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EDITORIALS

Manipur in turmoil
Centre must try to win hearts
T
he Centre’s initiative to tackle the situation in Manipur is rather belated. Ever since the custodial death of 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama Devi on July 11, the state has been in turmoil. The picture of naked tribal women in front of the Assam Rifles Headquarters in protest against Manorama’s rape and death shook the conscience of the nation.

Beyond mercy
Dhananjoy’s crime foreclosed his options
A
fter much deliberation, which involved consultations with legal experts like Attorney-General Milon Bannerjee, President APJ Abdul Kalam has rejected the mercy petition of death row convict Dhananjoy Chatterjee. It must have been a hard decision for him to take, but given the circumstances it was perhaps inevitable.



EARLIER ARTICLES

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

The Tehri tragedy
Why should this have happened at all?
T
he tunnel cave-in near the Tehri Dam has come as a rude shock and raised doubts about safety measures, if any, undertaken by the private company executing the project. There was no clear estimate of the number of the dead and those trapped inside the tunnel. The first day the figure of the dead given out was 13, which almost doubled to 27 the next day.

ARTICLE

Controversy over triple talaq
Nikahnama can help initiate reform
by Balraj Puri
A
khtar Sultan Begum of Lucknow had provided an answer to the current controversy over triple talaq that was triggered by the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board’s (AIMPLB) recent decision which held it to be an evil but opposed any law against it.

MIDDLE

Fat, beautiful and happy
by Shivalli M. Chouhan
I
AM a fat girl who is very beautiful and happy. Most of the leaner half of population would raise their brows since a fat person, that too a girl, should not be anything but gloomy, isolated, marginalised and definitely feeling ugly. I should fit into the constantly narrowing world vision of the ideal beauty/fit stereotype image even if I have to starve following hazardous fad diets, get operated to bypass seventeen feet of small intestine to reduce food absorption, vomit out immediately after eating or over-train to invite permanent muscular damages.

OPED

US to get Osama on election eve?
Pakistanis ‘advised’ Bin Laden on 9/11 attacks
by K. Subrahmanyam
A
rnaud de Borchgrave is a renowned journalist, associated earlier with Newsweek and the United Press International (UPI). At present, he is editor at large of The Washington Times and UPI. In an article titled “Real terror culprit” in The Washington Times on August 2, 2004, he has disclosed that THE 9/11 commission received from an unimpeachable source in Pakistan, which wished to be anonymous, information that Pakistanis advised Bin Laden how to attack key targets in the US with hijacked civilian aircraft and Bin Laden had been undergoing periodic dialysis treatment in the Peshawar military hospital.

Delhi Durbar
AICC room allotment
A
fter the revamping of the AICC by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, all eyes were set on which rooms these busy bodies would occupy in discharging their responsibilities. Everyone wanted a good spacious room in close proximity to the party chief herself. To avoid any bickering among the new AICC office-bearers, Sonia Gandhi took it upon herself to make the allotments rather than have AICC Treasurer Motilal Vora deal with the matter.
  • Posers on Punjab Act

  • Comrades get ACs

  • Ramadoss gets bungalow

  • Weather and Railways



 REFLECTIONS



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Manipur in turmoil
Centre must try to win hearts

The Centre’s initiative to tackle the situation in Manipur is rather belated. Ever since the custodial death of 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama Devi on July 11, the state has been in turmoil. The picture of naked tribal women in front of the Assam Rifles Headquarters in protest against Manorama’s rape and death shook the conscience of the nation. During a visit to Assam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised to look into the problem, but prompt measures were not taken to restore order. He has now held discussions with UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, the allies and the Opposition and come forward with a set of confidence building measures. The new Governor, Mr S.S. Sidhu, who has considerable experience in handling difficult situations, has a challenging task in hand in Manipur. Given the seriousness of the problem, it will take much time and understanding to restore normalcy in the strife-torn state.

