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

26 December, 2011

Graft law in critical phase

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The long-drawn-out effort for a new machinery to deal with rampant corruption has entered a crucial phase. With the polity deeply divided on the Bill the government placed before the Lower House of Parliament last week, the shape of the machinery that may emerge remains uncertain.

At the introduction stage itself, several members, led by Bihar leader Lalu Prasad Yadav, launched virulent attacks on the measure, kindling memories of the ill-fated Bill to provide reservation for women in Parliament and the state legislatures. Some of them accused the government of acting in haste, under duress.

Responding to criticism of the measure, Finance Minister Pranab Mukerjee said, “If you feel it is not necessary, we will not have it. Legislation is the domain of Parliament.” This gave rise to suspicion that the political class wants to defeat the legislative effort the way it thwarted the women’s reservation Bill.

However, the government cannot abandon the Bill since Anna Hazare’s movement has created sentiments in favour of a tough anti-corruption regime. The House is due to vote on the Bill after three days of discussion beginning tomorrow. Hazare will be on fast in Mumbai on all the three days. He has also asked his supporters to prepare for a “jail bharo” (fill the jail) agitation.

Anna Hazare deserves full credit for compelling the government to pilot the bill to create the Lokpal institution, which successive administrations have talked about but not pursued seriously. However, in insisting that Parliament reject the government Bill and adopt the one drafted by him, he is overreaching himself.

When Team Anna approached the Bombay High Court for a directive to the Mumbai authorities to make available a suburban ground for his fast at a concessional rate, the judges questioned the propriety of “parallel canvassing” when Parliament is considering the measure. Leaders of the Communist Party of India and the CPI-Marxist were present at the all-party meeting Hazare called in New Delhi recently, but in the house the CPI spokesman ridiculed him for seeking the mantle of the Father of the Nation.

An organisation styled as “Save Democracy: Save India” has announced plans to hold rallies in Mumbai for three days, coinciding with Hazare’s fast, in protest against his attempt to dictate to Parliament.

The Bill Parliament is considering is an improved version of the one the government prepared. The standing committee which considered the government draft, along with those submitted by others, including Team Anna, made many changes to strengthen it.

As it now stands, the measure provides for a nine-member Lokpal at the Centre and for a Lokayukta in every state. Both the institutions will be constitutional bodies. Half the membership of the Lokpal will be filled by women, Dalits, Adivasis and backward classes, with a quota for the minorities in the last category.

Hazare’s demand that the Prime Minister be brought under the purview of the Lokpal has been conceded. However, a bench comprising at least seven members must hold an in-camera preliminary inquiry into the complaint against him. His work with regard to sensitive matters like international relations, national security, atomic energy and space cannot be looked into.

The Lokpal can entertain complaints against ministers, members of Parliament, officials and non-government organisations which receive more than Rs 1 million as donations in a year. Hazare, however, insists the Bill is still very weak. He is unhappy that it does not place the Central Bureau of Investigation under the Lokpal, although it does provide for the Lokpal and the Chief Vigilance Commissioner supervising CBI investigation of cases referred by them.

Almost all parties have reservations about some provisions or other. For instance, the Bharatiya Janata Party and some regional parties are opposed to inclusion of the Lokayukta in the measure, viewing it as contrary to the federal principle.

Since parties which disapprove of particular provisions may be able to combine forces and defeat them, one cannot be sure about the form in which the Bill emerges from the House. If the Upper House makes any further changes in the measure it will come before the Lower House again. The Bill enacted by Parliament will be subject to judicial scrutiny. Parliament and the Judiciary will not be as susceptible to outside pressure as the Executive is. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 26, 2011.

19 December, 2011

Indian police an impediment to security, says AHRC

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

There is no doubt that security to life and property is a fundamental right of every Indian. It is equally the duty of the state to protect it. The safety of a nation is directly proportionate to the collective notion of security of every citizen of that country. The single largest entity that is directly and immediately responsible for the security of the people in India, like in any other country, is the local police. However in India, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is of the opinion that it is this very executive organ of the state that forms the single largest impediment to the security of the country. (Picture courtesy: Magnifying Glass)

Organizations like the AHRC have repeatedly called upon the government of India that the government must bring the much-needed reforms to the current state of policing in the country. Indians who are aware about the state of affairs of the country's police would agree in one voice that the country's police today suffers from a series of problems, including but not limited to corruption; unwarranted political interference; widespread use of torture; nepotism of all forms; lack of infrastructure and training; absence of required cadre strength; and above all, deep demoralisation. Yet the country's governments, state and central, have been keeping reforming the police as one of its last priorities.

Police officers who are willing to speak privately agree that all of the above issues, collectively and individually, have damaged the police beyond repair at the moment, that unless a serious attempt is made to revive the police from this abysmal downward spiral the institution has been stooping into, no matter what is being done to improve the state of internal security of the country, its police service will not be able to cope up with the security requirement of the time and will remain the single largest stumbling block to the country's safety. These officers agree in one voice that in the modern state, India, there is no place for a police force, as it exists and functions today. In that, today's Indian police cannot rationally coexist with the requirements of a modern state and that of its people.

The cancer of demoralization that has advanced into the system is of such nature that many police officers do not think twice before using their uniform to sell themselves for private gain. The incident reported from Kerala state last week, where a Circle Inspector of Police, wearing a sarong, was found loading a lorry with contraband goods assisted by several of his constables, of which one was named Satypalan (vernacular for 'guardian of truth') is an example to this scenario. The local people secretly videographed the entire incident and leaked it to the media. It was only after the media exposure of the incident that the state government reacted against the corrupt and shameless officer. The general public had filed scores of complaints over the past several months against the officer, but until last week, the government had preferred to ignore the complaints. Even today, none of the complaints are investigated or acted upon. It is the video that pushed the administration to act, not other genuine complaints.

The AHRC has noted with concern that in India the government will take action against a police officer only if it has no other option to save its public image. Unfortunately in all cases the complainant who dares take a video of a corrupt police officer need not be so fortunate. The case reported from Tamil Nadu state in October this year is an example. In this incident, a shopkeeper videotaped a woman police Circle Inspector demanding and accepting Rs. 10,000 as bribe. Then the shopkeeper called the vigilance cell of the Tamil Nadu state police. The officer on call responded by arriving at the scene. All the while, the woman police officer was found pleading her guilt to the shopkeeper and asking him not to report the matter to anyone, in particular to the media. But as soon as the vigilance officer arrived with a team of police officers, the officer asked his colleague, who was caught on video accepting bribes, to leave the place. Then the officer assaulted the shopkeeper asking him how dare he video record the deeds of the police. The entire incident was recorded, and the police officer was aware that it was being recorded. Yet the fact that the officer did not hesitate to assault a citizen who dared to bring to light and report police corruption in full view of a video camera that the officer knew was recording his deeds as well as audio, shows the extent of the perception of immunity police officers enjoy in India. Unlike in the Kerala case, there was no action against police officers in Tamil Nadu.

A random search in the Internet will yield hundreds of results where police atrocities have been 'caught on tape' in India. Unless there is an immediate surge by the media by reportage and comments on the incident, in most cases there would not be any corrective action. In fact the state of affairs in the Indian police is far beyond the scope of correction by punishing a police officer here or there.

The entire institution requires an overhaul. Conservative estimates suggest that more than 40 per cent of the police officers in the country are unfit to serve; out of them 90 per cent are persons with criminal backgrounds. For instance, in Kerala, as many as 391 police personnel, including a Superintendent of Police, a Deputy Superintendent of Police, a Circle Inspector, 19 Sub-Inspectors and 55 Assistant Sub-Inspectors who are involved in criminal cases, are still working in the law and order wing of the police. None other than the Chief Minister of the state, Mr Oommen Chandy, revealed this. Replying to questions in the State Legislative Assembly on 10 October, the Chief Minister said that in the state police there are 536 police officers involved in criminal cases. This is however the tip of the iceberg. These are police officers against whom the police itself have registered cases. The number of officers who have managed to stay clear of any criminal charges despite involvement in crimes should be much higher than those facing prosecution. Above all, the most alarming scenario is that all the 536 police officers are still in service! Yet it is not a matter of concern in India.

It is an open secret today that for everything, from appointment to transfer and promotion, officers pay bribes to politicians, in the case of Manipur, even to the Chief Minister. The qualification to be appointed as a police officer in that state is not intellect, integrity or physical fitness, but the rate of bribe the candidate is willing to pay to the Chief Minister, his political party or to its nominee. The AHRC has confirmed information that today, the rate of bribe to be paid for appointment as a police constable in Manipur is Rs. 500,000 to Rs. 800,000 and for the post of Sub-Inspector of Police it is anything beyond Rs. 1,400,000. What is the guarantee that these police officers will not accept money or favours for 'looking the other way' when they come to know about a terrorist or disruptive activity? The security scenario in Manipur will drastically improve if corruption in the administration, in particular, the state police, is checked.

