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


30 November, 2009

Randall Butisingh, the world’s oldest blogger, will be 97 tomorrow

Randall Butisingh, a person of Indian origin, living in Florida, USA, is the world’s oldest blogger. He believes he is also the oldest Facebook member.

Randall Butisingh was born in Guyana on December 1, 1912. His grandparents had left India as indentured labourers in the latter part of the 19th century “to work in the sugarcane fields of British Guiana for white planters as a backbreaking compulsory task for a pittance.”

He worked as a teacher in Guyana for 45 long years. He is a poet. He was associated with the Hindi Prachar Sabha of Guyana.

Responding to an email from Ohmynews earlier this year, Butisingh gave the following information about his family: “I have 7 children, 19 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. My oldest great-grandaughter is 21. They all live in the USA, except for 1 daughter and a grandson who live in Guyana, my homeland. I live in Florida, the Sunshine State in the USA, with a daughter and her husband who is a physician.”

The daughter and son-in-law with whom Butisingh is staying in Florida are Muslims. He summed up his religious affiliation in these words last year: "I am not a professed Muslim. I was raised as a Christian from birth by Hindu parents and grew up in the Christian Church, in a village which was predominantly Afro-Guyanese. But eventually I separated from the church as I saw it as exclusive and divisive and I wanted to be involved in all mankind.... I am at present living in the home of my son-in-law and daughter, who are Muslims."

He started blogging on October 21, 2007. He became the world’s oldest blogger when 97-year-old Spanish great-grandmother Maria Amelia Lopez Solino passed away in May this year.

On the second anniversary of his blog, Butisingh wrote: “I may or may not live to see another anniversary. On my last visit to the doctor, I was diagnosed as having a weak heart and will need a pacer, but I have decided against using it. I feel as good as ever. So with the limited time at my disposal, I have to live today as if it was my last, but work as if I will live forever.”

To senior citizens, he gave this advice: “Live a twilight of usefulness.”

Butisingh has been telling the story of his life in an engaging series in his blog which received the Greypow Award for distinguished blogging by an over-80 blogger.

29 November, 2009

Politics Of Babri Masjid

The Daily Star

"Let the temple come up." This was the remark by Atal Behari Vajpayee when I asked for his reaction to the destruction of the Babri Masjid one day after the incident. I was surprised by his comment because I considered him a liberal force in the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).

Yet, I did not attach much importance to his remark. Now that the one-man commission on the demolition, headed by Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan, has named Vajpayee as one of the collaborators in the pulling down of the mosque, his remark falls into the slot. How could he have reacted differently when he was a party to the "meticulously planned" scheme to demolish the mosque?

That L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, the other two BJP leaders, were co-conspirators was known on December 6, 1992, itself. The surprising name for me is that of Vajpayee. I would have been indulgent towards him if I had not seen a clip of his speech. A television network showed it on the day a Delhi paper had published the leaked report. Vajpayee said on December 5, one day before the demolition of the masjid, at Lucknow that the ground would be "levelled" and a yangya (religious celebration) held at that place.

The commission has said that the destruction of the masjid was "preventable." Advani could have done it. But all of them, "pseudo-moderates" as the commission has described them, knew about what was happening and were "not innocent of wrongdoing."

The indictment has exposed our polity because all the three came to occupy top positions in the country. Vajpayee became the prime minister, Advani the home minister and Joshi, the human resources development minister. If all the three were collaborators in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, they were dishonest in taking the oath of office which demanded that the oath taker would work for the country's unity and uphold the constitution, which mentions secularism in the preamble. The Liberhan Commission has said that they were among the 68 who were "culpable" in taking the country to the brink of "communal discord."

Not only that. The three leaders acted against the Supreme Court's order "not to disturb the status quo." In other words, they made a mockery of the country's judiciary and the constitution to which they swore before assuming power. And they ruled for six years without a tug of conscience.

The question is not only legal but also moral and political. How can the planned demolition be squared up with the holding of office by Vajpayee, Advani and Joshi? This is a matter that the nation must debate to find an answer, at least for the future. Those who have no clean hands should not be allowed to defile the temple of Parliament. And if they do so, what should be the punishment when facts come to light? True, the BJP came to power through the Lok Sabha election. Would the party have won so many seats if the commission had submitted its report before 1999, when the BJP led the coalition?

It is unthinkable that the commission should say that the centre could not have interfered in the affairs of Uttar Pradesh until the state governor had asked it to do so. This is an alibi. My experience is that the governor adjusts his power to suit the convenience of whichever party is at the helm of affairs in New Delhi. The governor was bound to report according to the wishes of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, whom he personally knew because both belonged to Andhra Pradesh.

Even otherwise, the centre has an overall responsibility to protect the constitution. Rao could have easily acted before the demolition took place. The proclamation to impose president's rule was ready a fortnight earlier. It was awaiting the cabinet approval. The prime minister did not convene the meeting. This means his connivance, although in his book Rao mentions the pressure of his party men that did not allow him to react in time. When the demolition began, there were frantic calls to the Prime Minister's Office. He was said to be at puja (prayer) and continued to be at it till the demolition was over. What should one make out of this?

Even if the Congress were to deny the allegation against Rao, the party should explain how a small temple was built overnight at the site where the Babri Masjid stood a few hours earlier. The centre was then in full control because UP had been put under president's rule after dismissal of the state government. In any case, the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute had transcended the state borders and the centre was following the developments every day. The commission's silence on Rao's behaviour is meant to cover up his complicity and that of the Congress party.

One thing that Justice Liberhan has not explained in his 900-page report is the span of 17 years between his appointment and the submission of his findings. Though he has blamed it on the commission's counsel for the delay, it is still difficult to understand that the probe should have taken such a long time. A sum of Rs.8 crore was spent on the commission and people have commented that he was prolonging his job.

I expected the government's Action Taken Report to be precise and meaningful. But it is too general and too vague. And it is shocking that the government should say that there wouldn't be punitive action against anybody. Some of the guilty are saying openly that they are not repentant over what they have done. It would be tragic if those who demolished the mosque went scot-free. They are also responsible for the killing of 2000 people in the wake of the masjid's destruction.

The danger of communal discord confronts the nation in one form or another. The Liberhan Commission has rightly underlined it: the basic difference between those who want a pluralistic society and those who are obsessed with Hindutva. The ideology of the BJP, or more so of its mentor, the RSS, is clear. But those who are playing politics over the demolition are doing the greatest disservice to the country.

The report parked at the home ministry a few months ago was waiting to be scooped. It is the prerogative of journalists to do so. Why should political parties make its publication an issue instead of discussing how to punish those who conspired to pull down the mosque? Significantly, all secular parties came to the rescue of the BJP when the question of the report's leakage was raised. It was sought to be made a privilege issue. This is one way to evade the real problem.(Courtesy: Countercurrents)

Kuldip Nayar is an eminent Indian columnist.

27 November, 2009

Standing up to defend Goa


“So stand up to defend Goa, defend our homeland and global middle class's favorite honeymoon destination from cancerous spread of mining. Speak up for Goa now, before it is too late.”

These are the words of Sebastian Rodrigues of Goa, who has been blogging furiously in defence of his land for the last two years.

Goa is in the midst of an iron, manganese and bauxite rush, and mining is his favorite subject.

Issues related to mining have been put on the backburner by the local and national media. So Rodrigues stepped in to fill void of information through his blog, says Armstrong Vaz, writing in the Korea-based OhmyNews International’s website.

Last year a mining company filed a defamation suit for Rs 500 billion against him in the Calcutta High Court. He appealed to the public for contributions to defend himself in court. The response was encouraging.

Besides taking up professional short research assignments on tribal and land issues in Goa, Todrigues has completed a study 'Land, Mining and Adivasis in Goa', which was funded by 'The Other Media' and is being published in Delhi.
OhmyNews carries an interview which Vaz had with Rodrigues at its website under the heading “Indian Blogger Sued for Defamation.”.

Rodrigues’ blog: MANDGOA

25 November, 2009

AHRC asks Government to act on Liberhan report

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

"The theory or the claim made by the leaders of the movements or the icons, from political or social organizations, does not carry conviction to conclude that the demolition that was carried out by the karsevaks spontaneously out of sheer anger or emotions. The mode of assault, the small number of karsewaks who carried out the demolition and the constraints of the space to accommodate the number of people, veiling of the identity of the karsewaks entering the domes, the removal of the idols and the cashbox from under the dome and the subsequent reinstallation in the makeshift temple, availability of instruments and material for demolition and for the swift construction of the makeshift temple categorically leads to the conclusion and finding that the demolition was carried out with great painstaking preparation and planning. The involvement of quite a number of karsewaks for carrying out the demolition ordinarily could not had been kept secret from people like the Chief Minister who admittedly has a number of sources of information; or from K.S. Sudershan who was heading the RSS while their swyamsewaks were detailed on the spots for each and every act required to be carried out, or local leaders like Vinay Katiyar or Ashok Singhal or the persons present at the spot prior to 6 December, 1992."

Para 158.10 Report of the Liberhan Ayodhya Commission of Enquiry

These are the words with which Justice Liberhan Commission has indicted those responsible for the demolition of the Babri Mosque, a watershed event in the history of independent India. This is the event which altered the social and communal relations in the country, not only in its immediate aftermath but, as it appears, changed it forever. The event also exposed the fault lines running across the axis of communal identities in the Indian society and endangering, in the process, the secular landscape of the country envisaged and guaranteed by its constitution.

Though the submission of the report to the Government of India in July and its tabling in the Parliament this week is definitely a step forward in the struggle to build a society that values justice, it has to be noted that the report has come too late. As it is, justice delayed is justice denied and a delay of 17 years certainly tantamount to the denial of justice.

The Commission was constituted to probe into the "sequence of events leading, and all facts and circumstances relating to, the occurrences at Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex on 6 December, 1992". The report comes a full 17 years after the event and the government consumed another six months in tabling it in the Parliament.

The report, in all, indicts 68 persons with individual culpability, the bulk of them drawn from the rightwing Hindutva organizations, referred to generally as the 'Sangh Parivar' comprising mainly of the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Commission has indicted Mr. Murali Manmohar Joshi, Ms. Uma Bharti, late Ms. Vijayraje Scindia, Mr. Vinay Katiyar, Mr. Kalraj Mishra, the VHP leaders Mr. Ashok Singhal, Mr. Praveen Togadia, Mr. Paramhans Ram Chander Das, Mr. Vishnu Hari Dalmia and Mr. Acharya Giriraj Kishore. Those from the RSS include Mr. H.V. Sheshadri, Mr. K.S. Sudershan, Mr. Govindacharya, Mr. Kushabhau Thackray and Prof. Rajinder Singh alias Rajju Bhaiyya.

The report has also identified bureaucrats like the then Director General of Police of Uttar Pradesh. S.V.M Tripathi, Inspector General (Security) A.K. Saran, Chief Secretary V.K. Saxena, Principal Secretary (Home) Prabhat Kumar, Commissioner of Faizabad S.P. Gaur, Deputy Inspector General of Police U.P. Bajpai, Senior Superintendent of Police D.B. Rai, Additional Superintendent of Police Akhilesh Mehrotra, District Magistrate R.N. Shrivastava and Tourism Secretary Ashok Sinha for lapses in protecting the disputed structure.

The report identifies the role of the BJP, the political arm of the Sangh Parivar, as the one that played the most central role in the ‘movement’ that culminated in the demolition of the mosque. The Commission observes in its conclusion "...the rallies and Yatras were aimed at the emotionally charged common man and to make him a part of the demand for the temple at Ayodhya. These measures did not succeed until the BJP joined in."

Justice Liberhan came down heavily on Kalyan Singh, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh at the time, holding him particularly responsible for the demolition, observing that "...Kalyan Singh, his Ministers and his hand-picked bureaucrats created man-made and cataclysmic circumstances which could result in no consequences other than the demolition of the disputed structure…hey denuded the state of every legal, moral and statutory restraint and wilfully enabled and facilitated the wanton destruction and the ensuing anarchy."

