About this blog

I hope to offer some of the ideas of Vaishnava Vedanta which have particular application in revealing the bigger picture of life and the universe as well as many of the simple things of life.

The Culture Guide

Social issuesPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 22:06:19

BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day

31st August 2000

In 1977, I was part of a group gathered outside a Hindu temple to bid farewell to a renowned spiritual leader returning to India. The mood was sombre. We were all aware that, because of his age and recent illness, this would be his last trip to Britain. Suddenly, someone pushed through the crowd to reach him and vigorously shook his hand. “How are you, Prabhupada?” he asked. Srila Prabhupada smiled and simply responded, “Thank You.”

That man was the local home-beat policeman – on duty. If he were still active today, he’d be receiving The Culture Guide, the Met’s new booklet on London’s ethnic communities. He probably ignored all its good advice – but, at the time, no one minded. The warmth of his feelings made up for any transgression of cultural protocol.

In the mid-eighties, at the Hindu theological college where I was principal, we regularly hosted police trainees from Hendon touring the college and its temple as part of their community liaison week. Although some of our customs and beliefs were totally alien to them, they sincerely tried to understand what it was all about. The objective was not to provide an in-depth education on Hindu culture, but to confront these trainees with the reality that some sections of society, quite legitimately, believe in and do things very differently from the “norm”.

We don’t have to fear a different way of thinking. Neither are the customs of various traditions in competition with each other. For one to be right, it does not follow that anything else must be wrong. Every religion has certain theological axioms that are considered universal and inviolable. But, often, the customs that support and nurture those beliefs are geared to particular people in particular circumstances.

That doesn’t make them less valuable to the adherent – nor to the observer. Enquiring about the outward behaviour of another person’s religious tradition is a great way of discovering their core beliefs. For instance, the Met’s handbook says that most Hindus are vegetarian. Perhaps, this is less radical now, but back then, the trainee policemen would always ask: Why? For Hindus the answer isn’t to do with BSE, but an issue of respecting the life of an animal.

The Hindu text, Rig Veda, says “Let noble thoughts come to us from all directions”. Our society is enriched by appreciating one another’s way of thinking. The police Culture Guide is part of this process; a process that can benefit us all. And, what better example than that home-beat bobby who burst through the crowd. He had evolved from respectful curiosity, through familiarisation, to a warm connection. And that is why Srila Prahbupada thanked him.

© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.

Spirituality and Well-being

Social issuesPosted by Akhandadhi das Thu, October 08, 2015 19:00:33

Article commissioned for Times2

15th May 2000

When I like other people’s ideas, it isn’t simply because I already agree with them, it’s because they agree with me. They fit into my pre-existing mind-set. So when a Canadian professor tells me, “religion is good for your health”, I accept it as gospel. Forget the gym and the fresh vegetables, I am doing something good for myself - without actually doing anything.

That probably is not the reaction Dr Chandrakant Shah of the University of Toronto was hoping for. The whole point of the research of his Department of Public Health is to highlight the benefits of spirituality for those less interested in the subject. But, Dr Shah’s research is likely to go the way of all worthy pronouncements about what’s good or bad for us – there will be two quite distinct responses. I suspect that those of us who think that spirituality has value will welcome such robust scientific proof to vindicate our beliefs and we’ll do nothing; while others will dismiss it as the ludicrous ravings of some misguided academic mixing psycho-babble, damned lies and statistics and do nothing.

Leaving aside obvious examples of major religious figures who died young, Dr Shah has tried to show a connection between the prevalence of spirituality and the general health and longevity of a population. Despite my predilection towards the thesis, having actually studied his paper quite closely, I found it difficult to justify his or my belief. Those of a more sceptical nature, will have a field-day picking holes in the proof that is offered.

The good professor starts with a major leap of faith. In his own words: “It assumes that there is a causal relationship between spirituality and mortality; something that has never been proved.” Also, the only statistic that he is able to draw on as a measure for spirituality in society is attendance at a religious ceremony or service in the past year. There are many that would question that as a proxy measure for spirituality in the Age of Aquarius.

