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For ‘distressed’ Hindus, VHP helpline is just a call away

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For 'distressed' Hindus, VHP helpline is just a call away

By Vasudha Venugopal

NEW DELHI: The room in Delhi’s RK Puram has three people answering phone calls, but this is no ordinary help centre. The three people answering calls are working out of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad office and this is part of the Hindu Helpline, which aims to be a one-stop shop for all things related to the faith — from advice on rituals to guidance on what’s to be done if your daughter is being harassed by “Muslim boys”.

It’s a helpline planned by VHP’s Pravin Togadia for the country’s majority community and the people staffing the phones insist India’s Hindus need a service such as this. A caller who identifies himself as Pankaj Pradhan from Ranchi says he’s in Ramanathapuram and needs help in getting a Navagraha puja conducted. The next is from Atmaram in Mumbai who says his plot has been taken over illegally by a Muslim builder. There are a few calls asking about the most auspicious time for rakhi.

Then comes the kind of call that everyone at the help centre knows is important. “I am speaking from Gurgaon. A group of Muslim boys has been harassing my daughter for a while now. Can you help?” Deepak Kumar, the coordinator of the Hindu Helpline in New Delhi, immediately takes charge and asks the caller to drop by the VHP office. Kumar, who runs a business of selling water purifiers, meticulously writes down the details.

“Do they also click pictures when your daughter walks by? Has he talked to her yet? Does your daughter have a phone?” The call centre functions mainly out of Pune but has help centres in nearly 50 cities, including Delhi.Handled 85,000 Calls in 2 YearsVHP, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next week, says the service is run by 40 people who answer calls full time and boasts of a nearly 30,000-strong network ready to respond to any Hindu’s call for help.

The helpline project was launched with the sole purpose of showing “the Hindu brotherhood in action”, Togadia told ET. “From clearing doubts on Hinduism to ensuring a hassle-free stay in an unknown city and providing advice on legal problems, we try to provide instant help to the caller. The attempt is to make the Hindu feel proud of being part of a network of over 100 crore Hindus,” the VHP leader says.

The service has handled about 85,000 calls in two years. For helpless and frustrated callers, the community initiative offers hope that their concerns will be addressed, Kumar says.

“There have been cases where people have alerted us of cows being taken into madrasas,” suggesting that the schools could also be doubling up as illegal abattoirs. “We have rescued them by going in groups. We are doing it for the Hindus, like Christians and Muslims help their people. Our attempt is to make sure no Hindu feels helpless in this country,” Kumar says.

Volunteers say they receive at least 80 calls daily, ranging from issues such as Hindu tourists stuck in pilgrimage spots to complaints about Muslim neighbours. Hindus curious about rituals are told about the “scientific principles” that underpin them and advised on auspicious days and timings for religious activities. Legal, financial and medical help is also provided to Hindus, according to brochures for the helpline, which has eminent retired senior civil servants, doctors and lawyers on its advisory board.

The service is publicised by Hindu organisations, ashrams and temples. The volunteers are mostly businessmen or students selected for who they know and their willingness to serve the Hindu community, besides having access to resources, such as a vehicle that can be used in an emergency.

Dealing with the ‘harassment’ of Hindu girls is a significant part of their work. “We get a large number of calls about Muslim boys harassing Hindu girls — at least 20 in Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi alone, everyday,” Kumar says. Of course, the VHP men are scrupulously law-abiding, he’s quick to add. “We don’t take these matters into our hands but we make sure the police and the community know it and do something about it.”

The helpline has a policy of not getting involved in public agitations, Togadia says. “In cases of harassment we quickly inform VHP members and the police in the area.”

As soon as calls like this are received, the helpline alerts Bajrang Dal activists and youths associated with the Hindu Samaj. Of late, helpline volunteers have also been getting calls from Hindu women married to Muslims and wanting to return to their families, especially since many of these men are big-time bigamists, Kumar says.

“Their families are not ready to accept them but we will try to rehabilitate them,” Kumar says. “The culture and nature of a Hindu and Muslim is very different. There is no way a Hindu girl will be happy in a Muslim family. Our women cannot even see their husbands laugh and talk to other women, and there she has to see him share his life with three or four other wives. Eventually, because she is alone and with no support, she is left with no one to care for her.”

The helpline says it’s been able to help in cases where members of a Hindu family have died in accidents by arranging tickets and with last rites. It’s also been able to help in emergencies.