In countries where the government considers its police force to be a disciplined and serious state agency, worthy of the task it is entrusted to discharge, allegations against police officers will be taken seriously. Adequate measures will be put in place so that corruption within the police, if not ruled out, is kept at a minimum level possible. In these countries the public entertain a high standard of trust in their police and the police officers have a high degree of morale.

However, in India, a police officer is perceived as a criminal in uniform. Officers and policymakers alike believe that it is only through fear that law and order can be maintained. What is not acknowledged is the knowledge that fear alienates people from the police, and visible and widespread ineptitude and corruption among the rank and file of the police officers cut them into a poor show of uniformed officers willing to steal even from the beggars' bowl for whatever it is worth.

Often in every other crime reported in the country, there is a foul police officer or an entire team of them aiding the suspects. The AHRC is aware that in states like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, police officers openly run brothels and engage in human trafficking. In the national capital, New Delhi, a substantial number of police officers run private businesses, including the plying of contact carriages in the city. Unfortunately the security of the country is largely dependent upon these police officers and the governments are in no mood to listen. What is alarming is the banality of it.

Economy under stress

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With inflation ruling high, industrial production falling and the rupee sliding, the Indian economy is under heavy pressure. While the authorities assert it has the resilience to bounce back, the current distress is certain to cause hurt in the short run.

Inflation remained above 9 per cent throughout this year, forcing the Reserve Bank of India to tighten money control by repeatedly raising interest rates. A quarter point increase in interest rate it ordered in October was the 13th since March 2010.

Last month the inflation rate dropped to 9.1 per cent, largely due to fall in the prices of food articles, particularly vegetables. This was the lowest point touched this year, but that gave the government no comfort as the figure was way above its target.

In September industrial production had registered a small expansion of 1.9 per cent. Production figures for October, released last week, showed a small contraction. This was the first time in nearly two-and-a-half years that a negative growth rate had been recorded.

A fall in industrial production had been forecast but the extent of decline surprised the authorities. As against an anticipated decline of 0.5 to 1.0 per cent over a year, there was a sharp fall of 5.1 per cent.

A comparison of industrial production figures of October with those of the same month last year reveals a vastly altered scenario. In October 2010, consumer goods output had registered an increase of 9.3 per cent. Consumer durables recorded a growth of 14.2 per cent and non-durables 5 per cent. This October consumer goods production fell by 0.8 per cent with durables recording a decline of 0.3 per cent and non-durables 1.3 per cent.

The Reserve Bank was faced with a difficult choice. Industrialists wanted it to loosen money control to help boost production. Ordinary citizens looked up to it to take further measures to contain inflation. Opting for the middle path, it decided to hold interest rates at the prevailing levels.

At the moment, the government’s major worry is the decline in the value of the rupee. Last week it fell to an all-time low of Rs 54.30 to the dollar. In a quick response, the Reserve Bank imposed curbs on forward trading in the currency. That brought some relief. The value improved to Rs 52.75 to the dollar.

During the past two years, as the advanced countries faced serious difficulties, the Indian economy had shown remarkable buoyancy, leading to a high degree of optimism in policy-makers about its ability to withstand the effect of the global meltdown. They have limitations in addressing the current situation as at the root of the troubles are some factors beyond their control such as the crisis in Europe and flight of foreign capital.

Europe is one of India’s major trade partners, accounting for 23.8 per cent of its exports and 18.7 per cent of its imports. In 2004 India became a strategic partner of the European Union and the following years witnessed a determined effort to realise the full potential of the partnership.

Unlike in the case of the other major economies, India’s trade in goods and services with the EU is fairly well balanced. Last year the EU exported to India goods worth Euro 34.7 billion and services worth Euro 9.8 billion and imported from India goods worth Euro 33.2 billion and services worth Euro 8.1 billion. EU investments in India last year totalled Euro 3.0 billion. Indian investments in EU amounted to only Euro 600 million.

While there is clamour for action by the government and the central bank to arrest the slide of the rupee, the country’s heavy reliance on energy imports and the persisting inflation limit the room for manoeuvre. Placing curbs on flight of capital is not a feasible option. Financial circles, therefore, expect the authorities to take other measures such as allowing companies to borrow abroad more freely to boost dollar inflows.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserted during the weekend that the present setback is temporary and the country has the ability to sustain a growth rate of eight per cent or even nine per cent during the next five years.

However there is a problem. He believes the way out of the current difficulties is acceleration of the globalisation process, held back by political compulsions. The Western economies’ continuing troubles have not persuaded him to shed the illusion that India can move ahead along the development path charted by them which excludes social justice.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 19, 2011

17 December, 2011

NAPM hails direct action at Coca Cola's Plachimada plant


Activists at Coca Cola's Plachimada factory on Saturday -- Photo: Robin Keraleeyam

The following is a statement issued by the National Alliance of People’s Movements in New Delhi hailing the direct action by activists at the Coca Cola plant in Kerala:

Twenty-two members of Plachimada Coca-Cola Virudha Samara Samithi and Plachimada solidarity forum including Vilayodi Venugopal, N. P. Johnson, N Subramanyan, Fr. Augustine, M N Giri and Sahadevan walked into the premises of the Coca Cola Factory and courted arrest. When produced in court, the Magistrate ordered their release on furnishing personal bond but they refused to take bail in protest against apathy on the part of state government and the delaying and subverting tactics in favour of Coca Cola.

NAPM hails the action of these activists and salutes their courage for choosing to do this to bring home the dire need for quick passage of the ‘Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims’ Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill, 2011.

It needs to be noted that based on the report submitted by the Plachimada High Power Committee appointed by Goverment of Kerala, the Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims’ Relief and Compensation Claims Special Tribunal Bill, 2011 was passed by the Assembly on February 24, 2011. The Bill was sent by the Governor of Kerala to the President through the Union Ministry of Home Affairs on March,30. The Home Ministry sent it to various related ministries for their comments on April 17.. They were then supposed to forward the Bill to the President with the consolidated comments.

The decision to send the Bill to the President was taken by the State Law Department, although there was no issue of repugnance and hence there was no need for Presidential assent. There is no question of repugnance as the law deals, in its operative part, with entirely state subjects, namely, losses in agriculture, health care, animal husbandry, job loss and groundwater contamination.

Very recently, the Union government has referred the Bill back to State government but till date the State Law Ministry has not done anything on this. We fail to understand this delay, when in the State as well as at the Centre the Congress party is in power in coalition. Is this delay part of a larger design? Is the government trying to serve the interests of the Coca Cola Corporation? It is extremely shameful that the governments at the State and the Centre are neglecting the demands of the suffering communities and the elected Gram Sabha. We all know that continuous Satyagraha has been going on since Earth Day in 2002, which has now completed almost a decade. How long are they expected to wait?

Amidst all this the Kerala government is planning to give distribution rights to Coca Cola for providing drinking water to government hospitals in the state. Union Minister of State for Food K.V. Thomas declared that months back. It was sustained people's movements and pressure from groups across the country which forced the government to enact this special tribunal Bill. It is high time the government brought this enactment into force and justice is done to the suffering communities and Coke is held responsible for their corporate crimes and made to pay for this. Our struggle to hold the corporations accountable will continue until justice is done to the people.

Medha Patkar,Sandeep Pandey, Gabriele Dietrich, Prafulla Samantara, Geo Josh, Hussain master, Gabriele Dietrich, Suniti S R, Rajendra Ravi, Ramakrishna Raju, Anand Mazgaonkar, Vimal Bhai, Madhuresh Kumar.

Symbolic confiscation of Coca Cola plant in Kerala

About 20 activists who marched into the Coca Cola factory at Plachimada in Kerala on Saturday to confiscate the company’s property in the name of the people were arrested by the police.

The factory which poisoned land and water in the area was closed down following prolonged agitation by the people, which attracted worldwide attention.

The Kerala Assembly has passed a bill providing for the setting up of a tribunal to determine the compensation payable to victims of the pollution. The bill is awaiting the signature of the President.

The symbolic confiscation of the company's property was part of an attempt to impress upon the Centre and the State government the need to implement the law. “We are demanding proper compensation for the people of Plachimada from Coca Cola and it is the people’s natural right,” a spokesman for the group which staged the protest action said.

He added that most of the arrested persons would remain in jail and not seek bail.

