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29 June, 2010

People’s Tribunal report on military governance in Kashmir

The following is a statement from the International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir, forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong:

The International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered Kashmir (IPTK) feels morally obligated to make this statement today. Sustained alliances between local communities and IPTK have enabled us to bear witness to the escalating conditions induced by militarized governance, and the severity of psychosocial dimensions of oppression in Indian-administered Kashmir. From our work since being instituted in April 2008, from the reports and briefs we have authored, investigations we have undertaken and are in the process of completing, we find it ethically imperative to comment on the direction in which the Governments of India and Jammu and Kashmir, and the Indian Armed Forces, appear to be headed, and the consequences they will likely effect.

Conflict Resolution?

The Government of India has recently called for "creative solutions" to resolve the "Kashmir problem." If we map the events of the past six months inside Indian-administered Kashmir, the approach of the Indian state is aggressively militaristic. While commitments to political diplomacy frame relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, in Indian-administered Kashmir, there are no such engagements with civil society or with the pro-freedom leadership. There is no acknowledgement of civil society's insistent demand for the right to self-determination.

Kashmir is not a "problem" but a conflict zone

India's militarization is aimed at territorial control of Kashmir, and control over key economic and environmental resources in the region, including those of the Siachen glacier. The Government of Kashmir is unable to prevail politically or exercise control over the Indian Armed Forces. India's political dominance hinges on its ability to possess Kashmir. Institutions of democracy -- the judiciary, educational institutions, media -- are neutralized by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian Armed Forces as they function in tandem, continuing "military governance." State violence seeks to undermine people's capacity to resist and solicits collaborators.

Predominant reality is militarized governance

The pervasive presence is that of the military and paramilitary, whose xenophobic and forceful infiltration into every aspect of economic and civic life is palpable. Armed forces are present at educational institutions, hospitals, shopping complexes, cafes and hotels, sporting events, playgrounds, and bazaars. They monitor people as they enter mosques and shrines. They also collaborate with Hindu nationalists in instituting "self-defence" campaigns and militias, such as forming the 100 Village Defence Committees announced in May 2010, promoting militarized Hindu nationalism.

Zero Tolerance?

Human rights violations in Kashmir are a means of maintaining military governance. The Omar Abdullah Government has repeatedly promised "zero tolerance" for human rights violations. Zero tolerance? What we have witnessed is "zero tolerance" for nonviolent civil society dissent, as security forces brutalize people on the streets chanting "Go India, Go back," chanting "India, Quit Kashmir."

On June 24, 2010, Chief Minister Abdullah stated that separatist/pro-freedom leaders were instigating youth to violence, following which security forces ensued repression on political leaders calling for peaceful protests. Crowds marching to Sopore on June 28 to protest and mourn the death of three youth killed by the paramilitary were met with force. Police used tear gas and opened fire on the protesters and journalists, killing one person. In Delina, a nine-year boy was killed by security forces.

Condoning and rationalizing the deplorable actions of the CRPF and police, the Home Secretary of India, G. K. Pillai, characterized civilians fired upon by security personnel as people who were culpable as they violated curfew and attacked police posts. This further evidences the patronage that the security forces enjoy from highly placed government officials, and emphasizes the state's view that civil society resistance to militaristic governance is criminal behaviour.

From the actions and statements of security forces and politicians in power, it appears that all civil disobedience is being defined as anti-national, as equivalent to "terrorism." Peaceable protests are fired upon, as security personnel repress women and men participating in them. Stone pelting, a means of dissent in Kashmir, is termed violent. Stone pelting, Kashmir youth states, is an expression of rage by a subjugated people whose political means of expression and demands are systematically limited. Stone pelting, Kashmir youth say, cannot be compared to the brutish techniques of domination used by the state.

Leaders under house arrest

Even elected officials are prevented from staging public protests, such as an MLA and his with approximately 100 co-workers, who were stopped from protesting during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Srinagar. In 2008, the Prime Minister had stated that elections in Kashmir would render separatist leaders irrelevant, as elected officials would speak for the people. Ironic.

There appears to be no governmental interest in acknowledging and responding to the actions of the military and paramilitary. People, including minors, and political leaders that participate in resistance are booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA). Undeclared curfews permit security forces to operate without noting cause or prior warning. In November 2009, Lt. General, B.S. Jaswal, characterized civil disobedience in response to calls given by dissenting political leaders as "agitational terrorism" prompted by "terrorists." During the pacific resistance of 2008 and 2009, protests had also turned lethal as security personnel fired into crowds. Cyber resistance then was termed "cyber terrorism," and monitored.

Real violence in the present -- bullets, torture, landmines, injuries, arrests, human shields, molestations, sexualized violence, forced labour, detentions, disappearances, murder -- is virtually monopolized by the military and paramilitary in Kashmir. The list of perpetrators is long.

Killings Without Accountability?

Between January-June 2010, reportedly 40 civilians have been killed (25 of whom were killed by security forces), 107 persons identified as militants have been killed, and 57 soldiers have been killed (of the 57, 28 soldiers were killed by militants, 14 committed suicide, 2 died in fratricidal killings, 7 died in grenade/mine explosions, and 6 were killed by unidentified gunmen). Those killed by the Central Reserve Police Force and police were all young men, all Muslim.

Over 20 persons have been killed in "encounters" in just April and May 2010; each reported as "infiltrating" militants. Only four deaths have been investigated, all found to be fake encounter killings.

Reportedly, 335 militants were killed in 2008 and 236 militants were killed in 2009. There are no systematic investigations into alleged "encounter" killings. Promises made about inquiries and commissions are not honoured, as, for example, in Machil, where, after the three fake encounter killings, a Divisional Inquiry was promised but not authorized. In 2008, 367 Habeas Corpus Petitions were filed in the High Court at Srinagar, 272 petitions filed in 2009, and 159 petitions filed between January and mid-May 2010. International human rights law argues that a state must respect the right to life. The Indian Armed Forces repeatedly break this covenant in Kashmir.

Some fake encounter and other killings have taken place around high-profile talks. Military and state discourse use these killings to hype fear of armed militancy and infiltration, stating that militants, scattered all over, seek to target Hindus, requiring hyper-vigilance on the part of security forces. The actions of the state and the military and paramilitary are calculated to provoke and inflame. The armed struggle in Kashmir of the 1990s abated, again becoming nonviolent resistance between 2004-2007; even as cross-Line of Control (between India and Pakistan) movements, infiltrations, and insurgency into Indian-administered Kashmir are significant issues. The Indian state, however, exaggerates these realities by linking Kashmiri civilian resistance to "foreign terror," to enable Indian's administration of Kashmir to proceed with impunity.

The Government of India has stated that Pakistan does not want peace, and might encourage militant attacks. Does India want peace in Kashmir? Is India willing to recognize what "peace" will require, and take those steps?

Military Governance?

The Indian state does not define the present as a time of conflict inside Kashmir. Yet, the Armed Forces have become increasingly more powerful and entrenched in Indian-administered Kashmir. Both New Delhi and the Omar Abdullah Government appear unwilling, or unable, to control the military and paramilitary. Is the military more powerful in Kashmir than the civil administration?

Military-talk and dominant political speech state that the Indian Armed Forces are in Kashmir to protect citizens, and justify civilian suffering and killings as collateral damage in a war on terror. Akin to the George W. Bush era in the United States, this war of "good" against "evil" makes critique or dissent impossible without disagreement becoming affiliated with what is "evil," "dangerous," and "anti-national." There is no way out of the contradiction that India's military is the protector of Kashmiris who are also potential enemies, as long as military suppression of Kashmiris is understood as crucial to defending India.

Questions regarding the Indian armed forces in Kashmir, with fifty-six soldiers committing suicide in Kashmir in 2008-2009, and fifteen instances of fratricidal killing, are muffled.

The PSA, the Disturbed Areas Act, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) are security related legislation in contravention of international humanitarian laws that guarantee immunity to army and paramilitary forces. On February 26, 2009, soon after assuming office, Chief Minister Abdullah stated that AFSPA should be revoked. The armed forces challenged his authority, declaring such intent as "regressive," stating "any move to revoke AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir would be detrimental to the security of the Valley and would provide a boost to the terrorists." Dialogue with the Indian state and Kashmiri pro-freedom leaders regarding autonomy and the revocation of AFSPA were electoral promises made by the current Chief Minister. To revoke AFSPA would be to interrupt not only legal, but political, impunity.

Kashmiris are now being told that it is better for their security to amend, not revoke, AFSPA.

International Community

Kashmir is a laboratory of violent experiments conducted by Indian military and state institutions. The sustained militarization in Kashmir is not called "military rule" by the Indian state and international community. Civil society in Indian-administered Kashmir remains "under the authority of the hostile army," whose reach and power "has been established and can be exercised," (Hague Convention, Laws and Customs of War on Land Article 42, 1907).