The report does not leave other leaders of the RSS and its affiliates go scot-free either. Rather, the report goes on to pinpoint the complicity of leaders like Atal Bihari Bajpai, who later became the Prime Minister of India in bringing out the demolition. Justice Liberhan says, "It cannot be assumed even for a moment that L.K. Advani, A.B. Vajpayee or. M.M. Joshi did not know the designs of the Sangh Parivar. Even though these leaders were deemed and used by the Parivar … to reassure the cautious masses, they were party to the decisions which had been taken." ..."hey have violated the trust of the can be no greater betrayal or crime in a democracy and this Commission has no hesitation in condemning these pseudo-moderates for their sins of omission."

A democracy, of course, cannot see a betrayal bigger than this by the very people who have taken an oath to defend it. Despite being a step forward, the report raises several serious concerns.

First, there is not yet any investigation and prosecution against those who are responsible for this cataclysmic event. Second, the perpetrators have reaped the dividends from their act. A quick glance at the careers of those indicted by the Commission, post the demolition reveals this stark fact. The SSP of Faizabad, Rai, contested and got elected as a BJP candidate to the Indian Parliament from Sultanpur constituency. The BJP government promoted the DGP, Tripathi, to become the Director General of the Central Reserve Force. The Home Secretary Prabhat Kumar became a Cabinet Secretary of the union government under the Prime Ministership of Mr. A.B. Vajpayee. The government rewarded him further by appointing him the Governor of a newly formed state, Jharkhand. The government posted Inspector General Saran in Uttarakhand and soon promoted him as the DGP.

Justice should not only be done but also must appear to be done and the actions that the government take following the findings in the report must prove this. The Asian Human Rights Commission expects that the Liberhan Commission report will not be filed in the bureaucratic deepfreezes where Justice B.N. Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry report is stored for the past decade. The government appointed the Srikrishna Commission to enquire into the notorious Mumbai riots of 1992-93.

And most importantly, the government must provide support to the victims of the orchestrated communal violence that followed after the demolition of the Mosque. The report is also expected to serve the purpose of expediting the pending litigation concerning the reconstruction of the Mosque.

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.

23 November, 2009

The Letters: a celebration of writing

January 2010 is still six weeks away. A magazine, the Letters, the first issue of which bears that date, was formally released at a function at Thiruvananthapuram on Saturday, November 21, 2009..

I had the privilege of releasing the magazine by giving the first copy to renowned architect G. Sankar.

Inordinately early release is only one of the unique aspects of the Letters. It claims to be “a celebration of writing”. It is profusely illustrated but there is no trace of colour. The quality of the paper and the printing is not such as can yield the best results, and yet, as Sankar pointed out, the sharp contrast of the black-and-white pictures makes a deep impression.

Writing under the heading “Apocalypse now,” the Editor, Dr Babu Gopalakrishnan says, “It is sheer madness! We do agree it is. For, only mad people can start a periodical in this age of idiot box, when round the world the sway of the words is being systematically drowned by the images that rain down from the heavens….

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in it, as the Bard once pointed out in Hamlet. A method in our madness, we too have or we claim to. Before such endorsement of sanity leads you to spectacles of Xanadu, a confession. We are not Odysseus, and the Letters is no Trojan horse, to exterminate Troy and reclaim Helen. Epic battles are masterminded by epic heroes.

“No chivalrous blueprints for saving the planet, or heralding a new era of egalitarianism are trumpeted by us. No earth shattering agenda to be implemented. Petit pen pushers, chroniclers of our times are all that we are. Pied pipers play on, though our music is bereft of its charms, through the streets of Hamelin as the maddening crowd continues with its ignoble strife.

“But even pied pipers have their principles. And so does the Letters. Principles that sustain our humanity. Principles on which our moorings are strong. Nothing, no storm nor Nostradamus can slash those tethers away.

“The ideals on which this great nation was founded is the rock on which the Letters is to be built brick by brick…”

The variety of the contents is another striking feature of the Letters. The contributions include:

What we will be shall be: a look at posthumanism: by K. Gopalakrishnan, who teaches English at University College, Thiruvananthapuram (“Posthumanism is actually an umbrella term not only for a spectrum of prospects ranging from general emancipation of mankind to simulating human consciousness but also a climate of thought of the postmodernist period characterized by disbelief and faith is life as a cosmic joke.”

Tears in the streets of Geneva: by Dr S. S. Lal, a WHO official, who narrates in this piece his first encounter in a foreign city. (“Time as a commodity is cheapest in India. But here it is so dear that it is measured in seconds”.)

D.K.Pattammal -- a life in music: by S. Vinaya Kumar, head of the English department, Women’s College, Thiruvananthapuram. (“To connoisseurs of Karnatik music she embodied the very essence of classicism – proportion and balance and restraint”)

Marxist historiography as a travesty of science: by George Varghese, who is engaged in research in the philosophy of social sciences at the University of Melbourne, Australia. (“It has become clear that history is a vision and craft which is essentially plurivocal and dialogic. Any attempt to tie it down to monotonous tracks and exclusive ideological programmes in the name of fact and final truths would be self-defeating.”

The cassock and the casserole: by Geedha, a writer and social activist. (“Babu died of utter poverty and illness….The three sons of Babu, wife Karutha and mother Kumbalathi live a life of destitution and seclusion. The state has won its game against the tribes.”)

Manmohan the redeemer: by Shaji Shankar, a public sector official. (“Dr Singh, who in his person exemplified India’s atonement for November 1984 riot in the wake of Mrs Gandhi’s assassination, is a true hero. He is an embodiment of middle-class celebration of social mobility and self-actualization.”)

The report of the fact-finding team from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, which visited violence-hit Lalgarh in West Bengal is also reproduced in this issue.

Lines of Octavio Paz and T. S. Eliot, with illustrations, lend an ethereal quality to the inside cover pages.

Single Copy price: Rs 10.

The Letters,
TRRA 170,
Nadakkavu Lane,
Peroorkada PO,
Thiruvananthapuram 695005
Editor: Dr Babu Gopalakrishnan (

22 November, 2009

Factors hindering progress towards Equality and Equal Opportunity


Paper presented at the 36th annual conference of the Kerala Sociological Society held at Loyola College, Thiruvananthapuram, from November 20-22, 2009. The theme of the conference was “Social Exclusion and Inclusion: Policies, Perspectives, Response”

The terms Social Exclusion and Social Inclusion have been occurring frequently in Western discourse in the last two or three decades.

Many European countries use ‘social exclusion’ as a catch-all phrase to cover the plight of an assorted group comprising the homeless, the unemployed, the old and the infirm, disgruntled youth, immigrants etc.

In the 1990s, the Labour government in Britain set up a Social Exclusion Unit. It subsequently became the charge of a Cabinet minister.

Once governments began formulating programmes to tackle the problem of social exclusion, the concept of social inclusion gained currency.

Essentially the Western exercises are a delayed, post-modern effort to address iniquities resulting from the ruthless operation of the capitalist system. In India, social exclusion occurs not as a by-product of capitalism but as a legacy of feudalism, which is still very much with us. Sometimes it is quite visible; sometimes it is camouflaged.

In India, social exclusion has a religious dimension. All religions subscribe, at least in theory, to the principle of equality of men as the children of the same god. Hinduism is an exception. It has a powerful stream which subscribes to the view that men are born unequal.

Not that the equality principle is unknown to Hinduism. It is accepted at the philosophical level but rejected at the practical level. At the risk of oversimplifying the complex system of beliefs which originated in different times and among various peoples and were integrated under the banner of Hinduism at some point in circumstances which are not quite clear, we may attribute the inequality principle in it to the Vedic school and the equality principle to the Upanishadic school.

Following the decline of Buddhism and Jainism, both of which upheld the equality principle, social divisions solidified into a rigid caste system characterized by social exclusion. From time to time, reformers reiterated the equality principle, but the inheritors of the Vedic tradition, who dominated the social establishment, were able to maintain their sway. Successive rulers, including those of foreign origin, thought it prudent not to interfere in the social system, unless there were compelling reasons to do so, as in the case of practices like the sati.

The Constitution, promulgated in 1950, signified the first attempt in many centuries by an Indian state to enforce the equality principle.

While the effects of centuries of exclusion have been mitigated to some extent during the past six decades, not even the stoutest defender of the Constitution can claim that the goals of equality and equal opportunity have been realized.

Lately, there have emerged, all across the country, unmistakable signs of deep resentment among the victims of social exclusion at the tardy progress in the fulfilment of the constitutional promise. At some places the resentment has developed into violent challenges. The state and the society can ignore these signs only at their peril.

Why are we not able to get rid of this burden of the feudal past? Any inquiry in this regard must begin with a close look at the nature of the Indian system of social exclusion as well as character of the Indian state and the society.

Caste offers no exit option. The system has been a boon to some and a curse to others. While the hierarchical system that arose in other lands divided people into two broad categories, the privileged and the underprivileged, the caste system provided for graded inequality, which divided the underprivileged masses into numerous categories and subjected them to varying degrees of exclusion.

This prevented the victims from coming together and making common cause. Most victims also had the vicarious satisfaction that there were people who were worse off than themselves.

Such a system cannot be dismantled by a stroke of the pen. It is as natural for its beneficiaries to strive to hold on to the boon as it is for its victims to struggle to shake off the curse.

The state, which has to implement the constitutional mandate of equality and equal opportunity, is a colonial institution, which was created in the feudal era and has a record of safeguarding the interests of the privileged sections.

The peaceful transfer of power, which occurred in 1947, brought about a change at the top. It did not involve any changes in the structure itself. There was a change of rulers but the colonial apparatus, dominated by inheritors of the Vedic tradition, remained intact.

The inheritors of the Vedic tradition were able to maintain their supremacy in the limbs of the state even after Independence by virtue of the advantages which the caste system had bestowed on them for centuries.

An academic study published in 1971 showed that 34.18% of those recruited to the Indian Administrative Service between 1947 and 1956 and 36.32% of those recruited between 1957 and 1963 were Brahmins, who formed only four per cent of the population. (V. Subramaniam, “Social Background of India’s Administrators”, Publications Division, New Delhi, 1971. Table 7)

As many as 86.70% of those recruited between 1947 and 1956 and 88.45% of those recruited between 1957 and 1963 were Hindus. While these figures may suggest that Hindus, who constituted 84% of the population, received adequate representation, there is reason to suspect that those at the higher end of the social hierarchy appropriated the jobs at stake.

Of those recruited during 1947-56, only 0.63% belonged to the Scheduled Castes. During 1957-63, the Scheduled Castes’ share rose to 9.04%. This clearly was a result of the implementation of the constitutional provision of reservation. The table is silent on the share of backward classes.

Muslims, who accounted for 10.69% of the population, constituted only 2.53% and 1.28% of the recruits during the relevant periods. These figures suggest a decline in Muslim presence in the higher bureaucracy in the years of Independence.

To begin with, the Constitution provided for reservation only for the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, who were at the very bottom of the social pyramid. The Supreme Court ruled that the benefit of reservation available to members of other castes in some states since before Independence violated the constitutional provisions. To save such reservation, Parliament amended the Constitution to permit special provisions for all socially and economically backward classes.

One reason for the tardy progress is the state’s tendency to continue in its state of rest (or uniform motion) unless compelled by forces acting upon it.

When it is compelled to act, the state limits its response to the very minimum required to buy peace and returns to the state of rest (or uniform motion) at the earliest. The lackadaisical approach to the Mandal Commission’s report is a classic example of this.

The Constitution accords primacy to social justice. This is evident from the way Justice, social, economic and political has been put in, ahead of Equality, Fraternity and Liberty, while enumerating the nation’s objectives in the Preamble.

The Judiciary has a fair record in the dispensation of political justice. In the matter of economic justice, its record is less lustrous, and in the matter of social justice even less so. A rich and powerful litigant can get judges to meet at night to dispense justice. That privilege is not available to a Dalit.

Quite often the Establishment approaches the problem of social exclusion from a wrong angle. Mahatma Gandhi, who put the spotlight on the Dalit situation, caused incalculable harm by placing it in the religious context. His solutions, which sidestepped the issue of equality and equal opportunity, betrayed elements of feudal patronage.

The formula evolved by the Congress and continued by other mainstream parties, while ensuring representation for Dalits in the limbs of the state, has remained at the level of tokenism. It has not led to equality or empowerment.