16 December, 2011

New Media in Higher Education

In 1970, Alvin Toffler came out with a best selling book, Future Shock. One of the important points he made in that work was that the world was moving faster than ever. In the previous 100 years, that is to say between 1870 and 1970, more changes took place than in the previous 1,000 years, he said. At that time, several institutions in the US were engaged in research work, initiated by the US government, with an eye to the possibilities of military application, to develop a network of computer networks. From that effort emerged the Internet, which has been changing the world even faster than during the period surveyed by Toffler. Today it is a global institution with which more than two billion of the world’s seven billion people are connected.

Governments are using the network for military and civilian purposes. Ordinary people are using it to gather information, seek entertainment or simply keep in touch with others. The medium has demonstrated its potential as a means of quick communication in different situations. It has been used effectively to locate blood donors in emergencies, to summon rescue workers in times of calamity and to mobilize people to stage political protests. The way it facilitated changes of government in some Arab countries is still fresh in our minds. Barack Obama used it to raise funds for his presidential election campaign and the US administration has been using it in military adventures far from the country’s shores. At the moment ordinary Americans, the voiceless 90%, are using this medium in their campaign against the dominant 10%, who have been fattening themselves at the cost of the rest of America and the world.

One area where it is now creating ripples, which may grow into huge waves, is higher education.

Shortly after Toffler’s Future Shock appeared, came another book which attracted wide attention: Deschooling Society, by Ivan Illich. A priest who worked among deprived and disadvantaged people, he called for the abolition of the school system, arguing the masses can never get educated through it. He saw the educational system prevailing in the US, the Soviet Union and other advanced countries as a byproduct of Industrialization. It worked like a factory. The school, he pointed out, functioned as a machine which takes in children of various kinds and produce identical products. His main objection to the school system was that it acts as a sieve. It keeps rejecting people at various levels, allowing only a small number to move up to the top. Such a system cannot be relied upon to educate the masses.

After analyzing the process of acquisition of knowledge, Illich concluded that the process depended upon three elements: one, knowledge imparted by the teacher, who is someone who knows more than him; two, peer group discussion which helps clarify ideas; and, three, use of teaching aides. Accordingly, he envisaged a system under which a knowledgeable person, a guru, makes himself available on a specified day and time to instruct those interested in learning from him. Periodically the pupils get together to discuss what they were learning. Also, opportunities are provided for them to have access to teaching aids. Such a system will enable anyone with the aptitude to acquire knowledge in any subject of interest to him, he argued.

Sound as Illich’s idea may be, translating it into practice was not easy. Governments were too committed to the school system to wreck it. Practical considerations prevented gurus from coming forward to take on disciples. And no one built a public teaching aid facility. Internet has made it possible to overcome some of these problems. At all levels of education, it is now being used by the formal institutions of learning. Schools and colleges are still there but they can now think of breaking out of traditional constraints and universalize access to education. Small beginnings in this regard are taking place in the advanced countries, notably the US, especially in the field of higher education.

The great advantage new media offers is its vast potential for interaction. Some US academic institutions have recognized that a change in the basic vehicle used for learning, from archetypical courses, lectures and textbooks to interactive electronically portable media can be the seed for positive change in the educational system. They also feel that new media learning materials can help enhance their contribution to society by improving learning efficiency and expanding the impact of higher education. Both the quantity and quality of learning can increase.

The current “course” model of learning is exemplified by isolated teachers and groups of students. New media has provided universities and colleges with the opportunity to design a better educational experience. To understand how this can be done, let us take a look at the different components of university education. In the first place, it must impart knowledge; Secondly, it must equip students to think critically. Thirdly, it must provide an environment that helps the student to realize his/her full potential.

New media can be used in the campus as well as in off-campus education. One important aspect of the university system is the bonding experience that it gives young people. It is not as though off-campus education denies opportunity to develop such experience. In fact, new media is a great promoter of bonding, cutting across differences of age, gender, culture etc.

The traditional concept of the campus university denies higher education to most young people. Unfortunately, few countries consider providing the masses with higher education and advanced training a pressing issue. Some educationists have acknowledged that a large number of young people joining the ranks of the unemployed (should we say, the unemployable?) and the unconnected poses a threat to stability in a global society. They recognize the urgent need to provide mass training for employability and mass education to inspire the human spirit. New media’s role becomes important in this context.

In the US, where work in this area has been going on for some time, there have also been some studies that evaluate the impact of new media. In one research project, Professor David Wallace and Philip Mutooni of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a “Web lecture” on industrial design comparable to a traditional lecture covering the same material. Professor Wallace invested 500 person-hours to prepare the material that students were expected to “cover” in one hour. He used slides, voice clips, captions, video clips, and text as required. Half the students used the Web-based presentation and the other half attended a very well-prepared, demonstration-rich lecture. As judged by a group of outside experts, the Web lecture group built better models than the group on the traditional path. The Web lecture students used the Web lecture repeatedly as reference as they applied the techniques they were taught. They did so even though they had to go to a computer and log on to review the material.

In another study, Wallace and another researcher presented a new group of students with the results of the first study and told them that all students would be expected to use the Web lecture. Half the students were told they should review the material before a classroom discussion of the techniques, and the other half were told to review the material before coming to a lab session in which they would be expected to use the techniques. In this experiment, the students expecting to demonstrate their skill through actual performance were extremely diligent in reviewing the material, while the other group was very lax.

These studies have shown that well-illustrated materials are extremely effective as learning aids. Said one professor involved in the studies, "The best lecture I have ever given would be no competition for a professionally produced new media version covering the same material, especially if that material were always instantaneously available to the learner in the style she or he preferred."

Communication with others and with self is at the core of the education system. New media offers an effective vehicle for both types of communication and may, therefore, allow improvements in a broad spectrum of learning activities.

Some colleges in US have already moved away from the traditional model. These include institutions that impart training in subjects as varied as engineering and journalism.

According to new media advocates, an advantage it provides is that both teachers and students can reach out to more experienced and culturally diverse colleagues than are available in the conventional campus. Also, new media educational material allows continuous improvement of the education process and growth of quality. There is also immense scope to improve relationships between institutions and their alumni in very productive and innovative ways.

B.R.P.Bhaskar
December 15, 2011

Keynote address delivered at session on New Media, held as part of the three-day national seminar on Role of Media in Higher Education organized by Kannur University from December 13 to 15

Attack on Shahina in Kodagu condemned

Peoples’ Solidarity Concerns of Bangalore, a platform for human solidarity against injustice, inequality, oppression and discrimination, in a statement issued on Tuesday, condemned the attack on Shahina Nafeesa, journalist, at Somwarpet in Karnataka.

Shahina, who is based in Kerala, is facing two cases with trumped up charges registered by the Kodagu police following the appearance of her report in Tehelka exposing the falsity of the police claims in the Bangalore blast case in which Peoples Democratic Party leader Abdul Naser Mahdani is an accused.

The following in the text of the PSC statement:

On Friday the 9th of December, Shahina Nafeesa a senior journalist presently working with OPEN magazine, formerly with Tehelka, was attacked by communal hooligans owing allegiance to the Sangh Parivar. The incident occurred when Shahina was travelling back from Madikeri, where she was summoned by the local magistrate in connection with the Mahdani's case.

Shahina had reached Taluk office Somawarpet, Kodagu, in Karnataka on a Motor Bike with her friend. After the proceedings with the magistrate when she was about to ride back home, she was asked by the Police not to ride on a bike but organize a car, as she is under threat of an attack. Shahina argued with the police to the effect that it was the duty of the police to protect her and they will have to provide her security cover. The police on the spot refused any such facility. Shahina had to phone the CID in Bangalore, who is investigating the case, to persuade the police to give her protection.

While travelling in a police vehicle, a mob of 70 to 80 people attacked the vehicle with a clear intent of harming Shahina, and the mob stoned the Police vehicle and tried to stop it shouting intimidating slogans and waving black flags. Initially the local police was inactive and they refrained from their duty to provide adequate security for Shahina. Later, clearly after Shahina complained to the investigating officer, the DSP of COD Bangalore, the Kodagu police escorted her off the Tahsil office to a friend’s house in Kushal Nagar and from there she caught a bus to Mysore.

It is a despicable act that has to be condemned by one and all who believe in democratic values and the concept of freedom. When one looks at the details of this attack, there is no doubt that it was instigated by the police themselves. They had prior knowledge of the attack on Shahina Nafeesa.

The Karnataka Police, having failed to establish any tangible evidence to prove their charges against Shahina, are now resorting to diversionary tactics of inciting communal attacks to give the whole issue a communal colour and bring the Sangh Parivar into the issue.

