What Barack Obama carries in his pocket
It is quite revealing what comes to light, when the perhaps soon-to-be mightiest man in the world empties his pockets - as seen on a recent photo posted on Time's “White House Photo of the Day” collection. There is a tiny monkey - apparently Hindu god Hanuman - together with a gambler's lucky chit, a bracelet belonging to an American soldier deployed in Iraq and a tiny Madonna with child. The bracelet could be a reminder that it would be his most distinguished task as the next president of the USA to "bring our boys home". And the other pocket treasures? Is Obama a Hanuman believer, inspired by the legendary monkey's great war against demon King Ravana? Is he a gambler? Does he believe in lucky charms? Does he belive that these small mascots carried around in his pocket have any impact on his life and "fate"? If the contents of his pocket is any indication for his state of mind, one may have to be prepared for strange - if not dangerous - surprises.
Nepal: The god king's last exit
Nepal celebrates its transformation from the last Hindu kingdom into a secular democratic republic. The historic step to put an end to 239 years of monarchy and lead the Himalayan country on the “roof of the world” into the 21st century, was taken on May 28, 2008 by the newly elected Maoist-led Constitutional Assembly with 560 votes against 4. Ousted King Gyanendra – till recently officially worshipped as incarnation of the Hindu god Lord Vishnu – has left Narayanhity Palace on 12th June for good. Though his astrologers urged him to wait for an auspicious time, the government did not allow him to extend the deadline. The royal flag at the main palace gate has long been exchanged with the national standard. The pink edifice in the center of Kathmandu will soon become a national museum.
Most of the world's monarchies have long been abolished. After Nepal’s transformation, there are still 30 monarchs reigning over 44 sovereign monarchies (16 of which are Commonwealth Realms, among them Canada and Australia, that still formally recognize Queen Elisabeth as their head). Most of the remaining monarchies are constitutional ones that leave the monarch with little political power. Absolute monarchies in different shades are still existing in Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland and the Vatican City (representing an electoral theocracy). The monarchs of Jordan and Morocco are also quite powerful.
Quite remarkable is the persistency of monarchies in modern Europe. Enlightened, democratic countries like Belgium, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Britain are still proudly carrying the eggshells of their tribal past. Wasn’t it time they followed Nepal’s example?
India / Kerala: Sweeping out Pandora’s box
The southern Indian state of Kerala is busy cleaning up. Target of the ongoing rigorous sweep is a new brand of godmen and astrologers, who managed to build up flourishing business during recent years without coming to public attention. In fact, most Keralites had not been aware that there was any 'living god’ in their state – except the hugging 'world star’ Mata Amrithanandamayi. But suddenly Pandora’s box sprang open.
It started with a media report in a prominent Malayalam weekly 'Kerala Sabdam' in the first week of May about a red corner notice, issued by Interpol in the United Arab Emirates about a Keralite with the name Santhosh Madhavan. Investigation by the local media turned the spotlight on godman Amrutha Chaitanya and his palatial ashram in the port city Kochin, where he received local politicians, film stars, businessmen and senior police officers. Chaitanya alias Madhavan was identified as the man, who had duped a rich businesswoman in the UAE. The Kerala police – under pressure – arrested the godman and raided his ashram and flat. Besides various illegal-possession-items like sandalwood, ganja, a tiger skin and a police uniform, they found a collection of porn CDs that recorded his raping of minor girls living in a charitable protectory run by him. Nine minor girls complained that they had been raped by him. Investigations of Madhavan’s financial circumstances brought to light that he was operating a dubious real estate business worth many million dollars, in which he acted as a front man for some so far unknown prominent personalities.
Santhosh Madhavan had been a school dropout and small time temple priest. In the late 90s, he familiarized himself with astrology, grew an impressive beard, and started a lucrative career as a godman. In a short span, he managed to cultivate a celebrity clientele and to secure political patronage. He enjoyed quasi immunity, till the furious public pressed for his arrest.
