New on my other blogs

"Gandhi is dead, Who is now Mahatmaji?"
Solar scam reveals decadent polity and sociery
A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


29 July, 2009

Online petition seeking Justice for Professor Sabharwal

An online petition has been launched to seek the intervention of the Chief Justice of India to remedy the visible miscarriage of justice in the case relating to the murder of Professor H.S.Sabharwal of Madhav College, Ujjain.

The petition calls for re-investigation of the case by a special investigation team (SIT) and creation of adequate provisions for witness protection. It also urges trial of the three policemen who retracted their statements during the Nagpur trial on chares of perjury.

The petition can be accessed and signed at

27 July, 2009

Reporting on climate change

SGI Quarterly ( is looking for young journalists (age if possible not older than 30) to write short articles (around 600 words each) on climate change reporting in their region, in response to R.K. Pachauri of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s point that ‘News media is not sufficiently addressing the severity of climate change’. The objective is to show how from across the globe "young people are communicating about issues of crucial importance to their generation."

If you are interested, please contact Elizabeth Ingrams as soon as possible at

The copy deadline is 14 August 2009. Although SGI Quarterly is a not-for-profit NGO, they are able to reimburse contributors at an honorarium rate for writing.

About SGI Quarterly:

The SGI Quarterly is published by Soka Gakkai International, a lay Buddhist association with headquarters in Tokyo which is also active as an NGO promoting peace, education, environmental awareness and cultural exchange. Each issue of the magazine carries a feature on a current issue of global concern. For instance recent issues covered: The Life of Food, The Arctic, Parents and Children, Huaman Rights. We also carry news about the activities of Soka Gakkai International.

The magazine is available online at

Approximately 50,000 copies of the Quarterly are distributed each issue, mostly through educational, research, NGO, UN and diplomatic channels.

Our current issue is on Youth taking action for peace. Other contributors so far from around the world include the Global Youth Action Network, Dominic Stucker (Earth Charter Youth Network Coordinator); Kimmie Weeks; Three Faiths Community Project (UK) and others.

A son’s plea for justice for his slain father

The following is a communication addressed by Himanshu Sabharwal, son of Professor H.S. Sabharwal, who was killed by riotous students at Ujjain. The police registered a murder case against six members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in connection with the crime. On July 13 a Nagpur court acquitted all the accused for want of evidence.

Himanshu Sabharwal

My father, in his last moments, dishevelled and helpless, stood 5 feet 11, robust and smartly turned out. A romantic at heart and a philosopher in the mind he was known to never leave his house without his prized possessions of his Rayban sunglasses and his Cross Gold pen. These only indulgences in luxury were, I think, 15 years old gifts... He would clean his car himself after his two km long morning walks and it always looked like it was just out of the showroom. He had bought the car so that I don't feel inferior in my snob school.

A migrant of 1947, he came to Ujjain at the age of 5 having lost his father in the riots. A self-made man, while studying for his doctorate he worked as time-keeper in the Public Works Department to fend for a family of two younger brothers and an ailing mother. He studied in the Hindi medium throughout, but his knowledge of English literature, which he had learnt on his own, was admirable. However, he always called Zee TV 'Jee TV'. When I corrected him, he answered with a smile. "Old habits die hard".

That man had the vision to send me to one of the best residential boarding schools of the country and would never forget to come for my house evenings, annual days and other functions. His reason to come were the delicious 'samosas' served with the evening tea, but I know now he came only for me. Each visit would have a rehearsed surprise of producing a Cadbury milk bar out of the upper pocket of his shirt for me.

On my first day at college he came to Delhi to see me off, gifting me a tailored shirt and a pair of trousers, proud that I was going to be a graduate. In his time even matriculation had meant a lot. I was the only one dressed like an executive in the whole of Delhi University where everybody else was sporting jeans. When he got to know this he laughed no end at himself. That was one thing of many that I admired about him, his courage to laugh at himself and add a poetic couplet or a funny anecdote to build it. He knew poets like Kabir, Rahim, Ghalib and many more by heart.

When I decided to go to the film school, he did not know how to react, because by what he had seen of life being in theatre, film, art etc meant being a pauper in a never ending struggle. I salute the spirit of that man who finally said, "hamare khandaan mein kabhi kisi ne film nahi socha hoga, chalo tum hi sahi" . He himself was a brilliant actor having worked with the likes of M. K Raina in plays like Inna Ki Awaz and knew the addiction it was.

Some time in my first job, he quietly asked me one evening if I would like a drink .The first one that I had was with him. He treated me more as a friend than as son. I could discuss with him anything under the sun, from religion to sex.

After he got tired of answering people used to having knowledge of conventional fields, about the nature of my work, he used to answer with a humorous "pata nahi sahab kya karta hai, magar mujhse paise nahi mangta" .

Kids were a magical therapy for him. The most popular uncle in the neighbourhood, he had a never ending supply of chocolates for them.

When he came to visit me in June 2006, I offered him a holiday in London with me. A strange smile lit his face. He had never been abroad but he declined, saying “Perhaps in the next incarnation.”

On the 26th of August'2006 this man was killed in cold blood after his face was smeared with mud, his clothes torn and he was kicked and boxed in the chest, breaking his ribs and puncturing his lungs. I saw his body on the 27th, blue and black in the mortuary with eyes static in oblivion.

For this man I demand justice.

26 July, 2009

Human rights activist receiving life threats in UP


Varanasi: Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi, Convener of the Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), a non-government human rights organization working in Varanasi, is continuously receiving death threats over his mobile.

On 22nd July, at 9:05 pm Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi got a missed call on his mobile telephone +91-993559933 from an unknown person. The same caller rang again at 9:06 and abused him using filthy words and held out threat to his life. At 9:30 pm Dr. Lenin called back to get more information about the caller. The person said he belonged to Bihar. However, Dr. Lenin identified his language and tone as that of western UP or Bundelkhand region.

On 23rd July, at 11:07 pm Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi again receives a threat from an unknown number. The caller abused him and threatened to kill him and kidnap his son.

His wife Shruti called the police number 100 from her mobile at 11:18 pm for help even as the caller was threatening Dr Raghuvanshi. The policeman on duty listened to the complaint and advised that a complaint be lodged with the Inspector General of Police (IG), Varanasi zone.

After half an hour Dr. Raghuvanshi called the number from which the threat had come. The person who answered said “someone borrowed my cell phone”. But he recognizes the voice as that of the person who had threatened him earlier.

On 21st May, 2008 Dr Raghuvanshi had received several such calls threatening to kill him if he continued with the work of the PVCHR among the Dalit communities of Varanasi district.

On 23rd July Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi sent a complaint by registered post to the Director General of Police, Lucknow, and the Inspector General of Police, Varanasi zone, about the calls he had received and urged them to take necessary action in the matter.

Threat and intimidation are not to be taken lightly in Uttar Pradesh, where people are abducted and children kidnapped for settling private and political feuds. In some cases the abducted victims are tortured or even murdered if the demands of the criminals are not met.

The PVCHR is a human rights organization with limited resources, but with a large work group, including staff and volunteers..In the past three years, it has brought to light many cases of human rights violations. These cases have attracted attention from various corners of the world, leading even to intervention by UN agencies. Such interventions have stimulated activists and volunteers associated with the PVCHR to engage in human rights promotion with greater vigour. It has also brought immediate and long-term relief to the victims of human rights violations.

In recognition of the activities of the PVCHR, the Gwangju based human rights group, the May 18 Foundation has awarded Dr. Lenin Raghuvanshi the Gwangju Price for Human Rights along with Ms. Irom Chanu Sharmila of Manipur in 2007. He received ACHA Star Peace award from Association for Communal Harmony in Asia, USA, in 2008 along with B. M. Kutty, Karamat Ali, and Mubashir Mirza, all from Pakistan.

23 July, 2009

Politics of rape or rape of politics?


Uttar Pradesh Congress is on a high these days. After Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna’s infamous words on rape, the debate started with the media pointing out that Chief Minister Mayawati had said the same thing to the then Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav after she visited the madrassa in Allahabad where some Muslim women were raped. Why were the channels running it for the whole day? Was it an effort to douse the flames created by brahmanical sophistry? Is it just a slip of the tongue or the very psychology of our political class which uses victim as a tool to score a political point?