India's militarization is portrayed as an "internal" matter, refusing transparency, international scrutiny, and adherence to international humanitarian law of conflict and war. In the face of the Indian state's violations of international humanitarian law, of protocols and conventions, and perpetration of crimes against humanity, there is a deafening silence on the part of the international community. The Kashmir conflict, like other international conflicts, requires urgent attention and resolution. There is, at present, no monitoring, no sustained visibility, no engagement that can produce ethical and viable results.

That Kashmiris must be an integral part of any resolution repeatedly escapes the international community, and India and Pakistan. If the current situation continues, and nonviolent dissent is systemically brutalized, might the Government of India force Kashmiri civilians to perhaps take up armed militancy once again, continuing the cycle of violence? Is the international community not accountable for averting this?

The United States, the European Union, and other nations must recognize that the resolution of the Kashmir issue is directly significant to peace and security in South Asia. Institutions and states participating in military collaborations and exercises on Kashmir must yield to transparent dialogue, and address the difficult questions of conflict resolution.

Recently, the Government of India took issue with the Canadian Government's scrutiny of Indian visa applicants with military backgrounds. In the past, among such applicants, some, for example, have been perpetrators in Kashmir that have sought residency aboard. A scrutiny of certain categories of military personnel travelling aboard is perhaps necessitated by India's apathy in prosecuting perpetrators.

The Global North's desire to benefit from India as a vast/potential economic market must not continuously sideline egregious human rights violations.


We wish to enter into public record that following the Majils-e-Mashawarat of Shopian's request that IPTK inquire into the death of Ms. Asiya Jan and Mrs. Neelofar Jan in May 2009, to deliver an accurate understanding of the matter and define a mechanism for justice, we wrote Chief Minister Abdullah in January 2010, requesting cooperation and access, which have been denied us to date.

As well, we wish to enter into public record that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir and the Government of India have not undertaken investigations into the findings of BURIED EVIDENCE, IPTK's report on unknown, unmarked, and mass graves in Indian-administered Kashmir, or acted on its recommendations. Such action may have generated constructive interventions into the continuing chain of extrajudicial executions by the Indian military and paramilitary.

Dr. Angana Chatterji, Convener, IPTK and Professor, Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies,

Advocate Parvez Imroz, Convener, IPTK and Founder, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society,

Gautam Navlakha, Convener, IPTK and Editorial Consultant, Economic and Political Weekly,

Zahir-Ud-Din, Convener, IPTK and Vice-President, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society,

Advocate Mihir Desai, Legal Counsel, IPTK and Lawyer, Mumbai High Court and Supreme Court of India,
Khurram Parvez, Liaison IPTK and Programme Coordinator, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society.

Queries may be directed to Khurram Parvez at
Phone: +91.194.2482820
Mobile: +91.9419013553

28 June, 2010

Stop witch-hunt of civil society activists

The following is a statement issued by several organizations and individuals on the arbitrary arrest of Dr. Nisha Biswas and other civil rights activists in Lalgarh

We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are shocked by the arrest on 14th June of Dr Nisha Biswas, Scientist - Central Glass & Ceramic Research Institute Kolkata, Manik Mandal, writer, Kanishka Choudhary, school teacher, and ten other persons by the W Bengal police from Lalgarh area, where they had gone at the request of the local people to investigate human rights violations by police and paramilitary. At the time of their arrest they were charged with violation of Sec 144 (anticipated major public nuisance or damage to public tranquility), a bailable offence. However, when produced in court on 16th June they were charged with several false cases, such as waging war against the state, criminal conspiracy, and unlawful assembly, and remanded to 14 days jail custody. On 25th June, a bail hearing requesting her transfer to police custody- on the spurious evidence of an alleged photograph in her camera- was rejected by the court and her bail hearing is due on 6th July.

We believe that this is not an isolated incident, but part of the repression and reign of terror let loose by the central and state governments over the past few years in the tribal parts of central India to crush dissent, and the accompanying attempts to delegitimize and criminalize all dissent and opposition to its policies.

On one hand, the state has launched an armed offensive in the forested tribal areas of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and West Bengal, in the name of countering the `Maoist menace’, to actually destroy the numerous resistance movements against forced acquisition of their land for mining and big industry, against displacement from their land and homes and loss of their livelihoods. This has been accompanied by the increasing use of extra-judicial killings and arbitrary arrests of villagers and leaders, and extra-legal measures that curb ordinary freedom of expression. Lalgarh area of W Bengal has been a site of intense police repression for more than a year now and under Section 144 for as much period. Civil society persons have not been allowed to visit the area and attempts to do so have been met with detentions and arrest. In Chhattisgarh there has been use of the draconian CSPSA to stifle opposition and of non-state actors like Salwa Judum that terrorises and kills villagers, destroys their homes, perpetrates sexual violence against women, and forces them into camps, or to desert their home and hearths and flee to neighbouring states.

On the other, the state has been suppressing in several ways efforts of civil liberties/democratic rights activists to expose the lawlessness and brutalities being committed in these areas by the security forces and to inquire into issues of violation of people’s rights in the process of `development’ of these areas. These tribal areas have been rendered out of bounds for people from outside the area, in violation of all Constitutional provisions regarding freedom of movement and of expression. Any person or group of persons visiting these areas, or talking about or writing about the situation there, or raising questions about the deployment of paramilitary forces in such large numbers is harassed, intimidated, or arrested and labeled as `Maoists’ or `Maoist sympathizers’, thus criminalizing all such democratic rights activities. Starting with Dr. Binayak Sen in Chhattisgarh, a large number of civil liberties activists across the country have been illegally arrested and implicated under false charges of `waging war against the state’ and accused as `Maoists’. Just over the past three months 14 people - trade unionists, forest rights activists and ordinary people - from Gujarat have been arrested under an omnibus FIR.

The recent arrest of Nisha Biswas and others, and the shrill tirade against writer Arundhati Roy, are part of this trend of targeting civil and political rights activists and urban intellectuals, and discrediting them for raising questions, for sincerely carrying out their democratic responsibility of drawing attention to violation of Constitutional and legal safeguards.

We are also deeply concerned by the extreme intolerance being displayed by the state and sections of urban society towards Arundhati Roy for her views on development, displacement, on the situation of the tribals, the violation of their Constitutional rights, and the military offensive of the state. Freedom of expression and vigorous discussion and debate are indispensable for a true democracy. Instead of carrying forward an informed debate on the issues raised by her, attempts are being made to stifle her voice by vicious abuse, public threats of arrest and much more. It is very disturbing that sections of the media too have been (ir)responsible and complicit in this matter, by false reporting of Ms Roy’s statements to suit their requirements. We also take this opportunity to condemn the statement reportedly made by a BJP leader of Chhattisgarh that Ms Roy 'should be publicly shot down'. That such public incitements to kill a person are ignored by the state machinery exposes the extent of double standards and hypocrisy that characterize our political institutions and leaders. Such intolerance to Ms Roy’s writings and speeches not only makes a mockery of the claims of this country to being a `great democracy’ that grants immense freedom of expression to its citizens, it also poses a grave threat to the spirit of critical public discussion and debate warranted on crucial issues such as development and marginalization.
We are also extremely disturbed and anguished by the reports of rape and other forms of sexual violence by the security forces and Salwa Judum against innocent village women in Chhattisgarh as `punishment’ for alleged support to `maoists’. We ask of the political leadership - in this `war against the Maoists’, for that matter in any place whether it be in Kashmir or the north-east, why are women systematically targetted for sexual violence by the security forces? As already stated above, any attempts to bring this to light and extend assistance are also prevented by intimidation of the affected women. By not taking any action ever against the perpetrators the entire state machinery is accessory to these gruesome acts.

In this situation, we demand:
1. The immediate release of Dr. Nisha Biswas and others arrested along with her.

2. The witch-hunt against Ms Roy be ended.

3. Strict measures be taken against the security forces to put an end to the sexual violence being perpetrated by them against women.

4. We once again demand immediate withdrawal of the armed offensive against the tribal population. Instead, as expected of a democratic government, the government should move towards addressing politically the long-standing grievances of the tribal population, which have been explicitly pointed out and discussed by the government’s own report.

We strongly urge all other democratic minded women’s groups and organizations to join us in this urgent appeal to the Indian government and the respective state governments.

The following organizations and individualks have signed/endorsed the statement:

Women Against Rape and Repression (WARR)
AIPWA (Delhi)
Anhad (Delhi),
Chhattisgarh Mahila Adhikar Manch,
Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (Madhya Pradesh),
Madhya Pradesh Mahila Manch,
Saheli (Delhi),
Vidyarthi Yuvjan Sabha


Indira Chakravarthi,
Dr. Uma Chakravarthi
Uma V. Chandru
Dr. Leena Ganesh
Kamayani Bali-Mahabal
Priti Turakhia
Ranjana Padhi

Women Against Rape and Repression (WARR) is a network of individuals and women’s and human rights organizations from across India. It is a non-funded effort initiated by women, and is concerned with atrocities and repression against women by state and non-state actors, especially in conflict zones.

