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Meat eating and Biden: A win for vegetarians in the climate war

By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni

April saw the Biden administration’s controversial climate plan pushed into limelight. While the intricacies of deploying coal versus sunlight to warm our hearts and hearths, and their impact on global warming, are best left to disputing experts and forums, to the vegetarians among us, the plan proposed by Biden seems to have hit a home run.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC)’s dire prediction of the world coming to its dismal end within the next dozen or so years sounded nutty enough to skeptics. But it was her claim of cattle causing unacceptable levels of pollution through their farts and feces that drove them up the wall.

Republicans along with red-meat eaters and baiters quickly jumped in with howls of protest that President Joe Biden was taking away their meat as arbitrarily as his malintent to deprive them of their guns. Daily Mail of the UK used the inflammatory headline: “How Biden’s climate plan could limit you to eat just one burger a MONTH.” The Republican firebrand Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene dramatically dubbed Biden “The Hamburglar”!!

Meanwhile, we vegetarians were delighted as we could for the first time sense the exciting comings of a plant eating world!

Climate advocates based on their understanding of science seem to have concluded that to limit greenhouse gas emissions associated with industrial agriculture, Americans need to cut down on eating hamburgers. (I prefer to call them beef burgers to quell the doubt in anyone’s mind that the burger in America contains beef and not ham, or mutton as in India. This has helped many Hindu nonvegetarians from accidentally crossing the line mandating the cow’s sanctity).

Climate experts increasingly are urging restraint on meat production and consumption. In a recent paper in the reputed journal ‘Science’, the authors claim that food-related emissions alone put the Paris climate agreement’s warming target of 1.5 degrees Celsius out of reach. The most effective way to address these emissions they conclude is a global shift away from meat consumption.

Animal agriculture undoubtedly requires clearing vast amounts of land, leading to deforestation and climate warming. Mass animal feeding and rearing sites functioning in closely packed animal herd cages cause horrific conditions not just for the animals but also for the environment by intensifying the methane emissions from what are referred to as massive ‘feces lagoons.’ Hence the conclusion put forth by many that to keep climate degradation to manageable levels, the world needs to alter the way it produces and consumes animal products.

In the same vein, a University of Michigan paper speculating on how much hypothetical diet changes could reduce American climate emissions concludes that the US could achieve a 51 percent reduction in food-related emissions simply by reducing beef consumption by 90 percent, and of all other animal-based foods by 50 percent.

While there is no certainty that the above findings will dictate Biden’s climate policy, as vegetarians we can celebrate – in the words of the famously well-liked Beatles song – ‘the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius’.

A brief recap on the why and what of vegetarianism. The word vegetarian is a compound of vegetable (adjective) and the suffix -arian (as in agrarian). According to Wikipedia, the first written use of the term “vegetarian” appeared in the West in the early 19th century when authors referred to a vegetable regimen diet. The term was popularized with the foundation of the Vegetarian Society in Manchester in 1847.

But vegetarianism figured in Indian culture and psyche long before the west came upon the concept. Writing in the 4th-5th century before Christ (BCE), the Chinese scholar Fa-Hein on his visit to India wrote, “India is a strange country. People do not kill any living creatures, do not keep pigs and fowl, and do not sell live cattle”.

Parshvanatha, the second last Jain Tirthankara, and Mahavira, the last Tirthankara, advocated ahimsa towards all living beings. Their stringent form of vegetarianism found wide acceptance and continues to this day among Jainism’s followers.

The Aryan economy and society which from the earliest of times deeply valued animal life, also gave India a generally benign, animal friendly, and meat eschewing culture and heritage. That explains the high extent of vegetarianism throughout history and in contemporary India.

Debates over the ethics of meat eating have been at the core of culture wars all over the world and throughout history. Religions have played their part in these wars by upholding the sacredness and purity of some animals while condemning the impurity of others. Thus pig is taboo to Muslims and cow to Hindus. Goat slaughter itself is deemed to be pure or impure, taboo or not, depending on the manner in which the animal is slaughtered – in one coup or ‘Jhatka’ by Sikhs – and slowly taking time as ‘Halaal’ by Muslims. Others such as Jews have tabooed mixing meat with dairy in the same meal service. I was once advised to stay with black coffee absent milk or cream on a long kosher El Al flight.

