New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
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?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

27 August, 2010

Remembering Franz Schurmann


By B.R.P. Bhaskar

Franz Schurmann, who passed away in San Francisco on August 20, was a sociologist, historian, political scientist, journalist and futurologist all rolled into one. He could be all these at the same time because he had a scintillating mind which was constantly reviewing the past, observing the present and looking into the future.

Franz did not rely on secondary sources. His desire to get to primary sources led him to study many languages. He could handle a dozen of them.

I had the privilege of being a house guest of Franz and his partner Sandy Close twice. There was a gap of nearly two decades between my two visits to their home. I was amazed by the breadth of his intellectual vision which enabled him to switch interest from one challenging area to another in that period.

Franz was professor of Sociology and History at the University of California at Berkeley and Sandy was his student. I first met Sandy when she stopped in India in 1965 on her way home from Hong Kong where she had worked with the Far Eastern Economic Review for a year. She wanted to see rural India, and I showed her round a couple of villages in Uttar Pradesh.

I first visited Franz and Sandy in 1969 soon after they had set up home. He was a China expert then. He had studied the Chinese language and personally interviewed many refugees from the mainland living in Hong Kong for his book “Organization and Ideology of Communist China”, published the previous year.

At that time the United States administration, aided by an obliging media, was pretending that Taiwan was China and that a band of exiles holed up in that island constituted the government of China. The Nixon presidency was on but the secret Kissinger mission and US recognition of the Beijing regime were yet to come.

Franz was one of the first Americans to realize the folly of the Vietnam War. He visited Hanoi while US planes were bombing the Communist North. The upsurge of peace sentiment among young Americans and media persons’ exposure of crimes which made the war unpopular were yet to come.

When I visited them again in 1988, I found that his focus had shifted from China to the Arab world. Not only the problems that had been haunting the region since long but also the new ones that had arisen in the wake of the oil boom engaged his attention. He had learnt Arabic. He came home in the evening with bundles of Arab newspapers to pore over at night.

A few years ago Franz was in Kerala to lecture on the New China. He had come at the invitation of a leftist organization, which had arranged the talk for the benefit of state leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Franz and Sandy were co-founders of the Pacific News Service, which began operations in 1970. By delving into areas neglected by mainline American newspapers, it quickly gained acceptance as a reliable alternative source of information. As California’s minority population grew, PNS developed into a broad-based ethnic network named New America Media.

Sandy Close, who is Executive Director of NAM, sums up his role in the building of the organization in these words: “Franz was constantly shifting and expanding his lens, drawing on his readings of foreign-language media. PNS would never have made the breakthrough to NAM had it not been for his example.”

Franz’s weekly PNS column “Predictions” provided rare insights into developments across the world. It testified as much to the brilliance of his mind as to the wide range of his interests.

Friends and admirers have opened a Franz Schurmann Memorial Page on Facebook and announced plans to set up a Franz Schurmann Memorial Fund to support freelance journalists on special travel assignments.

Sandy Close’s write-up on Franz Schurmaann in the Berkeley Daily Planet

NAM Senior Editor Andrew Lam’s tribute: A Curious, Restless American Soul

New York Times obituary: Cold War expert on China dies at 84

More tributes and links to selected writings of Franz Schurmann at newamericamedia.org.

25 August, 2010

There is no cure for illusions, AHRC reminds India

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

The expectation of the Union Home Minister, Mr. P. Chidambaram that the ordinary citizens will come forward to assist law enforcement officers in combating armed militancy and terrorism is unfortunately an illusion. The minister was reiterating his wish and request to his fellow citizens while addressing the top police officers of the country in a meeting organised by the home ministry in New Delhi, today. The Prime Minister is also expected to address the two-day meeting, convened to discuss about terrorism and armed militancy.

It is true that the Union Home Ministry has been consistent in its position of inviting armed groups operating in the country for discussions with the government to end extremist militancy, particularly of the extreme leftist origin. The approach, in theory, indicates the maturity of a government and underscores the importance of dialogue to resolve issues within a democratic framework. It is unfortunate that the Naxalites operating in the country have refused to accept the call, though they have their own reasons to trash the government's requests for dialogues.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is of the opinion that the Naxalites and other armed militia are merely exploiting democratic failures. Unfortunately in India, the list of issues open for exploitation is quite a few, ranging from poverty and malnutrition to loss of livelihood options and brutal forms of caste based discrimination. For a detailed analysis of the issue please read 'Naxalites and Maoists exploit democratic failures', published on May 19, 2010 and 'Maoists will not save the country's poor' published on April 7, 2010.

