Monday, January 31, 2011

The Photo Meditation of the Month (January, 2011): TWO HANDS


Two Hands
Photo (Toronto: December 4, 2010) © Mary D'Costa

Two Hands

Two hands with their fingers are little limbs but powerful ones. These limbs can bring to reality most of the things that happen in a person's mind.

God gave us two hands to make a living, to touch others and comfort them, to express ourselves by signs and body language, to grow crops, to demonstrate our love, to build, to invent, to express grief when someone dies, to greet others, to write, to draw, to paint, to help others in different ways and to perform many other tasks.

Hands help us climb, crawl and communicate. These are the most necessary accessories of our body. They are a blessing from God.

Although a blessing, these very hands can be used or are used for evil and demeaning purposes. Many use these hands to make weapons, trigger guns, throw bombs, and commit other types of abuse and violence against others.

In our tender age, these hands and fingers are soft and supple, then they become strong and sturdy, and finally in old age they become osteoporous and brittle. Yet, these hands, if desired, can do good to others.

We should be grateful to God for giving us these precious limbs. Let us use them not only for ourselves, but also to do greater good to our neighbours and others.

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Bangla (Bengali) Alphabet -- 31

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Poem of the Month (January, 2011):THE DIGITAL CHAOS


An abstract art depicting interconnections
Doodle (Dhaka: July 2, 1991) © Jerome D'Costa

The Digital Chaos

The Internet, cellphone, computer, video games, i-pods, tablets and the like
Are the modern means of digital communication.
These media are proliferating at a breakneck speed
Unseen anything like this before.

Our previous slow-paced and restful lives
Are, as if, remnants of the distant past.
The life now is "go, get it now,"
Now, now, now, n-o-w!

The information overload is too much to bear,
The urgency is the call of the day.
The resultant chaos is evident in our lives
Though denied by the stakeholders of these media.

We're losing our own identity,
The span of our attention is shortening,
The length of our patience is on the wane
Making us all the more hyper.

We're hiding behind the masks of digitalia,
Giving a kick on the back of our face-to-face communication.
Reading of books is already becoming a chore,
Taking us on to the long road of illiteracy.

We're becoming addicted to these media,
Ultimately losing control of ourselves.
Unnecessary bombardment of personal information
Is making our lives more stressful.

If the digital life takes over our regular life,
We become more and more demeaned, undignified,
Only the balance between these two lives
Can bring about a stability in our personality and outlook.

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Bangla (Bengali) Alphabet -- 29

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

How Some Bangladeshi Catholics Got Portuguese Names


These are only a few examples of Portuguese surnames
still continuing for the last 400 years among a section
of the Roman Catholics in Bangladesh

Doodle (Dhaka: May 24, 1993) © Jerome D'Costa

The 15th century is the one that saw a number of explorations of new countries and territories. Portuguese explorers discovered and explored new territories in the western Africa. The Spanish also discovered some islands in the Atlantic Ocean. On October 12, 1492, Italian navigator Christopher Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo in Italian), on behalf of the Spanish monarchy, discovered North America when he landed in one of the islands of the Bahamas.

The New World Divided Between Spain and Portugal

Through the intervention of Pope Alexander VI and the Treaty of Tordesillas on June 7, 1494, newly-discovered lands outside Europe were divided between Spain and Portugal.

After several decades, the Pope also signed a concordat (agreement) with the monarchs of Spain and Portugal, and allowed them to set up Catholic dioceses in new lands and appoint their Bishops. For this privilege, the monarchs agreed to bear the expenses of sending missionaries and provide financial and other help for the mission upkeep. This system was called Padroado system.

Portuguese Expansion in India

In 1498, Portuguese navigator Vasco-da-Gama, with the help of an Arabian Muslim navigator, familiar with the sea route to India from East Africa, discovered the way to Calicut (present Kozikode) of the State of Kerala in India. With this discovery comes the meeting of the East and West through the sea navigation.

In 1500, the Portuguese conquered Cranganore (presently Cannanore) in India. In 1506, they took over Cochin and in 1510 Goa.

From 1500 onwards, Portuguese missionaries (Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians and Jesuits) accompanied Portuguese conquerors and traders and started their proselytizing work in Portuguese-connected coastal districts of India. Their efforts brought about thousands of new Catholics converted mostly from the low-caste Hindus.

The Portuguese in Bengal and Conversions to Christianity

When we speak of Bengal, we mean both the territories of present State of West Bengal in India and the country of Bangladesh (which was previously known as East Bengal). Portuguese traders from the west coast of India, especially Goa, began their forays to Bengal in 1517.