Kerala, which stands on par with advanced Western countries in social development, is also afflicted by social exclusion of the feudal kind, probably to a greater degree than even some backward states of the country.

The land reform in Kerala, which resulted from initiatives of the Communist movement, did not call for any significant change in the social structure. The tenants who benefited by it belonged to the higher echelons.

Land reform benefited some people at the lower levels too. They were people whom the Establishment was ready to accommodate. They did not include the Dalits, who were landless farm workers. They remain landless to this day. With farms disappearing, they are losing their means of livelihood. That is why they are crying for land to till.

Some among Kerala’s Dalits have found their way into the mainstream through education. When the nation was ready to accept a Dalit as President, this state supplied an eminently qualified candidate. Again, it was this state that provided the first Dalit Chief Justice of India.

The emergence of a couple of illustrious personalities must not blind us to the fact that the vast majority of Kerala’s Dalits are living precariously in shanties, with no land or assets of any other kind.

Dalit columnist Chandrabhan Prasad pointed out a few years ago that landlessness among farm workers in Kerala was higher than in Uttar Pradesh. According to the 1991 Census, which he cited, 53.79% of Dalit and 55.47% of Adivasi farm workers in the state were landless. The national average was 49.6% for Dalits and 32.99% for Adivasis. In Uttar Pradesh, only 38.79% of Dalits were landless. (Adivasis form only a negligible 0.1% of the state’s population).

Developmental activity of every kind brings hardships to some and benefits to some others. Such hardships are a price that has to be paid to obtain the benefits. It is the socially excluded who pay the price and it is the socially included who reap the benefits. The Adivasis of Madhya Pradesh have paid the price for the benefits that will accrue to the farmers of Gujarat from the Narmada Valley project.

Socio-economic advance often results in loss of traditional jobs and creation of new jobs. The jobs that are lost are almost always those of the socially excluded. The jobs that are created almost always go to the socially included.

In Europe, as the post-war economy grew, the demand for unskilled and semi-skilled labour rose. The needs of industry and the labour market combined to help promote social inclusion.

With the Indian economy booming, can we look forward to a similar development? Theoretically, yes, we can. But, in practice, this may not happen. Experience shows that the dominant sections, which have a vested interest in keeping the boon the caste system conferred on them centuries ago, will go to any lengths to prevent the emergence of a level playing ground.

Affirmative action is now limited to the state sector. There, too, it does not extend to some important areas like the Judiciary and the Armed Forces. Is it any wonder that the judges of the Supreme Court are overly fond of Manu, the mythical law-giver?

Thanks to painstaking research done by K. P. Jayaswal, a renowned scholar in Sanskrit and Law, in the early part of the last century, we know that Manusmriti is the work of one Sumati Bhargava, a member of the Bhrigu clan. It was written during the Sunga period (185 to 73 BC) to reinforce the Brahmin dynasty’s efforts to wipe out the equality norms of the Buddhist period and make the Brahmin the ‘lord of everything’.

A few centuries later, Yagnavalkya, another Brahmin, wrote a new code, which reduced the fanatical penances of Manu to very reasonable limits and raised the position of the Sudra.

According to Jayaswal, Yagnavalkya’s code bears the stamp of the kindly conscience bequeathed by Buddhism. It made penances and punishments less severe. Laws about women were brought in conformity with their social position, already immensely raised by Buddhism. Their right of inheritance was fully admitted.

All this certainly did not make the Yagnavalkya Code very modern. As Jayaswal puts it, “Yagnavalkya with his progressive tendency still retains orthodox conservatism.” He avers Yagnavalkya’s Code may be taken to have repealed and replaced Manu’s Code throughout the land of Aryan civilization.

Yet it is by Manu, and not by Yagnavalkya, that the votaries of Hindutva swear. The reason is simple. Manu offers the best chance of preserving their privileged position.

Why do Supreme Court judges invoke Manu’s name more often than that of Yagnavalkya, whose code stands closer to the Constitution that they are committed to uphold than to Manu’s?

We have to turn to history for the answer to this question. Faced with a spate of litigation involving local people, Warren Hastings set up committees to help the English East India Company with Hindu Law and Mohammedan Law. The experts on Hindu Law that he found in Bengal were all followers of the Vedic tradition. To them Manu’s word was law.

The way Manu overcame Yagnavalkya and holds sway over the Hindu establishment to this day deserves to be noted. It illustrates how the overwhelming desire to perpetuate their privileges finds expression even in the modern period.

Coming back to the present, we have to realistically take note of the deteriorating situation of the socially excluded.

Under the impact of globalization, the role of the state is dwindling. As the state shrinks in size, the area open to the socially excluded will also shrink. It is, therefore, necessary to open up new avenues for them.

Captains of industry have cold-shouldered proposals to extend affirmative action to the private sector. Their opposition is based on the vaunted principle of merit. However, it is to be noted that many among them, too, are inheritors of the Vedic tradition, which sanctified social exclusion.

Time is running out. So far the movements of the socially excluded to assert their rights of equality and equal opportunity have, by and large, remained within constitutional limits. If the upholders of the status quo fail to change their mind-set and confront the problem of social exclusion truthfully, the challenge may increasingly assume violent proportions.

19 November, 2009

Columbia professor's digital camera teaches children complex concepts

NEW YORK, November 17 - Columbia University professor Shree Nayar (picture above) has blended technology, innovation and art into a new digital camera designed to teach science to children around the world. The camera, called the Bigshot, comes as a kit of parts which kids as young as eight years old can assemble by themselves. In the process, they learn basic concepts of physics and engineering. Free, after-school programs for children to assemble and use the cameras are being scheduled now in New York.

Though the camera is simple to build, it features sophisticated technology, including an LED flash and three lenses: standard, panoramic and 3-D. Its color palette is inspired by M&Ms candies, a hand crank provides power even when there are no batteries, and a transparent back panel shows the camera's inner workings. (Click here to watch a video featuring an interview with Nayar and children using the camera.)

Nayar worked with a group of engineering students, led by Guru Krishnan, An Tran and Brian Smith, to create a website,, that walks children, teachers and parents through the assembly process. It uses flash animation to explain complex concepts like how a camera measures light and converts it into a digital image. The site will eventually serve as a kind of Flickr for kids, allowing young photographers from around the world to share their pictures.

"The idea here was not to create a device that was an inexpensive toy," says Nayar. "The idea was to create something that could be used as a platform for education across many societies."

Nayar, the T.C. Chang Professor of Computer Science and chair of that department at Columbia's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, worked on Bigshot for two years. The project is an extension of his work as director of the school's Computer Vision Lab, where he has expertise in highly sensitive cameras. Among his inventions is the Omnicam, a video camera that shoots seamless 360-degree images, and a technology - developed recently in collaboration with Sony – that extends the range of brightness and color that cameras can capture.

But, as the father of two young children, he wanted his work to have an impact beyond the high-tech sector, on a more humanitarian level. He was inspired by the 2005 Oscar-winning documentary Born Into Brothels, which depicts the lives of children growing up in Calcutta's red-light district. The filmmaker, British photographer Zana Briski, gave 35 mm film cameras to eight children and watched as those cameras transformed their lives.

"The film reaffirmed something I've believed for a long time, which is that the camera, as a piece of technology, has a very special place in society," says Nayar, who grew up in New Delhi. "It allows us to express ourselves and to communicate with each other in a very powerful way."

With the Bigshot, Nayar wants to not only empower children and encourage their creative vision, but also to get them excited about science. Each building block of the camera is designed to teach a basic concept of physics: why light bends when it passes through a transparent object, how mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy, how a gear
train works.

"In modern society, we use technology without understanding it," says Lisbeth Uribe, a science teacher at the School at Columbia, a private primary school in New York. "I love that [Nayar] has built such sophisticated and advanced technology into this camera yet made it so accessible and transparent.
It's a great educational tool."

Nayar would like to roll out the camera, now in prototype form, internationally, with a large number being donated to underprivileged schools in the United States and abroad. He will soon begin looking for a partner - a company or nonprofit - to help put Bigshot into production.

In the meantime, Nayar, Krishnan, Tran and Smith have been field-testing the camera with children around the world. Over the summer, Krishnan and Tran took several Bigshot prototypes to their hometowns: Bangalore, India, and Vung Tau, Vietnam, respectively. In addition to the School at Columbia, Nayar also brought the camera to Mott Hall School, a public school in Harlem. Each scientist spent a morning teaching several small groups of children how to assemble the cameras; after lunch, their charges went out to take pictures. The kids responded with overwhelming

"They were ready to buy the camera then and there," says Krishnan. "One offered me 10,000 rupees ($200)." More importantly, tests that Nayar and his team gave out two days later showed that the students had retained the concepts that Bigshot was expected to teach.

"Bigshot helped me make use of the science I learned in school," said Hong Linh, 14, a student who tried the camera at Vietnam's Nguyen An Ninh Secondary School.

Eveangelista Muheto, 10, a student at the School at Columbia, said she was nervous at first about building a camera from scratch. But, after the lesson, she felt proud of her accomplishments. "I could tell everyone I had made a camera," she says. "I thought the camera was really, really cool, especially the three lenses, but it was even cooler
to help build it."

Nayar is now rolling out a regular, biweekly after-school program for kids across New York City. For him, the best part of this experience has been looking at the children's pictures.

"I am addicted to the pictures; I can't get enough of them," he says. "The fact that some of the kids were using a camera for the first time, and they were able to frame what they thought was important and capture that moment so beautifully, was really remarkable."

This post is based on a message received from Professor Sree Sreenivasan of the Columbia School of Journalism

18 November, 2009

All for a song: Vande Mataram and the Jamiat’s patriotism


The furore stoked by the media over a recent declaration by a faction of the Jamiatul-Ulema-e-Hind declaring the singing of Vande Matram to be un-Islamic has, not unexpectedly, been seized upon by vociferously anti-Muslim elements to press their claim of Muslims being ‘anti-national’. The fact that this song is undeniably Hindu and polytheistic, and that the novel of which it forms a part is unabashedly anti-Muslim is well-known, making the reservations that many Muslims (along with other monotheistic Indians) have about it quite understandable. What many Muslims are asking -- a legitimate question that the media has failed to raise seriously -- is why one’s attitude to a song (and that too in a language that few Indians understand) should be made the litmus test of Indian patriotism. What many Muslims also demand to know is how long they must continue to be forced by Hindu communalists to bear the burden of being compelled to prove their patriotic credentials.

At the same time, however, many Muslims are also asking why the Jamiat decided to rake up a controversy about Vande Mataram at this particular juncture. Was it to do with the ongoing rivalry within various factions of the Jamiat leadership of late that has delivered a major blow to the image of the organization among Muslims? Was it a clever ploy on the part of Mahmood Madani, the head of the Jamiat faction that passed the resolution, to grab media attention and present himself as spokesperson for the Muslims of India? Was it a reflection of how out-of-tune the Jamiat’s diehard mullahs are with contemporary social realities?

The Deobandi mullahs of the Jamiat may be irredeemably conservative, even obscurantist, on a host of issues, but one thing that they cannot be accused of is disloyalty to India. The role of leading ulema of the Jamiat in the anti-colonial struggle and in opposing the creation of Pakistan is a story of which the Jamiat is justly proud of, and one that should serve to silence critics who are now raising questions about its patriotic credentials. The pro-Hindu slant of our education system has, lamentably, led to this glorious story being wiped out of our school textbooks, leaving the vast majority of Indians completely ignorant of a very vital chapter in the country’s history.

A recently-reprinted Urdu booklet published by the Jamiat provides the best guide to the Jamiat’s committed patriotic stance since pre-1947 times. Those who, ignorant of the Jamiat’s history, charge it with being anti-national simply for its position on Vande Mataram would do well to read it (Sadly, the Jamiat, despite the massive funds at its disposal, has not translated it into English or various other Indian languages). The booklet’s title ‘Hamara Hindustan Aur Uske Fazail’ (Our India and Its Glories), brilliantly encapsulates the Jamiat’s firm commitment to Indian patriotism.