We the Peoples' Solidarity Concerns-Bangalore, condemn this attack unequivocally. The attack on a journalist is an attack on the freedom of the press. We call upon all trade unions, democratic organizations, media organizations and secular people to take note of the growing attacks on the freedom of press and filing of false cases against journalists who are just doing their job.

People’ Solidarity Concerns can be contacted at peoplesconcerns@gmail.com

POSCO project: Ask your MPs to intervene

On behalf of the communities affected by the POSCO project in Odisha (Orissa) the Environment Support Group team, in a statement issued on Thursday, appealed to all to ask their MPs to take up the cause of the villagers who have been resisting the
project peacefully for six years.

The following is the text of the statement:

We share with you the horrible news of a dastardly attack on the people of Jagatsinghpur district in Orissa earlier today. These communities have been peacefully resisting for over six years the proposed POSCO project: the single largest steel-power-mining-township-port infrastructure project conceived in recent decades.

Absolutely designed to loot the natural iron ore wealth of the country to support the prospects of POSCO, a South Korean enterprise predominantly held by American corporations and wealthy individuals including Warren Buffet, this project will destroy some of the most sensitive coastal and forest ecosystems of Orissa, and simultaneously decimate the livelihoods of thousands of natural resource dependent families.

Former Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh controversially approved the project's environmental clearance, even when the expert committees that he appointed advised him against it. The experts had argued on carefully constructed grounds that all evidence provided by Orissa Government and POSCO to justify the project's positive outcomes were found to be comprehensively wrong. Even so, Mr. Ramesh justified his highly questionable and controversial stand by claiming that the project served the "strategic" interests of India, admitting as well that he was under pressure from the Prime Minister of India and Chief Minister of Orissa.

The High Court of Orissa was approached subsequently to set right the wrongs committed by the Central and State governments, as they had effectively created a "rightless people" out of the communities affected by POSCO's investment. But the Hon'ble Principal Bench which heard the matter over three weeks chose not to intervene in an interim direction. Several months later, final arguments on pending cases are yet to be initiated.

The consequence has been that communities who have been justly resisting this absolutely scandalous project, and peacefully so for over six years now, have been repeatedly attacked by goons. This while the police and Government representatives have simply stood by and watched.

Abhay Sahu, the leader of the resistance, was recently arrested on several trumped up charges (at least three dozens of cases have been falsely filed against him), and he languishes today in prison. This is the second time that he has been so jailed; the previous time he was in prison for 11 months based on trumped up charges that he is a threat to the nation.

Earlier today, over 500 goons have attacked the hapless women, children, youth, the elderly and the men with weapons and bombs injuring many. At least one is dead, apparently one of the goons. Once more the police watched all this without intervening to protect women and children, and the elderly, and to establish order.
As people across the nation work to rid it of corruption, it must be realized that the worst form of corruption is to engage in violence against peaceful communities who are only fighting for their just rights and for the protection of wildlife and the environment. Any amount of economic development is simply not worth the price if it creates more poor, destroys sensitive ecosytems and benefits foreign corporations and the 1% of the world who are wealthy. In addition, such projects only benefit those with overseas slush accounts to our common detriment.
It is time we troubled the conscience of each and every Member of the Parliament to raise this issue in the august body which is now in session. They are duty bound to ensure that the Orissa Government backs off the POSCO project and saves Orissa and the country from loot and plunder of non-renewable iron ore and destruction of thousands of livelihoods of natural resource dependent communities and wildlife, which the POSCO investment comprehensively represents.

You can find the contact details of your MPs by clicking their name at the following links:

Lok Sabha: http://164.100.47.132/LssNew/Members/Alphabaticallist.aspx
Rajya Sabha: http://164.100.47.5/Newmembers/memberlist.aspx

Ask the MPs to raise the issue in Parliament. Urge them to pressure the Chief Minister of Orissa and Prime Minister to stop the dastardly attacks on communities resisting POSCO. Demand that they ask the government to scrap the POSCO project to protect the economic and ecological security of India. Ask them to demand stern action against the goons who attacked the villagers, and those in the police and Orissa administration who actively and complicitly supported them.

Please spare some time and call up your newspaper and TV channel and urge them to cover the issue, actively, as actively as they have covered the debates on the need for the Lokpal Bill.

And please spare some more time and write to the PM and all others as the POSCO Prathirodh Sangram Samiti has requested.

To know why you should oppose the POSCO investment, please see "Tearing through the Water Landscape: Evaluating the environmental and social consequences of POSCO project in Odisha, India" accessible at: www.esgindia.org

See also two earlier posts in this blog:


A statement by concerned citizens

POSCO’s Orissa project: an Open Letter

12 December, 2011

Parveena Ahangar rejects CNN-IBN’s nomination for Indian of the Year

The following is a press release issued by the PARVEENA AHANGAR-led ASSOCIATION OF PARENTS FOR DISAPPEARED PERSONS in Srinagar:

On International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011, the APDP (Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons), Srinagar, wishes to state that there is something obscene and perverse in the manner the CNN-IBN has nominated our organization for the ‘Indian of the Year 2011’ award. Sometimes, human rights can be violated by merely mocking those who struggle for human rights.

The channel and its associates are promoting this ‘award’ in all their publicity material as a recognition for “architects and ambassadors of Brand India”. The APDP would like to forthwith REJECT and condemn this gratuitous nomination of our organization for this award which smacks of being yet another attempt by corporate Indian media to cover-up and neutralize the crimes of the Indian state in Kashmir.
We believe there is something sinister in the way our organisation, which has been relentlessly struggling for core human values like freedom, dignity and justice in the Valley in the face of brutal state repression – largely condoned by the corporate media – has been drafted into the eclectic ‘menu card’ of shortlisted nominees just to buy some credibility to the ‘award’. The CNN-IBN or its associates certainly did not consult us before including our name on the nominees list.

The nomination states, ‘The award recognizes the Indian(s) whose contribution to the country in a calendar year has strengthened the foundation of our society and has helped build Brand India in the process. The pinnacle of Indian achievement….’

Applied in the context of our organization, this is patently absurd. The APDP’s struggle for justice and accountability has never been about “building Brand India” but about questioning and challenging Brand India and its trampling over the rights and lives of the people of Kashmir. We refuse to allow ourselves to be co-opted into that brutal system and demean our struggle for ‘rights’ by being foisted upon with some self-styled award. Particularly, when it seems obvious that our name is on your list merely as a ‘decoration’ to help prop up your credibility.

The award citation describes APDP as an organization ‘relentlessly highlighting the issue of missing persons in Kashmir, and forcing the government and rights groups to acknowledge and act’.
Describing the cases of enforced disappearances in Kashmir as that of ‘missing persons’ and claiming that due to efforts of APDP the government and its agencies have acted and acknowledged the issue of enforced disappearances in Kashmir, is both misinformed and misleading.

We wish to place on record that there has been no formal response from the government agencies or institutions on the issue of enforced disappearances in Kashmir. The APDP has identified the perpetrators of the crimes, and there are thousands of cases pending in the Srinagar High Court seeking sanction for prosecution of the accused. However, draconian laws like the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) in Kashmir continue to provide them complete impunity. To claim that the government and its agencies have responded to these gross acts of human rights violations and has ‘acted’ or punished the guilty is a blatant falsehood.

This nomination is a farce. Such nominations take away from the struggle that we as the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons have been fighting for past two decades. It also makes a mockery of the trauma and sufferings of the Kashmiri people.

The only real ‘award’ the news channel can bestow upon us is consistent and honest reportage of the heinous crimes committed by the armed forces in Kashmir and highlight the struggles and sacrifices of the people of Kashmir for justice and freedom.

We demand that CNN-IBN forthwith remove our name from their nominee’s list.

PARVEENA AHANGAR
Spokesperson,
Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP)

See also
Kashmiri mothers’ never-ending search for their sons

Bid to rein in social media

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

As the world hailed the social media’s role in promoting change last week, authorities in India, annoyed by content unacceptable to them, were looking for ways to rein it in.

The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, in focusing on social media during the International Human Rights Day celebrations on Saturday, had said it enabled ordinary people, from Cairo and Tunis to Madrid and New York, to demand change.

Indian citizens howled in protest as a New York Times blog revealed Communications Minister Kapil Sibal had been talking to executives of Internet companies and social media sites to persuade them to prescreen user content from the country and remove objectionable material before it goes online.

Sibal had reportedly shown them a Facebook page that maligned Congress President Sonia Gandhi and said, “This is unacceptable.” The Google Transparency Report disclosed that between January and June this year the Indian government had requested the company to remove 358 items from its services, including YouTube and Orkut, citing various reasons.

The most widely cited reason was criticism of the government (255 items). Other reasons included defamation (39), privacy and security (20), impersonation (14), hate speech (8), pornography (3) and national security (1). The reason for seeking blocking of the remaining15 items was not clear.

