New on my other blogs

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

വായന

31 December, 2007

Khaitan Award for Dr. Binayak Sen

Dr. Binayak Sen, General Secretary, People's Union Civil Liberties (PUCL), Chhattisgarh, who has been an undertrial prisoner since May, has been given the prestigious RR Keithan Gold Medal instituted by the Indian Social Science Congress.

The award was received on his behalf by his wife Dr. Ilina Sen at a function held at the SNDT University, Mumbai, on December 29, 2007.

Rajendra K Sail, President, Chhattisgarh PUCL, said in a press realease that about 200 persons, mostly social scientists and administrators, gave a standing ovation as the award for Dr. Sen in recognition of his service to the community was announced.

Dr. B N Mungekar, Member, Planning Commission and Chairperson of the Indian Academy of Social Sciences, presented the award.

The award honours the memory of noted Gandhian activist R R Keithan.

The citation says, "The Academy recognizes the resonance between the work of Dr. Binayak Sen in all it's aspects with the values promoted by the Father of the Nation. In bestowing the Award on him while he is in incarceration and unable to receive it personally, the Academy expresses its solidarity with people's movements and defenders of human rights…

"His work offers fresh and radical interpretation of Gandhiji's core concerns, and his present personal predicament is a poser to all who profess and practice similar ideals. He has rendered a valuable service in the spirit of antyodaya to those of our people whose lives are at the margins of our consciousness, while also creating with them opportunities for their development in the truest human sense of the term".

It recalls that Gandhiji had said “real Swaraj will come not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of capacity by all to resist authority when abused."

Wall Street Journal laments plight of India's Brahmins

The Wall Street Journal carries in its edition dated December 29, 2007 a Chennai-datelined story on the plight of India’s Brahmins.

The reporter, Eric Bellman, says Brahmins, who, as Hinduism's priestly and scholarly caste, traditionally occupied a place of privilege in India, are feeling left out of the economy’s rapid expansion.

Bellman’s story is based on the “reversal of fortune” suffered by R. Parameswaran, a 29-year-old Brahmin of Tamil Nadu. One Tariq Engineer also contributed to the story.

Parameswaran teaches English at a small vocational school. On his monthly salary of $100, he can't afford an apartment, and so he sleeps in the classroom at night, says Bellman.

He quotes Parameswaran as saying, “I see so many Brahmins begging (in Mylapore, Chennai). It's very difficult to see. It makes me totally upset."

To read the entire story, please go to http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119889387595256961.html?mod=home_asia_weekend
Eric Bellman can be reached at eric.bellman@awsj.com

30 December, 2007

Bhutto assassination heightens threat of US intervention, says scribe

The mass popular revulsion over Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has unleashed intense instability in Pakistan, says Bill Van Auken, US political activist.

According to him, the developments could well draw the US military into direct involvement in the attempt to suppress popular upheavals in that country.

Bill Van Auken is a full-time reporter for the World Socialist Web Site. He contested the 2004 US presidential election, as candidate of the small Socialist Equality Party, and has been nominated by the party to contest again in this year’s election.

Van Auken’s article appears at countercurrents.org site.

29 December, 2007

We like our leaders dead!

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination has moved the world far more deeply than any other political murder of recent times.

The US-based New American Media, which caters especially to the needs of ethnic minorities in that country, carried several reports that looked at how people in different countries reacted to it.

NAM editor Sandeep Roy recalled other assassinations that occurred in the region in a piece, carried under the telling title: We South Asian like our leaders dead. Benazir Bhutto not only redeemed herself but, in a way, the politics as well, he said.

News analyst Ketaki Gokhale pointed out that loggers in Pakistan were shocked by Benazir Bhutto’s the assassination of Benazir Bhutto but annoyed at Western attempts to turn her into Pakistan's Aung San Suu Kyi. See Today We Mourn, Tomorrow We Think of Politics: Pakistani Bloggers.

NAM Korean media monitor and editor Kenneth Kim said Bhutto’s assassination struck an unusual chord with Koreans. The outpouring of posts on Korean websites shows that Koreans, with their own history of military regimes, can readily empathize with the turbulence in Pakistan.

NAM Chinese media monitor Jun Wang noted that the Chinese government condemned the assassination but its reaction was a little different from the usual Chinese reactions to such tragedies and the Chinese Internet picked up on that. See Benazir's death resurrects ghosts in Asia.

28 December, 2007

Dr. Binayak Sen still in prison

Dr. Binayak Sen, well-known pediatrician and human rights activist, who was arrested by the Chhattisgarh police on May 14 on specious charges is still in jail.

His case was due to come up in the court of the Additional District Judge (Fast Track Court), Raipur, today. There were reports that charges will be framed against him today, but information on the day’s proceedings was still awaited at the time of writing

The Supreme Court had rejected Dr. Sen’s bail application and Special Leave Petition on December 10, Human Rights Day.

The court's decision is out of tune with the dictum laid down by it on an earlier occasion that "bail is the rule, jail is exception."

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh Unit, has appealed to all human rights and democratic organisations and activists to express solidarity with Dr. Sen, whom it describes as “one of the most articulate and active defenders of human rights in India”.

The PUCL-CG has expressed concern at the delay tactics and interference in legal proceedings by the Chhattisgarh Police. One of the examples was the presence of the Investigating Officers right inside the Court during last hearing on December 5, although as prosecution witnesses they are not permitted to interfere with the trial proceedings. When Dr. Sen’s lawyers pointed this out, the court asked the police officials to leave.

Those who wish to express solidarity with Dr. Binayak Sen may kindly do so by signing an online petition.

27 December, 2007

Benazir Bhutto: the ride to death

Benazir Bhutto photographed on way to the Rawalpindi rally where she was assassinated

Pakistan People's Party chief Benazir Bhutto was shot and killed by a sniper in Rawalpindi on Thursday. Two of her close associates were critically injured in a blast that occurred at the same time.

She had a narrow escape eight weeks ago in a similar attack at Karachi when she returned to Pakistan after several years in exile.

Benazir Bhutto is believed to have been the US administration's choice for prime ministership. Apparently Parves Musharraf was ready to instal her in office. Her nomination papers for the elections were accepted while those of her chief rival, Pakistan Musl;im League chief Nawaz Sherif were rejected.

Both Bhutto and Sherif have served previously as Prime Minister. Sherif was inclined to keep out of the elections called by Musharraf but decided to contest as Bhutto was not ready to join the boycott.

Benazir Bhutto's elimination puts in jeoprady the electoral process which was supposed to pave the way for return of democracy.

See also IANS report: Benazir's day began in triumph, ended in assassination

The lesson the Congress needs to learn from Gujarat experience

GUJARAT has rejected the Congress again. The nation is discussing the likely impact of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s fourth successive electoral triumph in the State. BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, L. K. Advani, has said the victory in Gujarat heralds the party’s comeback on the national stage. Media reports say the Congress has shelved plans to call Lok Sabha elections before the term of the present house expires.

In a country of India's diversity, the experience of one State has only limited relevance elsewhere. With the Congress continuously declining and no national alternative in sight, regional politics is a reality.

When the political developments of the past six decades are analyzed, it can be seen that a two-party system has already emerged in some States. In places like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, the Congress and the BJP are the two parties vying for power. In some other places, like Assam and Andhra Pradesh the Congress has to contend with regional parties for power. In some States like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu, the Congress is out of the power struggle. There other national and regional parties fight it out.

The situation in Punjab, West Bengal and Kerala is different. In Punjab, where the Sikh party, the Akali Dal, and the Hindu party, BJP, can together beat the Congress, that party is sometimes able to stage a comeback. In West Bengal, a front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has established monopoly of power. In Kerala, a two-front system has emerged. If the CPI (M) and the Congress had summoned the courage to go it alone, the State may have by now evolved a two-party system, as in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

The Congress has to learn a lesson from the Gujarat experience. It lost power in the State in 1990. While it had bagged 149 out of 182 Assembly seats in the previous election, it could get only 33 seats in that year. The Janata Dal (70 seats) came first, followed by the BJP (67 seats). When the State went to the polls again five years later, the Janata Dal disappeared. The BJP won 121 seats and came to power. The Congress got only 45 seats. There has been no significant change in the position of the two parties since then, as the following figures bear out: In 1996, BJP got 117, Congress 53; in 2002, BJP 127, Congress 51; and in 2007 BJP 117, Congress 59.
It was the Hindu consolidation brought about by the Ayodhya issue that enabled the BJP, which had got only 11 seats in 1985, to raise its tally to 67 in 1990 and 121 in 1995. The communal riots of 2002 benefited the BJP in the elections held that year. The growth of communalism spoiled the game for the Congress.

This time Narendra Modi faced a serious problem of dissidence. The Congress gave the party ticket to some BJP rebels. The Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh leadership was at loggerheads with Modi. Yet the Congress could not improve its position significantly. In the circumstances, the question arises whether the party has gone out of reckoning forever. Its only consolation is that there is no party in Gujarat which can push the Congress down to the third or fourth place, as has happened in UP and Bihar.

