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By Steve Herman
U.S. President Donald Trump departed for India Sunday on a 36-hour trip, having acknowledged he will not be returning home with an anticipated big trade deal.
“I’m really saving the big deal for later on,” Trump told reporters last week. “I don’t know if it’ll be done before the election, but we’ll have a very big deal with India.”
There is mutual agreement on dozens of elements for the pact, but several contentious sectors are unresolved, including medical devices, according to sources close to the talks.
“Whether or not there will be an announcement on a trade package is, really, wholly dependent upon what the Indians are prepared to do,” a senior administration official told reporters Friday. “That said, we have a number of significant commercial deals, which are of great significance that we’re very pleased to announce in a number of key sectors.”
First trip to India
On his maiden voyage to the South Asian country, Trump is likely to announce a sale worth several billion dollars for military helicopters and, possibly, a missile defense system, amid rising mutual concern about China’s military expansion, which has prompted closer defense cooperation between Washington and New Delhi.
Indian officials are said to be perplexed that U.S. officials halted trade negotiations just before the Trump visit, expressing a view that Washington pursued brinksmanship that failed in the face of a more patient India, which is the world’s fifth biggest economy.
“There’s no great hurry here” to finalize a trade pact, retired veteran senior Indian diplomat T.P. Sreenivasan in India told VOA.
“I was personally a little bit surprised that the two sides weren’t able to get this deal done,” Jeff Smith, South Asia research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said.
Promised a crowd
The president, at a political rally Thursday, said the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has told him he will be greeted by up to 10 million people when Air Force One lands in Modi’s home state of Gujarat Monday morning.
“That’s simply not possible. Even 1 million is difficult,” said Sreenivasan, who added that among Indians, “nobody will bother about numbers” and even if Trump claims he was hailed by millions, “that’s not likely to be an issue of contention.”
Indian officials, quoted by local media, predict a more modest crowd of about 100,000 to 150,000 (plus 12,000 police officers) when the president arrives for the dedication of the world’s largest cricket stadium — part of an event billed as “Namaste, Trump.”
“Some people say” the visit to Gujarat will be the “biggest event they’ve ever had in India,” Trump said before departing Sunday.
Pre-trip beautification effort
A small army of workers has been deployed ahead of Trump’s visit to Ahmedabad to build a 400-meter-long wall along the motorcade route to block the view of where poor people live. The hurried beautification project also includes the placement of about 150,000 flowerpots.
“It will be similar to the landmark ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event hosted by the Indian American community in honor of Prime Minister Modi during his visit to Houston in September 2019, in which President Trump participated,” India’s foreign secretary, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, told reporters in the capital, New Delhi.
“The visit will primarily be one for pomp, show and symbolism,” said Aparna Pande, the director of the Hudson Institute Initiative on the Future of India and South Asia. “It matters to two nationalist populist leaders that they can demonstrate to their domestic audience and to the world that they have a reliable partner and ally.”
After the stadium event in Ahmedabad and before heading to New Delhi, the president and first lady Melania Trump will make a quick visit to the country’s most famous tourist attraction, the Taj Mahal.
Indian media reported Agra will be on lockdown for the visit, although there is concern about controlling the menacing monkeys roaming the grounds of the 17th century Mughal marble mausoleum.
“The forest department has been requested to ensure that the monkeys stay away from the Taj during Donald Trump’s visit,” Archaeological Survey of India Superintending Archaeologist Vasant Kumar Swarnkar was quoted telling India Today.
In India’s capital, bilateral talks are to focus on contemporary concerns.
Indian officials could raise Trump’s hard line on immigration.
“They view the immigration issue, whether it is offering visas to students or the H-1B highly skilled visas or the green card issue, as becoming worse in the last four years,” Pande told VOA.
It is uncertain whether Trump will discuss the issue of Kashmir.
Six months after Modi ended Kashmir’s special status under India’s constitution, local politicians there remain detained and internet service is restricted.
Trump “is not always very thoughtful when he talks about such issues, particularly Kashmir. So that’s a bee in his bonnet and it’s going to come up in some form,” Sreenivasan, a former Indian ambassador to the United Nations, predicted.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has called for Trump to help resolve the dispute between the two nuclear-armed neighbors over Kashmir, something the U.S. president has previously indicated he is willing to do. But Modi has strongly rebuffed offers from third parties to mediate.
Indian officials are apprehensive about Trump commenting on the Kashmir issue during the visit.
