By- Balbir Punj

                     Balbir PunjA TALE OF TWO CITIES- While the world is busy getting ready to welcome 2018, two ancient cities — Ayodhya and Jerusalem — have been in the news for civilization reasons in the last month of the outgoing year. Jerusalem, the focus and spiritual centre of the Jews, hit the headlines when the Trump Administrationdecided to shift the US embassy in Israel there from its current location in Tel Aviv. Ayodhya, one of the holiest cities of Hindus, figured in public discourse recently after the Supreme Court decided to hear the Babri Masjid-Ram Janam Bhumi case. Appeals against the Allahabad High Court verdict in this case have been pending before the apex court for the last seven years.

Both Ayodhya and Jerusalem, located in two different parts of the globe, have a lot in common in terms of travails and the trauma they have suffered at the hands of successive invaders, who claimed divine inspiration from their respective religious texts while repeatedly sacking the ancient cities.

Like Ayodhya, whose existence pre-dates even Lord Rama, the history of Jerusalem too is lost in antiquity, tracing its hoary past to Adam, the first man created by god. It is believed that Adam lived in Jerusalem all of his life.
A TALE OF TWO CITIESDuring its chequered history, Jerusalem has been attacked 52 times, captured, and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times and destroyed twice. In the 1st century CE, Jerusalem became the birthplace of early Christianity. The Emperor Constantine developed the city as a Christian centre of worship and the Jews were banned from their city.

In 638 CE, the city was over-run by Muslims, led by their first Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab. However, in July 1099, crusaders captured the city and nearly all the Muslim and Jewish inhabitants were massacred. In 1517, Jerusalem was taken over by the Ottoman empire and after its collapse, by the British.

The way the name of Lord Rama (and by association that of Ayodhya) permeates India and Hindus the world over, the city of Jerusalem is central to the faith and identity of Jews. Here are some Jewish customs.

A tiny amount of ash is touched to the forehead of a Jewish groom before he goes to stand beneath the bridal canopy. This symbolically reminds him not to allow his own rejoicing to be greater than the ongoing need to recall Jerusalem’s repeated destruction.

While the world is gearing up to welcome yet another year, two ancient cities, which have lots in common in terms of travails and trauma they have suffered, are undergoing civilisational trials

Another ancient custom is to leave a path of interior wall opposite the door to one’s home unpainted, as a remembrance of the destruction of the temples and city of Jerusalem at the hands of successive invaders.

According to the Bible, Jewish temples stood on Temple Mount. According to Jewish tradition and scripture, the first temple was built by King Solomon, the son of King David, in 957 BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The second was constructed under the auspices of Zerubbabel in 516 BCE and destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 CE. Jewish tradition maintains it is here that a third and final temple will also be built.

The location is the holiest site in Judaism and is the place Jews turn towards during prayer. Due to its extreme sanctity, many Jews will not walk on the Mount itself, to avoid unintentionally entering the area where the Holy of Holies stood, since according to Rabbinical law, some aspect of the divine presence is still present at the site.

However, after Islamic take-over in 638 CE, the Mount was declared the third holiest site for Sunni Muslims. It is revered as the Noble Sanctuary, the location of Prophet  Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven.

The Prophet is believed to have been taken by the miraculous Steed, Buraq, to visit Jerusalem, where he prayed and then to visit heaven, in a single night in the year 610.

While the Hindus are repeatedly told to prove Lord Rama’s birthplace at Ayodhya, none has ever asked for evidence for the Islamic belief about the Prophet’s sojourn to heaven on a flying horse.

Thanks to their steadfast commitment to their culture and faith, unity, and clarity of purpose, the Jews today have complete control over Jerusalem. On the other hand, divided Hindus have been struggling to build a Ram temple at his birth place for hundreds of years, but without any tangible results.