Dr Shah is convinced that 43,000 adult deaths in Canada every year, (about 20% of the total) are attributable to a low level of spirituality in the 41% of the population who don’t attend church. Reducing the proportion of non-attendees to 20% would decrease the number of related deaths to 23,000. I had a hard time understanding the data or placing my faith in his statistics, but the basic premise that a spiritual outlook may have useful lifestyle benefits seems reasonable, common sense even.

The professor seems on safer ground when he cites three general benefits that may be gained from a religious dimension to life. He says, “spirituality has been shown to reduce stress, promote healthy lifestyle choices and increase our feelings of belonging to a social network – all of which are associated with lower mortality.” It’s hard to argue against the value of these particular benefits, and whatever helps us achieve them must therefore be good for society.

There may be many aspects of human life that inspire us to greater well-being, but Dr Shah feels that spirituality is especially significant for a population because of its almost universal appeal and its ability for profound motivation based on core beliefs. He quickly adds, “we’re talking about spirituality, not necessarily religiosity.” This puts him in tune with the contemporary view that religion is suspect, spiritual is cool. Whereas religion entails authority figures, pre-set dogma, rules and regulations, and clear boundaries of acceptable behaviour; “Post-Modern Spirituality” emphasises intuition, subjectivity and personal realisations; a personal journey to be lived out in daily life; and is highly pluralistic with individualised and eclectic practices.

One of the many attempts to define spirituality is “the search for direction, meaning, inner wholeness and connection to others, non-human creation and to a transcendent source”. Spirituality may be the search, but the question is:- what does it deliver? There are many who have tried and failed to find anything of value. There are others who seem to be thoroughly deluded in what they think they have found. But, it is hard to dismiss the testimony of countless millions from successive generations who have sought and found an inner experience of spiritual reality that enriched their vision of existence - particularly, when those same people manifest transforming characteristics that seem less common in others.

In my years as the principal of a theological college specialising in Hindu Vedanta, I constantly met people from all backgrounds and interests who had switched on the spiritual light-bulb. Invariably, they would verbalise their feelings as peace of mind, inner contentment, and a better understanding of themselves, often demonstrated by a marked reduction in anger, resentment, or selfish attitudes.

Dr Shah reckons that these symptoms of wholeness, purpose and inner contentment provide the most potent “coping-mechanisms” available to humans to combat the feelings of frustration, anxiety and panic that characterise harmful stress. They may also help reduce a person’s reliance on artificial pacifiers such as alcohol, drugs or over-indulgence in eating and sex. As India’s ancient text, the Bhagavad-gita, says: those who experience what it calls “a higher taste” are less needy for unhealthy habits.

Balance, harmony and wholeness are the buzz-words of the new spiritual lifestyles and sound more inviting than the Puritanical “temperance”. The Gita recommends that “those who are balanced in their habits of eating, sleeping, work and recreation can mitigate all material miseries by practice of the yoga system”. The body is a temple – a gift to be cherished and cared for by moderation in all physical activities - rather than an ancient ruin to be vandalised by the extremes of over-work and wanton sensual indulgence.

Currently, I manage Buckland Hall, a conference venue in the Brecon Beacons, which caters to the burgeoning demand for retreats and courses in the field of personal growth, wellness and spirituality. Recently, we hosted a three-day conference on Spirituality and the Workplace. The catch-phrase was “Bring your Soul to Work” – the idea being that you shouldn’t have to switch off an important part of your personality during office hours. Rather, your company’s goals will be more effectively realised by allowing its employees to be consistent with their values.

Dr Shah recommends the same. On a personal level, he further suggests that developing values and practices that reflect forgiveness, sharing, kindness, honesty, respect, altruism and tolerance will open people up to being able to give as well as to receive and, therefore, to contribute more generously in the care of family, friends and community. The twin spectres of loneliness and mortality fuel our eager search for eternal belonging. The attraction of any group is that it offers an opportunity to bond with like-minded individuals and share an ideology, mission and sense of fulfilment. In the spiritual dimension, those connections can go deeper – in the fellowship of a faith community, in the service of society, in the family of humankind, and in a relationship with our creator. Within these connections, both loneliness and mortality can be defeated by the most inspiring of all realisations – that we are loved for who we are.

