Durga here but might bring disaster
Arindam Roy (Associated Press)
Allahabad, October 1, 2003
OVER 100 million people in eastern India began the five-day Durga puja on Wednesday, the goddess who triumphed over evil but is also associated with disasters, like the deadly floods that have recently ravaged the country.
Hindus link natural events, like flood and drought, to Durga's annual arrival on earth. This year's Hindu almanac, or calendar "cautions us of death and destruction, as Durga came seated on a swing," said Hindu priest Ashok Bhattacharjee.
He noted that monsoon floods have killed nearly 1,000 people in India since June. But though they were a curse to the victims, this year's extra-heavy rains also were a blessing for many -- the government expects the economy to grow by 6.5 percent this year, helped by a rich harvest due to the rains.
Bhattacharjee also was upbeat.
The Hindu calendar shows that Durga will leave earth at the end of her festival upon an elephant, he said, adding that it is an auspicious symbol that points to prosperity.
To begin the festival, thousands of chanting priests symbolically invoke life into clay and straw images of Durga.
The celebrations peak on Sunday, when worshippers will plunge the statutes into lakes and rivers. In between, worshippers go to community lunches and pay homage to Durga with hours of music and song each day.
"The five days are very dear to us," said New Delhi homemaker Nomita Chakraborty. "The celebrations give us the opportunity to reflect back and realize that good always prevails on bad." Durga Puja celebrations take place mainly in eastern India, especially among Bengali-speaking residents.
More than 3,000 detained in crackdown on Hindu activists in northern India
(Oct 13, 2003)
By ARINDAM ROY
Associated Press Writer
ALLAHABAD, India (AP) _ Police in northern India detained more Hindu activists Monday as they try to prevent a mass rally this week near the site of a destroyed mosque that is claimed as a Hindu holy place.
More than 3,000 activists have been arrested in the last three days.
The federal government dispatched 4,500 paramilitary police to help Uttar Pradesh state crack down on the activists planning to defy a
Court order banning the gathering in Ayodhya, a small town full of temples 500 kilometers (310 miles) east of New Delhi.
Authorities said trains to Faizabad, the nearest station to Ayodhya, have either been canceled, or diverted.
Hindu nationalist groups have called Friday's rally in support of their campaign to build a temple near the site of the 16th century Babri Mosque, which they tore down in 1992. The World Hindu Council, the main organizer of the rally, said it expects more than 300,000 volunteers to attend.
Hindu hard-liners believe the mosque was built by Muslims on the site of an earlier Hindu temple honoring their supreme god, Rama. Muslims say there's no proof of that, and oppose Hindus' plans to build a temple on the site.
The mosque's destruction had triggered nationwide religious riots, which killed more than 2,000 people.
The detentions came after the High Court in Uttar Pradesh ordered the state government not to allow any religious activity near the site. The court is currently hearing arguments in the decades-old Hindu-Muslim dispute over the site, now just a bare hillock guarded by police and surrounded by wire barricades.
The Hindu groups who tore down the mosque erected an idol of Rama under a tent on the site, but devotees cannot reach it. They hand money for offerings through a metal screen. Huge stones from the mosque are scattered nearby. The World Hindu Council and other groups have amassed pillars, statues and bricks, preparing to build a temple at the site, and many of the group's leaders have said they will not wait for the court to decide.
On Sunday, police detained a group of 1,065 Hindu activists at Jhansi, a key railroad junction linking Uttar Pradesh state with southern and western Indian states. Most of the detainees were from Gujarat state, a stronghold of Hindu nationalist parties and groups, a local police officer said on condition of anonymity. More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, died in Gujarat last year after a Muslim mob burned a train car carrying 60 activists and pilgrims returning home from Ayodhya.
At least 2,000 people have also been rounded up in the cities of
Kanpur, Baharaich, Varanasi and Allahabad, according to the district
On Monday, about 185 members, including 35 women volunteers, of the World Hindu Council were stopped as they set out to Ayodhya from
Kanpur, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.
Purushottam Narain Singh, a senior World Hindu Council official in charge of the rally, claimed police had detained more than 10,000 Hindu activists across the state.
Hindu leaders banned from Indian holy city where they planned mass rally
(Oct 14, 2003)
By BABU LAL SHARMA
Associated Press Writer
LUCKNOW, India (AP) _ State authorities blocked Hindu leaders and activists from India's holy city of Ayodhya, where they'd planned a rally this week near the site of a destroyed Muslim mosque, officials said Tuesday.
