Saturday, November 29, 2008

Candles of Solidarity

For the last sixty-two hours Mumbai went through a gruesome experience of a war against humanity waged by the Islamist terrorist groups. An unknown jihadi group Deccan Mujahideen is said to have claimed responsibility for the attack. Eight attacks took place in South Mumbai: at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station; at two five-star hotels: the Oberoi Trident at Nariman Point, and Taj Mahal Palace & Tower near the Gateway of India; at the Leopold Café; at the Cama Hospital; at the Orthodox Jewish-owned Nariman House; at the Metro Adlabs movie theatre; and at the Mumbai Police Headquarters. The death toll has been reported to be 195 till now with twenty-two foreigners and twenty security personnels, and the figures are expected to rise. At least 327 people are severely injured. The attack started on 9:20 pm IST on 26th November and continued till 29th November when Indian commandos killed the last fighter holed up in a five-star hotel.

People throughout India voiced their concerns over the mounting security threats and expressed their solidarity towards the people in Mumbai. In Kolkata candles have been lit to mourn for the deads and to pray for peace and well-being of the Mumbai people.


For more on the recent terror attack on Mumbai please check the following links.




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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Child protection and child welfare

19th November is World Child Protection day. This year SOLAS 2008 was organized by Hope Foundation Kolkata on this day to invite the children and the adults to join hands together to combat child abuse. Hope Foundation started its journey in Kolkata on 7th February 1999 with the vision of improving the quality of life of the underprivileged vulnerable population and works for sustainable development in health and education for children, adolescents and women in urban impoverished areas. Two days long awareness and advocacy campaign has been organized this year by Hope Foundation on 18th and 19th November to draw attention to the plight of women and children in India in recent times.

At the begining of the event, speeches from the Director, Overseas Director and the chief guest voiced critical concerns about the plight of women and children in India with hard statistics thus making the relevance of these initiatives very clear to the audience. A panel discussion was also arranged where distinguished personalities associated with child welfare, justice and law enforcement, media and literature took part voluntarily; the names in the panel were:
1. Suman Bala Sahoo, IG, Administration
2. Anchita Ghatak, Social Entrepreneur
3. Debashish Banerjee, Advocate HRLN
4. Amita Sen, Chairperson Child Welfare Committee
5. Sandip Mitra, Childline India Foundation
6. B. K Dutta, Former District Judge
7. Sarfraz Ahmed Khan, Advocate
8. Sonali Chatterjee, Psychologist
9. Mallika Banerjee, Psychologist
10. Sunetra Ghatak, Writer
11. Anindya Chatterjee, Journalist / Singer
12. Sudipta Chakraborty, Actress
13. Prabir Basu, CACL.
It was a very educative session where speakers shared their experiences and concerns, and made us aware of the legal and social scenarios in the area of child welfare. But it also made apparent that the issue has been long neglected and only recently gaining any noticeable momentum.

However the most inspiring part of the event was the performances by the children themselves. Through short dramas, dance performances, songs and recitations they painted before the audience the grim situations they have to face in their everyday lives. A wide range of issues related to child welfare were touched upon: abuse at home or school, education, child labour, street children, children forced to begging, etc. It was a long programme with lots of enthusiastic participation that ended in a dance performance with the music "Aashayein". All the children present there spontaneously started dancing along with their friends on-stage, the spirit of the song suddenly started spilling out of the stage infiltrating into the mind of everyone present on the spot. It was with the hope to reach the sky someday, to make happen what seems impossible today that the programme came to an end.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Humane Rights

November 16, the last Sunday, was the "World Tolerance Day". In a world rife with hatred, communal violences, genocides and such crimes towards humanity the day strives to motivate us for peaceful coexistence, mutual trust and respect, and an open-minded acceptance for each other's lives. To save the diversity of human lives on the earth we need to be torelant of different ways of living practised by different communities and/or religions. In my city, Kolkata, people observed the day participating in activities keeping with the spirit of the day.

This was the last day of the three days long relay fast and prayer held at Metro Corridor from 9am on Friday, November 14, to show "solidarity with the victims of the Orissa violence", that is the recent Kandhamal crisis. The event was organized by the Christian community of West Bengal and the Inter Religious Forum, Kolkata, The Catholic Association of West Bengal (CAB) and Signis and under the aegis of the Catholic Religious of India (CRI) - West Bengal, and Catholic Bishops' Conference of India - West Bengal unit. Various Catholic organizations, NGOS and leaders of different religious communities joined in to voice their concerns against communal violence and to pray for communal harmony. On the last day a human chain was formed that spread from Metro Corridor to Park Street and after that a press conference was called where leaders of Catholic community spoke to the media persons in the presence of the religious leaders of other communities.

For those who want to know more about Kandhamal crisis here is a list of online resources. These are representative of different views running in the media, some of which may appear very biased.