In time, the Portuguese received permission from the Mughal emperor and had their settlements at Satgaon and later in Hooghly of West Bengal. Then they settled in Arakan of present-day Myanmar (Burma) and Diang and Chittangong of Bangladesh. Missionaries also followed them. In the coastal areas, there were some intermarriages between the Portuguese men and local women.

Father Francesco Fernandes and Father Domingo da Sousa -- two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries from Hooghly -- with the permission of Raja Pratapadittya (1561-1611), built the first church of Bangladesh at Chandecan (also called Chandika, Iswaripur or Old Jessore) in the Sunderbans forest area of the present district of Satkhira. They dedicated their church on January 1, 1600. Later, Father Francesco Fernandes and Father Andre Boves built a small chapel in Chittagong. This is the second church of Bangladesh. The first Mass was offered there on June 24, 1601. Later Portuguese Jesuits had to discontinue their work in Bangladesh area, but they were replaced by Portuguese Augustinian priests.

Christianity also spread to Bhulua (old name of Noakhali District), Bacola (or Bakla or Chandradwip or Bakerganj), Chandipur (Chandpur), Padrishibpur of Barisal District, Tejgaon of present Dhaka city, Dhaka, Nagori (of Gazipur District), Sripur (of Munshiganj District, but eroded into the Padma River), Loricul (or Norikul of Dhaka District), Katrabo (or Katarab of Dhaka District), and Hosenpur (of Netrakona District), and so on.

According to the Analecta Augustiniana (Augustinian Analects or selected reports) of 1682, the whole of Bengal had 27,000 Catholics. Among them, the West Bengal had 12,880 Catholics and East Bengal or Bangladesh had 14,120 Catholics: Dhaka - 2,000, Chandipur (Chandpur) - 2,000, Loricul (Noricul) - 2,000, Tejgaon - 700, Iswaripur or Old Jessore - 400, Bhusana (in present Gopalganj District) - 20, and Dianga (Diang) and Chittagong - 7,000.

The Portuguese, who married local Bengali women, naturally converted them to Christianity. In some other cases, no doubt, there were forced conversions, but, in most cases, missionaries converted low-caste Hindus, who were victims of discrimination and ill treatment from fellow high-caste Hindus. In order to improve their status, they accepted Christianity. It is to be noted that conversions to Christianity from Muslim community were very few.

Muslims and Hindus in the Indian subcontinent (present-day India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) used to call the Portuguese and other Europeans, who were whites, Firingi (or Feringhi), and local converted Christians, who were dark in colour, Kala Firingi -- kala means 'dark.' The Arabic/Persian word of Farang means 'foreigner.' From farang evolved the word Firingi (or Feringhi).

The Introduction of the Portuguese Names

Like Portuguese-converted Catholics elsewhere in the world, Roman Catholic Christians in the greater Dhaka District, and the districts of Chittagong, Noakhali and Barisal still carry Portuguese names, especially surnames (last names) instead of their paternal names they had at the time of their conversions. When the Portuguese first converted them, they gave them the first names after Catholic saints and changed their Bengali surnames to Portuguese ones.

This change of names had dual purpose: First, the Portuguese wanted that local converts take the changed names so that they could be identified instantly as Christians. Second, they wanted to uproot the new Christians from the influence of their former Hindu society. They knew that if names were changed, these people could not revert to their former religion, nor could they be accepted easily by their Hindu relatives.

Some of the first names that the Portuguese gave to the new Christians were thus: Antonio (Anthony), Augustinho (Augustine), Domingo (Dominic), Pedro (Peter), Rosa (rose), Maria (Mary) and so on. These first names continued for a long time, but, later, with the arrival of non-Portuguese missionaries, the first names began to be given in English.

The Portuguese surnames, though, are still continuing today in Bangladesh. Some of these are: Ascensao (Ascension of Jesus), Costa (coast), Corraya or Correia (belt; strap), Cruz (the cross of Christ), da Costa or D'Costa (of or from the coast), da Cruz or D'Cruz (of or from the cross), da Rosario (da Rozario) or D'Rosario or D'Rozario (of or from the rosary -- of the Virgin Mary), da Sa or D'Sa (of or from the manor house; this particular Portuguese surname is wrongly written as Dessai in Bangladesh -- actually, Dessai or Desai is an Indian Gujrati word meaning 'landlord'), da Silva or D'Silva (of or from the forest), da Sousa (da Souza) or D'Sousa (D'Souza) (of or from the salt-marsh), Dias (days), Dores (sorrows), Gomes (a man; a male), Gonsalves (battle; one who fought without weapons), Mendes (son or descendant of Mendel or Mendo), Palma (palm tree), Pereira (pear tree), Pinheiro (pine tree), Peres (or Pires or Piris) (rock), Purificasao (purification), Rego (ditch; furrow), Ribeiro (river), Rodrigues (famous power), Rosario or Rozario (the rosary of the Virgin Mary), Serrao (of or from the mountain), Silva (of or from the forest), Sousa or Souza (salt-marsh), and Toscano (a man from Tuscany -- of Italy).

