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26 June, 2009

Torture: Indian media’s ignorance is suicidal, says AHRC

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

The world today observes the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture. Human rights organizations inside and outside India observe the day as an occasion to reach out to the victims of torture and to encourage the government to take steps to condemn torture and further to criminalize the act, an offence considered to be a crime against humanity.

India and Indians are not immune to torture. Neither is the act of torture a crime in India. In fact, thousands of individuals fall prey to torture each year in the country. It is practised inside police stations and other centres of law enforcement. Torture is so common in India that it is no more a highly secretive act practised in hidden locations. Torture is viewed as an acceptable mode for criminal investigation and is condoned by jurists and policymakers alike. Torture is also resorted to as a form of punishment.

Torture and the concept of democracy do not coexist. Torture works against the fundamentals of justice and the rule of law. Torture is not a stale human rights issue that has to be left for the consideration of the courts or that of human rights activists. Torture is the enforced monologue by the state to the people to constantly remind them that the state has the will and the means to enforce its writ whether the people like it or not. Enforced monologue by the state is the character associated with dictatorship.

The quintessence of democracy is governance through consultation. Torture prevents dialogue and discourages consultation. Complaining against torture is complaining against the state. Discouraging a complaint is demoralizing to the complainant. Complaint is also a form of expression. Freedom of expression and speech also cannot coexist with torture.

Not all victims of torture can complain or remind the state that it has a responsibility to provide redress, and further by providing redress, remind future perpetrators that torture would not be tolerated. In India torture is not criminalized.

The proposed Bill on torture in India is the result of the hard work of domestic and international human rights organizations and the civil society. Through the Bill is a leap forward, it lacks clarity and any inbuilt means to effectively prevent torture.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has issued a statement on 24 June (reproduced below) in support of the International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, analyzing the Bill and explaining its drawbacks. The lack of a consultative process by the government, which is intentional, is evident in the Bill.

Human rights organizations in India have organized several gatherings in the country to observe today as the day against torture. The cardinal theme that most of these gatherings and events have brought up is the demand to criminalize torture, and that too without any further delay.

Yet, the silence of the media in the country by not devoting enough space to speak about the international day against torture is shameful. It exposes the lack of appreciation and understanding of the Indian media about the importance of torture and the destructive role it plays in undermining free speech and expression. It also illuminates the professional neglect the media entrains against the concerns of the people.

24 June, 2009

Indian Bill on torture too weak, says Asian Human Rights Commission

The Asian Human Rights Commission says in a statement:

On 2 February 2009, India's electronic media aired a short video displaying the shocking brutality practiced by the country's law enforcement agencies. The video showed eight-year-old Komal, a Dalit girl, being publicly tortured in Kailokhar village, Uttar Pradesh. The police officer torturing Komal held her up by her hair, twisted her ears and rained blows on her, demanding that she confess to an act of theft. Expressing outrage at the incident, Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi noted, such acts 'make our heads hang in shame'.

Unfortunately, such acts of torture--and worse--are widely practiced in India by police, paramilitary units and other law enforcement agencies. They perceive the practice as standard operative procedure for criminal investigation. The investigation of crimes therefore usually begins and ends with a confession statement obtained through torture or intimidation. Torture is not viewed as a criminal act, but a symbol of authority, a means to enforce discipline and for social control. This is why torture is not carried out in the secrecy of a detention centre, but in full public view.

Torture is also used by law enforcement officers as a tool for extortion. This behaviour has distanced law enforcement officers from the ordinary people. In fact, 'law enforcement agency' has become a misnomer in India; public perception sees these agencies as state sponsored criminals in uniform. It is common practice in India for ordinary individuals required to interact with law enforcement agencies to first seek assistance from politicians, to avoid intimidation, abuse or arbitrary detention. Corrupt politicians make use of this as an opportunity to demand bribes. In this way, torture facilitates corruption not only among law enforcement agencies, but also among other public servants.

Similarly, torture corrupts the country's justice delivery mechanisms. Even though torture and fair trial cannot coexist, criminal charges based upon evidence gathered by the use of torture continue to be brought to court, and result in acquittals. On the other hand, when there are possibilities for persons to be convicted through such evidence, fair trial is negated.

As of now there is no law in India criminalising torture. For the past several months, a law to this effect has been under the consideration of the government; however, it would require considerable revision to meet international standards that conceive torture as a crime against humanity. The internationally recognised definition of torture as envisaged in the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment is "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."

The proposed Indian law however, limits the definition of torture as "any act which causes:- (i) grievous hurt to any person; or (ii) danger to life or health (whether mental or physical) of any person". Limitations like the requirement of 'grievous hurt' not only circumscribe the concept of torture from its normative definition, but also put additional burden upon the victim to prove that the injury was grievous in nature. The law is also silent about the burden of proof, which according to existing provisions of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, is upon the victim.

The introduction of the concepts of 'hurt' and 'danger' in the law as qualifiers to the Convention's broad definition of torture can only be viewed as an intentional attempt to dilute the state's responsibility in preventing torture. It is also an attempt to dilute the gravity of torture, the right to be free from which has attained the status of ius cogens, a peremptory norm in customary international law. The condemnation of the crime of torture and its expanding horizon, envisaged as early as 1992 by the United Nations in General Comment 20, is sought to be kept away from Indians through this legislative process.

The law's bypassing of key aspects such as the investigation and prosecution of torture further lessens its use for torture victims. Without exception, no one in India would expect the police to impartially and promptly investigate an act of torture allegedly committed by their peers.

The proposed law also prescribes perimeters to its operation by limiting the time period within which a complaint has to be filed to six months from the date of incident. The law makes no mention of any complaint filing mechanism however, or provisions for witness protection. Considering the gravity of the crime and the possible suspects, a law criminalising torture must include measures for witness protection.

So far, the government has not initiated any discussion or debate concerning the proposed law. Civil society groups however, are planning to make use of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, June 26, as an occasion to discuss the brutal practice of torture in the country. For these discussions to be meaningful, civil society must also analyse the proposed law and devise means to make the necessary revisions for it to meet the standards prescribed in the Convention against Torture, which India signed as early as 1997.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is launching a year long international campaign aimed at criminalising torture in Asian jurisdictions. The campaign site has a detailed profile of India, illuminating alarming patterns of torture in the country.

The Government of India has thus far denied torture to be a problem affecting the country's rule of law. This denial challenges the constitutional mandate of any government that assumes office promising to protect democracy, promote the rule of law and fulfil constitutional guarantees. Torture is the mother of all human rights violations, undermining the concept of justice and democracy. Trying to negate state responsibility for preventing torture is not only a self-defeating exercise for the government, but also an act of deceit played upon the citizens.
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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.

Lalgarh: Call to avert bloodbath

The following is a statement by Achin Vanaik, Praful Bidwai, Sumit Chakravartty, Sumit Sarkar and Tanika Sarkar on the Lalgarh developments:

We are profoundly disturbed by the massive Central and state armed police operation in Lalgarh-Jangalmahal in West Bengal. This was launched without exploring a negotiated settlement of genuine popular grievances and by blurring the crucial distinction between violent Maoists and peace-minded civilians. The operation is taking an unacceptable toll of civilian life and safety in an extremely backward area with sub-human living conditions and absence of public services and social opportunity worsened by unremitting police atrocities.

We deplore the reckless, self-serving violence of the Maoists, who have exploited West Bengal’s post-election chaos by using deprived and angry tribals as pawns and by brutally attacking CPI-M cadres and offices. This cannot be rationalized as just retaliation against the violence unleashed by the CPI-M over the years. The two kinds of violence only feed and aggravate each other.

Some self-proclaimed leaders have appeared, claiming to represent the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA), who openly preach violence and murder. Their actions can only invite more state repression. Deplorably, the media has equated the Maoists with the PCPA, which has conducted a democratic and peaceful struggle among tribals for dignity and security, and against state excesses.

We urge the state Governor, respected for his integrity, understanding and compassion, to take an initiative to bring about a complete cessation of violence and open a dialogue on the people’s concerns highlighted by the PCPA, by using responsible civil society groups as mediators. Preventing a bloodbath remains the greatest imperative today.

Sumit Sarkar,
Achin Vanaik,
Tanika Sarkar,
Sumit Chakravartty and
Praful Bidwai
New Delhi

22 June, 2009

Neglect will convert India into a police state, warns AHRC



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

The Indian state of West Bengal is once again in the news for condemnable reasons. In a short span, the conflict in Lalgarh of West Midnapore district has increased in intensity, costing life and property. Today, the Maoists have called for a 48-hour-long strike paralysing life in almost the entire state.

Violence propagated by the Maoist and Naxalite ideologies, for whatever reason, cannot be justified. Yet, the spread of Maoist activities in the state resulting in the state administration losing control over several villages is nothing but an indicator of the callousness and the criminal neglect the state administration entertains against the poorest of the poorest -- the tribal communities in the state.

