Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Maa Tujhe Salaam – a Salute to India on Independence Day 2016

Thakur Ranjit Singh, Auckland, New Zealand.

A salute to India on its 70th anniversary of independence -15 August, 2016.

On the night of 14 August, 1947, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, gave the historical, Tryst with Destiny speech”

Long years ago we made a tryst (date) with destiny (fate), and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.

At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. ”

Jai Hind-Hail India
I dedicate this article on behalf of Indian Diaspora in Auckland and also in memory of my Indian Girmitiya (indentured labourer) grandfather Bansi, to all the freedom fighters who were able to deliver this dream – a meeting with fate and cashing on the reality of an Independent India. 

I am a third generation Fijian (Indo Fijian).My grandfather Bansi, was displaced from Karouli, in Rajasthan and torn and tricked from his roots by British in 1915, to slave in Fiji to fill their coffer via sugar plantation, as an indentured (Girmitiya) labourer. I made a pilgrimage to his village some sixteen years ago.

Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India (left) with father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. "Tryst with Destiny" was a speech made  to the Indian Constituent Assembly in The Parliament, on the eve of India's Independence, towards midnight on 14 August 1947.
As the Airbus 320 of Lufthansa Airlines glided towards Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, it was a milestone in my life. This was a flight from Frankfurt, Germany, around midnight of 20 October, 2003. Fate destined that I , together with my good wife were passengers on that flight. I was filled with emotions and unprecedented feelings of delight. I had pledged on the burning pyre of my father that one day I would visit my grandfather’s birthplace, to trace my roots, and also visit the places that we only read in Holy Scriptures. The land we looked upon with awe and reverence, and called Bharat Mata –mother India. As I stepped out, I knelt down there and picked some dust and anointed on my forehead. This was the earth where Ram and Krishn also treaded, and so did my Aja, Bansi. And the land we only knew from Bollywood, and little bit from my Girmitiya grandfather. This was his birthplace.

Bharat Mata - Mother India. Maa Tujhe Salaam- a salute to India on its 70th Anniversary of Independence.

I had good and exciting memorable times in tracing my roots to my lineage and the land of Prithviraj Chauhan, near Jaipur in a small town called Karouli in Rajasthan. I was saddened to see that the economic development and progress in India has failed to reach remote areas, as sections of the country is gripped in poverty, with deep division in the then leaders. Karouli is very close to Vrindavan, Mathura and Taj Mahal, and near stronghold of dacoits like Gabbar Singh of Sholay fame, near Chambal Valley. But those things some other day.

When the then Indian PM Indira Gandhi visited Fiji over three decades ago in 1981, she had good advice for descendants of indentured Indian labourers or girmitiyas as we are known there. She told us that Fiji was now our country, hence we belonged there. As a result, we owed allegiance, loyalty and love for our country, Fiji.

Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai - the country where River Ganges flows-India. The great country where  this author went in 2003 to trace his roots in Rajasthan. This Raj Kapoor movie gave world a lesson on how to treat your visitors- Atithi Deva Bhava - visitors are our Gods. This is a lesson world leaders need to learn from India.
When Fiji’s racist and ethno-nationalist deposed Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase visited India some two decades ago, he failed to learn anything from Indian hospitality.  The uncrowned father of Indian movies, Raj Kapoor immortalized this aspect of Indian culture in his film, “Jis Desh Mein Ganga Baheti Hai” (the land where Ganges flows) with this song….”Mehmaan jo hamara hota hai, woh jaan se pyara hota hai, jyada ki nahin laalach humko thore mein gujara hota hai... hum us desh ke waasi hai jis desh mein Ganga baheti hai...” His song translates to say that we value our visitors more than our life; we do not lust or greed for much as we manage in little that we have... We hail from the land where the Ganges flows…. And from that land if Qarase had learnt that language of Indian love, he may still be ruling Fiji today. But he failed to do so at his peril. And as they say, the rest is history.

Nationalist leaders and others around the world should gain immensely from Indian history and the way of life. Ethnocentric Anglo Saxons, Europeans and other ignorant people who still regard India as a land of snake charmers and rope tricks need to see Akshay Kumar’s Bollywood movie Namastey London. (Greetings to London) They need to get a translation of episode where the protagonist Akshay Kumar, shuts up the great grandson of an English East Indian Company employee who was running down India and its people.

  1. Namastey London: a scene from the movie where the protagonist, Akshay Kumar tells the true tales of real India to a grandson of an Englishman whose grandfather served in  India [Click on the (blue) link above to see that scene- strongly recommended-very inspiring for anybody who hates ethnocentrism.)

