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

29 February, 2008

Study on tuberculosis infection in Lohta village of Varanasi begins tomorrow

Seven weeks ago I had drawn attention to the Asian Human Rights Commission’s appeal seeking the services of Indian doctors to work among tuberculosis patients in Lohta village of Varanasi district. AHRC has announced that the TB programme in the village will begin on March 1. Below is the AHRC press release on the subject.

Lohta village of Varanasi district in Uttar Pradesh state of India is infamous for malnutrition, deaths from starvation and alarmingly widespread tuberculosis infection. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in the recent past has been reporting cases of malnutrition and tuberculosis infection from Lohta. All these cases have been brought to the attention of the state as well as central government authorities in India. Unfortunately the Indian authorities have thus far neglected the residents of Lohta and their cry for help.

On 18 December 2007, a public hearing was organized in Varanasi. The hearing was organised to provide a platform for the ordinary citizens in and around Varanasi to address their concerns relating to right to food, health and decent living. These rights are fundamental rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, but neglected by the state as well as central governments in India. The hearing was co-organised by the AHRC along with its local partner the People's vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), Action Aid International -- India and the Bunkar Dastakar Adhikar Manch.

Those who deposed before the experts' panel in the hearing revealed pathetic stories of their struggle for survival. A multitude of reasons for appalling living conditions were explained by the people who participated in the hearing. Of particular importance was the lack of consistent income resulting in abject poverty; complete absence of a reasonably good government sponsored health service system in Lohta and widespread corruption in the public food distribution system that results in starvation and malnutrition. The hearing also brought to light the fact that there is a large number of persons suffering from tuberculosis living in Lohta.
Poor living conditions and prolonged periods of malnutrition increases the vulnerability of the people living in Lohta to be infected with tuberculosis. The AHRC and the PVCHR immediately appealed to the state government authorities requesting the state government to take immediate actions; first to identify the persons suffering from tuberculosis and then to provide adequate treatment -- not only to the patients but also to their immediate relatives who live with the patients so that the tuberculosis infection would not spread out of control.

An open letter calling for immediate intervention signed by 208 persons, were sent to the Indian authorities. The authorities failed to respond. The AHRC then called for applications from medical doctors who were willing to assist the AHRC and the PVCHR in identifying the persons infected by tuberculosis in Lohta. From the list of highly qualified doctors who expressed their willingness to serve for the common cause and the human rights of the people in Lohta, the AHRC and the PVCHR has contracted a medical doctor to conduct a detailed study of tuberculosis infection in Lohta village.

The study will commence from 1 March 2008 and will last for six months. The residents of Lohta will be encouraged to approach the medical doctor and get examined and diagnose whether they are infected with tuberculosis. The AHRC and the PVCHR will also try to provide treatment to the patients. The information gathered from the study will be used by the AHRC and the PVCHR to further lobby the Indian authorities to continue the work which the AHRC and the PVCHR has initiated in Lohta.

Human rights organizations cannot replace governments. Neither is forming a parallel government the role of any human rights group. Through the experience gained from human rights work, the AHRC and the PVCHR is convinced that unless something is done immediately to control tuberculosis in Lohta many more people might die in that village. The infection might also spread uncontrollably.

All human rights issues have a unique character. It is only the poor and the marginalized who would often fall prey to human rights abuses. Right to health is not an exception. For the past several years the poor in Lohta did not have a doctor to consult regarding their health. They are systematically denied the benefits of the government sponsored public food distribution system. Neglect is nothing new for a civilization with its roots in the caste system. While this discrimination continues the state as well as the central government is claiming false results. The statement advertised by the Government of India's Ministry of Health is just one example. The Ministry claims hundred percent coverage of the anti-tuberculosis campaign in the country.

The attempt by the AHRC and the PVCHR is not to expand its field of human rights activities to health sector or to gather some statistical information. This study about tuberculosis infection in Lohta is the result of the PVCHR's and the AHRC's understanding that without ensuring the basic guarantees to human life, any attempt to address human rights issues in India will be an empty rhetoric.
# # #
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.

28 February, 2008

Asian Legal Resource Centre reports on human rights situation in India

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a unit of the Asian Human Rights Commission, has submitted a country report on India for consideration by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

The report concentrates on the issues of caste-based discrimination, policing and custodial torture, and the right to food, including starvations deaths.
The report can be seen at http://www.alrc.net/PDF/ALRC-UPR-1-002-2008-India.pdf

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) established the UPR as a means to monitor the human rights situations in all UN member-States, starting with the members of the HRC itself, ostensibly to avoid the situation encountered in the past in which grave violators of human rights were able to achieve membership of the UN’s apex human rights body. Each member-nation will be reviewed every four years.

