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Himachal people celebrate Diwali in unusual way

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Dhami: This Himachal Pradesh town, once a hunter’s paradise of British India, is known for a unique cultural life – a virtual shower of stones to appease Hindu goddess, Kali.

A day after Diwali, the festival of lights, male adults of the town in their colourful best gather in the former princely state of Dhami, some 25 km from state capital Shimla, and pelt one another with small stones.

At least, six people were injured on Thursday and the pelting lasted for more than 15 minutes. It was subsequently stopped as one of the participants started bleeding profusely, a government official told IANS.

In local parlance, the ritual is known as ‘pattharon ka mela’ (fair of stones).

The pelting of stones is between two groups – one representing the royal family of the erstwhile princely state of Dhami and the others comprising the commoners – over a circular structure, where a rani or queen had committed ‘sati’ or the former practice of a widow throwing herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre.

Old-timers say it was a bloody affair in the past.

“The practice was introduced centuries ago to shun the tradition of ‘narbali’ (human sacrifice) that was prevalent here also like other parts in the state,” octogenarian Dhyan Chand told IANS.

Earlier, there used to be a bloody affair at the stone pelting ritual, he said. “Nowadays with the intervention of human rights groups and the deployment of adequate police, it has become more a ritual exercise and the participation is getting lesser each year.”

A local committee, mainly comprising descendants of the erstwhile royal family, is the ritual organiser.

To avoid a bloody clash, the government deployed adequate police and medical teams.

The ‘battle’ of stones commences after the deity of the Narsingh temple in over 250-year old Halog, the crumbling palace, arrives at the Kali temple also located in the town.

The stone pelting exercise takes place between the residents of Halog, the erstwhile capital of Dhami estate, and neighbouring village Jamog.

As per the belief, a devotee who gets injuries in stone-pelting is considered a devout of goddess Kali. The oozing blood is applied as a ’tilak’ to the goddess.

The one-day fair was attended by locals and tourists in good strength.

On this day, the locals buy farm implements to ensure prosperity and protection from natural calamities.

“We normally buy implements on this auspicious occasion,” farmer Bhim Sen said.

Goddess Kali personifies ‘shakti’ or divine energy and considered the goddess of time and change and is widely worshipped in Hinduism.

(IANS)

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Human Rights Situation in North Korea Needs Reforms

In all areas related to the enjoyment of economic and social rights, including health, housing, education, social security, employment, food, water and sanitation, much of the country’s population is being left behind

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United Nations special rapporteur on the rights situation in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana attends a press conference following his report on the country to the Human Rights Council, March 12, 2018 in Geneva. A year later, little has changed. (VOA)

Despite more than a year of international engagement and promises of economic reform by North Korea’s leaders, the human rights situation in the isolated country remains dire, a top U.N. rights official said Friday.

Blocked by the government from visiting North Korea, U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea Tomas Quintana visited South Korea this week as part of an investigation that will be provided to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.

North Korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visits a factory in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency, Aug. 7, 2018. (VOA)

Noting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has embarked on an effort to improve living conditions by focusing on economic development, Quintana said his preliminary findings showed those efforts had not translated into improvements in the lives of most people.

“The fact is, that with all the positive developments the world has witnessed in the last year, it is all the more regrettable that the reality for human rights on the ground remains unchanged, and continues to be extremely serious,” he told reporters at a briefing in Seoul.

“In all areas related to the enjoyment of economic and social rights, including health, housing, education, social security, employment, food, water and sanitation, much of the country’s population is being left behind,” Quintana added.

North Korea, Humaqn Rights
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in inside the Peace House at the border village of Panmunjom in Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, April 27, 2018.

Left out of talks

North Korea denies human rights abuses and says the issue is used by the international community as a political ploy to isolate it.

Human rights were noticeably absent from talks between Kim and the leaders of South Korea and the United States last year, over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

But in December, the United States imposed sanctions on an additional three North Korean officials, including a top aide to Kim, for serious rights abuses and censorship.

North Korea’s foreign ministry warned in a statement after the December sanctions were announced, that the measures could lead to a return to “exchanges of fire” and North Korea’s disarming could be blocked forever.

Kim acknowledgement

While noting he had “no specific information” on whether international sanctions were hurting ordinary North Koreans, Quintana said the sanctions targeted the economy as a whole and “raised questions” about the possible impact on the public.

He cited a reference by Kim in his new year message to the need to improve living standards, saying it was a rare acknowledgement of the economic and social hardships faced by many North Koreans.

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Still, the United Nations has confirmed the continued use of political prison camps housing “thousands” of inmates, Quintana said, quoting one source as saying “the whole country is a prison.”

He said witnesses who recently left North Korea reported facing widespread discrimination, labor exploitation and corruption in daily life.

There is also a “continuing pattern of ill-treatment and torture” of defectors who escaped to China only to be returned to North Korea by Chinese authorities, Quintana said. (VOA)