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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

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28 December, 2009

Chidambaram’s poke-and-feel tactics with Maoists

TREVOR SELVAM
Countercurrents.org

Talking to reporters on the sidelines of a seminar in Kolkata on Tuesday, December 22, Home Minister P. Chidambaram said: “The government might set up an alternative government structure in the tribal areas, if Maoists come forth to negotiate with logical suggestions.”

“We know that they will not lay down arms. So we are not asking them to lay down arms. Abjure violence and come to (negotiating) table and we ask the state governments to talk to Maoists and address their grievances that requires alternative government structure in some of these tribal areas. We can explore that also,” he added.

"They are not terrorists attacking India from outside. They are rebels who have raised serious issues like lack of development (e)specially in tribal areas. We are prepared to discuss alternative structures of governance with them," Mr. Chidambaram told a meeting.

Nepal as an example?

The government of India, along with the scheming and devious Karat-Yechuri backroom boys, (overnight Mao supporters after years of kick-boxing Mao), put forth a pretty soiled and mucky hand in neutralizing the Nepalese Maoists and then confining them to a benign game of political billiards. The latest news is that the Nepali Maoist leader, while condemning India’s role, has resigned to talking to India, rather than talking to the ruling Nepali coalition. What a predicament! Mr. Prachanda has lost a lot of initiative. One hopes he will regain the stature that his name (means-- the fierce one) stands for. Mr. Chidambaram, on the other hand, knows that the Indian Maoists are not going to be a walkover. That is why day by day, Mr. Chidambaram carefully releases new offers, one at a time. It is like a poke and feel game. If the patient says “ouch”, Mr. Chidambaram will say “Ah!”And poke harder. If the patient slaps him back, he will apply some balm, somewhere else. In either case, Mr. Chidambaram is far from genuine. So far, the patient has not said Ouch. It was really a cakewalk to outwit the ever unpopular Nepali monarchy. In India Mr. Chidambaram, is in charge of the oligarchy, irrespective of the Congress’ thumping election victory. He knows whom he represents. He will do everything to preserve the coterie that he represents. (He no longer represents Enron, because those guys went to jail and closed shop and Vedanta is so discredited in Europe that he has also resigned from their Board).

Let us remember, that Mr. Chidambaram and his confreres have referred to the Naxalites as terrorists and killers in the immediate past. Subsequently, he said he was willing to talk to them if they abjure violence. Now he agrees that they have raised important constitutional issues and they are not terrorists. And finally, he is even willing to consider alternate government structures with them! Is there some turnaround happening here?

Definitely! Only the naive, the hidebound parliamentary “left” and those who secretly want the Naxalites to be destroyed while shedding crocodile tears for the democratic process, would think otherwise.

THREE MAIN REASONS

There are three MAIN reasons why Mr. Chidambaram has made this detailed overture, as opposed to the previous times, when he simply asked the Maoists to abjure violence, before there were talks.

First, (and not necessarily the most important) , it is because there is now worldwide recognition that something is happening in a vast swathe of land in India, which India wants to conceal, cover-up and hide from the worldwide marketplace, where Manmohan Singh is demanding a prominent slot of some sorts. Manmohan Singh wants to step aside from the G77, he wants to separate himself from Afro-Asian-Latin American solidarity and develop the new rump bloc with Brazil, China, Russia, South Africa and he does not want the world to talk about Human Rights violations, about the notorious and dismal record of the Indian Police and paramilitary forces, the documented torture and fake encounters that have been going on forever and right up to this very moment in Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Andhra and Dantewada. He does not also want to bring any more attention to the nearly 25% of India’s original citizenry, who after 62 years of Independence do not have any health, education, drinking water, road access and are in the worst conditions of sub-malnutrition (The Adivasis have the worst body mass index (BMI) amongst all of India’s poor) . We know that until now, they had been left alone to eke out whatever they could in India’s forests, rivers and mountains. They were generally being neglected. Benign would be the correct adjective. Their voice was not being heard loud enough in the pink corridors of the Indian Parliament.

Suddenly, the new-fangled, fat-cheeked, dough-boy, ghee encrusted, Kellogg’s Super-K chomping, neo-liberal hodgepodge humbugs that make up India’s nouveau riche, have “discovered” India’s Adivasis and the fact that they are sitting on so much uranium, copper, bauxite, iron ore, diamonds, water and lumber, makes them mighty angry! Who the hell are these negroid, australoid, big-nosed, fat lipped folks lurking around in “our” mountains and forests, they ask? So let’s call them all Maoists (used to be China –trained “hostiles” in the past) and shove them into the Salwa Judum internment camps. India’s first citizens have become DPs in their own land. And the world is beginning to find out. So, Manmohan Singh needs to do some damage control.

Manmohan Singh knows very well that with inclusion in elite clubs, comes discussion on civic society norms, juridical process reviews, general economic well-being and human rights issues amongst others. India routinely fends off the findings of Amnesty International and Human Rights organizations by making deflectionary statements or blanket denials. So does China. So does Russia. So does Israel, whom no nation really wants to openly align with except the US and Canada (and India, less obtrusively, though). India makes the US Patriot Act look like a bland mutter-paneer concoction when you compare the old POTA and its new avatar, the UAPA preventive detention acts. Detention without trial and use of “unlawful activity” as a blanket means to curtail any viable opposition is India’s forte from the time of the old PDA and the MISA, which were used against the first generation Naxalites. Despite routine parroting of India’s growth rate, the level of death due to poor hygiene (diarrhea) India heads the world. When it comes to Human Growth Index, India fares at the level of the Sub-saharan countries and India, since liberalization, has increased its number of hungry by 38%.

So, Manmohan Singh has told his sidekick and Corporate Home Minister (Thank you, Mr. Gladson Dungdung, the resolute journalist from Jharkhand--- for repeatedly referring to him that way) to cool his heels, get off his high horse and slow down the rhetoric on Operation Green Hunt. Now, all of a sudden, there has been no Green Hunt ever in the works! Poof! No Green Hunt to drop from anyone’s lips. (Even though the Police Inspector Generals in the affected areas are making repeated references to exactly that, to the embarrassment of Mr. Chidambaram, to this day). Suddenly it has dawned on the infinite wisdom of Manmohan Singh that you cannot bloody well ‘Hunt” down your own people and call them terrorists! That you cannot let law-and-order yahoos and “counter-insurgency experts” like KPS Gill act like “intellectuals” and do their told-you-so tough talk. All the big shot “advisors" from KPS Gill and right down to Thana chiefs, say one way or the other that the Police are uncontrollable and furthermore they will do "whatever they need to do, even if it impinges on the law" to destroy the Naxalites. KPS Gill provided special training to his police officers on how to make a murderous rampage look like an encounter and he openly boasted about it. India does not need these cowboys as national treasures. They should settle down somewhere else. I think Mr. Singh understands these issues.

Second, because Mr. Chidambaram wants to get on with the scores of MOUs that have been signed. It is not because the POSCOs, Tatas, Jindals , Vedanta etc are putting pressure, although they are the ones who have financed the Salwa Judum heavily and engaged in the Mafia-Police nexus to prevent journalists and environmental activists from entering the affected areas. The fact is that Mr. Chidambaram can afford to offer to reopen and reexamine all the MOUs that have been signed, because in the final analysis his outlook is long term. He needs to straighten out the current account deficit which is over 30 billion dollars and a new injection of FDIs could help at least generate some growth and the false foreign exchange reserves that he and Montek Ahluwalia are so gung ho about. Numbers matter and in the long run, if you could chip away at the road blocks, it would be perfect for his grand notion to move 85% of India’s population into urban areas. He wants these land acquisitions, even if it takes major compensation and even some compromises with environmental activists. He knows that the setback in the Narmada Bachao Andolan has actually channeled the anger of those who now are aligning themselves with the Maoists. He does not want a repeat. So, yes, he would like to come to a deal, reexamine the MOUs, make some compromises and eventually allow access to the ore to the TNCs and India’s aspiring bollywood-billionaire crowd. He knows that if he does not negotiate now, there will be no negotiations later. Evo Morales has shown one way on how to mobilize native people. India is much bigger in size and complexity. In India, the Naxalites may weave another pattern that is appropriate for India’s objective conditions. Mr. Singh and Mr. Chidambaram are acutely aware that history will record their names in infamy if they carry out a mindless Jallianwalla Bagh over such a large territory and aboriginal people. The Indian left is still analyzing the October Revolution and it may bypass them as well.

Third, despite the rueful outcry of some, the DEMOCRATIC IN-BETWEEN SPACE (between the Maoists and the state) in India exists and has had a serious impact on Mr. Chidambaram, and this space is not under any severe strain as such because of Maoist "brinkmanship" (as proposed by certain proponents of the sham debate on violence versus non-violence). This democratic space is led by very conscientious and courageous intellectuals, economists, writers, legal experts, Gandhian activists who have put their own lives on the line, and as well a vast number of grass roots organizations, of a new type. They are a new Left Democratic Opposition who do not subscribe to the CPI (M) worldview about the Naxalites or for that matter other left wing parliamentarian and non parliamentary "tactical" groups. These Indian patriots have made their presence felt and have directly intervened with Mr. Chidambaram. Mr. Chidambaram is listening to them, perhaps with reluctance. They are India’s conscientious objectors. They have refused the “draft” that is being attempted by the GOI and its apologists in the mainstream media to be with “us” or “them”. They have refused to be drawn in by the continuous branding of Maoists as terrorists, bandits and adventurists. They do not quibble in the pages of webzines and blogs about their "space" being usurped, but carry on their mass struggles and individual actions resolutely. They have a long term view of what real democracy should be all about and how it should be developed in the India’s predominantly rural space and they do not feel that the trappings of democracy make a nation in any way democratic. It is remarkable that the front paw and the most genuine sections of the Gandhian movement have been astute, focused and extraordinarily honest in their reading of the situation. They have not engaged in demonstrative acts of "ahimsa" as they used to often in the past, but have engaged in direct action (padayatra ) despite open hostility by police and Judum goons and have made clear in bold statements that structural violence is the fundamental problem, not the opposition to it. At the same time, they have not hesitated to critique the Maoists, whenever they felt it was necessary.

