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

30 May, 2008

What's really driving the high price of oil?

The US government is letting a gambling casino on Wall Street called NYMEX determine the price for gasoline and home heating oil, says Ralph Nader, the consumer activist.

The people need regulatory protection from speculators and an excess profits tax on Big Oil, he adds.

Ralph Nader’s article, “What’s really driving the high price of oil” can be seen at the Countercurrents.org site.

Indian response to California law on same-sex marriage

New America Media editor Sandip Roy writes:

SAN FRANCISCO – When I left India for America, my aunts worried about who I might end up marrying. “I hope you’ll marry another Bengali,” an aunt told me. Over the years that relaxed to, “I hope she’s a Hindu, even if she’s not Bengali.” Then it became, “At least another Indian,” until finally we reached, “I hope you’ll get married to someone before we all die.”

She probably didn’t mean another man.

But now it might just happen...


Sandip Roy’s commentary, prompted by California law permitting same-sex marriages, was circulated by NAM under the heading “Be Gay, Be Anything You Want – Just Not Single”, can be accessed HERE.

29 May, 2008

An Essay competition for college students on Rampant Corruption in India

N.S.Venkataman, Trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, writes: Dear Sir,

Nandini Voice For The Deprived, a Chennai-based NGO, has organized
All India Essay Competition for college students on

RAMPANT CORRUPTION IN INDIA -WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

In recent times, several international rating agencies have termed India as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

Sixty years after Independence, corruption appears to have taken deep root in the country and has pervaded all fields of activity. As the country is debating about the extent of corruption, nobody is disputing that corruption prevails everywhere not only in the government departments but also in private establishments and even in medical and educational institutions.

A country like India aspiring to reach the top in the comity of nations should not allow this situation to continue.

Since the youth constitutes a large segment of the national population, corruption can be defeated if the younger generation takes up the cause. In order to prompt college students to think on the subject and provide their views and suggestions, Nandini Voice For The Deprived is organizing this competition on the eve of the forthcoming Independence Day.

College students from all over India can participate in the essay competition.

The essay can be written either in Tamil or in English in a maximum of 2,000 words.

The essay should reach the following address on or before 15th July 2008.

Five cash prizes would be awarded to the best of entries.

For further details please contact

N.S.Venkataman,
Trustee
Nandini Voice For The Deprived
M-60/1, 4th Cross Street
Besant Nagar
Chennai-600 090.
Phone 044-24916037
E-mail: nsvenkat@md4.vsnl.net.in
www.nandinivoice.org

Thanks and regards

N.S.Venkataraman

A folk singer’s tribute to Binayak Sen

Susmit Bose, a folk singer, has posted a video in YouTube to express his solidarity with Dr. Binayak Sen, who is in a Chhattisgarh prison facing patently false charges.
In a message circulated by the Rights Support Centre (humanrights.movement@gmail.com), Bose writes:

Dear All

As a folk singer/songwriter I wanted to express my solidarity with the Free Dr. Binayak Sen campaign so I just posted a video on the You tube just now and the link to my profile www.youtube.com/susmitbose

In solidarity

Susmit Bose
www.susmitbose.com


To know more about Susmit Bose, please see Susan Muthalaly’s feature on him that appeared in The Hindu in 2006: Singing for social rights

23 May, 2008

Ralph Nader visits Google

Below is Ralph Nader's first-person account of a visit to Google, distributed by countercurrents.org

Mountain View, California — An invitation to visit Google’s headquarters and meet some of the people who made this ten year old giant that is giving Microsoft the nervies has to start with wonder.

The “campus” keeps spreading with the growth of Google into more and more fields, even though advertising revenue still comprises over 90 percent of its total revenues. The company wants to “change the world,” make all information digital and accessible through Google. Its company motto is “Do No Evil,” which comes under increasing scrutiny, especially in the firm’s business with the national security state in Washington, DC and with the censors of Red China.

Google’s two founders out of Stanford graduate school — Sergey Brin and Larry Page — place the highest premium on hiring smart, motivated people who provide their own edge and work their own hours.

We were given “the tour” before entering a large space to be asked and answer questions before an audience of wunderkinds. E-mail traffic was monitored worldwide with a variety of electronic globes with various lights marking which countries were experiencing high or low traffic. Africa was the least lit. One of our photographers started to take a picture but was politely waved away with a few proprietary words. A new breed of trade secrets.

I noticed all the places where food — free and nutritious — was available. The guide said that food is no further than 150 feet from any workplace. “How can they keep their weight down with all these tempting repasts?” I asked. “Wait,” he said, leading us toward a large room where an almost eerie silence surrounded dozens of exercising Googlelites going through their solitary motions at 3:45 in the afternoon.
“How many hours do they work?” one of my colleagues asked. “We don’t really know. As long as they want to,” came the response.

In the amphitheatre, the director of communications and I started a Q and A, followed by more questions from the audience. It was followed by a YouTube interview. You can see both of them on: Q&A and Interview.

Google is a gigantic information means, bedecked with ever complex software, to what end? Information ideally leads to knowledge, then to judgment, then to wisdom and then to some action. As the ancient Chinese proverb succinctly put it — “To know and not to do is not to know.”

But what happens when a company is riding an ever rising crest of digitized information avalanches without being able to catch its breath and ask, “information for what?” I commented that we have had more information available in the last twenty five years, though our country and world seem to be getting worse overall; measured by indicators of the human condition. With information being the “currency of democracy,” conditions should be improving across the board.

“Knowledge for what?” I asked. Well, for starters, Google is trying to figure out how to put on its own Presidential debates, starting with one in New Orleans in the autumn. Certainly it can deliver an internet audience of considerable size. But will the major candidates balk if there are other candidates meeting criteria such as a majority of Americans wanting them to participate?

The present Commission on Presidential Debates is a private nonprofit corporation created and controlled by the Republican and Democratic Parties (see opendebates). They do not want other seats on the stage and the television networks follow along with this exclusionary format.
Google, with its own Foundation looking for creative applications that produce results for the well-being of people, should hold regular public hearings on the ground around the country for ideas. They may be surprised by what people propose.
In any event, the examples of knowing but not doing are everywhere. More people succumbed to tuberculosis in the world last year than ten years ago. Medical scientists learned how to treat TB nearly fifty years ago. Knowledge alone is not enough.

For years the technology to present the up-to-date voting record of each member of Congress has been available. Yet only about a dozen legislators do so, led by Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Chris Shays (R-CT). Recalcitrant power blocks what people most want directly from their lawmakers’ website. Here Google can make the difference with Capitol Hill, if it wants to connect information technology to informed voters.
When the internet began, some of us thought that it would make it easy and cheap for people to band together for bargaining and lobbying as consumers. At last, the big banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, automobile firms and so forth would have organized countervailing consumer power with millions of members and ample full time staffs. It has not happened.

Clearly technology and information by themselves do not produce beneficial change. That depends on how decentralized political, economic and social power is exercised in a corporate society where the few decide for the many.

I left Google hoping for a more extensive follow-up conversation, grounded in Marcus Cicero’s assertion, over 2000 years ago, that “Freedom is participation in power.” That is what connects knowledge to beneficial action, if people have that freedom.

22 May, 2008

Earthquake connects China and the world

In the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, China’s image has changed drastically overseas, and sympathy pours in from all corners, says New America Media staff writer Jun Wang.

See report “Earthquake Connects China and the World”.

What the Olympics couldn’t do, the earthquake in China accomplished, writes NAM editor Andrew Lam.

See article “In China, Temblor Accomplishes What the Olympics Couldn’t”.

Fight against state terrorism is fight for democracy

Message sent to People’s Convention held at Kozhikode on May 20, 2008 under the auspices of Joint Committee to Resist State Terrorism against Maoists and Muslims.

