New on my other blogs

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

വായന

31 May, 2009

Want to quit smoking?

Here is something which must interest those who want to quit smoking but can’t.

According to a WebMD Health News report, a recent study shows web- and computer-based programs help.

To read the report, please go to: Computer is an Ally in Quit-Smoking Fight

29 May, 2009

SRI LANKA: Justice and the media in peril

BASIL FERNANDO
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission


Sri Lanka's justice system, legal profession and media are all under peril says a report published this week by the International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI). The report is entitled, Justice in Retreat: A report on the independence of the legal profession and the rule of law in Sri Lanka. This expression of concern by the International Bar Association, which is acknowledged as the global voice of the legal profession, is perhaps the first statement of recognition by an internationally reputed professional organisation of lawyers of the peril that is facing Sri Lanka's system of justice. In this column the author has constantly drawn attention to this peril and hopes that those concerned with Sri Lanka will pay more attention to this all important question.

The LTTE


The report comes at a time of great importance to Sri Lanka. The government has claimed complete victory over the LTTE. The circumstances surrounding the last days of the war between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces still remain a focus point in the global media and the United Nations Human Rights Council has called a special session to discuss this situation. In all discussions the government, as well as all the other interested parties, talk about bringing a political solution to the problem of minority Tamils in the country.

The 13th Amendment

The government's preferred solution is the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (Devolving power to provincial councils). Even the communiqué by the government and the UN issued at the end of the visit of Ban Ki Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations who paid a special visit last week makes mention of the government's commitment regarding the 13th Amendment.

The basic question that arises is as to whether this amendment could be fully implemented or implemented at all in a place where the justice system, the legal profession and the media is in peril. The 13th Amendment is no different to any other part of the Constitution and therefore the general problem that deserves consideration is as to whether a constitution can be implemented in a society where the justice system, legal profession and the media is in peril.

Over the long period of the conflict, which dates back at least 31 years, almost all references to the conflict were on the basis that it was an ethnic issue. Therefore, the attempt was, if there was any, to find a specific solution to this specific problem.

However, it appears clearly now that whatever they mean by an ethnic problem, this is only a part of a much larger problem within a country where the total system of justice, which means the system that applies equally to the majority as well as to the minorities, is in peril. The problem specifically affecting the minority cannot be in any meaningful sense separated from that of the problem affecting the entire population where the justice system, the legal profession and the media are in peril. Justice is the basis of all relationships within a particular society. It is justice that determines the limitations on state power. It is those limitations preserved by law that ensures protection of all rights to all persons. These may be the rights of women, rights that ensure protection against illegal arrest, detention and extrajudicial killings and denial of fair trial or matters relating to economic, social and cultural rights and the rights of the child and the like.

The rights of all

The minority rights are one more category of the overall umbrella of rights of the citizens. If the system of justice is in peril then all the rights are in peril. Simply to talk about minority rights only is fictional, just as talk about saving a few after allowing thousands to perish, can only be a fiction. Let us say you drop a nuclear bomb in a particular city and talk about saving only one group of persons among the many who are likely to be affected by the explosion. It is possible to talk about such a thing as pure fiction but in real life it does not happen that way.

What is said about the justice system as a whole can also be said of the legal profession and the media. The legal profession is an indispensible component of the protection of rights in any modern society. The task of the profession is to assist citizens who may have a lesser understanding about the total system of the law. If the lawyers cannot provide those services that are expected of them, their clients will suffer for it. Once again this is a problem that affects all. Without addressing a problem that affects all it is not possible to address the problem of the minorities only.

Again, the media is an essential component of the protection of all rights of the people. If the media is in peril the rights of all are in peril. Everyone will be denied of the right to information which is the sole basis on which well informed judgements can be made. If all the people are denied the information needed for making rational judgements all the decisions they make are destined to fail. The majority and minority relationships for the benefit of all can happen only if there is a rational discourse between the two.

IDPs

The peril of the system of justice, the legal profession and the media is amply illustrated by the manner in which the internally displaced persons, said to be around 300,000, are being treated at the moment. The country's system of the administration of justice is not involved in any way in dealing with this issue. Therefore the lawyers have no place in the protection of the rights of these persons. The media are virtually denied access to these persons. Thus, basic rights that any citizen should have under any circumstances are denied to them and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

What the situation of the IDPs illustrates is that it is not possible to separate the discussions on the total collapse of justice and the media in the country from any aspect of the problems of the minority. The situation that has developed is that all the citizens should voluntarily abandon any claims for legal status and legally enforceable rights for the sake of what is called national security. Thus security has come to mean a situation in which everyone's rights are an irrelevant factor. In this context the IBAHRI report has highlighted a fact which is not only relevant for lawyers but also for the society as a whole.

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

28 May, 2009

Not a mandate against the Left’s social democratic policies

DEEPANKAR BASU
Countercurrents.org

In the recently concluded 2009 general elections to the lower house of the parliament, the Social Democratic Left (SDL henceforth) in India, composed of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), the Communist Party of India (CPI) and a bunch of smaller left-wing parties, has witnessed the severest electoral drubbing in a long time.
This year, the CPM won a total of only 16 parliamentary seats; compared to its performance in the last general elections in 2004 this is a whopping decline of 27 seats. The CPI, on the other hand, won four seats in 2009, suffering a net decline of six parliamentary seats from its position in 2004.

Does this mean that the Indian population has rejected even the mildly progressive and social democratic policies that the SDL tried to argue for at the Central level? Is this a mandate for the Congress party and by extension a mandate for neoliberalism? I think not. Rather, a careful analysis shows that this is a mandate against the SDL but not against social democratic policies; on the other hand, just like in 2004 when BJP's "shinning India" slogan was decisively rejected, this is a mandate against neoliberalism and for welfare-oriented policies. To the extent that the Congress was pushed by the SDL to partially implement such pro-people policies, it can possibly be interpreted as an indirect endorsement of Congress's late-in-the day populism.

Dipankar Basu is Assistant Professor of Economics at the Colorado State University. The above lines are taken from a long article in which he few comments on the Lok Sabha election results and tries to understand why the social democrats got such a drubbing in West Bengal, the bastion of the SDL in India. The article can be accessed at Countercurrrents.org

Little progress in US efforts to reduce deadly medical errors

Little progress has been made to reduce deadly medical errors in the U.S. in the past decade despite a call to action in 1999, according to a report by Consumers Union..

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued an alarming report titled "To Err is Human," detailing the toll of preventable medical errors in the U.S; it estimated that up to 98,000 Americans die annually from them.

The report triggered a flurry of activity, including congressional hearings, introduction of legislative bills, and promises of reform. But today, more than 100,000 people a year still die from medical errors, says Lisa McGiffert, campaign director for the Safe Patient Project of Consumers Union and a report co-author. The estimate of 100,000 deaths is drawn from more recent data from the CDC.

"As a country we haven't moved forward as the Institute of Medicine has hoped," McGiffert tells WebMD. ''In 1999, the IOM said we should reduce errors by 50% over five years."


These are the opening paragraphs of a report by Kathleen Doheny of WebMD Health News. For the rest of the report, please go to: Deadly Medical Errors Still Plague U.S.

27 May, 2009

A small step for justice, a giant leap for Binayak!

Satya Sivaraman & Anivar Aravind

Binayaksen.net

‘Bail granted’ - the magical words rung through the crowded supreme court chamber with the full power of an ace footballer’s match clinching shot to the goal.

It took just 30 seconds for Justice Markandeya Katju to dispel what the dark forces of Indian politics, bureaucracy and so called ‘internal security’ had wrought against the good doctor over the past two years

“I am aware of the facts of the case. He has been already in jail for two years’, said the honourable justice, presiding over Dr Sen’s application for bail before the Indian Supreme Court, refusing to hear the prosecution’s arguments. There was no ambiguity in his judgment at all – two years was indeed too much!

It was a small step for the Indian justice system perhaps, but a big leap for Binayak languishing in Raipur jail for what seems ages now- not just arrested on false charges but denied the basic right to bail for so long.

For the thousands of friends, supporters and well-wishers of Dr Sen in India and around the world the Supreme Court’s verdict of 25 May has come like fresh drops of rain in what seemed like a wasteland of injustice.

Their various contributions for Dr Sen’s release – small, big, medium - have all added up to precipitate those drops from what seemed to be an unyielding climate of oppression created by the Indian state’s bogus ‘war on terrorism’. A war in which there are no rules, no norms of decency and no inalienable rights of citizens who come in the crossfire between an extremist state and its extremist foes.

It is testimony to the sheer respect and love that Dr Sen has earned from so many that the campaign for his release has persisted over the past two years without ever giving up. There have been times of course when its morale may have sagged a bit but this was always amply made up for by the repeated surge of struggles all around the world, which have made this campaign unprecedented in the annals of the Indian civil rights movement.

The granting of bail is the first sweet victory in a much bitter battle ahead- a battle that will need all the creative energies, enthusiasm and motivation that has sustained the campaign so far. We need to see this story to its only possible end- the complete withdrawal of the false charges foisted on Dr Sen or his acquittal by the Indian courts of these charges and - may we demand -even compensation for the injustice done to him. Courtesy: Countercurrents.org

Satya Sivaraman & Anivar Aravind are editors of www.binayaksen.net

25 May, 2009

Supreme Court grants Binayak Sen bail at last!