That there would be economic, environmental or other reasons justifying such forms of prescribed and proscribed dietary patterns is a fair conjecture.

Mahatma Gandhi, in line with his tendency to test various tenets of Hinduism and other faiths and eager in his younger impressionable years to imbibe westernism, experimented with meat eating but remorsefully concluded that was not for him. Believing the mighty British were stronger because they ate meat, he had felt tempted to try a few bites of mutton but he was unable to live it down. “Every time I dropped off to sleep,” he recalled, “it would seem as though a live goat were bleating inside me, and I would jump up full of remorse.” Fully converted, his orthodox vegetarianism in fact extended to his refusal to drink cow’s milk as an affront to the cow’s sacredness.

Gandhian dietary concerns went way beyond religion and taboos, as he increasingly took to experimenting with health and nutritional diet as interdependent and correlates of human endurance and longevity. Observers of Gandhi in fact admire him for his foresight in “anticipating so many of today’s dietary preoccupations – from veganism and whole grains, to raw food and fasting”.

“Eliminating salt and sugar from his diet, foraging for wild greens and making his own almond milk,” Nico Slate points out in his 2019 essay, “Gandhi seemed more like a poster-child for foodies now than the radical anticolonial activist I had studied as a child”.

“But as I delved deeper into the history of Gandhi’s relationship with food”, Slate continues, “I realized that his diet was intimately connected to his politics. For Gandhi, eating ethically meant more than avoiding certain foods; it meant connecting what we eat to the struggle against injustice and inequality”.

Perhaps the green planet scientists of today are only following Gandhi’s example when they link global warming to meat eating and other inhumane practices that threaten our planet and its animal and human inhabitants.

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Faith and Divinity

By Neera Kuckreja Sohoni

 

On his New York visit in 1896, Swami Vivekananda while addressing an assembly candidly stated that “The most intense love that humanity has ever known has come from religion, and the most diabolical hatred that humanity has known has also come from religion…. nothing makes us so cruel as religion, and nothing makes us so tender as religion.” On a prophetic note he added, “This has been so in the past, and will also, in all probability, be so in the future”.

In her thoughtful book (Dangerous Religious Ideas’, 2020) Rachel Mikva speaks to the commonality of some pious notions in the world’s leading religions that have potential to become dangerous unless interpreted more sagaciously. Other thinkers recommend taking away ‘chosenness’ (God’s selection of a particular people as worthy of receiving His commands), and more importantly, the ‘script’ out of scripture.

Giving up chosenness implies humility resulting from considering one’s faith at par with others.  Extracting the script is like separating grain from chaff. It suggests dynamism in that reexamining the script of any religious scripture could afford different meanings and permit or even legitimize behavior more suited to humanity’s emerging needs.

Scripture and religions, as Mikva points out, are tools of moral development enabling us to follow ethical conduct. Currently, over 40 percent of Americans and considerably higher ratios elsewhere acknowledge that one must believe in God in order to be an ethical person. In contrast, Mahatma Gandhi reversed the equation when he simply but profoundly asserted, “As soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious; there is no such thing as religion overriding morality.”

Fired by similar notions, enlightened thinkers throughout history have sought to reimagine religion to enable it to build bridges between conflicting faiths and people. Arguing that ultimate truth is beyond the scope of human understanding, they emphasize how intellectual humility can help to disarm scriptural and religious intolerance.

Making religion less monopolistic of one kind of god and one kind of truth, but as the Hindu tradition suggests, accepting that the doors to God are many and each of us is free to enter any, could put us on the path to reconciliation.

The three principal “Religions of the Book” – i.e. Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have a common thread running through their narrative that (i) God spoke directly to them which made them God’s “chosen people”; (ii) Their Holy Book is divine; and (iii) Their faith stands above all others. This assumption of being God’s favorite whom God has specially trusted with his message and responsibility to faithfully follow, protect, spread, and perpetuate is a noble sentiment and an elevating narrative. But the exclusionary nature of the ‘divine origin’ doctrine, like the divine right of kings, makes religions autocratic and monopolistic.

For its survival, humanity has a stake in plural readings, as scholarship on religion today is increasingly proposing. Under the eclectic approach, walls and silos among faiths and faiths’ followers dissolve as claims to the selection or ‘chosenness’ of one people, one faith, and one holy book above all others are set aside.