In many parts of the world, including our own country, extremists and terrorists are active. Basically, those engaged in terrorist activities are people who challenge the prevailing establishment. In the name of the injustices prevailing in the system, or something else, they publicly reject it. To that extent, their taking to unlawful methods can be understood even by those who do not approve of it. The state resorting to unlawful means in the name of preventing terrorism cannot be viewed in the same manner. The state is an institution which has a duty to protect the system. The police, the army and paramilitary forces are agencies that lawfully bear arms to discharge this responsibility. They have no right to defy the law. When they act beyond the bounds of law, they are endangering the system established by law, not protecting it.

In the neurotic atmosphere created by governments which are facing challenges from different corners and by the political movements that lead these governments, ‘Maoist’ and ‘Muslim terrorist’ have become code words that can be used to liquidate not just individuals but whole sections of people. The similarities in the experiences of Binayak Sen, a doctor, in Chhattisgarh, ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, of Lachit Bordoloi, a journalist, in Assam, ruled by the Congress, and of P. Govindankutty, a left-wing editor, in Kerala, ruled by a coalition led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are not a matter of coincidence. In the violence against the farmers of West Bengal who refused to surrender their land to set up giant industrial complexes, as in anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, police personnel and ruling party cadres had jointly committed murder and rape. This shows that there are the politics of power has some common approaches, which remain beyond ideology.

Six decades after Independence, our governments are still not free from their feudal and colonial traditions. Fight against state terrorism is fight for democracy.

19 May, 2008

Role of revolutionary literature in Maoist triumph in Nepal

By Florentino A. Iniego, Jr

One way of understanding the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist's victory is to study its revolutionary literature. As a researcher from the Philippines, I have been struggling to learn the Nepali language to grasp the poems and songs of the Maoist movement. For months of exposure, interaction, and reading translations of works from the books published by writers of the All-Nepal Cultural Association, I realized that from the turbulent thirteen years of the people's war the Maoist literature stands out to be one of the dynamic dimensions of Nepali literature.

There is no doubt that the CPN-Maoist's victory in the CA election had shocked the monarchy, the traditional politicians (e.g. Nepali Congress), and revisionist parties (e.g. Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist). Even the mass media were extremely wrong in insisting that the Maoist will loose because of the high-handedness of the Youth Communist League. A "hardly surprised" columnist was a Johny-come-lately to found out that the Maoist triumph was due to their organizing skills. Others say it is because of their "catchy" slogans. While some "gave the Maoist a chance" because of the guaranteed vision of achieving a rapid economic growth within a decade.

Actually, there exist an unholy alliance among the monarchy, bureaucrat capitalists, mass media moguls, bourgeois academic intellectuals, and imperialist funded INGO/NGO to launch an open campaign in discrediting and maligning the Maoist. But shocked and awed by their victory, they then resort to false reasons to belittle the Maoist triumph and the given mandate from the people. Now they must apologize to the Maoist and should take the advice of one of their media buddy: "This must force us to re-examine some of our basic assumptions about political changes over the past few years and take what the Maoist say seriously." (Nepali Times, 18-24 April 2008)
Even some writers and critics neither confirm nor deny their concern or distanced themselves away to study the Maoist literature. A known critic observed that Maoist writers are `structurally monotonous'. They tend to become abstract and usually make artless generalisation meant to serve the purpose of Party propaganda. But conscious of its historical and literary significance another critic attested that "Whatever be the case, the Maoist writing remains a novel and untouched area for researchers, creative writers and scholars interested in knowing the fate of contemporary Nepal's turbulence and any attempt to brush it aside would mean ignoring crucial dimension of contemporary Nepalese literature and society." (The Kathmandu Post, 10 August 2003)

Beyond their organizing skills, new slogans, a sound economic program, and the hidden power of its literature, the CPN-Maoist owed its victory to the systematic processes of "concrete analysis of concrete conditions" vis-à-vis the strategic and tactical formulation of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism on the prevailing semi-colonial and semi-feudal situation in Nepal. In these processes, the Prachanda Path was affirmed to unite completely the Party machinery, people's army, people's organizations from ethnic groups, women/gender and other marginalized groups, and the whole people in the advancement of people's war.

Prachanda Path laid down the themes and contents of the CPN-Maoist revolutionary literature. It was formulated in the historical Second National Conference of C.P.N. (Maoist) as an ideological synthesis of rich experiences of five years of the great People's War. The Party, in this conference, has taken up Prachanda Path as an inseparable dialectical unity between international content and national expression, universality and particularity, whole and part, general and particular, and has comprehended that this synthesis of experiences of Nepalese revolution would serve world proletarian revolution and proletarian internationalism. (The Great Leap Forward: An Inevitable Need of History, p.79).

To infuse the Prachanda Path among its writers, the Maoist adheres to the classic "Talks at the Yean Forum" of Mao Zedong written while the people's war in China advanced forward in 1942. Mao defined literature as the reflection of economics and politics. It has a dialectical relationship with these. In his theory of art and literature, he called for the reflection of the revolutionary class struggle and for the revolutionary workers, peasants and soldiers to serve the people. He declared that art and literature are important methods to educate the masses and should serve a weapon for social change.

By applying Prachanda Path and the Maoist revolutionary line in literature, I believed that the CPN-Maoist has achieved the victory of the 21st century as what Mao Zedong had accomplished to the Chinese revolution in 1949. To get a closer look on the nexus of literature and revolution is to read the "Journey of Prachanda Path" by Ishwor Chandra Gyanwali.

It's a journey of intense fire, how can it be obstructed?
No one can stop it from advancing
Who can resist the seasons from rotating?
And who can halt the change of the time?
Let the jail and shackles be cold but our mind won't be freeze
A blunt bayonet can't stab the revolution
The more the bullets are fired at the chest of a revolutionist
The more his blood blooms into flower
When a comrade dies and became a martyr one day
The next morning he rises up like a sun.
(translated to English by Gaurav Chandra Gyawali)

This poem reflects the revolutionary optimism of comrades who have offered their dear life to the cause of the revolution. Guided by Prachanda Path no one can impede the desire of the people to liberate themselves from the chains of feudal and imperialist bandages. Confronted by hardships and sacrifices, the symbolic figure of the rising sun resurrects the eternal vision of martyrs whose blood had nourished the people's thirst for freedom and democracy. And where is this journey heading? In the song "Red Salute to Republic of Nepal" (from the CD Titled- Lal Salaam Ganatantra Nepal lai), the destination of the people's struggle is lyrically visible.

With the uproar of people from towns and village
Red salute to Republic of Nepal.
Flag is waving, there is bliss inside,
Like a heart in a beautiful garden.
Rhododendron is blooming with redness.
Revolutionary thought can't be repressed.
People's movement, red rising sun makes us feel good.
The people's army march with great thought
And presenting them proudly,
Waves of struggle has made Republic of Nepal smile.
(translated to English by Gaurav Chandra Gyawali)

Along with the people's army, we can see the whole nation marching, singing, chanting and waving the flag of the revolution towards its goal – the establishment of the people's republic.

These poem and song above are just a representative of volumes of literature written and published during the course of the people's war. They emphasized the need and relevance of class struggle, the necessity of people's war, glorifying the martyrs of the revolution, and to strengthen the faith in achieving victory. Overall, they played an important role to reap comprehensive success not only in the economic, political, and ideological field but also in the cultural field.

Out from my quarter here in Kathmandu, before the election I have visited the cantonment of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) at Rolpa. I have met and interviewed some division and brigade commanders, soldiers, and writers. Their warm welcome and comradely salute have moved me. I was so surprised on the situation of the revolution in the heartland of the people's war. With their daily collective drills, exercises, chores, and classes, the PLA stands out to be a well-disciplined and professional army of the people. I have witnessed their cultural programs and admired the great talent of PLA soldiers. Female comrades with their neat uniforms represent the equality of gender inside the camp. Their poems, songs, dances combine with the traditional and ethnic culture. Their voices and body movements compliments the tune of their drums, organ and guitar. So graceful and meaningful in conveying the language and hymn of the revolution.