Sukla Sen (<suklasen@yahoo.com>) writes:

Dr. Binayak Sen has been granted bail, after long two years. That's a major victory for the human rights movement in India.

But the (false and fabricated) case is still on. The case is an "index case", as so very brilliantly put by Binayak himself. It clearly shows up how draconian laws are can be and are actually misused. And how stupendously difficult it would be for a lesser being!

And even Dr. Binayak Sen, with 22 Nobel laureates appealing, national and international medical community protesting, foreign governments making queries, retired Supreme Court judge appealing, it took two long years just to obtain a simple bail, which as per the Supreme Court directive should be norm, not an exception.

This again shows up the the huge irrational arbitrary powers that the "state" is invested with to crush an ordinary citizen, and a dissenting voice, in particular. This small but significant victory must reenergise the human rights movement in India.

We must mobilise ourselves to firmly demand that the Central government must immediately initiate action to create a legal framework to subscribe to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in toto. While individual cases and struggles are important, this must constitute the central thrust. There is no other go.

Sukla

Follow developments at this link:

http://www.binayaksen.net/2009/05/live-tweet/

AHRC poser to India: will the public behave differently from the government?

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

Expressing concern about the decrease in the number of civil disputes filed in the courts in the country, the Chief Justice of India, Justice K. G. Balakrishnan, on Saturday said that the people prefer to settle disputes resorting to extra-constitutional methods. Clarifying his position, Justice Balakrishnan said that the judiciary is worried about the absence of new cases in the courts, indicating that the litigants are resorting to illegal means for dispute resolution. The Chief Justice also said that in a period where the average citizen is more aware of his rights and thus the chances of having disputes between persons high, the lesser number of cases filed in the courts means that the people have found ways to settle disputes outside the due process of law.

In an ideal scenario, a person settling disputes outside the realm of the court is good. But this proposition is suitable only if the means for dispute resolution is within the acceptable norms of justice and equality. But in India, the means resorted to are of hiring thugs and criminals to bully and threaten the opponent, thereby forcing a settlement. It is been so since the past decade. Even though late, it appears that the Indian judiciary is waking up to the reality, and is willing to admit that the average Indian litigant has less faith in the country's judiciary. Thus, the Chief Justice's concern is not out of place, but is relevant in addressing concerns related to the justice process in the country.

The mistrust of the general public in the due process indicates that the justice machinery of the country has failed to serve its purpose. While long delays in judicial process is disheartening enough for a serious litigant for not approaching the court, delay is just one reason why the people prefer to keep away from the courts. The lack of quality in professional service is yet another reason why the people shy off from the courts. For instance, it is a challenging task for a litigant to find a good lawyer at an affordable price.

To make matters worse, professional ethics among the lawyers in the country is as good as non-existent. Breach of professional ethics and morale is so common in the country, that a lawyer accepting money from both sides is no more news. Often lawyers prefer adjournments of cases since each day of hearing fetch them money. Corruption is however not limited to the lawyers, as the lawyers are just one component of a larger machinery.

Corruption within the judicial service is of such nature that even if a judge is not corrupt, a case could still be stalled due to a corrupt court staff. Officers ranging from the court registrar to the process server demand and accept bribes. It is almost impossible for papers to be processed in the court registry unless the court staffs are paid bribes. The judges often are aware of the corruption, but never initiate action against their own staff. Corruption is omnipresent, from the Munsiff's Court to the Supreme Court. The only difference is the amount of money demanded and paid. Even some of the judges in the country are corrupt.

Expressing the importance of a judge's role in sorting the issues within the justice system, the Chief Justice said that the judiciary requires judges who are committed to social values. For this, the Chief Justice emphasised on training for the judges. The Chief Justice however denied admitting that a value system a judge is not used to in his life outside the judge's chamber cannot be inculcated into an officer by mere training.

Some practices within the judiciary are as if the judiciary is alien to the very concept of decency and human and professional dignity. There are customary practices within the Indian judiciary that will shame feudal lords. For instance, it is a common practice for senior judges to direct subordinate judicial officers to serve as an orderly to the senior judge when the senior judge happens to visit a place with his family within the jurisdiction of the subordinate officer. Such practices of mere show and egotist vulgarity cannot be changed by training, but could be stopped, if the members of the judiciary are willing to realise that a judge's office is to be placed at a higher pedestal than that of a corrupt politician in the country who is arguably more prone to public show. What determines a judiciary's character is not the mere 'social value concept' of the judge, but his knowledge and skill in applying the law. A judge who is morally degraded by his superior officers cannot be expected to be blind and impartial while applying the law.

The standard of the Indian judiciary has arguably degenerated in the past three decades. The degradation process is rapid during the past ten years. This contradicts the fact that in the past ten years, the service conditions of the judges have improved considerably. An Indian judge is no more a poorly paid public servant as opposed to the service conditions in the past. Yet, cases implicating the members of the judiciary in corruption and other scandals are on the increase in the recent years.

The fact that judges are increasingly prone to corruption is only a mere indicator of the widespread prevalence of corruption in the society. For instance, some judges allegedly turn a blind eye to accusations that their relatives are accepting bribes in the judge's name for fixing cases. The continuation of such practices generates a public perception that the judge is corrupt. One cannot expect an ordinary litigant to trust a system that the judge is not committed to.

The government is also not committed to developing the Indian justice system. The judiciary receives negligible support from the government in terms of financial commitment. Vacancies are left unfilled and infrastructure sparingly made available. For example, during the past sixty years, the government's spending on justice institutions is a negligible minimum in comparison to what the government has spent on ministerial projects or on defence. This neglect is intentional. The more a justice system is smothered out of its life, the better the prospects for a corrupt politician, a class that is found in plenty in the country.

The worst dent is upon the criminal justice administration. For example, the service conditions of the public prosecutors are of such nature that this office does not attract professionals of any quality. Appointments to this office are publicly auctioned, where the highest bidder for payment of bribe is offered the post. Such payment is no more made in secrecy. It is a common practice among the public prosecutors and the government pleaders to demand bribes from the litigants. When the normative quotient for appointment to these important offices are determined by political affinities and the amount of bribes paid, replacing merits and skill, it is natural for the other elements within the criminal justice machinery also to degenerate.

During the past five years the number of extra judicial executions has increased to alarming levels in the country. It is estimated that in 2008 alone there has been 422 cases of extra judicial executions carried out in India. This includes cases involving the state police and other enforcement units like the para-military units deployed in various parts of the country.

Murderer officers are publically acknowledged as 'encounter specialists' as if they possess a higher technical skill, rare and coveted, in the law enforcement service. Even the media recognise these officers' skill of murdering suspects by referring to them as some form of specialist and elite officers within the system, conveniently neglecting the fact that the officer is a psychopath who murders people with impunity. Not a single judge from the Indian judiciary, including the Chief Justice, has questioned this practice. The argument in support of these murderers is that often when a suspect is brought to the trail, he escapes conviction, thereby becoming a continuing threat to the society. What is conveniently forgotten is the fact that often an acquittal is the result of poor investigation and appalling prosecution. An encounter killing is a blatant negation of the principles of the rule of law.

A criminal case in essence is a dispute between the state and an accused. In a country where the state itself practices extra-constitutional means for resolving the dispute with an accused in a crime, by encouraging state officers to murder the suspect in a fictitious encounter, can a litigant in a civil dispute expected to be different?
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

22 May, 2009

Why Dalits have slammed Mayawati’s Sarvjan formula

S.R.DARAPURI
Countercurrents.org

Kanshi Ram and Mayawati started their politics with “Tilak, Traju aur Talwar- inko maro jute char” (beat the Brahmins, Banias and Thakurs with shoes) and “Vote hamara raj tumhara nahin chalega” (we won’t allow you to rule us with our vote). Besides this, in order to attract Dalits (Scheduled Castes.) they gave the slogans like “Baba tera mission adhura, Kanshi Ram karenge pura” (Kanshi Ram will fulfill the mission left incomplete by Dr. Ambedkar) and “Political power is the key to the entire problem.” Through these slogans they aimed at attracting and agitating the Dalits against the ‘Savarnas’ (higher castes) and they succeeded also to a good extent. This polarization of dalits was further facilitated by the political vacuum created by the division and downfall of Republican Party of India which was established by Dr. Ambedkar himself in 1956.

Since 1995 Mayawati made various experiments to broaden the base of her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). In the beginning it was known as the party of the Dalits only. Later on Muslims and Other Backward Castes were also co-opted. It fought the 1993 Assembly election jointly with Samajwadi Party (SP), a party of Other Backward Classes and made good gains. It resulted in the formation of the first coalition government of BSP and SP in Uttar Pradesh. This coalition of natural allies became a subject of discussion all over India but a clash of personal ambitions resulted in its fall in June, 1995. Mayawati grabbed the post of Chief Minister by making an unethical and opportunist alliance with Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), a party of orthodox Hindus and the bitterest enemy of Dalits. This put the Dalit movement and Dalit politics on the path of opportunism, bereft of principles. It not only confused the direction of Dalit politics but also fogged the difference between friends and foes of Dalits. This alliance not only gave a lease of life to the dying BJP but also broke the natural alliance of Dalits and Backward Castes for ever. This unprincipled and opportunistic alliance was justified as being essential for getting into power and party workers were misled by this briefing.

