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

31 August, 2009

J.S. Tisssainayagam sentenced to 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

The Asian Human Rights Commission is saddened, disappointed and shocked but not surprised at the judgment of the High Court of Colombo sentencing J.S. Tisssainayagam to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment for a simple piece of writing which he had done and which was interpreted as aiding and abetting terrorism.

The AHRC is not surprised by this judgment because at the very inception of this case the AHRC pointed out that this is purely a political case, the first of its kind in which the accused, Mr. Tisssainayagam’s guilt or innocence was not an issue but an opportunity to send a message to society on the changed circumstances of the country where freedom of expression does not matter at all. That was the real aim of this case. It is the sort of prosecution that could have happened under the regime of Joseph Stalin through the prosecutor, Andrei Vyshinsky.

In Vyshinsky’s trials the outcome was predetermined. The trials of the 1930s were known worldwide as show trials. Those actually accused were not really the targets of the proceedings. The accused were mere exhibits to be advertised before the rest of Russia in order to pass a message to the people about the fundamental beliefs that Stalin wanted to impose on society. Vyshinsky’s biographer Arkady Vaksberg writes that the “purpose of the trial had not been to disgrace or, indeed, to annihilate some of the accused but to create a precedent and pave the way for a psychological attack on the population.”

Tisssainayagam has been selected for a show trial where there was not even any evidence to base a charge on. The particular passages which were arbitrarily selected from his writings did not represent any attempt to raise feelings of racism or to instigate people to violence on the basis of race. The text was selected as the pretext and there was no genuine thought in this prosecution at all.

What the case points to is the illusions of the liberals both in Sri Lanka and abroad who fail to see a persecution staged as a show trial. The illusion that somehow things may turn out and that there would be a fair trial was the comfort zone in which many people were resting, unwilling to accept that justice is dead in Sri Lanka and that the executive can manipulate and get whatever verdict it wants.

The greatest loser in this case is not J.S. Tisssainayagam it is the justice system and the judiciary in Sri Lanka that has suffered the greatest loss which would be hard for it to overcome. Even this is not a huge surprise for most people in Sri Lanka. They know that justice has been dead for a long time in their country.

The Tisssainayagam case will also remain the most glaring proof of the absence of freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. The memory of this case will shame so many journalists and media men in the country who have found it possible to lick the very feet of the executive which has completely destroyed the freedom of expression in the country. Some have fought back and lost their lives and some finally fled for their own safety. But this has also created a paradise for those who live by their contribution to misinformation and suppression of freedoms.

We urge the local and international community to condemn the judgment and the sentence in Tisssainayagam’s case and to call for his unconditional release. We also urge the local and international community to grasp the reality that justice is dead in Sri Lanka and the freedom of expression and the media which has also been killed.
Justice and media freedom in Sri Lanka is like the phantom limb; a dream of an amputee who still believes that his limbs are intact. The reminder of the Tisssainayagam case should always be associated with the image of the phantom limb.

# # #

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.

25 August, 2009

We the People of India: makers and keepers of the Constitution

It was not a directly elected house that drew up India’s Consttution. The members of the Constituent Assembly were chosen ny the provincial assemblies of British India, which were elected on the basis of limited franchise. When the princely states merged in India they too were given representation in that house. Only a few princely states had legislatures. The representatives of states without legislatures were nominated by the maharajas. Although they were sent to the Constituent Assembly by legislatures and rulers who lacked representative capacity, the members believed they had the right to represent the entire people of India. In the belief that they the people wanted free India to be a democratic secular republic and that they bore the responsibility to realize that goal, they prepared a constitution that suited that purpose. And they wrote in the preamble that We the People of India are the makers of the Constitution.

Legal pundits had studied the constitutions of many lands and incorporated their best elements in the draft constitution. So it became the longest constitution in the world. The preamble proclaimed that its aim was to secure for all citizens justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. The unique character of our Constitution can be gleaned from this declaration. Equality, fraternity and liberty are ideas that emerged in France at the time of the Revolution. They very quickly won recognition worldwide as the fundamental principles of democracy. The most important factor that distinguishes our Constitution from other statutes of its kind is that places justice above these principles. It elaborates the concept of justice in these words: Justice, social, economic and political.

Most democratic countries have societies of a more or less homogenous kind. Social inequality is not a serious problem for them. What prompted the constitution makers to give primacy to justice was the realization that in this land, where the majority of the population had been subjected to graded inequality for centuries, fraternity and liberty cannot be ensured without first ensuring a modicum of justness. In the final analysis, the future of Indian democracy will be determined by success or failure in securing justice, social, economic and political. Much is happening in the country that does not accord with democracy. Those who wield power and those ranged against them indulge in such activities. Some are seeking to deny justice, some others to ensure justice.

Basically, all democratic constitutions divide power among the three limbs of the state, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, and provide for a system of mutual checks and balances. Our Constitution, too, provided for such a dispensation. But in half a century of working distortions have crept into the system of checks and balances. If the head of the Executive is an extremely powerful person the Legislature’s ability to keep it in check shrinks. Such a situation prevailed in the early years of Independence. Later the polity got fragmented and the Executive became weak. When the ability of the Executive and the Legislature to check each other declined, the Judiciary’s prestige grew as the lone establishment to which the citizens can turn for relief against wrong- doing by them. This provided the Judiciary an opportunity to enlarge its powers. Utilizing this opportunity the Supreme Court assumed the power to appoint judges.

The Constitution had vested the right to appoint judges in the President. He is required to act on the advice of the Union Cabinet. The Constitution, however, provides that the Chief Justice must be consulted in the matter of appointment of judges. In a judgment, the Supreme Court declared that the provision requiring consultation means the Chief Justice’s concurrence is required. The position now is that the President can appoint as judge only a person selected by the Chief Justice and two senior judges. This is quite different from what the constitution makers visualized. Moreover it does not accord with either democracy or commonsense.

The Constitution vests in the Court the right to interpret the provisions of the Constitution. The courts have enlarged this into a right to decide what the constitutional provisions must be. The present state of affairs suggests that the Judiciary is under the impression that it is the keepers of the Constitution and that the other, weakened institutions are ready to concede this status to it. A close look at the preamble will show that the Constitution has not granted to any limb of the state the onerous responsibility of being its keepers. It says We the People of India have given the Constitution unto ourselves. In other words, the People who are the makers of the Constitution are also its keepers.

In Jawaharlal Nehru’s time, a conflict arose between the Allahabad High Court and the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly over their respective powers. When, on the advice of the Union Cabinet, the President sought the advisory opinion of the Supreme Court on the relative powers of the two institutions, it stated that each was supreme in its own sphere. However, subsequently, in a judgment, the Supreme Court observed that since all institutions derived their authority from the Constitution, it was the Constitution that was supreme. The quest for the source of authority must go beyond the Constitution. Where does the Constitution derive its authority from? The answer to that question is in the preamble. It derives its authority from We the People of India, who are both the makers and the keepers of the Constitution.

The Constitution is subject to changes. The changes in it must accord with the wishes of the people. We the People of India had vested the amending power in Parliament. Many of the changes that have come about in the Constitution through judicial interventions are in accord with the people’s wishes. But there have also been changes that are not in accord with them. The change in the provision relating to appoint of judges is one such. Many constitutional experts have said so openly. It is a mistake that needs to be corrected. It will be good for the Supreme Court itself to do this through a judgment. If it is not ready to do so, Parliament, as the body empowered to make changes in the Constitution, must fulfil that responsibility.

We don’t become a democratic society merely because elections are held once in five years. As the keepers of the Constitution, it is the duty of We the People of India to ensure that evevry constitutional institution discharges its duties properly. In view of the tendency among these institutions to overstep the limits of their power, civil society must be on guard and ensure that no institution makes inroads into others’ spheres. This is a process that must go on all the time.

Based on an article written for the Annual Number of Madhyamam, Malayalam daily

18 August, 2009

Winners and losers of America’s Iraq War

SHERWOOD ROSS
Countercurrents.org

“On my last day in Iraq,” veteran McClatchy News correspondent Leila Fadel wrote August 9th, “as on my first day in Iraq, I couldn’t see what the United States and its allies had accomplished. …I couldn’t understand what thousands of American soldiers had died for and why hundreds of thousands of Iraqis had been killed.”

Quite a few oil company CEO’s and “defense” industry executives, however, do have a pretty good idea of why that war is being fought. As Michael Cherkasky, president of Kroll Inc., said a year after the Iraq invasion boosted his security firm’s profits 231 percent: “It’s the Gold Rush.” What follows is a brief look at some of the outfits that cashed in, and at the multitudes that got took.

“Defense Earnings Continue to Soar,” Renae Merle wrote in The Washington Post on July 30, 2007. “Several of Washington’s largest defense contractors said last week that they continue to benefit from a boom in spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…” Merle added, “Profit reports from Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin showed particularly strong results in operations in the region.” More recently, Boeing’s second-quarter earnings this year rose 17 percent, Associated Press reported, in part because of what AP called “robust defense sales.”

But war, it turns out, is not only unhealthy for human beings, it is not uniformly good for the economy. Many sectors suffer, including non-defense employment, as a war can destroy more jobs than it creates. While the makers of warplanes may be flying high, these are “Tough Times For Commercial Aerospace,” Business Week reported July 13th. “The sector is contending with the deepening global recession, declining air traffic, capacity cuts by airlines, and reduced availability of financing for aircraft purchases.”

The general public suffers, too. “As President Bush tried to fight the war without increasing taxes, the Iraq war has displaced private investment and/or government expenditures, including investments in infrastructure, R&D and education: they are less than they would otherwise have been,” write Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes in “The Three Trillion Dollar War”(Norton).

Stiglitz holds a Nobel Prize in economics and Bilmes is former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. They say government money spent in Iraq does not stimulate the economy in the way that the same amounts spent at home would.

The war has also starved countless firms for expansion bucks. “Higher borrowing costs for business since the beginning of the Iraq war are bleeding manufacturing investment,” Greg Palast wrote in “Armed Madhouse”(Plume). And when entrepreneurs---who hire so many---lack growth capital, job creation takes a real hit.

We might recall too, the millions abroad who filled the streets to protest President Bush’s impending attack on Iraq and who have quit buying U.S. products, further reducing sales and employment. “American firms, especially those that have become icons, like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, may also suffer, not so much from explicit boycotts as from a broader sense of dislike of all things American,” Stiglitz and Bilmes write. “America’s standing in the world has never been lower,” they say, noting that in 2007, U.S. “favorable” ratings plunged to 29 percent in Indonesia and nine percent in Turkey. “Large numbers of wealthy people in the Middle East---where the oil money and inequality put individual wealth in the billions---have shifted banking from America to elsewhere,” they say.

Because the Iraq war crippled that country’s oil industry, output fell, supplies tightened, and, according to Palast, “World prices leaped to reflect the shortfall…” What’s more, he points out, after the Iraq invasion the Saudis withheld more than a million barrels of oil a day from the market. “The one-year 121% post-invasion jump in the price of crude, from under $30 a barrel to over $60, sucked that $120 billion windfall to the Saudis from SUV drivers and factory owners in the West.” Count the Saudis among the big winners.

