Friday, December 31, 2010

Bipin Chandra Pal

Bipin Chandra Pal (Bangla:বিপিন চন্দ্র পাল) ( November 7, 1858 - May 20, 1932) was an Indian nationalist. He was among the triumvirate of Lal Bal Pal.

Early life and background

Bipin Chandra Pal was born in Poil Village, Habiganj District, Bangladesh, in a wealthy Hindu Vaishnava family. His father was Ramchandra Pal, a Persian scholar and small landowner. His son was Niranjan pal, one of the founders of Bombay Talkies. B.C. Pal is known as the 'Father Of Revolutionary Thoughts' in India and was one of the freedom fighters of India.


Bipin Chandra Pal was a teacher, journalist, orator, writer and librarian, he was famous as one of the triumvirate of three militant patriots of the Congresses - the "Pal" of Lal Bal Pal. The trio were responsible for initiating the first popular upsurge against British colonial policy in the 1905 partition of Bengal, before the advent of Gandhi into Indian politics. Pal was also the founder of the journal Bande Mataram.

Even though he understood the positive aspects of Empire as a `great idea', the `Federal-idea is greater'. In both public and private life he was radical. He married a widow (he had to sever ties to his family for this). At the time of B. G. Tilak's ("Bal") arrest and government repression in 1907, he left for England, where he was briefly associated with the radical India House and founded the Swaraj journal. However, political repercussions the wake of Curson Wyllie's assassination in 1909 by Madanlal Dhingra lead to the collapse of this publication, driving Pal to penury and mental collapse in London. In the aftermath of totally moved away from his 'extremist' phase and even nationalism, as he contemplated an association of free nations as the great federal-idea. His plea for a transcendence to a broader entity than nation derived from the notion of the sociability of human beings, which he thought would create a common bond between nations. He was among the first to criticize Gandhi or the 'Gandhi cult' since it `sought to replace the present government by no government or by the priestly autocracy of the Mahatma.' His criticism of Gandhi was persistent beginning with Gandhi's arrival in India and open in 1921 session of the Indian National Congress he delivered in his presidential speech a severe criticism of Gandhi's ideas as based on magic rather than logic, addressing Gandhi: 'You wanted magic. I tried to give you logic. But logic is in bad odour when the popular mind is excited. You wanted mantaram, I am not a Rishi and cannot give Mantaram...I have never spoken a half-truth when I know the truth...I have never tried to lead people in faith blind-folded', for his 'priestly, pontifical tendencies', his alliance with pan-Islamism during the Khilafat movement, which led to Pal's eclipse from political life from 1922 till his death in 1932 under conditions of abject poverty. Comparing Gandhi with Leo Tolstoy during the year he died, Pal noted that Tolstoy 'was an honest philosophical anarchist' while Gandhi remained in his eyes as 'a papal autocrat' Firm and ethically grounded, not only did he perceive the 'Congress Babel' in terms of its shortsightedness in late 1920s or, Congress as an instance of repudiating debt's folly, composed of a generation 'that knows no Joseph', Pal's critical comments should be located in context, since nobody can jump out of his skin of time. An estimation of Bipin Chandra Pal's entire corpus and the depth of his published writing cannot produce a fair idea or provide due justice if that is produced with the benefit of post-independence hindsight. Though there are many articles and books written about him from India and Europe, most of which is not hagiographical, his 'pen played not an inconsiderable part in the political and social ferments that have stirred the aters of Indian life', as the Earl of Ronaldshay wrote in 1925, what Nehru said in a speech during Pal's birth centenary in 1958 surmises 'a great man who functioned on a high level on both religious and political planes' opens a gate for enquiring this high-minded yet anomalous persona.

The trio had advocated extremist means to get their message across to the British, like boycotting British manufactured goods, burning Western clothes made in the mills of Manchester and strikes and lockouts of British owned businesses and industrial concerns.

He came under the influence of eminent Bengali leaders,not as a hero-worshipper or somebody looking for a guru for guidance, of his time such as Keshab Chandra Sen and Sibnath Sastri, as his family were in Brahmo Samaj. He was imprisoned for six months on the grounds of his refusal to give evidence against Sri Aurobindo in the Bande Mataram sedition case.

He died on May 20, 1932.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Senapati Bapat

Pandurang Mahadev Bapat
(November 12, 1880 – November 28, 1967), popularly known as Senapati Bapat, was a major figure in the Indian independence movement.

Educated in Edinburgh, Bapat learned bomb-making skills during his association with the India House in London, although he later claimed that none of his bombs ever killed anyone, but were rather intended solely to draw attention to the cause. Despite these claims, he was suspected of involvement in the deaths in the Alipore bomb case of 1908, and he went underground for four years.

While in hiding, Bapat travelled the country, and discovered that the majority of the Indian population did not realize that their country was under foreign rule. At this point, his focus shifted from overthrowing the British government to educating the population. After four years of teaching, he was captured and imprisoned - the first of three jail sentences he served. His second jail sentence was for vandalism of the Tata Mulshi Dam construction project in defense of those whose homes were threatened by the dam; rather than be captured for this, he turned himself in. His third jail sentence was for speaking at a public gathering held by Subhash Chandra Bose.

On August 15, 1947 - Indian Independence Day - Bapat was given the honor of raising the Indian national flag over the city of Pune for the first time. A famous public road in Pune as well as in Mumbai are named in his honour.

Shaheed Udham Singh

Udham Singh (December 26, 1899 - July 31, 1940) was an Indian Freedom Fighter, best known for assassinating Michael O'Dwyer in March 1940 in what has been described as an avenging of the Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre.