The state in question will submit a 10-page report concerning its evaluation of its performance with regard to human rights. The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will prepare a 10-page report concerning its evaluation of the state’s record. NGOs and other stakeholders, including national human rights institutions, have been invited to submit five-page reports that will be synthesized by the OHCHR into a third 10-page document.

The ALRC has submitted reports in respect of six other Asian countries too. They are Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea and Sri Lanka. For details, kindly visit http://www.alrc.net/pr/mainfile.php/2008pr/133/

A working group of UPR is scheduled to consider the reports on India, Indonesia and the Philippines between April 7 and 18, 2008. The reports on Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and Sri Lanka will be reviewed between May 5 and 16, 2008.

27 February, 2008

An Indian Google may come from a small town, not Bangalore or Bombay

Can India Produce a Google? Sandip Roy, of New American Media, put this question to Rafiq Dossani, Executive Director of South Asia Programs at Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, in an interview.

Dossani, who was once an editor with Business India weekly, one of India's best-known business publications, is the author of a book "India Arriving-How this Economic Powerhouse is Redefining Global Business", which was published in the United States recently.

Dossani told Roy: “If you ask me, ‘Will those who started the industry and have taken it to its present size - firms like TCS (Tata Consultancy Services), Infosys, Wipro, can they be the ones to do the kind of Google creative work?’ the answer is no. In fact, Google was not created by a large firm, it was a startup.

“Now, if you ask whether someone else might do that in India, and who that will be, well I have an answer that will probably surprise you. I think it will come not from Silicon Valley inspired startups, although several of those have been formed and are doing fairly innovative work, but catering mostly to the global markets. It will come when India's local market reaches a certain level of maturity, and it'll come from a small town. It won't come from Bangalore or Bombay, Delhi, or one of those cities.

More excerpts from the interview at the NAM site.

25 February, 2008

Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan must rethink

Last week, the Supreme Court took strong exception to an article by noted human rights defender Teesta Setalvad sharply criticizing it for the delay in hearing the bail applications of a large number of persons who are languishing in jail in connection with the Godhra violence.

In the article, Teesta Setalvad had given a chronological account of court proceedings over the past year to show that there had been undue delay in disposing of the bail applications. (See article below)

According to the Press Trust of India, an anguished court took umbrage at social activists blaming it for delays. (See PTI report)

The words attributed by the agency to the bench, comprising Chief Justice K. G. Balakrishnan, Justice R V Raveendran and Justice Dalveer Bhandari, make sad reading. "Who is this Teesta Setalvad? Is she a spokesperson of these persons or petitioners?" the bench reportedly asked. It also said, "There is one article that appeared (written by her). If she is representing these persons (Godhra accused) we do not want to hear them."

If the judges spoke in anguish, so did Teesta Setalvad. “Has the Supreme Court of India lost its soul and is it turning a blind eye to cases related to fundamental rights violations?” She wrote. “If so, where then do we turn?”

Even if Teesta Setalvad were not a social activist who has done much to secure justice for the victims of the Gujarat violence, as a citizen and a journalist she is well within her rights in raising the issue she brought up in the newspaper article.

