But, if he shrank from jobs set him relentlessly by history, he did it not by reason of guile and petty calculation but by reason of the love for mankind.
Nehru’s life was free of what was petty and grasping, and its beauties shine out like stars in the night. For more than four decades, he strode our land like "a gentle colossus". But his uniqueness lay in the unobtrusive opulence of endowment, which gave him, in the thick of politics and in the face of frustrations, a peculiar refinement and grace of spirit. It was not only that he was "a man without malice and without fear" (Winston Churchill) but also "he carried an ache in his mind and heart, an ache which betokened his kinship with the whole wide world.
Atal Behari Vajpayee, then a young M.P., said in Parliament: "Panditji epitomised the spirit of the new India. He was a dreamer. His dream was of a world free of fear and hunger; the song of a great epic resonant with the spirit of Gita and as fragrant as a rose, the flame of a candle which burnt all night long, showing us the way."
Apt. 501, Indira Residency
167 Hennur Main Road
Kalyan Nagar
Bangalore 560 043

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Violence against women

Following is an article sent to Deccan Herald

Gruesome and Escalating Violence on Women
The chilling front page report, Police shielding accused in dowry case (DH. 2 May) is typical of the many accounts of dowry-related deaths that take place in the country every day. One cannot help but be struck by the offhand way in which generally a young woman’s life and death is summed up, matter -of -factly, without any undue cause for alarm or probing of the causes. It is as much as one would report a traffic accident or the death of a cancer patient—tragic certainly, but such things are to be expected.

Dowry related deaths of brides have registered a sharp increase in recent years. Yet, for some strange reasons we have reduced them to cold and brutal statistics that pile up in the police stations, morgues of government hospitals, welfare homes, small town courts and prisons. It confirms our worst suspicions that the single largest minority in this country is being viciously battered into submission.
Yes, when the brides can pay no more, the "accident" takes place, especially due to ‘kitchen fire’! These fire accidents are usually uniform in nature with the classical setting of the young bride found dead in the kitchen, clad in a kerosene soaked sari, trapped in flames and left alone to burn to ashes!

There are other covert forms of related oppression that have multiplied several times in recent years. Some of these lead to psychological torture, suicides and murder of married women, desertion by their husbands, rampant abortion of female foetuses, and poor families resorting to female infanticide for fear of not being able to provide dowry.
On the one hand, you have years of cultural domination by men where women have to choose between a lifetime of abject slavery at home and warding off mandatory passes at the work place, where they are rarely treated as equals. On the other, in many less than literate sectors of our society, they are treated as children of a lesser god. To be burnt as young bride, for not brining adequate dowry, or, worse still, as a young widow, on her husband’s funeral pyre, to celebrate a barbaric religious rite. If she survives all this, and the ignominy of being forever treated as a receptacle for male lust, often forced into whoring or raped by her near ones, she could be lynched for being a witch.
What perverse instincts impel such acts of aggression? And why do they go unpunished? No one can argue that these issues have not received their share of publicity today. In the print-media there are women’s pages, general interest magazines carry articles and reports on contentious women’s issues and even special supplements. Television boasts of woman’s programmes. The other powerful medium – advertising – has always been over-eager to use women in ways women would rather not be used. Even politicians, who have often forgotten that women form any part of their electorate have bestirred themselves and, with unaccustomed activity, have launched a flurry of legislation ostensibly aimed at helping and protecting women.

Dowry continues to be the pivot around which most marriages in India revolve today. It is unfortunate and heartless that the growing middle class with its opportunities for upward mobility, is propagating and promoting the most perverted and promiscuous nexus between money and marriage.
Despite all the hype and hyperbole, the protective laws and action plans, the seminars and speeches, the basic patriarchal structures and attitudes have undergone very little change. The majority of women are still second class citizens, their worth measured purely in economic terms: how much dowry they will bring, how much work they can do inside and outside the home, how many male children they can bear.

Legislative enactments by government have so far been mere tokenism. In 1961 dowry was officially outlawed but in reality eradication was far from accomplished. In 1986 harsher legal amendments to the 1961 Dowry Act such as Section 174 CrPC enforced investigations of suspicious bridal deaths and punishment of seven years to life in imprisonment and possibly death for those found guilty and convicted of bride burning. In spite of these legal breakthroughs, shocking statistics on dowry deaths continue to show up in Indian media, with many more deaths unreported.