Civil Society rejects World Bank action plan for Orissa

The following is a Press Release from the Focus Orissa Forum on Climate Change, forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Hong Kong:

The draft Climate Change Action Plan of Orissa (CCAP) prepared at the aegis of the World Bank and DFID does not consider the concern and interest of common odia, neither reflect state’s seriousness towards self-discipline, sobriety and adaptation, rather vociferously reiterates its nexus with neo-liberal lobby which propounds reckless industrialization and unwarranted investment. Notwithstanding the fact that its citizens are either the victims of Climate Change or are the vulnerable lot at coast and the hills, in spite of living a low-emission or net-absorption livelihoods, the authors of the document treat them as the Climate Criminals while allowing the criminals to expand and multiply their crimes. With its focus on promoting investment-intensive mitigation measures as a tool to encourage state’s ongoing unabated industrialization drive, it looks more as an “Inv estment Plan for Industrialization and Mitigation’ offering almost nothing for state’s farmers, fishers, forest-produce gatherers.

Orissa government’s Draft Climate Change Action Plan with a huge budget of Rs. 17,000 crore seeks to help industries more by reducing their expenditure on adapting to climate change, while providing hardly any budget for the victims of climate change at Saatabhayaa, around Talcher and Jharsuguda. It proposes a 15 fold increase in the capacity of thermal power plants at the guise of improvement technology which alone could lead to at least thirteen times higher levels of emission of heat and pollution. One can imagine the hazards that already boiling Talcher and Jharsuguda will face in this scenario. A budget of Rs. 5,500 crore is made for reducing transmission and distribution losses which is only going to help private energy companies sell more electricity and make more money. On the contrary allocation of mere Rs. 4 crore for the establishment of biogas plants can support only about 5000 biogas plants, which is even insufficient for one block.

There is hardly any money allocated for developing small and micro level irrigation facilities or in providing adaptive seeds to farmers. There is no allocation for increasing the supply of electricity to farmers. On the other hand the government has planned for enhancing the fees for irrigation. Over the last ten years, the government has kept on increasing the fees it collects from farmers for supplying irrigation water to them, while allowing industries to use increasing quantities of water, often without formal permission and from sources earmarked for irrigation purposes, without having to pay much.

The plan has more than Rs. 3,000 crore for the forest department, while the villagers who have sacrificed so much to protect their forests under community forest management /joint forest management have been allocated nothing but a small amount of five crore rupees for training purposes. In transport sector, 80% of the allocated budget for this sector is for highways while there is no budget for rail or for promoting the use of non-motorised transport such as bicycles.

Two of the most critical areas climate change impacts are falling production in agriculture, livestock & fishery; and increasing health hazards due to heat related illnesses and accidents. There is no budget under the action plan for something as obvious and basic as preventing and treating heat strokes. The livestock sector is seen by the government less as a victim of climate change and more as a producer of methane. The climate change action plan accuses the farmers of Orissa of not killing old and unproductive cattle due to religious cultural reasons and that this leads to large methane emissions.

An overall reading of the Orissa climate change action plan leads to the following conclusions:

1. It’s a hurriedly drafted document ghost-written by the World Bank and other External Agencies.

2. Notwithstanding the importance and implication of the document, the process of preparation of draft document has not been inclusive. There has been no involvement of civil society and other non-government stakeholders including academia, researchers, legislatures, PRIs, NGOs and the important climate refugees and vulnerable communities from different parts of the state in the drafting processes. Even the comments and suggestions provided by some of these stakeholders who were invited to the hurriedly called 4 stakeholder consultations have been ignored and not incorporated.

3. It treats Orissa as a cause of climate change while Orissa is actually a victim of climate change. Naturally it wants to impose the price of reducing emission of green house gases on the ordinary people of Orissa, who lives either low-emission or net-carbon-absorption livelihoods.

4. In spite of the heat wave conditions that have killed thousands of people in Orissa, the Action Plan seeks to ratify the setting up of large numbers of new thermal power plans which will lead to at least thirteen times growth in emissions and pollutions, thus would risk temperature increase.

5. It accepts that climate change is going to cause erratic monsoons and increased incidence of droughts and reduce agricultural production. However it proposes not increasing irrigation coverage but increase in water tariff collected from farmers.

6. It blames the people of Orissa keeping their old cows and bullocks and encourages that they should allow such animals to die.

7. It pays only lip service to the issue of renewable energy such as biogas or solar powers and allocates very small budgets for these areas. On the other hand it allocates large amounts of public money to help electricity companies increase profits by reducing transmission losses.

8. It tries to peddle false assumptions that bio-fuels will lead to lower carbon emissions. Bio-fuels can only lead to saving in petroleum use but not reduce carbon emissions as when bio-fuels are burnt, that too released green house gases. It encourages the diversion of land to growing bio-fuels which will lead to reduction in the availability of food and fodder.

9. It pays lip service to development of public transport, railways and non-motorised transport. But it does not allocate any budgets for these while allocating 80% of the transport sector budget for highways.

10. It ignores the contribution of community forest management in protecting and developing Orissa’ forests and allocates no budget for helping villages that are protecting their forests to gain access to alternate livelihoods and alternate fuel sources.

11. It pays only lip service to preventing and curing the health impacts of increasing temperatures and makes no budget allocation for preventing or treating heat strokes in spite of thousands of people having died due to heat strokes in the last few years.

It is important that the government have a genuine participatory process where academics, people currently affected severely by climate change, other people under threat of climate change impact, experienced bureaucrats, civil society organisations, people’s representatives debate on the issue of impact of climate change on Orissa in a decentralized manner from below. The principal approach should be to ensure that the state has systems to generate resources from global funds as well as in judiciously directing its own resources for fighting climate change and its impacts. Such resources should be used to reduce the impact of climate change on the people of Orissa, especially the people who are more vulnerable and unable to adapt without external support. It is important that the state should ponder over its industrialization and extractive development trajectory and comes out with a policy based on self discipline, sobriety and temperance in resource use. This draft sh ould be rejected altogether and a new decentralized, inclusive process be initiated from below with multistakeholders participation with a spirit of Odia nationalism rather than under the influence of the World Bank.

Focus Orissa Forum on Climate Change
Sudarshan Chhotoray
Achyut Das
Biswajit Mohanty
Bibhudhendra P Das
Dr. J.Panigrahi
Dhirendra Panda
Pranb Choudhury
Manas Ranjan
Kalish Das
Tapan Padhi
Pravat Sutar
Prasant Mohanty
Mangaraj Panda
Bisikesan Jani
Ranjan Panda
Bibekananda Pattanaik
Bidyut Mohanty
Pradip Pradhan

25 June, 2010

Brown Sahibs need torture to rule

The following is a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission to mark the UN International Day in Support of Torture Victims, which falls on June 26, 2010

Two years and five months have passed after the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, promised the nation that India will soon ratify the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. While nothing is heard about the ratification of the Convention anymore in New Delhi, the Government of India, after protracted discussions in the Union Cabinet has drafted a Bill to criminalise torture. The lack of conceptual clarity and seriousness in approaching the issue is evident in the two-page and 466 worded text of the Bill, which the government proposes as a law to deal with one of the most serious issues plaguing India today.

June 26 is the International Day against torture. Torture is one of the most heinous crimes conceivable against humanity and is condemned world over. Marking the day, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has drafted a model law entitled 'Torture and Custodial Death (Prohibition) Act, 2010' for the consideration of Government of India to be debated and enacted as a law against torture and custodial death. The AHRC has sent the model law to all parliamentarians in the country and other civil society organisations for their knowledge and consideration.

The AHRC's model law attempts to address not only the defects in the Bill proposed by the government, but also provides a comprehensive legal framework to criminalise torture and custodial death, and for the effective investigations and prosecutions of the crime. The law is drafted bearing in mind the consistent and widespread patterns of torture and custodial deaths reported from the country over the past ten years; the nature and the mindset of the perpetrators; and the legislative and procedural impediments existing in the current legal framework of the country that makes it impossible an independent investigation and successful prosecution of the crime.

While the Bill proposed by the government was debated by the Union Cabinet in 2008, one of the objections raised by the ministers for enacting a comprehensive law against torture was that such a law, if enacted, will discourage the law enforcement agencies. The ministers argued that criminalizing torture will pose an obstruction to law enforcement, particularly in the context of the state agencies fighting Naxalism and other violent insurgent movements.