“Last year, a girl from Chandigarh developed severe abdomen pain while on a train to Delhi. Her father called us frantically and in an hour, our volunteers reached her in Sonepat,” says Shibubhai, a member of the organisation.

Devendra Apte from Nashik says he called the helpline once when his brother passed away in New Delhi on an official trip. “Not only did they help with the formalities of post mortem, but also arranged for the body to be sent to Nashik.”

The greatest urgency is reserved for calls related to forced conversions. “We consider every call as an emergency call and our strength is our network that we put to use instantly,” Shibubhai says.

Then there are Muslims who buy homes in Hindu areas, something Togadia himself has said needs to be actively discouraged.

“Sometimes Hindus living in areas meant for Hindus sell their houses to Muslims, and the situation becomes grave when the latter doesn’t vacate, despite neighbours having problems with him,” says a volunteer. “We have gathered support in such cases too.”

Earlier this year, Togadia was seen on video telling a meeting in Bhavnagar in Gujarat that Muslims who buy property in Hindu-dominated areas should be driven out and how this should be done.

Users of the helpline have good things to say about it. A teacher in Mumbai, Rajni Shah, first came to know about the helpline from her brother-in-law, Nirmesh, who says he calls the number at least twice a month. “I am a salesman and have to visit many small cities. I call the helpline and ask for cheap lodges run by Hindu families with vegetarian food.

I have never been disappointed.” Rajni herself has used the service twice. “When my daughter wanted to dress like Hanuman on her fancy dress day in school, I wanted to know if such a thing was permitted as Lord Hanuman is a Brahmachari. They were very nice to talk to,” she says.

    Canadian News

    Joint statement from the Greater Toronto Area & Hamilton Mayors and Chairs

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    Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, and Toronto Mayor John Tory
    Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, and Toronto Mayor John Tory take part in a candlelit vigil to honour the victims of a deadly shooting in Toronto on Wednesday July 25, 2018. Ten-year-old Julianna Kozis of Markham, Ont., and 18-year-old Reese Fallon of Toronto were killed in Sunday's shooting attack, and 13 other people were injured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

    We are united in fighting COVID-19 – protecting our residents and saving lives.

    While the measures we have taken to stop the spread of the virus have made a difference, this virus has still taken far too many lives in our communities and continues to threaten the lives of our residents.

    At the same time, there is no denying the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the economy. Jobs have been lost, many businesses have closed or are at risk of closure, and many families are worried about their financial future.

    We’ve been hit hard but that’s why it is so important that we keep moving forward and come back as strong as possible.

    Today, the GTHA Mayors and Chairs met to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on the region and how our municipalities can work together on the economic restart and recovery.

    We know the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area alone is projected to lose 355,000 jobs and 28% of GDP along with $894 million in lost wages and $3.7 billion in revenue losses for businesses. This will be felt right across the GTHA but it also threatens the provincial and national economies.

    A strong recovery right here in the GTHA is crucial to healing the economic damage done by COVID-19 and helping the families and businesses all governments have been working to protect throughout this emergency.

    Ontario’s economy and Canada’s economy need the GTHA to come back stronger than ever when the restart begins.

    We are determined to deliver this recovery and we agreed today that the GTHA municipalities will be working together to successfully and smoothly reopen our vital regional economy when the time comes.

    We also discussed how we can in a consistent way achieve significant, necessary financial support from the other governments to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and protect our ability to contribute to the recovery. A strong recovery needs strong cities and regional governments.

    We have agreed we will work together to share information about our respective financial positions and explore together measures we can advocate to the other governments which will help to ensure the financial stability of local and regional governments in the GTHA.

    Our child care and recreation programs help parents get back to work.

    Our emergency services keep people safe.

    Our transit systems get people to work and home safely.

    Our major infrastructure projects – often built in conjunction with the other governments – will help kick-start the recovery and create countless jobs.

    Our economic development activities attract jobs and investment.

    We built a strong and vibrant GTHA and we know that we will need to come back even stronger and as quickly as we can in order to keep Canada’s economy going.

    With the cooperation and support of the provincial and federal governments, we are ready to rise to this challenge.”

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    Canadian News

    Four People Charged in Mississauga Pedestrian Fail to Remain Fatality

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    Investigators from the Major Collision Bureau have charged four people in Mississauga’s most recent fatal fail to remain collision.

    On Thursday, February 15, 2018, at approximately 8:40 p.m., the victim, a 61 year-old female from Mississauga, was struck by a south bound vehicle as she was crossing Mavis Road in the area of Knotty Pine Grove in the City of Mississauga. The vehicle did not remain and the victim, having suffered major injuries, was pronounced dead at the scene.

