Tuesday, April 9, 2013

P.N.BENJAMIN & his activities


Chairman and Coordinator

Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)

Freelance Journalist
Receipient of Rajyotsava Award-2012

Ex-Member, Karnataka State Minorities Commission


Bengaluru 560 043


Mobile: 9731182308

E-mail: bejaminpn@hotmail.com


• He has been a committed campaigner and crusader of promoting communal harmony, religious tolerance and understanding, pluralism and secularism through his writings and action during the past four decades.

• His passion for communal and religious peace led him to form the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD) in 2001along with a small group of Hindus, Muslims, and Christians in Bengaluru to promote inter-faith amity in line with our native wisdom of promoting inclusivism and for preserving India's religious diversity.

• Towards that end, BIRD conducts consultations, panel discussions and seminars and holds an annual lecture series in memory of Dr Stanley Samartha, a priest and theologian of the Church of South India who took pride in always affirming that he was "a Hindu by culture, Christian by faith, Indian by citizenship and ecumenical by choice". He was born in Karkal, South Karnataka.

• During the past ten years, BIRD has organised ten Samartha Memorial lectures. They have been delivered by eminent persons likeDr. David Frawley, Sir Mark Tully, India Correspondent for the BBC; Arun Shourie, Member of Parliament; M.J.Akbar, eminent journalist and author; Justice K.T.Thomas, retired Judge of the Supreme Court of India; Dr. Hans Ucko, Director, Dialogue Division of World Council of Churches; Bishop Philipose Mar Chrysostom, Metropolitan of Mar Thoma Syrian Church; Dr. M.V.Nadkarni, former Vice Chancellor Gulbarga University; Dr. C.T.Kurien, well-known economist & director-emeritus Madras Institute for Development Studies; and Francois Gautier, French author and journalist.

• BIRD and the United Theological College jointly arranged a talk by Mr. Ashok Chowgule on the Hindu view on Religious Conversions, followed by an interactive session on August 5, 2005, at the United Theological College, Bengaluru.

• Member of Fact-finding Teams

• Mangalore Violence 2008

• Served on the three-member team, led by retired IGP Y.R. Patil, that probed the violent incidents in Mangalore, Udupi, and Bengaluru in September 2008. The report has been submitted to the Chief Minister of Karnataka.

• Attack on Holy Family Church, Hinkal, Mysore, 2002

• Led the BIRD fact-finding team that enquired into the attack on Hinkal Church, Mysore in 2002 and wrote an exhaustive report. It is available on the internet (http://www.docstoc.com/docs/30738668/REPORT-OF-FACT-FINDING).

• Wrote the fact-finding teams’ reports on the above incidents.

• Wrote and published the 36-page booklet “A Tale of Three Reports: Facts, fiction and politics behind incidents of violence against Christians in Karnataka”

• Wrote a rebuttal of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2010 and 2011 reports on continuing violence against Christians in Karnataka.

• Wrote the article “Is the Rogue State Number 1?” and rebutted Retd. Justice Saldanha’s allegations and charges against the State of Karnataka. It has been picked up by several news portals.

• Rediffmail News service interviewed me on the subject

• Other Activities

• Organised an Hindu-Christian dialogue in Bangalore in 2002 at the United Theological College

• Organised and/or attended regular meetings, interpersonal as well as official, with Hindu leaders

• Organised a cultural programme titled “An evening with Gandhiji’s favourite prayers and hymns”, on the 60th anniversary of his martyrdom

• Delivered talks on the need for Hindu-Christian dialogue at many meetings in Bengaluru, especially at the Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Mar Thoma Church, Dharmaram Vidya Shektra, Rotary Club East, etc.

• Presented a paper at a meeting of intellectuals held in Varanasi on “Foreign money, foreign missionaries, and conversion activities”

• Participated in the Hindu-Christian Dialogue at Aluva, Kerala, 2001

• Participated at the Thinkers’ Meet at Bhopal in 2005

• Participated as a delegate from India at the one-week consultation on “An Ethical Code of Conduct for Religious Conversion” organised by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Catholic Church (Vatican) in Toulouse, France, in August 2007

• Served as Vice President, Karnataka State Guruji Centenary Celebration Committee

• Drafted and circulated the following Declaration:

Christians against Proselytism

As Indian Christians, we believe that the best and perhaps the only way we can bear witness to our faith, is by extending our unconditional love to our neighbours and expecting nothing in return as Jesus Christ showed us. As such, we are against aggressive faith marketing by any religious group because such efforts discredit India's tradition of respecting all religious thought and also runs counter to the true spirit in which the Constitution grants people the right to profess, practice and propagate their faith.

