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Shani Shingnapur: A temple of miracles, a town without doors

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Shanishignapur

Have you heard of a place where there are no doors and bolts? Even the toilets cover themselves with walls created in a maze like structure. But no doors. Yes, the place I am talking about is Shani Shingnapur, the divine math of Lord Shani.

Even in today’s world that is driven by science, here is a place that fills its devotees with bewilderment. Out of all the places revered by Shani’s devotees, Shingnapur holds a special place. I have visited Shani Shingnapur two time so far and each time the place makes me simple amazed.

As a woman, my experience in Shingnapur has been astounding. The first time I visited the place in 2007, women were allowed to stand near Shani idol but not perform puja. There is a belief that women should not go near the idol as it emanates harmful vibrations. So, I just saw my father and brother perform puja after climbing up to the platform where the idol is placed. Later in 2013, when we visited the place, all devotees, men or women were stopped at a distance and could offer their prayers from a distance.

However, with the efforts of some women activists and after the order of Bombay High Court last year, the trust of the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra finally had to allow women to enter the temple and pray in the sanctum sanctorum. This landmark decision ended the 400-year-old tradition.

The temple of miracles

Located on the Pune-Aurangabad Highway, about 70 km away from Shirdi, Shani Shingnapur is a unique place. It is a comfortable ride from Shirdi, either you choose to hire a cab or take a private bus.

The architecture of the temple is impressive and the Trust keeps on doing the improvisations there. The swayambhu (natural-formed) idol of Lord Shani is of natural black colour and is it is 5′-9″ high and 1′-6″ broad. It stands in the open on an altar since about 150 years. There is a legend that the Trust in earlier days tried to keep the idol in shade but Lord Shani does not accept any chhatra (shelter). Whether it is scorching heat of sun, rain, or cold, the deity stands there in all climates without a shelter. The story that is popular among locals is that Lord Shani has appeared in the dreams of his devotees telling them that he does not need any shelter and prefers to stay in the open and protect his devotees.

You will be surprised by not finding any ubiquitous pandas and pujaris here and the devotees can perform puja themselves. It is mandatory to take a bath before offering puja to Shani idol. You can then perform the religious rites to the deity as per your faith and satisfaction. For all devotees, they can pour the oil they have brought for the deity is a large vessel which drips over the Lord always and forever.

Homes without doors

Shingnapur, which once used to be a sleepy village is now a bustling one, due to the growing popularity of the temple. The houses are mainly single storey and are built with modern technique of bricks and mortar. As there are no doors and no glass panes on the windows, the villagers use either wood planks or thick curtains on the doors to protect their privacy and to keep off stray animals.

I really got curious and asked an old person, why of all the reasons there are no doors and bolts and how do they ensure their safety (After all with all kinds of doors and locking mechanisms, we still fear for ourselves and our belongings)? And, I indeed got a remarkable answer. He said, for us it is not a strange practice. We do this at the wish and command of our Lord. Our money and valuables are never stolen. There are no thieves here. If anyone steals, the Lord will make him pay the price.”

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

Analysis

RSS chief sets BJP’s electoral agenda

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RSS volunteers

There was never any doubt about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) anti-minority electoral gambits but the agenda has now been unambigiously and forcefully articulated by the party’s friend, philosopher and guide, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

Delivering the organisation’s customary message on the occasion of Dussehra/Vijay Dashami, its chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has left no stone unturned about what the Narendra Modi government should immediately do — which is to start building the Ram temple in Ayodhya even by enacting an ordinance.

By pointedly ignoring the fact that the issue is currently before the Supreme Court, the RSS chief has taken the party and the Hindutva brotherhood to the days of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement in the 1990s when the saffron storm-troopers used to say that the courts can have no say in a matter of faith.