What is agitating the people of Manipur is the brazen misuse of the Armed Forces (Manipur and Assam) Special Powers Act, 1958, by the Assam Rifles personnel who are accused of killing Manorama, allegedly a member of the People’s Liberation Army. The people are demanding scrapping of the Act, but the Cabinet Committee on Security maintained on Wednesday that such an action would hamper the counter-insurgency operations. There is a strong reason for the repeal of the draconian law. Over the years, the Assam Rifles personnel have been misusing it and indulging in human rights violations. Worse, a law-abiding citizen has no scope for seeking redress. True, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of the Act in 1997. But it is difficult to understand why its guidelines against the Act’s misuse are not followed.

The people of Manipur have been suffering from a sense of alienation and anger over the years. Manorama’s death has only provided the spark. A solution to the current crisis and the larger problem of insurgency lies in addressing the social, economic and political problems of the state with a humane approach. Only then can the government win the hearts of the people.
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Beyond mercy
Dhananjoy’s crime foreclosed his options

After much deliberation, which involved consultations with legal experts like Attorney-General Milon Bannerjee, President APJ Abdul Kalam has rejected the mercy petition of death row convict Dhananjoy Chatterjee. It must have been a hard decision for him to take, but given the circumstances it was perhaps inevitable. The rape and murder of the 14-year-old schoolgirl that he committed was the “rarest of the rare” crime which went beyond the normal limits of clemency. Not only that, the killer was unreformed and unrepentant. A presidential pardon might have sent a wrong message to the family of the victim and all those who were shocked by the brutality of the crime 14 years ago. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and his wife were among all those who wanted the death penalty to remain so that it acted as deterrence to others.

There is certainly a counter-view among civil rights groups and social activists that capital punishment is barbaric. But the fact is that it is very much there on the statutes as of today and if any crime deserves this ultimate punishment, it is the one that Dhananjoy committed. It is true that he has suffered for several years in jail after that but it is also a fact that many of these years have been spent behind bars mainly because of his attempt to escape the gallows.

Many women groups are not in favour of capital punishment for rape on the ground that the courts will be reluctant to award it. At the same time, there is hue and cry to hang the culprits by the nearest lamp-post whenever a heinous crime is committed. This issue should be debated thoroughly in the light of the fact that there do exist some hardboiled criminals for whom even life imprisonment is no punishment. For the “pleasure” of killing an opponent or raping a woman, they think that 14 years in jail is a small price to pay. Apprehensions that doing away with capital punishment can lead to more crime should be duly addressed.
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The Tehri tragedy
Why should this have happened at all?

The tunnel cave-in near the Tehri Dam has come as a rude shock and raised doubts about safety measures, if any, undertaken by the private company executing the project. There was no clear estimate of the number of the dead and those trapped inside the tunnel. The first day the figure of the dead given out was 13, which almost doubled to 27 the next day. Conflicting versions have surfaced about the cause of the tunnel collapse ranging from a mudslide to water seepage to a technical snag. Already environmentalists are opposed to the construction of big dams, the Tehri incident will provide more ammunition to their fire power.

When major projects like the one at Tehri are undertaken, safety of those on the job is supposed to be given top priority. The post-tragedy events do not reveal any coordinated effort to handle the situation. Had there been a regular media briefing by some reliable authority, the speculation about the number of the dead and stranded labourers could have been avoided. Still the flow of information from the site is sketchy. On the positive side, despite a hostile nature, the lives of at least 50 workers were saved. Though not unexpected, the massive rain apparently contributed to the tragedy.

As expected, separate sets of inquiry have been ordered by the Centre and the state government. Everyone will have to wait for the outcome to know the exact cause of the accident and safety lapses, if any. The inquiry by the experts will, hopefully, also go into the question of avoiding the recurrence of such incidents in future. The Central government may, in fact, consider setting up a higher-level panel to suggest steps to ensure that such tragedies do not occur again.
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Thought for the day

Headmasters have powers at their disposal with which Prime Ministers have never yet been invested. — Winston Churchill
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Controversy over triple talaq
Nikahnama can help initiate reform

by Balraj Puri

Akhtar Sultan Begum of Lucknow had provided an answer to the current controversy over triple talaq that was triggered by the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board’s (AIMPLB) recent decision which held it to be an evil but opposed any law against it.