This alliance with BJP not only confused the Dalits but also led to Muslims moving away from BSP as they consider BJP their bitterest enemy. During the first BSP rule in 1995 some land was distributed to empower the Dalits because the party workers could exercise some pressure on the party leadership. Later on, in order to please the upper caste people, Dalit interests were given the go by and getting power became the sole motive of the party leadership. After Mayawati’s first tenure as Chief Minister, this process became faster and BSP raced towards ‘Sarvjan’ throwing aside the Bahujan. In every election moneyed, musclemen and mafias were given preference as they were considered winning candidates and Dalits were restricted to reserved seats only. Party mission was overtaken by money power and muscle power. Old missionary party workers and those who were close to Kanshi Ram were made to leave the party unceremoniously. Dalits were marginalized in the party but they continued to be with the party in the hope that one day they may also benefit but their hopes were belied.

Between 1995 and 2003 Mayawati became the Chief Minster of Uttar Pradesh thrice but she always took the help of Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP). During this period neither any Dalit agenda was chalked out nor was any effort made in that direction. In 1993, this author, during many discussions with Kanshi Ram, suggested chalking out a Dalit agenda but my suggestions were ignored. I think it was done purposely because declaration of an agenda brings up a duty to implement it and if it fails it brings up responsibility and accountability for the failure. It is a matter of regret and sorrow that a party seeking political power in the name of Dalits has not framed any agenda till today as a result of which the Dalits have been deprived of any gain coming from a government run in their name. The result is that the Dalits of UP are the most backward Dalits in whole of India barring those of Bihar and Orissa. During this period the moneyed and the musclemen of upper castes have been managing to get Assembly and Parliament tickets and enjoying the fruits of power whereas Dalits have a meager representation and are deprived of all benefits.

BSP, which is doing politics in the name of Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, in its effort to secure power, has totally ignored his warning that “Dalits have two enemies. One is Brahminism and the other is Capitalism and Dalits should never compromise with them.” Mayawati has compromised with both by co-opting Brahmins and the corporate sector. At present Dalit politics has become a tool for power grabbing. It reached its height when before the 2007 Assembly elections Mayawati formed Dalit Brahmin Bhaichara Committees (Dalit Brahmin Brotherhood Committees) with a Brahmin president and a Dalit secretary.

The election success of BSP during 2007 was mainly attributed to the important role played by Brahmins and they got a lion’s share in power which was much disproportionate to their population. Dalits were reduced to the level of second class players in the party and in minister ship. This methodology of co-opting upper caste people was publicized as new “social engineering” and BSP was transformed from the party of Dalits to a party of Sarvjan (all inclusive).

During this period, slogans such as “Haathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hai” (it is not an elephant but a trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh- all Hindu gods) and “Brahman shankh bajaiga, Haathi dilli jaiga”(Brahmin will blow the conch and elephant will march towards Delhi) were coined to placate the upper caste persons much to the chagrin of Dalits. (Elephant is the election symbol of BSP). The Varna system of graded inequality became fully operative in the party and Dalits were further pushed to the margin.

Even now during the present régime of Mayawati, Dalits have been totally ignored and Sarvjan have occupied the front seats. All important ministerial posts have been given to upper caste people. Mayawati’s personal corruption has percolated to all the branches of administration and UP has been assessed to be “an alarmingly corrupt state”. The various welfare schemes aiming at empowering Dalits and other weaker sections of society have fallen a prey to all pervading corruption thereby depriving the intended beneficiaries of their benefits. Blatant corruption came to light during recruitment to the posts of safai karamcharis (sweepers). Similar complaints surfaced during other recruitments also. It is said that there might be only a few lucky persons who escaped payment of high price for government jobs. The funds intended for development works were spent on installation of statues, including her own, and creating royal memorials and parks.

Since 1990 UP has been deprived of any development and creation of employment opportunities. This lack of development has adversely affected the Dalits and they have become the most backward Dalits in the whole of India. As per 2001 Census their sex ratio, literacy rates and work participation rate are much lower than those of their counterparts in other states. A fall of 13% Dalits from the category of cultivators to the category of landless labourers during the last decade (1991-2001) indicates their disempowerment.

There has been no decrease in atrocities against Dalits during Mayawati’s rule. On the contrary, as a result of written and oral orders of Mayawati, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 has become inoperative. This act was intended to prevent atrocities and award stringent punishment to the perpetrators of atrocities on Dalits. Atrocities against Dalits are taking place as before but cases are not being registered by police. As a result of non-registration of cases, Dalits are condemned to suffer atrocities and deprivation from monetary compensation. The intention behind not allowing the registration of cases is to keep the crime figures low, thereby projecting UP as a crimeless state. In spite of this, UP stands first in whole of India in crimes against Dalits. As such Mayawati has totally failed to give even legal protection to Dalits.

The action of Mayawati in ignoring Dalits and giving preference to upper castes has resulted in disillusionment and anguish amongst Dalits. This has been displayed by them during the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Most of the criminals, moneyed men and muscle men fielded by Mayawati were defeated as Dalits did not vote for them. This time, as earlier, Mayawati gave tickets even to those whom she herself had accused of threatening and assaulting her during the Guest House incident of 2nd June, 1995. But Dalits refused to oblige her and almost all of them were defeated.

Mayawati, as before, confined Dalits to 17 reserved seats, and only two of whom were elected. Brahmins, who constitute only 7.5% of the population, were given 20 seats, i.e. 25% of the total, whereas Dalits, who form 21% of the population, were given 17 reserved seats only. Out of the 20 successful BSP candidates, five are Brahmins and only two are Dalits. On account of the hold of Brahmins in the party, the people have started calling BSP Brahmins Samaj Party. From the angle of representation, Dalits are marginalized in the party. This is one of the major grievances of Dalits against Mayawati.

With a view to attract Most Backward Classes, Mayawati sent a recommendation to the Central Government for inclusion of 16 castes in the list of Schedule Castes. Earlier, Mulayam Singh had also made a similar attempt which was opposed by Dalits as it would affect their reservation quota. It was challenged in the court and had to be dropped. This action of Mayawati irritated the Dalits. Whereas Mayawati strongly recommended the case for 10% reservation for the poor among the upper castes, she did not show a similar interest in respect of Dalits. Her declaration of granting 10% reservation to Dalits in private sector has remained on paper only.

Mayawati’s way of ignoring Dalits and treating them as a bonded vote bank has irritated a large section of awakened and oppressed Dalits and has instilled in them a feeling of alienation. But, as before, Mayawati tried to befool them by projecting a possibility of her becoming the Prime Minister of India. But most Dalits refused to be taken in. A big chunk of Chamar and Jatav votes, which is the core vote bank of Mayawati, moved away from her to the Congress fold. The other Dalit sub-castes like Pasi, Dhobi, Khatik and Balmiki had earlier moved towards Samajwadi Party and BJP. The Most Backward Classes also deserted Mayawati. Afraid of Mayawati’s love for BJP, Muslims also walked away from BSP. This resulted in a limited success on 20 seats only as against a projected tally of 50-60 seats whereby she could stake her claim for the Prime Ministership.

The disheartening defeat of BSP during this election has clearly shown that the vote base of BSP has shrunk. Not only Muslims and Most Backward Classes have deserted BSP, even a big chunk of Dalits have moved away from it to Congress. Dalit society has been badly divided on sub-caste lines. Dalit movements and Dalit politics have fallen a prey to opportunism, corruption and immorality. Today it is standing at the crossroads. It is not only a danger signal for Mayawati but for whole of Dalit society. Will Mayawati and Dalit intellectuals think over it with their cool mind? If it is not done immediately it may again result in betrayal of Dalit interests. There is a fear of Dalits again becoming political slaves of Congress. It should be a matter of grave concern and serious introspection by all Ambedkarites.

Going by present signs, Mayawati has refused to learn any lesson from her debacle. As rightly pointed out by B.G. Varghese in Deccan Herald, “the lesson Mayawati requires to learn is that she has been cut to size not on account of conspiracies against Dalit-ki-beti (daughter of a Dalit) but because of her own greed, corruption and authoritarianism that is fast blunting her original appeal as a Dalit leader intent on forging a wider social alliance. People do not want innumerable self-aggrandizing statues and mausoleums at the cost of good governance and welfare. She perhaps still has time to learn and mend her ways.”

The recent election results show that Dalits have rejected Mayawati’s much trumpeted “Sarvjan formula” and she needs to do serious introspection and learn from her mistakes. Otherwise it will prove to be a missed opportunity.