Hindu perspectives on disability

Social issuesPosted by Akhandadhi das Sat, October 03, 2015 19:39:12

A Hindu Perspective on Issues of Disability
For the Mental Health Foundation
February 1998

by Akhandadhi das

There is a seeming contradiction in Hindu philosophy. Picture some half-naked holy man meditating in the Himalayas, and it might lead you to conclude that Hinduism is seriously world-denying. Witness its many rituals, customs and festivals which proclaim the joys of life, and you get the idea that it is thoroughly world-affirming.

Hinduism contains probably the most lucid exposition of the distinction between body, mind and soul; and it also asserts that each of us should have the opportunity to enjoy good health, the full span of life and the use of all our physical and mental faculties. These philosophical issues are often assumed to be opposing and, indeed, some individuals may be extreme in their personal outlook. But, when the Vedas, (the scriptural source for all Hindus) are taken as a whole, a balanced resolution emerges. And it is that broader approach which is at the heart of Hindus’ attitudes towards disability.

Hindu philosophy describes each individual as a transcendental being, whose existence is not dependant on the material body. This atma (or soul) is a visitor to the material world. The soul is the conscious person who inhabits and uses the material body and mind to interact with the world around, but is in reality separate from it.

Western theology claims that “I, the body, have a soul”. Hindu theology claims the converse - “I, the soul, have a body”. On this basis, it is condemned as ignorance to categorise oneself or others in terms of the body. To say someone is black, white; old, young; male, female etc. is a misconception, because none of those designations describe the atma or actual person.

Similarly it is wrong to term someone as disabled or diseased since that is a condition of the body and not of the soul, which remains untouched and unchanged by any circumstance of the body. Hence, someone is not disabled, but is a whole person who has a body which has a disability. Some strict Hindus stress this in everyday conversation. They might say, “I am well, but my body has an illness.”

It is said to be illusion, maya, that convinces us to identify with our body as our very self. There are two schools of thought offering different opinions on this illusion of the soul.

One states that the entire external world is an illusion - everything material simply does not exist. If someone actually lived according to this philosophy, they would have no reason to show the slightest concern for their own or anyone else’s condition. However, this harsh conclusion is often tempered with the attitude that it is the duty of enlightened, pious or moral people to offer service to those less fortunate.

The other school states that the world itself is not an illusion. It exists. Our bodies are real and any disability of the body is a real condition. The illusion, however, is that the transcendental soul identifies itself as being the physical body. Under this illusion, I will naturally be highly concerned about any imperfection in my body. The Bhagavad-gita describes the soul travelling as the driver within the machine of the body. This is a useful analogy. If my car is scratched, I feel very upset because of my attachment to it being in perfect order, but the scratch has not touched the real me.

Either philosophy could be taken as an excuse for neglect or disdain towards those with physical disability. Some Hindus cite the statement of Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, “the wise lament neither for the living nor the dead”, as justification for a lack of concern towards any suffering condition. This misses the point in its context, that an enlightened person understands that the soul does not die with the demise of the body and that it has the potential to transcend even the most trying bodily condition. It is not a call to be uncaring.

However, despite equality on the spiritual level, or perhaps, because of it, the Vedas state that distinction must be made of individual’s abilities and qualities, particularly in considering a person for specific roles in society. In the scripture, Mahabharat, which is still highly influential for Hindus today, there is an important example of such discrimination. Although, the eldest son of the previous king, Dhritarashtra was denied the opportunity to take the throne because of being born blind. The justification was that the king was expected to lead the army in battle.

The Manu Samhita, another scripture, seems to codify such discrimination by stating that the blind, lame and deaf cannot receive inheritance, though they must be maintained by others. The Manu Samhita also contains strictures dealing with a father who gives his daughter in marriage without identifying any disability she may have. Although, the Manu Samhita was the basis for Hindu law, many of its tenets regarding morality are considered wildly impractical in the modern age.