Such parochial view against criminalizing torture only suggests the paucity of knowledge of the Indian legislators and further the colonial mindset of India's elite. There is not a single country in the world that has effectively prevented crime or succeeded in containing armed insurgency by the sheer use of force and allowing the state agencies to engage in torture. On the contrary, polices followed by countries like Iran, Israel and Burma that allow systematic use of torture upon suspects on various excuses are criticised worldwide. India has little excuse as of now, for not being included in this list.

The outlook of condoning torture illuminates the drastic changes required in the policing policy in India. The Indian Police Act, 1861, by all means a colonial law, and its existing state law variants like the Kerala Police Act, 1960 are legislations that need to be scrapped and rewritten with a view to enable a legislative framework suitable for the police to function within a democratic setup.

Attempts are made to rewrite the law in India and the Kerala Police Bill, 2010 is an example. However, in the pretext of modernizing the law, the endeavour is to award unprecedented arbitrary powers to the police in the name of crime control. For instance, the Kerala Police Bill, 2010 if enacted into a law without drastic changes will become a statutory framework to create a police state.

The newly proposed law is draconian in nature that it awards the state police authority to infringe almost every fundamental right of a citizen with statutory impunity. The proposed law allows even a police constable to infringe personal privacy at will, arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, interfere in civil disputes and creates a statutory framework that require the perpetrator police officer to agree to investigate a complaint against him, a proposition unheard so far in the legislative history of the country or even during the colonial times.

The AHRC has sent a study with comments and recommendations concerning the Kerala Police Bill, 2010 to the Government of Kerala. The AHRC expects that its study entitled 'Kerala, a Police State in the Making Act Now!', conducted in conjunction with Nervazhi, a Kerala based human rights group to be considered by the state's legislators so that the Bill will not be enacted as it is proposed now.

Unfortunately not many human rights organizations or other civil society groups in India are concerned about police torture and the impact torture has upon the democratic norms the country decided to practice 62 years before. India has an influx of self-proclaimed policing experts who lobby for changes in Indian laws.

Short-sighted and ill-informed attempts like introducing community policing into a system that has not evolved beyond baton charging everyone in the vicinity to gain control or extra-judicially executing suspects to create a fear psychosis in the community has not benefited anyone other than those who are the proponents of cosmetic police reforms. While such shoddy reforms are referred to with marketable titles in states like Kerala, the same is used to divide the population and gain control over them based on caste and religious prejudices in some other states like Chhattisgargh.

The only difference is this civil militia in the making in Kerala is coloured as community policing whereas in Chhattisgargh it is known as Salwa Judum, in Manipur as special police officers and in Assam as Surrendered United Liberation Front of Asom (SULFA).

Even the mainstream media regularly publish articles often justifying the practice of torture. Articles like Speak up to be silent written by a self-proclaimed expert on the subject, lobbying for the relaxation of fundamental principles like the right to remain silent and the presumption of innocence of the accused will have drastic effects upon the fundamental rights of every citizen. These articles portray the impression that Indian police require more impunity to combat terrorism than their counterparts in the US or the UK.

Each failure by the police affects mostly the poor, who form more than 70 percent of the country's population. Most of the so called experts on policing in India have thus far failed to communicate to the poor with a view to understand what they think as the change that need to be brought into a state institution, the police, that influences the life of millions of Indians.

As of now, the country's worst enemy is its own police. The continuing practice of torture and the possibilities that exist in India for a torturer police officer to carry on committing the offense with relative impunity is the central deficit in realising the true standards of democracy in the country.

So far no attempt has been made to change this unacceptable status quo. Unless the government changes its policies on policing, India will continue to remain a pseudo democracy ruled by the whims of its elite. This, for millions of Indians means only that the British were replaced by brown skinned Sahibs.

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

Bhopal: Trivializing the Tragedy


Swaminathan S Ankalesaria Aiyar crudely trivialized Bhopal showing it as a minor killer than the Mumbai rail system. Quipping in his column in the Times of India of 13 June he rightly noted that we shout at the sensational but take many other things for granted. However, as the seasoned free-market columnist, he has not left his point unmade that the outpour of the anger against the Union Carbide was misplaced, that it was just a negligent act of some operative in a shutdown plant, that the people like Anderson or Keshub Mahindra are no more responsible for it than president Pratibha Patil is for some railway accident, and such others. His exposure of pervasive callousness and unaccountability of the Indian polity then are just an alibi, as it sells well with the middle classes; his core point was to make out Bhopal as an ordinary accident which was not worth raising a hue and cry about.

The facts of Bhopal are so outrageous that this world’s worst industrial disaster will also be the biggest trade of the dead and dying by the tricksters in history. The foreclosed judgement treating it just as a ‘road accident’, and shameful release of the culprits on Rs. 25000 bail was so grievous that it should have set the entire country afire. Instead, it unleashed all kinds of debates, mainly mediated by media that has been further trivializing the major tragedy of the last century.

Deaths by Design

Bhopal was not an accident; it was the design killer of Union Carbide (India) (UCI). In the din over Anderson’s extradition, its deficiency galore in design got completely overlooked. Many experts have attributed them to UCI’s zeal to cut capital expenditure. For instance, water curtains meant to contain lethal methyl isocyanate (MIC) leak could reach only a height of 10-15 meters whereas the MIC vents were at 33 meters high. The vent scrubbers meant for neutralizing MIC were underprovided by a factor of six. The safety system in such a highly hazardous industry should be self-switching but in Bhopal it was manual. The low level of instrumentation did not have any redundancy (if one fails other takes over). Considering the consequences, there should have been additional safety system as in Bayer plants, where MIC vented into a nearby area capable of flooding with water. An additional provision for flaring MIC form the top of the vent scrubber should also have been provided. But all these were deliberately ignored in the design just for the sake of profits.

Many of the design lacunae can be overcome by robust operational and maintenance system. But in the UCI plant, the design lacunae were rather amplified by poor operational and maintenance system. A US team that visited Bhopal in 1982 had pointed out number of safety deficiencies in the plant, but no corrective measures were taken by the UCI management. Some of the major lacunae identified in relation with MIC were manual control for filling of the MIC tank with no instrumentation backup, which created a possibility of accidental overfilling; there was no fixed water spray system for fire protection or vapour dispersion in the MIC operation area; there were several conditions in the operation of the unit that presented a serious potential for sizable releases of toxic materials; filter cleaning operations of the MIC pipes were performed without slip binding of process lines, which could create serious exposures due to leaking valves; long pressure gauge inlet lines, without vents, could result in the release of MIC when the gauge were replaced, due to the inability to evacuate them safely.

After the plant was commissioned, many new safety devices/systems (new monitoring system comprising sensors for pressure, temperature, volume, flow, gas detection) became available but the management on cost cutting spree never considered them. Automatic warning system that triggered by the rapid rise of pressures in the MIC tank, an automatic switching mechanism for the scrubbers, a safety interlock arrangement to prevent the operation of the plant if the scrubber and/or refrigeration unit were disconnected, an automatic water spraying system linked to gas detection, etc. could have been easily installed to overcome initial design deficiency. Surprisingly, the UCI plant did not have even a gas detection system and enough breathing masks. Other operational processes such as regular inspection of critical components, detailed safety analysis exercises, etc. were conspicuous with there absence. Would Aiyar still call it just an accident?

Accomplices in the Crime

The Government that approved setting up the plant without vetting technology, carrying out hazard and operability analyses, environment impact assessment, examining pollution aspects is certainly accomplice in the crime. The plant was built very close to the highly populated areas. Contrary to Aiyar’s contention, the railway station, the bus station, the old secretariat, hospitals and even the lake that supplies drinking water to Bhopal city are all close to the plant. During 1971-81 Bhopal’s population grew by almost 75 per cent. Like any similar city, squatter settlements developed in the vicinity of the UCI plant. The government did not do anything to prevent it and rather legalized them in 1983. After the plant became operational in 1969 the regulatory machinery of the government could have easily noticed many of the wrongs noted above but it did not. UCI had cut corners even in training of manpower and even reduced it in numbers. There was a move to shift the plant in 1976 but the chief minister Arjun Singh had stalled it saying that there was no risk. UCI was given permission to expand its capacity in 1979. The spate of accidents in the plant, number of press reports in October 1982 and June 1984, creating alarm about the impending risk could shake the government out of its slumber but it was not to be.

When the tragedy struck, the government’s ineptitude came to limelight. Even after 5000 people dropped dead within few hours it failed to have its emergency meeting until the next day. It did little in evacuating people, in providing treatment. As a matter of fact nobody knew the line of treatment for several days because the UCC and UCI had allegedly kept it secret not to reveal the risk of their operations. The Anderson episode has too shamefully revealed the sale out of our governments, both state as well as the centre, to hide. Then followed a series of intrigues and treacheries. Bringing the case from the US court to India, government assuming representation of the victims in the legal case, Supreme Court bench headed by the then chief justice A.H. Ahmadi mysteriously deciding that the world’s worst industrial accident was nothing more than ‘a road accident’ when the lower court in Bhopal was to hear the case, the inexplicable settlement at a paltry 480 million dollars as against government’s own claim of 3.3 billion dollars on behalf of the victims, dragging the almost open and shut case for a quarter of a century, and so on. At every stage the tragedy was trivialized and the victims betrayed.