The oil spike subtracted 1.2% from the gross domestic product, “costing the USA just over one million jobs,” Palast reckoned. Stiglitz and Bilmes said the oil price spike means “American families have had to spend about 5 percent more of their income on gasoline and heating than before.” Last year, the Iraq and Afghan wars cost each American household $138 per month in taxes, they estimated. Count the Joneses among the big losers.

The rest of the article can be read at the Countercurrents website: Winners and Losers in the American Warfare State

190th anniversary of the massacre at Manchester

GRAHAM MILNER

August 16, 2009 was the 190th anniversary of a massacre in Manchester, resulting from the deployment of the army to deal with an agitation by workers.

The Industrial Revolution began in England, and the emergence of the industrial working class brought to the fore a new social and political force in world history. The bloody events of 190 years ago, on August 16, 1819, when a mass workers' protest in Manchester demanding political reform and labour rights was broken up by the army, with considerable loss of life, stand out as a stark warning to socialist activists everywhere that the ruling classes will react with violence and terror when their power and privileges are challenged.

On August 16, 1819, mounted regular troops and yeomanry of the British army, acting on the instructions of government officials, attacked without warning a mass meeting of more 100,000 people drawn from the industrial centres of Lancashire in the north-west of England. The meeting, held on St. Peter's Field in the centre of Manchester, the major industrial city of Lancashire, had been organised as part of a national campaign to win a radical reform of the British parliament and to redress the economic grievances of working people. More than 400 men, women and children were killed or seriously injured as a result of this ``action''.

One of the cavalry units involved -- the 11th Hussars -- had been present at the Battle of Waterloo, which had occurred four years earlier. As soon as the massacre became known to the public, the savage sobriquet ``Peterloo'' was universally adopted.

The August 16 massacre was one outcome of an extraordinarily powerful and determined agitation for social and political justice in England, which at times approached pre-revolutionary proportions. The primary social force behind this mass agitation was the new working class.

This new class, the industrial proletariat, emerged from the Industrial Revolution, a transformation of economic and social relations that began towards the end of the 18th century, primarily in parts of north-west England. The cradle of this revolution was in fact south-east Lancashire, and Manchester in particular. Here, technological innovations developed in the latter third of the 18th century, such as the steam engine, the power loom and the spinning jenny, were applied to the previously dispersed, domestic-based cotton industry then in existence. The ``putting-out'' system, whereby spinners and weavers worked at home at more or less their own pace, was replaced by vast factories employing hundreds or thousands of workers. The new machine industry was concentrated in these factories. Raw materials and fuel for the machines came from the coal and iron extraction industries then emerging in other parts of England, Scotland and Wales. Around the factories grew up large industrial towns such as Rochdale, Stockport, Oldham and Blackburn; as well as the world's first industrial city -- Manchester.

The previously existing social order broke up in Lancashire and other emergent industrial districts, and was replaced by a new one. Ties of dependence descended from feudalism -- a deferential hierarchy linking ``masters'' and ``men''; the static, rigid order overseen by landlord and parson: all this was burst asunder and replaced by the cut-throat world of capitalist competition. In these regions the whole pattern of life was revolutionised.

By 1800, of English cities, Manchester was second only to London in size. Near to the centre of Manchester, in large opulent houses, lived the new rich -- the capitalist factory owners. Surrounding the factories, the workers and their families lived. Many of these workers were ruined handloom weavers or hand spinners forced to seek work in factory towns like Manchester, as competition from cheap, machine-produced goods forced them out of their traditional occupations. Many capitalists made quick fortunes raising jerry-built, back-to-back slums to house the workers. Almost without exception these slums were overcrowded, damp, ill-lit, without sanitation, and without running water or gardens.

Many who sought employment were denied it by the frequent economic slumps that punctuated the evolution of capitalist industry. Those who did find work were faced with ruthless exploitation and appalling working conditions. Long hours -- 14 hours per day was usual -- abysmally low wages, child labour, and dangerous, unguarded machinery were the norm. Sexual abuse of women by foremen and capitalists was rampant. Immigrant workers, especially those from Ireland, fared particularly badly.

The new working class was by no means a ``dormant, passive mass'' in the face of these conditions of life and work. It hit back at its oppressors in an increasingly intelligent, organised and effective way. Working-class radicalism in England was on the rise when the French Revolution broke out in 1789. Jacobin democratic clubs sprang up across the country during the 1790s, inspired by the revolution in France and by widely circulated books such as Tom Paine's The Rights of Man.

Graham Milner is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Perth, Australia. The above material has been extracted from an article by him appearing at the Links website

17 August, 2009

190th anniversary of the massacre at Manchester

GRAHAM MILNER

August 16, 2009 was the 190th anniversary of a massacre in Manchester, resulting from the deployment of the army to deal with an agitation by workers.

The Industrial Revolution began in England, and the emergence of the industrial working class brought to the fore a new social and political force in world history. The bloody events of 190 years ago, on August 16, 1819, when a mass workers' protest in Manchester demanding political reform and labour rights was broken up by the army, with considerable loss of life, stand out as a stark warning to socialist activists everywhere that the ruling classes will react with violence and terror when their power and privileges are challenged.

On August 16, 1819, mounted regular troops and yeomanry of the British army, acting on the instructions of government officials, attacked without warning a mass meeting of more 100,000 people drawn from the industrial centres of Lancashire in the north-west of England. The meeting, held on St. Peter's Field in the centre of Manchester, the major industrial city of Lancashire, had been organised as part of a national campaign to win a radical reform of the British parliament and to redress the economic grievances of working people. More than 400 men, women and children were killed or seriously injured as a result of this ``action''.

One of the cavalry units involved -- the 11th Hussars -- had been present at the Battle of Waterloo, which had occurred four years earlier. As soon as the massacre became known to the public, the savage sobriquet ``Peterloo'' was universally adopted.

The August 16 massacre was one outcome of an extraordinarily powerful and determined agitation for social and political justice in England, which at times approached pre-revolutionary proportions. The primary social force behind this mass agitation was the new working class.

This new class, the industrial proletariat, emerged from the Industrial Revolution, a transformation of economic and social relations that began towards the end of the 18th century, primarily in parts of north-west England. The cradle of this revolution was in fact south-east Lancashire, and Manchester in particular. Here, technological innovations developed in the latter third of the 18th century, such as the steam engine, the power loom and the spinning jenny, were applied to the previously dispersed, domestic-based cotton industry then in existence. The ``putting-out'' system, whereby spinners and weavers worked at home at more or less their own pace, was replaced by vast factories employing hundreds or thousands of workers. The new machine industry was concentrated in these factories. Raw materials and fuel for the machines came from the coal and iron extraction industries then emerging in other parts of England, Scotland and Wales. Around the factories grew up large industrial towns such as Rochdale, Stockport, Oldham and Blackburn; as well as the world's first industrial city -- Manchester.

The previously existing social order broke up in Lancashire and other emergent industrial districts, and was replaced by a new one. Ties of dependence descended from feudalism -- a deferential hierarchy linking ``masters'' and ``men''; the static, rigid order overseen by landlord and parson: all this was burst asunder and replaced by the cut-throat world of capitalist competition. In these regions the whole pattern of life was revolutionised.

By 1800, of English cities, Manchester was second only to London in size. Near to the centre of Manchester, in large opulent houses, lived the new rich -- the capitalist factory owners. Surrounding the factories, the workers and their families lived. Many of these workers were ruined handloom weavers or hand spinners forced to seek work in factory towns like Manchester, as competition from cheap, machine-produced goods forced them out of their traditional occupations. Many capitalists made quick fortunes raising jerry-built, back-to-back slums to house the workers. Almost without exception these slums were overcrowded, damp, ill-lit, without sanitation, and without running water or gardens.

Many who sought employment were denied it by the frequent economic slumps that punctuated the evolution of capitalist industry. Those who did find work were faced with ruthless exploitation and appalling working conditions. Long hours -- 14 hours per day was usual -- abysmally low wages, child labour, and dangerous, unguarded machinery were the norm. Sexual abuse of women by foremen and capitalists was rampant. Immigrant workers, especially those from Ireland, fared particularly badly.

The new working class was by no means a ``dormant, passive mass'' in the face of these conditions of life and work. It hit back at its oppressors in an increasingly intelligent, organised and effective way. Working-class radicalism in England was on the rise when the French Revolution broke out in 1789. Jacobin democratic clubs sprang up across the country during the 1790s, inspired by the revolution in France and by widely circulated books such as Tom Paine's The Rights of Man.

Graham Milner is a member of the Socialist Alliance in Perth, Australia. The above material has been extracted from an article by him appearing at the Links website

16 August, 2009

Media causing undue public anxiety about swine flu

DR. GIRISH BHASKAR
IANS

What started as an epidemic of swine flu in Mexico in March 2009 has now spread to 100 countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been alerting countries for the past eight years to get prepared for a major influenza outbreak. It seems to have finally arrived.

H1N1 virus moved from pigs and went on to infect humans, facilitated by crowded living conditions. From Mexico it spread to the United States, then to Europe and Asia. In the US, swine flu has so far killed 436 people and infected about 100,000 people. The situation will get worse as winter approaches parts of the world.

India has seen 21 deaths so far and this is causing panic among the populace. The good news is that the vast majority of the people who contract swine flu influenza are going to recover completely after going through a period of body aches, sore throat and fever.

If the Mexican experience is any guide, the H1N1 swine flu is sometimes lethal in children and young adults. This seems to be the pattern in India also. People born before 1957 appear to have some protection from the current pandemic. In the 1918 pandemic, it is estimated that close to 50 million people perished in different parts of the world.

In 2009, healthcare is very advanced compared to 1918. Tamiflu tablets if taken early may minimise the severity of the disease. But if Tamiflu is used indiscriminately, the virus will adapt and become resistant to the drug. Governments have stock piled millions of tablets to be used in a major outbreak.

The influenza virus sometimes settles down in the lungs and can cause severe respiratory distress requiring mechanical ventilatory support. Of the 2,155 cases of viral pneumonia reported from Mexico, 821 required hospitalisation and 100 died of respiratory failure in spite of mechanical ventilation. Not all viral pneumonia cases need ventilatory support.

Pharmaceutical companies are racing to bring a vaccine that could be effective against the swine flu virus. Pilot clinical studies are going on in America. The vaccine is expected to be available to the public in October of this year. One also needs protection against the regular flu virus which shows up every winter. It is unlikely there will be enough vaccine to vaccinate the entire world population. Pregnant women, children, young adults, healthcare professionals engaged in patient care, military personnel all should get priority.

Public need to remember that every year seasonal influenza causes 30,000 deaths in America especially the elderly with chronic lung disease, heart disease and kidney disease. Death generally happens only when there is severe involvement of both lungs by what is called acute lung injury or acute respiratory distress syndrome. With modern medical amenities, 42 percent of such cases can be saved.

Two classes of drugs are available to minimize the effects of flu on the body. They are Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) and Relenza (Zanamivir). Recently, Japanese scientists have successfully tested CS-8959 in a clinical trial. This drug may be released for public use in Japan next year. This is found to be safer and more efficacious than Tamiflu.

According to a British Medical Journal report, children under the age of 12 should not be given Tamiflu or Relenza. These drugs reduced the length of the flu infection by only one day. More importantly these drugs reduced the transmission of the virus only by eight percent.

