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Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Hamasculation of Gaza

The Gaza conflict continues. More missiles. More Destruction. The death toll has crossed four hundred and counting.  When will the guns fall silent?  How many deaths will it take for Israel and Hamas to know that too many people have died?

This is barbaric, and the Hamas game-plan seems to be to instigate even more Israeli reprisals so that the death toll on the Palestinian side mounts so much that the international community will finally have no other option but to step in and stop Israel.

Doesn't the killing of hundreds of defenceless men, women, boys, and girls add up to a 'war crime?'

And the answers, my friend,  keep blowing in the wind.

The answers are blowing in the wind.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

In search of the Bodhi Geese with the golden eggs

Is this the State Bank- Mahabodhi Temple partnership to own 'Lord Buddha'? These blatant signs inside the Mahabodhi temple complex , photographed by Anagarika Dhamma Priya urge one to donate online to 'Lord Buddha'... is the State bank of India and the BTMC an unholy nexus that is misleading pilgrims? Is this to mean that other temples have no link to the 'Lord Buddha?'
 Kashaf Bin Shamim and his friends do not visit the Mahabodhi Temple any more. Neither do Arun Tirkey and Bajrang Munda. Nor do Anjali and Lily or Triratna Prasad. These people, aged 18 to 50 were once regular fixtures at Bodh Gaya’s historical landmark. You would find them walking quietly, feeding the fish, or showing off their world heritage site to awed relatives from other states. Once the town was placed on India’s ‘terrorist site map’ a year ago, the new-fangled security measures have sapped the spirit of camaraderie and harmony. The ten foot wall that surrounds the outer periphery of the temple, and the 200 strong police force and the new security measures are to blame.

 “It’s as though the death eaters from a Harry Potter book has descended on the Temple,” says 19 year old Felix Toppo, a tall and lanky lad. “Sometimes the cops at the gates can be quite rude, and it’s dangerous to talk back, or we guys may end up in handcuffs!”

The 7/7 blasts have scared away Bodh Gaya's geese  with the golden eggs: tourists of every hue and nationality, and there is tough competition as monks and merchants alike joust valiantly to snaffle the few unflappable visitors who do end up before the temple gates.

Triratna Gupta and Anagarika Dhamma Priya, who have lived in the town for decades say that the wall and security measures have driven away business, but there is a whisper doing the rounds that the Mahabodhi Temple Management Committee are in cahoots with the State government to load the dice in favour of certain unnamed business interests.

There is so much of frisking and inconvenience in the guise of security, that most visitors who visit the Mahabodhi once, are reluctant to go through the entire rigmarole for a second visit. "Before, the pilgrim would come back for a multiple darshans, once in the morning, and once in the evening, and remain there till quite late. These visitors would then take time to visit the surrounding shops and take in the local colour. Now that’s all finished.," says Triratna. The only organisation that seems to be unfazed about the dip in pilgrims seems to be the BGTC. The Chief Monk brushed off suggestions that this year there were fewer visitors around Buddha Purnima as 'unverified speculation'. It seems that the donations to the Mahabodhi temple weren't all that much affected by the tourist drought.

“A year ago suspected terrorists engineered four low-intensity blasts inside the main shrine complex. The Tregar Monastery of the Karmapa, Great Buddha statue and an empty tourist bus were the other targets. It’s strange that these explosions were about as powerful as very large crackers. The continued demands from the Temple Management Committee for more and more security measures, is intriguing, even though it’s quite evident that more policing brings about resentment and fear, not amity and harmony,” says Anagarika Dhamma Priya, a PUCL member, and one of the vocal critics of what is being perceived as the steady politicisation of the Bodhi Temple management.

 The harmony between different religious communities and congregations have taken a beating after the blast, and the dwindling flow of foreign visitors that jolted the hospitality sector hasn’t made relationships any sweeter. Business fell almost 70 percent, locals swear.

 Local Bodh Gaya inn keepers, lodge owners and hoteliers complain that the monasteries are nuzzling in on their turf. “It’s bizarre how these monasteries have added on rooms and are providing hospitality for a fee to more and more foreign pilgrims. After the blasts, the monasteries seem to be creating an impression that the regular hotels are unsafe, and they are in fact poaching on our trade,” grumbles Shamim, who runs a middle-of-the-road hotel not far from the main temple. “I wonder whether these monasteries are paying income tax on money earned from their guests?”

 People who own real estate are unhappy as well, because after the blasts they are not allowed to build upon, sell or transfer their holdings. “The blasts are a convenient excuse for the authorities to tamper and tinker around with the so-called Bodh gaya Development Plan, which none of us have really seen,” says Ali Asghar, a member of the local shopkeepers union.

