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

30 June, 2008

Indian government portal for public grievances

The following is a message forwarded by Rights Support Centre

The Government of India has an online Grievance forum at http://darpg-grievance.nic.in

Can you imagine this is happening in INDIA?

The govt. wants people to use this tool to highlight the problems they faced while dealing with Government officials or departments like Passport Office, Electricity board, BSNL/MTNL, Railways etc.

I know many people will say that these things don't work in India, but this actually works as one of our colleague in CSC found. The guy I'm talking about lives in Faridabad. Couple of months back, the Faridabad Municipal Corporation laid new roads in his area and the residents were very happy about it. But two weeks later, BSNL dug up the newly laid roads to install new cables which annoyed all the residents including this guy. But it was only this guy! Who used the above listed grievance forum to highlight his concern. And to his surprise, BSNL and Municipal Corporation of Faridabad were served a show because notice and the guy received a copy of the notice in one week. Government has asked the MC and BSNL about the goof up as it's clear that both the government departments were not in sync at all.

So use this grievance forum and educate others who don't know about this facility. This way we can at least raise our concerns instead of just talking about the 'System' in India.

Invite your friends to contribute for many such happenings.

PLEASE SPREAD THIS MESSAGE IF YOU WANT OUR INDIA TO HAVE A BETTER TOMORROW & FORWARD THIS MAIL TO AS MANY AS POSSIBLE.

29 June, 2008

Stop ‘Yoga Evangelist’, says Rationalist leader

Sanal Edamaruku of the Rationalist Association has called upon the authorities to stop ‘yoga evangelist’ Swami Ramdev.

The Swami reportedly has millions in his thrall. Critics say devotees are being duped.

See Rationalist International bulletin

28 June, 2008

No ice at the North Pole?

It seems unthinkable, but for the first time in human history, ice is on course to disappear entirely from the North Pole this year, according to a report in the Independent.

Scientists say the ice at 90 degrees north may well have melted away by the summer, writes Steve Connor.

Over to the report, circulated by countercurrents.org.

27 June, 2008

International Dalit-Minorities Convention in US

An International Dalit-Minorities Conference will be held at Mariott-Long Island, Uniondale, New York, from July 4 to 6 to discuss the challenges and opportunities before minorities, Dalits, and other suppressed classes of India.

Ram Vilas Paswan, India's Minister of Steel, will chair the conference.

The main organizer of the conference is the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI), which will also be holding its XVII North American Annual Convention in conjunction with the conference.

Details at AFMI site.

26 June, 2008

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

On 26 June 1987 the Convention against Torture came into force. It was an important step in the process of globalizing human rights and acknowledging that torture, and all forms of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, are absolutely and universally illegal.

Since then many human rights groups have been observing the day as International Day against Torture.

In 1997, the United Nations General Assembly decided to mark this historic date and designated 26 June each year as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
On 9 August 1999 several human rights organizations jointly submitted to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights a manual on the effective investigation and documentation of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The document, known as Istanbul Protocol provides a set of guidelines for the assessment of persons who allege torture and ill treatment.

24 June, 2008

National Coalition of South Asian Organizations in US

The National Coalition of South Asian Organizations (NCSO), said to be the first coalition of South Asian organizations in the United States, is launching its national policy and action agenda and collaborative projects today (June 24) in New York City.

A press release issued by Coalition and forwarded by SAJAforum, says NCSO is comprised of 29 organizations that empower South Asian communities in 12 metropolitan areas around the US through social service provision, community education, advocacy and organizing.

Over 2.7 million South Asians live in the US today and face a range of issues and concerns. The NCSO's formation, collaborative projects, and release of a national policy and action agenda will increase civic engagement by the community and contribute to positive policy change that can benefit South Asians and all individuals in the United States.

With the 2008 elections on the horizon, the national policy and action agenda will highlight many of the issues facing South Asian communities in the United States.

When asked by SAJAforum if the 29 groups were all progressive, Deepa Iyer, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together - she is spearheading this effort - wrote: "We are all groups who do social change work but not 'progressive' in the frame of a political affiliation as we are all
non-partisan."

The full press release is available at the SAJAforum site.

Contact: Mou Khan/Deepa Iyer, SAALT
301.270.1855; saalt@saalt.org

NCSO Members:


- Adhikaar for Human Rights and Social Justice
- Apna Ghar
- ASHA for Women
- Chaya
- Chhaya CDC
- Council of Peoples Organization
- Counselors Helping (South) Asians/Indians, Inc.
- Daya, Inc.
- Desis Rising Up & Moving
- Indo-American Center
- Maitri
- Manavi
- Michigan Asian Indian Family Services
- Narika
- Raksha
- Sakhi for South Asian Women
- Satrang
- Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund
- Sneha, Inc
- South Asian Americans Leading Together
- South Asian American Policy & Research Institute
- South Asian Health Initiative
- South Asian Mental Health Awareness in Jersey
- South Asian Network
- South Asian Youth Action
- South Asians Stepping in Solidarity
- The Sikh Coalition
- Trikone Northwest
- United Sikhs

Two US TV networks focus on India

CNBC aired a documentary last night (at 10 pm Eastern Time) about
India's business and economy. The program, titled "India Rising: The New Empire," was hosted by high-profile anchor Erin Burnett.

SAJAforum has made it possible for those who missed the program to see it through a web-video link. It has also invited viewers to post their comments at its site.

The same night the PBS show “Now” aired a similar program, titled “India Rising”. (Mercifully, no suggestion of empire). Here’s SAJAforum link to that show.

22 June, 2008

UN classifies rape a 'war tactic'

The UN Security Council has voted unanimously in favour of a resolution classifying rape as a weapon of war.

The document describes the deliberate use of rape as a tactic in war and a threat to international security.

The UN is also setting up an inquiry to report next June on how widespread the practice is and how to tackle it.

For details, see BBC report.

Rape has been used extensively in internal conflicts, too, since time immeorial.

Those who practised untouchability had no qualms about raping 'untouchable' women.

In our own time, the Hindutva brigades in Gujarat and the Marxist cadres in Nandigram used rape as a weapon of war.

21 June, 2008

Maoist communes in Nepal

By Prakash Mahatara

While on the way to a wedding party in Dailekh, the police killed 12 people in the Daha Village Development Committee (VDC) of Jajarkot district, Jumla-Dailekh, on the border of western Nepal in 1998. The police looted food and other things. In the same year, the police killed 8 farmers working on their fields in the nearby Nipani village, and left their bodies in the jungle. After the murder of the men, dozens of kids became orphans and women became widows. It was very tough for these families to survive, even to find enough to eat. To help the people, the CPN-Maoist managed a common settlement for all the families of the slain. Later on, they set up the ‘Juni Commune’, where the families now live and where property is held in common.

At present, there are four communes in Nepal; the Juni commune in Jajarkot, Balidan in Rukum, and the Ajambari and Jaljala communes in Rolpa. The biggest commune is the Ajambari commune. Located in Thawang in Rolpa, it was also a front of struggle during the People’s War. During the Peoples War, the Royal Nepal Army destroyed more than two dozen houses in Thabang, leaving hundreds of people homeless. They were forced to hide in the jungle for 22 days amidst air and land attacks by the Royal Nepal Army. After the Royal Nepal Army threat was repelled, the commune was established. There are 141 people from 38 families living there.

Based on the principle of ‘ from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’, the commune deals with finance, agriculture, education, arms, health, construction, elderly and child care among other things. The commune has members who are illiterate and members who are university graduates. Though there are only four fully-fledged communes, there are more than 50 co-operative communes in Nepal. The commune members say commune settlement and production is a better and more rational system than the old feudalistic production system.

Nirman, the In-Charge of the Juni Commune, says that the feudalist mode of production creates a decentralized labour system that reduces production while the Commune system helps labour and increases production. The commune does not waste money or resources.

Every year at the commune, the anniversary of the People’s War is marked on 1st of the Nepali month of Falgun (February). Although there are Brahmins, Chettris, Dalits, and other nationalities and castes, yet there is no caste discrimination in the commune. There is likewise no gender discrimination, men and women work equally.

The Commune is putting into practice a cultural transformation, to create a more rational way of life. In the commune, for example, if a member dies, they don’t fast or stop taking salt according to religious custom. Instead, they cover the dead body with the flag of the commune in tribute and they set up a dharmasala or a public guest house to their memory.

Soap, confectionary, shoes, pashmina shawls, and biscuits are among some of the things the commune produces. The In-Charge of the Balidan Commune, Deepak Thapa, says: “We aim to convert these cooperatives into a production brigade”. Besides these, some communes also have a hotel, restaurants, a cooperative bank, a hospital, a model school and other services for the commune.

‘All the adults of our commune work with the soil since dawn to sunset, but we never suffer any lack as the adult division looks after us’- says eighty year old Mangal Rooka of the Jaljala commune. “Our commune has finished off the rumours that Communists kill people at the age of 60, but the reality is quite opposite. A group has been mobilized to serve the older people like us.”