Before I left Rolpa, Comrade Bir Bahadur K.C. gave me his book of poetry titled Rata Phulharu (2063). Back at Kathmandu, I asked the help of one teacher from Tribhuvan University (Gaurav K.C.) to translate the poem commemorating the ninth anniversary of the people's war:

This precious moment is a day for proletariats
Heralding the revolution against the enemy
and the day reflecting the image of justice
and emancipation of pure heart.
It's is unique than the usual morning of rising
For it has carried its glorious history
taking the courage to kiss the Mt. Everest of success.

With these powerful verses, I can feel the simplicity but intense sensitivity of the revolutionary imagination of comrades in the PLA. I can gaze at the agony and sorrow but these were overpowered by the will to conquer the highest tip of the symbolic triumph of human endeavour.

Along with philosophers and politicians, writers have interpreted and reflected the reality of Nepal in so many ways. However, the important point is how to change it? So back in the 1950's anti-monarchy movement to the Jana Andolan of 1990 and 2006, writers had actively pushed on the role of literature as a weapon to achieve genuine social change in Nepal. Although they are called "protest literature" which is "progressive" and "radical," essentially they are reformist by nature. What their works have failed to attain, the Maoist writers came in to fill-in the breaks and gaps. Along with their arms and pen, they bravely wave the red flag of the revolution to inscribe and accomplish the historic mission of the proletariat. By creating revolutionary verses, metaphors, lyrics, tunes, and choruses to arouse, mobilize, and organize the people, the CPN-Maoist had successfully lead the struggle towards the building of the New People's Democratic Republic of Nepal.
Florentino A. Iniego, Jr is a Fellow of the Asian Scholarship Foundation and presently affiliated with the Center for Nepal and Asian Studies, Tribhuvan University (CNAS-TU).

16 May, 2008

Two commentaries on Democratic presidential aspirants

As Hillary Clinton promises West Virginians that she will be their key to economic upturn after her seemingly meaningless win, New America Media commentator Russell Morse wonders if she is trying to be a "spoiler," a la Ralph Nader.

See article “Is Hillary Clinton Pulling a Ralph Nader?

The recent New York Times op-ed claiming that Muslims view Barack Obama's conversion to Islam as 'apostasy' has no basis in the Arab media, according to Jalal Ghazi and Souheila Al-Jadda, associate producers of "Mosaic: World News from the Middle East" on Link TV. In fact, they argue, Obama has received more favourable coverage in the Arab media than in the American press.

See article “Obama is No Apostate – Arab Media, Islamic Scholars agree

15 May, 2008

M. J. Akbar’s fortnightly

Covert, a political fortnightly launched by M. J. Akbar, former Editor-in-Chief of the Asian Age and Deccan Chronicle, has just hit the news stands.

The 72-page inaugural issue covers a range of subjects -- the Congress party's strategy in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, a cover story indicting Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar for concealing the enormous wealth he has amassed, a column by Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat stating why his party was not a "stooge" of China.

Covert has 18 columnists, including Akbar, editor Seema Mustafa, Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) former minister Yashwant Sinha, former MP Arif Mohammad Khan, journalist Kuldip Nayar, adman Suhel Seth, former Central Bureau of Investigation director Joginder Singh and activist Teesta Setalvad.

The journal is priced Rs 20.

14 May, 2008

Pakistani lawyer accepts AHRC’s Human Rights Defender Award


John J. Clancey, Muneer Malik and (picture) Aitaz Ahsan

Pakistani lawyer Muneer Malik received from the Asian Human Rights Commission an award at a ceremony held at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club, Hong Kong, accotding to an AHRC [ress release.

Muneer Malik accepted the Human Rights Defender Award on behalf of himself and his colleague, Aitaz Ahsan.

John J. Clancey, Chairperson of the AHRC, who made the presentation speech detailed the contribution of the lawyer’s movement of Pakistan to the cause of the rule of the law and the independence of the judiciary. He highlighted the importance of this movement and the courageous role played by about 3,000 lawyers who faced detention and the 60 judges who were dismissed from their positions. He also highlighted the important role played by the leading lawyers such as the two gentlemen who were honoured on this occasion who lead a whole generation of younger lawyers that went into the streets to defend the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.

12 May, 2008

Nobel Prize winners call for release of Dr Binayak Sen

In an unprecedented move, 22 Nobel Prize winning scientists and economists have appealed to the Indian government to release the jailed paediatrician and humanitarian activist Dr Binayak Sen enabling him to go and receive the 2008 Jonathan Mann Award for Health and Human Rights
in Washington later this month.

Dr Sen, who is the first south Asian to be selected for the prestigious award, was arrested under the Chhattisgarh State Public Security Act last year on false charges of 'supporting' unlawful activities of an armed underground movement. There is no evidence to prove these charges however and it is widely believed that Dr Sen is being victimized for his human rights work and exposure of violations carried out by police and the state-sponsored militia called Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh.

"While the judicial process involving our professional colleague moves forward, we respectfully request that Dr. Sen be freed from incarceration on humanitarian grounds to receive his award and to
continue his important medical work" says the letter from the Nobel Prize winners, dated 9 May and addressed to a host of top Indian officials including Smt. Pratibha Patil, President of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister and Dr Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh.

Signatories to the letter include nine Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine, nine in Chemistry, two in Physics and two in Economics. They are:
John Polanyi (Chemistry 1986),
Francois Jacob (Medicine 1965),
Roger Guillemin (Medicine 1977),
Charles Townes (Physics 1964),

John Polanyi (Chemistry 1986),
Peter Agre (Chemistry 2003),
Claude Cohen-Tannoudji (Physics 1997),
Robert Curl (Chemistry1996),
Johann Diesenhofer (Chemistry 1988),
Paul Greengard (Physiology or Medicine 2000),
Eric Kandel (Physiology or Medicine 2000),
Sir Harald Kroto (Chemistry 1996),
Yuan T. Lee (Chemistry 1986),
Craig C. Mello (Physiology or Mediicne 2006),
F. Sherwood Rwoland (Chemistry 1995),
Jens C. Skou (Chemistry 1997),
Philip A. Sharp (Physiology or Medicine 1993),

Harold Varmus (Physiology or Medicine 1989),
Sir John E. Walker (Chemistry 1997),
Torsten Wiesel (Physiology or Medicine 1981),
Kenneth J. Arrow (Economics 1972) and
Finn Kydland (Economics 2004).

Text of Nobel Prize winners’ statement can be accessed here.


The Nobel Prize winners’ statement raises concerns that Dr. Sen appears to be incarcerated solely for peacefully exercising his fundamental human rights, in contravention of Articles 19 (freedom of opinion and expression) and 22 (freedom of association) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights--to which India is a state party. Further, it says "...he is charged under two internal security laws that do not comport with international human rights standards."

This is not the first time that prominent intellectuals from around the world have appealed for the release of Dr Binayak Sen, an outstanding humanitarian physician who has spent over three decades in the service of rural and tribal communities in Chattisgarh. In a statement last month, Dr. Nils Dulaire, President of the Global Health Council, which selected Dr Sen for the Jonathan Mann Award said, "We believe, however, that allowing Dr. Sen to attend the award's ceremony would send a strong signal internationally that would help to restore faith that India and
its states are indeed committed to fairly addressing this and other cases related to civil conflicts and civil liberties"

The coming together of twenty-two Nobel Prize winners in support of a political prisoner in India is unprecedented and speaks volumes of the admiration evoked by Dr Sen among his global peers. "It provides clear evidence of the level of concern that Binayak's case has engendered around the world," said Dr Ilina Sen, wife of Dr Binayak Sen, herself a well-known scholar and rights activist.

On 14 May, 2008, the first anniversary of Dr Sen's arrest, hundreds of people across the globe are planning to stage demonstrations, hold vigils and organise public meetings demanding his immediate release.

Apart from cities like New Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai in India protests are also planned in ten North American and three European cities including New York, Toronto, London, Paris and Stockholm. Most of these protests, organised by members of the Indian diaspora along with global activist groups, will be staged outside Indian embassies and consulates in these cities.