The spread of Maoist and Naxalite activities in India has been gradual and concentrated in the most neglected regions of the country. Regions that have succumbed to the spread of Maoist and Naxalite violence are governed by corrupt state administrations to a relatively higher degree, notorious for their feudal practices, and for entertaining total disregard to the life of the rural populace, particularly of the members of the tribal communities. The fact that the Maoists could claim control of several villages in West Bengal, a state administered for more than three decades by the champions of the working-class, draws parallels between the corrupt administrations in the rest of India and West Bengal government.

Indiscriminate isolation and alienation of the rural communities and the capitalisation of their natural habitat with complete disregard to the life and the fundamental rights of the people who depend on these resources is the fertile soil for a Maoist or a Naxalite. While the growth of Maoists and Naxalite cadres indicates the absence of the writ of the state in parts of the country, in the Indian context, it is also the indicator of extreme poverty and violence used against innocent citizens by the state and those who are sponsored by the state. In this context, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) cadres and the Salwa Judum are parallel forces operating with common intentions -- the exploitation of the poor. While the CPI (M) cadres receive unparalleled support from the party secretariat, the Salwa Judum receives similar encouragement from the upper caste and the rich.

The West Bengal state government's response to the Maoist uprising is equally condemnable like the response of the state governments in Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh to the Naxalite problem in these states. The only difference is the West Bengal State Police is so alienated from the people that the state administration had to call for central reserve police units to take charge of the situation.

The West Bengal state administration did nothing to prevent a situation that has now forced thousands to flee from the state, or at the minimum, to ensure the safety of those fleeing from the war zone. Instead, the state administration and its leaders are engaged in discussions in New Delhi and Kolkata to figure out how the CPI (M) lost pathetically in the national elections, once again demonstrating their neglect to the constitutional mandate and the requirement of the people.

The Naxalite and Maoist problem is complex. In minimalist terms, Naxalism and Maoism in India are the response of a highly oppressed community, forced to remain silent for decades, against the forces it sees as its oppressors. The response by the government so far has been based on the philosophy of the use of violence to curb violence. To prove that this will not work, India has several examples, of which the situation in Manipur, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir stands out, in terms of the period of conflict, the life and property lost and in terms of the lack of 'success' in achieving any progress.

A peaceful solution to the Maoist and Naxalite problem is not beyond the reach of the government. There will not be a solution to prevent Maoist or Naxlaite violence in the country, unless the fundamental guarantees, particularly of the rural poor concerning their right to food, health and life are protected, promoted and fulfilled. Unfortunately however, the state as well as central administration in the country is neglectful to this fact. Instead, the administrations seem to be looking forward to convert India into a police state.

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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

21 June, 2009

JNU fact-finding team’s preliminary report on Lalgarh

Picture above (Courtesy: MSN) shows security forces arriving at Lalgarh, a tribal village in West Bengal, on June 18 to put down a people's movement against atrocities by the police and CPI-M cadres.

The following is a preliminary statement on the Lalgarh developments prepared and circulated by a fact-finding team of students from Jawaharlal Nehru University which visited the tribal village from June 7 to 10:

A nine-member fact-finding team comprising students from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and journalists recently visited Lalgarh to probe into the reality of the ongoing movement of the people in the area. Here is a preliminary account of our observations. We would like to appeal to your daily/news channel to highlight certain issues of the movement, which have so far been overlooked and neglected by the media.

We heard through various media and other sources that massive state repression had been underway in Lalgarh and adjacent areas since November 2008, after the attempted mine blast on the convoy of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. We had learnt of the incidents of rampant police atrocities after this land mine blast, especially on women and school children in the area. Following this the people there had formed the Pulishi Santrash Birodhi Janasadharoner Committee (PSBJC or the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities) and have blockaded Lalgarh and adjoining areas from police and other administration. With these preliminary facts in hand, we visited Lalgarh from June 7 to 10.

The team visited the villages of Chhotapelia, Katapahari, Bohardanga, Sijua, Dain Tikri, Sindurpur, Madhupur,Babui Basha, Shaluka, Moltola Kadoshol, Basban, Papuria, Komladanga,pukhria, Korengapara, Gopalnagar, Khash jongol, Shaalboni, Shaaldanga, Andharmari, Darigera, Bhuladanga, Chitaram Dahi, Teshabandh, Bhuladanga and talked extensively to people. We attended a big meeting called by the People’s Committee at Lodhashuli on June 7 and witnessed other small meetings which were held inside the villages. A firing and frontal battle between the people on the one hand and the state and armed gangs of the CPM on the other, in Dharampura and Madhupur/Shijua had started during our stay in Lalgarh.

The visit to Lalgarh and interaction with the people broke many of the myths which we still held before going there. After listening to the chronological narrative of the history of police atrocities in the area, we realized that the *November incidents were not unique*. It was merely the continuation of extreme state terror and police atrocities that the people of the region have been subjected to since 2000. What is unique this time is the resistance, which has taken an organized and sustained shape this time around. The people in all the villages we visited conclusively verified police torture. They described how the police entered houses very late at night, and in the name of ‘raids’ and ‘checks’ vandalized their houses and mercilessly beat them up, how any movement of the villagers at night even to look for their cattle was banned. Almost every family had one or more members who had been booked for being a ‘Maoist’.

We were told about the 90-year-old Maiku Murmu of Teshabandh who was beaten to death by the police way back in 2006. Young school girls were regularly molested by the police on the pretext of ‘body check’. Women were forced to show their genitals at night during ‘raids’ to confirm their gender. Before every election 30-40 people from every village were picked up as ‘Maoists’ in order to weaken the opposition to the ruling CPI (M). The incident of police brutality in Chhotopelia, where a number of women were ruthlessly beaten up and one of them Chhitamoni lost her eye, acted as the last straw. The arrest of three students on the baseless charge of ‘waging war against the state’ further enraged the people.

Lalgarh has now risen up in arms against this long-drawn atrocities and organized oppression of the CPI (M). For the villagers, police terror was accompanied by the terror unleashed by CPI (M). In fact, *the police and CPI (M) are not just in alliance with each other, they meant one and the same thing for the villagers. Our team was taken to Madhupur, where the local panchayat office had been turned into a camp of the ’Harmad Vahini’ (armed gangs of the CPM). They told us how the ‘motor cycle army’ of the Harmads roamed around the villages, terrorizing people, breaking their houses brutally, firing in the air, and beating people up, exactly in the same way they did in
Nandigram. The police not only stood as mute spectators whenever the Harmads went on a rampage, it supported them in all possible ways. The Harmads even used police jeeps to move around. To return these ‘favours’, the local CPI (M) cadres acted as informers for the police.

We met one villager whose house was demolished by the Harmad, during which he kept calling the police for help, but they never came. Similarly, they narrated the incident of Khash Jongol where the Harmads opened fire on a village meeting and killed three people and injured three others. It was only after an armed resistance was put up by the villagers that the Harmads were forced to retreat to Memul and then to Shijua.

The Committee was formed against police atrocities but it has also been carrying out alternative developmental work inside Lalgarh in the past seven months. These areas are marked by extreme poverty and backwardness. Agriculture is dependent on rainfall which is scanty. We saw the dysfunctional government canal, which is lying dry. They showed us the pathetic condition of roads which become completely inaccessible during the monsoons. The Committee on its own has made 20 km of roads with redstone chips (‘morrum’), with villagers volunteering their labour. They have repaired several tube-wells, and have installed new ones at half the cost incurred by the panchayat. They have also started constructing a check dam in Bohardanga to fight the water crisis.

Two major works undertaken by the Committee are the process of land distribution and running a health centre in Katapahari. The government was supposed to distribute wasteland among the landless, but never did so. Now the Committee is taking initiative in Banshberi and other villages to distribute the wasteland adjacent to the forests to the landless people. We witnessed the distribution of the patta in one village.

The Committee has also turned a dysfunctional building in Katapahari into a health centre, which attends to more than 150 patients every day. Doctors from Kolkata and other regions visit there thrice a week. We also attended a huge meeting called by the Committee in Lodhashuli against a sponge iron factory located in the region. We visited the factory site and saw the adverse effect of pollution on the trees, water bodies and land. The people informed us that even the paddy grown in the region have turned black, so much so even the panchayats refused to accept the paddy. The meeting was attended by around 12,000 people from many villages of the district, despite a bus strike called by CPM. It was a vibrant meeting where the Committee resolved, among other things, to boycott the factory and bring about its closure.

The presence of the Maoists within Lalgarh was one of the most contended issues during our visit. Our team observed the presence of Maoists and found that they had mass support of the people in this area. Their posters could be seen everywhere. We were informed by the villagers that Maoists have held meetings attended by thousands of people. The people seemed pretty clear about the need for an armed resistance in the face of the regular joint attacks by the CPM and the state. The restriction on carrying traditional arms by them is a clear signal by the state to debilitate this movement.