The “Sandwiched” entities

There is an ahistorical, non-political and hastily conceived understanding of the issues of diplomacy, negotiations and alliances at a time of guerilla war amongst a certain section of the NGO-left. Irrespective of one's criticism of the politics engaged in, by the Maoists, when it comes to asking for "dialogue" and "negotiations" during such a war, there are certain stepping stones. Building blocks. There has to be recognition from both sides and prior agreement on certain areas where negotiations can happen. "Reduced violence" is a ridiculous notion. The Indian State cannot control its police and paramilitary at all. Mr. Chidambaram knows that. Even yesterday, there are reports coming out of Orissa that the police burnt elderly villagers with electrical prods, severed the fingers of little children and shot down some of the mothers. I am sure that Mr. Chidambaram would not encourage such activities and cannot control it either. Yet his police and the police of the state governments are doing just that. Therefore simplistic allusions to "warring parties" "backward hinterlands" by those who want “dialogue” are regrettable and quite out of synch. In this case the imputation here again is the Eurocentric notion that the crème-de-la crème of revolutionary forces resides only in the factories and urban centers and subsequent paternalistic and insulting arguments about the gullibility of the tribals to exploitation by Naxalites is familiar shibboleth that is constantly repeated ad nauseum, including frequent references to Pol Potism to stir up a typical and well known aversion to "Asian despotism". All this does not bode well for the building up to a stage of real dialogue, which is concurrent with the stages of guerilla war, engaged in by the Maoists. You do not negotiate when you are resisting marauding forces, bullet by bullet, and defending vast sections of the population from state-terrorism. You bring the guerilla war to a stage of the strategic stalemate, whereby both the so-called "warring parties" are at a standstill and the intelligentsia, civic society demand to put a stop to the violence. The Maoists are not at that stage.

The Maoists?


Several Maoist leaders in interviews have clearly stated that they are willing to talk.. Even call a cease-fire. But they will NOT give up their arms. Previously, Mr. Chidambaram had demanded so, as a precondition. It is therefore a historic turning point that Mr. Chidambaram has recognized that these citizens of India have a right not to give up their arms, with which they have initiated a war of resistance. They have also openly invited the State to come in and engage in genuine development activities, build health clinics, and provide teachers for schools (instead of paramilitary personnel). Again this is not possible until complete safe passage is provided on both sides and the Maoists have also hinted that it may require International aegis.

It is however extremely important that the Maoists, also understand the following:-

1) That seizure of political power, even in limited remote areas are hollow victories, if they are not at the crest of a process of alternate development, which has already reached some level of maturation. Militarist bravado does not ensure any success whatsoever in the real world of political power. Political victory means having the fundamental support of the majority of the people, if not all.

2) That the alternate development must be such that the people of these regions will discover that after 62 years of neglect, a new form of government is giving them better wages, better price for their produce, civilian justice, especially women’s’ rights, arbitration with contractors, a due taxation system which transfers wealth to the poor, land rights, environmental protection, alternate energy development, clean water, decent roads, teachers for schools and health clinics with facilities and well trained doctors. This is what is worth defending by armed means.

3) The Maoists must also comprehend that ever since the Paris Commune, all attempts at building the norms for a genuine democratic and radical revolutionary organization has not succeeded. Neither the Soviets, nor the communes, nor the collectives or cooperatives were able to be run by people instead of apparatchiks. That is the stark reality. So clutching on to disparate extracts from Lenin or Trotsky, or Stalin and Mao from different historical periods, will not suffice for the Indian revolution. Radical democracy means that the poor must run the party. That should be India’s significant contribution to a new theory of radical democracy. The poor cannot be substituted by a powerful party machinery led by the intelligentsia. Even as recently as Chiapas, the attempts to build a real vanguard party led by the spirit and will of native, aboriginal people did not succeed despite the charismatic politics of Commandante Marcos.

Jal, Jameen, Jungle-that is the fundamental politics that must govern the mass consciousness of the Maoists. When Mr. Chidambaram wants to negotiate, it should not be with a Commander Kishanji or Commander Kosa. It should be with a Santhal/Munda or Gond commander, whose name is unknown (Mr. Citizen Number 1) and whose language Mr. Chidambaram does not speak and there will be the need for a translator. When that happens, the Maoists would have sent their message to the whole world.

4) It is pointless at this stage to hold the Maoists responsible for developing an alternate mode of production, to change the relations of production, to make an efficient alternate economic model. It is more important that they give birth to a need for radical democracy within their socialization and govern the needs of the people of the region with genuine democracy. That would be enough for now..

27 December, 2009

Narayan Dutt Tiwari’s exit

Narayan Dutt Tiwari’s resignation as Governor of Andhra Pradesh on Saturday in the wake of a sex scandal brings to an ignominious end a successful political career that spanned seven long decades.

“I am too old and have no desire to continue as Chief Minister or hold any other assignment and would like to be relieved after a rather illustrious innings,” he was quoted as saying when he decided to relinquish the office of Chief Minister of Uttaranchal three years ago. However, he accepted the governorship of Andhra Pradesh.

He had served more than once as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, before Uttaranchal was carved out it. He had also been a minister at the Centre.

It was a spy camera report telecast by a Telugu news channel that forced him to quit. It showed that Tiwari, 85, was not too old for fun. The channel’s claim that he had intervened in the award of mining licences in return for sexual favours amply justified its intrusion into his privacy.

Tiwari has figured in media reports of sex scandals for at least a decade. The Centre apparently sought his resignation in view of the public outcry caused by the TV expose.

I was personally struck by the feudal charm that Narayan Dutt Tiwari exuded when I met him at Lucknow in 1989. He was serving his third term as UP Chief Minister at the time. I was Associate Editor of Deccan Herald of Bangalore and was touring UP and Bihar to assess the political situation on the eve of the Lok Sabha elections.

Tiwari was holding a press conference when I arrived at his official residence. I sent in my visiting card and he called me in immediately. As I walked into the room, he said, “Welcome,” and then, turning to the local media persons, added, “Mr. Bhaskar comes to us with the fragrance of the South!”

The sexual misconduct which brought the curtain down on Tiwari's public life was part of the feudal air that surrounded him. Several persons in authority are known to have been notorious womanizers. A few years ago Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong’s personal physician, Dr. Li Zhisui, revealed that there was a steady flow of virgins to his bedroom for him to sleep with.

18 December, 2009

Citizens voice concern over media's Soofiya Madani hunt

The following is a statement issued by a group of concerned citizens on Thursday

We, a group of concerned citizens from different walks of life, have come to know that the Kerala police has chargesheeted Soofiya Madani for her alleged involvement in the 2005 Kalamassery bus burning case. We do not want to take a position for or against Soofiya Madanai and we believe that the rule of the law and the constitution of India should prevail.

However, during the past few years we have seen a number of activists, students, scholars and other citizens from the Muslim community being imprisoned and persecuted in the name of combating terrorism. After long years in prison, many of them have been acquitted, free of all charges, by the higher courts. In the meantime most of them have been subjected to all kinds of violations of their fundamental rights. The media has also played a huge role in subverting the judicial process by sensationalizing these cases and publishing baseless stories without any proper investigation.

Soofiya Madani started appearing in news media in the context of the 10 year long imprisonment of her husband Abdul Nasser Madani without a trial. During this period, Soofiya was active in the affairs of the political outfit Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that her husband had founded. Abdul Nassar Madani was finally acquitted after this long incarceration without even as much as a whimper of apology, forget compensation. Following his acquittal, both Abdul Nasser and Soofiya Madani have been active in the electoral politics of Kerala, contesting the last Parliamentary elections along with the ruling Left Democratic Front. One of the cases against Soofiya Madani is that she was allegedly involved in conspiring the burning of a Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation bus at Kalamassery, Kochi in September 2005 - and an anticipatory bail plea on this case is pending before the Kerala High Court today.

However the media in Kerala has been extra-judicially trying Soofiya Madani -- often using highly questionable anti-Muslim representations -- equating a case of arson where her involvement has not been legally established yet -- to fundamentalist terrorism. This media campaign also needs to be seen in the context of a prevalent anti-Muslim rhetoric in the Malayalam language media in general.

In that context we fear that her basic constitutional rights might be violated in the coming days. We want to raise our collective voices against such an event and we strongly call on all concerned authorities to prevent any such violation from happening without prejudice to the Rule of Law and any investigations that should be carried out against her.