The booklet consists of two essays, one by the late Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madani, former Jamiat President (and, incidentally, paternal grandfather of Mahmood Madani, head of the faction of the Jamiat that recently issued the statement about Vande Mataram), and the other by the late Maulana Syed Muhammad Miyan, one-time General-Secretary of the Jamiat. The essays were first published in the early 1940s, in opposition to the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan and to rebut the claim (one that continues to be made today by Hindu chauvinists) that Indian nationalism is necessarily synonymous with ‘Hindu nationalism’ and that the Indian Muslims simply cannot not be loyal to their country.

Maulana Madani begins by arguing that India has a special place in Muslim tradition. Hence, he stresses, the Muslims of the country should consider themselves ‘particularly honoured to have been born in India’, and that they must also work for the welfare and unity of the country. Contrarily, to demand the partition of India, he argues, would be to defy the Divine Will itself. He writes that Muslim tradition has it that God directed Adam, the first man and the first prophet, to be sent down to earth to India. It was thus from India that the human race sprang from Adam’s progeny. This implies, he writes, that the Indian Muslims must consider India as their ‘ancient home’ (watan al-qadim). In addition, he refers to the Koran as mentioning that God has sent prophets to every nation, taking this to mean that prophets must have also been sent to India as well. This, he says, is further suggested by the fact the numerous Muslim saints have ‘discovered’, through ‘spiritual encounters’, the graves of various prophets in India. Since, as the Koran says, the primal religion taught by all the prophets of God, including those who were possibly sent to India, was one and the same -- al-Islam (’The Surrender’) -- it is obvious, he suggests, that from ancient times onwards, even prior to the advent of the last prophet, Muhammad, Islam has been present in India. In fact, Maulana Madani argues, ‘it is an unchallengeable fact that from the very beginning India has been the land of Islam (islam ka watan)’.

India, Maulana Madani insists, is as much the motherland of the Muslims as it is of other communities in the country. He goes so far as to claim that Muslims do, or at least should, display an even greater concern for India’s welfare than other communities because while many Hindus burn their dead and throw their ashes into rivers, and the Parsis let vultures feed on their dead, the Muslims bury their dead in the bosom of the earth, in the very soil of their motherland. In contrast to the Hindus and the Parsis of the country, the mortal remains of the Muslims remain in India in their graves and shall remain so till the Day of Judgment. The Hindus believe in reincarnation of the dead, and there is no guarantee that their dead would be reborn in India, while the Muslims believe they shall remain in their graves till the Day of Judgment. Hence, Maulana Madani argues, it is only the Muslims who remain faithful to India even after their death. This itself means, he writes, that Muslims are, or should be, even more attached to India and concerned about its welfare than people of other communities.

No community can, therefore, claim a monopoly of Indian patriotism, Maulana Madani insists, challenging Hindu assertions to the contrary. Just as the Aryans, the Huns and the Greeks came to India and settled here and made this their home, he writes, so did the early Muslims. The only difference between the Muslims and the others is that the former arrived in India earlier. In fact, Maulana Madani argues, the Muslims, as a whole, can be more legitimately said to be the original inhabitants of India, since the vast majority of the Indian Muslims are descendants of converts from India’s pre-Aryan aboriginal people. Hence, he asserts, it is completely misleading to claim that India is not the land of the Muslims or that it belongs to the Hindus alone. The welfare of all the communities of India, including the Muslims, depends on the overall welfare of the country, and this is yet another reason why the Indian Muslims must love and serve their country, he argues.

Maulana Miyan’s piece, titled ‘Sarzamin-e-Hindustan Ke Fazail’ (The Blessings of India), echoes the same views as Madani’s, stressing the claim that the Indian Muslims are bound to ‘love’ and ‘serve’ India primarily because Islam commands them to do so. Like Madani, Miyan claims that India has been accorded a special status by God Himself. He bases his thesis on an Arabic text written by the eighteenth-century Indian Muslim scholar, Ghulam Azad Bilgrami, which puts together reports attributed to the Prophet Muhammad that are said to refer to the ‘glories’ of India.

Quoting Bilgrami, Miyan writes that while Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem are, undoubtedly, the ‘most holy’ places in the world, Muslim tradition has it that India, too, is a ‘blessed land’. According to narrations from several early Muslim figures such as Imam Ali (cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet) and Ayesha (one of the Prophet’s wives), Adam was sent down to earth to India, to the island of Serendib or modern-day Sri Lanka, while Eve was sent to Jeddah. Adam then travelled to Arabia, where he met Eve at a place near Mecca. After building the Kaaba at Mecca, Adam took Eve with him and returned to India, where they settled down and had children. The incident involving the sons of Adam, Cain (Qabil) and Abel (Habil), occurred, or so Miyan says, in India. After Abel was killed by Cain, Adam had another son, Sheesh, who, according to some accounts, is buried in the town of Ayodhya, which is sacred to many Hindus today. Adam is said to have undertaken forty pilgrimages (haj) from India to Mecca on foot. He is also said, some ulema claim, so Miyan tells us, to have died in India and to have been buried here.

This close connection between Adam and India points to what Miyan claims to be the obvious fact that Muslim tradition accords to India the status of a ‘blessed land’. This suggests, Miyan writes, that India had a special place in God’s scheme of things for the world, which Muslims living in the country need to recognize. The fact that Adam first appeared in the world in India means that the world’s first dar-ul-khilafa (abode of the Caliphate) was India, because this was where God’s first khalifa or deputy was sent down. The island of Serendib or modern-day Sri Lanka, which can be said to be, in some sense, part of ‘greater India’, was the first place in the world where God sent his revelation. Adam, the first man and the first prophet, was made out of ‘Indian soil’. Since Adam is the father of all human beings, including all the other prophets and the saints, the rest of humanity was also fashioned out of the ‘mud of India’, or so Miyan claims.

To reinforce his argument of India being accorded the status of a ‘blessed land’ in the Islamic tradition itself, Miyan notes that some Muslim scholars believe that the oath of ‘alast’, which the Koran refers to, also took place in India. On that occasion, God gathered all the souls of men who would appear in the world till the Day of Judgment and addressed them, asking them if He was not their Lord. All the souls answered that He indeed was. This shows, Miyan writes, that India was the country where the ‘slaves’ of God first acknowledged Him as Sustainer, from which started the long chain of spiritual advancement of humanity. Through this incident the land of India was ‘brightened by the light of all the prophets’, Miyan writes.

According to the Koran, Miyan adds, at the time of taking the above-mentioned oath, another oath was taken from all the prophets, in which each prophet testified to the prophet who would succeed him.Since the chain of prophets ended with Muhammad, every other prophet testified on that occasion to Muhammad being a prophet, reposing faith in him and promising to help him. This second oath, too, was taken in India, Miyan claims. Hence, Miyan writes, ‘India is that holy (muqaddas) land where the chain of religious instruction (rashd-o-hidayat), and knowledge of the closeness of God (ma‘arif-e- qurb-e-ilahi) and salvation in the hereafter (nijat-e-akhiravi)’ had their origins.

The claim of God having chosen India to send Adam to has other crucial implications, Miyan suggests, which reinforce the special place that India is said to occupy in the Muslim tradition. Miyan writes, echoing a view held by many Sufis, that the first thing God created was the noor-e-muhammadi or the ‘light of Muhammad’. This light was first put into Adam and was then transferred through all the prophets till it reached the Prophet Muhammad when he appeared in Mecca. Because Adam lived in India, the first time that the noor-e-muhammadi appeared on earth was in India, and the last time that it appeared was in Arabia, thus establishing a firm spiritual link between the two lands.

All these ‘facts’, Miyan says, stress the need for the Indian Muslims to recognize that ‘it is our good fortune that this India is our beloved country’. Because India is said to have held a special place in God’s plan for the world, Miyan argues, God has blessed it with numerous assets. The source of all good things is heaven, and whatever good things are found on earth are a limited reflection of their heavenly counterparts. All good things that are found in the world were first brought by Adam to India, from where they spread to the rest of the world, or so Miyan claims.

Besides the alleged Adam connection, Miyan marshalls other ‘evidence’ to support his claim of special status for India in Islamic terms. Thus, he writes that some Muslim scholars believe that Noah built his ark in India, and that India was unaffected by the Great Flood in Noah’s time. In addition, several companions of the prophet, thousands of Muslim saints, martyrs and pious ulema made India their home and died and were buried here. All these facts clearly suggest, Miyan contends, that from the Islamic point of view the ‘greatness’ of India is ‘undeniable’. Hence, he stresses, it is the religious duty of the Muslims of India to work for the unity and prosperity of the country as a whole. Hence, too, he suggests, the claim of Hindu chauvinists that only Hindus can be genuine Indian patriots and that Muslims, by definition, cannot, must be challenged and countered.

Not being a national chauvinist, I do not agree with all that Maulanas Madani and Miyan wrote in fulsome praise of India. Nor do I share all of their interpretations of alleged Muslim traditions about India. Some of them I find, to put it mildly, completely outlandish. Be that as it may, they certainly serve as a resounding answer to those who have now pounced upon the Jamiat’s resolution on Vande Mataram to brand the Jamiat, and, with it, the entire Indian Muslim community, as ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘anti-nationalist’.

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

16 November, 2009

Civil Society demands food security for all

A number of human rights activists working on right to food issues in fourteen districts gathered in Jaipur on November 9 to discuss the current food insecurity as well as the upcoming enactment of the National Food Security Act.

Most of the participants raised questions about the malfunction of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) ensuring the right to work and right to food due to the underpayment or delayed payment practised by corrupt officials. Moreover, they pointed out that the earmarked payment Rs.100 a day is not enough to manage three meals a day due to soaring food prices. Furthermore, the 100 days-employment is also insufficient since the drought, particularly this year in Rajasthan, has been affecting food security in the village resulting in less harvest and therefore less employment.

In Barmer district, the villagers started selling their job cards issued under NREGA to others. The Job card holders rather decide to migrate to other states, such as Punjab or Gujarat to seek longer employment with better payment. Many of job card holders are less paid than 100 rupees and do not get the full-100 days of employment, which is prevalent in the areas in which the NREGA was launched.

Under the Public Food Distribution System (PDS), the wheat is distributed to the BPL families raging from 10 kilograms (Rajsamand district for instance) to 28 kilograms, which is less than the 35 kilograms earmarked by the state government.

It is said that 278 districts across India have been struck by the worst drought this year. Rajasthan, known as a dessert area, has been affected worse than other states. Despite the fact that most of the districts suffer from drought, the government has till not taken any action. According to the order which resulted from the drought in 2001-02, the district collector has an obligation to have a monthly meeting to discuss counter plans and open the water tank. In addition to the 100 days-employment under the NREGA, the villagers are entitled to get 10 days more during the drought. However, it has been suggested that the government should provide unlimited employment to the villagers during the drought.

The villagers in rural areas who are deprived of the right to work suffer from lack of livelihood and have no choice but to migrate to the city or other states in order to feed their families. The corruption practised by public servants has been leading a failure of the implementation of the government policy on the right to work, which results in constant migration. The migration this year has been promoted by the worsening drought. In addition, it is even more difficult for the migrant family to get benefits from the government services ensuring their rights.

In the context of the worsening status in food security, the civil society groups are complaining against the proposed National Food Security Act which merely ensures the provision of 25 kilograms of food grains to every Below the Poverty Line (BPL) family at three rupees. The groups are concerned that the government may delay its enactment and fulfilment of the National Food Security Act and are demanding immediate guarantees on access to safe and adequate food in various aspects to which the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) also gives its support. The civil society groups will have a rally in Delhi on November 26 to call for the enactment of the National Food Security Act and reflect their demands as below.

1. Enact a Food Entitlements Act immediately

The drought should not be used as an excuse to delay the enactment of a broad based and comprehensive food entitlements act that ensures long term food security for all.

2. Universalise the Public Food Distribution System (PDS)

a. Every resident of this country must be covered by the PDS;
b. Each adult must be entitled to 14 kilograms of cereals per month, along with 1.5 kilograms of pulses and 800 grams of cooking oil;
c. Cereals must include nutritious millets
d. Cereals must be priced at two rupees per kilogram, pulses at 20 rupees and cooking oil at 35 rupees;
e. Decentralise the procurement, storage and distribution of food;
f. Rations cards must be issued in the name of the female head of the household.

