New on my other blogs

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


27 September, 2011

Ayodhya: Partisan Historiography

Dalit writer Vidyabhushan Rawat () has produced a documentary titled “Ayodhya or Saket: The Politics of Ram Temple”. Reproduced below is a review of the documentary by Ram Puniyani, an indefatigable campaigner against communalism.

By Ram Puniyani

Ayodhya, Ram temple, dispute has been one of the major turning points in the recent times. It has changed the political dynamics of our country. The claim of Hindutva forces that there was a Ram Temple there, which was demolished by Mughal Emperor Babar to build a mosque has been refuted by many a scholars and film makers. Many a valuable documentaries have also weighed the claims of RSS family about the Ram Temple being there at the Babri mosque and that it was the birthplace of Ram. This film on the topic not only demolishes the claims of Ram Temple and birthplace of Ram but also brings to our attention, in a serious way, the claims of Buddhists that the whole of Ayodhya was the cenre of Buddhists and that many Buddha places were destroyed by king Pushyamitra Sunga and others who undertook to wipe away Buddhism form India.

The claim of Buddhists has not been taken seriously while the whole debate so far has been revolving around the Temple-Mosque alternatives. This film through series of interviews and research in the archeological terrain shows that it was primarily Saket, as mentioned by the travelers like Fa Hian and Huan Tsang. Even now most of the places are presented as Hindu temples, while their Buddhist lineage is clear from their architecture and history.

In addition the film also delves into the whole Ram Temple movement as an attempt by Hindu right to usurp the rights of dalits and enhance the hegemony of upper caste. The relationship between the implementation of Mandal Commission and the consequent Rath Yatra to demolish masjid by Lal Krishna Advani, backed up by different components of Sangh Parivar clearly shows the agenda of RSS, in diverting the national attention from the fall out of Mandal Commission, the empowerment of dalit OBC, by creating the mass hysteria around the issue of faith, around identity based politics of Advani and Company. The plight of dalits, their poverty, deprivation and humiliation is well brought out in this documentary. In a way the film not only brings forth the Saket-Buddhist aspect of Ayodhya but also clearly establishes the communal nature of the campaign around Ram Temple. This campaign on one hand has undermined the Buddhist history of Ayodhya and on the other it undermines the human rights of dalits and OBCs.

In a more profound way the film establishes the symbolism of demolishing Babri Masjid, not just being anti-Muslim, but also anti-Dalit. The viewer cannot miss out on the deeper connection of the superficial symbolism of Babri demolition and the deeper political agenda of abolishing the rights of minorities and dalits. The film maker could have also linked this up with choosing the 6th December, the day of Mahaparinirvan of Ambedkar, as the day for demolition. RSS which calls for Hindu Rashtra will not only be state where religious minorities will have second class status, but it will also subjugate the dalits (and women) to secondary place in the society.

The film is well made and is a must for all those struggling for rights of dalits and minorities.

26 September, 2011

People’s power vs Nuclear power

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Few in India had heard of Idinthakarai in the Thoothukudi district of Tamil Nadu until it hit the headlines a few days ago with about 20,000 people staging a peaceful protest there against the nuclear plant at nearby Koodankulam, which is awaiting commissioning.

At Idinthakarai (the name means broken bank or shore), people’s power was pitted not only against state power, as in Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption movement which had shaken the government earlier, but also against nuclear power..

The Koodankulam project grew out of an agreement Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had signed with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1988. The Soviet Union’s collapse and US opposition stalled work on it until 2001 when the Indian and Russian governments signed a fresh agreement to set up a nuclear power complex with a total capacity of 9,200MW at an estimated cost of $3.5 billion.

When plans to commission the first two units of the plant in December became known, there was a groundswell of protest, spearheaded by the People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), an umbrella organisation comprising village panchayats, churches, religious bodies, NGOs, academics and activists. As many as 127 villagers joined an indefinite fast that began on Sept.11.

The mass upsurge took the authorities by surprise. They had not realised that after the Fukushima disaster in Japan the people were quite receptive to activists’ arguments about the threat posed by nuclear projects.

Initially the state sought to contain the movement by resorting to preventive arrests. It pulled back when it found there were too many determined protesters. Since elected representatives of the region supported the protesters the government reworked its strategy. Chief Minister J Jayalalitha asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to allay the people’s fears before proceeding further.

