Environmental activist Raghav Mittalji of the Braj Foundation has written a riposte, which we publish here. The opinions expressed are his alone and do not necessarily represent those of the BVHA. — Jagat
Despite the harsh and uncomfortable comments made by Joel Stein on the changing landscape of his hometown Edison, NJ, due to the influx of Indian immigrants, I do find a strong reasons to empathize with him.
We all possess a sense of belongingness to our native places – whether we are Indians, Americans, Europeans, or Australians. Every culture, tradition and lifestyle has its own innate strengths as well as its share of weaknesses. We all like to live in our own peculiar manner and cherish our own customs and traditions. It is therefore legitimate for Stein to duly express feelings.
Just as Stein is disturbed or concerned or astonished over the transformation of his American hometown, I too am concerned and disgusted over a similar transformation of one of the most venerated spiritual places in India, which has been brought about by the mindless influx of an insensitive band of American NRIs and the accompanying flood of dollars.
Chiksoli and Manpur are twin villages near the town of Barsana (located in District Mathura in the state of Uttar Pradesh), which happens to be the birthplace of Srimati Radharani, the eternal consort of Sri Krishna, the propounder of the world famous Srimad Bhagvad Gita.
Everything was going on well in these twin villages till about a decade ago. The serene rural settings compounded by the ecological grandeur of Gahvarvan, one of the finest sacred groves of Braj, Dohini Kund, Vihar Kund, Maangarh, Vilasgarh, Ashtasakhi hills, Radha Sarovar, Mor Kuti, Kadamb Khandi and the surrounding expanses of fertile agricultural land, gave an internalizing experience to one and all who dared to visit these spiritual hamlets.
The experience was further amplified by the musical renditions of Sri Ramesh Baba, the revolutionary saint of Braj, performed in honor of the Divine Couple Sri Radha Krishna, every evening. The warm hospitality offered by the local people at Ras Mandir made one forget the comforts of the finest hospitable destinations.
A community-led movement aimed at reviving the lost heritage of the region comprising of ancient water bodies, sacred groves, degraded pasture lands and hill slopes was going on, silently inspired by Sri Ramesh Baba. It reinstilled the confidence in the local youth to take charge of their ecological infrastructure and build upon their prosperous socio-economic enterprises on the innate strength of Braj.
To attract further support, a team of locals went to the US to seek the support of the American NRI (non-resident Indian) community there. This proved to be a ‘turning point’ in the destiny of the twin hamlets of Chiksoli and Manpur, as the Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 decision to open America’s gates to Asian immigrants resulted in such drastic changes to Stein’s Edison.
Hordes of Non Resident Indians were attracted to the charismatic Sri Ramesh Baba and started, in their own characteristically pompous style, to influence the entire state of affairs. The simple rural folk were swayed by their economic might and started selling off their prized lands for the invaders’ palatial spiritual retreats.
The place’s austerity and simplicity took less than a decade to get lost. The way that Edison was overrun by alien and unadapting South Asians, Chiksoli and Maanpur were encroached on by materialistic spiritualists.
Now there are multi-story towers in these small villages with shoddy drainage and sewerage disposal systems. The ostentatious display of money is clearly visible everywhere. To house cattle, fortresses have been built as if they are real endangered species.
Instead of upgrading the local school Sri Raseshwary Vidya Mandir, which was to be turned into a rural university, the entire focus has shifted on building residential apartments for the overseas clients. Due to the lack of building regulations in these rural areas and the absence of adequate local government or infrastructure, havoc is being created. Effluent from these gushing buildings is despoiling the local habitat at a pace that far exceeds its ability to cope.
Cultural invasions are happening all across the globe. Whether it is Edison, New Jersey, or Chiksoli-Manpur near Barsana. In both cases, local communities are at peril and at a disadvantage as their independence and liberty is encroached upon.
I would certainly empathize with Stein as I too feel I have lost the very place that was the source of my inspiration and instruction while I was a little kid, which is no longer holds the same charm and attraction for me and I now rarely visit.
Stein has simply been vocally condemned and publicly chastized by the Indian-American Community. My own criticism of the NRI invasion in Barsana has resulted in threats from goons flourishing on their financial support, so that I have practically speaking been exiled from there.
Cultural invasions of such insensitivity should not and just cannot be tolerated or patronized.
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