Last year, a national conference of the Communes stated that: ‘we will be united until the last drop of blood remain in our body’.

There is a burning necessity in the world to find better and more rational ways to live, to not waste so much, to not be so dependent on petroleum, to not repeat the mistakes that have already destroyed so much of the environment in other parts of the world. The communes in Nepal are a very important experiment for a better way of life, especially for countries with similar conditions to Nepal. For example, in India, so many farmers are driven to suicide because of the feudal system and because of the ruthless exploitation of capitalism. The communes show that a better way of living is possible. – The Red Star, Kathmandu, June 16-30, 2008
Another report from the Red Star is reproduced in KERALA LETTER blog

20 June, 2008

Standing with the poor is a crime

Binayak Sen, Prof. Jean Dreze and Kirity Roy are paying the price for their passion, courage and extraordinary work for the poor, says Gladson Dungdung, a human rights activist associated with Child Rights and You (CRY).

In an article, circulated by countercurrents.org, he writes:

Obviously, this is not a fight between the state and the people like Binayak Sen, Jean Dreze and Kirity Roy but it is a fight of the state versus poor. Whenever the adivasis, dalits, poor and their supporters raise questions against the state they are dubbed "violators of laws", "separatists", "anti-national", “anti-development" and "naxalites" so that their voices can be easily suppressed.

See article “Standing with the poor is a crime”.

19 June, 2008

The real radicalism of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act

By Mihir Shah

The brutal murder of young Jharkhand activist Lalit Mehta exposes the violent opposition of vested interests deeply threatened by the radical provisions of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

Lalit Kumar Mehta, full-time activist of Vikas Sahyog Kendra (VSK), was brutally murdered on the 14th of May 2008, on his way home through the Kandra forest. He was 36. Lalit leaves behind his 28-year-old Adivasi wife and their two babies, aged one and three.

The VSK is an Adivasi-led organisation whose activists have worked over the last 15 years in the Palamu district of Jharkhand for secure rights over natural resources and sustainable livelihoods. Palamu typifies the most backward Adivasi hinterlands of India, whose incredible wealth of natural resources is matched only by the deep distress of its people. Drought, poverty and hunger stalk a land where they can easily be overcome. This requires a people-centred, nature-nourishing approach to development, fine-tuned to the needs of each location. For the VSK, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) holds out precisely such a promise.

Young VSK activists like Lalit have been working hard to make NREGA realise its potential. At the time of his murder, Lalit was busy organising social audits of NREGA works. He was murdered just the day before a major audit was scheduled to take place. A CBI enquiry into the death, bringing his assailants to justice and compensation for Lalit's family are the least the government must do to compensate for this incalculable loss. Meanwhile, it would be instructive to try and understand why NREGA work can turn out to be so fraught with danger. The answer lies in the real radicalism of NREGA.

Mainstream discussions on the employment guarantee have been largely dismissive, left, right and centre. The political right views it as yet another meaningless palliative, a relief programme wasting its time on agriculture and rural development, while unnecessarily burdening the fiscal deficit. For it, the answer lies in getting people out of rural areas by focussing on urbanisation and industrialisation. Completely forgetting that these remedies have failed, despite having been tried for over 50 years now. Others, who occupy the centre of the debate, consider it important to address rural distress, especially in view of growing farmers' suicides but suggest that the much more effective way would be direct cash transfers. They argue that the NREGA needlessly complicates mechanisms of delivery. How much simpler it would be to just hand out doles.
As Lalit's tragic death has shown, these observers completely miss the wood for the trees, ignoring the much larger challenge NREGA poses to governance structures in India's hinterlands. For it is a programme based on a constitutional right to demand work, not dependent on the whimsical largesse of the state. At the extreme left of the political spectrum, there are those who suggest that the NREGA is one big conspiracy, a pain-killer so to speak, that seeks only to legitimise the dominant market-based policies of our time. What they fail to see is that the struggle to deepen democracy at the grass-roots must always imaginatively take advantage of spaces opened up by the state, whatever may or may not have been the compulsions or motivation for them to be created in the first place.

Lalit and his work, now much more eloquently before us, help shake off each of these anti-NREGA misconceptions. By revealing the heinous opposition of threatened vested interests, his ultimate sacrifice teaches us a great deal about the massive transformatory potential inherent in the Act. For NREGA programmes visualise a decisive break with the past. Ever since independence, rural development has largely been the monopoly of local contractors, who have emerged as major agents of exploitation of the rural poor, especially women. Almost every aspect of these programmes, including the schedule of rates that is used to measure and value work done, has been tailor-made for local contractors. These people invariably tend to be local power brokers. They implement programmes in a top-down manner, run roughshod over basic human rights, pay workers a pittance and use labour-displacing machinery.

NREGA is poised to change all that. It places a ban on contractors and their machines. It mandates payment of statutory minimum wages and provides various legal entitlements to workers. It visualises the involvement of local people in every decision - whether it be the selection of works and work-sites, the implementation of projects or their social audit. All of this is obviously incompatible with programmes where the main goal was, in effect, the maximisation of profits of the contractor. But even after the enactment of NREGA, things have been slow to change at the grass-roots. Displaying remarkable ingenuity, the old order is already finding ways to sidestep the radical provisions of the Act. Contractors deploy machines with impunity, even as forged muster rolls are filled up with fictitious names and thumb-marks of workers, to show as if the work was done by labour. This is especially the case in States like Jharkhand, which still do not have elected Gram Panchayats.

It is in this context that activists like Lalit become a major threat for local vested interests, all part of the long chain of recipients of sleaze-money siphoned out of NREGA. Jean Dreze, one of the architects of NREGA, who was with him just hours before he died, says that Lalit's work "revealed high levels of corruption involving people in high places." It is evident that these people were sufficiently threatened to feel compelled to silence Lalit's voice. Even as we struggle to come to terms with the immediate loss of a young life full of adventure and exciting possibilities, this is also a moment of deep reflection for all those who continue to believe in the huge change NREGA can bring to rural India.

The question Lalit's death should pose to us is: have we done enough to make it possible for NREGA to realise its enormous potential? Or will the forces of change represented by people like Lalit continue to hopelessly battle the powers-that-be who want business-as-usual in India's rural hinterlands, especially our Adivasi forest areas?

The problem NREGA faces can be stated in very simple terms. Its ostensible purpose is to overthrow the old contractor-raj but it has done little to offer an adequate replacement. Gram Panchayats have been designated the chief implementing agency but they have not been provided with the support structure required to execute the programme. A new bottom-up, people-centred approach to planning of works and social audit is spoken of but the social mobilisers and technical personnel required to make this a reality have not been supplied. The biggest employment programme ever undertaken in human history faces a huge crunch of quality human resources. This calls for a massive national campaign for capacity building of grass-roots workers. The Schedules of Rates remain the same that the contractor-raj used. They underpay labour, especially in earthen watershed works, making a mockery of statutory minimum wages, a legal entitlement under NREGA. They discriminate against women by underpaying or not even recognising specific work done by them.

Development initiative


The sooner the government realises the anachronism of "new wine in old bottles" that the NREGA has become, the better. This is not an old-style famine relief kind of welfare programme. This is a development initiative, chipping in with crucial public investments for creation of durable assets, which can provide the much-needed impetus to private investment in the most backward regions of India. The thrust is on construction of earthen dams, bunds and ponds as part of a watershed development strategy. On this foundation of water security, can be built a sustainable village development plan that includes a rejuvenated agriculture and allied rural livelihoods. For such a programme to be successful needs a new professional support structure. This structure must be mainstreamed within the government system.

Wherever possible, it can also be provided by civil society. Lalit Mehta's organisation Vikas Sahyog Kendra is part of a National Consortium of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) initiated in 2007. These CSOs, working across 34 districts in 8 States of India, have committed themselves to supporting gram panchayats (GPs) to implement NREGA. They have been formally invited by GPs to help them plan, implement and social audit NREGA work. Consortium partners have worked to create awareness among people about the Act and its provisions, built a dialogue with GP leadership, filled lacunae in the planning process and ensured greater participation of rural people in the functioning of the employment guarantee. Of course, in Jharkhand the absence of GPs is itself the real weakness. But a clear mandate from the government supporting CSOs working on NREGA would provide the much-needed protection to thousands of unsung activists like Lalit Mehta, who in their undiminished optimism about India's future, continue to risk their lives to make initiatives like NREGA a success.


(The writer is co-founder, National Consortium of Civil Society Organisations supporting Gram Panchayats in planning, implementation and social audit of NREGA works.)

18 June, 2008

Paranoia to human rights work is not good, AHRC tells India

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

The authorities in India appear to be becoming paranoid about human rights work in the country. For a country that spares no venue to boast about its justice mechanisms, domestic laws and its commitments towards the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights not only within the country but also outside, this is a noticeable contradiction between promise and performance.