In Thiruvananthapuram, the Ethical Medical Forum has organized a film show and meeting at the Medical College in support of Dr. Binayak Sen. It will be inaugurated by Dr. PKR Warrier

The international attention proves, as was noted in the Global Health Council's statement of support, that the "world is watching" to see whether India will maintain its proud democratic tradition.

For further information contact:

* Satya Sivaraman, New Delhi Ph: +91-9818514952
* Dr P.Zachariah, Vellore Ph: +91-9442607116
* Dr Rakhal, Chennai Ph: +91- 9940246089
* Dr Punyabrata Gun, Kolkata Ph: +91-9830922194
* Dr Abhay Shukla, Pune Ph: +91-9422317515
* Somu Kumar, US somukumar@gmail.com
* Shalini Gera, US shalinigera@yahoo.com
* Kalpana Wilson, London sasg@southasiasolidarity.org

VISIT: WWW.BINAYAKSEN.NET AND WWW.FREEBINAYAKSEN.ORG

11 May, 2008

Aparna Sen prevented from entering Nandigram



The West Bengal Government today prevented noted film director Aparna Sen from entering Nandigram, citing security reasons.

"We did not know we would be stopped by the government and it is frightening to see that the state is headed towards dictatorship, which is the fact," Aparna Sen said later.

Report at TIMES NOW site.

10 May, 2008

AHRC stresses Indian civil society’s moral and legal duty to help Myanmar

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

Cyclone Nargis that devastated Myanmar is likely to claim more lives than what was lost during the 2004 Asian tsunami. The tsunami, widely known in the scientific community as the Great Sumatra-Andaman earthquake, has reportedly claimed 224,000 lives. The number however, was the total of the reported deaths from 11 nations with landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean. Whereas, the death toll in cyclone Nargis is from just one country -- Myanmar. According to the scanty but latest reports that come in from Myanmar, it is estimated that more than 200,000 persons are already dead in that country. Trustworthy reports predict that the number is likely to double in the coming days.

While these figures can be disputed for good reasons, the fact remains that the initial death toll that was reported to be just over a few hundred has increased some 400 times in a matter of seven days. When living conditions deteriorate by each hour in the country, the condemnable resistance by the Myanmese administration to accept 'Western' offer for help has also not toned down. The history of the military administration and its intolerance towards any suggestions from the 'West' clearly shows that unless any miracle happen, the aid offered by the 'West' will remain in the tarmacs of neighbouring and Western countries while people continue to die in Myanmar. Every day of this impasse is a shame to humanity.

The recent reactions of the administration in Myanmar however show that the Myanmese administration is more amenable towards the suggestions made by its immediate neighbours like India and China. There are good reasons for the Myanmese administration to be more pliable to the suggestions made by its Asian counterparts. This is mostly because of the 'look the other way policy' these nations entertain regarding rule of law and human rights issues in Myanmar. China and India and a few other 'Asian Club' members are competing with each other to remain in the 'good books' of the Myanmese administration.

This is because all these nations have an eye on exploiting the abundant natural resources in Myanmar. It seems that this interest has become a curse to the people of Myanmar, even at times of dire necessities like the devastation caused by Nargis.
While the reports in the international as well as the national media available across the region about the actual state of affairs in Myanmar are scanty, there is a huge criticism, particularly from the Western nations and the UN agencies about the stubbornness of the Myanmese authorities in refusing to accept help. While the 'West-sponsored' aid and relief is being rejected, those offered by the Asian states were readily accepted by Naypyidaw. Naypyidaw is the new capital of Myanmar, after the administrative capital of the country was moved from Yangoon to Naypyidaw in November 2005.

The lesson to be learned from this experience is for the Asian governments to take further initiatives, primarily to address the immediate human demand for assistance and help of the ordinary people in Myanmar. Medical and other relief operations must be the first priority. The Asian governments like India and China in particular, and their Foreign Ministers, has a moral and legal responsibility to see further ways by which their governments could in fact carryout relief operations within Myanmar on a purely humanitarian mission.

According to reports, it is only the Asian states that have a relatively better access to the Myanmese authorities. The sheer magnitude of the devastation must be the only immediate concern for the Asian states to help Myanmar unconditionally. Since it is the privilege of a few select Asian states to constructively liaise with the Myanmese authorities, these states are obliged to encourage Myanmar to accept all possible humanitarian help. In an equally responsible note the governments that are currently shunted by the Myanmese administration must approach the Myanmese administration directly or through other 'acceptable' states for the administration, with a view to help the people in Mynamar without any other political agenda.
An equal responsibility rests upon the human rights organisations and other civil society bodies in India. The civil society in India must urge the Government of India to intensify its engagement in Myanmar. The human rights organisations in India in the past have done so during the 2004 tsunami relief operations.

Private and public sector undertakings in India like those from the large-scale industry sector must not limit their assistance to the people in Myanmar by mere pledges of monetary assistance. These entities must urge the Government of India to spare no resources to provide help to the people in need in Myanmar. The initiatives during the Gujarat earthquake by these organisations must be once again be mobilised with immediate effect to help Myanmar.

Ignorance by the Indian civil society groups about the situation in Myanmar will reflect as a blight to the morality of these organisations and their sensitisation and preparedness to act in dire situations.

09 May, 2008

PUCL reports detention of activist in Chhattisgarh and alleges vilification by media

The following is a communication from Rajendra K Sail, President, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, Chhattisgarh, about the illegal detention of State PUCL executive committee member T.G. Ajay:

Dear Friends,

Greetings from Chhattisgarh PUCL!

This is specially written for three reasons:

The State Police and a section of the media in Chhattisgarh are deliberately indulging in "vilification" campaign and spreading "falsehoods" against Ajay T G (Member, State Executive Committee, Chhattisgarh PUCL). Remember, they had done the same immediately after the illegal detention of Dr. Binayak Sen, General Secretary, Chhattisgarh PUCL.

The Police briefings in the Police Control Room every evening during that particular period carried out a systematic campaign spreading falsehoods about Dr. Ilina Sen, Member, SEC, CG-PUCL (and wife of Dr. Binayak Sen), to the extent of providing insinuations that Dr. Ilina Sen herself was "neck-deep involved with the Naxalites" and that "police had enough evidence to arrest her", but they were "not doing so because they cared about the family".

When Dr. Ilina Sen filed an application for anticipatory bail in the court of the District Judge, Raipur, the State filed an affidavit saying they had no case whatsoever against Dr. Ilina Sen and did not want her in any matter. Thus, the application for anticipatory bail was not taken up.

A similar pattern is now being followed by the Police with a section of the media obliging them without any concern for the professional ethics of journalism. So much so that the "version" and "denials" issued by the PUCL are not published in a section of the media.

The media in Chhattisgarh (especially the capital city of Raipur) has taken a position that Ajay T G is a "fake media person" and that he has no credentials whatsoever as a "journalist" or "film-maker". This is not the first time that a section of the Media has taken such a position with regard to some of the journalists/media persons who do not toe the official/establishment line. Cases of police harassment of "media persons" is not highlighted or defended by the "mainstream media"(?), if I may be permitted to use this term for limited use of this letter!!

I strongly believe that a time has come when we must counter the "vilification" campaign and spreading of "falsehoods" both by the police and a section of the press. The PUCL is being "branded" and the BJP Government is, to a great extent, succeeding in managing media to serve their draconian designs (fascist agenda).

Well, the real story is about how the Police manages the media!

Let me give you a concrete example!

On 24th May, 2007, I was arrested by the Chhattisgarh Police in the evening when I was returning from a day-long dharna protesting against the illegal detention of Dr. Binayak Sen. The police conveniently used a warrant issued by the MP High Court at Jabalpur in a two-year old case of Supreme Court ordering seven days’ simple imprisonment in the Contempt of Court Case (related to my comments on the MP High Court judgment in the Shaheed Niyogi Murder Case, when it had acquitted all the accused in June 1998). Even the warrant was dated February 2007, but the Chhattisgarh police found it politically beneficial to serve the same on me almost three months later, while it was all this while lying on the table of the Superintendent of Police, Raipur.