Scriptural ultimacy if discarded permits us to respond with open minds to issues which in earlier centuries were condemned as sacrilege but now require acceptance and assimilation. Openness rather than rigidity in applying religion to current events is the best and perhaps the only way to enhance religion’s relevance and acceptance, and to defuse its ‘dangerous’ elements.

When we of any religion acknowledge the left-outs and the out-groups as claimants to inclusion and embrace in religion, and bring them into the sanctums of our secular and religious life, our faiths have a better chance to survive and grow.

Over 40 percent of Americans and considerably higher ratios elsewhere acknowledge that one must believe in God in order to be an ethical person. In contrast, Mahatma Gandhi reversed the equation when he simply but profoundly asserted, “As soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious; there is no such thing as religion overriding morality.” (Photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Considerable evidence exists of the benefits to humankind from a progressive, encompassing, and embracive approach to religion. It has enabled us to tackle burning secular issues such as ending slavery, and permitting divorce, abortion, women priests, and even marriage for priests. It has helped promote and to varying extent accomplish equality for the traditionally underprivileged including women, people of color, LGBTQ, slaves, serfs, low caste and all others traditionally discarded as deplorables and untouchables. They have already been, or are beginning now, to be embraced and permitted the same agency and standing in faith that others have enjoyed all through history.

When all are equally deemed as God’s elected people, and all nations as God’s chosen nations, then the binary of good and evil disappears.

Unfortunately, equivalence was not always the inspiration guiding or characterizing faiths. On the contrary, for its entire past existence, humanity has stood fractured by the divisive divinity claimed by religion. Fanning visions of glory based on expansionist empire-building, the restrictive view of religion has compelled religion’s followers to loot, convert, submerge and destroy all those of a different faith. Hence, the endless religious wars of prior centuries and the religio-political terrorism of our times.

The missionary zeal of religion’s followers to spread their God’s divinely conveyed message to all has found its active collaborator in the ideology of nationhood. America and many other nations as well as different racial groups at various points in history have claimed to be the chosen ones, with their spiritual and political leaders and monarchs using military and economic wars to achieve supremacy over the rest of the world. Capitalist, Communist, Socialist or Anarchist – each nation or bloc of nations currently is rushing to claim global dominance in the name of their superior ideology.

Since religious vocabulary and bigotry colors political actions of all nations, it is unfair to continue to malign White Westerners as colonizers. Clearly, both historically and currently, colonization has been co-opted by peoples of all ethnicities, faiths and nations.

Speaking subjectively, the contrasting example of Hinduism is worth noting. Its strength is that it has no prescribed single book or divinely conveyed message to a Moses or a Mohammad like godly person. That God is one, but its manifestations and incarnations many, is what makes Hinduism and its followers eclectic. Within the same family, spouses may follow different Hindu sects or worship different deities.

That diversity, and absent any claim to Hinduism’s exclusively divine and monolithic beginning, or to Hindus being the chosen people, is what possibly accounts for the absent or limited militant colonization in Hinduism’s history. Hindus often wonder if this intrinsically non-deterministic aspect of Hinduism is what has made Hindus resilient, and allowed them largely to remain Hindus through centuries of oppressive occupation of Hindustan by waves of invaders and alien regimes – all of opposing faiths.

Speaking subjectively, the contrasting example of Hinduism is worth noting. Its strength is that it has no prescribed single book or divinely conveyed message to a Moses or a Mohammad like godly person. That God is one, but its manifestations and incarnations many, is what makes Hinduism and its followers eclectic. Within the same family, spouses may follow different Hindu sects or worship different deities. thesatime | The Southasian times

That is not to deny the horrors of caste and intra-and cross-faith slaughters that Hindus in the name of Hinduism have engaged in and tolerated, and continue to do so. But its innate eclecticism provides sufficient reason for hope in the potential of the ‘Hindu way of religion’ to promote greater acceptance of other faiths and peoples.

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The California based writer frequently contributes opeds and essays to The South Asian Times. 