Manmohan Singh sent a minister, V Narayanasamy, to talk to the protesters but they refused to hear him. Jayalalitha saved the situation by persuading the PMANE to suspend the agitation for three months to give the Centre time to address the people’s concerns.

Like Hazare’s agitation, the PMANE campaign was non-violent and ended without a final resolution of the basic issues. The settlement terms gave the authorities time to consider the issues, and the protesters were free to resume the agitation if their expectations were not fulfilled.

The Hazare movement has been discussed widely during the past month. While supporters have projected its outcome as a triumph of people’s power, critics have attributed its apparent success to the build-up of favourable middle class opinion by the national media, particularly the television channels.

There has been no detailed analysis of the Idinthakarai agitation which breached the banks of the channels through which power flows. The experience of the Hazare campaign appears to have influenced the approach of the authorities and the media to this agitation.

According to a study, the national television channels devoted 91.1% of prime time to Hazare while he was on fast. On some days they did not take up any other topic during prime time. Critics, however, contrasted their obsessive coverage of Hazare with their blackout of Irom Sharmila, who has been fasting for more than 10 years and is kept alive through forced feeding in a Manipur hospital. The channels sent camera teams to Idinthakarai within days of the start of the agitation and provided moderate coverage of developments there.

When Hazare was on fast, his team had resorted to full-scale mobilisation using all available resources. If he is forced to resume the agitation, he cannot hope to do better than last time. The PMANE, on the other hand, has the potential to mount a bigger campaign since its mobilisation this time was limited to the three southernmost districts of Tamil Nadu.

Having sunk billions of rupees in the Koodankulam project, the Indian government finds it difficult to accept the demand that it be scrapped. It seems to be working on a strategy to keep alive the nuclear programme, which envisages raising production from 5,000MW to 20,000MW by 2020, by offering to work for total elimination of nuclear power within 50 years.

At current costs, generation of additional 15,000MW of nuclear power will involve an investment of no less than Rs3,000 billion. It makes no sense to make an investment of that order on plants that are to be abandoned after three decades. It will be prudent to divert the money for development of alternative energy sources straightaway. -- Gulf Today, September 26, 2011.

19 September, 2011

Peaceful agitation against Koodankulam nuclear plant

Mass fast in protest against Koodankulam nuclear plant

A view of protesters gathered at the venue of the agitation

A peaceful agitation is going on at a village near Koodankulam where a nuclear power project is being builr. Several persons have been on fast for nine days.

When the Government of India drew up an ambitious nuclear power project Kerala’s politicians were inclined to agree to the setting up of a plant in the state. Environmental groups in the state vigorously opposed the proposal and the Government of India had the good sense not to pursue the idea. However, the two sites in the South that it chose for locating nuclear stations are both close to Kerala – Koodankulam in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu and Kaiga in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka.

The main argument advanced against the setting up of a nuclear project in Kerala was that an atomic plant should not be located in a heavily populated state. As it happens the Koodankulam and Kaiga plants are so close to Kerala’s border that in the event of an accident this state may suffer heavily.

India is the only country which has refused to reassess its nuclear power programme in the light of the Fukushima disaster.

Reproduced below is a report received from K. Sahadevan, an anti-nuclear campaigner who is at the venue of the agitation:

The hunger-strike at Idinthakarai, near Koodankulam, has entered the nith day but the state and central governments have turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the demands of the people. The condition of many of the hunger-strikers has deteriorate to an alarming level.

More than 15,000 people have been gathering every day for the past 8 days from 30 odd villages and towns around Koodankulam from three districts, viz. Kanyakumari, Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli. The protest has spread to many parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala with southern Tamil Nadu turning out to be the epicenter of protests. For the eighth day in succession, fishermen, farmers, manual laborers and merchants of the area did not go to work while students have boycotted educational institutions. Shops remain closed in many places around Idinthakarai.

The men and women who gather everyday to participate in the protest also fast throughout the day. People of Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths and of all major caste groups are involved in the hunger-strike and the relay fast by tens of thousands of people. Leaders of most of the major political parties have come and expressed their support to the protest and a few of them have also announced specific protest programmes.

The authorities have foisted false cases on 500 odd people and a few have been put in jail. A huge police battalion has been posted near Idinthakarai and neighboring villages. Road blocks have been created and public transport has been suspended by authorities who are preventing people from coming to the protest venue.