This team was witness to the genuine anger and suffering of the people. We do not agree with sections of the media which brand the resistance there as ‘anarchy’. We also believe that the police, administration and CPM are solely responsible for the current situation in Lalgarh. By the time we left Lalgarh, the struggle had intensified. By then, the people had been successful in making their immediate enemy CPM to escape along with the police. The people were exuberant. For the first time they are being part of not some vote-minting political party but a committee which is their own organization. They are living a life free of state terror and building their own developmental projects. In different villages many residents held one opinion in common: ‘we have got independence for the first time’. Their fight is against age-old exploitation, deprivation, torture and terror. In this way, it is a historic fight. We urge the media to revisit Lalgarh. The movement has its roots in extremely impoverished socioeconomic conditions increased by the inaction of the state. The state is bound to strike back at this fight of the people. The CRPF and other central forces will soon come with orders to open fire on the masses. The state government is also shamelessly asking the notorious and infamous Grey hounds and Cobra to come and crush the people’s movement. That will be the most unfortunate and condemnable thing. The anger of the masses against massive state terror, underdevelopment and corruption is valid. And so is the fight against it.

This team will publish a detailed report based on our visit about this movement in Lalgarh. We remember the progressive role played by some sections of the media, especially the regional media in Bengal, during the Nandigram movement and would appeal to you to also stand by the people of Lalgarh and their genuine fight before the state carries out yet another genocide.

Thanking you,
Priya Ranjan,
Veer Singh.
Contact: 09711826861

19 June, 2009

LAVALIN: the real picture

The Lavalin case has attracted national attention as one of the persons the Central Bureau of Investigation has listed as an accused is Pinarayi Vijayan, who is Secretary of the Kerala unit of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a member of the party’s policy-making body, the Politburo.

Vijayan is the first Politburo member of an Indian communist party to figure in a corruption case.

The case arose out of a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General alleging irregularities in a supply contract the Kerala State Electricity Board had entered into with the Canadian company, SNC Lavalin. Vijayan was Power Minister at the time and had personally led the official team which had gone to Canada for negotiations with the company.

The case was first investigated by the State Vigilance and Anti-Corruption department. It drew up a list of accused comprising officials and said further investigation was necessary to ascertain the role of others. The Kerala High Court referred the case to the CBI on a public interest petition.

C. R. Neelakantan, a well-known social activist, who recently published a book in Malayalam “Lavalin Rekhakaloode” (Through Lavalin Documents), has now brought out an English version, titled “Lavalin: the real picture” to enable non-Malayalees to understand the ramifications of the scandal.

The book is priced Rs. 100.

Olive Publications (Private) Limited,
East Nadakkav,
Kozhikode 673 011
Kerala, India

Phone: 0495-276 5871, 657 6001

18 June, 2009

Revisiting the women’s reservation debate


Once again, the debate over Women’s Reservation Bill has resurfaced, in the wake of the President’s speech promising to enact 33% quota for women in assemblies and parliament as well as 50% quota in panchayats. After 13 years of delays and vacillations, the women’s movement and progressive forces are naturally demanding that the Government and main ruling parties, who no longer have any excuse not to enact the Bill, walk their talk this time without any further delay.

The cacophony of misogynistic rhetoric voiced against the Bill since 1996, and revived this time around, has rightly invited outrage. However, let us set aside the anti-women baggage for a while, and re-examine the main case against the Bill, as articulated mainly by parties and leaders claiming to represent the dalits and OBCs. The crux of the debate is: will the Women’s Bill in its present form militate against OBC representation in parliament and benefit only elite, privileged women, and must it therefore include a quota within quota for OBC women, as a precondition for passing the Bill?

Does the women’s quota indeed represent a threat to political representation of oppressed and backward castes?

In the first place, we must note that provision has already been made, in the Bill, for 33% quota for women within the existing 22% SC/ST quota. So Mulayam Singh’s warning to the (dalit woman) Speaker in his parliamentary diatribe against the Bill, that the Bill, if enacted, would prevent her own entry into Parliament, is obviously baseless.
The question of quota within quota for OBC women is more complicated – mainly because of the fact that there is no existing OBC quota at any level in representative institutions. The question of OBC quota in assemblies and parliament is being brought up only in response to the Women’s Bill. Even in Bihar, where the state government headed by the JD(U) (the party of Sharad Yadav, the most vocal opponent of the Women’s Bill) has instituted 50% quota for women in panchayats, there is a quota within quota for women from SC/ST and Most Backward Castes (MBCs), not for OBCs as such.

OBC representation in assemblies and parliament has, by all accounts, increased significantly since the 1980s. If 33% seats are reserved for women, will it result in a decline in OBC representation? Won’t OBC women win seats which OBC men have been winning? No, say the opponents of the Bill – arguing that elite, educated, privileged, usually upper caste women will steal a march over OBC women. The lion’s share of the benefits of women’s quota, they say, will accrue to the more privileged upper caste women.

This argument seems to be founded on a fallacy about the nature of electoral and political mechanisms. In reservation in general, it is true, where it is individuals who compete for limited seats – in jobs or education – it is the more privileged who are likely to corner the lion’s share of quotas. For instance, in the case of OBC quota, intended to correct the underrepresentation of OBCs in jobs and higher education, working class poor and women from these castes are less likely to avail benefits as compared to those from the same castes who are relatively more privileged educationally and economically. But the question arises: while OBCs continue to be underrepresented in jobs and higher education, necessitating the OBC quota, how come they are fairly well represented in parliament and many assemblies? Why has the upper caste domination in Indian politics been decisively broken, without any quota? The reason is that OBC political forces have ridden a wave of popular social mobilization that has asserted itself since the 1980s. Politics – including electoral politics – is all about contending social mobilizations, where the caliber and privileges of individual candidates is relatively secondary. This is the reason why a Phoolan Devi (the former bandit) won electoral battles even without any OBC quota. It is one matter that parties have been reluctant to field such women candidates, thus necessitating a women’s quota, but the example of Phoolan Devi suggests that when given a chance, OBC women have not fared worse than their male counterparts in electoral battles. The same social forces which benefited male OBC leaders has played in their favour too, and their lack of educational privilege has not come in the way of electoral success. The point is that politics is not a personality contest, and there is simply no reason why OBC women should fare badly in comparison with upper caste women once the Women’s Bill is brought into effect. Even the apprehension that OBC women might be denied tickets because they would be seen as less ‘winnable’ than more privileged women, doesn’t hold water. Winnability, in our electoral process, is decided less by individual privilege alone – and more by the position of candidate and party in the social balance of forces. It is this which is the biggest factor in parties’ decisions to field candidates. There is no reason why a party, in a constituency where their position in the social balance would favour an OBC candidate, would choose a non-OBC candidate in case the seat is reserved for women. Reservation for women would not alter the social balance of forces – it would only eliminate the aspect of gender discrimination from the social equation in that particular election.

Why is OBC quota proposed only in response to the Women’s Bill, while it is not seen as necessary in general? Opponents of the Bill retort that it is precisely to counter the threat of growing OBC assertion in politics that the upper caste dominated parties have embraced the Women’s Bill. Again, such an argument is based on a fallacious and superficial understanding of the basis of the increased OBC representation in politics. OBC political assertion reflects the growing assertion of an emergent kulak class in agrarian India. To reduce it to the assertion of the marginalised ‘backward castes’ alone would be to ignore that it also reflects the assertion of a powerful emergent landed class, which represents a more privileged layer within the backward castes, while, however, positioning itself as the voice of the genuine social aspirations of the backward castes as a whole. The ruling class including the dominant national ruling parties have, to a large extent, accommodated this kulak class and its political representatives, which have not proved in any way a hurdle to the economic and social policy thrust of other ruling class parties. The initial expectations from some quarters, that these parties would prove a hurdle to communal politics or to neoliberal economic policy have been badly belied. Tensions might remain between powerful ‘regional’ players and national formations, but the latter, while they might seek to replace the regional outfits, will do so by accommodating the OBC-kulak forces rather than by jettisoning them. Moreover, the Women’s Bill is highly unlikely to overturn the power of the agrarian kulak class in the balance of social forces. Rather, the same political logic and process that has benefited OBC male leaders is likely to benefit OBC women as well.