Sd/-
1. John Dayal, Member National Integration Council
2. K. Satchidanandan, Poet
3. M Rasheed, Freedom fighter & Journalist
4. Ajit Sahi, Journalist
5. A. K. Ramakrishnan, Professor, JNU (to be confirmed)
6. Sreerekha, Asst. Professor, Jamia Milia Islamia
7. Sreejitha P.V, , Kamala Nehru College, Delhi University
7. Jenny Rowena, Asst. Professor, Miranda House, DU
8. Hany Babu, Associate Professor, Dept. of English, Delhi University
9 Joe Athially, Delhi Solidarity Group
10, Shahina K K, Development Professional, Delhi
11. Rajeev Ramachandran, Journalist, Delhi
12. Maymon Madathingal, Software Engineer, Delhi
13. Sudeep K. S, Software Engineer, Delhi
14, Kamayani Bali Mahabal, Human Rights Activist, Mumbai
15. Anil Tharayath Varghese, Development Professional, Delhi
16. Bobby Kunhu, Human Rights Activist
17.K K Kochu,Dalit Scholar
18.G .P Ramachandran,Film Critic
19.K K Baburaj,Dalit Activists
20.M B Manoj,poet
21.Rekha raj,Development Profeesional,Cochin
22.Sunny m Kapikadu,Dalit Activist
23.J Raghu,Writer and scholar

16 December, 2009

Can India And Pakistan fight terror together?

PERVEZ HOODBHOY

Inseparable by geography, Pakistan and India are Siamese twins that have emerged together from the womb of history. For better or for worse, their futures will always remain inextricably tied together.

Today, one of the two is in deep trouble. The ferocious militant fanaticism of Pathan tribals, once sequestered in the mountains of Waziristan and Swat, has migrated down into the plains and across the country. Every city of Pakistan has been attacked, some repeatedly and without respite. With threats, abductions, beheadings, and daily suicide bombings, extremists have drastically changed the way Pakistanis live.

Just a couple of months ago, Pakistanis had heaved a sigh of relief. A brief lull in terrorist attacks had followed the army's successful operation against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Swat, and the killing by an American drone of TTP's supremo, Baitullah Mehsud. Some hubris-filled "analysts" - who incessantly chatter on Pakistan's numerous private television channels - claimed that the TTP had been mortally wounded. But they were dead wrong.

Islamabad is now a city of fear as the TTP retaliates. Traffic crawls past concrete blocks placed across its roads as helmeted soldiers peer suspiciously from behind their machine-guns. Restaurants barely function, and markets are deserted. Still, the attackers appear unstoppable and, as in Peshawar, they have paralyzed the city. Some attacks are more spectacular than others, but even the outstanding ones are forgotten once the next one happens. Explosives inside a car blow up over a hundred shoppers in Peshawar's crowded Meena Bazaar; a suicide bomber detonates himself in the girls' cafeteria of the International Islamic University in Islamabad; three simultaneous attacks hit police institutes in Lahore; school children are shredded by ball bearings from a suicide bomber's exploding jacket in Kohat,...

Other recent attacks - against hard targets - were even more dramatic. Just days earlier the headlines had been dominated by Taliban militants who had stormed the apparently impregnable General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi, Islamabad's sister city. The 20-hour siege, followed diligently by private television channels, showed meticulous planning and execution that culminated in hostage-taking and killing. Still more recently, the heavily protected ISI headquarters in Peshawar was blown up by a suicide car bomber. The message was clear: no place in Pakistan is safe any more, not even the safest ones - particularly those belonging to former handlers and mentors.

Incredibly, Pakistan's foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, says that Pakistan is "compiling hard evidence of India's involvement" in terrorist attacks upon Pakistan's public and its armed forces. If he, and the Interior Minister, are correct then we must conclude that the Indians are psychotics possessed with a death wish, or perhaps plain stupid. While India's assistance for Baloch insurgents could conceivably make strategic sense, helping the jihadists simply does not.

As Pakistan staggers from one bombing to the other, some Indians must be secretly pleased. Indeed, there are occasional verbalizations: Is this not sweet revenge for the horrors of Mumbai perpetrated by Lashkar-e-Taiba? Shouldn't India feel satisfaction as Pakistan reels from the stinging poison of its domestically reared snakes?

But most Indians are probably less than enthusiastic in stoking fires across the border. In fact, the majority would like to forget that Pakistan exists. With a 6% growth rate, booming hi-tech exports, and expectations of a semi-superpower status, they feel that India has no need to engage a struggling Pakistan with its endless litany of problems.

Of course, some would like to hurt Pakistan. Extremists in India ask: shouldn't one increase the pain of a country - with which India has fought three bloody wars - by aiding its enemies? Perhaps do another Bangladesh on Pakistan someday?

These fringe elements, fortunately, are inconsequential today. Rational self-interest demands that India not aid jihadists. Imagine the consequences if central authority in Pakistan disappears or is sharply weakened. Splintered into a hundred jihadist lashkars, each with its own agenda and tactics, Pakistan's territory would become India's eternal nightmare. When Mumbai-II occurs - as it surely would in such circumstances - India's options in dealing with nuclear Pakistan would be severely limited.

The Indian Army would be powerless. As the Americans have discovered at great cost, the mightiest war machines on earth cannot prevent holy warriors from crossing borders. Internal collaborators, recruited from a domestic Muslim population that feels itself alienated from Hindu-India, would connive with jihadists. Subsequently, as Indian forces retaliate against Muslims - innocent and otherwise - the action-reaction cycle would rip the country apart.

So, how can India protect itself from invaders across its western border and grave injury? Just as importantly, how can we in Pakistan assure that the fight against fanatics is not lost?

Let me make an apparently outrageous proposition: in the coming years, India's best protection is likely to come from its traditional enemy, the Pakistan Army. Therefore, India ought to now help, not fight, against it.

This may sound preposterous. After all, the two countries have fought three and a half wars over six decades. During periods of excessive tension, they have growled at each other while meaningfully pointing towards their respective nuclear arsenals. Most recently, after heightened tensions following the Mumbai massacre, Pakistani troops were moved out from NWFP towards the eastern border. Baitullah Mehsud's offer to jointly fight India was welcomed by the Pakistan Army.

And yet, the imperative of mutual survival makes a common defense inevitable. Given the rapidly rising threat within Pakistan, the day for joint actions may not be very far away.

Today Pakistan is bearing the brunt. Its people, government and armed forces are under unrelenting attack. South Waziristan, a war of necessity rather than of choice, will certainly not be the last one. A victory here will not end terrorism, although a stalemate will embolden jihadists in South Punjab, including Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammed. The cancer of religious militancy has spread across Pakistan, and it will take decades to defeat.

This militancy does not merely exist because America occupies Afghanistan. A US withdrawal, while welcome, will not end Pakistan's problems. As an ideological movement, the jihadists want to transform society as part of their wider agenda. They ride on the backs of their partners, the mainstream religious political parties like Jamat-e-Islami and Jamiat-e-Ulema-Pakistan. None of these have condemned the suicide bombings of Pakistani universities, schools, markets, mosques, police and army facilities.

Pakistan's political leadership and army must not muddy the waters, especially now that public sanction has finally been obtained for fighting extremism in Swat and Waziristan. Self-deception weakens, and enormously increases vulnerability. Wars can only be won if nations have a clear rallying slogan. Therefore the battle against religious extremism will require identifying it - by name - as the enemy.

India should derive no satisfaction from Pakistan's predicament. Although religious extremists see ordinary Muslims as munafiqs (hypocrites) - and therefore free to be blown up in bazaars and mosques - they hate Hindus even more. In their calculus, hurting India would buy even more tickets for heaven than hurting Pakistan. They dream of ripping apart both societies, or starting a war - preferably nuclear - between Pakistan and India.

A common threat needs a common defense. But this is difficult unless the Pakistan-India conflict is reduced in intensity. In fact the extremist groups that threaten both countries today are an unintended consequence of Pakistan's frustrations at Indian obduracy in Kashmir.

To create a future working alliance with Pakistan, and in deference to basic democratic principles, India must therefore be seen as genuinely working towards some kind of resolution of the Kashmir issue. Over the past two decades India has been morally isolated from Kashmiri Muslims and continues to incur the very considerable costs of an occupying power in the Valley. Indian soldiers continue to needlessly die - and to oppress and kill Kashmiri innocents.

It is time for India to fuzz the LOC, make it highly permeable, and demilitarize it up to some mutually negotiated depth on both sides. Without peace in Kashmir the forces of cross-border jihad, and its hate-filled holy warriors, will continue to receive unnecessary succor.

India also needs to allay Pakistan's fears on Balochistan. Although Pakistan's current federal structure is the cause of the problem - a fact which the government is now finally addressing through the newly announced Balochistan package - nevertheless it is possible that India is aiding some insurgent groups. Statements have been made in India that Balochistan provides New Delhi with a handle to exert pressure on Pakistan. This is unacceptable.

While there is no magic wand, confidence building measures (CBMs) continue to be important for managing the Pakistan-India conflict and bringing down the decibel level of mutual rhetoric. To be sure, CBMs can be easily disparaged as palliatives that do not address the underlying causes of a conflict. Nevertheless, looking at those initiated over the years shows that they have held up even in adverse circumstances. More are needed.

The reason for India to want rapprochement with Pakistan, and vice versa, has nothing to do with feelings of friendship or goodwill. It has only to do with survival. For us in Pakistan, this is even more critical.

The author teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. A shorter version of this article was published on November 28 by Dawn, the Pakistani daily, and The Hindu, the Indian daily.(Courtesy: Countercurrents)

14 December, 2009

DHRM's protest fast

Responding to a call of Dalit Human Rights Movement, scores of Dalits, mostly women, gathered outside the Government Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram today to observe a token fast in protest against the atrocities against DHRM members and supporters at Varkala and other places in Kerala.

DHRM earned the wrath of various vested interests by weaning Dalits away from drugs and liquor and the enmity of the established political parties by rejecting their ideologies and in favour of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s thoughts and Buddhist philosophy.