The Hindu aspiration to build a grand Ram temple, at the site believed to be his birth place in Ayodhya, is not directed against Islam or Muslims. What the Karsevaks demolished on December 6, 1992, was not a place of worship (a mosque) but a monument built by an invader to humiliate the locals. The situation is best summed up in the words of  Arnold Toynbee, one of the great historians of the present century. While delivering the Azad Memorial Lecture, he said:

“As I have been speaking, some vivid visual memories have been flashing up in my mind’s eye. One of these is a mental picture of the principal square in the Polish City of Warsaw sometime in the late nineteen twenties. In the course of the first Russian occupation of Warsaw (1614-1915) the Russians had built an Eastern Orthodox Christian Cathedral on this central spot in the city that had been the capital of the once independent Roman Catholic Christian country, Poland.

“The Russians had done this to give the Poles a continuous ocular demonstration that the Russians were now their masters. After the reestablishment of Poland’s independence in 1918, the Poles had pulled this cathedral down. Demolition had been completed just before the date of my visit. I do not greatly blame the Polish Government for having pulled down that Russian Church. The purpose for which the Russians had built it had been not religious but political, and the purpose had also been intentionally offensive.

“Aurangzeb’s purpose in building those three Mosques was the same intentionally offensive political purpose that moved the Russians to build their Orthodox Cathedral in the city centre at Warsaw. Those three Mosques were intended to signify that an Islamic Government was reigning supreme, even over Hinduism’s holiest of holy places.

“I must say that Aurangzeb had a veritable genius for picking out provocative sites. Aurangzeb and Philip II of Spain are a pair. They are incarnations of the gloomily fanatical vein in the Christian-Muslim-Jewish family of religions.

“Aurangzeb — a poor wretched misguided bad man spent a lifetime of hard labour in raising massive monuments to his own discredit. Perhaps the Poles were really kinder in destroying the Russians self-discrediting monuments in Warsaw than you have been in sparing Aurangzeb’s Mosques. Anyway, it is Aurangzeb, and not the Hindu holy ground on which his Mosques are planted, that suffers from their very conspicuous presence…” (One World and India, compiled by National Book Trust, pp 59-61)

(The writer is a political commentator and a former BJP Rajya Sabha MP)

Courtesy-The Pioneer, 18 December 2017

Trump’s immigration plan to impact 3 lac Indian-Americans

Trump’s immigration plans to impact 3 lakh Indian-Americans, EU ready to welcome more Indian skilled workers

Trump's immigration plans to impact 3 lakh Indian-Americans, EU ready to welcome more Indian skilled workers

Amid anxiety in India over the protectionist policies of Trump administration and possible clampdown on H1B visa, the European Union came openly expressing that it’s ready to accommodate more India-skilled IT professionals.

Nearly 300,000 Indian-Americans are likely to be impacted by the Trump administration’s sweeping plans that put the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.

Pushing for deeper trade ties with India, a delegation of European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs also expressed “regret” over failure by both sides to resume the stalled dialogue to firm the long-pending EU-India trade and investment pact.

Criticising the new US government’s protectionist rhetoric which triggered fears in Europe as well, head of the delegation David McAllister said Europe is “open” for allowing more Indian professionals who are high on demand.

“Europe is open for people with high demand. Indian people are highly skilled. Our IT sector would not have been successful if we did not have skilled professionals from India,” he said.

Soon after taking over last month, Trump had decided to overhaul the work visa programmes like the H-1B and L1, a move that will adversely hit the lifeline of Indian tech firms and professional  in the US.

Pressing for early resumption of negotiations for the EU -India Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), McAllister said the delegation urged the Indian leaders to resume the talks as the pact will significantly boost two-way trade.

“We deeply regret that we are not being able to move ahead. We will use the visit to call for resumption of talks for the agreement,” he told reporters.

Donald Trump’s immigration blow

President Donald Trump has laid the groundwork for potentially deporting millions of undocumented immigrants by issuing new guidance that drastically broadens the ways in which federal immigration laws should be enforced.

“The Department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in an enforcement memo.

“Department personnel have full authority to arrest or apprehend an alien whom an immigration officer has probable cause to believe is in violation of the immigration laws,” it said.