Sonia Gandhi, whom the continuously declining Congress looks upon as its saviour, has certainly been able to control the struggle for power within the party. But she has not been able to improve the party’s position even in UP, the turf of the Nehru-Gandhis.

The reason for the Congress party’s sad plight is that it has no credible leadership at the lower levels. Indira Gandhi did nothing to strengthen the party at the grassroots level after she broke with the Syndicate leaders who had the organization in their grips. Those whom Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi installed as leaders lacked popular base. They could not build it up either. Sonia Gandhi could not bring about a change in this situation.

There is no need to see the end of one-party rule at the Centre as a great tragedy. At the same time, that two dozen parties have to come together to form a government is not a desirable state of affairs. National parties with a broad vision are needed for the healthy functioning of democracy. Therefore, it is not Congressmen alone who want the party to endure. But it is for the party’s leadership to take steps to strengthen it. No one else can do that.
Based on “Nerkkazhcha” column which appeared in Kerala Kaumudi on December 27, 2007

26 December, 2007

The official 9/11 story is a lie, says writer Joel S. Hirschhorn

The bombing of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, is an event that changed the course of the world. But how much do we know about what happened on that day?

America’s political system is a conspiracy, the official 9/11 story is a lie, says Joel S. Hirschhorn, in an article written for the Centre for Research on Globalization and on view at its website since last week.

Without mincing words, Hirschhorn says: “Years of a bipartisan cover-up of 9/11 lies make it much more than one horrendous past event. It endures in infamy as a symptom of a corrupt and dishonest government.”

In his book, “Delusional Democracy”, Hirschhorn not only exposes the American political system but prescribes a solution for the problem. The problem, as he sees it, is that American society is saddled with distractive consumerism, a culture of dishonesty, and rampant corporate corruption of government. “Despite what false patriots tell us, we now have a delusional democracy, not one that citizens can trust to serve their interests,” he says. “We clearly need a Second American Revolution.” He argues that the Republic can be fixed without overthrowing the government.

A former professor of engineering at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and then senior official with the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association, Joel S. Hirschhorn is now an activist writer. He can be reached through http://www.delusionaldemocracy.com/

Over to Hirschhorn’s article: 9/11 Truth Manifesto

A Year of Human Rights Struggles

As we ring out 2007, let us take a look at the human rights situation in India and the neighbourhood.

“The year 2007 will be remembered as a year in which historic struggles for human rights brought out increasingly belligerent responses from ruling elites across Asia,” says the Asian Human Rights Commission, in the annual report on the human rights situation in the continent, released on December 10, Human Rights Day. .

“It is certain that throughout the region more and more people are resolved to assert their rights. It is also clear that its autocrats will respond more and more aggressively in order to keep control. Instead of acknowledging the need for change, states throughout Asia are continuing to prefer overt violence and blatant constraints on basic freedoms.”

On India, the report says, “Economic and political leaders across the world have referred to India as a model for the convergence of a new global order: democracy and capitalism going hand in hand. But from a human rights standpoint, India did not improve much in 2007, but rather increasingly showed up its failures and inabilities to give even the most basic guarantees to all of its citizens.”

For details please visit the AHRC site.

24 December, 2007

Will Modi's win in Gujarat threaten India as a democratic and secular nation?

by Ghulam Muhammed

Today, this question will be on the minds of majority of people of India and even weighing heavily with international community. Can an emerging economic power like India should be available to a fascist political movement that may wreck the peace of the world?

Modi's election victory should be analyzed through three dominant undercurrents: It pits the state of Gujarat against the Central Government. It pits Hindus against the Muslims. It pits lawlessness against the Laws of the land.

Modi in Gujarat had orchestrated a campaign against the Central government, which is ruled by Congress and the Communists, diametrically opposed to Modi's Hindutva. When he raised the slogan: Jeetega Gujarat --- Gujarat will win; he left out the other part of the slogan, haregi Dilli --- Delhi will be defeated. The old Indian History of the Mughal Delhi, whom he derisively refers to as Sultanate of Delhi, has been resurrected to de-legitimize Congress and CPM and other coalition members of the UPA government, who carry the banner of secularism. Just as Communists have carved two states as their regional strongholds, where they are ensconced on a long term basis, Modi too feels, Hindutva needs a secure base in a regional state with its own private and distinct identity.

The difference between CPM and Modi is that while CPM has courted Muslim votes, both in West Bengal and in Kerala, to solidify its rule in a longer term consolidation and reaped its benefits. Modi, a true follower of the extremely radicalized RSS movement, that is ideologically committed to the physical destruction of Muslims, in India and abroad, has deeply communalized Gujarat polity and had demonized Muslims to carve out his own communalized vote-bank that is against the letter and spirit of Indian constitution. In fact, he is grossly in violation of the election code of conduct that prohibits and even debars any political party that does not confirm to Constitutional benchmark of believing and practicing the twin fundamentals of democracy and secularism.

For all practical purposes, Modi's progress has all the contours of a Hitler winning his election in a democratic Germany but later using his political power to impose his own brand of fascism, built around nationalism and racial superiority and exclusivity. Hitler had his Jews, while Modi has his Muslims. Hitler had his kristallnacht, Modi had his 2002 pogrom. On hearing that a German Embassy staff, Vom Rath was shot by a German Polish Jew living in Paris; after intense discussion, Hitler left 'fighters dinner' while Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels delivered the speech instead, in which he commented that "the F¨¹hrer has decided that such demonstrations should not be prepared or organised by the party, but insofar as they erupt spontaneously, they are not to be hampered." This may seem a fairly innocuous comment, but attending chief party judge Walter Buch later stated that the message was clear; with these words Goebbels had commanded the party leaders to organise the pogrom that would later be known as Kristallnacht. The SA shattered the storefronts of about 7500 Jewish stores and businesses, hence the appellation Kristallnacht (Crystal Night). Wikipedia describes: "At 1:20am on November 10, 1938, Reinhard Heydrich sent an urgent secret telegramme to "All Headquarters and Stations of the State Police, All Districts and Sub-districts of the SA" containing instructions regarding the riots.
The timing of the riots varied from unit to unit. The Gauleiters started at about 10:30pm, only two hours after news of vom Rath's death reached Germany. They were followed by the SA at 11pm, and the SS at around 1:20am. Most were wearing civilian clothes and were armed with sledgehammers and axes, and soon went to work on the destruction of Jewish property. The orders given to these men were very specific, however: no measures endangering non-Jewish German life or property were to be taken (synagogues too close to non-Jewish property were smashed rather than burned); Jewish businesses or dwellings could be destroyed but not looted; foreigners (even Jewish foreigners) were not to be the subjects of violence; and synagogue archives were to be transferred to the S.D. The men were also ordered to arrest as many Jews as the local jails would hold, the preferred targets being young, healthy males.

In exactly similar scenario, Modi held a meeting of his top people and reported to have given 3 clear days to avenge the Godhra train burnings, blaming local Muslims for the accident.. Just as on cue, in Germany party cadre destroyed hundreds of shops owned by Jews; in Gujarat a similar orgy of death and destruction was unleashed on Muslims. Their shops and properties were looted and then burned. In rural areas, Muslims were unceremoniously butchered, burned or buried in mass graves. Muslim women were raped, killed and burned. Some were torched alive.

Hitler gave one night. Modi is reported to have given three days.

Modi's public campaign brought the worst fascist logic to all his aggressive assertion. When he challenged Sonia ben to hang him for the premeditated murder of Sohrabuddin, he was challenging the rule of law in India. Modi did not care for the fact that he was in open and direct contempt of court and even liable to be prosecuted as the prime accused as the mastermind in a fake encounter, that is currently being pursued in courts. During the election campaign, Modi's outbursts were typical of Hitlerian harangues. He kept on challenging the law of the land.

Congress in opposition is in such a terribly unstable condition, that it dare not challenge Modi or his Bharatiya Janata Party, even when they commit blue murder in broad daylight. This weakness of secular and democratic opposition has boosted the aggressive politics of the fascist movement and bodes ill for the future of the country, as a bastion of democracy and secularism.

If political forces in India are not alert and aware, India could become a victim of a fascist takeover. Once entrenched, only wars can dislodge the usurpers.


Ghulam Muhammed, the author of this essay, can be contacted at ghulammuhammed3@gmail.com>

Modi leads the BJP back to power almost single-handedly

Confounding critics, Chief Minister Narendra Modi led his party to a resounding victory in the Gujarat Assembly elections, almost single-handedly. Pollsters had forecast that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which won a two-thirds majority in the Assembly in 2002, will return to power with a reduced majority. While they thought he would lose up to 20 seats, the actual loss was less than 10.

This was BJP’s third successive electoral victory under Modi’s leadership. Modi faced a major internal revolt on election eve and his relationship with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological fountainhead of the Sangh Parivar, was less than cordial. That makes his victory all the more glorious.