The remarks reportedly made by the honourable judges in open court send a wrong message, which needs to be corrected. The Chief Justice must take the earliest opportunity to review the matter and make amends.
Teesta Setalvad
Shame, Shame: a travesty of justice
by Teesta Setalvad
COME February-March 2008, six years down after post independent India's worst ever communal carnage, victims, perpetrators and masterminds not only roam free but have now, obtained redoubled electoral legitimacy. In year 2002 itself, those accused who were politically powerful and monied in caste and monetary terms obtained easy bail from Gujarat's courts. (The Citizens for Justice and Peace has placed a tabulation of over 600 bail orders on the record of the Supreme Court demonstrating this and Tehelka's Operation Kalank has some further evidence in this regard). In sharp contrast, six years down, 84 persons accused of the Godhra coach fire ---- most of the accused are innocent having just been picked up on the basis of cooked up police witnesses, one is a boy 100 per cent blind!!--still rot in Gujarat's jails years after the incident.
The fact that many of them are ill, one is blind; the fact that their families have been reduced to penury and indignity while the main accused and masterminds of the post-Godhra carnages not only roam free but rule Gujarat by action and word, raises the niggling, troublesome question once again.
Discriminatory justice
Can a discriminatory system of justice be viable in principle, given what our Constitution espouses? What does this reality mean in practical terms, given that today we also face the challenge of another kind of terror, internationally supported bomb terror? Can such a blatantly discriminatory scheme of dispensation of criminal justice win the faith of each and every system, particularly a community that is at the receiving end of such a system. Bail is a natural and normal remedy for any accused according to our system of criminal jurisprudence. Even draconian laws, anti terror laws that have questionable provisions on bail, simply do not allow for sustained and continued detention of persons in this fashion. How then can Indian democracy, booming in its growth rate, shining with the glitter of development explain away the dark crevices of sustained institutionalised torture and prejudice?
Some interesting points in this shameful tale are: Godhra Hindu victims of the S-6 Coach of Sabaramati Express also asked the Supreme Court for transfer of the Godhra trial out of Gujarat. It was following an application by Citizens for Justice and Peace that the Godhra trial was stayed by the SC in November 2003.
There has been no bail order for the Godhra accused since October 2004 from the courts. The last bail order was granted by the Gujarat High Court on October 30, 2004. The court has simply not heard any bail applications since. One of the 22 absconding accused, a maulvi, was implicated in the crime by an accused/witness, Sikandar, who stated that the maulvi was allegedly seen on the terrace of a Masjid at Godhra (ostensibly planning the conspiracy) although it was later established that the maulvi was in Maharashtra and not even in Godhra on the relevant day.

There were many serious discrepancies in the arrests, glaring inconsistencies that have been pointed out to the state, which simply refuses to address these concerns.
Worst of all, after a change of government at the center in 2004 and the repealment of POTA, the Central Review Committee after examining the issues at hand, ruled that POTA is not applicable to Godhra, May 2005.
Legal provisions under POTA allow for the review of individual cases by a central review committee to prevent misuse of the Act and its draconian provisions. A decision by the Central Review Committee on May 16, 2005 ruled that none of the alleged offences in the Godhra case warranted the invocation of POTA. However, the committee's decision has not been taken into consideration by either the Gujarat government or the POTA court. Matters relating to bail for the accused, especially in view of the decision by the Central Review Committee, have been brought before the apex court. However these too have faced repeated delays.
Finally, the Supreme Court permits accused to file writs for bail, and there is no bail even after six hearings. Following an order of the Supreme Court in late 2006, giving liberty to all accused to file for bail while hearing the matters relating to the findings of the Central POTA Review Committee, seven separate such applications have been filed. Despite six or seven postings, the matter has not been seen fit to be heard.
Tomorrow the matter comes up before the Supreme Court. Will justice be done? In the ultimate analysis, genuine secularism and constitutional governance must mean that issues of mass violence, accountability, transparency, impunity for mass murderers and government officials, are not merely the stuff of election campaigns but the basis on which the balance sheets of our public servants and representatives are drawn. Only then would we have made the transition from a purely electoral democracy to true constitutional democracy.

