From Bihar To Gujarat: First-Timers Flock To Ayodhya After Top Court Verdict.

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AYODHYA: Wearing a yellow kurta with “Jai Shri Ram” prints and sporting a prominent “tilak” on his forehead, teenager Shivam Kumar travelled all the way from Bihar’s Rohtas district to Ayodhya, carrying a sack full of bricks to deposit at a Ram temple workshop in the holy town.

“I was just too anxious to come to Ayodhya, and so I, along with two other friends, decided to head to “Ram ki Nagari” and contribute my bit for the temple,” he said.

Shivam Kumar, 16, joined lakhs of people in the holy town who had converged in Ayodhya for “Kartik Purnima” holy dip on Tuesday. A native of Dehri-on-Sone town in Rohtas, he is pursuing his graduation in science stream.

“This is my first visit to Ayodhya. I had never thought that I will be coming here so soon,” he told PTI, as he carefully laid out red bricks on old stacks of bricks brought by devotees over the years to the sprawling premises of a Ram temple workshop being run by Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas since 1990 at Karsewakpuram.

VHP spokesperson Sharad Sharma said the number of devotees visiting the workshop has spiked since the Supreme Court judgement on November 9.

“On Saturday night, a lot of people visited the workshop and the number has only multiplied over the next few days. Normally, about 1,000 people visit the workshop everyday. The number has now risen to nearly 5,000. The Karsewakpuram workshop has become a big tourist attraction,” he told PTI.

Since the historic judgement of the top court that paved the way for the construction of a Ram temple by a trust at the disputed site in Ayodhya, and ruled that an alternative five-acre plot must be found for a mosque in the Hindu holy town, a large number of devotees have been flocking to Ayodhya, several among them making their maiden visit to the city.

From far-off Gujarat to neighbouring cities in Uttar Pradesh, the list of first-timers goes on. 

K P Yadav, 20, who came from Moradabad, was seen taking selfies against the backdrop of the ”Ramshila” wall put up by the VHP from the bricks which earlier had laid near the Ramjanmabhoomi site, donated by Indians at home and abroad.

From Pratapgarh, Gaurav Uma Vaish, 16, and Janhvi Uma Vaish, 14, visited Ayodhya for the first time, accompanied by their parents. They were both wearing marigold garlands after visiting the Hanuman Garhi temple.

Rakesh Kumar, their father, said the family visited Ayodhya for the Kartik Purnima holy dip but the visit became “all the more special” as the Supreme Court has ruled in favour of the construction of a temple for Ram Lallah.

Most devotees first pay obeisance at Ramjanmabhoomi and then visit Karsewakpuram to see the temple model and carved stones. Many who had earlier visited Ayodhya but not Karsewakpuram also made a beeline for the workshop.

Other first-time visitors came from Ambedkar Nagar, Gonda and Gorakhpur, among other cities, besides a large group of women devotees from Gujarat, most saying they planned the trip after the top court verdict.

Lucknow resident Anjali Singh, 26, who works in a private company, was thrilled to be in Ayodhya for the first time. She was accompanied by her mother, a regular visitor, who also served as Singh”s guide, taking the daughter to well-known places like Hanuman Garhi temple, Kanak Bhawan, besides taking a holy dip in Saryu and attending the evening “aarti”.

“The city definitely has more to it than what is usually portrayed through the media. I am delighted to see this “Ram ki Nagari” but I am aware of the tragic past this city is trying to put behind after what happened in 1992, even though I was not born then. Ayodhya now must not let its social fabric be torn again,” she said.

Rakesh Kumar from Bihar, sharing the excitement of his journey, said, “We three could not get a reserved train ticket on such a short notice, so we booked a general ticket and had to face hardships, but it is nothing compared to the joy we are feeling right now.”

A VHP member, he claimed he is also part of the Bajrang Dal”s unit in his home state, added that security personnel “did not allow them to ferry bricks” on several occasions, but somehow the trio managed to bring the “10 bricks to its rightful destination – Karsewakpuram”.