Udham Singh changed his name to "Mohammad Singh Azad" and was also known as Ram Mohammed Singh Azad, symbolizing the unification of the three major religions of India: Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism. Singh is considered one of the best-known of the more extremist revolutionaries of the Indian freedom struggle; he is also sometimes referred to as Shaheed-i-Azam Sardar Udham Singh (the expression "Shaheed-i-Azam," Urdu: شهید اعظم, means "the great martyr"). Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh along with Chandrasekhar Azad, Rajguru and Sukhdev, were the more famous names out of scores of young firebrand freedom fighters in the early part of 20th-century India. These young men believed their motherland would win her freedom only through the forceful removal of the British rulers. For their strong belief in the use of violent means to achieve India's freedom, a nervous England labelled these men as "India's earliest Marxists/Bolsheviks".

In 1940, almost 21 years after the Amritsar Massacre of 1919 in Punjab province of India, Singh shot the unsuspecting 76 years old Michael O'Dwyer while he was attending a lecture meet at Caxton Hall in London. O'Dwyer had been Governor of the Punjab in 1919, when Brigadier General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer ordered British troops to fire on unarmed Indian protesters, who included many Sikhs.

Early life

Sher Singh was born in Sunam in the Sangrur district of Punjab to a Sikh farming family headed by Sardar Tehal Singh (known as Chuhar Singh before taking the Amrit). Udham Singh belonged to Kamboj lineage. Sardar Tehal Singh was at that time working as a watchman on a railway crossing in the neighbouring village of Upall. Sher Singh's mother died in 1901. His father followed in 1907.

With the help of Bhai Kishan Singh Ragi, both Sher Singh and his elder brother, Mukta Singh, were taken in by the Central Khalsa Orphanage Putlighar in Amritsar on October 24, 1907. They were administered the Sikh initiatory rites at the orphanage and received new names: Sher Singh became Udham Singh, and Mukta Singh became Sadhu Singh. Sadhu Singh died in 1917, which came as a great shock to his brother. While at orphanage, Udham Singh was trained in various arts and crafts. He passed his matriculation examination in 1918 and left the orphanage in 1919.

Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh

On April 13, 1919, over twenty thousand unarmed Indians, mainly Punjabis , peacefully assembled in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, to listen to several prominent local leaders speak out against British colonial rule in India and against the arrest and deportation of Dr. Satya Pal, Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew, and few others under the unpopular Rowlatt Act. Udham Singh and his friends from the orphanage were serving water to the crowd on a warm summer afternoon.

Not much later, a band of 90 soldiers armed with rifles and khukris (Gurkha short swords) marched to the park accompanied by two armoured cars with mounted machine guns. The vehicles were unable to enter the Bagh owing to the narrow entrance. Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer was in command. The troops had entered the Bagh by about 5:15 PM. With no warning to the crowd to disperse, Dwyer ordered his troops to open fire, concentrating especially on the areas where the crowd was thickest. The attack lasted ten minutes. Since the only exit was barred by soldiers, people tried to climb the walls of the park. Some also jumped into a well inside the compound to escape the bullets. A plaque in the monument says that 120 bodies were plucked out of the well alone.

By the time the smoke cleared, hundreds of people had been killed and thousands injured. Official estimates put the figures at 379 killed (337 men, 41 boys and a six week old baby) and 200 injured, but other reports estimated the deaths well over 1,000 and possibly 1,300. According to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Girdhari Lal, the deaths were more than 1,000. Swami Shardanand places the figure at more than 1,500. Dr Smith, Civil Surgeon of Amritsar, gives an even larger number: 1,800 dead. The casualty figures were never fully ascertained for political reasons. The wounded could not be moved from where they had fallen, as a curfew had been declared. Debate about the actual figures continues to this day. Official figures say that 1,650 rounds of ammunition had been used.

Udham Singh mainly held Michael O'Dwyer responsible for what came to be known as the Amritsar Massacre. New research supporting this fact reveal the massacre to have occurred with the Governor's full connivance "to teach the Indians a lesson, to make a wide impression and to strike terror through-out Punjab". The incident had greatly shaken young Udham Singh and proved a turning point in his life. After bathing in the holy sarovar (pool of nectar), Udham Singh took a silent vow and solemn pledge in front of the Golden Temple to wreak a vengeance on the perpetrators of the crime and to restore honour to what he saw as a humiliated nation.

Revolutionary and freedom fighter

Singh plunged into active politics and became a dedicated revolutionary. He left the orphanage and moved from one country to another to achieve his secret objective, aiming ultimately to reach his prey in London. At various stages in his life, Singh went by the following names: Sher Singh, Udham Singh, Udhan Singh, Ude Singh, Uday Singh, Frank Brazil, and Ram Mohammed Singh Azad. He reached Africa in 1920, moving to Nairobi in 1921. Singh tried for the United States but was unsuccessful. He returned to India in 1924, reaching the U.S. that same year. There Singh became actively involved with freedom fighters of the Ghadar Party, an Indian group known for its revolutionary politics and its legendary founder, Sohan Singh Bhakna. Singh spent three years in revolutionary activities in the U.S. and organised Overseas Indians for the freedom struggle. He returned to India in July 1927 on orders from Bhagat Singh. He was accompanied by 25 associates from the U.S. and brought a consignment of revolvers and ammunition.