S.R.Darapuri is a retired Indian Police Service officer, based in Lucknow. He can be contacted at srdarapuri@yahoo.co.in

Basil Fernando: I also mourn for Prabakaran

Reproduced below is an Open Letter to all Sri Lankans from Basil Fernando (photo at left), Executive Director, Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong. Born in Sri Lanka, Basil Fernando graduated from the Faculty of Law of the University of Ceylon, Colombo, in 1972. He practiced and taught law before moving out of Sri Lanka to hold several United Nations-related posts, including appeals counsel under the UNHCR for Vietnamese refugees in Hong Kong, officer-in-charge of the Investigation Unit under the U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia and chief of legal assistance at the Cambodia Office of the U.N. Center for Human Rights.

Following the killings of the entire LTTE leadership there is a strongly expressed feeling among Sri Lankans, within the country or outside, that their deaths particularly that of the leader, Prabakaran, should not be a matter for mourning. I beg to differ!

That there were the most extreme forms of violence practiced by both the rebels and the state forces is the issue of real concern. That the political and legal systems of Sri Lanka have not developed to an extent that it is possible to deal with any conflict, particularly a conflict between the communities living within the country, is a matter that cannot be separated from the way in which all actors in the present conflict have behaved. The test of civilisation in modern times is the nature of the political and legal institutions within which people live and not their so called traditional cultures. If the situation of Sri Lanka is such that no such civilised political and legal systems exists, the actors for the state and those citizens who have taken to violence must be judged within the framework of this total situation.

Moral and legal responsibilities

This does not remove the moral responsibilities of those who have acted with barbarism either on behalf of the rebel groups or on behalf of the state. Each must answer morally for their actions despite the colossal defects of the political and legal systems within which they have acted. For this each must answer separately. It is not exculpatory for anyone to claim innocence on the basis that such actions were done on behalf of the rebel group or the state if the acts themselves, are immoral or illegal even in the situation of a 'war'. However, those who have made moral decisions which are wrong and which may have brought them to the ultimate loss of life due to these very wrongs, do not forfeit their human status and therefore they still deserve to be mourned. Prabakaran was a citizen of Sri Lanka and a human being and there is no way of saying in an ultimate sense that he was not 'one of us.'

I am a Sinhalese by birth and as I reached my adulthood I told myself that this should in no way affect my judgement on anything. In the latter part of my life in particular, I have lived with many races and nationalities belonging to all continents. At no stage the fact of whatever race or nationality these people belonged to has been a matter affecting any judgement, though the ethnic and cultural differences of people have played an important role in the enjoyment and enrichment of each other. And I have asked myself, if this be the case, why should my judgement regarding the communities of my own country be any different to this?

Angulimala

In terms of the strongest cultural tradition of Sri Lanka which is Buddhism, perhaps the story of Angulimala is to the point. Angulimala, a bright student, was treated badly by his guru because of a misunderstanding created by jealous and rival students in the mind of the guru about him. The guru instructed Angulimala to bring him a chain of fingers. The finger hunt resulted in Angulimala having the reputation of being the worst murderer in the region because he killed everyone he met to take their fingers. One day however, the Buddha confronted him, facing the risk of assassination himself. In the process Angulimala was brought to his knees, made to understand his predicament and changed his ways. The moral of the story is two-fold. That Angulimala's behaviour was conditioned and that despite of his atrocious criminal acts he was still a human being to be dealt with.

In the Christian tradition there is the story of the stoning of an immoral woman where the Christ told the crowd, those who are without sin, throw the first stone.
This does not imply that the moral and legal wrongs done by the LTTE under their leader should be forgotten or forgiven. All the moral and legal issues of atrocious crimes need to remain the top priority of the national discourse until such time as the whole nation understands the implications of all these issues, so that measures will be developed in order to avoid their repetition in the future. In the case of the rebellions of the JVP in 1971 and 1986 to 1991 no such discussion took place and, in fact, attempts at all such discussions was deliberately suppressed. Therefore the repetition of similar and even worse behaviour happened again through the LTTE.

The problem of dealing with moral and legal issues is that no one can take a holier than thou attitude. It is not possible to discuss and resolve and the moral and legal issues of rebels without discussing the legal and political responsibilities of the state. If the state itself avoids criticism of its own behaviour and has no will at all to change that behaviour with the improvement of political and legal institutions, then the criticism of the rebels become a farce. Such a refusal to discuss state responsibility can only be a ploy to continue with the defective political and legal systems for the benefit of some persons.

The threat of more repression on everyone

Thus, out of the fight against rebels there is the real possibility of the emergence of a state with greater powers of repression which would be used against the entire population. It was the campaign against the communists in Germany which was utilised by Hitler to build one of the world's worst authoritarian systems. It was the fight against the bourgeoisie and the internal party groups of the left opposition lead by Trotsky that was utilised by Joseph Stalin to create an authoritarian system which was even worse than that of Hitler.

In the aftermath of Prabakaran's death the exhibition of his body and the jubilation that was shown reflect badly on the sort of 'headhunter mentality' of some tribes who kept the heads of their enemies, captured in battle as trophies of their strength and glory. When the political and legal institutions fails to live up to required standards a sub-stream of consciousness that remains from the past can surface, as Hannah Arendt in her extensive studies of various authoritarian regimes in the recent past has demonstrated. It was the surfacing of such tendencies which made even the concentration camps possible. Thus, it is not only in countries with less developed political and legal systems that this can happen but even stronger systems can degenerate under certain circumstances. The sub stream of consciousness from the past in south Asian societies, including Sri Lanka is conditioned by the unwritten laws of the repression of the caste system in which disproportionate and collective punishment is an integral part, as amply demonstrated by the recent popular novel, the White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga.

That there was such violent conflict in our own country is a matter for regret and sadness. That there are no attempts to improve the political and legal systems so as to be capable of dealing with the differences and the conflicts is a matter for even greater sadness. That the defeat of the LTTE is being manipulated so badly as to further destroy whatever remains of the political and legal system evokes even worse premonitions for society. How the workers, farmers, the middle class, those who represent dissent and opposition and those who are engaged in providing public information and creating public opinion through the media will be dealt with in the future in Sri Lanka is even more frightening to think about.

Celebrations of a failure

There is no real victory to celebrate, but instead tremendous failures to worry about. And if the artificial celebrations that are organised are meant to fool the people again then these celebrations will, in fact, be glorifications of failure. The last thing that human beings can rely on is their common humanity and the last thing that the citizens of a nation can rely on is citizenship. The fallen rebels as well as fallen soldiers are, in fact, bound by the bond of humanity and citizenship. They all need to be mourned. That is the least bit of decency that anyone can demonstrate. I mourn for all of them, including Prabakaran.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

21 May, 2009

On being Asian, gay and HIV positive in US

VIJI SUNDARAM
New America Media

SAN FRANCISCO – When Jane and Alexander Nakatani lost their three sons – two to AIDS, and one to a bullet – they knew they had to shed their “Asian” inhibitions. They realized that they needed to educate people about how “delicate” the psyche of immigrant children is, and that parenting them should not be taken lightly.

“Three months before Guy (their youngest son) died, he told me he was a triple minority,” an emotional Alexander Nakatani told a gathering at the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center (APIWC). “He was Asian, gay and HIV positive.”

Nakatani admitted that the struggles his sons faced were in large part because none of them turned out to be the son he and his wife wanted.

Guy died in 1997 from complications stemming from AIDS, just four years after his older brother had died from the same disease. Guy was 27.

The Nakatanis were honored by the Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center for their efforts to transform their tragedy into hope, and to create public awareness about HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in Asian American communities. The couple has embarked on a “mission” to share their story of tolerance, acceptance and healing.

Their story is told in the book and film, “Honor Thy Children,” which was screened at the center on Monday.

“It’s not a story simply about our family, but a story about children who grew up stigmatized and marginalized,” said Nakatani, after the screening of the powerful 90-minute documentary, during which his wife sat crying quietly. “It’s about how delicate and fragile children are.”

The disappointment and anger Guy and his brother Glen faced after coming out to their parents is typical of many Asian families, noted Lance Toma, executive director of the APIWC in San Francisco. The stigma that they face in their families and their communities may be one of the reasons many gay Asian Americans don’t get tested for HIV, Toma said, noting that AIDS diagnosis among Asian and Pacific Islanders is one of the highest among all minority communities. And among those diagnosed, young men having sex with men are the most impacted.

“We knew this could happen,” he said. “We are not getting tested.”

Honor Thy Children was made over the course of 12 years. It shows how the stern and emotionless older Nakatanis drove their two gay sons, Glen and Guy, into a cocoon of isolation by not accepting their sexual orientation.

“Maybe you’re not gay, Guy. A lot of young people experiment,” Alexander awkwardly told the young teenager, when he announced he was gay.

Unable to cope with his overbearing and unsympathetic parents, Glen left their California home when he was 15. Livid, Nakatani took down all the pictures of his first-born and declared, “I have no son.”

Later that night, Guy and his other brother, Greg, made a pact never to do anything to cause their parents pain.

It was probably this pact that kept the once playful, charming and affable Guy from telling his parents that he was raped when he was 15 by a male acquaintance twice his age. When Guy reached adulthood, he dated women, confiding to one of them that he was gay.

Meanwhile, after a short stint in the military, a very sick Glen returned to his parents’ home. He was diagnosed with full-blown AIDS. He died shortly afterward, with his parents lovingly at his side.