When I was being taken from Raipur to Jabalpur (some 300 kms away) by road in the night of 24th May, 2007, and the police officials escorting me had asked me to go to sleep in the back seat of a luxury car in which I was being taken to Jabalpur, I heard a very interesting conversation being made on phone!

One of the police officials was talking to some media person on his mobile: Kya Heading Laga Rahe ho? Aare Sayal Saheb ke liye kya heading laga rahe ho? (What is the heading you are using? Oh! for Mr. Sail what heading are you selecting?)

He called about half-a-dozen newspapers around 10:00 pm, while I kept listening to this interesting conversation lying down in the back seat of the car.

The manner of authority and confidence with which this police official addressed these media persons, it was crystal clear that they were hand-in-glove with each other.

It is now a common knowledge that a section of the media only publishes the "police version" in such cases where not only the human rights and social activists are being illegally detained but also targeted to corrode their credibility.

Against the backdrop of these developments and facts, I am circulating two documents here related to Ajay T G.

1. Background information about his life and work. Please note that he has been associated with many prestigious and progressive organizations and committed to the cause of the fundamental rights of the poor and oppressed;

2. His letter to me detailing how he was being harassed by the police.

I APPEAL to all to mobilize support for Ajay T G, especially from amongst the media persons, film makers, intellectuals, politicians etc., and send protest letters demanding his immediate release. Please send your letters to:

1. H.E. Shri E S L Narsimhan, Governor, RAJ BHAWAN, RAIPUR - 492001:
Chhattisgarh : E-mail: governor.cg@nic.in

2. Shri Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, SACHIVALAYA, Dau Kalyan Bhawan, Raipur - 492001: Chhattisgarh : cmcg@nic.in

3. Shri Ramvichar Netam, Home Minister-Chhattisgarh: hmin.cg@nic.in

Please mark a copy to us also for follow-up!

This comes with good wishes,

In Solidarity,

Rajendra K. Sail>

MORE ON AJAY T.G.'s CASE

Kavita Srivastava provides the following additional information about the case of Ajay T.G.

• The Timing of Ajay's Arrest
• Ajay TG 's case
• The letter that is being used against him
• The questions
• The condition of Ajay's wife and child.

Dear friends,

This is to inform you that we have enough evidence to show that Ajay T.G. is completely innocent and that has become even more evident from what the newspapers are reporting about the police case. Of course the exact story of the police will only be known when the complete file will be accessed during the bail proceedings. The FIR is not with us now. However he has been booked u/s 124 (A) IPC[1] and Sec 3, 4 ,8 (1)(2) of the Chattsigarh Jan Suraksha Adhiniyam[2][3].

Well, let me share a few details of the case and also about the state of his wife and child.

AJAY TG's case

Ajay has been booked in what is called the infamous Arms Dropping Case of Raipur that took place on January 21st 2008, in Chattisgarh where one Malti Rao was arrested, the wife of Gudsa Husendi, the spokeperson for the Maoists. According to the police Malti and Meena were arrested for trying to pass on a huge cache of illegal arms and ammunition to unknown groups. While travelling, in a car on Jan 21, they seem to have dropped eight bags loaded with 91 pistols and 26 wireless sets at Dangania area in Raipur. The ammunition and equipment were meant for unidentified groups. But the police recovered the cache before it was taken away.
Malti belonged to Sutela in Bhilai and during the search of her house they discovered a letter written by Ajay on CACL (Campaign Against Child Labour campaign of which he was a State Convenor).

They came with this letter and showed it to Ajay perhaps on Janaury 22nd itself. When the police came to their house Ajay TG called Advocates Sudha Bharadwaj and Bose Thomas. In their presence their house was searched and his computer taken away. When the police showed him the particular letter he owned it up and shared the circumstances in which he Ajay TG himself had written it. (which I will tell in the next para quoting from an article written by Nandini Sundar which was published in the DNA in 2006).

Ajay TG for whom the computer is his livelihood as being a film maker all the editing work is done on this machine, went a few times to the SP in order to get back his computer but the police told him that it would take sometime. In early February Ajay TG 's uncle died in Kerala and he met the SP as he had to go, the SP assured him that actually there was nothing serious about his case and he could comfortably go and return. According to his wife they returned in early March before women's day and life returned to normalcy, although he was not in a position to make any films as the computer was not made available as yet.

So he had come to Raipur on the 30th April in order to apply to the court to get back his computer. His aplication was filed on the 2nd of May and the hearing had been kept for the 9th of May, regarding getting back his computer. But then he was picked up on the 5th.

Why AJAY TG wrote the letter which is today the being
used against him.

I am glad that Dr. Jonthan Parry shared this information with me so I was able to understand the case, secondly, when I shared this with Rajendra Sail, he also said that he has a letter written in Ajay TG own hand as an application to the PUCL Chattisgarh about the entire incident. So this is it:

The relevant web link for Nandini Sundar's article is
http://www.dnaindia.com/report.asp?NewsID=1034080.

The most relevant part of the article reads:

"There were four of us, including an independent film-maker and a Gondi-speaking guide, who decided to investigate the impact of the Maoist election call. Apart from a couple of roadside polling agents and some BJP and Congress flags, there was nothing to suggest it was election day. As we turned off the main road in Dantewada, even the party flags disappeared. Of the three notified booths we passed, not one was open
.
By late afternoon we reached a village school. The slogans scrawled in English read: Boycott elections. Voting gets you nowhere. As we stood there photographing the empty booth, youthful Maoists surrounded us. They told us to wait till the headman gave us permission to film. He never arrived and the youths grew increasingly threatening. Finally we were told to leave our camera behind for the squad to decide.
.
We decided it was pointless reporting the incident to the police. Surprisingly, a month or so later, the filmmaker got his camera back with an offer of money in case it was spoilt and a letter of apology from a Maoist spokesperson. The delay, the letter said, was because of the difficult conditions under which the Maoists operated."

The article is dated 7th June, 2006 and appears to have been in the public domain ever since. The elections to which the article refers were the Lok Sabha ones held in 2004.

The Four questions that come to my mind are:

1. The entire incident by the police is being presented as one where there were financial transactions between him and the Maoists?

Well Nandini's article makes it clear what the so called "transaction" was about.

2. The police have charged him under sections of 3, 4 and 8 (1) and (3) of the CPSA

That is, these events pre-dated the Chhattisgarh Public Security Act, the Act came in 2005 and this incident happened in 2004, it is clear that the organisation was not a banned one under this act then, so how can he be charged for an offence that relates to an action that was not an offence at the time it was done

3. The police is also making a hue and cry that they got a handwriting expert to prove that the writing was his:

Well, this is rubbish as Ajay TG owned up the letter himself on the 22nd of January in the presence of Sudha Bharadwaj and Bose Thomas, the two advocates so why this nonsense about a handwriting expert.

2. The police is also stating that they found the letter head on which the particular letter was written on his computer.

Well, as Convenor of CACL in Durg, he had designed the letter head on his computer, after all we all design our letter heads, so what is the big deal.

I think we all know now why Ajay TG is being fixed when there is no case at all.

The timing of the arrest of AJAY TG. Why now?

I have spoken to his wife and others with whom he has worked and am even more certain that the timing of this particular arrest is to simply impose their might over all of us and PUCL in particular, Since not a single witness of the six out of 88 who have deposed in Binayak's trial withstood cross examination and the police "case" is now showing cracks, it is evident that the police is now trying to cover up its loss of face. So they first demonised Ajay TG through the tool kit episode and then arrested him and have now started the whole cycle of attacking the person and PUCL.

The timing of the arrest has a sense of de-ja-vous. Last year too, six days before the big All India Sammelan that had been planned for the 30th of May in Raipur, against the arrest of Dr. Binayak Sen, they arrested Rajendra Sail, President of Chattisgarh PUCL so they could sabotage the programme. They have planned to do the same this time too. Since various programmes demanding the unconditional release of Dr. Bianyak Sen have been planned in Dalli Rajhara (11th May), Bagrunmala (12th May), Bilaspur ( 13th ) and the finale at Raipur on the 14th , they wish to destroy the morale of the people and prevent people from participating in these activities.