Modi’s record victory in 2002 came when Gujarat stood communally polarized after the riots which resulted in the death of several thousand people. This time the campaign began on a healthy note with the Chief Minister projecting himself as a champion of development. As the Congress openly courted BJP dissidents, the media discussed the possibility of a change of administration. After Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s ‘merchant of death’ speech, Modi abandoned the development plank and settled for the old Hindutva card.


The failure of the Congress's comeback bid raises the question whether the party has gone out of reckoning for power in State, as in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

In the new 182-member Gujarat Assembly, there are just five Muslims, all elected on the Congress ticket. The party had put up six Muslims. One of them, a woman, lost. It appears many Muslim voters did not take kindly to the idea of a woman of the community entering the contest. The BJP did not put up a single Muslim candidate. Muslims account for nine per cent of the State’s population.

NDTV reported that Indian Americans remained glued to television sets and computers to follow live reports from Gujarat as the election results poured in BJP supporters opened champagne bottles to celebrate Modi’s victory.

The channel quoted Chandrakant Patel, a former President of the Overseas Friends of the BJP as saying, “This will set the trend for national politics. Our next goal is Delhi.”
Voice of America correspondent in New Delhi Steve Herman echoed similar sentiments when he said the BJP victory has ramifications beyond the borders of Gujarat.

The attempt to project the Assembly results on to the national stage needs to be approached with caution. The BJP which took more than two-thirds of the Assembly seats from the State in 2002 had to concede 12 of the 26 Lok Sabha seats to the Congress in 2004.

22 December, 2007

Open Letter to Prime Minister to help Varanasi weavers suffering from tuberculosis

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, has released an open letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, signed by 20 residents of Varanasi, seeking immediate action to help tuberculosis patients in that ancient city. The letter was prepared on the basis of evidence recorded by a people’s tribunal.

The following are excerpts from the letter:

Mr. Mohmoodul Hassan, son of Mohammad Hassan, residing at Lohta village, Varanasi district, has been suffering from tuberculosis for the past 22 years. Mohmoodul was diagnosed as having tuberculosis by the Banaras Hindu University Hospital in Varanasi.
Mohmoodul is a handloom weaver. Because of abject poverty and the lack of a proper income due to the decline of the handloom weaving industry in Uttar Pradesh, particularly in Varanasi, Mohmoodul’s family is finding it hard to make both ends meet. The family has hardly anything to eat. The entire family is suffering from starvation and resultant malnourishment.

Mohmoodul can only find work two to three days each week and only earns about Rs.50 a day. With this low income he cannot purchase sufficient food to feed his family. Afsana, Mohmoodul’s wife, earns Rs.40 a week doing embroidery work. Even their ten-year-old son, Sadiq, earns a small income by weaving, which helps to keep the family alive.

Mohmoodul has only obtained an Above-Poverty-Line (APL) card. The APL card does not allow Mohmoodul to obtain food grains from the ration shop at a subsidized price. Though Mohmoodul had applied for a Below-Poverty-Line (BPL) card, it was denied to him.

Even though Mohmoodul is suffering from tuberculosis, there are no public health facilities in Varanasi where he can get free treatment for his ailment. The public health system in Varanasi is not geared up even to provide emergency medical care for the poor. When Mohmoodul’s wife was in an advanced state of pregnancy early this year, medical care was denied to her at the Kashi Vidyapith Primary Health Centre since the family could not bribe the staff at the centre. There is a health insurance scheme launched by the government for handloom weavers. However, membership in the scheme is limited to the members of the Handloom Weavers’ Association. One of the conditions for joining the Association is ‘not to earn any income other than from weaving.’ This condition disqualifies hundreds of handloom weavers from becoming members of the Association.

Mohmoodul and his family are not alone. There are dozens of other persons who suffer from tuberculosis in Lohta. Mr. Sirajuddin, Mr. Ilias Ansari, his son Salman and daughter Parvin, Mr. Rahmat Ali and his wife Ajgari, Mr. Wahamoodul Hasan, Ms. Rehna, Ms. Zubeda Bibi, Ms. Aswa, Mr. Badruddin, Mr. Mustaquim, Ms. Farjana and Mr. Mohammod Gulam Ali are among the persons from the village who have been identified as suffering from tuberculosis. In fact, an estimated 70% of the weavers in Varanasi suffer from tuberculosis. Despite the existence of some governmental agencies with sufficient resources, whose specific mandate is to assist tuberculosis patients and to provide treatment, none of them has received any kind of assistance from these agencies.

The doctors in government clinics and hospitals only provide medication for a short period, sometimes for only two days, and then tell their patients to obtain further medication from private medical shops. There have also been situations in which patients diagnosed as having tuberculosis by private doctors were later told by government hospitals that they are not infected with tuberculosis, with a view to denying them treatment.

The right to health is a fundamental right. So far the State or the Central government has not devised any credible plans to identify those weavers who need assistance for health security in Uttar Pradesh. An officer from the State Handloom Department, who participated in a people’s tribunal, jointly organized by the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, Action Aid International – India, Bunkar Dastakar Adhikar Manch and the Asian Human Rights Commission on 18 December 2007, informed the tribunal and the public that the Handloom Department has no mechanism to identify weavers who are in need of assistance. Almost all the participants who deposed before the tribunal said that when they approach the government hospitals they are asked to pay money even for taking an x-ray.

In these circumstances, the undersigned request you to:

1. take immediate measures to ensure that the persons named above, and their families, receive medical attention provided by the government, at the earliest, for treating their tuberculosis

2. take steps to initiate an immediate survey conducted by the government to assess and to identify the weavers and their family members suffering from tuberculosis in Uttar Pradesh, starting the exercise in the Varanasi District

3. direct the State government to take immediate measures so that the weavers who require the services of the Public Food Distribution System receive proper ration cards based on their actual financial status

Yours sincerely,

1. Sirrajuddin, Bajardeeha, Varanasi
2. Naseem Akhtar, Bajardeeha, Varanasi
3. Surendra Prasad, Village Amasaha, Post Office Baanspaar, Maharajgunj
4. Chhote Laal, Village Harpur Mahant, Post Office Pakadi Tribhuwanpur, Maharajgunj
5. Rajendra Prasad, PVCHR, Varanasi
6. Ved Prakash Ojha, Brahmnagar, Robertsgunj, Sonbhadra
7. Niyaz Ansari, Urdu Daily, Varis Awadh, Varanasi
8. Mukhtaar, Navapura Chungi, Varanasi
9. Ramji, Lallapura, Varanasi
10. Vijay Kumar, Lallapura, Varanasi
11. Jamalluddin, Bajardeeha, Varanasi
12. Shamimuddin, Bajardeeha, Varanasi
13. Samsudoha, Lohata, Varanasi
14. Khalilulha, Navapura Chungi, Varanasi
15. Moinuddin, Bajardeeha, Varanasi
16. Baddrauddin - Bajardeeha, Varanasi 17. Mohammad Farukh, Navapura Chungi, Varanasi
18. Amar Jama, Rewadi Talab, Varanasi
19. Akbar Ali, Kaajipura khurd, Varanasi
20. Mohammad Shakeel Ansari, Lallapura, Varanasi

21 December, 2007

Villagers on Bangladesh border are locked out of the country every night

Several thousand Indian citizens living in villages on the Bangladesh border, stretching a long distance from near Kolkata to Tripura, lose their right to move within the territory of India for 12 hours every day. They are locked out at night.

According to a note circulated by the Barak Human Rights Protection Committee, there are more than 170 villages along the India-Bangladesh international border.

Some tears ago the Government of India had erected barbed wire fences along the border to check illegal migration. Several Indian villages are outside the fenced area. As the clock strikes 6 in the evening the gates along the barbed wire fences are closed for the night. As a result, residents of the villages that lie beyond the fences are locked out of the country – until the clock strikes 6 again, in the morning, and the gates are opened.

There were unresolved boundary disputes between India and Pakistan at the time of Partition. After the birth of Bangladesh in 1971, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh signed a pact providing for a 100-metre wide no man’s land along the border.

The no man’s land falls outside the fences. Once the gates are closed, people living in that area will not be able to cross over even if there is a medical emergency. When marriages and other social functions are take place, the villagers obtain prior permission from the concerned District Magistrate, who will then arrange to keep the gates open for the visitors to return home.

Veteran journalist Mrinal Talukdar of UNI has made a short film of 20 minutes, titled “Nobody’s Men” about the residents of these villages. The film was shot at Lafsai and Jarapata, two border villages in the Sutarkandi area of Karimganj district in Assam.
“Nobody’s Men” is among the 13 movies selected for screening during the International Film Festival to be held at Mumbai from February 4 to 9, 2008.

The Barak Human Rights Protection Committee has said it will send a fact-finding team to Sutarkandi and initiate action on the basis of itsrecommendations to ensure that the part-time Indian citizens the benefits of full-time citizenship.