This legacy of these Portuguese names is still alive. Now with increasing migration of Bangladeshi Catholic Christians, these names are also visible among them in different part of the world.

--This write-up of mine first appeared in Ahoban, an annual publication
of the Bangladesh Catholic Association of Ontario (BCAO), Toronto, (Christmas, 2010),
it's edited by Ronny Gregory Mazumder.

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Bangla (Bengali) Alphabet -- 21

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Violent Culture in the USA -- 3


An image showing a gun = violence
Image design (Toronto: Jan. 16, 2011) © Joachim Romeo D'Costa

Where There's a Gun, There's a Violence

Mankind is amenable to the seven "deadly sins." These "sins" are: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger (Wrath), Greed (Covetousness), and Sloth (Acedia or Laziness).

All these "sins" or proclivities make many people weak and they are tempted to do unlawful things in life. The gun-related violence is one of them.

It only takes common sense and life experience, not university degrees, to understand that guns and weapons bring about more violence in the society. These serve as a tool to vent one's anger, take one's revenge, give vent to one's hatred and so on.

When a person possesses a gun, he or she gives the idea of violence a place first in his or her mind -- whether to defend himself or herself, whether to hunt a bird or animal. The idea of opposition first takes over that person's mind. That opposition may be an animal or a person. The idea that is in that person's head, is realized when he or she actually uses the gun or weapon. The use of the gun or weapon just doesn't come instantly from the vacuum, it was incubating in that person for some time waiting for a cause or trigger.

Bangladesh Is a Prime Example of What Happens When a Gunless Country Turns Into a Gunful One

Many of you know of the Bangladesh Civil War or War of Independence in 1971. At that time Bangladesh was called "East Pakistan" and present Pakistan was "West Pakistan." In East Pakistan, before this war, the most lethal weapon or gun was the ordinary hunting gun. Who owned those guns? Mostly, some moneyed people -- few politicians, businessmen, village chiefs and certain criminal elements, called dacoits (robbers). In a dozen village or so, there was hardly one gun owner. So, violence by a gun was a rarity. Burglary by breaking into a house would be a big news at that time.

In 1971, with the deadly crackdown by West Pakistani soldiers and some of their East Pakistani collaborators, about 10 million East Pakistanis fled the country to take refuge to India. It was a golden opportunity for India to weaken its neighbour and arch enemy -- Pakistan. It began to give training to young and energetic East Pakistani refugee youths on guerrilla warfare and ultimately provided thousands and thousands of assault rifles and other weapons to them. These guerrillas (muktijuddhas) got a real taste of successful use of these weapons for five to seven months.

When East Pakistan was liberated with the ultimate fielding of the Indian army in December, 1971, the government of independent Bangladesh asked the muktijuddas to lay down their arms and deposit them with the nearest government offices. Many deposited them, but some in all corners of the country did not. Their reasons being self-defense from local enemies (pre-war, war or post-war rivals -- political or otherwise) and ill-motives (making easy money by robbery, hostage-taking, etc.). Guns give a false sense of power and security. That has been proven in Bangladesh. With the easy availability of these guns, a reign of terror started immediately after the independence in December, 1971. Murder, mass murder, or mayhem -- whatever you want to call -- became the regular fare. In the first few years of independence, it was a normal affair for one person to ask another: "Who was shot today?" or "How many were killed today?" Bangladesh newspapers were full of those reports. At present, the gun-related murder is less than that of the early post-independent period, but regular gun-related deaths are ever present now. The theory of "guns = violence" is proven in the case of Bangladesh. It is a good example of how an innocent region can turn into a violent one with the introduction of easily available guns.

Americans Need to Rethink of Their Gun Policy

In the last 234 years, Americans left a tremendous contribution to world advancement, civilization, invention and discovery, but in the realm of gun violence its contribution is also unparalled. Gun violence is a sign of immaturity and emotional infantilism, even though committed by educated or literate people. It's being proven time and again that easy availability of firearms is never a healthy policy.