 Prince Dwyer, and educationist and social activist is optimistic, though. “The government has its own perception of what ‘security’ is, and what it must do to assure the foreign visitors that Bodh Gaya can deal with any security threat. As for the drop in traffic, one year is a short span in memory. Let’s wait till October, and we may see increased footfalls and better days ahead. All of us have got to move beyond 7/7/13 ! ”


Monday, July 07, 2014


Are the fat cats of the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee quietly aiding and abetting the Bihar Government in its game plan to displace local vendors and create more opportunities for big business?

A local artisan: will he soon be displaced by the BTMC plans?
Is the Mahabodhi Temple soon to become nothing more than a goose that will lay easter eggs stuffed with foreign tourist dollars?

Is the so-called 'Bodh Gaya terrorist attack' of July 7. 2013 the perfect cover to execute the destruction of the street vendors and the small and affordable service providers to make way for McDonald's, Barristas, and fancy high-priced salons, eateries?

Will the Bodhi Temple now manufacture a 'brand' through which it will hock trinkets and souvenirs from state Government projects after its 'ex-officio Chairman' the Honourable District Magistrate would have used brute force to chase away indigenous craftsmen and small business that have survived in the shade of the Temple for generations?

Entrance and Exit from the Western Side.. blocking out the market on the east?
The Common Man of Bodh Gaya has a lot of doubts as a ten-feet wall and 200 Bihar Military Policemen now separate him from the Mahabodhi Temple. The wall, to most of the residents here, is a wall of shame in more ways than one can count.

“Last year, after the July 7 explosion, the administration erected this ten foot extra boundary wall in front of the Mahabodhi temple for so-called ‘security’. This wall has benefitted nobody. It has destroyed our small Bodh Gaya bazaar that existed opposite the temple for more than half a century. This cursed wall has affected the market, the business and the livelihood of more than 400 families,” says Triratna Prasad Gupta, the chairman of the Bodh Gaya Vyavasayik Sangh (BGVS), a loose union of shopkeepers who have been in business around the periphery of the temple for decades.

 There is no doubt that the bomb blast was a black day in the history of this town, says Ali Asghar who operates a tour and travel agency in the bazaar. “The bomb scared away visitors and incomes fell. On top of that, the wall is overkill. The fallout of the sanitization exercise was that the people who provided low-cost services to the pilgrims were kicked out. As pilgrims came out from the temple after their prayer, there were opportunities to buy cheap souvenirs, have light meals for as little as twenty rupees, and move eastwards to the market for other needs. These services were swept away when the entire space in front of the temple was cleared. The ten foot wall sprung up in front of our noses, and hid our shops from view. The result, business is down by almost seventy percent.”

In the meanwhile, local news reports say that the wall might be raised another five feet, and watchtowers along the sides are being planned. With the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee(BTMC) planning to sell stone images made in Nalanda under its own brand, the locals smell a conspiracy in the whole game-plan of displacing the small vendors, raising the wall, and putting in place obtrusive ‘security protocols’.

“Is the wall part of a larger game plan to squeeze out the locals, and drive foreign visitors towards the more expensive hotels and high-end restaurants that are beginning to dot the western side of the Mahabodhi temple?” ask some social activists from the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and certain members of the Shanti Sadbhavna Samiti.

The son of the late Ram Deo Ram, a graduate from the Sakya Muni College took over his father’s shoe-making business of 18 years at Pachetti locality, east of the temple , recalls that before the wall, several foreign tourists would purchase his pure leather handmade boots and sandals.

Ram Jr. says the wall is squeezing off his customers
 Now the footfalls have fallen drastically, even those who visit the temple, return the other way.

“It’s all because of the rules that you have to leave your mobile phone on the western side of the temple, so when you leave, you go back in that direction. The wall is so high that you don’t realize that there’s a whole market behind it.”

 “The wall has effectively erased the low-priced artifacts and commodities, broken the backs of the local artisans, and obscured local businesses that have stood here for generations.
" Now the Temple management is tying up with artisans imported by Nitish Kumar who are creating soapstone carvings. So the cash inflow from foreign tourists will be cornered by the monasteries and the high end hotels. Raise the bogey of security threat, isolate the local competition, throw out the poor street vendors and encroach on common land.

" Who can challenge the BTMC, after all their chairman is no ordinary citizen, he is the District Magistrate with almost unlimited powers which can be used in ‘emergency situations’. The explosions are just the excuse by which all opposition to BTMC game-plan has been silenced,” a shop owner observed.

In 1958, several of the shops behind the wall had ceded their own frontage contribute to what became the open space around and in front of the temple. That land has now been usurped by the BMTC, say the affected merchants.

The BGVS has petitioned the High Court against the wall. Says Gupta, “With this uneven playing field, the judiciary is our only recourse to justice. We wait for our plea to be heard. Let’s hope it isn’t in vain”.