The government’s effort met with a good measure of success. Although the report said “we declined the majority of these requests” it conceded that as much as 51 per cent of them were complied with. The contradiction in the statement apparently stems from the fact that in many cases compliance was partial, with the company locally restricting videos “that appeared to violate local laws prohibiting speech that could incite enmity between communities”.

Google also received requests from the police to remove 236 communities and profiles from Orkut. It did not comply with the request as the content did not violate its community standards or local laws. There were also requests to remove some YouTube videos on the ground that they displayed protests against social leaders or used offensive language against religious leaders.

Sibal’s interaction with Internet service providers was part of a misconceived plan to curb new media. In 2000, the government had enacted the Information Technology Act, which, while giving legitimacy to electronic communication, provided for action against those misusing the facility. Three years ago the law was amended in the light of experience.

Exercising powers flowing from this law, the Kerala police had arrested a doctor who created a website in the name of a former minister and uploaded allegedly defamatory videos. On a complaint by Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Pinarayi Vijayan, it had lured home a UAE-based Keralite who allegedly forwarded by e-mail the photograph of a mansion falsely claiming it was Vijayan’s house.

Last year the makers of BlackBerry refused India’s request to give it access to users’ messages. Early this year the government assumed the power to ask ISPs to delete information posted on websites which officials or private citizens considered disparaging or harassing. It has also drawn up plans to set up a unit to monitor information posted on websites and social media sites.

Anna Hazare’s supporters are using social networks with a fair degree of success in their anti-corruption drive. This, coupled with the government’s citing of criticism as the main reason for wanting to block social network posts, lends support to the widely held view that fear of a Jasmine revolution haunts the authorities.

According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India, the number of Net users is expected to touch 121 million by the year-end. Of them, 97 million may be active users who “access Internet at least once in a month”.

Google India claims more than 100 million users and Facebook more than 25 million. While the country has a large Internet population, the authorities’ threat perception appears to be exaggerated. Indian cyber space is as diverse and divided as Indian society and polity, and cannot at present give rise to a movement of the kind that swept the Arab countries.

The freedom the Indian media enjoys flows from the freedoms of speech and expression that the Constitution guarantees to all citizens. It must apply to digital media as much as it does to print and electronic media. Any regulatory mechanism created to check misuse of the freedom must remain outside the government’s control but it must have statutory backing.--Gulf Today, December 12, 2011.

11 December, 2011

Irom Sharmila support group holds prayer meeting at Rajghat

A prayer meeting was held at Rajghat at 9 a.m. on Saturday, International Human Rights Day, under the auspices of the Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign (SSSC).

The prayer meeting was organized as Delhi police refused permission for a fast in solidarity with Irom Sharmila, who has been on fast in Manipur for more than 11 years demanding withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

Apart from eminent academicians, domestic workers, rights and peace activists, students, teachers, lawyers and others attended it.

This was followed by a press conference at the Press Club lawns. Many known social activists were present and they voiced their concerns with regard to freedom of speech and human rights in the context of the heroic struggles of Irom Sharmila and many others.

They demanded an end to heavy militarization, withdrawal of the AFSPA and restoration of peace and freedom in the North-East and in Jammu and Kashmir.

Medha Patkar, Convener, National Alliance of People’s Movements, said, “This refusal (to lift AFSPA) reveals the fear of the Government. Their intolerance towards non-violent protests and dialogue and reluctance to engage with people's movements is leading to more violent conflicts in the country today. If they fear law and order issues it is their duty to maintain law and order and not trample upon the citizens’ fundamental right of peaceful gathering and protest”.

Aruna Roy, member, National Advisory Council, added, “I feel as society we have failed Sharmila in her struggle. Why has she been made to fast for 11 years? If the government is not responding to it then let others take it up.”

SSSC members who spoke demanded that the Jeevan Reddy Committee report, the Moily report and the Kashmir interlocutors' report should all be made public and their recommendations implemented after a nationwide public debate.

They said they would soon approach the Union Home Ministry with a demand that the government resolve the issue of human rights violations through active dialogue with the concerned parties. They wanted the ministry to evolve a phased demilitarization strategy.

They suggested that the government must talk with Irom Sharmila. They also wanted a representative committee to examine the cases of rights violations in Manipur and other places and take action. They pointed out that draconian laws were making the country weak and there was no place for such laws in a democracy.

Contact: Devika Mittal: 9582129927, Shaheen: 9899830412, Ravi Nitesh : 9958907799

09 December, 2011

Permission denied for Rajghat fast in support of Irom Sharmila


Delhi Police has denied permission for the proposed 'One day fast for Irom Sharmila' scheduled to be held at Raghat in New Delhi on December 10, International Human Rights Day, citing law and order problems.

The National Alliance of People’s Movements and other organizers of the programme tried their best in discussions with police officials at various levels but they refused to change the decision.

In a statement they said, “The Government has yet again shown its hard and inhumane approach in dealing with human rights activists. This also seems to be a clear message that the Government is now in fear of the growing public support for Irom Sharmila. This fast was scheduled as a culminating programmme of the Nationwide Signature Campaign which had started on October 2 in India and across the globe.

“We believe that they can only deny the permission for a place for the fast, not for the fast. Fast doesn’t need any permission.

“Hence we appeal to all our friends to observe the one-at day fast wherever they are, be it their workplace, home, school, anywhere. This one-day fast will be observed by all supporters of this campaign in India and even across the globe. We also appeal to all our friends and well-wishers to organize press conferences at their places to oppose the government’s way of dealing with this issue.

“We believe in non-violence, peace and humanity and we are committed to all possible initiatives towards spreading the message of peace, love and non-violence.

“We will move to Rajghat in morning at 9 a.m for a peace prayer.

"A press meet will be organized at 2 p.m. in Delhi, where all activists associated with this campaign will be present and some prominent women activists will address the press conference. The press conference will be at the Press Club lawns, 1, Raisina Road, New Delhi."

Contact: 9582129927, 9958907799, 9313106745

08 December, 2011

Mullaperiyar controversy: Time to re-visit dam building, says NAPM

The National Alliance of People’s Movements has offered its services to mediate between the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in the Mullaperiyar controversy with the help of the Central government.

In a statement, issued in New Delhi today, it suggested that the controversy should be used as an opportunity to revisit dam building. It also demanded that the Centre bring out a White Paper on all dams and set up a National Commission on Dam.

The following is the text of the statement:


The rising tension, passion and stray incidents of violence in Kerala and Tamil Nadu over the Mullaperiyar dam on Periyar river in Kerala has once again brought the focus on the water conflicts in the country, control over natural resources of the communities and on the safety of the dam. Unfortunately, the debate is still not about dams as source of irrigation, power generation and flood control and is projecting dams as a solution. The debate, limited to the water sharing between the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, fails to address the larger issue of effective management of water resources and communities’ control over water and natural resources.

India is witness to a large number of anti-dam agitations by people's movements ranging from Bhakra, Koel Karo, Tehri to Dams in Narmada Valley. The 'No Big Dam' agitation started in the case of Sardar Sarovar Dam is still being waged in the North- East of India and other Himalayan states and opposed by communities for various reasons, environmental to life and livelihood.

A fair number of India’s dams are over 100 years old. A list compiled by the Central Water Commission (CWC) shows at least 114 dams in this category. There are roughly 400 dams which are 50-100 years old. According to the Madhya Pradesh government, the state has 168 dams which can be called “distressed dams”, out of which 63 are less than 50 years old. Since 1917, 29 dams have reportedly been damaged. In 2002, the Jamunia Dam in Madhya Pradesh breached and the toll is continuing till date. Such breaches of dams have affected the lives and property of hundreds of people, and, the number of those killed and injured in such accidents has reached thousands. Mullaperiyar is one such ageing dam and fears of further breach and damage has increased in recent times with the seismic activity in the region.

It is widely believed that the tremors in the region are influenced by the pressure of a large number of dams including Idukki and Mullaperiyar. As such, a new, larger dam in place of the existing one may actually increase the risk of seismic activity in the area. The issue of additional forest requirement of about 50 ha in the Periyar Tiger Reserve should also be considered. So, to imagine and call for construction of a new dam by Kerala government is an ill-founded solution.

The safety of the dam at present may be a point of debate for the conflicting parties. But by any stretch of imagination, we cannot foresee the dam holding good eternally. Hence, sooner or later, alternative arrangements have to be made. Considering the possible risk of continuing with the 116-yea- old structure and by the application of the precautionary principle, it is better to go for alternate arrangements for irrigation in Tamil Nadu areas and ways to exploit the Periyar waters should be explored on both sides as soon as possible.

