New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?

വായന

30 April, 2008

World Laughter Day on May 4


World Laughter Day is customarily celebrated on the first Sunday of May every year. This year on the 4th of May, the world will once again come together to laugh and spread the word of happiness and joy.

The Laughter Clubs movement is a global initiative to unite the entire mankind through unconditional love and laughter. It is a non-religious, non-racial and non profit organization committed to generate good heath, joy and world peace through laughter.

The first Laughter Yoga club was started on 13th March 1998 by Madan Kataria in a public park in Mumbai, India.

For more info see Laughter Yoga Diary

28 April, 2008

Peoples' Tribunal on Custodial Torture in Varanasi

Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi, Convener, Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, Varanasi, writes:

Dear friends,

The Peoples' Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) carried out a study and documentation of more than 800 cases of police torture in six districts of Uttar Pradesh as part of the National Project of Preventing Torture in India being conducted under the auspices of People’s Watch. Several interventions were made in various Courts and Commissions regarding these cases.

From 1996, the PVCHR has been voicing its concern against custodial torture. This campaign that started with the releasing of a poster against torture has documented cases and intervened in these cases with an intention to apply pressure upon the Government of India to ratify the UN Convention against Torture AND also to bring relief to the victims.

About 50 organizations in UP were included in this process. An additional mission of this project was to pressure the Members of Legislative Assemblies and the Members of Parliament for ratification of UN Convention against Torture. In connection with this campaign, a peoples' tribunal is being organized on April 28 and 29, 2008 at Varanasi.

The national project was implemented in 47 districts in nine States of India. In UP, the PVCHR is implementing the project in six districts -- Varanasi, Chandauli, Jaunpur, Allahabad, Sonbhadra and Mirzapur. The project also focuses on organizing the local people to voice their concern against police torture and, in the process, to develop Pindra as a model taluk in the State.

In the past two years 3,987 cases of police firing, custodial rape, police baton charge and fake encounters were documented from 47 districts in India by the national project. Interventions were sought in 4,756 cases, including cases that were not covered directly by the project. In this year, the third year of the project, effective group advocacy against torture is going on.

In addition to police brutality the issues in the judicial system in India like the delay in court process also perpetuates torture. This mostly affects the marginalized communities, particularly the members of the ‘lower’ caste. Most cases in the past were not highlighted due to fear and the caste-based discrimination practised in the Indian society.

The project has organized 197 awareness programmes in the country. The PVCHR is also organizing regular Folk Schools and Human Rights Street Movements in UP to encourage victims of custodial torture to speak up and stand for their rights so as to live with dignity.

During the tribunal, details of 73 cases of custodial torture will be released. It is expected that the tribunal will be an additional platform for the victims to present their cases before the public. The victims and the witnesses will be encouraged to present their testimonies during the two days.

The tribunal will be chaired by Justice R. B. Malhotra, former judge of Allahabad High Court. Shankar Sen, former Director General, National Human Rights Commission, Ashok Chakravarti, former Senior Director, NHRC, Ms. T.K Rajalakshmi, Senior Assistant Editor, Frontline, John Dayal, Chairperson, All India Catholic Union and Member, National Integration Council, Chitranjan Singh, National Secretary, Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties, K. K. Rai, Senior Advocate, Ram Ashray Singh, Secretary General, PUCL, Bihar, Vikas Maharaj, Sarod maestro and human rights activist, Darapuri, a former IPS officer and Dalit human rights activist, and Ms. Sandhya, Convener, Mahila Adhikar Manch.

27 April, 2008

Bossy Old White Women Rule

Hillary Clinton's win in Pennsylvania means the continuation of the racial, generational and gender rift that pits young people of color against white female baby boomers for control of America’s future, says New America Media writer Russell Morse.

Russell Moore’s report

Looking back on Kerala land reform

Kerala’s land reform is not the grand success that it is claimed to be. The domination of landlords weakened and tenants gained security, but the landless did not get land and productivity did not grow. Feudal land relations were eliminated, but agricultural output did not increase and there was no significant investment in the agriculture. Human development levels rose but there is no evidence to suggest that this was the result of investments in education and health brought about by land reform. Even a cursory look at the census data will bear out that the process that put the State at the top of the human development chart had begun long before land reform took place. Above all, women, Dalits and Adivasis remain outside the charmed circle of power-wielders.

Looking back, it appears the reform measure was drawn up without proper appreciation of the ongoing socio-economic changes.

These are some of the observations in the paper I presented at the three-day seminar on "Land Reform re-visited" organized by the C. Achutha Menon Foundation, Thiruvananthapuram, from April 24 to 26, 2008.

The text of the paper can be accessed here.

25 April, 2008

Rice shortage hits Indians in America

Bay Area Indian grocery store owners are cracking down on rice hoarding as food prices go up around the world, according to New America Media editors Viji Sundaram and Ketaki Gokhal.

When Arif Casha of Pasha’s Market in Cupertino, Calif., returned from a short vacation a few days ago, he was shocked to see all of the rice bags gone from his store shelves.

“I was gone for just a week and the whole place was cleaned out,” said Casha, one of several South Asian American grocery store owners who are reeling from the ban the Indian government enacted earlier this month on the export of all varieties of rice except basmati. “I had four different varieties of rice. I thought we had been robbed.”

From New York to California, rice bags are flying off the shelves of grocery stores as expatriates from India, China and other Asian countries are going into the same kind of panic that gripped Indian Americans in the summer of 2006, when India banned the export of lentils to offset a domestic shortage. Indian American grocery store owners say the popular Sona Masoori brand of rice is being snapped up like never before. MORE

24 April, 2008

Allow Dr. Binayak Sen to receive Jonathan Mann Award in person

The Global Health Council on 22 April 2008 announced that Dr. Binayak Sen of Chhattisgarh, India is conferred with the 2008 Jonathan Mann Award for Global Health and Human Rights.

The Global Health Council www.globalhealth.org is the world's largest membership alliance of public health organizations and professionals working to improve health and save lives among the poor. The Jonathan Mann Award was established by the Global Health Council in 1999 to honour Dr. Jonathan Mann and to highlight the vital link between health and human rights.

Sponsored in 2007 by four organizations, Association François-Xavier Bagnoud, Doctors of the World, John Snow Inc. and the Global Health Council, the Award is bestowed annually to a leading practitioner in health and human rights.
Dr. Mann, who met with untimely death in a 1998 plane crash, is considered by many as one of the most important figures of the 20th century in the fight against global poverty, illness and social injustice. As the first director of the World Health Organization's Special Program on AIDS from 1986-1990, Dr. Mann pioneered the approach to AIDS that continues to shape public health policy today.

As a Professor of Health and Human Rights at Harvard University from 1990-1997, Dr. Mann began to articulate the ways in which the health of individuals and populations reflect access to basic human rights based on his years of experience as a public health practitioner and as a strategist. History will remember Dr. Mann for bringing to the world's attention the basic notion that improved health cannot be achieved without basic human rights, and that these rights are meaningless without adequate health.

A list of the 57 individuals worldwide who were nominated for the 2008 Mann Award can be viewed here. Of note and a matter of pride for India, nine of the 2008 nominees are Indians. They are Dr. Swami Hardas of Pune, Mr. Surya Makaria of Hyderabad, Mr. Deelip Mhaske of Mumbai, Dr. Ugrasen Pandey of Firozabad, Dr. Prameelamma Pedamali of Srikalahasti, Dr. Kamalesh Sarkar of Kolkata, Dr. Mukesh Shukla of Surendranagar, Dr. Diwakar Tejaswi of Patna, and Dr. Binayak Sen of Raipur.

In reviewing these distinguished nominees, the international jury of public health experts considered and evaluated several criteria including: practical work in the field and in difficult circumstances; actual relevance to the linkage of health with human rights; predominant activities in a developing country and with marginalised people; evidence of serious and long-term commitment; and potential for the Award to strengthen the nominee's work.

The Jonathan Mann Award along with three other awards (the Gates Award for Global Health, the Best Practices in Global Health Award, and the Excellence in Media Award for Global Health) will be presented to Dr. Sen in a formal ceremony during the annual meeting of the Global Health Council, which this year takes place in Washington, DC, USA.

Dr. Sen, alumnus of the Christian Medical College, Vellore, has devoted a lifetime to the healthcare of the tribal population of Chhattisgarh. Along with the legendary trade union leader Mr. Shankar Guha Niyogi, he founded the Shaheed Hospital in the mining town of Dalli Rajhara, an institution that till today continues the tradition of providing accessible and rational health care to the people. For the last fifteen years, Dr. Sen has worked in a remote tribal area treating those afflicted with chronic malnutrition, endemic malaria and other infectious diseases. He has also worked on issues of food and livelihood security, and has been the general Secretary of the State Unit of the Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), as well as the National Vice President of the organisation.

