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CULTURE-HERITAGE

Pakistan Hindus: Return to Roots

Amidst heightened sectarian strife in Pakistan, both inter-community as well as intra-Islam, a small jatha of Hindu landless labourers has reached the capital in quest of asylum, and eventual citizenship. Growing incidents of abduction and forced conversion, especially of minor girls who disappear behind the veil, have instilled deep insecurity in the minority community over the years. Marauding tablighi groups are fuelling an incandescent intolerance of non-Muslims in society, and hatred for kafirs has acquired a chilling vibrancy.

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Amidst heightened sectarian strife in Pakistan, both inter-community as well as intra-Islam, a small jatha of Hindu landless labourers has reached the capital in quest of asylum, and eventual citizenship. Growing incidents of abduction and forced conversion, especially of minor girls who disappear behind the veil, have instilled deep insecurity in the minority community over the years. Marauding tablighi groups are fuelling an incandescent intolerance of non-Muslims in society, and hatred for kafirs has acquired a chilling vibrancy.

Tensions are particularly high in Sindh, Baluchistan and the North West Frontier Province where Hindus are increasingly being forced to embrace Islam in order to survive. It is from Sindh province that 114 Bagri community members have come to Delhi in the hope of settling down in some congenial place once the central government grants permission to stay.

The Bagris originally hail from Chittorgarh, Rajasthan, and claim their ancestors fought alongside Maharana Pratap. When Sindh opted for Pakistan at the time of partition, they found themselves beached in the new country. Bagris comprise around 10 percent of Pakistan’s Hindu population; they worship Ram ji, Krishen ji, Hanuman ji and Durga.

In Pakistan, they were always the children of a lesser god. Group leaders Ganga Ram Bagri (45) and Arjun Das Bagri (40) say their generation was born in Pakistan and in their personal memory, things deteriorated sharply for Hindus under Gen. Zia. They do not remember earlier rulers, but hold Gen. Pervez Musharraf as the best as he did not persecute Hindus. Even Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was not bad, they aver, but Benazir Bhutto was not good from a minority perspective. Indians who recall her hysterical ranting on Kashmir, and crude gestures to dismember Governor Jagmohan, would have no difficulty endorsing this view.

Amidst the enhanced Islamisation of Pakistani society, the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya was a distinct watershed. Hindu temples were looted and razed en masse with bulldozers, women brutalized, priests beaten up, and the community terrorized. Now temples mostly survive as small shrines within homes. Hardly a handful still function in public places, mostly where the Hindu population is large or good Muslims protect them. The Ravidas Mandir in Haiderabad, Sindh, is still safe, as is the Balmiki temple, because the community is needed for the services it provides.

But the intensified activism of the tablighi jamaat is making life increasingly hellish for Hindus. There is no sunwai (justice) when Hindu girls are kidnapped, converted, married off and never seen again; fear is a constant companion. The al-jahaad (eternal fight) is menacing and all-pervasive.

The bitterest conflicts centre round the cremation of the dead, with tablighi adherents insisting on burials. There are violent fights every time a person dies, and in some places like Matiari, local Hindus have been forced to bury the dead in separate spaces, apart from the Muslim graveyards. This refugee group successfully resisted burials by going far into the Sindh river to cremate the bodies on sandbars; but each death sees violence, for such is the hatred of Hindus.

Cumulative stress and encouragement from some visiting Hindu leaders made the Bagris secretly plan to return to their roots in India. Ganga Ram said they tried several times to get visas to visit India in the last five years, but were refused each time. Finally this year, they managed to join a jatha of 500 pilgrims, and armed with visas to visit multiple Indian cities like Amritsar, Haridwar, Raipur, Indore and others, crossed the Atari border on Sept. 4, 2011.

After visiting the Golden Temple and spending four days at Amritsar, this group of 114 persons arrived in Delhi on Sept. 8 and took refuge in the Dera Dhunni Das Ji at Majnu ka Tila. The current Baba, H.H. Rajkumar Pappu Ji, is continuing a tradition established by his grandfather, H.H. Dhunni Dass Ji, who regularly visited Pakistan to give solace to his devotees and took care of those who arrived in India and did not wish to return. Under his guidance, the group has appealed to the Prime Minister, the President, and the National Human Rights Commission for refugee status as their visas have long expired.