The Department of Homeland Security has issued two enforcement memos, which among other things, tightens deportation of illegal immigrants.

The emphasis is on criminal aliens, though, but opens up the door for others too.

Indian-Americans as per unofficial figures account for nearly 300,000 illegal aliens.

According to the memo, the DHS Secretary has the authority to apply expedited removal provisions to aliens who have not been admitted or paroled into the US, who are inadmissible, and who have not been continuously physically present in the US for the two-year period immediately prior to the determination of their inadmissibility, so that such aliens are immediately removed unless the alien is an unaccompanied minor, intends to apply for asylum or has a fear of persecution or torture in their home country, or claims to have lawful immigration status.

The memorandum said when illegal aliens apprehended do not pose a risk of a subsequent illegal entry, returning them to the foreign contiguous territory from which they arrived, pending the outcome of removal proceedings, saves the government detention and adjudication resources for other priority aliens.

-February 22, 2017 | PTI | New Delhi


Bill introduced in US senate to cut legal immigration by half; to impact Indian Americans

Bill introduced in US senate to cut legal immigration by half; to impact Indian Americans

Bill introduced in US senate to cut legal immigration by half; to impact Indian Americans

In what could be perceived as a potential challenge for those aspiring to get a green card or permanent residency in the US, two top senators have introduced a legislation in the senate, proposing to cut the level of immigrants to the country by half. In other words, the RAISE Act – introduced by Republican senator Tom Cotton and David Perdue from the Democratic party– have proposed to reduce the number of green card or Legal Permanent Residency issued every year from currently about a million to half a million.

The passage of the bill, which is said to have the support of the Trump administration, will have a major impact on hundreds and thousands of Indian Americans who are currently painfully waiting to get their green cards on employment-based categories.

Notably, the current wait period of an Indian to get a green card varies from 10 years to 35 years and this could increase if the proposed bill becomes a law. The bill however does not focus on H-1B visas. “It’s time our immigration system started working for American workers,” Cotton said.

“The RAISE Act would promote higher wages on which all working Americans can build a future-whether your family came over here on the Mayflower or you just took the oath of citizenship,” he added.

The RAISE Act would lower overall immigration to 6,37,960 in its first year and to 5,39,958 by its tenth year-a 50 per cent reduction from the 1,051,031 immigrants who arrived in 2015. “We are taking action to fix some of the shortcomings in our legal immigration system,” Perdue said. “Returning to our historically normal levels of legal immigration will help improve the quality of American jobs and wages,” he added.

The RAISE Act among other things would retain immigration preferences for the spouses and minor children of US citizens and legal permanent residents while eliminating preferences for certain categories of extended and adult family members. It also proposes to eliminate diversity visa lottery. “The Diversity Lottery is plagued with fraud, advances no economic or humanitarian interest, and does not even deliver the diversity of its namesake. The RAISE Act would eliminate the 50,000 visas arbitrarily allocated to this lottery,” it said.

The legislation further proposes to place responsible limit on permanent residency for refugees. The RAISE Act would limit refugees offered permanent residency to 50,000 per year, in line with a 13-year average. In an interview to Breitbart News, Cotton said the legislation would help create jobs for American citizens. “My bill today would be a first and modest down payment by getting a handle on green cards because we give out a million a year and the vast majority of those are unrelated to unemployment and they let in low-skilled and unskilled workers. That needs to change,” he said.

Cotton told the news website that focusing on America first—- like what President Donald Trump campaigned on—-rather than foreigners first makes the issue of immigration much “clearer”.

Cotton told Breitbart News that the legislation “doesn’t focus at all on temporary work visas” like H1B, H2A, H2B. “I may do that in the future but many Democrats in the Senate acknowledge the notorious levels of fraud and abuses in those programs and the bad consequences they’ve had for blue collar workers in America. “Because my legislation is designed to serve the very economic interests of those very blue collar workers while at the same time being humane to the families of recent immigrants and refugees, we hope that we can get bipartisan support,” he said.

-February 8, 2017