Yesterday, VT posted a story about a minor scuffle that took place between two foreign devotees living in Vrindavan. I have added updated information in the comments there. I received a number of remarks either on Facebook or in private regarding the story and I think it is worthwhile responding to them here in the form of an editorial.
“What kind of story is this?! And then you want this news site to be taken seriously? Might as well just report a food fight!”
“Do you want to change your name to the Vrindavan Enquirer and just write gossip about people’s sex lives?”
Over the years, we have published several stories on Vrindavan Today that could be called sensationalistic or scandalous. It is hard to do a news site without having such stories, and of course there are always ethical questions of some sort involved in posting them. For the most part, we do not publish general news articles about village fist fights, land squabbles, dowry murders, suicides, car accidents, political infighting, etc., that appear in the local media. Because we have a large readership that comes from outside India, however, we usually do share what the local media is saying about foreign visitors and residents in the Dham.
In many cases, such stories go to press when information is scanty and so all the facts are not known. Oftentimes, these never come out fully and accusations or blemishes on people’s character remain public for a long time afterwards, often unfairly. One reason for this is that we do not have the resources at present to do the followup, even when we would like to. The Hindi press is frequently amiss in this regard and not much help.
The media is notorious for presenting the first sensational aspects of a story and lazy about the nitty gritty details, which are inevitably more complex than the immediately visible blood and corpses.
No one will be surprised to hear that stories of this sort tend to be the ones that attract the most hits on a website. Indeed, we ran a story a few years ago about prostitution in Vrindavan that still gets a dozen or more hits every day. They come from Google referrals to search keywords that clearly come from people looking for services.
Vrindavan Today is not a commercial enterprise. But it does have a purpose for which we do want to attract readership. It is our hope that we will have a sufficient variety of interesting material that will appeal to a wide variety of people, some of whom will be subsequently inspired to serve Vrindavan in some way. Eleanor Roosevelt is often quoted for her aphorism, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” We hope that we will be able to discuss and draw people to meditate on ideas on this site.
The above-linked article touched on a sensitive issue that illustrates vividly the fundamental difficulty we have when talking about Vrindavan: a holy city that is being exploited as a tourist center. Without going into the issue here, we may say that it is just another area where we have a clash between the “ideal” Vrindavan and the “real” one. We have no objection to those who only look at the ideal land of Vrindavan as real and consider any discussion of real problems and issues here as extraneous to bhajan.
But others among us see the “real” Vrindavan as a service opportunity and feel it necessary to apply ourselves in a way that moves the so-called “real” Vrindavan in the direction of the ideal. This of course is an impossible task that is fraught with countless difficulties, which run the gamut from repression and narrow-mindedness to carelessness and indifference.
But here at Vrindavan Today it is our mission to expose some of these problems and to create a forum where they can be discussed openly, hopefully by people who love Vrindavan for the spiritual possibilities it has revealed to them, and who seek its welfare and that of its residents.
“This leaves a big question whether these foreigners come here for peace in Divine Shelter or just to earn money and enjoy life.”
The English version of Vrindavan Today is read by many devotees around the world for whom Vrindavan has become a spiritual home. But that does not mean that there are not scoundrels among the foreigners who come to live in Vrindavan. Wherever there is such an influx of outsiders, it is not surprising that there will be tension between them and those who have lived here for generations. This does not apply only to foreigners dressed as devotees, but also to those from every class of Indian society who come here seeking opportunity in what is a growth economy.
This is quite natural, but at the same time is not something that should be swept under the rug.
In this case, Food for Life is implicated by association. This is unfair to FFLV, which is doing such fantastic work in educating girls from the poorest of the poor backgrounds, giving them a chance in life that no one else is willing to. FFLV is a society of human beings, with human frailties, but Rupa Raghunath Das and those he has inspired are compassionate individuals who are in many ways the best of humanity. We are firm believers in the api cet verse of the Bhagavad-gita, which exhorts us to look at the general direction of a person’s life rather than the defects that cause them to stumble.
Is Vrindavan Today a devotional website?
Vrindavan Today is not a devotional website per se, though it does promote a particular vision of devotion to the Dham, a vision that is supportive of the dedication to the spiritual culture that gives Vrindavan its special meaning.
The Dham is the meeting place of the material and spiritual worlds. It is a land that at its basis is imbued with the concept of divine love, or Prema. It is a place that has always been dedicated to the glory of God incarnate as a human being in the natural environment. As the modern age with all its positive and negative aspects progresses, it seems to become harder and harder to actualize this vision, but we do not promote an other-worldly or escapist doctrine.
There is no point to Prema Bhakti if it cannot be made a reality in this world. And for us at Vrindavan Today, Vrindavan is the axis mundi from where this work begins.