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A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


30 August, 2011

News channels' prime time coverage of Anna Hazare's fast: study report

Reproduced below is a report from CMS Media Lab on how much prime time selected English and Hindi news channels devoted to coverage of Anna Hazare’s Fast and how much rime was devoted to commercials:

Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption received blanket coverage on the prime time of television news channels, according to a study of CMS Media Lab.

To understand the coverage of Anna’s movement on television news channels, CMS Media Lab tracked and analyzed the prime time content (7PM to 11PM) of leading two Hindi (Star News & Aaj Tak) and two English (NDTV24x7 & CNN IBN) news channels from 16th to 28th August 2011.

News channels had a combined coverage of 8047 minutes (91.1%) of prime time news coverage on Anna Hazare’s movement. Hindi news channels devoted 10% more news time to Anna’s movement compared to English news channels. Hindi news channels devoted 97% of news time whereas English news channels devoted 87% of their prime time news space. During these 13 days, on nine days in the case of Hindi channels and four days in the case of English channels, other news was completely blacked out.

Interestingly, Television news channels covered Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008 with least advertisements. However, in Anna’s movement television news channels not only spiked in viewership but also a good share of commercial time during prime time. Approximately news channels devoted 27% of their prime time on advertisements. 23 to 31% of prime time of news channels – around a quarter in the case of English channels and one-third in the case of Hindi channels- were allotted for commercials.

On four days (24th to 27th) NDTV 24x7 fully filled up their prime time news time with Anna’s movement. CNN IBN also had four days (16th, 24th, 25th, and 27th) of 100% coverage on Anna. Star News and Aaj Tak blacked out all news other than “Anna’s revolution” for nine days.

Among news channels Star News devoted 97.8% of its news time followed by Aaj Tak with 94.6%. NDTV 24x7 and CNN IBN devoted 88.7 and 84.5% of news time respectively on Anna’s protest.

Note: CMS Media Lab analyses the content and market trends of news media

For more information contact
Abison Paul
CMS Media Lab
Saket Community Centre, New Delhi 110 017
M: 09911768356;

Source: CMS Media Lab

29 August, 2011

Rights bodies’ response to SHRC report on unmarked graves of Kashmir

The following is a joint statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission, International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered Kashmir and The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons:

We welcome the report of the State Human Rights Commission of Jammu and Kashmir (SHRC) on unmarked graves in the north of the Indian-administered Kashmir (dated July 2011 and recently released), taking suo moto cognizance of the matter, and appreciate the courage and labour that this work signifies.

SHRC's report acknowledges and corroborates the research documented in the report, BURIED EVIDENCE, released by the International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice (IPTK) in December 2009.

SHRC investigated unmarked graves in Bandipora, Baramulla, Kupwara, and Handwara districts across 38 graveyards and verified 2156 unidentified bodies in unidentified graves.

Based on investigative research conducted between November 2006-November 2009, BURIED EVIDENCE had documented 2,700 unknown, unmarked, and mass graves, containing 2943+ bodies, across 55 villages (in 62 sites within these villages) in Bandipora, Baramulla, and Kupwara districts of Kashmir. Of these, 2373 were unidentified and unnamed graves. See

To respond to the egregious violations of the past and secure justice requires that we acknowledge atrocities that have been committed and address their effects. In the matter of unknown, unmarked, and unidentified graves in Kashmir, we call for a three-tier process: Investigation, Prosecution, and Reparation.

Investigation and Prosecution: We request that SHRC extend its investigation to include each site documented by IPTK in north Kashmir, and beyond, to all twenty districts in Jammu and Kashmir. In particular, we ask that investigations take place in Anantnag, Budgam, Ganderbal, Kulgam, Pulwama, Shopian, and Srinagar districts in Kashmir province and in Doda, Poonch, Rajouri, and Reasi districts in Jammu province.

We ask that DNA-based profiles of those buried in the unmarked and unidentified graves be cross-tabulated with those that have been involuntarily disappeared in Kashmir. Further, in addition to the identification of the dead, we ask that comprehensive forensic examinations be conducted to determine the circumstances of death, including incidences of torture.