Three top officials of the World Hindu Council _ including it's
President Ashok Singhal _ have been banned from Ayodhya, said Akhand
Pratap Singh, the top bureaucrat in Uttar Pradesh state.
The council's General Secretary Praveen Togadia, also barred from the city, warned that keeping the Hindu leaders and activists away from Friday's planned rally could trigger violence.
The Hindu council is mobilizing tens of thousands of volunteers to rally behind its campaign to build a temple near the site of the
16th-century Babri Mosque, which Hindu activists tore down in 1992.
Authorities fear a Hindu rally on the volatile spot could set off Hindu-Muslim violence, as did the mosque's destruction, which led to more than 2,000 deaths in nationwide religious riots.
Togadia criticized India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose party has close ties with the Hindu council, for sending 7,000
paramilitary police to help the state crack down on Hindu activists.
Police detained more Hindu activists overnight, bringing the total to more than 5,000 in the past four days.
School and college buildings around Ayodhya have been "turned into temporary jails," said the district's chief administrator, Deepak Kumar. Several train and bus links to Ayodhya have been canceled or diverted.
Many Hindus believe the mosque was built on the site of an earlier temple to the Hindus' supreme god, Rama. Muslims say there's no proof, and oppose Hindus' plans to build a temple on the site.
The Uttar Pradesh High Court ordered the state government not to allow any religious activity near the site. The court is currently hearing arguments in the decades-old Hindu-Muslim dispute over the site, now just a bare hillock guarded by police and surrounded by wire barricades.
(Associated Press Writer Arindam Roy in the city of Allahabad contributed to this report)
Hindu groups vandalize Coke office, shops in northern India
By ARINDAM ROY
Associated Press Writer
ALLAHABAD, India (AP) _ Hundreds of Hindu nationalists on Friday vandalized a Coca-Cola office in northern India and attacked shops selling Coke and Pepsi after an environmental group said the drinks contained dangerous levels of pesticide residue.
Supporters of two Hindu groups, Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal, some of them armed with guns, forced their way into a Coca-Cola supply outlet and nearby shops and smashed hundreds of soft drink bottles in Allahabad, 225 kilometers (140 miles) east of Uttar Pradesh state capital, Lucknow.
Shouting "down with foreign companies," around 45 hooligans tossed crates of drinks around the office, said R.P. Singh Chawla, the supply outlet owner. A television set, computers and other office equipment were damaged, he said.
The Center for Science and Environment published a report Tuesday claiming that products made by Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. for the Indian market did not meet the same standards as their drinks sold in Europe and the United States, setting off a wave of protests.
The report said the level of pesticides in Pepsi brands tested around New Delhi were 36 times higher than European Union standards. The center said the average pesticide level for Coca-Cola products made in India was 30 times higher than EU guidelines.
The toxins could, if consumed over a long period, cause cancer, damage to the nervous system, birth defects and disruption of the immune system, the research center said.
Both companies have denied the allegations and demanded independent studies.
Much of India's ground water _ from which millions of people draw their drinking water _ contains DDT and other agricultural pesticides and toxins, and the government has not set standards about how much is safe.
The research center acknowledged that Indian brands also have high pesticide levels, but said Coke and Pepsi account for more than three-quarters of the bottled soft drinks consumed in India.
The Indian government has said it will check the report, but in the meantime banned the sale of Coke and Pepsi products in Parliament
Chawla said the police and the local authorities had been lax in responding to his calls for help and he blamed them for not taking precautions although he had told them that trouble was brewing.
"The administration has taken no steps whatsoever," he said.
In a separate incident in the Civil Lines neighborhood of Allahabad, Hindu groups attacked a soft drinks shop, hurling scores of bottles on the ground. Some brandished guns, said H.P. Singh, the shop owner.
"They hurled filthy abuses, telling me to move away, or face death," said Singh. "Am I anti-national? I am eking out a livelihood. What right did they have to abuse and threaten my life?"
Singh estimated his losses at 19,000 rupees (US$410).
The Hindu groups also attacked shops in two other places in Allahabad.
Some journalists and passers-by also received minor nicks and cuts when they were hit by pieces of flying glass.
Police arrived after the attacks were over and no police official was immediately available for comment.
Shiv Sena is an alliance partner of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government.
(This is just a sample of my reporting with Associated Press)police detention