20 December, 2007

Indian government succumbs to fundamentalist pressure


Taslima Nazrin

By asking the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nazrin to remain in New Delhi and stay away from public activities, the Government of India has exposed itself as lacking the courage to stand up to political and religious bullies

Nazrin, who fled Bangladesh after religious fanatics held out murder threats, was living in exile in Kolkata until recently, feeling quite at home amidst people who speak her language.

That Muslim fundamentalists were not happy with her presence in India became clear a few months ago when a group of hoodlums, led by two State legislators, attempted to assault her while attending a function at the Press Club of Hyderabad.

Last month demonstrators in Kolkata raised slogans against her during a protest against the atrocities in Nandigram, called by a Muslim organization. On November 21 the Kolkata police whisked her away from her city home and dropped her in a government guest house in Jaipur, capital of BJP-ruled Rajasthan. The Rajasthan government, which was not willing to play host to her, shifted her to the Rajasthan House in New Delhi. From there the Government of India shifted her to an undisclosed destination.

Taslima Nazrin’s Indian visa is due to expire in the next few days. NDTV reported that she wants to stay in Kolkata and wants to leave the country if she is not allowed to go back to that city.

According to media reports, the Indian government has told her that she must remain in New Delhi and stay away from public functions. Although it has cited security reasons for the restrictions sought to be imposed on her, it is evident that it is succumbing to fundamentalist pressure.

The Hindu quoted Taslima Nazrin as saying she is ready to remain in Delhi if she is not able to go back to Kolkata.

19 December, 2007

Data base of justice delivery institutions in India inaugurated

People’s Watch, the Madurai-based national human rights organization, launched on Tuesday (December 18, 2007) http://www.saji.net.in/, an electronic data base of information relating to justice delivery institutions in India.

SAJI is short for Strengthened Access to Justice in India.

The Department of Justice of the Government of India and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are associated with People’s Watch in the creation of the data base, the first of its kind in India.

The website, the culmination of a year-long effort, was formally inaugurated by the Indian Minister for Law and Justice, H. L. Bhardwaj at a function in New Delhi. People’s Watch Executive Director Henri Tiphagne described the occasion as “one of the greatest moments in our journey towards creating a human rights culture”.

The resource directory, which has been created, contains information about justice institutions in 312 districts across 19 States. It is a tool which will help the citizens to speedily access justice sector institutions through a dynamic single window system. Hopefully, easy access to information will promote increased interaction between users and justice providers and make the system transparent and accountable.

The formal justice delivery institutions covered include the courts, prisons, police, prosecutors, national / State / district / taluk legal aid services authorities, bar councils and bar associations, human rights institutions, non-government organizations offering a varieties of legal aid services, human rights organizations, shelter / rehabilitation homes, hospitals etc.

Henri Tiphagne has appealed to all to visit the website and offer their valuable comments and feedback so as to help achieve the intended purposes. He says, “Although, we are convinced that the http://www.saji.net.in/ is an incredible work, the information made available cannot be considered as complete for a number of reasons. This new initiative needs to go through a rigorous process of data verification and fine-tuning. The next phase of the project would have accomplished all those requirements in addition to having information of the remaining 293 districts to fulfil the requirements of the 605 districts in India.”

People’s Watch has suggested setting up of district level help line for justice information, which may be run by an NGO but physically located within the District National Information Centre (DNic). This will mean the work being owned by the Department of Justice but in partnership with the civil society. Another proposal it has made is that the Legal Aid system must be strengthened by making NGOs its partners.

18 December, 2007

Modi's Gujaratis

What will we call Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh, who put Gujarat on the painting map of the world.

What about Bandukwala?

What name will be given to garba music of Ismail Darbar?

Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan, Saira, Rashida, Niazben where will they fit?

Are they Gujarati or just "them" in Modi's Gujarat?

Nasiruddin Haidar Khan raises these questions in an article "Modi's Gujaratis", distributed by countercurrents.org.

17 December, 2007

BINAYAK SEN: Redefining health care in an unjust society

C Sathyamala writes in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics
about Binayak Sen,
who has been in jail in Chattisgarh since May 14.




Binayak Sen was arrested by the Chattisgarh police under sections of the Chhatisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2005, and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (2004) for alleged links with banned Maoist groups. His arrest was the upshot of his attempts to raise issues of human rights violation in government-sponsored violence, within the State and outside, in his capacity as the General Secretary, Chattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).



You are probably wondering what is the interest of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics is a person in custody on such serious charges. Well, the answer is simple, Binayak Sen is a practising doctor. He sees his activism as intrinsic to his work as a health professional, says Sathyamala in the IJME article.


Dr. Sen, who graduated in medicine from the Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, is a renowned paediatrician. He is actively associated with the Jan Swasthya Sahyog (People's Health Support Group).

When word of Dr Sen spread, noted social activist Medha Patkar and others urged the Chief Minister of Chattisgarh to release him immediately. "We have reason to believe that Dr. Binayak Sen, as a member of PUCL, is being targeted for continually raising civil rights issues in Chhattisgarh, including the recent killing of 12 Adivasis in Bijapur district on March 31,” they said in a letter to him. “We strongly condemn this politically motivated arrest and are deeply concerned about the health and safety of Dr. Sen while in custody."

For several years Dr. Sen has been involved in training people in villages to look after the health of their own communities, running free clinics in areas where the state's medical facilities are not available. For his work he was awarded the Paul Harrison Award in 2004 by the Christian Medical College in Vellore.

The government ignored the appeal for Dr. Sen's release. The courts having rejected his applications for bai, he continues to languish in jail.

16 December, 2007

An ill-advised move by the judiciary to curb media excesses

In an apparent attempt to set the parameters for “decent” investigative journalism, the Delhi High Court on Friday prohibited inducing of a person to commit an offence, which he is not known or likely to commit, and shooting it on camera as a "sting operation".

It also asked the government to consider the setting up of a panel, with members drawn from the government and the police, to clear stings before telecast.The told media houses to prohibit reporters from producing or airing any programme, which is based on entrapment of an individual or "fabricated, intrusive and sensitive".

"The media is not to test individuals by putting them through what one might call the 'inducement test' and portray it as a scoop that has uncovered a hidden or concealed truth," a Division Bench comprising Chief Justice M. K. Sharma and Justice Sanjeev Khanna said."No doubt the media is well within its rightful domain when it seeks to use tools of investigative journalism to bring us face to face with the ugly underbelly of the society..." the court said.”However, it is not permissible for the media to entice and try to actively induce an individual into committing an offence which otherwise he is not known and likely to commit."

In this context, the court referred to an instance of "inducement"drawn from mythology: "Sage Vishwamitra succumbed to the enchantment of Maneka".

The bench was giving its ruling on suo motu cognisance of a fake sting done on a government teacher, Uma Khurana, by Live India news channel in August 2007, which led to mob violence and physical violence against her.The court wanted the Press Council of India to take the initiative todraw up a "self-regulatory code of conduct" in this regard until the Ministry of Broadcasting finally draws up a statute.

"False and fabricated sting operations directly infringing upon a person's right to privacy should not recur because of desire to earn more and to have higher TRP ratings," it observed. "Regulation of electronic media has always invoked sharp and divergent views with emotive and logical pleas and counter arguments. We are informed that the Ministry has invited suggestions from the general public, including the media on a proposed Broadcasting Bill and Code of Conduct. A decision in this regard has to be taken by the government," the court noted.It directed the Ministry to consider a series of 12 guidelines recommended by A. S. Chandhok, who had assisted it as amicus curiae, while drafting the law to provide for prior grant of permission to a media house or channel from a committee appointed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

"Permission to telecast sting operation will be granted by the committee after satisfying itself that it is in (the) public interest to telecast the same. This safeguard is necessary since those who mount a sting operation themselves commit the offences of impersonation, criminal trespass under false pretence and making a person commit an offence," the court quoted from the guidelines submitted by the amicus.The panel, as per the guidelines, will be headed by a retired High Court Judge to be appointed by the government in consultation with the High Court and two members, one of which ought to be a person not below the rank of Additional secretary and second one being the Additional Commissioner of Police. In case of persons other than employees of the channel or media houses conducting the sting, the guidelines propose that the telecaster should obtain a certificate from the person who recorded the sting certifying that the operation was genuine to his knowledge.

In the particular case, the bench said Khurana, who was dismissed from government service as a fall-out of the sting, had "enough grounds and material to file a case for causing damage to her reputation" against the news channel. "Damages in accordance with the law can be awarded by the court in case of defamation and loss of reputation," it said, adding that it was left open to the Delhi Government to reconsider through an appropriate forum her dismissal from service.