Four years later, Guy, weakened by AIDS, which had robbed him of vision in one eye and kept him in a wheelchair, died surrounded by his friends and family. He had spent the last three years of his life going from school to school in the San Francisco Bay Area advocating against casual sex.

Nakatani told the gathering Wednesday, "Know that there are those of us who cherish and love ‘diversity’ in its total and complete sense … and that there always will be voices that will speak for dignity, honor, acceptance and unconditional love for all children."

May 19 marked the fifth annual National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

20 May, 2009

Concern over fate of three Tamil doctors in Sri Lanka

The following is a statement from Amnesty International forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

Amnesty International is concerned for the safety of three government doctors who had been working in the conflict zone in North eastern Sri Lanka until 15 May.
Dr T. Sathiyamoorthy, Dr T. Varatharajah and Dr. Shanmugarajah were treating the sick and wounded until they reportedly travelled out of the ‘No Fire Zone’ with approximately 5,000 other civilians.

According to reports received by Amnesty International, Dr. Shanmugarajah and Dr. Sathiyamoorthy, the regional director of health services in Kilinochchi, may be currently held at the Terrorist Investigation Division (T.I.D) in Colombo. However, a detention order has not yet been issued so their relatives remain unsure of their whereabouts and they do not have access to a lawyer. Dr T. Varatharajah, the regional director of health services in Mullaitivu, was seriously injured and is reported to have been airlifted from the Omanthai crossing point to an unknown destination by the Sri Lankan Air Forces (SLAF).

According to reports, the three doctors were last seen on the morning of May 15 at a holding area at Omanthai checking point.

Amnesty International fears that they may be held in reprisal for providing information about civilians in the conflict zone. The doctors provided eyewitness reports to the media and the international community from hospitals and makeshift medical centres in the conflict zone. Their reports detailed the suffering of ordinary civilians, many of whom died from war-related injuries. Their reports also highlighted continuous shelling of areas with large concentrations of non-combatants.

18 May, 2009

AHRC asks Sri Lanka to end operation of anti-terrorism laws

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, says in a statement:

The Sri Lankan government has officially declared victory against the LTTE. The Secretary of Defence, in an interview to the BBC Sinhala Service on Sunday, said that "the LTTE does not exist anymore." (A reputed journalist reported the possibility of the LTTE leaders having committed mass suicide and the government has not revealed the manner in which the LTTE has ceased to exist).

With the end of the LTTE there is no longer any justification for the continuation of the emergency and anti-terrorism laws which are operating in all parts of Sri Lanka. The essence of these laws is to suspend the operation of the normal laws of the country and such suspensions cripple the rule of law, due process and democracy.

The best way to mark the end of the LTTE is to allow people to breathe freely by suspending emergency and anti-terrorism laws.

Extraordinary powers given under anti-terrorism laws allow for:
• prolonged detention,
• disempowerment of the judiciary in exercising the normal functions relating to arrest and detention,
• the detention of persons in special places which are not normally authorised as places of detention,
• preventive detention,
• draconian laws to restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of the press,
• severe restrictions on freedom of assembly, thus restricting legitimate forms of protest such as meetings, rallies, demonstrations and the like,
• severe restrictions on the formation of associations.

These restrictions virtually cripple the operation of the legal process under the normal supervision of the courts. In fact, the emergency and anti-terrorism laws place some government officials, such as the Secretary of Defence, in a higher position than the courts.

Local and international law provides for the derogation of certain rights when there is a situation such as, 'In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed.' Such a situation no longer exists by the very admission of the Sri Lankan government itself. The public proclamation now is that the LTTE has been completely defeated which amounts to a policy statement that the public emergency threatening the life of the nation no longer exists.

The relevant article in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states as follows:

4.1. In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present Covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, colour, sex, language, religion or social origin.

The operation of emergency and/or anti-terrorism laws has continued in Sri Lanka with brief intervals since 1971. In 1971 and between 1987 and 1991 such suspensions of the normal laws was done as the JVP was considered by the government to have created a situation where there was a: '......public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed.' From the late 70s up to now similar provisions suspending normal laws have been justified by the government against the JVP and LTTE.

Emergency and anti-terrorism laws are a tremendous burden on the operation of the normal legal process. When extraordinary laws that allow the special suspensions of the general law of the country operate it permeates the normal rule of law system and virtually paralyses it. When such laws exist for any length of time they can destroy the rule of law system altogether. The collapse of the rule of law system in Sri Lanka has been noted by everyone and one of the contributory factors has been the continuing use of such extraordinary laws.

Emergency and anti-terrorism laws create a situation of terror and fear psychosis. One of the major challenges that the country will face in the immediate future is how to exorcise such terror and fear and the first step towards that is the abolition of these laws.

It is hoped that the government will not look for another 'demon', whether real or imagined, in order to justify the continuation of emergency and anti terrorism laws. The government's propaganda machinery, which has for a long time depended heavily on the existence of the LTTE for the purpose of justifying all forms of terror exercised by the state, is very likely to look for another demon or even a phantom in order to continue with its vicious propaganda for the purpose of controlling the entire population.

It is time for the nation to be free and once again to be able to engage in its own diverse discourses in order to find solutions to the millions of problems that society is now faced with. The country's normal legal framework provides for such normal living. Among the problems that require freedom for the purpose of finding solutions is the immediate problem of the large numbers of IDPs. Large numbers of their relatives in Sri Lanka and abroad are anxious about their wellbeing and, in fact, the entire nation and the international community want to participate in making their situation less miserable. Also finding solutions to the minority problem is possible only within the framework of the operation of normal laws and the possibilities of the free exchange of ideas.

In view of the developments of the past few days it will not be possible for the government to justify the continuation of the emergency and anti-terrorism laws, either to the local population or the international community. Such a move will only give credence to the accusation that there are ulterior motives for maintaining the operation of such laws.

All political parties in Sri Lanka, the media and civil society should now do everything possible to ensure that these emergency and anti-terrorism laws are withdrawn without delay. The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon was requested by the Security Council to take all appropriate measures to deal with the present situation and the Sri Lankan government was requested to cooperate with the Secretary General. We urge the Secretary General to request the lifting of the emergency and anti-terrorism laws in order to facilitate proper measures to deal with the humanitarian crisis. We also urge the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, the leaders of the governments that have in recent time shown interest in the situation in Sri Lanka and the Diaspora (Sinhalese and Tamil), in particular who will want the problems of the IDPs and the minorities to be dealt with in an accountable and transparent manner, to make it a priority to see that these laws are withdrawn immediately.

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

17 May, 2009

End of civil war in Sri Lanka

“We willingly stand up with courage and silence our guns. We have no other option other than to continue our plea to the international community to save our people”. With these words, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam conceded on Sunday the Sri Lankan government’s claim that the long drawn out civil war is over.

The end of the conflict was announced by Selvarasa Pathmanathan, head of LTTE’s International Diplomatic Relations, in an urgent statement, according to the TamilNet website.

Pathmanathan said, “This battle has reached its bitter end. Against all odds, we have held back the advancing Sinhalese forces without help or support, except for the unending support of our people. It is our people who are dying now from bombs, shells, illness and hunger. We cannot permit any more harm to befall them.”

He said the LTTE had fought the Sri Lankan military for almost three decades and defended its right to carry arms as a means of protecting the Tamil people living in the island.

The website made no mention of the whereabouts of the LTTE chief, Velupillai Prabakaran.

The Sri Lankan army’s current campaign against the LTTE began two years ago. With its successful completion, the civil war is over. But the island’s Tamil community’s legitimate demand for an honourable place remains to be addressed. This is a political task that brooks no delay.

The recent furore in India over the Sri Lankan developments betrays a total lack of understanding of the issue in our media as well as in political circles.

The animosity between the Sinhala and Tamil communities goes back a long way. When the country gained independence in 1948 the Tamils had a favoured position in the government, having been close to the British during the colonial period. The country witnessed a series of agitations under the leadership of Buddhist monks seeking justice for the majority Sinhala people, who are Buddhists. These led to the adoption of Buddhism as the state religion and Sinhala as the official language. It was now the turn of the Tamils to agitate against injustice.

An honourable solution to the island’s ethnic problems lies in the evolution of a constitutional scheme which recognises the rights of the Tamils as a religious and linguistic minority.

Details of S. Pathmanathan’s statement at TamilNet website.

15 May, 2009

Pets can improve your health

Owning a pet can ward off depression, lower blood pressure, and boost immunity. It may even improve your social life, says Jeanie Lerche Davis in a
WebMD Feature.

Here’s the link to the feature

14 May, 2009

LTTE thanks Obama

"We thank and welcome the categorical calls by President Barack Obama for the Sri Lankan Government to take toward alleviating the humanitarian crisis," said B. Nadesan, the political head of the LTTE in a statement issued from Vanni on Thursday.

"The United Nations Organization and the Security Council has held back in their traditional humanitarian leadership role to take prudent measures and bring about a truce and safeguard Eelam Tamils. Now, the Eelam Tamils earnestly look forward to President Barack Obama to lead the humanitarian intervention," Mr. Nadesan said in his response to US President's statement on Wednesday.

