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31 December, 2010

Binayak Sen: 'My prosecution is mala fide; it is persecution'

The following is the text of a statement which Dr. Binayak Sen submitted to the Chhattisgrah court during his trial:

I am a trained medical doctor with a specialization in child health. I completed my MBBS from the Christian Medical College, Vellore in 1972, and completed studies leading to the award of the degree of MD (Paediatrics) of the Madras University, from the same institution in 1976. After this, I joined the faculty of the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and worked there for two years, before leaving to join a field based health programme at the Friends Rural Centre, Rasulia in Hoshangabad, MP. During the two years I worked there, I worked intensively in the diagnosis and treatment of Tuberculosis and understood many of the social and economic causes of disease. I was also strongly influenced by the work of Marjorie Sykes, the biographer of Mahatma Gandhi, who lived at the Rasulia centre at that time.

I came to Chhattisgarh in 1981 and worked upto 1987 at Dalli Rajhara (district Durg), where, along with the late Shri Shankar Guha Niyogi and the workers of the Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh, I helped to establish the Shaheed Hospital, that continues to practice low cost and rational medicine for the adivasis and working people of the surrounding areas upto the present. After leaving Dalli Rajhara, I worked to develop a health programme among the Adivasi population in and around village Bagrumnala, which today is in Dhamtari district.

This work depended on a large group of village based health workers who were trained and guided by me. When the new state of Chhattisgarh was formed, I was appointed a member of the advisory group on Health Care Sector reforms, and helped to develop the Mitanin programme, which in turn, became the role model for the ASHA of the National Rural Health Mission. A copy of the Order of the Department of Health and Family Welfare of the Govt. of Chhattisgarh regarding my nomination to the advisory group mentioned above is attached. (Annexure 1.)

My work in the area of community health, as well as my work on Human Rights which is detailed below, has been nationally and internationally recognized. I have been awarded the Paul Harrison Award by the CMC Vellore in 2004; the RR Keithan Gold medal by the Indian Academy of Social Sciences in 2007; and have received the Jonathan Mann award for Health and Human rights from the Global Health Council in 2008. I am attaching notarized copies of the citations of these awards with this statement, and am carrying the originals for the perusal of the court. (Annexures 2, 3, 4 and 5)

I have been a member of the Peoples' Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) since 1981. The PUCL is an organization devoted to the preservation of constitutional civil liberties and human rights that was founded by the late Shri Jayprakash Narayan during the years of the Emergency. In Chhattisgarh, as well as in many other parts of the country, the PUCL led the campaign for the preservation of the freedom of speech, prevention of custodial violence, and for the public accountability of the police. I became General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh unit of the PUCL in 2004, and am currently the President of the State unit, and Vice President of its National body.

In Chhattisgarh, the PUCL has been in the forefront of exposing the atrocities of the police. Atrocities by men in uniform against vulnerable sections continue to be a serious problem in the state, as the front page news item in the "Sunday Times" dated 12th September 2010, annexed hereto as Annexure 6 shows. In this situation PUCL's efforts were always directed towards the establishment of good governance and constitutional values. PUCL findings and investigations were always made available in the public domain through press releases and its own publications. One such Press Release reporting investigation into police atrocities in Village Jiramtarai, Thana Koylibeda is annexed hereto as Annexure 7. The report of one such investigation pertaining to police atrocities in Katgaon (Kanker district) was published in the "Navbharat" and "Deshbandhu" newspapers which are annexed hereto as Annexure 8and 9 respectively. A PUCL publication on the State of Human Rights in Chhattisgarh is appended to this statement. (Annexure 10). In this connection PUCL regularly corresponded with the National and State Human Rights Commissions. Copies of some of the letters sent to the PUCL by the National Human Rights Commission (collectively) and the State Human Rights Commission are attached to this statement. (Annexure 11 and 12)

Apart from investigating and documenting many cases of Human Rights abuse involving the police, the PUCL has acted as a whistleblower in the matter of exposing the true nature of the Salwa Judum. The Salwa Judum, which began in the Dantewada district in 2005, has been represented by the state government as a spontaneous peoples' movement against the Maoists active in the area. However, an investigation led by the PUCL and involving several other Human Rights organizations revealed that it was in reality a state sponsored and state funded as well as completely unaccountable vigilante force, to which arms were provided by the government. The activities of the Salwa Judum have led to the emptying of more than 600 villages, and the forced displacement of over 60,000 people. Concerns regarding the activities of the Salwa Judum have been expressed by several independent organizations including the National Human Rights Commission. International organizations like the UNICEF have also voiced serious concern and have invited me to dialogue with them about the restoration of normalcy in the region affected by Salwa Judum. The Hon'ble Supreme Court has also, on several occasions, expressed its grave concern over the activities of the Salwa Judum and the deployment of armed vigilantes for the promotion of state policy. This has been widely reported in the press. A Table with an indicative list of agencies that have made critical observations on the Salwa Judum is attached (Annexure 13). A copy of the report on the Salwa Judum by the Chhattisgarh PUCL and other organizations (Annexure 14), and copies of the investigation reports on the Salwa Judum brought out by the Independent Citizens Initiative and Asian Centre for Human Rights are being filed along with this statement (Annexure 15 and 16 respectively). An invitation from the UNICEF, Chhattisgarh Regional Office to participate in a dialogue to seek a resolution to the crisis in Dantewada as a fallout of the Salwa Judum is similarly attached to my statement (Annexure 17). Press reports in the Hitavada, dated 23.10.2010 pertaining to the Hon. Supreme Court's critical observations are attached (Annexure no 29), as are Certified copies of Supreme Court orders that make critical observations on the Salwa Judum are also being attached (Annexure 18)

The PUCL has also, during 2006, organized two major conventions, opposing the proposal to enact the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, because it has been, and continues to be, our view that this Act contravenes the civil liberties assured to us in the constitution. I have expressed these views in the Press as well, and am attaching with this submission a copy of newspaper carrying a press report of such a convention (Annexure 19), as well as a copy of the newspaper "Chhattisgarh" dated 30th March 2006 in which my interview appears in this regard. (Annexure 20) A Civil Writ Petition (Writ Petition No 2163/2009) challenging the vires of the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act has been filed by the PUCL in the Chhattisgarh High Court. Certified copies of the Court orders admitting this petition and issuing notice are being filed along with this statement (Annexure 21).

