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Arun Upadhyay- Indian Hindu Leader- Hosted in Shomron

The US State Department recently joined the latter group by dropping that pejorative and inaccurate phrase, “occupied territories."

Indian Hindu Leader Hosted in Shomron
Indian Hindu Leader Hosted in Shomron.

Dr. Richard Benkin, Chicago

This spring, Arun Upadhyay, International President of Hindu Struggle Committee, realized a long- cherished dream: he visited Israel. While the world marvels at the growing relationship between Israel and India, numerous individuals are making it work at a person-to-person level. Arun, a Hindu activist, has worked on building the India-Israel relationship at the grass roots level for more than a decade—back to a time when the previous Indian government pushed back against our efforts, sent agents to spy on us, and harassed our associates. We were heckled on Indian campuses and threatened,
sometimes subtly, sometimes not so subtly; and we faced angry protestors who warned that our work represented a conspiracy of “Zionism and Hindutva against Muslims.” Nevertheless, along with our colleague and inspiration, Amitabh Tripathi, and with strong support from the Middle East Forum and Dr. Daniel Pipes we persevered. We persevered because we believed in the natural alliance between Israel and India, and because despite detractors and threats, we kept encountering more and more students and faculty who supported strong relations with Israel.

Moreover, our Asian friends do not buy the false dichotomy between “Israel” and “the West Bank” that we in the West have been fed for decades. Nor do they use the phrase, “occupied territories” because for them, there is but one united Israel. In the West—especially in Europe, the United Nations, and on the left—people try to mask their anti-Israel bias with that false distinction. They ignore the fact that the Arabs were calling for an end to “Israeli occupation” when Jordan occupied the West Bank, and Egypt occupied Gaza. They ignore the fact that the Israelis offered the Arabs their desired Palestinian State, including Jerusalem, only to have it thrown back in their faces. In Asia, the people I encounter are either open in their desire to see Israel eradicated entirely or clear in their support for the Jewish State. Significantly, the US State Department recently joined the latter group by dropping that pejorative and inaccurate phrase, “occupied territories.”. They are not occupied but only those lands that Arab armies controlled after their combined forces failed to destroy the newly born State of Israel in 1948. During hours of pre-trip discussions, as well as more than a decade of work with me, Arun never parsed an old and new city of Jerusalem or called Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria “settlements.” So when Israeli activist and Shomron Regional Council spokesman, David Ha-ivri invited Arun to visit Ariel, Homesh, and the Council; it was no different than an invitation to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Representational image.
Representational image.

Arun touched down at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport just after the Jewish festival of Passover and the next morning (Sunday, April 8), made the 25 mile (40 kilometer) trip east to Barkan, a town of less than 2000 in northern Samaria. Ha-ivri greeted him with three days of “VIP treatment.” It began with a trip to Jerusalem, less than 25 miles south of Barkan, that included a tour of the Temple Mount’s ancient subterranean tunnels; and by the end of the trip, this young Hindu was quoting Biblical verses to support a Jewish homeland throughout the entire land: “Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria” (Jeramiah 31:5),

After a day-long educational tour and greeting in Shomron, the fruits of which Arun expects to share with other Indians, Ha’ivri arranged a full day of “high profile political and academic meetings” that he said represented a “Golden Age in Israel-India relations.” Arun discussed academic, agricultural, and commercial development with Shomron Regional Council head, Yossi Dagan, as well as ways to expand India-Israel relations. The first concrete result of those talks could very well secure Israel’s place in the hearts of Hindus. Arun came determined to enlist Israeli technology for the massive cleanup project of the heavily polluted Ganges River. The “Ganga” is holy to the world’s billion plus Hindus and as central to their religious narrative as the Jordan River is for Jews and Christians. There are purification rites that involve bathing in the Ganges. Right now, it’s not so bad the closer you get to the glacial source in the Himalayas (which is where I bathed) but difficult throughout much of the river’s path. Good news: within days of these talks, the process began. India’s National Mission for Clean Ganga and Israel’s Ariel University began active discussions about a cooperative project. While these talks continue, another trip to Israel involving Hindus from India, as well as Pashtuns, Baloch and Sindhi, is being prepared.

Ha’ivri also proposed a sister city relationship, and I will be following up with Arun in the coming months. Shortly after hosting Arun, Ha’ivri brought community leaders from Zambia and Kenya, and leaders of First Nations peoples to Shomron, debunking two false accusations at once: that Israel is a western, colonial outpost, hostile to peoples of color; and that Judea and Samaria are any less Israeli than Tel Aviv.

Along with Amitabh Tripathi and me, Arun Upadhyay has been a leader in building strong pro-Israel coalitions, especially on Indian college campuses. He has worked within Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and closely with Anant Hegde, Modi’s Union Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. Most recently, he has been organizing Indians to actively combat the ongoing persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh that threatens their very existence and is described in my book, A Quiet Case of Ethnic Cleansing: the Murder of Bangladesh’s Hindus.