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Mahatma Gandhi’s experiments with truth

The Phoenix settlement near Durban in South Africa comprised of 100 acres of land that was purchased by Mahatma Gandhi in 1904. It was on this settlement that Gandhi Ji started his journey of transforming from a successful lawyer to a simple person with a passion for liberation, nonviolence, and spirituality. It had an “ashramic character” that is, each member was aware of the ashram observances and the ideal conduct that they were expected to strive towards and follow them.

The ashram and its community were Gandhi’s greatest experiment. The ashram was a community of co-religionists, co-practitioners, bound together by a shared quest and a set of obligatory observances. It was a community that had its foundations in truth, which alone is eternal. Gandhi’s intense yearning was that such truth should illuminate his heart. In the absence of truth, or even in case of violation of it, the ashram could not be. It was simultaneously a community that aspired for ahimsa.

In July 1913, a moral lapse involving his son Manilal and Jaykuvar Doctor, the daughter of his close associate Dr. Pranjivandas Mehta, had prompted Gandhi to go on a fast for seven days and a vow to have only one meal a day for a period of four and a half months. Gandhi later said that he was moved by “the purest pity for them.” And yet, there was a reoccurrence of the lapse that had forced him to undertake a fourteen-day fast and continue with one meal a day vow till June 1914. In effect, Gandhi had fasted from July 12, 1913 till June 26, 1914, which involved both complete fasting and the one-meal-a-day observance. 

Both actions, fast and one meal a day, are called Anuvrat or small vow.

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Do Jains believe in the afterlife?

Jainism explains that, as a result, of karmas associated with their souls, living beings have been going through the cycle of birth and death since times immemorial. Unless the soul gets rid of its karmas, it will never be free. When a living being dies it gets reborn.

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73rd Punya Tithi of Gandhi Ji observed at the Consulate

Shanti Fund and LIMFF organized the multifaith program

By Bakul Matalia

New York: On January 30, Volunteers of Shanti Fund in collaboration with the Long Island Multi Faith Forum (LIMFF) and Consulate General of India, observed the solemn occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 73rd Punya Tithi – death anniversary- at the ballroom of the Consulate here.

Since 2005 Shanti Fund, along with LIMFF, has been marking the day by replicating the Mahatma’s daily morning and evening ritual of multifaith prayers to promote peace, religious harmony, and tolerance. For the first 5 years, this event was held at the Indian Consulate and since 2010, at the Suffolk County Executive Office building in Hauppauge, Long Island, where a life size statue of Gandhiji graces the plaza level. This year it was back to the Consulate. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions only presenters were there in person, some speakers appearing virtually.

Priest Nikhil N. Trivedi recited slokas and Gayatri Mantra. (All photographs: Shanti Fund)

Consul General Randhir Jaiswal kicked off the event on time at 3 PM with warm welcoming words, emphasizing two qualities of Gandhi Ji – punctuality, and self-discipline.

Arvind Vora, co-founder of Shanti Fund, conducted the program. It began with Gandhi Ji’s favorite bhajan, “Vaishnav Jan Toh” by Ms. Yoomesh Sharma and Adhan-Muslim call to prayer by Imam Ibrahim Atasoy, who was born in Turkey and educated at Al-Azhar, a world renowned Egyptian University.

Imam Ibrahim Atasoy presented Adhan-Muslim call to prayer. (All photographs: Shanti Fund)

Nitin Ajmera, Chairman of the Board of the Parliament of World Religions, recited “Manglic”, a Jain prayer. Soh Young Lee sang Amazing Grace in Korean, Spanish and English. This Christian favorite was part of Biden’s inauguration. Hindu priest Nikhil Trivedi recited slokas and the Gayatri Mantra. Two Longwood High School students Angad Singh and Arjan Singh Bindra presented Anand Sahib – The Song of Bliss from the Sikh faith.

Rev. JoAnn Barrett, of Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship in Huntington, presented a peace prayer covering all faiths. Chandni Rodriguez honored Gandhiji in yogic gestures and by reciting The Eye of Wisdom poem written by her mother,  Gurani Anjali, who established the first yoga studio on Long Island, in Amityville.  Dr. Yousuf Syed, a physician, Islamic scholar and descendent of the Nizam dynasty of Hyderabad, spoke about the true message of peace according to Islam.

Bakul Matalia, a Shanti Fund volunteer, thanked all the presenters and the Consul General and Deputy Consul General Shatrughna Sinha for being gracious hosts.