Judiciary Watch
Once more a serious denial of basic fundamental rights has been caused today by the delay caused by either insensitive or unaccountable listing procedures of the registry of the apex court of India, the Supreme Court.
As a result, 84 of those allegedly accused of the Godhra train burning (one of whom is near hundred per cent blind) have been denied their personal liberty for six years. Bail is the fundamental prerequisite, inalienable fundamental right to any and every accused under Indian criminal law and civilized form of jurisprudence. Even draconian anti-terror laws that are severely contested because they vest untested powers on the police and executive, do not ever condone custody for such a long time.
Chronology
Here's the chronology of the Godhra bail matters before the Supreme :
22.2.07. Through an order of outgoing SC Judge BP Singh, the SC ruled that the Godhra accused could file bail applications before the SC. The matter being considered was the report of the Central POTA Review Committee that had held that the provisions of the POTA legislation could not be applied to the Godhra case.
10.4.2007. Bail applications are filed in the SC
9.4.2007. Matter is listed by the Registry but not heard because the court is hearing the All India Judges Association matter. Plus the summer vacation is after two days. The SC thus directs that the bail applications should be listed for " final disposal" on 18.7.2007 after the vacation.
What happens after these directions? After the vacation and on SC's reopening on 18.7.2007, there is no sign of the matter.
First week of August 2007. The matter is again listed on a miscellaneous day at which point, accused reps and counsel travelling at their own cost from Godhra again point out to the court that this matter must be listed on a non-miscellaneous day so final arguments can be completed. For two and a half to three months no matters are listed as judges are sitting on the Constitution Bench. Thereafter though matters are shown as pending on the SC list of November 18-19 they are not listed by the Registry.
21.11.2007. Matter is again mentioned by legal reps of the accused after which the court asks Registry to list it.
First Week of December 2007. Again bail matters that are clubbed with POTA Review Committee matter are listed on a miscellaneous day, which means that arguments be completed.
11.12.2007. Matters are shown as listed before the Chief Justice and Justice Panchal. Again reps of accused mention the matter on 11.12.2007 pointing out that since Justice Panchal hails from Gujarat and his brother is a Public Prosecutor for the state of Gujarat, the matter could not be before him. The court agrees. Again, what does the Registry do?
12.12.2007. Fully knowing the circumstances behind which the matter had been mentioned on 11.11.2007, the Registry still lists the matter before Justices Agrawal and Singhvi. (Justice Singhvi had heard the POTA Review Committee matter earlier and hence would face similar issues as Justice Panchal). Sure enough, the next day Justice Singhvi says " not before me." One more chance to argue the matter and get bail for the victims is lost.
12.12.2007. Agitated, the reps of the accused mention the matter again the same afternoon before the Chief Justice, pointing out the repeated problem from the registry. The CJ directs that the matter should be mentioned in the second week of January after which he would constitute a special three-judge bench and list it for the third week of January.
17.1.2008. Apparently unmindful of the CJ's order, the Registry lists it on Thursday, which may be a non-miscellaneous day but which also means that arguments will spill over to the following week. In the first instance, the matter is shown as listed before Justices Bhan, Sinha and Mathur. Late on the previous evening, that is on Wednesday 16.1.2007, it is shown as appearing before the CJ, Ravindran and Panchal. What does it mean? That the Registry again lists it before a judge who cannot hear the matter.

17.1.2008. Once again, the CJ says it would be posted next week or at the earliest. Personal liberty is denied and no questions are asked as to what is going on within the Registry of the highest court in the land.
Can no questions be asked about the systems in operation in the Supreme Court of India? Which matters get automatic priority and which do not? Which matters suffer because of the delays and interim orders of the Supreme Court? Is there no prioritization of cases where issues of personal liberty, denial of basic fundamental rights, mass crimes and impunity to the rich and powerful is concerned? If we ask no questions, we will receive no answers.
The time has come to question the basic accountability procedures of the highest court in the land. Has the Supreme Court of India lost its soul and is it turning a blind eye to cases related to fundamental rights violations? If so, where do we turn?

P. Govindan Kutty gets bail

THOSE WHO RESPONDED to the request to sign the online petition for the release of P. Govindan Kutty, Editor of People's March, will be happy to know that he is out of jail. He was not released unconditionally, as demanded in the petition, but gained his freedom under an order of the Kerala High Court granting him bail on certain conditions.

Justice R. Basanth ordered that Govindan Kutty be released on furnishing a personal bond of Rs 100,000 along with two sureties for a like sum.

Govindan Kutty is required to remain within the jurisdiction of the Ernakulam sessions court. Also, he is to report to the officer investigating the case against him on the first and third Mondays of each month, until further orders.

On emerging from the prison on Sunday, Govindan Kutty told media persons he would continue to publish People's March. He said he was not a member of any Communist party or Maoist organizarion but believed in Maoist thoughts and would continue to propagate them.

He asserted that People's March was being published lawfully. If the publication was illegal, it was for the District Collector to take action, he said.

21 February, 2008

Washington Post reports unilateral CIA strike within Pakistan

The January 29 missile strike in Pakistan in which senior Al Qaeda commander Abu Laith al-Libi was killed was conducted by the US Central Intelligence Agency with an unusual degree of autonomy, according to the Washington Post.

In a report headlined “CIA Makes Unilateral Strike Inside Pakistan”, published under the bylines of Joby Warrick and Robin Wright, the paper said: “Having requested the Pakistani government’s official permission for such strikes on previous occasions, only to be put off or turned down, this time the U.S. spy agency did not seek approval.”

The report can be accessed at the countercurrents.org site

17 February, 2008

The Doctor, The State, And A Sinister Case

"The Doctor, The State, And A Sinister Case" --this is the title of an informative article by Shoma Chaudhury on the case of Dr. Binayak Sen, appearing in the Tehelka’s issue dated February 23, 2008.