With the swiftly deteriorating health condition of the fasters and lack of any serious or official initiative on the part of the governments to talk, some people are losing their patience. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer has issued a call to the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister to intervene immediately and has also asked the movement to continue the protesters without putting the lives of the people in danger or resorting to violence. Medha Patkar is joining the protest today. The protest needs intervention from eminent and respected personalities like you and solidarity and support from groups across the country to force the governments to act and save the lives of fasters and to maintain a peaceful atmosphere.

On a fast track to power

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Parliamentary elections are not due in India until May 2014 but the race for the prime minister’s post is already on. Two prime ministerial aspirants belonging to the opposition — Bharatiya Janata Party, former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi — have started running, presumably envisaging the possibility of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government, battered by corruption charges, collapsing before its five-year term ends.

It is widely believed that former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s son, Rahul, who is a Member of Parliament and general secretary of the Congress, will be that party’s prime ministerial candidate. Given the Nehru-Gandhi family’s sway over the party, he is unlikely to encounter any opposition from within.

The BJP had headed the National Democratic Alliance government that ruled for six years. It sought a fresh mandate for Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2004 with the slogan “India Shining” but was turned down. After Vajpayee stepped down, the party made another bid for power in 2009 projecting Advani as its prime ministerial candidate. It was again turned down.

Lately the party has been preparing for life beyond Advani, who will be 84 in November. It picked Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, both in their late 50s, to lead the party in the two houses of Parliament and the Hindu rightwing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the fountainhead of its political ideology, pitchforked Nitin Gadkari, 54, into the party president’s chair.

A few days ago Advani announced he would go on a Rath Yatra (chariot ride) shortly to highlight the issue of corruption. Political observers viewed it as an indication that age has not withered his prime ministerial ambition.

Narendra Modi began a three-day fast “to promote communal harmony, peace and unity”on Saturday, his 61st birthday. Critics saw it as an attempt to live down the ignominy of having presided over the communal riots of 2002 and improve his image in preparation for a bid for the prime minister’s post.

Two senior police officers of Gujarat had stated that when riots broke out following the burning of a rail coach carrying RSS volunteers at Godhra station, which resulted in 59 deaths, Modi had asked the force to give Hindus time to vent their anger against Muslims. A special investigation team set up by the Supreme Court to look into the riot cases reportedly found no evidence to prosecute him but a court-appointed lawyer differed with it.

Last week the apex court left it to the trial court to examine the report and decide whether or not to register a case against Modi. He and the rest of the BJP leadership claimed this amounted to rejection of the allegations against him.

Both Advani and Modi are close to the RSS and if called upon to choose between them it may pick the younger one for the prime minister’s post. Advani was present when Modi began his fast and, in a speech that was high on rhetoric and low on fact, said, “All NDA ruled states are examples of good governance and Gujarat was showing the results of being a corruption-free state.”

Modi’s quest for a fast track to New Delhi comes in the wake of reports that US analysts believe there has been a precipitous decline in the Congress party’s fortunes following corruption scandals and the BJP may come to power with Modi as the prime minister.

In 2009, the Congress had emerged as the largest party in the 543-member Lok Sabha winning 206 seats with 28.55% of the votes polled. The BJP secured 116 seats with 18.80% of the votes. It is reasonable to assume that the Congress party’s fortunes have declined since then but there is nothing to indicate that the BJP’s support base has grown.

If the next election is fought on the issue of corruption, the BJP will be at as much disadvantage as the Congress. Modi had fought shy of appointing a Lokayukta to deal with corruption charges. Last month (Gujarat) Governor Kamla Beniwal made an appointment without waiting for advice from the Cabinet. Recently the party’s national leadership had replaced its Chief Ministers in Karnataka and Uttarakhand who faced serious allegations.

The lesson that the emergence of a civil society group headed by Anna Hazare as the central government’s chief adversary holds is that the people are disillusioned with the ruling dispensation as well as the opposition. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 19, 2011

16 September, 2011

Demoralized police force is a security threat, says AHRC

The recent bomb blast near the Delhi High Court has once again revived the debate regarding crime control and law and order in India. Acts of violence in all forms must be condemned. In that, the very reason why the ordinary people in India refuse to cooperate with their local police is due to the same nature of violence that has become synonymous with policing in India. Without drastic changes brought in, to 'humanize' the police, as required to meet the policing standards of a modern democracy, the security scenario in India would remain the same and probably go from bad to worse. The police without the cooperation of the local population could maintain neither law nor order.

