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Should temples, mosques and churches donate for Covid-19?

A debate is gaining ground as to should religious institutions donate their wealth to the cause. Many believe that only temples are being targeted. Why not churches and mosques, the biggest landowners in India, they ask.

Priya Sahgal

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As the government fights the coronavirus crisis, aided by donations from corporates and individuals, a debate is gaining ground as to should temples and other religious institutions donate their wealth to the cause. Even going by approximates, the figures involved are large. It is claimed that the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala, which is reputed to be our richest religious institution, has about $20 billion to its name; the Tirupati Temple is reputed to get donations of Rs 650 crore annually, Shirdi Sai Baba in Mumbai is said to get approximately Rs 360 crore annually, while the Ajmer Dargah is believed to get donations worth Rs 200 crore annually. However, for their part, the religious institutions counter this pointing out that they are doing a lot already. Rahul Easwearan, a right-wing activist and grandson of Kandararu Maheshwararu, senior supreme priest of Sabrimala, says: “The Travencore Dewaswom Trust of which Sabrimala is a part has already donated Rs 1 crore to the Kerala CM Fund for Covid. Despite public perception to the contrary religious institutions also have their financial obligations. Right now also don’t forget that temples and churches are closed down but they have some fixed costs and financial overheads to meet.”

He adds, “All temples are not as rich as Sidhivinayak or Sabrimala. Thousands of temples cannot even break even and they are funded by the richer temples. Sabrimala funds about 1,208 temples. Unfortunately, people see the gold in temples but that’s not the reality. It is not as if our gods are very rich and people are very poor. But yes, after meeting our financial obligations we should do as much as we can. Community kitchens, with social distancing, is one way of sharing our resources.” Among the faithful, there is a belief that the gold in the temples or money donated by the devotees belongs to gods and not the state. Others would argue that if the gods don’t come to the rescue of the people at times like this, who will. Certainly, to take Easwar’s point forward, temples and gurdwaras specially are doing more than their bit when it comes to langars. There is another argument that favours monetisation of gold lying with the religious institutions.

Temples have $1 trillion worth of privately held gold in india — about 22,000 tonnes, according to an estimate from the World Gold Council. (Nearly half the amount held in Fort Knox). Much of this is in the form of decorations such as the 110-ft gold plated flagstaff at the Guruvayur temple in Kerala or the walls and ceiling of the Sidhivinayak temple’s inner shrine are plated with pure gold, and the Ganesh idol is adorned with exquisite jewellery. Large amounts of gold and jewellery are regularly offered by devotees to temples all over. But little of it contributes to India’s wealth. Counters R. Jagannathan, Editorial Director, Swarajya, “In any case only Hindu temples are directly run by states in contravention of secular imperatives. The state has already stolen or commandeered Hindu wealth over hundred thousand temples run by five southern states. Everyone targets temple wealth in ‘secular’ India. Why not target church and mosque wealth. They are the biggest landowners in India due to munificence of Mughal and British rulers. Most temples are now closed and their priests are starving as they get no donations from devotees.”

Adds Gnanasekar Thiagarajan, Director, CommTrendz, “Many temples have contributed handsomely to the PM Cares fund for Covid so far. And why only temples, why not other religious institutions like churches and mosques? So much gold is lying idle with the households too. I think any country would want the idle gold to be used in economic recovery. Some countries like Turkey are hinting about it already. It may also happen naturally with people losing jobs; they may tend to use their gold and convert it to cash… Temples are already monetising their gold to some extent and earning interest on it.’ The gold monetisation scheme was brought in to allow temples to deposit their gold in banks to earn interest and circulate in the economy rather than sit idle in musty vaults (2015). But it found limited takers. Recently, during the Covid-19 crisis the SBI sent out an SMS, reminding customers, that it would accept gold deposits under the gold monetisation scheme. Certainly, for the individuals it makes sense to avail of this than pledge their gold to moneylenders. But these are troubled times and the government is out on a wing and prayer to rescue the economy

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RUSSIA WILL ACCEPT CONDITIONAL HANDOVER OF CYBER CRIMINALS TO US, SAYS PRESIDENT PUTIN

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Three days before the US-Russia summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday said that the two countries need to engage in a constructive dialogue and establish mechanisms for interaction as there are areas in which Moscow and Washington can cooperate.