Since 1990 artisans and craftsmen have fashioned out magnificently carved stones and pillars, with the assumption that one day they will be used to build a temple for Ram Lallah.

As per the Nyas’s plan, the temple, once built, will be 268 ft long, 140 ft wide and 128 ft high, from the ground to the apex point (Shikhar) and a total of 212 pillars will be used, according to 79-year-old Annu Bhai Sompura, in-charge of the workshop.

“At night, the carved stones and the pillar dazzle and it feels beautiful. Many are getting drawn by the illumination of the stones too. We plan to keep them for a few more days, as people continue to stream in, including first-timers and regular visitors,” the VHP spokesperson said.

Sushma Swaraj’s friendship with Lanka


Sushma Swaraj, former Minister of External Affairs of Indian passed away earlier this week and Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “A glorious chapter in Indian politics comes to an end. India grieves the demise of a remarkable leader who devoted her life to public service and bettering lives of the poor. Sushma Swaraj Ji was one of her kind, who was a source of inspiration.”

Sri Lanka shares the sentiments expressed by the Indian Prime Minister as Sushma Swaraj was a dear friend of this country. She had a special connection with Sri Lanka because she represented the Vidisha constituency in Madhya Pradesh, the birth place of Emperor Ashoka’s consort Vidisha Devi, mother of Arahath Mahinda and Princess Sanghamitta.

Sushma Swaraj, as MP for Vidisha as well as later as a senior minister visited Sanchi, which is 8 kilometres away from Vidisha on many occasions and she closely associated with late Ven. Hadigalle Pannatissa Nayake Thera and later Ven. Banagala Upatissa Nayake Thera. In fact Ms. Swaraj made it a point to pay homage at the Mahabodhi Temple in Maradana on every visit to Sri Lanka.

She was a popular minister in Narendra Modi’s first term as Prime Minister, but did not contest parliamentary elections earlier this year due to ill health. She was cremated with full state honours in the capital Delhi. Senior leaders across political parties and BJP lawmakers, including Prime Minster Narendra Modi, attended the funeral. The news of her death prompted an outpouring of grief and condolences both from fellow politicians and from Indians across the globe.

A strong woman

As External Affairs Minister she was always willing to help Indians facing difficulties in foreign countries. Her image for Indians abroad was ‘a person with quick wit and forever a helping hand.’ Her unique identity was ‘a strong woman with an assuring smile on her face, the red bindi, the low bun and the long trail of sindoor, along with her saree and jacket’. As an Indian writer described, she was ‘the figure of a woman who did not hesitate to wear her culture on herself.’

When Sushma Swaraj visited Sri Lanka as Minister of External Affairs, she clearly showed her sensitivity towards Sri Lanka and her perfect understanding about the internal and external issues of this country. At one discussion, she cut short her own official delegation’s persuasive attempts to push Sri Lanka to immediately decide about a certain infrastructure development. When a very senior officer said that they wanted an early decision as India cannot wait, Minister Sushma Swaraj silenced him with the words, “No. If His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena thinks this is not the best time for that project, let us wait. We have to understand his sensitivities”.

Sushma Swaraj’s association with Sri Lanka was not limited to the tenure as External Affairs Minister. In September 2012, as Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Member of Parliament from Vidisha where Sanchi is situated, she unveiled a painting at the Sri Lanka High Commission in New Delhi, in commemoration of the 2600th year of the Sambuddhatva Jayanti.

The painting depicts Emperor Asoka requesting his son Arhat Mahinda to set off to Sri Lanka from Sanchi in Vidisha with the message of Buddhism and Theri Sanghamitta and the sapling of the sacred Bodhi tree being received in Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century BC. It was not merely an unveiling of an artist’s impression but much more than that as it was a celebration of the historic civilizational ties between India and Sri Lanka. It is the celebration of the life of Emperor Asoka who forged India into a single nation-State. Whose distinctive voice of peace, non-violence and conquest by moral force and good governance echo over time. In fact several Asokan ideals and symbols continue to resonate in post-colonial resurgent India.