On 30 August 1927 Udham Singh was arrested at Amritsar for possession of unlicensed arms. Some revolvers, a quantity of ammunition, and copies of a prohibited Ghadar Party paper called "Ghadr-i-Gunj" ("Voice of Revolt") were confiscated. He was prosecuted under section 20 of the Arms Act. In the court, Udham Singh stated that he fully intended to send British Imperialists in India to their violent deaths, and that he fully sympathised with the Bolsheviks whose objective was to liberate India from foreign oppression. Singh was sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment. He stayed in jail for four years, missing the peak of India's revolutionary period and the actions of men like Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad. Bhagat Singh was executed at the gallows with his fellow revolutionaries Raj Guru and Sukhdev on March 23, 1931 for the murder of Deputy Superintendent of the Police J. P. Saunders, while Udham Singh was still in jail.

Udham Singh was released from jail on 23 October 1931. He returned to his native Sunam, but constant harassment from the local police on account of his revolutionary activities led him back to Amritsar. There he opened a shop as a signboard painter, assuming the name of Mohammed Singh Azad.

For three years, Udham Singh continued his revolutionary activities in Punjab and also worked on a plan to reach London to finish O'Dwyer. His movements were under constant surveillance by the Punjab police. He visited his native village in 1933, then proceeded to Kashmir on a clandestine revolutionary mission, where he was able to dupe the police and escaped to Germany. Singh ultimately reached London in 1934 and took up residence at 9 Adler Street, Whitechapel (East London) near Commercial Road. According to the secret reports of British Police, Singh was on the move in India till early 1934, then he reached Italy and stayed there for 3–4 months. From Italy he proceeded to France, Switzerland and Austria and finally reached England in 1934 where he purchased and used his own car for travelling purposes. His real objective however, always remained Michael O'Dwyer. Singh also purchased a six-chamber revolver and a load of ammunition. Despite numerous opportunities to strike, Singh awaited a right time when he could make more impact with the killing and internationalize the event.

Shooting in Caxton Hall

At last, the opportunity came on 13 March 1940, almost 21 years after the Jallianwala Bagh killings: A joint meeting of the East India Association and the Royal Central Asian Society was scheduled at Caxton Hall( ), and among the speakers was Michael O'Dwyer. Singh concealed his revolver in a book specially cut for the purpose and managed to enter Caxton Hall. He took up his position against the wall. At the end of the meeting, the gathering stood up, and O'Dwyer moved towards the platform to talk to Lord Zetland. Singh pulled his revolver and fired. O'Dwyer was hit twice and died immediately. Then Singh fired at Lord Zetland, the Secretary of State for India, injuring him but not seriously. Incidentally, Sir Luis Dane was hit by one shot, which broke his radius bone and dropped him to the ground with serious injuries. A bullet also hit Lord Lamington, whose right hand was shattered. Udham Singh did not intend to escape. He was arrested on the spot.

His weapon,a knife, his diary, along with a bullet fired on the day are now kept in the Black Museum of Scotland Yard.

Reaction to Caxton Hall Shooting

Back in India, there was a strong reaction to this assassination. While the Congress-controlled English speaking press of India condemned Singh's action in general terms, independents like Amrit Bazar Patrika and New Statesman took different views. In its March 18, 1940 issue, Amrit Bazar Patrika wrote, "O'Dwyer's name is connected with Punjab incidents which India will never forget". New Statesman observed: "British conservatism has not discovered how to deal with Ireland after two centuries of rule. Similar comment may be made on British rule in India. Will the historians of the future have to record that it was not the Nazis but the British ruling class which destroyed the British Empire?"

Indians all over regarded Singh's action as justified and an important step in India's struggle to end British colonial rule in India. At a public meeting in Kanpur, a speaker stated that "at last an insult and humiliation of the nation had been avenged". In 1940, Britain was in the midst of fighting for its survival in Europe and depended heavily on supplies from India to support the war effort. Nervous about any threat to their wartime supply lifelines from the heartlands of India, the British Government in India would receive fortnightly reports on the political situation sent from local administrators all over India. In several such reports, local administrators would quote local leaders (who were usually sympathetic to British rule) as saying "It is true that we had no love lost for Michael O'Dwyer. The indignities he heaped upon our countrymen in Punjab have not been forgotten". Similar sentiments were expressed at numerous other places country-wide.

This groundswell of anti-British feeling, say many historians, served as the launch pad for Mahatma Gandhi's Quit India movement launched two years later in 1942, that triggered the end of British rule in India just five years later in 1947, culminating in Indian independence on Aug. 15, 1947.

Ironically, in a statement to the Press, Mahatama Gandhi had condemned the Caxton Hall shooting saying that "the outrage has caused me deep pain. I regard it as an act of insanity...I hope this will not be allowed to affect political judgement". A week later, Harijan, his newspaper further wrote: "We had our differences with Michael O'Dwyer but that should not prevent us from being grieved over his assassination. We have our grievances against Lord Zetland. We must fight his reactionary policies, but there should be no malice or vindictiveness in our resistance. The accused is intoxicated with thought of bravery".

Pt Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in his National Herald: "Assassination is regretted but it is earnestly hoped that it will not have far-reaching repercussions on political future of India. We have not been unaware of the trend of the feeling of non-violence, particularly among the younger section of Indians. Situation in India demands immediate handling to avoid further deterioration and we would warn the Government that even Gandhi's refusal to start civil disobedience instead of being God-send may lead to adoption of desperate measures by the youth of the country".

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose was the only public leader of great importance who approved of Udham Singh's action. Bose advocated the approach that the political instability of war-time Britain should be taken advantage of—rather than simply wait for the British to grant independence after the end of the war (which was the view of Gandhi, Nehru and a section of the Congress leadership at the time). Bose advocated a campaign of mass civil disobedience to protest against Viceroy Lord Linlithgow's decision to declare war on India's behalf without consulting the Congress leadership. Having failed to persuade Gandhi of the necessity of this, Bose organised mass protests in Calcutta. As R.C. Aggarwara writes in his 'Constitutional History of India and National Movement' the daring deed of Udham Singh blew the bugle for renewed struggle of India's freedom struggle.