By clasping his hands, Akshay says that when we Indians greet each other in the tradition of five thousand year old civilization, we fold our hands close to heart in Namastey (greetings) because we believe that God resides in the heart of every human being. 

We come from a nation where we allow a lady of Catholic Religion (Sonia Gandhi) to step aside for a Sikh (Manmohan Singh) to be sworn as the Prime Minister by a Muslim President (Abdul Kalam) to govern a nation with over 80% Hindus (India)

English is spoken and read more widely in India than in England. India has 5,600 newspapers, 35,000 magazines and 21 major languages with combined readership of 120 million, many more than in England. We have reached the moon and back but yet many Anglo Saxons (Europeans) still feel that India has reached only as far as gourd flute of snake charmers. We have third largest pool in the world of doctors, scientists and engineers. All these are of the details of our intellectual might, now look at our physical might.

May be the English grandfather did not tell that we have the third largest army in the world, and even then Indians clasp their hands in humility because they do not believe that they are above or beneath any individual…..end of the lesson. 

So next time you are confronted by an ethnocentric individual who runs down your Bharat Mata , then you repeat the above to shut him. Some good movies, among others, to enlighten you and your children on pride of India are Manoj Kumar’s Shaheed, Upkar and Purab aur Paschim.

Purab aur Pachhim  (East and West)), Manoj Kumar's movie that tells an exemplary tale of Indian culture versus London Anglo Saxon culture. A pride in promoting our culture-very relevant to our westernised Indian Diaspora, especially teens who frown on things Indian.
But how true are those dreams and future that Jawaharlal Nehru uttered some 70 years ago to the date?

The service of lndia means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity. The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over. And so we have to labour and to work and work…”

"You support me and be a good Indian, and I will make India number one..." NARENDRA MODI- The Lion of Gujarat - answer to our prayers for somebody to wrest back honour, dignity and respectability that Indian once commanded.
And that work shall continue. And we are proud that India today is in better hands than ever been so, under Narendra Modi. And shall we pray that he will be able to wrest back the dignity India once had. The economic development of the last 70 years has not trickled down to the common people. There is a lot more that needs to be done, where social justice is delivered to ALL Indians. 

A salute to India-Maa Tujhe Salaam

And as we raise the Tiranga, the tricolour flag of India, we pledge to emulate the dreams of our freedom fighters who brought independence to India.

Jai Hind (Hail India)

(About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh, based in Auckland, New Zealand, is a third generation Indo Fijian. He was born in Fiji Islands. His indentured grandfather, Bansi came as an indentured labourer to Fiji in 1915. Thakur runs his blog site, FIJI PUNDIT)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Rakscha Bandhan: Stop violence against women to honour your sisters

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Anglo Saxons, White men and non-Hindus do not have Rakscha Bandhan festival, they do not have vows to honour and protect sisters, they do not have Navratam, singing and dancing praises to women or devis, they do not have multitudes of Goddesses, Matas who are revered before and above male deities, like Gauri-Shankar, Sita -Ram, Radhe-Shyam, Lakshmi -Vishnu, and so on. They do not have religious anecdotes, showing high regard for women.

Yet these non-Hindu men, these Anglo Saxons and White “European” (Saheb) men appear to have relatively more respect and regard for women than Hindus and Indians with so many show-pieces and hullabaloo glorifying women. In real fact, we treat our women as trash and lowly weak creatures. India, with 80% Hindu population, is tainted as the worst country for a woman to be born into (Canada is the best). Why this hypocrisy? Why do we Indians in general and Hindus in particular have institutionalised discrimination against our sisters when we have so many festivals and customs glorifying and worshipping women?  Read on…………

Krishna-Draupadi episode in Mahabharat where Lord Krishna saves honour of Draupadi remains the hallmark of protection that brothers need to provide to sisters in time of need- a protection and respect ALL MEN should show towards ALL WOMEN, not only their sisters.
Many believe the concept of Rakscha Bandhan originated from Draupadi and Krishna. Once, when Krishna had hurt his finger while beheading Shishupal, (via Sudarshan Chakra), Draupadi was seen immediately rushing towards him. She at once tore off her sari and bandaged Krishna’s finger. Krishna for this loving act had vowed to help Draupadi. For every thread which she had used to cover his wound, Lord Krishna promised to repay the cost of each thread. He had promised to help Draupadi by saying, “whenever you need me I’ll always be there.”  He repaid this debt during Draupadi Cheer Haran (disrobing), and in many episodes of Mahabharat.