Elsewhere in the scriptures, bodily deformity is linked with a crooked mind as in the case of Manthara of the Ramayana saga. She is portrayed as a hunch-back crone who poisoned the mind of Queen Kaikeyi against the young prince Rama. In contrast to this example is the story of Kubja, also a lady with a hunch-back. She was marked by Lord Krishna as having the most devotional of hearts and praised for her service to Him. The moral is that character is more important than appearance.

All circumstances we encounter are the result of karmic reactions. Karma is understood as a universal law of nature regulating the circumstances of all beings. The process as described in the Vedas is highly complex, but in simple terms we reap the results of our actions. Human activities are monitored by universal authority and those actions which are in keeping with the laws of God are rewarded with opportunities for pleasure and well-being. Those actions which are contrary to the laws of God are punished by experiencing unwelcome events. Accidents, disease, mental problems, legal and other conflicts are all forms of bad karma.

Karma cannot be understood without appreciating the nature of the soul as an eternal being moving from life to life. This process of transmigration of the soul from one body to another is referred to as reincarnation. The Bhagavad-gita compares this process to how we cast off old clothes when they are worn out and put on new dress. Our desires determine the species of body we next receive. Karma is the process that determines the facility that the new body will provide us.

Karmic action is like sowing a seed. The reaction is rarely instant. More likely, it takes years, even lifetimes, to fructify. Thus, karma is carried from life to life. Everyone is born with some of their karma already manifested. This is called prarabdha-karma - that which has already come to fruition. Thus the body that we have at birth is karma which has come to be. Explaining the apparent inequality of people even from birth is a challenge for all religious philosophy. Karma offers such an explanation, and, for most Hindus, that is better than thinking that their circumstances are the result of blind chance. But it can have negative impact.

The apparently evident conclusion for anyone suffering from a disability, either from birth or from some event later in life, is that they are being punished for being bad at some time in the past. It is difficult enough for someone with disability to deal with their circumstances without the added burden of thinking that they must be more sinful than the average person. I have witnessed two reactions in Hindus pondering their situation.

One is someone who feels maligned by the cosmic judicial process. It is not simply “Why me?” as “What did I do to deserve this?” The Vedas discourage us from trying to identify the specific causes for particular reactions. However, the Manu Samhita does give a few examples of various disabilities that arise from certain crimes in previous lives. I know of one Hindu group in the UK that has shamefully played upon these and similar references to castigate disabled folk as sinful out-castes and to warn others against the dangers of sinful life.

Many Hindus who are active in their religious practice take a different view. More than simply accepting their fate, they feel cleansed of their karmic past, are enjoying transcendental pleasure and in such a fortified mood, bear no grudge against a system that seems to have condemned them.

In reality, most Hindus may find themselves oscillating between the two views.

In a similar vein is the concept of Asirvat - blessings. So many of the Hindu ceremonies and rituals are performed to receive the blessings of God and His deputies, the Devas - the plethora of demigods or small “g” gods. Opulence resulting from the blessings of God include “Janmaisvarya srutir sribhir” - good birth, wealth, erudition and physical beauty.

A person with severe disability may conclude that not only have they not been blessed, but that they are somehow cursed. This can affect other family members. Parents may see themselves as cursed or punished for having a disabled offspring.

However, there is enough discussion of this point in the Vedas to lead many Hindus to consider an alternative view. The four blessings mentioned above are also labelled a curse and disqualification for spiritual progress. Although it might seem strange, even pitiful, to an outsider, a devout Hindu may sometimes even see their disability as a blessing from God to avoid them deviating from religious principles.

I say that this might seem pitiful because one gets the picture of a disabled person vainly trying to persuade themselves that they are better off in that condition. But there is a real taste and heartfelt pleasure experienced by some Hindu devotees which amply convinces them that they are as well dedicating themselves to spiritual life rather than mundane pursuits which can be rather empty and dissatisfying.