“[We need] to restore our personal contacts, relations, establish a direct dialogue, create really functioning mechanisms of interaction,” Putin said in an interview broadcast by the Smotrim.ru media outlet. The President noted that the US side is well aware that there are a number of areas that are of mutual interest, such as strategic stability, regional conflicts, environmental protection measures, and climate. “There are areas in which we can really work effectively,” Putin added.

In the process, President Putin said that Russia would be ready to hand over cyber criminals to the United States if Washington did the same for Moscow and the two powers reached an agreement to that effect.

The Russian leader said he expected the Geneva meeting to help establish bilateral dialogue and revive personal contacts, adding that important issues for the two men included strategic stability, Libya and Syria, and the environment.

Putin also praised Biden for having shown “professionalism” when the United States and Russia agreed this year to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty.

The White House has said Biden will bring up ransomware attacks emanating from Russia at the meeting. That issue is in the spotlight after a cyberattack disrupted the North American and Australian operations of meatpacker JBS USA.

A Russia-linked hacking group was behind that attack, a US source familiar with the matter said last week.

Asked if Russia would be prepared to find and prosecute cyber criminals, Putin said Russia’s behaviour here would depend on formal agreements being reached by Moscow and Washington.

Both sides would have to commit to the same obligations, he said.

“If we agree to extradite criminals, then of course Russia will do that, we will do that, but only if the other side, in this case the United States, agrees to the same and will extradite the criminals in question to the Russian Federation,” he said.

“The question of cyber security is one of the most important at the moment because turning all kinds of systems off can lead to really difficult consequences,” he said.

With agency inputs

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12 killed, 138 injured in gas explosion in China

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HUBEI: At least 12 people were killed and 138 were injured in a huge gas explosion in central China on Sunday, state media reported.

A gas pipe exploded in the Zhangwan district of Shiyan city, in Hubei province at about 6:30 am local time. The number of casualties is still being verified as the search and rescue operation is underway. According to the local authorities, 150 people have been pulled from the debris, and the injured are being treated at local hospitals.

Apparently, the explosion destroyed a wet market there and greatly affected nearby residents. “Hearing the loud bang, I immediately scrabbled beneath the table, thinking it was an earthquake,” a resident surnamed Liu, told the Global Times via phone.

Images are circulating on social media, which appeared to be from the scene, showed rescue workers in orange jumpsuits working through the wreckage of flattened houses.

The cause of the accident is under investigation, according to the city government, which informed on the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo.

Rescue operation is underway and more details are awaited. ANI

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SAUDI ARABIA BARS FOREIGN PILGRIMS FROM HAJJ DUE TO COVID-19

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Amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia has once again barred foreigners to perform the Hajj, and set a limit of maximum of 60,000 pilgrims inside the Kingdom.

“Only 60,000 vaccinated residents and citizens living in the Kingdom will be allowed to perform this year’s Haj pilgrimage due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic,” the Ministry of Haj and Umrah announced in a statement cited by Gulf News on Saturday. The Hajj is one of Islam’s five pillars. Every able-bodied Muslim who has affordability tries to visit it at least once in a lifetime.

“Against the backdrop of what the world is witnessing and due to the continuous developments of the coronavirus pandemic as well as the emergence of new mutations, Haj registration will be limited to residents and citizens from inside the Kingdom only,” the ministry also Twitted.

“Muslims between the ages of 18-65 and are fully vaccinated, or those who received their first dose at least 14 days prior, those who are vaccinated and have recovered from a Covid-19 infection are allowed to register,” the ministry added.

This is the second year in a row that Saudi Arabia limits the Haj pilgrimage to Muslims inside the Kingdom. However, only 10,000 Muslims were allowed to perform Hajj last year.