Historically there is story of Rani Karnavati (grandmother of the legendary Maharana Pratap) of Chittorgarh and Mughal Emperor Humayun, whom Rani sent a Rakscha Bandhan. When Rani was attacked and defeated and died through mass suicide, Emperor Humayun defeated Bahadur Shah and restored kingdom to sons of Karnavati. This almost 5 century old history shows that brotherly-sisterly love through Rakscha Bandhan transcends religions: love of a Muslim brother to a Hindu sister - some 500 years ago.

Bollywood has been foremost in promoting brotherly-sisterly love. From Choti Bahen to Hare Rama Hare Krishna to current times, brotherly -sisterly love is shown as immortal in reel (film) life, but such respect for women seem to have been escaping India in real life.

Bollywood has glorified brotherly-Sisterly love. The leading one is Dev Anand's "Hare Rama Hare Krishna" which immortalised this love with melodious song: Phulo ka taro ka sab ka kehna hai.

The chaste bond of love between a brother and a sister is one of the deepest and noblest of human emotions. 'Rakscha Bandhan' or 'Rakhi' is a special occasion to celebrate this emotional bonding by tying a holy thread around the wrist. This thread, which pulsates with sisterly love and sublime sentiments, is rightly called the ‘Rakhi’. We can extend this love to sibling love where one may not have brothers or sisters (sisters to sisters and brothers to brothers). This is similar to the Bandhan which a pundit or priest ties to your hand during Pooja, signifying that God is your protector. 

Bollywood has been instrumental in promoting and glorifying Rakhi festival. But has the "reel' glorification descended on "real" India? 
This Hindu festival will have little relevance to the theme of brotherly-sisterly love and respect for women if all that the celebration involves is stage shows, singing, dancing and a platform for speeches by politicians. And this also provides an avenue for businesses to sell more sarees, gold, sweets, perfume etc. This also becomes a revenue source for media to promote such commercialisation. Personally I have no objections to brothers giving gifts to their sisters. But it comes with a condition that if you have to give your sister anything, FIRST gift her the promise to respect and protect ALL women-starting from your wife.

To the brothers, who has Rakhi tied to their hands, and who vow to protect their sisters, I have one question for you: You vow to protect your sister, but who protects my sister - your wife? This is especially relevant because Indians in general and Hindus in particular hold the relationship of a brother and sister in high esteem, together with respect for all women-theoretically in many cases. While your married sister is someone else’s wife, at the same time, your wife happens to be someone else’s sister. Hence there is a logical reason for reciprocity if one wants to protect sisters. What this means is that for your sister to be respected and protected, you need to do the same to your wife, and other women, who are somebody else’s sister.

A brother's hand that extends towards a sister for tying of the bond of love is also used to bash other women who are somebody else's sisters.  That is why Rakscha Bandha should be a platform to promote love, respect and regard for ALL women.
But is this happening? We reportedly have high incidents of family violence, (and atrocities) especially against women in India and amongst Indian migrants (read People of Indian Origin) to New Zealand and other countries. It therefore came as no surprise to me that one Hindu group in Auckland is blaming an Indian publication, Indian Newslink for publishing a research report they see derogatory to Hindus. That research by Massey University shows that Indians in general and Hindus in particular are biggest abusers of women in Auckland from their sample in a women’s refuge. I believe that, as that is a fact. Hospital records, police statistics, Auckland Council concerns and Ministry of Social Development figures substantiate this. Through such concerns, in 2010, Waitakere Indian Association held a joint workshop with these organisations to tackle this problem. Rather than running with bruised egos, Hindu organisations need to really tackle the hard issue facing our community-the band of women beaters in our community.

Tragedy for Indians is that while they pledge to protect their own sisters, then why do they openly abuse sisters of others? If we took the theme of Raksha Bandhan to protect sisters, that translates to respect for ALL women. Then why are women so much abused and dishonoured in India generally by Indians? Are our festivals only a sham and show piece, without any meaning, and do we observe them "parrot-like" - without understanding it?
We appear to be too religious, but lacking spirituality – we need to practice it in real life. Hindu religious organisations need to inculcate better respect for women within their community from “vyas gaddi” (religious pulpit) in practical terms and NOT in some abstract religious theory, not understood by many. The visiting Swamis from India need to speak more about relevance of religion to improve well being of migrants rather than abstract knowledge that is merely theoretical. We need to walk our talk of good deeds. We have too much religious activities, but little practice in life.

During Rakhi, a sister should also seek protection of her Bhabhi-sister in law, who is also somebody's sister.
Rakscha Bandhan for modern men and women should be about change in human attitudes. It should be about improving our well being through teaching of festivals. It is not about “parrot-like” celebration for commercial gain and an opportunity for profits. Neither should it be a grandstanding of Pundits and Swamis about glorification of this relationship, when we continually abuse and mistreat women. 