In this capacity he is a vociferous critic of police excesses carried out by an unaccountable state and by the state sponsored vigilante Salwa Judum movement in Chhattisgarh that has led to civil war like conditions in large parts of southern Chhattisgarh. Dr. Sen has earlier received the Paul Harrison Award from his alma mater for his contributions in 'redefining health care in a broken society', and the R. R. Keithan Gold Medal from the Indian Academy of Social Sciences for 'a fresh and radical interpretation of Gandhiji's core concerns'.

Unfortunately and as it is well known within India, Dr. Sen has been incarcerated in the Raipur Central Jail in Chhattisgarh on charges of being a supporter of the banned Maoist party for almost one year, and is soon to stand trial on charges under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005.

In a letter to the President of India, the Prime Minister of India, and to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, Dr. Nils Dulaire (president and chief executive officer of the Global Health Council) has written:

Dr. Sen was selected for this honor by an international jury of public health experts on the basis of his years of service in poor and tribal communities in India, his effective leadership in establishing self-sustaining health care services where none existed, and his unwavering commitment to civil liberties and human rights. His long history of selfless service and this Award's recognition are commendations that we hope will be celebrated by India's leaders and citizens.

The irony of course is that Dr. Sen is now in his twelfth month of imprisonment without trial in Raipur. This is of deep concern to the global health community. Therefore those signing on to the statement attached here felt it important to bring this matter to your attention and to kindly request that you consider how means could be found to allow Dr. Sen to attend the award's ceremony in Washington, DC, on May 29th, 2008.

We wish to be clear: it is not our intent to interfere with the judicial process. We simply request that this doctor's good works and highly regarded reputation as a man of science and service, and his international following, serve as guarantee of his obligation to return to India to participate in a just and fair judicial process after the awards ceremony, if his case is not resolved sooner.

The world is watching this case. Some have expressed concern that it might represent a dwindling respect for civil liberties in India. We believe, however, that allowing Dr. Sen to attend the award's ceremony would send a strong signal internationally that would help to restore faith that India and its states are indeed committed to fairly addressing this and other cases related to civil conflicts and civil liberties. Dr. Binayak Sen's travel to the United States for this purpose would pose no threat to the security of Chhattisgarh or the integrity of the Indian judicial system.

Please consider finding the means to allow him to receive his award in person.


Dr. Sen is the tenth individual to be honoured by the Global Health Council. Previous awardees are: Dr. Bogaletch Gabre, a champion of women's rights who is a pioneer in eradicating the practice of female genital excision in Ethiopia (2007); Dr. Juan Canales, who helped marginalised peasants and indigenous communities in conflict-ridden areas of El Salvador and Mexico to gain their human right to health care by establishing community medicine and public health programmes (2006); Prof. Abdel Mohammad Gerais who advocated for and established reproductive health services to those most in need in Egypt (2005); Dr. Sima Sahar who led innovative programs in health, education, construction, relief, and income generation to improve the lives of women and girls in Afghanistan (2004); Mr. Zackie Achmat and Dr. Frenk Guni, who have worked to raise awareness and advocate for equity of people with HIV/AIDS in South Africa and Zimbabwe (2003); Dr. Ruchama Marton and Mr. Salah Haj Yehya, associated with Physicians for Human Rights-Israel for providing volunteer health care in the occupied territories of the West Bank (2002); Dr. Gao Yaojie, a gynaecologist involved in HIV/AIDS care and prevention work in China (2002); Dr. Flora Brovina and Dr. Vjosa Dobruna who worked with refugees in the Kosovo conflict and now with women and children victims of war crimes in Kosovo (2000); and Dr. Cynthia Maung who committed her life to healing victims of human rights abuses in Burma (1999).

An interesting parallel is that one of Dr. Flora Brovina who was bestowed with the same award in the year 2000 was also in prison at the time she was selected for the award. Dr. Brovina is the founder and director of the League of Albanian women in Kosovo, and at the time the award was presented, Dr. Brovina was imprisoned in Serbia. The world community dedicated to health and human rights celebrated her release on November 1, 2000 after 18 months of imprisonment on charges that she committed terrorist acts by helping refugees in the conflict in Kosovo.
# # #
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

23 April, 2008

About reservation and creamy layer concept

By Satinath Choudhary

Justification of quota on the basis that weaker segments need a helping hand to get up is a very weak argument in favor of quota system. It immediately begs questions like how much helping hand and for how long. Possibly that is the reason why the opponents of quota system like this premise for quota system, and have popularized it so that it can be shot down any time they have enough political will and strength.

In a segmented society, even if somehow power were equitably distributed at a certain point of time, statistical perturbation is likely to cause some increase in power of one or a few segments compared to that of others. These segments with greater power would be in a position to recruit more of their own in positions of power, thus increasing their advantage over the stragglers -- power begets more power. Soon the harmonious democracy with equitable power to all segments is going to look more like a squabbling oligarchy-cracy dominated by a couple of oligarchies. Current situation in India is more like oligarchy-cracy than democracy, with most of economic, bureaucratic, judicial and educational power concentrated in the hands of upper caste segment; so much so that even in the States where political power has gone into the hands of OBC, and in one State where currently political power appears to be in the hands of an SC leadership, behind the scene it is the upper castes who wield maximum power.

The only way to ensure peace, harmony and associated ambience for rapid development is an agreement on the part of various segments to "equitably share power" by whatever means necessary. Setting equitable quotas (in proportion to population of various segments) for seats of power and learning opportunities is one of the means of equitable power sharing for positions to be filled by selection rather than election. Unless someone comes up with a better way of equitable power sharing, we are going to be stuck with the quota system.

As for positions to be filled by election, the right way to do the same is via a suitable version of list-Proportional Representation system of election. In the interest of brevity, we would not elaborate on this part.

Many people pooh-pooh quota system without giving any convincing reason for their scorn for the same. All that they have to say is that it leads to inefficiency. They have to be asked if the atmosphere of constant squabbling and strife is more conducive to rapid progress of the society. Is an atmosphere of hate, derision and ridicule on account of existing disparities more conducive for "efficient" progress in the society?

"Efficiency" is nothing but a ruse for those enjoying ill begotten goodies and privileges. Yes, their forefathers have accumulated wealth and advantages over others by depriving the latter of fair opportunities in gaining ability to read, write and understand things, with the help of "the most unfair religions practiced on the earth". Enjoying these advantages is nothing short of the heirs of bandits enjoying the loot collected by their forefathers. Progeny of the victims do not ask for the heirs of the bandit to be penalized for the misdeeds of their forefathers. However, are the latter justified in continuing to enjoy the advantages associated with the spoils of their forefathers' plunder? Instead of seeking justice for the children of the deprived by letting them have their due share of power, the inheritors of the plunderers appear to be hell-bent over increasing their ill-gotten advantages. When their opposition to just demand for quota cannot be sustained, their agents sitting various positions of power come with things like "creamy layer" concepts.

First of all justification for quota has to be rooted in the imperative need for "power sharing" in the interest of peace and harmony and progress based on such harmony. Quotas must not be equated with doles for the destitute. It must be considered to be right rather than charitable hand-out. Existence of groups with greater power than their equitable share has to be considered to be bane (a source of disharmony, conflict and obstacle on the road to progress) and equalized as soon as possible, by any means possible! Once this position is accepted, there is no justification to 50% bar for total reservation, leaving 50% for the so called "general" category, to be monopolized by the inheritors of the ill-gotten wealth and privileges. The general category must be reduced to the percentage of people who claim to have no caste. The upper caste is likely to claim that they have no caste, that they must not be burdened with a caste tag that reduces their share compared to what snatch today. In such a case, the percentage of people claiming to belong to the upper caste is likely to reduce to almost nothing, with corresponding increase in the percentage of persons without any caste – the general category.

As far as creamy layer concept is considered, there are two kinds, and we should not confuse one with the other. There are (1) creamy layer castes like Jats, Kurmies and some others who are economically and educationally close to the upper caste group. Then there are (2) creamy layer individuals (based on economic criteria) among OBCs whose economic and educational condition is reasonably better off compared to the rest of their compatriots. For example, individuals who may be MPs, MLAs, IAS officers, 1st class & 2nd class government officials, doctors, engineers, and so forth, have been defined to constitute economic creamy layer.

The proper way to prevent creamy layer OBC castes from gobbling up share of power allocated to OBC, thus preventing the benefits to accrue to lower level OBCs, is sub-categorizing of OBC into a number of sub-categories. Keeping practicality in mind, the larger the number of sub-categories the better will be distribution of power over OBC or any other category like SC or ST. For example, each of the castes bigger than, say 2% of the society could constitute a category by itself. Numerically smaller castes could be put together with others with similar educational status until their net size comes to more than 2%. Then each category of OBC may be allocated reservation in proportion to the size of the category. Additionally, we could have the provision that if the quota for a particular category is not filled up due to unavailability of qualified candidates, the position will be open for filling, starting with the lowest sub-category of OBCs, if they do have qualified candidates. Unfortunately, this kind of logical solution to the problem is not promoted even by the OBC leaders because most of them belong to their creamy layer castes, and would be prevented from gobbling up their brethren's shares. Even the educated EC/ST individuals do not wish to air such thinking, as most of them belong to the creamy layer castes of SC/ST.