Sharad Yadav, in a recent interview in Tehelka, rephrased his ‘parkati’ brand of argument against educated, urbanised women leaders, in more palatable and even words. He said Sita-Savitri were usually seen as representative of Indian women, and he instead wanted the Draupadis – women who dared to fight Mahabharatas for justice – to find political representation. “If the weaker sections of the society are not included, only people like Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Karat will be seen in the Lok Sabha, not the true Draupadis who represent the real India,” he said. Brave words. But there is a problem: Brinda Karat, a prominent leader of the left-led women’s movement, cannot be called an advocate of ‘Sati-Savitri’ even by her worst detractors. In contrast to the considerable efforts of the women’s movement and the Left-led women’s groups, what has Sharad Yadav or his party ever done to mobilize the Draupadis against patriarchies? The accusation of being ‘elite’ and cut off from Indian culture and social reality is a favourite one to level against women’s movement activists – and Sushma Swaraj would happily join Sharad Yadav in thus branding the women’s movement as un-Indian! Such accusations ignore the fact that if women’s movement leaders from middle class, educated backgrounds represent one kind of relative privilege in respect to their working class sisters, politicians of ruling class parties – including OBC leaders from kulak backgrounds, also represent considerable class (and gender) privilege, and are not unmediated ‘natural’ representatives of ‘deprivation’. The idea that educated middle class women – as leaders of the women’s movement or as representatives in political are somehow less authentic and less representative of the ‘real Indian women’ needs to be challenged very strongly, because such arguments are inevitably deployed to legitimize patriarchies in the name of ‘Indian culture,’ falsely suggesting that ‘authentic’ Indian women are those who accept and embrace such patriarchies.

It is not our case that ‘OBC parties’ and leaders like Sharad Yadav or Mulayam are more anti-women than those from the Congress or BJP. Rather, they are pitting the OBC agenda against women, not simply because they are anti-women or even because they feel more threat from the Women’s Bill, but because they perceive a political benefit in flaunting purported concern for OBCs. Sharad Yadav, for instance, is clearly seeking to use the Women’s Bill issue as a timely tool in his bid to pose as OBC messiah and step into the shoes left vacant by the decline of Laloo Yadav. Today, in any case, there is no unity even in the camp of OBC leaders and parties, on the ‘quota within quota’ position. Nitish Kumar of the JD(U) has strategically chosen not to endorse his party colleague Sharad Yadav’s stand on the Women’s Bill. In Parliament, Mulayam Singh too said not a word about ‘quota within quota’ for OBC women, choosing instead to suggest the even weaker mechanism of a party-wise quota of 20% tickets to women candidates.
In his speech in Parliament, Mulayam Singh said that with 22% reserved for SC/STs, and 33% for women, there would be no space left for upper castes and backward castes. He said that leaders like Advani, Joshi, and others had reached the Lok Sabha through hard struggles, and the Women’s Bill would ‘destroy this leadership.’ He also employed the usual misogynistic spectre of women in parliament relegating men to domestic work, saying “those thumping tables today will tomorrow be left thumping mattresses at home,” and lamented the ‘state of affairs’ where women like Sonia, Mamata, Jayalalitha and Mayawati were calling the shots everywhere. Interestingly, these arguments were clearly targeted not just at OBCs but specifically at upper caste leaders (even naming them), and even more interestingly, his implication that women elected through quotas would not be the product of ‘hard struggles’ and would destroy able leadership, actually echoes the meritocratic arguments posed by protestors against OBC quotas. Clearly, be it Sharad Yadav or Mulayam, the arguments against the Bill are not just emanating from ‘concern for OBC representation’, but rather these leaders have complex and distinct motivations that have necessitated different articulations and emphases at different political junctures.

We do not oppose a ‘quota within quota’ on principle, nor do we reject it on the spurious argument that ‘women’ are an undifferentiated category uninflected by caste and class. In fact, it would be our greatest concern that women from oppressed castes and classes get their share of representation. What are objectionable are the attempts to use the OBC issue as a smokescreen to stall the Women’s Bill. To employ an analogy: would it not have been highly objectionable if the implementation of Mandal recommendations on OBC quotas in jobs and education had been stalled for years on the pretext that a quota within quota for OBC women, or for that matter economically deprived OBC students and youth, was a precondition, to accommodate the apprehension that these sections might be less able to benefit?

The need of the hour now is to pass the Women’s Bill in its present form without a moment’s further delay. If indeed experience reveals that women’s reservation is resulting in any appreciable decline in OBC representation, OBC quota in assemblies and parliament, in general as well as within the women’s quota, can be accommodated through amendment.

Kavita Krishnan can be reached at The above article is based on the editorial of the weekly news magazine of the CPI(ML) (Liberation), the ML Update, Vol 12, No. 24, 16-22 June 2009.

17 June, 2009

Foreign policy tenets give way to political expediency

Much of international law codifies liberal principles of human rights. However, while addressing human rights, states bring with them their national history, culture, self-image and nationalism. These national traits cause states to be more active on human rights issues or less so, more confident and assertive or less so, and more defensive or less so. This history, along with their contemporary situation and national interest, causes states to place different emphasis on human rights in foreign policy…While addressing human rights, India focuses not so much on the basic tenets of its foreign policy as on political expediency.

This is the broad conclusion which Dr. R. Suresh, Reader in the Post-graduate and Research department of Political Science, Sree Narayana College, Kollam, presents in his book “Foreign Policy and Human Rights: an Indian Perspective”.

The book was formally released by Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor at the Government Guest House, Thycaud, Thiruvananthapuram, today.

The book is priced Rs. 395

F-2562 Palam Vihar,
Gurgaon 122017, India

Telephone 0124-236 51 93, 9810373248

Foreign policy tenets give way to political expediency

Much of international law codifies liberal principles of human rights. However, while addressing human rights, states bring with them their national history, culture, self-image and nationalism. These national traits cause states to be more active on human rights issues or less so, more confident and assertive or less so, and more defensive or less so. This history, along with their contemporary situation and national interest, causes states to place different emphasis on human rights in foreign policy…While addressing human rights, India focuses not so much on the basic tenets of its foreign policy as on political expediency.

This is the broad conclusion which Dr. R. Suresh, Reader in the Post-graduate and Research department of Political Science, Sree Narayana College, Kollam, presents in his book “Foreign Policy and Human Rights: an Indian Perspective”.

The book was formally released by Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor at the Government Guest House, Thycaud, Thiruvananthapuram, today.

The book is priced Rs. 395

F-2562 Palam Vihar,
Gurgaon 122017, India

Telephone 0124-236 51 93, 9810373248

16 June, 2009

Climate change's challenge to India


A strong, stable Congress government may be good for business, but can it contend with the real, looming threat of environmental catastrophe?

Business and financial communities reacted with outright euphoria to the recent landslide victory of India's National Congress Party. Mumbai's stock exchange soared. Foreign investment poured in. Pundits at what used to be known as investment banks trumpeted the results as nothing less than India finally throwing off the shackles that have held it back from greatness: the limitations of a weak coalition government beholden to Communists. India, we are told, is free at last to embark on a project of wealth creation that the rest of the world will be hard-pressed to imitate.

India is expected to recover smartly from the current global recession, hitting an annual economic growth rate of 6.9 percent by next year. Meanwhile, bearish economists are warning that structural weaknesses will delay the recovery of the US economy until well into 2011. The icing on this cake: General Motors is soothing investors rattled by its recent bankruptcy in the United States with the assurance that its India operations will not be affected. Charles Wilson, a former GM CEO, once quipped that "what's good for General Motors is good for the country." That quaint, 20th century line now begs only one question: which country? The world's financial press buzzes that India could be the "new China"; capital (at least some of it) is stampeding from Shenzhen to Bangalore; and the US dollar is in free fall.

After a few terms in the wilderness of coalition dependencies, Congress has, to use a favorite euphemism of recessionary America, "right sized" the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party down to a mere hundred or so seats. It has utterly ham-strung the Left, which held onto a mere 26 seats. Congress need no more worry about the Communists spoiling its new friendship with the United States or its own version of GM's old dictum: "what's good for India Inc. is good for India."

Knowing that half the country's population - and most of tomorrow's voters - is under the age of 25, Congress has put fresh faces in ministries, including some in their twenties. Thirty-seven-year-old Rahul Gandhi is the heralded heir apparent of the Congress dynasty that stretches back to his great-grandfather, India's founding prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. At 63 years of age, the Republic of India is young again.

The impending supernova

What could possibly hold India back now? Surely Congress's substantial mandate gives it the power to enact the bold policy measures India requires to overcome the many obstacles in its path to greatness. The list is long: laughably poor infrastructure, desperate farmers committing suicide in droves, peasants and so-called tribals or Adivasis dispossessed of their lands by aggressive resource extraction and industrial expansion (and a related Maoist insurgency), overloaded cities, water shortages, energy deficits, high rates of illiteracy, and a notoriously bad national health care system. Add to these a wealth gap that has widened, not narrowed, in globalization's wake; the fact that the majority of the world's malnourished children live in India; the fact that, while 250,000 Indians may qualify as USD millionaires, 800 million live on less than 2 US dollars per day.

As staggering as these challenges are, they pale in comparison to the one supernova on track to blow them (along with the rest of us) off the navigable charts of human reckoning: climate change.

As every major report on climate change has alarmingly pointed out, the impact of global warming will be most felt by developing countries. In a final injustice of geography and imperial history, the world's developing countries are by and large also the world's warmest and most densely populated. Of all the emerging economies whose fortunes are rising, India is one of the most vulnerable to climate change.

