Vishal Arora

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Amid Nepal’s Shattered Shrines and Temples, a Religious Fatalism Sets In

by Vishal Arora, by Kevin Eckstrom 04-30-2015
Photo via Vishal Arora / RNS

A volunteer stands in front of a collapsed temple at the Swayambhunath temple complex in Nepal. Photo via Vishal Arora / RNS

About 80 percent of Nepalese are Hindu, making Nepal the second-largest Hindu nation outside of India, with about 2 percent of the global total. Most Hindus believe in a kind of fatalism, and many here seemed unrattled by the quake as a test of faith, even as their temples and shrines were flattened.

“God had predestined it. He knew about it,” said Suresh Shrestha, a Hindu and a hotel owner. His house was partially damaged and he is living in a tent on the Tundikhel ground in Kathmandu.

Akriti Mahajan, a young girl who was standing outside her family’s tent nearby, suspects that man-made climate change had something to do with it.

“Humans are behind it,” she said. “If God had a role, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Thailand Looks to Arrest Buddhist Monk for Insurrection

by Vishal Arora 02-05-2014

Protesting on the Streets of Bangkok. Photo courtesy Terence Lim via Flickr / RNS

Authorities in Thailand are preparing to arrest and possibly defrock a senior Buddhist monk on charges of insurrection and breach of Buddhist discipline for leading anti-government protests.

Police on Tuesday asked a criminal court to authorize the arrest of Luang Pu Buddha Issara for laying siege to government offices in Bangkok’s Lak Si district and obstructing voting during last week’s general elections, the National News Bureau of Thailand reports.

Issara, a 58-year-old monk from the Wat Or Noi temple in the central province of Nakhon Pathom, is a leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee that is seeking to topple the government.

Christian and Muslim Dalits Beaten in New Delhi Protest

by Vishal Arora 12-11-2013
Photo by John Dayal

Protestors gathered in New Delhi to demand equal affirmative action for Christian and Muslim Dalits. Photo by John Dayal

NEW DELHI — Police in India’s capital used water cannons and canes on peaceful Christian and Muslim leaders Wednesday while they were demanding equal constitutional protections.

Organized jointly by confederations of churches and Muslim groups in India, the demonstrators demanded affirmative action for Dalits (formerly “untouchables”) who have converted to Christianity or Islam.

Only Dalits who have converted to Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism are entitled to affirmative action slots in jobs and educational institutions, among other protections.

Is Yoga Religious? An Indian Court Mulls Mandatory School Exercises

by Vishal Arora, by Anuradha Sharma 10-29-2013

Private yoga instructor Shailendra Singh (far right) leads a group at The Yoga Guru club in Delhi. Photo by Vishal Arora via RNS

The Supreme Court of India is weighing whether yoga has a religious element, as it decides if public schools may teach the ancient discipline in the country where it originated.

India’s school policy considers yoga an integral component of physical education. But the court has expressed caution, and is considering arguments that yoga has a religious component. The issue is complicated because India is a secular democracy but has pockets of Hindu nationals who would like to force their way of life on others.

“Can we be asking all the schools to have one period for yoga classes every day when certain minority institutions may have reservations against it?” the court asked Oct. 18, referring to Christian and Muslim groups.

First Anglican Woman Bishop in India Says Critics Have Been Silent

by Vishal Arora 10-03-2013

Rev. Eggoni Pushpalalitha was appointed a bishop of the Church of South India. Photo courtesy RNS/Rev. Eggoni Pushpalalitha

A Christian nun who became the first woman bishop of South Asia’s Anglican community said that so far her appointment has silenced critics who believe only men can play leadership roles in the church.

Speaking on the phone from the Nandyal diocese in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, the Rev. Eggoni Pushpalalitha, who was appointed a bishop of the Church of South India on Monday, said she faced bias against women in leadership roles “but only until my consecration.”

“Those who used to talk about it are now touching my feet,” said the 57-year-old bishop, who holds degrees in economics and divinity, referring to an Indian custom of showing respect.

Bhutan’s Buddhist Monks Accused of Sexually Molesting Boys

by Vishal Arora 06-21-2013
Photo courtesy RNS/Vishal Arora.

Two young monks at the gate of a monastery in Thimphu. Photo courtesy RNS/Vishal Arora.

The South Asian nation of Bhutan has been rocked by a sexual abuse scandal in which young Buddhist monks molested by older monks fled their monastery and reported the abuse to journalists.

While rumors about child sexual abuse in monasteries have swirled around this tiny Buddhist nation for a while, this is the first time confirmed cases of underage monks molested by their seniors have come to the fore.

“Every time I tried to scream or struggled, he pinned me with his body, put his hand over my mouth and covered it tightly,” an 11-year-old boy told the magazine The Raven describing how he was sexually abused by a 20-year-old monk in a monastery in Punakha, about 45 miles northeast of the capital city of Thimphu.

Bhutan Bans Religious Activities Ahead of Elections

by Vishal Arora 10-16-2012
RNS photo by Vishal Arora

Two Bhatanese students carry the national flag. RNS photo by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI — Political leaders in the tiny Buddhist nation of Bhutan have announced a nearly six-month ban on all public religious activities ahead of the upcoming elections, citing the Himalayan nation's constitution that says “religion shall remain above politics.”

A notification by the Election Commission of Bhutan asks people's "prayers and blessings" for the second parliamentary election, expected in June 2013. But it also states that religious institutions and clergy "shall not hold, conduct, organize or host" any public activity from Jan. 1 until the election.

The ban comes a year after the country's religious affairs ministry identified Buddhist and Hindu clergy who should be barred from voting to keep a clear distinction between religion and politics.

Buddhist Bhutan Fails on its Own Happiness Index

by Vishal Arora 03-07-2012
Wouter Tolenaars / Shutterstock.com

Monks rehearsing for the Jakar tsechu which is held the next day on Oct. 23, 2010 in Jakar. Wouter Tolenaars / Shutterstock.com

THIMPHU, Bhutan — In a country that prides itself on measuring quality of life in terms of "Gross National Happiness," this small Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas seems to have a problem: at least half its citizens aren't happy, according to its own measurements.

While more than 90 percent of the 7,142 respondents said they were "happy" in a recent government survey, only 49 percent of people fit the official definition of total happiness by meeting at least six of the survey's nine criteria.

Bhutan's fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the phrase GNH in 1972 on the belief that people's happiness did not depend on the nation's economic wealth alone.

GNH indicators -- as opposed to more traditional measures like a nation's gross domestic product based on economic activity -- recognize nine components of happiness: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance.

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