Saturday, September 08, 2007

Hindus upset over ban on holy dot
By Amarnath Tewary
BBC News, Bihar

Lakshman Mishra (Photos: Prashant Ravi)
Mr Mishra has worn the tilak throughout his career
A senior official in India's Bihar state faces suspension for wearing the Hindu red mark on his forehead at work.

Lakshman Mishra, deputy director of the agriculture department, is accused of breaching a new government dress code.

He says he has worn the mark, or tilak, on his forehead at work for 30 years and it is his religious right to do so.

His colleagues support him - nearly all of them arrived at work on Friday wearing red marks in protest, and unions are threatening mass action.

Suicide threat

Mr Mishra's troubles began in August when new guidelines were issued on what state government officials could wear at the office.

No one should be suspended for wearing a holy tilak as it's a matter of personal choice
Bihar Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh

His department head, CK Anil, warned Mr Mishra that he considered his tilak to be in breach of the code.

When he refused to remove it, Mr Anil recommended him for suspension.

Mr Anil is a young, no-nonsense civil service high-flier who has already reprimanded staff in another department for spitting out betel leaf they had been chewing at work.

He is currently not taking calls from the media.

Many people in northern India wear the red holy mark on their foreheads and it is a common sight in government offices.

Mr Mishra says he has no intention of giving up the practice.

"I've been sporting the red holy dot on my forehead for the last 30 years of my career," he told the BBC.

"It has religious sentiment for me and if somebody goes on harassing me on this pretext I'll have no option but to commit suicide."


Barring some senior officials, all the employees of the state agriculture department went to work on Friday with tilaks on their foreheads in protest at his treatment.

Civil servants protest in Bihar (Photos: Prashant Ravi)
Civil servants came out in protest on Friday

They laid siege to Mr Anil's office and demanded he withdraw his recommendation that Mr Mishra be suspended.

"The officer's move has hurt our religious sentiments and as our protest against his order we've come to the office today adorning our foreheads with the red dot. Let him suspend all of us now," said union leader Baidyanath Yadav.

Several other state government unions are also angry and are threatening mass protests if his suspension order is not revoked with immediate effect.

Even state Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh agrees, saying "no one should be suspended for wearing a holy tilak as it's a matter of personal choice".

Monday, September 03, 2007

Army helps tourists hit by wasps

By P Karunakharan
BBC Tamil service, Colombo

Rock fortress at Sigiriya

The site is famous for its beautiful frescoes
The Sri Lankan military has been deployed to evacuate tourists hit by a deadly aerial menace at the world famous rock fortress at Sigiriya.

They have helped take dozens of people to hospital in recent days after they were stung by an angry swarm of wasps.

Police say that the prevailing hot weather, combined with the noise made by crowds of visitors, could have roused the normally peaceful wasps.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors each year visit the World Heritage Site.


Some people believe the wasps are the reincarnation of troops of King Kasyapa, who built the fortress in the year 475 AD.

Wasp attacks are not uncommon at the site, 150km (100 miles) north-east of Colombo. The fortress is regarded as one of the wonders of the world.

In 2004, Buddhist monks lit lamps and incense sticks to pacify the insects, when they were believed to have been disturbed by children throwing stones at a nest.

Police say that at least 100 people have been taken to hospital in the latest attacks - while several others received first aid - after they were stung at the foot of the 200-metre-high fortress.

The frescoes at Sigiriya - similar to ones of Ajantha in India - are renowned for their age and beauty.

Almost equally legendary are its various swarms of wasps, who sometimes have an uneasy co-existence with equally large swarms of tourists.

The authorities say that they are reluctant to fumigate or smoke out the insects, for fear of damaging the ancient frescoes and its most famous exhibit, three women known as the Sigiriya maidens.