The Kashmir Police have stated that they have records of 464 unidentified graves. However, it appears that, even in these cases, the Kashmir Police have not maintained photographic, DNA, and other evidence. All unidentified graves that have been listed as holding the bodies of "foreign militants" must be investigated. The police have filed First Information Reports stating these persons as dead from encounter killings. However, these bodies have not been identified based on records or other verifiable evidence. Neither has conclusive evidence been offered to prove that the bodies are of Kashmir's disappeared.

SHRC has stated that 574 bodies have been identified as locals following their burial. However, the Kashmir Police and Indian Armed Forces had previously claimed these 574 bodies as those of "foreign militants." This indicts the government's negligence in identifying unclaimed bodies. Based on the above, the SHRC report evidences that there is every possibility that the 2156 unmarked graves hold the bodies of persons that were involuntarily disappeared. The cases of the 574 bodies also intimate that numerous persons have been killed in fake encounters and secretly buried in unmarked graves to conceal their identity. IPTK's 2009 report too had documented a list of 49 bodies, all designated by the state as "foreign militants," 47 of whom, on investigation, proved to have been killed in fake encounters, and none were identified as foreign insurgents.

If, in the course of future investigations, it is proven that disappeared persons were killed in fake encounters and buried in unmarked graves, exemplary punishments should be pronounced against those accused to deter future and repeated crimes of the same nature. In instances where non-local persons are killed in alleged "encounter" killings, relevant international human rights and humanitarian law must be applied in matters of redress.

SHRC has relied on statements from persons who, fearful of reprisal, wish for their testimonies to be placed on record anonymously. Given the nature of the issue, and the heightened risks involved in offering testimony, utmost care and caution should be exercised in securing witness protection, following international protocols and standards.

We ask that the matter of unknown, unmarked, and mass graves be subjected to a rigorous, independent, and impartial investigation. We ask that the story of these graves be investigated in their entirety: What are the particular legal and institutional histories of the graveyards? How did they come into existence? Per whose order? Did District Magistrates requisition the construction of graveyards, burials, and record keeping? Such historiography would permit holding actionable particular officers and offices that acted in violation of the law, with arrogance and indifference, and failed to follow the law in burying unidentified bodies. This would disaggregate the amorphous state and enable holding accountable particular institutions of state.

Reparation: The issue of unknown and unmarked graves involves the living as much as the dead. Reparation must both be individualized and collectivized, so that communities, neighbourhoods, and villages can heal and break their isolation. SHRC's either/or proposal of offering a relief of Rupees 700,000 to the next of kin or undertaking DNA testing-based investigation should be amended, and both the investigation and provision of relief be made mandatory. Monetary compensation to the next of kin should not be calculated as ex gratia relief, but should be particularized according to the individual circumstances of death, and the affect the death has had on the family, and relief should be calculated based on the complex task of quantifying loss of life and providing psychosocial and economic rehabilitation to family members.

We ask that all special laws and provisions of immunity that authorize the military and paramilitary forces to act with impunity in Kashmir be revoked unconditionally. We ask that the Government of India ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, to which it has been a signatory since February 2007, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which it has been a signatory since October 1997. We ask that the Government of Jammu and Kashmir institute a comprehensive ban on practises of torture as defined by international law and humanitarian ethics.

In Kashmir, between 1989-2011, the actions of the military and paramilitary have resulted in over 8,000 enforced disappearances and 70,000 deaths. We ask that human rights violations in Kashmir be recognized as resulting from, and concomitant to, the impunity of militarization and state violence, and the dangers militarism imposes on civil society. We caution that, without addressing these structural and prevalent conditions, justice and peace will remain elusive.

In calling for conflict resolution in South Asia's nuclear zone, we recognize the precarious cross-border conditions between India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and condemn the violent actions of misogynist state and non-state groups operating in the region.

The above statement is co-authored by (1) Dr. Angana Chatterji, Convener IPTK and Professor, Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies; (2) Advocate Parvez Imroz, Convener IPTK and Founder, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society; (3) Gautam Navlakha, Convener IPTK and Editorial Consultant, Economic and Political Weekly; (4) Zahir-Ud-Din, Convener IPTK and Vice-President, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society; (5) Advocate Mihir Desai, Legal Counsel IPTK and Lawyer, Mumbai High Court and Supreme Court of India; (6) Khurram Parvez, Liaison IPTK and Programme Coordinator, Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society and (7) he Executive Council, Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons

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

Scoring a half-victory

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

As Anna Hazare ended his 13-day fast in New Delhi on Sunday and his supporters, many of them urban youth not affiliated to established parties, vociferously celebrated their half-victory, the political class that wields power at the Centre and in the states was quietly savouring its half-victory.