A weapon of mass destruction

India has one of the world's longest coastlines. Rising sea levels are already swallowing up the Sunderbans at the mouth of West Bengal's mighty Hooghly River. Next door in Bangladesh, 15 percent of whose land mass will be under water if sea levels rise as predicted, things are even worse. Little wonder India is building a fence along its border with Bangladesh in anticipation of a wave of climate-change refugees. At 4,000 kilometers in length, the Indo-Bangladeshi Barrier will rival the Great Wall of China. One can only imagine what rising sea levels will do to the millions crammed onto reclaimed land in Mumbai or in India's new auto manufacturing hub of Chennai, around which one trusts the government of India has no plans to build fences.

Climate change is also already causing the glaciers of the Himalayas to melt at an alarming rate, the rivers they feed are receding. Some scientists are predicting that the sacred Ganga, whose waters have nourished the great grain-producing Gangetic plains as well as the souls of untold millions of Hindu faithful through millennia, is in danger of simply drying up. Three billion people - half the world's current population - depend on the Himalayas for water. The impact of that water dwindling away is terrifying.

If temperatures rise in India by even a couple of degrees Celsius, which they are already well on track to do, the very viability of food plants will be threatened. Yields will plummet in plants simply not evolved to thrive in higher temperatures. More immediately, climate change causes predictable weather patterns to become unpredictable. This is not good news for a country where the vast majority of agricultural production depends on the regular arrival, duration, and bounty of the monsoon rains. No wonder William Cline, in his meticulously researched book Global Warming and Agriculture: Impact Estimates by Country (Center for Global Development 2007) projects that agricultural production in India will decline by as much as 38 percent over current levels by 2080 as a direct result of climate change alone. By that year, India will have added 450 million more people to its population.

Shifting priorities

Climate change is a weapon of mass destruction. Mitigating global warming by whatever means necessary should be the new Indian government's priority number one.

The government should make a major push to develop low-cost alternative energy technologies that don't require finite, toxic fuel sources (which means both fossil and fissile energy sources).

It should help India's small-scale farmers return to the cultivation of traditional hardy (and higher in protein) food plants such as millet and buckwheat, and install low-cost, highly effective micro-irrigation systems to get the biggest plant-growing benefit for every drop of precious water.

It should require all new construction across the country to be green construction, naturally cooler with little or no air conditioning, and with roofs that collect and channel rain when during monsoons.

It should recognize that the infrastructure India so desperately needs is green infrastructure that encourages public transportation and the use of bicycles, a realization at long last sweeping cities in richer nations.

India cannot afford to do as the west did: get dirty to get rich, then start to think about cleaning up the mess. It also cannot expect wealthier countries to push the hardest to deal with climate change, the global menace that will devastate India far more than it will them.

A new path

The new Congress-led government should hitch its strong mandate to India's emerging economic power to force the west - sorely tempted by the current economic crisis to ratchet down its efforts - to do the right thing and pay for its share of not only reducing current carbon emissions, but accounting for the carbon accumulated over centuries of western industrial expansion. It should provide incentives to investors willing to put capital behind green technology ventures, especially small-scale technologies quickly scalable among India's still largely poor population, and it should identify and support the untold number of locally-adapted, grass-roots, inexpensive solutions that business is simply never going to be interested in because they cannot be made into profit-making ventures.

India has momentum and history on its side. The new government should propose a new bilateral pact focused on climate change to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visits India in July. And it should do so in a spirit very different from that of the nuclear deal where, at least on the US side, billions of dollars in corporate profits and arms sales were major drivers.

To grapple with climate change, a different approach is required. The new Congress government needs to bring to this task the real spirit of "young India", the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi who warned decades ago that the "earth has enough to satisfy man's need but not every man's greed."

A climate-change pact between the governments of two of the world's great democracies should include agreement on bold commitments that would anticipate real progress when the nations of the world gather in Copenhagen later this year to address this rapidly worsening calamity. There is no better way for two nations so key to our collective survival to address the challenge that imperils us all. India must embrace a new path to equity and sustainability, without which democracy will merely be one casualty among many too terrible to imagine. (Courtesy:

Mira Kamdar is a 2008 Bernard Schwartz Fellow at the Asia Society in New York and a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute. Her latest book is Planet India: The Turbulent Rise of the Largest Democracy and the Future of Our World (Scribner 2008).

This article is published by Mira Kamdar, and under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation to OpenDemocracy. Commercial media must contact Open Democracy for permission and fees.

13 June, 2009

90 years later, Rosa Luxemburg's remains are found


Sooner or later victims reappear and demand justice. This typical crime novel thesis has been confirmed once more in Germany. Michael Tsokas, director of Pathology at the Charité hospital in Berlin, has reported the existence of a body that could be that of communist leader Rosa Luxemburg (picture on right).

This charismatic communist leader was killed and made to disappear by right-wing militarists in 1919. The crime was perpetrated with the blessings of the German Social Democrats, one of its perpetrators acknowledged in 1970. The possible appearance of Luxemburg's remains will have consequences for the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in a very important election year. This party is fighting for its survival as a mass party.

When Michael Tsokas became head of Pathology at the Charité hospital in 2007 he came across the remains of an anonymous woman who had been part of his institute's collection for 90 years. The body is missing its head, arms and legs. After two years of research, Tsokas made the results of its findings public: he believes that these are the remains of communist heroine Rosa Luxemburg, because the skeleton measured one and a half meters and has a hip deformation consistent with the political activist’s characteristic way of walking. However, Tsokas' finding is inconsistent with the report drafted by the two most prestigious German coroners in 1919. It seems they performed an autopsy on another woman’s body, whose hip was perfect. Furthermore, the wound they found in her skull is not consistent with the brutal blow inflicted with a rifle butt Luxemburg received, before she was shot in the temple at close range.


Who was buried with her comrade Karl Liebknecht on June 19, 1919 in the Friedrichsfelde cemetery in Berlin under the name of Rosa Luxemburg? Who ordered this violation of the law? Did the SPD, governing at the time, pressure the forensic experts into falsifying an autopsy so as to rapidly take a dead woman who was still causing them serious problems off their hands? This recent discovery does not change the historical facts. On January 15, 1919, several soldiers led by the ultra right-wing official Waldemar Pabst, arrested Luxemburg and Liebknecht after the failure of a communist uprising in Berlin. They took the two activists to their headquarters where they tortured them brutally. Pabst ordered them killed after receiving approval from the highest echelons of the SPD. The party was carrying out an uncompromising struggle for power against all political parties to their left. They did it with the support of the most reactionary forces of the defunct monarchy.

During that civil war, rightwing soldiers executed thousands of leftists without any trial. In 1962 Pabst acknowledged that the Minister of War, Gustav Noske (SPD) authorized all the deaths. In 1970, he added that the authorization required the endorsement of the president and head of the German SPD, Friedrich Ebert. That night in January, Liebknecht was shot in the back. His body was then handed over to the police, claiming he died during an “escape attempt ". The lifeless body of Luxemburg was thrown in one of the channels of Berlin, where it appeared four months later.


Tsokas believes the arms and legs are missing, because they tied weights to the body with cables and, in an advanced state of decomposition, the cables cut them off. The coroner did not rule out that the skull could have disappeared, because at that time pathologists included the head of the famous in their macabre collections. Now, he is expecting that a DNA test will reveal the identity of the dead woman. A niece of Luxembourg is now living in Warsaw.

Should Rosa Luxemburg’s identity be confirmed, the head of the Die Linke parliamentary group, Gregor Gysi, will demand from the President, from the Federal Government and from Linke a proper burial in the “cemetery of the Socialists" in Berlin. Every second Sunday in January, thousands of activists pay tribute here to those who died for a better world.

In this election year, Die Linke could take advantage of the appearance of Luxemburg in the battle of ideas against the SPD, not just by clarifying the collaboration established by the social democrats with the extreme right-wing in 1919, but also by clarifying the doubts concerning the alleged suicide with firearms of the high echelon of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in a high-security prison in 1977. These violent deaths occurred when Helmut Schmidt was head of the social democratic government.

A CubaNews translation by Giselle Gil. Edited by Walter Lippmann. Distributed by

12 June, 2009

Special Investigation Team – Hope or despair of Gujarat genocide victims?


The categorical order by the Apex Court, on 27-4-2009, on the petition by Mrs. Zakia Jafri, W/o Late Ahsan Jafri, the Congress MP killed in the riots and Mrs.Teesta Setalvad, for Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP), evoked great hope and expectations in the victims of 2002 genocidal crimes. The Court ordered the SIT “to take steps as required in Law”. Will this order result in delivery of long delayed justice to the sufferers of 2002 carnage or end up in an exercise to cause the least damage to those who conceived, designed, organized, mobilized, prepared and perpetrated the bloodbath on a group of Indian citizens through motivated violent mobs, under the patronage of the state machinery ?