The Punjab section of Congress Party in the Punjab Assembly led by Dewan Chaman Lal had refused to vote for the Premier's motion framed to express abhorrence and condemnation of the Caxton Hall outrage as well as to express sympathy with Lady O'Dwyer.

In the Annual Session of All India Congress Committee (April 1940) held at Ramgarh where a National Week (6 to 13 April) in commemoration of 21st anniversary of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre was being observed, the youth wing of the Indian National Congress Party started raising revolutionary slogans "Udham Singh Zindabad", "Long Live Udham Singh" and "Inquilab Zindabad" in support of Udham Singh approving and applauding his action as patriotic and heroic.

Indian Government's own secret reports abundantly reveal that the murder of O'Dwyer had proved a catalyst to ignite and excite great satisfaction among the people of India.

Most of the press worldwide remembered the story of Jallianwala Bagh and held Michael O'Dwyer fully responsible for the events. Singh was called "fighter for freedom" by The Times, London, and his action was said to be "an expression of the pent-up fury of the downtrodden Indian People". Bergeret, published in large-scale from Rome at that time, ascribed the greatest significance to the circumstance and praised Udham Singh's action as courageous. Berliner Borsen Zeitung called the event "The torch of the Indian freedom", and German radio repeatedly broadcast: "The cry of tormented people spoke with shots". and "Like the elephants, the Indians never forgive their enemies. They strike them down even after 20 years".

Trial and execution

While in Police custody, Singh remarked: "Is Zetland dead? He ought to be. I put two into him right there", indicating with his hand the pit of his stomach on the left side. Singh remained quiet for several minutes and then again said: "Only one dead, eh? I thought I could get more. I must have been too slow. There were a lot of women about, you know".

A photo exhibit shows Udham Singh (second from the left) being taken away from Taxon Hall after the assassination of Michael O’ Dwyer

On 1 April 1940, Udham Singh was formally charged with the murder of Michael O'Dwyer. While awaiting trial in Brixton Prison Udham Singh went on a 42-day hunger strike and had to be forcibly fed daily. On 4 June 1940, he was committed to trial, at the Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey, before Justice Atkinson. When the court asked about his name, he replied "Ram Mohammad Singh Azad", which demonstrated his transcendence of race, caste, creed, and religion.[31] Singh explained: "I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it."

Atkinson sentenced him to death. On 31 July 1940, Udham Singh was hanged at Pentonville Prison. As with other executed prisoners, he was buried later that afternoon within the prison grounds. In March 1940, Indian National Congress leaders, including Jawahar Lal Nehru and Mahatama Gandhi, condemned the action of Udham as senseless, but in 1962, Nehru did an about turn and applauded Singh with the following statement in the daily Partap: "I salute Shaheed-i-Azam Udham Singh with reverence who had kissed the noose so that we may be free.".

Hindustan Socialist Republican Army condemned Mahatama Gandhi's statement referring to Bhagat Singh as well as also to the capital punishment of Udham Singh, which it considered to be a challenge to the Indian Youths.


In July 1974, Udham Singh's remains were exhumed and repatriated to India at the request of S. Sadhu Singh Thind, an MLA from Sultanpur Lodhi at that time. He asked Indira Gandhi to request that the then-British Government hand over Udham Singh's remains to India. Sadhu Singh Thind himself went to England as a special envoy of the Indian Government and brought back the remains of the Shaheed. He was given a martyr's reception. Among those who received his casket at Delhi airport were Shankar Dayal Sharma, then president of the Congress Party, and Zail Singh, then chief minister of Punjab, both of whom later went on to become Presidents of India. Indira Gandhi, the prime minister, also laid a wreath. He was later cremated in his birthplace of Sunam in Punjab and his ashes were immersed in the sutlej river.

Friday, December 24, 2010


By Francois Gautier

When Prime Minister Vajpayee was in the US in September (2000) , the National Association of Asian Christians in the US (whom nobody had heard about before), paid $ 50,000 to the New York Times to publish "an Open Letter to the Honorable Atal Bihari Vajpayee, prime minister of India."

While "warmly welcoming the PM," The NAAC expressed deep concern about the "persecution" of Christians in India by "extremist" (meaning Hindu) groups mentioning as examples "the priest, missionaries and church workers who have been murdered," the nuns "raped," and the potential enacting of conversion laws, which would make "genuine" conversions illegal. The letter concluded by saying "that Christians in India today live in fear."

The whole affair was an embarrassment (as it was intended to be) to Mr. Vajpayee and the Indian delegation, which had come to prod American businessmen to invest in India, a peaceful, pro-Western and democratic country.

I am born a Christian and I have had a strong Catholic education. I do believe that Christ was an incarnation of Pure Love and that His Presence still radiates in the world. I also believe there are human beings who sincerely try to incarnate the ideals of Jesus and that you can find today in India a few missionaries (such as Father Ceyrac, a French Jesuit, who works mostly with lepers in Tamil Nadu) who are incarnations of that Love, tending tirelessly to people, without trying to convert them.

But I have also lived for more than 30 years in India, I am married to an Indian, I have travelled the length and breadth of this country and I have evolved a love and an understanding of India, which few other foreign correspondents have because they are never posted long enough to start getting a real feeling of this vast and often baffling country (nobody can claim to fully understand India). And this is what I have to say about the "persecution" of Christians in India.