3. Follow a "Food First" Policy: Incentivize domestic food production and consumption and revitalize agriculture

a. Stop forcible diversion of land, water and forests from food production. The first call on all natural resources must be for food;
b. No export of food till malnutrition is eradicated;
c. Protect Indian farmers by ensuring no food imports except temporarily during shortages;
d. Fix remunerative prices for food items so that farmers find it viable to produce food;
e. Eliminate the entry of corporate interests and private contractors in food production, the food market and nutrition-related schemes;
f. Immediate moratorium on Genetically Modified (GM) seeds and use of GM food in government food schemes;
g. Ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all.

4. Special protection for excluded and vulnerable groups and in disasters

a. Special protection to vulnerable groups such as the elderly, disabled, female-headed or child-headed households, destitute people, "primitive" and de-notified tribes, urban destitute, etc.;
b. Antyodaya cards which entitle them to PDS items at half the prices of the general population;
c. Additional entitlements such as access to cooked meals, admission for children to residential schools, double quota of all entitlements; one quintal of free food grains etc for them;
d. Pensions at half the statutory minimum wages for the elderly and disabled (ie at an average of around 1,300 rupees per month at the current rate);
e. Special food security policies for migrant workers and urban destitute;
f. Special measures in all emergencies (including starvation and chronic hunger) and natural and man-made disasters.

5. No dilution of Supreme Court orders
The food entitlement act must ensure that legal entitlement and other enabling orders issued by the Supreme Court on the right to food are not diluted in anyway.

6. Put in place an effective grievance redress system

a. Fines and criminal penalties for wrong-doers and compensation for the wronged;
b. Strong in-built transparency mechanism, and mandatory social audits;
c. Accountability must be fixed at all levels.

7. Affirmative action towards people who are socially discriminated

a. At least 50% of jobs for cooks and helpers must be for Dalits, Adivasis (tribes) and members of the minority community;
b. Priority to Dalit, Adivasi and minority community hamlets in the location of Anganwadis (child care centre) and ration shops.

8. Immediate action on hunger, drought and violations

a. Every adult should get employment on demand. NREGA works should be implemented in drought stricken regions without a cap on the number of days. After the commencement of NREGA, public works need to be converged with NREGA, rather than creating a separate machinery and set of rules for relief works;
b. Wages should be fixed at 20% above the state's Statutory Minimum Wage. The current wage freeze must be immediately lifted;
c. Raise PDS entitlement by 50%;
d. Immediate supply of food, water and fodder to alleviate hunger and suffering in the 278 drought and cyclone-affected districts;
e. Mid Day Meals Scheme to all out of school children and MDM should continue during vacations;
f. Ensure full coverage under Antyodaya of all primitive tribal groups, disabled, aged, and other vulnerable groups;
g. Government must immediately redress of complaints of violation of Right to Food Orders and NREGA.

Mr. Ashok, an advisor of the Supreme Court Commission on the right to food, who attended the meeting, explained that the universalization of the PDS to all citizens excluding certain groups like government officials, aims to provide subsidised food grains to all BPL families amounting for more than 70 percent of the total population, whereas the current PDS cover about 35% of the population. He also emphasized that the universalisation to all can reduce the possibility of corruption.

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, which distributed the above report on the Jaipur meeting adds, “The AHRC has been observing the deep-rooted corruption in all government services ensuring people's rights particularly relating to right to food for years by reporting Hunger Alerts. However, further action is required to set up the mechanism to punish corruption which deprives persons of food security”.

14 November, 2009

Castro on Obama's Asian odyssey: "a science fiction story"


I very much regret to have to criticize Obama knowing that there are in that country other could-be presidents worse than him. I am aware that that position in the United States is today a major headache. The best example of this is the report in yesterday’s edition of Granma that 237 US members of Congress, or 44%, are millionaires. This does not mean that every one of them is an incorrigible reactionary but it is extremely difficult that they feel like the many million Americans who do not have access to medical care, who are unemployed or who need to work very hard to earn their living.
Of course, Obama himself is no beggar; he owns millions of dollars. He excelled as a professional and his command of language, his eloquence and intellect are unquestionable. Also, he was elected president despite his being an African American, a first time occurrence in the history of his country’s racist society, which is enduring a profound international economic crisis of its own making.

This is not about being an anti-American as the system and its huge media intend to label its adversaries. The American people are not the culprits but rather the victims of a system that is not only unsustainable but worse still: it is incompatible with the life of humanity.

The smart and rebellious Obama who suffered humiliation and racism in his childhood and youth understands this, but the Obama educated by the system and committed to it and to the methods that took him to the US presidency cannot resist the temptation to pressure, to threaten and even to deceive others. He is a workaholic. Perhaps no other American president would dare to engage in such an intense program as he intends to carry out in the next eight days.

According to plan, he will take an extensive tour of Alaska where he intends to address the troops stationed there. He will be visiting Japan, Singapore, the People’s Republic of China and South Korea. He will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) and that of the Association of East Asian Nations (ASEAN). He will hold talks with the Prime Minister of Japan and His Majesty Emperor Akihito in the land of the Rising Sun as well as with the prime ministers of Singapore and South Korea and the presidents of Indonesia Susilo Bambang, of Russia Dimitri Medvedev and of the People’s Republic of China Hu Jintao. He will be making speeches and giving press conferences. He will be carrying with him his nuclear briefcase, which we hope he will have no need to use during his hasty tour.

His Security advisor has said that Obama will discuss with the president of Russia the continuance of the START-1 Treaty set to expire on December 5, 2009. There is no doubt that some reductions of the enormous nuclear arsenal will be agreed upon, albeit this will be of no consequence to world peace and economy.

What is our distinguished friend planning to discuss during his intense journey? The White House has made its solemn announcement: climate change and economic recovery; nuclear disarmament and the Afghan war; and, the risks of war in Iran and in the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea. There is plenty of material to produce a science fiction book.

But, how can Obama unravel the problems of climate change when the position of his representatives during the preparatory meetings of the Copenhagen Summit on the greenhouse effect gas emissions was the worst among those of the industrialized and rich nations, both in Bangkok and Barcelona, because the United States chose not to sign the Kyoto Protocol and the oligarchy of that country is not willing to really cooperate.

How can he contribute to the solution of the grave economic problems afflicting a large part of humanity when at the end of 2008 the total debt of the United States --including that of the federal, state and local administrations, the businesses and families—amounted to 57 trillion dollars, that is, over 400% of its GDP, and that country’s budget deficit reached almost 13% of its GDP in fiscal year 2009, an information that Obama is certainly aware of.

What can he offer Hu Jintao when his openly protectionist policies have been aimed against the Chinese exports and he is demanding at all costs that the Chinese government revaluates the Yuan, an action that would adversely impact on the growing Third World imports from China?

The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, who is not a disciple of Karl Marx but an honest catholic among others who are not willing to cooperate with the imperialism in Latin America, has recently said that “….we are risking our destruction and the devastation of life’s diversity.”

“[…] almost half of humanity is living today under the poverty line. The wealthiest 20% are consuming 82.49% of all of the riches on Earth while the poorest 20% are living on a tiny 1.6%.” He also quotes the FAO as he warns that “…there will be in the upcoming years from 150 to 200 million climate refugees.” And then he adds that “humanity is consuming today a 30% above the regenerating capacity…the planet is giving unmistakable signs that it can stand it no more.”

What he says is true, but Obama and the US Congress have yet to find out.
What is he leaving to us in the hemisphere? The shameful problem in Honduras and the annexation of Colombia where the United States will set up seven military bases. They also established a military base in Cuba more than one-hundred years ago and remain there by force. It was in that base where they installed the horrible torture center widely known around the world; the same that Obama has been unable to close, yet.

I hold the view that before Obama completes his term there will be from six to eight right-wing governments in Latin America that will be allies of the empire. Likewise, the US extreme right will try to limit his administration to one term. Once again there will be a Nixon, a Bush or the like of a Cheney in the White House. Then, the meaning will be clear of those absolutely unjustifiable bases threatening today the South American peoples with the pretext of fighting drug-trafficking, a problem created by the tens of billions of dollars that organized crime and the production of drugs in Latin America receive from the United States.

Cuba has shown it only takes justice and social development to fight drugs. In our country, the crime rate per 100,000 people is one of the lowest in the world. No other country in the hemisphere can exhibit such low rates of violence. It is known that, despite the blockade, no other country can boast our high education levels.

The Latin American peoples will resist the onslaught of the empire!
Obama’s trip seems a science fiction story.

13 November, 2009

Madhya Pradesh High Court widens scope of Sardar Sarovar corruption inquiry

A Division Bench of the Jabalpur High Court, comprising Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice Sanjay Yadav, delivered this week another interim, but special and major order in the two-year old PIL filed by Narmada Bachao Andolan bringing to fore unprecedented corruption worth crores of rupees in the rehabilitation of thousands of families affected by the Sardar Sarovar Project.

The High Court, amending its initial interim order of August 21, 2008, ordered expansion of the scope and widening of the Terms of Inquiry of the Justice Jha Commisison.

It may be noted that by that order the court had constituted the Justice Shravan Shankar Jha Commission of Inquiry to investigate the allegations of fake land registries (in purchase of alternative land in rehabilitation) through SRP and corruption in the provision of civic amenities at the 80 R&R sites for the SSP PAFs in the state.

With the latest order, the scope of the Commission’s inquiry has been widened enormously to cover all aspects of corruption, irregularities, illegalities raised by the petitioners, including:

a) Fraudulent payment of compensation to the ineligible / fake persons and properties

b) Irregularities and corruption in house plot allotments

c) Corruption in payment of livelihood grants to the landless oustees with fake claims of purchase of productive assets

d) All cases of excluding eligible persons referred to in the various interim applications filed by the petitioner: NBA

The cases will thus cover the irregularities, illegalities, exclusion of eligible persons and inclusion of ineligible persons etc. in villages such as Chhota Barda, Khedi Piplud, Morkatta, Dhanora, Segawa, Kasravad in Badwani district, Semalda, Ekalwara and other villages in Dhar district as well as hundreds of excluded Adivasis families in the villages of Anjanwara, Bhitada, Jalsindhi, Sugat etc. in Alirajpur district.

Commission’s Report to be submitted to High Court: The Justice Jha Commsison has been asked to conduct an inquiry into all the newly added aspects and submit a report as to whether there is any prima facie material to show that any offences have been committed by the Narmada Valley Development Authority, Revenue and other departments entrusted with the task of resettlement and rehabilitation and disbursement of money to the oustees, eligible or ineligible.

GRA & NCA not capable of investigation:
The order elaborately states that the Grievance Redressal Authority, Madhya Pradesh, has only one member, instead of two, to be appointed as per the GRA’s own Notification and also that the Authority has no investigative machinery of its own and it has not been taking cognizance of corruption, irregularities, illegalities as well as grievances related to land acquisition. Hence, the claim by the state government the GRA, in its present form is either concerned or capable of investigation has been rejected by the court.

Similarly, although the Narmada Control Authority is a body authorized and empowered by the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal award (NWDTA), NCA itself has pleaded that it is incapable of taking any action against the state government in the cases under consideration.

Hence the High Court clearly entrusted the charge of inquiry and investigation of all these aspects to Justice Jha Commission, to be conducted in an independent and impartial manner. The High Court has thus amended its earlier interim orders, by invoking its powers under Article 226 of the Constitution and has “exercised the power of review, which inheres in every Court of plenary jurisdiction to prevent miscarriage of justice or to correct grave and palpable errors committed by it”.

Commission’s funds to be routed through High Court’s Registrar General
: The order has also taken cognizance of the written report by the Secretary of the Jha Commission regarding absolute lack of funds, since the amount disbursed is much less in comparison to the amount budgeted and approved, which is not sufficient even to cover the salaries of the Commission’s staff! The High Court has, therefore, directed that the budgeted financial resources for Justice Jha Commission should be placed with and routed through the Registrar General of the Court.

NBA welcomes the Order:
Shall extent full co-operation to Jha Commission: Narmada Bachao Andolan has expressed its deep sense of gratitude to Chief Justice A.K. Patnaik and Justice Sanjay Yadav for this valuable judgment.