Although the media hailed the outcome of the clash of wills between Team Anna and the Central government as a victory of people’s power the 74-year-old social activist from Maharashtra, who had staked his life for the second time in five months in a Gandhian campaign, modestly described Parliament’s purported acceptance of his framework for a tough anti-corruption law as a half-victory.

The Congress, which heads the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre, said it was a “win-win situation” for all stakeholders.

The formula which ended the confrontation was thrashed out by Congress leaders in a series of discussions held with members of Team Anna and leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition.

The fast Hazare undertook in April demanding a strong anti-corruption law was directed against Executive. When he broke the fast, Baba Ramdev, a yogi, tried to continue the agitation. The government sent the police to arrest and bundle him out of the capital. On Hazare’s return to fast again, it decided to handle the Gandhian in the same way as it had dealt with the yogi. It was a costly mistake.

Team Anna activated the support base that it had built up among the urban youth during the first fast using social networks like Twitter and Facebook. It also launched an SMS campaign. A huge crowd gathered outside the Tihar jail in support of Hazare who began fast in custody, ahead of schedule. Live television coverage boosted the team’s efforts and there were solidarity demonstrations and sympathetic fasts in several cities.

The authorities quickly released Hazare but he did not leave the prison until they granted permission to fast at the Ramlila grounds for two weeks. It was a compromise reached after negotiations. The government had asked him to limit the fast to a three-day period.

The second fast began after Parliament had taken up for consideration a government bill to establish the long-discussed anti-corruption machinery, named Lokpal. Hazare asked the government to withdraw its bill, which was before Parliament’s standing committee, and place before it the Jan Lokpal Bill he and his friends had drafted. It was a demand the government could not accept without loss of face.

Since Parliament was seized of the matter, the agitation should have assumed the character of a confrontation with that body. But the executive remained Team Anna’s main adversary as the opposition joined it in directing all ire at the government and the Congress party.

To begin with, the Congress picked its best legal brains to negotiate with Team Anna. They failed to recognise that the movement and its demands were essentially political and that public opinion was generally in agreement with Hazare’s stand that the government bill is weak.

As the legal experts failed to deliver the Congress brought in experienced political hands. They reached across to the parliamentary opposition and to Team Anna and brought about the happy win-win end.

On Saturday the two houses of Parliament discussed the Lokpal issue in terms of the compromise formula and adopted by acclaim a sense-of-the-house statement which conveyed agreement in principle with three points on which Hazare had sought assurances. This will now go to the standing committee which will look at draft prepared by various civil society groups besides the government bill.

Credit is due to the government, the BJP and Team Anna for resolving the conflict without damage to the constitutional provisions. However, there will be a lot of arguments in the coming days over the nature of the commitment Parliament has made.

Anna Hazare declared after breaking the fast that he would not rest until all the changes he was looking for were achieved. This leaves open the possibility of his returning to haunt the political class. He also indicated that he would now take up the issue of electoral reform, which, like the Lokpal legislation, has been talked about for decades with little action.

It may not be necessary for India’s political class to worry about a Twitter-driven revolution but it certainly will face new challenges if it does not refine its ability to feel the pulse of the people and fulfil their aspirations.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, August 29, 2011

26 August, 2011

Reforms: Proof of the pudding is in the eating

Watching Kiran Bedi’s performance in front of the crowd at Ramlila Maidan, venue of Anna Hazare’s fast, this evening on television, I wondered whether we had not lost the best artiste of our time when she opted for the police force instead of the theatre.

She, of course, won acclaim in her chosen field. Her personal website presents her as “First and Highest ranking Indian Woman, Internationally Recognized, of the Indian Police Service”

She was Inspector General of Prisons, Tihar Jail, for two years from 1993 to 1995 and is credited with having converted the high security prison, with over 9,700 inmates, into a Reformatory. It was, says the website, “a transformation of a magnitude unparalleled in the history of Prison Administration anywhere in the world”.

Her fame as a reformer spread around the world so fast that in 1994, while she was still at Tihar, the US-funded Ramon Magsaysay Foundation picked her for its prestigious award, which is sometimes referred to as the Asian Nobel.