In the morning on the same day hundreds of animal lovers walked in a silent procession to protest killing of a stray dog by burning it alive. This cruel incident took place at a neighbourhood at Chetla in Kolkata on 20th October this year. The procession started from Deshapriya park and ended at the place of the incident, where it could not remain silent when the protestors started crying foul against the perpetrators of the crime. Distinguished persons from various walks of life as well as common animal lovers, many of whom came to participate after reading a small notice in a local newspaper previous day, joined in the march organized by People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

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Monday, November 10, 2008

The day of the deads

The last 2nd November was All Souls' Day. Catholic Christians pay homage to their passed away relatives on this day. They visit the crematory, decorate the grave with flowers and lit candles. They spend the evening in the memory of their near and dear ones who left them on the earth.

Theology of Purgatory is behind the observance of this ritual. It is believed that after the soul leaves the material body it awaits cleansing from its venial sins before God takes it into His Heaven. The faithfuls on the earth can help the soul in this state by prayers, almsdeeds and the sacrifice of the Mass. It is believed that, though praying for the dead is an ancient Christian tradition, the day and the ritual was made popular by the Abbot of Cluny, in 998AD, in his monasteries which gradually spread throughout the Catholic Church later days.

What is most striking to me is the fact that different communities with different religion also observe similar rituals in one way or the other. We Hindus, for example, have some special days throughout the year to pay homage to our deceased elders and the idea behind those rituals is to please those deceased souls and to bring them peace at Heaven. All these, it seems, somehow hint a common ancestry, a common origin, for all the religions and hence for all the human communities on the earth.

You can see more photographs of All Souls' Day in my web album.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Deepavali - Festival of Light

Diwali or Deepavali is the festival of light celebrated by the Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. It is observed on the new moon day of the month Kartika. Many legends are associated with this festival. Hindus believe that on this day Lord Rama returned to his kindom after defeating demonic Ravana. Jains observe Diwali as the day of enlightenment, when Lord Mahavira attained nirvana. For Sikh's it is the day when Guru Hargobind ji was released from captivity at Gawalior Fort.

People decorate their houses, shops, temples, and their neighbourhoods with lamps and observe a ritual to drive away evil force from their house. Fire crackers are burnt as part of the celebration. In Bengal goddess Kali is worshipped at midnight on this day.
To see more photographs of Diwali please visit my album.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eid al-Fitr – Global Photo Reportage

A collection of photographs of Eid al-Fitr celebration from eight different locations around the world. It has been hosted on MS Media Service website. The press release states that:

"Worldwide there are more than 1 billion Muslims and it is currently the fastest growing religion in the world. Muslims often complain that they are being misrepresented in the media, largely being depicted as fanatics and terrorists. One of the aims of this collaborative effort is to show one of the positive sides of Islam, on a day when brotherhood and reconciliation is celebrated. It is our hope that it will contribute to a more balanced view of the religion."

To see the photographs in the collection please click here.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Shuva Vijaya Dashami

In English the title may be stated as "The blessed tenth day of victory" (though I am not a great translator). This is the day when, it is believed that, Lord Rama got victory over Ravana thus marking the victory of good over evil. Last Thursday was the day for this year.

On this day the four days long Durga puja festival in Bengal also comes to its end. Durga puja is the biggest get together event for Bengalees around the globe. Now is the time to bid adieu to our friends and relatives to get back to our work again.

The idol is taken to the river Ganga (or any near by river) for immersion. Some rituals are observed before immersion, like the ritual of vermillion (sindoor/bindi), farewell ritual using a mirror, greeting the idol with sweets before leaving for immersion, etc. On the bank of the river members of the family (girls and boys alike) perform free-style dance before the idol to greet the Goddess before bidding farewell for the year. Huge number of pople flock to the bank of the river to watch the ceremony and the balloon vendors, the candy sellers and other hawking people take this opportunity to make a few bucks on this festive season. But these days they are not alone; big names also arrange ad-campaigns at these sites to spread brand awareness.

In Kolkata one may also watch enactment of the battle between Lord Rama and Ravana (Ramlila); this year it took place in the ground near "Shahid Minaar". The show was arranged by "Punjabee Bradree" in presence of some ministers of the state and other dignitaries. At the end of the show it is customary to burn effigies of Ravana and his brothers by throwing fire crackers at them. This year, though fire crackers were thrown at them, the effigies could not be set on fire as they had already been soaked in water by city administrators in fear of a possible accident.

To see more photographs please check my Picasa web album.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Mahalaya - The first day of "Devi paksha"

"Mahalaya" is the day from which countdown starts for the biggest festival of autumn season in Bengal. This is the new moon day that marks the end of "Pitri paksha", that is the period of the Gods, and the beginning of "Devi paksha", that is the period of the Goddesses. This is the day to pay homage to our ancestors to seek their blessings before we get into the celebration mood of the festival days.

People flock to the nearby banks of the river Ganga to observe the rituals of Mahalaya. Priests come early to execute the ritualistic procedures for themselves and to look for opportunities to earn a few extra money by guiding others who seek to be their "Yajmans" (the customers). Others set up temporary stalls on the bank of the river to sell items related to the ritual.

It is the festive season knocking at the door. So everyone is eager for that extra money which they can earn on this occasion. Even the children living in the streets nearby get into their business of fishing out the coins thrown at the river Ganga as offerings. They throw a stack of ring shaped magnets tied with a very long nylon thread into water to pull out the coins for them.The preparation for the four days long festival picks up huge momentum from this day.

To see all the photographs of Mahalaya please visit my Picasa album.

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