For all the reasons mentioned above, the Chhattisgarh police and the state government have harboured a grudge against me, and the then DGP of Chhattisgarh, Mr OP Rathore, has gone on record threatening to take action against the PUCL and its office bearers. Copies of a newspaper of 3rd January 2006 carrying a report to this effect are attached to my statement. (Annexure 22)

I have been concerned with the rights of prisoners in my capacity as a Human Rights worker and was approached by the family of Mr Narayan Sanyal to look after his health and well being after he was brought to Raipur jail in 2006. My first visit to him in jail was in the company of his family and lawyer. Subsequently, I obtained permission from the police authorities for visiting him in jail, and visited him several times, each time applying to do so in my capacity as a PUCL office bearer. After my visits, I informed his family members about his condition over the telephone. During the course of these visits, it was brought to my notice that the surgery on his hands that was necessary for medical purposes, was being delayed due to communication problems between the jail and the doctors in the Raipur Medical College. I played a role in facilitating his surgery and kept his family informed about the process. During this period there was considerable correspondence between the prisoner's family, jail administration and medical authorities, of which copies were marked to me. I attach along with this statement copies of the letter written by Mr Radha Madhav Sanyal (brother of Narayan Sanyal) to the Jail Superintendent with a copy to me (Annexure 23); copies of my applications to visit Mr Narayan Sanyal in jail which were obtained through an application under the RTI (Annexure 24); copy of the written permission given to me by Shri BS Maravi, Senior Superintendent of Police, Raipur (Annexure 25) and copies of the correspondence from the Jail authorities to the medical doctors mentioned above with copies marked to me (Annexure 26).

It was with similar concern for the situation of prisoners that I acted upon the letter received in the post from one Madanlal Barkhade about prison conditions in the Raipur Central Jail. I released his letter to the press in Raipur and attach the newspaper in which the aforesaid letter was published. (Annexure 27)

The documents seized from my house during the house search on 19.5.2007 were those of concern to me in the ordinary and transparent conduct of my work. Human rights organizations from all over the country used to send me books, pamphlets and documents, and there were thousands of these lying in my residence, which I also used as my office. None of the seized documents had been secretly or clandestinely obtained. Document No. A 19 was sent to me by post by Shri Govindan Kutty, Editor, Peoples' March. Document no A 20, purported to be written by Madanlal Barkhade was similarly received by me in the regular post. The document A 21 was sent to me by Dr Kalpana Kannabiran, one of the authors of the article, then Professor at the National Law School Hyderabad, by e-mail. Article A 22, photocopy of a hand written document, and Articles A 23 and A 36 were available for distribution at a seminar on the Salwa Judum organized by the Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi in January, 2007, to which I was invited , and were picked up by me there. Article A 24 was received by me in the post. Newspaper clippings A 25 to A 35 are newspaper clippings that I had maintained in furtherance of my interest in the emerging situation in Chhattisgarh.

Several policemen in the search party were involved in the process of the search at my house. Having found a document, the person finding it would hand it over to Mr Rajput. Mr Rajput would first read it, and then hand it over to me for my signature. He would also sign it himself. After we had both put our signatures on the document, he would dictate to TI Jagrit what was to be written in the seizure memo. Mr Jagrit would then make the entry, following which Mr Rajput would then hand over the document to Mr Jagrit. In this manner, each document was seized, signed, and entered in the seizure memo. None of the documents were signed by the public witnesses in my presence. Nor were the documents sealed in my presence. At the end of the search process the documents were carried away in a paper bag in an unsealed condition. Document A37 was never received by me to sign. It was not in my office, and was not seized during the search. It was fabricated after the search by the police to implicate me falsely.

When the challan in my case was filed, my advocate, Mr Amit Banerjee was present in court and received the chargesheet on my behalf. A copy of the chargesheet is annexed hereto as Annexure 28. Upon going through the charegesheet, we noticed that in the copies of articles A 19 to A 24, the signatures of the panch witnesses were not present in the documents. Copies of articles A 25 to A 37 were not supplied to us at the time. Despite a court order, the contents of the computer were copied onto DVDs without the presence of my advocate, and only DVDs of selected material from the computer were supplied later during the course of the trial. Out of the DVDs supplied, three relate to investigation of police atrocities / fake encounters in Golapally, Jiramtarai and Katgaon. My images on these tapes are in conversation with the villagers who are affected by these atrocities.

I have never seen Deepak Chaubey (PW7) until the time he testified in the court. I did not introduce Narayan Sanyal to him and his story that Narayan Sanyal was arrested from his house is patently untrue as, in fact, Sanyal was arrested in Bhadrachalam.

I submit that my prosecution is mala fide; in fact it is a persecution. I am being made an example of by the state government of Chhattisgarh as a warning to others not to expose the patent trampling of human rights taking place in the state. Documents have been fabricated by the police and false witnesses introduced in order to falsely implicate me.

Binayak Sen

28 December, 2010

Fighting off fascism

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

There are ominous signs on the Indian horizon. Two weeks ago Parliament ended its winter session without transacting any worthwhile business. Last week a district court in Chhattisgarh state sentenced a highly respected paediatric surgeon to life imprisonment on a charge of sedition.

Both houses of Parliament had remained paralysed throughout the session as a result of a strategy worked out by the main opposition, the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, to force the government to accept its demand for a joint parliamentary committee to go into what is believed to be the worst scam in the country’s history. The Left parties, led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist, worked with it on this issue.

The scam relates to the allocation of 2G spectrum by A Raja of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam as Telecom minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government. He resigned a few days ago and the Central Bureau of Investigation later interrogated him.

The last time the CPI-M and the BJP came together was in the early 1980s when both backed and sustained the government led by VP Singh. At that time the BJP raised the communal temperature in the country by mounting a campaign in support of the demand of its Sangh Parivar patrons for the construction of a Ram temple at the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya. Earlier, Indira Gandhi’s Emergency regime had thrown the CPI-M and the BJP’s predecessor, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, together by targeting both simultaneously. The new camaraderie between the two parties is a matter of concern as the previous joint ventures had resulted in a weakening of the secular fabric.

Both the BJP and the Left have indicated that they will stall the budget session of Parliament also if the demand for JPC is not conceded. If the government is unable to present the budget and get a vote of account passed before the current financial year ends on March 31, 2011, there will be a constitutional crisis. It was stultification of the parliamentary process that had paved the way for the rise of fascism in Europe in the period between the two World Wars.

The Congress has its share of responsibility for the current impasse. There is reason believe that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was aware of the 2G scam but did not act in time.

The opposition’s fondness for JPC is misplaced inasmuch as previous JPCs did not yield any concrete results. The JPC on the Bofors scandal is an example. The government’s dislike of JPC is equally misplaced inasmuch as previous JPCs did not pose any insurmountable problems for the government of the day.

Developments on the judicial front, like those on the parliamentary front, are fraught with serious consequences for the future of the democratic set-up. The conviction of Dr Binayak Sen, who was working in the tribal areas of Chhattisgarh, is a case in point. What brought him into conflict with the authorities was his championship of human rights as president of the state unit of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties.

Chhattisgarh has been witnessing armed conflicts between Maoists and government forces for a few years. The support the rebels get from the tribal population has been a source of worry for the authorities as it hampers the operations of the police and paramilitary forces.

Sen was arrested in 2007 for allegedly aiding the banned Maoist party and held without bail for two years before the Supreme Court ordered his release and directed that the trial be concluded expeditiously. The trial court delivered judgment within the deadline set by the apex court but its finding has been received with shock and dismay by human rights activists in India and abroad. Amnesty International has declared Dr Sen a Prisoner of Conscience.

