Socio-religious institutions and some basic issues
Cross Purposes, Milind Oak, India Policy Foundation, Pp 87, Rs 80.00
Under secularism, religious freedom becomes an imperative. It is here that socio-religious institutions come to play a vital role and enjoy legitimate space and a constitutionally granted freedom to act, preach and propagate their religious, cultural and social philosophies. These institutions not only preach and propagate their religions views but also espouse social activities and philanthropic actions to extend their influence and legitimise actions to justify their existence. Many of them work as NGOs to collect money and donations from abroad.
The Government of India has framed the Foreign Contribution Regulations Act (FCRA), which controls foreign funding and its use. This raises two fundamental questions – who are the donors and what is the primary objective behind making such large donations? Second, what is the background of the recipient organisations, their objectives and how they utilise the funds?
There is no denying that many such organisations contribute to socio-economic development of the poor, downtrodden and deprived sections of the society, irrespective of their caste, religion or sect. However, there are a few institutions, which use such funds to encourage caste politics or ‘identity politics’, obstructing developmental activities and leading to alienation of other adherents. This calls for monitoring and checking of their adherents, as the Government has to be wary of such funding because it can be misused and as it tends to breed contempt among different religious communities.
The India Policy Foundation has attempted to understand the different denominations of the church, their internal structures, Christian NGOs and other objectives. The main aim of the present study of the closely-knit Christians living in India is therefore to analyse and understand the influence of religious forces, often those that are “exogenous to the society and its civilisational moorings.” The study, while concentrating primarily on the role and extent of reach of global and local Christian institutions, recognises the unprecedented reach and influence of the Internet, a phenomenon whose interactivity has made it a medium capable of exerting notable impact on socio-political upheavals, as witnessed recently in Bangalore when students from northeast were forced to leave their colleges and return their home states.
Proper or improper management of funds, real estate, human resources and hierarchy and systems, which are essential ingredients of any institution, determine the impact of the institution on the society. This becomes all the more significant in India, where the number of Christian institutions is disproportionately large as compared to the total Christian population in the country. Thus, the status of Christian institutions, particularly those funded by the US and Europe, is a prominent factor since that will shape the future interaction of the institutions with India.
To substantiate his observations, Oak discusses the demographic structure of the Christians to explain that the funds received by Catholic and Protestant churches was much more than the number of Christians present in the country. He tries to draw our attention to the larger designs and hand-in-glove relationship between evangelical NGOs and the US and European governments. He asks, how can the NGO, called World Vision, take advantage of being a religious institution in the US, particularly in strategic planning of India’s evangelisation on international forums and yet partner in various Indian Government schemes posing as a social NGO in India?
The book raises some serious questions to ponder upon.
(Indian Policy Foundation, D-51, Hauz Khas, New Delhi-110 016; [email protected])
Celebrating Bihar: The Charm of Champaran, Nishant Tiwary, Oxford University Press, Pp 93, Rs 1495.00
Famous in the annals of history as the first nursery of non-violent struggle against British imperialism, that is, with Mahatma Gandhi leading his first satyagraha at Champaran, Bihar reached its first centennial milestone this year.
Capturing Bihar’s flora and fauna with his lens, the author tells the story of Champaran’s importance not only through breathtaking pictures but also through words. He shows the different hues and tones that paint the land of Champaran: “From the dual-coloured waters of the rivers that merge at the sangam and the many tones of green that paint the trees and shrubs all over the landscape, to the mountains practically covered with heavy clouds and pretty birds” – almost surreal!
With the majestic Shivalik Hills as the backdrop, the scintillating photographs of the Valmiki Tiger Reserve, which is considered the “crowning glory’ of Bihar, the author captures the wildlife at the its best – rhesus monkey peeping from behind the bark of a tree, deer staring at a distance, a langur perched on a stump, flying foxes with large wing spans roosting on tall and old trees in large groups. The forest trail inside the Valmiki Tiger Reserve looks very inviting to the tourist.