Through a series of incidents reported from India, the latest from the State of West Bengal where the office of a well reputed human rights organization MASUM was raided by the state police on 12 June 2008, the general picture that the Indian authorities are trying to portray is that it will no more take criticism against the country's human rights records. Arbitrary searches of office premises, arrest and detention of human rights activists and blindly accusing human rights defenders as supporters of anti-state forces like the Naxalites or the Maoists are nothing but attempts by a fearful state against its true image getting further exposed.

The express and implied permission and often instructions for these acts relayed by the Indian authorities in the state as well as in the central administration appears to be directed towards silencing the alternate voice of victims of human rights violations. The role of a human rights organization is unfortunately conceived by the Indian authorities as that of a trouble maker. In this aspect India is no different from any other of its immediate neighbours or other countries in Asia.

By authorizing arbitrary and often cowardly acts of retaliation against human rights activists and human rights organisations in India, in fact the administration is creating hurdles against development of the country. A true human rights activist is engaged in the selfless act of bringing to the attention of the authorities about the actual state of affairs from even the remotest parts of the country. It is the duty of a responsible administration to listen to the reports made by the activists and organizations. There is no reason why an administration like that in India should feel annoyed against human rights work for bringing cases of human rights violations to the administration's attention.

It is when simple and basic concerns are not listened to at home that persons seek help from outside. Human rights work is no exception to this general rule.
Had the statements made by the Indian authorities regarding its commitments to human rights values been true, India would have been a better place to live by now. Since the fact is otherwise, and since it does not require any further proof, it is only reasonable to conclude that the authorities in India are merely trying to create an eyewash about fundamental human issues within the country whenever it has been challenged.

It is the duty and responsibility of the Government of India to change this perception, in theory and in practice.

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

17 June, 2008

Why do we become slaves to god-men?

I first saw Nataraja Guru in my childhood. After earning a Ph.D from the Sorbonne, he was working as the headmaster of a high school at Nedunganda, near Varkala, at the time. He had not taken to sanyasa. Many years later I met him for the last time at New Delhi when he arrived there on his way back to Kerala from a European tour. That was when I saw him in saffron clothes for the first time. When I mentioned this, he said, “Had to do it.” I was eager to know what prompted him to make that remark. Even before I could ask, he explained the circumstances in which he started wearing saffron clothes. To maintain the ownership to the Gurukul’s property it was necessary to establish that he had given up worldly life and become a sanyasin. Courts have made observations on how to decide whether or not one was a sanyasin. One of them was that the sanyasin was a habitual wearer of saffron.

Nataraja Guru said Sree Narayana Guru, who used to wear white clothes, switched to saffron in his last days to come within the judicial definition of sanyasin. He was in possession of much property donated by devotees. As such, the switch to saffron was good precaution. He also left a will making it clear that ownership of all the property would vest in the Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham. That, however, did not prevent the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, which, too, was founded by him, from raising a dispute in court. Biographers have recorded that the Maharaja of Travancore, recognizing the Guru’s spiritual attainments, issued a proclamation exempting him from having to appear in court. But the institutions he created are constantly involved in litigation. The affairs of the Dharma Sangham are now under the Supreme Court’s observation.

Sree Narayana Guru and Nataraja Guru took the sanyasin’s robes to prevent alienation of property gifted to them as spiritual leaders. Those who occupy media space today put on the sanyasin’s robes to amass wealth. The game was exposed when Kerala Sabdam weekly reported that Santosh Madhavan, wanted by Interpol in connection with a case of fraud in the United Arab Emirates was living as a sanyasin in Kerala. Television channels, following up the report that Santosh Madhavan, who had cheated a Dubai business woman of AED 400,000, was masquerading as Amrita Chaitanya, confused him with another Santosh Madhavan, wanted by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with a case of arms smuggling. In a bid to take advantage of the confusion, Amrit Chaitanya appeared before TV cameras at a secret location and declared that he was not the one the police were looking for in the arms smuggling case. He also claimed there was no case pending against him anywhere. He even appeared personally before a high-ranking police officer to give his side of the story. The TV appearance had a contrary effect. The Dubai-based Malayali asserted that the man in the TV visuals was the one who had cheated her.

Fake sanyasins need to be exposed. Such exposure must be welcomed, regardless of who does it. But the hunt of sanyasins going on in Kerala now cannot be seen in that light. For, those who are pursuing fake sanyasins are fake hunters. A close scrutiny will reveal that there are political motives behind the hunt.

As Amrita Chaitanya attracted the charge of rape of minor girls, apart from financial irregularities, doubts arose about the conduct of the police, which had let him go without even questioning. A Bharatiya Janata Party leader alleged that Amrita Chaitanya had links with Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son, who is in a Gulf country. When Bhadran alias Himaval Bhadrananda, sitting in a police station, holding a gun to his forehead, waxed eloquent about ‘Balettan’, both the police and the minister invited ridicule. The minister’s son threatened to take legal action against the BJP leader for levelling charges against him without adducing any evidence. The minister himself asked media persons helplessly what he could do if someone called him brother. It was after these incidents showed up the establishment in a bad light the police and the Democratic Youth Federation of India launched the hunt for fake saints. The Home Minister said action would be taken against those who took the law into their own hands but nothing was done in this respect. The Chief Minister said DYFI need not do the job of the police. DYFI is under the control of the CPI (M). In the party, the decisive voice is the secretary’s, not the Chief Minister’s. The party secretary did not utter a word which gave any hint of displeasure at the DYFI action.

The CPI (M) was not alone in acting with political motives. The sanyasins are a group on which the BJP has relied since long to carry forward its Hindutva agenda. As the police and CPI (M) youths started exposing fake sanyasins, the BJP mounted resistance. As part of the effort, its youth wing, the Bharatiya Yuva Morcha, started looking for fake elements in the Christian and Muslim communities. Although this raised the possibility of communal polarization, no such thing happened. The CPI (M) added non-Hindu frauds to its hit list and the BJP added sanyasins with Marxist links to its. The Youth Congress, too, organized demonstrations against pro-Marxist frauds. When Aryadan Shaukat proposed the name of the Thangal of Panakkad for inclusion in the list of dubious saints, the Chief Minister seconded it. But the party secretary did not take it up. Youth brigades of all parties joined the hunt for sanyasins, but the police vent its spleen more on Youth Congress men than on the rest, betraying political bias. By providing a common ground to both the factions in the party, the hunt boosted the efforts to contain sectarianism in the CPI (M).

In the modern period, Kerala has produced several spiritual leaders like Vidyadhiraja Chattampi Swamikal, Sree Narayana Guru, Nataraja Guru, Nityachaitanya Yati and Swami Ranganathananda. What drew people towards them were their scholarship, simple lifestyle and keen interest in the welfare of the society. Many great saints had invited scorn early in their lives. Eventually they gained recognition by leading exemplary lives and rendering selfless service. The lifestyles of most of the people make it clear that they are a different breed.

The entry of fake saints must be viewed in the context of the changes that have taken place in the thinking of the society. Fifty or one hundred years ago, money was not widely recognized as a measure of success in life. The belief that even if one made money through shameful ways the money will wipe out the shame had not yet gained ground. Teachers could teach children lines like “Why do you need money if you have skills? Why keep ghee also when there is butter?” with full faith. And the students could imbibe the lesson without difficulty. You will have to give the term ‘skills’ a different meaning from what the poet meant to persuade today’s kids to accept those lines.

Ours is a society full of people seeking means to make quick money. Those who feel confident in their studies fulfil their hopes by becoming engineers and doctors. Parents who have the money translate their dreams into reality by buying not only college seats but, possibly, also degrees and jobs for their children. For a long time, the school system has been allowing students to go unhindered till the 10th standard. After that came the big examination in which nearly half the students, numbering about 250,000, were eliminated. After ten years of schooling, many of them were unfit to do manual labour. Education had alienated them from physical work, but it had not qualified them for white-collar jobs. When the education reforms now under way are completed, students will be able to go up to the 12th standard without hindrance. They may be able to avoid failure in the examination even at that point. There is, however, no reason to believe that those who pass Class XII under the new system will have a better future than those who failed Class X under the old system.

The government, the media and the youth organizations who are engaged in the hunt for fake sanyasins have provided little information about the social and educational background of those whom they have uncovered. It should cause no surprise if a scrutiny reveals that most of them are victims of the education system. How long did they study? Did they pass? Or did they fail? These are not really relevant questions. The only relevant question is: did education equip them to make an honest living? Sanyasa is but one of several areas where youths cheated by the education system find work that does not demand hard labour. They sneak into other fields too -- from gangs to politics.

Today Kerala offers tremendous scope for spiritual trade. Temples, which only people from the immediate neighbourhood visited 50 years ago, are now attracting devotees from far and wide. Family shrines have grown into regional institutions, and regional institutions have grown into national institutions. Churches and mosques have grown in numbers and as swell as size. According to Dr James Vadakkumchery, who was criminologist in the police department, there are fewer than 100 fake sanyasins in the State. Considering the possibilities of the market, this cannot be considered a large number.