The Mexican experience has also revealed the effectiveness of personal protective equipment, to prevent the infection of health care workers. Doctors and nurses taking care of critically ill patients should be given N 95 masks for their safety.

So many people are dying everyday from dengue fever, malaria, tuberculosis and various bacterial and viral infections. Yet, the media by heightening awareness about the disease has unwittingly engendered undue public anxiety.

14 August, 2009

Encounter killing and custodial torture a disgrace for the nation, says AHRC

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

India will celebrate its 62nd year of independence tomorrow. While politicians and national leaders celebrate the Independence Day, delivering speeches and attending dinners, they will have to struggle to explain why often men and women in the country lose their life each year in encounters with the law enforcement agencies. The policy makers of the largest democracy of the world will also find it difficult to explain why the people's confidence about their law enforcement agencies is at an all time low.

This argument is highlighted in an incident that happened in Imphal, the capital of Manipur state on 23 July. On that day, two persons were shot dead by the Manipur Police Commando Unit in Imphal in broad daylight. Of the two persons killed, one was a woman, seven-months pregnant, who was shot in front of her three-year-old son. Five more persons were injured, four of them seriously, when the police indiscriminately fired at the crowd, with total disregard to the safety and life of the civilians they are bound to protect.

The shame of Manipur was brought to an all time high when the Chief Minister of the state, shamelessly readout in the Manipur State Assembly, a statement prepared by his police chief. The Chief Minister said that "there is no other way to deal with terrorists other than killing them", to establish peace in the state.

The statement of the Chief Minister vouch for the fact that after 62 years of independent existence, Indians are engaged in murdering themselves for a multitude of reasons, including that of safety and security. The number of people losing their life to law enforcement agencies each year in the country is higher than the statistics during the British rule. In the past eight months alone an estimated 463 persons have lost their life to state agencies in 'encounter killings'.

The sentiment expressed by the Chief Minister of Manipur after the July 23 incident echo the 'official' position regarding dealing with crime and maintaining law and order throughout the country. Murder with impunity has become so common that it is no more of 'news value' to the media. In fact the country's media have even started using terms like 'encounter specialist' for murderer police officers, in an attempt to glorify their misdeeds.

Each case of encounter killing is a further dent to democracy and the rule of law. The existing legal framework, as envisaged in the Constitution, does not allow encounter killings. Such a concept cannot coexist with constitutionalism, the rule of law and the principles of democracy.

Every case of murder at the hands of the law enforcement agencies is an act of crime committed by the state and a negation of the principles of natural justice. Encounter killing or in whatever euphemist way such murders are referred to, is a denial of justice to a suspect. It is a violation of the fundamental right to be presumed innocent and until tried by an impartial court. Encounter killing is a denial of the fundamental right to life.

Often such murders leave a traumatised family who would never have an opportunity to prove the guilt of a murderer police officer and the innocence of the deceased. The murder encourages violence and creates psychopaths within the law enforcement agencies. Yet, state and central governments in the country encourages their law enforcement agencies to commit murder with statutory impunity. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 is one such law.

Encounter killing is the cancer that has grown into the organisational psyche of the law enforcement agencies. It is the product of the long practice of custodial torture, as cancer is to smoking.

Custodial torture is viewed as the only tool for law enforcement in the country. Like in the case of murder, torture too is a crime committed by the law enforcement agencies. Yet, police officers of all ranks and the politicians justify torture as an essential tool for law enforcement in India. These arguments date back to the period of Spanish inquisition and have no place in a democracy. On those terms, the 2009 India is administered by mindsets that predate independence.

Neither murder nor the practice of torture has been attempted to be prevented in India. Instead, the governments so far have denied the existence of these state sponsored evil and further promoted it, both openly and clandestinely.

Absoluteness of arbitrary authority, to kill or torture persons with impunity, has been retained and preserved with the law enforcement agencies, so that politicians and bureaucrats could continue using the law enforcement agencies to silence the populace. The resistance to root-out this cancer need no further reference other than the proposed legislation against torture. The draft bill could be viewed here.

The practice of torture and the alarming number of extrajudicial executions remain the central deficit affecting the rule of law and democracy in India. Each day ahead, failing to address this cancer that has isolated the populace from the government will, in the coming years, result in a complete failure of law and order in the country.

August 15 must be an occasion for the government and the civil society to revisit the promises the founding fathers of the nation have resolved to realise 62 years before. Failing to do so will not only push the nation into chaos, but will also water the seeds of disintegration of a country that has paid a heavy price for its freedom six decades ago.


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.

13 August, 2009

Call for national protest against fake encounters

The Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, along with other organizations, has called for a National Day of Protest on Friday, August 14, against the continuing trend of ‘encounter’ killings by state forces, arbitrary arrests of Muslim youth and blatant whitewashing of such crimes by state agencies. All this in the name of ‘national security’ and ‘war against terror’.

The cold-blooded murder of Chungkham Sanjit, a 27-year old Manipur youth in broad daylight on July 23 by Manipur Police Commandos, barely 500 meters from the state assembly building in Imphal, has once again highlighted the sordid truth about ‘encounter’ killings in India. While MPC had claimed initially that Sanjit had been killed while escaping during a routine screening operation, their lie was nailed by a series of photographs published by the Tehelka magazine, which showed the unarmed, peaceful youth was shot by the commandos without provocation. In addition, a pregnant woman, Mrs. Rabina and the child in her womb were also killed, while five others were wounded.

Last year on September 19 the Delhi police had carried out a similar ‘encounter’ against alleged ‘terrorists’ of the Indian Mujahideen at Batla House in New Delhi. This would have been another routine ‘encounter’ if not for the nationwide outcry from human rights groups, students and academics.

While the Delhi High Court appointed the National Human Rights Commission to carry out an independent and fair inquiry into the encounter killings, the NHRC has chosen to further sully its already stained reputation by presenting a partisan report absolving the Delhi Police of any human rights violation. The NHRC did not bother to visit the families of the two ‘terrorists’ killed by the Delhi police, talk to eye witnesses or even visit the site of the ‘encounter’, basing their conclusions on the statements of the Delhi Police, the accused party!

This was only a repeat of the shameful exoneration of the security forces by the one-man enquiry commission in the brutal Shopian rape and murder case. In Gujarat the Sohrabuddin ‘encounter’ is returning to haunt the Narendra Modi government as evidence points to yet another cold-blooded murder by a highly communalized state police.

These murders by the killers in uniform are then legitimized and glorified as ‘encounters’. Large sections of our citizenry—Muslims, Kashmiris, peoples from the Northeast, Adivasis and Dalits—are condemned to be ‘encounterable’. These are people who can be killed, and their killings justified and explained through recourse to a warped security discourse. These people exist not in the framework of fundamental human rights but in that of national security alone. The security forces are afforded impunity and immunity as long as they can introduce the “Terror” word. In different parts of the country, Muslim youth are still being arrested and tortured on trumped up charges of links to ‘terrorism’. The large-scale detention of Muslim youth in Karnataka following communal riots in Mysore recently is a case in point of double standards followed by the state police, which is mysteriously soft on hardline Hindutva advocates like Pramod Muthalik who openly advocates attacks on women and members of the Christian and Muslim minorities.

To raise a concerted voice against the culture of encounters, which violates the fundamental rights provided by the Indian Constitution, to demand accountability of state forces, we call upon all those who value Indian democracy to come forward and join the National Day of Protest on August 14 in all parts of the country.

Manisha Sethi (9811625577),
Adeel Mehdi (9990923027), and
Ambarien Al Qadar (9810946273)
for Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA)

Malem Ningthouja (9899925345)
Campaign for Peace and Democracy, Manipur (CPDM)

All India Students’ Association (AISA)

ANHAD and

The Other Media

All those who wish to join the protest in New Delhi are requestws to assemble at the ITO Chowk at 3.30 p.m.

Justice Krishna Iyer says women of merit not reaching the bench

Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer has made out a case for appointment of more women as judges of the superior court.

According to him, many of the judges now selected can be replaced by better ones. Women of exceptional merit at the bar, with a record of excellence, are available but miss the bench since they are women.

Justice Krishna Iyer made these observations in an article paying a tribute to Sonia Maria Sotomayor, who recently became the first Hispanic and third woman judge of the US Supreme Court.

This is how he concludes the article, “The Sotomayor saga and gender justice”, which appeared in The Hindu today:

Justice Sotomayor has gone on to earn bipartisan acclaim as one of America’s finest legal minds. As a Supreme Court Justice, she will bring more federal judicial experience to the Supreme Court than any Justice in a hundred years. She will show fidelity to the Constitution and draw on a commonsensical understanding of how the law affects day-to-day lives.

In India, too, if only the collegium, which has no constitutional status except a bizarre precedent with a narrow majority which binds nevertheless, adopted merit as a ground for selection! Many candidates, men and women, have been chosen on the basis of irrelevant personal affection, personal favouritism, party support and nepotism and close relationships. Many of the judges now selected can be replaced by better ones, but a weak executive itself lacking in merit of the highest order submits to a syndrome of dynastic and other unhappy considerations. Women of exceptional merit at the Bar and who have a record of academic excellence are available but miss the Bench since they are women.

Women should awake and arise. They should not stop till their equal status is secured.

11 August, 2009

US 'biggest' threat say Pakistanis

A survey commissioned by Al Jazeera in Pakistan has revealed widespread disenchantment with the United States for interfering with what most people consider internal affairs.

The polling was conducted by Gallup Pakistan - a separate organisation affiliated with the US-based Gallup Inc - and more than 2,600 people took part.
Interviews were conducted across the political spectrum in all four of the country's provinces, and represented men and women of every economic and ethnic background.

When respondents were asked what they consider to be the biggest threat to the nation of Pakistan, 11 per cent of the population identified the Taliban fighters, who have been blamed for scores of deadly bomb attacks across the country in recent years.

Another 18 per cent said that they believe that the greatest threat came from neighbouring India, which has fought three wars with Pakistan since partition in 1947.

But an overwhelming number, 59 per cent of respondents, said the greatest threat to Pakistan right now is, in fact, the US, a donor of considerable amounts of military and development aid.

For the complete poll results, click here.

10 August, 2009

Tamil Nadu Human Rights Defenders’ Conference in Tirunelveli

A conference of human rights defenders of Tamil Nadu is to be held at Tirunelveli on Wednesday, August 12, 2009.

A communication from the organizers of the conference says:

History is witness to the fact that there are a range of repressive tactics that governments of every political hue have been deploying to silence human rights defenders. Defenders working on human rights issues which have traditionally been neglected or marginalized often face specific obstacles as a result. The rights they uphold may be especially contested or controversial, either because they challenge dominant social norms or because they are seen as threatening to the established political, religious or economic order.

Mr. M. Barathan is a human rights defender who has been very active in Tirunelveli and surrounding southern districts of the state of Tamil Nadu in work with Dalit communities by forming Dalit Federations, conducting legal awareness trainings and rehabilitation for Dalit victims of human rights violations. He now heads an organization named Human Rights Education and Protection Council (HREPC), also known as Kalam in these parts and has been instrumental in the filing of the highest number of cases under the SC/ST (Scheduled Caste / Scheduled Tribe) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 in the past year in a district in Tamil Nadu. Mr. Barathan has also been campaigning for police reforms and against custodial torture. In addition, on May 23, Barathan conducted a Dalit Cultural Night, in which he spoke about police torture, which has led to a false case of a triple murder being filed against him. On May 27, at 11 am, after the charge sheet in the case had been filed in the concerned court the police arrested him.

