India to Discontinue Haj Subsidy

first_imgThe Government of India will be discontinuing the Haj pilgrimage subsidy from 2018, Union Minister for Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi confirmed on Jan. 16.“This is part of our policy to empower minorities with dignity and without appeasement,” Naqvi was quoted as saying by the Times of India.The funds that were used for the Haj subsidy will now be used for educational empowerment and welfare of girls from minority communities. The government is also going to offer two transport options now — air and waterways.The new policy seeks to rationalize distribution of the quota between Haj Committee of India and private tour operators in 70:30 ratio in the next five years. It also seeks to get rid of the cartel of contractors by inviting other contractors through a transparent bidding process.With the subsidy, thousands of Muslims from India were able to get cheaper air tickets to Saudi Arabia to go to Mecca. However, Saudi Arabia has now allowed waterways travel for Indians.“We believe in empowerment without appeasement,” Naqvi said, adding that 1.75 lakh Muslims would be going for the pilgrimage in 2018 since Saudi Arabia increased India’s quota by 5,000.“Muslims didn’t benefit from it. Development with dignity is what we believe in. The subsidy will be used for educating girls,” Naqvi said.The subsidy is being scrapped as per a 2012 Supreme Court order asking the Center to abolish it gradually by 2022.“A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court had, during the Congress regime, directed that the Haj subsidy be done away with (till 2022). Hence, in the new policy, as per the recommendations of a committee, we have decided to do away with the Haj subsidy gradually,” Naqvi had said earlier.In an effort to ease travel for Muslim women, the government had earlier said that women aged above 45 years can go on Haj in a group of four without any mehram — male relatives they cannot marry. Related ItemsIslamMeccaSaudi Arabialast_img read more