The water conflict between these two states is not an isolated one. We have other water sharing issues over almost every river in this country. The fact is that rivers don't respect the artificial boundaries created by nation-states and have their own natural flows. Communities living in their vicinity know about their flow and rhythm of life. Dams have only destroyed the rivers and killed their flow. It is time we started thinking of alternative ways of harnessing the river water for livelihood and civilizational survival.

India’s ageing dam population, absence of proper maintenance of the dams and absence of accountability mechanisms is going to increase the frequency of dam disasters in years to come. When the increased frequency of high intensity rainfall, melting glaciers and other such events due to global warming is added to this already heady mix, the consequences could be grave. We have a Dam Safety Bill pending before Parliament but we need this to be put to fresh scrutiny in public domain and consult all the movements and communities groups in the light of the ongoing controversy and develop a dam safety agency which will take care of the ageing dam population and also work towards decommissioning of these dams. Simultaneously, there is a need to put a moratorium on the construction of large dams anywhere in the country.

The frequent failure of large dams to provide the claimed benefits and their poor performance needs to be recognised and accepted. There is no reason for optimism on the feasibility of improving the poor performance of dams and mitigating their impacts. A major question is the feasibility of just rehabilitation with land for land lost by agriculturists and alternative, appropriate sources of livelihood for other displaced people. In large scale displacement, the experience shows a clear failure. Within the value framework we stand and propagate – equity, sustainability, transparency, accountability, participatory decision-making, and efficiency – large dams have not helped attain, but rather hindered, “human development”.

As the World Commission on Dams has concluded there is an urgent need for developing a new framework for decision-making which provides a solid basis for assessing options for energy and water development, and for planning and implementing projects that can achieve the desired benefits without exacting an unacceptable cost for anyone affected, or for our environment and future generations.

It is in this light that we from NAPM demand that---

1. The government of India brings out a white paper on all the dams, divulge the benefits vis-a-vis projections and plans, current status, cost of running, number of people displaced, rehabilitated and so on.

2. The government of India establish a National Commission on Dams to study the existing and planned dams and look at their feasibility, impact and contribution to the overall intended development and put a moratorium on the construction of all the big dams till then.

3. The governments of India, Kerala and Tamil Nadu come together for a dialogue and find a solution which will not compromise their stand and also not affect the fear of losing livelihood either by dam breach in Kerala or lack of water for agriculture in Tamil Nadu.

4. The government of India start the overall process of debate and discussion leading up to enactment of Dam Safety Act in consultation with affected communities and also work towards putting an end to the water conflicts in the country and develop institutional mechanisms for water sharing between different states.

Lastly, NAPM in this regard offers its help in mediating between the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala with the help of the Central government in case of Mullaperiyar controversy. We do hope with the help of people's movements from both sides we will able to reach a compromise which will serve the livelihood and safety concerns of the people.

Medha Patkar, Sandeep Pandey, Gabriele Dietrich, Prafulla Samantara, Akhil Gogoi, Geo Josh, Hussain master, Gabriele Dietrich, Suniti S R, Rajendra Ravi, Ramakrishna Raju, Anand Mazgaonkar, Vimal Bhai, Madhuresh Kumar

07 December, 2011

Solidarity fast in support of Irom Sharmila at Rajghat on Human Rights Day

Hundreds of women activists from across the country are gathering in a solidarity fast at Rajghat, New Delhi, on December 10, International Human Rights Day, from 9 am to demonstrate solidarity with Irom Sharmila and lend support to her demand for repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

The National Alliance of People’s Movements has called upon all to join the campaign.

The following is a statement issued by NAPL in this connection:

Who is Irom Sharmila?

Irom Sharmila Chanu also known as the "Iron Lady of Manipur" is a civil rights activist from the state of Manipur. She has been fasting for more than 10 years now. This is believed to be the world's longest hunger-strike.

Irom started her fast unto death on November 2, 2000, after the Malom massacre. Her primary demand to the Indian government is repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA), which allows soldiers to indefinitely detain any citizen on suspicion of being a rebel. The Act has been the reason for permitting torture, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial executions.

Sharmila has been regularly arrested, released and re-arrested every year since 2000, because, under Section 309 IPC, a person who "attempts to commit suicide" is punishable with imprisonment up to one year. She has been imprisoned for many years now in a government Hospital in Imphal, Manipur, where very few people can meet her.

Sharmila has held various protests and demonstrations with students, human rights activists and other concerned citizens in places like Jantar Mantar, Rajghat and so on. Sharmila has won many awards for her brave and selfless act for humanity and she was even nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. Her struggle has received considerable international support and attention too.

When asked about fulfilling her personal dreams like marriage while fasting, she said tests needed to be passed for every upgrade. “For any promotion, we have to pass an experiment. In my case, I am experimenting to get success for making a difference for the whole society,” she said.

What can we do?


Over the years many civil society groups and volunteers have campaigned in support of her cause. Recently ‘Save Sharmila Campaign’ was launched by the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements along with many other groups, student bodies and civil society organization.

The ‘National Signature Campaign’ planned by NAPM is submitting the signatures of all supporters to the President of India, Smt Pratibha Patil on December 10, 2011, the International Human Rights Day.

Let us join the struggle of Irom Sharmila and thousands of others fighting against AFSPA. Sharmila has become the face of the struggle. By punishing her body she has been selflessly fighting for more than a decade for the human rights, dignity and peace of millions. Let us show our support to our north-eastern fellow citizens who also have the right to life, peace and justice.
----------------
National Alliance of People’s Movements
National Office: Room No. 29-30, 1st floor, ‘A’ Wing, Haji Habib Bldg, Naigaon Cross Road, Dadar (E), Mumbai - 400 014;
Phone 022-24150529

Delhi office: 6/6, Jangpura B, Mathura Road, New Delhi 110014
Phone 011 26241167 / 24354737 Mobile : 09818905316

Web : www.napm-india.org
Facebook : www.facebook.com/NAPMindia
Twitter : @napmindia

05 December, 2011

An obnoxious practice under state patronage at Karnataka temple

The following is a joint statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, and the Vigil India Movement, Bangalore:

The 'Madi Snana' practised at the Kukke Subramanya temple, near Mangalore, attracts severe criticism and equal amount of support in India. The practice involves devotees allowed to roll over plantain leaves; reportedly after dominant caste Brahmins have eaten from the leaves. It is believed that the ritual will cure skin diseases, in the past leprosy, mostly of the inferior castes, in particular the Dalits. The temple is under the Muzrai Department of the Government of Karnataka. Dr. Vedavyas Srinivas Acharya, a senior minister of the state cabinet, who is also responsible for higher education, planning, statistics and information technology departments in the state government heads the Muzrai department. Dr. Acharya is a medical doctor turned politician. (photo courtesy: Deccan Herald)

That a qualified medical doctor heads a government department, which manages religious institutions and the revenue generated from such institutions is also responsible for other important cabinet portfolios, not only allows such inhuman practices in the country but justifies it in the name of religious belief and centuries-old tradition is not just a shame for the country, but illuminates the deep-rooted nature of orthodox prejudices that benefits the dominant castes in the caste system of India. It underscores the fact that the liberation of the country from the cobweb of caste is impossible should the current situations continue. It paints an appalling picture of what modernisation means in India, that Acharya is a senior minister in the state, which hosts the country's IT capital, Bangalore. It reiterates the argument that neo-Dalit political leaders like Ms Mayawati are nothing more than shrewd politicians who use pro-Dalit sentiments to maintain power and intends no good to the community that she allegedly represents and her newfound affinity for Brahminical practices could justify, manual scavenging, a practice vicious and demeaning that rolling over banana leafs.

The government had prohibited the practice of Made Snana in 1979. But it was soon reintroduced on the justification that it is a centuries-old religious ritual. So is untouchability, a much older practice, which today is prohibited not only in the constitution, but also in at least half a dozen statutes. Yet it continues openly in the country.

The practice of manual scavenging is also prohibited, including the construction of dry latrines. But institutions like the Indian Railway, the municipalities, corporations and panchayats employ manual scavengers. The Indian Railway is the largest employer of manual scavengers, and manages some of the longest rows of open latrines in the world. The open-hole lavatories in every railway compartment that is in service in the country turns the largest rail network of the world into one big lavatory that drops raw human excreta and other waste onto the rails, and over people and vehicles - where the rail line runs above roads. It is a common scene in every railway station in the country, railway employees cleaning with a broom, railway sleepers covered with human excreta. In a country that tolerates this and accepts the practice as 'god given' to a community, a few thousand 'devotees' rolling over leftover food and plantain leaves upon which the food was served and eaten by some of the most exploiting communities in the world - those Brahmins who believe in the caste hierarchy - have eaten must be a negligible incident.