So flimsy was the evidence the prosecution presented that the judge could not clearly define the nature of the relationship between the rebels and Sen and his co-accused. He could only say they were “either members or supporters” of the banned group and “either participated in its organisational work or provided support and encouragement.” He justified the harsh sentence by pointing to the ruthless and merciless killing policemen and tribals by Maoists. His reasoning echoes the jingoist arguments of right-wing propagandists.

These developments suggest that the time has come for secular and democratic forces to mount an all-out campaign against incipient fascism.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 27, 2010.

24 December, 2010

A good doctor condemned to life term in jail: let this not go unchallenged

Amit Sengupta writes from Delhi:

The horrifying verdict of life imprisonment for Dr Binayak Sen, accused of unimaginable crimes such as treason and sedition, has come as a real new low in the dirty quagmire of a litany of injustices in this fragmented and corrupt, largest democracy in the world. It will immediately polarize the civil society with a collective howl of protest against this brazen injustice and the recharged longing for justice so brazenly denied to someone called 'the good doctor' all over the world. The judgment will definitely sharpen the solidarity of all sensitive, secular and democratic opinion in India and across the world, and prove the brazenly undemocratic and fascistic character of the BJP regime in Chhattisgarh, who went about concocting false charges against Dr Sen, despite almost no tangible evidence.

Raipur District and Sessions Court judge BP Varma on Friday found Dr Sen guilty on a variety of counts and also under the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act.

According to the latest dispatch from PUCL General Secretary Kavita Srivastava from Raipur: "By now you all must have got to know about the conviction of Dr Binayak Sen u/s of 120(B), 124(A) of the IPC and 1,2,3,5, Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and Sec 39 (2) of the UAPA (2004 amended). Binayak was taken away immediately into custody. He was extremely equanimous. It was an emotional moment for Dr Sen's daughters and brother Dipanker Sen. His wife, Professor Ilina Sen, is upset but thinking ahead...

Said Prof Sen, "It is a sad day for me. It is a sadder day for Indian democracy. They had no evidence, nothing to prove the charges. They even termed me an ISI agent (ISI turned out to be the Indian Social Institute in Delhi). This is injustice and it's for all to see."

"This judgment is really unacceptable and unconstitutional. After all, two of the laws under which he has been convicted are themselves being questioned as far as their constitutional validity is concerned... We need to really build a campaign again. There was really no evidence," said Kavita Srivastava.

Dr Binayak Sen will appeal in the High Court at the earliest, though the court, in an uncanny timing of the judgement, will go on vacation from December 25. The other two co-accused,

Piyush Guha and Narayan Sanyal, have also been convicted. Some extra sections have been applied to Sanyal, accused of being a Maoist leader.

Most human rights activists, academics and even journalists who have covered the long imprisonment of Dr Sen in the past have reacted with utmost horror at the sheer injustice of the judgment, despite such widespread public opinion and factual evidence against the false cases against Dr Sen by the BJP-led regime in Chhattisgarh. "This is bizarre, shocking, inhuman, unjust, absolutely incomprehensible. How can the judge do that? How can they so publicly demonstrate such irrational behaviour? Such brazen injustice?" - this is the kind of remorse and anger flowing out of all over the country after the shocking judgment.

From university campuses to newspaper offices to middle-class homes and power corridors across India, this is a judgement which is seen to be clearly destroying the last edifices of the public perception of the Indian justice system, the faith in the judiciary and the idea of justice, and the faith which the civil society has on the edifices of democracy. "All kinds of scamsters and mass murderers are all over the power establishment and a man who lived and worked for the poor all this life, he is charged with sedition. What utter nonsense is this," said a JNU student.

Said Thomas Kocherry, leader of the National Fishermen's Federation, in a bulk email from Kochi: "Let us send out protest letters to the Chhattisgarh court and the state government and send out this to the whole world. It is unjust. An innocent man is arrested again. Is there any justice in this country? We have to keep protesting till Binayak Sen gets justice. We cannot keep quiet. We have to fight for the rights of the people. We cannot organise the people. This is the character of the BJP government in Chhattisgarh. Another Emergency is in the making in MP."

Dr Sen is currently a professor at the prestigious Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, of which he is an eminent alumnus. The entire alumni of CMC had petitioned for his release during his imprisonment. At least 22 Nobel Prize winners from all over the world had sought his immediate freedom and lauded the exemplary work Dr Sen had in the medical sciences, in it among the poorest of the poor, and in providing the best of treatment to the impoverished adivasis in the Hindi heartland. Distinguished artists, academics, filmmakers and writers like Sudhir Mishra, Noam Chomsky, Romila Thapar, Arundhati Roy, Sumit Sarkar, Tanika Sarkar, Dilip Simeon, Praful Bidwai, Sanjay Kak, among others, had campaigned and petitioned for his freedom. Even Sri Sri Ravishankar had visited him at Raipur jail and sought his release, even as singers like Rabbi and Indian Ocean, and students from all across India and the world, organised protests, campaigns and concerts demanding freedom for the good doctor. In fact, the website www.binayaksen.net became an international forum for a vigorous and relentless campaign.

"This campaign will become national and global soon. This is certain. We start with a list of all those who have not been given life imprisonment for sedition and treason, including scamsters, criminals and mass murderers who call the shots in the Indian power establishment. We all know their names. Their names will be put up on the website. And the mass protests all over the world against the brazen injustice will start from now, right now, at this moment," said Satya Sivaraman, journalist, filmmaker and activist, who was one of the key catalysts in the campaign last time. This, when news is still trickling in, and a global and national web and SMS campaign is already underway. Indeed, TV channels are already moving in with the news.

'Free Dr Binayak Sen.' 'Freedom for the good doctor.' Surely, the old slogans are coming back

Protests against Binayak Sen's conviction


Human Rights activists are planning demonstrations outside the Chhattisgarh Bhavan and Jantar Mantar in New Delhi tomorrow in protest against the Raipur sessions court’s judgment holding famed pediatric surgeon and Peoples Union for Civil Liberties leader Dr Binayak Sen guilty of sedition and sentencing him to life imprisonment.

Details at http://www.facebook.com/l/09523;www.binayaksen.net

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

Dear Colleagues,

I have been wanting to wait for this judgement before mentioning anything about Xmas this Year .It is so unfortunate to hear the judgement of the Court on Dr. Binayak Sen . Let us only resolve as we get ready to celebrate the spirit of Xmas that our struggle for freedom and rights to human rights defenders have to continue.

Let me wish all of you a meaningful Christmas and challenging New Year 2011.
Let the visit of Ms. Margaret Sekagya , the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to India from January10 to20, 2011 be an occasion when HR defenders all over the country will place sufficient pressure on the Government to ensure that Human Rights defenders are protected.