We are Christians. Some of us were born into Christianity, others freely chose to embrace it. We also believe that the Great Commission in the Gospel according to Matthew unequivocally calls us to witness Christ in a pluralistic setting without violating the right of the other to preach, practice and profess his/her faith. Witnessing Jesus cannot in any case be done by questionable means, whether by exploiting people's socio-psychological vulnerabilities or by running down other religions.

Furthermore, we believe the Christian injunction to make disciples of all nations in today's context is best honoured by the bearers of the Good News living exemplary Christian lives and showing respect for the nations commitment to pluralism, for the larger public good in a civil society. Conversion of faith, given its life-changing nature, stems from a considered personal experience and is less likely in this day and age to be the stuff of dramatic immediacy.

When India's Supreme Court ruled, in 1977, that a citizens right to "profess, practice and propagate" ones religion does not include the right to convert another it was merely reaffirming both tradition and the Constitution. We believe that every nation should give primacy to maintenance of public order by ensuring safety and security to the life and property of its citizens.

India's all-encompassing culture and secular Constitution allows not only its citizens but also visitors the freedom of religious practice. But, Article 25 of the Constitution which guarantees that right also subjects it to the maintenance of "public order, morality and health" of the citizenry. We therefore call on the Government of India and all secular countries to seek an amendment to Article 18 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights by expanding it through the addition of a second sentence: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. However, no individual or organisation may seek to convert an individual or a group of individuals, including minors or individuals of limited cognitive abilities, formally or informally, from one religion to another by offering financial or other material incentives; through physical, mental or emotional coercion; or through threats or intimidation of any kind."

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.

• The BIRD declaration is signed by nearly a thousand Christians addressed to the Prime Minister of India, the USICRF, Secretary General of the United Nations, and President of the European Union. It is available online at www.petitiononline.com/panaveli/petition

• Senior & popular freelance journalist and columnist

• Since 1965 has contributed hundreds of feature articles, interviews, opinions, letters to major newspapers and journals, both English and regional, like Deccan Herald, The Hindu, Times of India, Indian Express, Vijaya Times, Vijay Karnataka, Samyukta Karnataka, People’s Reporter, Malayala Manorama, etc and weekly magazines like The Week, Covert, Illustrated Weekly etc.

• Trade Unionist

o President, Secretary, Treasurer. Committee Member of Grindlays Bank Employees Union in Bangalore for over 25 years. Pariticipated in many strike actions.

o During the discredited Emergency days in 1975-77, established contacts with anti-Emergency activists, wrote several letters in newspapers and magazines criticising the Indira Gandhi’s dreaded regime.

o After those dark days, consistently raised voice for the victims of Emergency, many of whom lost their jobs during that period.

• Campaigner & Crusader for Bangalore’s history, heritage and culture and fought long battles through newspapers mobilizing public opinion for the cause.

• Religious affiliation

• Proudly states that he is a Hindu by culture, Christian by faith and Indian by citizenship

• Member of the Church of South India (CSI), the largest Protestant Church in India, with a total membership of about 4 million. CSI consists of 22 dioceses spread over Andhra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, each one headed by a bishop. I belong to the Karnataka Central Diocese.

• He was the associate treasurer of Karnataka Central Diocese, member of its executive committee and member of its medical and education boards.

• Closely associated with the United Theological College since 1963; YMCA (1963) and its Task Force on Secularism since its inception; Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society since 1969; Ecumenical Christian Centre since 1971;United Christian Fellowship (since 1988); Student Christian Movement since 1968.

• He is also an office bearer of the Ys Men’s Club International since 1983. Y’s Men International the Service Club in partnership with the YMCA. It is also an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lord, empty me..

Lord, empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

Lord, empty me of the selfishness inside

Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride. And any foolishness

my heart holds to.

Lord, empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A moving tribute


By Sudheer Kulkarni


My very dear friend, Asif Ali Khan, is no more. He breathed his last yesterday afternoon at his home near Byculla in Bombay after a prolonged but brave battle with cancer.

I joined a large number of his admirers (among them my longtime friends Javed Anand and Feroze Ashraf) to bid him final goodbye at the Nariyalwadi Qabrastan late in the evening. It’s a very serene place, full of trees and flowering plants. My grief-stricken heart recalled that it was at this very place that Asif, Javed, Ferozebhai and I had come, a little over a year ago, to bid goodbye to our common friend, Sajid Rashid, a renowned Urdu journalist and writer. First Sajid and now Asif, their departure leaves a big void in the field of social activism in a city that direly needs more such activists.