While it is the duty of a citizen to assist the government and its various agencies to counter anti-national activities, it is equally a citizen's right to expect that the government execute its democratic mandate as promised by the constitution. The government of India has largely failed thus far in complying with this mandate, and governments' failures consistently exploited by corrupt politicians and law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

For instance, the public perception of a police officer is that of a uniformed criminal, paid by the exchequer. The practice of torture is consistent and widespread in the country. In places like Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur, extrajudicial executions - encounter killings as it is referred to in India - is rampant. Witness protection is impossible in India due to the absence of any legal framework to provide protection to persons who are willing to depose in courts against criminals.

Going by the widely accepted definition of terrorism - premeditated use or threat of use of violence to obtain political, religious, or ideological ends - the Chief Minister of Manipur, Mr. Okram Ibobi Singh and his government could be prosecuted for engaging in terror acts. So is the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Mr. Narendra Modi, who allegedly masterminded the Gujarat pogrom of 2002.

While in Gujarat, the state police was plentifully used to facilitate what could be defined as genocide of Muslims, in Manipur, the state police have become a synonym of terror. Yet, those responsible for injuring and murdering citizens at the behest of their political masters and for sheer corrupt means have been largely left free and allowed to continue in their service. While some police officers in Gujarat faced investigation and prosecution, in Manipur none has been prosecuted yet, though every day the state police, in what is often claimed as encounter killing, reportedly murder some one or the other.

The very fact that despite the murder of an estimated 700 'suspected terrorists' each year in Manipur by the security agencies, armed militancy in that state has not reduced. Going by the state government's own reports, armed militancy in the state has instead increased over the past two years. In this backdrop there are also serious allegations against Ibobi and his government that the Chief Minister is posing terrorism as a means to extract money from the central government in the pretext of countering it.

The extrajudicial executions carried out by the Manipur state police is suspected to be undertaken at the behest of the Chief Minister and his political allies to prove to the union government that they need money to counter terrorism and the statutory impunity in the form of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 to prevent the security agencies from being investigated or prosecuted for their criminal acts. The union government's financial aid that amounts to several millions of rupees each year to the state governments does not require to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, leaving it to be spend at the absolute whims of the state government.

While the tax money is spent in such fashion, the law enforcement agencies, particularly the state police, continues to remain one of the worst in the world. True, the Indian police might be better in comparison to some of their counterparts in the region. But Indians definitely disserve better.

Yet, it is no one's concern in India to address deep-rooted organisational and performance issues concerning police. Political parties of all colours continue to meticulously resist any attempt to free the police from political control. The police on the other hand let the politicians exploit them and have unilaterally declared their perpetual servitude to the politicians since they also benefit from the resultant cycle of corruption and nepotism. The furore in the Indian parliament about the nuclear bill was not visible when the Torture Prevention Bill 2010 was discussed. On the contrary legislators of all colours tried to water down the already week law. This important piece of legislation is useless if it is enacted in the current form.

The national media also have ignored the subject. There was literally no discussion at all about the proposed Bill against torture in the national press when the Bill was debated in the lower house of the Indian parliament, the Lok Sabha. Today the Bill is pending consideration of the upper house of the parliament, the Rajya Sabha. Yet, none is interested in raising this issue. Those who lament that democracy warrants public discussions on proposed legislations through media articles have remained silent about the complete lack of discussion about the proposed law against torture.

On the contrary, state legislations like the Kerala Police Bill, 2010 are drafted with utter disregard to human rights and fundamental guarantees provided in the constitution. The Union Home Minister has among his participants, Mr. Jacob Punnoose, the author of this unique law, that if enacted will allow even police constables to breach basic privacy of the citizens guaranteed in the constitution. This proposed law too, has been tabled in the state legislative assembly without any public discussion, and trashing a better law proposed by the Kerala Law Reforms Commission chaired by none other than Justice V. R. Krishna Iyer.

The logical question is why is this law against torture so important and what is its connection to the depleting national security? Rampant use of torture is the singular tool with which the police have generated fear among the citizens, that the average citizen today fears to approach the police even when they are in need. It is the absence of a proper investigating and prosecuting mechanism against torture that lets the police resort to torture even in cases where they can investigate crimes with whatever little training and facilities the police have in India today.

While international condemnation of torture today is as serious as that against genocide and other crimes against humanity, a large section of police officers in India today still believe that torturing a suspect is their right and that torture is a legitimate form of punishment and tool for crime investigation. These officers receive support from legislators with the 18th century mindset like Mr. K. Radhakrishnan, the current Speaker of the Kerala Legislative Assembly, who has repeatedly addressed police officers assuring them that in a country like India, third degree methods are required to police the people and that human rights is an 'occupational hazard' for the police.