The hour long meeting ended with Gandhiji’s other favorite bhajan, Raghupati Raghav Rajaram, recited by Soh Young Lee-Segredo and the audience joining in.

Soh Young Lee sang Amazing Grace and Raghu Pati Raghav. (All photographs: Shanti Fund)

 

Bakul Matalia, a volunteer of Shanti Fund and member of LIMFF, can be reached at bakul.matalia@yahoo.com.

 

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Indian Americans condemn vandalizing of Gandhi statue in California

New York: Several Indian-American organizations in the US on Sunday strongly condemned the violent toppling of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in California and expressed hope that those responsible for the despicable act will be brought to justice.

The 6-ft tall, 650-pound (294 kg) bronze statue of Gandhi in the Central Park of the City of Davis in Northern California was vandalized, broken and ripped from the base by unknown people early this week.

“We call upon the City of Davis to immediately commence a thorough process to bring the perpetrators of this act to justice and reinstall a statue that pays homage to this apostle of peace,” non-profit organization Indiaspora said in a statement.

“It is especially ironic that the statue of a leader who was among the foremost historical giants of non-violent civil protest was torn down in this manner,” Indiaspora said.

In 2016, the Davis City Council voted to proceed with the installation of Mahatma Gandhi’s statue in the city’s Central Park.

The statue of Gandhi, which was donated by the Indian government to the city of Davis, was installed by the city council four years ago amid protests from anti-Gandhi and anti-India organizations.

Strongly condemning the desecration and destruction of the Gandhi statue, Indian National Overseas Congress (INOC) said that it is more hurtful to see that the people who had done this despicable act on the eve of January 30th, the day when Mahatma Gandhi paid the ultimate sacrifice for every Indian’s freedom.

“We are grateful to the City of Davis for starting a formal investigation and hope that the perpetrators who have done this horrible deed will be found and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” INOC said. 

Indian American Muslim Council said that the “heinous act has hurt the sentiments” not just of the Indian American community, but millions of people in the United States who continue to be inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s struggle for peace, pluralism and justice.

A large number of peace-loving community members chose peace over violence, love over hatred, and rallied at Central Park in Davis on Sunday, Jan 31st in support of reinstating Gandhi statue & condemning the hatred. Hundreds of people urged the City of Davis Administration to find the culprits and bring them to justice and called upon the entire world to rise as one entity and destroy the nefarious designs of these hate mongers. They also urged the City of Davis Administration to reinstate the statue at the earliest and provide adequate protection in the future.

The car rally and peace vigil were co-hosted by Gandhi Statue for Peace Committee Davis, India Association of Davis (IAD), Indian Association of Sacramento (IAS) & the community at large. The participants were from regions including but not limited to Davis, Sacramento, Greater Sacramento, and Bay Area. The rally started by singing the National Anthem of the USA. The cars were decorated with posters showing their support.

Davis mayor Gloria Partida attended the Gandhi Statue vigil along with vice-mayor Lucas Frerichs and city council members Dan Carson and Will Arnold. The City of Davis issued a statement on the matter, “The City of Davis condemns the vandalism that destroyed the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Central Park. We do not support any actions that include the destruction of property. We sympathize with those who are grieving the destruction of the statue and promise a thorough investigation and full accountability for those who committed this crime.”

 “We condemn this cowardly desecration and call upon the Department of Homeland Security and FBI to investigate this hate crime, as it was likely done with the intention of intimidating the community, said HAF California Advocacy Director Easan Katir.

“If we have learned nothing from the tragic events of recent weeks it is that senseless acts of hatred and violence are never the answer, which Gandhi and my father affirmed through fasting and their lifetimes of struggle. The statue that was desecrated in Davis symbolizes the truth Gandhi expressed: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” Let us reject this act of intolerance and vandalism,” said Paul F. Chavez, President, Cesar Chavez Foundation & Son of Cesar Chavez.

I am in full support of IAS denouncing the vandalism of the Gandhi statue. Gandhi stood for peace through non-violence. This vigil was important to the Indian community as we as a nation and communities around California state, need to practice unity and understanding,” said Chris Clark, the President of Folsom Cordova Unified School District Board of Education.

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Mahatma Gandhi statue vandalized in California, Indian-Americans protest

Indian Americans on Sunday held protest against the vandalism of a Mahatma Gandhi statue in California’s Davis and demanded reinstallation of the statue.