To prevent the economic creamy layer from gobbling up all positions of power allocated to OBCs, what could be done is to agree that the economic creamy layer would not occupy more than, say, 10 or 20% of the seats allocated to OBCs. Rest of the OBC quota could go to non-creamy layer, if they have enough qualified persons available. If the latter does not have enough qualified persons among them, it should be backlogged and should go to the creamy layer. However, any such provision should apply to the general category as well, be that 10% per earlier arguments, or 50% as currently improperly imposed by the unjust High Court Supreme Court judgments. When economic creamy layer provision is applied to OBC and not to the general category, the selected OBC candidates would be weaker in "connections" and ability to retain their job and get promotion compared to those coming from the creamy layer, and they would have harder time keeping pace and facing off the "dream de cream" upper caste colleagues. So, if economic creamy layer concept is applied to OBC, the same must also be applied to the general category.

Throwing the creamy layer OBC into the general category is improper, as argued below, with fictitious numbers. Possibly 0.01% of OBC community may belong to the creamy layer who constitute about 50% of the society. Thus creamy layer of OBCs would constitute barely 0.005% of the society. Let us assume that nearly 5% of the upper caste community (which may be assumed to be about 10% of the society) belongs to the creamy layer. Thus creamy layer of the upper caste will be about 0.5% of the whole society. Thus by throwing an OBC candidates in the general category, the justices are getting these OBCs to compete against a vastly large number of creamy upper caste candidates, in the ratio of 5:500 = 1:100. Thus the chances of the OBC creamy layer candidate competing for a position will be 1/100th the chance that the position would go to an upper caste individual. Further, the seats reserved for general category is open to the non-creamy layer of the society, which also has some chance of bagging the vacant position. So the chance for the OBC creamy layer candidate competing for the position will further reduced to a value less than 1/100th. Thus putting an OBC candidate (belonging to a caste other than their creamy layer castes of Jat, Kurmy, etc.) into a general bin is as good as denying him/her the sought position, and hence it is improper.

Considering an OBC person who gets a Bachelor's degree to metamorphose into a creamy layer is even more ridiculous! In their definition of creamy layer they have not bothered to declare all bachelor degree holders as belonging to creamy layer, and yet, to prevent such a graduate from entering post-graduate institutions they declare him/her to be part of creamy layer. These strictures have been put up by the inheritors of ill-gotten wealth and privileges without caring to see the consequences of their strictures – severe reduction of the OBC candidates from getting into graduate programs. Today they test these unjust strictures on OBCs for acceptability only to impose the same on SC/ST candidates as well, tomorrow.

By the way, there are a number of other countries that use quota or semi-quota system. The best one among them is Switzerland, which uses the most comprehensive quota system under their "power sharing" concept. They have four linguistic groups:

German speaking: 75%
French speaking: 20%
Italian speaking: 4%
Romasch speaking: 1%

They share power equitably at all levels of their Federal Government, including judiciary, armed forces, all kinds of other scientific, economic as well as cultural institutions, including even their sports federations without any ifs and buts like creamy layer and so forth!

Way back in 1830s, they decided to share power equitably, lest they will be bickering and squabbling among themselves and unable to face the enemies from outside their border. To this day they are guided by their beautiful concept of equitable power sharing! It has not punctured their efficiency!!

We need to study and learn from their system!

Dr. Satinath Choudhary used to teach Computer Science at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the USA. Now a days I spend most of my time as an activist in Delhi. He can be reached at satichou2@yahoo.com

An earlier article by Satinath Choudhary, “The Only Solution To
Reservation Imbroglio” can be accessed at countercurrents.org site.

22 April, 2008

Police interrupt Long March seeking justice for STF victims

Not surprisingly, the Long March from Satyamangalam to Chennai seeking justice for victims of Special Task Force atrocities has not attracted much attention.

From a communication sent by Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director, People’s Watch, I gather that the police intervened to prevent the march soon after it began on April 20. They arrested the protesters but released them by evening.

Tiphagne writes:
On the evening of the 20th at 5.45 p.m., the police released the mass protesters. Immediately after release, the people moved to Anthiyur to participate in a public meeting. The public meeting was a very successful forum with an audience of over 1000 people. Pa Pa Mohan, a senior advocate and civil rights activist, explained in detail the entire struggle that has been taken forward for the past twelve years now.

Chinnaponnu, one of the marchers, emotionally shared how her husband was taken forcibly by the Special Task Force and was killed mercilessly and how she was kept in illegal custody for over a year and was raped in police custody. After experiencing untold misery and humiliation she married again just to prevent social ridicule. Her testimony was a powerful voice reflecting the experience of several other victims.
Henri Tiphagne, in his speech, said, “This protest march is not against the Government of Tamil Nadu but only to ensure justice for the victims. Paying compensation for a minor section of the victims as per the directions of the National Human Rights Commission does not amount to justice. This Long March is only to ensure that all those affected are ensured the justice they deserve. We demand that goodwill prevails and that permission for this Long March for Justice be granted permission”.

It was decided by the Joint Committee (comprising of political parties such as Communist Party of India (CPI), Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Periyar Dravida Kalazhagam, Tamilnadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK) and social movements and human rights organizations People’s Watch, Pazhangudin Makkal Sangam, SOCO Trust, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), SICHREM) that we will continue the Long March everyday and will court arrest in a peaceful manner.

Day 2

The day started with media reports of a clarification given by the Government of Tamil Nadu regarding the issue. The government has said that compensation has already been paid to the victims and it has done its duty.

In the early morning itself, the local police informed the team that they had been given instructions to arrest the team if they started the march. It was planned that the team will court arrest en masse but at the same time, lobbying efforts will take place to ensure that this issue is raised in the Assembly by several political parties to ensure that the wheels of justice are set in motion.

At 9.30 a.m. the protestors were stopped by the police who announced that they were going to arrest them. When asked for the grounds of arrest, the policemen floundered for some time and later came up with a document that was vague and went on to arrest the marchers. Among the 115 arrested, 38 are women and one is a child. The arrested have been lodged in Soudeeswari Amman Wedding Hall in Anthiyur.

21 April, 2008

NAPM reports fresh incidents from Nandigram: Is gang-rape now part of CPI (M) line?

It is a disturbing thought, but the time has come to ask if the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is using the feudal lords’ practice of employing gang-rape as a means of suppressing foes.

Several instances of rape were reported from Nandigram during the past year. In a News Update/Action Alert, the National Alliance of People’s Movement yesterday provided information on some fresh incidents, including gang-rape.

The following is the text of the NAPM communication:

The shocking news from Nandigram, where the battle is still on, is of the gang-rape of Radharani Ari from the village of Gokulnagar and the attack of three other women, all of whom are hospitalized at the Nandigram Public Hospital. The men are said to be missing.

In a fresh attack around midnight and beyond April 18th, known CPI (M) members and Harmad Vahini, the Party's armed force, from Khejuri, who are like goons, attacked the house of Radha Rani and Pratap Ari, threw Pratap Ari in the tank nearby and gang-raped Radha Rani Ari for the second time, in her own house.

Radharani Ari is one of the women at the forefront of the struggle. Coming from a Dalit landless family, supported by Pratap Ari, her husband, Radharani was always protesting against the SEZ chemical hub project and giving away the land, houses, nature, and culture of Nandigram. Her heart and soul are in it and she is one of the most articulate and courageous women and had even toured the places of struggle in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra, with us in Nandigram-Narmada- Gorai Jatha.

Narmada Sheet has also been a very committed and outspoken agitator from Sonachura. Other women attacked include Mona Pramanik, and a few men were also
missing when the news reached us early yesterday morning. Till this time, Radha Rani, Pratap, Ari and Narmada Sheet and some others are in the Nandigram Hospital and a few in Tamluk. At least 20 houses have been attacked since yesterday and 100 members of the families, along with houses, much destroyed and belongings looted, have become homeless, left to be supported by the BUPC Committee. These atrocious incidents occurred in Gokul Nagar, Sonachura and Gadhchakrabedia, under the leadership of Nabakumar Samanta and other CPM active cadres and leaders from Garu Pada, Gokul Nagar, some of whom came from Kejuri.

Reportedly, there were also blasts in some houses, including in the house of one Kokhon Sheet, who was just released, after months-long judicial custody.

Nandigram continues to be one of the worst blots on the face of Indian democracy. These atrocities continue to happen and recur in Nandigram with the active involvement of the local CPI(M) cadres and leaders and tacit approval and blessings of the party leadership at various levels. With most of the victims for earlier incidents of violence, not even having received just compensation for atrocities perpetrated against them, and in fact false cases foisted against the victims of violence, as against the perpetrators, these fresh blows in their already scarred lives is nothing short of a death blow to the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the valiant residents of Nandigram.