20 December, 2010

Shape of things to come

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The Big Power status which five nations nominally enjoyed at the end of World War II ended and enabled them to become permanent members of the United Nations Security Council may be irrelevant today but it is not without significance that the heads of all five governments figure in India’s 2010 guest list.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was in New Delhi in July, United States President Barack Obama in November and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao this month. Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin came in March and President Dmitry Medvedev is coming this week.

Business was high on the agenda of all visitors and they struck many deals. The embargo imposed on India after the nuclear tests of 1998 having been lifted, some were seeking orders for nuclear equipment and military hardware.

Britain got orders for 47 military aircraft under a $1 billion deal. The US, which was ready to provide equipment for power plants and civilian aircraft, secured orders worth $10 billion. France, which offered equipment and fuel for two nuclear plants, did business worth $13 billion.

Wen’s delegation, which included about 400 businessmen, signed 49 agreements valued at more than $16 billion. The size of the transaction testifies to the growing economic ties between China, which is already the world’s second largest economy, and India, which is tipped to take the third place in the not-too-distant future.

India has a trade deficit of about $16 billion with China, which has replaced the US as its biggest trading partner. This has not deterred it from planning to boost the two-way trade, now estimated at $60 billion, to $100 billion in five years.

The two countries have a combined market of $7 trillion. Clearly, it is in the interests of both to raise the level of economic cooperation. However, there are inhibiting factors. India complains of hurdles in the way of increased exports to China. India has not so far allowed any Chinese bank into the country although 10 Indian banks operate in China.

It should cause no surprise if Medvedev, who arrives today (Monday) pulls off even more than Wen. At least 15 pacts will be signed during his visit. While the agreements will be fewer in number than were signed during Wen’s visit, they have greater significance in strategic terms as they cover vital areas of fighter aircraft manufacture and nuclear power production. They underscore the strength of the ties built up during the Soviet days.

As early as 1961 India had opted for MiG fighter planes in preference to western aircraft as Moscow was ready to transfer technology and allow local assembly of aircraft. The new agreement will give India access to fifth generation fighter aircraft.

The first of four units of the 4,000 megawatt nuclear power plant being built in Tamil Nadu with Russian assistance is due to be commissioned shortly. Although Russia has reservations about some provisions of India’s new civil nuclear liability law, it has offered to help build a dozen more nuclear plants in the next 15 or 20 years. Agreements to set up two plants are expected to be signed during Medvedev’s visit.

While economic matters were uppermost in the visitors’ minds, the host was looking for political dividends as well. India is an advocate of reform of the UN and an aspirant for a permanent Security Council seat. Since the UN system cannot be changed without the concurrence of the existing permanent members, India has been raising the topic in all top-level meetings.

After Obama committed US support to India’s claim for a permanent seat when he was in New Delhi, China was the only P5 country still holding out. Wen signalled no change in its position. He only offered support for “India’s aspirations to play a greater role in the Security Council.” This suggests Beijing does not favour India’s elevation to the status of a permanent member with the right of veto.

From India Wen went to Pakistan and reiterated China’s desire to strengthen its strategic relationship with that country. Around the same time Japan said it was “realigning its resources” from the north to the south, indicating it views China as a greater potential threat than Russia. Evidently, geopolitical factors are as important as economic factors in determining the shape of things to come. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 20, 2010

14 December, 2010

AHRC’s 10 questions to Chidambaram on Manipur

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, today expressed appreciation of Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s effort to visit the trouble-torn state of Manipur. At the same time it posed 10 questions to him.

In a statement, the AHRC said:

Manipur is one of the states in India with a poor human rights record. During the past three years the number of encounter killings reported from the state has steadily increased, until the state administration faced severe criticism for the public execution of two persons on July 23, 2009 by the state police. Mr. P. Chidambaram and a team of officers from the Union Home Ministry are visiting Manipur today and tomorrow.

The Home Minister is known to be having a professional as well as no-nonsense approach in work. Many in India hold him at a high esteem, referring to the Minister as a person who assesses officers and institutions under his command on the basis of their performance. Based on these references, the AHRC wishes to place before the Home Minister the following questions, so that the Minister will be able to help the state administration and the people of Manipur in finding a sensible solution to the six decade long internal conflict in that state.

1. Can the state administration account for the money that it has spent in the past five years for countering insurgent activities in the state? Can it provide the exact details as to who was paid what amount? It is not required for the state government to publicly account every single Rupee of the tax money that it has spent on countering insurgency. But it must be able to produce records to the satisfaction of the Union Home Ministry for at least those expenses, where the spending was Rs. 200,000 or above in a single payment. The state administration must be able to account to the Union Home Ministry that supports the release of such 'Central Funds' to state government.

2. What training was provided to the Manipur State Police and its State Police Commando Unit in the past two years to deal with insurgency? Does it meet the requirements of training offered to a civilian police force that is to undertake counter insurgency activities respecting the rule of law? How many police officers have received such training?

3. What is the process of recruitment to the state police in Manipur? What is the guarantee that the candidates selected for training and appointment in the state police are not selected on the basis of bribes paid to the Chief Minister or to his party's MLAs?

The AHRC has credible information that to secure appointment as a Trainee Sub-Inspector in Manipur, a candidate is required to pay Rs. 1,400,000 to Rs. 1,800,000 as bribe to the Chief Minister or to a designated MLA as of 2010. The AHRC is informed that the officers upon appointment, realises through various means from the public the bribe they have paid to secure a job in the state police service. The AHRC also has credible information that in the process police officers are engaged in extortion, conniving with some of the criminal elements that are also listed in the prohibited organisations' list by the Union Government. It is reported that such widespread corruption is one of the important reasons for a high number of encounter killings and unabated criminal extortion in the state.

4. How many police officers have been investigated in the past three years for crimes alleged to have committed by them, in particular torture and criminal extortion? If any such investigation has been conducted, who has been prosecuted?

If not why?

5. How many instances of encounter killing -- other than the July 23 incident -- have been investigated in the past three years in Manipur? What prevents the state from complying the recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission concerning encounter killing? If the state administration has conducted such investigations, why is that the reports not sent to the Commission?

6. Why is that most cases of encounter killing show the same pattern?

Most of the cases of encounter killing documented by human rights organisations in Manipur, shows the following pattern: a person is arrested by unidentified police commandos who are often accompanied by officers from a para-military unit or from a military detachment stationed in the state; the arrested person is detained in custody illegally, often for days; later the person found dead at a distant place; the state police immediately release a press note saying that the person was shot dead in an armed encounter; weapons (mostly 0.9 mm pistols, grenades, live cartridges) are shown as recovered from the deceased insurgent.

It would be interesting for the Union Home Ministry to verify how many such recovered/seized articles are produced in courts as material objects recovered from armed insurgents. How many of such recovered materials are kept in police custody? Do they all have separate identification marks? Does the articles and their number tally with the statements issued by the state police in each case? Does the state police have any such accounting system? If so, will the state police dare to make the list public? If not why?

Will the Home Ministry be willing to undertake an impartial accounting of recovered articles? The AHRC is willing to collaborate in such a process with the Union as well as State administration.