The untenable imprisonment and victimization of Dr Binayak Sen, a heroic humanitarian from Chhattisgarh, exposes Indian democracy as increasingly hollow, says Shoma Chaudhury.

Tehelka also lists the charges and evidence laid against Dr Sen by the Chhatisgarh police.

To access the article, kindly CLICK HERE

16 February, 2008

Demand for release of Lachit Bordoloi

The People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) has provided the following update on the case of Lachit Bordoloi, journalist and peace activist of Assam

Friends,
Lachit Bordoloi, Advisor of Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), was arrested by the police three days ago. He, along with three others, including journalist Pradeep Gogoi of NETV has been remanded to five days' police custody. This is yet another attack on the democratic rights movement in the country, a dangerous shrinkage of the right to question state atrocities and to expressdissent with state policy and practices.

A number of eminent literary and cultural figures like Mahasweta Devi, Girish Karnad, Arundhati Roy, Rajendra Yadav and Habib Tanvir, have issued a statement demanding their release and repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

Please circulate the statement

PUBLIC STATEMENT RE. CONTINUED ATTACK ON CIVIL LIBERTIES AND THE PRESS

We, the undersigned, are deeply dismayed at the arrest of Lachit Bordoloi, Advisor to the Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS). We fear for the safety of Lachit Bordoloi, who was picked up from Moranhat, between Dibrugarh and Sibsagar, on 11 February. Three others have also been arrested:Pradeep Gogoi, the Duliajan correspondent of NETV, Suman Dutta, an employee of Air Deccan and advocate Nekibur Zaman, by the Guwahati police.

The arrest of Pradeep Gogoi constitutes yet another attack on the Press which has been under severe attack in recent years with the arrests of Govindan Kutty, Praful Jha, A K Sengupta, Dharmendra Sriram Bhurle and others. It is disturbing that Bordoloi, Dutta and Gogoi have been remanded to five or six days of police custody by the Sub Divisional judicial magistrate, Kamrup. Nekibur Zaman is inhospital with a broken ankle.The police are accusing them of being involved in the planning of a hijacking. But long before Lachit's arrest it was known that the Assam government had decided to detain him.

On the 9th of February the police had come to his house and without giving a seizure list confiscated some CDs and his computer from his residence.This is not the first time that Lachit Bordoloi has been picked up, having been arrested under TADA while it was in operation and on other occasions.

Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti, of which he is the advisor, too has also been at the receiving end of a state onslaught, with its offices being routinelyransacked, and activists threatened.
It is significant that Lachit Bordoloi was part of the People's Consultative Committee set up in 2005 to initiate discussions between the Government of India and ULFA. His arrest is another indication of the hard line that the government is adopting towards those who seek to occupy the middle ground. It is also yet another instance, in now linking Lachit to ULFA, of how the pernicious Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 2004 is being used to choke legitimate political activity.

MASS has over the years been strongly opposing army atrocities, encounters, disappearances in Assam, and together with many other organizations demanding the repeal of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Coming as it does within a few months of the arrest of Dr. Binayak Sen, Vice-President of PUCL, his arrest is clearly part of a concerted strategy on the part of the state to silence all democratic dissent and criticism of state policies, especially in conflict areas.

We demand:

1. The immediate and unconditional release of Lachit Bordoloi, Pradeep Gogoi, Suman Dutta and Nekibur Zaman;

2. The total repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act from all 'disturbed areas';

3. The repeal of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act 2004, and the end to any attempts by the government to muzzle the freedom of the Press and criminalize legitimate political activity.

Mahasweta Devi
Girish Karnad
Habib Tanvir
Arundhati Roy
Rajendra Yadav
Ashis Nandy
Sumit Chakravarty
Praful Bidwai
Tarun Tejpal
Tanika Sarkar
Sumit Sarkar

13 February, 2008

Assam police arrests human rights defender

The following account of the arrest of Assamese journalist and human rights defender Lachit Bordoloi has been provided by one of his assoxiates, Sanjay Barbora

Assam police personnel arrested Lachit Bordoloi at Moranhat in Dibrugarh district on Febryary 12.

Lachit Bordoloi is a journalist and a human rights activist. He is the adviser of Manab Adhikar Sangram Samiti (MASS), the convener of the Peoples Committee for Peace Initiatives in Assam (PCPIA) and a member of the Peoples Consultative Group (PCG) that was set up in September 2005 to initiate discussions between the Government of India and United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA).The circumstances leading to his arrest would sound absurd if they were for the serious implications that they have on his life. The Guwahati police arrested two supposed ULFA activists from the city on February 8-9, 2008. In a press statement, police said that the arrested activists were in the city to try and hijack planes, and that several prominent persons in the city were helping them out.