Read on at Manukhsi blog

Activists question NHRC report on alleged encounter at Batla House

The following is a statement issued by concerned citizens on the National Human Rights Commission’s report on the alleged encounter at Batla House:

On 20th May, the Delhi High Court, acting on a petition filed by the
People’s union for democratic rights and Anhad, had asked the National
Human rights commission to conduct their own inqury into the alleged
Batla House encounter of September 2008 and give a report upon it.

This order came after the High Court was shown reports of four independent organizations into the encounter, including the report of People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR), the Delhi Union of Journalists, the Jamia Teachers Solidarity group, all of which seriously questioned the version of the Delhi police regarding the encounter. These reports and the petition filed by the PUDR had pointed out several specific problems with the version of the Delhi police. In particular, the following questions were raised about the version of the Delhi police.

1. If these boys were killed in a genuine encounter, how did the
17-year-old boy Sajid have four bullet holes on the top of his head,
which could only happen if the boy was made to sit down and shot from

2. How is the skin peeled off from Atif’s back? This was clearly
visible in the photograph taken before his burial which is annexed to
the PUDR petition. Obviously Atif had been tortured before being

3. How are the other blunt injuries on the bodies of the boys
explained by the police version of the encounter?

4. If the police knew in advance (as they claimed) that these boys
in the flat were the terrorists involved in the Delhi and other bomb
blasts, why did Inspector Sharma go in without a bullet proof vest?

5. How could two of the boys escape from the flat which had only one
exit (two doors next to each other) and from a building which had only
one exit?

It was expected that in these circumstances, the NHRC, would conduct
its own investigation into the matter. The report dated 20th July 2009
of the NHRC given to the High Court on 22nd July, however shows that
far from conducting any investigation into the matter, the NHRC has
merely relied upon the Police reports for their report. They have not
even examined or investigated the above questions which were squarely
raised in the PUDR petition on which the High Court order was issued
to the NHRC. They have not even examined Saif, the third boy picked up
by the police from the flat, nor even any of the witnesses of the Batla House area who had deposed before the People’s Tribunal. They have just swallowed the police version hook, line and sinker. And this despite the fact that there has been no independent police investigation or even a magisterial enquiry into the encounter as mandated by the NHRC’s own guidelines.

It is extremely unfortunate that the premier human rights body set up
to investigate human rights violations is becoming a rubber stamp for
the police.

The same attitude of the NHRC was evident when the Supreme Court asked the NHRC to investigate allegations of rape and murder against the Salwa Judum. The NHRC sent a team of essentially police officers who spoke mainly to the local police and other officials and gave a white-washing report.

The time has come to seriously re-examine the manner of appointment of
members of the NHRC and its powers. The present system of appointment
by a committee of Prime Minister, Home Minister, Speaker and Leader of
Opposition etc. is not working satisfactorily. All of them seem to
want a toothless and tame body which will not question those in power.

Since the NHRC report does not address or answer the disquieting
questions raised by the several independent fact finding reports about
encounter, it is essential that there be an investigation into the "encounter" by an SIT appointed by the Delhi HIgh Court.

Signed by:
Shabnam Hashmi (Anhad)
Moushumi Basu (Secretary, PUDR)
Dr. Anoop Saraya (Jan Hastakshep)
Harsh Mander (Director, Center for Equity Studies)
Sreerekha & Tanvir Fazar (Jamia Teachers Solidarity Group)
Colin Gonsalves (Director, Human Rights Law Network)
Arundhati Roy (Writer)
Kavita Krishnan (CPI ML Liberation)
Kamini Jaiswal (Advocate)
Mehtab Alam (Association for the protection of democratic rights)
Prashant Bhushan (Advocate)
Harsh Dobhal (Human Rights Law Network)

17 July, 2009

Custodial torture by law-enforcing agencies in India


Former United States Attorney General Ramsey Clark once said, ‘A right is not what someone gives you; it’s what no one can take from you’. But here things turn different, ‘right is not something what we can give you; it will be taken from you’, so is the state of affairs when it comes to the torture in police custody in India. In the wake June 26, which marked the International Day against Torture, the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) released a report named ‘Torture in India 2009’, compiling the true facts of ill-treated human rights in India. This report has zeroed in on custodial tortures especially by the police, armed forces and armed opposition groups etc. It reveals several accounts of atrocities by the so-called law enforcement officers from all over India. The panoptic narrative of deaths in the police custody with detailed state wise account of such incidents rules the roost in this report.

This is based on a nationwide campaign against torture and the study of a plethora of cases of last eight years. From April 2001 to March 2009 an estimated 1,184 persons were killed in police custody in India. Overwhelmingly, most of the victims were killed as a result of torture within the first 48 hours after being taken into custody, so rampant are the police in handling the people in custody. Torture in police custody is a pervasive problem that predates this report. The State and the police remain in worrying denial. The annual reports, Crime in India, of the National Crime Records Bureau of the Ministry of Home Affairs that report very few deaths in police custody reflect this disturbing denial.

The highest number of custodial deaths was reported in Maharashtra (192 cases) followed by Uttar Pradesh (128), Gujarat (113), Andhra Pradesh (85), West Bengal (83), Tamil Nadu (76), Assam (74), Karnataka (55), Punjab (41), Madhya Pradesh (38), Bihar and Rajasthan (32 each), Haryana (31), Kerala (30), Jharkhand (29), Delhi (25), Orissa (24), Chhattisgarh (23), Uttarakhand and Meghalaya (16 each), Arunachal Pradesh (11), Jammu and Kashmir and Tripura (9 each), Puducherry and Chandigarh (3 each), Himachal Pradesh (2) while Manipur, Goa, Sikkim, and Dadra & Nagar Haveli recorded one case each. National Crime Records Bureau’s statistics says that over 31 persons died by committing suicide in police custody in 2007, 24 persons in 2006 and 30 persons in 2005. This report highlights that the National Human right commission has failed to effectively address torture and other human rights violation. According to a statement by Suhas Chakma, Director of ACHR, these deaths in custody do not however represent the actual number of deaths in police custody in India. A number of cases of custodial death taken up by ACHR with the National Human Rights Commission show that the NHRC was not informed by the police about these custodial deaths, while the NHRC has expressed its anguish against the failure to report these cases of custodial deaths but the NHRC's guidelines on reporting custodial deaths within 24 hours continue to be flouted. According to a senior lawyer, India has the highest number of cases of police torture and custodial deaths among the world's democracies and the weakest legislation against torture. Unfortunately, in the country, torture is seen as routine police behaviour to extract confessions.

The case of 22 years old Md Qudus Ali from Urup, Imphal East district of Mnipur is a strange one. On 7 February 2008, he was allegedly tortured to death in the custody of state police commandos at Thambalkhong in Imphal East district. The victim was allegedly picked up from the premises of the Office of the District Commissioner, Imphal East where he had gone in connection with his electoral photo identity card. The police, however, claimed that the victim was a “militant” and that he was killed in an encounter. A large number of reported cases of torture and custodial death are a result of attempts to extract a confession relating to theft or other petty offences. This implies that suspects belonging to the lower economic and social strata are particularly vulnerable. The police routinely cite “suicide” as a cause of death in custody. In a reply to the Rajya Sabha on 12 March 2008, then Home Minister of India, Shivraj Patil cited suicide as one of the primary causes of custodial death. But the Home Minister failed to clarify as to why so many accused had committed suicide in police detention, what had led them to act in this manner and how they had accessed the means like knives, poisons and open electric cables etc as they are in custody.

Suicide does of course occur. However, examination of number cases by ACHR suggests that the causes of deaths are often a cause for concern. There are frequent allegations by the families of the victims of torture; torture that either impacted the victims actions or resulted in a death that was subsequently covered up. The explanations of the police are also often inadequate. The police regularly claim that people have committed suicide by using handkerchiefs or by consuming poison while in police custody. This seems fabricated when they repeat the same for many cases. The question of the access of the means to suicide still remains unanswered.