It said the petitioners are pleased with the order, which hopefully will provide justice to lakhs of people in the Sardar Sarovar affected area. The High Court, through the Chief Justice, has taken upon itself the responsibility to initiate an impartial investigation to unearth the massive misappropriation from the state exchequer, affecting the fair process of rehabilitation and the right to life and livelihood of the project-affected. NBA would extend all cooperation in this serious investigation towards exposing and addressing the vice of corruption infesting almost all the development projects in this country.

The PIL was originally filed in October 2007 and continued till October 31, 2009. Medha Patkar pleaded at length for the petitioners - displaced and affected farmers, Adivasis, labourers, potters, fish workers and others of the Narmada valley.

For details please contact
Phone: +91 9424855042, 9423965153 or 9826615504

11 November, 2009

Official claims on Himalayan glaciers challenged

Jairam Ramesh, Minister for Environment, released on Monday a paper entitled Himalayan Glaciers by V K Raina, a former deputy director general of the Geological Survey of India.

The paper says that there is no conclusive evidence to prove that Himalayan glaciers are melting due to climate change.

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri accuses the Environment Ministry of 'arrogance' for claiming there is no evidence that climate change has shrunk Himalayan glaciers.

See Pachauri Slams India's Glaciers Report --- by Randeep Ramesh

Devinder Sharma, agriculturist and columnist, warns of the perils of denying glacier melting.

See Himalayan Blunder

Courtesy: Countercurrents

10 November, 2009

More than 260 extrajudicial killings in Manipur in 11 months

A Press Release from Human Rights Alert (HRA), Imphal, forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), says:

Independent Citizens Fact Finding Mission to Manipur, Imphal
Press Release

A team of concerned citizens comprising of Dr. K. S. Subramanian IPS, formerly of the Manipur-Tripura cadre and currently visiting professor, Jamia Millia University, New Delhi; Mr. Sumit Chakravartty, Editor, Mainstream; Ms. Kavita Srivastava, National Secretary People’s Union for Civil Loberties; and Ms. Vasundhara Jairath of Delhi Solidarity Group is on a fact finding mission in Manipur from November 5. The mission was undertaken in the wake of heightened tensions in the state since July 2009.

Mr. Prabhash Joshi, veteran Hindi journalist and a consistent voice against violation of human rights, who was to join the team on November 6 and had expressed grave concern over the situation in Manipur, asking his doctor to allow him to make this visit, passed away due to a cardiac arrest on the 5th night. We are shocked and saddened by this sudden loss. His undoubting commitment to justice, peace, and free speech shall continue to inspire everyone, particularly in the field of journalism.

Our Terms of References are:
- Visit and interact with families of those killed in alleged fake encounters;
- Take account of the number of people killed, arrested, tortured, detained, etc by forces;
- Interact with those in jail or those released after detention/arrest;
- Meet the Chief Minister, and other officials concerned with the law and order situation;
- Prepare a narrative and photo documentation of the visit;
- Compile a comprehensive report of the facts collected with analysis and recommendations and present it to all the stakeholders and national/regional media.

In the last three days in Manipur we have met a cross-section of people here, including the Chief Minister, Director General of Police, Inspector General - Human Rights and Prisons, members of the civil society, citizens' groups, academics, media persons and families of the victims of state violence.
At the meeting with the Chief Minister, in which the DGP was present, the general situation in the state was reviewed. The DGP confirmed that in the past 11 months over 260 people have been killed in the state. The DGP also asserted that all of them are underground activists.

When the committee expressed concern that more than a quarter of the prisoners in Manipur were detained under the National Security Act, and brought up the case of detained human rights defender, Mr. Jiten Yumnam, the DGP defended Jiten's detention and said he too was connected with the underground.

The Chief Minister said he was prepared for a second round of talks with those agitating over the 23rd July killings, after the first round on October 31. The Chief Minister said that several of their demands could not be met. Regarding the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, he said the matter rests with the Central government. The team members appealed to the government that in order to prevent further alienation of the citizens from the state, each killing must be properly investigated, the National Security Act cases reviewed and the family members of the deceased appropriately rehabilitated through a just rehabilitation policy. The team also raised the issue of Ms. Irom Sharmila Chanu's health, accommodation and access to the hospital.

On 6th November, the team was happy to meet Sharmila, now in the 10th year of her heroic hunger strike against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958. The team calls upon the government to provide similar access to other civil society organizations to meet Sharmila. Her family members should be permitted to meet her on a regular basis. Being allowed only a limited number of visitors, she expressed her desire to meet, see and speak to more people more often. Her strength and courage in undertaking the longest satyagraha in the world, completely peaceful and non-violent, leaves us in awe of her struggle. Her demand for the repeal of the Act must be considered in the light of several official recommendations.

Since Ms. Mahashweta Devi was denied permission to meet her the previous day, Sharmila handed over a letter to the team members for the respected Magsaysay Award winner. She further expressed her concern over the number of innocent persons that were killed everyday in Manipur due to the high degree of violence in the state.

Through our discussions in Imphal, we have come across repeated allegations against the state security forces. The team expresses its deep concern over the deteriorating situation and the prevailing climate of impunity in Manipur. It conveys its solidarity with the victims of violence and calls for adequate recompense to the hapless women and children who have lost their husbands/fathers/sons and the only earning members of the families and to ensure employment opportunities to them.

Many have described the killings as fake encounters – murder of innocents who perished either in custody or otherwise, but without legal sanction. Each of these allegations must be investigated in a transparent manner and the guilty punished. Further, there have been charges of using preventive detention laws to curb citizens' democratic rights to protest and freely express their views. The high degree and the frequency of violation of human rights in the state is also cause for alarm. Restoration of peace and order must go hand in hand with the promotion of the rule of law and justice for the sustenance of democracy.

This is an interim report. The final report will follow. We hope to release the findings of the team on 18th November, 2009 in New Delhi.

The team feels that the consequences of continuing violence would be disastrous and will adversely affect peace building and reconciliation in society.

For further information, please contact:

Mr. Babloo Loitongbom
Human Rights Alert
Imphal, Manipur
Telephone: + 91 9862008838

Paid Lying: What passes for major media journalism


Today's major media journalism is biased, irresponsible, sensationalist reporting that distorts, exaggerates or misstates the truth. It's misinformation or agitprop disinformation masquerading as fact to boost circulation, readership, viewers, or listeners, and on vital issues lie about or suppress uncomfortable truths to provide unqualified support for state and/or corporate interests - to the detriment of the greater good that's always sacrificed for profits and imperial aims.

As a result, major media sources produce a daily propaganda diet and what Project Censored calls "junk food news," and get most people to believe it. In their landmark book, Manufacturing Consent, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky explained the "propaganda model" that controls the public message by "filter(ing)" disturbing truths, "leaving (behind) only the cleansed residue fit to print" or air.

Today the media is in crisis and a free and open society at risk at a time fiction substitutes for fact, news is carefully controlled, dissent marginalized, and on-air and print journalists support powerful interests as paid liars, or what famed journalist George Seldes (1890 - 1995) called "prostitutes of the press."

As a result, imperial wars are called liberating ones. Civil liberties are suppressed for our own good. Major topics go unaddressed or are misrepresented. Government and business interests are endorsed wholeheartedly. America is always called "beautiful." Beneficial social change is considered heresy. The market works best, we're told, so let it, and patriotism means supporting lawlessness and corporate outlaws by shopping till we drop.

The New York Times - Its Lead Role in Distorting and Suppressing Truth

For many decades, The Times has been the closest thing in America to an official ministry of information and propaganda masquerading as real news, commentary and analysis.

Its unmatched clout once got media critic Norman Solomon to call its front page "the most valuable square inches of media real estate in the USA;" most everywhere, in fact, because its reports are widely circulated and followed globally.

The Paper of Record has a long history of:
-- supporting the powerful;
-- backing corporate interests;
-- endorsing imperial wars;
-- supporting CIA efforts to topple elected governments, assassinate independent leaders, prop up friendly dictators, secretly fund and train paramilitary death squads, practice sophisticated forms of torture, and menace democratic freedoms at home and abroad. For decades, in fact, some Times' foreign correspondents were covert Agency assets. Others today likely are as well as other prominent fourth estate members.

The Times management is also comfortable with:
-- Washington and corporate lawlessness;
-- an unprecedented and growing wealth gap;
-- Wall Street banksters looting the federal treasury;
-- a private banking cartel controlling the nation's money;
-- unmet human needs and increasing poverty, hunger, homelessness, and despair for growing millions in a nation run by rogue politicians who don't give a damn as long as they're re-elected;
-- a de facto one-party state;
-- deep corruption at the highest government and corporate levels;
-- democracy for the select few alone;
-- sham elections; and
-- a deepening social decay symptomatic of a declining state, yet The Times management won't use its clout to expose and help reverse it.

Of course, the same applies throughout the corporate media, the only variance being audience size, the ability to influence it, and the special impact of TV news and talk radio to arouse their faithful. Plus their power of round-the-clock persuasive repetition.

Examples of Journalism, New York Times Style

After a Washington staged February 29, 2004 middle-of-the-night coup ousted democratically elected Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, The Times March 1 editorial lied by:
-- stating he resigned;
-- saying sending in Marines to abduct him "was the right thing to do;"
-- claiming they only came after "Mr. Aristide yielded power;"
-- blaming him for "contribut(ing) significantly to his own downfall (because of his) increasingly autocratic and lawless rule....;" and
-- accusing him of manipulating the 2000 legislative elections and not "deliver(ing) the democracy he promised."

In fact, he's a beloved democrat first elected in 1990 with 67% of the vote, ousted by a US-supported coup months later, returned to Haiti in 1994, then, because he couldn't succeed himself in 1996, ran in 2000 and was overwhelmingly re-elected with 92% of the vote. Today in exile, the great majority of Haitians want him back but paramilitary occupiers, under orders from Washington, won't let him.

Following Hugo Chavez's December 1998 election, The Times Latin American reporter, Larry Roher, wrote: Regional "presidents and party leaders are looking over their shoulders (concerned about the) specter (they) thought they had safely interred: that of the populist demagogue, the authoritarian man on horseback known as the caudillo (strongman)" taking power.

Ever since, Times writers consistently:
-- turned a blind eye to Venezuelan democracy;
-- bashed Chavez as "divisive, a ruinous demagogue, provocative (and) the next Fidel Castro;"
-- said he "militarized the government, emasculated the country's courts, intimidated the media, eroded confidence in the economy, and hollowed out Venezuela's once-democratic institutions:" common conditions during decades of pre-Chavez rule that columnist Roger Lowenstein falsely said exist now in:
-- calling him anti-capitalist for sharing his nation's oil wealth with the people by providing essential social services, and for lifting the most needy out of poverty; and
-- denouncing his making foreign investors pay their fair share.
Lowenstein backed the aborted April 2002 coup by calling Chavez's ouster a "resignation," then saying Venezuela "no longer (would be) threatened by a would-be dictator."

Post-/911, the Times played the lead role in taking the nation to war by highlighting the "day of terror" and saying the "President Vows to Exact Punishment for 'Evil.' "

In the run-up to the Iraq war, Judith Miller was a weapon of mass deception with her daily front page Pentagon press release columns masquerading as real news, later exposed as manipulative lies, but they worked.

Following the September 15, 2009 Goldstone Commission report, a same day Neil MacFarquhar column suggested that Israel's "disproportionate attack" followed Hamas provocations, so perhaps it was justified. While The Times gave Judge Goldstone op-ed space, it published scathing letters denouncing his "one-sidedness" and a September 18 piece saying "the Obama administration said (today) that a United Nations report accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza was unfair to Israel and did not take adequate account of 'deplorable' actions by the militant group Hamas in the conflict last winter." The paper then imposed a near-blackout on its news and editorial pages to bury the story and kill it through silence - never mind its importance in documenting clear evidence of Israeli war crimes against a civilian population.

National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting (PBS)

Founded in 1970 as an independent, private, non-profit member organization of US public radio stations, NPR promised to be an alternative to commercial broadcasters by "promot(ing) personal growth rather than corporate gain (and) speak with many voices, many dialects."