When in the wake of such political deceits and judicial disasters, the court verdict came on – June 2010, although sans surprise, it provoked nationwide outrage. The media sensationalized the issue around Anderson and successfully sidetracked the roles of scores of our own people who facilitated his ilk to play havoc on in our country. Who is guiltier? Anderson, who with a sense of some responsibility had come all the way from the US to the accident site or our own rulers, who after arresting him treated him like a VIP and provided their own plane to escape from the country?

GoM Cover Up

When all leads began pointing to Rajiv Gandhi as responsible for Anderson’s escape, the government constituted the Group of Ministers (GoM) to thwart the political build up against itself. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who lobbied, along with Kamal Nath, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Ronen Sen, on behalf of Dow Chemicals, the company that bought Carbide, for absolving them from latter’s liabilities. Jairam Ramesh, the big mouth minister of environment, who recently blurted out in Bhopal, “I held the toxic waste in my hand. I am still alive and not coughing”, is also a member of the GoM. Every member of this GoM has some history of betraying the interests of the Bhopal victims. The government always resorts to throwing crumbs to people to stave off its crisis, which is what the GoM is expected to do. As per media reports, it has come out with a recommendation for huge financial package for compensation, site remediation, and rehabilitation and to make fresh attempt for extradition of Anderson and a curative petition in the Supreme Court against dilution of charges against the accused in the case. All this just to say that Anderson’s escape was a ‘system failure’ and had nothing to do with Rajiv Gandhi! As for the Bhopal victims, they know from experience that nothing would come out of it, excepting for confusing the issues further.

Whether it benefits the victims or not, the GoM package would expend public funds to pay for private sins as per the neoliberal code of public-private partnership. This may facilitate the passage of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, which seeks to put a cap of Rs. 500 crores on liabilities of nuclear plant operators, the rest to be borne by the public. Instead of taking lessons from Bhopal tragedy, our neoliberalist rulers have used it to reassure global capitalists that they can take away all profits leaving losses to be borne by poor Indians.

If the government has any shame, it would possibly enact a special law to expeditiously try all the guilty of Bhopal and rehabilitate all victims with human dignity and with a sense of recompense for its wrong doing for 25 years. The guilty of Bhopal are not only Andersons, Mahindras and Gokhales, but also include hundreds of its own bureaucrats and ministers who have variously contributed to this tragedy. There is no question of Indian people bearing any liability; it should recover every penny from the criminals. Anything else, GoM show included, amounts to trivializing this grave tragedy and insulting its victims!

Dr. Anand Teltumbde, writer and civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai, can be reached at

22 June, 2010

Gujarat police targets tribal rights activists

Kavita Srivastava, National Secretary, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, writes:

The fishing expedition of Gujarat police has now reached Delhi. After having arrested 13 trade unionists, forest rights activists and ordinary workers of Gujarat against the omnibus FIR number 1-37/2010 Police station Kamrej, Surat range, dated 26th of February, u/s 120 (B), 121(A), 124(A), 153 A& B of the IPC, and sec 38, 39 and 40 of the UAPA, 2004, Shakeel is the new catch, the 14th person arrested in this FIR on 17th April, 2010.

Abdul Shakeel Pasha, for the last six years had been working relentlessly with homeless and street children with organisations like Aman Biradari (2004 to 2008) and since 2009 with Shahari Adhikar Abhiyan. His work with Aman Biradari also took him to Gujarat several times as the work on "Justice to the victims of the 2002 Gujarat genocide" was carried out through the Nyaya Grah project of Aman Biradari.

I too interacted quite closely with him when he was with Aman Biradari. When Bengali- speaking Muslims were being arrested and evicted from Delhi he wanted our experience on it including the court orders that we had procured from the Rajasthan High Court. He participated in several "release Dr. Binayak Sen" programmes in Delhi where I met him. I worked with him when he and some others undertook a study of the implementation of the right to food schemes in Jaipur slums. As recently as April when he was associated with the Shahari Adhikar Manch he was one of the key volunteers of the dharna of the right to food campaign from 15 to 19 April, 2010. He mobilized hundreds of people and got them to the dharna sthal..

The Kamrej police station FIR was very cleverly filed, so that the hands of the Gujarat police could be strengthened for the witch-hunt of activists, trade unionists and the newly emergent leadership working amongst the tribals and dalits who are demanding their rights. It is clear from the sections under which the people have been booked, meaning sedition, waging war against State, conspiracy and the UAPA sections of being members and supporting a banned organization that at the minimum anybody arrested will stay in jail for two to three years before they are granted bail.

Courts in this country are not questioning these framed-up cases and trials take up so much time. Charge-sheets have a large number of witnesses as well as the moment the police feels that the case of the prosecution is getting weak, they are notorious for filing more and more charge sheets. We have seen this pattern in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and now in Gujarat.

Secondly, they are moving with the assumption that following the arrests of activists under these sections the brotherhood and sisterhood of the activist world may be demoralized, they may be gripped by fear and thus they get an edge in the psychological war that is taking place through the media, when every now and then human rights activists are flogged for supporting Maoist violence.

Only the State of Gujarat could have entertained this kind of generalized FIR, a piece of paper devoid of who is committing what crime, so vague that all and sundry could be booked when it says, "this FIR is against the underground leaders and members of banned Naxalite organization CPI (Maoist) who are very secretly active and with the intention of starting anti-national revolutionary people’s war by making at front the people towards".

The only remand paper that we have is of Avinash which actually throws more light on the fishing expedition. How through the arrest of one of the persons in Orissa, they reach Niranjan Mahapatra, the trade unionist from Surat and then through him they have reached others. They also mention that Avinash Kulkarni was with the CPI (Janshakti) even before he came and worked in the Dangs in 1989. They go on to say that "Avinash Kulkarni played behind-the-scene role of instigating tribals to start violent agitation and as he was conducting Naxalite activities of instigating the tribals by remaining in touch with CPI (Maoist) through CPI (ML) Janshakti Party".

Now all of us know that CPI (ML) Janshakti is an overground party and has been fighting elections for the last 15 to 17 years. And if in the past somebody had some association, they have all the right to choose new or redefine their ideologies. Each one has a right to begin lives afresh according to his/her choice. Regarding Avinash Kulkarni, activists of Gujarat have told us that he was pioneering the entire struggle in the area of implementing the Forests Rights Act and when the Government rejected over 80,000 claims of tribals, the people carried out a non-violent protest. The Adivasi Maha Sabha has already condemned his arrest.

This style of opening old files and picking up people is what the Andhra Police had also done some time back, when they picked up in 2005-2006 activists who in their student or youth days in the eighties had been with some or the other ML group. I was told by Harish Dhawan of the PUDR that the AP police rounded up so many activists that finally Mr. Balagopal took up the matter with the Human Rights cell within the Anti Naxalite Operations of AP. ( please note there is this cell in the ANO), following which harassment stopped.

The police learns very fast from each other so the "Fishing Expedition" run by Andhra State Police has been adopted by Gujarat. But this time there is a difference. The Central Government led by P. Chidambaram and others is vehemently backing such actions of the State police. The more you show that Maoists are at work, the easier it is for the different States to get money in the name of combating Maoists. We are told that Haryana and Punjab both got Rs. 500 million in one stroke, after showing some fake cases of people as Maoists.

We had brought up the facts of these arrests clearly in our application to the NHRC. Unfortunately, as I had mentioned in my earlier mails, the charge-sheet was filed against 12 of the people arrested soon after the NHRC issued notices on the 4th of June, to the Gujarat DG police demanding why they had arrested so many activists from the Dangs. As all of you are aware once a case comes in a court (here the charge-sheet), the NHRC does not pursue the case. Although it can, it does not petition the court and get orders to continue investigating the case.

The tasks that need to be done are as follows:

• Informing the NHRC about the arrest of Shakeel in the case number 501/6/23/2010/UC /M-2. This will be done by Pushkar Raj.

• The 1800 page charge sheet should be obtained from the lawyers of the 12 who were charge sheeted in Surat on 12th June.

• We must also collect the remand papers of Kishore Kuruputty, Shakeel from the lawyers in Surat.

• Can somebody put together a short brief of all the persons arrested. We have it for Avinash, Bharat Pawar and Krishna.

• A brief profile on Shakeel somebody should write.

• The profile of the ten others has to come from Gujarat. Can somebody take this responsibility and send it to us.