They are determined not to return, they say, for the sake of their religion and the girl-children. The Bagris are now keen to educate their children as hitherto girls could not be educated for fear of their safety, and boys could not be educated as the education incited them against the faith and inevitably resulted in conversions. Ashram volunteer Naveen Jain observed that the women and girls have blossomed in their short stay in India. When they arrived barely a month ago, they used to cower behind black chadors; the volunteers literally tore these ‘masks’ off and told them to live and breathe freely. They have adapted beautifully.

The men hope to get work as agricultural labour in neighbouring states, as that is the only occupation they know. Pakistan, they reminiscence, is rich in water resources and food is plentiful; they is no real poverty. But there is too much beimani (cheating) and Hindu sharecroppers are not given their dues, which makes many convert under pressure. The large landlords of Sindh are brutal and some even maintain private jails where Hindu labour is incarcerated at night, which means they are slaves and get no wages, only food for subsistence.

Rich Hindus are hardly better off, they reveal, as they are constantly harassed for protection money. Recently, on Nov. 9, four Hindu doctors were shot dead in Chak town of Sindh; police hinted at a dispute involving a girl. The Bagri refugees, however, said that as the attack took place on Id, it was most likely part of an extortion racket flourishing in the area.

Undeniably, Sindh’s Hindu community lives in great anxiety and insecurity. On Nov. 13, at a mass wedding organised by the Pakistan Hindu Council, hundreds took a pledge of allegiance to the State of Pakistan. This political gesture, completely out of sync with the social occasion, is a telling commentary on Pakistan’s inability to weave religious tolerance into its national ethos, and its insistence on Islam as the basis of nationhood even when Islam has utterly failed to weld any Muslim society together. Islam desperately needs a reformation to acknowledge non-Islamic factors like ancient civilisation, culture, or ethnicity, in the making of a nation.

Note from Human Rights Defense (India)

Citizens wishing to help the refugees may contact Mr. Rajesh Gogna, General Secretary, Human Rights Defense (India), at rajeshgogna@hrdi.inor

Contact No.9911222251 (only messages)

or
Mr: Vaibhav Anand Mob: 9953869922

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.

This article was first published on Vijayvaani website here

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CULTURE-HERITAGE

Varanasi to Hold a Two Day ‘Sanskriti Mahotsav’

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To celebrate the creative and cultural industries in Varanasi and to focus attention on the need for Swachhta by using cultural forms, a Sanskriti Mahotsav “Swachhagrah – Bapu ko Kaaryaanjali” is being organized on February 21-22 at the Man Mandir Ghat and Assi Ghat in Varanasi.

The Mahotsav will integrate the tangible and intangible heritage along the river-belt and will see the engagement of the academia, artists, artisans, writers, poets, environmental and cultural forums on the use of cultural expressions for conservation and protection of the river and the ancient city.

The Swachhtadrive will be steered by school-children affiliated to Ministry of Culture, Government of India’s Interpretation Centres through exhibitions, songs, puppetry, nukkad nataks and folk dances.

The 2-day event would focus on performances on the theme of ‘Swachhagraha’ presented under the rubric of ‘Swachhagraha: Bapu ko Karyanjali’.

The Mahotsav will cover a profusion of art forms from classical, folk music, dance and visual arts and would offer the chance to experience the best in established and emerging virtuosity. An exhibition on Varanasi curated by the National Archives will be showcased at the Man Mandir ghat to the creation of Virtual Museum.

The National Gallery of Modern Art in partnership with the Fine Arts School of BHU will conduct painting and terracotta-sculpture workshops for students of Cultural Interpretation Centres set up in several schools by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

Installations and large canvases drawn by children on the theme of Swachhta will be exhibited at prominent places and ghats of the city. Buses, Boats provided by the District Administration and prominent walls will be covered with graffiti art and with multicoloured murals and tags celebrating the theme of ‘Swachhagraha: Bapu ko Kaaryaanjali’.

During the Swachhagraha Music and Dance Festival, the classical arts of Varanasi will be celebrated at a stage created at the Man Mandir ghat. On 21st February, the program will start with a tabla recital by five-year-old Avantika Mishra, granddaughter of Padma Vibhushan Pandit Kishan Maharaj.