In a short note reproduced at the website, Sarita Chauhan quotes Bedi as saying, “I was there to correct not accuse. The magnitude of the problem was enormous. It took me months. Institutions take their time to reveal despite individual impatience”.

Apparently, Bedi, who left the IPS in 2007, has already forgotten the lesson she learnt at Tihar that institutions take their time. She was heard asking Parliament to accept Anna’s demands today itself, if necessary by sitting at night, as it has done on some occasions in the past.

How effective was the Tihar reform which won Kiran Bedi accolades and awards? In July 1995, barely two months after she moved out of there, Rajan Pillai, a prominent Indian businessman with international links, died following ill-treatment while in judicial custody there.

Kerala-born Rajan Pillai, widely known as Biscuit King as he controlled snacks major Britannia Industries from his base in Singapore, was arrested in Delhi in connection with an extradition case. There were reports at the time that he did not receive timely medical attention as he did not meet the demands of corrupt jail officials.

In May this year, the Delhi High Court ruled that Rajan Pillai had died because of lack of medical care and awarded a "token" compensation of Rs 1 million to his wife, Nina, who had been fighting for justice for her late husband for 16 years.

Justice S. Muralidhar, in his order, held the state liable for the lapses at Tihar which had led to Rajan Pillai’s death. He asked the Tihar authorities to take corrective measures to improve the minimum standard of treatment and care for its inmates. He said Pillai's death could have been avoided if the board of visitors (experts) of the jail had conducted frequent checks.

The judge directed Tihar jail to purchase an ambulance comparable with the best available in the country and to build a team of dedicated medical personnel and trained staff within a period of three months.

In an affidavit filed in the court during the proceedings, the Tihar authorities had acknowledged that 32 of 110 sanctioned posts of medical personnel were lying vacant.

Apparently Kiran Bedi who introduced Art of Living courses in the jail had neglected the science of living.

Anna Hazare, who, like Kiran Bedi, is a Magsaysay Award winner, may well earn the Nobel Prize this year for shaking up the Indian polity through a peaceful movement.

Let us hope what the movement yields is not half-baked reform of the kind Kiran Bedi carried out in Tihar. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

22 August, 2011

Corruption: AHRC points to foundational weakness of Indian state

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

Given the primacy of combating corruption to breathe life into the concept of democracy, the anti-corruption movement in India is indeed the country's second movement for freedom. Given the magnitude of the problem, the complex and interlinked inroads corruption has made into all aspects of life in the country, it is not mere lack of interest, political differences and sheer snobbishness of the country's political elite that has united them in opposing more sober proposals, sans 'camps', suggested by the civil society as opposed to the nonsensical draft law proposed by the government. The fact that not a single political party of the world's largest multi-party democracy has supported the civil society initiative against corruption illuminates the lack of morale of at least one of the country's democratic institutions.

The unwelcome reality for the political parties in the country that do not have what they believe in as their 'manifest destiny' to decide everything in India and for Indians, understandably will be bitter, but a refining pill for the country's politicians to swallow. In that, India is also witnessing the defining moment and thus the process of maturing of its democratic framework. Dislike by most parliamentarians about the fact that the parliament they are seated in does not have a writ beyond the collective wisdom of the people who sent their representatives to the legislative house is understandable. Nor can they act according to the will of the people, since should there be a strict anti-corruption framework in the country, a substantial number of the country's parliamentarians would find their abode being shifted from their palatial houses within their fiefdoms into the narrow rooms within prisons. Disgust upon the public appeal for a 'biting' law against corruption by the country's political elite is thus understandable, but they have no other choice.

The civil society's model anti-corruption laws, or the one proposed by the government are indeed not the best legislations out there. Both versions of the future law have scope for improvement, in particular, the one drafted by the government, the weakest and the most recent visible specimen of the disrespectful attempt against the constitutional writ that the government is mandated to protect. However good the legislation is, without a proper implementing framework the law cannot deliver its legislative writ.

Kallipolis will not follow once the law is in place, no matter how well meaning it is. If not at any other time in the past, it is now a moment in the country's history that the members of the India's civil society must put their differences behind and speak in one voice, against corruption and not to make use the public space they enjoy to pass comments about how bad is one form of campaign from the other or how good is a particular proposal as against the others. Comments by some of the leading civil society activists reported through the media paints a disappointing picture of the lack of thematic consensus and confirms the worrying public perception that the human rights movement in India is divided between different camps, some of them formed on the basis of who have received what decoration and who aims for what more in the form of recognitions. In that some of the civil society leaders in the country are not immune to intellectual corruption. The last thing the country can afford now is a 'blue ribbon jury' within the civil society.