Firstly, it is necessary to bring about a little bit of a historical flashback, which very few foreign correspondents (and unfortunately also Indian journalists) care to do, which would make for a more balanced view of the problem.

If ever there was persecution, it was of the Hindus at the hands of Christians, who were actually welcomed in this country, as they have been welcomed in no other place on this planet. Indeed, the first Christian community of the world, that of the Syrian Christians, was established in Kerala in the first century. They were able to live in peace and practice their religion freely, even imbibing some of the local Hindu customs, thereby breaking the Syrian Church in two.

When Vasco de Gama landed in Kerala in 1498, he was generously received by the Zamorin, the Hindu king of Calicut, who granted him the right to establish warehouses for commerce. But once again, Hindu tolerance was exploited and the Portuguese wanted more and more. In 1510, Alfonso de Albuquerque seized Goa, where he started a reign of terror, burning "heretics," crucifying Brahmins, using false theories to forcibly convert the lower castes, razing temples to build churches upon them and encouraging his soldiers to take Indian mistresses.

Indeed, the Portuguese perpetrated here some of the worst atrocities ever committed in Asia by Christianity upon another religion. Ultimately, the Portuguese had to be kicked out of India, when all other colonisers had already left.

British missionaries in India were always supporters of colonialism. They encouraged it and their whole structure was based on "the good Western civilized world being brought to the Pagans." Because, in the words of Claudius Buchanan, a chaplain attached to the East India Company, "Neither truth, nor honesty, honour, gratitude, nor charity, is to be found in the breast of a Hindoo!" What a comment about a nation that gave the world the Vedas at a time when Europeans were still grappling in their caves!

And it is in this way that the British allowed entire chunks of territories in the East, where lived tribals, whose poverty and simplicity made them easy prey to be converted to Christianity. By doing so, the Christian missionaries cut a people from their roots and tradition, made them look westwards towards a culture and a way of life which was not theirs.

And the result is there today for everyone to see: it is in these eastern states, some of which are 90 per cent Christian, that one finds the biggest drug problems (and crime) in India. It should also be said that many of the eastern separatist movements have been covertly encouraged by Christian missionaries on the ground that "tribals were there before the 'Aryan Hindus' invaded India and imposed Hinduism upon them."

The trouble is that the latest archaeological and linguistic discoveries point to the fact that there NEVER was an Aryan invasion of India --it just was an invention of the British and the missionaries to serve their purpose. Aryanism is a synonym of Vedic culture.

Secondly, Christianity has always striven on the myth of persecution, which in turn bred "martyrs" and saints, indispensable to the propagation of Christianity. But it is little known, for instance, that the first "saints" of Christianity, "martyred" in Rome, a highly refined civilization which had evolved a remarkable system of gods and goddesses, derived from Hindu mythology via the Greeks, were actually killed (a normal practice in those days) while bullying peaceful Romans to embrace the "true" religion, in the same way that later Christian missionaries will browbeat "heathen" Hindus, adoring many gods into believing that Jesus was the only "true" god.

Now to come to the recent cases of persecution of Christians in India at the hands of Hindu groups. I have personally investigated quite a few, amongst them the rape of the four nuns in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh, nearly two years ago. This rape is still quoted as an example of the "atrocities" committed by Hindus on Christians.

Yet, when I interviewed the four innocent nuns, they themselves admitted, along with George Anatil, the bishop of Indore, that it had nothing to do with religion: It was the doing of a gang of Bhil tribals, known to perpetrate this kind of hateful acts on their own women. Today, the Indian press, the Christian hierarchy and the politicians, continue to include the Jhabua rape in the list of atrocities against Christians.

Or take the burning of churches in Andhra Pradesh a few months ago, which was supposed to have been committed by the "fanatic" RSS. It was proved later that it was actually the handiwork of Indian Muslims, at the behest of the ISI to foment hatred between Christians and Hindus. Yet the Indian press, which went berserk at the time of the burnings, mostly kept quiet when the true nature of the perpetrators was revealed.

Finally, even if Dara Singh does belong to the Bajrang Dal, it is doubtful if the hundred other accused do. What is more probable, is that like in many other "backward" places, it is a case of converted tribals versus non-converted tribals, of pent-up jealousies, of old village-feuds and land disputes. It is also an outcome of what -- it should be said -- are the aggressive methods of the Pentecost and Seventh Day Adventist missionaries, known for their muscular ways of conversion.

Thirdly, conversions in India by Christian missionaries of low caste Hindus and tribals are sometimes nothing short of fraudulent and shameful acts. American missionaries are investing huge amounts of money in India, which come from donation-drives in the United States where gullible Americans think the dollars they are giving go towards uplifting "poor and uneducated" Indians.

It is common in Kerala, for instance, particularly in the poor coastal districts, to have "miracle boxes" put in local churches. The gullible villager writes out a paper mentioning his wish such as a fishing boat, a loan for a pucca house, fees for the son's schooling. And lo, a few weeks later the miracle happens! And of course the whole family converts, making others in the village follow suit.

American missionaries (and their government) would like us to believe that democracy includes the freedom to convert by any means. But France for example, a traditionally Christian country, has a minister who is in charge of hunting down "sects." And by sects, it is meant anything that does not fall within the recognized family of Christianity -- even the Church of Scientology, favoured by some Hollywood stars such as Tom Cruise or John Travolta, is ruthlessly hounded. And look at what the Americans did to the Osho movement in Arizona, or how innocent children and women were burnt down by the FBI (with the assistance of the US army) at Waco, Texas, because they belonged to a dangerous sect.