After Mr. Barathan’s arrest and remand to the Palayamkottai Prison on May 27, he was taken on June 3 to the Judicial Magistrate Court in Cheranmadevi for the hearing. On June 19 he was transferred from the Tirunelveli Central Prison to the Cuddalore Central Prison. On the way to the court he had been handcuffed and a complaint was made about this. As a result he was not handcuffed while being taken to Cuddalore.
Mr. Barathan was released on conditional bail on June 27 but was directed to sign at the Thiruvananthapuram Town police station in Kerala. There is apparently no such police station there and Mr. Barathan had to file an appeal the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court to get the order corrected. The condition has now been relaxed and he is in Tirunelveli.

The case is still pending against him in the court and his image among members of the public has taken a beating following the slapping of a false triple murder case against him. His organization faces several challenges following this criminal charge against him which will bring all its human rights work to a standstill and affect the community for which the organization works and also the morale of the staff of the organization. Marimuthu Barathan’s dignity needs to be restored and the intimidating attitude of the police towards him needs to be stopped for him to return to normal life and resume his human rights work.

On July 8, a ‘Joint Action Committee to protest the false murder case filed against Human Rights Defender Barathan’ comprising many organizations including Social Action Movement (SAM), Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation (HRFDL), Arundhatiyar Pengal Ezhuchi Mayyam, SC/ST Orunginaippu Kuzhu, DHRD, Social Awareness Society for Youth (SASY), WIN Trust, Society for Community Organization (SOCO Trust), Society for Integrated Rural Development (SIRD), Quarry Workers Development Society (QWDS), Citizens for Human Rights Movement (CHRM), Kalam, Dr. Ambedkar Paniyalar, Poriyalar Sangam, Vaanmukil, SC/ST Welfare Association, CPI (M) Tirunelveli District Committee Members, LIC SC/ST Buddhist Employees Union, Foundation for Human Rights and Development (FOHRD), Muthamizh Arakattalai, Rural Uplift Center (RUC), Kudisai, Tamilnadu Samakalvi Iyakkam, Malaragam and People's Watch was formed and a meeting was convened the same day at Tirunelveli.

The committee decided to take out a poster campaign and an email and postcard campaign. Tthese processes have already been set in motion by People's Watch and SAM. It was also decided that the different organizations in the committee must organize serial protest demonstrations, meet leaders of political parties and hold a conference of human rights defenders.

05 August, 2009

AHRC: Pak judiciary comes of age, death blow to militarism.

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, says in a statement:

On 31 July 2009, fourteen judges of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, led by Chief Justice Mr. Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, added a golden page to the global history of the judiciary by protecting its independence and upholding the constitution.

In delivering a judgment on two constitutional petitions, filed by the Sindh High Court Bar Association and Advocate Nadeem Ahmed, the Court reversed the arbitrary orders issued by General Mr. Parvez Musharaff, who had suspended the Constitution of Pakistan on 3 November 2007. The Court also held that the Provisional Constitutional Orders of November 2007, promulgated by Musharaff, were unconstitutional. The Court declared that the acts of the former dictator were serious impediments to the functioning of the judiciary as well as to the rule of law in the country.

The Court further declared all appointments made since 3 November 2007, by former Chief Justice Mr. Abdul Hameed Dogar, as illegal. Justice Dogar was appointed by Musharaff as the Chief Justice of Pakistan. His appointment was also declared unconstitutional. The Court while disposing of the case, held that the appointees of Justice Dogar will cease to hold office as judges with immediate effect. The relevant portion of the judgment is quoted towards the end of this statement.

One of the important aspects of the judgment is an addition to the Judges' Code of Conduct. The Court in the judgment said that "in the Code of Conduct prescribed for the judges of the superior courts in terms of Article 209 (8) of the Constitution, a new clause shall be added commanding that no such Judge shall, hereinafter, offer any support in whatever manner to any unconstitutional functionary who acquires power otherwise than through the modes envisaged by the constitution and that any violation of the said clause would be deemed to be misconduct in terms of the said Article 209 of the Constitution".

This judgment will be setting a great and novel precedent. The dealings with military dictators and even elected heads of states, who arbitrarily interfere with the constitution of their states, make appointments to constitutional offices to match their political ambitions, defying the norms of the separation of power will be aborted.

Since the independence of Pakistan, military dictators have usurped power by arbitrary and unconstitutional means. Suspension of the constitution has been justified and validated by courts misinterpreting the doctrine of necessity. The new judgment will pose a barrier for such abuse of authority. The doctrine of necessity will itself need to be revisited in the light of the present judgment.

From the point of view of the rule of law in Pakistan, this judgment will be a landmark. The rule of law cannot operate if officials upset the constitutional order. Such disturbances adversely affect all the aspects of proper administration. Consequently, the peoples' faith in the constitution and the rule of law are seriously damaged by such actions. The constitutional abuse may be brought to a final end as long as the court upholds the present judgment.

Judges who succumb to the pressures of the executive are themselves a curse on the independence of the judiciary. The amendment to the Judges' Code of Conduct, incorporated by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, labels any such actions in the future as misconduct. They are defined by the rules binding the functioning of the judges in the country. This measure will provide a bulwark against political attempts to divide the judiciary.

It can now be said that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has proved itself competent and capable in dealing with threats to judicial independence. The judiciary of Pakistan has come of age.

The complete text of the judgment is available here.

Vignettes Of India's Security Culture

FIRDAUS AHMED
Countercurrents.org

The rape and murder of two young women in Shopian, the acceptance by the NHRC probe of the Delhi Police version of the Batla House encounter, the killing of a PLA member in custody in Manipur as evidenced by the photos published in Tehelka, and the furore over the mention of Baluchistan in the India-Pakistan Joint Statement tells us something of India’s strategic culture. This article seeks insight into India’s security culture through a snap shot of these four occurrences over the recent past.

That there was an attempted cover up in the Shopian incident implies that there was a ‘felt need’ for the same. Clearly then this was to protect the culprits, implying that the culprits are possibly known. There is no reason to resort to a cover up if there is nothing to be hidden. The unilateral additions made by the police to the report of Justice Jan that enquired into the case are reportedly slanderous about the deceased and their family. The portions disowned by the enquiring judge mention the ‘possibility’ of one of the deceased ‘developing some relation with others.’ The point of the investigation is to bring out who these alleged persons were, for they would have motive in murdering the victims to hide their association. That the police have signally failed to follow up only serves to prove there is a connection to the security apparatus that needs hiding. That the state machinery to include the Chief Minister has thereafter concentrated on the peripheral aspects, such as how much was conveyed up the reporting channel etc, has led to the need to apprehend the culprits being lost sight of. This only reinforces suspicions that the culprits were from the security forces or those having links with the security apparatus in the state, which since its partial outsourcing to the likes of the Ikhwan includes those in plain clothes. That the increasingly politicised debate has now gone back three years to the 2006 sex scandal bespeaks of the security culture in Srinagar.

As a final word on the Batla House encounter, the NHRC report states: ‘We are clearly of the opinion that having regard to the material placed before us, it cannot be said that there has been any violation of human rights by the action of the police party.’ It is quite obvious that any ‘material’ that was to be ‘placed’ before an enquiry could have been worked upon to give it the desired spin over the interim. Therefore, the enquiry was logically expected to go beyond the ‘material placed before us’. In failing to do this, it has set a precedent and devalued the credibility of the NHRC.

Other shortcomings have been pointed out by those following the case closely such as the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Group. However, even as the ‘material placed’ before the enquiry is reported as bringing out the group as carrying out a series of terrorist crimes, that the police party leader did not wear a bullet proof jacket while attempting to arrest them is explained away that the reason cannot be second guessed by the commission. The commission records that, ‘there is ample and sufficient material before us which leads to the irresistible conclusion that there was imminent danger to the life of members of the police party.’ All the more reason one would think warranting a bullet proof jacket.

The Indian Mujahedeen is described in the ‘material placed’ as a group ‘found to be involved in terrorist activities in different parts of the country for the last several years.’ It is fairly well known that the IM came into the limelight for the first time only last year with the blasts targeting the larger cities. This shortcoming in the ‘material placed’ has apparently not detracted from its credibility in the eyes of the commission. The commission refrains from dwelling on the issue of whether those killed were terrorists; yet explains police party actions as self defence. In case the commission was to play a mental game and take them as innocent for the sake of an intellectual exercise developing the scenario, then action as going in without a bullet proof jacket makes sense. Therefore, there was reason enough even from the ‘material placed’ for the commission to take a proactive route and go beyond the ‘material placed’ in its enquiry. That it failed to do so constitutes the evidence being marshalled in this article on the India’s security culture.

The Tehelka photo feature of the killing of alleged insurgent Chonghkhum Sanjit in Imphal by Manipuri police commandos is chilling in the extreme. That this was done in broad daylight speaks of a culture of impunity. In the logic of the security forces this display is perhaps explicable. The message to the insurgent underground watching is that there are no holds barred in the contest; a message that would no doubt be lapped up by the insurgents. The Punjab model is being played out in the North East. Those doing the killing appear Manipuri. One set of natives is set on another in a version of divide and rule. The nadir of this strategy has already been reached in the silent killings of relatives of ULFA insurgents in Assam. There is a subtext to the picture that has perhaps escaped the planners. In this the message to people is that the judge and executioner have been conflated. The implications are stark for the culture of protest that has been perfected in Manipur by the sacrifice of icons as Irom Sharmila and actions as the women who stripped to shame the Assam Rifles out of the Imphal Fort. Two inferences can be drawn from the pictures. One is that the state has lost control over its security apparatus. Worse is that this is a demonstration of the level of its control. The latter is most likely truer. It can be wagered that the enquiry that will no doubt follow, forced by the unrest presently on in Manipur, will not be able to trace those who ordered this. What happens in a provincial capital can only draw on what transpires in the national capital.

Lastly, is the contrived breast beating partially over the mention of Baluchistan in the Joint Statement emanating in Sharm es Sheikh. This also involved a march by opposition MPs led by the leader of the opposition to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The Prime Minister has clarified on the floor of the Lok Sabha that he agreed to the mention knowing that ‘India’s hands are clean’. This is difficult to accept at face value; since, he – though honest - had earlier opined that Mr. Bush was a much ‘loved’ US President in India! The criticism was however not on this account but that Pakistan had managed to highlight its version on India’s intelligence managed covert role in the Baluchistan insurgency. In the security logic, it is entirely understandable for India to fuel Pakistan’s fires to sensitise it that it too lives in a glass house. Talking about the issue gives India a handle to bring this home to Pakistan and force a mutual winding down of this propensity of both states to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. But to insist that India ‘has nothing to hide’ either implies naivety or a loss of political control over India’s external intelligence agency. With the furore greeting the mention, it is unlikely that India would countenance talks on this issue, implying that the covert operations designed to hurt Pakistan in retribution for its well recorded proxy war in Kashmir will continue. This war by intelligence agencies would not be in the interest of either Baluchis or Kashmiris or indeed the other subcontinental nationalities, but is of a piece with the adults-only games played by states.