There are relatively successful models of anti-corruption frameworks in the world, within Asia itself. The system that is in place, for instance in Hong Kong, is of relatively high efficiency. That a unique territory like Hong Kong is not a true democracy underscores the fact that a parliamentary form of democracy is not required to contain corruption. That there is parliamentary primacy over the acts of the government is more the better though. The Hong Kong model of corruption prevention takes within its sweep non-government entities, including human rights groups and business establishments. The United Nations Convention Against Corruption, AHRC provides a comprehensive theoretical and practical framework against corruption, a model that must be studied by anyone who is serious of fighting corruption. Unlike all other international conventions the UN has produced, the Convention against Corruption provides an extensive implementation framework.

Equally important is the government's effort to maximise wider consultancy in the process. Engaging in consultations with a single individual is not what is warranted under the circumstances. A consultative process is not the government's prerogative to offer, but a citizen's right to be fulfilled.

For now the government and the non-government groups have had their chances to take their shots at the target. The question then is what next?

Assuming that eventually there would be a law in India against corruption, probably the best of its kind in the world, without drastic reforms of the justice institutions it would be like owning a radio without means to electricity. Of the manifold problems that India face today, arguably, corruption would be one in the 'top-ten' list. Of equal importance is the non-functioning justice apparatus. However, the country's civil society is yet to wake up to this reality or is pretending to sleep over this issue.

The potent evil in India is not the façade made up of some of the reckless and globalised business interests, but the foundational weakness of a state, that still lacks the understanding of and refuses to accept that its justice regime has stopped growing and has instead started putrefying. Without incorporating debates concerning the urgent requirement for a complete overhaul of India's justice framework, corruption will continue to flourish in India, no matter what law is eventually legislated.
Cartoon provided by Mr. Satish Acharya. The cartoonist's page could be viewed at

Waiting for the Mahatma

Anna Hazare under the Gandhi portrait at Ramlila Maidan

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The way the Americans glamourise the president to satisfy a subliminal craving for monarchy is well-known. As a commentator observed recently, “The First Family is treated like elected royalty.”

Such tendencies are noticeable also in parts of India where memories of princely rule are still alive, but Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was shot dead by a Hindu fanatic less than six months after he had led the country to freedom, evokes more political nostalgia than anyone else.

Gandhi had received a hero’s welcome when he returned home in 1915 after providing inspiring leadership to Indian immigrants in South Africa in their struggle for a fair deal. His work there was already known to many in the cities through the press. Hailed as a Mahatma (Great Soul), he soon took control of the Indian National Congress and turned that body of the small English educated community into a mass organisation and the main vehicle of the freedom movement.

He became a role model for Congress leaders in the provinces and several Gandhis arose in the provinces. The best known of them was Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan of the North-West Frontier Province (now part of Pakistan) who was affectionately called Frontier Gandhi.

Jawaharlal Nehru, whom the Mahatma had anointed as his political heir and became the first prime minister, was not a leader in the Gandhi mould. The fortuitous circumstance of Nehru’s daughter, Indira, marrying a Gandhi who was no relative of the Mahatma, led to the Nehru family spawning a Gandhi dynasty but it did not produce another Mahatma.

Nelson Mandela in Africa and Martin Luther King Jr in America invoked the Gandhi magic in their heroic struggles with telling effect. However, Gandhi did not reincarnate in his homeland.

Nearly 30 years after the Mahatma’s assassination, a new generation yearning for a Gandhi was fulfilled partially when Jayaprakash Narayan, hero of the Quit India agitation of 1942, the last major campaign of the freedom struggle, re-emerged on the political scene to lead the popular movements against corruption that had erupted separately in Bihar and Gujarat. Indira Gandhi threw him in jail.

After the people voted out her Emergency regime, he helped the opposition parties which came together in the Janata Party to provide a non-Congress government for the first time.

Last week as Anna Hazare, who emerged from comparative obscurity to head the current national campaign against growing corruption, took on the might of the state, yet another generation appeared to have found its own Gandhi.