Did you know that Christianity is dying in the West? Not only is church attendance falling dramatically because spirituality has deserted it, but less and less youth accept the vocation to become priests or nuns. And as a result, say in the rural parts of France, you will find only one priest for six or seven villages, whereas till the late seventies, the smallest hamlet had its own parish priest.

And where is Christianity finding new priests today? In the Third World, of course! And India, because of the innate impulsion of its people towards god, is a very fertile recruiting ground for the Church, particularly in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Hence the huge attention that India is getting from the United States, Australia, or England and the massive conversion drive going on today.

It is sad that Indians, once converted, specially the priests and nuns, tend to turn against their own country and help in the conversion drive. There are very few "White" missionaries left in India and most of the conversions are done today by Indian priests.

Last month, during the bishop's conference in Bangalore, it was restated by bishops and priests from all over India that conversion is the FIRST priority of the Church here. But are the priests and bishops aware that they would never find in any Western country the same freedom to convert that they take for granted in India? Do they know that in China they would be expelled, if not put into jail? Do they realize that they have been honoured guests in this country for nearly two thousand years and that they are betraying those that gave them peace and freedom?

Hinduism, the religion of tolerance, and spirituality of this new millennium, has survived the unspeakable barbarism of wave after wave of Muslim invasions, the insidious onslaught of Western colonialism which has killed the spirit of so many Third World countries, and the soul-stifling assault of Nehruvianism. But will it survive the present Christian offensive?

Many Hindu religious leaders feel Christianity is a real threat today, as in numerous ways it is similar to Hinduism, from which Christ borrowed so many concepts. (See Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's book: "Hinduism and Christianity")

It is thus necessary that Indians themselves become more aware of the danger their culture and unique civilization is facing at the hands of missionaries sponsored by foreign money. It is also necessary that they stop listening to the Marxist-influenced English newspapers' defense of the right of Christian missionaries to convert innocent Hindus.

Conversion belongs to the times of colonialism. We have entered the era of Unity, of coming together, of tolerance and accepting each other as we are, not of converting in the name of one elusive "true" god.

When Christianity accepts the right of other people to follow their own beliefs and creeds, then only will Jesus Christ's spirit truly radiate in the world.

[The author, who writes "The Ferengi's Column" in The Indian Express, is the correspondent in South Asia for Le Figaro, France's largest circulating daily. He has just published "Arise O India" (Har-Anand).]

[This article is found at:]

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jews of India

"Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Indian Jewish experience is the complete absence of discrimination by a host majority. The secret of India's tolerance is the Hindu belief which confers legitimacy on a wide diversity of cultural and religious groups even as it forbids movement from one group to another." - Raphael Meyer

India has, historically, been a refuge and sheltered people of all religions, creeds and beliefs – Zoroastrians, Jews, Sufis, and more recently Bahais - all were granted protection and security when they sought it. They were accepted into the fold of the mainstream society, given land and equal opportunity to excel in their profession of choice – and remain Indians. Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism are religions of the land – all were born in India. The central Asian invaders brought Islam. The colonial powers brought Christianity. India remained a large-hearted host to all, enriched its cultural heritage – and became a truly secular nation. People from all communities rose to become eminent citizens of the land. In the first of our series on ‘Spirit of India’ – we feature the story of the Jewish Community of India.

The earliest Jews came to India two thousand years ago. They were escaping persecution in Galilee. Some came after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70CE. The Sephardic Jews came to India from western European nations such as Holland and Spain. The 16th and 17th century migrations created important settlements of Jews from Persia, Afghanistan, and Khorasan (Central Asia) in northern India and Kashmir. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Jewish settlers came from the Middle East and North Africa. Jews settled in different areas – from Kashmir in the north, to Cochin in the south, Calcutta in the east and Bombay (renamed Mumbai) in the west. By the late 18th century, Bombay became the largest Jewish community in India. Today only a few thousand remain in India - most having migrated to Israel, England, USA, and Australia. They have left behind them a rich legacy of synagogues, public institutions, and nostalgia. Only two synagogues remain open in Calcutta (Kolkata) for its 60 odd Jewish population. The Pardesi synagogue in Cochin, Kerala is the oldest among the surviving synagogues in the country. It is a National Heritage.T he largest concentration of Jews in India still remains in Bombay (particularly in Thane, a suburb of Bombay) - but they are only about 4000 in number - a mere fraction of the vitality they once generated in the city.

Some Eminent Jews of India

"Israel is in my heart but India is in my blood." - Ezekiel Malekar, Delhi

There have been many among them who rose to national stature -

(Late) Mrs Hannah Sen, was the President of All India Women’s Conference and also the first lady director, Lady Irwin College for Women, Delhi

(Late) Mr Ezra Kolet did pioneering work for the Government in the shipping industry.

Mr J. M. Benjamin, former Chief Architect to the Government of India, and former secretary, Delhi Urban Arts Commission, continues to strive to make Delhi a beautiful and habitable place.

Haffkine, after whom the famous Haffkine Institute in Bombay (Mumbai) has been named.

The Sassoons, after whom the Sassoon docks, the Sassoon hospital, and two of Mumbai's well known sites - the Jacob Circle, and Flora Fountain have been named.

Dr. E. Moses was Mayor of Bombay

Maj. Gen. Samson who was awarded the Padma Bhushan, and a few other Jews reached prominence in the Indian Armed Forces.
General Jacobs became the Governor of Goa. An erstwhile Chief of the Naval Staff was also a Jew.

Poet Nissim Ezeickel, and cartoonist Abu Abraham

The actress/dancer Helen, and also the late famous Hindi film actor David, and the late Sulochana - the Queen of Indian Silent Films.