    On Saturday, February 17, 2018 shortly before 7:00 p.m., Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM, a 60 year-old male from Brampton, and the driver believed to be responsible in this incident, surrendered to police at 22 Division. Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM has since been charged with Fail to Remain Cause Death.

    Hivissa SATCHITHANANTHAN, a 25 year old female from Brampton, Shajeetha SATCHITHANANTHAN a 28 year-old female from Brampton and Gowtham SATKUNARAJAH a 28 year-old male from Brampton have each been charged with Accessory After the Fact in relation to this incident.

    Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM will answer to his charge on March 12, 2018. Hivissa SATCHITHANANTHAN, Shajeetha SATCHITHANANTHAN andGowtham SATKUNARAJAH will answer to their charges on Monday March 26, 2018 at the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton

    Anyone who may have witnessed the collision, have dashboard video footage of the incident or who may have any information regarding this incident is asked to contact investigators with the Major Collision Bureau at (905) 453-2121, ext. 3710. Information may also be left anonymously by calling Peel Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or by visiting www.peelcrimestoppers.ca or by sending a text message to CRIMES (274637) with the word ‘PEEL’ and then your tip.

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    Canadian News

    Justin Trudeau in India: Hug missing! Mounting pressure?

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    The much publicized and anticipated visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to India was marred with questions. The questions were centered on the kind of welcome he would be given in the Sikh dominated state of Punjab. Also the famous hug by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was being anticipated. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally made his much-touted visit to India. He landed on the Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi only to be received by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat not even a Cabinet Minister in Narendra Modi’s government.

    He is presently the second rank Minister of State for Agriculture.  That comes in complete contrast to the warmth that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his NDA government has generally displayed towards the visiting dignitaries.  Only a couple of weeks ago, when the heads of the 10 ASEAN states arrived in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t receive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the airport, as he has previously done with many leaders including Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, Shinzo Abe, and Benjamin Netanyahu.

    The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t join him is all surprising even when Prime Minister Trudeau visited Gujarat. This is unusual because the Indian Prime Minister has set a trend that he always accompanies head of the state when they visit his home state.

    Even Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath did not show up, let alone accompany Prime Minister Trudeau to the Taj. However, during Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 15 January visit to the Taj Mahal at Agra, Yogi Adityanath had received Netanyahu and his wife and shown them around as well as hosted a lunch for them. For first three days, none from the executive or the elected representative held any meeting with the delegation.

    Media in India is trying to spread a message that the cold treatment given by Prime Minister could be because two of the four Sikh members of Trudeau’s cabinet – Harjit Sajjan and Amarjeet Sohi – support the Khalistan movement. However, had that been the case his visit to Punjab would have got a similar response.  However, the Punjab Government led by Captain Amarinder Singh rolled out a red carpet during his stay at Amritsar and even the two leaders held some fruitful discussions.

    Thus putting an end to those criticisms that that Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit was devoid of any warmth.  Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh, for instance who met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau setting aside his earlier prejudice that he exhibited during the visit of Defence Minister Harjeet Singh Sajjan.

    In recent months, Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) in Canada, the United States and Australia have banned Indian officials from visiting gurudwaras and the moment started with Gurudwaras here in Toronto. Could that be the reason for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to not accord one of the warmest welcomes that he is known to provide?  Or the use by Canada’s parliament of the term genocide to describe mass killings of Sikhs in India in 1984 has left the Indian Prime Minister disturbed?  However, more than Prime Minister Modi, this could have left the Congress party in troubled waters, but that was also not the case as Amarinder Singh hails from the same party.

    The lukewarm welcome to Prime Minister Trudeau can have its political ramifications too. Will it hamper the significant 2015 deal, in which Canada agreed to supply 3,000 metric tons of Uranium to power India’s atomic reactors?

    Somewhere Prime Minister Modi has not taken the issue of non allowing entry of Indian officials to Gurudwaras and the statement on Genocide too lightly. Prime Minister Modi however has failed to understand that Canada cannot curtail the right of freedom of speech and expression of its citizen.

    Two nations perhaps failed to resolve the matter before Prime Minister boarded the flight from Canada and not welcoming Prime Minister Trudeau could be a tactical decision to put pressure on him. With Prime Minister Modi preferring to meet him at the far end of the tour has conveyed a lot about the myopic approach of Prime Minister Modi.

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