Clearly, India’s security is gravely threatened by insurgency and terrorism. India’s response as witnessed in the four cases does not recommend itself. It is no wonder then that India continues to be beset with problems of state consolidation. It is as yet a developing state still transiting through the state making and nation building stage. It would do well to recognise that it cannot skip the stage of national consolidation in its haste to becoming a great power.

Your House, My House: Batla House

AMIT SENGUPTA
Hard News Media

As rain eludes like a miracle which must never happen and the heat moves like a snake inside the poisoned intestines of modernity's bad faith, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has yet again sprinkled salt on festering wounds. And mind you, this pain and injustice will sprinkle and scatter and spread across the parched landscape like a curse and come back again and again, like salt on blood.

If the current wise men in the NHRC think human realism and bitter realism can melt away or diffuse just because time and justice move so slowly, then they should look at the infinite history of festering memories, the knowledge system of organised injustice: 1984 Delhi, organised massacre of Sikhs, or 1992-93, the Shiv Sena pogrom against Muslims in Bombay, and the Gujarat genocide in 2002, of the many classical renditions of mass murders of innocent Indians in Indian democracy, State sponsored, or sponsored by non-State actors.

It's amazing how myopic human judgement can become. But does that make a philosophical conjecture myopic, the object of investigation an eternal emptiness, the public spectacle of a horrible event a thing which happened only as the police saw it, created it, thought it out, turned it into a subjective-objective reality?
The bomb blasts in the heart of Delhi, Jaipur and Ahmedabad ripped through the hearts of thousands of citizens of India, and the pain and anger will and must remain, as will the complete mistrust of the police and the intelligence apparatus which almost always can never anticipate, or stop terrorism, which almost always discovers post facto the masked faces of the police version of cracked cases.

The Batla House case is as cracked as the cracked conscience of those who refuse to enter the totality of the endless black holes and unanswered questions that preceded and followed the encounter, widely considered as a fake encounter. And if it is not a fake encounter, prove it. Let us see all sides of the truth. Give evidence, and not only the police version, will you?

How can a nation celebrate its daily life of multi-cultural patriotism when such brazen Alienation Reports move in a continuous spiral of deliberate, systemic, bad faith? How can an organisation which the country looks up to as the symbolic custodian of human rights, actually go ahead and submit such a one-sided, unilateral, shoddy report as it has done on the Batla House case? Did it not feel an iota of remorse or self-doubt in terms of being on the right side of objectivity, history? Is there nothing called the totality of truth, looking at all angles of the rectangle, the grey of the twilight zone?

The centre of the vicious circle?

The holes on the head of that boy, Sajid, as if he was made to sit down and shot from above, will remain etched in the nation's memory. As holes. As black holes in the police version. As all the uncanny, hard-headed questions raised by the Jamia Teachers' Solidarity Group, reporters of the Mail Today, media, lawyers, politicians, civil liberties activists, students, neighbours, friends, fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters: are their questions, their world view, a piece of shit?

Are they outside Indian democracy and the system of justice?

The eminent members of the NHRC should have visited the dingy bylanes of Batla House and Jamia Nagar next to the Jamia Millia University in Delhi soon after the encounter: the white fear of the Special Cell of the Delhi Police was as visible as colour white, as cold and as cutting as ice, you could slash it with a knife and find its cold edges inside the skin and eyes. So intense was the fear.

The mass brutalisation and alienation of an entire community. Organised hounding of the young. The destruction of hope in a secular democratic India.

This is exactly, yet again, what the NHRC report has done, and done so effectively.
If history lessons can be repeated, then this NHRC should revisit the painstakingly documented NHRC report on the Gujarat genocide, 2002, with every version recorded and interpreted in the light of truth. No wonder, almost all official and independent institutions in India and abroad accepted the NHRC report: the Election Commission of India, Editors Guild of India, Independent Tribunal of former judges, women's groups, fact-finding teams, media, civil society, filmmakers, and even the Supreme Court in its observations on the Best Bakery case. In all probability, the SIT will yet again reinforce the NHRC report on Gujarat 2002.

Indeed, if the current NHRC can't repeat history, the least it can do is to scrap this farce. And start renew. On the side of justice, objectivity and fair play. Or else, the wounds of injustice will continue to fester - from here to eternity. Courtesy: Countercurrents

03 August, 2009

My Kitsch is Their Cool

SANDIP ROY
Commentary
New America Media

I remember the age of the underwear-smugglers.

When I left India almost two decades ago to come to America, my mother folded every spice I could possibly need into my underwear. Turmeric, cumin, little green pods of cardamom—all packed carefully between layers of underwear, socks and computer science textbooks. I wasn’t the only one. I’ve met Indians who smuggled in mangos, homemade pickles and ready-to-fry puris stuffed with peas. In those days before 9/11, customs officials were not very interested in me—a young, single, brown man from a turbulent part of the world. They (and their sniffing dogs) were much more preoccupied with middle-aged Indian women visiting their sons. They were rifling through their luggage, searching for contraband mangos and gourds.

Fast-forward 20 years.

My friends and I wander out of an Indian movie theater in Fremont on a mellow California evening. The latest Bollywood release opened here the same day it did in Mumbai. At intermission (for Bollywood films must have an intermission), you can get samosas and chaat along with your popcorn and soda. We go shopping at an Indian market off the main drag. It’s Sunday evening. All the shops in the strip mall are closed except for this one. Lit by unflattering fluorescent lights, its shelves are piled high with all kinds of things—lentils, ready-to-cook packages of saag paneer, ayurvedic hair ointments, even the chocolate Bourbon biscuits (no real bourbon in them) that I remember from my childhood in India. Then we squabble over which Indian restaurant to go to for dinner. Do we want North Indian? South Indian? We settle for a buffet with both.

What happened?

Well, we did. There are now 2.57 million Indians in the United States, according to the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau. That makes it one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups. Indians are well-off, generally. Median family income is over $69,000. Indians are educated, for the most part. Seventy-six percent have at least a college degree. The post-1965 immigrant boom, which resulted from a drastic change in U.S. laws about who could come into the country, was followed by the dot-com boom. In her novel The Tree Bride, Bharati Mukherjee describes how “an immigrant fog of South Asians crept into America.” When the chronicle of Silicon Valley is written by some 21st century F. Scott Fitzgerald, it might well be called, she writes, “The Great Gupta.”

India is everywhere. It’s in Booker Prize lists, spelling bees and specially-for-you nuclear deals. It’s in Sukhi’s homecooked chicken tikka masala paste at Whole Foods. It’s in Bhangra aerobics classes and Britney remixes. Newsweek called South Asians the “new American masala.” Five hundred years after Christopher Columbus thought he had discovered Indians, we are truly found.

And I am not sure how I feel about that.

When I first came to the U.S., Americans asked me about that “dot on the forehead.” Now, Madonna wears a bindi. Bollywood borrows Hollywood plotlines (well, two or three for one three-hour film). Now, the Kronos Quartet reinterprets Bollywood composer R.D. Burman. Birthday cards are reproducing old kitschy Indian matchbox covers. Body-hugging T-shirts worn by gay guys in the Castro say “San Francisco” in Devnagari script. There are even Bollywood appreciation classes at universities. My kitsch has become their cool.

Of course, not everything has been alchemized into cool. My big, fat Indian wedding might be hot (“I want one,” a gay man with a Southern accent told me at my neighborhood lesbian bar while sipping a sweet cocktail), but it doesn’t mean the Indian cabdriver, the 7/11 clerk or the Gujarati storeowner are any more acceptable.

Our Krishnas and curries are now public property to be sampled, remixed, chewed up and spat out as millions of cookie-cutter lunch boxes. (Probably Made in China)

It almost makes me nostalgic for the old days when people came up to me and said, “You are from Calcutta? My doctor is Indian. Dr. Harry Patel. I think he’s from that other big city—Bombay?” And they would pause expectantly, as if waiting for me to recognize Dr. Patel. Now, they want to know what restaurant I would recommend in the Bay Area for “authentic Indian food, you know, a hole-in-the-wall place where Indians go, not your white-people-Maharaja-Thali stuff.”

And I am wondering, do I want to tell you?
But it’s too late. In San Francisco’s Tenderloin, in streets that still smell of piss, where homeless men shuffle around at the street corner, the clutch of Indian and Pakistani restaurants is brimming with hipsters. There are at least half a dozen Indian restaurants within a couple of blocks. Shalimar was the original hole-in-the-wall, in a rundown neighborhood of junkies and musty SROs. It started out as a place where cabbies could run in for a quick bite. Nothing fancy, no tablecloths, just a bustling kitchen and tandoori chickens turning on the spit. Now, the homeless man standing outside trying to sell a street newspaper greets me with a “Namaste.”

Isn’t this what we always wanted? Isn’t this what we demanded? For other Americans to understand our culture? Acceptance? A place at the table? I guess we didn’t fully realize we could also become part of the menu.

Fifty years ago, my parents emigrated to England by ship. My mother pretended to the fishmonger that she had a cat, so she could take fish heads home for a good Bengali fish-head curry. When I moved to the United States three decades later, she told me stories of how afraid they were to cook fish in their apartment, in case the smell upset the Polish landlady.

At my university in the flat plains of Illinois, we also learned that we had a private culture and a public culture. In the grad student apartments, where many of the Indians shared rooms, we could have our tape players on blaring tinny Bollywood songs and watch streaky, pirated copies of Hindi films, while giant pots of communal dal and rice and curry bubbled on the stove. But in public, we learned to leave that culture at home. Boys didn’t hold hands on the street like they did in India, we were told. At the department potlucks, we held back on the spices. On Diwali, we didn’t have any celebration in the department, even though half the teaching assistants were Indian. Being Indian was for after work. Then we could finally let our guard down and just breathe.

No more. My private culture has become public. At a recent film festival in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, the theater was packed for Bollywood night. And the audience was very mixed. “Some screenings are 60- to 70-percent white,” Ivan Jaigirdar, festival director for 3rd I’s South Asian International Film Festival, told me once. “Especially the Bollywood films.”

I could see that. My friends and I were cringing even as we were having a grand time. It was a strangely protective feeling. Even as we laughed and rolled our eyes at the excess of it all, we stiffened when we heard the blonde woman behind us sniggering. I was thrilled that this candy-color, emotionally charged melodrama was leaping across cultures and entertaining a diverse audience. But the nagging doubt remains—what really does cross over?

Gaudy and outlandish as they can be, Bollywood films are also an intravenous cultural drip for me. I relate to them somewhere deep inside in a way I, myself, cannot put a finger on. I remember standing in my living room in San Francisco watching an old Hindi movie with my best friend. We oohed and aahed as tragic diva Meena Kumari slowly raised her head, as if the weight of all that gold and brocade was crushing her.

My American friends laughed with us then and at us as we stood in our T-shirts and jeans singing Hindi love songs of indescribable pathos in shrill falsettos, towels draped around our faces like veils. We all laughed together. But my American friends had no idea how we longed in our flat-footed way for Meena Kumari’s languid grace, how we tried to line our eyes with hopeless tragedy. And knowing we could never get there, we butchered it all by shrill impersonation, hiding our longing with caricature.