It is indeed just not that the local police resort to violence always at their own volition. The police officers in India lack everything they require to discharge duty, according to the standards expected from a state agency working in a democratic framework. From recruitment to retirement the police in the country are expected to discharge duties for which they are thoroughly ill equipped. It is a sad daily reality that every average Indian might have witnessed on the country's streets had they observed the working conditions of a police officer.

In most cases the officers are expected to discharge a job that no one in the world could ever do. For instance, what could a police officer responsible for traffic control do if the roads are filled with persons driving vehicles who obtained their licences by merely paying bribes?; what could a traffic police officer do if the junction at which the officer is posted has no traffic lights and the road conditions are terrible due to corruption in road construction?; how can a police officer investigate a crime other than by torturing a suspect and obtaining a confession when the officer is not trained in scientific crime investigation?; what else could a police officer do other than demanding and accepting bribes when the officer is not provided a house in the city where the officer is posted and forced to rent a house that would almost cost half of the officer's salary?; how can police stations function when the telephones and vehicles at the station do not work?; what morality will such a force have when they are expected to protect political masters who enjoy fruits of corruption?

If anyone of the above conditions is true - in fact all of them are - every Indian police officer has a right to remain demoralized and be what she/he is today. Expecting them to be the guardians of the life and security of the people is the worst that an administration could demand and a population to expect.

When was the last time the working conditions - including recruitment, training and deployment - of the police officers in the country was made the subject of a serious debate in the country's legislative houses? Since independence, the country's government, state or central, have not spent enough time to improve the state of policing in India.

Police is probably one of the most important state agencies of the country that still do not have a sensible national policy for improvement. Indeed, policing is a state subject in India. This means it would require considerable effort by the Union Government to encourage the state governments to have a look at their police force to find means to realign it to fit the requirements of a democracy.

Of equal importance is the role of the Indian civil society, including the country's media, to keep a focus upon the conditions of the police and to hear their concerns. In that there is no sense for the civil society to push the government to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which the government for understandable reasons is delaying to undertake. The ratification of CAT without having a comprehensive national policing policy to improve the state of policing makes no sense. In fact in the neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, which have all ratified the CAT without a sensible policy to improve the state of policing in these jurisdictions are examples from which both the government, and the civil society in India can draw learning.

India today is facing serious threats to its internal security. A considerable proportion of it stems out from threats posed by armed militant, secessionist or terrorist groups. What these groups have is an ideology, destructive it may be, which probably draws unconditional cooperation from their cadres operating within and outside the country. Pitched in a battle with such a force are the unfortunate and thoroughly demoralised police in the country, which receives support neither from the government nor from the public. Expecting this force to meet the threat and to become the guarantee for the life and security of the people is like forcing the dragonfly to lift boulders.

12 September, 2011

Living with terror

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A global survey of terrorist threat in 2003, two years after the demolition of New York’s World Trade Center, placed India in the ninth position. Ahead of it were Colombia, Israel, Pakistan, the United States, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Iraq, in that order.

A recent study puts India at the very top, along with nine other countries, including Afghanistan and Indonesia. Pakistan, with 13 others, is one rung below. The United States is in the third rung, with a dozen others.

India’s current high rank is the result of a series of terrorist strikes that have taken a heavy toll, mainly in New Delhi and Mumbai. The most daring of them was the 2008 assault on selected targets in Mumbai by a sea-borne gang from Pakistan, which left 172 dead.

Actually India has been living with terror for long. Low-intensity terror has been part of the war disaffected tribesmen in the northeast have been waging against central authority since the colonial period. Left extremists working among tribesmen in several states, too, have been employing terror. Both these groups generally target security personnel.

High-intensity terrorism directed against civilians is a comparatively new phenomenon. More than 250 persons were killed in serial blasts in Mumbai on March 12, 1993. It was an act of reprisal for the demolition of the disputed 450-year-old Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh by Vishwa Hindu Parishad volunteers in the presence of top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party three months earlier. Over 200 persons died in another serial blast in that city five years ago.

Last week’s explosion near the Delhi high court, which resulted in 12 deaths, has set off a debate on the nature of the terror threat and the inability of the official machinery to deal with it effectively.