It comes back to the original philosophy of Hinduism - Who are we? and What is life for? As part of the answer, Hinduism defines four purusharthas - human objectives. These are dharma (religious sentiment and morality); artha (economic development); kama (sensual enjoyment) and moksha (liberation). Some individuals may over-concentrate on a single one of these objectives, but a balanced human life contains efforts to secure all of them. The key message, however, is that sense enjoyment is not the most important. It is a need that requires some fulfilment, but it must be in moderation, with the understanding that greater satisfaction will be found in the pleasure of the soul.

This is a comfort to many Hindus with disability. The belief in the transcendence of the real person may seem to entail dangerous neglect, but it also defines a level playing field for everyone, regardless of physical ability. The modern social climate proclaims sense pleasure as the ultimate pursuit for all humanity. How must those who have less opportunity to indulge in such activities feel? Despite the best intentions and efforts to create a sense of equality for the disabled, modern society has defined sensual pleasures as the goal of life and physical ability and beauty as the pre-requisite for its fulfilment. Traditionally, Hindu teachings would have contested that attitude. However, even in India, the message is being eclipsed by hedonistic aspirations.

Economic development is obviously necessary for acquiring life’s necessities. Hinduism encourages full employment for everyone. Even those with the gravest disability may have particular and unique talents, which can be utilised for earning their livelihood. This was, and still is, more applicable in the highly devolved social set-up of India. In an environment that caters for the one-man business, the disabled artisan or merchant trading on his skills, has real opportunity to compete in the market-place.

Because artha and kama are two of the objectives of human life, it is natural to feel sorry for someone unable to participate in those activities to the full extent. For some Hindus, making money and gaining physical pleasure are paramount. But many others do believe there is a hierarchy of importance. Earning money and sense gratification add some spice to life, but they are not our real business. The highest purushartha is moksha culminating in love of God. The Vedic scriptures state that no disability can deny or delay one’s ability to achieve that greatest of goals. Many celebrated saints had severe disabilities, which proved no hindrance to and were often said to be the impetus or catalyst for their religious pursuit.

There are stories of God responding to the disability of His devotees, not by curing it, but by celebrating it. Bilvamangala Thakur was blind, but described his ecstatic visions how he could see the incarnation of Krishna dancing around him, teasing him to catch Him. Bilvamangala’s books and poetry have inspired Hindus for centuries.

In Jagannath Puri, there is a temple with the only murti, (temple image) of the deity form of Krishna sitting down. The story is told how this deity originally was a standing figure, but the priest of the temple was getting so old and crippled that he could no longer reach up to place the flower garland over the head of the deity. In deference to His devotee’s disability, the marble deity sat down and the priest was able to continue his daily worship.

Although we are not the body, the Vedic scriptures offer many injunctions which encourage us to take care of our bodies and those of others, because the body is a special gift of God to facilitate the soul in the journey to achieve liberation from the material sphere. The soul has entered the material sphere as an act of rejection of a loving relationship with God. By overcoming envy of God and cultivating a service mood, one develops the spiritual characteristics to again become qualified to be re-instated in the natural home of the soul - the spiritual world, Vaikuntha - the kingdom of God.

By definition, we are not sufficiently spiritually qualified at present, nor is the path quick and easy. We have to persevere. Hinduism accepts all acts of religious devotion, regardless of denomination, as being valid in making spiritual progress. Keeping the body fit and healthy is recommended to create the conducive circumstances for life-long devotional practices. It was that intent that developed the system of hatha-yoga. But, whereas ill-health can often stifle religious activities, disability need not be an obstacle.

The Hindu scriptures are full of codes and strictures, yet Hinduism is not actually a religion of proscription. This is evidenced by the infinite array of individual practices and rituals one witnesses in India. The scriptural codes are not commandments to be obeyed. They are meant as insights into universal truths which can assist someone to orientate his or her actions to take the next step on their path. Hinduism is individualised and personal, yet universal in application.

Hindus, therefore, do not have specific rules they all have to follow. However, most choose to adopt some particular disciplines and practices according to their own beliefs, which may arise from their family or community traditions or from adherence to a particular teacher or guru. Some of these may be highly demanding, or even abusive.