Apart from a reiteration of this aggressive “religious” stance, Bhagwat’s directive to the BJP to get down to business and not dilly-dally any longer on building the temple has scrapped Atal Behari Vajpayee’s decision in 1996 to put in cold storage the three “core” issues of the Sangh parivar — building the temple, doing away with Article 370 of the Constitution conferring special status on Jammu and Kashmir, and introducing a uniform civil code

That the negation of Vajpayee’s wishes has been done in the year of his death is not without significance. It remains to be seen whether the RSS will give any “advice” to the government on the two other issues — Article 370 and the uniform civil code.

But why the sudden hurry about constructing the temple? There may be two reasons. One is that it is the last throw of the dice by the party and the parivar in an election season to consolidate its vote bank of communal-minded Hindus at a time when the less than favourable economic scene may make sections of the liberal Hindus, who voted for the BJP in 2014, drift away.

The other is the realisation in the saffron brotherhood that it is now or never where the temple is concerned since the BJP is unlikely to get a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha in 2019. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by it may get it, but it will not be easy for the BJP to persuade some of its allies such as the Janata Dal (United) — which has opposed the BJP’s favourite triple talaq ordinance — and the Akali Dal to endorse a construction programme which cannot but alienate the minorities.

Notwithstanding BJP president Amit Shah’s conviction that the party will reign for half a century, there may be an awareness in the organisation that the 2014 outcome was the result of several unforeseen events — the Congress’s sudden and somewhat inexplicable collapse and Modi’s emergence (against the wishes of several in his party) as some kind of a messiah. From this standpoint, 2019 will not be the same as 2014.

Ever since the party and the parivar sensed that the mantras of neither “achhe din” (good days) nor “sabka saath, sabka vikas” (development for all) is evoking a favourable response, the focus of the saffron propaganda has been on Hindu-Muslim polarisation.

Whether it is extending the scope of the National Register of Citizens (NRC) from Assam to other states or the removal of long-established Muslim names in Uttar Pradesh like Mughalsarai and Allahabad, the BJP’s aim has been to send the message that Muslims will be under pressure to prove the genuiness of their citizenship and that India’s multi-cultural past will be erased as Hindu rashtra takes root.

Along with the direct and indirect offensive against Muslims, the parivar is also intent on confirming its Hindu credentials by opposing the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women of all ages to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala on the grounds it violates centuries-old beliefs.

The Sabarimala episode enables the RSS and the BJP to try and kill two birds with one stone. One is to project themselves as the standard-bearers of Hinduism, and the other is to flaunt a defiance of the Supreme Court.

The court has aroused the saffron lobby’s ire ever since it delivered a series of “progressive” judgments (of which Sabarimala is one) such as the one upholding the rights of privacy, which the government argued was an elitist concept, and the other was to decriminalise homosexuality in a case from which the government recused itself evidently because while the legalisation went against the BJP’s crusty orthodoxy, the party could not afford to be seen as living in Victorian times.

Sabarimala has given an opportunity to the RSS and the BJP to defy the apex court and suggest that it is not right all the time. The defiance may have also been motivated by the #MeToo movement which has claimed the scalp of a Union minister and persuaded another minister to say that those who support the movement are “perverted”.

Among the others who also answer to the description of being perverted are the so-called “Urban Naxalites”, a new form of abuse coined by the RSS and the BJP for the Left-Liberals who have always been called anti-nationals. Not surprisingly, another of the RSS chief’s advice to the government was to keep the “Urban Naxalites” under surveillance.

It will be interesting to know what those “secularists” who interacted with the RSS recently like former President Pranab Mukherjee and the business tycoon, Ratan Tata, think of the pitch for the temple and the castigation of “Urban Naxalites”.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Women, Sabarimala temple and right to equality

The Sabarimala issue is not just about entry right to the women but now has become Religion Vs Fundamental Rights. In India, there are numbers of such issues which are still keeping the females deprived of rights.