Further, deaths in the custody of the armed forces and the Indian Army under the control of the Central government are not reported to the NHRC as it does not have jurisdiction to investigate violations committed by the armed forces. ACHR itself has filed 50 complaints of extrajudicial killings from 2003 to 2009 from Manipur alone. Many of these alleged extrajudicial killings were indeed deaths in the custody of the Manipur Police Commandos but since the Manipur Police Commandos claim to be conducting operations jointly with the central armed forces, the deaths in the custody of the Manipur Police Commandos are not reported to the NHRC.

The disturbing finding of the report points the finger at the Government as India has not ratified the Unite Nations Convention Against Torture, although it has been a signatory since October 1997. Ratification is necessary for appropriate changes to be made in the prevailing laws, and to enable institutions and executing authorities in India to be committed and accountable to address the practice of torture. Fighting torture has been a long standing campaign of many human rights organizations in India, – be it in the case of Jammu and Kashmir, the North East, Gujarat or as recently in the case from Nandigram and Singur. But the thousands of such victims who were forcefully removed from their villages and pulled to camps still suffer for no cause. In fact these blameworthy and reproachful facts marked a blot on the world’s largest democracy.

N.M. Salih is a Delhi based journalist working with The Milli Gazette, a fortnightly English newspaper. He can be contacted at

15 July, 2009

Who needs an Islamic state?


Abdelwahab El-Affendi is a well-known Islamic scholar and political philosopher from Sudan, presently based in London. Author of numerous works, his latest book, provocatively titled ‘Who Needs an Islamic State?’ discusses what he regards as the serious lacunae in contemporary Islamist political thought, which, in his view, have caused Islamist movements to reach a virtual dead-end, creating many more problems (for Muslims as well as others) than they have been able to solve. El-Affendi seeks to argue the case for a paradigm shift in Muslim political thinking in order to fashion a contextually relevant understanding of Islam and its role in, and relation to, the public sphere.

Islamism may be described as a version of Islam predicated on the centrality of the notion of an ‘Islamic state’ whose principal function is to enforce, and rule by, what is conventionally regarded as shariah law. Islamism is far from being the homogenous phenomenon that it is often taken to be. Nor are all versions of Islamism necessarily incompatible with democracy. Undeniably, however, many forms of Islamism are. Islamist ideologues, driven by triumphalist, even apocalyptic, fervor, have failed to a develop consistent position on such crucial issues as limits to state authority, people’s participation in law-making and governance, the role and status of non-Muslims and women and the question of violence. Almost all recent experiments in setting up ‘Islamic states’ have involved tremendous bloodshed, conflict and large-scale suppression of democratic rights, including of Muslims themselves. The tantalizing utopian society that Islamists promise to usher in seems to recede even further into the realm of possibility once Islamists come to power.

This, in brief is what El-Affendi argues in his book. He contends that, once in power, Islamist parties inevitably turn sternly authoritarian. This is inevitable, he suggests, because the leaders of these parties firmly believe that their understanding of Islam corresponds most closely to the Divine Will and hence cannot be opposed and must be imposed, even against the opposition of a significant section of the population, Muslims as well as others. Islamists in power generally have a very poor record of respecting democracy, though the author rightly notes, it is unfair to blame them alone for the serious democratic deficit in much of the Muslim world since they are more often than not the victims of despotism, both of Western imperialist powers and of regimes in Muslim counties closely allied to the West. Yet, he insists, even victims have choices. When out of power, the ‘misguided anti-democratic rhetoric’ of Islamists provides many a despot with ‘an alibi and a pretext to oppose democratisation’, and in the few instances when Islamists have managed to acquire power, their record in upholding democratic rights has generally been dismal.

El-Affendi critiques the Islamists obsession with the struggle for acquiring power as a means to enforce shariah. Instead, he advises that it is not primarily political but, rather, moral influence that Islam requires its followers to seek to acquire. The best way to communicate Islam to others, which is the principal duty of Muslims, is not through the force of arms, but, rather, for Muslims to exemplify Islamic virtues in their own lives and to offer an alternative model of life to the rampant consumerism and centralization of power characteristic of Western-inspired models of ‘modernity’. Sadly, he says, this is not happening. In fact, or so he claims, Muslims are even more materialistic than others, while contributing little or nothing to the world in terms of science and technology. As he very aptly, though bluntly, puts it, ‘We sound a lot sillier today when we claim that the Muslims should be a light unto mankind and show exemplary conduct and moral leadership. Now, it would be more realistic to just say we wish that Muslims should stop blowing themselves up and getting innocent people killed in the process.’

El-Affendi recognizes continued injustices directed by others against Muslims, as in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, and also admits that violence in the name of Islam is often a response or reaction to the oppression of Western powers and of their client regimes in the Muslim world. Yet, he suggests, reacting to this with indiscriminate counter-violence, as some Islamist groups have, is not in line with Quranic teachings. Further, he adds, ‘The quest for the moral high ground is for Muslims not just a requirement of a higher moral order but an imperative of survival.’

El-Affendi believes that values underlying democracy, such as justice, fairness, decency, rational conduct, can be said to be ‘total harmony’ with a certain broad and inclusive understanding of Islam. The anti-democratic thrust of much contemporary Islamic political thought is thus not a necessary outcome of Islam itself. Rather, the he argues, it owes much to the fact that Islamism emerged as a response to Western colonialism and the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate at the hands of Western powers. That historical context in which it emerged favored an authoritarian vision of state. Yet, El-Affendi says, that model of the state is outdated and does not do justice to the demands of Islam, for it miserably fails to guarantee justice and basic freedoms that, in his view, Islam insists upon. At the same time, he is not unmindful of the present imbalance of power at the global level that is heavily tilted against Muslim countries. One way to address the problem, he suggests, is for at least one leading Muslim state to be set up or promoted that would be accepted by other Muslim countries as a sort of leader, in the same manner in which the USA is accepted as the leader of the West. This would be less ambitious than the classical Muslim Caliphate, and would fall short of leading to a European Union sort of arrangement, though it could eventually lead to it. Such a state, which should be a viable democracy with a strong economic base and vibrant cultural life, could, he believes, play a major role in addressing the endemic instability of the Muslim world. He holds this out as a realistic alternative to the utopian vision of the Caliphate in Islamist circles.

A major concern of El-Affendi is to critique certain key aspects of traditional and contemporary Muslim political thought and discourse. He laments that many Muslims are reluctant to review the Muslim political heritage, somehow treating it as sacred, and even ardently defending those aspects of it that are patently immoral and, therefore, un-Islamic. For Muslims to critically reassess this heritage, he points out, does not mean abandoning the absolute commitment to the ideals that shaped it. A major aspect of Muslim political thought that he subjects to incisive critique is what he regards as its extreme idealism and the related tension between the ideal and the reality of Muslim political life. Islamists, he argues, are impelled by an extremely idealistic, indeed utopian, vision of the world, one that has scant concern for realism. Hence their willingness to resort to violence and authoritarianism to serve what they believe are divine ends. Hence, too, their ultimate failures. Commitment to Islamic ideals must go, El-Affendi advises, with what he calls a ‘healthy realism’.

While defending democracy and the rights of minorities, El-Affendi does not advocate that Muslim countries uncritically adopt Western-style secular, democratic state structures. In fact, he is bitterly critical of the modern state, which, instead of serving society, demands that society serve it. He draws inspiration from the polity set up by the Prophet Muhammad, which was, he says, characterized by voluntary participation, and was based on morality rather than coercion.

The ideal polity established by the Prophet was, however, subverted shortly after the Prophet’s demise, when the proto-democratic Caliphate was transformed into authoritarian monarchy that heralded the collapse of the idealist project. This, El-Affendi notes, resulted in the decline of the role of the wider community in political affairs and the further narrowing of Muslim political theory. It was at this time that doctrines were invented, including by some court-related ulema, making obedience to rulers compulsory even if they were tyrants. This justification that was sought to be bestowed on tyranny remains a greatly problematic aspect of Muslim political thought.

