Row over Governor's remarks on Balmiki
The Hindustan Times, Correspondent
(Shimla, October 15)

CERTAIN 'REMARKS' by Himachal Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri about Maharishi Balmiki's life at a function on Thursday night has kicked up an unsavoury controversy in Shimla and has the Balmiki community up in arms against the State Governor.

Even though the Governor is reported to have withdrawn his words at the function itself after angered cross-questioning by some ladies and Balmiki youths present. Mr Shastri said he never wanted to "hurt the sentiments of the community", but the episode has left the Balmiki community bitter.

They were already upset by the State government's decision not to declare a holiday on Balmiki Jayanti on Friday this year, much against the tradition in the past.

This culminated in street protests by the Balmikis yesterday, forcing the state government to declare a holiday at the eleventh hour when people had already got out of their homes to attend offices.

"In fact, the situation could have taken an ugly turn at the Governor's function itself, but for fact that the Governor was our chief guest and that he might not have said that about Bhagwan Balmiki intentionally.

This coupled with the fact that he was the first state dignitary to come to our locality after a gap of several years gap diffused the situation," said Raj Pal, general secretary of Balmiki Sabha, who had mediated to calm the crowds.

"We have already sought an immediate appointment with the Himacha Pradesh Chief Minister.

There has otherwise also been a general apathy towards the cause of Balmikis in Himachal Pradesh on almost every issue," Mr Raj Pal added.

According to reports, while delivering his speech on the eve of Balmiki Jayanti at a function organised at a temple in Krishnanagar, the Governor referred to Maharishi Balmiki's past and commented that even a bad man could transform into a good man if he tried.

However some women among the audience asked him to explain what he actually meant by a bad man in the context of Maharishi Balmiki.

The Governor had to go to the stage twice to convince the Balmiki community that the reference was not meant to be offensive and took his words back. No one in Raj Bhavan was available for comment.

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