Dr. Erulkar was the personal physician/friend of Mahatma Gandhi. His father, also a doctor, Abraham Erulkar, donated land for the synagogue in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Dr. Erulkar's daughter became the 1st lady of Cyprus, married to the President of Cyprus.

Dr. Jerusha Jhirad was awarded Padma Shri by the Government of India.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A peace of land

By M. J AKBAR ( written after Babri Verdict)
(India Today Column : THIRD EYE)

One challenge was old as Babar, the second as old as Nehru. Both are aspects of India’s most divisive dilemma, the Hindu-Muslim relationship and its impact on shared space. Why then, as the Allahabad High Court judgment showed and the sensible reaction of Indians proved, is Ayodhya moving from deathbed to health, and Kashmir slipping from wound to gangrenous coma?

The answer is simple even if its implications are nuanced. When politicians run the country you get fractious, ego-driven, fudge-coated misrule, as in Kashmir. When the country runs the politicians, there is healing. The message from the street on Ayodhya was unambiguous. Even if the dispute remains, the violence goes. Before the verdict the government was in greater panic than the people.

Indians did not suddenly become non-violent on September 30 in honour of Gandhi’s birthday two days later. But they have, almost imperceptibly, turned

anti-violence. The young are bewildered that their parents could have chosen chaos over construction, and acid over an economy. Their elders have abandoned nightmares from the past and joined a modern dream. The spirit of peace did not descend from leaders to the people, it rose from the street to the corridors of governance and justice. Politicians understood that if yesterday violence meant murder, today it means suicide.

The bjp realised that if 1992 catapulted it forward, conflict in 2010 could send it spinning into an abyss. L.K. Advani advised his party to remain calm in adversity and conciliatory in victory; rss chief Mohan Bhagwat described the verdict as neither a victory nor a defeat for anyone. The Congress, which has consistently exploited the politics of irresolution, so that it can be all things to all constituencies, discovered that this tactic had become a self-activating trap. Hallucination is not my preferred form of relaxation; I am not suggesting that we have entered some form of nirvana. But the message from the Indian voter is self-evident. The cost of provocation will be defeat.

The politics of irresolution has been the consuming tragedy of Kashmir. There is a substantive difference between life as usual and life as normal. Delhi’s politics in this summer of discontent has revolved around a belated effort to resume life as usual. The usual provides flexibility for games. Militants and separatists can play footsie with Delhi while they dine off Islamabad’s menu; Delhi can treat pacification as victory, after offering a sleeping pill and calling it medicine. The young picked up stones because they wanted change, not a couple of extra schools; women came out of their homes because they were angry at the usual and desperate for the normal.

The last time both Ayodhya and Kashmir were inflammatory was the period between 1990 and 1992: the fire across India was complemented by a rage for ‘azadi’ in the valley. We know what has changed in the Ayodhya confrontation. The poor have realised that poverty is not communal. They want the self-respect that comes with a full stomach; they have enough places to pray. This has dampened the politics of every form of communalism.

But something has changed in the Kashmir scenario as well. The promise of Pakistan as the elixir and purist paradise for Muslims has collapsed for a second time. In 1971 it exploded and Bangladesh was born. By 2010 Pakistan has visibly imploded. Many more Muslims are dying of manufactured violence in Pakistan than in India. There have been only two major riots in India since 1992; after Babri and Godhra. Pakistan is a daily litany of death, and a collage of seamless civil wars. Indian Muslims do not need a sermon to educate them; they see facts in media.

Kashmiris do not want to be annexed to a fractured geography. Their ‘azadi’ is ethnic rather than Islamic; it does not include Muslims from Jammu, let alone Muslims from Faizabad or Hyderabad. It is a heady, undefined fantasy that cannot pass the test of daylight. The solution lies, as in Ayodhya, when Delhi gets a simple message: the people are more important than politics.

The columnist is editor of The Sunday Guardian, published from Delhi, India on Sunday, published from London and Editorial Director of India Today and Headlines Today.

Babri-Ayodhya Volcanic Eruption & the Judgement

Byline by M J Akbar - (written before the judgement of allahabad highcourt)

It is never easy to walk close to the precipice. The Supreme Court must be feeling very sure-footed to test its vertigo level on Ayodhya. It has put six decades of anguish, turmoil and a legal endurance test on the edge of a calendar. If there is the slightest mishap, and even the Supreme Court cannot claim the divine power of predicting what unknown factors might spin the coming week out of control, the Allahabad High Court judgement on the Babri title dispute could fall into a bottomless abyss. If the judgement is not read out before the end of the month it becomes infructuous since one of the judges is retiring. India does not have the energy to start another six decades of social, political and legal acrimony.

It would of course have been heavenly if time was the solution to a problem has proved intractable for both the British Raj and free India. Many problems in India do merge and disappear in that glacier called time. Faith, alas, arouses passions that have the resilience to defeat time. There is a view among those who have not experienced the depth of faith that the dispute has faded into unimportance. It was perhaps this assessment that persuaded Rahul Gandhi to claim that other things were more important. A little reading of history would be useful. The Babri-Ayodhya dispute has lain dormant for long spells before erupting suddenly, volcanically, and spreading its lava far and wide into the social streams of our nation. Sometimes it rumbles before bursting, and sometimes it surprises us with its arbitrary vehemence. This is why Sardar Patel, whose understanding of India was unmatched, advised Jawaharlal Nehru to find some way towards immediate closure of the two issues that had become symbols in the Hindu subconscious, the temple at Somnath destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni and the Babri mosque. Nehru was uncomfortable, but did not interfere with the reconstruction of the temple at Somnath, except that he would not allow the project to become a state enterprise. Somnath was comparatively easy since no one had built a mosque at the site. Patel warned that if the Ram-birthplace dispute was not resolved it would return to haunt India five decades later. It did, in less time than that.