The following are the amicus curiae's suggestions:

•If sting is outsourced, get certificate saying contents authentic

•Maintain record in writing on sting

•Committee headed by ex-HC judge to clear sting

•Unedited, edited tapes to be submitted to panel

•Avoid shocking, offending audience

•Chief Editor of channel to be responsible for self-regulation

•Compliance with Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995

•Should not invade personal or private affairs, or create public panic or offend religious feelings.•Ensure accuracy

•Observe community standards of decency

The Editors Guild of India said the High Court’s suggestions would introduce “a draconian, judicially-backed Emergency by the back door”. While expressing total agreement on the need for stringent pre-telecast self-regulatory and internal checks in news organizations, it said the remedy suggested by the court was a deadly one.

The High Court’s ruling is ill-advised. There is certainly need to regulate sting operations. This must be done by the media itself. Intrusion of any external agency in the area will be an infringement of media freedom. The Live India story, as we know, was not based on a genuine sting operation. It involved breach of the law, and must be dealt with as such.

15 December, 2007

PAKISTAN: AHRC calls for Iftehkar Mohd Choudhry's reinstatement as Chief Justice

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


Iftehkar Mohammed Choudhry, the Chief Justice of Pakistan who was dismissed from office by President Pervez Musharraf after the imposition of the emergency rule, has been recognised as the lawyer of the year 2007 by the National Law Journal, published in the United States. This recognition is most appropriate. In Pakistan now the very existence of the legal profession and the judiciary, as independent institutions are exposed to imminent danger. It is to be hoped that the recognition conferred on the dismissed chief justice will evoke a response from lawyers, judges, all democratically minded people and governments regarding the endangered judiciary and the legal profession in the country.
What is now happening in Pakistan is not just a setback to these basic institutions of basic rule of law and democracy but a possible downturn which, if not addressed now will plunge Pakistan into a completely arbitrary rule and lawlessness. There are times when concerned public opinion is challenged in a very fundamental way to decide as to whether it could make a change for the better in a very critical situation. If it fails to do so it will have to sit and weep for many decades to come. Already a tremendous damaged has been done within the last few weeks since the imposition of the emergency and the virtual dismissal of many judges from the Supreme Court and from the higher courts. This was accompanied by handpicked people being appointed by judges in their place. The people of Pakistan will understand this in no other way but as a fatal wound caused to the independence of the judiciary. President Musharraf, who has claimed to be St. Michael, fighting against the dragon of terrorism has in fact turned his spear on the independent judiciary of his country. Certainly there is resistance to this move by the lawyers, judges and a very large section of the population. This resistance is the only hope that the country has.

The recognition as Lawyer of the Year conferred on the former Chief Justice is fitting as what is being challenged in Pakistan is the very meaning of the law in the country. The military ruler has treated the country’s constitution as if it were toilet paper. He has flushed it down the drain and put his own declarations and decrees in its place. In any country which has respect for law his action would be treated either an act of a madman or as an act of treason, but the super powers that keep president Musharraf in power have not seen it that way. They treat the destruction of the very fabric of the rule of law cynically. Let millions of people’s lives be damned into a lawless situation, what do they care?

Now it falls on the lawyers of Pakistan and their judges who have thought it worth sacrificing their careers to defend the independence of the judiciary and the people of Pakistan to resist with all their strength the military design to destroy the independence of the judiciary in their country. Eminent lawyers like Munir Malik, the former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and some judges and lawyers who have even faced severe torture, arrest and detention show a determination that needs a proactive support from democratically minded people all over the world. It is to be hoped that in this hour of great need they will not be betrayed. Iftehkar Mhd. Choudhry is a symbol of this great historical moment. The Asian Human Rights Commission hopes that having recognised him as Lawyer of the Year he will also be treated in that way by the world community of lawyers, judges and democratically minded people.
The Asian Human Rights Commission, founded in 1984, is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia.

13 December, 2007

The Supreme Court sets the stage for roll-back

I wish to congratulate Justices A. K. Mathur and Markandey Katju of the Supreme Court who have called for judicial restraint and cautioned against the Judiciary encroaching upon the realms of the Executive and the Legislature.

In a judgment, delivered on December 10, they said, “Jagadambika Pal’s case of 1998, involving the U.P. Legislative Assembly, and the Jharkhand Assembly case of 2005 are two glaring examples of deviation from the clearly provided constitutional scheme of separation of powers.”

They added, “The interim orders of this court [on the conduct of floor test and motion of confidence], as is widely accepted, upset the delicate constitutional balance among the judiciary, the legislature and the executive, and were described by J.S. Verma, former Chief Justice of India, as judicial aberrations which he hoped the Supreme Court will soon correct.” ( The Hindu, December 10, 2007)

Judicial excess was the topic of the first piece that appeared in this blog: Judiciary: Time to Roll Back (April 24, 2007). Two days later I reproduced here an editorial on the subject, which had appeared in the Economic and Political Weekly: “Constitutional separation strained” (EPW, November 26, 2006).

With the Mathur-Katju judgment, I believe the roll-back process has begun. On December 12, another bench, comprising Justices S. B. Sinha and H.S. Bedi, taking note of that judgment, decided not to proceed with the hearing of a public interest litigation which had been before it since 2004. It requested the Chief Justice of India, Mr. K. G. Balakrishnan, to post the matter before a larger bench. (The Hindu, December 12, 2007)

On December 13, the issue was raised before a three-judge bench, headed by Justice Balakrishnan himself. This bench decided to proceed with the matter before it, holding that the Mathur-Katju judgment does not apply. (Zee News, December 13, 2007)

Former Chief Justice P. N. Bhagvati, in whose time public interest litigation grew in size and scope, immediately hailed Justice Balakrishnan’s decision.

Naturally the different positions taken by the three benches have given rise to confusion all around. Many are wondering whose will be the last word. It may take quite some time to resolve the confusion.

It is not anybody’s case that public interest litigation must be jettisoned. It has served as a corrective mechanism and must stay as a necessary instrument to further the cause of justice -- social, political and economic. What needs to be curbed is not the citizen’s right to seek redress through public interest litigation but the judge’s tendency to exercise powers that do not belong to him.

The most dangerous nuclear state

HIROSHIMA 1945

Which nuclear state is the most dangerous? The United States, says Dr. Shireen M. Mazari, Director-General of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad.

Dr. Shireen M. Mazari is a distinguished scholar with a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University, New York, and an an honours degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science.



She presents her case in an article circulated by countercurrents.org.

09 December, 2007

Colour bar in airlines

Women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes allege they can’t make it to cabin crew jobs because they’re dark. See Arun Ram’s report in DNA, “Colour creates in-flight turbulence

06 December, 2007

IRAN: Psychological Warfare?

The NIE claims that ‘Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003’. This report now in circulation, and being repeated by every media outlet, and as importantly, by way of word of mouth, is giving credibility to the warmongers that Iran actually had a nuclear weapons program, with the idea that ‘repetition begets belief’. Drumming home a false message, the White House will get the justification it needs to impose further sanctions, with the idea of escalating into a war, says Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich.
http://www.countercurrents.org/ulrich051207.htm

30 November, 2007

No Indian university in top 100: six from China are among 13 from Asia

There are 13 institutions from Asia among the top 100 universities in the THES-QS World University Rankings 2007, compiled and published earlier this month by the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), based on research conducted by the Quacquarelli Symmonds (QS) network. There is none from India.

The Times Higher Education Supplement (THES) and the QS Educational Trust have been publishing the list of top universities of the world since four years.

The QS network was created by Nunzio Quacquarelli, Glockner Prize for Management winner at Wharton, consultant and journalist, whilst at business school – through an award-winning series of publications and research reports. Today, it claims to be the world’s leading independent network for higher education and related careers.

Since 1991, QS, in partnership with The Times and Sunday Times, has been providing regular supplements focused on the latest news and trends in management education. It now partners with over 120 newspapers and magazines, over 200 web sites, and 4 TV channels.

The 2007 Rankings point to increasing internationalization of higher education around the world, with 27 universities from 14 different countries entering the top 200 for the first time.

The UK and USA dominate the top 10. Harvard University, Cambridge, Oxford and Yale retain the top four positions for the second year. University College, London, and Chicago join the top 10 for the first time.

With the addition of the Netherlands, 12 countries figure in the top 50, compared to 11 in 2006. The institutions which have entered the list for the first time this year include Brown University, Bristol, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Osaka, Boston and Amsterdam.

The top 100 sees the number of Asian universities increase to 13 (12 in 2006) but the number of European universities has dropped to 35 (41 in 2006). North America’s share has gone up to 43 from 37 in 2006.

Universities of Tokyo, Hong Kong, Kyoto, National University of Singapore, Peking, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Tsinghua and Osaka lead Asian higher education, all featuring in the top 50.

China proper has three institutions with Fudan University joining Peking and Tsinghua Universities in the top 100. Three institutions from China’s Hong Kong region are also in the list.

23 November, 2007

The Courts and the Varna System

The Indian judicial system is afflicted by three D’s – delay, detention and death, says Amit Chamaria, a freelance journalist, in an article contributed to Countercurrents.org.

Citing official statistics, he points out that the worst sufferers are the Adivasis, the Dalits and others at the bottom of the social hierarchy under the Varna order.