The issue we have is for Hindu and Indian groups to recognize the problem and address the vice, because richness in our culture on respect for sisters and women seem to be inversely related to how we actually treat them. Therefore Rakscha Bandhan should be an occasion to pass a message to our community to address the issue about respect for women and stop family violence. This is because celebrations are good avenues for addressing social issues in the community, despite so called Hindu organizations disputing this. Therefore sisters, when you tie the sacred thread, Rakhi on your brothers’ hands, please ask them not only to vow to protect you, but your Bhabhis (sisters-in-law) – their wives as well, because they also are somebody’s sister.

Sisters always feel protected by gallant and brave men who fight for the nation, and do not show their bravery in beating up women and children
Therefore I plead to all brothers to accept this theme and slogan for all Rakscha Bandhan in future. Please take this pledge with all other men: I vow to protect your sister in my home, please pledge to protect mine in your home. And this way, we will use our culture to tackle this vice in our society.

We cannot continue to happily celebrate Rakscha Bandhan while our sisters get beaten up by their husbands behind closed doors in their own homes, without community taking any positive action.

This should be the gift all sisters should seek from their brothers:My brother, this hand is for protecting sisters in particular, and women in general. Please never use it with bad intent on any other sister.
Let us all join in the spirit of Rakscha Bandhan to respect all women, and introduce social theme for betterment of our women. 

Happy Rakscha Bandhan to all.


[About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a media commentator and runs blog site FIJI PUNDIT to pass social message to the community. He advocates change in community attitudes towards festivals we celebrate, to address issues in our communities. Otherwise the well-meaning festivals remain hollow and meaningless. ]

Monday, August 1, 2016

Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) excel,with new executives.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Racial taunts of “curry muncher” and “get out of this country” were not unusual in the earlier parts of 1980s and 90s in New Zealand. And it was such abuses that inspired the founding President of Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) to think about forming a body as a collective pressure and advocate group to provide support for the growing migrant Indian community (People of Indian Origin) in West Auckland.

The Founding President, Praveen Chandra had told the tenth anniversary celebration of Waitakere Indian Association on 8 May, 2010, that the idea of forming an organisation of Indians took root at a birthday party in Te Atatu Peninsula in 1999. And sixteen years on, that organisation is still going strong, with its latest Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 31 July 2016.

All the president's men and women.The incoming executive members of Waitakere Indian Association elected at AGM on 31 July, 2016. SITTING -from left. Kajal Kumar (Assistant Secretary), Hasmita Singh (Secretary), President, Mahendra Sharma, Sunil Kaushal (Vice President), Manoj Tahal (Trustee/Executive)
STANDING -Left to Right- Hardip Singh (Executive), Preeya Prakash (Executive), Mohini Prakash (Assistant Treasurer), Sunil Chandra (Trustee/Executive), Chandrika Prasad (Executive), Nawal Prakash (Executive) Naveen Prakash (Trustee/Treasurer/Immediate Past President), Arvind Singh (Rohit) (Executive) and Dev Bhardwaj (Executive)
Over the past one and a half decades, WIA has been recognised as one of the best organisations in West Auckland, and perhaps New Zealand and received numerous awards for that. It has established itself as a credible community organisation and has formed sound working relationship with like-minded  organisations, the local Maori, Auckland Council, various ethnic groups, various Government ministries, NGOs, local business communities, the sponsors, and of course with its grassroots membership.

The stormy, rainy, windy and wintery cold last day of July, 2016, in mid-winter, saw a warm function at St John Hall in Henderson Auckland. It was an evening for the grassroots membership and the evening rounded off with networking, socialising and dinner. The membership included thinning and greying - haired senior citizens, jean-clad youths, sari and salwar-kameez clad ladies wing, and of course the smartly dressed engine room of the organisation - the past, present and prospective executive members of WIA. This was a day to continue celebrating an icon of West Auckland.

The big boss: Chairperson of Trustees, Sunil Chandra (standing), addressing the meeting while the Secretary, Hasmita Singh (left) is taking notes and the Treasurer Naveen Prakash is engrossed in the financial figures.
The meeting was first addressed by Chairperson of Trustees, Sunil Chandra, who thanked the outgoing executives for a job well-done. WIA has a three tier system, with Trustees, Executives and general membership. The permanent nature of Trustees ensures continuity and stability in the organisation, with trustees having powers of veto to ensure smooth functioning of the organisation. Such a system of governance ensures nobody can “coup” the hard work of the organisation at AGM. 