Social laws are required where culture has failed to institutionally stop family breakdowns due to dowry harassment, killing and abandoning of female infants, banishment of women who fail to produce sons. More importantly there needs to be a cultural rethinking on the status of women in our country. But, waiting for the real changes to occur for women in India is rather like waiting for the Godot.
Apt. 501, 5th Floor
Indira Residency
167 Hennur Road
(Next to Reliance Fresh Super Market)
Bangalore 560 043
Tel. 080 25435716
Mobile: 9731182308

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Reply to John Dayal

Mr. John Dayal, President All India Christian Council asked me the following questions:
who pays you, pnb
sorry i had to ask because of your statement
this is my frst and last personal barb at you
god bless you
john dayal
ps: everyone and his uncle are invited to inspect my bank accounts, my home almirahs and my income tax

Here’s my open reply to him
Dear John
Many in Bangalore know who pays me. So does my conscience. I've been in this city's public life for the past 45 years, as a bank employee, trade union activist, Communist fellow-traveller, small-time free-lance writer, and now into (‘the business’of) promoting inter-religious dialogue, religious tolerance etc. inspired by the life and work of the late Rev. Dr. Stanley Samartha, the "Christian prophet of religious pluralism".
I have received not a single paisa from any foreign or Indian organisations. BIRD runs its work with small individual contributions from it well-wishers. I am presently working as part-time public relations manager at the Hindustan Aviation Academy, Marathahalli, Bangalore. And I live in a rented apartment and have from one apartment/house about 15 times in the last 14 years since my retirement from ANZ Grindlays Bank in 1995. My daughter looks after me and my wife at present.
I receive a paltry sum of Rs. 2800/- from the bank and Rs.10,000/- from my present employer. I spend this money for my medical expenses, telephone charges for the work of BIRD etc. I do not travel outside Bangalore. I have not yet been able to visit my bed-ridden widowed elder sister in Kerala because I cannot afford to do it with my limited income. Her husband was a senior well-respected presbyter of the Church of South India, Central Kerala Diocese. He died two years ago.
But, people like you - especially the neo-Christian saints and saviours - are past-masters in concealing their incomes and expenses, while travelling around the world to spit venom against Hindus, their Gods and goddesses, their rituals and seeking funds from the naive fundamentalist Christians in the western countries for bringing the light of Jesus into this Area of Darkness - my motherland India.
Be that as it may, don’t you remember the challenge I threw at you to join me for a peace mission to Khandamal last year? You wriggled out of it. You had no guts.
Self-styled and unscrupulous leaders of Indian Christian community like you , Sajan George and others have been using ordinary Christians as cannon fodder for their narrow and selfish ends. (Incidentally, is Sajan George a medical doctor?) You claim to be spokesmen and defenders of the Christian Faith and the Indian Christian community spread distress and division and to all appearances, enjoy the grace and favour of the Central Government. This encouragement helps the growth of powerful elements of separatism and disunity.
One last point. Many of those who were behind forming BIRD and encouraging dialogue between RSS and Christians in Bangalore were and still are some of your close friends. During the NDA regime we could intervene through the personal contacts I had built up with the RSS/VHP/Bajrang Dal leaders from the days of Indira Gandhi’s infamous Emergency days (1975-77) and help IAN STILLMAN and Fr. Harry Stocks to a large extent – the former’s release from jail and the cancellation of the latter’s expulsion from India on charges of alleged conversion activities. That is another story.
May God bless you, John.