It is the celebration of the strong relations between two neighbours that flourished 2300 years ago during the time of Emperor Asoka and King Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka – an Emperor of a strong India and the King of a much smaller country. This relationship, in its content, holds lessons that we could draw from even today, for fashioning partnerships of trust, friendship and cooperation not only between neighbours, but between all nation-States of the modern world.

India and Sri Lanka

It was also a celebration of the Enlightenment of Prince Siddhartha as Gautama Buddha 2600 years ago, that Great Teacher of peace and non-violence of India, who’s Message has traversed far beyond and brought solace to thousands in all corners of the world. Furthermore, it was a celebration of the vibrant and friendly relations which continue to exist between India and Sri Lanka. In fact, it is in this context that, in recognition of the shared cultural and civilisational links that provide the bedrock to bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka.

In her remarks following the ceremonial unveiling of the painting, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj stated that she is honoured to participate in this event as the Member of Parliament from Vidisha where Sanchi is situated. She recalled the important cultural and Buddhist links between India and Sri Lanka and reiterated India’s commitment to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

Referring to her visit to Sri Lanka earlier this year, leading a multi-party Parliamentary delegation, the Leader of Opposition stated that she was impressed by the resettlement, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka, as well as the approaches made by all parties towards reconciliation. She expressed the hope that the reconciliation process would move swiftly ensuring peace, prosperity and a bright future for Sri Lanka.

The High Commissioner, welcoming Minister Sushma Swaraj said, “For us in Sri Lanka, you are a very special lady. Your Parliamentary constituency, Vidisha, where Sanchi is located, was home to Emperor Asoka’s children Arhat Mahinda and Theri Sanghamitta, thousands of years ago. The Buddha’s teaching, as we know, was based on equality among humans and was open to men and women equally. In Asokan India, it was a woman, Theri Sanghamitta, who was chosen to carry the sapling of the ‘tree of wisdom’ to Sri Lanka. We consider her as the first lady Ambassador to our country on an important Mission, and she is revered continuously through history even to this day, in my country.

It was another Lady, Princess Hemamala from ancient Kalinga who bequeathed the sacred Tooth-Relic of the Buddha to Sri Lanka in the year 371 AC. We in Sri Lanka see you in similar light, as a modern-day leader and an envoy of India promoting regional cooperation and peace. You toil with wisdom, to forge closer relations between the people of our two countries, following a long list of distinguished and inspirational ladies from our past. It is therefore an honour for us to have you unveil this painting which holds a deep, significant meaning for us, and in our view, for our two countries. It is an honour for us to have your name placed in this Mission in a lasting form as the Member of Parliament from Vidisha, a region with which we have a celebrated historical bond.”

Sushma Swaraj became the youngest BJP Cabinet minister in Haryana at the age of 25. She was also the first woman Chief Minister of Delhi and was a seven-time, very loved Member of Parliament.

Sushma Swaraj held the post of the Foreign Minister in the first Narendra Modi Cabinet, from 2014 to 2019, and her job took her all around the world. But not once did she leave her Indian identity behind. She stood tall and proud, well dressed in a minimally decorative saree showcasing to the world the Indian culture.

Litchi industry in Bihar faces huge loss after encephalitis outbreak


Unlike previous years, the summer this year initially brought wide smiles on the faces of farmers in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district as the region witnessed a bumper crop of litchi, the luscious fruit grown abundantly here. The joy, however, was short lived as the crop once again came under the scanner of researchers and medical experts following the death of 204 children and 938 cases in hospitals across the state due to the Acute Encephalitis Syndrome (AES).

The deaths dealt a severe blow to the litchi industry which has resulted in huge losses for the farmers and traders involved in the seasonal business that is a major source of revenue for the local economy.