Close to midnight on February 9, police raided Bordoloi's rented flat in Guwahati, where his wife and daughter were alone. He had left earlier that day for a meeting at Tinsukia district in upper Assam. The police personnel seized his laptop and other material and did not offer a seizure form to his wife.

On the morning of February 12, the local media reported that he would be arrested soon. At about 11 a.m. he was detained by the Dibrugarh police at Moranhat as he was on his way back from Tinsukia to Guwahati by car.
Lachit’s wife, Renu-bou, an associate and myself packed some food for him and went to the lock-up in Chandmari police station in Guwahati city on February 13 . He was brought to the city late at night. He called Renu-bou on reaching Guwahati and asked her to bring some moisturiser in the morning. She packed a small bag full of clothes, a towel and body oil.

The policemen on duty did not allow us inside, saying that only his wife would be allowed. A little later, one of them came and said that I could also go in.Lachit Bordoloi was smiling like a sheepish schoolchild. Two policemen were lazily signing papers and a policewoman barked instructions to an orderly to fetch tea for us.

Lachit had the daily papers in front of him. Where does one begin to ask questions at a time like this? He was sitting on an officer's chair and reassuring Renu-bou that it would be alright. He asked me to inform the family members of a young man, who looked confused and bewildered inside the lock-up. Apparently, this was the young man who had been part of the great hijack plan. He looked like a clean-shaven boy, wondering what boulder hit him while it flew North!I said to Lachit that I would be on the computer all day, writing to people, letting them know what the whole Kafkaesque ordeal is about. Rather naively, I asked him if he would be out today.

"No", he said, "I will either be sent back to police custody or, luck permitting, to judicial custody". The cell is cold, so I hoped that he would not have to spend another night there. Judicial custody seemed like a better option.These are moments when our faculties become pliant tools in the hands of higher powers. The absurdity of law, conspiracies, politics all fall apart as we begin to babble in the tongues that we are asked to. We see hijacking as a plausible plot because the police says so. We see connections with ULFA as being bad omens. We become as dumb as the disinformation campaign requires us to be.This disinformation is a powerful thing. It hits us from the front pages of newspapers in the morning. It says: "PCG convener Lachit Bordoloi Arrested for Links with Banned Outfit". Just the kind of stuff that gentle Assamese folk would not want to be associated with. Just to drive home the point, a second headline reads: "Airline staff held for hijack plot". This chaotic miasma is what the security establishment would love to have us believe. This is also the point where the law becomes an ally of those in power.Lachit Bordoloi was arrested on the basis of a statement given by an accused in custody. By that logic, any one of us can randomly name people we dislike if we are caught by the police.

Lachit Bordoloi, the police say, had links with ULFA. He does not deny these links. He is a peace facilitator and it the irony is, this is what people in corridors of power in Delhi expect of him. As a member of the Peoples Consultative Group (PCG), the mandarins at the home ministry and prime ministers office, probably tell him: "Bordoloi sahab, you must ask these people to climb down on this". Or something like that. But they expect him to carry information back and forth. As do many of us in Assam. We expect that his honesty will be reason enough for some kind of peace initiative to move forward.We are so naive. As I stood in the police station, awkwardly watching him hug his wife, a police officer came in and said: "Bordoloi, apunak medical loi jabo lage" (Bordoloi, we have to take you to the hospital".

Lachit Bordoloi got up, smiled at me a little wistfully and thought about how his young son who moved to a hostel (with great difficulty) last year, would take the news. He boarded the back of a dusty jeep and was gone. His lawyers are working on getting him out on bail once he is produced in court. It feels as if there is concert being conducted and we are watching listlessly. He has been held under the ubiquitous Section 120B and 121, which are basically the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.It would be wise to assess Bordoloi's unlawful activities before we sink into our happy, brain-numbing world of security-induced political positions.1. He was a peace activist2. He believed in the movement for human rights3. He believed that there was a dignified way to negotiate conflicts without humiliating an aggrieved party4. He wrote critical articles in newspapers5. He constantly challenged the arbitrary exercise of powerAnd we are asked to believe that what he was doing, and will continue to do, is detrimental to our social welfare.There will be protests all over Assam but I fear that we will still be naive and miss the whole point of this exercise. We will fall short of questioning the manner in which a disinformation regime has already taken root in the counter-insurgency driven political milieu in Assam. We will continue to believe in great intelligence successes of the security establishment in "foiling hijacks", even as a car full of mysterious gunmen drive past a police check post and shoot an executive of the region's largest Television channel. For tonight, I just hope that Lachit Bordoloi does not have to spend the night in the lock-up.