Condemning the continuing violence in Nandigram in the strongest possible terms, we immediately demand the following:

1. All the accused must be immediately identified, charged and arrested for gang-rape, grievous hurt, intimidation, assault, illegal confinement and wrongful detention and other relevant penal provisions.

2. The National Human Rights Commission must take immediate cognizance of the violations in Nandigram and recommend stringent penal action against all those involved, including instituting an inquiry into the involvement of the CPI(M) leadership and cadres in the planning/abetment/execution of the crimes committed.

3. The National Commission for Women must immediately constitute a fact-finding delegation that must visit Nandigram and submit its Report to the NHRC and also direct immediate payment of compensation to all the women raped and all others injured.

4. Free legal, medical, psycho-social and other aid and support must be provided to the women and all victims of state and party violence in Nandigram.

5. Compensation to all the affected and attacked, with houses destroyed and rapes/molestation faced, must be paid immediately as per the High Court orders.

Debjeet Shrikant, Medha Patkar
NAPM,
West Bengal.


Annexure

Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee – Nandigram
(B.U.P.C)
Nandigram :: Purba Midnapur :: West Bengal

Ref No ............
Date: 19-04-2008

List of the persons injured by CPI(M) goons

Sl. No. Name Village Age
6.Radharani Ari (raped) Gokulnagar 50
7.Mani Pramanik Gokulnagar 35
8.Chabirani Pamanik Gokulnagar 50
9.Pratap Ari Gokulnagar 55
10.Nandu Mandal Gokulnagar 30
11.Phanindranath Mandal Gokulnagar 73
12.Sudarshan Pramanik Gokulnagar 37
13.Gopal Ari Gokulnagar 22
14.Subhendu Ari Gokulnagar 20
15.Sheik Golam Ahmed Nagekirachar 46
16.Sheik Nazrul Islam 7th Part,Jalpai 45
17.Sheik Mafijul Islam 7th Part,Jalpai 58
18.Hafeja Bibi 7th Part, Jalpai 28
19. Najma Bibi 7th Part, Jalpai 30
20.Sheik Rejaul 7th Part,Jalpai 28
21.Sheik Abdul Rashid 7th Part,Jalpai 45.

20 April, 2008

Kolkata theatre group faces ostracism for protesting against Nandigram outrage

The following is a communication which members of the well known theatre group Swapnasandhani have sent to fellow theatre workers:

We are writing this to you with grave concern.

You might all be aware of the grisly incident that took place in Nandigram (West Bengal) on 14th March 2007. This incident sparked off a major protest throughout West Bengal. In Kolkata, the common citizen finally woke up and realized that it was time they made their voices heard. Quite expectedly, the government greeted these voices with scorn, ridicule and a lot of resentment. The protests, however, have not died down. It is still continuing in various forms – through individuals, non-political civil bodies, etc.

We, as conscious theatre workers, did not remain silent either. In fact, the resignation of 14 members (theatre practitioners) from the Paschim Banga Natya Akademi was one of the first visible marks of
protest that followed the horrific incident at Nandigram.

More than a year has passed since. Over this period of time we have been noticing a silent campaign being run by the ruling party and its aide in branding the so-called different voices as reactionary forces with allegations ranging from being pro-opposition to pro-Maoists. Swapnasandhani, like many other groups/individual performers, has not been able to avoid such branding. However, being a theatre group we believe it is our responsibility to react to the surroundings and thus have continued doing both – pursue our theatre as well as continue to protest.

It might be worth mentioning that over the last one year, we have noticed a remarkable decline in the number of invited performances in our calendar. To put it simply – people/organizations have stopped
inviting us to perform for them. We would like to reinstate that we are not the lone sufferers. Many other groups are facing the same.

Lack of invited performances means:
• Lack of revenues coming into the group
• Lack of opportunity to perform outside one's periphery
• Lack of opportunity to perform in the outskirts of Kolkata, where we believe the audience is at times more mature than in Kolkata

So, this is one way of crippling us both financially and aesthetically.

At this point we would like to share with you in a chronological way a very recent experience of ours.

March 3: We were approached by the festival committee of Balipur Melatala High School to perform a play of our choice at the 50th Birth Anniversary Celebration of the school. We proposed to perform the play DAKGHAR (Post Office by Rabindranath Tagore). However, the representatives of the festival committee requested us to think about some other play since our interpretation of DAKGHAR contained comments on the contemporary political scenario. We obliged and proposed to perform the play BONKUBABUR BONDHU (based on a short story by Satyajit Ray). They instantly agreed and fixed up the show to be held on 17th of April 2008.

March 7: The secretary of the festival committee visited our group to formally book the show by giving us a formal invitation letter and an advance of Rs. 3000.

March 10: We received a call from a teacher of the school informing us that the show stands cancelled. On pressing him to divulge the reason, he referred us to talk to the headmaster. So we did, but got no proper answer. Then we spoke with the secretary of the festival committee (who had come to pay us the advance). He categorically stated that it was due to sheer political pressure being put by the local CPI(M) (namely, the standing MLA of the locality, Sri Banshibadan Moitra) network that they were having to cancel the show. He also informed us that our performances could not be held before the Panchayat elections were over. Later we also received a call from another senior government official from the locality who expressed deep regret at being forced to cancel the show. Helpless as they were, they refused to give us anything on paper citing the reason behind cancellation of the show, neither did they respond to our repeated request to take back the advance they had paid us.

The show eventually did not happen.

We feel it is necessary for us to communicate our (us and all other groups facing the same) experience to the theatre fraternity and concerned citizens. During that phase (between the 10th and the 17th of April) we were advised by quite a few people to approach the CPI(M) leadership based in Kolkata to intervene on the matter and ensure successful hosting of the show. Something that two other theatre
groups based in Kolkata had done recently when their shows were called off in North Bengal. However, we felt not to follow in their footsteps for the following reasons:
• Did the leadership not pay enough attention to these matters to ensure they do not happen again?
• Why can we not go and perform our play as part of a school celebration on our own?
• Is seeking favour from the so-called elite leadership of the ruling party so necessary for ensuring a free and safe performance barely a hundred kilometres away from Kolkata?
• By doing so, will we not endorse a dangerous trend?

We do not claim to have all the answers. We are finding them and would like you to join us with your reactions, statements, advice and responses whatever they are.

Regards,
Team Swapnasandhani

About Swapnasandhani: The theatre troupe Swapnasandhani was originally founded by the actress Chitra Sen and is now looked after by her son, the actor-director Koushik Sen. Like most of us seeking an alternative way to express ourselves, Swapnasandhani, too, is looking for alternative theatre. The troupe has travelled extensively around the country and abroad and is undoubtedly the best among the city’s younger group theatres.
(from Artconcerns.com)

19 April, 2008

Long March in support of victims of violence perpetrated during hunt for Veerappan

Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director, People’s Watch, writes:

I am addressing this letter as the member of the Campaign for Relief and Rehabilitation of Victims of the STF* violence in the States of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in India. These victims are victims of gross violence of torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, degrading punishment, disappearances, extra judicial killings, custodial rapes, arbitrary detention and so on. Their cases are pathetic, the note that is enclosed will speak that people have undergone such torture. A few sample cases are also enclosed.

This campaign is now commencing a long march of about hundred victims supported by different political parties in Tamil Nadu to demand justice – justice from the Government, justice from National Human Rights Commission and justice from civil society. These are cases of one or two or ten or hundred victims. These are the cases of over thousand victims, men and women, who have suffered and are struggling to re-live their lives while their perpetrators are parading on the corridors of the poor with their awards, out of turn promotions, crores worth of properties made over to them, with their hands soaked in blood that over hundreds of innocent men and women have shed. The International Human Rights Community has so far been not an active participant of these issues and while the march goes on from Sathyamangalam to Chennai from 20th to the 30th of April, 2008 People's Watch would desire that your organisation speaks, writes, and distributes widely the information on the march as well as demands of the march. We do hope that justice will prevail to these hundreds of victims with your efforts of building solidarity.

You will be therefore receiving regular information from here on the long march which we hope you will disseminate widely in your networks. We do hope you will be willing to undertake urgent appeals on this matter addressed to the State Government of Tamil Nadu, State Government of Karnataka , Government of India, a variety of other agencies including the National Human Rights Commission of India, State Human Rights Commission of Tamil Nadu, State Human Rights Commission of Karnataka – all to make the noise and put pressure to fight against impunity that accompanying these horrendous violations that have taken place.

Many of these victims and their family members have died. But I do think that those who are living are living only with the hope that International voices against torture and impunity will be on their side and that ultimately they will win. I am sure you will want to be on their side. Therefore please support the long march. Please support our demands, please support our cause, please disseminate this information for the next few days and focus on putting pressure from a variety of sources on the Government that we have indicated.