In 2009, between January and November, the state police reported 272 executions, which was publicly admitted by Mr. Joykumar Singh, the Director General of Police. In most of the cases, the above pattern has been noted.

This proves two things. One, it defies logic. Further it could also suggest that the state police are ill equipped and ill prepared that many persons they arrest escape from their custody. Or, it has to be assumed that the state police is well informed that at least 24 times each month in 2009, the state police were able to intercept and engage an armed insurgent invariably resulting in the murder of the armed insurgent. If the latter were the case, there must be no more armed insurgents operating openly in the state, or the insurgents are so naïve that they always expose their armed presence to the state police. None of these would satisfy commonsense or the acumen of a lawyer, which Mr. Chidambaram is.

8. Will the state administration put an end to the illegal tax collection of some of the armed insurgent groups in Manipur? It is common knowledge that in Manipur many armed insurgent groups prohibited by the Union Government have setup illegal tax collection (criminal extortion) counters adjacent to police check posts on public roads. Every person, particularly drivers in Manipur know this or are their victims. Why have the state police not stopped it? Or are they hand-in-glove with the insurgents? Or is it the police themselves posing as insurgents?

The Home Minister must know that today in Manipur, it is hard to distinguish between an insurgent and a police officer. Both kills with impunity, extorts money by force from the people and are unaccountable to everything under the sun. Can the Home Minister contribute to change this situation?

8. What plans has the state administration made and executed to regain the confidence of the public? At the moment, Manipur is like a volcano that could erupt anytime. Has the state administration taken the effort to make public its public confidence building plans if they have any? If not, what prevented them in doing so?

9. Will the Home Minister meet Ms. Irom Chanu Sharmila? Reports from India inform that the Home Minister will meet human rights activists in Imphal. Does the Home Minister see Sharmila as a threat to the peace of Manipur or a unifying factor to its fragile social fabric?

10. Will the Home Minister make a public report about his visit to Manipur? The public need not know the nuances of the state's security scenario. But every Indian, especially each person in Manipur has a right to know what is their future in terms of their safety and security. Today they have only stories of fear and anger to say about their Chief Minister and the administration he leads. Can the Union Home Minister bring a difference?

If not what hope does Manipuris have of being part of the world's largest democracy?

13 December, 2010

Mukundan C. Menon’s writings on the Web

Selected writings of the late Mukundan C. Menon, well-known journalist and human rights activist, have been placed on the Web by the National Confederation of Human Rights.

Mukundan Chembakassery Menon was born on November 21, 1948 at Vadakancheri in Thrissur district of Kerala. As a journalist and an activist, he worked relentlessly for protection and promotion of human rights. He was jailed during the Emergency.

He was a founder member of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Delhi. On his return to Kerala after spending many years as a journalist outside the state, he helped found the Confederation of Human Rights Organizations, Kerala, and was its first Secretary General.

He died at Thiruvananthapuram on December 12, 2005.

NCHRO has placed many articles written by him at its website in a section titled Menon Papers.

Economy looking up

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With parliament unable to function for several weeks, the Indian political scenario presents a depressing picture but there is good news from the economic front. The rate of growth of industrial production has climbed back to two digits and the authorities expect faster growth this year than was earlier anticipated.

The finance ministry, in its mid-term review, said the economy could grow at the rate of 8.75 per cent or even above 9 per cent in the current fiscal.

“It is estimated that growth in 2010-11 will be 8.40 to 9.10 per cent,” it said. “The range indicates the possibility of crossing the 9 per cent mark this year itself, but is wider than the earlier estimate owing to higher risk factors, which includes the economic situation in the Euro area turning worse.”

Official figures released last week showed a growth of 10.8 per cent in industrial production in October, which was way above the targeted figure of 8.5 per cent. What made this possible was a spurt in the manufacturing sector, which registered a production increase of 11.3 per cent.

In July, industrial production had soared to 15.1 per cent but there was a sharp fall later and the growth rate was only 4.4 per cent in September. The cumulative growth for the period April-October this year was 10.3 per cent as against 6.9 per cent for the corresponding period last year.

Automobile and television sales pushed up the growth rate of consumer durables to 31 per cent. As a result, despite the tardy growth of only 0.1 per cent in non-durables, there was an overall growth of 9.6 per cent in consumer goods production.

The message that flows from these figures is that the country can look forward to achieving a growth rate of 8.75 per cent in the current year.

Two factors helped the Indian economy to withstand the impact of the global meltdown with comparative ease. One was that the process of integration with the global economy was far from complete. The other was that the country’s financial system was still in the conservative mould of the pre-globalisation era.

However, there is room to doubt if such factors can be relied upon beyond a point. The recent revelations of massive manipulations by the powerful corporate sector and the high volatility of the stock market contain warnings that cannot be ignored.

The Bombay Stock Exchange, which touched the pre-meltdown levels earlier this year, came under severe selling pressure in the wake of the 2G spectrum allocation scam, which has brought parliament to a standstill. To make things worse, some grave irregularities in housing finance also came to light. The head of a public sector corporation and some bank executives were among those arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with suspicious housing loans.

Some outflow of foreign capital was also reported. However, the authorities do not see that as a major problem. They believe India retains the ability to attract capital as it offers a better return on investments than most countries.

Global financial experts generally share the Indian authorities’ optimistic outlook. Early this year Morgan Stanley had raised its estimate of India’s economic growth rate from 8 per cent to 8.5 per cent. It cited increased domestic demand and investments as the key driving forces.

At the same time, it warned that higher growth would be followed by higher inflation. This is a problem the authorities are well aware of. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee recently acknowledged the need to return to fiscal consolidation. He noted that India has a trade deficit of $56 billion and a current account deficit of three per cent and said they could not be maintained at these levels for long.

One worry for India in this context is the Euro crisis. Europe accounts for 36 per cent of India’s exports. Europe’s economic health therefore has a bearing on India’s.

“The government needs to keep a watch on the surging inflation number,” Mukherjee said. Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia concurred. “We cannot afford to relax the vigil on inflation,” he said. “It still remains a matter of concern.”

The whole sale price index, which is watched closely to gauge inflationary trends, was 8.62 per cent above the previous year’s level in September and 8.58 per cent above in October.

The Reserve Bank of India, the country’s central bank, is already in the process of exiting from the “accommodative” policy that was laid down to tide over the situation resulting from the global meltdown. It is expected to step in if inflation does not decline to an acceptable level by March next year.

While the economy does well, politicians and even businessmen may be able to get away with their misdeeds. -- Gulf Today
, Sharjah, December 13, 2010.

10 December, 2010

I Have No Enemies: Liu Xiaobo’s political testament

Photo: Reuters

The statement that Chinese campaigner for democracy Liu Xiaobo made on December 23, 2009 in court before he was convicted and sentenced to 11 years in jail is in effect his political testament.