In a statement by Deputy Chief Paul Doroshov of the Davis Police Department, the statue, broken off at the ankles and the top half of its head broken off, was found by a park worker around 9 am (local time) on Wednesday.

Stepping up in support of the Indian community at the vigil was the Mayor of Davis Gloria Partida who deeply regretted the incident. The mayor informed the protesters that they have initiated an investigation. “Vandalism will never be condoned. Mahatma Gandhi is our inspiration and We will not allow this. Not on our watch,” the mayor added.

“Pro-Khalistan radical groups from neighboring towns outside of Davis tried to intimidate the attendees in an attempt to stop the event and tried to assault a lady speaker at the event,” Bhaskar Vempati, President of the Indian Association of Sacramento, one of the cohosts of the event told ANI.

“Police had to be called in to control the aggressive protestors. A police report has been filed on the incident of assault on the lady speaker,” Vempati further added.

The Consulate General of India in San Francisco has separately taken up the matter with the City of Davis and local law enforcement authorities.

Speaking to ANI, Dr TV Nagendra Prasad, Consul General of India, San Francisco said, “The City Council has condemned the incident and issued a statement. I did take it up separately and the city council and police authorities assured me to bring the culprits to justice. They also allowed and provided security to the vigil by the community today.” 

Investigators are still unsure of when exactly the statue was torn down or what the motive may have been. “Seeing as it’s a cultural icon to a portion of the people in Davis, we are taking it very seriously,” Doroshov said.

This act has triggered a massive outrage among the Indian-American community who demanded that the officials investigate it as an act of hate crime. (ANI)  

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What the farm stir can learn from Gandhi

By Shashi Shekhar

Neither the government nor the farmers are willing to move the needle an inch despite various related agreements being hammered out. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has postponed the implementation of the three contentious laws.

Both sides have adopted different strategies to gain the upper hand. The government hopes that it can hold out till the farmers give up. The farmers’ organisations, meanwhile, are exploring various ways to engage the agitators. 

A huge tractor rally has now been planned for Republic Day on January 26. The farmers hope to keep up the pressure on the government this way, but this is not a solution. We can only hope that this prolonged agitation does not spiral into some sort of turbulence.

This protest has been unique in that thousands of agitators are present at the four entry points to the capital and seem steadfast in their conviction that these laws must be repealed. They have held fast for more than 50 days now. They have weathered unseasonal rains and the bitter winter so far. It is difficult to manage such a diverse and large crowd but the farmers seem resolute.

However, during the course of the agitation so far, some organisations have made attempts to hijack the movement. Some objectionable posters were put up and some provocative speeches made. But the farmers’ leaders identified these interlopers and neutralised them swiftly. The protest has brought together people from different religions and various socio-economic and cultural backgrounds in a harmonious blend. 

The farmers’ organisations say that more than 75 people have died at the dharna sites so far. Normally such tragedies cause people to lose heart, but this has not been the case here. Some farmers have reportedly died by suicide but this has not been glorified in order to prevent this becoming a trend.

Religion has been a unifying factor in this protest, which explains why a mobile gurudwara has been set up at the Singhu border. The police and security forces have displayed sensitivity in keeping a respectful distance from religious places during their operations. When the Guru Granth Sahib is placed on a site, it is considered holy and this has been a rallying point for the agitators.

A sizable number of women and children are also present at the site of the protests. This has attracted a lot of media attention. The farmers’ leaders have also been careful not to disturb normal life in surrounding villages and volunteers have been deployed in full force to ensure that the peace is kept. This has earned the movement public support. If the crowds had been unruly, the government could well have gained the advantage.

These are commendable achievements, but is this enough?

Every agitation has a window of effectiveness. As the struggle gets prolonged, people’s goodwill decreases. Mahatma Gandhi, who pioneered the non-violent movement in India, was astute enough to judge the duration of an agitation. He managed to keep his demands and issues alive despite stepping back at the right time. The farmers must learn from his example. Perhaps the absence of a single leader or organisation is the reason that this has not happened so far.

Every system needs to be upgraded and amended in keeping with the changing times. Today, if farmers feel compelled to leave their villages because agriculture is unremunerative, then surely this suggests that agrarian reforms are necessary. Such reforms are bound to be contentious which is why the Constitution gives people the right to protest. The farmers have done so in a constructive way so far, but now they have to consider finding a middle path.