Thanks and regards,

Henri Tiphagne

Documents: Jus Sadasiva report.zip (325KB), 06. STF_article.pdf (139KB), 01. Chronology of events from 1993 - 2008.doc (84KB), 03. STF LIST OF DOC.doc (32KB), Jus Sadasiva reportDeposition fo witnesses.zip (325KB), 04. STF Documents.zip (1776KB), STF - Appeal for donations to support the long march.htm (33KB)

*STF refers to special task force set up jointly by the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka police to hunt for forest brigand Veerappan. He was shot dead on October 18, 2004.

17 April, 2008

Muneer A. Malik awarded 2008 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights


The May 18 Memorial Foundation in Gwangju, Korea, has proclaimed Mr. Muneer A. Malik, former President of the Pakistan Supreme Court Association, as the winner for the 2008 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.

Muneer A. Malik, as President of the Bar Association, had played an enormous role in the struggle of the lawyers, judges and the rest of the citizens of Pakistan for the independence of the judiciary. He was able to mobilize lawyers and the people to fight the repression imposed by President Musharraf when he declared an emergency and ousted several chief justices and judges.

In the 1980’s, Malik had been in the forefront of the struggle against the military rule of then President Zia Ul Haq.

Malik was recipient of the 2006 Dorab Patel Award given by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

On May 18, 2008 the award will be conferred to Malik on a ceremony to commemorate the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising. The prize award includes a gold medal, a certificate of achievement and US $ 50,000.00.
The Gwangju Prize for Human Rights is an award given to individuals, groups or institutions in Korea and abroad that have contributed in promoting and advancing human rights, democracy and peace in their work. The award is given by the Gwangju people in the spirit of solidarity and gratitude from those whom they have received help in their struggle for democratization and search for truth.

The Gwangju Prize is administered by The May 18 Memorial Foundation, a non-profit organization established on August 30, 1994. It was organized by surviving victims of the 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising, the victims' families, and the citizens of Gwangju. The Foundation aims to commemorate and continue the spirit of struggle and solidarity of the May 18 Uprising, contribute to the peaceful reunification of Korea, and work towards peace and human rights throughout the world. Since its establishment, the Foundation has carried out numerous projects in varying fields, including organizing memorial events, establishing scholarships, fostering research, disseminating public information, publishing relevant materials, dispensing charity and welfare benefits, building international solidarity, and awarding the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights.”
The above information was provided by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

16 April, 2008

Hillary’s Achilles' heel is her gender

Far more Americans have a bigger problem voting for a woman for president than voting for an African American, says New America Media contributor Earl Ofari Hutchinson.

See NAM despatch

15 April, 2008

Times of India launches Chennai edition


The Times of India has reached Chennai to take on The Hindu after worsting market leaders in New Delhi and Bangalore in bitter battles in which it demonstrated its readiness to bend the rules of the game.

It had made a big impact outside the home turf of Mumbai in the last few years using the twin strategy of trivializing news and cutting the cover price.

It had been preparing for the Chennai entry for several years. “With a circulation of 3.5 million, we are today the world's largest English newspaper across formats, sizes and genres,” it declared in the Chennai edition, which was launched on April 14. “And yet, there has been this strange void. Call it a Chennai-shaped hole.

“We have long dreamed of having our masthead in the historic southern city of Chennai, where there is such a premium placed on the written word. In many ways, it was our final frontier - at least within India.”

The paper’s website featured the front page of the print edition (reproduced here) , and carried several letters from readers.

T.M.Premkumar, Chennai , wrote: “Dear Sir, We warmly welcome (you) to the City of charms and hospitality. Of late there has been a vacant slot for an unbiased newspaper. Every other newspaper here has developed a shade of political colour. I believe that every newspaper should present NEWS for its readers, and exhibit its VIEWS in its editorials. When the NEWS is coated with political HUES and VIEWS, it becomes unpalatable. I only pray and hope that the TIMES OF INDIA does not change its colours, and should concentrate on NEWS alone.

S. Bhaargavan of Coimbatore enquired when he could get the paper in his city.

The very first issue made a conscious attempt to woo the city’s large Malayalee community. In a report, headlined “Far from home, yet in touch with roots”, the paper took note of Vishu celebrations by those who did not get back home to Kerala.

14 April, 2008

Save the Turtle: an appeal from Greenpeace

All it takes is a mouse to save the turtle.
Click here to start the rescue.

Dear Friend,

India is a beautiful land with a wonderful diversity of wildlife. Our seas in particular are home to beautiful and rare species. Among them, the endangered Olive Ridley Sea Turtles visit India's East Coast every year to mate and lay eggs, and six weeks later their newborn babies make their way back into the sea. Orissa is one of the last places left on the planet where these turtles arrive after swimming thousands of miles, some from places as far away as the Philippines.

The species is fragile, it needs protection, it has nowhere else to turn to. If it dies, it takes an entire fragile ecosystem along with it.

Over the last decade, the beaches of Orissa have been turned into mass graveyards for turtles, with over 100,000 turtles being washed ashore dead. While a majority of turtle deaths are caused by illegal trawling, destructive mega-projects such as large commercial ports also threaten the turtles and their habitat.

Greenpeace has been campaigning to save the Olive Ridley Turtles of Orissa from these threats. Working along with local groups and taking direct action, we have brought the issue to the attention of the governments and companies involved, asking that they take action to safeguard the species for your generation as well as future ones.

It's the Tatas. They're about to build a huge port in Dhamra, close to the turtles' sensitive breeding area, even though alternative sites exist.Greenpeace believes they can be stopped.

The great thing about the Tatas, you see, is that they listen to their customers (that's you) because you make them who they are. That's why we're not asking you to boycott them, we're asking you to make them better.

Mr. Ratan Tata has already promised that he won't build the port if there's any evidence of turtles in the area. Greenpeace has given him that proof, but he won't listen to us. Maybe he'll listen to you. And turn the Tatas into the caring and nurturing corporate family that they profess to be.

Maybe he'll listen to you. And turn the Tatas into the caring and nurturing corporate family that they profess to be.

To make sure Ratan hears you loud and clear, simply click here to send him an email.

On behalf of the planet's last Olive Ridley Turtles,

Ashish Fernandes
Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace India

PS: You can help spread the word by forwarding this message to your friends

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organisation that uses non-violent creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems to force solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future. We promote open, informed debate about society's environmental choices. We use research, lobbying, and quiet diplomacy to pursue our goals, as well as high-profile, peaceful protest to raise the level and quality of public debate. And we believe that the struggle to preserve the future of our planet is not about us. It's about you.

The Hindu responds to criticism of biased coverage of Tibet developments

K. Narayanan, Readers’ Editor of The Hindu, after examining readers’ complaints, has made a professional assessment of the newspaper’s coverage of Tibet developments in his fortnightly column “Online and Off Line”, published today. He writes:

I compared the reporting of the events in other Indian newspapers (English) and also The Guardian and the New York Times with that in The Hindu from March 15 to 19 and could not but note the wide gap which led to the readers’ protests. (The angles given to the stories and their display are not to be questioned; that is editorial privilege). Overall, these points struck me as noteworthy:

1. Reliance on Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency. Its reports should have been balanced by inputs from other news agencies, but their use was scanty and selective. No doubt they too would have had their angles and biases but that would have been another side of the picture. Why was The Guardian, otherwise used extensively, ignored (except for an eyewitness account which was not very informative)?

2. The Hindu’s perceptive correspondent in Beijing, Pallavi Aiyar, made no contribution, except to report Prime Minister Wen’s press conference.

3. The statements of the Chinese Prime Minister and the Chinese envoy in Delhi were fully reported. The Dalai Lama’s were truncated versions. Many readers noted that his remark on “cultural genocide” was edited out.

4. The most surprising feature was the total absence of Tibet in the “Letters to the Editor column” — in which otherwise comments appear even as events are unfolding and continue for days. A few letters appeared after an article and an editorial were published and ceased abruptly.


The Readers’ Editor has also included in his column the response of the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief N. Ram to the readers’ comments and to his observations on them. Here are excerpts from it:

We have an arrangement with Xinhua. We have also used western agencies and PTI. The violence reported and confirmed editorially was by Tibetan discontents, some hundreds of them. The Chinese authorities seemed unprepared at first but moved to stop the savagery in Lhasa and violence in some Tibetan areas. The riots were easily overcome. The violence in Lhasa, by every account, was by protestors, who included monks. No specific incident of violence by the police or paramilitary forces has been reported by any credible news source or eyewitnesses.

The comments in the column fail to look critically at the abundant editorialising in the guise of news. If the content in The Guardian, The New York Times, and Western news agencies is analysed, the problems of professional news reporting on the Tibet developments can be better appreciated. They were full of editorial judgments and loaded phrases and were often inaccurate (such as death toll). Their websites published wrong photographs or photographs with wrong captions. The Dalai Lama’s statements were edited because he is a separatist and tended to justify the savage and murderous riots in Lhasa. Not many letters were received other than what we published.

Nobody asked Pallavi Aiyar not to report in The Hindu on Tibet. She has been on leave during the relevant period.