Bollywood is so visually overpowering, so defiant of logic in its Technicolor splendor, that it’s just too easy to get caught up in the spoofiness of it all. On-screen, Shah Rukh Khan’s face is quivering with emotion. The blonde woman behind me is chuckling at everything—the painful buffoonery of the comic relief, the little kid with the stagy lines, the syrupy romantic scenes where thundershowers and shooting stars appear on cue. The camp crosses over. The heart stays behind, lost in the subtitles.
The clock is pushing 1:00 a.m., and the blonde can’t believe the movie is still going strong. As one more hurdle shows up before the lovers can reunite, someone groans, “We will be here all night.” Those not used to Bollywood don’t know it’s like running a marathon. After all their knee-slapping hysterics in the first hour, they are now petering out in the final stretch. They are eyeing the exit sign, wondering how long the queue is at the restroom. They are glancing at their watches. They are laughing less.

And I feel a sweet sensation.

As they stagger out of the theater, clutching their heads, looking like they got off a non-stop flight from Mumbai to San Francisco, sick from all the popcorn they devoured, I can’t help thinking somehow, in its own way, Bollywood has had the last laugh.

Sandip Roy is an editor with New America Media and host of its radio show “New America Now” on KALW 91.7FM in San Francisco. This essay was commissioned by The San Francisco Foundation and Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund through support from The Wallace Foundation. It was first published as “Dawning of the Age of ‘a Curry and Us,’” on The San Francisco Foundation website in 2009 at sff.org/wallace.

01 August, 2009

The Zen Tiger: India 's Elections And The Magic Of Fareed Zakaria

PUBALI RAY CHAUDHURI
Countercurrents.org

Writing a defence of unfettered capitalism after the economic meltdown that left millions of people in the U.S. and all over the world jobless may seem a daunting task, rather like convincing people mauled by a tiger that the beast is actually a vegetarian and a practising Buddhist, and its latest manifestation of bloodthirstiness is merely an aberration in a life steeped in good works. In short, we need a virtuoso display of smoke and mirrors by skilled wordsmiths, able to perform the linguistic legerdemain to avert the danger that people may begin to question the system or seek to curb its excesses. Fortunately for the system, such commentators are not in short supply. Pay them well, and they will spin your yarns for you. They will lull and soothe. They will numb and dumb. In their hands, words anesthetize us into compliance; they keep us cheering for our oppressors even as we are devoured to the last crumb.

Consider Fareed Zakaria's recent cover essay “The Capitalist Manifesto,” ( Newsweek , June 22, 2009 ). Like other articles of the “everything's OK, relax” school, it unspools line after line of lucid, well-considered prose, all in a bid to convince us, the public, that the system that left so many of us jobless, homeless, uninsured, that gutted our life savings and splintered our dreams, is still the best option we have. If we could only overlook the tiger's unfortunate propensity occasionally to run amok spreading death and destruction in its wake, we would realize that it's really our best friend and how silly we would be to ever think of shackling such an adorable creature. The crisis now upon us, says Mr. Zakaria, is not one of capitalism, but of ethics. A few ethics management classes, and voila! The magician will have produced his miracle. The tiger will fetter and muzzle itself – it's a Buddhist, remember? A cuddly Zen tiger. A tiger you can trust.

or a moment Mr. Zakaria almost had me believing in miracles.
Until, that is, I confronted the following lines:

The simple truth is that with all its flaws, capitalism remains the most productive economic engine we have yet invented. Like Churchill's line about democracy, it is the worst of all economic systems, except for the others. Its chief vindication today has come halfway across the world, in countries like China and India , which have been able to grow and pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty by supporting markets and free trade. Last month India held elections during the worst of this crisis. Its powerful left-wing parties campaigned against liberalization and got their worst drubbing at the polls in 40 years.

The Indian elections, in Mr. Zakaria's view, constituted a popular mandate for “free trade” and “liberalization.”

Suddenly I am alert again, skeptical, sullenly refusing to accept Mr. Zakaria's avuncular assurances that uncontrolled capitalism is my ticket to the best of all possible economic worlds. I have breached the cardinal rule of successful magic: do not look too close; do not examine too deeply; allow yourself to be swept up in the moment; accept the illusion and feel its soporific joys stealing over your faculties of reason and logic. Alas, that some of us are born to cavil and to quibble, to peer into hats and to twitch aside curtains, to ask the questions that break the spell and spoil the fun! We are a tribe of heretics and party poopers, and if you decide to stay enchanted, stop reading here. What lies ahead is not pretty, and not prettified.

Others have preceded me in responding to the broader aspects of Mr. Zakaria's essay, notably Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone and Nick Beams of WSWS . What interests me most, however, is not so much Mr. Zakaria's defence of capitalism, for in this he is by no means alone. There exists a whole constellation of media luminaries, from Thomas Friedman to George F. Will, who constantly remind us of the virtues of the free market. I address Mr. Zakaria's work in particular here not for the claims he makes, which are not new, but for the context – India 's elections – in which he makes them. As Newsweek 's International Editor, Mr. Zakaria's words reach a vast audience, some of whom may not be familiar with the real issues that underlay this year’s election results in India . In fact, it might not be too much to say that many readers will form their opinions of the contemporary political climate in India based on what Mr. Zakaria and other widely known mainstream commentators tell their readers. It is necessary, therefore, to examine more carefully Mr. Zakaria's implied claim of widespread popular support for “free trade,” “capitalism,” “free markets,” liberalization,” call it what you will – a tiger by any other name - in the world's largest democracy – India.

Mr. Zakaria manages a fairly impressive series of rhetorical feats here, which are worth analyzing at some length. Without saying so directly, he succeeds in implying that the “hundreds of millions of people” supposedly pulled out of poverty, arising like so many Lazarii out of their grave-clothes, have recognized and feted the messiah of free trade responsible for their revivification. Such a mandate, if given at all, would apply only to India, for China's newly enriched millions, if they exist at all, never had the pleasure of endorsing their free trade bonanza. All the same, reading Mr. Zakaria's paean, one is left with the distinct impression that had the Chinese been able to vote, they would have supplied such endorsement. Lost in all the rejoicing, however, is one small detail – China is not a democracy in any sense of the word. Its people do not get a chance to say what they think – electorally or otherwise -- and the Chinese government has built up something of a reputation for the swift and brutal crushing of most forms of dissent. These finer points, however, find no mention in Mr. Zakaria's ringing exaltation of the capitalist system. As long as a nation's government embraces capitalism, he seems to be saying, whether or not its citizens live in a participatory democracy is a secondary consideration.

Passing lightly, then, over Mr. Zakaria's personal miracle – that of conflating two such different political systems as those of China and India under the unifying banner of “free trade” -- I approach the second part of his statement: India 's “powerful left-wing parties campaigned against liberalization and got their worst drubbing at the polls in 40 years.” By this point in the argument, one is beginning to appreciate the more subtle nuances of Mr. Zakaria's style. The above statement is not, strictly speaking, a lie – at least the latter part is not, the former being very partially true. Yet the gap between Mr. Zakaria's analysis and the realities on the ground yawns so wide that readers are likely to come away with a staggeringly distorted picture of what really happened.

One must give credit where it is due – Mr. Zakaria is a very fine writer, even if he chooses not to employ his considerable gifts in the service of the truth. Language can be used to clarify as well as to obfuscate; to serve the interests of the rich and powerful or to lend eloquence to the sufferings of the poor and voiceless. It can be used to buttress the status quo or to stoke the fires of revolutionary social change. Mr. Zakaria, it is clear, has chosen the former course. For instance, he makes no mention of the fact that the only “anti-liberalization” plank of the Left was its opposition to the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. The Left's position in this regard may have displeased those members of the upper and middle class of English-speaking Indians who are enamoured of the idea of India as a “global power,” as Ms. Clinton has recently dubbed a country whose infant mortality rate is worse than that of some countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Mr. Zakaria, born in Mumbai, is himself a member of this elite class, and it is perhaps natural that he should share with them the kind of blinkered reality that sees no implausibility in this fabulous monster, no contradiction between some of the worst development indices in the world and a budding superpower identifying one and the same country. But it is hardly to be expected that the people whose misery such indices quantify are going to be very impressed by the mendacious logic of a Zakaria or a Clinton.

In fact, even the Left, and its leading party the CPI(M), did not make much of an effort, beyond a poorly executed public march, to use the nuclear deal as a political hobby-horse. In any case, the Indian Left had a strong presence in only two of the country's 28 states: Kerala and West Bengal. Of the two, Kerala is a swing state, alternating between electing a Congress and a Marxist government. In West Bengal , on the other hand, the CPI(M)-led Left coalition defeated the Congress in 1977 and has since then been returned to power every time for the past 32 years. West Bengal's electoral results thus provide a crucial part of the evidence for Mr. Zakaria's assertion of the Left parties receiving “their worst drubbing in 40 years.”

Responsible for the electoral outcome that humbled the once mighty left were Bengal's humblest themselves, the peasants and sharecroppers whose unwavering support had sustained the coalition for over three decades. Aligned with the Left were big business houses, and the electoral result therefore constituted not only a clear mandate against liberalization, but also a vote for “Ma,” “Mati,” and “Manush,” (Mother, Land and People), the campaign slogan of the TMC, the party that stepped adroitly into the breach that the Left's rightward tilt had providentially opened up in the public goodwill. Even mainstream media outlets attributed the Left's poor showing at the polls to its anti-populist and pro-business policies. Indeed, some news reports went so far as to express anxiety for the party's prospects before the elections had actually taken place, noting that the Party had already been defeated in the local Assembly elections in those places that had been most affected by its unpopular policies: Singur and Nandigram. To talk of the Left receiving a drubbing without mentioning these two names, as Mr. Zakaria has done, is rather like narrating the tale of Napoleon's defeat without once alluding to Waterloo.

The Defeat of the Left: Singur

Singur was the first place to feel the winds of political change ushered in by a “reformist” Left. The government's tactics were rich in Orwellian irony: it used an ancient 1894 British colonial era land acquisition law to tell the farmers of Singur that they were shortly to be dispossessed of their land, where plans were afoot to set up a car manufacturing factory for the “people's car,” the low-cost Nano, by the Indian multinational, Tata, one of the country's richest and most influential business conglomerates. The farmers and sharecroppers at Singur learned, to their shock, that the fertile, multi-crop land where they grew greens and potatoes and which had sustained them for generations was somehow set down in the government's records as “mono-crop.” The government further insulted the farmers by offering them a one-time compensation for the land many regarded not as a mere possession, but as the source of their common identity.
When the tiger is close upon you, and you can feel its hot breath in your face and see the jaws open and the teeth gleam, reality has a way of breaking through the wordspell. Not all Mr. Zakaria's eloquence could have convinced Singur's residents of the benefits of “liberalization” when their lands and livelihoods were the sacrifices demanded. They rose in revolt against the expropriation of their land. The government fought back, using state police and thugs who had long formed the muscle power of the party cadres. A teenage girl, Tapasi Malik, who had been in the forefront of her people's struggle for land preservation, paid a horrific price. She was raped, apparently by a gang, murdered, and her body burnt and thrown in the fields. Others who lost their land committed suicide, acts that the government refused to acknowledge as having anything to do with the forcible dispossession of land – when it acknowledged them at all.