He adds, “A convention seems to lend support to it as well. People are asked to swear inside the courtroom by the Gita – a text that upholds Varna Ashram.”

The Gita owes its exalted position as the book by which Hindu witnesses swear in court to the former colonial masters. The British, accustomed to swearing by the Bible, wanted an Indian counterpart for it. They had already decided that all Indians who were not Muslims or Christians were Hindus. From out of the body of Indian religious texts, they picked the Gita for the honour of being the Hindu bible.

Over to Amit Chamaria’s article, "3'D' In Judiciary"

22 November, 2007

Communal elements shift focus from Nandigram to Taslima Nasrin

TASLIMA NASRIN


KOLKATA witnessed mob violence on Wednesday in the wake of a protest called by a little known group called the All India Minority Forum. Although the group was ostensibly protesting against the CPI (M) atrocities in Nandigram, Islamic fundamentalists shifted the focus to their campaign against Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin.

Nandigram has a large Muslim population. Several Muslim organizations were cooperating with the Bhoomi Uchched Samiti, which spearheaded the agitation against eviction.

Taslima Nasrin, author of several best-sellers, had fled Bangladesh in 1994 after extremist groups in the country targeted her and she lost her job as doctor at the Dhaka Medical College.

The fundamentalists were annoyed with her as she had said religious scriptures were out of time and out of place. She had also called for a uniform civil code that accorded women equality and justice.

An organization by the name of Soldiers of Islam issued a fatwa against her and set a price on her head. Fourteen political parties and religious organizations jointly called a general strike and demanded that she be hanged. There were several street demonstrations in Dhaka, and newspapers which published her writings were attacked.

After spending a few years in exile in Europe, Taslima Nasrin came to India and took up residence in Kolkata. Islamic fundamentalists have been opposing her stay in the country since then. Last August, goons led by three MLAs of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen attacked her at the Press Club in Hyderabad, when she went there to address a press conference.

Apparently the harassed CPI (M) leadership is ready to appease the communal forces. The party’s State secretary Biman Bose said Taslima Nasrin must leave the State to ensure that violence did not recur.

Taslima Nasrin’s current visa expires on February 17 next year.

In a statement, the Mumbai-based group EKTA (Committee for Communal Amity) deplored the fundamentalists’ demand for Taslima Nasreen’s expulsion.

EKTA said, “The linking up of this demand with protests against the state-sponsored bloodbath in Nandigram is highly intriguing, to say the least. We join our voices with all voices of sanity in decrying this act of criminal insanity seriously threatening the social peace and equilibrium in the city.

“We do highly welcome the decision of the State government to deploy the Army to restore peace and also confidence of the common citizens. We do, however, strongly deplore the call given by the CPI(M) State Secretary and the ruling Left Front Chairman, Biman Bose, before TV cameras that Ms. Nasrin should leave the State forthwith in theinterest of peace. We consider such comment highly provocative and downright nauseating.

"The reported offer by the city police to the Bangladeshi writer tomove her out of the State cannot but be linked to the comment made by the LF Chairman. We do strongly protest such move.”

Official website of Taslima Nasrin at http://taslimanasrin.com/

PS: CNN-IBN reports that West Bengal police has moved Taslima Nasrin to Rajasthan.

PPS: Biman Bose withdrew his statement a day later. This was done after the West Bengal police removed Taslima Nasrin to Rajasthan. It is nevertheless welcome as it indicates his – and, hopefully, his party’s – readiness to respect public sentiments.

21 November, 2007

US right-wing scholars make out case for military intervention in Pakistan

Frederick Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon, scholars associated with two think tanks promoting conservative ideas, have raised the issue of possible US military intervention in Pakistan.

Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

In an Op-Ed article, published by the New York Times on November 18, under the heading “Pakistan’s Collapse, Our problem”, they argue that the US cannot stand by as a nuclear-armed Pakistan descends into the abyss. They indicate two possible courses of action. One is a Special Forces operation with the limited objective of preventing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into wrong hands. The other is a broader option involving support to the Pakistan army to hold the country together.

Commenting on the Kagan-O’Hanlon thesis, Pakistan affairs commentator Abid Ullah Jan says: “In the plans of American warlords, the time for Pakistan is up.”
Abid Ullah Jan, who is the author of “The Musharraf Factor: Leading Pakistan to its Inevitable Demise”, writing in Countercurrents.org, calls upon Pakistan’s religious, military and political leaders to take a note of the impending war on Pakistan and make the necessary course corrections.

20 November, 2007

Brazil shows the way to energy independence

AS crude oil price soars to $ 100 a barrel, one developing country is not worried in the least. That is Brazil, which along with India and China, is a candidate for recognition as an economic power. The reason: it has made a transition from petroleum to ethanol.

In a commentary, written for New American Media, Louis E. V. Nevaer narrates the story: “Amidst World Oil Crisis, Brazil Declares Energy Independence”.

19 November, 2007

Please think it over, Asok Mitra tells CPI (M) leadership

The Soviet Union sent troops to quell an uprising in Hungary in 1956. Twelve years later it sent troops to Czechoslovakia to oust a regime which stepped out of line. The two events shocked many of its admirers.

If the Soviet leadership had the good sense to introspect over these developments and take appropriate corrective action, the collapse of Communist regimes all over East Europe and in the Soviet Union itself two decades later could possibly have been averted.

Nandigram poses before the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leadership a challenge similar to that Hungary and Czechoslovakia posed to the Soviet leadership. The initial reactions of General Secretary Prakash Karat and Politburo member Sitaram Yechury indicate that it is no better equipped to face the challenge than the Soviet leadership was.

Against this background, the measured response of Ashok Mitra, who was Finance Minister in Jyoti Basu’s early Cabinets and a CPI (M) member of the Rajya Sabha later, comes as a refreshing contrast.

“Till death I would remain guilty to my conscience if I keep mum about the happenings of the last two weeks in West Bengal over Nandigram,” he wrote in the leading Bengali daily Ananda Bazar Patrika on November 14. “One gets torn by pain too. Those against whom I am speaking have been my comrades at some point of time. The party, whose leadership they are adorning, has been the centre of my dreams and works for the last 60 years.”

He goes on: “My ardent appeal to the central leadership of the party, which I still love to think to be mine: please think it over. You shiver at the terror of Maoism. Will that shivering compel you to throw West Bengal into the gutter of fascism?”

I have taken these lines from an edited extract from the article, translated into English by Debarshi Das. It appeared in The Hindustan Times on November 18, 2007 under the heading “The party’s over”. Over to the article.

17 November, 2007

India votes against UN Committee resolution for moratorium on death penalty

NOT UNEXPECTEDLY, in the UN General Assembly's Third Committee, India on Thursday voted against a resolution calling for a global moratorium on executions. The Committee, however, adopted the resolution, which was sponsored by 87 states, with 99 members voting in favour, 52 against and 33 abstaining.

The resolution, which drew support from countries in all regions, is expected to be endorsed by the General Assembly at its plenary session in December.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and the Maldives voted with India against the resolution.

Explaining the reasons for voting against the resolution, an Indian delegate said, “It is the sovereign right of the countries to determine their own legal system.” He pointed out that courts in India imposed the death penalty only in the rarest of rare cases in which the crime was so heinous that it shocked the conscience of an entire nation.

He added, ''Further death sentences in India must be confirmed by a superior court and an accused has the right to appeal to a High Court or the Supreme Court as also to file a mercy petition before the Governor of the State concerned or the President of India.''

Amnesty International, which had campaigned globally in support of the resolution, described it as a “major step towards the abolition of the death penalty worldwide". AI Secretary General Irene Khan called upon all countries to establish a moratorium on executions “as soon as the General Assembly endorses the resolution”.

In 1971 and 1977 the General Assembly had adopted resolutions which simply said it was "desirable" for states to abolish the death penalty. This year’s resolution goes further, calling on states that still maintain the death penalty "to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty".

It also urges these states "to respect international standards that provide safeguards guaranteeing the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty" and "progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed."

It further requests the UN Secretary-General to report to the General Assembly in 2008 on the implementation of the resolution.

Although the resolution is not legally binding on states, it carries considerable moral and political weight, as it was adopted by the UN's principal organ in which all members of the organization participate.

So far, 133 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Only 25 countries actually carried out executions in 2006. Data gathered by AI showed a decline in the number of executions to 1,591 from 2,148 in the previous year. Of the known executions, 91% were reported from China, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and the United States.

Human rights defenders oppose the death penalty because it negates the right to life. It is not so much punishment as a form of social revenge, which originated in primitive society.

16 November, 2007

Modi And Buddhadeb: A Comparison

Satya Sagar, writing at countercurrents.org, draws an interesting comparison between Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya.

This is what the website says about itself: "Countercurrents.org stands for peace and justice. Our sympathies are with all those who are engaged in struggles for economic, political, social, cultural, gender, environmental ….. justice. Our aim is to strengthen all these movements. Our conviction is that the driving force of social change is these small counter movements and struggles!"