The Readers’ Editor concludes the column with the following quotation from the editorial The Hindu wrote on August 27, 2003 (not August 23, 2003, as stated in the column):

The only answer to all this can be journalism of high quality, rooted in well-defined principles, clear-sighted, ethically and professionally sound, determined to put editorial values first, responsive to the needs of readers and the market within clearly worked out journalistic parameters .…

The Editor-in-Chief’s explanation that some observations of the Dalai Lama were suppressed because he is a separatist and tended to justify the Lhasa riots does not go well with his proclaimed determination to put editorial values first. He says nobody asked Pallavi Aiyar not to report on Tibet. He sidesteps some relevant questions: Did the newspaper ask the correspondent to report on Tibet? Would she have had access to sources other than the Communist Party-controlled Xinhua news agency if she were asked to report?

While The Hindu’s Tibet coverage fell short of its own illustrious traditions, let us salute the newspaper, the Editor-in-Chief and the Readers’ Editor for the transparent manner in which they deal with readers’ complaints on such matters.

12 April, 2008

Gopal Raju’s many battles

Those who knew Gopal Raju will find it hard to believe that he is no more. He always conveyed the impression that he will be around forever. “Look, I’m 60 and I’m not thinking of retiring,” he told me when I mentioned my plan to retire in three years’ time and return home from Bangalore. “I am an Indian, Gopal,” I quipped, “you are an American.” That was 20 years ago.

Raju reached the United States as a young man and made it his home. Like other immigrants, he carried a bit of India with him but he spanned the Indo-American socio-cultural divide in a way few others did. He was a soldier who could not hang up his boots because there was always a battle to fight. He ventured into fields where others feared to tread. No one expected his idea of an Indian vegetarian restaurant in New York to work but he persevered and made it a success. He later moved into the travel business and made it a greater success. Still later he marched into the media, the last battlefield where he was to score a string of even greater successes.

All of Gopal Raju’s battles furthered the interests of fellow Indians. When he reached the American shores, Indian presence in the country was limited to a small band of farmers on the west coast and students scattered in a few campuses. As the community grew in size and its composition changed, he recognized the immense potential of the amorphous body of upwardly mobile professionals, and fought to weld them into a vibrant entity capable of playing its due role in the country’s polity.

Raju had been in the US for two decades when he launched India Abroad, which was to propel him and the community forward. Its phenomenal success can be traced to the unique character that he imparted to it. Breaking away from the traditional pattern of Indian publications, he pioneered a new style that combined Indian content with American form. He hired American professionals to give finishing touches to the Indian output and thereby give it the desired American form. It was a strategic move which helped the journal to extend its influence beyond the Indian community to official and academic circles. After he sold India Abroad, his team transformed News India Times using the same strategy.

To meet the needs of the large Gujarati community in the US, he published the weekly Gujarat Times and to cater to the requirements of the new generation of Indian Americans he launched Desi Talk. Early in his career as publisher, he started an Asian journal. It did not succeed because its time had not come.

Two institutions which he created are today making significant contributions in India and the US. Since 1975, the Indian American Foundation, which he promoted, has been raising substantial sums by way of donations each year to assist projects in India. The Indian American Center for Political Awareness, which he set up in 1994, has provided invaluable service by provided young Indians opportunities to play their part in political life at different levels through Congressional internships and local leadership development programs. Generations of Indian Americans will remember him with gratitude for welding them into a political community. Hopefully, he will be around for a long time, if not forever, through the institutions he has left behind.-- News India-Times, New York, April 25, 2008

11 April, 2008

Gopal Raju is no more


Gopal Raju, Editor and Publisher of News-India Times, died in New York on Thursday.
He was 80.

Raju was the Founder-Editor of India Abroad and the India Abroad News Service, predecessor of Indo-Asian News Service.

IANS report:
New York, April 10 (IANS) Gopal Raju, the pioneer of ethnic Indian media in the United States, and founder of the well known India Abroad newspaper as well as IANS, died here early Thursday after a brief illness. He was 80.
A bachelor, Raju died of complications arising from a sudden bout of jaundice.
The soft-spoken shy publisher, who became an institution in the South Asian community in the US, was conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman for his contributions to India and its diasporas by then president A.P.J.Abdul Kalam in 2007.
Till his death, he was editor and publisher of the New York-based News-India Times, Desi Talk and Gujarat Times.
The Bangalore-born Raju was also the founder of the Indian American Centre for Political Awareness (IACPA), a well-known non-profit organisation in Washington that sought to empower Indian Americans, especially the younger generation, and helped create a distinct Indian voice on Capitol Hill.

A SAJA FORUM message says: We have received the following update from VEENA MERCHANT, long-time colleague and friend:

There has been an outpouring of grief and heartfelt words of sympathy at the passing away of Gopal Raju. We are deeply touched by these sentiments and are overwhelmed by the kind of feelings that he generated, not just in the community but all those who came into contact with him. A lot of people wanted to send flowers for his funeral. In keeping with Mr. Raju's wishes of keeping his funeral purely private and minimalistic, we request mourners to, instead, send a contribution in the name of "Indian American Foundation" - the money
will be utilized to fund the causes that Mr Raju held dear.
Indian American Foundation
43 W. 24th St Suite 8b
New York, NY 10010

Significance of SC verdict on reservation in institutions of higher learning

by Indira Jaising

The judgment of the Supreme Court upholding the Constitutional validity of the Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admissions) Act 2006, was delivered today by a bench of five judges, unanimously upholding the validity of the Act.

This means that the government will now be able to reserve 27 per cent of seats for candidates from 'Other Backward Classes' in IITs and IIMs (and other central educational institutions).

The judgment is a resounding vindication of our Constitutional values and is rooted in the history of the struggle for Independence and the major concern of our Constitution for the abolition of discrimination based on caste, which characterised our society.

What was at stake was future directions in a country beset with caste prejudice and social stratification. The judgment gives a clear signal that the future lies in inclusive growth, inclusion of SC/ST and backward classes in the halls of higher learning.

What is more important, it rejects a facile notion of 'equality' as requiring equal treatment of those unequally situated. Rather, it is based on a notion of equality that recognises the vast inequality that exists in Indian society, an equality of status and opportunity in all fields of life.

This interpretation of 'equality' holds great potential for social change in the matter of distribution of national resources, based on need and historical disadvantages, rather than on market forces. It also has important implications for women who have been demanding reservations in Parliament, in state legislatures and will put to rest any argument that any such reservations will result in inequality of
results.

Considering the law was unique, in that it actually increases capacity in these institutions, by increasing the number of seats, one wonders, what was behind the objection to the law. The forward classes stood to lose no seats, something that is commonly objected to.

This was a law that created an additional 27 per cent seats to be filled in by the backward classes. It actually proposed the building of a new capacity in the institutions to be made available to OBC candidates. Clearly therefore, the petitioners were demanding that this newly built capacity should also go to the open general capacity.

Though dressed in Constitutional rhetoric and political cynicism, the bottom line was a fight over national resources and how they should be distributed. It was a battle to defend class and privilege closing the doors to those other excluded, to enter the realm of higher education.

Those who opposed the law argued that what was important was basic and primary education and not higher education! What after all, is basic education meant for, if not to enable a person to aspire to the highest attainable standard of education, employment and enterprise? Or were they perhaps suggesting that education for them must be confined to A B C -- enough to enable a SC/ST and OBC candidate to be a peon in a government office, or a clerk, or worse a domestic?

Crocodile tears were shed in court for children on the streets and on child labour, suggesting basic education as the solution to the problem. The other major argument was that to take caste into consideration as a factor to determine social backwardness was unconstitutional, since the mandate of the Constitution was to abolish caste.

The argument was convenient to say the least and legally inaccurate. What the Constitution attempts to abolish is the discrimination and disadvantage attached to caste, not caste. Caste cannot be abolished with a magic wand or with a Constitutional mantra. What it need is strategies to benefit excluded cases including the provision of higher education.

The combined effect of these arguments was to project their petitioners as progressive people, who believe in the need for primarily education for all and in the abolition of caste.

Fortunately, the court was able to see through the smoke screen, and a smokescreen there clearly was. All the time, one got the impression that the real contesting parties were not present before the court. Perhaps one got a clue from the fact that the 93rd Amendment to the Constitution which enabled this law, also enables the making of reservations in the private sector.

And judging from the arguments that were addressed, I got the impression that a surrogate battle was being fought by foreign universities and private educational institutions, all of whom are entering in to the field of education in India in a big way. Perhaps they were the real objectors to the law, though absent from the court.

The Supreme Court wisely avoided answering the question whether reservations can be made in private institutions, stating that the question will be decided only as and when a law is made making reservations in private institutions. This means, the issue is left open for an appropriate day.