As sensation-mongering news channels built up the blast into a strike of WTC proportions, the government, embarrassed by a row of failures, went into defensive mode and the BJP, hoping to cash in on the ruling coalition’s discomfiture, launched an offensive.

The public’s disillusionment manifested itself in the heckling of Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi and media persons by grieving relatives of blast victims outside a hospital.

Critics often contrast the peace that has prevailed in the US after it set up a new inland security set-up following the WTC attack with the continuing terrorist strikes in India.

The BJP attributes the failure of the official machinery to the Congress-led government’s softness, dictated by electoral considerations.

It argues the government made a grave mistake in abandoning the tough Terrorism and Destructive Activities Prevention Act (TADA) and Prevention of Terrorist Act (POTA).

The argument is fallacious. The scourge of terrorism was there even when these two measures, dubbed “lawless laws” because of their total disregard for human rights, were in force.

Congressmen lose no opportunity to point out that the BJP was heading the government when Pakistan-based terrorists hijacked an Indian passenger aircraft in 1999 to force the release of their colleagues who were in jail.

A senior BJP minister had escorted the freed terrorists to Kandahar in Afghanistan to ensure the safe return of the passengers.

India operates in circumstances vastly different from those of the US. It has to contend with a neighbourhood that is unstable and harbours hostile elements. Terrorists targeting the country from outside can hope to muster some support from disaffected sections within.

The upsurge of communal sentiments complicates the situation. Some terrorist activities which were first attributed to Muslim groups were later found to be the work of a Hindu gang.

The public generally view Hindu extremism and Muslim extremism as sworn enemies but the fact is that each helps the other to grow.

The authorities are clueless about the perpetrators of several attacks. Clearly they face two major handicaps: absence of actionable intelligence required to prevent attacks and lack of reliable information needed to track down the culprits and bring them to book The remedy lies in strengthening people’s co-operation.

There has been speculation that the latest attack was the work of elements seeking the release of Afzal Guru, who is awaiting execution in connection with the 2001 attack on the Parliament House. His early execution will no doubt please the BJP which has been demanding it.

Ironically, it may not displease Muslim fundamentalists altogether since they will have gained a martyr. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 12, 2011

11 September, 2011

Afzal Guru condemns Delhi High Court blast

Afzal Guru, convicted and sentenced to death in the Parliament House attack case, has condemned the bomb blast at the Delhi High Court and deplored attempts to drag his name into the matter.

The following is the text of the statement:

Date. 8.9.2011

From Tihar jail No.3

It is a serious matter of concern that some criminal elements and anti-social persons committed that heinous and barbarous crime of bomb blast in Delhi High Court. It is a cowardly act and must be condemned by all. No religion permits killing of innocent persons.

I am disturbed that my name has been unnecessarily dragged in this connection. Some agencies/groups are playing dirty game by falsely involving my name. This is not for the first time that my name has been dragged by some mischievous persons /groups for such
heinous crimes. It has become a routine that whenever such blasts take place my
name is sought to be dragged in in order to de-characterize and malign me to cultivate public opinion against me.
I am sending this statement through Shri N.D.Pancholi, my advocate, and request the
press to publish this statement.

Sd/- Afzal Guru
s/o Habibullah
W. No. 8 (H.S.W.)
Jail No.3. Tihar.

Statement by Afzal Guru’s lawyer

The following is a communication from Mr Pancholi, forwarding Afzal Guru’s statement:

In my capacity of Mohammad Afzal Guru’s lawyer and as a member of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, I am enclosing the statement of Afzal Guru.

There is no doubt that the attack on the Parliament was to be condemned as totally unjustifiable on several basic grounds. But there were several questions about the way the entire investigation into the crime was carried out and how the accused were sought to be demonized via the electronic media even before the trial was started.

And once again within hours of the horrific bomb blast outside the Delhi High Court on 7th September,2011 in which so many lives were blown up, the name of Afzal Guru has been dragged in. The media, quoting an e mail whose veracity has not even been established, are broadcasting on prime time that the blast was motivated by a group supporting Afzal Guru.

The corporate media is not accountable to anyone, and there is no effective authority to monitor the functioning of the 24 hour TV channels and protect victims of violations of basic journalistic ethics. All the discussions on the talk shows are heavily loaded against anyone trying to put forward any view that the anchor does not support. Though electronic media talk loudly against corruption, yet it does not realize its own corruption of having power without any responsibility.