Another major drawback of traditional Muslim and modern Islamist political theory is, El-Affendi tells us, that since it is based on the notion of the Caliph as a virtually saintly leader, there are no proper checks and balances to his powers. The insistence on perfection in the Caliph, he perceptively notes, ‘has automatically removed from the community the right to criticize him, for everyone is by definition less pious, less learned and less wise than he is.’ The solution to the problems of the Muslim ummah was believed to depend on the arrival of an individual saintly ruler, which is precisely what leaders of various Islamist groups and Muslim messianic movements projected themselves as. The waiting for this ‘impossible arrival’ was, El-Affendi comments, ‘bound to relegate Muslim thinking to the realm of mythology and passive ineptitude.’ He suggests that Muslim political theory be revised by detailing the ideals inherent in Islamic history and norms in a more realistic fashion, and by insisting that they be adhered to in practice.

El-Affendi is bitterly critical of the tendency in Islamist circles to project the Caliphate as an end in itself, rather than as a means to certain desirable ends, such as justice and democracy. He finds fault with key Islamist ideologues, such as Maududi and Syed Qutb, for their aversion to democracy and their advocacy of a totalitarian, fascist-like state in the name of the Caliphate, whose ruler would be advised by a shura council but who could override its opinion. This would allow him to be a virtual dictator. In such a set-up, El-Affendi argues, totalitarianism would be further reinforced because the Caliph and the state he presides over would be charged with the responsibility of promoting virtue and combating vice, which could easily result in malpractices as well as gross interference in people’s private affairs. This, in turn, would surely lead to people opposing the Islamic state, as the experience of numerous countries where such experiments have been sought to be imposed so tragically illustrates.

In this regard, El-Affendi argues for effective checks on the powers of the Caliph or amir or leader of the Muslim state, because, he says, the conventional notion that the Caliph cannot be a tyrant because only the most pious persona can be selected for the post is wholly unrealistic. He notes that some scholars suggest that the amir be bound by the consensus (ijma) of the ulema, but he prefers to concur with the suggestion of Hasan al-Turabi, head of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood, who argues that the amir should follow the ijma of the people, whose choice should be enlightened by religious as well as secular experts. El-Affendi also approvingly refers to the noted Tunisian Islamist Rashid al-Ghanoushi, who stresses that Islamist movements should consider themselves as just one among many actors within a liberal-democratic state and that they should regards themselves neither as the guardians of Islamic morality, nor as the sole authority as regards the interpretation of Islam. In other words, an Islamist party must shed its monopolistic tendencies and see itself as just another political party offering its programme to people, inviting them to decide freely between it and its rivals. In such a scheme of things, Islamic parties must acknowledge that there is always a possibility that they could lose to non-Islamic parties in freely-held elections, and they should respect the verdict of the electorate.

Another key aspect of Islamist political thought that El-Affendi scrutinizes is its vision of the state that is based on the notion of what he aptly terms ‘a principle of restriction’, which he contrasts with the original Islamic vision of the polity as based on ‘a principle of liberation and self-fulfillment’. This model is based on the notion of a benevolent autocrat who rules mainly though punitive powers. Not surprisingly, this model has throughout Muslim history been used by despots to shore up their own legitimacy and powers. Another crucial flaw of this model is what he terms as the ‘totalitarian quasi-utopian vision in which the Islamists conceive of a mighty state dragging an unwilling community along the path of virtue and obedience to the law’. This is reflected in their concern mainly with legal prohibitions and restrictions in the law. The citizen that Islamists seek to mould is essentially someone who is deprived of the freedom to sin, but, ironically, also one who lacks the freedom to be virtuous either. El-Affendi argues that this was certainly not God’s purpose when He created human beings endowed with free will.

The issue of community identity in an Islamic state also remains a subject of intense debate, El-Affendi points out. While many Islamists insist on following the medieval fiqh tradition in treating non-Muslims as dhimmis, with several restrictions on their rights, he refers to some Islamist ideologues who are now willing to revise the notion of dhimmi and consider non-Muslims as co-founders of the state and as full citizens with equal rights as Muslims. This reflects a growing realization that the division of the world in the classical fiqh tradition between dar ul-harb (‘Abode of War’) and dar ul-islam (‘Abode of Islam’) is a post-Quranic development that has no sanction in the Quran. El-Affendi eagerly supports the notion of dar ul-ahd (‘Abode of Treaty’) that some Muslim scholars have proposed, connoting states where communities agree to peacefully coexist. In such states, democracies where Muslims have equal rights, including the right to follow and propagate their faith, there can be no room for armed jihad, and Muslims must seek to cultivate peaceful and harmonious relations with non-Muslim fellow citizens.

This, however, does not mean, El-Affendi clarifies, that Islam is reconciled to the present Western-inspired international order, for, he says, it must play its role of being the sole remaining major challenger to the liberal-democratic Western-dominated international system in order to establish justice, first within Muslim communities and countries, and then, internationally.

Similarly, with reference to the notion of ummah, which some radical Islamists argue must translate into political unity of all Muslims across the world, El-Affendi chooses to side with those Muslim thinkers who consider that the notion does not preclude allegiance to a particular state. True, he argues, a Muslim’s ultimate loyalty must be to God, not to a community or state. Yet, other loyalties, such as to the family, tribe, nation and country, need not be seen as necessarily contradictory to this ultimate loyalty. This is why, he says, Islam recognized these other facets of identity, but sublimated and gave them a new expression within the new context of belief. In some ways, he adds, modernity and the modern system of nation- states can actually help advance some Islamic ideals. In theory, modernity allows for democracy, freedom (albeit one controlled by social responsibility and spiritual welfare), justice and peaceful interaction between different peoples, thus promoting the creation of a truly global community, which, El-Affendi says, is in accordance with Islamic teachings. In this regard, Islam, properly understood, can play an important role as a source of moral guidance to create a peaceful and just world order and to end the present heavily-skewed global imbalances of power and resources. El-Affendi sees this as part of the mandate of a community that regards itself as a ‘witness over mankind’, which should manifest itself in transcending self-interest in favour of global responsibility, attacking consumerism, nurturing the environment and offering an alternative to the international order based on the notion of the egotistic nation-state as a collection of individuals and groups motivated largely by narrowly-defined self-interest. These notions should, he argues, be recast in a moral context by redefining the role of the Muslim ummah as the conscience of mankind.

One of El-Affendi’s serious concerns with traditional as well as contemporary Muslim political thought is that it does not adequately provide for formal decision-making mechanisms suitable for a complex, modern state. One reason for this is that both are based on the model of the small-scale and closely-knit polity established by the Prophet in Medina, which, in turn, was built on a society characterized by mutual trust, close personal interaction and easy, mainly face-to-face communications. The charismatic nature of the leadership provided by the Prophet made it unnecessary to have formal decision-making structures that would require all leading figures to take part in the political process. Today, however, El-Affendi notes, the situation is vastly different, and more institutionalized and formal arrangements for decision-making and power-sharing are required in order to administer large nation-states. This is something that Muslim political thought has not devoted sufficient attention to. In this context, El-Affendi argues that that the idea of a single Caliph, so central to traditional Sunni political thought, may have to be replaced in favour of rule by a council of people, a system more in tune with the concept and realities of the modern state.

El-Affendi is also critical of the Islamists’ tendency to hanker after a single saintly hero, in the model of an ideal Caliph or a Mujaddid or a Mahdi, who could, almost miraculously, solve all the problems of the Muslims in particular, and the world in general. He rightly regards this as misplaced utopianism, pointing out the impossibility of applying political techniques suitable for small city states to vast countries. The classical Sunni caliphate model that both traditional ulema and Islamists seek to recreate, he insists, belongs to the category of republican city-states of the past and is unworkable in today, in a world of vast, multi-ethnic, modern states.

An aspect of the political practice of many contemporary Islamist groups that engages El-Affendi’s concern is what he regards as their overwhelming focus on the fight against foreign enemies, whether real or imaginary, which has been at the cost of the struggle for internal reforms within the Muslim community. This indicates a lack of sufficient introspection and self-critique and an unfortunate tendency to blame others wholly for one’s own weaknesses, failures and travails. Because of this, he argues, all sorts of corruption, despotism, mismanagement and ineptitude have been tolerated among Muslims ‘in the name of the fight against this enemy or that’, while ‘the enemy within, the biggest of all, was left untouched’.