In this stunning decision of the Supreme Court of India, one recognises the power of a Constitutional Court. The judgment is a vision statement, a road map for development, a road map for inclusive growth. It is time for us to acknowledge frankly that the so- called benefits of globalization and privatization have not reached the lower levels of society, but remained in the privileged hands of a few, for whom the world begins and ends with fashion, Bollywood and cricket.

At a time when prestigious foreign universities are looking to set up shop in India, it is only natural that they need to know where they stand on the reservation issue as it will impact deeply on their finances. Education will become more out of reach than it is already for the backward classes. The Supreme Court judgment corrects an existing imbalance in this regard.

What requires special mention is arguments advanced by the team working for the government. Solicitor General Ghulam Vahanvati argued that we need to acknowledge that equality in the Article is not about treating likes alike, but about compensating the backward to ensure equitable distribution of scarce resources.

Gopal Subramanium placed the debate in historical context and pointed out that American judgments freely thrown about in court by the petitioners, could not be relied upon. The Indian Constitution was based on an understanding of the direction of social change desired by the Constitution makers.

K. Parasaran, former attorney general for the Union of India, returned the Preamble to its rightful place, emphasising the Constitutional goal of equality of social status.

Appearing for one of the States, Andhra Pradesh, I pointed out that under the federal structure that the States have identified backward classes and taken special measures for their advancement for more than a century.

In support of the Constitutional challenge, all that was argued is that the law was a measure in 'vote back' politics. This is cynicism carried to its extreme. It is unfortunate that we have reached a stage in political debate which is bipartisan and cynical. This time, all political parties had supported the passage of the law in Parliament.

The cynicism came from the counsel in court, mouthing what one would expect to hear from politicians. Very few political parities had the courage of their conviction to defend the law in court, one of them being the Rashtriya Janata Dal through Ram Jethmalani.

The petitions, however, invited the court to hold that the law was a measure of 'vote catching' and the unanimity over its passing was sought to be projected as an exercise in self interest rather than in the interest of the OBC. It is to invite court to decide on prejudice, not on Constitutional vision. Fortunately that view did not prevail.

It is true that the judgment calls upon the government to exclude the 'creamy layer.' This seems to be in line with the Mandal judgment, which also mandated the exclusion of the creamy layer in employment. It was argued for the Union of India, that in order to avail of the benefits of higher education, one needs to be in a stable economic position to arrive at the level or competing for those exams. To exclude them would be to deny the class as a whole, the benefit of those who could become leaders and peer group motivators.

However, that was not to be. Given the exclusion, there is a case for upward revision of the income limit for deciding backwardness, given the passage of time and inflation. The exclusion of children of former and sitting MPs and MLAs seems to be motivated by the assumption that they are already at a high level of achievement. While this may be true of those who inherit their MP status from parents, it is not necessarily true of others.

I recently represented Haribhau Radhord, MP, the only member Parliament from the Nomadic and Denotified tribes, who has been fighting a lonely battle for including these categories for reservations in employment.

It is too much to expect that the privileged will give up their fight so easily, but what the judgment does is give legitimacy to the struggle for justice of the OBC, a legitimacy which was denied to them in the smoke screen of 'vote bank politics' and political bargaining between the leaders of these communities.

Many a battle between the Health Minister and the Director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences has its origins in the known opposition of students and faculty of AIIMS to reservations. Who can forget those images of striking doctors supporting the director and opposing reservations?

During the arguments, I was being told, "Do you know, so and so is the head of medicine in the hospital? He is SC. No one goes to him." The suggestion was that the SC doctors are not good at their work. For me, it was evidence of the deep-rooted caste bias against the best and most qualified of the SC and ST.

We need to celebrate that fact that Indian society is on the march in the direction of social change and upward mobility for the dispossessed, despite the well funded, well disguised and well argued case of the forward class doctors of AIIMS.

The court has been able to separate the grain from the chaff and look at the reality of the situation. The judgment will change the lives of many formally excluded sections from the halls of higher learning and
privilege.

Advisedly, the court did not go into the question whether reservations can be mandated in private colleges. However, it is an idea whose time has arrived, a law waiting to be passed, a constitutional challenge waiting to happen. I would like to be there then to defend the law, as I was this time round.

Indira Jaising is a well-known Supreme Court lawyer. This article by her has been distributed by the Rights Support Movement

10 April, 2008

Arrest of journalist in Uttarakhand: daughter's revelation

The Uttarakhand government is using Maoist threat as a ploy to demand crores of rupees from the Centre, says Shikha Rahi, daughter of Prashant Rahi, arrested journalist and social activist.

Police claim that Prashant Rahi is zonal commander of the CPI (Maoist).

In an article, written for Combat Law, Shikha Rahi narrates the story of her father’s arrest, apparently to boost the claim of extremist threat.

See “A daughter’s plea” by Shikha Rahi, distributed by countercurrents.org

09 April, 2008

Dr. Binayak Sen in solitary confinement, says wife

Ilina Sen, wife of Dr. Binayak Sen, well-known pediatrician and activist, who is facing criminal charges in Chhatisgarh for his support to human rights causes, says in a message:

dear friends,

yes, it is true. binayak has been in solitary confinement for over two weeks now. this is illegal, and we are going to challenge this in court. our last meeting was heavy, since we did not have a direct meeting and only spoke to each other across two layers of steel mesh.


Here is some background information:

The imprisonment of a person in total isolation is not acceptable under international human rights standards.

The Indian Penal Code has two sections dealing with solitary confinement. They read as follows:

Section 73. Solitary confinement

Whenever any person is convicted of an offence for which under this Code the Court has power to sentence him to rigorous imprisonment, the court may, by its sentence, order that the offender shall be kept in solitary confinement for any portion or portions of the imprisonment to which he is sentenced, not exceeding three months in the whole, according to the following scale, that is to say ---

A time not exceeding one month if the term of imprisonment shall not exceed six months:

A time not exceeding two months if the term of imprisonment shall exceed six months and [shall not exceed one] year:

A time not exceeding three months if the term of imprisonment shall exceed one year.

Section 74. Limit of solitary confinement

In executing a sentence of solitary confinement, such confinement shall in no case exceed fourteen days at a time, with intervals between the periods of solitary confinement of not less duration than such periods: and when the imprisonment awarded shall exceed three months, the solitary confinement shall not exceed seven days in any one month of the whole imprisonment awarded, with intervals between the periods of solitary confinement of not less duration than such periods.

It is evident from the above that even convicted persons are protected by law from such cruel and unusual punishment. Binayak has not even been tried! This unlawful abuse could be the straw that breaks his fragile mental and physical health.

How can we help protect Binayak's human rights?

His wife asks that we send faxes to the Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh and the Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh. We could express our outrage at the unfair, unlawful and inhuman treatment meted out to him.

Here are the relevant names and fax numbers:

Dr. Raman Singh,
Chief Minister,
Chhattisgarh.

fax: +91 7712 221306 (07712 221306 from within India)

Hon'ble Shri Justice Rajeev Gupta,
Chief Justice, Chhattisgarh High Court

fax: +91 7752 226030 (07752 226030 from within India)

You may also write to Dr. Binayak Sen at the following address:
Dr. Binayak Sen,
Raipur central Jail,
Raipur;
Chhattisgarh - 492001

Previous post on Dr. Binayak Sen:
Binayak Sen’s trial set to begin on April 30

Jharkhand activist Jiten Marandi arrested

Jiten Marandi, a leading cultural activist of Jharkhand and Secretary of the New Delhi-based Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CRPP), was arrested at Ranchi on Saturday.

The CRPP, in a statement, demanded that he be released immediately and unconditionally.

The following is the text of the statement, issued on Sunday:

The Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners condemns the arrest and detention of Jiten Marandi at Ratu road, Ranchi, yesterday (05/04/08) around 4.45 pm by the Intelligence Bureau. As per the limited information from the civil rights circles in Ranchi and other places, he was initially kept in the Sukhdev Nagar police station throughout the night and has been tortured by the police. Of late the Intelligence Bureau has admitted having arrested him while refusing to disclose where he has been confined.

The arrest was done without any proper warrant and till now he has been confined in police custody. The Intelligence Bureau has so far refused to frame charges against him. The Superintendent of Police has been maintaining that he is being questioned. This gives the police ample room to resort to any form of torture. It is the fundamental right of the detained to take the help of a lawyer, to be in touch with his kith and kin so as to ensure that he is being defended properly in the court. By delaying his production in the court the police and the Intelligence agencies are criminally preventing him from exercising his right to use the natural principles of justice as is ensured by the Constitution of this country.

In the meantime the police have been diligently feeding the media with stories so as to prejudice his natural right to be presumed innocent before conclusively being proved guilty on any proper charges filed against him. Neither there is any case pending on him nor has the police declared his arrest and framed charges. But the media is already agog with stories of his alleged involvement in the murder of the former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi's son in the Chilkari incident. We condemn strongly such incriminating tendencies of the media, ably promoted by the police so as to implicate Jiten Marandi even before he is booked under any proper charges which should be duly contested in the court. This is not an isolated incident. We see a definite pattern of impunity in reporting of the media in all such instances by becoming a handy tool in the hands of the police and the intelligence agencies. It goes against the right of the detainee to be presumed innocent till proven guilty as is guaranteed by Article 14 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is also a signatory.