• Coordination with the Gujarat groups including Darshan, PUCL Gujarat, journalists like Nachikea Desai and lawyers like Mukul Sinha and others who called a meeting on 8th June and had set up committees to follow up on these arrests.

• Participation in the 30th June dharna and rally in Ahmedabad against these arrests. Contact person: Hiren Gandhi: 09426181334

And finally, we need to ask ourselves especially when we are on the eve of emergency day, 26th June, thirty-five years later, whether we are going to surrender our Constitutional rights of dissenting and holding and expressing views, to the police state that India is becoming.

This is a call for help to all friends to get together and oppose the terror unleashed by the Gujarat police.

18 June, 2010

Mass graves in Kashmir: a daring attempt to find the truth

The Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, has forwarded a preliminary report of the International People’s Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in India-administered Kashmir with this introduction:

'Buried Evidence - 'Unknown, Unmarked, and Mass Graves in Indian-Administered Kashmir' (Dr. Angana Chatterji, Advocate Parvez Imroz et al.; The International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in India-Administered Kashmir) is a unique and daring attempt to find the truth behind the disappearance and extrajudicial execution of persons in the Indian-administered Kashmir. The 108-page report challenges the defiance of the Indian government that has so far allowed the systematic persecution of the people of Kashmir with impunity, by what is known in international human rights law as a crime against humanity, and the government's subversive acts that have prevented every attempt to bring this to light.

The International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir with the support of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons have met and listened to hundreds of persons in Kashmir. The Tribunal received communications in confidence, many of which are reproduced in the report. The report includes a large array of recommendations to the stakeholders in Kashmir, including the government that must be acted upon.

While most of India and the rest of the world see the ongoing conflict in Kashmir as a security issue arising out of the shadow war for control over disputed territory fought between two neighbouring countries, India and Pakistan, the report throws light upon the daily reality of loss, pain and the continuing agony of the ordinary Kashmiris.

While little is known to the world about the Pakistan-administered Kashmir, for sure the Indian side of Kashmir has been for the past six decades the valley of death. There are thousands of ordinary people living in Kashmir who are confronted with the daily possibility of violent death at the hands of those whom the state refer to as 'security forces’.

Over the years, Kashmir has become an anomaly of beliefs. Here the protector has become the persecutor, safety implies silence, and honour is not a distant possibility even after death.

The rule of law that India and the state government of Kashmir have been promising to the people living in this part of the world does not apply to those who are stationed here to enforce the law. They abduct, rape, torture and kill at will, and justify it in the name of national security. Today, Kashmir has become the land of systematic state oppression. The mass graves, where mutilated and unidentified bodies are buried stands proof to this gruesome reality of life.

Thousands have lost their life in Kashmir at the hands of those the state has sent to protect. Their bodies are now mere heaps of gravel covering unidentified decomposed human remains found throughout Kashmir. It is normal to find such graves in public places. "Children ask us about these graves. Children ask us why soldiers are everywhere. Children grow up here thinking violent death is natural" (page 33). Mass graves are no more a phenomena that warrants secrecy in Kashmir. They are found near schools, play grounds and other public places. It is this normalcy of Kashmir that is frightening.

Yet like the unheard cry for dignity and justice that comes from these graves, the ordinary people of Kashmir have also refused to forget what has befallen upon them. "We learned that local communities across Kashmir insist on remembrance as practice of resistance. To forget, they say, would be to reconcile to injustice." (page 41). The report is a unique attempt to give voice to the voiceless of Kashmir.

"There they are, rows upon rows." (page 21). The report is an encouragement to similar attempts that could be conceived in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. It is an indicator to what a society may have to face in other places in India like Manipur where systematic militarisation in underway in the excuse of combating armed militancy.

The details available in the report shatter the false notion of mainstream Indian media that reporting on Kashmir is difficult.

The report in essence is the cry for help and an attempt to restore the honour of those who have been termed terrorists and anti-national to justify the brutal crime of the state.

"My son was killed in a fake encounter. Buried by the police as a 'Pakistani terrorist'. We want justice. We want his name restored. We want his memory healed." (page 9).

The question is will these cries be heard?

The report can be downloaded from the website of International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Kashmir (IPTK).

The AHRC wishes to express our sincere gratitude to the Tribunal for granting permission to forward the report with the above introduction.

16 June, 2010

Kerala marchers’ meeting with Irom Sharmila

A post dated May 25, based on information circulated by a human rights group, had stated that the Manipur authorities had denied the Hind Swaraj marchers from Kerala, led by Sara Joseph, permission to meet Irom Sharmila. In a conversation with Thaha Madayi, excerpts from which appear in the Mathrubhumi weekly (edition dated June 20, 2010, which is now in the market), Civic Chandran, coordinator of the march, has revealed that they were indeed able to meet Irom Sharmila. A rough English rendering of the relevant portion is given below

It was quite unexpectedly that we were able to see Irom Sharmila. We had to end the march (which began at Cherthala in Kerala) at Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh. At that time Manipur was going through two trouble-torn weeks. A 70-year-old former guerrilla leader was returning to his village in Manipur. He was in self-exile for 45 years. And in hiding. The Manipur government, fearing revolt, had closed the national highways. Life was at standstill. Commodity prices had grown five or six fold. When we got there rice was selling at Rs 100 a kilogram. It became almost impossible for us to enter the Northeast.

It was then that another possibility came up. Why not take a flight? Five of us took a plane to Imphal. We met the Chief Minister. We told him we had traveled all this distance and come from Kerala to meet Irom Sharmila. First he showed sympathy. Then he told us we have to go through the normal procedure. That means staying there for ten days.

At that stage we decided to use something of the characteristic Malayali cleverness. Irom Sharmila is a prisoner in the security ward of the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College in Imphal where there is tight security. We entered through the back door of the security ward. We pleaded with the nurse that we have come from very far, from the southern point of India, and want very much to meet Irom Sharmila. She called the police surgeon. We repeated the request to him. We thought she would go inside stone-faced and return with a higher ranking police officer who will bluntly say ‘no’ to us. Luckily, the curtains parted and Irom Sharmila appeared with two warders on each side. Irom Sharmila like a goddess descending from the sky in a Chinese opera! Ten years of fast has changed her into something other than an ordinary woman. Changed like a goddess in the calendar picture with a halo around her head. She is very tired. But there was determination on her face. There was will.

We told her: You will certainly win this struggle against the Armed Forces Act. You will emerge from prison. When you are out of prison we will come once again to invite you to Kerala. Tears started rolling down from her eyes when she heard that. We all sobbed too. I believe that India will overcome not through Kishanji but through Irom Sharmila. P. Chidambaram and Kishanji are birds of the same feather. One is seeking to protect the interests of his regime with arms. The other is seeking to overthrow this regime and establish his own, also with arms. My hope is in the Irom Sharmilas. Sharmila is there in all struggles from Narmada to Kinaloor. Gandhi too.

15 June, 2010

India's police are its worst enemy


On 23 May 2010, police officers, including a woman police constable, reportedly tortured and abused a mother and her 12-year-old son in Rajouri Garden Police Outpost in Delhi. It is reported that the officers forced Mala (name changed) to strip naked in front of her minor son and demanded her to have sex with her son. Upon refusal, one of the police officers asked Mala to have sex with him. Mala, a slum dweller from Delhi's Mayapuri area had gone to the police outpost with her husband to enquire why her two sons were detained at the police station.

The police on 22 May arrested Mala's two sons, aged 12 and 10, on the accusation that they had stolen Rs. 6,000 from a car. The torture and abuse was reportedly to force the 12-year-old boy to confess the crime and return the money. As the result of a complaint lodged by Mala with the help of a local human rights organization, the Delhi Police Commissioner, Mr. Y. S. Dadwal, suspended from service Woman Head Constable Amrita Singh and Constables Pramod Kumar and Santosh of Rajouri Garden Police Post. The Assistant Sub Inspector who was in charge of the outpost was transferred from the outpost.

This incident reported from an Indian police station, does not surprise anyone who understands the Indian caste system and the country's policing system.

India, the second most populated country in the world, is today facing the challenge of becoming a modern nation, and taking the place it deserves in the community of nations. However, it has two great obstacles in achieving this aim. One is India's caste system and the other is its policing system.

Caste is the curse of the Indian nation. India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, realized what a tremendous obstacle caste poses to India.

To be a civilization that considers inequality as an ideal is of course the worst obstacle that any nation can have in entering the modern world. There is no other principle, more important to the modern world than the recognition of equality of the people. The principle was agreed upon by India when it agreed on its constitution. However at that moment itself India's Dalit leader and father of the country's constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, pointed out that realizing this ideal will be the greatest challenge India will face in the future.

It cannot be said that India has done enough in order to meet this challenge.

