India

Image via RNS/European Union 2016 - European Parliament/Pietro Naj-Oleari

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks made a name for himself as chief rabbi of Great Britain for nearly a quarter-century, a time of great tumult that included the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the influx of millions of Muslims into Europe, and the ongoing pressures to absorb and assimilate newcomers into a mostly secular society.

As chief rabbi, from 1991 to 2013, he stressed an appreciation and respect of all faiths, with an emphasis on interfaith work that brings people together, while allowing each faith its own particularity.

Image via Windover Way Photography

“It is a thinly-veiled reference to stereotypes about Islam and Muslims,” said Daniel Mach, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “This reference to honor killings is part of a broader effort to smear an entire faith by the extreme acts of a few and its inclusion in this order bolsters the argument that this is simply another attempt at a Muslim ban.”

And that is the point of Believer — to use Aslan’s hip-deep immersion in some obscure corner of the faith world to show that people of different religious persuasions — even the ones generally considered marginal, dangerous, or just plain “out there” — have more in common than they know.

Dhanya Addanki 3-01-2017

In Indian American communities, we usually believe that being a certain kind of immigrant can save us. If we dress properly, no one can call us foreign. If we’re documented, no one can question our legal status. If we are highly educated, no one can accuse us of being lazy immigrants. If we (especially women) don’t go to bars, no one can accuse us of bad behavior.

We’ve convinced ourselves that if we melt into what we call American culture — into white culture — we can get by without getting killed.

The two men targeted by a racist and violent white terrorist were the quintessential “good immigrants.” But their stories of success — working at Garmin, receiving Masters degrees from the U.S. — did not protect them from hate. Economic status or education do not matter in the face of an extremist who equates skin color with terrorism.

 

Image via RNS/ Screetshot from video 

Curtis thought there would be a few still shots taken of their meeting in an otherwise empty City Council chamber. But a video was made instead, showing the two men stretching, twisting, and wrapping a scarlet cloth on the mayor’s head. 

At the end, Pandher breaks into Bhangra — a traditional folk dance from the Punjab region — and Curtis gamely follows, despite his portly figure and business suit. 

The video ricocheted around Canada and then overseas via BBC News. It has been viewed more than 4.5 million times. 

Uzhunnalil claims that his captors have made repeated attempts to negotiate with the Indian government and Catholic officials, but he says nothing has happened. “I am very sad that nothing has been done seriously in my regard.

“If I were a European priest, I would have been taken more seriously by authorities, and people and would have got me released,” Uzhunnalil continued. “I am from India and perhaps am not considered of as much value. I am sad about this.”

Ivan Satyavrata 12-05-2016

In Kolkata, India’s second largest city, mass poverty affects millions. More than a third of the region’s 18 million people live in slums and 70,000 are homeless. Street and slum dwellers in Kolkata are mostly refugees or migrants from rural areas, driven into the city in search of livelihood. Whole families live in fragile shanties, bus shelters, and railway platforms, earning a meager living as rag pickers, petty hawkers, and daily wageworkers. Trapped in a vicious poverty cycle, they struggle daily for survival.

But it is also the site of broad-scale social programs rooted in Pentecostal faith.

“First feed our bellies ... then tell us about a God in heaven who loves us!” Decades ago, a hungry beggar flung these words at Mark Buntain, a young missionary-evangelist from North America who, with his wife, Huldah, had come to share the good news of Jesus with the people of Kolkata. The Buntains were convicted by these words, and the Assembly of God Church they founded 60 years ago launched a social outreach program that has served the poor of Kolkata ever since.

The Kolkata Assembly of God Church’s theory of change is deeply rooted in the gospel of Christ, with our ultimate goal being fullness of life for all, especially for the poor and marginalized in society. Though our initial response to the poverty trap was a spontaneous attempt to meet immediate needs at the grassroots level, with time we also developed a more studied response geared toward sustainable empowerment.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Osservatore Romano

Even by this pope’s standards it was a bold move.

Francis, the spiritual leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics across the globe, this week traveled to Sweden, one of the most secularized countries in Europe, to take part in events marking 500 years since Martin Luther kickstarted the Protestant Reformation.

Image via /Shutterstock.com

The incident seems like a straightforward hate crime: Swastikas sprayed in and around the New Jersey home of an Indian-American running for Congress earlier this month.

But the vandalism is steeped in religious and ethnic irony.

Olivia Whitener 9-03-2016

Image via /Shutterstock.com

A sign that hung in the volunteer room at Shanti Dan quoted Mother Teresa, reading, “I pray each one of you to be holy and so spread [God’s] love everywhere you go. Light [God’s] light of truth in every person’s life so that God can continue loving the world through you and me.”

This was not just a commission for those serving in Kolkata. Poverty, violence, hatred, sadness, hopelessness, crime, greed, darkness, jealousy exist in our homes across the world. And Mother Teresa was known for encouraging people to serve their neighbors in their hometowns or wherever they are called, striving to love each person as God loved us.

the Web Editors 8-24-2016

Image via /Shutterstock

A 6.8 earthquake struck Myanmar on Aug. 24, reports the Wall Street Journal, the same day a deadly earthquake struck Italy. At least three people have died.