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US AND JAPAN DEEPEN TIES WITH TAIWAN, DRAGON FINDS ITSELF IN TIGHT SPOT

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The US and Japan have been deepening their engagement with Taiwan to help guard it against a growing threat from China. The move has out Beijing in tight spot.

J. Michael Cole, writing in The National Interest said that the regime in Beijing, which continues its effort to isolate Taiwan internationally, is now in the difficult position of having to express its discontent over coronavirus response while avoiding overreaction that could create the rationale for even closer relations between Taiwan and other countries. Taiwan has had a fairly positive past month in terms of its engagement with, and support by, regional partners.

Beijing’s setbacks began back in April, with the joint statement between US President Joe Biden and his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, which “underscore[d] the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”

Such direct reference to Taiwan by a Japanese prime minister had not been heard for more than half a century, reported The National Interest. This was followed the next month by a similar statement, this one by President Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which again “emphasise[d] the importance of preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait”.

The unprecedented reference to Taiwan by a South Korean leader also signalled those countries within the region were becoming increasingly alarmed with China’s destabilising behaviour—particularly the high number of intrusions by aircraft from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force and Navy into Taiwan’s southern Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), wrote Cole.

Four days before the Biden-Suga joint statement, a total of twenty-five PLA aircraft–14 J-16 multi-role fighters, four J-10 multi-role fighters, four H-6K bombers, 2 Y-8 anti-submarine planes, and one KJ-500 airborne early warning and control plane–entered Taiwan’s ADIZ, a new high since the PLA began intensifying its military activity in the region in 2020, reported The National Interest.

But now, China is in a tight spot as Taiwan is receiving more attention from allies. One strategic mistake Beijing may have committed earlier this year was its refusal to reduce its military activity around the Taiwan Strait during the transition period in Washington, wrote Cole.

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WHO chief asks China to cooperate with probe into Covid-19 origins

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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Ghebreyesus has called on China to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 amid renewed call to further probe the virus.

Dr Tedros made these remarks after taking part in the Group of Seven (G7) summit by video conference on Saturday, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.

The WHO Director-General hoped there would be better cooperation and transparency when the next phase of the probe into the virus’s origin is underway. “As you know we will need cooperation from the Chinese side,” he said. “We need transparency to understand or know or find the origin of this virus…after the report was released there were difficulties in the data sharing, especially in the raw data.”

He further said that the preparations for the probe’s next steps were underway and that the issue of the origin of the virus was discussed by G7 leaders on Saturday, WSJ reported.

Earlier this week, the US and the UK had extended support to a “timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process” for the next phase of the WHO-convened study of Covid-19 origins. “We will also support a timely, transparent and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened COVID-19 origins study, including in China, and for investigating outbreaks of unknown origin in the future,” a joint statement said after US President Joe Biden met British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday.

This comes amid growing calls for a timely, transparent, and evidence-based independent process for the next phase of the WHO-convened origin study.

Recently, the calls to investigate further the origins of the virus have intensified. President Biden has also ordered a fresh US intelligence inquiry into the origins of the pandemic.

The origin of novel coronavirus that caused havoc around the world has remained a mystery even after 1.5 years the first case of infection was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Now, scientists and world leaders are calling for further investigations to figure out whether the virus originated naturally or leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

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G7 NATIONS CALL OUT CHINA OVER XINJIANG, HONG KONG AND TAIWAN

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In a veiled criticism of the Dragon, Group of Seven (G&) leaders called on China to respect human rights in its Xinjiang region, allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy, and refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilise the East and South China Seas, Reuters reported quoted a draft version of the G7 summit communique.

“We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the G7 said in a communique that was almost finalised.

Before the G7 criticism emerged, China cautioned G7 leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.

The G7 also said they underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues”.

“We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions.”

“We also call for a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened Phase 2 Covid-19 origins study including, as recommended by the experts’ report, in China,” the communique, which is almost finalised, said.

“The days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in London said.

“We always believe that countries, big or small, strong or weak, poor or rich, are equals, and that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries.”

Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China, and says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.

UN experts and rights groups estimate over a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang.

China denies all accusations of forced labour or abuse. It initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism. In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated”.

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