The test of what India has done to meet the challenge of living up to the idea it has accepted in terms of democracy are the measures it has taken or not taken in order to make the Indian police a law enforcement system that accepts the principle of equality. No law enforcement agency in a modern democracy could function if it rejects the very notion on which the constitution of the nation is based. However Indian police has not accepted this notion of equality so far.

In fact it has become the instrument with which ancient rules are still maintained in India. It is an instrument with which the poor are suppressed and are prevented from airing their voice to the rest of the nation.

In a democracy the people of the country are allowed to talk to each other. Democracy is based on the principle of discourse. A discourse essentially means the right of all to talk on an equal basis to each other.

India's poor are prevented from playing this role. They are prevented by enormous use of force in order to prevent them from talking. Police with their fists and their batons and nowadays with guns prevent the people from asserting their voice and talking to the nation on the basis of equality.

Today India is facing an enormous problem of violence. Often it is attributed to those who are called Maoists/Naxalites. However, the root cause of violence in India is India's own mentalities and deep-rooted systems of operation which refuse to go away. And this violence is expressed best through the Indian police. India's violence is essentially a hostility that generates through the Indian policing system.

Indian government has declared its desire to deal with the problems of the people on the basis of equality and dealing with conflicts in a manner deserving of a great nation. However Indian government has done little to reform its police. If Indian government stops making empty promises and get down to the business of reforming its police, India will be able to deal with the problems of violence in a completely different manner.

When the ordinary Indian has the right and opportunities to express themselves freely as the constitution promised them, the country will be able to solve its problems by a discourse among its citizens. Preventing this discourse has generated violence.

The country's Prime Minister and the government he leads should reflect on the Delhi incident cited above that happened in a police outpost in the national capital. The details available about the incident are so horrific that it is hard to imagine that such an incident can happen in any civilisation. However, in India it happens every day because some people are not considered as human beings. When the mentality of country's law enforcing system is such that some people are seen as cattle and not as human beings, there cannot be peace in that nation.

It is very easy to dismiss this incident as an act of perversion of a few policemen and a policewoman; however, this is not an act of perversion. This is an expression of the normal state of the Indian mind that prevails within Indian police stations. It is this normalcy that is frightening.

If India wants to be a true democracy, and if India wants to be respected among the community of nations, India must deal with its greatest enemy, its own police.

Basil Fernando is a distinguished human rights lawyer and leads Hong Kong based organizations, the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Asian Legal Resource Centre.

A journalist and a story in search of a newspaper

The following is a message from Priyanka Borpujari (, a Mumbai-based freelance journalist, which Ahalya Naidu ( has circulated to members of the Google group Human Rights Movement(


My name is Priyanka Borpujari and I am a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. Correction: I am a struggling freelance journalist - struggling with authorities to let me into the war zones on Central India, struggling with persuading them that I am a journalist and writer even if I don't carry a press card, struggling with having to return to Mumbai to try and get what I saw and heard and felt and smelled published somewhere, struggling to earn a living with what I love doing.

So, I am now headed to Orissa, specifically to Kalinganagar in Jajpur district. Kalinganagar should have been in the limelight, but since it is not, I have decided to go there to see the power that forbids the place from coming into the limelight. A local journalist was telling me, "That place is a jail. Nobody can go there or come out of it. Those who manage to get out are picked by cops for questioning." Reason? Tata's steel plant which is proposed to be set up there. In 2006, 14 people were killed. This year, as villagers protest to not let go of their meagre lands and livelihood into the hands of the 'philanthropic' company, five people have died for lack of timely medical aid. Goons are being sent to threaten the people; cops look on. Have you read any of this in any of the newspapers or seen on TV channels lately? I know you haven't, and hence I am going to bring out the real stories.

But this is no scary landscape for me. I was in Dantewada before and after the incident when 76 CRPF jawans were killed in am ambush with the Maoists. God was kind and our roads were clear through the Dandakaranya forest, although I can vividly remember the images of the blown up, a bullet-proof vehicle just few feet away from me. Of course, I am sure I was stepping on a landmine and I was lucky that it was not detonated.

The purpose of this mail is not to boast of my heroics, but to let you know that some of my experiences were published in The Times of India and DNA, while I kept blogging too during my first visit to Dantewada. This time, I would love to feel secure that once I return, a media publication would be willing to give me some good column space to write what I see in Orissa. It would be nice if you could let me know if there is any media house willing to tell the untold stories and show the unseen images of what humans can do to one another, for the love of greed.

I hope I am able to board the train for the 38-hour journey, with a secure heart that yes, mainstream journalism isn't yet dead.

Thanks and regards,
Priyanka Borpujari

14 June, 2010

Taslima Nasrin seeks support to remain in India

Exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin has informed her Indian publishers that the Government of India has decided not to extend her residence permit and requested that they petition the government to allow her to remain in the country.

In an e-mail message to Krishna Das (, which he has forwarded to friends, she says:

Hi Krishnaji,

How are you?

Is everything fine?

I am in Delhi.

The government decided not to extend my residence permit anymore. As I do not have any political party in my side, I can only depend on writers and intellectuals who support freedom of expression. Would you please ask some prominent intellectuals for their signs in a petition for my stay in India? Please do so. I badly need your help.

My Bengali publisher and Hindi publisher prepared an appeal. I forwarded this.

Thank you so much.

Warm regards


Draft of appeal to be sent to Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi

The following is the text of the appeal drafted by her publishers:

Subject: An Appeal to the Prime Minister of India Mr. Manmohan Singh and the President of Indian National Congress Ms Sonia Gandhi to Accord Residential Permit to the Exiled Bangladeshi Writer Taslima Nasrin.

You are perhaps aware that Ms Taslima Nasrin the Bangladeshi writer of international repute has been living in exile since 1994, when she was banished from her homeland Bangladesh. Immediately after her banishment she started living in the West, particularly in Europe and carried on her literary activities. But at heart an out and out Bengali, she began to feel that the environment in the alien lands of the West had been gradually sapping her capabilities as a writer and thereafter she became intent on living in India, her neighbouring country. She came to realize that apart from her own country Bangladesh, it was only India where life for her would be most comfortable and the milieu most favourable to continue as a writer, for this is the country that shares a common cultural and literary heritage with Bangladesh and also this is the country where she would find innumerable friends, readers, and admirers who with their support and encouragement would inspire her to develop her literary faculties.

In 2005 to her great pleasure your Government granted her a Residential Permit. All of us are grateful to you for this. Very recently we came to know that your government has once again asked her to apply for a fresh Residential Permit and the matter is now under
your consideration

Under the circumstances, we the undersigned appeal to you to grant her permission to live in India until she is allowed to live in her own country. It will be quite proper for our country that in a world ravaged by political strife, wars, conflicts and various oppressions
against humanity we extend our support to a writer who for her entire life fought for peace, progress and social justice. India is a great champion of secularism, human rights and freedom of women. These are the very themes that Taslima Nasrin with her powerful pen propagates throughout the world. Besides, if an author acclaimed through the globe lives with us in our country, it would be a matter of great glory for us. We therefore hope that quite in conformity with our tradition you will accord this extra-ordinary personality permission to live in India and make us as well as Ms Taslima Nasrin ever grateful to you.

With regards

POSCO must assume responsibility for Orissa violence

The following is a joint statement issued by several civil rights groups in South Korea:

On May 15, 2010, all but two out of one hundred villagers were seriously injured while police were dispersing them. They had been peacefully protesting against the POSCO steel plant project in Orissa, India. According to reports published in India, the police reportedly fired rubber bullets, live ammunition and tear gas and then prevented the injured from securing medical treatment for six days.

Since POSCO launched the steel plant project in Orissa, the villagers have been opposing the project, and calling for the protection of their land and the forest where they have been living for generations. In particular, from January 2010, the villagers have been protesting at Balithutha, which is the entry point to other villages targeted by the POSCO project. On May 15, 600 protesters were joined by others to reach a total of about 3,500. They rallied to support the protestors when they were told that the police were ready to fire. Many of the protesters were women and elderly persons.

Since POSCO launched its project, they have caused much suffering for the local people. The villagers and the communities have become divided into pro-POSCO and anti-POSCO groups. Each antagonizes the other. And as a result, all the villagers’ livelihoods are in danger due to the fear of an insecure future. Those who maintain the traditional way of living are confronting abrupt changes in their lives due to POSCO. This is a form of violence which is destroying their lives.

This violence, triggered by development, occurs not only in the villages targeted by the POSCO project but also all over India. Indigenous people and the poor are the main groups displaced by development projects. Violence caused by development has become a major international concern. Accordingly, it goes without saying that the Orissa government is expected not to take any violent action against the villagers protesting the POSCO project. And POSCO is expected to persuade the villagers to relocate to alternative locations, by providing proper and mutually agreed upon compensation.