That caste-based discrimination continues in India is nothing new. There is neither news value in it, nor is there any shocking discovery about the incident. That this year's Made Snana was widely reported in the media can be discounted due to the news value the event attracted since a person who protested against this was publically assaulted. The inhuman ritual never attracted such media frenzy before, and probably will never again until some untoward incident that has an alleged media value than the ritual itself happens. Such is the media vigilance in India on some important issues, and the Indian media is not immune to caste prejudice. It is clear from the fact that many other similar inhuman practices based on dominant caste prejudices are of no news value for the Indian media. This includes widespread bonded labour of Dalits, Devadasi practices, the denial of food and medicine to the Dalit and tribal children in rural villages by the dominant caste government servants and land grabbing by dominant castes.

The only entities that openly express discomfort regarding caste prejudices are the government agencies that represent India in international fora. For these institutions and the persons who work for them representing the government, caste is an internal matter of the country. So was apartheid an internal matter of South Africa, holocaust a domestic affair for Nazi Germany, and slavery an in-house labour management for the racists.

Mistakes get corrected starting from the moment defects are admitted. Caste based prejudices in India will continue until the government publically admits that discrimination based on caste, in all its manifest forms, is a crime against humanity. What it requires is honesty in polity, and it is precisely what the governments in India lack.

Global call for action to eliminate caste-based discrimination

The following is a joint declaration issued by activists from caste-affected countries and representatives of international bodies:

We, over hundred Dalit activists and social movement leaders from the caste affected countries of Bangladesh, India, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Senegal and Yemen, solidarity networks from Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, members of International Organizations, International Non Governmental Organizations, and researchers, united for the International Consultation on Good Practices and Strategies to Eliminate Caste Based Discrimination, and launched this Declaration and Global Call for Action.

Building upon the Kathmandu Dalit Declaration (2004), the Ambedkar Principles (2005), The Hague Declaration on the Human Rights and Dignity of Dalit Women (2006), and the Geneva Declaration for the Decisive Decade against Discrimination Based on Work and Descent (2011);

Recognizing that caste-based discrimination is a violation of international human rights law that affects more than 260 million people worldwide, particularly in South Asia, including Dalits and other communities discriminated against of the basis of work and descent;

Condemning the heinous structures of caste and the continued practice of caste-based discrimination in the public and private spheres, the impunity for crimes committed, and the egregious impact on affected persons, including violence, rape, poverty, landlessness, caste-based slavery and other forms of economic, social, cultural and political exclusion;

Recalling that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family and holds that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms therein without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status;

Confirming the obligations of States to eliminate caste-based discrimination and emphasizing the responsibilities of international and national human rights bodies, the private sector, multilateral and bilateral development agencies and financial institutions, and non-governmental organisations to assist in the elimination of caste-based discrimination through local, national, regional and international measures;

Deeply concerned that women and girls affected by caste-based discrimination face intersecting forms of discrimination and particular human rights violations such as rape, sexual exploitation, forced prostitution and domestic violence, and less access to political and economic participation;

Affirming the (draft) UN Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination Based on Work and Descent, including the general and specific measures proposed in the areas of survey and research; segregation; protection against violence; access to justice; equal employment opportunities; forced labour; equal access to health, food, water, housing and education; awareness raising; discrimination against women; participation; humanitarian and development assistance; market enterprises; international cooperation; and diaspora communities;

Recalling General Recommendation XXIX on descent-based discrimination adopted by the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination;

Recalling International Labour Organization Convention No. 111 concerning Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation, and its accompanying Recommendation No. 111;

Recalling also General Comment No. 20 on Non-Discrimination in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comments No. 25 and 28 adopted by the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, and General Recommendation No. 7 adopted by the Committee on the Rights of the Child;

Recalling the global commitments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 and the urgent need to adopt enhanced measures to ensure that all persons can benefit from the MDGs without discrimination on the basis of caste;

Deploring the failures to implement fully legislation and policies to combat caste-based discrimination and the resultant continued exclusion and marginalization, including political exclusion, and lack of equal access to public services, land, education, markets, credit and proper employment;

Deeply concerned that in situations of humanitarian crisis and in disaster response, caste-based discrimination continues to exclude affected communities from equal access to assistance and relief measures;

Calling for a world conference on the elimination of caste-based discrimination and a UN Convention on Caste- based Discrimination;

Calling for coherence in policies to eliminate caste-based discrimination and adherence to human rights obligations, including the prohibition of caste-based discrimination, and to this end, we issue this Global Call for Action to Eliminate Caste-Based Discrimination.

Urgent Global Call for Action to Eliminate Caste Discrimination
We make this urgent Global Call for Action to citizens of the world to bring an end to millennia of immense human suffering, resulting from a brutal system of caste segregation, affecting over 260 million people worldwide.

We support the words of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: "Other seemingly insurmountable walls, such as slavery and apartheid, have been dismantled in the past. We can and must tear down the barriers of caste too."

We call for leadership, cooperation and constructive engagement at the local, national, regional and international levels to achieve a caste-free world.

We call for the empowerment of individuals and communities facing caste-based discrimination in decision- making at all levels of governance and in the implementation of policies that affect them.

We declare that structures of caste or analogous systems of inherited status constitute an offence to human dignity, a barrier to equality and a form of apartheid that has been perpetuated in the public and private sphere, largely with limited, or no access to justice for its victims.

We appeal for effective police reforms for investigations, independent and neutral prosecution mechanisms and an unbiased judiciary that is committed to uphold justice.

We deplore notions of ‘untouchability', pollution and caste hierarchy that cause segregation in villages, schools and places of worship, restrict individuals to the most menial and dangerous jobs, and prevent access to justice for crimes committed against affected communities.

We Appeal to All Stakeholders to Unite to Eliminate Caste-Based Discrimination
To Governments, we applaud those states where progressive legislative and policy measures to eliminate caste-based discrimination have been adopted and we urge the full and immediate implementation of these measures and monitoring of their enforcement We call for the development of new legislation and policies to eliminate caste-based discrimination where such measures are lacking. We appeal to governments to officially recognize caste-based discrimination and to implement without delay measures for its elimination.

We call for National Action Plans to eliminate caste-based discrimination in all affected countries, to include also specific provisions for women. We demand that all relevant UN recommendations on caste-based discrimination be put into effect immediately.

To UN Human Rights Bodies, we commend the work of the Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures, and other mechanisms, with the support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and we call for further development of policy recommendations and technical support to eliminate caste-based discrimination.

To UN Country Teams, Multilateral and Bilateral Development Agencies, and International Financial Institutions, we welcome existing efforts to eliminate caste-based discrimination and we call for all relevant country strategies and agreements to include measures to overcome caste-based discrimination.

To the Private Sector, we urge efforts to eliminate caste-based discrimination within their own organizations, as well as within the operations of their subsidiaries and through their supply chains, and call for the application of the Ambedkar Principles and for equal access to employment opportunities.

To the Member States of the G-20, we recommend the integration of measures to eliminate caste-based discrimination into policies for protecting marginalized groups from the global financial crisis and into all their bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

To Regional Inter-Governmental Organisations, including the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, European Union, African Union, Association of Southeast Asian States, and the Organization of American States, we call for attention to caste-based discrimination in their respective agendas and the adoption of appropriate dialogues, political statements and policy recommendations to member states.

To Civil Society Organisations, we call for alliances with communities discriminated against on the basis of caste in order to build strategies across relevant sectors of advocacy and service-delivery to eliminate caste discrimination. We strongly encourage drawing from the good practices of Dalits and other affected groups in the critical analysis of public institutions, media and justice mechanisms.

To the Public, we call for an immediate end to caste systems and to practices of caste-based discrimination and untouchability in private and public life. We strongly encourage expressions of solidarity with caste- affected groups and support to government reforms for the elimination of caste-based discrimination.

To Governments of Selected Countries Affected by Caste
India, we recognise the regional leadership taken in the fight against caste, such as the adoption of Constitutional provisions and guarantees, and other important legislative and policy frameworks, including affirmative action. We call for the full implementation of these measures to overcome the human rights violations that persist, including ensuring access to rights, monitoring of enforcement, and identifying and rectifying gaps in legislation and policy.

Nepal, we applaud the Interim Constitution, inclusive Constituent Assembly, establishment of the National Dalit Commission, adoption of proportional political representation for Dalits and declaring the country as an untouchability free state and we call for the full and continued implementation of these reforms, including the adoption of a National Action Plan. We further urge an inclusive State re-structuring with Constitutional guarantees of special provisions for the promotion and protection of all rights for Dalits.