Ajay's Bail situation and the condition of his wife and child.

The bail application should come up on any date now as it was filed on the 5th of May itself . The procedure will mean having a motion hearing, calling for the file and then the arguments, the the order. This would mean minimum 10-15 days. Incase the bail is rejected then the next step is the High court, since the Bilaspur High Court closes on the 9th, it will mean that the application will go in front of a vacation judge.

Ajay TG's wife Sudha and their 20-month-old son Aman need a lot of support. She still regrets as to why she had sent him to buy provisions at 11 am on that ill fateful day, and he did not return. It was only at 4.30 pm that a local policeman came and gave the sheet stating that he had been arrested under the draconian sections of CPSA.

She also feels utterly miserable that in 2004 when the incident happened, they lived with the fear that the Maoists would harm them as they thought that they were police informers and now in 2008 the police is making them Maoists associates, she is at a complete loss as to what to do. The sense of isolation is also tremendous and that needs to be responded to immediately. Since this law makes one "guilty by association", they have lost all their local friends. Nobody wants to come and meet them, she says. She is living with her mother and sister and brother.

I think we need to go immediately and reassure her that she is not alone. .

As soon as the FIR will be in our hands we will send it to all of you.


Kavita Srivastava


[1] 124 (A) of the IPC is sedition: whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representation,, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite dissatisfaction towards the Government, established by the law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added or with fine.

[2] 8 Penalties: (1) Any person, who is a member of the unlawful organization or participates in its meeting or activities of such organization or makes contribution or receives contribution or requests for contribution for the purpose of such organization, shall be liable for imprisonment, which may be up to three years of imprisonment as well as fine.

[3] Any person, who manages any unlawful organization or assists in its management or promotes or assists in promoting a meeting of any such or any member thereof or assistss or indulges in any unlawful activities of such a organization in any manner or through any medium or device, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

08 May, 2008

India's assistance to Myanmar must reflect its regional role, says ALRC

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Legal Resources Centre, Hong Kong:

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) appreciates the initiative taken by the Government of India in responding to the catastrophe that has devastated Myanmar. According to India's Ministry of External Affairs, India has dispatched two ships, INS Rana and INS Kirpan from the Indian Navy's Eastern Fleet, which has reached Yangon today with relief and medical supplies. India is also considering sending two Indian Air Force aircrafts with additional relief materials, which is also scheduled to reach Myanmar today.

India is a nation that is well aware of the intensity of devastation a natural calamity could bring to a country. India knows the pain and the loss such calamities could bring upon a populace. India is aware of what poverty means and has experience in dealing with the suffering of a poverty-stricken population after natural disasters. One of the founding doctrines of the Indian Constitution is alleviation of poverty. India being a state that was elected to UN Human Rights Council with the maximum number of votes has a moral as well as legal responsibility to reach out to Myanmar and its people.

Amidst the chaos and confusion in Myanmar after the tragedy; the urgent requirements for help of the ordinary people and the allegations and suspicions about the fairness and efficiency in distributing relief supplies; it is imperative that the Government of India must also ensure using its good offices so that the relief supplies in fact find those who are in immediate need. The healthy relationship between the two countries must be an added advantage for India to deal with this issue.

The latest reports from Myanmar suggest that the actual death toll might be much higher than 22,500, a figure that is reported by the military administration in Myanmar. The fact that an estimated 50,000 or more persons are currently reported missing, the massive loss of property and farmlands and the absence of safe drinking water sources are suggestive denominators to the reality that more persons are likely to die in the following days or are already dead.

Additionally, a large proportion of the general population in Myanmar is reported to be suffering from acute malnutrition much prior to cyclone Nargis devastating the country. The poor state of health of the people in Myanmar and poverty is yet another factor that might contribute to a high death toll in the coming days.

It is in times of extreme necessities like the devastation that has hit Myanmar, that any administration must encourage a joint effort from all fronts to provide help to the victims. Probably the Government of India, having sixty years of experience of working in a multi-party democratic system would be a good candidate to guide the administration in Myanmar to take an all inclusive approach in dealing with the current situation. India being a strategic member of sub regional groupings like the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMST-EC) and the Mekong Ganga Cooperation, could guide the administration in Myanmar with relative ease towards achieving this end.
Any improvement in the situation in Myanmar will not only help the people in that country but will also benefit the Indo-Myanmar relationship. India's stake in the bilateral trade between the two countries which stands slightly more than 425 million USD will only benefit from the assistance India offer to Myanmar at this juncture. In addition to the Government of India there are other groups in India like the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) that would be willing to help both the Government of India and the administration in Myanmar in improving the current situation.

The CII must be consulted to generously contribute to increase the current rate of supply of pharmaceuticals to Myanmar, an essential requirement for relief operations in that country. The CII which has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) could collaborate with the UMFCCI to ensure the proper distribution of medical supplies in Myanmar.
It is reported that the cyclone has devastated the minimal infrastructure that existed in Myanmar for transport. The Indian Border Roads Organisation that successfully completed the 160 kilometer India-Myanmar Friendship Road in Myanmar in 2001, which also holds a contact to maintain this road for a period ending in this year must be mobilised to repair the damages caused to the transportation facilities in Myanmar after the cyclone.

The expertise of the Indian Railways could also be called upon to repair the damages caused to the rail lines in Myanmar. The helicopter squadron leased out to Myanmar by India must be pressed into relief operations with immediate effect. Without facilities for transportation no relief operation can proceed and the chances are that with a failed transportation infrastructure, the relief supplies arriving in Yangon will remain in Yangon. In the past, when similar catastrophes hit Bangladesh, India has spared no resources in reaching out to that country.

In addition, India being one of the immediate neighbours of Myanmar that has experienced professionals in dealing with the causalities arising out of natural calamities could provide further manpower to assist the relief operations in Myanmar. The Government of India could also consider relocating persons who are seriously injured for better treatment to hospitals in India. The fact that the Government of India and the administration in Myanmar has a good working relationship might make India's offer to help more acceptable to the relatively secretive administration in Myanmar.

While the equitable and timely distribution of relief supplies is important, the Government of India also must encourage the administration in Myanmar to welcome other offers of help extended to Myanmar. There are several non-governmental organisations operating from India and abroad that have expressed earnestness and preparedness in helping Myanmar. However, it is reported that these offer for help has been treated with great suspicion by the administration in Myanmar. The Government of India could also explore its possibilities in engaging with the administration in Myanmar to accept such help.

India being the largest regional democratic power must lead way in the relief operations conducted in Myanmar. The Indian initiatives in Myanmar must not be reduced to a spontaneous action out of mere compassion. It must reflect India's much asseverated pragmatism and its diplomatic and political strength.

# # #
About the ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive action on legal and human rights issues at the local and national levels throughout Asia.

05 May, 2008

AHRC cites caste discrimination by Gujarat judge

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

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from Navsarjan, a human rights organisation working on Dalit rights in Gujarat, about caste based discrimination practiced during village panchayat (village council) meetings since 2007. The victim in this case was denied the right to file a complaint with the local police and moreover, he was insulted by the session's judge while he was giving evidence in court. Despite serious discrimination by the public servants, one of the accused still functions as the village head, while the others are under suspension.

CASE DETAILS:

In January 2007, Mr. Natu Dahya attended a panchayat (village council) meeting. Natu was elected as a panchayat member of Marida village, Nadiad block, Kheda district.

The panchayat meeting is held once a month, and the meeting in January was the first for new panchayat members. The panchayat meeting of Marida village consists of a village head, the Block Revenue Officer and 11 panchayat members. Natu is the only member from the Dalit community, while the others are members of the dominant caste community in Marida village.

At the first meeting, Natu sat on a chair just like the other panchayat members. After the meeting, the village head Mr. Vinu Shana Chauhan, and the Block Revenue Officer Mr. Mangal Chauhan, took the chair away from Natu Dahya saying, "Why are you Banghi (a derogatory term for the victim's sub-caste) sitting on a chair? When you sit on a chair, the chair becomes untouchable… Wash it." Natu was forced to wash the chair and sit on the floor.