After Madhavan, rationalists and media exposed more under-cover godmen and astrologers with high connections and persumed criminal background. For one month now, the media is reporting godmen scandals nearly every day. Meantime some 60 people have come under the scanner. Some of them absconded. It is reported that they meet their clients now abroad.
After rationalists and progressive media set the trend, youth organizations of the political parties jumped on the bandwagon and started to hunt enthusiastically for godmen – preferably for those close to their competitors. The Hindu-conservative BJP saw to it that Muslim godmen and Christian faith-healers were not spared either. As a result, the spiritual morass has been drained considerably. The great survivor - so far - is the hugging 'goddess'. However, Amrithanandamayi too has decided to play safe and left Kerala for an extensive trip abroad.
UK: Now wrong claims can land astrologers, tantriks and faith-healers in jail
In Britain, astrologers can now end up in prison, if they fail to warn their prospective customers that their services are “not experimentally proven” and “for entertainment only”. So can godmen, tantriks, tarot cards readers, faith healers, occultists, fortune tellers, seers, soothsayers, psychics, mantra-healers, mediums and babas.
Since May 26, 2008, the flourishing spiritual business in the country – estimated to bag an annual income of more than forty million pounds - has come under the scanner of new customer protection regulations. Result of the biggest overhaul of Britain’s consumer laws since forty years, these regulations are implementing the European Union’s Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) from May 2005 that will soon govern consumer laws all over Europe.
Besides door-to-door-sellers, children’s advertisements etc., the new British law targets miracle mongers of all kinds and backgrounds - no matter, if they are resident Brits or visiting Indians. It compels them to state in a disclaimer that their services are “for entertainment only” and that they are not “experimentally proven”. Such disclaimers have to be well visible for all potential customers, put up on name boards, invoices, printed papers with terms and condition, in advertisements and in websites. If the “entertainment only” nature of their services is not made clear to a client before the session, they can be taken to court and will be liable to a prison sentence up to two years and a fine up to 5000 pounds.
Kenya: Mass arrests after 'witch' killings
In Kisii district in western Kenya, eight elderly women and three men, suspected to practice witchcraft, have been brutally killed at the same time. They were dragged out of their houses by an irate mob and were – in separate cases – burned to death. The police arrested 86 villagers in connection with the murders.
Belief in witchcraft is widespread in the area and there have been some cases of attacking and killing suspected witches in the past. But never before, so many victims have been killed at the same time. During the investigations some witnesses revealed that an exercise book had been found in the local primary school containing minutes of an alleged secret meeting of witches. The book listed not only the names of the participants, but also the names of those whom they planned to bewitch next, they said.
Investigations are still on, said a police spokesman, but those arrested may face charges for murder, in some cases also for violent robbery. Five of them were found in possession of property and livestock of some of the victims. Those charged with murder could face death sentence. The court case is expected to start soon.
Urbi & Orbi: Tony Blair opens the huge alms bag
British ex-premier Tony Blair has launched his “Tony Blair Faith Foundation” in New York on May 30, 2008. The ambitious charity is seeking hundreds of millions of dollars of funding to rescue religion and sell it as a force for good. The focus of its activities will be on interfaith dialogue – after 9/11 a bestseller in the Western world.
With its headquarters in New York and an “interfaith dialogue and conference center” in London, the new charity is according to Tony Blair “doing reasonably well in raising money in both places”. Supporters speak of tens of millions of dollars initial funding.
Tony Blair had been reticent about his religious ambitions while he was prime minister, not to alienate Britain’s largely secular society. Once his then spokesman, Alastair Campbell, told reporters "We don't do God". But his biographer Anthony Seldon described him a “profoundly religious figure”, whose faith had always been a major influence on his politics. Last year, Blair told TV chat show host Michael Parkinson he had prayed to God when deciding whether to send troops into Iraq.
In December, he converted from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism. The Vatican, says Blair, is very supportive of his new interfaith venture.
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