The 88-year-old Begum had got a clause, granting her the right to divorce (tafviz-e-talaq) inserted in her nikahnama in 1936. Since then she has also ensured that every woman who got married in her family has used the same nikahnama. The Begum, however, never had to invoke that clause as she lived happily with her husband, Dr Ajmal Hassan Khan, till his death in 1985. But she set a precedent which can be used by any Muslim family, within the framework of the present Muslim Personal Law.

In Islam, marriage is a contract and no marriage is valid till the bride gives her consent. It was a revolutionary concept not only 1400 years ago at the time of the birth of Islam, but even now if its spirit is adjusted to the demands of the present times. Thus, if marriage is a contract, the contracting parties should have a right to settle the terms of the contract.

Kamila Tyabji, who has been campaigning for this course and whose illustrious family has been following it, refers, in this context, to an agreement drafted by a Muslim firm of solicitors, included in Fyzee’s "Outlines of Mohammadan Laws" as also a shorter and much dramatic version of the contract drafted by Danial Latifi which bears the stamp of the Chief Qazi of Aligarh. The latter had three specific provisions: (a) equal position of husband and wife as regards divorce; (b) mehr, half of which to be paid immediately on marriage and the rest deferred to death or divorce; and (c) no right of polygamy to the husband. Rejection of triple talaq, though implied, could be provided more specifically. Another draft of nikahnama was submitted by a group of Muslim women a few years back to the AIMPLB but got no response.

The board has, at its last meeting in the first week of July, come out with a concrete suggestion "to promote a nikahnama which would provide for arbitration if differences arise between a couple." But why should the terms of contract of marriage be confined to merely arbitration? And how could the earlier drafts, including that of Danial Latifi or the one being used by the family of Akhtar Sultan or Kamila Tyabji, be called less authentic, legally or theologically? Or why should a single "model draft" be applicable to all families all the times? If some authority, however able and great scholars its members may be, assumed the right to impose terms of contract on the contracting parties, it ceases to be a contract that Islam had granted.

I claim no authority on the interpretations of religious leaders on religious matters. But even as a layman, I have been concerned over the controversy on the Muslim Personal Law which had polarised Indian polity on communal lines; precipitated by the two pronouncements of the Supreme Court. The pronouncements were not part of a judgement on any particular case. But obiter dicta arguing that a uniform personal law would promote national identity. With due respect to the honourable judges, they have no special credentials or expertise on the question of national unity. In fact, as it happened, their pronouncements adversely affected the cause of national unity.

As uniformity is often a threat to national unity, I did not think uniformity in personal law was necessary. But I believed that there was every case for reform in the Muslim Personal Law. This stand enabled me to have frank and cordial dialogue with Muslim leaders and ulema and even evolve some broad consensus in many seminars I attended after the famous Shah Bano case. The recently released 2004 report of the UNDP on India makes the same point when it says "legislation imposing uniformity will only widen the majority - minority divide." In its opinion, "what is needed is an internal reform upholding gender equality."

A dialogue on reform within the Muslim community, which should precede a dialogue with others, should, therefore, be possible if this is delinked from uniformity. In this context it was rather painful to read a report of a controversy between the AIMPLB and the Muslim Secular Front. Mr Haroon Mozawalla, representing the former, asked Mr Javed Akhtar of the Front to "keep his hands off the issue." He supported the attack of The Urdu Times of Mumbai on Mr Javed Akhtar’s for his plea to the broad to change the rules of talaq. It questioned Javed’s credibility for protesting against triple talaq.

Mr Javed Akhtar and his Muslim Secular Front are capable of defending themselves through legal and other action as they have threatened and do not need any help from a person like this writer. But one must admit that there is a lack of an informed and decent debate over such a vital issue.

The question at the moment is: if triple talaq is an evil, as the AIMPLB has recognised it, why not remove it? The board argues that the solution lies "only through social reform" as "legal reform is not an answer to every social evil."