An English translation of the statement was read by actress Liv Ullmann at the Oslo ceremony at which Liu was presented the Nobel Peace prize in absentia today, Human Rights Day.

Below is the English version of the statement prepared by Human Rights in China (HRIC), based on a translation by J. Latourelle.


In the course of my life, for more than half a century, June 1989 was the major turning point. Up to that point, I was a member of the first class to enter university when college entrance examinations were reinstated following the Cultural Revolution (Class of ’77). From BA to MA and on to PhD, my academic career was all smooth sailing. Upon receiving my degrees, I stayed on to teach at Beijing Normal University. As a teacher, I was well received by the students. At the same time, I was a public intellectual, writing articles and books that created quite a stir during the 1980s, frequently receiving invitations to give talks around the country, and going abroad as a visiting scholar upon invitation from Europe and America. What I demanded of myself was this: whether as a person or as a writer, I would lead a life of honesty, responsibility, and dignity. After that, because I had returned from the U.S. to take part in the 1989 Movement, I was thrown into prison for “the crime of counter-revolutionary propaganda and incitement.” I also lost my beloved lectern and could no longer publish essays or give talks in China. Merely for publishing different political views and taking part in a peaceful democracy movement, a teacher lost his lectern, a writer lost his right to publish, and a public intellectual lost the opportunity to give talks publicly. This is a tragedy, both for me personally and for a China that has already seen thirty years of Reform and Opening Up.

When I think about it, my most dramatic experiences after June Fourth have been, surprisingly, associated with courts: My two opportunities to address the public have both been provided by trial sessions at the Beijing Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, once in January 1991, and again today. Although the crimes I have been charged with on the two occasions are different in name, their real substance is basically the same—both are speech crimes.

Twenty years have passed, but the ghosts of June Fourth have not yet been laid to rest. Upon release from Qincheng Prison in 1991, I, who had been led onto the path of political dissent by the psychological chains of June Fourth, lost the right to speak publicly in my own country and could only speak through the foreign media. Because of this, I was subjected to year-round monitoring, kept under residential surveillance (May 1995 to January 1996) and sent to Reeducation-Through-Labor (October 1996 to October 1999). And now I have been once again shoved into the dock by the enemy mentality of the regime. But I still want to say to this regime, which is depriving me of my freedom, that I stand by the convictions I expressed in my “June Second Hunger Strike Declaration” twenty years ago—I have no enemies and no hatred. None of the police who monitored, arrested, and interrogated me, none of the prosecutors who indicted me, and none of the judges who judged me are my enemies.

Although there is no way I can accept your monitoring, arrests, indictments, and verdicts, I respect your professions and your integrity, including those of the two prosecutors, Zhang Rongge and Pan Xueqing, who are now bringing charges against me on behalf of the prosecution. During interrogation on December 3, I could sense your respect and your good faith.

Hatred can rot away at a person’s intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society’s tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation’s progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation’s development and social change, to counter the regime’s hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love.

Everyone knows that it was Reform and Opening Up that brought about our country’s development and social change. In my view, Reform and Opening Up began with the abandonment of the “using class struggle as guiding principle” government policy of the Mao era and, in its place, a commitment to economic development and social harmony. The process of abandoning the “philosophy of struggle” was also a process of gradual weakening of the enemy mentality and elimination of the psychology of hatred, and a process of squeezing out the “wolf’s milk” that had seeped into human nature.1 It was this process that provided a relaxed climate, at home and abroad, for Reform and Opening Up, gentle and humane grounds for restoring mutual affection among people and peaceful coexistence among those with different interests and values, thereby providing encouragement in keeping with humanity for the bursting forth of creativity and the restoration of compassion among our countrymen. One could say that relinquishing the “anti-imperialist and anti-revisionist” stance in foreign relations and “class struggle” at home has been the basic premise that has enabled Reform and Opening Up to continue to this very day. The market trend in the economy, the diversification of culture, and the gradual shift in social order toward the rule of law have all benefitted from the weakening of the “enemy mentality.” Even in the political arena, where progress is slowest, the weakening of the enemy mentality has led to an ever-growing tolerance for social pluralism on the part of the regime and substantial decrease in the force of persecution of political dissidents, and the official designation of the 1989 Movement has also been changed from “turmoil and riot” to “political disturbance.” The weakening of the enemy mentality has paved the way for the regime to gradually accept the universality of human rights. In [1997 and] 1998 the Chinese government made a commitment to sign two major United Nations international human rights covenants,2 signaling China’s acceptance of universal human rights standards. In 2004, the National People’s Congress (NPC) amended the Constitution, writing into the Constitution for the first time that “the state respects and guarantees human rights,” signaling that human rights have already become one of the fundamental principles of China’s rule of law.

At the same time, the current regime puts forth the ideas of “putting people first” and “creating a harmonious society,” signaling progress in the CPC’s concept of rule.
I have also been able to feel this progress on the macro level through my own personal experience since my arrest.

Although I continue to maintain that I am innocent and that the charges against me are unconstitutional, during the one plus year since I have lost my freedom, I have been locked up at two different locations and gone through four pretrial police interrogators, three prosecutors, and two judges, but in handling my case, they have not been disrespectful, overstepped time limitations, or tried to force a confession. Their manner has been moderate and reasonable; moreover, they have often shown goodwill. On June 23, I was moved from a location where I was kept under residential surveillance to the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau’s No. 1 Detention Center, known as “Beikan.” During my six months at Beikan, I saw improvements in prison management.

In 1996, I spent time at the old Beikan (located at Banbuqiao). Compared to the old Beikan of more than a decade ago, the present Beikan is a huge improvement, both in terms of the “hardware”— the facilities—and the “software”—the management. In particular, the humane management pioneered by the new Beikan, based on respect for the rights and integrity of detainees, has brought flexible management to bear on every aspect of the behavior of the correctional staff, and has found expression in the “comforting broadcasts,” Repentance magazine, and music before meals, on waking and at bedtime. This style of management allows detainees to experience a sense of dignity and warmth, and stirs their consciousness in maintaining prison order and opposing the bullies among inmates. Not only has it provided a humane living environment for detainees, it has also greatly improved the environment for their litigation to take place and their state of mind. I’ve had close contact with correctional officer Liu Zheng, who has been in charge of me in my cell, and his respect and care for detainees could be seen in every detail of his work, permeating his every word and deed, and giving one a warm feeling. It was perhaps my good fortune to have gotten to know this sincere, honest, conscientious, and kind correctional officer during my time at Beikan.

It is precisely because of such convictions and personal experience that I firmly believe that China’s political progress will not stop, and I, filled with optimism, look forward to the advent of a future free China. For there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom, and China will in the end become a nation ruled by law, where human rights reign supreme. I also hope that this sort of progress can be reflected in this trial as I await the impartial ruling of the collegial bench—a ruling that will withstand the test of history.