The events that followed Hazare’s arrest in New Delhi ahead of an announced indefinite fast to force the Centre to accept an anti-corruption bill he had drafted were reminiscent of the Mahatma’s first agitation in India. He was on his way to Champaran in Bihar to study the problems of indigo growers, when he was served with a magistrate’s order prohibiting him from entering the district. He defied the order and was arrested. A large crowd of slogan-shouting villagers gathered outside the court where he was taken for trial. Frightened by the mass upsurge, the authorities freed him.

However, Hazare’s subsequent conduct was un-Gandhi-like. Before leaving the prison, where he spent three days making those who had jailed him look like an inept lot, he agreed to limit his fast to 15 days and move to hospital if his health deteriorated. On reaching the Ramlila grounds, where the government allowed him to fast, he said he would not leave until the government conceded his demand.

A former army truck driver, Hazare, who is 74, earned his Gandhian credentials through decades of constructive work in villages in his state of Maharashtra. He reinforced his Gandhian image with two nationally televised visits to Rajghat, the Mahatma’s last resting place, one before the arrest and other before settling down beneath a large Gandhi portrait at the venue of the fast.

Critics are talking of the new Gandhi as a media creation. They contrast the attention the electronic media has showered on him with its neglect of Irom Sharmila of Manipur. She has been fasting for more than 10 years demanding withdrawal of a resurrected colonial law that gives the armed forces impunity and is kept alive by forced nasal feeding under police custody in a hospital.

Hazare’s credentials have only limited relevance now. He has succeeded in bringing the issue of corruption to the top of the national agenda. His demand that the government withdraw its anti-corruption bill and accept makes nonsense of constitutional practice. But the government is in a highly vulnerable position as it stands thoroughly discredited as a result of its failure to act against any tainted politician. --Gulf Today, August 22, 2011.

16 August, 2011

Counting blessings at 64

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

As India enters the 65th year of Independence, it is grappling with some serious problems that have been dogging it since long. However, it has several blessings to count. The country’s pace of growth in the era of globalisation has been second only to that of China, which embarked upon the path of liberalisation 13 years earlier than India and is now believed to be the world’s second largest economy.

Industrialisation was high on the agenda of successive Indian governments. Latest statistical data indicate that the country has entered the post-industrial phase with the service sector contributing 55.3 per cent of the gross domestic product last year as against the industrial sector’s share of 28.6 per cent and the agriculture sector’s 16.1 per cent.

Per capita income has recorded a phenomenal increase — from Rs1,126.9 in 1950-51 to Rs54,227 in 2010-11. The flip side of the economic story is that about 40 per cent of Indians are below the poverty line.

At the time of Independence, agriculture contributed more than 55 per cent of the GDP. While the rise in agricultural production made possible by the Green Revolution put an end to the chronic shortage of grains a large section of the population lacks access to food.

This fact points to skewed development. The cases of farmers’ suicide reported from different parts of the country even as the economy booms testifies to the growth of inequalities despite efforts by Central and state governments to provide relief to the affected sections.

At the moment, the country’s main worry is high inflation, estimated last year at 8.72 per cent. Official measures to curb the money in circulation have pushed up interest rates to levels that could slow down the economy.

The Constitution, which came into force in the third year of Independence, gives primacy to “justice — social, economic and political.” The test of the nation’s success, therefore, lies not in the GDP figures but in the extent to which it has progressed towards the proclaimed goal.

India takes legitimate pride in that, unless China, it has achieved economic progress under a democratic political system. Unlike other democratic societies, it is highly heterogeneous and has been the scene of contention between sectarian forces in all its history.

The banning of “Aarakshan,” a Hindi movie dealing with the contentious issue of reservation in schools and in government service, by three states following scattered protests is a reminder that the problem of social inequality is still alive. The caste census now under way may provide a clear picture of the current status of the various communities and help reorganise the reservation system on a realistic basis.

In one sense, the terror problem the country faces is a mutated form of communal animosities in the subcontinent which intensified under Britain’s ‘divide and rule’ policy. The National Investigation Agency, set up specifically to deal with terrorism cases, registered its first success with a court handing down multiple life terms for two accused last week.

The internal dimension of India’s terror problem is no less important than the external one. When Mumbai, which has borne the brunt of terrorism in the country came under attack again this year, official agencies attributed it to local elements aligned with foreign groups. However, they have not been able to produce any credible evidence so far.