“He might say that ‘I’m a great dealmaker and I can resolve Kashmir.’ But let’s hope he doesn’t,” Pande, of the Hudson Institute, said.
Controversial citizenship bill
Some members of the U.S. Congress are also expressing concern about Modi’s controversial move to give Indian citizenship to immigrants from three neighboring countries — unless they are Muslims.
Trump, during the India visit, will raise such matters, particularly the religious freedom issue, which is “extremely important to this administration,” according to a senior administration official.
“Attempts to lecture, coerce, punish, intervene in India’s affairs have traditionally not been particularly effective,” Smith, of the Heritage Foundation, said.
Trump will be the fourth consecutive U.S. president to travel to India, continuing the shift in allegiance by Washington to Delhi from India’s archrival and neighbor.
Khan, after a recent meeting with Trump during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, said the U.S. president also promised to visit Pakistan soon.
If “there is no complementary visit to Pakistan or no side agreement on some other way to assuage concerns there, then I think Pakistan will take it as a slight,” said Richard Russow, senior adviser for U.S.-India policy studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (VOA)
Tenali Ramakrishna, or Tenali Raman as he is more popularly known is Birbal's equivalent in South India. A court jester and a scholar exuding great wisdom, Tenali Raman was known as one of the greatest courtiers in King Krishnadevaraya's court.
The Vijayanagar Empire ruled a large part of South India between 1336 and 1646. In the 16th century, the kingdom rose to prominence under the eminent leadership of King Krishnadevaraya. His continuous victories against his enemies ensured a successful and peaceful reign for his subjects. As a patron of art and literature, many crafts and cultural assets thrived in the empire.
Krishnadevaraya's beloved courtier, Tenali Raman is the finest example of the splendour of the Vijayanagar empire. He was born in Tenali, a town in Andhra Pradesh. He lived here until he lost his father, after which his mother brought him to Vijayanagar. He was discovered for his excellent wit and wisdom, and appointed in the court. He was one of the king's ashtadiggajas (collective name for the eight poets and scholars).
A statue of Tenali Ramakrishna near a Municipal Office in Andhra Pradesh Image source: wikimedia commons
Tenali Raman as a scholar, published great texts of wisdom, which have now become artefacts of the Kingdom of Vijayanagara. But his fame does not lie in these achievements. He is known for the mischievous jester that mythical folklore portrays him to be. Through stories, many writers have used jokes to impart wisdom and morals to many generations of people. The stories of Tenali Raman are almost legendary in the Southern peninsula.
Textbooks have been written with his moral stories in mind, and these days, many self-help book are also incorporating his wisdom. His most popular stories are, 'Mother Tongue', 'Cursed Face', 'Saluting the Donkeys' and many more. Through these stories, Tenali Raman, in some way, brought about social justice. Perhaps this is why he is most beloved by many people even today.
Keywords: Tenali Raman, Vijayanagar empire, Krishnadevaraya, Jester, Wisdom
It must be noted that different religions and societies in Southeast Asia have alternative narratives of Ramayana, one of the greatest epic.
Here are some of the versions of Ramayana!
Dasaratha Jakarta: The Buddhist Version
Interestingly, this version of Ramayana does not mention Ravana at all and in fact, there’s no mention of Sita’s abduction, too. In this version, Dasaratha is the king of Benaras and not Ayodhya. Also, Rama and Sita leaves kingdom and go to the Himalayas and not forests. Then, after twelve years, Rama and Sita return back to Benaras and get married.
Paumachariya: The Jaina Version
In this version, Lakshamana is the killer of Ravana and not Rama. Here, Rama is an ardent follower of Jainism, and so he cannot be the killer of Ravana. Also, this version states an army of warrior and not monkeys, as stated in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Another interesting feature of this version is that Ramayana is not shown as a villain, rather a magnanimous king and follower of Jainism.
Gond Ramayani: The Gond Version
Gond is an adivasi clan belonging from Madhya Pradesh in India. Interestingly, in this version, the story begins from where Valmiki’s Ramayana ended; when Sita is rescued from captivity. Also, Bhima, one of the Pandavas from the epic of Mahabharata, is mentioned in this version. Unlike Valmiki’s Ramayana, Rama is not the protagonist in this version.