10 February, 2008

US judiciary runs down humans, promotes corporates

“Corporations Given 'Human Rights,' Humans are Denied Them,” says Jeffrey Kaplan in a News Analysis, distributed by New American Media.

In a note, NAM Editor says: Two recent court rulings seem to defy all logic and common sense. One denies Guantanamo prisoners are legally “persons” while another deems corporations “legal persons.”

Jeffrey Kaplan is a researcher with ReclaimDemocracy.org, a non-profit organization working to restore citizen authority over corporations.

Over to NAM Report

08 February, 2008

Six degree change: a doomsday scenario

How 6° CouldChange Our World

See a "doomsday scenario" online,
then watch Six Degrees Sunday on the National Geographic Channel. (Date mentioned may not be valid for all places)

Hidden Chemicals in Your Home

In a recent study in the USA, a chemical in Teflon was recently identified as a "likely carcinogen". While it's true that some chemicals are harmful, most don't warrant worry, says Joshua W. Hamilton, Ph.D., director of the Center for Environmental Health Sciences at Dartmouth College.


In a WebMD feature titled “The Hidden Chemicals in Your Home”, from “Redbook” magazine, Meryl Davids Landau outlines smart ways to stay safe.

05 February, 2008

Caste-based discrimination in access to water resources

Following is a message from an NGO in Orissa seeking information on caste-based discrimination in access to water

I am associated with Kalpataru (a registered voluntary organization) working on water and forest management in the Kishorenagar Block of Angul District, Orissa. As part of our work, we have encountered difficulties in effective collective action in the management of traditional water bodies like tanks and ponds. This is due to the existing exclusion and discrimination prevailing in our villages.

In 1965, the United Nations formed the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The CERD is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination by its State parties. However, despite prolonged efforts by UN, studies show that some form of discrimination and exclusion exists in most UN member countries.

On this front, India always has been worst in terms of caste-based discrimination, with certain castes being historically excluded, socially as well as physically, from society. Additionally, their access to land and water resources is limited, and hence food security is always under threat.

Water is a common property but this never works in practice. Access to common property water resources, especially traditional wells, tanks and modern watershed, tube wells, and water harvesting structures is also restricted or unequal.

In this context I would request members to provide their inputs on the following:

· Evidence and documentation of caste-based discrimination and exclusion in using the water resources at the national and regional level and the consequences/ impact (if any)

· Experiences on the role NGOs have played in reducing caste-based discrimination and social exclusion

· Experiences with collective action in the management of Common Property Water Resources, and insights on the effectiveness of this approach, given the backdrop of caste based discrimination and exclusion

· Information on the legal measures available, as well as alternative measures to solve the water crisis for the socially excluded

These inputs will help us strive towards achieving inclusive growth and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and also help Kalpataru devise measures to tackle the challenge posed by caste-based discrimination in the management of natural resources. We look forward to your contributions and will acknowledge them in our work.

Regards,

Sarbeswar Sahoo
Kalpataru, Orissa

Responses to this request may kindly be dsent to Nitya Jacob, Resource Person and Moderator for the Water Community of Solution Exchange. His email: nityajacob@gmail.com


03 February, 2008

On violence—actual and potential, visible and invisible

Once again I am taking the liberty of placing here views I expressed in the course of an Internet group discussion

I fully share the strong abhorrence of violence which has found expression in this group. At the same time I feel we must realistically acknowledge the role of violence, actual and potential, visible and invisible, in social and political life.

Violence has attended most social and political changes. I don’t want to drag in the French, American, Russian and Chinese and other revolutions, but let us ask ourselves how correct we are in claiming that under Gandhiji’s leadership we defeated the biggest empire in a non-violent struggle. The last and biggest of Gandhiji’s campaigns was the 1942 movement. It was not quite non-violent. Acts of sabotage were resorted to widely. Unlike during the early phase of his leadership of the Congress, Gandhi did not denounce these violent acts. (One possible explanation is that he was in prison.) It is another matter that the 1942 movement did not gather sufficient strength at any stage to pose a serious threat to Britain’s war effort. In fact, the number of people who volunteered for military service during the period exceeded the number of people who courted arrest by participating in the Quit India movement.