Americans need to ask their conscience whether the Second Amendment's sanctions still make it right and good for the greater number of Americans to acquire firearms so easily. A country's constitution is made at a certain time taking into consideration the prevailing situation of that time. If the situation changes, the constitution also can be changed to suit the new situation. Men and women make a country's constitution and laws, they can change those, too, to fit another era or situation.

Some people say that the Second Amendment is in the Constitution of the USA and it can't be touched. Not necessarily. In Pakistan, radical Islamists brought amendments to their constitution to include the existing Blasphemy Laws. It's now well-known how those blasphemy laws are being misused by a certain quarter to suit their whims and punish their rivals. The minority communities in that country is a regular victims of these infamous laws. Being in the constitution does not mean that the interests of the greater number of a country's citizens will be served.

A country's constitution should serve the people and not the people serve the constitution. Americans need to look at this under the new circumstances and new thinking and decide what to do about it. It's they and only they as a whole who can decide what's overall good for them and their country and act on it as responsible persons. Instead of mourning after a gun-related violent incident, they should take preventative measures for the greater good in future. Our prayers are with them.

For Further Understanding of the Violent Culture in the US

You may read the following for deeper understanding of this violent situation in the USA, because what happens in the USA affects the world, too. The gun violence is the extremity of the other types of violences in the society.

A) Gun Violence in General:

B) Political Violence:

C) Domestic Violence:

D) Violence Against Children:

E) Teen Violence:

F) Media (TV, Film, Video Games) Violence:

G) Gun Control Efforts in the USA:

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The Quotation of the Week (January 16 - 22, 2011)

A image of the Holy Family (Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph)
in St. Lawrence the Martyr Church, Toronto

Photo (Toronto: December 26, 2010) © Jerome D'Costa

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Bangla (Bengali) Alphabet -- 16

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Violent Culture in the USA -- 2


The arms terminology, commonly used in the USA,tells a lot about the violent culture of that country
Layout & design (Toronto: Jan. 15, 2011) © Jerome D'Costa

The US Constitution Guarantees Possession of Guns and WeaponsThe Second Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees an individual's right to keep and bear arms. This Amendment is considered very sacrosanct by the pro-gun lobby. That's why it is extremely difficult in the USA to change this right of keeping and bearing arms.

Guns Kill Their Presidents, Too

Guns know no class and race. They kill the poorest, people of middle class and also high society people. They kill the illiterate and literate alike. In the 235 years of US history, there were 44 presidents. Of them, four U.S. presidents have been assassinated. They are (1) President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865): He was shot at a close range at a theatre by John Wilkes Booth, a drama actor and Confederate (the southern States that had tried to secede from the US union) spy. (2) President James Abram Garfield (1831-1881): He was killed by Charles Julius Guiteau, an American lawyer. (3) William McKinley, Jr. (1843-1901): He was killed by an anarchist, named Leon Czolgosz. (4) President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963): He was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald with a rifle.

Mass Murderers & Serial Killers Shook the Conscience of Americans, Yet There's No Restrictions on Guns and Weapons

Mass murderers and serial killers also tainted the US history with their gun and other weapon related crimes. Opponents of easy proliferation of guns could not do anything yet to restrict guns and other hand-held weapons.

Educated Mass-murderers in Schools and Universities

In recent past, students of certain schools, colleges and universities fell victim to fellow students' bullets. In Littleton, Colorado, Columbine High School murders were committed on April 20, 1999 by two of its students. On April 16, 2007, one student shot dead 32 fellow students at the Virginia Institute of Technology and nearby State University in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Besides these, there were many other school shootings in the USA in the past.

Gun & Weapon Production and Sale Are a Multi-billion Dollar Business

There are literally not dozens but hundreds of manufacturers and distributors of guns and other lethal weapons in the USA. This business brings in billions of dollars. The USA is also the topmost exporter of guns and other sophisticated weapons in the world. Many governments in different continents are its clients. One must remember that the US is the ultra-capitalist country. The main motive of capitalism is making profit as much as possible. If gun and weapon sale is restricted, they can't make enough profit.

The Pro-Gun Lobby's Influence Among Politicians Is the Strongest

The pro-gun lobby in the USA exerts the strongest influence among law makers and politicians. They want to ensure that guns and weapons sale and distribution are as free and easy as possible. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a strong proponent of easier guns and other arms sale and possession. This organization's influence is as strong as ever.

