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India through the eyes of a Slovenian

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By Marija Sres

As a child, I knew India as “Indija Koromandija,” a synonym for “paradise on earth” in the minds of most Slovenians. Symbolically then, India was a promised land, whose “rivers flowed with milk and honey” — not water. And I received God’s gift of spending the best and happiest years of my life there.

Was it really heaven on earth?

I lived in Sabarkantha with the Bhil Adivasis, along the state border between Gujarat and Rajasthan. It was hill country, now sadly made barren by deforestation and drought. I lived here 40 years, the longest period of my life, enough time and opportunity to learn and adjust. During those years, I made bonds with people from all over India.

This world was vastly different from the people I previously lived with. My worldview and my values were also so very different from theirs, so it required a complete change of heart from me to enter into their world.

What was their world?

It was a feudal, patriarchal world. The world where women were still looked down upon, were illiterate and treated as cheap labor by contractors for road-building and construction, were sexually exploited, were harassed by government babus for the smallest concession — and where women considered themselves of little worth. Their existence was one of survival.

How so many women could smile and survive in these situations is something I have no words to describe, but only a deep appreciation for. My challenge was to build up, not only their economic well-being but their sense of dignity as well, and I did this with their help and support. In turn, they made me see how many of the things I wanted were not really necessary. I simplified my life, I learned to do with less.

The cornerstone of their lives was their deep love for life. For them, life was a gift, be it ever so hard. They were grateful for it, enjoyed it and expressed it in work, smiles, dances and songs!

This led me to see the values of relationship: to take time for each other, to share and know that “everything depends not on what you do, but on who you know.”

But people are unpredictable; so you need to embrace uncertainty. This means that nothing goes according to plan. India is a big country, a continent by itself. So lots of travelling is necessary for visitors. And travelling in India is difficult and uncomfortable. When you travel, open your mind: India is a sensory overload. You learn a lot by just being there.

Another value is to know how to wait. For us Westerners, this is the most difficult thing. Everything in India moves at a slower pace, like in the stories. To make most of the time, lose track of it. Throw away your clock, maybe also your calendar!

Value the family. It’s not a choice, it’s a necessity, a way of life. Lack of commitment to family is not just dishonor; it’s a personal shortcoming.

And yet, paradoxically, I have also learnt very much how to be alone even in the midst of a crowd — alone with oneself and alone with God.

My image of God grew tremendously. Not God in a temple, but the Divine Spirit everywhere, as the Adivasis see Her. God accepts each and everyone with the same loving care. We are all precious in her eyes. The spirituality we aspire to is so much above the petty piety of externals.

I marvel at the Indian genius for thinking, for inventing, and am puzzled why this country is still so poor. There is so much wealth here — one of the richest men in the world happens to be Indian; but so is the poorest woman! Such inequality, such discrimination. The most beautiful women in the world reside here (note how many Miss World and Miss Universe competitions Indians have won), but the ugliest and most polluted cities are also in India. Truly a continent of contradictions!

It was in India that I became a writer. As I said often, I came to myself here, realized my potential, and wrote from my heart. That’s how the stories about my Adivasi women, their children and their men, the people I lived with, I walked with, were written. My writings brought our tribal Dungri Garasiya Bhils into Gujarati literature, as a dear writer friend once told me. But not just Gujarati — into other languages like Marathi, Tamil, Slovene, English and Spanish. Their stories went around the world. I feel so proud of them!

Finally, dream and be hopeful in this land, lit by the warm sunshine, washed by the gentle rain. Why? Because in India we say, “Everything will be all right in the end.” If things are not all right, it means it’s not yet the end. So there’s still hope!

What I am today is because of the way India and its people shaped me: a happy woman who worked hard, laughed and cried, danced a lot, and learnt how to love and enjoy life. I know that I have left my heart here, with my Adivasi women among their barren hills. And my home will always be where my heart is.

For this is what “home” truly is, is it not? More than a place on earth, one is truly at home in the hearts of friends, and only there. For there are many who pass in and out of our lives, but we only remember those who leave their footprints in our heart. My mind races back over the years to the faces and voices of Indian friends I shall never forget.

Yes, I am grateful to this great land, where “milk and honey” flow not only in the big rivers and little streams but in the veins of my hands and feet, for I am the daughter whom India took into her home.

Thank you, aabhara, shukriya, dhanyavaad.

Marija Sres, a Slovenian, spent four decades empowering the Bhil Adivasis of Gujarat. She presently lives in Beltinci, Slovenia, in central Europe.

This article was first published at littleindia.com

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India Says Pakistan’s Links with Pulwama Attack Clear For All to See

He said while there are claims to offer dialogue from Pakistan, it continues to shelter terror outfits

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Arun Jaitley
"The most favoured nation status which has been granted to Pakistan stands withdrawn.", says Jaitley. Pixabay

India has rejected Pakistan Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua’s claims denying her country’s links to the Pulwama terror attack, saying that JeM, which claimed responsibility for the attack on Thursday, is based in Pakistan, and the “links are clear and evident and for all to see”.

The External Affairs Ministry spokesperson on Friday termed as “preposterous” the demand for an investigation, saying there is a video of the suicide bomber declaring himself a member of the terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

The spokesperson said India has not seen any constructive approach from Pakistan on bilateral relations and it has been sheltering terrorists and terror organisations such as JeM. He said Islamabad has not taken any action against such groups despite international demands.

India also demanded that Pakistan take immediate and verifiable action against terrorists and terror groups operating from territories under its control to create a conducive atmosphere in the region free of terror.

The spokesperson’s response came over Pakistan Foreign Secretary’s briefing rejecting Pakistan’s involvement in the terror attack on a paramilitary convoy in Jammu and Kashmir that killed at least 45 troopers. Janjua met envoys of P-5 countries late on Friday.

The spokesperson said JeM has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the attack was a matter of “grave concern” and it had been condemning “heightened acts of violence in the (Kashmir) Valley”. Pixabay

“The organisation and its leadership are located in Pakistan. LeT and other terror groups have welcomed the news of the attack. These groups are also based in Pakistan. Pakistan cannot claim that it is unaware of their presence and their activities.

“They have not taken any action against these groups despite international demands, especially against groups and individuals proscribed by the UN and other countries. The links to Pakistan are clear and evident for all to see. Its own Ministers have shared the same podium with UN proscribed terrorists,” the spokesperson said.

He said there was audio-visual material linking JeM to the terror attack.

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“The demand for an investigation is preposterous when there is a video of the suicide bomber declaring himself a member of the JeM. There are also other audio-visual and print material linking JeM to the terrorist attack. We have therefore no doubt that the claim is firmly established,” the spokesperson said.

He said while there are claims to offer dialogue from Pakistan, it continues to shelter terror outfits.

“We have not seen any constructive approach from Pakistan on relations with India. What we have noticed however, are claims to offer dialogue on the one hand, while sponsoring and sheltering terrorists and terrorist organisations such as JeM on the other,” the spokesperson added. (IANS)