Police has alleged DHRM members were responsible for a murder which occurred in Varkala in September and characterized it as an extremist organization.

The ‘evidence’ adduced by the police in support of the charge of extremism include: DHRM members address elders as ‘sir’ and ‘teacher’; both men and women wear the same uniform, consisting of a black T-shirt with Dr. Ambedkar’s portrait and blue jeans; and they converse in the Pali language.

The protesters carried placards which answered or challenged the charges levelled against the organization. One placard asked: ‘If E.K. Nayanar’s wife can be addressed as teacher, and Minister P. K. Sreemathi can call herself teacher why can’t we have teachers?’ Another demanded: ‘If we are extremists, produce evidence.”

All protesters wore T-shirts with Dr. Ambedkar’s portrait but not blue jeans. The women wore conventional women’s wear.

While inaugurating the protest fast, I told DHRM members that if jeans were part of the uniform adopted by the organization they should have the courage to wear them and not discard them to appease the patriarchal Kerala society.

Related posts:
Commission proposes, government disposes

Reception outside Secretariat for Dalits released on bail

Investigative journalist re-visits Varkala – this time to protest

Dalits stage peaceful, orderly protest outside Varkala police station

Varkala: A month later, political links are coming in the open

Dalit militancy reports raise disturbing questions

13 December, 2009

'Just War' is just words

RALPH NADER
CommonDreams.org

President Obama, the Afghan war escalator, received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, and proceeded to deliver his acceptance speech outlining the three criteria for a "just war" which he himself is violating.

The criteria are in these words: "If it is waged as a last resort or in self-defence; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence."

After 9/11, warmonger George W. Bush could have used the international law doctrine of hot pursuit with a multilateral force of commandos, linguists and bribers to pursue the backers of the attackers. Instead, he blew the country of Afghanistan apart and started occupying it, joined forces with a rump regime and launched a divide-and-rule tribal strategy that set the stage for a low-tiered civil war.

Eight years later, Obama is expanding the war within a graft-ridden government in Kabul, fraudulent elections, an Afghan army of northern tribesmen loathed by the southern and south-eastern tribes of 40 million Pashtuns, an impoverished economy whose largest crop by far is a narcotic, and a devastated population embittered by foreign occupiers and non-existent government services.

President Obama's national security adviser, former Marine General James Jones, said two months ago: "The al-Qaeda presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."

Since Mr. Obama repeats George W. Bush's reason for going into Afghanistan-to destroy al-Qaeda-why is he sending 30,000 soldiers plus an even greater number of corporate contractors there in the near future at a cost stated by the White House of one million dollars per solider per year? Is this "proportional force"?

Always small in number, al-Qaeda has moved over the border into Pakistan and anywhere its supporters can in the world--- east Africa, north Africa, Indonesia. The gang is a migrant traveller.

Is Obama pouring soldiers into Afghanistan so that they and our inaccurate, civilian-destroying drones can start fighting across the border in Pakistan, as indicated by the New York Times? Beyond the violations of international law and absence of constitutional authorization involved, this could so roil Pakistanis as to make the US experience next door look like a modest struggle.
Obama has emphasized weakening the Taliban as the other objective of our military buildup with its horrible consequence in casualties and other costs.

Who are the Taliban? They include people with different causes, such as protecting their valleys, drug trafficking to live on, fighters against foreign occupiers or, being mostly Pashtuns, protecting their tribal turf against the northern Tajiks and Uzbecks.

How many Taliban fighters are there? The Pentagon estimates around 25,000. Their methods make them unpopular with the villagers. They have no air force, navy, artillery, tanks, missiles, no bases, no central command. They have rifles, grenade launchers, bombs and suiciders. Unlike al-Qaeda, they have only domestic ambitions counteracted by their adversarial tribesmen who make up most of the Afghan army.

Robert Baer, former CIA officer with experience in that part of Asia, asserted: "The people that want their country liberated from the West have nothing to do with al-Qaeda. They simply want us gone because we're foreigners, and they're rallying behind the Taliban because the Taliban are experienced, effective fighters."

To say, as Obama inferred in his Oslo speech, that the greater plunge into Afghanistan is self-defence, with proportional force and sparing civilians from violence is a scale of self-delusion or political cowardliness that is dejecting his liberal base.

For as President Eisenhower stated so eloquently in his 1953 "cross of iron" speech, every dollar spent on munitions and sabre-rattling takes away from building schools, clinics, roads and other necessities of the American people.
The Afghan War and the Iraq war-occupation --- already directly costing a trillion dollars --- are costing the American people every time Washington says there is not enough money for neonatal care, occupational disease prevention, cleaner drinking water systems, safer hospitals, prosecution of corporate criminals, cleaner air or upgrading and repairing key public facilities.

Even the hardiest and earliest supporters of his presidential campaign in 2008 are speaking out. Senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus, such as John Conyers (D-MI) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) have recently criticized the President for not doing enough to help African-Americans weather the hard times.

In a stinging ironic rebuke to the first African-American President, Rep. Waters declared "We can no longer afford for our public policy to be defined by the worldview of Wall Street."

According to Congressman Conyers, an upset Barack Obama called to ask why the Michigan lawmaker was "demeaning" him. Conyers has been increasingly turned off by the President's policies ---among them health care reform, the war in Afghanistan, slippage on Guantanamo and the extension of the Patriot Act's invasive provisions.

The 80-year old Congressman spent most weekends in 2007 and 2008 tirelessly on the campaign trail trying to get Obama elected.

White House aides are not troubled by the rumblings from the moderate Left. They said they have all of 2010 to bring them back into the fold by the November Congressional elections. Besides, where else are they going to go?
Well, they could stay home. Remember 1994 and the Gingrich takeover.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book - and first novel - is, Only The Super Wealthy Can Save Us. His most recent work of non-fiction is The Seventeen Traditions.
Courtesy: Countercurrents.org

11 December, 2009

Who’s At ‘Jihad’? : ‘Love Jihad’ and the Judge in Kerala

J.DEVIKA
Kafila.com

It looked as if the controversy over ‘Love Jihad’ ( ‘jihad defined as ‘war by other means’) had blown over with state authorities in Kerala and Karnataka denying that such a threat ever existed. The Central Government informed the Kerala High Court early this month that there was no such thing and that the term ‘love jihad’ was being used by the media. However, this week, the Kerala High Court openly voiced its scepticism of police reports, claiming that the reports were inconsistent and citing various technical flaws.

The Court claims that it is abiding by the secular spirit of the Indian Constitution: it agrees that the freedoms to choose one’s faith and one’s partner in marriage are fundamental rights. However, it feels that the present instances of marriage and conversions that have been brought to its attention are not the exercise of freedom by individuals — specifically, by young women, though the Court does not say it that way. It is difficult to imagine a more anti-Muslim and anti-woman position; and it is a serious matter that the muddle-headed reasoning of the judge has been uncritically circulated in the dominant media.

In a strong sense, the issue was blown up in the media precisely because the judiciary granted it a degree of seriousness. The snowballing started when courts in Kerala and Karnataka asked authorities to probe charges that Muslim men were “luring” “gullible” “young” women from other religions into their religion through the promise of marriage and “forcibly” converting them.

Early in October, Justice K T Sankaran rejected the anticipatory bail plea of two Muslim men and ordered the DGP, Jacob Punnose, to conduct a probe into ‘love jihad’. The police report was wishy-washy: on the one hand it denied the existence of such an organization; on the other hand, it hinted that some conversions may have happened in this manner. In the same month, a court in Bangalore ordered a similar probe during the hearing of a habeas corpus petition. The woman is question was an adult, but the court ordered her to stay with her parents until it was clear that she had indeed married for love.
The impact of the controversy has been devastating, especially on young Muslim men, who are now forced to carry yet another burden of suspicion. The major gainer, no doubt, has been rightwing civil society. The controversy frightens because it reveals not just Islamophobia becoming banal but also the growing capacity of rightwing civil society to silence mainstream politics, and the weakening of leftwing civil society.

In Kerala, the rightwing orientation of organised Hindu and Christian faith bared its fangs, claiming that there was a well-organized, well-funded, clandestine Muslim organization behind alleged ’seductions’: they were referring to a few instances in which Hindu and Christian women chose to marry Muslim men — their classmates. The Christian Church issued ‘guidelines’ to families to ‘protect’ their young women from being ’seduced’. Christian and Hindu rightwing tendencies held hands: not surprising, given the fact that the former has indeed been seeking opportunities to renew closeness with the latter.

In Kerala, rightwing coalitions between Hindu upper caste-community organizations and the Christian Church have historically been successful in reining in the ‘atheists’ in a variety of issues from the mid-twentieth century onwards, the latest being sex education. This was briefly disrupted in the 1980s when the Hindu rightwing began to gain an independent presence in the Malayalee public and entered into adversarial combat with the Christian Church over several controversies. Recently, however, the alliance has been renewed, and despite the horrors suffered by the Christians of Orissa (a prominent Bishop declared that the attack on the faith was more dangerous than attack on life and property in the Church!). In fact the most recent occasion for their unity was during the ‘textbook controversy’ — which, interestingly, was about a textbook lesson which spoke of inter-religious marriage in which the male partner was portrayed as Muslim. Since no community leadership likes inter-community marriages, the coalition remains unaffected by incidents in which coalition partners may appear to be acting against each other: at the height of the controversy, the BJP-mouthpiece Janmabhoomi sacked a woman journalist who converted after marrying a Christian.