The media portrays anyone talking on behalf of Afzal Guru as anti-Indian as if
patriotism is the monopoly of the national security experts, anchors of the corporate media and the Hindu Right alone.

Our Save Afzal Guru Campaign brought into focus the following aspects of Indian democracy:

1. The corruption of the investigating agencies and the lack of professionalism in their work was exposed. The Investigating Officer in the Parliament attack case was many times decorated but later he was shot dead because of his involvement in shady real estate dealings involving crores of rupees. By hanging Afzal we will take away attention
from the corruption of the policemen of the Special cell.

2. The fact that the judiciary was more influenced by the media campaign rather than
constitutional and legal principles with the result that the Supreme Court upheld the death sentence only to “satisfy the national conscience of the country”. This is not a legal ground for sentencing anyone to death. By hanging Afzal it would mean Indian citizens can be hanged to satisfy Indian right-wing and corporate interests.

3. The chargesheet in the Parliament attack case accused three Pakistanies i.e. Maulana Masood Azhar, Ghazi Baba and Tariq Ahmed as masterminds of the attack. The said masterminds were not caught. Those who were involved in the actual killing were
dead. And so even if Afzal was a part of the conspiracy he could not be given a death sentence because he neither masterminded the attack nor participated in it. By hanging Afzal the responsibility of finding the real culprits and dealing with real causes of
terrorism would be put aside.

4. The human rights campaigners proved that two persons arrested were innocent. This included a pregnant Sikh woman who gave birth to her baby in the jail. Her life has been completely wrecked. We never saw her on the TV channels and the terrible tragedy of her life. It showed how dispensable some citizens are.

5. The people of Kashmir saw that there were people in Delhi and other parts of the country who genuinely showed solidarity with them and campaigned for justice in the
case. Hanging Afzal will breach such delicate bridges built between the people of Kashmir and the people in rest of India. .

6. Afzal Guru was never given a fair trial and he was not represented by any lawyer of his choice because lawyers were not willing to take up his case. Even the most important witnesses were not crossexamined. By hanging Afzal we will undermine the right to fair trial which is guaranteed to every person under the Indian Constitution.

The whole experience of the Parliament attack case exposed the weakness of our democratic institutions but it also showed that if a small group of committed activists and lawyers choose to fight for democratic space it was possible. If Afzal Guru is hanged that space would be jeopardized. The Hindu right-wing can celebrate with fireworks; the corporate media may get something dramatic to report on for a few days but Indian democracy would suffer a body blow. That is why Afzal Guru must not be hanged.

I enclose his statement for publication as requested by him so that people may hear the voice of a man who has been wronged.

10 September, 2011

Asian Alliance Against Torture and Ill-treatment

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Hong Kong, and the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT), Denmark have together launched a forum named the Asian Alliance Against Torture and Ill-Treatment (AAATI).

The decision to form AAATI was taken in August at a a five-day regional conclave in Hong Kong which was attended by 26 human rights defenders and organizations.
AAATI is a unique regional initiative. It is in fact the first group of its kind in Asia.

Torture in Asia is a problem of the poor. This is not to say that people from affluent classes do not also get tortured. Indeed, there are many of such social backgrounds subjected to torture in almost every country. However, it is still valid to say that torture is a poor person’s problem, because it is the poor that are subjected to torture on such a large scale in almost every less developed country. The reason is that torture and ill-treatment are forms of social control of the poor. Torture and ill-treatment are among the basic strategies used to prevent the poor from coming into common association to fight against the forces that keep them poor. This may be a reason as to why often the more affluent social classes in less developed countries show little interest in dealing with the problem of torture and ill-treatment in their societies.

Here is a video report on the launch of AAATI, filmed and edited by Sofie Rordam

07 September, 2011

AHRC condemns Delhi blast

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

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) condemns the irresponsible and criminal act of exploding a bomb near gate number five of the Delhi High Court. It is reported that the explosion occurred around 10.30 today morning. At least nine persons are feared to have lost their lives and an estimated 24 persons injured at the time of releasing this statement. The injured has been reportedly taken to nearby hospitals for medical treatment.

Given that the explosion has occurred near one of the crowded entrances of the High Court compound, it has to be assumed that the criminal intent of the entities behind the explosion is to strike fear at the heart of the country's justice institutions and to prevent the people from accessing it. That the incident has happened within the national capital, that too just outside the High Court, must not be reason for ill-founded and freewheeling speculations. The media reporting live from the scene of crime should express adequate caution, not to make speculative and emotion-driven assumptions and should operate professionally, respecting also the privacy of the unfortunate individuals injured in the incident.