A key aspect of the practice of modern Islamist movements that El-Affendi finds greatly problematic is their near obsession with ruling through restriction, control and punishment, rather than through working for the positive enablement of their citizens. This has made for proto-fascist tendencies to emerge within their ranks, ultimately causing the very people whom they supposedly wanted to reform in the name of Islam to oppose and even, as in some places, revolt against them. This, so El-Affendi says, was not the original Islamic idea of a political community, and can only be counterproductive to the cause of building up a truly moral Islamic society and polity.

By seeking to ‘establish’ Islam through coercion, and thus making capture of the state and its coercive powers their first or major concern, Islamist forces might thus only be causing their own downfall, El-Affendi argues. Their harsh, authoritarian approach to enforcing Islamic morality can only lead to corruption and widespread hypocrisy, causing alienation from, rather than genuine commitment to, Islam.

This means, El-Affendi writes, that the search for an ideal state must begin with the search for freedom for Muslims, including the freedom to think, to act, to even sin and to repent, to find oneself and one’s fulfillment in obeying God—only then can a truly righteous Muslim community and state emerge. This requires that, for the present, Muslims must participate wholeheartedly in the struggle for democracy, for right of every individual not to be coerced into doing anything his or her will. Only in this freedom will society be able to evolve an ethics based on the Prophetic model, wherein people submit to Islam voluntarily and abide by its rules by their conscience, not through fear of the state and its agencies of punishment. At the same time, El-Affendi adds, the freedom that he advocates is not one without moral restraints. To be free is not to be amoral. Rather, it means to be free from external, undesirable constraints. Yet, to be genuinely free also requires that the state must not be totalitarian, contrary to how several modern Islamist ideologues have conceived of it. The ideal Muslim state, as well as the Muslim community in general, does have the duty to help each individual achieve his or her moral potential, but it cannot shoulder the individual’s ultimate duty with regard to his or her own actions. El-Affendi recognizes that for any political community to function there has to be an element of coercion involved, but, he says, the ideal polity cannot approve of any element of coercion other than the minimum inherent in the principle of community itself. The Muslim state or the Muslim community cannot compel people to be righteous against their will, for that would only lead to hypocrisy, which Islam abhors. This is also a sure recipe for despotism, as the state, imagining itself to be the instrument of the Divine Will, can easily assume its moral duty to be to compel people to act against their own conscience. In other words, then, the state must be a democratic one, based on the free will of its citizens and the principle of peaceful resolution of differences and free debate about the demands of Islam and the operation of the community. It should also respect cultural and religious pluralism, and accommodate non-Muslims as equal citizens with equal rights and freedom. El-Affendi argues the case for a polity in a plural society as being an association of independent religious communities coexisting with each other, governed by a treaty rather than by a rigid Constitution in order to give the communities greater autonomy. Such a treaty would detail the rights and duties of all communities and would safeguard their common existence, similar to covenant of Medina covenant that brought the Muslims, under the Prophet, with the non-Muslim communities of Medina, in a common polity.

This would be a different sort of polity to the conventional modern state. Communities would join together not as subjects of an all powerful state, but as members of communities united voluntarily, each pursuing its own way of life in full freedom. This polity would allow for only that much coercion as is needed to safeguard and maintain the polity itself, but coercion would not the basis of the polity. In such a polity, a person would be free to join the community and polity of his or her choice or leave freely, something that is absent in the current international order, where citizens must conform to state-dictated norms and where freedom of movement to join other polities is severely restricted. In place of the territory-based modern state, El-Affendi suggests a polity which is not strictly territorial, and an international order based on peacefully co-existing communities rather than territorially-based and mutually exclusive nation states. It would not be an intrusive, coercive organisation that seeks to impose specific norms. Instead, it would be a co-operative association to help people to live freely according to the dictates of their conscience. It would conform to the shariah, but the shariah would not be imposed. Rather, the conformity to the shariah would be to the extent of the free expression of the free will of its Muslim citizens.

Such a state is to be distinguished from conventional states in that it has a higher moral purpose. It should, El-Affendi says, serve as a light for all humankind, and not being engrossed, as all other states are, in an endless search for comforts and material goods for its people. It must be characterized by a philosophy of giving and sharing, unlike conventional states, whose component groups vie with each other for the maximum possible self-aggrandisement.

This brings El-Affendi to the greatly controversial issue of the imposition of the shariah. He persuasively argues that attempts to force Muslims to abide by the shariah have inevitably failed in the past, and have even proven counter-productive. In this regard, then, conventional Islamist political thought is gravely lacking. The shariah, El-Affendi says, can rule only through the willing consensus of Muslims, when the community observing it perceives it as a liberating act, as the true fulfillment of the self. In other words, since the shariah must entail willing compliance to its rules, in actual fact it can never be imposed, whether by the state, an Islamist party or by Muslim clerics. When it is imposed against the will of the people, it is no longer shariah. When only coercion, not consent, underpins the rule of the shariah, it becomes hypocrisy.

The issue of the enforcement of the shariah by the state also shapes the way in which Islamists conceive the state itself—as almost an end in itself, or, at least, as the principle means to enforce the shariah. El-Affendi points out that this displaces the role of individuals in establishing justice, making social activity, including the dispensation of justice, dependent on the will of rulers, who can thereby easily turn into despots. Islamists often take the state as end in itself. And, since the Islamist party or the ‘Islamic’ state comes to be seen as an end in itself, in many cases self-styled Islamic movements have exhibited an unfortunate tendency of allowing their ends to govern their means, not stopping from engaging in blatantly un-Islamic and criminal acts, such as killing innocent people and engaging in terrorism, in order to achieve what they regard as noble ends. El-Affendi insists that Islam does not allow for this sort of approach at all.

El-Affendi is particularly critical of modern Islamist ideologues, such as the Egyptian Syed Qutb and the Pakistani Abul Ala Maududi, who conceived of an ideal Islamic state as being totalitarian, anti-democratic, authoritarian and coercive. He is bitter about what he calls the Islamists’ ‘self-righteous pretensions’, which translates into ‘a readiness to resort to violence at the slightest pretext’. He likens them to the Khawarij or Kharijites, an early splinter group from among the Muslims, who saw themselves alone as true Muslims, and the rest of the world, including other Muslims, as deviant, aberrant, even anti-Islamic, thus ruling out any room for compromise.

While still upholding the notion of a Muslim state moulded or guided by religio-moral concerns and principles, el-Affendi points to the serious gaps in modern Islamist political thought, indicating the way forward for the emergence of a genuinely democratic, pluralist and contextually-relevant Muslim political discourse.

Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Social Policy at the National Law School, Bangalore .

09 July, 2009

India’s Maoist dilemma: the case of Lalgarh

Open Democracy

The ongoing security crisis in West Bengal exposes the cracks in Indian democracy, stemming from a volatile mix of poor governance, petty politics, and a fundamental breakdown in credibility

A battle rages on in the Indian state of West Bengal, between Maoist guerillas called the Naxalites (Naxalbari is the name of a village in West Bengal where the movement was born in 1967) and national and paramilitary forces. The Naxalites, a banned outfit deemed as "a terrorist organization" by the central government, had proclaimed the Lalgarh area of West Midnapore district in Bengal, with its 44 villages, a "liberated zone" on 16 June 2009.

Since then, state and national security personnel have been sent to flush out the Naxals and bring Lalgarh and its adjoining areas under the government's control. In the 20 days since the Special Forces were deployed, not a single Maoist leader has been arrested in the area, besides the group's spokesperson in the city of Kolkata, some 200 kms from Lalgarh. The fear is that the guerilla fighters have retreated to jungles along West Bengal's border with the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh and may return once the forces currently in Lalgarh withdraw.

Prelude to the siege

On 2 November 2008, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya traveled with 3 ministers of the central government in a high-security convoy through the south-west region of his state after inaugurating a steel plant. On its way to Kolkata from West Midnapore, the convoy narrowly missed being blown to bits by an improvised explosive device. When senior members of the government travel by road, a careful "sanitization" of the route is carried out. The fact that a crude bomb was triggered from a kilometer away through a wire running across open fields and narrowly missed the minister's cars, was a blatant reminder of the deteriorating law and order situation in West Bengal.