The LIVE coverage of Ras Banaras Mahotsav can be seen on the Youtube channel of Sanskriti.goi from 6 PM on February 21 and February 22.

Children from the Interpretation Centres will perform Swachhta Geet. The duo of Pandit Narendra Mishra and Pandit Pooran Maharaj will perform on Sitar and Tabla respectively while Sanjeev and Ashwini Shankar will perform on Shahnai. In the dance segment, Saurav and Gaurav (from the Benaras Gharana) will perform Kathak dance.

A melange of colourful and traditional handicraft and textiles from Varanasi and other parts of the country will form part of a Crafts Bazaar at Assi Ghat. Art connoisseurs will get a chance to interact with artisans and watch their work in progress.

The bazaar will include folk performances by folk singers and dancers from different states with a special focus on Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, the states paired with Uttar Pradesh under the Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat matrix. A small food corner will also bring out the aroma of Varanasi and tribal cuisine from Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.

On the second day of the Mahotsav, the evening will open with the Swachhta Geet by children, followed by Malini Awasthi’s vocal rendition. She will be followed by Kathak dancer, Vishal Krishna. The event will end with Shruti Sadolikar’s classical rendition. Ravindra Jaiswal, MLA, Varanasi North, Dr Neelkanth Tiwari, MLA, Varanasi South, Saurabh Srivastav, MLA, Varanasi Cantt., Surendra Narayan Singh, MLA, Rohaniyan and Neel Ratan Singh Patel, MLA, Sevapuri will also grace the occasion.

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Global Theatre Olympics Arrives in India for the First Time

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The 8th Global Theatre Olympics will be inaugurated at the Red Fort in New Delhi on February 17, 2018, by Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu. This Global Theatre Festival is being held in India for the first time.

Addressing media persons at the National School of Drama in New Delhi today, the Minister of State for Culture (I/C) and Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Dr Mahesh Sharma said that it is for the first time in the history of independent India that a theatre festival of such a large magnitude is being organized.

The 51-day-long event will travel to 17 Indian cities with 450 shows, 600 ambience performances and 250 power packed youth forum shows. 25000 artists from across the globe will participate in the festival which will conclude on April 08, 2018 with a grand ceremony at the iconic Gateway of India in Mumbai.

Speaking on the occasion, the Acting Chairman of National School of Drama Society, Dr Arjun Deo Charan said, “We are extremely proud to bring the world’s largest theatre festival to India. During this 51-day long nationwide celebration of the 8th Theatre Olympics, we attempt to bridge the borders across countries through the call of theatre and engage in creating a global village”.

Prof. Waman Kendre, Director, National School of Drama said “We should be proud of our theatre legacy that is more than 2500 years old. This illustrious event provides a unique opportunity for cultural exchange through the medium of theatrical art. With this international event, we wish to express our theatre practices, its variations, philosophies and the sheer strength of our texts, narratives and ways of presentation in front of a global audience. In return we extend our arms to welcome the practices, ideologies and philosophies of visiting performers. The objective is to create a platform for conversation between voices of Indian and global artists with an intent to enrich our collective understanding and expression of art,”.

The theatrical extravaganza is being hosted in India by the National School of Drama under the aegis of Ministry of Culture, Government of India. The theme of the 8th Theatre Olympics is “Flag of Friendship” that aims to bridge borders and bring people of different cultures, beliefs and ideologies together through the medium of theatrical art.

The 8th Theatre Olympics is being organized with a budget of Rs.51.81 Crore and the performances will be held in 30 Indian languages, 15 foreign languages as well as non-verbal languages.

Participants from 30 countries including Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lithuania, Mauritius, Nepal, Poland, Russia, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, U.K and U.S.A would showcase their acumen in theatre. The foreign invitees are Theodoros Terzopoulos (Chairman of International Committee of Theatre Olympics, Greece), Tadashi Suzuki (Japan), Robert Wilson (U.S.A), Liu Libin (China), Jaroslaw Fret (Poland), SahikaTekand (Turkey), Eugenio Barba (Denmark), Romeo Castellucci (Italy), Heiner Goebbels (Germany), PippoDelbono (Italy), Jan Fabre (Belgium). Among the Indian theatre maestros are RatanThiyam, AlyquePadamsee, Rudra Prasad Sengupta, M.K Raina, Raj Bisaria, Bansi Kaul, Prof.Tripurari Sharma, Maya Rao and Soumitra Chatterjee.