At the second meeting, Mr. Mahesh Ranchhod Chauhan and Mr. Nanji Dipa Chauhan also prevented Natu from sitting on a chair saying, "You have to sit on the floor. Don't sit on a chair." In fact, they are not official panchayat members but were attending the panchayat meeting in the place of their wives, who are official panchayat members. In addition, while other panchayat members were eating snacks on the table all together, Natu was given snacks separately, with a piece of newspaper used as a plate.

The very fact that two persons who were present in the meeting and who abused Natu were the husbands of two elected female members also reflects the male superiority in India. Such practices are common in India, which in effect undermines the very purpose of the positive reservation for women in India. Though India boasts about women presidents and prime ministers, in the rural backdrop, the role of an average Indian woman is to cook, become pregnant and to remain inside the house.

At the third meeting, when Natu proposed his opinion regarding village development, the village head Vinu Shana ignored Natu's opinion saying, "You do not have a right to talk about it. I decide what we do." As a member of the panchayat, Natu's right of opinion and expression was violated during the public meeting.

Natu tried to file a complaint at the Nadiad Police Station against these public servants several times after the first meeting regarding the practice of untouchability. But the police refused to register his complaint. The Police Sub-Inspector (PSI), Mr. A.S. Sayyed, who refused to register a complaint, was reportedly influenced by a Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Mr. Natvarsinh Chauhan, who has supports the dominant caste community in Marida village.(photo 3: victim Natu Dahya)

Half a year later, on 7 July 2007, the Nadiad Police Station registered a First Information Report (FIR) (Register No. 27/2007) only after Natu called for his complaint to be registered while holding a sitting-in protest in front of the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP)'s office. The crimes in the FIR against the accused are under Indian Penal Code 1860; Sections 506 (criminal intimidation) and 114 (abetting an offence) and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 Section 3(1)(x) (intentionally insult or intimidation with intent to humiliate a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe in public view).

After Natu's complaint, two accused, Mahesh Ranchhod and Nanji Dipa repeatedly pressured the victim to withdraw the complaint and threatened that they would break the victim's leg and kill him.

On 21 August 2007, the Kheda District Development officer Mr. G.R. Chaudhary ordered a suspension of the accused village head, Mr. Vinu Shana Chauhan, under the Panchayats Act 1993 Section 59 (1) (Suspension of Sarpanch or Upa-Sarpanch). The revenue officer Mr. Mangal was also suspended. Vinu Shana, however, was reinstated by the State Development Commissioner after his appeal to the state government.

Caste based discrimination against the victim continued even in court. On 11 January 2008, Natu's case was taken up at the Fast Track Court of Nadiad. While Natu was giving his statement under oath in court, the Sessions Judge Mr. Sethi Punjabi said the following (as written in the victim and the witnesses' affidavits):

"I am a Punjabi by caste. Even if someone called me 'Shikh' instead of 'Punjabi', I would not consider it as an abuse."

"It is normal… normal in the country. I also feel so. Why did you file a complaint? In my chamber, I used to have two sets of paper plates to offer snacks. I offer different plates to different people. In doing so, nothing is illegal and there are not any forms of discrimination. It is a personal choice. You should not take it as discrimination."

"When I was in Junagadh district posted at Junagadh Court, I took a cigarette only when it was offered by a Patel (upper caste). I did not take cigarettes offered by other low castes."

The judge's biased attitude reflected in his statements during the hearing prevented the victim, Natu, from giving an appropriate statement in court. On 15 January 2008, the victim submitted a complaint against Sessions Judge Mr. Sethi Punjabi to District Judge R.M. Parmar; the Chief Justice of Gujarat High Court; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; and the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of India.

However, the victim has not received any response from the authorities about his complaint against the Sessions judge. The case against four accused is also pending in court.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

In Marida village of Kheda district, 125 kilometers south of Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, the Thakor community (Other Backward Class; OBC) is politically and economically a dominant caste.

Out of a total of 500 households in Marida village, 300 households are from Thakor or Darbar (dominant caste) communities. 50 households belong to the Patel (upper caste) community. There is a Dalit community (Scheduled Caste; SC, in legal parlance) of 65 households, other OBCs and a Muslim community. (Photo 4, photo 5, photo 6 and photo 7 of Marida village)

According to the villagers, the majority Thakor community members have discriminated against and abused other communities to politically control the village. Five years ago, one Patel was elected as a village head but had to resign during his term as he was abused and threatened by members of the Thakor community. The Thakors occupy various political positions to dominate the village. The accused in this case are all from the Thakor community; 10 out of the total 13 people attending panchayat meetings also belong to the Thakor community. As this case describes, Thakor community members also pressure the local police not to register the complaint against their community members.

The victim, Natu, was the first Dalit member of the panchayat of Marida village who ever tried to sit on a chair during a panchayat meeting. There were other Dalit members of the panchayat before Natu, but they had never tried sitting on a chair during a panchayat meeting, due to the practice of 'untouchability' by other panchayat members. It was not until the fifth panchayat meeting that Natu was able to sit on a chair.

ADDITIONAL COMMENT:

Local police generally refuse to register complaints regarding caste based discrimination at the local police station. This is the first obstacle in the justice system in India. For a Dalit victim this acts as a double hurdle. If the victim persists, and keeps pushing his complaint over time, the case is more likely to be registered. This illuminates the link between local police with dominant caste persons. Both the neglect of police authority and pressure of third-party dominant caste members are neither properly investigated nor punished.

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (SC/ST Act) 1989
3(2)(vii) states that being a public servant, commits any offence under this section, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than one year but which may extend to the punishment provided for that offence.

In the FIR against the four accused, however, the police failed to mention this section, providing space to reduce the gravity of the accused's crimes. In this case, some of the accused are public servants (as two of the accused served as panchayat members during the meeting); not only did they neglect their duties, but they also committed an offence under the SC/ST Act.

The SC/ST Act 1989 Section 4 also provides for the punishment of a public servant who willfully neglects the duties required to be performed by him under this Act. It emphasizes the importance of public servants' duty to prevent caste based discrimination or atrocities.

Needless to say, that this case occurred in the public sphere and by public servants demonstrates both the intensity, seriousness and prevalence of caste based discrimination in Indian society. In particular, the Sessions judge's caste biased attitude and statements during the hearing directly explains that "untouchability" exists in India, and is even considered a normal phenomenon. This may be a major reason why the SC/ST Act is openly ignored or belittled, even in court.

In accordance with the International Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD, Articles 1 and 2, special measure), General Recommendation XXIX (2002) recommends to formulate and put into action a comprehensive national strategy with the participation of members of the affected communities, in order to eliminate discrimination against members of descent-based groups.

Even though the government of India introduced a policy of reservation for the Dalits and women, "untouchability" in the public field continues unabated.

The ICERD recommends immediate and effective measures, particularly in the fields of teaching, education, culture and information, in order to combat prejudices (Article 7). In the ICERD's General Recommendation, furthermore, it is recommended to organise training programmes for public officials and law-enforcement agencies, with a view towards preventing injustices based on prejudice against descent-based communities.

03 May, 2008

Amnesty urges India to abolish death penalty

As about 400 people are languishing in Indian prisons on death row, rights body Amnesty International on Friday appealed to the government to immediately impose a moratorium on executions as an interim step towards abolishing death penalty.

The Amnesty International said at least 140 persons were sentenced to death in the last two years while about 400 were still in jails on death row.

In its report 'Lethal Lottery: The Death Penalty in India', the rights body alleged that the administration of death penalty in the country is "manifestly flawed and fraught with error".

"It is shocking that most death sentences handed down in India are based on circumstantial evidence alone. Over the 700 cases examined, more than 100 were found to have resulted in acquittals by Supreme Court.

"...These are perhaps the most blatant examples of arbitrary and deadly potential of the criminal justice system," the report claimed.