1. Determine if Sindhi are coming on the trip.

Dr. Benkin has been tirelessly working to highlight the human rights violation of Hindus in Bangladesh.

Next Story

Most Terrible Water Crisis Ever In History Leaves Millions Of Indians Thirsty

6 percent of GDP is very much dependent on water.

A woman washes clothes as her daughter bathes in the Yamuna River on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2017.
A woman washes clothes as her daughter bathes in the Yamuna River on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 24, 2017. VOA

Weak infrastructure and a national shortage have made water costly all over India, but Sushila Devi paid a higher price than most. It took the deaths of her husband and son to force authorities to supply it to the slum she calls home.

“They died because of the water problem, nothing else,” said Devi, 40, as she recalled how a brawl over a water tanker carrying clean drinking water in March killed her two relatives and finally prompted the government to drill a tubewell.

“Now things are better. But earlier … the water used to be rusty, we could not even wash our hands or feet with that kind of water,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Delhi.

India is “suffering from the worst water crisis in its history”, threatening hundreds of millions of lives and jeopardising economic growth, a government think-tank report said in June.

From the northern Himalayas to the sandy, palm-fringed beaches in the south, 600 million people – nearly half India’s population – face acute water shortage, with close to 200,000 dying each year from polluted water.

Residents like Devi queue daily with pipes, jerry cans and buckets in hand for water from tankers – a common lifeline for those without a safe, reliable municipal supply – often involving elbowing, pushing and punching.

On the rare occasions water does flow from taps, it is often dirty, leading to disease, infection, disability and even death, experts say.

“The water was like poison,” said Devi, who still relies on the tanker for drinking water, outside her one-room shanty in the chronically water-stressed Wazirpur area of the capital Delhi.

“It is better now, but still it is not completely drinkable. It is alright for bathing and washing the dishes.”

Water pollution is a major challenge, the report said, with nearly 70 percent of India’s water contaminated, impacting three in four Indians and contributing to 20 percent of the country’s disease burden.

Yet only one-third of its wastewater is currently treated, meaning raw sewage flows into rivers, lakes and ponds – and eventually gets into the groundwater.

“Our surface water is contaminated, our groundwater is contaminated. See, everywhere water is being contaminated because we are not managing our solid waste properly,” said the report’s author Avinash Mishra.
Loss of livelihood

Meanwhile, unchecked extraction by farmers and wealthy residents has caused groundwater levels to plunge to record lows, says the report.

It predicts that 21 major cities, including New Delhi and India’s IT hub of Bengaluru, will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people.

The head of WaterAid India VK Madhavan said the country’s groundwater was now heavily contaminated.

“We are grappling with issues, with areas that have arsenic contamination, fluoride contamination, with salinity, with nitrates,” he said, listing chemicals that have been linked to cancer.

Arsenic and fluoride occur naturally in the groundwater, but become more concentrated as the water becomes scarcer, while nitrates come from fertilisers, pesticides and other industrial waste that has seeped into the supply.

The level of chemicals in the water was so high, he said, that bacterial contamination – the source of water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid – “is in the second order of problems”.

“Poor quality of water – that is loss of livelihood. You fall ill because you don’t have access to safe drinking water, because your water is contaminated.”

Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater.
Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater. pixabay

“The burden of not having access to safe drinking water, that burden is greatest on the poor and the price is paid by them.”

Frothy lakes and rivers

Crippling water problems could shave 6 percent off India’s gross domestic product, according to the report by the government think-tank, Niti Aayog.

“This 6 percent of GDP is very much dependent on water. Our industry, our food security, everything will be at stake,” said Mishra.

“It is a finite resource. It is not infinite. One day it can (become) extinct,” he said, warning that by 2030 India’s water supply will be half of the demand.

To tackle this crisis, which is predicted to get worse, the government has urged states – responsible for supplying clean water to residents – to prioritise treating waste water to bridge the supply and demand gap and to save lives.

Currently, only 70 percent of India’s states treat less than half of their wastewater.

Every year, Bengaluru and New Delhi make global headlines as their heavily polluted water bodies emit clouds of white toxic froth due to a mix of industrial effluents and domestic garbage dumped into them.

In Bengaluru – once known as the “city of lakes” and now doomed to go dry – the Bellandur Lake bursts into flames often, sending plumes of black smoke into sky.

The Yamuna river that flows through New Delhi can be seen covered under a thick, detergent-like foam on some days.

On other days, faeces, chemicals and ashes from human cremations float on top, forcing passers-by to cover their mouths and noses against the stench.

That does not stop 10-year-old Gauri, who lives in a nearby slum, from jumping in every day.

With no access to water, it is the only way to cool herself down during India’s scorching summers, when temperatures soar to 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

“There usually is not enough water for us to take a shower, so we come here,” said Gauri, who only gave her first name, as she and her brother splashed around in the filthy river.

Also read: India’s bulging water crisis: Is it too late for us to do something?

“It makes us itchy and sick, but only for some time. We are happy to have this, everyone can use it.” (VOA)