Contact address:
Countercurrents.org,
PB No. 5,
Kumaranalloor PO,
Kerala,
India
PIN 686 016
e-mail: editor@countercurrents.org
website: http://www.countercurrents.org/
Now, over to Satya Sagar.

15 November, 2007

HELP FIGHT HUNGER

You can help fight hunger -- without even spending a penny from your pocket. This has been made possible by a website. You just go to the Hungersite and click. The sponsors of the site provide money for every click.

I learnt of this site from a friend's posting in a group of which I am a member. I am taking the earliest opportunity to pass on the information to my visitors.

What Nandigram says to CPI (M) and to India

THE COMMUNIST PARTY of India (Marxist), which has written a new chapter in the history of parliamentary democracy by remaining in power in West Bengal continuously for more than three decades, is facing a severe crisis today. The way it resolves this crisis will be decisive so far as its future is concerned. It may also influence the course of the nation.

Trouble started in Nandigram when the State government decided to acquire land for three special economic zones. One has a proposed area of 12,500 acres (5,059 hectares), another 10,000 acres (4,047 ha) and the third 3,000 acres (1,214 ha). The CPI (M) initially opposed SEZs, viewing them as part of the globalization process. As the local leadership decided that the State’s problems can only be solved through large-scale industrialization, the party changed its policy. Last year party general secretary Prakash Karat commended West Bengal’s SEZ policy as a model worthy of emulation.

When land acquisition began the people of Nandigram voiced opposition. It is a constituency that voted for the CPI (M) even in the last election. Most of the people there are beneficiaries of the land reforms introduced by the Left government. When they said they would not part with the land, CPI (M) leaders let loose goons. The party’s foes rushed to the people’s rescue. Apart from the Trinamool Congress, the main Opposition party, left-wing groups like the CPI (M-L) and the Socialist Unity Centre of India and Muslim and Dalit organizations came out on their side. A Bhoomi Uchhed Pratirodha (Land Eviction Resistance) Committee, in which they are also partners, came into being.

Nandigram has a large Muslim population. The local CPI (M) legislator is also a Muslim. The Sachar Committee, which was appointed by the Centre to study the status of the Muslim minority, had recently reported that even after 30 years of Left rule Muslims in the State remain very backward. The presence of Muslim and Dalit organizations in the Nandigram agitation makes it clear that essentially it is a movement of economically and socially backward people for survival. It must be remembered here that the CPI (M) in West Bengal is a party under upper class leadership.

On January 3, as word spread that officials had come to a panchayat office for talks on land acquisition, a mob attacked the office and destroyed roads and bridges to prevent the arrival of the police for forcible eviction. CPI (M) activists who supported eviction also came under attack. Following this, about 2,500 party members and supporters fled the village. The attack on Nandigram the other day by police and armed party cadres was to rehabilitate them.

There has been much violence on both sides. The CPI (M)’s list of martyrs includes a panchayat member who was burnt to death on January 7, a policeman killed in Haldia on February 7, a school girl who was raped and killed on February 10 and a party sympathizer who was gang-raped on March 3. At the top of the other side’s list of martyrs are 14 persons killed by police and an army of goons on March 14. That list also includes rape victims.
All forms of violence violate human rights. But all violence cannot be treated alike. The state enforcing a policy unacceptable to the people through use of force by the police is not the way of democracy. Violence perpetrated by the ruling party by mobilizing armed groups under the shadow of power and violence occurring in the course of the weaker sections’ struggle for survival are not of the same kind. While both are deplorable, the former is more despicable. The reign of terror in Nandigram under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is not different from what occurred in parts of Gujarat under Narendra Modi. In both places the police and the ruling party let loose violence in a planned manner. The ideologies are different, but the style of functioning is the same. This style already has a name: fascism.

The other Left parties, which have stood by the CPI (M) in its struggles and in the administration, have rejected the unilateral actions of that party and the government. Prakash Karat is pointing fingers at Mamata Banerjee and the Maoists ignoring this. If he keeps his eyes open he can see in the ranks of those who have made common cause with the people of Nandigram such distinguished Bengalis as Mahasweta Devi, Aparna Sen and Rituparno Ghosh. Most of them had stood with the Left at all times. Aparna Sen and Ghosh boycotted the film festival saying they would not be part of an activity organized by a government that had committed violence. Aparna Sen said in an interview that CPI (M) men, who prevented Medha Patkar from proceeding to Nandigram, had dragged her by the hair and hit her on the head. She then asked, “Are we living in the middle ages?” That is a question which Nandigram is asking the CPI (M).

The CPI (M) has to make timely changes in its policies and programmes. But it must have the prudence to understand that moving from the side of the exploited to that of the exploiter is not the change that the time demands. After the March violence, the government said it would abandon the SEZ in that area. However, the people have not taken the statement at its face value. The state-sponsored terror strengthens their suspicion. The latest reports are that the situation there is returning to normal. To ensure that peace prevails, the government must abandon the project and convince the people about it.

Nandigram has a message for the nation too: projects that are against the interests of the masses are unacceptable. The government may have no desire to resist globalization. It may even be powerless to resist it. But it has a responsibility to protect the marginalized.

Based on the Nerkkazhcha column appearing in Kerala Kaumudi dated November 15, 2007

Lest we forget

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up,
because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.

These words of Rev. Martin Niemoller (1892-1984), often quoted by human rights defenders, tell the story of the Germany of the 1930s. Niemoller, whom the Nazis arrested in 1938, wrote these words on his release at the end of World War II. They remain valid today, mutatis mutandis.

14 November, 2007

Aparna Sen's report on Nandigram protest


Leading film personality Aparna Sen, who boycotted the film festival to protest against the State-sponsored atrocities in Nandigram, takes on the role of Citizen Journalist and reports to CNN-IBN on protest bandh in Kolkata . http://cj.ibnlive.com/index.html

West Bengal government promoting organized crime

A woman injured in the Nandigram violene. Photo: Courtesy www.sanhati.com

The following is the text of a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, on November 13, 2007

NANDIGRAM, a remote village in West Bengal state of India is once again in front page news in the country.

This remote village in West Bengal was in the news 11 months ago when violence erupted in the village. The Communist party led state government used force to silence the protesting farmers who were agitating against the proposed acquisition of their land by the state for establishing a special economic zone. The state government, with the aid of the local police and its party cardres, silenced the protest using brute force. The violence resulted in heavy loss of life and property, which is still not completely accounted for.

On 10 November, 2007, violence erupted again in Nandigram. This time too the violence was spearheaded by the party cadres of the ruling political party of West Bengal state – the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM).

On the first instance and even now, the state government is defending its position of justifying the use of force. The only exception is that this time the local police remained confined to the police station when the party cadres shot at will on protesters. The death toll is yet to be ascertained and the villagers are in the grip of fear.

The state government on both occasions said that the use of force was to bring the region back within the control of the state administration. While debates are underway arguing for and against the state government and its actions, for an ordinary person the incidents reported from Nandigram raises a few questions. Had the state administration consulted the local people before it decided to acquire their land? If yes, whether such an acquisition is justifiable? Had there been any credible procedures and mechanisms in place to compensate those who could lose their land? If the administration had withdrawn from the proposal of acquiring the land what erupted the current tragedy? What prevented the administration from resolving the issues in Nandigram through legitimate means? Why did the state government employ party cadres to ‘repossess’ its control of the area? Was the ‘repossession’ for administrative control or an action looking forward to the oncoming local body elections? Even then what justifies the use of illegal force by party cadres? What happened to those who lost their relatives and property in the earlier incident? What will happen to those who suffered in the recent incident? Will the government and the justice mechanisms in the state be able to prosecute those who are responsible for loss of life and property? Which law in India authorise organised violence to curb protest?

Above all what is that matters to the state government of West Bengal – the people or the party?The government in any country or region has a constitutional obligation to promote and protect the life and property of the people within its jurisdiction. Whatever be the political ideology the government believes in or follows, such ideologies must not supersede the paramount law of the country – the Constitution. While the Constitution of India guarantees certain rights and privileges to the state administration, it equally guarantees the citizen certain rights, which the government by oath and mandate is bound to protect and fulfill.

Nandigram as of today is the sad reminder that the state government of West Bengal has failed in their duty. By justifying violence the state government has breached the inalienable constitutional guarantees of the people and has played fraud upon the people and the Constitution of the country. Such a government is promoting organized crime.

On these counts the CPM led West Bengal government is no different from its counterpart in Gujarat led by Mr. Narendra Modi. No one other than the West Bengal state government and their political think tanks and their supporters will concur with the idea of using organized violence to curb protest. A government which has played fraud upon the Constitution that it has sworn to protect and the people it is duty bound to serve has no legitimacy to continue in authority.