If I may be permitted to say so, the most fortunate experience of these past twenty years has been the selfless love I have received from my wife, Liu Xia. She could not be present as an observer in court today, but I still want to say to you, my dear, that I firmly believe your love for me will remain the same as it has always been. Throughout all these years that I have lived without freedom, our love was full of bitterness imposed by outside circumstances, but as I savor its aftertaste, it remains boundless. I am serving my sentence in a tangible prison, while you wait in the intangible prison of the heart. Your love is the sunlight that leaps over high walls and penetrates the iron bars of my prison window, stroking every inch of my skin, warming every cell of my body, allowing me to always keep peace, openness, and brightness in my heart, and filling every minute of my time in prison with meaning. My love for you, on the other hand, is so full of remorse and regret that it at times makes me stagger under its weight. I am an insensate stone in the wilderness, whipped by fierce wind and torrential rain, so cold that no one dares touch me. But my love is solid and sharp, capable of piercing through any obstacle. Even if I were crushed into powder, I would still use my ashes to embrace you.
My dear, with your love I can calmly face my impending trial, having no regrets about the choices I’ve made and optimistically awaiting tomorrow. I look forward to [the day] when my country is a land with freedom of expression, where the speech of every citizen will be treated equally well; where different values, ideas, beliefs, and political views . . . can both compete with each other and peacefully coexist; where both majority and minority views will be equally guaranteed, and where the political views that differ from those currently in power, in particular, will be fully respected and protected; where all political views will spread out under the sun for people to choose from, where every citizen can state political views without fear, and where no one can under any circumstances suffer political persecution for voicing divergent political views. I hope that I will be the last victim of China’s endless literary inquisitions and that from now on no one will be incriminated because of speech.

Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity, and the mother of truth. To strangle freedom of speech is to trample on human rights, stifle humanity, and suppress truth.

In order to exercise the right to freedom of speech conferred by the Constitution, one should fulfill the social responsibility of a Chinese citizen. There is nothing criminal in anything I have done. [But] if charges are brought against me because of this, I have no complaints.

Thank you, everyone.

Translator’s Notes:

1. Writers in China today often refer to indoctrination with the ideology of class struggle as “drinking wolf’s milk,” and the ideology of the Cultural Revolution era as the “wolf’s milk culture,” which had turned humans into wolf-like predatory beasts. ^

2. China signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1997, and ratified it in 2001. It signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1998, but has not yet ratified the covenant.

09 December, 2010

AHRC report on Human Rights situation in Asia

Tomorrow, December 10, is Human Rights Day.

For the Human Rights Day 2010 the Asian Human Rights Commission presents the reports on the state of human rights in eleven countries in Asia; Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and Sri Lanka. The general picture that emerges is one of the failures of the states to carry out their obligations for the protection of people.

Serious defects are evident in the area of the judiciary. Judicial functions appear to be adversely affected by the absence of judicial independence as well as structural problems which deny the judiciary a place in terms of the doctrine of separation of powers. Judicial power itself is often restricted by constitutional and legislative limitations. Added to this is the problem of inadequate budgetary allocations for the administration of justice. This in turn affects the areas of the training of the judiciary as well as the availability of adequate numbers of judges to ensure the proper functioning of the justice system. Extraordinary delays often affect the possibility of fair trial. Lack of witness protection prevents many persons from obtaining justice. In achieving a higher degree of protection for human rights the problems relating to the judiciary require much greater attention in terms of the contextual problems that exist in the particular circumstances of many Asian countries.

Impunity is often guaranteed in serious violations of human rights by the prevention of proper inquiries into such violations. Inquiries are prevented, often due to political reasons. Development of the structural framework needed to guarantee credible inquiries into all violations of human rights is prevented by limitations in legislative measures as well as due to failures to ensure proper administrative measures.

Torture replaces proper investigations into crime in most Asian countries. There is widespread torture at the police stations and torture remains the modus operandi that has been quite accepted by the governments. Despite of the ratification of the United Nations conventions, particularly the Convention against Torture, Cruel and Inhuman Treatment or Punishment, the measures for implementation are seriously lacking. While there are some discussions of bringing legislation to make torture a criminal offense no speedy action is taking to ensure such legislation. Even where legislation is available such laws are often ignored due to the lack of adequate arrangements to ensure investigations into torture and to ensure criminal and disciplinary action against the abusers. The governments in the region and the United Nations' agencies dealing with human rights need to scrutinise this issue carefully and find credible solutions to prevent the widespread use of torture that exists now.

The absence of protection affects not only civil rights but also economic, social and cultural rights. Large scale poverty still exists in Asia. Starvation and malnutrition is often reported. However, there are no speedy mechanisms to deal with such situations. The problems of food and water are caused, not by the absence of resources but are due to administrative failures that allow for neglect. The Millennium Development goals do not appear to have been given adequate attention in the countries of the region.

The poorer sections often complain of problems of arbitrary deprivations of their limited possessions including their places of habitat. Land grabbing and displacement is a problem that is heard from many countries in the region. Adequate legal mechanisms do not appear to exist to safeguard the basic rights of people relating to their lands and adequate protection against arbitrary measures that lead to impoverishment.

All forms of violence committed against women, communities and minorities due to discrimination based on gender, caste, race and religion are practiced in many parts of Asia. In these societies, women have to face the constant threats of sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, acid throwing, dowry deaths, honour killings and forced marriages. The discriminatory practices in existing legislation, no proper investigation mechanisms and the failures of the judicial system have resulted in the impunity of perpetrators.

Arbitrary deprivation of civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights is often the cause of the graver forms of human rights abuses such as forced migrations which also often leads to trafficking of women and children. While the reports on all these issues are many there does not appear to be any visible attempts to resolve these long standing problems.

All throughout Asia there are clear signs of the people being more aware of their rights and they are making great efforts to improve the enjoyment of their rights. The hope for a better future lies in these initiatives by the people themselves. However, the government response to these initiatives is wholly inadequate. The governments should make greater efforts to improve the protection mechanisms for civil rights and economic, social and cultural rights.

Pre-print releases of the country reports are available online at: http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/hrreport/2010/

06 December, 2010

The Age of Land Grab

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India is witnessing the largest land grab anywhere on earth since white settlers drove Native Americans into reservations. Appropriation of farm and forest lands for industrial projects is so extensive that future historians may dub this the Age of Land Grab.

Many countries had similar experiences in the early phase of industrialisation. In England, for instance, farmlands were enclosed and people thrown out, creating a large body of landless who eventually became factory workers. The country being small, the affected population was not very large.

Vast acreage was involved in the land grab operations in America. However, the continent had a comparatively small population when European settlers forcibly seized land.

Two factors set current Indian developments apart from what happened in other lands centuries earlier. One is that the number of people facing threats of displacement is very large. The other is that land grabbing is taking place not only in villages and forest areas but also in heavily populated cities.

Land grab in the urban areas often receive considerable media attention. What goes on in remote areas rarely get reported even when they lead to violent protests.

Political and commercial interests converge in land grab. People resisting attempts to take away their land find themselves pitted against the might of the state. The ideology of the party in power makes no difference at the ground level. Governments controlled by the Congress, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist all act in the same manner.