An open letter to John Dayal

AN OPEN LETTER TO JOHN DAYALFROM P.N.BENJAMIN,Coordinator, Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)Dear Mr. Dayal,This has reference to your recent letter to the Honourable Prime Minister on the National Integration Council.I would like to as you some genuine questions on the subject. Most of them are questioning your own integrity. So, do not get perturbed or try to evade answers. You are first of all no Holy Joe, Mr. Dayal.Can one have integration without integrity? Where is your integrity? What is integrity of the people like you who talk about it, but keep quiet when everywhere the essence of integration is being deliberately destroyed by vested interests? Are you really interested in integration? And is integration only to be between Muslims, Christians and Dalits whom you have been using as cannon fodder for long for your vested interests, to occupy cushy positions as member of NCM and the like? Or should integration be widened to bring the whole of our neglected, despised India into the mainstream of the nation?s activities, its hopes and its dreams?Hindu-bashing, especially RSS/VHP/Bajrang Dal bashing, seems to be your only hobby. This business has been bringing you millions of dollars and invitations to umpteen seminars and consultations in Western countries. How can such a despicable character talk of national ?integration? when your personal integrity itself is under cloud?Have you ever bothered about the hungry people with hunger pangs growing in their intestines when you enjoy your life in five-star surroundings and shed copious crocodile tears for the minority communities and Dalits? What is the use of talking about integration when the hungry cannot partake at your dinner table? Will you answer these questions, Mr. Dayal, here and now?A struggle can be likened to an onion. You take it off layer by layer and sometimes you cry. This is the situation in India, the India of the poor, which is in ferment, stirring itself to challenge the chains of bondage that have seared their very souls over the years. They are fighting the carpetbaggers and the charlatans, like you, of this country.Without integrity, without a deep and abiding commitment to the poor of the country, all talk of national integration is only a lot of bullshit.We are passing through a crisis of unprecedented dimensions, symbolized by the collapse of values. Self-styled Christian leaders like you have emerged bereft of principles. Our national life has been polluted by the venality of the discredited men like you. You have therefore no moral right to talk of ?national integration?.P.N.BENJAMINCoordinatorBangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue(BIRD)B-1, Lan Castle186 Wheeler Road ExtnBangalore 560 084INDIA31 August 2005

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The doer of good

Ambedkar and Oscar Wilde's 'The Doer of Good'
By P N Benjamin
Several thinkers have speculated on the possible reactions of the founders of great faiths, if they happened to inspect the orders that claim the rights to fly their banners. Oscar Wilde has visualised one such situation in a short piece entitled ‘The Doer of Good’. As we know, the miracles Jesus performed included curing a leper, restoring sight to a blind man and life to a dead one. One night Jesus descends on to the land of his activities. He is attracted into a festive mansion, bursting with luxury. He sees the master of the house lying on a couch of sea-purple, his lips red with wine."Why do you live like this?" asked the unexpected visitor. Startled, the young man answered: "But, I was a leper and you healed me. How else should I live?"Jesus left the mansion in silence. In the street he saw a young man, his eyes bright with lust, chasing a playful damsel. Jesus stopped him. "Why do you look at this woman and such vice?" he demanded. "But I was blind once and you gave me sight. And what else should I look?"Outside the city Jesus saw a young man seated by roadside, weeping. "Why are you weeping?" he asked. "But I was dead once and you raised me from the dead. What else should I do but weep?"The utter futility of achievements without an aspiration for a growth in consciousness had never before been stressed so briefly yet so tellingly. Perhaps, a stirring in the memory and sacrifices of the moulders of civilisation could be a faint reminder of the need for that missing quality.Now let’s imagine Ambedkar returns to India to inspect the plight of Dalits whom he wanted to emancipate. After all, he was the human catalyst of social action against injustice to the suppressed sector of the Indian people whom we, in condescending hypocrisy, call ‘Harijans’ or ‘Dalits’! He was a dynamic figure who devoted himself to the cause of justice, freedom and dignity to the lowliest, the lost and the last in the socio-economic hierarchy, and fought for human rights.Dalit groups are disorganisedIt won’t take much time for him to observe the following facts. "Almost all Dalit political leaders have showered only lip sympathy on the Dalits in order to get their votes, but with no intention of doing anything to ameliorate their conditions. Dalit political groups are totally disorganised. Education has only led to the emergence of a Dalit elite class. Dalit movements have either been absorbed within mainstream parties and splinter groups or else have degenerated into negative militancy. Reservation of seats and jobs has had only a marginal effect on the lives of some members of the vast section of Dalit humanity. It has also led to deliberate attempts to divide the Dalits into a ‘privileged’ minority and the completely ignored massive majority."In their blind craze for power, position, profit and pelf the Dalit leaders in every political party have forgotten their primary duty to mobilise and organise the masses against all forms of vested interests. Dalit politicians bereft of any ideology are unwilling to disturb the existing caste equations. These self-seeking status quoits have only aided in pushing the outcastes out of our society, out of the mainstream. Dalit politicians holding very high political posts have in practice proved to be ‘Uncle Toms’ because of the compulsions of Indian polity."What I witnesses today is the strange spectacle of these leaders ganging up with those very forces, which are the political representatives of oppressors of the Dalits. There could be no greater betrayal of the millions kept in poverty and privation."Ambedkar then observes: "Dalits are not a special species of human beings. Their emancipation from poverty and social discrimination and disabilities does not depend upon perpetual special treatment. Like the rest of the poor in India, they have to be taught, helped and made to participate in the process of bettering their lives."India will be truly free only when Indians, the last and the least are free. Dalits ask for justice and the Indian elite have to realise that democracy cannot be hypocrisy. And humanists everywhere are vicariously guilty if they do not speak up. ‘Les Miserables’, in their social millions, are a stain and a wound."Ambedkar will then invite the Dalit leaders and ask them: "What shall we do to ‘change this sorry scheme of things entire and remould it nearer to our heart’s desire?’"

