Sunday, September 16, 2007

Gods row minister offers to quit

Satellite image of Ram Setu (Lord Ram's bridge)
Hindu devotees believe the bridge was built by Lord Ram
India's culture minister has offered to resign in a row over whether Hindu gods are mythological figures.

Officials had presented the argument in court to support construction plans for an area devotees believe has remnants of a bridge built by the Hindu god Ram.

Minister Ambika Soni said she would quit if asked to by the prime minister.

She also confirmed that two directors of the Archaeological Survey of India, which prepared the court affidavit, had been suspended.


Hindu devotees believe the area between India and Sri Lanka - now known as Adam's Bridge - was built millions of years ago by Lord Ram, supported by an army of monkeys.

Ambika Soni
Ms Soni said an investigation was under way

But scientists and archaeologists say Adam's Bridge, or Ram Setu, is a natural formation of sand and stones.

On Wednesday the Archaeological Survey of India told the Supreme Court that the religious texts were not evidence that Lord Ram ever existed.

Hardline Hindu opponents of the government accused the administration of blasphemy and protesters carried out demonstrations in the area and in Delhi, Bhopal, and on a number of key highways.

The next day the report was withdrawn.

Ms Soni told reporters on Saturday: "If the prime minister of India... would feel that I am culpable and wants me to resign, it won't take me a minute to do so."

Ms Soni said the directors had been suspended because they had ignored a revision she had made to the affidavit.

She said an inter-departmental investigation was now under way to find out who was responsible.

The government wants to build a canal to link the Palk Strait with the Gulf of Mannar by dredging a canal through the shallow sea.

The $560m Sethusamudram Ship Canal Project is expected to provide a continuous navigable sea route around the Indian peninsula.