Text of Natesan’s statement at TamilNet site

UN Security Council statement on Sri Lanka

The following United Nations Security Council press statement on Sri Lanka was read out on Wednesday by Council President Vitaly Churkin (Russian Federation):
The members of the Security Council express grave concern over the worsening humanitarian crisis in north-east Sri Lanka, in particular the reports of hundreds of civilian casualties in recent days, and call for urgent action by all parties to ensure the safety of civilians.

The members of the Security Council strongly condemn the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for its acts of terrorism over many years, and for its continued use of civilians as human shields, and acknowledge the legitimate right of the Government of Sri Lanka to combat terrorism.

The members of the Security Council demand that the LTTE lay down its arms and allow the tens of thousands of civilians still in the conflict zone to leave.
The members of the Security Council express deep concern at the reports of continued use of heavy calibre weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians, and expect the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitment in this regard.
The members of the Security Council demand that all parties respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.

The members of the Security Council call on the Government of Sri Lanka to take the further necessary steps to facilitate the evacuation of the trapped civilians and the urgent delivery of humanitarian assistance to them.

The members of the Security Council take note of the steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to address the humanitarian situation of displaced persons and call on the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the security of those displaced by the conflict and to cooperate with the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and other international humanitarian organizations in providing humanitarian relief and access to them as soon as they leave the conflict zone.

The members of the Security Council reiterate support for the personal involvement of the UN Secretary General and urge the Government of Sri Lanka to extend full cooperation to the United Nations in order to resolve the humanitarian crisis.

The members of the Security Council, mindful of the necessity to find a long-term solution without the threat of violence, underline that the needs of all communities in Sri Lanka have to be addressed.

13 May, 2009

Pro-LTTE website asks US to send fleet

TamilNet, the pro-LTTE website, says the US should think of ‘gunboat diplomacy’.

A feature, which the website published last week, quotes TamilNet’s unnamed political commentator in Colombo as saying, “ It is the last chance for US to strike a political balance in the island if it is really keen in seeing meaningful ‘post-conflict’ process”.

According to the commentator, neither the present Indian Establishment, which by its role played as a war partner irredeemably lost its positive leverage on the affairs of the island, nor the UN bogged down with Security Council deliberations may able to act swiftly to respond to the emergency. Colombo is on one hand aiming at creating a political and military vacuum for Tamils and on the other hand is aiming at the incarceration of all Tamils either in internment camps or in open prisons. The balance disturbed by US has to be set right by US itself by a timely action such as sending the fleet without waiting for political changes in India.

A time bomb is ticking not only for the entire region but also for the international credibility and future interests of the US in the region unless the US exercises its might with the Colombo regime to create an atmosphere of balance for a political engagement of the LTTE and Colombo, the commentator further said.

TamilNet also quoted Kanagalingam, president of the Vanni People Welfare Organization as saying the people would be the happiest if the US intervenes.

See TamilNet feature “US should think of ‘gunboat diplomacy’.”

12 May, 2009

Sri Lanka: hope for the best and prepare for the worst

Tamil Nadu goes to the polls tomorrow (May 13) in the fifth and final phase of polling in the Lok Sabha elections. After that, in all likelihood, the Sri Lankan government will feel emboldened to launch the final assault on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who are now trapped in a small stretch of land. One shudders to think of the plight of an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Tamil civilians caught between two ruthless forces.

There is reason to suspect that the Sri Lankan government has been going slow in the last few days since the fate of the civilians in the battlefield became a major election issue in Tamil Nadu. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and his chief political rival, former All India Anna DMK Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa, were engaged in an unseemly competition to pose as the saviour of the Tamils of Sri Lanka.

Jayalalithaa, who had condemned the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the past as a terrorist organization, recently endorsed its goal of a separate Eelam state. Two regional outfits which have openly backed the LTTE, which was banned in India after its role in former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination came to light, had broken away from the DMK-led alliance on the eve of the elections and joined the AIADMK-led front.

Last week the two leaders went one step further. Addressing an election meeting, Jayalalithaa said, "If the AIADMK-led alliance wins all 40 seats (39 in Tamil Nadu, one in Puducherry), then the Indian Army will be sent to Sri Lanka to carve out a separate Eelam state, like what Indira Gandhi did to Pakistan by carving out Bangladesh. Karunanidhi responded by declaring, also at an election meeting, that he “assumes responsibility” for the creation of Eelam.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) raised the Eelam issue at the national level with a view to embarrassing the Congress, but as far as can be ascertained the issue did not cause a stir beyond the borders of Tamil Nadu.

When Jayalalithaa first announced her support for the formation of an Eelam state, in a sardonic comment, a Sri Lankan government spokesman said she should find some other place for it.

There was a flurry of diplomatic activity as the Central government realized that the mood in Tamil Nadu, where many people believe it is actively assisting the Sri Lankan authorities in the civil war, could damage the electoral prospects of the Congress and its partner, the DMK.

Following the visit of a high-level Indian official team, the Sri Lankan government said it would not use heavy arms. But it does not appear to have kept the promise.

The world's attention at the moment is fixed on about 192,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), besides the civilians trapped in the no-fire zone. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, in a press release issued after a telephone conversation with the Sri Lankan president, said this issue was among the highest of priorities internationally.

The Asian Human Rights Commission, in a statement, said the people caught in the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE are ordinary folk who have lived in the north and the east from time immemorial and who have sustained themselves and helped others in the past. They deserve the full attention of the government as well as the international community in order to be able to escape this troubled situation and as soon as possible to be integrated back into their natural habitat.

It added, “Obviously, the LTTE will not cooperate in any way either for the release of those trapped in this small area of land or to contribute to their well-being. However, this cannot be used as an excuse by the government, which has the obligation to protect its citizens. The fact of the limited resources available to the country to ensure the well-being of these persons is no excuse as the international community, expressing itself through the highest officer of the United Nations, has assured complete cooperation to the government to deal with this issue. The richer countries of the world have also assured the government and the United Nations of their support to see this through.”

Let us hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

11 May, 2009

Lessons from the subcontinent’s history

B.R.P.BHASKAR

Ask Indian newspaper readers or television viewers what was the biggest event of 2008, and most of them will mention 26/11. So strong is the impact that the Mumbai terror attack of November 26 made on the Indian mind. It was no doubt a decisive event. In South Asia, there were other equally decisive events, too, last year. The throwing out of the military regime in Pakistan through a popular movement was one such. The elections held in that country yielded a government, which, though weak, has a democratic character. In Bangladesh, too, there was change of regime through elections. Also last year, the President of the Maldives, who had survived some coup attempts, stepped down following electoral defeat. In Nepal, the Maoists who were leading an armed insurrection participated in elections, emerged as the largest single party in the country and came forward to head a coalition government. Sri Lanka, like India, has kept alive the electoral process even in adverse circumstances. In the armed struggle that the Tamils of the island nation, who suffer from a sense of injustice, have been waging since long, the government gained the upper hand for the first time. In short, democracy never had it so good in South Asia.

How fast the scene changed! Within three months of the new year, the regimes in Pakistan and Bangladesh faced severe challenges. Taliban fighters from Afghanistan established themselves in Pakistan’s northwestern border. The Pakistan government was forced to sign an agreement which allowed them to enforce the Sharia law in the Swat valley. This development and the daring extremist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore raised concern over the country’s future. The possibility of the army or the extremists seizing power in the country cannot be ruled out. The revolt by paramilitary forces in Bangladesh, which resulted in the massacre of many officers and their families, points to the possibility of that country slipping into anarchy. Here, we may also take note of the fact that left extremist movements are posing a strong challenge to established authority in some Indian states.

To understand the gravity of the problems that India and its neighbours face, we have to take into account certain geographical and historical facts.


These are the opening lines of an article which looks at the South Asian experience of sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind.

To read the article in full, please click on "Sowing the Wind and Reaping the Whirlwind

09 May, 2009

Pakistan’s future at stake: must find own solution to Taliban problem

HAMID MIR
Commentary
New America Media

Editor's Note: Anti-Taliban sentiments are growing in Pakistan, but this doesn't necessarily push the country into the arms of the United States. Most Pakistanis view the United States as an even bigger threat, writes NAM contributor Hamid Mir. Mir is the only journalist to have interviewed Osama bin Laden before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He is a terrorism expert and security analyst based in Pakistan.

The leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan met with Presudent Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., this week. The three agreed to come up with a joint strategy against the Taliban and al Qaeda. But there is still a major problem.

The majority of Pakistanis does not see Washington as part of the solution. In fact, many Pakistani newspapers, TV channels and political pundits view Washington as part of the problem. They think that the growing militancy in Pakistan is a result of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

U.S. military advisor David Kilcullen admitted that drone attacks have killed about 700 Pakistani civilians and only 14 terrorists. The killing of innocent civilians has infuriated Pakistanis. Many believe that the United States only wants to use Pakistan as a safe supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan and that it will abandon Pakistan after completing its mission in Afghanistan.

Pakistanis view the United States as an even bigger threat than the Taliban because they fear that the Americans are after their nuclear program. Only the United States, they reason, could conspire to take control of Pakistani nuclear weapons with the help of India and Israel.