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BJP rally Sabarimala

Ages back the women folks were exploited and the same is happening in modern times. Hinduism abolished Sati — a female was forced to be burnt alive in the pyre of her husband. Raja Ram Mohan Roy started a campaign against it and it came to an end. But has this changed brought much change in the lives of the women folk in the present times!

Sabarimala temple is Ayyappa temple situated in the Sabarimal region in Kerala. Here the females of age 10 to 50 are not allowed to enter due to the menstruation problem. There has been a lot of hues and cry over this issue.

Legal battle:

In 1991, this boycott to temple section for ladies was tested under the steady gaze of the Kerala High Court in S. Mahendran Vs The Secretary, Travancore case. Kerala High court decided for the preclusion of ladies entering the temple and asserted that these confinements have existed since time immemorial and not unfair to the Constitution. This request of the High Court was executed and pursued for the following 15 years. In 2006, the boycott was tested by the Public Interest Litigation recorded by the Young Lawyers Association with the Supreme Court, asserting that rule 3(b) of Kerala Hindu places of Public worship (Authorisation of entry) Rules 1965 that states, “women who are not by custom and usage allowed to enter a place of public worship shall not be entitled to enter or offer worship in any place of public worship” is infringement of established standards of equality, non-discrimination and religious opportunity. On April 25, 2016, the representative lawyer of the Devaswom, K.K Venugopal stated: “There is a sensible grouping by which certain classes of women are excluded”. Supreme Court was concerned regarding the statement if menstruation was associated with purity of women. The case was then assigned to the Constitution Bench by the Supreme Court.

In 2018, Justice Dipak Misra, The Chief Justice of India, while addressing to the PIL, put a query to the temple’s management over denying passage to women. The case was heard by a constitution bench headed by Justice Misra alongside Justices Rohinton Nariman, Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Indu Malhotra. The court held that Sabarimala pilgrims couldn’t be a different group or religious division. The traditions are subjected to sacred legitimacy and preclusion of ladies passage to temple infringing upon the Fundamental Rights. Justice Chandrachud claimed, “Your entitlement to implore as a lady isn’t subject to any law, it is a constitutional right”. He additionally included that notice issued under the standards recommending the age restrictions on ladies entry as “discretionary on its essence”.

In the year 2012, a similar campaign like that of Sabarimala temple was launched by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) & Bhumata Brigade to offer prayers at the Haji Ali Dargah. It is the resting place of Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari on the islet of Mumbai coast. This shrine is 585 years old. The Haji Ali Dargah is administered by the Haji Ali Dargah Trust a public charitable trust enrolled under the Maharashtra Public Trust Act. The trustees of the Dargah had chosen to deny ladies access to the grave area in 2011, calling the un-Islamic. It had expressed that it was redressing it’s earlier misstep of enabling ladies to touch the actual grave. The argument by the petitioner was that the Muslims deprive their women to equal rights, they keep them suppressed and the women folks don’t have a right to raise their voice in Islam.

On 26 August 2016, Bombay High Court decided that women to be allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum. Even the Supreme Court sealed the verdict of Bombay High Court and the women were allowed to enter the shrine sacred area on 29 November 2016. This was welcomed by all the people across India. It was stated that now the Muslim women have got their rights which were deprived of them since the advent of Islam.

Similarly, the Supreme Court has ordered that the women should be allowed in the Sabarimala temple and the old practice should be done away with.

In the case of Sabarimala temple, various Hindu groups are not accepting the decision of the Supreme Court and want a revision of the judgment. The present day’s ruling party Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) is backing the agitation against the judgment.

Are the women not suppressed now by going against their right to enter the temple? It is not an insult to the highest court of law in India? The law of the land is above the ruling class or any religion but the BJP and other Hindu organizations are adamant for rather they are trying to show strength through mass gathering against the judgment.

Is this the respect to the law of the land?