Just as there are good people and bad people among sanyasins, there are good people and bad people among those who fall in their net. Those looking for solace belong to the former category. Those seeking material gains belong to the latter category. As life’s struggle intensifies, the number of people needing solace goes up. Not only losers in the struggle, but even those who succeed often come under severe stress. A good proportion of those who seek the help psychiatrists are family members of emigrants to the Gulf States.

If those who are looking for short-cuts end up in the company of fake sanyasins, it can be seen as a natural process like birds of the same feather flocking together. It is not easy to prevent that. The law has to take care of such people. But civil society must consider how it can prevent good people from falling into the hands of fake sanyasins. By raising a simple question, one can easily identify the fake ones: why do sanyasins need women and money? If there is a mechanism to take care of the needs of those wanting solace in a scientific manner and public comes to place trust in it, we may be able to prevent people from going to fake sanyasins.

An editorial which a CPI (M) publication carried under the heading “False sanyasins and false gods” brings to mind the figure of an ostrich standing with its head firmly planted in the sand. It says, “New god-men and goddesses are being born daily in the laze and inertia of progressive Kerala. The social mind alienated from political and cultural awareness is the most convenient place where gods can rest.” Who led Kerala into a state of laziness and inertia? How did Kerala’s social mind which unfailingly puts the CPI (M) in power in every alternate election get alienated from political and cultural awareness? There can be only one answer to these questions: as the political gods and prophets in whom they reposed faith are failing, the people are turning to the old gods again. Their minds are now so conditioned that they are ready to accept even false gods and prophets.

Based on article published by Mathrubhumi weekly in edition dated June 15, 2008

16 June, 2008

National Day of Action and Solidarity for Bhopal

Tuesday, JUNE 17 2008, is National Day of Action and Solidarity for Bhopal. The following is an appeal issued jointly by several civil society organizations in this connection:

Dear Friends,

The survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster and activists have been on a dharna at Jantar Mantar for over 75 days. So far there has been no concrete response from the Prime Minister on their demands. On June 9 in response to a peaceful sit-in at South Block they were arrested and children were abused by the Delhi police. In protest, 5 days ago, nine activists started an indefinite hunger strike. Even till today 23 of the Bhopalis are in Tihar Jail and our attempts to secure bail for them has been met with stiff resistance from the State.

This shameful state of affairs must stop. It is crucial that groups across the country unite in support to up the ante on the Manmohan Singh Government.
In consultation with the Bhopal Groups it has been decided to observe a National Day of Action and Solidarity for Bhopal on 17th June 2008 across the country.
We hope you will endorse this call (pasted below), organise events in your cities, towns, regions and stand in solidarity with Bhopalis.

Also collect as many signatures as possible on the statement to PM (pasted below) so that it can be delivered collectively to PMO after 17th.

We have heard from friends and comrades in Delhi, Bombay, Chennai, Coimbatore, Raipur and some other places who will hold some kind of action there. Let us all join hands now…

In Solidarity
Supporters of Bhopal
*****************************
Tuesday, June 17 2008
NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION AND SOLIDARITY FOR BHOPAL
UNITE FOR JUSTICE!NO MORE BHOPALS!
PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH WAKE UP!
HOLD DOW AND UNION CARBIDE ACCOUNTABLE!
23 YEARS IS ENOUGH! WE NEED JUSTICE NOW

For the past 23 years the Bhopalis have had a set of basic and simple demands; those that should have been met decades ago by any Government that claimed to work for its people. With no response forthcoming women, children and men from Bhopal again walked 800 kms to Delhi to remind Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of his promises made in 2006.

PM Singh through his minister Prithvi Raj Chauhan has met the 2 month long dharna with vague and empty promises and the Delhi police has responded to their non-violent protests with beatings and jailing. Several activists are now on an indefinite fast and are being joined by a growing number of people across the country, including several from the USA and UK.

It's time for people across the country to stand up and demand that the Prime Minister respond to their demands which include:
•Setting up of an Empowered Commission on Bhopal and committing the funds required to allow the Commission to function for 30 years for medical, economic, social and environmental rehabilitation.
•Immediate legal action against Dow Chemical and Union Carbide

JOIN US!
On June 17, people across the country will show their solidarity with the Bhopal Struggle by holding various actions in cities, towns, taluks and villages.
You can

Hold a protest demonstration/ die-ins/ human chains, candle light vigils, and raise slogans in support of the struggle and against Dow Chemicals

Submit a memorandum to the local or state government protesting against the inaction of the Government of India

Sign the open statement to the Prime Minister and send it to us (madhuresh@cacim.net) so that it can be collectively handed over to PM

Organise an evening of cultural performances celebrating 23 brave years of struggle by the Bhopalis

Raise financial support for the protestors.

Please visit www.bhopal.net for more details on the ongoing struggle in Jantar Mantar, Delhi or call Shalini at 9891442037. To donate to the Bhopal struggle send your donation by draft/cheque favouring 'The Other Media', with Bhopal Solidarity written on the envelope (The Other Media, B-5/136, Safdarjang Enclave, New Delhi 29). Contact Bipin at 9868280191 for more details.

In solidarity,
Aasha Parivar, AID India, AISA, Amnesty International, Delhi Solidarity Group, Fishermen Coordination of Tamil Nadu & Pondycherry, INSAF, International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, JNUSU, NAPM Delhi, Nadi Ghati Morcha, NCDHR, NFFPFW, PSU, PUCL Rajasthan, People's Union for civil Liberties - Tamil Nadu, Stree Adhikar Sangathan, Students for Bhopal, Tamil Nadu Womens' Collective, Yuva Samvad, CACIM, Corporate Accountability Desk Collective, TN, Delhi Forum, Focus on the Global South, Intercultural Resources, Jagori, The Other Media, Swechcha, Tamil Nadu Environment Council-Dindigul, Human Rights Initiative- Tamil Nadu, Cuddalore District Consumer Protection Organisation, Kanchi Makkal Mandram, Corporate Accountability Desk, Chennai, Speak Out, Salem

and many other alliances, federations, movements and organisations

15 June, 2008

50 years of Armed Forces Special Powers Act in Northeast

by Tom Mangattuthazhe

Fifty years ago, on 22nd May 1958, in the face of rising political dissent in the Northeast, India decided to add to its laws -the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Though enacted only for a year, it has continued since.

Provisions of AFSPA:

Section 1: This section states the name of the Act and the areas to which it extends (Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram).

Section 2: This section sets out the definition of the Act, but leaves much un-defined. Under part (a) in the 1972 version, the armed forces were defined as "the military and Air Force of the Union so operating". In the 1958 version of the Act the definition was of the "military forces and the air forces operating as land forces". In the Lok Sabha Debates which led to the passing of the original Act, Mr Naushir Bharucha commented, "that probably means that the Government very mercifully has not permitted the air forces to shoot or strafe the area ... or to bomb." The Minister of Home Affairs did not confirm this interpretation, but certainly "acting as land forces" should rule out the power to resort to aerial bombardment. Nevertheless, in 1966, the Air Force in Mizoram did resort to aerial bombardment.

Section 2(b) defines a "disturbed area" as any area declared as such under Clause 3 (see discussion below). Section 2(c) states that all other words not defined in the AFSPA have the meanings assigned to them in the Army Act of 1950.

Section 3: This section defines "disturbed area" by stating how an area can be declared disturbed. It grants the power to declare an area disturbed to the Central Government and the Governor of the State, but does not describe the circumstances under which the authority would be justified in making such a declaration. Rather, the AFSPA only requires that such authority be "of the opinion that whole or parts of the area are in a dangerous or disturbed condition such that the use of the Armed Forces in aid of civil powers is necessary." The vagueness of this definition was challenged in Indrajit Barua v. State of Assam case. The court decided that the lack of precision to the definition of a disturbed area was not an issue because the government and people of India understand its meaning. However, since the declaration depends on the satisfaction of the Government official, the declaration that an area is disturbed is not subject to judicial review. So in practice, it is only the government's understanding which classifies an area as disturbed. There is no mechanism for the people to challenge this opinion. Strangely, there are acts which define the term more concretely. In the Disturbed Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1976, an area may be declared disturbed when "a State Government is satisfied that (i) there was, or (ii) there is, in any area within a State extensive disturbance of the public peace and tranquility, by reason of differences or disputes between members of different religions, racial, language, or regional groups or castes or communities, it may ... declare such area to be a disturbed area." The lack of precision in the definition of a disturbed area under the AFSPA demonstrates that the government is not interested in putting safeguards on its application of the AFSPA.