The current crisis in Lalgarh is seen as a direct fallout of this attempt to blow up the ministers' cars. The West Bengal police, shamed by the audacity of the attack, allegedly arrested innocent young men and women in the Lalgarh area, accusing them of having links with Naxalites who had already claimed the bomb to be their handiwork. The police's repressive tactics and the unwillingness of local leaders to intervene on behalf of the people was the tipping point of the population's anger, which had built over years of similar experiences with the state's security officials.

Thereafter, the people of Lalgarh have been agitating both peacefully and often violently against policemen and politicians alike, leading up to the 16 June declaration of a liberated zone.

India's Maoists are not a newly formed group and do not have any direct links with Maoist movements in neighboring countries such as Nepal. They are a domestic organization, although it remains unclear where contemporary militants purchase their weaponry from. Ever since the first Maoist uprising in Naxalbari in 1967, the movement has grown in size and covers one third of the country's districts, across 9 states. They are considered a major security threat to the country as acknowledged by successive national and state administrations and yet no concrete strategy to combat them has been undertaken.

The Maoists have spread across regions in central and eastern India where some of the country's poorest and most marginalised population is concentrated. Pratik Kanjilal writes in the Hindustan Times that a map marking some of the least developed districts in the country would easily overlap those with Naxal activity.

A failure of governance and development

The current case of West Bengal is a little out of the ordinary. When the Communist Party of India (Marxist) first received a mandate to govern the eastern state in 1977, it was after the last remaining Naxalbari activists had been driven out of the state by the then chief minster of West Bengal, Siddhartha Shankar Ray of the Congress Party. The Marxists introduced land reforms benefiting many in rural Bengal who for generations had worked as landless laborers on farms owned by "zamindars", landlords.

Today, the Marxists take credit for rooting out Maoists from West Bengal, instead of acknowledging Ray's role and it is this imaginative history that contributed to the government's arrogant and complacent attitude to the renewed Naxal threat.

Falling behind on promises to develop rural infrastructure, to create jobs for people (the Indian governments National Rural Employment Guarantee Program is yet to be implemented in the district) and to provide basic healthcare and education facilities are the root causes for disenchantment with the ruling government in West Bengal. Yet, as many commentators in the media point out, the West Bengal government could have saved these territories from falling in to the hands of the Maoists if they had woken up from their slumber when reports of Naxal activity began trickling in around 2004.

A South Asia Intelligence Review report from 2004 warns of a possible "Naxalbari Redux" in Bengal and points out how the administration, including Chief Minister Bhattacharya were aware of growing discontent and violence in West Midnapore and its surrounding districts, yet chose to ignore them as minor, local protests. In an assessment of the ongoing stand off in Lalgarh, KPS Gill, one of the country's most well-respected police officers, blames the "state denial, appeasement and progressive error; paralysis in the face of rising Maoist violence," which allowed the group to spread its operations further in to Bengal. He also faults the lack of a comprehensive strategy to root out the Naxals; since the start of paramilitary operations, the rebels seem to have simply melted away into adjoining forests and even neighboring states.

It is not simply underdevelopment that lies at the heart of people's distress. Aditya Nigam points out in the Tehelka magazine that the Left Front government has been nothing short of a totalitarian regime that allows no room for dissent and complaint. The party's cadres have been accused of high-handedness, bearing illegal arms, siphoning off state funds and preventing citizens from speaking out against the party. Their activities are unchecked by West Bengal's police force, which remains hijacked by the Left Front's leaders.

It is in this vacuum of a law and order system and out of fear of cadre violence and police brutality that the people of rural Bengal turned to groups such as the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PSBJC), formed after last November's police brutalities in Lalgarh and eventually the Maoists, who claim to support the populace in its uprising against the state's hubris and complacency.
Playing politics with the Maoists

Bengal's main opposition party the Trinamool Congress and its leader Mamata Banerjee picked up 19 seats in the recent national elections and is part of the coalition ruling at the centre. In her agitations against state brutality in Nandigram in 2007 and against poor land acquisition policies in Singur in 2008, Banerjee is accused of receiving help from local Maoist groups. The PSBJC's convener, Chhatradhar Mahato was once a member of her party and his older brother is a high-ranking Maoist operative sought by the police. Hence, the Left Front has been quick to accuse Banerjee of allowing the Maoists to penetrate Bengal.

However, in an interview with Livemint, Koteswar Rao, head of guerilla operations for the CPI (Maoist) dismisses the claim that his group had been receiving support from the main opposition party in the state. The Maoists claim to support only the people, and in particular the adivasis or tribals in Lalgarh and its adjoining areas. However, CNN-IBN has Rao on record saying that Banerjee should refrain from allowing the central government to send paramilitary forces to West Midnapore, as she would lose the people's support.

Whether Banerjee was seeking help from Maoists during her earlier agitations at Nandigram and Singur is unclear, yet many in Bengal's administration are more than convinced and accuse her of bringing the guerillas into the state's internal politics. Banerjee, now the Minister of Railways in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's cabinet, denies allegations of collusion with the Maoists for her own political gains. She points out the Left Front's poor governance and the poor behavior of its cadres as the primary reasons behind the unrest in Lalgarh. For the moment, she is happy to let the state government deal with the Maoists as she doesn't want either side to use her as a pawn to blame the consequences of their decisions on.

"Good" or "evil"?

The nature and organization of people's groups such as the PSBJC has been a matter of great debate in the Indian media. The Hoot, a media watchdog traces the different representations of the PSBJC in newspapers, blogs and magazines from across the country. Some commentators assume that the PSBJC is a front for the Maoists, but several others have been skeptical of such assumptions as they point to reports of the organization undertaking small-scale relief projects in West Midnapore since it began its agitation against the state police. While mainstream newspapers and news channels are sticking to the former line, bloggers have written out against such an oversimplification.

Some extend this argument to the media's treatment of Maoists as well and claim that they cannot be labeled "terrorists" all that easily. Writer and activist Arundhati Roy has also warned the media and population at large of such a simplification of the Maoist movement in a recent article for Outlook magazine.

Nobody's battle, everyone's troubles

From being a bastion of the Left Front, Lalgarh has become the centre of a complicated battle involving a state government, its opposition, paramilitary forces, an elusive and banned guerilla group and most tragically, the local populace. The Left Front and its opposition continue to blame one another for resurgent Maoist activity in West Bengal; an elite paramilitary force tries to hunt down the Maoists with out any real action plan; and the state administration has still not acknowledged its poor governance record in West Midnapore or even announced any long term program of reform.

In the cross-fire between all these groups, the people of Lalgarh and its surrounding districts seem to have no one trustworthy to turn to who will deliver job security, roads, schools and hospitals along with access to a really democratic space where they may express their grievances freely without fear of being literally shot down. Simply flushing out the Maoist guerillas is no long term solution. The law of the land seems to have fled from the district some years ago, and no one has a roadmap for bringing it back.

Aaradhana Jhunjhunwala is a Kolkata-based writer and blogger. She recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania where she studied History, Economics and Comparitive Literature.

A tale of two encounters: Dehradun and Batla House


Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Group (JTSG) extends its heart-felt condolences to the family of Ranbir Singh, the youth who was killed in a police encounter in Dehradun last week. This encounter again brings to the fore the trigger happy ways of the Indian police who kill and torture for medals and promotions. We demand exemplary punishment for the guilty policemen.

However, the manner in which the Indian State and the mainstream political parties have responded to the encounter in Dehradun is in striking contrast to the reaction to the shooting down of two young men in Batla House in Delhi last September. Both encounters were followed by mass anger and upsurge which spilled onto the streets of the capital cities of Uttarakhand and the country. While the ‘secular’ Congress has put its weight behind the agitation in Uttrakhand, joining the peoples’ demand for fair probe and crying foul over human rights violation, the BJP not to be left behind in the Human Rights race sent its emissary in the form of BJP President’s and Ghaziabad MP’s son to the family of the slain youth to reassure them that the probe into the encounter would be fair and independent, without the involvement of the accused Dehradun Police. A CB-CID enquiry has already been ordered and all police men involved in the shootout have been charged for murder.