The founding Trustee / President Praveen Chandra has vacated office. The current Trustees are Sunil Chandra, Rameshwar Dutt, Abhay Ballu, Umas Chandra, Naveen Prakash, with Manoj Tahal making the newest trustee. Perhaps this form of a system would suit other similar organisations to keep opportunists away, and for smooth operation. The buck in such an organisation, does not stop at AGM – the Trustees give the final blessing to grant it legitimacy and authority. And that has been the reason for success and stability of WIA, thanks to the learned Trustees, who rarely get recognised for being the foundation and beacon of the organisation.

The two Presidents: Incoming President, Mahendra Sharma (left) watches on while the Immediate Past President/Treasurer , Naveen Prakash addresses the meeting.
The outgoing President Naveen Prakash presented his annual report and outlined the achievements. Apart from the annual popular Waitakere Diwali and Waitakere Holi (being the pioneer of Holi festival in Auckland), WIA was also been involved in other community activities including fundraising for hurricane in Fiji, working with Auckland Council on final death rite issues and working with like-minded ethnic bodies and organisations for well-being of the community. 

Respective Project Managers of Diwali and Holi, Anilesh Kumar and Mahendra Sharma presented their reports and wonderful events they managed. Other reports of successful subcommittees, such as Youth and Sports, Women’s Wing and Senior Citizens reports were also presented. Naveen being a former treasurer guards money very closely and was able to deliver a healthy surplus and bank accounts for incoming executives.

Part of the Senior Citizens at WIA Annual General Meeting
Allocating and delegating responsibilities to Project Managers for specific events provide opportunities for personal development and spreads leadership training and exposure. Its success was self-evident when the last Holi Festival Project Manager, Mahendra Sharma was unanimously elected as the new President.

Part of the members present at AGM
The full Executive Committee for 2016-2017 year are as follows:

President: Mahendra Sharma
Vice President: Sunil Kaushal
Secretary: Hasmita Singh
Assistant Secretary: Kajal Kumar
Treasurer/ Immediate Past President: Naveen Prakash
Assistant Treasurer: Mohini Prakash
Executive Members: Hardip Singh, Manoj Tahal, Sunil Chandra, Preeya Prakash, Chandrika Prasad, Dev Bhardwaj, Arvind Singh (Rohit) and Nawal Prakash.

One uniqueness about AGM at WIA is the smooth election process where most elections have been through consensus, in a cordial atmosphere, with guiding hands of the trustees. And we were blessed by a grassroots member of our community as the next President. Mahendra Sharma – a soft-spoken, humble person.

The new President, Sharma, in his first presidential address laid the basic foundation of the new executive. This, among others, included working closely with police, and having Indian Wardens in Henderson. This will be headed by the new executive member, Nawal Prakash, who is a former senior sergeant of Fiji Military Forces. The other was working with Fire Services to ensure checking on working smoke alarms in our homes. Sharma also emphasised working closely with the Maori community in general and Waipareira Trust in particular. In addition, WIA would work very closely with Shri Ram Mandir and Hindi School. One area of emphasis will be youth development, and well-being of Senior Citizens. Another emphasis would be extending the sphere of WIA with a membership drive to bring in more people on board.

Empowering women. A pride of Indian Community in New Zealand, Constable Mandeep Kaur Sidhu, Ethnic Peoples Community Relations Officer, based at Henderson Police Station. Here she is seen addressing AGM, while the past and incoming Secretary, Hasmita Singh is taking instant-minutes of the proceedings. With these ladies in the forefront and WIA executives comprising some 30%, West Auckland takes pride in empowering its ladies. President, Mahendra Sharma intends to work closely with police and law enforcement in Henderson.
With the mixture of new and the old, and with three trustees in the executive committee, the membership can expect another successful year from a very enthusiastic, energetic and well deserved team. And unlike many similar organisations WIA can boast to be empowering ladies by having some 30% ladies in key positions.

They say, charity begins at home. WIA, a charitable organisation is indeed unique in this way. Perhaps another rarity of WIA is that, while maintaining its transparency and good governance, it remains a community, a grassroots and a family organisation. To reflect this, WIA’s new Executive has two sets of father – daughter team, while there is a husband – wife team as well. It is through such homely and closely-knit team that Waitakere Indian Association continues to be a shining light of charitable organisations in New Zealand.

FIJI PUNDIT congratulates and blesses them in his usual, salutary manner-Aayushmaan Bhava.

[About the Author-Thakur Ranjit Singh is a former Secretary and Executive Member of WIA, and runs his blog site FIJI PUNDIT, covers news and issues that generally miss the radar of commercial news organisations.]