Monday, August 24, 2015

Standing ovation for a mere temple?

Pankaj Sharma
24 August 2015

Acquiring land for a Hindu Temple in the UAE is all well and good. The Indian government, however, must pay greater attention to migrant Indian labourers living under rough conditions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked everyone present in the Dubai Cricket Stadium to give  Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Mohammed Bin Zayed AI Nahyan a standing ovation for allocating land to a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi. This would be the first formal temple for Hindu devotees in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. In July 2013, a Muslim businessman donated five acres of land adjoining a mosque to set up the Swaminarayan temple in Abu Dhabi. 

Abu Dhabi will have a Hindu temple in years to come. Although, the UAE already has two Hindu temples in Dubai, the ‘generosity’ shown by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed AI Nahyan to more than two and a half million Indians working in UAE, of which around one million are probably Hindus, requires a thanksgiving gesture from the Indian prime minister. Modi, however, chose to be overwhelmingly generous and offered a rare salute to UAE’s rulers. 

It was around 57 years ago when Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum gave his permission to build a Hindu temple on a first floor of a by-lane in Bur-Dubai. There exist two temples in Dubai. Located west of the Dubai Creek, the temple complex is used for performing marriages and celebrating Hindu festivals too. There used to be a Gurudwara also on the upper floor of Shiva temple, which has now been moved to its new premises near Jebel Ali.

UAE has the largest number of Hindus among West Asian countries. India’s cultural and trade ties with the UAE stretch back many years. The existence of Hindu temples in the Middle East is not a new phenomenon. The first Hindu temple in Yemen was built more than 150 years ago.  More than half a dozen temples were built in Aden in the 19th century. The Shree Trikamraiji-Haveli Temple was built in 1862, followed by Hanumanji Temple, Shriram Temple, Hingraj Mataji Mandir and Shankar Hanuman Temple. There is also a Jain temple and a Sikh Gurudwara in Aden. Indian merchants had built a Hindu temple in the port city of Iran--Bandar Abbas in 1890. A Gurudwara was built by Sikh traders in Zahedan town of Iran in 1927. Oman’s capital city Muscat has two Hindu temples. Oman also has a Krishna temple in Darsait and a Shiva temple in Muttrah. The Shiva temple is believed to be over a hundred years old. Bahrain’s capital city Manama has two temples--an ISKCON temple on Kuwait Avenue and a Guruvayurappan temple in Adliya. All these temples draw large crowds of devotees every day.

Apart from acquiring land for constructing a Hindu temple, we have several more important reasons to express our respect to the UAE leadership. In recent decades, UAE’s economic progress has been one of the global success stories, transforming the nation into a regional leader and a thriving international centre that attracts people and business from across the world. The dynamism of the two countries have translated into a rapidly expanding economic partnership, making India UAE’s second largest trading partner; and UAE not only India’s third largest trading partner, but also India’s gateway to the region and beyond. Today, as India accelerates economic reforms and improves its investment and business environment, the potential to build a transformative economic partnership with the UAE stands on the horizon. It can help realise the vision of an Asian Century.

India and UAE have agreed to coordinate efforts to counter radicalization and misuse of religion by groups and countries that incite hatred, perpetrate and justify terrorism or pursue dangerous political aims. Both nations have also vouched to denounce and oppose terrorism in all forms and manifestations, calling on all states to reject and abandon its use against other countries, besides dismantling terror infrastructures where they exist, and bring the perpetrators to justice. We have also agreed to enhance cooperation in counter-terrorism operations, intelligence sharing and capacity building and to work together for the adoption of India’s proposed Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism in the United Nations.

It is a good thing that there will be a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi too. However, UAE’s rulers do deserve a standing ovation for supporting India’s candidature for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. UAE should also be thanked for its desire to take honest steps against the flow of illegal black money and for greater maritime cooperation in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean region. Such a maritime security apparatus is vital for the prosperity of both countries.
I’m not sure if Modi will get an opportunity in the future to give a standing ovation to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed AI Nahyan for solving some of the problems faced by most Indian workers in the UAE. Indian workers are pawns in the games recruiting agents play in Gulf countries. The average Indian worker is being forced to live in a poor barrack-like accommodation, work for very long hours, with his/her salary withheld. They have no real access to medical facilities and insurance. Moreover, their passports are either retained or confiscated by their employers.

I have no idea how many of them, who were present in Dubai Cricket Stadium for the ‘Mahraba Namo’ event, were drivers, doorkeepers, domestic helps, construction workers or people working in shipping industry or in different factories. I also don’t know if they obeyed Modi’s order to applaud the Crown Prince, hoping he would persuade the UAE to be more humane? India gains $13 billion annually only because 2.8 million Gulf Indians have nowhere else to send their money. Unlike Indians in Britain or the US, they cannot acquire permanent citizenship in the UAE. Therefore, as permanent Indian citizens, they are New Delhi’s permanent responsibility. Indian workers overseas contribute to our national economy as well as to various Gulf nations. Indians working in the UAE also deserve a standing ovation for their commitment and excellence by the Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a real tribute to them lies in improving their working conditions. 

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