DECCAN HERALD – Panorama – 14 April 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I am amused by the guidelines (Ten Commandments) issued to voters by the Catholic Bishops. Conference of India, The CBCI is harking back to the traditional ways of the Church to wean away Indians from the ‘Hindu nationalist’ party, the BJP. Do the Catholic bishops believe that they can reduce the enlightened Indian electorate to the level of the ladies in Britain, in the now distant 1940s and 1950s, who were scared of "a Red under their bed"?
This is not the first time the Church is indulging in this wishful thinking. It happened first in 1957 in Kerala. The church leaders issued a 'fatwa' to their flocks not to vote the Communists to power because they were "Godless" and violent people who would nationalise and destroy all the churches in Kerala." Some listened to them, many ignored them and the then India correspondent of the London Observer cabled back London: "Out of the ballot box comes the miracle."
The Christian leaders have not learnt not learn their lesson. They repeated the call in all the subsequent elections too. And they are back with a bang today also.
As a ‘self-proclaimed’ enlightened Indian Christian, I cannot confine my secularism to the anti-BJP-ism advocated by the Christian leaders since communal consanguinity is present in varying shades in other parties of plural labels even while choosing candidates, although they naively make secular noises.
The bishops must stop being dazzled by their own words. They must take the beams out of their own eyes before pointing out the mote in others’ eyes. Fight against social evils, for example, discrimination against Dalit Christians, must begin in the Church, otherwise they will be told: "Physician, heal thyself."
501 Indira Residency
167 Hennur Main Road
Bangalore 560 043

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Christians need not worry too much

I strongly believe that the Church need not too much worry about outside harassment, but should worry about the internal cancer it carries within its body. I have moved away from direct involvement and am leading a quiet life. Christians in India will never be protected by international supporters, they are being protected by the majority Hindus and we should be thankful to God for the majority of Hindus who are very tolerant and open in spite of the aggressive posture of Christians. The Uniqueness of Christ is in that God revealed in Christ the open, selfless, liberal personality of God. How unfortunate it is that even some well meaning Christians become so arrogant, self righteous and even give themselves to hate in the name of Christ who came to show a new way of LOVE. I wish the Christian brothers and sisters would engage in serious reflections and identify the causes for the growing antagonism of people of other faiths.


As you like it
When the honourable Bangalore North M.P., (Dr.?) Sangliana defied the Whip issued by his party, BJP, and voted in favour of UPA government in Parliament last year, he was indeed perfecting the art of a political acrobat, balancing on the highwire of political opportunism and juggling with his options. He has turned out to be one of the deftest and most agile of all performers in the circus arena of the Indian political system. People like him, with their (often corrupt) sleight of hand and without moral scruple, appearing on one side of fence today and on the other tomorrow, he or she, wears a coat of as many colours as did the biblical Jacob, an can change it as often and as quickly as the chameleon in the tree, according to the prevailing political climate; and always in search of camouflage which is provided by influence, or power.
What Sangliana did was like the vigilant chameleon – who rarely moves a muscle or bats an eyelid – it is usually more a matter of changing colour than position; a matter more political form than substance. It was a question of not of principles, but persons; that of allegiance to cliques and coteries, not policies or programmes, and a loyalty not to party but to power.
It was therefore no surprise to me that Sangliana (Dr.?) defied the Whip. In Indian politics, the opportunist and the turncoat are familiar figures. They make their exits and their entrances on the political stage, sometimes hiding in the wings, sometimes the centre of attention, usually with one script in public and other in private, but the sheer nakedness of it exhibited by a ‘true Christian’ like Sangliana was unique in the Indian political history. One man plays many parts, as Shakespeare puts in As You Like It, an appropriate title in Sangliana’s defection. With an eye on the main chance, and, often, a hand in the public pocket, the floor-crosser and the opportunist wheel and deal in the marketplace of the bargaining process in search of privileges or office, playing havoc with all known landmarks of political left, right and centre.
What’s so new about Sangliana’s defection and indiscipline? My answer is simple. Sangliana claims to be a true Christian and he should have proved himself to be different from the other defectors, past, present and future.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Thoughts on Indian women on March 8, 2009