Jiten Marandi is a leading cultural activist of Jharkhand who has been steadfast in raising songs of protest against all forms of exploitation of the poorest of people in one of richest of States in India in terms of its mineral and forest wealth. He is also one of the Secretaries of the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners, the inaugural conference of which had just got over on March 31 and April 1, 2008 in New Delhi.

Jiten Marandi's songs have given vent to the anger of those people who have been at the receiving end of the policies of loot and plunder that is being promoted by the Indian state in Jharkhand through several Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) signed with multinational corporations and Indian big capital. He is an intellectual who has fearlessly expressed his political opinion, as is evident from his recent writings on the Naxalite movement in India in the Hindi newspaper Prabhat Khabar.

The Committee asserts that Jiten Marandi has every right as is due for any citizen in a democratic country to express his/her political opinion without fear or favour.

We strongly condemn the authoritarian attitude of the state to stifle and browbeat any form of political opinion or dissent. WE DEMAND HIS UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE.
In protest and in solidarity with the detained,

Gurusharan Singh, President
Prof. Amit Bhattacharyya, Secretary General
SAR Geelani, Vice-President
Rona Wilson, Secretary, Public Relations

05 April, 2008

Human Rights violations in Tibet

As a minority region, it’s Tibet’s lot to suffer under Han domination when there is a powerful and essentially non-democratic regime in China. When I visited China in 1988, I sought permission to visit Tibet or some other autonomous region, but Xinhua, which handles travel arrangements of visiting journalists, pleaded inability to do so.

Western news agency accounts of Tibet developments may not all be correct. But experience does not allow me to reject them in toto as suspect material. I was on a short assignment at IPS Third World news agency’s headquarters in Rome in 1980 when the Solidarity movement was raging in Poland. I was inclined to dismiss the Western agency reports which I read daily in the Rome edition of the International Herald Tribune. I decided to go to Poland for a week and report on developments for my agency (UNI) so that the Indian public may have a non-Western account. M. R. Sivaramakrishnan, who was Indian Ambassador in Warsaw at the time, helped me to get a visa quickly. On arrival in Warsaw I found that the Western agency accounts of commodity shortages and Solidarity’s popularity were substantially correct.

The Editor of the Polish Workers’ Party’s theoretical journal invited me to dinner. The meal consisted of one large boiled potato, nothing else. My host said his wife could find nothing more than some potatoes in the market that day. I still cherish the memory of that dinner. It was a satisfying meal, partly if not wholly because of the utter frankness of the host and the extreme graciousness of the hostess. The Minister for Trade Unions, whom I met, was also devastatingly frank. “If we were a bourgeois democracy, they (Solidarity) will be ruling, and we will be in the opposition, but we are not a bourgeois democracy,” he told me.

Lenin’s party, on seizing power, preserved the Czar’s empire under the label of ‘union of soviet, socialist republics’. The USSR Constitution said the country was a union of republics, each of which had the right to secede. This was the position for seven decades. When a republic decided in the 1980s to exercise the secession option, the Soviet government said there was no law in place to deal with the issues to be sorted out when a republic leaves the union. A law was then enacted and the process of disintegration of the USSR began.

Mao’s party, which established the People’s Republic, conceived it as the successor of not just Kuomintang China but of all previous empires. The British, taking advantage of the weakness of the empire, had dealt with Tibet as if it were an independent entity.

The Indian government, successor of the British colonial regime, conceded that Tibet is part of China. It did so in exchange for a vacuous Chinese declaration of faith in peaceful coexistence, without securing from China an assurance with regard to the border. As a result, vast tracts, including a whole Indian State, remain territories “which we claim as ours and they claim as theirs”. The contrast between the specious internationalism of these words of CPI (M) leader E.M.S. Namboodiripad and the nationalist (chauvinistic?) response of Chinese netizens to Western reports on Tibet cannot be missed. (See report “China's Missing Voice Rises Up from the Internet”, circulated by NAM, a respected alternative media institution, at http://news.newamericamedia.org/news/view_article.html?article_id=ab2892f06e32f01f066cabc48c8f2297

Politics apart, there is enough material in the public domain to conclude that massive human rights violations are taking place in Tibet.

03 April, 2008

The Third Alternative the Communist parties are seeking

The Communist Party of India, at its Hyderabad session, laid stress on two ideas: one, Communist unity; two, third alternative. Neither of the two is possible without the involvement of the CPI (M). The party immediately declared that Communist unity was not on its agenda. However, it showed the green flag for the third alternative. The political resolution the CPI (M) adopted at Coimbatore included the third alternative in its task list. General Secretary Prakash Karat said work on it would begin immediately after the conference.

Third Alternative is not a new idea. A government without the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party has been the Communists’ long-cherished desire. At one stage Harkishen Singh Surjeet’s efforts in that regard as party general secretary appeared to be succeeding. But the alternatives that emerged were short-lived. They survived even for a short while only because the Congress or the BJP supported them from outside.

The Communist parties claim that what is now envisaged is a third alternative, not a third front as in the past, and that this is not related to elections at all. Howsoever hard party theoreticians may try it will not be possible to build up the third alternative, being cobbled together hurriedly after the bugles have sounded for the elections, into a path leading to revolution. It cannot have any objective beyond securing at the Centre a government more amenable to their influence.

There is no party in the country today which has enough popular support to secure an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha. Everybody knows that this situation arose because of the continuous decline in the strength of the Congress. It has another reason, too, which we do not ordinarily remember. This is the failure of the Communist movement to develop into a national alternative. The undivided CPI had widespread influence in the country at the time of the first general elections. It became the main Opposition in the first Lok Sabha with 18 seats from seven States. Andhra contributed the largest number (seven) of seats. It retained the position in 1957 with 27 seats from eight States. It got four seats from Bombay and three from Andhra at that time. It was aided by the support of the peasant and labour movements and progressive-minded individuals. Later the party split and the influence of the two splinters shrank geographically.

Today the Communist parties can win Lok Sabha seats on their own strength only in three States. In all three places, the Left has upper hand primarily because of the strength of the CPI (M). In West Bengal and Tripura that party has the capacity even to come to power without the help of other parties. This has created in its rank and file as well as in the other Left parties the impression that its stand before and after the split was correct. This impression and the circumstances in which the CPI (M) took its stand deserve close scrutiny.

Looking beyond the smokescreen raised by polemics, it can be seen that what happened here was a reflection of the schism in the international Communist movement. It was as natural for those who took China’s side to take an anti-Congress stance as it was for those who opted for those who stood with the Soviet Union to take a pro-Congress position. The friendship with the Congress made the CPI an associate of the Emergency regime. When the people swept aside that government, the CPI absolved itself of the sin by confessing before the CPI (M).

The firm anti-Congress stand no doubt helped the CPI (M) to make big strides in Bengal and Kerala. But these regional gains were made by sacrificing the opportunity to grow into a national alternative. While Communist influence got limited to Bengalis and Malayalis, parties which were not in existence when the CPI was the main Opposition overtook the Left and forged ahead among other sections of the people.

It was the anti-Congressism that the BJP and the CPI (M) shared which made possible the V. P. Singh government, which stands out among the non-Congress regimes. In the prevailing circumstances the backdoor alliance between them was a necessity. But it is difficult to regard the rise of the Sangh Parivar and the Yadav parties during that period was inevitable. The contribution that the CPI (M) one-point programme of anti-Congressism made to the rise of religious and caste powers was by no means small. In paving the way for the rise of Hindutva forces, did not the CPI (M) commit a political crime no less grave than the CPI did in propping up the Congress?

The basis of the positions taken by the two parties in the division in the international movement has also collapsed. The Soviet Union’s fall and China’s switch to the path of capitalist development have exposed the weaknesses in the ideological stance taken by the two countries as well as their backers.

Since neither the Congress nor the BJP is in a position to secure an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, coalition rule at the Centre is inevitable. Last time these parties together secured 275 seats in the 545-member house. They can be kept out of power only if both decline further. That certainly is a possibility. But if either or both of them decline, the benefit will go not to the Left but to small national and regional parties. It was the ability to keep them together that elevated Surjit to the level of kingmaker at one time. When they were ready to join hands with the BJP he lost that position. It must not be forgotten that it was the same anti-Congressism that had compelled the CPI (M) to enter into a clandestine relationship with the BJP that persuaded small parties with secular traditions to cooperate openly with it.

If the Communist parties give up thoughts of making small gains in the elections and sincerely desire to work for national level advancement of the Left, what must come on their agenda first is not third alternative but Left alternative. An alternative concept that rejects Communist unity contains no nobler idea than electoral gain.
Based on Malayalam article appearing in “Nerkkazhcha” column of Kerala Kaumudi dated April 3, 2008