While expecting and requesting support from the common citizens, the Union Home Minister must also bear in mind that the people from whom the government expects support are so alienated from their police due to the fear the police have generated among the people. For the citizenry there is hardy any difference between the colonial police and that of independent India. Though 1950 gave Indians a democratic socialist republic, the republic still carries the burden of having to be administered with the police and their political masters who operate with a coloniser's mindset.

Calling for people's participation without clearly articulated and enforced police reforms will only result in retarded response from the citizenry. Unless affirmative and visible steps are taken to change the unacceptable status quo, expecting the citizens to perform their duty while the state agencies engage in brutal crimes is sheer illusion.

24 August, 2010

Researcher who questioned EVM reliability is arrested

Photo: Courtesy www.topnews.in

Hari K. Prasad, Managing Director of Netindia, a research and development firm, has been arrested following his refusal to disclose the source that provided an electronic voting machine to a team of security researchers, according to a report at the SiliconIndia website.

He and other researchers have long questioned the security of India's paperless electronic voting machines.

The Election Commission of India insists that the machines are tamper-proof.

As per the reports Prasad was questioned Saturday morning at his home in Hyderabad by authorities who wanted to know the identity of the source who gave the voting machine to the research team. Prasad was ultimately arrested and taken to Mumbai, though reportedly hadn't been charged with a crime.

In 2009, the commission publicly challenged Prasad to show that India's voting machines could be compromised, but refused to give him access to the machines to perform a review. Earlier this year, an anonymous source provided a machine to a research team led by him. The team exposed security flaws that could allow an attacker to change election results and compromise ballot secrecy. They published a paper detailing their findings.

Human Rights groups point out that the Election Commission should have given researchers access to the voting machines in the first place. Prasad is a respected researcher who helped to discover a critical flaw in India's voting system. He and his fellow researchers would never have been able to document the weaknesses in the voting machines without the help of the anonymous source. This is precisely why anonymity is important: it allows people to make important contributions to the public dialogue without fear of retribution.

Netindia describes itself as an “IP Surveillance & Streaming Systems & Solutions company. The company, based in Hyderabad, was incorporated in February 2000.

13 August, 2010

Stop communal violence: Nationwide protest on August 25

Jagadish Chandra, Peoples' Solidarity Concerns, Bangalore, writes:

Dear friends,

Perhaps you are aware that the survivors of Kandhamal communal violence are completing two years of misery from the main attacks on August 25, 2010. As per official figures, 38 persons were murdered, more than 600 villages were ransacked, 5,600 houses were looted and burnt and 54,000 people were left homeless. Human rights groups estimate that over 100 people were killed, including women, disabled people, children, Adivasis and Dalits. Three women were gang-raped and many were injured. 295 churches were destroyed. Schools, colleges and even medical institutions were not spared. Thousands of people cannot go back to their villages even now. Many are still living in tents in Kandhamal. Almost all those who are responsible for the violence are either freely moving around or getting acquitted.

Peoples'Solidarity Concerns, a coalition of many groups in Bangalore. believes that it is a shame that even after two years of agony no justice has been delivered to the survivors of Kandhamal communal massacre. Almost all the affected victims are Adivasis and Dalit Christians. The National Solidarity Forum, of which we are also part, has called for a nationwide protest on August 25 to demand justice for the survivors of Kandhamal. In support of this call, Peoples' Solidarity Concerns is calling for a protest in front of the Town Hall in Bangalore at 4.30 pm on August 25. An art exhibition undertaken by two Dalit artists who travelled around in Kandhamal is ready. Those who can organize the exhibition, please contact us. It can be downloaded from the net in A/3 size.

We request all secular friends to actively mobilize and participate in the protest. We request all civil society groups outside Bangalore also to do similar actions in their own respective area since Kandhamal is only a symbol and attacks on the Christians have taken place in over 10 states including Karnataka.

We appeal to all of you to actively isolate the communal and fascistic forces so that no more Kandhamals are repeated anywhere in future.

Jagadish Chandra,
Peoples' Solidarity Concerns, Bangalore.
Ph: 09448394365
email:peoplesconcerns@gmail.com

09 August, 2010

Have I joined the Popular Front?

J. Devika

In the past few weeks, I have been asked over and over again, not always in jest, if I had joined the Popular Front. I am not surprised. The police investigation around the violence against the college teacher at Muvattupuzha has broken all previous records in not only the violation of human and civil rights, but also in the silence of Kerala’s enlightened intellectuals. If I recall right, only Nandigram evoked such a dense and deliberate silence from them. No wonder, anyone who speaks up against the manner in which the police is being armed and authorized against ‘bad muslims’ is immediately dubbed a supporter of the Popular Front. But I am intrigued by this simple question, by which the entire history of that person’s engagement with discussions around religion and the state is erased.

For the rest of the article, please go to Kafila