Historically, inter-caste or inter-religious marriage was never high on the social agenda of political movements in Kerala though the upper echelons of the communist movement did marry across caste and religion. It was always viewed as not a political, but social issue, and was promoted by a small but influential group of intellectuals led by Sahodaran K Ayyappan, aligned with the rationalist movement in the mid-twentieth century. This initiative did not thrive in post-Independence Kerala. The transformation of marriage in twentieth century Kerala which included the institutionalization of conjugal marriage, patriarchy and dowry, the specific implications of Kerala’s demographic transition for community politics, and the inflow of remittances from the Gulf after the 1970s have ensured that community boundaries and the institution of arranged marriage which sustains them remain hale and hearty.

Arranged marriage, in other words, remains central to the maintenance of community boundaries and middle-class power in Kerala and criticism of this practice wore thin towards the end of twentieth century — feminists and others who have directly criticized it have borne the label of ’sexual anarchists’. In fact, even in marriages across caste and religion (the ‘love marriages’) the widespread expectation is that the woman should migrate to her husband’s community identity — or at least to his community-shaped domestic culture. In the wake of the controversy, some commentators argued that Hindu males do not often ask their non-Hindu partners to convert formally – this is a facile observation, for the woman’s integration into her husband’s social world happens irrespective of whether she is formally converted to his faith or not.

No greater evidence for the judiciary’s biased reasoning needs to be marshalled: how come that the above practice has become a crime just now? Given the fact that communities (and many families) in Kerala tend to reject their members, especially women, who marry others, it is only rational, in the Kerala context, for a woman to move on to her husband’s community after marriage. How come the judge does not see this? Why is he so confident that her family and community which want to annul her decision will treat her with respect? How is he so sure that women who enter the Muslim community through marriage will not exercise the same degrees of informal power that married women of other communities do? Is he also sure that non-Muslim women who have married within their community (and most of all the caste-ridden Hindu!) are being treated with respect and receive greater justice? If the judge in question is so divorced from everyday social reality in Kerala, so blinded by the half-baked rants about Muslim family life circulated by Hindu and Christian rightwingers, and indeed so ignorant of informed debate on women’s rights, marriage and family in India, he probably does not deserve to stay in the esteemed chair that he occupies. The judge’s comments are not only anti-Muslim; they indicate distrust of young woman’s capacity for decision-making, blindly entrusts her to the family, and protects the interests of powerful communities. Nothing could be farther from the Indian Constitution.

Islamophobia has been growing in the State and has been visible in various ways; but more than reaffirming this fact, this controversy, for me, provides incontrovertible evidence for the social disempowerment of women in Kerala, which has been hard to prove, given the pervasiveness of the Kerala Model discourse (in which many powerful academics have made heavy career-investments!). Just the other day, a young researcher from the US, a first-time visitor to Kerala, expressed dismay at how the Court could have made such statements in a State so well-known for its ‘empowered’ women. For me, tying female agency to social development, as she did, is equally worrying — for it was precisely the ‘wisdom’ evoked by the rightwing coalition to justify their assault on women’s independent choices of partners. For, historically, the ‘empowered woman’ of twentieth century Kerala has been she who, with all her social-development attributes, would remain subservient to the community she was born in. Historically, the much-celebrated history of community formation in Kerala, found by some to be the ‘communal road to a secular Kerala’, has also been the history of women’s reduction to minor status within these modernizing communities, and female education was conceived as not so much a deterrent to this, but actually its instrument.

The ’socially developed’ woman, in this reckoning, is not someone who will not smudge community boundaries; rather, she contributes ‘gender-capital’, performs ‘community status-production’, in and for the community. The present controversy and the statements made by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Christian Church are entirely consistent with dominant aspects of ‘social development’ in Kerala, and reveals its conservative underbelly. We need to remember that even major figures of Kerala’s much-discussed social ‘renaissance’, like V. T. Bhattatiripad, did swing towards a position close to the VHP’s current line when it was a case of a brahmin woman marrying a Muslim, and by her own decision.

As far as I know from research, inter- and intra- community marriage in Kerala carries more or less similar risks for women given the utterly gender-unequal contexts in which it happens. If the former carries greater risks, that should be attributed to the exclusivist practices of community life, and not to ‘wrong-decision making’ on the woman’s part. But the judge seems to be on ‘jihad’ for the protection of community-interests and against young women’ s agency — and there is very little in Kerala’s ‘progressive legacy’ — and in most ‘progressive’ academic wisdom on Kerala — that can stop it from doing so.

10 December, 2009

Concept of non-discrimination is at the heart of human rights

Non-discrimination is the theme of this year’s Human Rights Day. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay underlines the importance of non-discrimination in the statement below, issued on Human Rights Day.

The concept of non-discrimination lies at the heart of human rights.

For this reason, it has been designated the official theme of this Human Rights Day, which occurs every year on the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. And for this and many other reasons it should be an unofficial theme every day, every year, for everyone.

Twenty-six of the Universal Declaration’s 30 Articles begin with the words “Everyone…” or “No one…” Everyone should enjoy all human rights. No one should be excluded. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Non-discrimination must prevail.

Today, we have a whole range of rights-based international treaties imbued throughout with the concept of non-discrimination. These include, for example, Conventions on the rights of the child, rights of people with disabilities, rights of refugees and of migrant workers; Conventions dedicated to the elimination of racial discrimination and discrimination against women; as well as treaties dealing with labour, health and religion. These legally binding standards are complemented by important UN declarations detailing minority rights and the rights of indigenous peoples.

These international laws and standards are supported by thousands of national and regional laws and institutions. Quite a few countries now have truly universal education, and a smaller number have universal public health systems. Taken together all of this marks an extraordinary celebration of humankind’s ability and aspiration to create a world of equal opportunity and equal treatment under the law. And many millions of people have benefited as a result.

People of all sorts have something to offer. When we embrace diversity, we bring extra richness and depth to our societies.

Yet discrimination is still rampant.

Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours and produce half of the world’s food, yet earn only 10 percent of the world’s income and own less than one percent of the world’s property. Despite significant improvements over the past century, women and girls are still discriminated against to some degree in all societies and to a great degree in many. Every day countless numbers of women are sexually or physically abused, and the vast majority of their abusers go unpunished and future abuse is undeterred.

Minorities in all regions of the world continue to face serious threats, discrimination and racism, and are frequently excluded from fully taking part in the economic, political, social and cultural life available to the majorities in the countries or societies where they live.

Similar problems face the estimated 370 million indigenous people who make up five percent of the world’s population, but 15 percent of its poorest people. They are often marginalized, deprived of many fundamental rights – including land and property – and lack access to basic services.

Racial and ethnic discrimination are also to be found all across the planet, and remain one of the most dangerous forms of discrimination. Left unchecked, or actively fanned, they can all too easily lead to hatred, violence, and – in the worst cases – push on up the scale to full-blown conflict, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Discrimination based on religion or belief can be equally destructive. In certain countries, members of certain groups are restricted in how they can exercise their religion or belief and deprived of their fundamental rights. In extreme cases such conditions may lead to sectarian violence, killing and conflict. Stereotyping can lead to stigmatization and isolationism.

Refugees and migrants are widely discriminated against, including in rich countries where men, women and children who have committed no crime are often held in detention for prolonged periods. They are frequently discriminated against by landlords, employers and state-run authorities, and stereotyped and vilified by some political parties, media organizations and members of the public.

Many other groups face discrimination to a greater or lesser degree. Some of them are easily definable such as persons with disabilities, stateless people, gays and lesbians, members of particular castes and the elderly. Others may span several different groups and find themselves discriminated against on several different levels as a result.

Those who are not discriminated against often find it hard to comprehend the suffering and humiliation that discrimination imposes on their fellow individual human beings. Nor do they always understand the deeply corrosive effect it has on society at large.

Discrimination feeds mistrust, resentment, violence, crime and insecurity and makes no economic sense, since it reduces productivity. It has no beneficial aspects for society whatsoever. Yet we continue to practice it – virtually all of us – often as a casual reflex, without even realizing what we are doing.

I would therefore like to encourage people everywhere – politicians, officials, businesses leaders, civil society, national human rights institutions, the media, religious leaders, teachers, students, and each and every individual – to honour Human Rights Day 2009 by embracing diversity and resolving to take concrete and lasting actions to help put an end to discrimination. (Courtesy: Asian Human Rights Commission)

Human Rights Day eve attack on women’s fact-finding team

Today is International Human Rights Day.

It was on this day in 1948 that the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

On the eve of Human Rights Day, an all-woman fact-finding team comprising nine activists, including Madhumitta Dutta and Shweta Narayan (from the Collective in Besant Nagar, Chennai) were attacked on their way to Narayanpatna, Orissa, where a democratic tribal movement led by the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh is being brutally suppressed by the police at the behest of the local liquor mafia, landlords and mining companies, according to a message circulated by the human rights movement group (humanrights-movement@googlegroups.com).

This team had gone to Narayanpatna to bring out the real state of affairs, particularly regarding the spate of rapes and molestations of women by the Orissa Police, CRPF and the dreaded Cobra battalions. The local media has actively tried to hide the truth, branding the peaceful Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh as a Maoist outfit.

Members of the team narrated their experience at a press conference at Parvathipuram in Vijayanagaram district of Andhra Pradesh.

The following account was given by Shweta Narayan and Madhumita Dutta to Nityanand Jayaraman over the telephone:

At 10 a.m., the All India Women's Fact Finding Team consisting of nine women reached Narayanpatna Police Station and requested to meet the Station In-charge.