The enforcement of resurrected colonial laws which gives impunity to armed forces units posted in some border states and the fake encounters reported from different parts of the country from time to time reveal that the democratic system remains highly deficient. A few days ago a Supreme Court bench observed that those responsible for fake encounters must be given the death penalty. It is a welcome if belated acknowledgement by the apex court that custodial killing is cold-blooded murder which deserves no mercy.

The judiciary has earned much praise for its contribution to the deepening of democracy by ensuring that the basic freedoms are available to all citizens. However, the high cost of the judicial process severely limits the poor’s access to it.

A glaring weakness of the constitutional system has been its inability to deal effectively with corruption at the higher levels in all limbs of the state. On Tuesday Anna Hazare, social activist from Maharashtra, who has been leading a national campaign for a tough anti-corruption law, will go on a fast to force the government’s hands in this regard. The outcome of this campaign may determine the course of Indian democracy at least in the short run.

15 August, 2011

In the absence of justice independence is a myth, says AHRC

The following is a statement issued by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the occasion of India's Independence Day:

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) congratulates Indians on their 65th Independence Day. The world's largest democracy, has come a long way from what it was in 1947 - an impoverished and underdeveloped nation - to become the third largest economy in the world in terms of purchase power parity. While in the immediate neighbourhood and for the most of Asia, democracy could only make cameo appearances, India maintained its democratic framework of administration, and is pushing forward, trying to bring wide-ranging changes in its administration, which has the potential to enable Indians to realise more of the democratic dream the founding fathers of the country promised to the people on 15 August 1947.

Yet, it is a cruel paradox that this great march forward has not benefited the majority of Indians, an issue that has the potential, if it is not addressed properly, to challenge the very existence of the country and its democratic roots. In that, 65 years of independence has brought not many substantial differences to many Indians in their daily realties in life, particularly concerning the notion of justice, other than for a ritualistic change of guards in New Delhi and at the state capitals.

What Indians achieved 65 years ago is not just an end to the colonial rule. 15 August 1947 was the defining moment of the power of non-violence. Yet violence has remained the primordial nature of authority in India, sanctioned by statute, as it is in the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958 or time an again put to use through the daily and manifold forms of torture perpetrated by the police and other law enforcement agencies in India, against which there is still no law in the country or any functioning accountability framework.

Freedom is meaningless in the absence of the right to be informed. Not merely through the avenues opened up by the Right to Information Act, 2005, a watershed legislation concerning freedom of information in India. Freedom to be informed also means proper investigation of crimes, irrespective of the accused person's political and economic influence. This freedom implies the right against extrajudicial execution and encounter killings; the right against disappearance and arbitrary and incommunicado detentions and the right and avenues to seek remedies against injustices.

Freedom and rights have a universal language, translated into exercisable and accessible realities by everyone. This however cannot be achieved without properly functioning justice institutions. Today, one of the most neglected and thus the least developed area in India is its justice framework. Having a few cases decided, thereby setting standards for international and domestic human rights norms need not imply that the jurisprudence laid down is translated into quantifiable and thus realisable rights to the people. Should that be the case, right to housing and freedom from forced and unjustifiable eviction would have been a reality to most of Indians since the Olga Tellis case. The reality of forced eviction, without at least just and acceptable compensations, and artificially created depletion of livelihood options to thousands of families living in states like Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh should not have happened in India. After the Prakash Singh case, unwarranted political interference in policing should have stopped. Since the D. K. Basu case, custodial violence should have been reduced to a bare minimum in India. The fact that it is not the case is amble proof to the reality that mere judgments need not bring in change. In that the social engineer's role of a court can be very much limited to reported cases, worthy of being footnoted later, than of any meaning should the country does not consider improving its justice framework as a priority issue to be addressed.

Freedom without justice lacks substance. What India, and through the Indian freedom movement, the sub-region has achieved 65 years ago, is just not the freedom to decide ones own destiny. It is much more than the mere liberty to remain free. The concept of freedom has engraved in it the notion of justice. Yet it is this very notion that India is yet to indentify and make it a reality for its citizens. What was achieved 65 years ago was not a ritualistic change of flags at the Red Fort. It was the freedom to cast the destiny of a state, that of its citizens and of its future generations.

Without justice, freedom and the celebration of Independence Day would remain mere rituals.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.