Bihar is the top litchi producing state in India and according to figures provided by the former union agriculture minister to Lok Sabha last year, the state accounts for 300,000 metric tonnes of litchi, which is produced on 32,000 hectare areas. Bihar’s contribution in the production of litchi is about 40 percent

Mohammed Nizamauddin, a prominent litchi farmer and trader from Muzaffarpur, is yet to come to terms to the enormous loss. Nizam, as he is fondly called, has been in the business for more than a decade now. This year he suffered losses to the tune of around Rs 1.5 million.

The loss has put all his plans to visit a tourist destination in a quandary.

“Negative propaganda about the fruit, which has high protein and nutritional value, took a toll on its demand and supply,” lamented Nizam.

Other litchi growers across Muzaffarpur are facing a similar situation due to the negative publicity of the fruit following the AES deaths.

Traders said that the industry has suffered losses to the tune of Rs 100 billion. Last year the litchi traders did a business to the tune of Rs 60 billion and due to bumper crop this year, they had expected the business to rise to Rs 100 billion. Besides, export, supply of the fruit to various processing plants has been adversely hit. The litchi farmers and traders are worried as their crop has been blamed for a disease that still remains a mystery and there is no authentic proof of its connection with AES.

Their concerns found support from BJP MLC Sanjay Paswan, who had raised the matter in Bihar assembly while MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy also raised the matter in Parliament.

“Wrong propaganda that litchi was behind the cause of AES deaths has led to the enormous losses. Nearly 100 tonnes of fruit pulp of Rs 6.5 million market value is still lying unused after the false propaganda that litchi was the culprit behind the AES deaths,” said K P Thakur, one of the leading litchi traders and owner of Litchica International.

Thakur exports litchi juice to USA, Australia, New Zealand besides supplying the same to Mumbai and Delhi. “No orders came this year either from USA, Australia or New Zealand causing a loss of Rs 3 million,” said Thakur, who has an annual turnover of Rs 30 million.

Thakur is not alone. “There are close to one lakh people including producers, businessmen and labourers who are directly or indirectly involved in this litchi business in four major litchi producing areas of Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Samastipur and East Champaran,” said Bachcha Singh, president of Litchi Grower’s Association.

According to a report by the Bihar horticulture department, there are 45,000 litchi-growing farmers in Muzaffarpur alone.

“The AES false propaganda, though it came at later stages, must have caused a loss of more than Rs 1 billion alone in Muzaffarpur,” said Singh.

“Such was the impact that litchi, which usually disappears from the market by mid-june, had no takers till June 25 this year,” added Singh.

The Litchi Grower’s Association president cited that another reason for mounting loss has been the railway’s decision to discontinue the services of parcel van in Pawan Express for Mumbai forcing litchi traders to send their product by trucks. “We used to send 30 tonnes of litchis per day to Mumbai by Pawan Express. But after the railway’s withdrew the service in 2018, the fruit is sent by truck as a result of which, one-fourth of the total litchis get damaged and the fruit also doesn’t remain fresh, resulting in low price,” rued Singh.

Smelling a conspiracy, Thakur said that same litchis did not cause any problem in Uttar Pradesh.

“Litchis have high percentage of phosphorus and when poor kids eat rotten fruit empty stomach, it increases sugar levels and make kids vulnerable to sun stroke,” said Thakur.

Thakur and other traders have found support from BJP MP Rajiv Pratap Rudy and BJP Bihar MLC Sanjay Paswan, who alleged that a campaign was launched against litchi under a conspiracy.

India is the second largest producer of litchi in the World after China. Other major litchi producing countries are Thailand, Australia, South Africa, Madagascar and Florida in US.

Among fruit crops, litchi ranks seventh in area and ninth in production but is sixth in terms of value in India. The national average productivity of litchi is 6.1 t/ha, which is much lower than the realizable yield of the crop under well managed condition.

Monsoon toll rises across South Asia


New Delhi: More than eight people were killed when a house collapsed in northern India following heavy monsoon rain which has left more than 85 dead across South Asia, officials said Monday.

Floods and landslides caused by torrential downpours have killed at least 67 people across Nepal while 30 more are missing, police said.