The 1972 amendments to the AFSPA extended the power to declare an area disturbed to the Central Government. In the 1958 version of the AFSPA only the state governments had this power. In the 1972 Lok Sabha debates it was argued that extending this power to the Central Government would take away the State's authority. In the 1958 debates the authority and power of the states in applying the AFSPA was a key issue. The Home Minister had argued that the AFSPA broadened states' power because they could call in the military whenever they chose. The 1972 amendment shows that the Central Government is no longer concerned with the state's power. Rather, the Central Government now has the ability to overrule the opinion of a state governor and declare an area disturbed. This happened in Tripura, when the Central Government declared Tripura a disturbed area, over the opposition of the State Government.
In the 1972 Lok Sabha debates, Mr S D Somasundaram pointed out that there was no need to extend this power to the Central Government, since the President had "the power to intervene in a disturbed State at any time" under the Constitution. This point went unheeded and the Central Government retains the power to apply the AFSPA to the areas it wishes in the Northeast.

Section 4: This section sets out the powers granted to the military stationed in a disturbed area. These powers are granted to the commissioned officer, warrant officer, or non-commissioned officer, only a jawan (private) does not have these powers. The Section allows the armed forces personnel to use force for a variety of reasons.

The army can shoot to kill, under the powers of section 4(a), for the commission or suspicion of the commission of the following offenses: acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons, carrying weapons, or carrying anything which is capable of being used as a fire-arm or ammunition. To justify the invocation of this provision, the officer need only be "of the opinion that it is necessary to do so for the maintenance of public order" and only give "such due warning as he may consider necessary".

The army can destroy property under section 4(b) if it is an arms dump, a fortified position or shelter from where armed attacks are made or are suspected of being made, if the structure is used as a training camp, or as a hide-out by armed gangs or absconders.

The army can arrest anyone without a warrant under section 4(c) who has committed, is suspected of having committed or of being about to commit, a cognisable offense and use any amount of force "necessary to effect the arrest".
Under section 4(d), the army can enter and search without a warrant to make an arrest or to recover any property, arms, ammunition or explosives which are believed to be unlawfully kept on the premises. This section also allows the use of force necessary for the search.

Section 5: This section states that after the military has arrested someone under the AFSPA, they must hand that person over to the nearest police station with the "least possible delay". There is no definition in the act of what constitutes the least possible delay. Some case-law has established that 4 to 5 days is too long. But since this provision has been interpreted as depending on the specifics circumstances of each case, there is no precise amount of time after which the section is violated. The holding of the arrested person, without review by a magistrate, constitutes arbitrary detention.

Section 6: This section establishes that no legal proceeding can be brought against any member of the armed forces acting under the AFSPA, without the permission of the Central Government. This section leaves the victims of the armed forces abuses without a remedy.

This legislation has been used as an instrument to deal with the people of the North-east militarily and not politically. While the people of Punjab had a brief taste of the Act in the 1980s, the people of Kashmir continue to be subjected to the same Act since 1990.

AFSPA violates Indian law

Violation of Article 21 - Right to life
Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life to all people. Under section 4(a) of the AFSPA, which grants armed forces personnel the power to shoot to kill, the constitutional right to life is violated. This law is not fair, just or reasonable because it allows the armed forces to use an excessive amount of force.
Protection against arrest and detention - Article 22Article 22 of the Indian Constitution states that "(1) No person who is arrested shall be detained in custody without being informed, as soon as may be, of the grounds for such arrest nor shall he be denied the right to consult, and to be defended by, a legal practitioner of his choice.

Violation of Indian Criminal Procedure Code ("CrPC")
The CrPC establishes the procedure police officers are to follow for arrests, searches and seizures, a procedure which the army and other para- military are not trained to follow.

Military's Immunity / Lack of Remedies
The members of the Armed Forces in the whole of the Indian territory are protected from arrest for anything done within the line of official duty by Section 45 of the CrPC. Section 6 of the AFSPA provides them with absolute immunity for all atrocities committed under the AFSPA. A person wishing to file suit against a member of the armed forces for abuses under the AFSPA must first seek the permission of the Central Government.

AFSPA violates international law
Under relevant international human rights and humanitarian law standards there is no justification for such an act as the AFSPA. The AFSPA, by its form and in its application, violates
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (the "UDHR"),
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the "ICCPR"),
the Convention Against Torture, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials,
the UN Body of Principles for Protection of All Persons Under any form of Detention, and
the UN Principles on Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra- legal and summary executions.

The UDHR articles which the AFSPA violates are the following:
1 - Free and Equal Dignity and rights,
2 - Non- discrimination,
3 - Life, liberty, security of person,
5 - no torture,
7 - equality before the law,
8 - effective remedy, 9 - no arbitrary arrest,
17 - property.

AFSPA violates international customary law
The UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the UN Body of Principles for Protection of All Persons Under any form of Detention, and the UN Principles on Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal and summary executions all form part of international customary law because they were passed by UN General Assembly resolutions. They lend further strength to the conclusion that the AFSPA violates basic human rights standards.

AFSPA violates international humanitarian law
The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 along with the two optional protocols, constitute the body of international humanitarian law. These provisions are suited to human rights protection in times of armed conflict. Under these conventions the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is given access to all international conflicts. In non-international armed conflicts, the ICRC can only offer its services.

The way forward
The only way to guarantee that the human rights abuses perpetrated by the state and non state actors in the North East is to repeal the AFSPA.

If the Indian Government truly believes that the only way to handle the governance of the Northeastern States is through force, then it must allow the UN bodies to intervene. This can only have a calming influence. Acceptance of UN services would demonstrate that the fighting parties want to bring an end to the violence. The UN involvement could help protect the residents of the North East who are currently trapped in the middle between state and non state actors.

The author, Tom Mangattuthazhe, is Secretary of Diphu Citizens Peace Forum, Secretary of United Christian Forum, Rector of Mission Home, Manja, and Principal of Little Flower School, Manja.
His address:
Bishop'sHouse
Diphu - 782460
Ph.03671- 275003
Mobile.09435066461
Emai.tmangatt@gmail.com
http://DDYC.blogspot.com
http://tommangattuthazhediphu.blogspot.com

14 June, 2008

Another Indian American journalist moving to India

Close on the heels of the announcement that Jyoti Thottam of Time magazine will take over as its South Asia bureau chief in New Delhi comes word that Geeta Anand, the New York-based senior special writer for the Wall Street Journal's investigative group, will move to Mumbai for a few years.

According to a SAJAforum message, Geeta Anand will join the Journal's India team, where she will continue to do investigative work on health, science and the environment (among other stories). She will report to the paper's India bureau chief, Paul Beckett, and joins Peter Wonacott, Eric Bellman and Jackie Range as correspondents based in the country (in addition to stringers and others).

Asked why this job at this time, Anand told SAJAforum: "I've always wanted to write about India, and now is the time where it works both for my family and for the Wall Street Journal for me to be there."

Geeta Anand is the author of 2006 nonfiction book, "The Cure: How a Father Raised $100 Million--And Bucked the Medical Establishment--In a Quest to Save His Children," which is scheduled to be made into a movie titled "Crowley" by the producers of "Erin Brokovich." Just this week, Variety reported that this will be Harrison Ford's next movie (as an actor and executive producer and that filming begins in the fall.

Anand, who shared a 2003 Pulitzer Prize in explanatory reporting for a series of stories on "the roots, significance and impact of corporate scandals in America", is moving with her husband and daughters to the city where she was born and raised. Before moving to the U.S. to study at Dartmouth College and launch her journalism career, she was a top swimmer in India, representing the country in international competition and setting various womens records.

SAJAforum has listed eight US-based South Asians who have moved to India in recent years for major editorial opportunities:
Naresh Fernandes of the Wall Street Journal, now editor of Time Out Mumbai
S. Mitra Kalita of the Washington Post (currently on leave and working in at Mint, a Delhi business daily, as a columnist and editor)
Manjeet Kripalani, South Asia bureau chief of BusinessWeek
Somini Sengupta, South Asia bureau chief of the New York Times
Raju Narisetti, former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, who moved to New Delhi to launch Mint, a business daily
Pankaj Paul, managing editor of the Wilmington (Delaware) News Journal, who moved to New Delhi to become managing editor of The Hindustan Times
Anil Srivatsa, host of "Anil Ki Awaaz," and one of best-known South Asian radio personality in the U.S., now in Delhi as chief operating officer of India Today's Radio Today FM operations
Jyoti Thottam, senior editor of Time, moving to New Delhi to be South Asia bureau chief

Indians on hunger strike in US to avoid deportation

Indian guest workers who say they were trafficked to the post-Katrina Gulf Coast have launched a hunger strike to stay in the United States. Arnoldo Garcia, director of the Immigrant Justice and Rights Program at the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, narrates their tale of woe in a New America Media commentary.

New America Media , Commentary, Arnoldo Garcia, Posted: Jun 12, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On June 11, hundreds of workers from India who were trafficked to the post-Katrina Gulf Coast held a rally outside of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. They demanded that the Attorney General grant them "continued presence" in the United States under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The workers were brought here in 2006 with H2B visas, a U.S. guest worker program, but faced threats and abuse in the United States.