The CPI(M)'s political rivals, the Congress included, were not slow to take advantage of the situation. Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamul Congress, who had long languished in the political wilderness, being the only member of her party to win a parliamentary seat from West Bengal, swiftly cast herself and her party as the new champions of the toiling masses – the very people who had been the Left's staunchest supporters. Banerjee also formed a politically convenient alliance with the Congress. The high-handed attempts of the CPI(M) to suppress the popular resistance created a gap into which the TMC quickly and gleefully stepped. The resistance continued for so long that the Tatas were finally compelled to announce that they were withdrawing from Singur, but by then the seeds of distrust in the Left had already been sown in the popular psyche – and they would bear swifter and bloodier fruit in the next town to be mauled by the Left's new found capitalist sympathies – Nandigram.

The Defeat of the Left: Nandigram

With Singur, it had been a car factory; in Nandigram, the Left Front wished to set up a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for the Salim group of Indonesia, which had first risen to prominence during the murderous U.S.-supported dictatorship of Suharto, and which maintains close ties with the Suharto family. Here again the government attempted to dispossess the farmers to make way for the “free trade” saviour, but the residents of Nandigram, like those in Singur, proved curiously disinclined to assist in their own salvation – perhaps because they did not see it as such.
Moreover, they had been alerted by what had happened in Singur and were better prepared to resist. They dug up roads, formed a committee, the Bhumi Ucched Pratirodh Committee (Land Expropriation Resistance Committee) or BUPC and blockaded their village, refusing access to outsiders.

This time the government, finding that persuasion was vain, unleashed a series of brutal state terror campaigns. Throughout 2008, on several occasions, government-sponsored death squads, including police, descended on Nandigram and went on a spree of vicious beatings, rapes, lootings, arson and murders. Police refused to register the victims' complaints and the government hospitals refused to provide needed medical care for the injured. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch documented the abuses and subsequent government indifference. More than a hundred people had died and Nandigram had become a national flashpoint for workers' rights when the government finally decided to move its SEZ elsewhere. It left behind a people bereaved, traumatized – and a general distrust and seething anger in large sections of the poorest citizens, who had thought of the Left as at least having some concern, however inadequate, for their well-being. Now that faith lay irrevocably shattered.

The Defeat of the Left: The Muslim Angle

Other reasons also contributed to popular disaffection with the Left, though none of them had to do with some newfound enthusiasm for “free trade.” One such incident was the Rizwan Noor case, where Noor, a young Muslim man, was allegedly murdered while in police custody for having a relationship with the daughter of a wealthy Hindu family. Many strongly suspected that government collusion in the cover-up of any investigation into Noor's death, causing widespread resentment among Muslims, who had earlier been largely supportive of the Left because of the latter's secular credentials. The second such blow to the image of the Left fell when the Sachar Committee released its report. The committee found that even though one in four of West Bengal 's population was Muslim, they made up only 4.7% of the nation's workforce. Not unnaturally, many Muslims began to rethink their support for the Left.

Left, Right, Left: The Struggle Continues


At the time of writing, the resistance of West Bengal 's poor against the unholy alliance of big business and a government that calls itself communist still continues apace. The tribal populations of Lalgarh (the name, tellingly, means “Red Fortress”) now face similar dispossession from their land in order to make way for a steel plant, to be built on another such “liberalized” SEZ. The tribals, understandably unwilling to buy into this definition of “liberalization' that threatens to deprive them of their livelihoods and reduce them to a sort of economic slavery, have put up a spirited fight to retain possession of their land. This response has resulted in the usual repression by a government determined not to tolerate stubborn citizens who refuse to participate in their own destitution, who see through the spin and will not be deluded. Zen the tiger, if you can; if you can't, send in the militia.

Beyond West Bengal

Although this article has focused mostly on West Bengal, for reasons that I have already explained, the defeat of the Left Front and the victory of the Congress at the Centre do not constitute, by any means, a popular mandate for “free trade.” As the respected economist Venkatesh Athreya has pointed out, a host of factors, both local and national, have brought about the Congress victory. What has been conspicuously absent is the very thing Mr. Zakaria claims to be largely responsible for the Left's defeat: a public expression of support for big business and its concomitant policies of forced expropriation of land, suppression of dissent by violence, and intended suspension of human rights and environmental protections. On the contrary, the people have rejected strongly the hypocrisy of a Janus-faced party that calls itself “Left,” and “Communist,” yet aligns itself with powerful capitalists against its own constituents.

Mr. Zakaria's analysis Zens the tiger. It perpetuates the lie that the economic hardships we now face are temporary, that though slumps may come, they are merely interruptions in a larger narrative of shared prosperity, that capitalism is inherently a sound system needing no outside control. Myths like this are very comforting, especially in a time of crisis, when people cling all the harder to the ideological absolutes in which they have been taught to put their trust. But tigers are not vegetarian; they are not Buddhists; they are not naturally inclined to pacifism. Not very comforting. Not very reassuring. But the truth.

Pubali Ray Chaudhuri lives and writes in Newark , California . Her articles have appeared in India Currents, Axis of Logic and Online Journal .

Lalgarh and the radicalization of resistance: from ‘ordinary civilians’ to political subjects?

SAROJ GIRI

MRZine

One image stands out from the Lalgarh resistance. Chattradhar Mahato, the most visible leader of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA), distributing food to ordinary villagers — not as a high-up leader doing charity but as one among them. Is this the ‘new’ image of the Maoist? But maybe Mahato is not a Maoist — he himself denies being one. But if he is not, given his power and influence in the area, the ‘dictatorial’ Maoists must have eliminated him by now? Then maybe he is only being used by them, following their ‘diktat’ out of fear. But a man with the kind of popularity and love from the masses would fear the Maoists? So, is he a Maoist, or like a Maoist, after all? But a Maoist who is this popular among the masses and who does not seem to terrorize them?

These questions are tricky, almost baffling to many. For the resistance in Lalgarh is a unique experiment, not following any formulaic path or given script. The Lalgarh resistance not only rattled local power relations and state forces but also challenged accepted ideas and practices of resistance movements, their internal constitution, and above all opened up radical possibilities for the initiative of the masses — partly symbolized in the unscripted image and contested political identity of Mahato and indeed of the PCAPA vis-à-vis Maoists. Crucially, Lalgarh undermines conventional ideas about the relationship between ‘peaceful’ and ‘violent’ forms of struggle and inaugurates possibilities of resistance unfettered by given notions of political subjectivity or by subservience to the ‘rule of law’.
Lalgarh defied the long-standing shackles on social movements in the country that would ultimately restrict their forms of struggle within the confines given by the lines of command emanating from the Indian state’s monopoly over violence. Lalgarh showed that, when the democratic struggle of the masses runs into conflict with the repressive apparatus of the state which has lost all democratic legitimacy, the struggle assumes the form of a violent mass movement. This violent action, being the expression of heightened mass democratic struggle, bringing down structures that anyway have lost all basis, is in every sense a political struggle, an armed struggle if you like, but has nothing to do with a so-called ‘conflict situation’ where ordinary civilians are shown as only trapped and suffering.

Take the violent Dharampur mass action of June 19, an event many on the left and right decried as a Maoist take-over and an end to the democratic struggle. When this action triggered an offensive by security forces to ‘reclaim’ the area, did the situation turn into a conflict zone between the state and the armed Maoists, with ‘ordinary civilians’ trapped and waiting for outside aid? This then is the crucial point: Lalgarh refused to lend itself to the usual narrative which presents every armed struggle into a depoliticized ‘conflict situation’ with images of suffering women and children waiting for the international community and NGO aid workers to come and save them.

The image of the ‘ordinary civilian’ here was not one of ‘refusing to take sides’ and rushing to grab the first bit of relief supplies, but one exemplified by someone like Malati. Clearly showing where her political sympathies lay, Malati stayed on in the PCAPA-run camp and refused the administration’s medical help as she gave birth to a baby — the ambulance waiting for her went back empty (The Statesman, Kolkata, June 30, 2009). Malati’s ‘humanitarian needs’ were fulfilled by the very struggle which carried out the ‘violent mass action’ — no space for NGOs and the welfarist state, exemplifying the autonomous character of the resistance. What happened was not just that ‘ordinary civilians’ and adivasis supported the Maoists; the very image of a Maoist underwent a change so that anybody, including women and children, could be a Maoist.

‘Ordinary Civilians’, Maoists
The question then: do ordinary civilians stand opposed to and separate from the Maoists? This point becomes pertinent from another angle. Large sections of democratic forces in the country opposing the security-centric solution to the upsurge in Lalgarh proclaim the need to always separate the ordinary villagers/adivasis from the Maoists. The chief minister, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, is attacked for conflating the two and using the ‘bogey of Maoists’ to victimize ordinary civilians and crush the democratic struggle of the masses.

Lalgarh thus throws several questions: Is the tribal morphing into the Maoist? Is the groundswell of support for the Maoists such that the adivasis will mostly be Maoists? In today’s situation, is it possible to be other than Maoist and still assert the kind of political resistance and autonomy that the masses of Lalgarh are presenting today?

The question really is: where and how does the adivasi in resistance stand vis-à-vis the Maoist? What if the separation of the two is integral to the present statist approach to the Maoists, so central to it that it has to be invented and enforced where one does not exist? Then, the democratic rights approach calling on the state to make this separation, and spare ‘innocent civilians’, may be a dangerous double-edged sword.

Now what Lalgarh showed is that separating the adivasis from Maoists is no great democratic act, but is in fact what allows the state to undertake severe repression and at the same time claim that it acted in the interests of ordinary civilians. Thus where this separation cannot be made, the state in fact invents it. This was clear from the responses of state officials. When the West Bengal home secretary Ardhendu Sen admitted that “it is tough to distinguish between the PCAPA and the Maoists”, it was clear that the separation does not hold (The Statesman, Kolkata, 19 June 2009). And yet, even though ordinary people cannot be separated from Maoists, the State chief secretary invented this separation, when he stated, in the same news report, that security forces would “ensure security for ordinary people”. Further, “he stated that common villagers are not involved directly involved with the violence but they are the victims of the violent activities of the Maoists”.
There were reports of the “Maoists support base in women and children” (The Statesman, 28 June 2009). This support base meant that state officials could hardly find locals for gathering crucial intelligence inputs about the Maoists after the CPIM network collapsed; a senior state officer was quoted stating that “unless we have local sources, it is going to be extremely difficult to identify the Maoists, who have mingled with the villagers. Although these (new) men are from Lalgarh, we haven’t got people from the core area. Those villages are still out of bounds”(The Telegraph, Friday June 26, 2009).

In this light, as in the case of Malati, it is not really the armed Maoist who is most dangerous in Lalgarh; it is the ‘ordinary civilian’, the PCAPA supporter who is indistinguishable form the Maoist supporter. Is Malati a Maoist? If she refuses health care offered during her most vulnerable moment, then what is the state supposed to do to win back her support? If ‘ordinary civilians’ do not want to get out of the ‘conflict situation’, and want to take sides, maybe not in any dramatic manner but at least by wanting to err on the side of the ‘violent Maoists’, then the task of separating the Maoists from the civilians becomes tough — and in fact politically reactionary.