An ex-army general was the Viceroy when World War II ended. His letters to London, which are now public documents, show that he kept pressing the Attlee government to take steps for orderly transfer of power to avoid having to pull out in a hurry. What worried him was not the possibility of another non-violent Congress campaign, but the possibility of about two million soldiers, who had seen active service and were about to be demobilized, joining any new agitation. He also warned his masters that public opinion in war-weary Britain would not support massive use of force against agitators in India.

Partition became inevitable because there was no non-violent answer for Jinnah’s civil war threat. Gandhiji redeemed his personal honour with the bold peace mission in Bengal, but there being no non-violent way to fight a civil war, he abandoned the “over my dead body” position.

Isn’t the social exclusion and deprivation to which millions are subjected not a form of violence? Was not the caste system imposed and maintained through use of brute force? Or must we believe that the vast majority of the people of the land willingly embraced slavery? There were many physical fights in Kerala in the last century as the disadvantaged sections of society asserted the right to use public places. Even today in many parts of the country, caste supremacists resort to violence when the Dalits try to exercise their constitutional right to equality.

Violence has been an important and indispensable element of the “Hindu” tradition. The purpose of every Avatar was to kill. Some ancient passages bear evidence of an attempt to incorporate the Buddha in the Hindu pantheon as an avatar. One scholar has suggested that the reason why that attempt failed was that the Buddha had not killed anyone.

02 February, 2008

A phenomenon called R. K. Karanjia

R. K. Karanjia, who passed away on February 1, at the ripe age of 95, was not just another journalist: he was an unusual phenomenon.

In 1940, as the World War was raging, he quit the Times of India to launch Blitz weekly, which pioneered tabloid journalism in India. In its time, Blitz had more imitators than any other Indian publication. It had a pinup on the last page, and that was the most widely imitated feature. But Blitz’s success had little to do with the pinup. Kwaja Ahmed Abbas’s column, which shared the page with the pinup for many years, gave it a distinct leftist flavour.

Under Karanjia, Blitz became India’s grievance paper. People who had grievances, particularly those with genuine grievances, believed that if only Karanjia knew he would take up their cause. And he did.

He and Current Editor D. F. Karaka were bitter professional foes, who found themselves on opposite sides on almost all issues. When Indira Gandhi’s supporters bought Current, using Ayub Syed, as frontman, and Karaka was left with no forum to air his views, Karanjia gallantly invited him to write a column.

As a campaigner, Karanjia had no parallel. When Navy officer Nanavati was hauled up for the murder of his wife's paramour, Karanjia campaigned in his favour, and there was a massive outpour of sympathy for the wronged husband. As a result, Nanavati gained his freedom through a Presidential pardon immediately after his conviction and sentence.

I was myself a beneficiary of Russi Karanjia’s campaigning skill. In 1973, while heading the United News of India’s bureau in Bombay, I was involved in a feud with the agency’s General Manager over the management’s treatment of employees, particularly junior journalists. He decided to get rid of me, and terminated my services without even assigning a reason. UNI unions in Delhi and Bombay called a strike demanding my reinstatement. On the second day of the strike, Karanjia visited the UNI office in Bombay in a solidarity gesture. Sitting there, he dictated a telegram to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi urging her to personally intervene in the matter. He devoted his personal column in Blitz that week to denounce the UNI management’s arbitrary action. The support the striking employees received from the public forced the news agency to withdraw the sack order. There are several instances of journalists being sacked with or without adequate cause, but there is no other instance of a sacked journalist being reinstated as a result of employees’ action.

I met Karanjia for the last time in 1975, on the day Indira Gandhi declared the infamous Emergency. He was holidaying with his wife in Gulmarg when he got word of the Emergency. They immediately cut short the holiday and motored down to Srinagar. I was in charge of the UNI bureau there at the time. Coming straight to my office, Karanjia went through the reports from New Delhi. He remained there until it was time to catch the plane to New Delhi and on to Bombay.

Late in life, Karanjia became a devotee of Satya Sai Baba and wrote a book hailing him as God living in India.

01 February, 2008

Protect Minorities of Orissa: Online petition

An online petition, styled as The Protection of the Rights of the Christian Minorities in Orissa Petition, addressed to the Prime Minister of India has been created by by Rev M Madhu Chandra (aiccdelhi@gmail.com).

It is open for signature. Those who agree with the demand may visit this site and sign it: http://www.PetitionOnline.com/orissa/