We were told that the policeman was busy, and were asked to come in the evening. The person questioning us asked us for names and mobile phone numbers and names of our organizations. We gave all of that. We noticed quite a number of uniformed policemen, and many people in plainclothes. None of the people in uniform (we assume they were policemen) had any name tags. We asked one of them who the people in plainclothes were, and were told that they were all policemen. We asked the man how many police were there in this area, and he said more than 2,000 police. One striking thing is that none of the many people gathered there were Adivasi.

About 20 Adivasi men were huddled, squatting inside the police station premises. We asked the policeman near us who they were, and were told that the Adivasis were former activists of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, who had come to surrender. This has been happening for a few days now, and many newspapers are reporting this.

By this time, the crowd of so-called plainclothes police were getting restless. We heard people commenting saying: "Ab aa rahen hain. Jab hamarey gaon jal rahe the, tho kahaan the?" (When our farms were being burnt, where were you? Now they show up.)

Madhumita felt the situation was looking troublesome, and suggested we leave. As we were stepping out of the police station, our driver was cordoned off and was being questioned in a very hostile manner and being threatened. We heard someone saying that he is a regular to these parts, and they enquired as to his antecedents.

We somehow managed to extricate the driver. One of the policemen in plainclothes, whom we saw inside the police station premises, was taking photographs, and he said "Maaro Inko." (Beat these people up). That is when more than 200 people surged ahead. The driver was being slapped repeatedly. Madhu and 75-year old Kusum Karnik tried to
intervene and that is when one man went for Madhu's throat. Kusum was hurt too.

Rumita Kundu was verbally abused inside the police station. One man crudely said that all these women had come to sleep with the men there. Mamta Dash was hit on her back, and abused. One man attempted to strangle Madhu. When she moved to save herself, her jaw was injured. All this happened inside the police station premises.

The driver was the one that was being assaulted most, and we did all we could to extricate him and board our vehicle. By this time, the vehicle was being broken. The rear windscreen was broken. With great difficulty, we fled the area driving towards Bandhugaon. We were followed by the plainclothesmen who claimed to be police on bikes. Somewhere between Bandhugaon Police Station and the village itself, we were stopped by two men in plainclothes. They said they were police, and they demanded to see the driver's licence. As he was enquiring, about 20 people gathered there. But nothing untoward happened here. We were scared nevertheless.

From there, we proceeded to Kottulpetta. Even before we got to this village, news seemed to have reached them about our visit. A road blockade had been organized, with a bullock cart blocking the road. There were no oxen. The people there, again all non-tribals, pulled out the driver and started assaulting him. They tried to pull down another male colleague of ours, Mr. Poru Chandra Sahu and tried to beat them up. We intervened, and that's when Kusum didi, the 75-year old activist, was hurt on her head. We were there for more than 15 minutes. More violence. More damage to the vehicle. More slaps for the driver. Our friends outside had been notified almost as soon as problems began, and phone calls must have been pouring into the Collector’s and SP's offices.

By this time, two bikes carrying one of the plainclothes "policemen" who had taken our names in Narayanpatna, and another plainclothes guy who was tall and burly, reached there and asked the youth to disperse.

We reached Bondapalli, the border village within Andhra Pradesh. Almost in no time, a jeep load of Andhra Pradesh police along with plainclothes youth (young boys) armed with rifles and bullets arrived on the scene. They demanded to know who we were. We were treated more like criminals than victims, and our vehicle was searched. Only after
Madhu spoke to the SP of Vijayanagaram, and the DGP were we allowed to go. The police who stopped us immediately changed the tune, and offered to help us with medical assistance etc.

Our experience with armed youth and police has left us clearly terrified, and convinced that the situation created by the police in Narayanpatna and this part of Orissa is extremely vitiated. We have the following concerns and demands which we conveyed to the media at the press conference in Parvathipuram.

Concerns:
1. The scenario of terror that we witnessed, and were subject to shows the kind of tense situation prevailing in the Narayanpatna area post November 20, 2009's police firings in Narayanpatna.

2. There is no access for people to get in and out of the villages in Narayanpatna, with all routes blocked by armed goons.

3. There is no way to get information about what is happening inside, and no means of verifying the very disturbing accounts we are getting about abuses, molestations and violence against adivasi people.

4. The number of plainclothesmen who claimed they were police, and the comfort with which people outside the Narayanpatna police station were interacting with the police, and reacting to one policeman's instruction to beat us up, suggests that there may be some truth to reports that there is a Salwa Judum style Shanthi Samiti in this area as well. This may either be sponsored or working in close complicity with the police and state.

5. If the Fact Finding team of prominent women has been treated with such violence, it is clear that there is absolutely no room for dissent inside the villages.

6. All the people who attacked us were non-tribals.

Demands:
1. The officers at the Police Station should be suspended to create an impartial situation and enable the carrying out of investigations into the firing of 20 November, 2009, and the subsequent reports of atrocities against tribal people.

2. The SP Koraput should be suspended.

3. The Government should constitute a high-level independent investigation team and not depend on the police, who are clearly biased, and are using the language of terror and violence to suppress dissent.

The Women’s Fact-Finding Team consisted of
1. Sudha Bhardwaj, Advocate, Chhattisgarh
2. Mamata Dash, Delhi
3. Madhumita Dutta, Chennai
4. Shweta Narayan, Chennai
5. Rumita Kundu, Bhubaneswar
6. Pramila, Bhubaneswar
7. Kusum Karnik, Bhubaneswar
8. Ramani, New Democracy, Orissa
9. Durga, Chhattisgarh

AHRC report on India

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, will be publishing its 2009 annual human rights report on India shortky.

A pre-publication version of the report is available at:
http://material.ahrchk.net/hrreport/2009/AHRC-SPR-003-2009-India-HRReport2009.pdf

True democracy requires popular participation, AHRC reminds India

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

In the first week of November this year, the Director General of Police, Mr. Y. Joykumar Singh, of Manipur state publically admitted that 260 persons had been killed so far by the state agencies in that state this year. The officer added that, according to the government, the deceased are terrorists, and that the security agencies killed them in armed encounters. Joykumar's statement reflects the general sentiment of the government of India and that of the state governments in dealing with dissent.

In the past 12 months, the government has intensified its engagement with the separatist and extremist forces operating in the country. Unfortunately, the tone of engagement is that of violence. The commonly used tactic is to let the state agents engage in murder with impunity, popularly known in the country as encounter killing, a euphemism for extrajudicial executions. The apparent logic is that violence will be dealt with violence.

The alarming number of lives lost in the anti-Naxalite operations in states like Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh so far, stands proof to the systematic execution of this logic. On the contrary, the continuance of extreme leftist operations in these states and the unabated disruptive activities by non-state actors in states like Manipur proves that this logic is wrong.

The state's engagement in violence has come with a cost. The police and paramilitary units are engaged in open, arbitrary and brutal use of force throughout the country with impunity. The police firing in Narayanpatana in Orissa and the July 23 killing in Imphal Manipur are just two examples. In spite of widespread condemnation of the two incidents, the officers involved are not punished. There have been no investigations into these incidents.

The use of extreme violence by the state has pushed the people further away from the government. In fact, there were several isolated as well as nationwide protests against the use of violence by the state in the country in this year.

As early as 14 December 1993, the National Human Rights Commission of India (NHRC) instructed the Chief Secretaries of the states to ensure that every case of custodial death and rape is reported to it within twenty-four hours of occurrence, failing which an adverse inference would be drawn by the Commission. On 10 August 1995, the Commission requested the Chief Ministers to ensure that post-mortem examinations of deaths in custody be videographed. On 27 March 1997, Chief Ministers were again requested to adopt a Model Autopsy Form, prepared by the Commission, and to use for this purpose.

None of these instructions are followed by the state agencies. Neither has the NHRC taken any steps to ensure the compliance of its directives. As of today, the NHRC has deteriorated to a namesake entity in the country, fated to function for the past two years without a Chairperson or adequate resources.

The recent conduct of the NHRC like the condoning of extrajudicial executions, torture and starvation deaths and rejecting complaints after accepting government reports, has become a reason for concern. It raises suspicion about the impartiality of the Commission as a national human rights body. The performance of the NHRC has deteriorated to such degree that it appears that the Commission is developing its expertise in summarily dismissing complaints, an action that negates the Commission's statutory mandate.

The state agencies on the other hand are exploiting this expanded space of impunity available to them. For instance, the use of torture is endemic in the country. The government's response to torture is a mere Bill. The Bill if enacted as a law is destined to fail. The ulterior intention of the government to continue providing impunity to its agents is clear from the Bill. For instance, the proposed definition of torture in the Bill does not meet the standards as prescribed in Article 1 (1) of the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Equally disturbing is the fate of the Dalit community in the country. Brutal forms of caste based discrimination are practiced in India. Of particular concern is the laxity with which the government has dealt with the practice of manual scavenging so far, facilitating its unabated continuity. This is despite series of legislations enacted over a period spanning 62 years prescribing statutory prohibition to the practice. Even the administration in the national capital has failed to deal with the problem.

Caste based discrimination is also one of the important impediment in realising the right to food in India. Today, the government of India does not have any reliable data concerning the number of poor persons in the country. Over the years, the government has resorted to shameless gerrymandering of the statistical data to prove that conditions of the poor in India are improving.

Experts like Mr. Dilip D'Souza argue that systematic data corruption has adversely affected the possibility of the poor in receiving government assistance. At the same time observations made by experts like Professor Utsa Patnaik that the per-capita food availability in India as of today is worse than the 1943 Bengal famine is ignored by the government.