Communities and organizations around the country held various local events and actions on that day to support the Indian workers' demands and challenge the use of guest worker programs. MORE

13 June, 2008

India and the U.S: Growing Market Opportunities

The Georgia Tech Center for International Business Education &
Research (GT CIBER) and the U.S. India Business & Research Center
(USIBRC) are organizing India and the U.S: Growing Market
Opportunities - a symposium on June 16th and 17th, 2008 with support of The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, GIACC and the U.S. Commercial Service. The symposium is sponsored by USIBRC, NIIT Technologies, GIACC, InterContinental Hotels Group, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Arnall Golden Gregory and Haven Trust Bank.

Online registration at
https://epay.gatech.edu/C20793_ustores/web/store_cat.jsp?STOREID=47&CATID=97

For details please contact:
Ani Agnihotri, US India Business and Research Center (USIBRC)
415 Lakehill Court, Alpharetta, GA 30022
Phone: 404-394-6678 E-mail: usibrc@gmail.com

The above information is based on a message from SAJAforum.

11 June, 2008

How India and China fare in research and development: study report

The following message from Vivek Wadhwa, a technology entrepreneur who is currently a fellow at Harvard Law School and executive in residence at Duke University, about his latest research projects has been circulated by SAJAforum.

From: Vivek Wadhwa

As you know my team at Duke and Harvard has been studying the globalization of industries. We are about to release our first report in a series which shows how India and China are becoming major players in global R&D. Even though China is investing hundreds of billions of dollars into next-generation plants to turn the country into an export power in semiconductors, passenger cars, and specialty chemicals, India is ahead in innovation and R&D.

We observed that in the aerospace industry, Indian companies are designing the interiors of luxury jets, in-flight entertainment systems,
collision-control/navigation-control systems, fuel-inverting controls, and other key components of jetliners for American and European corporations.

In the automotive industry, Indian engineers are helping to design bodies, dashboards, and power trains for Detroit vehicle manufacturers.

In telecom and computer networking, Indians are developing futuristic technologies for the intelligent cities which are being constructed in the Middle East. Indian engineers are also developing technology behind the next generations of cell phones for European and American companies.
The first in our series of reports looks at the pharmaceutical industry.

Highlights of the report:

Through detailed interviews with executives of 16 pharmaceutical firms in China and India on their business models, value-chain activities, partnerships and technology capabilities, the researchers found that:

1. Indian and Chinese companies are making strides in the most lucrative segments of global value chains. In less lucrative segments, such as preclinical testing, animal experimentation and manufacturing, Chinese firms appear to be more prevalent.

2. India is regarded as a more mature venue for chemistry and drug-discovery activities than China.

3. Domestic Indian and Chinese firms rarely have the capital and the
regulatory expertise to develop a drug beyond phase II clinical trials. Their commercial development of new intellectual property therefore necessitates relationships with major multinational corporations.

You can see the full press release and download the report itself at
http://www.sajaforum.org/2008/06/globalization-n.html

You can also post your comments there.

06 June, 2008

People’s Tribunals on Torture: People’s Watch Director’s report

The following is a report from Henri Tiphagne, Director, People’s Watch, on the work of the People’s Tribunals constituted as part of the National Project in Preventing Torture

You would have all received details of the series of People’s Tribunals on Torture that People's Watch is organizing under its National Project on Preventing Torture in India being supported by the European Union and Friedrich Nauman Stiftung and being implemented in 9 States in the country namely West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and covering 47 districts in these 9 States.

The project which is in its 3rd year of its implementation, is organizing State level People’s Tribunals on Torture (PTT) and the last one which has been completed was held between 29th and 31st May, 2008. The PTT mentioned above considered 260 cases in all covering in 5 different sessions involving Jury panel comprising:
Justice. H. Suresh, Chairperson of the Jury panel, Former Judge, High Court of Bombay
Dr. S. Balaraman, Former Acting Chairperson, State Human Rights Commission, Kerala
Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi, Chair Person, Institute of Human Rights Education, Former Chair Person, Tamilnadu, State Commission for Women, Former Vice Chancellor of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University
Dr. Markandan, Former Vice Chancellor, Gandhi Gram Rural University,
Mr. V. Karuppan, I.A.S.(Retd), Convenor of National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights
Mr. Tapan Kumar Bose, Secretary General & Trustee, South Asia Forum for Human Rights, Nepal
Dr. R. Senthil , Member of Parliament ( Could not attend )
Mr. S.K. Karventhan, Member of Parliament, Former Vice Chairman of Bar Council of India . ( Could not attend )
Mr. Ashok Chakrabati, Former Senior Director, National Human Rights Commission.
Mr. Ossie Fernandez, Director, Human Rights Foundation, Chennai
Dr. Kalpana Kannabeeran, Professor, NALSAR University of Law , Hydrabad
Dr. K. Mathiharan, Director, Institute of Legal Medicine.
Dr. K.S. Ravindran, Madurai
Ms. Ajeetha, Advocate, Chennai
Mr. Ravikumar, M.L.A. ( Could not attend )
Ms. Vahida Nainar, Ex- Adjunct Professor of Law, CUNY School of Law , Newyork.
Ms. Saumya Uma, Advocate & Coordinator, International Criminal Court- India Campaign
Ms. Priya Pillai, Law Researcher, Bangalore
Dr. K. Senthilathiban, Director, Sparks , Chennai

The speciality of this PTT is that it was not confined only within the venue, but it was carried out on the 29th and 30th night through a series of 17 different public meetings – 8 on the first day i.e., 29th and 9 on the second day i.e. 30th May, 2008 in which the above mentioned Jury members along with 20 other local Jury members participated and patiently heard the cases in full view and participation of the public.

We cannot have better evidence of police brutality than the event that took place during the PTT. The victims who had come to depose were picked up by the police in the night without any procedures for arrest being followed. Thereafter, a police party in mufti was found to be standing outside the premises of Fatima College , the venue of the PTT and the same persons did further resort to illegal arrest when the participants apprehended them and brought them over to Justice H. Suresh for a discussion. This resulted in injuries caused by the police using the ‘handcuffs’ they had in their hands and while the cases were registered against policemen, the Madurai City police also registered false cases against Mr. Henri Tiphagne, the National Director of the NPPTI , Executive Director of People's Watch and the Member of the National Core Group on NGOs of the National Human Rights Commission of India.
The details of the entire PTT are available for you at the website of People's Watch www.pwtn.org along with photographs – they can be viewed at www.pwtn.org/euptttn. html. We are sending you attached a detailed note of what exactly happened. We would be extremely happy if you could kindly take up the matter with the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture as well as any other authorities whom you deem fit.

The National authorities to whom the mail should go are

a) That you send complaints to the Chairperson and Members of the NHRC
Hon'ble Justice Shri S. Rajendra Babu Chairperson 91-11-23382514 (O)
E-Mail: chairnhrc@nic.in

Hon'ble Justice Shri Govind Prasad Mathur Member 91-11-23387328(O)

Hon'ble Sri Justice Y. Bhaskar Rao Member 91-11-23385069 (O)
E-Mail:ybrao@nic.in

Shri R.S. Kalha Member 91-11-23387244(O)
E-Mail:kalha@nic.in

Shri P.C.Sharma Member 91-11-23382432(O)
E-Mail:pcsharma@nic.in

b) That you send complaints to the Chairperson of the State Human Rights Commission - Justice A.S.Venkatachalamoorthy, Chairperson, State Human Rights Commission, Thiruvarangam, 143, P.S. Kumarasamy Raja Salai (Greenways Road), Chennai 600 0028. Ph: 01-44-24951484, Fax; 91-44-24951484, E.mail: shrc@tn.nic.in

c) That you send complaints to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu:
Dr. M.Karunanidhi, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Fort St. George, Chennai 600 009 - cmcell@tn.gov.in

d) That you send complaints to the Chief Secretary to the Govt. of Tamil Nadu: Mr. L. K. Tripathy, IAS, Chief Secretary to the Government of Tamil Nadu, Fort St. George, Chennai 600 009 – cs@tn.gov.in

e) That you send complaints to the Home Secretary to the Govt. of Tamil Nadu Ms. S. Malathi, Home Secretary to the Govt. of Tamil Nadu, Fort St. George, Chennai 600 009; Fx: 044 – 25670596 E.Mail: homesec@tn.gov.in

f) That you send complaints to the Special Secretary to the Public (Law & Order) Department
Mr. T.N.Ramanathan

g) That you send complaints to the Director General of Police, Radhakrishnan Salai, Mylapore, Chennai 600 004 – Please go to the website www.tnpolice.gov.in in that the home page you have a section on mail.

h) That you send complaints to the Commissioner of Police, Madurai the mail ID of cop_mdu@dataone.in

I do hope you will provide us your fullest solidarity on this issue of Human Rights Defenders being targeted during the PTT was conducted which is supported by the European Union.