Many eminent Islamic scholars have emphatically argued that triple talaq is anti-Islam and against the spirit of the holy Quran and the sayings of the Prophet. They, therefore, challenged theological justification of any law that permits this evil custom.

It is also a fact that there are more schools of Islamic jurisprudence than one, and this clearly implies that the Hanafi school, on which Indian law is based, can claim no finality for all time to come.

Even the authority of the four known schools of Shariat has been challenged by eminent Muslim thinkers like Ameer Ali and Iqbal. The former bemoaned that "a follower of Muhammad should abandon his judgement completely to the interpretation of men who lived in the 9th century and could have no conception of the necessities of the 20th." Likewise, Iqbal rejected "the claim of Ulema of Islam about the finality of Mohammdan law" and pleaded for reinterpreting it in "the light of modern experience and the altered conditions of modern life."

However, on one point there is no difference within the community — nikahnama, based on the concept of the contract between a marrying couple, is theologically valid. Big reforms are often started with small steps. An agreement within the community should be possible for freedom to the couple or their guardians to use nikahnama and its terms which are mutually acceptable. In course of time, this process may evolve into a more or less uniform pattern.

Thus, an initiative on the lines suggested above — like that of Sultan Akhtar Begum or Kamila Tyabji — might demonstrate what Maulana Azad called revolutionary potentialities of Islam.
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Fat, beautiful and happy
by Shivalli M. Chouhan

I AM a fat girl who is very beautiful and happy. Most of the leaner half of population would raise their brows since a fat person, that too a girl, should not be anything but gloomy, isolated, marginalised and definitely feeling ugly. I should fit into the constantly narrowing world vision of the ideal beauty/fit stereotype image even if I have to starve following hazardous fad diets, get operated to bypass seventeen feet of small intestine to reduce food absorption, vomit out immediately after eating or over-train to invite permanent muscular damages.

I may have glowing skin, dreamy eyes, exquisitely crafted nose or raspberry lips, but, every Tom, Dick and Harry with parrot nose, pale skin and sunken eyes has the right to mock me anywhere, only to be joined by others and, yes, I should be ready with my true or false daily diet chart to justify to all known and unknown faces that I don’t overeat. I may be honest, hardworking and intelligent, but may be denied the chance to make important presentations which I have so diligently prepared or may not be considered suitable for front desk and some other jobs.

If I fail sometimes, my bulk is to be blamed, if successful, jealous arrows of competitors point behind my fat back. I may be energetic, strong and sans diseases, stress and fatigue; may have excellent blood sugar, cholesterol, haemoglobin count, but should expect myself dead much before my anorexic, anemic and stressed out friend. If my husband dots on me, he is a compromising, poor fool or has unnatural fat fetish; if he indulges in infidelity, it is but natural.

Oh! How I muse to see a weight reduction clinic named “Cleopatra”, remembering that this world acclaimed beauty, standing five feet tall weighed more than 150 pounds. Being fat was considered beautiful until the last 50 years. The love goddesses of the ice ages were grossly obese from current standards. Rubens and Titian never would have painted skinny women. Our own “Yakshini” symbol of ancient Indian beauty was sumptuously proportioned. At the turn of the century, Lillian Russell, at a weight of over two hundred pounds was the reigning sex symbol of America. Even the unforgettable queens of Indian cinema, Meena Kumari, Madhubala, Nargis, Vyjayanthimala, Ragini, Padmini, were abundantly endowed. The dainty beauty Saira Bano had to even put cotton pads over her hips in her maiden film, “Junglee” to attain the desirable roundness to look hot.

Whether it is a male-induced conspiracy to promote the “weak women with frail frames” image to retain their physical dominance or the consumerism-led market forces which first lures us to be overweight by presenting a wide range of eateries and then condemns us to abandon that abundance to promote the billion dollars weight-loss industry, I am determined not to be bogged down. I have decided to be beautiful because I know I am.
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OPED

US to get Osama on election eve?
Pakistanis ‘advised’ Bin Laden on 9/11 attacks

by K. Subrahmanyam

President Bush: will the strategy for re-election work?
President Bush: will the strategy for re-election work?