The government must walk the extra mile to convince farmers of its good intentions. It should not allow this agitation to spin out of control. Remember the railway strike of May 1974. It led to Indira Gandhi feeling cornered enough to impose the Emergency.

(The Op-Ed appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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Donald Trump signs into law Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative

President Donald Trump has signed into law the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative that among other things paves the way for establishing an educational forum between America and India to study the work and legacies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Written by civil rights icon John Lewis, who died early this year, and co-sponsored by Indian-American Congressman Ami Bera, the new law authorizes $ 1M a year through fiscal 2025 for the Gandhi-King Scholarly Exchange Initiative.

It also authorizes $ 2 M for just FY 2021 for the Gandhi-King Global Academy, and $30 M for 2021 for the US-India Gandhi-King Development Foundation.

The new law also authorizes the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to establish a US-India development foundation that would leverage the Indian private sector to address development priorities in India.

The development foundation would receive $15 M per year from 2022 through 2025 but only if India’s private sector commits to match US government contributions. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the bill would cost $51 M over five years.

In 2009, late Congressman John Lewis led a congressional delegation visit to India to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Dr King’s pilgrimage to India.

Inspired by his visit, Congressman Lewis created the Gandhi-King Exchange Act to seek to apply the philosophies of Gandhi and Dr King Jr to conflict resolution efforts and current policy challenges.

The Act, among other things authorizes the State Department, in cooperation with the Indian government, to establish an annual educational forum for scholars from both countries that focuses on the legacies of Gandhi and Dr King Jr.

It also authorizes to develop a professional development training initiative on conflict resolution based on the principles of nonviolence; and establish a foundation to address social, environmental and health priorities in India.

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Modi, Hasina reiterate commitment to eliminating terrorism

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Thursday acknowledged the threat of terrorism to both the countries and reiterated their commitment to eliminate it.

In a virtual summit between Prime Minister Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina on Thursday, the two countries held comprehensive discussions on all aspects of bilateral relations, and exchanged views on regional and international issues.

Recognizing that terrorism remains a threat to global peace and security, both Modi and Hasina reiterated their “strong commitment to eliminating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” an official statement of the ministry of external affairs said.

Both sides agreed to hold an early meeting of the Joint Boundary Conference to prepare a new set of strip maps along the stretch of Icchamati, Kalindi, Raimongol and the Hariabhanga Rivers from Main Pillar 1 to Land Boundary terminus, with a view to finalizing the delineation of the boundaries as fixed. It was agreed to carry out necessary work to convert the International Boundary along Kuhsiyara river into a fixed boundary.

The two leaders also agreed to facilitate completion of border fencing at all pending sectors at the international border between both the countries at the earliest beginning from the Tripura (India)- Bangladesh sector. Both sides stressed on full implementation of the ongoing Coordinated Border Management Plan.

At the summit, Prime Minister Modi also announced that under his ‘neighborhood first policy’, the government will provide Covid-19 vaccines to Bangladesh as soon as they are produced in India. While noting the ongoing bilateral collaboration over the vaccine-development in the private sector, PM Modi also offered collaboration in therapeutics and partnership in vaccine production.

Recognizing the immense potential of bilateral economic and commercial ties, both Prime Ministers directed the officials to expeditiously conclude the ongoing joint study on the prospects of entering into a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).

The two leaders noted that India-Bangladesh bilateral relations are based on shared bonds of history, culture, language, and on fraternal ties and reflective of an all-encompassing partnership based on sovereignty, equality, trust and understanding that transcends a strategic partnership.

Both the leaders paid solemn tribute to the martyrs of the Liberation War of Bangladesh, the Muktijoddhas and the Indian soldiers, for their great sacrifices in 1971.

The two Prime Ministers jointly unveiled a commemorative postal stamp issued by the Government of India on the occasion of birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangladesh had issued a stamp in honor of Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary celebrations in September this year.

An introductory video on the digital exhibition to commemorate the two great leaders of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi and Bangabandhu, was also screened on Thursday. The filming of the biopic on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, under the direction of celebrated Indian film director Shyam Benegal will commence in January 2021.

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