Those with disabilities may also set their own agenda. Even amongst a particular faith group within Hinduism there is ample scope to vary specific practices. Visiting a temple, either locally or on pilgrimage is recommended for inspiring one’s devotion, but Hindus do not have any set regulation for visits. Some visit a temple daily, others only on special occasions. Those who are not so mobile, may do so at their convenience.

There is great stress on the benefits of recitation and listening to sacred sound vibrations or mantras. Those with speech and hearing impediments are obviously at a disadvantage, but I have met such devotees who somehow perform these practices anyhow. At one temple in the UK, there is a group called “Sign on to Krishna” for members of its congregation with aural disability.

The Vedas explain how all rituals and practices have the purpose of focusing the mind on acts of meditation, austerity and/or devotion. For most of us, actually performing an action with the bodily senses engages our mind most effectively. Praise is given to the devotee who uses all his limbs and senses in the service of God. However, if one does not have the opportunity or ability to perform a particular religious action, it may be carried out in one’s mind alone, and that is considered equally beneficial and meritorious. Many examples are cited of devotees chanting, offering worship, performing pilgrimage and giving charity solely within their thoughts.

The moral choices that Hindu families make will be guided by the depth of their religious understanding and commitment. For example, those with strong religious sentiments will prefer to eschew the abortion of a potentially disabled child, because they recognise that life begins at conception, and, to them, abortion equals killing. Similarly, they may be exceptionally hesitant to end a loved-one’s life by switching off the life support machines.

Seva, or service to others, is another key element of Hindu life. There is a general prescription that full protection and assistance should be given to the old, the infirmed, children, women and animals. Hindu householders are guided to keep their doors open for all those in need. Service to society is a ritual of atonement, a merit in itself and more importantly, the natural characteristic of a true human being.

Opportunities for seva are, therefore, considered gifts of God. The Hindu community in UK have been enthusiastic in donating for welfare projects in India - often linked to disabilities. In particular, the Gujarati community has supported eye hospitals.

Service to one’s elders is an expression of gratitude, also important in Hindu culture. Although it is starting to change as the Hindu community loses its cohesiveness in UK, most Hindus do try to accommodate their dependant parents at home, serving them to the last as a way of trying to repay the debt we each owe to the parents who made sacrifices to rear us.

Such families may think they have failed if they are obliged by circumstances to send their parents to a residential home. And the parents may feel hurt and let down by being sent away. Their whole experience and tradition is that the parents and the son’s family stay together

Similarly, the parent with the special needs child may, at times, see that, although a challenge, they have been blessed with the opportunity to serve the child in their care more attentively. It will generally be the Hindu parents’ first choice to care for a child with even the most demanding needs in the shelter of their own home. I have seen how parents of children with severe mental health have drawn on their religious belief to recognise the personality of the soul behind the disability and to enjoy a loving connection with them.

This principle of service to a disabled child has been celebrated in two theological statements. One is the description of how God is like a father who loves all his children equally, but if there is one who, because of some disability, is particularly dependant on him, he feels a special inclination and emotion towards that child.

The other is the statement that the nearest we may get to witnessing the wonderful love of God is in the incessant and unmotivated love of a mother for her disabled child.

Can rape be categorised?

Social issuesPosted by Akhandadhi das Mon, May 23, 2011 12:05:36
I think there is clear evidence that rape in whatever circumstances causes unimaginable trauma. The long-term emotional hurt is much more severe than other forms of violent crime because of the intimate violation. It is not appropriate to categorise the strength of the crime by a victim's response as an individual's resilience is not a mitigating factor. It must be the principle for our society to try to obtain suitable justice for all rape victims. The question that has been raised by Ken Clarke's comments and their after-math is whether or not some form of categorisation of rape crime will assist the courts gaining not just more convictions, but convictions with the appropriate level of punishment and protection of society from further potential crime.

At the same time, we must be cautious to avoid unfair & unsafe convictions because being convicted of a sexual crime when innocent can destroy a person's life.