# # # About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

12 November, 2007

The Sociology of the Churidar

An astrologer consulted by the Guruvayur temple authorities recently reported that the deity was not happy about women coming there in churidars. When a Malayalam daily, Kerala Kaumudi, contacted prominent women for comments, many criticized the astrological finding, while a few were ready to accept it. The issue is discussed in the article below, based on my column Nerkkazhcha in Kerala Kaumudi.

WHEN I READ the report that astrological consultation has shown that the Lord of the Guruvayur temple does not like women coming in the churidar and the responses of some distinguished ladies to it, I had a feeling that another unnecessary controversy was being created. But they help us to understand which way our society is moving.



Three Ravi Varma paintings: Goddess Saraswati, Goddess Lakshmi, a woman in mulakkacha
Before coming to devotees’ dress, let us look at the costumes of the gods and goddesses in our temples. They are not what people wear today. They must have been designed in the distant past on the basis of what people wore in those days. People’s clothes have changed, but those of gods and goddesses have remained unchanged. Tradition demands it.
The images of Goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati in our minds are different from those of the temple goddesses. They are actually based on the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, which became familiar to us through calendars. Ravi Varma stayed in Pune and did the paintings using locally available models. So the goddesses are dressed like the Marathi women of his time. Orthodox elements castigated him for dressing them up in the sari. Today a sari-clad goddess is no problem for the traditionalist. If Ravi Varma had stayed on in Kilimanoor and painted, Lakshmi and Saraswati might have been wearing mulakkachcha (“breast cloth”, worn by aristocratic women of Travancore in his time).
Stage, film and television serial directors have played a part in shaping the images of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama which we now cherish. In serials based on the epics, Rama and Krishna appear without upper garments while the lowly retainers in their courts wear tunics that cover the whole body. How this came about is not clear.
The universally recognized figure of Jesus Christ is the contribution of European painters. Some efforts are now on to recreate Jesus as a West Asian or even a black. Since Islam forbids the use of image, no such problems arise in the case of Prophet Mohammed.
All societies strive to retain traditions. The stronger the sense of pride in one’s tradition the greater is the desire to maintain it. As part of culture, tradition certainly deserves respect. This, however, does not mean it should be preserved without change. What we consider tradition is not something that originated with man and has come down to us without change. It has been shaped over time by changing circumstances. That is an endless process.
We must make changes in tradition if new circumstances demand it. It must be done prudently, though. The change must benefit the society. At least it should not harm it. Changes we make in the best interests of the society will become part of tradition for future generations. A society which is incapable of making the changes that circumstances demand is doomed to die.
Kerala’s feudal period was filled with extreme cruelty. Those who introduced the caste system in this part of the country did not even act honestly. The absence of the Vaisya testifies to this. The Kshatriya, too, is almost absent. Only a few rulers were given Kshatriya status. The other rulers and the men who bore arms for the rulers were retained as Sudras. All that became part of tradition. A century ago it was changed. It is foolish to imagine that those changes made everything secure and no more changes are needed. The Renaissance ideals of equality and fraternity are yet to be realized.
While Kerala left the rest of India behind in social progress, it still lags in certain areas. Temple affairs are among them. Restrictions on devotees’ dress in force in the State do not exist elsewhere. The attempt to bar the churidar from the Guruvayur temple is part of an attempt to roll back the changes that have already occurred.
The responses that have appeared in the media indicate that some women are ready to accept a ban on the churidar. They see the issue merely as one of temple tradition. Sports star P. T. Usha, movie star Navya Nair and poet O. V. Usha, who ought to be role models for the new generation, must recognize the social dimension of the issue. The wide acceptance that the churidar received among women of Kerala in the recent past has helped promote the concept of equality. The churidar gained recognition without the aid of any power centre or social reform movement. This must be seen in the context of the process of emancipation and empowerment of women.
Respect for temple traditions must not come in the way of recognizing the anti-women attitude of those who are trying to create an impression that the churidar is not fit to be allowed into a place of worship. Even those who consider the Thanthri as the final authority on temple affairs must keep in mind some historical facts. It was the Zamorin of Calicut who appointed the hereditary Thanthri of Guruvayur. The Zamorin lost his authority two centuries ago. The scandals relating to the Thanthri of the Sabarimala temple are a reminder of what happens in hereditary institutions.

10 November, 2007

Bharatiya Janata Party achieves a breakthrough in the South

FOR several decades, the Bharatiya Janata Party has been the Congress party’s major challenger for power in India. However, its credentials for acceptance as a truly national party remained suspect for two reasons. One, it did not command much influence south of the Vindhyas. Two, it opted to remain an essentially Hindu party. With the disappearance of the obstacles to B. S. Yeddyurappa’s elevation as Karnataka’s Chief Minister, it is all set to break through the first barrier.


In the first general elections after Independence several Hindutva outfits were in the arena. The most prominent among them was the Hindu Mahasabha, which now describes itself as a religious and cultural body, but had been active in electoral politics in the pre-Independence days. In fact, it even shared power with the All India Muslim League for a while.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who had expounded the Hindutva philosophy and was the President of the Hindu Mahasabha for years, was still around at the time of the 1952 elections. But he was under a shadow, having been arraigned in the Gandhi murder case as a conspirator. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, floated in 1951 by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, a former Mahasabha leader and minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's government, eclipsed the rest and emerged as the main instrument of Hindu politics.


On the eve of the 1977 elections, the BJS merged in the Janata Party, which was put together with Jayaprakash Narayan’s blessings, to take on the Congress. When the Hindutva elements came out of the Janata Party to work under the banner of Bharatiya Janata Party some who had been part of other streams like Sikander Bhakt, Yashwant Sinha and Sushama Swaraj also joined them.


The BJP, like the BJS, was at loggerheads with the secular parties. It branded them pseudo-secular and accused them of appeasing the minorities, especially the Muslims. On their part, the secular parties were reluctant to have any truck with it. Two factors helped the BJP to overcome this disability. One was the respectability the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the spearhead of the Hindutva movement, had acquired as a result of its association with JP and his associates before and during the Emergency. The other was the willingness of even the Left parties to collaborate with it to keep the Congress out of power. The V. P. Singh government was sustained by the support it received from both the Left and the BJP. Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet and BJP President, L. K. Advani were members of an informal coordination committee that met once a week in Singh’s residence.

A.B.VAJPAYEE

In the 1980s, the BJP increased its religious support base by championing the cause of constructing a temple at the site of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. On December 6, 1992 RSS volunteers demolished the mosque. By the mid-1990s the BJP emerged as the ruling party in several States and the likely alternative to the Congress at the national level. As elections threw up a hung parliament, making it difficult to form a stable government, parties which did not want to be seen in its company until then started softening their stand. In 1996 the BJP was able to put together a coalition government at the Centre with A. B. Vajpayee as the Prime Minister. It, however, lasted only 13 days. In 1998 Vajpayee became the Prime Minister a second time. This time the government lasted 13 months. In the elections of 1999, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance secured a comfortable majority and Vajpayee became the Prime Minister once again. This time the government served a full five-year term. Vajpayee’s affable personality, which earned the party friends across the political spectrum, played a part in the BJP’s ability to form and hold together a coalition of two dozen parties.

E. V. RAMASWAMI
In the south, the BJP was able to find allies like Telugu Desam and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. It could also develop pockets of influence in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. However, it could not make headway in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Clearly the Hindutva image posed a major problem for it in these States because of the lingering impact of the anti-caste movements of Periyar E. V. Ramaswami and Sree Narayana Guru.

NARAYANA GURU

In the 2004 elections, the BJP emerged as the largest party in the Karnataka Assembly with 79 of the 224 seats. The Congress came next with 65, followed by the Janata Dal (S) with 58. The Congress and the JD (S) came together with a view to keeping the BJP out of power. Dharam Singh of the Congress became the Chief Minister and Siddaramaiah of the JD (S) the Deputy Chief Minister. Early last year JD (S) President and former Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda’s son, H. D. Kumaraswamy, struck a deal with the BJP to share power for the remaining term of the Assembly. Kumaraswamy was to be the Chief Minister for 20 months and Yeddyurappa for the next 20 months. When the time for handover came, Kumaraswamy reneged, hoping the Congress would help him to stay on so as to keep the BJP out. However, the party found it necessary to honour the commitment to the BJP in order to avert a split in its ranks.


Will the BJP be able to get rid of the other blot on its credentials as a national party, namely its pandering to communalism? It is not the first or only party to have played the communal card to gain support. However, democratic decency demands that a party in power must rise above such narrow loyalties. M. A. Jinnah, after achieving the goal of Pakistan, had called for a secular democratic polity. Of course, the effort came too late and failed. The BJP leaders do not have the courage even to try.

B.S.YEDDYURAPPA

Until recently the Karnataka BJP leader used to write his name as Yediyurappa. The chief ministership, which he almost lost, comes to him after he changed the spelling to Yeddyurappa last month, reportedly on astrological advice. J. Jayalalithaa had added the last 'a' to her name under similar circumstances. How come an Indian politician’s fate depends upon how he writes his name in English?