Arnaud de Borchgrave is a renowned journalist, associated earlier with Newsweek and the United Press International (UPI). At present, he is editor at large of The Washington Times and UPI. In an article titled “Real terror culprit” in The Washington Times on August 2, 2004, he has disclosed that THE 9/11 commission received from an unimpeachable source in Pakistan, which wished to be anonymous, information that Pakistanis advised Bin Laden how to attack key targets in the US with hijacked civilian aircraft and Bin Laden had been undergoing periodic dialysis treatment in the Peshawar military hospital.

The information is said to have reached the 9/11 commission even as its own report was coming off the Press. Presumably, this information could not be assessed and included in the commission’s report. After narrating the details of Bin Laden-ISI connections over the years in the article, Borchgrave quotes a source from the Pakistan tribal area that Pakistan may plan to turn over Bin Laden to the Bush administration in October in time to clinch Bush’s re-election in November.

Just now President Bush has put three cities— New York, New Jersey and Washington DC —on an Orange alert on the basis of intelligence obtained from an Al-Qaeda operative captured after a gunfight in Gujarat, Pakistan. While Pakistanis claim credit for this operation, the US organisations assert that the capture was effected on the basis of information furnished by the FBI and the National Security Agency operating in Pakistan. President Bush has also announced his acceptance of the 9/11 commission’s proposal to appoint a National Intelligence Director.

Obviously, it is in President Bush’s interest to project himself as an effective Commander-in-Chief extremely alert about Al-Qaeda terrorism and accommodative to the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 commission. If in October Osama Bin Laden is captured his election victory is expected to be assured. While this proposition is largely speculative, it has a high degree of plausibility. The Washington Times has close interaction with the US intelligence agencies, the State Department and the Pentagon. The 9/11 commission has decided that it would continue to be in session in order to ensure full implementation of its recommendations. If, as Borchgrave asserts, it had received information on Pakistan’s intimate involvement with the Al-Qaeda as its report was being printed, the commission should have no difficulty in looking at the new information and come up with a supplementary report.

The Washington Times account, if it turns out to be correct, has a number of implications for India. Though Pakistan installed the Taliban in Kabul in 1994, enabled the functioning of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban at the end of the Afghan war in 2001 and has been guilty of nuclear proliferation since 1989, by promising cooperation with the US, extending base facilities to the US forces, providing access to US intelligence services and cooperating in the occasional capture of Al-Qaeda cadres, it has been able to extract major concessions from the US administration.

These include billions of dollars of economic aid, recognition as a major non-NATO ally and total forgiveness for the worst proliferation activity in history. Therefore, India has to carefully assess what further concessions General Musharraf may extract from the Bush administration for delivering to the US Osama Bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri. In the past when even native Pakistanis like Mir Aimal Kansi, who killed CIA operatives at the gates of Langley, Ramzi Yusaf, who attempted the blowing up of the World Trade Centre in 1993, Khalid Mohammed Sheikh, the brain behind 9/11 and his colleagues in Al-Qaeda were handed over to the US, there were no unmanageable protests in Pakistan.

Therefore, handing over Bin Laden or Al Zawahiri may not create any popular discontent of a nature the Pakistani Army will not be able to handle.

Handing over Bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri may not end the Al-Qaeda terrorist activities and Pakistan’s association with it. Pakistan may continue to be a safe haven for terrorists and use it as a bargaining leverage to extract further concessions from the US through continuous blackmail. They could argue that without the moderate General Musharraf in power presiding over a Pakistani Army wielding real power in the country, Pakistan would become a failed state, a home to various jehadi organisations that could spread over the world and commit acts of terrorism. The record of the past three years has proved that the US administration is extremely vulnerable to this blackmail.

At present nothing is more valuable to the administration in Washington than the capture or killing of Bin Laden to enable President Bush to get elected. It is quite likely that Pakistanis may calculate that they could extract a very high price from Washington. Therefore, Delhi has to carry out a very careful assessment of the likely Pakistani and American strategies and the extent of concessions that Islamabad can extract from Washington, particularly those which can have an adverse impact on the Indian national interests.