Having long ago abandoned its promise, and given its substantial corporate and government funding, NPR is indistinguishable from the rest of the corporate media, just as corrupted, and consider its former head, Kevin Klose.
He was president from December 1998 - September 2008 and CEO from 1998 - January 2009. Earlier he was US propaganda director as head of the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Liberty, Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Worldnet Television, and the anti-Castro Radio/TV Marti, so he fit easily into his new role.

On January 5, 2009, Vivian Schiller succeeded him as president and CEO. Her official bio says she was previously with "The New York Times Company where she served as Senior Vice President and General Manager of"
She'll oversea "all NPR operations and initiatives, including the organization's critical partnerships with our 800+ member stations, and their service to the more than 26 million people who listen to NPR programming every week." Most don't know they're getting the same corporate propaganda and "junk food news" or that NPR calls itself "public" to conceal its real agenda, and why critics call it "National Pentagon or Petroleum Radio" with good reason.

Created by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) calls itself "a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress...and is the steward of the federal government's investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,100 locally-owned and-operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television and related online services."

Like NPR, it's heavily corporate and government funded and provides similar services for them. Under George Bush, former Voice of America director Kenneth Tomlinson was chairman of CPB's Board of Governors until an internal 2005 investigation forced him out for repeatedly braking the law.
On September 16, 2009, a CPB press release announced that "The board of directors (of the CPB) today elected Dr. Ernest Wilson III (as) chairman and re-elected....CEO Beth Courtney (as) vice-chair."

Wilson previously held senior policy positions as Director of International Programs and Resources on the National Security Council. He was also Policy and Planning Unit Director for the US Information Agency and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Beth Courtney is a George Bush appointee, a past chairman of the board of America's Public Television Stations and present CPB vice chairman. Currently she also serves on the boards of Satellite Educational Resources Consortium, the Organization of State Broadcasting Executives, the National Forum for Public Television Executives, and the National Educational Telecommunications Association along with other appropriate credentials for her re-appointment.

In its May/June 2004 "Extra" report, FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) asked "How Public Is Public Radio? Writers Steve Rendall and Daniel Butterworth quoted past head Kevin Klose saying: "All of us believe our goal is to serve the entire democracy, the entire country."

Not according to FAIR on "every on-air source quoted in June 2003 on four of (NPR's) news shows: All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition Saturday and Weekend Edition Sunday." Each guest was classified "by occupation, gender, nationality, and partisan affiliation." Combined, 2,334 sources from 804 stories were quoted.

FAIR found that NPR relies on the same dominant sources as the major media that include government officials, professional experts, and corporate representatives nearly two-thirds of the time.

Spokespeople for public interest groups accounted for 7% of total sources, and ordinary people appeared mostly in "one-sentence soundbites."

Male guests outnumbered women about 4 - 1, and those quoted most often came from the same elite categories as men.

Overall, NPR represents the same dominant interests as the major commercial media - conservative, pro-business, pro-war, pro-Israel, and very much against the public interest while pretending to support it.

FAIR analyzed PBS's flagship NewsHour guest list and drew similar conclusions. Like NPR, it's ideologically right and usually censors progressive content and public interest programming. In a 1990 NewsHour evaluation, FAIR compared its content to ABC's Nightline and found that it presented "an even narrower segment of the political spectrum." It then conducted an October 2005 - March 2006 analysis of all of its programs, got similar results, and determined that NewHour is even more ideologically right than NPR that tilts far in that direction itself.

FAIR concluded that NPR and NewsHour content "overwhelmingly represent those in power rather than the public" they're obliged to serve. While masquerading as public programming, they betray their listeners and viewers by offering the same propaganda and "junk food news" as the dominant corporate media. Considering their funding sources, what else would they do.

An October 6 NPR story is typical of most others. It charged Hugo Chavez with "Targeting Opponents For Arrest." Reporter Juan Forero claimed "dozens of university students" went on hunger strike outside OAS headquarters in Caracas on September 28 along with others "across the support of Julio Cesar Rivas, a student who was arrested during an anti-government demonstration in August...."

Rivas is the coordinator and founder of Juventud Activa de Venezuela Unida (United Active Youth of Venezuela - JAVU). Earlier, he was part of a staged, violent street protest against Venezuela's new Education Law. The government says JAVU acts as "shock troops" in opposition protests and is liberally funded by the National Endowment of Democracy (NED), International Republican Institute (IRI), and US Agency or International Development (USAID) to disrupt internal Venezuelan affairs. It's a familiar scheme, repeated numerous times in the past, to discredit and disrupt the Chavez government in hopes of eventually ousting it.

JAVU has about 80,000 members in most Venezuelan states, and its blog site calls for bringing down the government and supporting the Honduran military coup.

Rivas was released on September 29, but must appear for trial. He's a Washington-funded provocateur, charged with resisting arrest, instigating crime, conspiracy, inciting rebellion, damaging public property, and using "generic" weapons.

While in custody, Venezuela Public Defender Gabriela Ramirez assured him in person that his full constitutional rights will be protected. Street protests still continue and have been countered by pro-Chavez ones calling for "peace and tolerance." According to the Federation of Bolivarian students' Carlos Sierra:

Opposition "students are being used and manipulated by the top leadership of the irrational opposition, which, via the (dominant) media, send them to generate violence and terrorism in the country" much like on previous occasions.

But according to NPR's Forero, Rivas was "sent to one of Venezuela's most infamous prisons" where other government opponents are held as political prisoners. Chavez "has been jailing dozens of key opponents - some of them students, some of them veteran politicians" in citing unnamed "human rights groups and constitutional experts (claiming) Venezuela is increasingly singling out and imprisoning its foes in politically motivated witch hunts."
Forero didn't mention that Rivas fomented violence. Others arrested also broke the law. No one is a political prisoner, and all Venezuelans get fair and equitable trials, unlike in America where real political arrests, prosecutions and convictions happen regularly against innocent targeted victims - a topic NPR and PBS won't touch except to vilify them publicly on-air.

Nor do they report truthfully on Occupied Palestine. On October 12, 2009, on NPR's Morning Edition, reporter Renee Montagne practically extolled Israeli racism in stating: "There is a new enemy for some Israelis: romance between Jewish women and Arab men, (so) vigilantes have banded together to fight it." She means from "Jewish settlements" that "have sprung up (in) traditionally Arab" East Jerusalem, but won't admit they're on stolen Palestinian land.

NPR's Sheera Frankel joined a patrol, implied Arabs are inferior to Jews, and suggested they pose a danger to Jewish women and girls. She described vigilantes on the lookout for "Arab-Jewish couples (to) break up their dates," suggesting it's the right thing to do, but never questioning the legitimacy of settlements, vigilante violence in East Jerusalem, its lawless disregard for the law, or great harm to innocent people. Instead she called "mixed couples a growing epidemic" of miscegenation - typical of NPR's racism and one-sided support for Israel.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)

The WSJ is Dow Jones & Company's flagship publication, now a News Corp. one since Rupert Murdoch bought it in August 2007. Stating its ideology up front, it says it supports "free markets and free people" as well as "free trade and sound money; against confiscatory taxation and the ukases (edicts) of kings and other collectivists; and for individual autonomy against dictators, bullies and even the tempers of momentary majorities."

In October 2007, FAIR bemoaned the Murdock takeover because of his "penchant for using his holdings as vehicles for his personal (views) and business interests." Earlier FAIR and the Columbia Journalism Review criticized its editorial page for inaccuracy, extreme bias, and dishonesty.

The Journal is unapologetic in saying its philosophy "make(s) no pretense of walking down the middle of the road. Our comments and interpretations are made from a definite point of view....We oppose all infringements on individual rights, whether (from) private monopoly, labor union monopoly or from an overgrowing government.(We're) not much interested in labels but if we were to choose one, we would say we are radical."

Radical can be revolutionary and beneficial when it backs fundamental progressive change and reform. Webster defines it as: "marked by a considerable departure from the usual and traditional: extreme; tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions; of, relating to, or constituting a political (or perhaps business) group associated with views, practices, and policies of extreme change; (or) advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs" such the radical right represented by the WSJ's management and editorial writers.

Critics agree that they're on the far right extremist fringe, a supporter of voodoo economics, tax cuts for the rich, a staunch defender of executive privilege, and disdainful of anything to the left of their views as witnessed daily by some of the most outlandish, one-sided, pro-business commentaries countenancing no alternatives, with the rarest of rare exceptions showing up to make the paper look fair, which it's not.

Consider editorial board member Mary O'Grady in her weekly Americas column on "politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada." Her extremism is unmatched. Her style is agitprop; her space a truth-free zone; her language hateful and vindictive; her tone malicious and slanderous; her style bare-knuckled thuggishness; and her material calculating, mendacious, and shameless. Yet she's a WSJ regular and an award-winning op-ed writer, but surely no journalist according to Webster's definition: "writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation."

O'Grady fails on both counts. She's a kind of print version of Fox News' Glenn Beck, who promotes himself on looking arrogant in a uniform reminiscent of the Nazi SS.

Consider O'Grady's support for the Washington-backed June 28 Honduran coup ousting a democratically elected president. It was followed by months of mass arrests, disappearances, killings, targeting the independent media, suspending the Constitution, declaring martial law, and threatening the Brazilian embassy's sovereignty where President Manuel Zelaya took refuge after returning.

In one of her many pro-coup articles, O'Grady (on July 13) headlined "Why Honduras Sent Zelaya Away." In a "perfect world," according to her, he "would be in jail in his own country right now, awaiting trial. The Honduran attorney general (part of the coup regime) has charged him with deliberately violating Honduran law and the Supreme Court (stacked with pro-coup justices) ordered his arrest in Tegucigalpa on June 28," the day of the coup.
"But the Honduran military whisked him out of the country, to Costa Rica," to save itself the embarrassment of jailing a democratically elected leader whose lawful actions were endorsed by the majority of Hondurans wanting progressive constitutional change and a president willing to give it to them.
Yet according to O'Grady, "Mr. Zelaya's detention was legal, as was his official removal from office by Congress....Besides eagerly trampling the constitution, Mr. Zelaya had demonstrated that he was ready to employ the violent tactics of 'chavismo' to hang onto power. The decision to pack him off immediately was taken in the interest of protecting both constitutional order and human life."

In fact, Zelaya neither espoused or practiced violence, and his call for a public June 28 vote on whether to hold a referendum for a new Constitutional Convention at the same time as the November elections lawfully asked for a "yes" or "no" on one question: "Do you think that the November 2009 general elections should include a fourth ballot box (the other three were for candidates) in order to make a decision about the creation of a National Constitutional Assembly that would approve a new Constitution?"

According to Article 5 of the 2006 Honduran "Civil Participation Act," government officials may hold non-binding inquiries (referenda) to determine popular support for proposed measures. Gauging sentiment for a National Constituent Assembly for a new Constitution is legal.

Yet in her June 28 article titled, "Honduras Defends Its Democracy," O'Grady falsely claimed Zelaya planned "a constitutional rewrite (following) a national referendum" only the Congress can approve. In fact, Zelaya called for a vote to assess public sentiment, pro or con, on whether Hondurans want a Constitutional Convention, an act no different from a public opinion poll that's perfectly legal or should be anywhere. But according to O'Grady, Zelaya "decided he would run the referendum himself." It's typical O'Grady truth reversal that earns her weekly space on the WSJ's op-ed page.

The BBC's Long Tradition As An Imperial Tool

State-owned and funded, it's tradition is long, unbroken, and disturbing as the world's largest and most influential broadcaster reaching global audiences in 32 languages. From inception in 1925, it's been reliably pro-government and pro-business, or as its founder Lord Reith wrote the establishment: "They know they can trust us not to be really impartial." Neither he or his successors disappointed on topics mattering most, including war and peace, corporate crimes, US-UK duplicity, labor rights, democratic freedoms, human and civil rights, social justice, and Western imperialism.
They're consistently distorted, suppressed, marginalized or ignored throughout decades of misreporting despite claiming "honesty (and) integrity (is) what the BBC stands for (because it's) free from political influence and commercial pressure."

As a propaganda service, its record is uncompromisingly anti-union, pro-business, and dependably safe for Whitehall and its allies. It moralizes Western aggression, bashes independent democratic leaders, and cheerleads for the powerful at the expense of providing real news and information for millions believing BBC is credible. For over eight decades, it's record is solid and predictable - betraying the public trust to reliably serve the powerful. The tradition continues.