Dishonesty of the government is one of the reasons for the continuity of starvation and malnutrition in India. It is most evident in cases of starvation deaths. It is the practice of the government to deny that deaths have occurred from starvation or malnutrition. Even worse is the reaction of the national bodies like the NHRC that accepts such denial as evidence and dismisses complaints from victims instead of helping them.

Yet, these are issues that a democracy can resolve. The solution however depends upon peoples' participation. While the civil society can play a vital role in organising the people, it is the responsibility of the government to guarantee that the peoples' voices are reflected in government's actions.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) calls upon the government of India to find means and occasions to encourage the people to engage in constructive dialogues with the state. December 10, the International Human Rights Day could be one such occasion.

09 December, 2009

POSCO's Orissa project: an Open Letter

The following is an Open Letter from the National Centre for Advocacy Studies and Posco Prathirodh Sangram Samiti to POSCO TJ Park Prize Committee, POSCO TZ Park Foundation, Seoul, Korea.

Dear Sir,

We, people from India and different parts of the world concerned with the protection of human and environmental rights, have learned that 2006 onwards POSCO TJ Park Prize has been awarding an individual or organization its Community Development & Philanthropy Prize. This gives us reason to believe that as an organization, POSCO is concerned about community development and has respect for human rights and social justice initiatives.

We therefore find it ironic that POSCO is simultaneously perpetrating severe human rights violations and threatening people's livelihoods, specifically in Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, and the livelihoods of more than 20,000 people are at risk due to POSCO’s US$ 12 billion plan to build a 12 million tonne per annum (MTPA) integrated steel plant, captive port and mines. This plant will require 4,004 acres of land, in addition to land for a railway, road expansion and mine development. The land earmarked for this purpose has been used for generations by Dalits, agriculturalists, workers and small businesses. These people will lose their homes and livelihoods as result of this project.

Against the establishment of the POSCO power plant and port, over 800 individuals from the affected areas joined together to march 150 km in protest from November 29 to December 5, 2009. The proposed steel plant is predicted to have devastating impacts on the environment and ecology in the area.

POSCO has applied for prospecting licences and direct leases for mining. The licence would allow the company to mine on 2,500 hectares in iron ore rich Khandadhar in Sundergarh district. These areas are currently covered with dense forest, which is home to a wide variety of wildlife and flora. The indigenous communities living there are totally dependent on these forests for fuel, fodder, fruits and medicinal plants. The water springs that exist there provide water for drinking as well as irrigation. Furthermore, the mining will affect the Khandadhar waterfall, a famed tourist destination in the state.

Various reports have indicated that there is a grave medical emergency developing in the Erasama and Kujanga blocks of Jagatsinghpur district, the sites of the proposed steel plant. A number of women in the area are in late stages of pregnancy but are unable to access the medical care they require because of the fear of harassment and arrest by the local police. There is also severe malnutrition among children living in these districts. In part, this is a result of poor economic turnover due to the turmoil that has been present in the area over the past few years as a result of the project. The general population of the affected villages also needs help in combating malaria. These people cannot go out and receive treatment because of the threat of arrests.

In keeping with the points outlined above, we strongly urge that you, as independent Committee members, immediately look into the matter with an open mind and urge POSCO Company to withdraw from the proposed project in order to respect and protect the rights and livelihood of the indigenous people and save the rich environment and bio diversity in the state of Orissa, India.

As fellow people interested in community welfare and philanthropy, we would also request that you seriously reconsider your position as committee members for the TJ Park Prize.

We are attaching herewith the following annexure, showing the impact of proposed captive plant, port and mining by POSCO Company on the life and livelihoods of indigenous people and the rich environment and ecology of the area.

With regards,
Yours sincerely,

Pramodini Pradhan
Convenor (PUCL- Bhubaneswar)

Official statistics indicate that only 438 acres of the 4000 acres required for the POSCO site is private land. The rest of the land required officially belongs to the government, and this has been recorded as “under forest” in official documentation. Government records do not show that the majority of this land has been under cultivation by the people living in these areas for generations.

The people of Jagatsinghpur are dependent upon the beetle, paddy and fish for their livelihoods. Around 30,000 families earn about INR one lakh (about USD 2000) yearly from these cultivations. There are approximately 5000 vines of beetle in the three panchayat areas, which are tended by about 10,000 cultivators. Many landless families depend on basket making, work as daily labourers on the betel vine farms or are engaged in pisiculture, mostly prawns.

In response to the claim of this land by POSCO, the local people have submitted applications for claims on titles repeatedly however regularization and settlement of the betel vine lands has not yet been initiated by the government. The Settlement record was prepared last in 1984.

POSCO began its operations in India by registering POSCO-India. The first attempt by the district administration to acquire land for the proposed plant and port was thwarted by strong local opposition, which began in early 2006 under the banner of 'POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti' (PPSS) (Anti-POSCO People’s Movement), based in Dhinkia village.

Scarcity of water for Irrigation


The volume of water required for the project is predicted to have a detrimental impact on water irrigation for the local population. According to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the Government of Orissa is to permit draw and use of water (near about 12 thousand to 15 thousand crore liters) from the Mahanadi barrage at Jobra and Naraj in Cuttack for construction and operation of the “Overall Project”.

Concerns have been repeatedly raised over the past two years by citizens of the area and technical experts that this would severely impact the drinking and agricultural water supply of Cuttack and neighboring four districts. These concerns have not been addressed by the government yet.

Destruction of the Environment and threat to Gahirmala Marine Sanctuary


The proposed port to be built by POSCO at Jatadhari (Estuarine region of Ersamma) has also evoked environment concerns of damage to the coastline Conservationists. They have pointed out that any damage to the coastline by the construction of the port could pose a threat to the nesting habitat of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles. Especially at risk are the turtle-nesting beaches in the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary, where nearly 400,000 Olive Ridleys come to nest every year.

Environmental research has shown that the nesting turtles are already threatened by illegal mechanized fishing, rapid loss of nesting beaches due to casuarinas plantations and industrial pollution. The proposed POSCO port poses a fresh threat. The port if built would also directly displace the livelihoods of several fishing communities as the Jatadhari estuary serves as a spawning and breeding ground for several species of fish. The recent analysis report prepared by Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of POSCO Captive port at Jatadhar Mohan Creek Paradeep Port points out that the “EIA report has completely missed out on addressing the issues of cumulative impact on people and habitat residing in the close vicinity as well as the land where the project is proposed”[4].

Implication of proposed mining in Khandadhar hills

The mining sites which have been proposed in the district of Keonjhar are also predicted to have detrimental impacts. Communities within these areas are already suffering under the social and environmental impacts of large-scale mining activity. Health problems are rampant in the region, particularly amongst the mine workers and their children. The poor health status of the mine workers and the increasing incidence of waterborne and respiratory diseases have been highlighted in a recent 'State of the Environment’ report.

The Khandadhar hills where POSCO is being allotted the mines, spread over 6000 hectares, are covered with forests, inhabited by a wide variety of wildlife and as well as flora. The adivasi (Indigenous people) communities, which form 74% of the population in the surrounding area will be severely impacted by the proposed mining.

Ongoing Human Rights Violations

Over the past four years, there have been a number of allegations of government repression from the local community. Local anti-POSCO activists have stated that the Government has filed several false cases against them, and that POSCO has been working to suppress the movement. In October 2008, the leader of anti POSCO movement, Mr.Abhaya Sahoo was arrested and 32 “false cases” were charged against him. To date, the movement has been democratic and non-violent, however, a recently released video reflects that Mr. Abhaya is being kept against his will by the government. You can view this video online at the following link www.youtube.com/watch?v=px3d52vTEuM

For more information, you can visit the following links:
http://stoposco.wordpress.com/
http://www.freewebs.com/epgorissa/posco.htm
http://www.ncasindia.org/public/GGG/series08.pdf

For further information, please contact
Prashant Paikray, Spokesperson, Posco Prathirodh Sangram Samiti (Anti-POSCO People’s Movement)
Email: prashantpaikray@gmail.com

08 December, 2009

Jamiat Teachers' Solidarity Association's website

The Jamiat Teachers’ Solidarity Association, which has been trying to keep alive the issue of the so-called encounter at Batla House, Delhi, has set up a regular website.

It outlines its stand in these words:
For Democracy, Justice and Human Rights.
Against Terrorism, Repression and Authoritarianism

URL: http://www.teacherssolidarity.org/

This is what the Association says about itself:


The events of 19th September and subsequent days left the Jamia community shocked, aggrieved and fearful. In particular the manner and the suspicious circumstances in which young boys, many of them students of Jamia Millia Islamia, were picked up by the special Cell, and pronounced “dreaded terrorists” by a trial by an utterly sensationalist and prejudiced media, created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion.

We as teachers felt that we could not afford to isolate ourselves in intellectual ivory towers. There was an urgent need to reach out to the community, which lives at our doorstep, and where a large number of teachers, administrative staff and our students reside. Jamia Teachers Solidarity Group was thus formed under these circumstances. The need for a civil society campaign on this was further underscored when various contradictions in the police theories emerged.

Through a number of initiatives, including a Jan Sunwai in Batla House area, march to Parliament to demand police probe into the ‘encounter’. A demonstration against Special Cell, and public discussions on the role of the media, Supreme Court guidelines on encounter killings, etc., we believe we have managed to create a wedge, however small, in the prevailing discourse—a discourse that questions the nationalism and patriotism of people who ask uncomfortable questions. We believe that true foundation of a democracy can only be justice. Anyone with an interest in deepening and strengthening Indian democracy should raise voice against this brazen witch-hunt in the name of fighting terror.