Numerous allied activities like exhibitions, symposia, ‘Interface’ and workshops with well-known academicians, authors, actors, designers and directors are scheduled to take place across 17 cities.

The allied programs would boast of 60 ‘Living Legends’ series and 50 ‘Master Classes’. The 8th Theatre Olympics would also include 2 international seminars in Delhi and Mumbai with 6 national seminars in Bhopal, Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Kolkata and Varanasi.

Theatre and film veterans of the likes of Shabana Azmi, Paresh Rawal, Manoj Joshi, Himani Shivpuri, Seema Biswas and Saurabh Shukla will also take part during this grand theatrical treat.

The foreign invitees are Theodoros Terzopoulos (Chairman of International Committee of Theatre Olympics, Greece), Tadashi Suzuki (Japan), Robert Wilson (U.S.A), Liu Libin (China), Jaroslaw Fret (Poland), SahikaTekand (Turkey), Eugenio Barba (Denmark), Romeo Castellucci (Italy), Heiner Goebbels (Germany), PippoDelbono (Italy), Jan Fabre (Belgium). Among the Indian theatre maestros are RatanThiyam, AlyquePadamsee, Rudra Prasad Sengupta, M.K Raina, Raj Bisaria, Bansi Kaul, Prof.Tripurari Sharma, Maya Rao and Soumitra Chatterjee.

During the festival, plays will be held in Agartala, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Delhi, Guwahati, Imphal, Jaipur, Jammu, Kolkata, Mumbai, Patna, Thiruvananthapuram and Varanasi.

About Theatre Olympics

The Theatre Olympics was established in 1993 at Delphi, Greece. Being an international theatre festival, the Theatre Olympics presents some of the greatest theatre practitioners from around the world. It is a platform for theatrical exchange, a gathering place for students and masters, where a dialogue despite ideological, culture and language differences is encouraged.

Since 1993, the Theatre Olympics has been held seven times in the following countries: Japan (1999), Russia (2001), Turkey (2006), South Korea (2010), China (2014), Poland (2016). The theme of the latest edition of Theatre Olympics being held in India is “Flag of Friendship”. This most awaited event of world theatre in India attempts to bring all the creative minds from across the globe to this ‘NatyaMahakumbh’.

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Veteran Ottanthullal Artist Geethanandan Passes Away During Performance

Acclaimed Ottanthullal artiste Kalamandalam Geethanandan passed away while delivering a performance on Sunday at Avittathur, Kerala.

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Acclaimed Ottanthullal artiste Kalamandalam Geethanandan passed away while delivering a performance on Sunday at Avittathur, Kerala.

The 58-year-old theatre artiste and film actor collapsed on stage in the middle of the act. He was given first aid and rushed to the hospital. However, he could not be saved.

Geethanandan had given more than 5,000 stage shows since the age of nine. He became the teacher of Ottanthullal at Kerala Kalalamandalam in 1983 and remained the head of the department for over 25 years. His contribution to Kerala’s classical theatre art form is immense.

He was also the first Ottanthullal artiste to perform in France in 1984, according to media reports.

Geethanandan had also worked in the Malayalam film industry. He made his big screen acting debut with Kamaladalam, which had Mohanlal in the lead role, in 1992. He also acted in films like Thooval Kottaram, Manasinakkare, Narendran Magan Jayakanthan Vaga, among others.

Malayalam actor Kavya Madhavan learnt Ottanthullal under Geethanandan’s guidance. Celebrities and high-profile people from different walks of life expressed their condolences on Twitter.

“The legendary Ottanthullal artiste Shri Kalamandalam Geethanandan passes away on stage, right in the middle of his performance in Avitatthur temple in Kerala! What a dream death for any performing artiste! Prayers and condolences! Atma Shanti!,” tweeted author and art critic Veejay Sai.

Ottanthulal is a classical dance form from Kerala, performed by very few artists now. Thullal, a solo performance, based on poetry combines dance and recitations, is one of the oldest art forms of Kerala. It finds its origins in the Natya Shastra, belonging to the 2nd century B.C. Verses of the renowned 18th century poet Kunchan Nambiar are often used for Ottanthulal performances.

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