The outcry over Ken Clarke's attempts to categorise rape seem to arise from the insinuation that some forms of rape are more serious and cause more hurt than others. This is a natural reaction and probably such clumsy categorisation may not be the right approach to the issue. But the problem remains that the public and juries do sense that there are different types of rape and are therefore reluctant to convict different circumstances of rape crime with a blanket offence.

My feeling is that we may need to draw on the distinctions we make in law for other forms of crime - murder and theft, for example. Murder is murder and the loss of life for the victim is the same on all cases. However, courts in this country and more so elsewhere do note the role of pre-meditation in the mind of the perpetrator. I think this should also be applicable to rape. There seems to be a real difference to the criminal intent of a person who plans to commit a rape and what might occur in what is termed "date rape". This in no way tries to say that the victim is any way less offended against or less affected. But it puts the intention of the perpetrator into perspective.

Perhaps the concept of crime of passion as used in USA in murder trials is also useful. Would this not apply to say the situation where consensual sexual activity had commenced, then the girl made her intentions clear for it to stop or not go beyond a certain point, but the boy continued against her will. I think juried would be more likely to rule that this was a crime of passion than a pre-meditated rape and would therefore be more willing to pass judgement on that basis. Perhaps those indicted might be more likely to plead guilty.

Obviously as with all crime cases, juries would have to decide on the facts when the situation is murky and unclear. In cases where the girl says "No" before sexual activity commences, or there is any evidence of the boy (and I apologise for only using the male as perpetrator in this short piece) preparing for the event with rape drugs or in some way trying to subdue her will, that would be pre-meditated rape. A person's hope or aspiration to have sex as part of a date is not in itself pre-mediated rape, but it could be a factor. However, once sexual activity has begun (and the boundary after which a person might assume that sex was consensual would have to be discussed - kissing for example would not be the boundary) then a person may have a case for claiming it was a crime of passion and it is more likely the jury would agree with that and convict him rather than release him unconditionally.

Again this is no way tries to say the victim was any less offended or that their wounds and emotional scars are not as severe. But it helps to gain justice for the victim which is some small way a help to them - and far better than seeing the perpetrator walk free.

BNP to answer questions?

Social issuesPosted by Akhandadhi das Tue, September 08, 2009 22:39:21
The BBC has invited Nick Griffen the leader of the BNP to take part on the panel of Question Time - its prime current affairs programme. Not surprisingly, this has sparked controversy amongst those who don't think that the BNP's suspect views should receive any airing whatsoever.

Like many, I also think that the BNP agenda is rather nasty and potentially dangerous. It harks back to prejudices that we hoped society was slowly growing out of. And, I am sure that the BNP followers would be happy to see the back of me and all my friends who follow a foreign faith.

However, I disagree with those who would deny the BNP or similar organisations from participating freely in the many different fora that supprts our overall democracy. It cannot be right for an open society to ban a group because of their ideology. Obviously, if their ideas are expressed or translated into actions that break the law, they deserve to be charged with illegal behaviour.

However, short of actual criminal behaviour, we don't have a definition of the level or sort of beliefs that we consider so bad that we can damn a person or group to be social pariahs. At least the legal limit of behaviour is set after considerable (we hope) parliamentary and legislative processes. If Nick Griffen or any other BNP member breaks the law, punish them, but if they can keep within it, no matter how close to the line they tread, we must allow them the full priveleges of our democratic society.

I don't think Nick Griffen would be so generous to others he disagrees with. But that's the point - we don't like his views because he is the opposite of inclusive. So it can't be right to stoop to his level and take action or exclude people just because we don't see eye to them - no matter how balatantly abhorent itheir attitude is. Rather, we have to confront it and diminish its affect through counter-argument.

The key aspect of the issue for me is that I don't want to live in a society that turns on people because of their belief. I want society to accept me, despite my outlandish contentions. If society spurns one group, it can easily turn on another - where's the end of it? It's not very palatable, but for the time being we'll have to live with the BNP and just try to counteract their insidious statements with good sense and a more positive message.