We wish to bring to your kind attention that we have completed such Peoples’ Tribunals in Kerala and Uttar Pradesh in the month of April. We intend to carry it out in Kolkatta (West Bengal) on 9th and 10th June, in Patna (Bihar) on 9th and 10th July, in Ajmer (Rajasthan) on 15th and 16th July, in Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) on 22nd and 23rd July, in Bhuvaneshwar (Orissa) on 5th and 6th August and in Bangalore (Karnataka) on 12th and 13th August, 2008. All these State level PTTs will then be followed by a National People’s Tribunal in Delhi in the month of October, 2008. We do hope that you will take the liberty of taking up this issue with all concerned authorities with due vigour, speed and solidarity. I would greatly appreciate if a copy of your communications also be duly marked to me for information and further action.
Thanks and regards,
Henri Tiphagne

Blog devoted to India media

Dr. Kiran Thakur, who retired as professor and head of the department of Communications and Journalism, University of Pune, has started a blog devoted to the Indian media scene.

Pasted below is the message I received from him announcing the setting up of the blog:

I have started my blog http://mediasceneindia.blogspot.com/
Please visit. As you can see for yourself, it is an attempt to create a platform for journalists, students and teachers of journalism and others interested in media affairs. I request you to join and help me make it a real Media Scene of India, and not Media scene of Pune as it appears now.

Please send in your experiences, observations and comments about the events concerning media, media education and research. Also, please pass it on to your friends and colleagues with a similar request.

With regards,

Dr. Kiran Thakur
Former Professor and Head
Department of Communication and Journalism
University of Pune

Residence: 3, Indrayani, Patrakarnagar
Pune 4110 016
Maharashtra, India


Phone: + 91 20 25650225
mobile + 91 9373331733

05 June, 2008

We are not sectarian, dogmatic, totalitarian communists, says Prachanda

By Kazuo Nagata
Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent


KATMANDU--The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) won the largest number of seats for a constitution-drafting assembly after its success in the country's April election.

Following is the text of a Yomiuri Shimbun interview with party leader Prachanda, 53, conducted at his residence in Katmandu on Friday (May 30).

The Yomiuri Shimbun: What happens to the [deposed] King? How soon does he have to evacuate the palace? Is he welcome to stay in Nepal?
Prachanda: The whole situation is quite clear. It seems that he has already agreed with the decision of the Constitutional Assembly. If you respect the will of the people, I think he should stay here. He should not go into exile. He should do his business and help his country. We prefer him to be here. He can form a party and he can contest in the election. There's not any barrier.

Do you intend to become prime minister or president?

Before the election we clearly mentioned in our manifesto we will be the first president of the new republican system. People gave us votes in favor of our position. But intensive debate is going on between the political parties and it has not been settled. Because we don't have a majority, and in that situation it is important to have a consensus. Ultimately we should have consensus and we decide who will be the president. Within one week it will be clear.

A new government in a week?

I think so.

What happens to the current prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, in the event his Nepali Congress [Party] becomes part of the coalition with the Maoists?

Just after the election we asked major political parties to form a coalition. Not just the Nepali Congress. As far as role of Koirala is concerned, we have put a proposal he should become the alliance chief. Like Sonia Gandhi [of India's ruling coalition].

How important is relationship with Japan for Nepal?

The relationship with Japan has been important in the whole history of modern Nepal. The cooperation and help of the Japanese people and government have been very strategic and important. Right now we are focusing our attention on economic rebuilding, reconstruction of this country. Japan can play a vital role in reconstruction of this country mainly in economic terms. Political revolution is more or less completed after this election of the Constitutional Assembly and establishment of a federal republic. Now we want to focus on economic revolution and it is very difficult to have sustainable peace without quick development. Peace and development are interrelated. Japan will be our very important partner.

The Japanese and Nepali royal families were very close, but now one of them is gone. Do you think there will be an impact on the bilateral relationship? Do you intend to visit Japan any time soon?

I prefer to visit Japan. After the war Japan has done a miraculous development. I want to learn particularly from Japan's economic development. It is one of our models and inspirations for the reconstruction of our country. I don't think the relationship between Japan and Nepal is a question of the two royal families, but it's a question of the governments and peoples. In coming days the relationship will be closer and cooperation will be more.

It's impressive you are talking about economic development only a few years after hiding underground to fight a guerrilla war. It's also impressive you shifted your focus from military to political means during your struggle with the monarchy. Where does such flexibility come from?

Yeah [laughs]. We are not traditional type of insurgents or thinkers. We are not communists of the sectarian, dogmatic, totalitarian [type], something like that. Eight years ago we decided, unanimously, in the development of democracy in 21st century, and that even in socialism, there should be multiparty competition. This is something new in international communist movement. In a negative way, [King Gyanendra] contributed to the establishment of the democratic republic. If he hadn't taken stupid measures against the people...

Maoists have suspended, but not formally abandoned, military struggle as a means of achieving the party's goals. Are you ready to do so now?

In our guess, after this election, it has been decided by the people for peace and change. I don't think it is necessary to have army struggle again. I don't think there will be any kind of necessity to use arms again. But it doesn't mean nobody should take arms to resist oppression of the government or something like that. I can't predict that.

Do you think the United States will remove the Maoists from its list of terrorist groups soon?

Just recently I had a discussion with the U.S. [Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Evan Feigenbaum] in this room. I think the U.S. is going to change its attitude and policy. They are trying to understand the real dynamics of our country. Slowly, gradually, they are taking more pragmatic steps. In my discussion with the U.S. deputy assistant secretary, I smelled that they were going to take a more flexible attitude. He categorically said. "We'll cooperate with your government." This is something encouraging. We want to have diplomatic relationship with the United States.

Chairman Mao is of course from China and you are also Maoists. What's the relationship between the two Maoists?

I think we all have our own particular type of political and ideological lines, working styles, understandings. Although all Maoists have minimum common features, some of the basic philosophical and ideological points, in strategy and tactics they are all independent. Implementing Marxism and Leninism in a concrete way according to concrete situation is something common. But how to apply it in concrete situation is different from country to country.
(Jun. 3, 2008)

Ten-day fast in protest against arrests and black laws in Chhattisgarh

A 10-day fast, beginning June 16, 2008, is being organized at Raipur in Chhattisgarh to express solidarity with Dr. Binayak Sen, Ajay T G, both members of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, and many others detained under the draconian Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act 2005 and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (1967) amended in 2004.

These draconian laws sanction violation of due process by the state, and thus contravene internationally accepted norms of jurisprudence as well as democratic governance. As Senior Advocate K G Kannabiran, National President of PUCL, argues in his letter to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the CSPSA and UAPA operate by criminalizing the very performance of civil liberties activities, and culpability is decided upon not by direct proof, but through guilt by association.

The PUCL-Chhattisgarh Unit, with Dr. Binayak Sen's active leadership as its General Secretary, had exposed the government-sponsored campaign Salwa Judum in Chhattisgarh, which legitimizes extraconstitutional violence and pits Adivasis against Adivasis.

The fast is to ensure that human rights of marginalized people are not trampled upon and human rights defenders continue to work fearlessly. The fast will end on June 25, the day Emergency rule was declared in 1975.

This will be followed by a National Convention on Repressive Laws & Human Rights on June 25 and 26 at Raipur.

We invite you to join the campaign to end arbitrary abuse of state power and protect democratic rights of ordinary citizens by joining in the fast for any number of days either in Raipur or at your own place.

Rajendra Sail (9826804519) , Gautam Bandopadhyay (9826171304) , Ilina Sen (9425206875) , Kavita Srivastava (9351562965) , Faisal Khan (9313106745) ,
Sandeep Pandey (ashaashram@yahoo.com)

The above message has been received from the Rights Support Centre

Those wishing to demonstrate solidarity by joining the fast for one to ten days, remaining wherever they are, may sign up at the Asha Parivar site.

Murder of activist Lalit Mehta in Jharkhand: demand for CBI probe

The following is a message received from the Rights Support Centre (humanrights.movement@gmail.com)

Dear Friends,

This has reference to Lalit Mehta's murder at Palamau in Jharkhand. Lalit was a full-time activist of the Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand, and Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, Jharkhand and secretary of Vikas Sahayog Kendra, a local organization operating in the Palamau, Garhwa and Latehar districts.

Lalit’s life was snuffed out on 14 May, 2008. He was barely 36. Lalit leaves behind his wife Ashrita, who is an activist and teacher, and two sons aged four and two.

Lalit was a committed activist, who fought relentlessly for implementation of government programmes, especially those related to food, employment and child rights. He along with local people has been demanding the implementation of the Public Distribution System and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) entitlements.

Lalit was killed for raising his voice against corruption in the implementation of the Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in Palamau. He was helping a team of volunteers led by noted economist and Right to food activist Prof. Jean Dreze to conduct a social audit of NREGA works in Chainpur and Chatarpur blocks of Palamau district.