In overcrowded Rohingya refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh, 10 people have died and thousands of shanty homes have been destroyed since April.

In the latest monsoon-related tragedy, a four-storey building on a hillside in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh collapsed, killing 13 people.

The structure – located near popular tourist destination Shimla – came down on Sunday following days of heavy downpours.

Rescue workers searched the rubble for survivors, while heavy machinery removed heaps of mangled steel and wires from the muddied debris.

Earlier, local official K.C. Chaman said eight people had died in the collapse, adding that rescuers were looking “for at least seven other people” trapped in the debris.

One soldier – who was pulled out alive from the rubble – said they had gathered for a party in the building’s restaurant, “but suddenly the building shook and collapsed”.

Such incidents are common across the region during the monsoon because of dilapidated structures that buckle under the weight of continuous rain.

The June to September monsoon causes widespread death and destruction across South Asia each year.

Floods have devastated much of the northeastern Indian state of Assam where four people died on Sunday after being swept away by sudden torrents.

The state’s Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO-recognised reserve and home to two-thirds of the world’s one-horned rhinos, has also been seriously affected by the weather.

In the eastern state of Bihar, five rivers were flowing over the danger levels with more rain forecast over the next few days.

The downpours have eased in Nepal but authorities still fear the death toll could rise, said police spokesman Bishwaraj Pokharel, who gave the latest number of dead and missing from floods and landslides.

“There are the challenges of resettlement of the displaced as many houses.. have been swept away. We are also cautious about the risk of epidemics due to polluted water,” Pokharel told AFP.

BJD, stakeholders miffed over no Odisha tourist spot in Centre list


Bhubaneswar, Jul 9 Odisha Tourism Minister Jyoti Prakash Panigrahi has said he would soon take up with the Centre the absence of the state”s tourist spots in the list of 17 sites that would be developed into world-class destinations.

Several Biju Janata Dal MPs have also asserted that they would raise the issue in Parliament.

Panigrahi expressed dismay over the Centre”s alleged apathy towards Odisha.

“The Union government has claimed that selection was done on the basis of the site”s natural, architectural and religious importance, but omission of places like Konark Sun Temple, Chilika Lake and the Buddhist circuit in Odisha raises questions about the selection process,” Panigrahi said.

During her maiden Budget speech last Friday, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said 17 model sites chosen by the Centre would be developed into world-class destinations to encourage tourist arrival. She, however, did not elaborate which are the chosen sites.

In March 2018, then Union tourism minister K J Alphons had told the Lok Sabha that the sites include the Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri (Uttar Pradesh), Ajanta and Ellora caves (Maharashtra), Humayun”s Tomb, Qutub Minar and Red Fort (Delhi) and Colva Beach (Goa).

The other tourism spots are: Amber Fort (Rajasthan), Somnath and Dholavira (Gujarat), Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh), Hampi (Karnataka), Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu), Kaziranga (Assam), Kumarakom (Kerala) and Mahabodhi Temple (Bihar).

BJD leader and Puri MP Pinaki Misra said the party, in its election manifesto, had promised to develop Puri as the cultural capital of the country. “I am surprised that not a single destination from Odisha made it to the list. The Sun Temple in Konark is an iconic site and has every reason to be on that list,” he said.

According to sources, the state BJP leaders are also disappointed over the non-inclusion of Odisha”s popular tourist destinations and were planning to draw the attention of the Union Tourism Ministry on the issue.

State BJP general secretary Prithviraj Harichandan expressed hope that the Centre would revise the list in the interest of the state.

Representatives of the travel and the hotel industry in the state have urged the Union government to review the selection procedure.

“Odisha is endowed with a host of national heritage sites, attracting millions of domestic and global tourists every year. It is surprising that not a single location has found a place in the Centre”s list,” J K Mohanty, the chairman of Hotel and Restaurant Association of Odisha, said.

Mohanty, also a member of state Tourism Promotion Council and Tourism Advisory Committee, said he had written a letter to Union Tourism Minister Prahlad Singh Patel, urging him to reconsider the decision and take another look at Odisha”s potential.