Recall now the jingoist hysteria created by Congress and BJP alike, aided by a section of pliant media, in which all calls for independent and impartial enquiry in the Batla House encounter were branded as unpatriotic and downright insulting of the bravery of Special Cell cops. The Congress, which today preens on the retrieval of its minority vote, persistently bulldozed all demands for a probe into the Batla House ‘encounter’. So much so, that even the simple, procedural requirement for a magisterial enquiry was subverted through the Lieutenant Governor, who refused to grant permission for an enquiry on flimsy grounds. The post mortem reports of the deceased—the killed boys as well as Inspector Sharma—have been accorded the status of State secret.

So, what could be the reason for this speedy demonstration of justice for Ranbir Singh, and the obstinate refusal to concede to the widespread demand for an enquiry into the killings of Atif Ameen and Mohammad Sajid? Except that Atif and Sajid fall in that unfortunate category of ‘encounterables’—those whose killings can be justified, explained, and remain unmourned by our society and polity. It is all right to snuff out the lives of young men as long as they are drawn from a certain demographic and reside in areas identified as ghettoes. What we are being told here is that Atifs and Sajids cannot claim the framework of democratic rights—the only framework that they must exist in is that of national security.

JTSG reiterates its demand for a judicial probe into the Batla House incident, and the application of the same standards of justice for Atif and Sajid as those applied in the unfortunate and tragic case of Ranbir Singh.

The authors teach at Jamia Millia Islamia, and are attached to Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Group

04 July, 2009

Interviews with two remarkable women

Mahnaz Afkhami (Right) is founder and president of Women's Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace (WLP), executive director of Foundation for Iranian Studies, and former Minister of State for Women's Affairs in Iran.

Born in Kerman, Iran, she founded the Association of Iranian University Women and served as Secretary General of the Women's Organization of Iran prior to the Islamic revolution.

In exile in the United States, Ms. Afkhami has been a leading advocate of women's rights for more than three decades.

Elena Shore interviewed Ms. Afkhami for New America Media: Iranian Women Bring Century of Activism to Protests

At nearly 80, United Farmworkers Union co-founder Dolores Huerta (Right) personifies the phrase she coined, “Sí se puede!” which Barack Obama borrowed and translated as “Yes, we can!”

New America Media editor Khalil Abdullah interviewed Huerta, who was honored as an extraordinary older woman at the AARP Diversity Conference in Chicago: At Nearly 80, Sí, Dolores Huerta Can

02 July, 2009

Are you a low level terrorist?


When threatened, should we conform with lock-step in perverse obedience to the State's dictates, outlooks and agendas in an increasingly Orwellian milieu? If not, then we must constantly remind ourselves and each other of US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas's vision: "Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."

Recently, an American Civil Liberties Union report pointed out, "Anti-terrorism training materials currently being used by the Department of Defense (DoD) teach its personnel that free expression in the form of public protests should be regarded as ‘low level terrorism’.” [1]

Despite that DoD officials removed the offensive section from their educational resources at the urging of ACLU members, the DoD stance is still troubling since a longstanding practice to designate peaceful, law abiding activists as dangerous and treasonable still exists in many government departments and agencies. Indeed the participants of the first antiwar protest against the Vietnam incursion, put together in the mid-1960's by peaceable Quakers and FOR members after having discussed Gandhi's Salt March as a model for a nonviolent demonstration, faced government operatives filming them face by face from rooftops as they moved en masse down Broadway to the UN Plaza. (My mother, a pacifist married to a World War II Conscientious Objector, and I, a child at the time of the march, both were in attendance. When the film crew focused on us, she stood tall, faced the agents with their telephoto lens, glared in disdainful defiance and, simultaneously, throw the corner of her coat over my face. Afterwards, she muttered, "How dare they try to intimidate us!")

This sort of happening in mind, the treatment of Nobel Peace Award winner Aung San Sui Kyi in Myanmar is not necessarily all that different than the response that she'd receive in the USA and, while it's commendable that American spokespersons publicly object to her most recent arrest, they, certainly, might seem to be a bunch of hypocrites. This is due to the fact that a number of Nobel Peace Award recipients, such as American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), have had difficulties of their own on American soil.

For example, "AFSC’s work, always open and resolutely nonviolent, has been under government surveillance for decades. The Service Committee secured nearly 1,700 pages of files from the FBI under a Freedom of Information request in 1976. These files show that the FBI kept files on AFSC that dated back to 1921. Ten other federal agencies kept files on AFSC, including the CIA, Air Force, Navy, Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service, and the State Department. The CIA has intercepted overseas mail and cables in the 1950s, and some AFSC offices (and even its staff's homes) have been infiltrated and burglarized in the late 1960s into the 1970s." [2]

In relation, AFSC associate general secretary for justice and human rights, Joyce Miller, asked, “How can we speak of spreading democracy in Iraq while dismantling it here at home?” She further remarked, “Political dissent is fundamental to a free and democratic society. It should not be equated with crime.”

Add to the AFSC problems, those pertaining to Nobel Peace Award recipient Nelson Mandela, who only a year ago had the designation "terrorist" removed from his name, under protest by the State Department, so that he no longer suffered travel restrictions from the US government. Yet his travel curtailment was not nearly as awful as was Ramzy Baroud's blockage. He, the editor of Palestine Chronicle, had his US passport seized by a consular officer at an overseas American Embassy [3]. Similarly, Senator Edward Kennedy was, also, flagged by the U.S. no-fly list.

Then again, Ted Kennedy received much less harassment than did Nobel Peace Award winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire after her flight from Guatemala had been directed to Ireland through Houston:

"She was probably tired and ready to get back to Belfast, where her attempts to bring about an end to The Troubles in 1976 made her at 32 the youngest Nobel Peace Prize-winner ever. Since then, she's been given the Pacem in Terris Award by Pope John Paul II, and the United Nations selected her (along with the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Jordan's Queen Noor and a dozen or so other fellow Nobel Laureates) as an honorary board member of the International Coalition for the Decade.
"Unfortunately for Maguire, her flight back home to Northern Ireland was routed through Houston, where none of that meant diddly. Federal Customs officials were far less interested in any of that than they were in a box on the back of the transit form she filled out on her flight.

"'They questioned me about my nonviolent protests in USA against the Afghanistan invasion and Iraqi war,' Maguire said later in a statement. 'They insisted I must tick the box in the Immigration form admitting to criminal activities.'

"Maguire was detained for two hours -- grilled once, fingerprinted, photographed, and grilled again. She missed her flight home. She was only released after an organization she helped found -- the Nobel Women's Initiative -- started kicking up a fuss." [4]
On can add to her troubles countless other ones wherein human rights and environmental supporters have been repeatedly hassled for no other reason than that they're holding views that don't jive with positions at any number of U.S. government institutions. One needn't return in time to the McCarthy Era to find many individuals who have been investigated and persecuted for holding vilified opinions. For example, Stephen Lendman, a peace advocate and writer in his seventies with a permanent knee injury that delimits travel, has been repeatedly investigated by the FBI.

At the same time, he is joined by myriad others such as assorted activists in Maryland whose names were put on federal terrorist lists by state police who infiltrated their groups. [5] As such, their perfectly legal activities, freedom of speech and right to unhindered assembly have been criminalized.

Simultaneously, there's a certain inescapable irony and disingenuous quality presented by the Western government heads who are harshly critical of the Iran crackdown on dissenting citizens while they, themselves, condone similar ironfisted policies in their own lands. Their two-faced position is barely hidden beneath the surface of their mock concern for the well-being of Iranian protesters as they urge their own and allied troops into battle, show little (if any) sincere remorse over the slaughter of masses of civilians that happen in the process and make sure that demonstrators at home are disregarded, denigrated or preemptively rounded up as happened at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Then again, one might find himself in pretty good company if he were singled out as unpatriotic and treacherous for holding viewpoints or undertaking actions that go contrary to the perspectives that a certain hawkish and totalitarian segment of society holds. All the same, every method conceivable might be used to hunt down the offenders and, when taken to the extreme, render their seemingly provocative positions ineffectual by any means possible, including imprisonment and murder.

Anyone who doubts this to be the case needs only to remember about what happened to people like Howard Fast; the slain Freedom Riders Andy Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner; the thirteen shot students at Kent State University at which Ohio National Guardsman fired sixty-seven rounds over a thirteen second period, and scores of others who have stood against mainstream policies.