Declaimer: The views are the sole discretion of the author...
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Analysis

Climate change will worsen disparities, may increase support for Naxals: Report

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Maoists Naxal

Bengaluru, Oct 16 : As the effects of climate change on livelihoods become more pronounced, especially for people involved in agriculture and fishing in South and South-East Asia, support for rebel groups and the Naxalite movement is likely to shoot up, according to a new report.

There is evidence that climate change will worsen socio-economic and political disparity in the region as those in power will get to decide who gets the limited resources and how much, the report, co-authored by researchers Pernilla Nordqvist and Florian Krampe while working for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), has said.

“The climate-conflict linkage primarily plays out in contexts that are already vulnerable to climate change and violence, and where income is highly dependent on agriculture and fishing,” Nordqvist told IndiaSpend in an email.

Human activities have already caused warming of 1 degree Celsius as compared to pre-industrial times, according to the latest report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). By 2030, or latest by mid-century, global warming is likely to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Close to 2.5 billion people live in South and South-East Asia, where poverty rates have been declining substantially, thanks to years of strong economic growth in countries such as India. However, the region is also prone to the fallouts of climate change, with glaciers in the Himalayas melting and several island-countries facing rising sea levels. Floods, cyclones, heat waves and droughts are now a frequent occurrence and are expected to intensify in the coming years.

“The region is highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change and also has a recent history of political violence,” Krampe told IndiaSpend.

Nordqvist and Krame examined 2,000 peer-reviewed studies on the relationship between climate change and conflict and narrowed down on 21 of the most authoritative works for their report, which was published in September 2018.

Their findings from India show that rebel groups and government forces both find recruitment easier when drought is around the corner.

The IPCC report also adds that climate-related risks to livelihoods, food security, health, water supply and human security are projected to increase as the planet warms by 1.5 degrees. With a 2-degree rise, the risks will intensify.

In some areas affected by the Naxalite conflict, the worsening of livelihood conditions has been related to the increased intensity of ongoing civil conflicts. During a drought, or a potential drought, there is an increased risk that rebels and government actors recruit or cooperate with civilians in exchange for livelihood and provision of food.

Naxalites could use climate-related events to gain power in an ongoing conflict, and rebel groups more generally could increase their use of violence against civilians to ensure their groups’ food security, according to the report.

“They violently remove local farmers from their land to ensure enough cropland and agricultural supplies for their own use. The risk of violence seems especially high in rural areas, where government control is scarce and the local population is dependent on the support or protection of rebels or other armed actors,” Nordqvist said.

As climate change pushes up migration, it introduces the possibility of riots in urban areas over resources, the report said. Highlighting the case of riots in Tripura in northeastern India, it said the effects will be most felt in areas where there are already low levels of socio-political stability.

“Many of the climate change problems are trans-national. The Brahmaputra, for example, flows through three countries and is seeing frequent flooding. There is no question that countries will need to cooperate and tensions like the ones between countries India and Pakistan will make this difficult,” Krampe said.

There is some research on the relationship between climate change and conflict in countries such as India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, the report said, adding that there is little understanding of how climate change could be driving conflict in places such as Afghanistan and Myanmar.

Elsewhere in South-East Asia, in some coastal areas of Indonesia the reduced income opportunities from fishing have been linked to a rise in piracy-related activities.

But the impact does not end there.

In Pakistan, for instance, the Islamist group Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) was able to increase its stronghold in Sindh province after the group participated in relief activities following extreme floods.

The IPCC report also warns that those living along coasts and populations dependent on agriculture will be the worst hit by climate change, which will push up poverty rates in coastal areas and in developing countries.

However, “Not everyone affected by climate change will join a rebel group but this also relates to the failure of the governments to respond to disasters,” Krampe said.

At the same time, not all areas will see conflict in the face of climate change. Some might even see a greater cooperation in the aftermath of a natural disaster. These regional dynamics are evolving, however, and their contours will only become clearer with time.

(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Disha Shetty is a Columbia Journalism School-IndiaSpend reporting fellow. The views expressed are those of IndiaSpend. Feedback at [email protected])

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