Fred de Sam Lazaro 5-25-2016

Image via RNS

A nearly 900-year-old synagogue recently held its first Sabbath service in decades in one of the diaspora’s farthest flung places: the coastal Indian city of Cochin.

Congregants came from four continents for what could be the last such observance in a region whose once-thriving Jewish communities have mostly migrated to Israel.

Akhtar Ali 5-06-2016

Image via REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/RNS

India is rejecting a U.S. panel’s charges that the religious freedom of minorities in the world’s largest democracy is being violated with tacit support from elements in the ruling party.

By contrast, leaders of the country’s Christian and Muslim minorities welcomed the findings of the report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, released on May 2 in Washington.

Aysha Khan 5-03-2016

A Pakistani refugee cries as she leaves a detention center. Image via REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/RNS

Religious freedom remains under “serious and sustained assault” around the globe, according to a new annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

“At best, in most of the countries we cover, religious freedom conditions have failed to improve,” commission chairman Robert P. George said May 2.

“At worst, they have spiraled further downward.”

A billboard in Mumbai, India, promotes Facebook's Free Basics initiative.

A billboard in Mumbai, India, promotes Facebook's Free Basics initiative.

A COUPLE years ago, when net neutrality (the principle that internet service providers must treat all websites equally) was threatened by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Facebook stood firmly in its defense. Google, Netflix, Amazon, Twitter, and other high-tech giants took the same stand. Companies that make their money providing content or mining data from web users need net neutrality in order to function.

This February, India’s equivalent of the FCC, their Telecom Regulatory Authority, had to decide an important net neutrality test case there. A huge, U.S.-based multinational came into the Indian market offering an internet connection that limited users to the parent company’s own site and a severely limited menu of other pre-selected sites. This company spent millions on an advertising campaign against the principle of net neutrality in India. But finally Indian regulators stood firm and net neutrality was upheld.

The strange twist here is this: The U.S.-based Goliath fighting net neutrality in India was Facebook.

An obvious conclusion here would be that Facebook thinks net neutrality is only good for rich countries. Indians must be too poor, too ill-educated, maybe even too brown to handle the freedom and responsibility that comes with an open internet. That impression was confirmed when a member of Facebook’s board of directors, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, went on Twitter to proclaim: “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?”

Image via Nigel Buchanan/Twitter

Hinduism certainly has numerous memorable manifestations of God, from Brahma the Creator to Shiva the Destroyer. But despite the remarkable success of retail giant Amazon, its founder Jeff Bezos is not one of them.

JP Keenan 8-03-2015
jhatkaa/YouTube

Screengrab from jhatkaa/Youtube video

Nicki Minaj usually isn’t associated with Indian workers' rights. But that’s not stopping 27-year-old Chinnai-born rapper Sofia Ashraf from rapping against Unilever, a corporation accused of dumping waste in an Indian town. According to a local environmental group, high levels of mercury can still be traced in vegetation and soil around the former factory.

Photo via Arielle Dreher / RNS

Women protest in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, after a nun was raped in Kolkata, West Bengal. Photo via Arielle Dreher / RNS

Each day, children on their way to Mount Carmel School pass through gates under the watch of armed security guards, and now city police officers who stop there on government orders after a nearby Catholic convent and school were broken into.

The vandals stole money, tampered with security cameras, and ransacked the principal’s office on Feb. 13.

The crime itself was relatively minor, but it rippled through other Christian schools. The attack was the sixth this year in an ongoing series targeting Christian communities and schools across India.

Richard Schiffman 5-06-2015

The Greeks know how tightly coiled
are circumstances with many windings
before tragedy’s spring snaps.
The horse bolts flame-like from the gate;
we do not see its years of training.

So too, the thunderhead today slow bloating
and thickening with muffled rumblings.
The steeds were restless, but the reins
held tight, until a crack of the whip
unleashed the pummeling flood.

 

Jason Butler 1-28-2015
Freedom concept. Image courtesy frank_peters/shutterstock.com

Freedom concept. Image courtesy frank_peters/shutterstock.com

In his annual State of the Union address last week, President Obama began his foreign policy focus by saying, “If there’s one thing this new century has taught us, it’s that we cannot separate our work at home from challenges beyond our shores.” 

Unfortunately, an insidiously prevalent challenge and hugely profitable crime facing the world — modern slavery and human trafficking — was not mentioned in the President’s list of current global concerns facing the U.S. on Tuesday night. To be fair, he has given a major address on the topic before. But no president has ever raised the issue in his big annual address.

That needs to change.

Incidentally, the President just finished a multi-day trip to India, home to almost one-half of the world’s enslaved people. In a surprise and welcome development, he brought up the topic in his last speech there — a pointed one on human rights — saying, “Together, we can stand up against human trafficking and work to end the scourge of modern-day slavery.”  

Raising the issue in this context is an important step in naming the problem. Indeed, one of our country’s most effective tools for fighting slavery — the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report — consistently pulls its punches specifically on India, declining to hold them fully accountable for the massive level of human exploitation there. Given India’s size and wealth, our larger foreign policy apparatus deems it more important to avoid “risking” other geopolitical concerns with the diplomatic fallout that could come from telling the truth on slavery. 

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