Like Americans, Pakistanis want to defeat the Taliban. But they also want to be rid of U.S. influence. After all, U.S. forces have been present in Afghanistan for the last eight years, and there is no peace there.

Pakistan is increasingly looking to Saudi Arabia and Iran as examples of countries that have been more successful at defeating terrorism. Presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai of Pakistan and Afghanistan, respectively, will meet with Iranian Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinijad in Tehran on May 19 to learn from Iran’s experience of combating terrorism.

The grand cleric of Al-Haram Mosque in Makkah, the most populous province of Saudi Arabia, also plans to visit religious leaders and scholars in Pakistan to declare that suicide bombing is not permitted in Islam. His statement, no doubt, will be more helpful in reducing terrorism than the U.S. dollars that have been pouring into the country.

Meanwhile, anti-Taliban sentiments continue to grow in Pakistan. The peace agreement in Swat province between the Pakistani government and pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Muhammad three months ago did not last. The Taliban sabotaged the agreement by kidnapping police officials in the Buner area.

About 600 schools and colleges were closed in Swat three months ago due to conflict between local Taliban and security forces. More than 200 schools were destroyed in the fighting.

In an unprecedented protest, residents of Swat and Buner called on Pakistani forces to take action – and more than a week ago, Pakistan responded with military force against the Taliban.

Thousands of residents of Swat and Buner are migrating to safer places. The fundamentalist group is now finding itself in a panic because the locals are not ready to become their “human shields” in the name of Islam. This is the first defeat for the Taliban.

This time, the majority of locals are not blaming security forces or the government for their problems. They are blaming the Taliban.

This is also the first time since 9/11 that all of the political parties in Pakistan have condemned the group. Indeed, it’s an opportunity to transform a broad-based political consensus into a national counter-terrorism policy.

It is time for Pakistani Pres. Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Gilani to call for a national conference on security. They should invite all of the political leaders and other stakeholders and come to a consensus to override their political differences and to defeat terrorism.

The future of Pakistan is at stake.

08 May, 2009

A stable government from a hung Parliament

Dr. Satinath Choudhary
Countercurrents.org

Under our current system of forming government from winning party or coalition, undesirable give and take start right from the beginning. Even when there is a clear-cut leader as the new Prime Minister (PM) of a party with clear-cut absolute majority, s/he has to distribute government’s departments to leaders of various factions of his or her party, primarily on the basis of factors like how many MPs support him or her, or his/her seniority, or his or her loyalty or sycophancy or relationship to the PM designate or one of the political bosses. Expertise of the MPs comes into consideration last, if at all. When the new PM emerges from “negotiations” among the leading factions of the party with absolute majority or from negotiations among leaders of a winning coalition, “quid pro quo” also enters into the process of making new government as one of the prime factors mentioned above. Even the qualifications of most of the IAS officers at the top of various departments are generally not really well matched against the requirements of those departments, as they are not chosen on the basis of their expertise. They all seem to function more or less as highly paid clerks pushing files, without really much of understanding or attachment to the subject matter they are dealing with. It should not be surprising why we continue to languish as one of poorest countries in the world.

In this regard it will be better to emulate the US system of appointments made by the elected executives. Even without proper or the best electoral system, people with integrity and dedication appear to be known and recognized as such in various regions. It will be too difficult for the “top executive(s)” to assemble a suitable mix of experts, well balanced in gender, social and regional segments, with integrity and dedication appropriately matched against requirements of various departments. For this purpose they may be given a couple of months like the US designate gets for searching and vetting suitable candidates for all positions. They should be able to find such people from the pool of retired or active IAS, IPS, IFS officers, academia, NGOs, engineers, doctors, lawyers, social workers, business people or persons engaged in private sector enterprise, no matter what field they have excelled in. There is a crying need to match people with proven expertise, experience, integrity, dedication and ability with requirements of various positions in governance of the country.

As for the top executive position, it will be better to follow the Swiss example of leadership of the government provided by a “collective of equals” rather than a single individual or a pyramidal structure with one sitting at the top. In Switzerland their National Assembly elects a group of seven individuals as members of their Federal Executive Council (FEC), with equal power vested in all of them, as described underneath. (By the way, experts in group interaction suggest a size of 5-12 for efficiency and diversity of opinions.) The FEC has a rotating chair, picked every year on the basis of seniority. However, the Chair (who doubles as Chancellor of the country) is not supposed to have any more power than others, except for the privilege of chairing their meetings and representing the country in the international arena. The FEC is elected, subject to two kinds of proportionality: (1) wrt (with respect to) linguistic demography of the country and (2) wrt party strength.

In keeping with the proportionality wrt linguistic demography, they allocate one out of the seven FEC seats (accounting of 14% of FEC’s share of power) to an MP (member of parliament) with Italian mother tongue (who constitute about 4% of the Swiss citizen); they allocate two out of the seven FEC seats (accounting for 28%) to MPs with French mother tongue (who constitute about 20% of the Swiss population); and they allocate the remaining four out of seven FEC seats (accounting for about 57%) to MPs with German mother tongue (Germans who constitute about 75% of the Swiss population).

The Swiss have been using the above formula of power sharing among their linguistic demography since mid-nineteenth century when they formed their current constitution. Needless to say, in the formation of their FEC, they use proportionality wrt party strength as well. To satisfy proportionality wrt party strengths, since mid twentieth century the Swiss have been using what they call the “magic rule” of picking two MPs from their three largest parties and one MP from the party fourth in strength. Together, these four parties generally constitute 70-80% of the National Assembly. The FEC members divide various departments among themselves in seven clusters. However, they meet every week to discuss important policy matters and they decide everything by consensus.

Indian High Courts and Supreme Court and ECI (Election Commission of India) give us further justification for a government led by a collective or equals. In case of important decisions by a court, they create a multi-member bench with “equal” members. Even in the Election Commission of India, the three commissioners are supposed to function as equals in deciding various knotty issues they are faced with in the process of conducting elections. Under equality clause, any member of the group can’t act as an autocrat. This is even more important when running the affairs of a country or state. Temptation to act as a dictator is too much.

In the presence of more than one person gifted with eloquence, imagination, dedication, integrity and other leadership qualities and craving to be seen as a leader, why shouldn’t we enable all of them to be in the leadership position? Why does it have to be just one that must lead and the rest be losers or follow the diktat of the winner? With collective leadership of equals the leaders will always have to be logical and persuasive enough to garner support, at least of majority in the group. Collective leadership will not only ensure greater democracy, social justice, transparency, integrity and stability, it will also ensure continued longer duration of leadership of individuals gifted with leadership qualities. We need a structure wherein top leaders, instead of fighting and knocking each other off, are able to join hands in providing people with better life. The collective leadership in the form of Prime Ministerial Collective (PMC) should be formally elected by the parliament, rather than gathered on the basis of quid pro quo among the top leaders of one or more parties, leading to formal coronation of a single person as a sort of monarch of the country. At best, a single person at the top of a ruling hierarchy may be called a democratically elected autocrat, however, s/he is nothing but an autocrat, and s/he becomes obliged to behave as an autocrat. A suitable mode of electing a PMC is discussed in part-II of this article.

Part-II

From the arguments made in part-I of this article, it would be best for the winning coalition in India to elect something like a 12-member Prime Ministerial Council (PMC), with equal power vested in all its members, on the pattern of FET in Switzerland. However, on the pattern of USA, the PMC should be able to reach out and “select” individuals from all over the country to form HOD (head of department) collectives to head various government departments. The top members of the administration would have to be approved by the parliament on the US pattern. Even the next few layers near the top of the administration may be filled by PMC, as is done in the US. However, not having any provision in Indian constitution, for appointment of people from outside IAS, IPS, etc., into the administrative positions, they may have difficulty in collecting our administrators from all over the country.. In that case, until they have amended the constitution, they could just work with PMC directly taking care of various departments manned by usual bureaucrats.

Further, many MPs may not like the number of ministerial positions limited to 12-member PMC, as it reduces their chance of becoming a minister. In that case, we could continue the tradition of including around 10% of the MPs into government made parts of six 7-member collectives to head six departmental clusters. In the following, we would assume that the parliament would like to continue to have a total of 10% of its members (54 out of 543) in the government – 12 in PMC and the remaining 42 in six 7-member ministry-collectives.

We can easily devise ways of democratically “electing” 12 or 50 individuals to be included in the government. Here is how we can go about it. As for regional quotas, we could divide India into six regions and agree to include just two from each region into PMC, and one each into the six 7-member ministry-collectives. As for social quotas, (1) we could either maintain the current norm of about 15% quota for the SC, 7.5% for ST, leaving the rest for general category in the political arena. This would entail giving 1 of the 12 positions to an ST individual, 2 to SC individuals, and the rest to be filled by the general category. (2) We could additionally require at least 4 individuals to be from the women category towards fulfilling women’s quota. (3) If the parliament would like to be as egalitarian as possible, it could use quotas of 1 for ST, 2 SC, 2 LBC (Lower OBC), 2 UBC (Upper OBC), 2 UC (Upper Caste), 2 Muslims, 1 other.