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Bangla (Bengali) Alphabet -- 15

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Friday, January 14, 2011

The Violent Culture in the USA -- 1


The cartoon depicts the gun-loving culture
of the Americans

Cartoon courtesy: Michael de Adder

Published in Metro (Toronto: Jan. 12, 2011)

The United States of America (USA) is in mourning now. The mourning is for the January 8 shooting and killing of six persons who have been shot dead at close range when attending a political event organized by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords near the Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. There is also anger for these senseless deaths as well as 13 other people, at the same venue, who have been wounded.

Jared Lee Loughner (22) went to the venue and without any warning began to shoot first at Gabrielle Giffords and then at others with his 9mm Glock multi-bullet-holding pistol. He fired 15-20 rounds of bullets before he was overcome and arrested.

Among the dead were Federal court judge John Roll and a 9-year-old school girl Christina Taylor Green. Congresswoman Giffords, although fatally wounded in the head, is very likely to survive. Her husband, Mark Kelly, is now in the space station as the NASA shuttle commander.

President Barack Obama condemned the shooting terming it as an "unspeakable crime." He also said: "This is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for the entire country." Local sheriff Dupnick blamed the toxic and violently-charged political environment of Arizona for this tragedy.

Gun Violence As Old As the Country

The USA was born through the use of guns. Thirteen colonies in the eastern part of the USA were under the British. The colony-dwellers, mostly Europeans -- of British and some other country origin, were unhappy at the treatment they received from the British authority. As a result, discontentment started. The colony-dwellers declared independence in 1776 and finally won the war. The newly-independent country was named the United States of America (USA).

Guns Needed to Protect the Newly Independent Country

From its birth, the USA needed guns and weapons to protect its citizens from the defeated British forces who were still present in their Canadian possessions in the north, the Spanish in the south-east and west, the French in south and the so-called "Red Indians" -- the original inhabitants of this country, and also from wild animals.

Later they also needed guns and weapons to expand their territories. The "Wild Wild West" stories, that you see in the American movies, are stories of their expansions. They expanded their territories later by defeating the Spanish.

Guns Available Like Corner Store Lozenges

Guns and weapons have been available in the USA for purchase and sale like corner store lozenges and treats. Anyone can buy and sell them. This situation, with some restrictions, is still valid. Their easy availability in the USA is affecting Canada, too, in spite of its stricter laws. Criminal elements in Canada acquire these in the USA and smuggle them to Canada for illegal sale and distribution. Canada, in the last few years, has been experiencing an increased gun-related crimes. Most of these guns were illegally acquired.

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Bangla (Bengali) Alphabet -- 14

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Punjab Governor Salman Taseer: Another Victim of Pakistan's Blasphemy Laws

Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, Pakistan,
shot dead recently by his own guard

Photo courtesy:

Among hundreds of victims of the Pakistan's blasphemy laws, a new but important name has been added in the list. On last January 4, Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab province and a proponent of amendment to blasphemy laws, was shot dead in Islamabad by one of his own elite police bodyguards.

As the governor, after having lunch with one of his friends in a local restaurant, was coming toward his car, the guard shot him at a close range with a submachine gun. He is said to have received 26 bullets in his person and died instantly. After his arrest, the gunman told police that because of the governor's opposition to the existing blasphemy laws, he killed him.

Governor Salman Taseer is a liberal politician and a senior member of the presently ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP). He was a vocal critic of the Pakistan's infamous blasphemy laws, initiated by the then dictator General Zia-ul-Haq in 1982 and widened its sphere in 1986.

Some consider the death of Salman Taseer as a rise and influence of the radical Islamists out there to silence liberal Muslims. Many of these liberal Muslims appreciated the role played by Mr. Taseer as a lone voice among the voiceless criticizing the present form of the blasphemy laws that are being interpreted and used to fight opponents, Muslims and people of minority communities (Hindus, Ahmadi or Ahmadiyya Muslims, and Christians). These laws are also being used for personal and political reasons by some people of the land-holding class and, in many cases, supported by some police, lawyers and judges. There were also many cases of grabbing lands and other properties from marginalized people who are both Muslims and minority groups. The evil effects of the blasphemy laws are persistently going on since their introduction in the country.

This senseless killing has been condemned all over the world.

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The Quotation of the Week (January 9-15, 2011)

A caricature of US President Barack Obama
at the time of his inauguration

Artwork (Toronto: January, 2009) © Ujjal Peter D'Costa

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Bangla (Bengali) Alphabet -- 9

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