Either of these outcomes is possible. The ball is in the court of the SIT. Incase the SIT is keen to proceed on positive line, it should examine the massive and comprehensive quantum of evidence confirming conspiracy, course and execution of mass crimes and subsequent prolonged and on-going subversion of the Criminal Justice System(CJS), for denying justice to the victims. The evidence in the FIR by Mrs. Jafri graphically portrays a series of circumstances and developments in the form of deliberate and pre-meditated acts of omission and commission by the Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his collaborators and abettors of mass crimes in the bureaucracy, actualizing the bloodbath. There is sufficient prima facie proof in the FIR to testify this.

The first unavoidable step by SIT “as required in law” will be to register an FIR against the accused, in the relevant police station, assume the powers of the Investigating Officer (IO) under chapter 12 of CRPC and commence collection of evidence by invoking all techniques and procedures, viz , interrogation, search, recovery of incriminating material, use of forensic science and so on. The items of evidence, in the FIR, need to be examined by the SIT, point by point and nugget by nugget, for proving or disproving the material therein and draw up the road map towards the final destination of arrest and prosecution of the accused or submission of final report u/s 173 CRPC.

The accused figuring in the Jafri FIR includes the long serving Chief Minister, other Ministers, Assembly Speaker, serving and retired Senior officers, who were/are the hierarchical supervisors of practically all Gujarat Police staff from Addl. DGP Geetha Johari and Shivanand Jha to the constabulary, who are tasked for investigation against their own supervisors. Strangely the authority for performance assessment of these officers, covering even the work regarding the Jafri FIR, is vested with the same departmental bosses, of whom many are accused persons !!!. The recent observations by Apex Court (May 2009), in the case of granting remand to accused of British nationals murder case are illustrative. The Court said “nothing has been pointed out before us “by the SIT” as to why even the bail granted should be cancelled ….. there was no sufficient or cogent material to justify the need for custodial interrogation of the accused”.

Besides, instances of the SIT staff doing the operational work of investigation failing to prevent disappearance of an accused Minister, guarded by a dozen policemen, and later surfacing with anticipatory bail; accused in riots cases in the electoral posts declared as absconders attending meetings of public bodies; failure to collect additional evidence or recover incriminating material even from a few accused taken on remand; inadequate efforts to arrest absconders; and so on prompt one to conclude that many from State police throwing a spanner in the SIT investigation machine remain unchecked. This tendency of the saboteurs would become quite pronounced in the probe against the CM, unless urgent remedial measures are initiated.

Removal of Gujarat police officers in the Jafri FIR from the SIT; freeing of those assisting the SIT from normal police duties and placing them under full control and authority of the Chairman SIT, on pattern of the Election Commission controlling the State officials during the elections; vesting the Chairman with the authority to initiate the Annual Confidential Repot of all officers assisting him in the SIT; move to the Central Govt. to appoint Special Prosecutors to conduct cases investigated by the SIT u/s 24 CRPC; action to permit the complainants of riots cases to keep their lawyers to present their cases alongwith the PPs; induction of officers with integrity and fortitude from outside Gujarat at the cutting edge level of investigation of riots cases, in the ranks of Police Sub Inspector, Inspector and Dy.S.P.; are a few instant exercises imperative for ensuring purposeful and result-oriented investigation of the Jafri FIR.

Press reports indicate that the SIT so far had only informal discussions with the complainants. Neither their FIR was verified, nor statements recorded, nor fresh FIR registered in the Police station. Informal interaction is not recognized by the CRPC as part of enquiry or investigation. Thus one can deem that the action on Jafri FIR, on the Apex Courts orders, before a month, remains a non-starter. This fact throws up signals of despair and anguish for carnage victims.

Indications are that the highly placed accused in the Jafri FIR are moving to ensure that the SIT will do sheer enquiry and not investigation on the Court orders and submit a report by July 2009. They, then, plan to contest adverse references, if any, in the SIT report and thereby avoid possibility of criminal prosecution. Delaying the process is another tactics.

The accused will also convince the SIT and the Court to treat those numerous acts of omission and commission, which virtually facilitated and actualized the mass carnage in 2002, as routine unintentional administrative lapses calling for departmental action without criminal liability. This stance will make acts like, delay in imposition of curfew in Ahmedabad City on the VHP Bandh Day on 28th Feb., 2002 (When maximum killings in the riots took place) for facilitating parading of dead bodies of Godhra fire victims; non implementation of provisions of Gujarat Police Manual, Communal riots schemes and other instructions on control of communal riots; ignoring complaints of riot victims, appointment of the Sangh Parivar office-bearers as PPs to conduct cases against accused in anti-minority crimes etc; as plain predictable functional indiscretions !!!. The Court will also be assured of State Govt. initiating departmental action against the defaulters. This will give a safe burial of all litigations relating to the 2002 genocide. A brilliant defense!!! Capitalizing on the denial of justice to riot victims, the internationally organized Islamic jihadists, would redouble their efforts to recruit more dejected riot victims to their fold for pursuing terrorist objectives.

Being fully confident about the proven eminence and integrity of the Chairman of the SIT, well meaning citizens are optimistic about positive move from the SIT, soon, against the planners and executioners of 2002 butchery of the innocents in Gujarat.

R.B.Sreekumar is a former Director General of Police, Gujarat, who stood upto Narendra Modi in the immediate aftermath of Gujarat carnage

08 June, 2009

Human Rights of the oppressed: differing perspectives

Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, chairperson of the Centre for Society & Religion, Sri Lanka, in an open letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, published in the Sunday Island, pointed out that his efforts to protect the human rights of oppressed people were deficient.

He sent a copy of the letter to the Asian Human Rights Commission with a request to give it some publicity to the letter.

AHRC director Basil Fernando, who, incidentally, is a Sri Lankan too, felt that Fr. Balasuriya’s analysis of the state of the oppressed and the causes of oppression, too, was deficient. He outlined his views on the subject in a reply to Fr. Balasuriya.

Fr. Tissa Balasuriya’s Open Letter to Ban Ki Moon and Mr. Basil Ferando’s reply to it, which were circulated by the AHRC, are reproduced in full below since the issue is as relevant to India as it is to Sri Lanka.

Fr. Tissa Balisuriya’s letter

United Nations’ Secretary General …

I am one who has worked for a peaceful resolution of our ethnic relations since 1956, and that right through the 1977 riots, the Black July of 1983 and since then. Recently I wrote an open letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse and leader of the Opposition Mr. Ranil Wickrmasinghe urging a southern consensus for a peaceful political solution, as I had done decades earlier to President J.R. Jayawardene and Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
I am writing to you to welcome you to Sri Lanka and also thank you and your staff for helping us in this tragicsituation in Sri Lanka. I wish also to remind you and the UN Human Rights Groups of more serious and urgent responsibilities of the UNO in the global context. I refer first to the build up of the world system by the European peoples during four and half centuries by violence since 1492. The present world order that the UNO is meant to preserve is the fruit of 450 years of the worst racist terrorism in human history. The empires of the European peoples were built up in all the continents of the world by the colonial invasions of nations such as Portugal, Spain, Britain, France, Russia and later Germany, Italy, and Japan etc.

After World War II, the United Nations Organisations (UNO) was set up by the victors of the war with special privileges for them. The world system largely conserved the territorial limits they set up in the Americas, Africa, Oceania and much of Asia. The UN Security Council gives the right of veto to the main victors of World War II concerning any proposals brought to the UN sessions.

During the period of colonization the European peoples migrated to much of the open spaces as the Russians did to North East Asia. The European peoples could migrate to fertile lands elsewhere during these centuries while their population increased. On the other hand while the population of the South, so-called Third World Countries, now increase rapidly, the European populations are decreasing and ageing. But the countries of the North such as Europe, North America and Australia, New Zealand do not readily welcome peoples of the South specially Africa and Asia. The United Nations Organisation does not deal with a just alignment of population according to changes in the nations states. This situation is likely to get much worse in the coming decades when China and India in each have an increasing population more than a billion people. There will be more regional violence in Africa and Asia in the coming decades.

I am mentioning this to remark that much of the ethnic conflicts in the South have a relation to the colonial expansion and also because of the population pressure on the land. This is not to excuse ethnic chauvinism in countries such as Sri Lanka. But in our context too it is useful to recall that one million of our population was brought into our country by the British colonial power for their economic benefit through the plantations. Fortunately this issue is now being resolved by agreements between the governmnts of India and Sri Lanka.

It is also to be remembered that the economies of the colonies were transformed to benefit the colonial powers. They set up their multi-national corporations on a worldwide basis to obtain the profits from the land and work of the colonized peoples. The UNO has not done much to re-establish justice in the world economic system. On the contrary two of its supported organizations such as IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank support the Global Capitalist System which the colonial powers set up. The independence of the colonies and the end of colonial rule did not mean a just re-organisation of the exploitative global capitalist system. What we have since then is a new imperialism based on technology, finance and military power.

It has to be noted that the hegemonic military power of the United States of America can interfere in the domestic affairs of countries and invade places that it wants to control such as Iraq, without the United Nations being able to do anything about it. On the contrary recently the last US President Bush more or less declared “the war on terror” indicating the peoples of the lands where there are oil resources and stand in need of liberation by the democratic West.