Ayodhya was different because there was a mosque, built during the reign of Babar. L.K.Advani linked the two when he started his rath yatra towards Ayodhya from Somnath, exactly 20 years on 25 September. Another two decades of time have not brought any resolution.

Perhaps we are being lulled by the fact that there has been no violence over Ayodhya after 1992. Mistake. Indians, of any religion or denomination, are instinctively repulsed by violence, even if they can, on occasions, get as appallingly murderous as any crowd in history. But there is rarely exultation and always guilt. Even when top-of-mind recall has dimmed, it does not mean that an issue such as Babri-Ayodhya has disappeared from hearts.

The consequences of non-judgement will be horrendous. It is obvious from the statements of their spokesmen that the Congress is, typically, committed to irresolution. Its politics impels it to hunt with the mosque and run with the temple. This fudge was possible as long as the courts were taking their time. Time - a chameleon component of this drama - has run out, at least in the legal sense. There is at long last a judgement, by a respected high court. Even a stay on its implementation and the reality of an appeal cannot diminish the power of a verdict. The government would be very foolish to believe that it can bury the judgement in some legal maze, making it untraceable. If the judgement is not read by the court, it will still find its way to the people, through the media perhaps. The happy fact of any democracy is that suppressed information, like water, always leaks through the shackles of government.

The parties involved are already raising dangerous apprehensions. It is only natural for either, or perhaps both, to feel that the government is using delay as a tactic to deny them justice. The only salutary outcome of such a situation would be that the two parties forget their bitterness towards each other, and divert it towards the government in a common cause. Do not laugh. Stranger things have happened in Indian politics.

The Supreme Court has the liberty to hope that something could happen in six days that has not happened in six decades, an amicable settlement. But it has no right to abort the course of justice for reasons extraneous to the law. Tuesday is going to be a tense day, but I have no doubt that the Supreme Court will apply its own means test. It needs an answer to only one question: have the parties to the dispute reached a settlement outside the court? If the answer is no, as is likely, then before the Supreme Court rises it must give leave to its brothers on the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court to deliver their judgement. That is the only safe route back from the precipice.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chandrashekhar Azad

Born: July 23,1906
Martyrdom: February 27, 1931
Achievements: Involved in Kakori Train Robbery (1926), the attempt to blow up the Viceroy's train (1926), and the shooting of Saunders at Lahore (1928) to avenge the killing of Lala Lajpatrai; formed Hindustan Socialist Republican Association with fellow compatriots Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru.

Chandrashekhar Azad was a great Indian freedom fighter. His fierce patriotism and courage inspired others of his generation to enter freedom struggle. Chandrasekhar Azad was the mentor Bhagat Singh, another great freedom fighter, and along with Bhagat Singh he is considered as one of the greatest revolutionaries that India has produced.

Chandra Shekhar Azad was born on July 23,1906 in village Bhavra in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. His parents were Pandit Sitaram Tiwari and Jagarani Devi. He received his early schooling in Bhavra. For higher studies he went to the Sanskrit Pathashala at Varanasi. He was an ardent follower of Hanuman and once disguised himself as a priest in a hanuman temple to escape the dragnet of British police.

Chandrashekhar Azad was deeply troubled by the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in Amritsar in 1919. In 1921, when Mahatma Gandhi launched Non-Cooperation movement, Chandrasekhar Azad actively participated in revolutionary activities. He received his first punishment at the age of fifteen. Chandra Shekhar was caught while indulging in revolutionary activities. When the magistrate asked him his name, he said "Azad" (meaning free). Chandrashekhar Azad was sentenced to fifteen lashes. With each stroke of the whip the young Chandrasekhar shouted "Bart Mata Kid Jai". From then on Chandrashekhar assumed the title of Azad and came to known as Chandrashekhar Azad. Chandrashekhar Azad vowed that he would never be arrested by the British police and would die as free man.

After the suspension of non-cooperation movement Chandrashekhar Azad was attracted towards more aggressive and revolutionary ideals. He committed himself to complete independence by any means. Chandrashekhar Azad and his compatriots would target British officials known for their oppressive actions against ordinary people and freedom fighters. Chandrashekhar Azad was involved in Kakori Train Robbery (1926), the attempt to blow up the Viceroy's train (1926), and the shooting of Saunders at Lahore (1928) to avenge the killing of Lala Lajpatrai. He was a mentor to many revolutionaries including Bhagat Singh. He wanted complete independence for India by any means. He remained a terror for British government as long as he was alive
Along with Bhagat Singh and other compatriots like Sukhdev and Rajguru, Chandrashekhar Azad formed the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HRSA). HRSA was committed to complete Indian independence and socialist principles for India's future progress.

Chandrashekhar Azad was a terror for British police. He was on their hit list and the British police badly wanted to capture him dead or alive. On February 27, 1931 Chandrashekhar Azad met two of his comrades at the Alfred Park Allah bad. He was betrayed by an informer who had informed the British police. The police surrounded the park and ordered Chandrashekhar Azad to surrender. Chandrashekhar Azad fought alone valiantly and killed three policemen. But finding himself surrounded and seeing no route for escape, Chandrashekhar Azad shot himself. Thus he kept his pledge of not being caught alive. He fought valiantly but seeing no other way he shot himself and fulfilled his resolve to die a 'free man'.