Prominent TV Demagogues

Among the many, consider a select few. For example, CNN's Lou Dobbs, "Mr. Independent" he calls himself. Critics use more descriptive terms, yet according to his bio: He's "anchor and managing editor of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight (and also anchor of) a nationally syndicated financial news radio report, The Lou Dobbs Financial Report...." In addition, he writes a weekly commentary, is an author and award-winning "journalist," most recently in 2005 when "the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded (him) the Emmy for Lifetime Achievement" for serving the usual special interests nightly on prime time TV. In June 2004, he also won "the Eugene Katz Award for Excellence in the Coverage of Immigration from the Center for Immigration Studies for his ongoing series 'Broken Borders,' which examines US policy towards illegal immigration."
Little wonder in an August 2006 article, this writer called him CNN's Vice President of Racism. He's also a paid liar and in America wins awards.

In May 2008, a Media Matters Action Network report titled, "Fear & Loathing in Prime Time: Immigration Myths and Cable News" highlighted undocumented Latino hatemongering by Dobbs, Bill O'Reilly, and Glenn Beck, each claiming:

-- an alleged connection between undocumented Latinos and crime; in fact, clear evidence shows they're no more likely to break laws than American citizens;
-- how they exploit social services and don't pay taxes; in fact, undocumented immigrants are ineligible, without proof of legal status, for Medicaid, food stamps, State Children's Health Insurance (SCHIP) and welfare; they do pay income, payroll, property, sales and other taxes and are entitled to public education; according to the National Academy of Sciences, immigrants provide a net annual gain of up to $10 billion to US GDP; according to Rand Corp. economist James P. Smith, the "net present value of the gains from those immigrants who arrived since 1980 would be $333 billion."
-- the "reconquista" myth about a supposed Mexican plot to take over the US Southwest; and
-- an epidemic of Latino voter fraud that, according to Dobbs' incessant drumbeat, puts America's "democracy absolutely in jeopardy."

He also propagates the myth that undocumented Latinos caused an increase in US leprosy (or Hansen's disease). In an on-air April 2005 report (among others), correspondent Christine Romans quoted "medical lawyer" Dr. Madeleine Cosman saying: "We have some enormous problems with horrendous diseases that are being brought into America by illegal aliens (including) leprosy...."

Romans added that, according to Cosman, "there were about 900 (US) cases of leprosy for 40 years. There have been 7,000 in the past three years."
According to a May 2007 "60 Minutes" report, the National Hansen's Disease Program (NHDP) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that "7,000 is the number of leprosy cases over the last 30 years, not the past three, and nobody knows how many of those cases involve illegal immigrants." NHDP added that from 2002 - 2005 (the timeline of Cosman's claim), only 398 cases occurred. To that, Dobbs responded: "If we reported it, it's a fact."

Founded in 1971, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is internationally known for its activism against hate groups and scoring legal victories against white supremacists. It says Dobbs regularly features inaccurate racist reports and features anti-immigrant hatemongers like:
-- Glenn Spencer, head of the anti-immigration American Patrol, whose web site highlights anti-Mexican vitriol and the idea that Mexico plans a secret takeover of the Southwest;
-- Joe McCutchen, head of the anti-immigration Protect Arkansas Now group, that Dobbs calls "a terrific group of concerned, caring Americans;"
-- Paul Streitz, co-founder of Connecticut Citizens for Immigration Control, who once denounced Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. for "turning New Haven into a banana republic;"
-- Barbara Coe, leader of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform who routinely calls Mexicans "savages;" and
-- Chris Simcox, co-founder of the Minuteman Project and a leading anti-immigration figure.

SPLC explains that Dobbs "doggedly explores and supports the anti-immigration movement (and) won't report salient negative facts about anti-immigration leaders he approves of...."

Instead, he falsely claims that:
-- "just about a third of the prison population in this country is estimated to be illegal aliens;"
-- states have been "overwhelmed by criminal illegal aliens;" and
-- US borders are "unprotected" allowing "criminal illegal aliens (to) murder police officers."

In 2007 alone, the connection between illegal immigration and crime was discussed on 94 episodes of Lou Dobbs Tonight, and dozens more focused on an "army of invaders," immigrants not paying taxes, draining social services, and threatening our white Anglo-Saxon culture.

CNN reporters Casey Wian, Bill Tucker, Kitty Pilgrim and others present a steady diet of subtle and overt racism to incite viewers to believe it. Through constant repetition, it propagates the myth, and according to the Media Matters Action Network report:

Dobbs "is hailed by the entire spectrum of immigration opponents, from the reasonable to the unreasonable. And the degree to which extremist elements see (him) as an ally indicates at the very least that they believe he is helping their cause" because they feel he's a populist crusader.

Yet according to a July 30 New York Observer report, recent Nielsen data showed that after Dobbs began reporting (on July 15) that Barack Obama's birth certificate was fraudulent (an apparent stunt to increase ratings), his viewership dropped significantly - 15% overall and 27% in the valued 25 - 54 age category.

Fox News Channel (FNC)

When it debuted in 1996, one of its on-air hosts said: The "Channel was launched (because) something was wrong with news media....somewhere bias found its way into committed to being fair and balanced (covering) stories everybody is reporting - will see only on Fox."

Later the Columbia Journalism Review said several former Fox employees "complained of 'management sticking their fingers' in the writing and editing stories to cook the facts to make a story more palatable to right-of-center tastes." But it hasn't hurt ratings.

As of Q 1 2009, FNC was the second highest rated cable channel in prime time total viewers. CNN ranked 17th and MSNBC 24th. The O'Reilly Factor has been #1 rated on cable news for 100 consecutive months and gained 27% more viewers year-over-year. Glenn Beck increased 90% over the previous year. Overall, FNC topped CNN and MSNBC combined in prime time total audience.

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) said "Fox's signature political news show, Special Report with Brit Hume (now with Bret Baier) was originally created as a daily one-hour update devoted to the 1998 Clinton sex scandal." In the past year, it gained 39% more viewers.

As for accuracy and being "fair and balanced," FAIR (in summer 2001) called FNC "The Most Biased Name in News," yet according to Murdoch in March 2001:
"I challenge anybody to show me an example of bias in Fox News Channel."

In FAIR's Seth Ackerman article and later ones, FNC's blatant manipulation of the news is exposed. For example, Bret Baier's "Political Grapevine" is a right-wing "hot sheet" featuring a "series of gossipy items culled from other right-wing" sources. It and other reports are blatantly partisan propaganda against "liberal media bias," progressives, environmentalists, anti-war activists, civil rights groups, and others to the left of their views.

According to FAIR, the commentary on political punditry programs like The O'Reilly Factor, the Sean Hannity Show, and The Beltway Boys is so slanted that it's like watching "a Harlem Globetrotters game (knowing) which side is supposed to win."

FNC's Bill O'Reilly

His official bio calls The O'Reilly Factor "a unique blend of news analysis and hard hitting investigative reporting dropped each weeknight into 'The No Spin Zone." He also hosts a syndicated radio show, writes a weekly column carried in over 300 newspapers, and authored several books that according to New York Times writer Janet Maslin were "either (done) with a collaborator or (O'Reilly) was born with a ghostwriter's gift for filling space with platitudes...." With good reason, Maslin called him "one of the most controversial human beings in the world...."

In an October 2008 report titled "Smearcasting," FAIR called him an "Islamophobe" for spreading "fear, bigotry and misinformation" along with 11 other popular figures, including Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michelle Malkin (another FNC regular), David Horowitz, and Pat Robertson.

After 9/11, FAIR said O'Reilly proposed attacking a list of Muslim countries "if they did not submit to the US - starting with Afghanistan."
On air he said:

"The US should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble - the airport, the power plants, their water facilities and the roads....If they don't rise up against this primitive country, they starve, period."
Iraq must also be destroyed he said, and "the population made to endure yet another round of intense pain." As for Libya, "Nothing goes in, nothing goes out....Let them eat sand."

FAIR called his penchant for attacking Muslim countries "an O'Reilly trademark", and "his disregard for Muslim civilians is matched by the anti-Muslim sentiments he frequently expresses on both his nationally syndicated radio show, the Radio Factor," reaching 3.5 million listeners, and his top-rated FNC show.

Some of his hateful comments include saying:
-- areas of London are "just packed with just dense Muslim neighborhoods, which breed this kind of contempt for Western society. Why do they let them in;"
-- "We're at war with Muslim fanatics. So all young Muslims should be subject to (special) scrutiny, (saying it's not racial, just) "criminal profiling;"
-- "the most unattractive women in the world are probably in Muslim countries;" and
-- in Iraq, he blamed killing on Islam: "They're all Muslims, and they're doing what they do. They're killing each other. And they're killing Americans."

O'Reilly is equally racist about Latino immigrants with frequent comments like:
"The extreme elements in this country want open borders, blanket amnesty, and entitlement for foreign nationals who have come here illegally, and generally want to change the demographics in the USA so political power can be assumed by the left. That is the end game." He also argues that "Low-skilled immigrant labor costs the taxpayers today $19,000 to (subsidize) people who are using the hospitals (and) the education system....These are rock-solid stats," but O'Reilly won't say from where.

They're blatantly false and may be from a May 2007 Robert Rector/Christine Kim (right-wing think tank) Heritage Foundation paper titled, "The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to State and Local Taxpayers."
O'Reilly spreads daily misinformation, innuendo, and hateful demagoguery to millions of his daily faithful. Like the others above, they're paid liars delivering what passes for today's major media journalism. It's why so much of the public is misinformed and the reason more hate groups than ever proliferate.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), they numbered 926 in 2008, up from 602 in 2000 and are "animated by the national immigration debate." Since Obama took office, they're also driven by their hatred of a black president, exacerbated by a growing economic crisis that's easy to blame on the undocumented and a non-white head of state.

These groups are ideologically vicious and extremely dangerous when motivated by racist right-wing media commentators reaching far larger audiences than more saner voices drowned out. It's more evidence of social decay and the urgent need for change.

The Right-Wing Media Attack ACORN

Founded in 1970, ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) "is the nation's largest grassroots community organization of low and moderate income people with over 400,000 member families organized into more than 1,200 neighborhood chapters in about 75 cities across the country."
As the nation's preeminent community organizing group, it backs a living wage, opposes predatory lending and foreclosures, supports affordable housing, better public schools, welfare reform, voting rights, rebuilding New Orleans, and other social and economic justice issues.

For many months as a result, right-wing extremists have tried to discredit its successes online and through the media. Led by Fox News, Lou Dobbs, and others, it's accused of financial corruption, massive voter fraud, and other indiscretions, mostly fabricated to destroy the group's credibility, cut off its funding, and harm other community organizing efforts. However, compared to corporate fraud and abuse scandals, ACORN's occasional missteps are minor, insignificant, and undeserving of inflammatory media headlines.

Nonetheless recent news stories featured false accusations that ACORN engages in prostitution nationwide. The supposed evidence came from two right-wing filmmakers (Hannah Giles and James O'Keefe) posing as prostitute and pimp, conveniently videotaped for airing. In prime time especially, Fox News, Lou Dobbs and others featured it nightly.

On September 14, Dobbs reported "another pimp and prostitute scandal at the left-wing activist organization ACORN. For the third time, ACORN workers for the left-wing advocacy group (got) caught on hidden camera breaking the law. Now calls from Congress to investigate and cut off public funding are growing."

According to Fox News Bill O'Reilly, "With more than 30 criminal 'convictions' on its resume, the organization cannot be trusted." Based on no credible evidence, other FNC reports accuse ACORN of "operat(ing) as a criminal enterprise," including prostitution, running a prostitution ring, filing false documents with taxing and other government authorities, bank fraud, violating immigration laws, transporting women and children to America for immoral purposes, and impairing the welfare of minors.

More evidence of reprehensible innuendo, distortion, deceit, and misinformation from major media paid liars. It's why web sites like this one gain followers.

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at He blogs at He can be heard on The Global Research News Hour of Monday - Friday at 10AM US Central time. All programs are archived for easy listening.