It is indeed ironical that Rights -- which are guaranteed by the Constitution and by various statutes, programmes and budgetary allocations and reinforced by the Supreme Court of India as legal entitlements -- do not get implemented by the authorities responsible for it. In this situation, the task of implementation often falls on the shoulders of people, of right holders and of civil society organizations. And when such democratic forces seek the implementation of these Rights under the Rule of Law framework, vested interests gang up with the bureaucracy and commit such brutal murders and get away.

Lalit's murder is not the first such instance. Many activists have lost their lives for raising their voices against corruption and standing by poor people. The list is long – Satyendra Dubey, Sarita and Mahesh, S. Manjunath, Mahendra Singh, Chandra Shekhar. Lalit's death is another link to that chain.

There is an environment of fear and tension constantly created by the nexus of local contractors, middlemen, bureaucrats and politicians. Activists voicing against human rights violation and against displacement and fighting for the right to food and livelihood are being threatened and harassed.

Friends, if this murder was an act of intimidation, it did not succeed. Friends and supporters from all over Jharkhand and other places came together and have formed a state-level platform named Daman Evam Bhrashtachar Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti (Anti repression and corruption struggle committee). A number of organizations and individuals have condemned Lalit's murder and demanded a CBI enquiry. Letters have been written to the Chief Minister of Jharkhand.

The Samiti launched its campaign against Lalit Mehta's murder with a dharna (sit-in protest) in Ranchi, the State capital on Sunday, May 25. On May 26 a massive public hearing was organized in Chatarpur, which was attended by NREGA Council members Anne Raja and Jean Dreze.

The Samiti supports the demand for a CBI enquiry into the murder. It has planned a State-level rally and public meeting in Ranchi on June 10 to mount pressure on the State government for the purpose. We appeal all social activists, human rights activists and masses to join the rally to demand a CBI enquiry into Lalit's murder and come together in solidarity in the struggle for Justice.

On June 11, the Samiti will hold a seminar on "Social Activism vis-a-vis Backlashes and Threats" in Ranchi.

In Solidarity,

Balram, Gopinath Ghosh, Gurjeet, Byomkesh
on behalf of Daman Evam Bhrashtachar Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, Jharkhand

04 June, 2008

Article Writing Equals Sedition?

Is the police commissioner of a city an incarnation of the state itself? Any sane person will reply in the negative. Perhaps the (newly appointed) police commissioner of Ahmedabad has a different take on the whole issue, says Subash Gatade.

Gatade discusses the case of 'sedition and treason' against the Ahmedabad edition of the Times of India supposedly for carrying a series of articles on his alleged links with a Mafia Don.

Gatade’s article was circulated by countercurrents.org.

03 June, 2008

Scapegoats and Holy Cows: the Indian state’s response to terrorism

The following is a statement and charter of demands released after discussions at the public seminar organized by PEACE, Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) and Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD) at the India International Centre, New Delhi, on May 29, 2008:

Each time there is a bomb blast like the recent one in Jaipur, the Indian State reaches out its 'long arms of injustice' to pick a scapegoat from amidst the Indian population to cover up its own incompetence in providing security to its citizens.
The hapless creature, decorated and demonized by the 'fashion designers' of Indian officialdom, is then paraded before the entire nation to create a public spectacle prior to its ritual sacrifice.

The armchair warriors then call for 'tougher laws' to deal with terrorism while the scapegoat disappears forever into the black hole of the Indian prison system.
That the 'prime suspects' in such cases always happen to be bearded young Muslim men and Islamic theologists to boot is not a surprise at all. In the racist imagination of theadministration, police , intelligence agencies , security forces, sections of the media and politicians all the criminals in this country wear their 'criminality' on their faces- the suspects are always MAD- Muslim, Adivasi, Dalit.

The latest example of such scapegoating comes from Jaipur where within hours of the heinous bomb blasts that killed innocent people the state police has started harassing, arresting and deporting Bangladeshi and Bengali speaking Muslims in the city.
What we have witnessed in the last decade is that after each blast or surprise violent act, arrests are made, organisations named but the police and investigative agencies have not been able to prove their claims in any of the cases. But the people arrested continue to languish in jails or suffer other kinds of victimisation. It is very disturbing as it shows that the agencies responsible for the security of the people are incapable and to cover their inefficiency, they keep abducting people from the minority community which are produced at their chosen time. The real culprits remain at bay and the threat remains undiminished.
However, The Indian state's treatment of scapegoats is in stark contrast to the 'holy cows' it protects, irrespective of their trespasses or crimes against the people of the country.

Whether it be the Hashimpura massacre of 1987, the Babri Masjid demolition and the Mumbai massacre of 1992, the Gujarat genocide of 2002 or the Nanded bomb blasts of 2002, the real culprits are either never apprehended and even if they are - never punished. Despite the open involvement of the leaders of the BJP and Shiv Sena , RSS, VHP and other Sangh outfits in a systematic and consistent hate campaign, organised communal massacres and in stockpiling and manufacture of arms they are never declared terrorist organisations and banned. Open armed parade by the RSS , Trishul dikshas Dikshas are tolerated and allowed. They are the holy cows who are never touched.

It is time to end the division of the Indian people into scapegoats or holy cows and ensure equal justice to all irrespective of caste, class, community or religion. And to achieve this we the citizens of India have to pledge to fight atrocities of the Indian State and its holy cows wherever they occur, from the smallest to the highest levels in the country.

This convention on 'Scapegoats and Holy Cows- The State's 'Response to Terrorism' therefore condemns:

The way innocent people, especially Muslims, across India are being harassed, picked up, arrested and tortured in the name of fighting terrorism;

The existence of draconian 'anti-terrorist' laws like the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, ASPA,1958 and calls for more new ones that will suspend basic Constitutional rights as this will only worsen the problem of terrorism and never solve it.

The victimization of the entire Muslim community in the country without a proper investigation of the role of specific individuals who may come from any community in the country;

The failure of the Indian Home Ministry and national security agencies in providing proper intelligence on terrorist activities and protecting the lives of innocent civilians;

Attempts to prevent lawyers from providing legal assistance to those arrested on 'suspicion' of being involved in the 'terrorist' act;
We further demand the Indian government:

Repeal all repressive laws that have replaced POTA at both the national and state level or are already part of the Indian Penal Code as also the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed Areas Act;

Stop promoting civil war through the unconstitutional arming civilians to fight 'terrorists' as in the case of Salwa Judum in Chattisgarh and also in the Indian northeast and Kashmir;

Closely investigate the involvement of the RSS, VHP and other Sangh outfits in terrorist bomb blasts and attacks as also their vast network of individuals and institutions propagating anti-Constitutional values;

Present a White Paper to the Indian public on the follow up and results of investigations into various terrorist attacks that have happened in the country over the last twenty years;

Present a White Paper on the numbers of Muslims, Adivasis and Dalits imprisoned in the country and the status of the cases against them;

Stop harassing human rights activists and release with due compensation to all innocent people arrested and tortured in the name of countering terrorism;

Make the Indian intelligence service accountable for its grand failures in either warning the public or catching the real masterminds behind terrorist attacks despite all the huge sums of taxpayer money spent on them;

End the culture of fake encounters that has taken hold within the Indian security forces seeking material rewards for their anti-terrorism operations;

Evolve a humane national policy towards foreign migrant labour coming into India from neighbouring countries particularly migrant Muslims, if necessary by promoting a visa-free regime for South Asia;

End the rampant corruption of border security forces that has criminalised the entire migration process and aggravated the problems of both migrants and host populations;

We on our part as citizens of India pledge to;

Fight the demonisation of Muslims and other communities in the country by the Indian state as also sectarian, communal political forces in the country;

Set up an independent Commission comprising retired judges, eminent intellectuals, retired police officials, and journalists to probe into atrocities and discrimination against Muslim as part of anti-terrorism operations.

02 June, 2008

ToI Ahmedabad editor charged with conspiracy against state

Teesta Setalvad writes:

The Resident Editor of Times of India, Ahmedabad, Bharat Desai, has been charged with sedition and conspiring against the state. The charge is contained in a complaint lodged at at the Navrangpura Police Station in Ahmedabad at 3 am on Sunday, June 1.

The Times of India has been running a well documented campaign against the newly appointed Commissioner of Police OP Mathur for having criminal and underworld links.

The complaint has been lodged against Resident Editor, Times of India, Ahmedabad and reporter Prasant Dayal, and Gautam Maheta of Gujarat
Samachar
under sections 120-B, 124-A and 34 of the IPC. CID crime is investigating the complaint.

Please protest and condemn. This is nothing short of an attack on the freedom of the press. Media associations, journalists unions and civil rights bodies must join in
the protest.

Today, journalists in Ahmedabad demonstrated outside the Commissioner
of Police's office at 11 am. Nationwide protests must folow.

Attached below are the downloaded clippings from TOI Ahmedabad and the
Complaint filed against Journalists and the Newspaper by the Gujarat
Police.

Teesta Setalvad


Attachments