In July 2009, Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Group was registered as an ‘association’ and formally became Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association.
Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association (JTSA) stands committed to the upholding of democratic and human rights, to the safeguard of justice, condemns terrorism of all kinds, including State terror, and shall oppose authoritarianism.

07 December, 2009

Indian media must wake up to violence committed by the state

The Asian Human Rights Commission says in a statement:

The existence of independent and strong media is a prerequisite for the working of a free and just society that governs itself by the rule of law. The role of media in establishing such a society is to act as the eyes and ears of the people, forming the collective conscience of the nation. After all what else does a democracy mean than letting its citizens make decisions that affect their lives? Independent media help the citizens in making informed choices by bringing news and perspectives to them. In short, free and impartial media is an important component to a democratic framework like its justice institutions.

The relative success of the democratic experiment in India in comparison to its neighbors owes considerable debt to its media. The robust resistance of the media to the declaration of emergency, one of the darkest hours in Indian democracy, is an example. It was the media that had the courage, augmented with exemplary resistance put up by all political and social forces, that openly opposed the dictatorial declaration of the emergency by the then prime minister, Mrs. Indira Gandhi.

The Indian media did not spare even Jawaharlal Nehru, the first and perhaps the most loved prime minister of the country, when few of his cabinet colleagues were accused of corruption. It was the media that had courage to expose the gruesome events during the Gujarat state-led pogrom of innocent Muslims in that State. Bringing out the fascist nature of the rightwing Hindutva groups leading the carnage was perhaps the singular achievement of the media, leading to the erosion of support for the politics of hatred in India.

Viewed in this context, the recent developments in the Indian media are worrying to say the least. This is in spite of the contributions the media have made in exposing corruption, for instance, the shady arms deal during the National Democratic Alliance regime by the Tehelka, the petrol pump allotment scam during the same period by the Indian Express and the telecom allocation scam by the current United Progressive Alliance regime.

Similarly unambiguous is the media’s role in fighting against communalism, by continuously reacting against the witch hunt of the minorities by some political groups. Equally substantial is the role the media played in publishing the criminal and financial backgrounds of many candidates, who contested and eventually lost, in the recently held parliament elections. While the media has definitely held its ground and stood true to its prestigious past, on many current issues it has been regularly faltering.

Unfortunately, the media do not appear to be caring for its own record when it comes to the reporting of acts of terror committed by the state, while it comes down heavily on those committed by non-state actors. The media, both electronic and print versions, have been instrumental in enlightening the citizenry about the use of dastardly and mindless violence committed by non-state actors upon innocent civilian populations.

The argument put forward by the media to condemn the violence is plain and simple, that there are no issues in a democracy which cannot be sorted out by deliberations and peaceful means of protest, and that dissent can always be dealt with politically and democratically and violence, not sanctioned by the law, is intolerable in a democratic set up.

The media however appear to be swallowing its logic by failing to give equal seriousness against state-sponsored violence. Extrajudicial executions, torturing of suspects, murder of prisoners and under trials, and disappearances are quite rampant in India. These characters of a failing state require equal treatment or probably more attention than that is given to violence committed by non-state actors. Yet, the media do not give enough time and space to discuss these issues.

India has witnessed more than 1184 deaths in police custody according to the data published by the National Human Rights Commission. The data is concerning cases reported to the Commission between April 2001 and March 2009. Of these, 601 custodial deaths have taken place in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, all peaceful states with no insurgency or other armed militia operating within. Yet, this news appeared in an almost invisible corner in the print media as a single column news in the inside pages. The electronic media ignored the news all together.

Similar is the case of fake encounters. Instead of condemning it and demanding prosecutions the media have actually been instrumental in the glorifying the killers in uniform. 'Encounter specialist and super cop' are media inventions in their attempt in showering accolades upon murderer police officers for 'successful' encounters. Some of these media heroes are now in jail or killed. For instance, the former Assistant Commissioner of Delhi Police, Mr. Rajbir Singh, was killed by a friend allegedly over disputes regarding his illegal investments, Mr. Daya Nayak of Maharashtra police, is in jail facing corruption charges and for his alleged nexus with the underworld. Mr. D.G. Banjara, Deputy Inspector General of Gujarat Police is in jail for his proven role in fake encounters. Even after the exposure of the real faces of these murderers in uniform, the media have singularly failed to get its act together barring a few exceptions.

After all, just how many times can one find such brazen acts of lawlessness like a live recording of the murder of two civilians by the police as it happened in Manipur? Just how many times the police, paramilitary forces and the army will let the media impartially cover their operations exposing their utter disregard for the rule of law as well as the constitution?

Any act of terror, violence, and extrajudicial executions is a crime against humanity. The question who did it is irrelevant. No law or ideology can legitimise the killings of innocent civilians, unfortunately caught between the state and its opponents. Murder or other forms of violence by the non-state actors based on whatever justifications - religion, ethnicity or ideology - should be unambiguously condemned. So should be the case with extrajudicial and illegal killings and other forms of violence committed by the state.

For one fact, unlike the non-state actors, the state warrants even sterner criticism for torture, killings and disappearances of its citizens as it is the state's duty to protect, promote and fulfil constitutional guarantees. The state deserves a far stricter scrutiny as it derives the legitimacy to use force by being the custodian of the law, guaranteeing to use it only for the protection of the citizens and not for killing them.

The studied silence maintained by the media, in this context, is unfortunate. A single murder, unsanctioned by the law, committed by state agents should let the press hit the panic button. 1184, is an exception. Yet the country's media chose to observe blissful silence. This prevents the possibility of exposing the countless unreported ones, which the media could have exposed.

The Asian Human Rights Commission expects that this silence is not from complicity, and that the Indian media will wake up to its legacy of standing by the people and the truth that they have the right to know.

03 December, 2009

MANIPIR: Carrying the torch of hope


JAMEEN KAUR

“No more will we let the army decide, the insurgents decide, or the patriarchal structures of our societies that control our lives and our movements. We will act and lead on our needs and our priorities, not theirs”. Jameen Kaur talks to Binalakshmi Nepram Mentschel (see picture) about her work to end decades of violence in Manipur

Binalakshmi was 11 years old when she witnessed her first massacre in her home state of Manipur. Twenty three people were killed. Since then 2 to 3 people have been killed each day in this small north-eastern state, making it one of the most conflict ridden states in India. With no less than thirty armed groups operating in Manipur, and an Indian Army person for every twenty civilians, the conflict has no end in sight. The International Committee of the Red Cross has tried its best for the last five years to gain entry into the State, but has so far been denied. ‘The occupation is evident everywhere, it fills our lives, our spaces, the occupation is in our cities, our towns, our villages in our homes’ says Binalakshmi, founder of Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network and secretary general of Control Arms Foundation of India. State conducted encounter killings, gun killings either by the insurgents, criminal gangs or the paramilitary and police force, have claimed the lives of over twenty thousand people. ‘The Indian government calls it a ‘law and order’ problem. It is not, it is a slow genocide’ according to Binalakshmi.

‘There is a darkness, an isolation felt by the people, the youth, the lack of opportunities for over 600,000 unemployed people, daily curfews at 5pm, schools closed for weeks, people have no access to doctors or hospitals, every year there are more than two hundred new widows’ says Binalakshmi. ‘Manipur used to be known for its colourful women’s market, where women used to come and sell bangles, hair clips and fish, ways in which they earned their livelihood. However the market is now overflowing with women and girls - widows and women/girls who are left without breadwinners are being induced in to prostitution, to feed their children. They often stand at the outskirts of the market, and the numbers grow daily.’ This has been one of the consequences of the conflict.

Yet it was not always like this. ‘We Manipuris are a proud people’ says Binalakshmi, as she sweeps her long black hair into a bun. ‘We have no concept of the word ‘servant’. We’re a very egalitarian society and have a strong sense of our past and culture’. Manipur has a rich history of over 2,000 years; it was an independent kingdom prior to merging with the Union of Indian in 1949, the State is rich in resources and was the birth place of India’s first discovery of oil. However, Manipur’s most valuable asset is and continues to be the spirit of resistance born into the people, especially the women. ‘We have a group of women called Meera Piribis (torch holders), who patrol the streets at night. It is often at night when men and boys are picked up by army patrols that the shootings occur. The women set up little huts at the end of each street, and if there is any trouble, then the other members simply throw pebbles at lamp posts to alert and mobilize the other women.’

The impact conflicts have on women and children has often been ignored by governments and civil society. Woven into this conflict and bloodshed, has been Binalakshmi’s own story. Binalakshmi started the MWGSN in 2004, after she witnessed the aftermath of the killing of a 27 year old man in Manipur’s capital Imphal. In order to assist the man’s widow, Binalakshmi brought her a sewing machine, so that she could then earn a livelihood, and not have to resort to more degrading or humiliating means. MWGSN aim is to provide women who have been victims of armed conflict with practical assistance, such as opportunities for women to earn a livelihood by starting a small business, as well as mobilizing committed young people to raise awareness on the need to control the use and spread of small arms. Though her activism has at times come at a personal cost to her, ‘each side - the government or the insurgents - say I am siding with the other. Rumours are spread that I am trying to disarm the insurgents, that I am pro-government. That is a false allegation.’

It is clear from Binalakshmi‘s determination and commitment to the people of Manipur that she will continue working for peace. ‘I am privileged. I am educated. I, like the Meera Piribis, am the next generation of my women to carry the torch of hope. It is my responsibility to work for peace. No more. No more will we let the army decide, the insurgents decide, or the patriarchal structures of our societies control our lives, control our movements. We will act and lead on our needs and our priorities, not theirs.’

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