On the pattern of Switzerland, ideally, we could have a national government without an official opposition party. However, in Switzerland, since Swiss election of December of 2007, they have decided to keep their far-right wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) leader (Blocher), and hence, essentially SVP is an opposition party, outside of Swiss government. In India too all secular parties could join hands and form a Grand-Secular-Coalition (GSC) to “share” power. If secular parties adopt this kind of power-sharing them, they would have little difficulty in forming a stable, democratic, progressive and transparent government.

In the GSC, they would have as much of regional and social quotas as the GSC would like. In addition, within the GSC, they should be able to form smaller coalitions of independent candidates and small parties, which, on their own, would not be able to win any seats in the ministry, as well as new parties within the larger parties for the sake of winning one or more seats in PMC, and in other ministry-collectives. Having formed new parties and coalitions within the GSC, the latter could hold an election for constituting PMC, and other ministry-collectives as outlined below, according to free-list-Proportional Representation (fl-PR) as described below.

Each of the MPs in the GSC may be given, say, five votes to cast, which they will be required to distribute to five different MPs of their choice. Each of them would probably cast one vote for themselves. However, their four other votes would determine popularity of various MPs in the GSC. Votes collected by individual candidates would be added to respective parties or coalition they are associated with. Party-quotas may then be computed in proportion to votes for each party or coalition to fill the 12-member PMC as well as each of the six 7-member ministry-collectives. Thereafter a master-list may be prepared listing all candidates in order of votes obtained by them, listing the largest vote getter at the top. Candidates off the top of the list may be declared elected as a member of PMC one by one. After each one is elected, notations will be made against the various quota categories (regional, social and party-quotas) being filled. As soon as a certain category-quota is filled, rest of the members belonging to that category will become ineligible to be picked for PMC membership. However, there may still be room for their category in one of the six 7-member ministry-collectives. In this fashion, all quotas of seats in PMC and various ministries will be filled.

In case of a governing structure led by PMC of equals formally elected by MPs, MPs left out of the governing structure can’t hold a grudge against any single person (like PM) for not being included in the ministry. This is likely to add to the relative stability of such a structure. We can add further stability to this kind of structure by requiring a super-majority of something like 67% for a no-confidence vote to be effective. There is less danger of such a structure led by PMC becoming dictatorial than a structure led by PM to be autocratic. The latter is already in an autocratic model (of having a single person at the top), while former is not. The additional stability will add to the separation of legislative body from the executive body, considered to be an essential ingredient for a good democracy.

The PMC may try to use consensus in coming to a decision on most important issues. In case of lack of consensus on the said issue in the PMC, they may refer the same to the parliament. Decision by a collective of equals would prevent autocratic rule and use of consensus would protect minority rights.

Much has been made out regarding likely instability of the government out of hung parliament or fractured or fragmented mandate, which can actually give us a better, fairer and even more stable democracy than the ones obtained from a single party majority, lopsided or otherwise. It can justifiably be argued that the governments that we had, so far, from 1990 to 2009, out of the hung parliaments were far better than the ones we would have had if the biggest party at those times had absolute majority in the parliament, during the same periods. The governments out of the hung parliament may prove to be even better, and more stable, extending them from term to term, election after election, if parliament were to follow prescriptions outlined in this article, no matter whether the parliament is hung or not.

Dr. Satinath Choudhary was formerly a professor of Computer Science in USA. He can be contacted at satichou2@yahoo.com

07 May, 2009

AHRC on task before the next government in India

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

India is about to complete the national general elections to the 15th Lok Sabha. The fifth and the last phase of the election is expected to be completed on 13 May. The results will be declared on 16 May.

Politics and its shallowness in India apart, any government that assumes office in the country after the elections will have to deal with an intellectually demanding and politically and administratively challenging environment. In addition to the external pressures emanating from the relative instability in the region, the new government will have to deal with myriad problems that are domestically rooted. Poverty, starvation, corruption of the bureaucracy, caste based discrimination and low intensity armed conflicts within the country are a few serious issues to be cited. These issues are serious enough, and the manner in which they are dealt with by the next government, will practically decide the destiny of the country for a long time to come.

Though in theory the country has a democratic framework within which these issues could be effectively addressed, governments, irrespective of their political colours, have considerably failed in dealing with these issues. For instance, no government that was in power during the past twenty years in India can find tenable excuses for not effectively addressing the pathetic state of living conditions of an estimated 456 million Indians who earn less than two dollars a day.

A third of the world's poor live in India. The national policies and the action plans formulated by the government have failed to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. This is because, the implementation of government programmes were defeated by corruption in the administrative setup. The reality is, that the price of a kilogram of rice, intended for free distribution for the poor, by the time it reaches the beneficiary will be ten times costlier.

The increase in price is due to the bribes paid at various levels along the distribution chain, which the vendor at the customer-end, often a licensee, will meet by short-weighing or by denying the actual beneficiary the food grain and by selling it in the black-market. The regulatory framework that should monitor the proper distribution of rationed articles in the country does not function, owing to lack of proper investigation, prosecution and adjudication of this criminal activity. In this scenario, the real beneficiary of the government sponsored welfare programmes for the poor are the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats and the rich vendors.

Even if a criminal charge is made out, the courts in the country are so understaffed and ill-equipped to deal with the already existing cases that any additional workload makes no sense as a decision will have to wait for decades. Delay in justice delivery in India has rendered the justice system and the complaining process meaningless.

According to the Chief Justice of India, Justice K.G. Balakrishanan "the growing population, increasing awareness of rights and abiding confidence of the people in the judiciary saw a litigation boom which our judicial set up was not sufficiently equipped to handle." Underfunding of judiciary, the continuing neglect to improve the judicial infrastructure over the past decades, inordinate delays in filling up vacancies of the judges and a very low population-to-judge ratio are some of the major factors that require immediate attention to improve the performance of judiciary in the country.

During the Ninth and Tenth Plan, only 0.071percent and 0.078 percent of the total plan outlays were allocated for the judiciary. India spends a mere 0.2 percent of the gross national product on the judiciary. According to the 120th Law Commission Report, India's population-to-judge ratio is one of the lowest in the world with only 10 judges for every million of its population as compared to about 150 judges for the same number in the United States and Britain.

The non-functionality of the justice system owing mostly to the congestion in the judicial process has led to a situation in the country where disputes are sought to be settled outside the legal framework. Such settlements, have led to the emergence of parallel dispute resolution mechanisms outside the parameters of the accepted norms of justice and the rule of law. The vacuum created by the absence of the rule of law, is occupied by the advocates of violence. In rural India, this void is filled by armed movements, which have arguably a philosophical background of resistance struggles by the classical have-nots.

The government response to such movements is that of oppression and suppression. The Salwa Judum and similar state sponsored private militia that operate in at least three states in the country have practically eliminated a democratic space within which an armed resistance movement could have been permanently diffused and issues settled.

The government further contributed to the declining confidence of the ordinary people by irresponsibly resorting to the recruitment of Special Police Officers (SPO). The SPOs are ordinary civilians, armed and indoctrinated, literally to kill his or her neighbour. The creation of the SPOs and the Salwa Judum is a direct breach of the constitutional mandate of the state and the international human rights norms that India must follow and practice.

It is this same psyche that has to a large extent isolated the people living in the north-eastern states of India from the rest of the country. Instead of trying to resolve the legitimate issues related to identity, ethnicity and exploitation of natural resources of the people living in the north-eastern states, the government of India's response in dealing with the crisis in the north-eastern states was first of discrimination and exclusion and later of suppression by militarisation shrouded with statutory impunity.

A government that has not tried to objectively understand the root cause of the anti-state sentiment of a large section of its population does not have a right to expect settlement of disputes through dialogue. The case against the government is further demeaning given the fact that it has so far prevented even the free movement of journalists and human rights activists within the region.

While the government prevents foreign journalists and researchers from entering the region, it has not been able to contain the infiltration of foreign terrorists into the region. As of today, people living in these states, particularly in places like Assam and Manipur are caught between foreign and home-grown anti-democracy elements and paranoid government agencies.

Abduction for ransom, arbitrary execution and other forms of violence are daily events in Assam and Manipur. While the government apparatus is practically incapacitated to prevent human rights violations carried out by the anti-state elements, the state agencies operating in the region violate human rights of the people, particularly by resorting to the widespread practice of custodial torture.

The present government has in theory and principle decided to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. In fact the government has initiated the preliminary steps for ratification of the Convention. Towards this end the government has already started drafting a Bill against the practice of torture. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) expects that the new government will continue the present government's effort in ratifying the Convention and criminalising the act of torture in the country.

Democracy only makes sense if it is visibly felt in a society. The opportunity to elect a government, though in itself is one of the foundation stones of democracy that alone cannot mature into a democratic state. A democratic state guarantees the rule of law. In a society governed by the rule of law, democratic institutions gain prominence when they provide an open space for dialogue and discourse. In such a society it is the government that must be afraid of its people.

A government that respects its people cannot be sabotaged by narrow minded politicians and disruptive ideologies. The AHRC expects that the peoples' mandate of the largest democracy in the world will reflect this sentiment and that the next government that assumes power in India will be honest to the constitutional promise it swears allegiance to when assuming office.

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