I am writing this to you as Secretary General of the United Nations to remind you that your effort to bring justice to oppressed peoples has been rather deficient at the international level where the super powers are concerned.

While we welcome your interest in justice and peace in Sri Lanka with the backing of the nations of the European Union we wish to remind you that the main on-going injustice in the world is the result of international lawlessness since 1492.

If the world is not to have worse clashes within and among countries of the South in the coming decades, the prevailing injustice among nations must be remedied with an adjustment of land and resources according to the numbers and needs to the populations. The safeguarding of the natural resources of the world and prevention of the worsening of the climate change also need attention by the United Nations without leaving the super powers to act as they wish.

These remarks are made very briefly as you are doubtless aware of them. I have written at length in my book Planetary Theology published by the Centre for Society and Religion (CSR) in 1978 and later by Orbis, Maryknoll, New York.

I sincerely hope that during the remaining period of your service as Secretary General for United Nations you can make
a) an evaluation of the damage done by the super powers to the poorer peoples of the world (including slavery) and
b) make reparation and compensation for the killings of these peoples and transfer of their resources including gold and silver to the colonizing powers to form their capital
c) in this connection you can evaluate also the justice or otherwise of the foreign debt of the poor peoples and remedy their sufferings due to unfair terms of trade.
d) Plan together for world justice for 2010-2020, with practical means of implementation to go forward to a better safeguarding of basic human rights specially in Asia and Africa internally and globally.

I am concluding this short letter informing you that some of us would be ready to dialogue with the United Nations Human Rights groups concerning the obligations of the former colonial powers and present neo-imperialist nations. Perhaps this could help you to rethink your agenda on human rights in a more comprehensive nature during the coming years.
Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, OMI
Chairperson, Centre for Society & Religion

Mr. Basil Fernando's response to Fr. Balasuriya's letter

Dear Fr. Balisuriya,

I hope you are well.

Thank you very much for sending me a copy of the letter you have published on Ban Ki Moon’s visit to Sri Lanka with regard to the issues arising after the assassination of all the LTTE leaders, which is related to the situation of nearly 300,000 internally displaced persons and the problems relating to accountability based on accepted human rights norms.

At your request we are publishing this letter and I attach a reply thereto. I was not surprised by your letter because I was aware that you have never understood the issue of the oppression of the local people by themselves and by their state. In all your writings you see only a part of that problem of oppression which is the colonial enterprise and the global domination by what you call the west. You do not see the other aspect of the oppression which is the oppression of local people by their own through the state, which is used only as a machinery of repression.

Perhaps the differences of our perspectives on this are that you are the son of an apothecary and by the standards of those times, very much a part of the richer classes and of the landlords. I say this after many years of reflection about the differences of our views.

I will not be unkind to you by trying to discuss the issues as to how apothecaries and the like acquired their large acreages. Many of today’s critics of colonialism from the richer families owe everything they have to the colonial powers.

It suffices to say that against your background I am a washerman’s son and you know (of course you can pretend not to know) what that means.

Human rights of the oppressed are not something that you will ever understand. I have noted for years that you treat the words, human rights as some sort of bad language, which has been created only for the purpose of western global domination.

I have not seen a single sentence in your life-long writings of the type of domination the South Asian countries had previous to the arrival of colonial powers. For you it was all paradise before the arrival of colonial powers. That is of course true for people of the top layer whose paradise consisted of the services of the servant class which were also called low caste. Your history does not take into consideration the millennia of years of land lord and caste domination in Sri Lanka. Just to illustrate what this means I quote from this year’s Man Booker Prize winning novel White Tiger of the Indian writer, Aravind Adiga, what the Indian system of oppression (which is also ours), means, which the novelist wrote by way of a letter to the Chinese premier.

The greatest thing to come out of this country in the ten thousand years of its history is the Rooster Coop.

Go to Old Delhi, behind the Jama Masjid, and look at the way they keep chickens there in the market. Hundreds of pale hens and brightly coloured roosters, stuffed tightly into wire-mesh cages, packed as tightly as worms in a belly, pecking each other and shitting on each other, jostling just for breathing space; the whole cage giving off a horrible stench — the stench of terrified, feathered flesh. On the wooden desk above this coop sits a grinning young butcher, showing off the flesh and organs of a recently chopped-up chicken, still oleaginous with a coating of dark blood. The roosters in the coop smell the blood from above. They see the organs of their brothers lying around them. They know they’re next. Yet they do not rebel. They do not try to get out of the coop.

The very same thing is done with human beings in this country.

To claim that all contradictions in Sri Lankan society, including racial conflicts happened only because of colonial powers may help you to join the chorus of the chauvinist groups and perhaps your letter will help you to be placed also among the ranaviruos (heroic warriors). However, it is far from the truth, but then perhaps truth or history may matter very little to you. To all the nationalists, whether they are Sri Lankan or western nationalists like Hitler, Mussolini, Joseph Stalin and so many others, history matters so little. Myth and ideology is all they live by.

This is not to say that the colonial powers aggravated some of the problems we had. To speculate what might have been the situation if there were no colonial powers is pure fantasy as history has happened and we have to live amidst realities which were created by all who dominated the scene and created the conditions of life throughout our history, not only in some part of it.

Not only the period before colonial powers is important but also the period that came after. We have had over 60 years of power by the local political leaders. During these 60 years many countries which were former colonies have been able to overcome, to a relatively successful degree, many problems which were affecting their societies. India for example has resolved something a million times worse than racial relationships in Sri Lanka which was the condition of untouchability that affects more than 400 million people. Within the same period of independence as ours there is a considerable resolution of this problem, although there is a long way to go for a final equality. Also Malaysia was able to find a way to accommodate difference of ethnicities within their state structure.

The governments have been able to create a national sensitivity in which denigration of the untouchables, which was so prevalent and unbelievably cruel towards people, has been considered a wrong by the Indian state itself. The Indian leaders have the enlightenment to have, and to trust the leader of the movement of the untouchables as the chief draftsman of the drafting committee of the Indian Constitution: Dr. Babashaheb Ambekhar. Though there is still a long way to go, the future course can take place without violence within a functioning democracy because India, in fact, is a functional democracy, which Sri Lanka is not. They still have free and fair elections and a viable party politics. Indian’s have accepted responsibility for their own destiny and have not allowed themselves to be a failed state, which will be forever blaming their colonial masters.

You also completely misunderstand the United Nations today and the United Nations Human Rights approach in particular. In doing so what you fail to recognise is that there globally exists now, both in the west and the east, including in the most economically and politically underdeveloped countries in the world, a consensus that human rights is the measure in judging all those who hold power, be they those who hold economic and political power internationally, as well as judging all governments in all countries, which of course includes ours. For you it’s all black and white. Everybody in what you call the west are dominators and we are poor lambs who don’t bear any responsibility for ourselves. However, the modern human rights movement has been formed and developed in the movements against colonialism throughout the world, against internal oppression such as apartheid, against the struggle against slavery which in the United States was defeated by white people fighting white people and ending what was considered an abominable practice to human conscience.

You, Fr. Balasuriya, would you have fought with your life to end the caste discrimination in South Asia in the way the American northerners fought against the southerners to end slavery. This was again followed by a long period of struggle by the blacks against white domination and the black movement was able to transform the state apparatus of the United States in order to recognise the rights of the blacks. The law of America and the courts of America now protect the blacks in a far more advanced manner than at the beginning of the last century. None of these struggles are finished but the state has provided a democratic space to fight all these battles so that the need for armed struggles has been reduced. As against the gassing of six million Jews there was a world movement that arose to prevent future occurrences of the type. The entirety of the German law was changed. The German constitutional system and the education system were so transformed after recognizing a great cruelty that their system had perpetrated. Today the Palestinians have become the victims of Israel. The cry of the Palestinians is for respect for their human rights and for the recognition of their right to have their own state.

The world’s oppressed people are also thinking people today. The type of slave-like mentality some local people may have had towards your parents and all the landlord classes no longer exists. The untouchable that thinks calls himself a Dalit and wants his state to recognise his rights. The blacks in South Africa have created a state in which they can elect their own representatives. Throughout the world people are fighting both their local oppressors and the system of imperialism that dominates the world.

I can illustrate to you what human rights means by one single example. When you were excommunicated by the Catholic Church I was one of the people who played a prominent role in defending you. I did not defend your theology, I had given up that world view a long time before that. My world view is entirely a secular one and therefore from the point of view of ideas mine was different to yours. As for some of your views I just consider them to be funny as these ignore the fundamental changes in human ideas since Galileo. But I defended you because you had a right to say what you wanted to say and it was wrong for anybody to punish you for just saying or writing your views. That, as I explained to you is the meaning of article of 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which is one of the United Nations covenants. I acted according to the principle I believed in, your right to express an opinion, though in fact your opinion did not matter to me at all. Had I not cared for your human rights I could have done what most of your friends and lifelong colleagues did. In fact, I was pressurized by some people who were very close to you not to push the matter so hard. I will not repeat here the reasons they gave because the purpose of writing this letter is not to hurt you. For your friends, their theology was more important than you. To me, your human rights were more important than anything else.