Mohanty said destinations like the Sun Temple in Konark, Chilika Lake, one of the largest lagoons in the world; Bhitarkanika mangroves, which is a Ramsar site, have more tourism potential than some of the sites selected for promotion by the central government. SKN RMS HMB

At Least 15 Killed Including 4 Children, Many Feared Trapped Under After Wall Collapses Due To Heavy Rains In Pune


15 people have been confirmed dead and many more are feared to be trapped under after a portion of a wall of a residential building in Pune, Maharashtra collapsed.

All the victims including four children and a woman were living in temporary shelters built for labourers working in a nearby construction site. The victims were natives of either Bihar or Uttar Pradesh.

According to the police, a portion of the 12 to 15-feet-high wall collapsed between 1.30 and 1.45 am crushing the victims under it.

Those injured have been shifted to a local hospital. Rescue teams including the NDRF are continuing their search for more possible survivors.

Police had earlier said that 17 people were killed in the incident.

Dramatic visuals from the spot also showed a number of cars also trapped under the debris.

According to officials, prima facie the reason behind the collapse of the wall was the heavy rains. However, an investigation has been launched into the mishap to look into all aspects including whether the shelters which were barely 40 feet away from the residential building’s wall was illegal.

“We have ordered an inquiry into the incident and those responsible will be punished,” District Collector Naval Kishore Ram who visited the spot said.

Pune like other parts of Maharashtra received heavy rains on Friday.

Over 73.1 millimetres of rain was recorded in the city in the past 24 hours, the second highest rainfall in June since 2010.

Chakma Assn: Lending voice to a community in distress


As they are Buddhists they faced religious persecution in Bangladesh and fled the hill tract in 1964-1965.

Bengaluru: The Chakmas are ethnic people settled in Chittagong hill tracts, and are predominantly located in Bangladesh, and Mizoram, Tripura, and Arunachal Pradesh in India.

As they are Buddhists they faced religious persecution in Bangladesh and fled the hill tract in 1964-1965. The Indian government gave them asylum in India and set up relief camps in Arunachal Pradesh.

It has been more than five decades since they have settled in India, but they often face hostility from the local population in Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram, as they fear the influx of Chakmas may change the demography of the region.

In order to secure the rights of the tribe and to lend a helping hand to the community settled in Karnataka, the Chakma Students’ Association of Karnataka was formed in 2014.

The NGO has been running on donations and has become a temple for more than 400 people settled in the city from the community.

“In the weekly or monthly gatherings at the Cubbon Park or the Mahabodhi temple, we discuss the issues concerning the tribe. The entire idea took birth because in a cosmopolitan city like Bengaluru there was no student body that could have looked for Chakmas,” says Abhish Chakma, president of the association.

The association lends a helping hand to the Chakma students from Bangladesh as well.

In a tragic incident on December 31, 2016, a student from Tripura succumbed to injuries after he fell from a building in the city.

“We sent his body to his hometown through flight. At that stage, a lot of people came forward to help. We not only keep our culture alive in Bengaluru, but also protest against the injustice meted out to us in the North East,” he added.

To instill the sense of unity, the association has been celebrating their festivals like Bizu and even organises sports activities.

Abhish is grateful to the city police for being considerate towards the demands and struggle of the Chakmas.

“Apart from providing venues like Town Hall and Freedom Park for our protest, they ensured security for us. The state government has also supported North East festivals and we hope that this affection continues,” he remarked.

A few years ago, the association through the state government sent a memorandum highlighting the plight of the tribe in the Arunachal Pradesh to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the foreign ministry also.

“Our script and language are not recognised in the Public Service Commission exams. Our schools were burnt in Mizoram. In 2015, the rules were amended to give preference to the Zo-ethnic students. We are deprived of technical education and the government jobs. We are treated as second class citizens,” Abhish lamented.

He wants to make the association strong and expects that the government would pay heed to their voice that was often stifled.