Asif strove passionately all his life for communal harmony, Hindu-Muslim understanding and amity, national integration, and socio-economic and educational progress of the Muslim community. Against all odds, and with an exemplary spirit of selflessness, he pursued ideals that were close to his heart. He constantly and sincerely struggled to build bridges of dialogue and cooperation between people with divergent views on socio-political and religious issues. It’s an endeavour that can easily create misunderstanding and disillusionment. But Asif’s sincerity of purpose and unassuming style of functioning won him the trust and admiration of a wide range of personalities in public life.

Asif gave expression to his thoughts and concerns through cartoons – he had an amazing sense of humour – journalism and non-political social work. He was very dynamic in his work, a person always on the move. Yet, he was also very gentle in the way he worked and interacted with people.

Asif was full of love for life. However, his fullness of love for life flowed from a deep awareness of the injustice, exploitation, cruelty and suffering in the world around him. He hated hypocrisy, bigotry and dogmatism. This dichotomy between Life, that is forever longing and trying to create a better world, and a world that is unable and unwilling to become better, was a source of perpetual sadness for him. But he rarely showed his sadness, except in private conversations with trusted friends. The sadness was well hidden beneath the natural smile on his face. His smiling face (which adorns his Facebook page) greeted me even when I last saw him on Wednesday, even though he was no longer in a position to speak.

My wife Kamaxi and I knew Asif and his family since the mid-1980s. We conveyed our heartfelt condolences to his old and ailing mother, wife Sharifa, their newly wed sons Naved and Rameez, and their daughters-in-law.

Asifbhai, you’ll forever remain in my heart. I am grateful to you for your love and friendship, for your understanding and comradeship. I shall forever remember your unpretentious but internally solid personality; your strength of character; your lifelong endeavour to contribute to justice and peace in this world (in Bombay, our beloved city, to begin with); and for all the happy moments we shared. Surely, you were the kind of person that our Almighty Creator has a special liking and love for.

Father Harry Stocks



Father Harry Stocks, CSC passed away on Saturday, January 19, 2013 at Hospice Niagara (Canada) after a lengthy, courageous and serene struggle with cancer. Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, he was the son of the late Andrew and Jean Hunt Stocks. After his early education, he advanced from copyboy to reporter at newspapers in Edinburgh, Golspie and Glasgow, and then immigrated to Canada in 1957, believing his future lay in print or broadcast media. After a year as the city life reporter on the Toronto Telegram, he changed course dramatically and joined the Congregation of Holy Cross in August1958, after philosophy studies at the University of Notre Dame and theology studies at Holy Cross College in Washington, DC, he was ordained priest in May 1966.

His first assignment, to the Holy Cross Missions in Bangalore, was the beginning of a life-long, passionate commitment to India and its people. He learned the Tamil language and was initiated into his option for the poor by his involvement in two large projects: a workers' centre and a housing project for the homeless. He developed a special sensitivity to people who are deaf and dedicated the next 42 years of his life to their benefit. He built a training centre for the deaf in Bangalore. Its modern equipment enabled students to get jobs especially in many public sector factories in Bangalore. He began a second such centre in Karwar.

His work with the deaf and the workers' movement led to national involvement with several organizations, other religious communities and non-Christian agencies. His work with and advocacy for the deaf extended into Asia. Because of declining health he moved back to Canada. Still he was able to serve as Chaplain to the Deaf Community in the Archdiocese of Toronto from 2005 to 2010. At the same time, from 2005 up to October 2012, Father Harry ministered to the deaf of Niagara at a monthly Mass at St. Kevin's Parish. Because of his poor health, this was not easy for him in the last several months but he carried on with what he called his sacred duty.

His energy that seemed to keep him forever mobile and his unstinting commitment to the poor, especially to the deaf in India, and the deaf he worked with in different networks throughout Asia and in Canada. Fr. Harry was well known for his inimitable Scottish humour.

Father Harry was an instrument of peace, a channel and an avenue through which God’s love and compassion flowed out to others. Essentially his life, as I knew it, was a reminder of prophets in the Old Testament who declared God’s will to the people. “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”

Deeds of righteousness are what make a good and godly man. And these were the stuff of Father Harry’s life. His was a humble walk with God, not visible to people, even to himself. His life was a life lived with God - a life not lived to be visible, approved and applauded. It is not a subject to our pietistic judgement but thrives upon its simplicity and straightforwardness, even dispensing with the culturally prescribed norms of social behaviour. Its deceptive lack of visibility makes for depth and a hidden richness.

Father Harry died not in defeat but in victory, unafraid and in unabated trust in his Maker. He always remained calm and undismayed, never displaying anxiety or concern for himself. In his passing, he has left in me and many others around the world a legacy of compassion and care for others.

P.N.Benjamin Coordinator Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)