It is the duty of our state to protect its entire people. The protection should take place by the efficiency of democratic apparatus and not by the capacity of its armed forces. If such a state apparatus does not develop all are victims. Sri Lanka’s trade union movement was a victim, twice the JVP were victims and in the second time there were over 30,000 disappearances. Naturally minorities in any country are the worst victim of a bad state. Are we to say all this is the fault of the colonial powers?
The moral issue involved is the one of our responsibility to think, to will and to exercise our judgement. We in Sri Lanka have had at least the time since independence to think, to will and to judge our own course for correcting our society’s wrongs. Refusal to think, to will and to judge may have caused our failure to correct our own wrongs, at least since the time of independence.

I say from the time of independence, because unfortunately that process of thinking, willing and judging by ourselves did not start in Sri Lanka, at least to the extent that it happened in India. (By 1865 the National Congress Party of India started a process of thinking, not only of independence but also of resolving the country’s historical deficits by way of inequalities towards women, expressed by deprivation of education and practices like sati, other unacceptable practices like child marriages, the need for fundamental land reforms, for developing constitutional principles that will prevent the occurrences of the misuse of power exercised by the colonial powers and above all the country’s most abhorrent practice of caste discrimination, particularly the issue of the untouchables).

What kind of thinking, willing and judging have we Sri Lankans done in the shaping in our own systems of governance so that we could have eliminated neglect, corruption and arbitrary use of power at all levels and the prevention of national discourse in a free and fair atmosphere. As we talk now journalists are being killed simply because they are journalists who express their views freely. If your argument is that colonial powers created our mentality, particularly that of the elite and therefore they are guilty of the present wrongs, that to some extent is a justifiable statement.

However, that does not explain why for 60 years we have not been able to overcome problems of our mentality by our own thinking, willing and our own judgment and thus, creating a type of state that is a viable democracy with a functioning state apparatus. Instead we have abandoned even the limited apparatus of civil service, the judiciary and accountability and created a political monstrosity called the executive presidency in which all power is given to one man.

I do not in any way disagree with your view that colonial powers should pay for their colonial exploitation. You know my view on that and I did participate in one of the meetings you organised a few years ago on this issue alone and I subscribed to the statements adopted. However, to confuse this issue as the sole issue that exists in the world and that we, in our countries, can use that as an excuse for our failures is nonsensical from the point of view of reason and morally amounts to the abdication our responsibilities.

We have abdicated the limited system of administration of justice. We have today the most corruption and unreliable system of policing which is unwilling and incapable of investigating crimes. Today the criminals are protected and the victims of crimes are being further abused by the ‘system of justice’ under the pressure of politicisation, the Attorney General’s system and the judiciary itself has suffered serious setbacks. We had the nightmare period of the undermining of the judiciary from within under the leadership of the chief justice, Sarath N Silva. What is in the future for us we do not know, all that we can say is that there is something terribly wrong within the state of Sri Lanka.

I also do not claim that the human rights language cannot be and often is abused. That is the nature of everything human. However, to discard any historically developed idea due to its imperfections is to deny the validity of ideas altogether. Every idea ever known to human kind has certain limitations and can be abused. But the struggle for bettering of our ideas and to struggle for overcoming weaknesses by honest search and struggle to implement is all that humanity can aspire to. However, those who have abdicated their duty to think, to will and to judge descend to the discarding of the validity of ideas altogether. The ideas of human rights are among the best of ideas that modern society has developed as against all hitherto known societies, all of which accepted the ruthless discrimination of the many by the few.

What Ban Ki Moon, as the United Nations General Secretary has done is to do what he is obliged to do within the framework of the human rights mandate of the United Nations with which Sri Lanka has expressed her agreement by being a signatory to all the relevant UN treatises.

I acknowledge your right to say what you have said in this article. I also believe that as a thinking person I also have a responsibility to express my thoughts and my judgment on what you say and its implications as I have always done.

I wish you a long life.

Thank you

Fraternally yours,
Basil Fernando
Asian Human Rights Commission

Rajeev Motwani

The following is from SAJAforum, the newsy SAJA blog - new South Asian stuff daily:

If you read a statement by Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google that read, "Today, whenever you use a piece of technology, there is a good chance a little bit of Rajeev Motwani is behind it," you are likely to think Motwani was a wise old man.

Turns out Motwani, a Stanford professor and one of the earliest influencers and advisers to Google and Paypal - and who died on Friday - was wise, but only 45.

Read all about Motwani, including a tribute from Brin and leading blogger and SAJA co-founder Om Malik, at

You will also find links to papers Motwani (an IIT and UC Berkeley grad) co-wrote with the two Google boys in early 1998 that set them on the path to fame and fortune.

Please post your comments there.

Prof. Sree Sreenivasan |
Dean of Student Affairs, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism |
Twitter: @sreenet -

07 June, 2009

Early signs of bipolar trend at national level


The story of how the electorate belied political prophesies and made smooth government formation possible after the Lok Sabha elections deserves close scrutiny because it contains early intimations of a new trend.

Even the best scenario visualised by pollsters had left the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), widely acknowledged as the frontrunner, far short of a simple majority in the 545-member house. Some experts suggested the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a close runner-up, might be in a better position than the UPA to attract support from other parties and raise the tally to 273, needed to chalk up a majority.

As it happened, the UPA was only 10 short of the magic figure. This shortfall was small enough to be made up without placating Prakash Karat, Mayawati, J. Jayalalithaa, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad, not to mention Nitish Kumar, who too turned up at the auction room.

The voters had so exercised their franchise that the so-called third and fourth fronts were left with no bargaining power at all. The worst sufferers were the reunited Yadavs, who had adopted a strategy calculated to enhance their capability by limiting the Congress party's strength.

This is not the first time that the Indian electorate has demonstrated an uncanny ability to brush aside political gibberish and arrive at the best possible verdict in the circumstances. Millions of voters, taking independent decisions in the privacy of their minds, had given expression to a common will when they voted out Indira Gandhi's emergency regime in 1977. They displayed the same determination again when, sickened by the Janata Party squabbles, they recalled Indira Gandhi.

The 1977 and 1980 verdicts can be explained in terms of a wide swing of the pendulum. The Congress party's vote share had dropped from 43.68 percent in 1971 to 34.52 percent in 1977, sweeping it out of office. It climbed to 42.69 percent in 1980 and the party was back in power.

There was no big swing this time. Provisional figures released by the Election Commission show that the Congress party's share increased slightly from 26.53 percent to 28.55 percent and the BJP's declined slightly from 22.16 percent to 18.80 percent. These changes may be sufficient to explain the rise in the Congress' strength from 145 to 206 and the fall in the BJP's from 138 to 116, but not to understand the way the electorate resolved the national conundrum.

It was the rise of regional parties and the vaulting ambitions of their leaders which had raised fears that government formation might not be easy. There was no appreciable change in the popularity of the national parties and the regional parties. In 2004, the national parties (those recognized as such by the Election Commission) together commanded 62.89 percent of the votes. This time their share was 62.32 percent.

The combined vote of the Congress and the BJP declined from 48.69 percent to 47.35 percent. The decline was too small for the Left parties to realise their pet dream of keeping both of them out of power. Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary A.B. Bardhan's forecast that the Congress and the BJP together would not win even 250 seats went awry. Actually they increased their combined strength from 283 to 312.

The electorate made government formation easy by eliminating the bargaining capacity of the ambitious leaders of the smaller parties. It rebuffed the sponsors of the Third Front, who wanted to hold the major national parties at bay. The Communist Party of India-Marxist lost 27 seats and the CPI six.

The voters meted out harsh punishment to the Yadavs who had cynically indulged in a game of self-aggrandizement. The Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad lost 20 seats and the Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav lost 13 seats. Their ally, Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan, lost all its four seats.

The election results provide early intimations of a bipolar trend. A tendency towards a bipolar polity is already in evidence in several states. It is the emergence of diverse forces in the different states that has made coalitions at the centre inevitable.

The parties which aligned themselves with either of the major national parties did well. Those ranged on the side of the Congress benefited the most. The Trinamool Congress in West Bengal made a whopping gain of 17 seats. Going by the winner-takes-all pattern witnessed in Tamil Nadu in recent years, Jayalalithaa's AIADMK should have made a clean sweep this time. Anticipating such a development, the well-known electoral weather cocks, Vaiko's Marumalarchi DMK and S. Ramadoss' PMK switched to her side. The results were disastrous: while the PMK lost all its six seats, the MDMK managed to save one of its four seats.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's poll eve vacillation notwithstanding, the Janata Dal-United, BJP's partner in the NDA, fared well in Bihar. The only Third Front party to buck the bipolar trend was Orissa's Biju Janata Dal.