The rights body said they feared the Indian leaders lacked the "political courage and human rights leadership" to abolish death penalty.

"Public opinion often supports retention of the death penalty based on the erroneous view that it deters violent crime. It is therefore up to the nation's leadership to explain the futility of retaining executions on this basis," it said.

Global observance of one year of Dr. Binayak Sen’s unjust detention

Several organizations have issued an appeal calling for observation of one year pf Dr. Binayak Sen’s unjust detention. The following is the text of the appeal:

On May 13th/14th, 2008 Dr. Binayak Sen, an activist with a lifelong commitment to the issues of community health and human rights, will complete his first year of unjust imprisonment at the Raipur Central jail in Chhattisgarh. Organizations across the globe will be holding events on the evening of May 13th, 2008 to mark one year of his imprisonment. We appeal to your organization to hold rallies, candlelight vigils or lectures against his unconstitutional detention. Please let us know at freebsen@gmail.com if your organization would endorse this appeal.

Dr. Sen's life has been focused on providing healthcare to the most marginalized sections of the society. By setting up the unique Shaheed Hospital, the community-driven work of Rupantar and his broader involvement with Jan Swasthya Abhiyan – the Indian circle of the People's Health Movement, Dr. Sen has made healthcare available to people who have been ignored by government or private systems.

As the State Secretary of People's Union for Civil Liberties of Chhattisgarh and the national Vice President, Dr. Sen has uncovered human rights violations by the state and other armed groups. He has highlighted starvation deaths, dysentery epidemics, poor conditions of under trial prisoners, custodial deaths and extra judicial killings. Dr. Sen has also worked on the issues of right to food, work, health and education. He has been amongst the most vocal opponents of Salwa Judum, a private militia movement armed by the Chhattisgarh Government to combat Maoist insurgency – that has contributed to a spiraling increase in violence and displacement of thousands of tribals. Even the Supreme Court of India has issued a strong disapproval of the Salwa Judum, citing concerns similar to those raised by Dr. Sen.

On May 14th, 2007 Dr. Sen was arrested in Raipur under the repressive Chhattisgarsh Special Public Security Act, 2005 (CSPSA) and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 2004 (UAPA) on charges of sedition, conspiracy to wage war against the state and conspiracy to commit other offences. The continuing detention of an activist committed to non-violence and social justice is a mockery of justice itself. He now remains imprisoned for a year without trial or bail, including a cruel spell of solitary confinement.

Dr. Sen is victim to an increasing trend of arresting human rights activists in India for challenging state authority. Lachit Bordoloi, a human rights activist from Assam; Prashant Rahi, journalist from Uttarakhand; Govindan Kutty, editor of People's March in Kerala; Praful Jha, a journalist from Chhattisgarh; Vernon Gonsalves, an activist from Nasik; Arun Ferreira, Ashok Reddy, Dhanendra Bhurule, Naresh Bansode, activists from Vidarbha have all been charged under the UAPA and kept under prolonged detention without bail.

We appeal to the international community to speak out against the stifling of pro-poor and democratic voices such as Dr. Binayak Sen's. The international community has already shown its appreciation by bestowing the Jonathan Mann award for public health and human rights on him. In addition, the UAPA and the CSPSA must be repealed, and the Chhattisgarh government should stop its support for Salwa Judum.


Endorsed by:
Association of India's Development
Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia, MIT
Friends of South Asia: FOSA
International South Asia Forum: INSAF, NYC
Peoples Health Movement, USA
Campaign to Stop Funding Hate

For more information, please see:
• A petition to free Dr. Sen: http://www.petitiononline.com/Binayak/petition.html
• Statement of solidarity with Dr. Sen from internationally renowned intellectuals: http://monthlyreview.org/0607sen.htm
• Announcement of the Jonathan Mann Award for Dr. Sen: http://www.globalhealth.org/news/article/9833
• Resources on Dr. Sen and the status of the trial:
o http://www.freebinayaksen.org/
o http://www.savebinayak.ukaid.org.uk/index.html
• An article on Dr. Sen's imprisonment in the context of the political economy of Chhattisgarh: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/amr140607.html
• Medico Friend Circle Brochure on Dr. Binayak Sen:
http://www.mail-archive.com/greenyouth@googlegroups.com/msg03256.html
• An analysis of Dr. Sen's case from the PUCL website: http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Human-rights/2007/sen-case-analysis.html • Background information on the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act, 2006 http://oldcontent.newswatch.in/news-analyses/attacks-on-scribes/3893.html
• Background information on the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 2004 from Human Rights Features: http://www.hrdc.net/sahrdc/hrfeatures/HRF106.htm
• Information on other activists under the UAPA, 2004:
o Amnesty International on journalists Prashant Rahi, Govindan Kutty and Praful Jha: http://www.amnestyusa.org/document.php?lang=e&id=ENGASA200032008
o Frontline Defenders on Lachit Bordoloi of MASS: http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/1360
o Background on the arrest of Vernon Gonsalves, Shridhar Shrinivasan and Adv KD Rao: http://www.lawyerscollective.org/content/letters-0
o Background on Arun Ferreira http://in.news.yahoo.com/hindustantimes/20080411/r_t_ht_nl_general/tnl-naxal-prisoners-protest-torture-in-n-7244580.html

Information about Salwa Judum: When the State Makes War on its Own People—A report from human rights organizations in India, 2006 http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Human-rights/2006/slawajudum.htm

AHRC tribute to Nirmala Deshpande


Nirmila Deshpande, a well known peace crusader of India, died on May 1, 2008, after a long period of illness. She was 79-years-old and left behind so many followers who like her, wanted peace. From her early years she was a Gandhian and an enlightened person whose only aim in life was to work for the cause of humanity. Nirmila was the one by whose efforts the bus service between different cities of India and Pakistan particularly, between the Kashmiri people of both sides, were started. She worked extensively all her life for peace among various religious and linguistic communities in India and to achieve this cause she undertook a 40,000-km padyatra (long march) across India to carry Mahatma Gandhi's message of Gram Swaraj. She firmly believed that although it was difficult to practice Gandhian principles, it was the only way towards a truly democratic society.

At the time of her death she was Chairperson of the Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy, an organization with chapters all over India and Pakistan that works for peace in the region.

For peace in South Asia, she worked hard, particularly for a people to people dialogue between India and Pakistan and also between different countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, (SAARC). She remained closely associated with a very large number of diverse, dedicated and committed social and cultural organizations, a few prominent ones being the Indo-Pak Soldiers’ Initiative for Peace (I.P.S.I.), Harijan Sevak Sangh (H.S.S.) and Association of Peoples of Asia (A.P.A.). The Peoples’ Integration Council was one such association that was very dear to her heart which she had personally nurtured to mobilize all sections of the society for national integration and communal harmony and which led a Satyagraha on the Indo-Tibet border. This was done in 1997 along with organising and participating in conferences, seminars and marches for the cause of Tibet and Burma. Akhil Bharat Rachnatmak Samaj (A.B.R.S.) was another one of her very
Nirmila Deshpande was known as Didi (elder sister) all over South Asia and other parts of Asia. She was member of the Rajia Sabha (Upper House) and she was elected twice for its membership. She got three honorary doctorate degrees from different universities. Didi was the writer of several books including novels, dramas and travelogues. The books written by her include, her memoirs of the days she spent with Vinoba Bhave (published in four languages- Hindi, Marathi, Telugu and Gujarati). Another book she wrote was about the life and times of Vinoba Bhave (titled Vinoba, again in four languages Marathi, Hindi, English and Gujarati) and one on Gandhi and his ideology named Sewagram te Sewagram in Marathi. In addition she also edited a Hindi fortnightly, Nityanutan and a journal Maitri on service and spirituality.

She was awarded on so many occasions by so many organizations that she had herself lost count of them. A few very prominent ones include the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award and the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest citizen’s award.
Didi will be remembered for her time as a peace crusader in a region which is on the verge of self destruction by racing to acquire nuclear arms over the importance of feeding millions of poverty ridden people.

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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