Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Maha Kumbh Mela, a spectacle of extremism and violence


The Maha Kumbh Mela, a spectacle of extremism and violence
Nirmala Carvalho
This was stated by Lenin Raguvanshi, a lay activist in Varanasi. He denounces the participation of Naga sadhus, ascetic warriors who parade armed with swords and tridents, "militarizing" a religious moment as important as that of the Kumbh Mela. It is "urgent and necessary" to prohibit the participation of these individuals, and stand against the caste system, "to give dignity" to Dalits and tribals.

Mumbai (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Maha Kumbh Mela, the biggest festival of the Hindu religion, is an exhibition of "violence and extremism" rather than a sacred time for millions of people according to Lenin Raghuvanshi, lay activist and director of thePeople's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (Pvchr) Varanasi. It is an opportunity for the armed bands of Naga sadhus, responsible for killing many Buddhists in India" to meet, he says, "reaffirm inequality proclaimed by the caste system" and to promote drug trafficking. Just today, police in Allahabad seized a jeep carrying 124kg of ganja, destined for the Kumbh Mela.

"The naga sadhu - the activist tells AsiaNews - live in so-called Chowni, the military camps. Their symbols are spears, sticks, swords and tridents. The Kumbh Mela is a religious event, but these sadhus [ascetic, ed] profess a Hinduim inspired by violence". The festival includes immersion in the Sangam, the confluence of the holy rivers of the Ganges, the Yamuna and Saraswati. According to tradition, bathing in these waters washes away sins and helps the faithful to attain salvation.

The Maha Kumbh Mela is considered to be the largest gathering of humanity on earth: this year, it is expected to attract more than 100 million people. Precisely because of the large number of faithful who take part, according Raghuvanshi "welcoming naga sadhus" means "highlighting extremism and violence. These ascetics march in procession with swords, axes, whips, pitchforks and flails. They walk barefoot, wearing only garlands, chanting slogans in honour of the god Shiva (Har Har Mahadev) and brandishing their weapons while immersing themselves in the river. " For the activist, it is "urgent and necessary" that "this militarization of religion, sodomy and drugs are banned from such a context."
Rather, he said, "people should speak out against the caste system." Among the participants of the Maha Kumbh Mela are indeed thousands of Musahar, originally of tribe of Bihar and eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh, relegated to the bottom rung of the social ladder. They live in extreme poverty, and often survive feeding on rats, which they kill to protect crops.
"Like them - says Raghuvanshi - tens of thousands of tribals and Dalits participate in the Kumbh Mela. In their prayers, the Hindu leaders must stand against the caste system and in support of the poor. Unless we affirm the dignity and equality of these groups, this will become a place which confirms their subordination and oppression, even in the 21st century. " "Religion and spirituality - he insists - must be a force for change and development of society and the nation, and enhance the dignity of every human being. The Kumbh Mela should address these issues," and not give way "to all forms of abuse and violence, supported by Hindutva ideology".

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