In 2006, Parliament enacted the Forest Rights Act to recognise and protect the traditional rights of the tribal communities living in the forests. Yet several state governments have sanctioned projects in forest areas and are helping Indian and foreign companies to acquire their lands.

In the backward states of Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh with large tribal populations, governments have allowed huge corporations to set up mega projects in their traditional homelands, which have rich mineral deposits. They have done so overlooking their constitutional and legal obligations to safeguard the interests of the tribesmen and other disadvantaged sections.

Left extremists like Maoists have stepped in and mobilised the tribesmen in many such areas and mounted armed attacks on the state machinery. Some officials speak of the existence of a Red Corridor that extends from the Nepal border to the Indian heartland.

Last September, a people’s tribunal, set up at the instance of a non-government organisation with a retired high court judge as chairman, asked the Jharkhand government to stop forcible acquisition of tribal land. It wanted the government to put on hold all agreements for industrial projects it had entered into and to give the tribes the right to decide the kind of development that should take place in their areas.

Tribal people in Orissa have alleged gross violation of the Forest Rights Act by the Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO) of South Korea, which is setting up a major project in the state. Three of the four members of a committee appointed by the Indian government to look into the allegation upheld the charge. The lone dissenter was an Indian Administrative Service officer of the Orissa cadre who was involved in the clearance of the project.

West Bengal’s Left Front government met with violent opposition from small peasants when it attempted to acquire land in Nandigram for a chemical complex to be set up by an Indonesian company and in Singur for an automobile project of the Tatas. The people’s ire forced CPI-M cadres to stay out of Nandigram for months. Finding the going tough, the Tatas shifted their project to Gujarat.

Protesters in West Bengal could prevail primarily because they received powerful support from the state’s main opposition party, Trinamool Congress.

In urban areas, the land problem has a different complexion. There those in authority are grabbing prime property for themselves or their relatives. Karnataka’s BJP chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, who allotted land to members of his family, has sought to justify his action by pointing out that his Janata Dal (Secular) predecessor HD Kumaraswamy had also done so.

Kerala’s CPI-M chief minister VS Achuthanandan’s campaign against land grabbers in the hill town of Munnar was defeated by his own party and its ally, the CPI. Local leaders of the two parties or their relatives are among those who involved in suspicious land deals there.

Maharashtra’s Congress chief minister Ashok Chavan bowed out recently after it became known that his relatives were among the beneficiaries of a fishy building project involving high army officials.

Some members of the higher judiciary too have figured in land grab allegations. There is no reliable mechanism to call erring functionaries to account. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 6, 2010.

03 December, 2010

Can China browbeat the world's largest democracy?

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

China has cautioned that India's participation in the 2010 Nobel Prize ceremony in Oslo will have adverse effects in China's bilateral relationships with India. It is reported that the Chinese government has informed the Indian Ambassador in China, S. Jaishankar, to advice New Delhi not to attend the 10 December ceremony in Oslo or to send any representatives. China has sent similar messages to other countries.

The Chinese administration's concern for one of its human rights activists, Liu Xiaobo, being awarded the Nobel Prize is understandable. Dr. Liu who once lectured at Colombia, Oslo and Hawaii Universities and a co-author of Charter '08 is in detention in China since June 1989, branded as a criminal. Indeed advocating for legislative democracy, judicial independence, fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, expression and religion are subversive activities in China. Recognising someone who believes in basic human freedom is tantamount to "intervening in China's judicial sovereignty", to quote a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Indeed it is for China to define what the term 'judicial' implies and to determine the manner in which a civilian version of a military tribunal, that the Chinese administration refer to as 'its judiciary' function. China has no right; neither does it make any sense should it expect the rest of the world to follow the Chinese model of administration. Perhaps it is time for China to understand and also respect the fact that in some parts of the world, people are born free and citizens expect their states not to restrict freedom, but to respect, guarantee and protect it. Probably it is time for the world to advice China that its circumscribed worldview, defined by the Communist Party of China or the interpretation of rights as permitted by the People's Political Consultative Congress or the National People's Congress is not always correct. The economic prowess of China can also be its Achilles Heel, only if the states that respect fundamental human freedoms can play Paris.

As for India, it is reported that New Delhi has not yet decided whether to succumb to Beijing's diplomatic browbeating or to defy it like any mature and self-respecting state that honours what is etched into its Constitutional template. India indeed will not be 'hurt' like Pakistan or Sri Lanka should China be unhappy with New Delhi. In fact if China stay away from dumping in India, it will benefit Indian economy. The FDI inflow from China in India as of August 2010 is only a meagre 52.41 million USD, placing China 35th in the list of 128 countries having FDI stakes in India. Developing democracies like South Africa, Mauritius and Indonesia have much more investments stakes in India, with Mauritius toping the list with 50 billion USD worth FDI inflow. Investments apart, India's decision whether to participate in the December 10 event at the Oslo City Hall must be based on what India believes.

Yet another concern for New Delhi will be China's position concerning India's candidacy to have a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. If the Security Council is to be expanded shattering the narrow self-interests of the Coffee Club led by Italy, like other members in the G4 India's question should also be decided on its merits. This seat is not worth occupying, should it require betraying universal respect to fundamental human freedoms and dignity.

India however has its own version of Dr. Liu. It is Ms. Irom Sharmila Chanu of Manipur, also known as the iron lady of Manipur. Since the past ten years Sharmila is imprisoned in an isolated room within the security ward of the Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital in Imphal, Manipur. The state government in Manipur, upon instructions from New Delhi has charged Sharmila under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1890 interpreting her indefinite fast demanding an end to the existing culture of impunity in Manipur as an attempt to commit suicide and thus a crime. The judiciary in India, concerning this case in particular and Manipur generally, has behaved like their Chinese counterparts, subjugated and biased.

India is hardly any different from China in smothering dissent and negating democratic freedoms concerning Jammu and Kashmir and Manipur. India enacts its June 4 and October 19 in Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir, as often it is required. Indian media emulating their Chinese counterparts avoid impartial and continuous reporting of human rights violations and brutalities committed by the state and non-state actors in these two high intensity internal domestic conflict zones.

India also has its own historical and cultural nemesis to its proclaimed belief in equality. It is the 3000-year-old caste system, a brutal discriminatory practice that has helped survive political, religious and administrative bigotry that continues to force an estimated 200 million Indians to live within the fringes of the society. It is the poverty, starvation and malnutrition among this 200 million and an additional and substantially large tribal community who are increasingly driven out of their habitats on the excuse of development that places India worse than 26 poor African states put together in terms of poverty. Concerning all these issues, India is hand in glove with China in its resentment to international condemnation. Like China, these are all 'internal issues' for India, conveniently to be swept under the carpet.

So the question to be asked is, will India loose anything and will it paint a different picture of itself if it fails to participate in the Nobel Award Ceremony? Not quite!

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.