ARE WOMEN CHILDREN OF LESSER GODS?P.N.BENJAMINWhither Indian women on this International Women’s Day? A question well worth asking.
Today Indian women have to choose between a lifetime of abject slavery at home and warding off mandatory passes at the work place, where they are rarely treated as equals. In many less than literate sectors of our society, they are treated as children of a lesser god to be burnt alive as young bride, for not brining adequate dowry. If she survives all this, and the ignominy of being forever treated as a receptacle for male lust, often forced into whoring or raped by her near ones too.
Hundreds of cases of rape and dowry murders are reported from different parts of country every day. Domestic violence is not even reported: husbands who physically ill-treat their wives do so with utter impunity because neither the police nor the public will interfere in a ‘private matter’. Women are hunted down and murdered by mobs because they are branded witches. Girl children are kidnapped from their homes or sold to pimps and forced into prostitution.
New born girl babies are abandoned and left to die – sometimes drowned or given poison by their own parents who perceive a daughter as an economic burden. They are often not even allowed to be born – sophisticated scientific tests have been misused to detect sex of the foetus and an abortion follows promptly if the test reveals the sex to be female. In short, it is indisputable women are increasingly being subjected to greater violence and aggression, both physical and mental.
Crimes against women are increasing at an alarming rate in our country. Yet, for some strange reason, we have reduced them to statistics. Cold, brutal statistics that pile up in the morgues of government offices, welfare homes, small town courts and prisons, confirming our suspicion that the single largest minority in this country is being viciously battered into submissionWhat perverse instincts impel such acts of aggression? And why do they go unpunished? No one can argue that these issues have not received their share of publicity today. In the print-media there are women’s pages and carry articles and reports on contentious women’s issues and even special supplements. Television boasts of woman’s programmes. The other powerful medium – advertising – has always been over-eager to use women in ways women would rather not be used. Even politicians, who have often forgotten that women form any part of their electorate have bestirred themselves and, with unaccustomed activity, have launched a flurry of legislation ostensibly aimed at helping and protecting women.With all the seemingly positive changes in the society women have become the targets of increasing violence. Why, despite the stringent laws against dowry, have dowry deaths registered a sharp increase? Why have the ‘official’ figures of reported rapes doubled in the last decade and the rate of conviction been so low? Why are there so many child prostitutes in big cities? Why is the right to live denied to a girl child in some communities and why are women still the most chronically undernourished sections of the population? And, finally, why do the shocking statistics and daily reports about the deteriorating condition not create the kind of national uproar that the antics of film-star-politicians and other leaders do?Crime is endemic to the human condition, but a crime specifically directed at one sex is most despicable and, unfortunately, the one that is punished least. Because, despite all the hype and hyperbole, the protective laws and action plans, the seminars and speeches, the basic patriarchal structures and attitudes have undergone very little change. The majority of women are still second class citizens, their worth measured purely in economic terms: how much work they can do inside and outside the home, how many male children they can bear, how much dowry they will bring.The media exposure and all the legislation thus have little impact. Besides, they are themselves contradictory and often betray their own biases. Print and electronic media may carry reports castigating police connivance in a rape case or highlight a dowry death, but at the same time will carry/telecast advertisements, photo-features and illustrations that exploit women’s bodies, and perpetuate sexist images of women and flippant headings that belittle important issues. The media’s understanding of the issues involved is so confused and half-baked.Legislative enactments by government have so far been mere tokenism. Another factor that blunts the edge of any attempt to give women a better deal is that women’s issues are often politicised.
Whatever positive changes taken place so far on the women’s front are due to the hard work, dedication and commitment, of thousands of ordinary men and women and unheard of groups, braving the scorching heat and heavy rains, sacrificing the comfort and many allurements of the consumerist society, in the cause of millions of dispossessed women in the remote villages and hilly regions of this vast land of ours. They give us reasons for hope. They are building a new India. The saga of such endeavours is hardly publicised by the media addicted to the burlesque of the women who are holding up their dirty pink panties publicly.However, waiting for the real changes to occur for women in India is rather like waiting for Godot.