Bangladesh, we welcome the recognition of caste-based discrimination and we call for the adoption and full implementation of appropriate legislative and policy measures to eliminate caste-based discrimination.

Sri Lanka, we call for the official recognition of caste-based discrimination and the adoption and implementation of the required legislative and policy measures for its elimination.

Pakistan, we call for the official recognition of caste-based discrimination and the implementation without delay of legislative and policy measures for its elimination.

Japan, we applaud the adoption of legislative and policy measures to address Buraku discrimination and now call for enactment of a law to prohibit racial discrimination, including Buraku discrimination.

United Kingdom, we call for the adoption of Clause 9 (5)(a) to allow for the amendment to outlaw caste-based discrimination as part of the UK Equality Act (2010).

African states, we call for the official recognition of caste-based and analogous forms of discrimination and the implementation without delay of measures for its elimination.

Caste-affected diaspora states, we call for investigation into practices of caste-based discrimination and recommend the adoption of legislation to prohibit caste-based discrimination.

Courtesy: Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong.

Retail FDI rocks UPA

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Barely a fortnight after deciding to allow 51 per cent foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail ventures and to remove the cap on single-brand ones, the Indian government is struggling to find a way forward in the face of opposition not only from outside but also from within the ruling United Progressive Alliance.

Parliament has not been able to transact any business for days as a determined opposition has held up all proceedings demanding discussion on the subject. Retail trade associations, backed by parties and trade unions, have organised protest strikes.

India was under pressure from the United States since long to open up the retail sector to foreign investors. American retail major Wal-Mart has been waiting at the doorstep, hoping to repeat its success in China.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, which was in power from 1998 to 2004, considered a proposal to allow 100% FDI in the sector but did not go ahead with it. In his first term, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could not take up the issue since the Left parties on whom his government depended for survival in Parliament were opposed to FDI in retail trade.

Manmohan Singh probably assumed that the main opposition, the BJP, will create no problems on the FDI issue since it had followed the path of globalisation while in power. However, it has come out strongly against the decision.

The government has spent the last few days trying to hard-sell the decision with arguments about the benefits it will bestow. It claims the entry of retail chains like Wal-Mart will create new jobs, improve supply chains and benefit consumers by promoting competition. It also says farmers and small producers will benefit from the decision as the chains will be required to buy 30 per cent of their requirements locally. The farmers will be able to sell directly to the chains and thus free themselves from the stranglehold of middlemen.

The government has received powerful support from spokesmen of commerce and industry, who view the decision as a step forward in the policy of liberalisation, of which they are both promoters and beneficiaries.

The Consortium of Indian Farmers Association has hailed the decision, saying it will benefit 600 million traders and 1,200 million consumers. However, it wants the government to make it mandatory for retailers to buy 75 per cent of their produce directly from farmers.

Large sections of the media have also lent support to the government and sought to allay fears that the big fish will swallow small ones. They point out that Indian retail chains have been active for some years without displacing small traders. One scribe claimed that the misgivings voiced when companies like Coca-Cola, KFC and McDonald entered have been proved wrong. They are now as Indian as any local company, and are contributing to the national economy, he said.

Industrial and commercial interests, however, are not united on the issue. Traders’ enthusiastic participation in the protest action shows many of them are apprehensive about the future. About 90 per cent of all Indian entrepreneurs are said to be retailers.

The government has said there is no question of reversing the retail FDI decision. However, it is in a fix as two coalition partners, the Trinamool Congress (19 seats, all from West Bengal) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (18 seats, all from Tamil Nadu), have publicly opposed the decision. Without them the UPA will be in a minority.

The Trinamool Congress and the DMK do not want to bring the government down on this issue. However, democratic decency demands that the Prime Minister must acknowledge that the decision does not command the support of the parliamentary majority and pull back.

Perhaps the time has also come for Manmohan Singh to take a fresh look at his economic ideas. When, as Finance Minister, he led India into the path of liberalisation 20 years ago, the US-dominated globalisation drive was on a winning streak. The Soviet Union and its European satellites had collapsed, and China, which had switched to market economy in 1978, had registered good progress.

The crisis gripping the West underscores the undesirability of total reliance on the market, which, contrary to the assertions of the reform school, is not a free forum but one subject to constant manipulation by the rich. The rising inflation in the country is a sign of the progress of an affluent minority, not of India, as Manmohan Singh recently observed. A system that works in the interest of a minority is not a viable option for a country like India. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, December 5, 2011.

GenNext movement on Mullaperiyar

Rajasenan inaugurating Save Mullaperiyar event at Thiruvananthapuram beach

On Sunday, young members of the Save Mullaperiyar Dam, Save Kerala Facebook Campaign gathered on Thiruvananthapuram’s Shamkhummukham beach, giving rise to hopes of an Internet-driven new generation movement -- not to dislodge the government, but to force it to pay attention to the voice of the people.

About 200 young people arrived at the beach on motor bikes wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Build a New Dam”. The bike rally was flagged off at Kawdiyar by the well-known sculptor Kanayi Kunhiraman. At the beach, which was crowded, as is usual on Sundays, they were joined by hundreds more.

Young artists, most of them students of the College of Fine Arts, working with sand, graphically depicted the potential threat posed by the 116-year-old Mullaperiyar dam.

A video on Mullaperiyar with a song set to music by composer Balabhaskat and rendered by Shan was screened. Balabhaskar also rendered the slogan “We Want New Dam” musically and the crowd repeated it enthusiastically.

The beach event, inaugurated by film director Rajasenan, ended with lighting of candles by the participants as Shan rendered the theme song.

It was a non-partisan affair and some of the speakers urged the political parties to join hands on the Mullaperiyar issue instead of attempting to make political gains.

There are several groups using Facebook to put across Kerala’s demand for a new dam to replace the existing one. The Save Mullaperiyar Dam page appears to be the most active one. It boasts of more than 53,000 members and has more than 1,600 photographs and 12 documents.

The role of the Internet as an agent of change has been widely discussed in the wake of the uprooting of government in some Arab countries and the spread of the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States. Whatever changes were wrought by the Internet were the result of public action, not of scribblin on Facebook Walls.

Viewed in this light, the public event organized by the Save Mullaperiyar group is a significant development. It was not a protest of the kind which we witness everyday. It was an event that revealed the youth’s vision of a new society and its readiness to work for its realization.

30 November, 2011

Centre seeking to control biotechnology sector

The following is a press release issued by the Environment Support Group, Bangalore:

Biotechnology is a cross cutting issue that affects food production, farming, health, environment and information technology sectors. It is to be expected then that formulation of any law governing this high risk technology would be a deeply democratic and transparent exercise. Particularly because the Constitution of India guarantees that States and Local Governments are the principal levels for engaging with debates and decisions when it matters to people’s access to food, health, a clean environment and livelihood in general. The role of the Centre is supportive, at best.

International law also strongly supports this process of bottom up decision making involving the people meaningfully. The Indian Government, however, seems to now believe that biotechnology as a sector must be under the “control” of the Union Government. Accordingly, it has proposed the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011, to establish a Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) and Biotechnology Regulatory Appellate Authority (BRAT) and a host of other regulatory and appeal agencies.

There has been no discussion whatsoever during the formulation of this Bill with Local and State Governments, and it would not be wrong to say that the process by which this legislative proposal has been formulated is absolutely opaque.

The Bill is now set for debate and discussion in the winter session of Parliament. It is to be seen if this would be possible as the House has been rocked by protests from Opposition and allies of the ruling UPA coalition against the Union Government's decision to allow FDI in single brand retail, amongst other issues.

The opportunity now exists to subject BRAI Bill, 2011 to a thorough review at all levels. To assist in this process, Environment Support Group, a not-for-profit public interest research, training, campaign and advocacy initiative responsing to various environmental and social justice concerns, has prepared a critique of the Bill entitled: “Creating an Undemocratic and Unaccountable Biotechnology Regulator: A critique of the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, 2011, with particular emphasis on environmental laws”. The same is attached.(Please go to http://www.scribd.com/doc/74232889/BRAI-Bill-2011-Critique-ESG-Nov-2011)

We do hope that our contribution helps in deeply democratizing the debate and discussion on this legislative proposal, especially considering the massive impact it has on food security, health, environment and governance, and the livelihood of millions.

Leo F. Saldanha
Bhargavi S.Rao

Environment Support Group® – Trust
1572, 36th Cross, 100 Feet Ring Road,
Banashankari II Stage,
Bangalore 560070. INDIA
Tel: 91-80-26713559-3561
Voice/Fax: 91-80-26713316
Web: www.esgindia.org