Ramakien: The Thai Version
This is considered as Thailand's national epic, and is still taught in some schools in the country. In this version, Ravana is shown as a learned scholar and a noble king in this version. Also, Ravana’s pursuit for Sita is depicted as true love. There are a lot of similarities between this version of Ramayana and Valmiki’s version, but this version lays a lot of emphasis on Hanuman.
When a baby is born in an Indian household-they invite hijra to shower the newborn with their blessings for their blessings confer fertility, prosperity, and long life on the child. But when that child grows up we teach them to avert their eyes when a group of hijras passes by, we pass on the behaviour of treating hijras as lesser humans to our children. Whenever a child raises a question related to gender identity or sexuality they are shushed down. We're taught to believe that anything "deviant" and outside of traditional cis-heteronormativity is something to be ashamed of. This mentality raises anxious, scared queer adults who're ashamed of their own identity, and adults who bully people for "queer behaviour".
Hijras are a community of people who include eunuchs, intersex, and transgender people. They worship the Hindu goddess of chastity and fertility, Bahuchara Mata. Most hijras, but not all, choose to undergo a castration ceremony known as "nirvana" in which they remove their male genitalia as an offering to their goddess. The whole community is vibrant with hundreds of people with hundreds of ways of expression, the true identity of a hijra is complex and unique to each individual. In India, hijras prefer to refer to themselves as Kinner/Kinnar as it means the mythological beings who excel at singing and dancing.
Hijras worship the Hindu goddess of chastity and fertility, Bahuchara Mata.homegrown.co.in
The hijra community works systematically, the community separates itself from the outside world and teaches lessons to the young ones in secret. Each community has a guru and the other hijras are their disciples or chela. The "hijra ways of life" are taught to the disciples in a secluded environment where they leave their families and live with other hijras in the community. More often than not hijras are thought of as nothing different from transgender and often referred to as transgender; however, scientifically these two terms denote a different class of people. Hijras are a part of the whole community of people with various identities and of spiritual and cultural values meanwhile, transgender merely refers to those people whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned to them at birth, they are a part of the community and do not represent the whole community.
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Historically and culturally the community has existed in the Indian subcontinent as long as the civilization has existed. There are mentions of hijra in The Mahabharata, a holy book of Hindus. Shikhandi who was neither male nor female is a mythological legend. In another version of Mahabharata Arjuna, one of the Pandavas was cursed to be the third gender by Urvashi, when he refused to be sexually involved with her. In a story by Padma Purana, it is seen that Arjuna transforms into a woman to take part in Krishna's mystical dance which only women can take part in. The Hijra figures are prominent in Indian Mughal History as well, referred to as Khwaja Siras and known for their loyalty to the ruler, they worked as the sexless watchdogs of the Mughal harems. They held important positions in court and various facets of administration during Mughal-era India, from the 16th to 19th century. The Hijra community is a testament to the sexual diversity that is integral yet often forgotten in Indian culture.
If the whole hijra community was looked upon with enamor and respect in our history, what happened that when we come across the community we look at them with contempt and are filled with a mixture of negative, fear, laughter, and odd emotions. It's owing to the fact that under British Raj, the Criminal tribes Act 1871 hijras were criminalized and the law was made to eradicate the whole community. However, these acts were abolished by the Indian government after independence, and by 2014, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh all had officially recognized third gender people as citizens deserving of equal rights where the third gender means individuals categorizing themselves as neither male nor female. Even though the progress is slow but in 2015 Madhu Kinnar became the first hijra mayor in India was elected in the city of Raigarh.
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Although the hijra community was revered by society and is invited to births and weddings for religious and spiritual ceremonies, they still become victims of abuse and discrimination. Violence and hate crimes against the community have become common. They are deprived of education, job opportunities, seating in restaurants, etc. leading them to live in poor conditions barely surviving. They often have to resort to begging and prostitution to earn a daily living. The government has tried to address this issue by introducing bills for the protection of the hijra community, with prison terms and other punishments for those offending them, but there is little to no less effect on the social stigma against the community.
In India, the hijra community comes under the umbrella term LGBTQ+ and we notice that they lack voice and representation when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. We need to understand that when we fight for LGBTQ+ rights we fight for the whole community, we fight for hijras who have been victims of violence, hate crimes, and disrespect from none other than the people of our society. And although hijras are a part of the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, they have an independent subculture of their own. It is worth every effort to know about them, to study about them, to befriend them, and to smile at them for they are every bit of human as we are and they have nothing but blessings in their heart.