Meanwhile, stigmatizing dissidents is a fairly common practice. As such, “There are 1.1 million people on the [U.S.] Terrorist Watch List and there is a 35 per cent error rate, minimum, for that list,” according to ACLU's Michael German. [6] Furthermore, the overzealous and aggressive surveillance tactics used by the National Security Agency (NSA) to check the public's e-mails, telephone calls and other communications are the same ones as were in use during George W. Bush's administration. Likewise, the amount of spying on personal exchanges is as high as it ever was.

In relation to recent claims by Justice Department and national security officials that the overcollection was unintentional, House representative, Rush Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey and Chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, commented “Some actions are so flagrant that they can't be accidental.” Additionally, the act of tracking e-mailed transmissions and other interactions has seemed in violation of federal law according to lawyers at the Justice Department. Regardless, the practice continues.

At the same time, the decision to designate social activists as troublemakers, while singling them out for intimidation, threats and investigations, carries serious legal and political implications in democratic societies.The further measure of subjecting them to the sorts of difficulties that Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Ramzy Baroud, AFSC members and innumerable others have endured is clearly based in xenophobic, paranoid and despotic thinking. It embodies the kind of authoritarian mentality and oppressive activities that one finds in the worst types of tyrannical regimes.

As Harry S. Truman suggested, "Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear." Due to this fear, are we, then, to all conform with lock-step in perverse obedience to the State's dictates, outlooks and agendas in an increasingly Orwellian milieu? If not, then we must constantly remind ourselves and each other of US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas's vision: "Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us."


[1] Pentagon Rebrands Protest as “Low-Level Terrorism”

[2] American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

[3] "Punishing activists or pursuing terrorists?" by Maggie Mitchell Salem in Asia Times Online

[4] Nobel Prize Winner Gets Hassled At Bush Intercontinental

[5] Police Spied on Activists In Md. -
and Md. Police Put Activists' Names On Terror Lists

[6] One third of FBI Terror Watch List are innocent people

Emily Spence is an author living in Massachusetts. She has spent many years involved in human rights, environmental and social services efforts.

SEZ: Corporate statehood defined


The SEZ Act ( Special Economic Zone Act ) heralds the integration of the powers of the executive, the elected institutions and the judiciary, centralisd in the SEZ Authority – the Development Commissioner (DC) and/or the developer (company) – paving the way for the creation of of a political and economic entity, separate from the Indian state. SEZs internally are structured for the establishment of authoritarian capitalism with the Indian state as an instrument of capital.

Imagine state sanctioned and protected small and mid-sized cities built, operated, owned, and governed by ‘developers’ scattered all over the country….no elected local government to bother about….heavily state subsidised export-oriented economic enclaves ostensibly to generate foreign exchange and foreign investment; insulated, free and secured from the vagaries of the rest of the already liberalised economy….a walled-in heavily guarded enclosure with businesses, residences and entries strictly defined, regulated and controlled by an ‘Authority’ that also controls and regulates provision of all goods and services within these enclaves including water, electricity, communication and transportation, provision of essential and consumer goods, health, education, housing, sanitation, finance, entertainment and culture. With subjects as revenue, internal security, law and order and the justice system falling within the scope of the ‘Authority’ the picture is almost complete – the establishment of ‘corporate states’ or sovereign corporate-owned private states except really in matters of defence and foreign affairs. The Special Economic Zones Act, 2005 has within it all the trappings for the conceptions of such political entities.

Redefining the Governance Structure

Though the SEZ Act or its Rules does not specify, the Model SEZ Policy advocated by the Central government for the State governments states that: "The State Government will declare SEZ as Industrial Township and if necessary, relevant Act would be amended so that SEZ can function as a governing and autonomous body as provided under Article 243(Q) of the Constitution" (item 10). In line with this, as local governance being in the State List (List II of Seventh Schedule of the Constitution), various state policies on Special Economic Zones (SEZs) as that of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal envisage the notification of these zones by the governors of the respective states as “industrial townships” under Article 243Q of the Constitution. This exempts them from the provisions of Part IX of the Constitution, which provides for elected local governments, i.e. municipalities. An industrial township authority is constituted instead with the same powers and duties as a municipal body with nominees from the Developer and the State government with powers including licensing, provision of infrastructure and planning. The developer constructs the zone and effectively controls the local government.

Further, the SEZ Act provides for the creation of a Special Economic Zone Authority (sub-section 1 of section 31) headed by a government-appointed ‘Development Commissioner’ for one or more Special Economic Zones (sub-section 1 of section 11) who will govern the Zone primarily to facilitate economic growth. The DC may be assigned additional powers and functions by the Board of Approval (subsection 4 of section 9). The Central government can also modify or repeal any Central law and any rules or regulations by mere notification in its application to SEZs with the exception of ‘matters relating to trade unions, industrial and labour disputes welfare of labour including conditions of work, provident funds, employers’ liability, workmen’s compensation, invalidity and old age pensions and maternity benefits applicable in any Special Economic Zones’ (section 49) including any provisions of SEZ Act other than sections 54 (power to add to omit any enactment provided in the First Schedule of the Act containing a list of enactment for payment of taxes, duties or cess) and 56 (power of the Central government to remove difficulties in operationalisation of the provisions of the Act). This section gives overriding power to the Central government over the Parliament and the State governments in empowering SEZ Authority. The State Governments are by law to make available water, electricity (uninterrupted) and such other services to the proposed Special Economic Zone Units and Developer (rules d of 5).

Together with the industrial township authority, the governance structure webs the central and state government as instruments of legitimacy and power of the developer company.

Governance Defined

The powers of the DC include infrastructure and public services by agreement with the Developer (subsection 11 of section 3). There shall be no investigation, search or seizure in a Special Economic Zone by any agency or officer without the permission of the DC (section 22) except in the case of ‘notified offenses’ notified by the Central government (section 21). Even in the case of ‘notified offenses’, the DC is to be intimated (section 22). Further, both civil and criminal matters and any ‘notified offence’ falling within the Zone are to be tried only by the special courts set up in SEZs (section 23). The High Court of the State can hear appeals from these special courts (section24). Put together, a separate investigative and judicial process is in place where the DC plays a critical role in influencing the outcome. State policies also envisage ‘separate and exclusive arrangements’ for ‘law and order and control of crime’ within SEZ's. The policing and justice system are sought to be brought under the influence and control of the SEZ Authority.

Every person, whether employed or residing or required to be present in an SEZ, are to be provided an identity card by the DC (section 46) which will be used to regulate ‘the entry of persons to the processing area’ of the SEZ (rule 70). The processing area and Free Trade and Warehousing Zone are to be fully secured with specified entry and exit points (rule 2 of 11). The processing area is moreover accessible to ‘authorized persons’ only (rule 4 of 11). The importance given to securing the Zone physically as well as determining who can enter and leave indicates intention of tight control within and isolation from without.

While the Zones are not exempt from the application of labour laws which anyway are flouted in the normal course in the country, the DC who virtually controls life within the Zones, the work, personal, social and political space is also in addition designated as the Labour commissioner. By declaring the SEZs as ‘public utility service’ under the Industrial Disputes Act 1947 and the delegation of powers to the DC under the Industrial Disputes Act and other related Acts, dissent, trade union activities, democratic rights to protest and labour rights are under tight leash if not extinguished as a right, and if at all, are to be mere concessions. Further, the Model Policy advices exemption from the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970 and Minimum Wages Act 1948, licensing widespread use of contract labour system. This seeks to complete the project of informalisation of work and casualisation of employment ensuring a shift to preponderance of casual positions from full-time and permanent or contract positions to ensure sustained depression of wages, a critical factor for super profit generation.

The establishment of these privileged secure enclaves will in turn spiral a spill-over into the surrounding region that rapidly would get converted into captive peripheries sub-serving the needs of the Zones by colonizing and diverting livelihood resources of people, primarily land and other natural resources by the their take over and conversion by real estate speculators, service providers, traders and businesses.

C.R Bijoy is a writer and activist associated with Campaign for Survival and Dignity, a coalition of struggle based mass organization of forest dwellers.