Our strategy of damage limitation has to be carried out without India taking sides with either of the two presidential candidates. Pakistan must take into account that once the election is over, the incoming US administration may not have any interest in yielding to Pakistani blackmail any further.

Now that this possibility has been discussed, one should expect the Democratic Party to launch an anticipatory propaganda offensive to reduce the popular impact of the capture or killing of Bin Laden.
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Delhi Durbar
AICC room allotment

After the revamping of the AICC by Congress President Sonia Gandhi, all eyes were set on which rooms these busy bodies would occupy in discharging their responsibilities. Everyone wanted a good spacious room in close proximity to the party chief herself. To avoid any bickering among the new AICC office-bearers, Sonia Gandhi took it upon herself to make the allotments rather than have AICC Treasurer Motilal Vora deal with the matter.

That has apparently given a new sense of importance to the fresh appointees. Party insiders say that former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh has got the best deal while Salman Khursheed seems to have been pushed to a corner amid hushed talk that he might be made an MP or even a minister.

Digvijay Singh has been given a spacious room near the entrance to the AICC headquarters which was earlier occupied by Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was in charge of Andhra Pradesh. Margaret Alva now occupies the room from where Oscar Fernandes had functioned earlier.

Posers on Punjab Act

Though it is “angry” at Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh for piloting the Punjab Termination of Agreements Act abrogating the water sharing agreements with the neighbouring states, the Centre and the top Congress leadership have not answered questions about their inability to get advance information about the controversial legislation from various other channels. With the Chief Minister maintaining that the Prime Minister and the AICC were not in the picture about the legislation, it is not known how seriously has the Centre taken the perceived intelligence failure about information on the 
legislation.

It seems incredible that such a law with wide inter-state ramifications got the nod of the Governor without the Centre coming to know of it. The Indian National Lok Dal has already upped the ante ahead of the assembly poll in Haryana by alleging that the Chief Minister of Punjab went ahead with the legislation after “consulting” the AICC.

Comrades get ACs

The CPM, while supporting the UPA government from outside, has been raising the political temperature by criticising its policies. However, the party has found a new way to keep the comrades and scribes cool and calm: nine airconditioners have been installed in the media briefing room in A K Gopalan Bhavan. Perhaps, the party has found some benefit in being associated with the government. While it still serves tea to newspersons, it seems the day is not far away when Coke and Pespi, the bourgeosie drink, would find their way in the Marxist bastion.

Ramadoss gets bungalow

Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Anbumani Ramadoss of the regional PMK in Tamil Nadu has finally been allotted a bungalow. Since his joining the Mamohan Singh Cabinet, the minister had been staying at the guest house of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. An aide of Ramadoss said the minister, a medical doctor like his father who is the chief of the PMK, is expected to move into the bungalow only on or after August 16 as the month preceding that is considered inauspicious for a change of residence.

Weather and Railways

It has become a habit with the Rail Bhavan to blame the weather for railway accidents even if they are man-made. And now when 110 trains are affected due to a heavy downpour and waterlogging, the railway officers have decided to attribute the disruption in rail traffic to nature’s bounty.

“We will not call it nature’s fury as throats were getting parched for water,” remarked an officer in a lighter vein while summing up the impact of the delayed monsoon.

Contributed by Prashant Sood, R Suryamurthy and Tripti Nath.

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One should not tie, injure, mutilate, load heavy burdens and deprive from food and drink any animal or human being with a mind polluted by anger and other passions — these five are the transgressions (Atichara) of the vow of Ahimsa.

— Lord Mahavir

It is the duty of men to strain themselves to the best of their capacity to earn what they have not, to preserve what they have earned, to multiply what they have preserved, and to spend what they have multiplied in the welfare of the country.

— Swami Dayanand Saraswati

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.

— Jesus Christ

He alone knows the Way who meets the Guru, and blessed with his Word, realise the Will of God.

— Guru Nanak
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