What the state realized in Lalgarh was that if anyone can be a Maoist, and if the separation does not hold, then the way to go, under a democracy, is to technically enforce a ’separation’. A technical solution: reports tell us that the security forces in parts of Lalgarh would sprinkle a special kind of an imported dye from a helicopter in areas where Maoists are present. This dye makes a mark on the skin which stays for almost a year. Well, now you can clearly separate Maoists from the ‘ordinary civilians’!

Inventing and enforcing a separation therefore allows the state to repress a popular movement in the name of winning over or defending ordinary civilians. This enforced separation is such that even when the adivasi in Lalgarh stands with the Maoist or is a Maoist it is regarded not as the condition of the adivasi in the given conjuncture, as part of what it means to be an adivasi, his being or life, but negatively understood as the fallout of government policies. Thus an adivasi Maoist is treated as just waiting to be rescued or won back into the democratic mainstream by benign policies and favours.

Images of Adivasi and Forms of Struggle
Now the Maoist cadre can and must be distinguished from the ‘ordinary villager’ or adivasi. However some quarters are not just making this distinction but heavily invested in proactively separating the two — trying to understand Lalgarh through it. This is happening since this separation is sustained by at least two other long established images of the ‘ordinary villager’ and in particular of the adivasi.
In one case, this separation is sustained by presenting a now familiar image of the ordinary villager or adivasi as the victim, the displaced, a negative fallout of the Nehruvian belief in science and industrial development. In the second case, there is the image of the adivasi resisting ‘modern development and industrialisation’ and engaging in democratic forms of struggle, engaging in non-hierarchical and autonomous welfarist activities outside the state and statist logic.

The first image informs some ‘pro-poor’, welfare policies of the state, for the ‘upliftment of tribals and displaced’, the kinds declared in rehabilitation packages or ‘poverty alleviation’ programmes. The second one comes from the dissident, anti-state left where being the marginalized and the subaltern (’outside’ of modernity and capital) in itself is supposed to form the basis of ‘political’ struggle. These two images, often running counter to each other, however start converging as they get invested in and start deriving their rationale and intensity from their ability to ideologically pit the benign, democracy-loving ‘ordinary villager’ or adivasi against the supposed violence, top-down terror methods and repressive character of the Maoists.

However the events in Lalgarh have shown that this separation pushes back the ‘ordinary villagers’ into political infancy, not allowing them to break with the statist logic and the morass of parliamentary democracy. For once the ‘ordinary villagers’ or adivasis break with being mere victims and act autonomously as political subjects, they very soon come into conflict with the logic of not just the state but also of oppressive power relations more generally. Deep-rooted power structures that have found their expression in the abstraction called the state do not fade away progressively through democratic practice and rational deliberation; they exist with a necessity, a knotted base which cannot be untangled unproblematically, without a rupture.

Dharampur marked this rupture where the use of force bringing down the now decrepit power structures was anticipated by the democratic struggle and marked its intensification and qualitative expansion. From the perspective of the longer struggle, the use of violence at this stage is only a gentle push to bring down terribly weakened but knotty oppressive structure — a push to eliminate the now even more intolerable limits imposed on the democratic practices of the masses. The mass violence at Dharampur was such an intensification of the autonomous practices of the Lalgarh adivasis. This ‘ordinary villager’ or adivasi who refuses to limit his democratic practices and struggle within the lines of command given by the state and its oppressive relations, at this point, emerges as the Maoist. In the given conjuncture, the ‘Maoist’ is the articulation of the ordinary villager or adivasi as the political subject.

What Lalgarh showed is the interplay and interrelation between the ‘peaceful’ and ‘violent’ methods of struggle. This means that it is not possible to separate the democratic struggle from the Maoist moment in it. However the state as the defender of oppressive relations in its most generalized form, isolates the violent methods of the Maoists and tries to show it in isolation from the larger struggle of the people against oppression. In a bid to force ‘ordinary villagers’ to restrict their democratic struggle and practices within the limits set by the state and its agencies, by the limits of parliamentary democracy, the state wants to target Maoists. This is where the state and, perhaps not surprisingly, the democratic rights activists make the separation between ordinary villagers waiting to be uplifted and the violent Maoists exploiting their plight.

It is against such deft ideological operations that it needs to be pointed out that the ‘violent Maoist’ is actually an emergent quality of the democratic struggle and autonomous political practices of the ‘ordinary villager’ or adivasi in Lalgarh. For, the moment you separate the two, you are back to enclave democracy, NGOisation. It is here that we have to ask what it means to oppose the state for using the ‘bogey of Maoists’ in order to kill and repress ordinary villagers and ordinary civilians. Now, the state does not always kill civilians; nor does it right away go after anyone who calls himself a Maoist (didn’t the Bengal government arrest Gour Chakraborty1 only at an opportune time?). The state invariably kills, as we see in Lalgarh, when civilians, ordinary villagers, adivasis, enter into a symbiotic relationship with the Maoists; or when the Maoists enter into such a relationship with ordinary villagers. That is, ‘ordinary villagers’ now are no ordinary villagers engaged in ‘participatory democracy’ or ‘rural empowerment’ but are challenging the very framework given by the state as the generalized expression of power relations; similarly the Maoists are not a small band of abstract believers in violence roaming the countryside recruiting children and poverty-stricken tribals for a Cause but are now engaged in a real struggle on the side of the masses.

Therefore the state does not really kill ordinary villagers in the name of killing Maoists; it kills those who are ’supporters’ of the Maoists, those who are part of the larger, longer struggle which at some point or other assumes the name of Maoist. To be sure there are armed Maoist combatants and unarmed civilians and one needs to differentiate the two. However if the democratic struggle and the ‘violent’ struggle so often get intertwined and intersperse each other, if the Maoist moment is an integral moment of the overall struggle, then unarmed civilians are an integral part of the Maoist movement.

To say that the Maoist is the name for the articulation of the ordinary villager/adivasi as a political subject is to say that autonomous democratic practices do not close shop once the repressive state moves in, the form of struggle often alternates between ‘peaceful’ and ‘violent’ ones, and armed revolutionaries as much as unarmed civilians form part of the struggle. Thus the resistance in Lalgarh was such that it was extremely difficult to sustain the separation between the Maoists and the adivasi population.

Benign Government
Even as there is mounting evidence that ordinary adivasis are part of Maoist politics in the area, the government today is forced to somehow act as though the adivasis are waiting to be won over through the right development policies, employment opportunities. First security forces were sent in to flush out Maoists. With hardly any encounters with the Maoists, the armed forces basically marched endlessly from one village to the next, across empty fields and villages whose male members had mostly fled. It is anybody’s guess where the male members had escaped to! After the ’success’ of this ‘flushing out’ operation, sincere attempts are being made to reach out to the people there with all kinds of development plans, employment generation, food and medical provisions. Under express directions form the chief minister, the secretaries from different ministers are posted in the different villages finding out the problems and needs of the people there.
One should not here doubt the sincerity of the CPIM to really follow the democratic rights perspective here in separating ordinary villagers and the Maoists. In fact it declared that it wants to fight the Maoists politically, grudgingly accepting the centre’s ban on the Maoists. So much so that the state government declared that it does not want to apply the UAPA, except in rare cases and that too the police will not have the authority to decide its use which will be decided by the government at the highest level.

Now all these welfarist proposals derive their rationale from the belief that ordinary villagers/adivasis stand opposed to the Maoists or got temporarily duped into supporting Maoists. However in a total reversal of this separation theory, in Lalgarh ordinary villagers not only rejected the welfarist state but upheld the Maoists precisely in their supposed violent avatar.

That is, while, on the one hand, you had the case of Malati rejecting the most benign offer the state can ever make, the 0ffer of medical care to the mother and new-born baby, on the other hand, you had ‘ordinary civilians’ cheering and celebrating (ululate) the mass action at Dharampur, destroying the house of the CPIM leader Anuj Pandey. Where does one draw the line between ordinary villagers and ‘violent Maoists’ when women who reject welfare measures offered by the state are more than participative in violent programmes of the Maoists? The Hindustan Times reports from Dharampur, “A huge crowd gathered below in the area now under Section 144 lustily cheering each blow that fell on the white two-story house, quite out of place in this land of deprivation under Lalgarh police station. By sundown, the hammers had chopped off the first floor, leaving behind a skeleton of what was a ‘posh’ house in the morning” (Hindustan Times, 16 June 2009).

Conclusion
Thus the approach of trying to defend the human rights of ‘ordinary civilians’ by arguing that they are not with the Maoists allows the state to justify repression of the Maoists in the name of defending the rights of these civilians. Far from this separation being something which the state must be forced to adopt, the state in fact was seen in Lalgarh to enforce it. Lalgarh showed that when the ‘ordinary civilians’ rejected the state even at its welfarist best and made it difficult to separate them from the Maoists, the state was forced to invent a technical separation (a particular dye mark on the body identifying a Maoist). This however did not work.

Those on the left who support the democratic struggle in Lalgarh but deplore its supposed Maoist takeover, too, vociferously uphold this separation. What this separation does is prevent the interplay between different forms of struggle, ‘peaceful’ and ‘violent’, and constrict it within the limits set by the decrepit structures of state power. In the name of defending the democratic struggle from the authoritarian Maoists, it actually precludes the autonomous emergence of this struggle, a full-fledged political struggle against and beyond the limits set by state power.

Lalgarh showed that the Maoist is the name for the articulation of the democratic struggle which now refuses to give up even when it comes face to the face with the state exercising its monopoly of violence. Opening a novel chapter in the interrelationship between the ‘Maoist party’ and mass resistance, the Maoist ‘take-over’ of the ‘democratic struggle’ was actually the latter’s articulation beyond the last limits set up by given structures of power, the refusal of the struggle to recoil and rescind in the face of this power, refusal to remain merely another enclosure of democracy, the site of ‘primitive accumulation’ for capital and its democratic claims. It is a movement and a resistance where ordinary civilians no longer appear ordinary, and where the Maoists do not appear crudely vanguardist. Lalgarh today helps us rethink the entire question of political subjectivity, party, and the masses — but above all of democracy and its concrete realization through mass action.

Note
Gour Chakraborty, a veteran and widely respected Communist in his early 70s, had been a leading figure of the Ganapratirodh Mancha (Democratic Resistance Front), a coalition of left revolutionary groups in Kolkata. On December 26, 2008 West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said that the government wished to deal with the Lalgarh rebellion “politically.” Gour Chakraborty then announced that he had quit the Democratic Resistance Front to become the public spokesperson for the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in West Bengal, offered to meet the Chief Minister, and said “we are giving the CPI-M a chance to deal with us politically.” But despite efforts from other constituents of the Left Front in West Bengal, the leadership of the CPI-M refused to enter into political discussions with Chakraborty. On June 23, 2009 the West Bengal government arrested Chakraborty, using the provisions of the draconian anti-terrorism Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, as he was leaving a talk show on a TV channel. [ed.]

Courtesy: Countercurrents