Masti In Motion

first_imgBackstage, things have heated up.Delicate feet, decorated with chunky payals, “rumjhum” their way hurriedly from one end of the dressing room to another. The casual chatter of an hour ago has now been replaced by a stillness that hangs, expectant, in the air. Little under an hour remains before showtime for the young women of the University of Pennsylvania’s desi dance troupe PENNaach.Between pocket-sized packets of bindis and Ziplock bags-worth of makeup and bangles, stray safety and hair pins litter the dressing table top. An economy-sized bag of Starburst chews has spilled its contents. The candies provide a handful of calories for the lithe women to burn as they bustle, from mirror to mirror, armed with hairbrushes and lip liner.This year’s production is called “Chori Chori: Mischief in Motion.” In preparation for it, troupe members have averaged four hours worth of rigorous dance practice every day for the past month. Tonight, they are ready to wow the audience with a jam-packed showcase of glitzy dance numbers.Established in 1997, PENNaach — or simply “Naach” — describes itself as the first South Asian American collegiate dance group in the nation. Fourteen young ladies between the ages of 18 and 24 are proud to call themselves this year’s “Naachos.” Most came to Penn with years of dance experience already under their belts. Mother of freshman PENNaach rookie Priya Shankar, remembers shuttling her five-year old daughter to countless Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi dance lessons on weekends. Kamala Shankar was pleased with the news that Priya had become a part of the troupe. “She came home for winter break and couldn’t get the Naach songs out of her head. She was very excited — singing and dancing constantly to them at home. It’s nice to see her continue with dance as a college student.” Today, Dr. Shankar has taken a cross-country flight all the way from Pleasanton, Calif., to see her daughter perform. With her is Priya’s petite, 75 year-old grandmother who sits, beaming in her second-row seat.The Shankar family isn’t the only one in town from the West Coast. Senior biology student and this year’s PENNaach president, Divya Bhatt, is helped backstage by her younger sister Anu. A University of California, Berkeley student, Anu is an accomplished dancer in her own right. The two have been attending each other’s performances for years. Anu explains: “Divya started Bharatnatyam at five years old and I joined her two years later. We took dance classes together for ten years with the same teacher, going every weekend to learn.”The Shankars and Bhatts are examples of a larger trend apparent in Indian communities. Immigrant families remain interested in preserving elements of the India they left behind years ago. Many see classical dance lessons for children as a sensible way to achieve tradition-based continuity.But being part of a desi performance group in college necessarily means endless practice — hours that might otherwise be spent studying or socializing. So why join? For Pareen Sheth, of Rutgers University’s co-ed dance group SAPA, the answer is easy. “Dancing has always been a huge part of my life. As SAPA members, we are all friends, and have a lot of fun at practice. Being involved in something that I am so passionate about is a great break from the stress of academics.”On the surface, shows like Chori Chori may just seem like a simple collection of song-and-dance numbers. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find they are actually quite critical to the college experience of many second generationers. Across the country, desi dance, theater, and a cappella groups are making their mark on campus stages, offering audiences vibrant, thoughtful representations of hip Indian American talent. In the process, these students are forging lifelong friendships, gaining confidence, and cultivating a strong, healthy sense of what it means to be desi American.Through dance, groups like PENNaach incorporate styles and moves associated with Bharatnatyam and, to a lesser extent, Odissi traditions. PENNaach alumna Ansu Mathew explains that most “everyone in the troupe is an Indian classical dancer.” This is reflected strongly in the choreographies put together by the women. “We want people to see that classical Indian dance training,”perhaps as a means to lend authenticity to the production. On stage, the next generation pays dutiful homage to the Mother India of their parents’ collective memory. Yet beyond this, the performers also routinely allow for fresh, urban elements of contemporary American youth culture to wield their way into dance numbers.As sophomore Wharton student and Naach member Vrinda Shah explains, “We want to keep and share parts of Indian culture, but we also want to show that we are interested in assimilating to a certain extent. We can balance between the two, and are able to incorporate both worlds in our dance.” Not only are these young women capable of finding balance, it seems they thrive in this fertile, complicated alternate space; a space that is neither fully “Indian,” nor mainstream “American” but, rather inventively, incorporates components of both.Back in the Iron Gate Theater lobby of the University of Pennsylvania, the unmistakable scent of intermission — samosa has taken over. The short break ends, and a lingering audience chatters its way back inside. “This musical medley exhibits Naach’s more modern personality,” announces the woman introducing “Aaj Ka Mazaa,” “Dancing to music from all around the world, Naach reveals a glimpse of a few other dance styles, such as hip hop, jazz, and ballet.”Such creative interweaving of rhythms is not uncommon, and today’s youth see clear value in taking a global approach to performance. Not doing so would, in fact, seem disingenuous of them. Playful nicknames for the Naachos — like Hena “Bollywood” Mehta and Vrinda “Vrindeezy” Shah — gesture to the comfort the women feel in their Indian American skin. They might be dismissed as American-Born Confused Desis, but by watching these confident women gliding between western and Indian dance styles and sensibilities one recognizes that they are anything but.For this generation, there is no difficult choice to be made between desi/non-desi forms-of-self. Using the language of spins and leaps, both allegiances are expressed, with extraordinary flair and graceful ease. It seems college stages today, like this one in Iron Gate Theater, have become symbolic sites — forums to showcase facets of a highly fluid “Indian American identity.”The final curtain is about to go down on “Chori Chori.” The women rush on stage for their last piece of the night. Carefully dressed in straight-fanned, heavy Indian fabric, they are serious about appropriately replicating authentic hand and facial gestures of the Bharatnatyam tradition. Yet mid-song, PENNaach unexpectedly shifts gears.Before the audience can say “Mridu Angaharas,” the dancers have begun stomping their feet to Pon de Replay — a chart-topping catchy hit from contemporary reggaeton sensation Rihanna. Although this isn’t quite the ending audience members were expecting, whatever discordance they feel is apparently only temporary. Naach receives an enthused, standing ovation.Troupe president Divya Bhatt is careful to emphasize the group’s deep respect for classical Indian art, but adds that with Pon de Replay the women were “interested in showing even though the dance style is thousands of years old, it can be revitalized and put to any beat.” Apparently, even to the beat of a hot Caribbean dancehall track, circa 2006.“From food to film to fashion, the fusion of East and West seems to be all around us these days,” PENNaach members tell the audience through the program booklet, “so why not take it a step further and incorporate it into dance?”Here, in a cozy college theater, where the lines separating old and new, Indian and American, are more blurred than ever before, the answer seems clear; why not, indeed. Related Itemslast_img read more