The Sapta Gandaki or Narayani river enters here with Pachnad and Sonha merging into it. On the western bank of the confluence lies the Triveni village where the legendary fight of gaj-grah (elephant and crocodile) is said to have taken place as narrated in the Bhagvad Purana when Lord Vishnu came to the rescue of the elephant. The serene waters of the Triveni against the backdrop of forested hills present a beautiful sight.
Photographs of lush green pastures at Bhikhna Thori, decorating the Indo-Nepal border, symbolises the idyllic lifestyle of the inhabitants. The pristine beauty of Gaunaha – God’s own green paradise – looks so enchanting in photographs that it seems to appear in perfect harmony with Nature. The observer becomes one with Mother Nature, the Creator. Lake Saraiya Mann is the beauty spot of Champaran which is so near the Bettiah town yet takes you far away from the hustle bustle with its sublime serenity. A photograph, taken in the evening or maybe early dawn, shows migratory birds frolicking in the waters of the lake. Wetlands of Champaran are a sight to behold and are a ‘birder’s bliss’. Playful flocks of ruddy shelducks in the Gandak wetlands are photographed very subtly. The lens then shifts to concentrate on Champaran’s antiquity to illustrate the rich, deep and diverse past of the land and showcases the wealth of its place in history, art and culture. Photographs of Kesariya where the world’s tallest Buddhist stupa stands epitomising the glorious past, reaches a height of 104 feet, a foot more than the famous Borobudur stupa in Java. It is said that Chinese travellers, Fa-Hein and Hsuan-tsang, had visited this place and left behind informative accounts of their travels. The Ashokan pillar at Lauriya Nandangrah, made from a single block of polished sandstone and with one lion on the capital in the 3rd century BC, is photographed so sharply that it looks like an engineering marvel. A close up of Ashoka’s edicts is also shown. The twin Ashokan pillars of Gaunaha block in west Champaran; Valmiki Ashram, the spot where Valmiki meditated; Chankigarh, considered to house the remains of Nanda’s dynasty; Sofa temple dedicated to Lord Shiva in Hetukunwar caves; Sant Ghat where the main temple of the Bettiah Raj of Ugra Sen Singh is located and which has devotees worshipping the sun; the pictures of relics housed in the Raja’s palace; photographs of British Raj, Vanvasi Tharu culture and the recent infrastructure, like roads, bridges, canals, etc. are photographed very beautifully.
This is an attractive coffee-table book which provides, not only pictures but also informative text about Champaran.
(Oxford University Press, YMCA, Library Building, 1, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110 001)
X-Raying urban life globally
X and the City: Modelling Aspects of Urban Life, John A Adam, Princeton University Press, Pp 319, £19.95
Perhaps 10 or 12 thousand years ago, when human society changed from a nomadic to a more settled, agriculturally based form, cities started to develop, centred on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in ancient Babylon. It can be said that 200 years ago or even less, a “planned” city was constructed with a predominantly aesthetic reason – architecture – in mind. John Adam defines a city as a large permanent settlement of people with the infrastructure that is necessary to make that possible.
This book is an eclectic collection of topics ranging across city-related material – from day-to-day living in a city (by rail, bus and car), population growth, pollution and its consequences to unusual night-time optical effects in the presence of artificial sources of light, among many other topics.
As for the subtitle of the book, what could be meant by mathematical modelling? The author’s answer is that one should resort to practical application of mathematics to help unravel the underlying mechanisms involved in industrial, economic, physical and biological or other systems and processes. In other words, this book is about mathematical modelling, that is, ranging from “applied” arithmetic to linear ordinary differential equations. A vast majority of the material is accessible to anyone with a background of basic calculus and the interplay between estimation, discrete and continuum modelling, probability, Newtonian mechanics, mathematical physics (diffusion, scattering of light), geometric optics, projective and three-dimensional geometry and more. Perhaps the birth of architecture give rise to the belief that form precedes functions; nevertheless in the 20th century, more and more emphasis was laid on economic structure and organisational efficiency.
Thus while explaining the difference between ‘naturally’ and ‘artificial’ with reference to growth of cities, the author points to differences in the ways cities grow and develop – different rates of growth and scale.
(Princeton University Press, 41, William Street, Princeton, New Jersey 08540; press.princeton.edu)