However, on May 15, 2010, it is reportedly alleged that approximately 1,500 police officers (25 platoons) came to disperse the protesters. They used force and fired indiscriminately against women and the elderly using live ammunition. The consciences and ethics of Korean society cannot remain silent with this inhumane behaviour of the Indian police who showed indifference to the victims' lives and injuries. The Indian police have insisted that they fired after the protestors allegedly exploded a locally made bomb first. In their eyes, this made their attack legitimate. Yet a variety of online videos and TV news published disproved this stance. Police suppression in this instance did not use even a minimal level of safety for the protestors. Two troubling questions arise: WHY did the Indian police use such brutal force to disperse a group of peaceful protesters, and what was the relevant background that led to this violence?

In the process of starting up large-scale developmental projects, local governments favour multinational companies and often use force against the villagers who oppose them. This demonstrates a propensity for the prevalent use of violence. Needless to say, multinational companies are acknowledged as accomplices in the violation of human rights.

POSCO provides a variety of aid and support in India. But no matter how well POSCO carries out its various social programs, and although the Indian police have been shown responsible for the violent suppression, POSCO cannot escape its own responsibilities in the incident. After all, POSCO is a direct beneficiary of the project promoted by the government but at the cost of human rights violations. At the end of the day, POSCO is both beneficiary and accomplice at the same time. Article 5 of the ethical standard of POSCO (‘State and Society’) states: “We respect the tradition and culture of local society and do our best for the common prosperity and development with the local society.” “We are obliged to abide by international laws ratified on human rights, environment, culture and economy and by domestic laws and fiscal regulations.” Accordingly, this incident illustrates that the ethical standards of POSCO are apparently not in accord with international standards. In addition, the reputation for corporate responsibility of management that POSCO has been building up, may be in great jeopardy as a result.

POSCO would do well, with immediacy, to demonstrate transparency in its policies and implementation of projects. Relative to these points, we demand that:

1. POSCO should immediately explain its standpoint in regard to the incident in Orissa.

2. POSCO should strongly demand that the Orissa government prevent any re-occurrence of a similar situation in the future.

Signatories to the statement:
Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility
Gong-gam, Lawyers’ group for Public Interest
Korean House of International Solidarity
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Centre on Corporate Responsibility
People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

The statement, released on May 25, 2010, has been circulated worldwide by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

Poison to the soul

by Basil Fernando

When people say
Look at the brighter side of things
Shun them
For such sayings are poison to the soul
For in truth
Hope lies only in hopelessness
when you know
the darker side of brightness

Basil Fernando is a Sri Lankan poet and has published several collections of poems. An anthology of his poems entitled, Sundramaithry, has been translated into Malayalam by Dr. Dhanya Menon, and published in 2008. This is the first anthology of Sri Lankan poetry translated into any India language.

He is currently based in Hong Kong as Director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong.

His writings may be seen at under literature.

09 June, 2010

Anti-whaling campaigners face jail threat

Areeba Hamid, Online Campaigner, Greenpeace India, writes:

The longest jail term for any Greenpeace activist in the organization’s forty-year history, a year and six months, was demanded in a Japanese court on June 8, World Oceans Day.

Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, known as the Tokyo Two are now awaiting the court’s verdict.

Their crime: standing up in defence of the whales and the planet, and exposing large-scale theft and embezzlement within the Japanese whaling programme. Speaking up for our fragile earth can pose serious risks.

The whales and the right to fight for them are at stake. We need to get all governments, especially the Japanese government, to do justice to both.

Can you write to the Japanese Foreign Minister telling him to prosecute the real whaling criminals and defend our right to save our planet?.

Whaling should go on trial, not those who try to stop it. By writing to the Japanese foreign minister you can show him that support for the Tokyo Two cuts across borders.

Taking action to defend the whales also means taking action to defend the right to fight for the whales - exactly what the two activists did.

Write to the Japanese minster to get justice for the whales:

Thanks a billion!

08 June, 2010

Bhopal judgment symbolises decayed justice in a deficient democracy

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

The recent judgment delivered by a court in the Bhopal Gas disaster case convicting all the seven accused could have been a welcome one and could have gone a long way in ensuring people's faith in the country's judiciary and the rule of law, but for the features of a failing justice regime the investigation and trial exhibits. It took 25 years for the court to decide the case letting many of the accused slip out of the hands of law. When the verdict finally came, convicting seven executives of the erstwhile Union Carbide India Limited, the fact that the multinational responsible for the gas leak, the Union Carbide Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company, is left scot-free proved to be a far bigger disaster than the tragedy itself.

Even worse is the gravity of the sentence. What can be a bigger subversion of justice than giving a two-year prison term to those responsible for killing more than 15000 people and causing grave health problems for more than half a million? As if with an intention of rubbing salt to the injury, the convicts barring one who is now diseased are bailed out within two hours of their sentencing. In addition, Mr. Warren Anderson, one of the accused in the case was never produced in the court despite the court's order to Central Bureau of Investigation to produce him in court. The CBI declared him untraceable and thus unable to serve the arrest warrant upon him and failed to get him extradited even after Greenpeace activists traced him and informed the world about his whereabouts with his address in the US.

The verdict, rightfully, has outraged not only the people in India but across the world. However, the discussions following the debate have been spontaneous, highly inadequate and fall far short of debating the serious issues emerging of it. The verdict is a textbook case of studying all that ails the Indian judicial system. It is a classic case proving the oft-cited aphorism of justice delayed is justice denied. Further, the whole trial and the hearing is a classic case of how the prosecution sides with the guilty instead of helping the victims.

This verdict points towards the absolute failure of the rule of law and the consequent prevalence of the culture of impunity in India. Bhopal is another reminder for those who believe that India is a functioning democracy with adherence to the rule of law in general despite having often reported cases from those areas where the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 (AFSPA) prevails over the accepted norms of justice! What is the difference if a perpetrator of crime can get away after killing people either in Manipur, a troubled area by Indian government's own admissions or in Bhopal a city within the largely 'peaceful mainland' India?

Rather, one can find a lot of similarities in the ways the criminal investigation and justice systems operate in both these areas. In Manipur, Jammu and Kashmir and other 'disturbed' areas of India, the state itself encourages the Army and paramilitary units to engage in violations and abuse of democratic rights of the people in the name of maintaining law and order. In these areas it not only tolerates but also actively promotes undemocratic methods of quelling dissent by means of extrajudicial executions and torture; by stalling any criminal investigation into the conduct of guilty officers by providing them impunity by draconian laws like the AFSPA. The point that these laws are bad in both letter and the spirit does not even require mentioning.

The only thing that changes in the Bhopal case is the modus operandi. Instead of supporting the criminals proactively the state helped them with acts of omission than commission. So it would let Warren Anderson slip out of the country merely four days after the tragedy on a bail knowing fully well that he would be most unlikely to return. Then the CBI, the prosecuting agency would take full four years just for filing a charge-sheet which it did in December 1987. It would let the accused, the powerful and mighty as the representative of the international capital, use all the delaying tactics including going to the Supreme Court asking relief for the fact that charges against them were harsher than justified.

Then the Government of India would go for an out of court settlement with the Union Carbide offering the corporation immunity from all civil and criminal cases regarding the disaster and startlingly the Supreme Court of India would ratify this out of court settlement. Thankfully, another bench of the Supreme Court reversed the decision in 1991 and the proceedings resumed only after that. Add to this the Union Carbide paying meagre USD 470 million as a compensation, which incidentally means Indian Rupees 12410 for each person who got killed in the tragedy. And finally, the Minister of State for Environment recently certified the land around the plant as safe because he claimed he was all right even after visiting the area. No wonder that any action were taken against him despite the fact that Centre for Science and Environment had found that the groundwater in the area near the plant contained almost forty times more pesticides than the normal standard.

Taking all the facts into account, Bhopal Gas Leak case was an open and shut case of criminal and corporate liability. A thorough enquiry and trial in the case could have paved the way for far stricter rules to insure industrial safety and corporate responsibility.

The Government of India is contemplating to enact a legislation named Civil Liability For Nuclear Damages Bill which caps the maximum liability to five billion Rupees in case of a nuclear accident, while providing complete immunity to a foreign nuclear reactor builder from any victim-initiated civil suit or a criminal proceedings both in an Indian court or in a court in its home country. Incidentally, the US with whom the Government of India is intending to sign the Bill is contemplating a criminal prosecution against British Petroleum, the petroleum major for causing the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The verdict proves, almost conclusively, that India is a failing, if not already failed state. That far from being the biggest democracy of the world, it, in fact, is nothing more than a banana republic. That it is a country where murderers of ordinary citizen, whether in Manipur or Madhya Pradesh, can go scot free.

It is a state that will protect the interests of the corporations at the cost of the common man it pledges allegiance to and that it will sell its dead real cheap, around USD 249 to be precise.

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.