In challenging times like this it would take extra efforts by the country's leadership and the administration to function in unison to fight the evil that has befallen upon this great nation. The AHRC is confident that the country's leadership and its administration are capable of working with the professionalism fitting a democracy. The AHRC is certain that the country's leadership and the political parties would ensure that the minorities in India would not be made to face antagonistic emotional outpours and misplaced nationalistic sentiments that may stem out of this event.

The AHRC wishes to express its deep condemnation against this cowardly and gruesome act and those who are responsible for it. The AHRC hope that the country will recover from the shock and joins the bereaved families who have lost their relatives today in the explosion. The AHRC wishes all those who are injured a fast recovery and calls upon Indians to cooperate with their government in the investigation of the case.

05 September, 2011

Ray of hope in death row

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With the rejection of some mercy petitions lying undecided in the Presidential mansion for years, India faces the prospect of a season of executions. This has led to renewed debate on the merits of capital punishment.

According to Amnesty International, which has been campaigning globally against capital punishment, 96 countries have either scrapped it or stopped resorting to it. Last year executions were reported only from 23 of the 58 countries which are holding on to capital punishment.

Among the countries which are keen to retain the death penalty are the United States, China, India and Pakistan. About 300 persons in India, 3,220 in the United States and more than 7,000 in Pakistan were reported to be under death sentence in 2009. According to Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney, 60 to 65 per cent of the death row prisoners in that country are innocent or victims of a faulty justice system.

The President of India has the power to grant a convict clemency, which can take the form of commutation of sentence or even pardon, after the judicial process is exhausted. The Supreme Court has held that the exercise of this power does not involve modification or supersession of the judicial verdict.

Under the established procedure, the convict or his relatives can file a mercy petition before the President. It is sent to the Home Ministry which conveys to the President the advice of the Council of Ministers.

Mercy petitions began piling up as the government took its own time to tender advice to the President or the President did not issue orders based on the Cabinet’s advice.

President KR Narayanan (1997-20020) did not clear any mercy petition. President APJ Abdul Kalam (2002-07) decided just two. He rejected the petition of Dhananjoy Chatterjee of Kolkata, who was convicted of raping and murdering a school girl, and commuted the death sentence on Kheraj Ram, a Rajasthani villager, who had killed his wife, two children and brother-in-law, to life term.

Pratibha Patil, who began her term as president with a backlog of mercy petitions, had to take up the pending cases as the Supreme Court, in a judgment in 2009, said the condemned prisoner and his suffering relatives had a right to demand early decision on their pleas. If a decision was not taken within a reasonable period, the death sentence should be commuted to life imprisonment, it added.

In July Devinderpal Singh Bhullat, who was convicted in a case of terrorism in Punjab filed a petition in the Supreme Court complaining there had been inordinate delay in the disposal of his mercy petition. Within days, the government advised the President to reject it.

At that time the president also had before her the Cabinet’s advice to reject the petitions of Afzal Guru, who was convicted in connection with the terrorist attack on the Parliament House in 2001 and of Perarivalan, Santhan and Murugan, who were convicted in connection with the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 on the orders of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief V Prabhakaran.

Last week the Madras High Court took up for consideration petitions filed by the Rajiv Gandhi case convicts asking that they be spared the gallows as they had spent many years under the shadow of death. This offers a slender ray of hope for 18 men who have already spent many years in prison waiting for the government and the President to take a decision on their fate.

Sectarian factors often cloud dispassionate consideration of the issue of death penalty.

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has criticised the Central government repeatedly for not hanging Afzal Guru. It has not evinced the same interest in the cases of others in the death row, some of whom got there earlier than him.

Human rights organisations sought to raise the death penalty issue when Dhananjoy Chatterjee was facing the gallows. Middle class groups in West Bengal, including affiliates of the Communist Party of India-Marxist, argued that a rapist deserved no mercy.

The Akali Dal-led government in Punjab has appealed for mercy for Bhullar. After the High Court admitted the petitions of the Rajiv Gandhi case convicts, the Tamil Nadu Assembly, taking note of the sympathy in the state for the Sri Lankan Tamils, passed a resolution seeking mercy for the LTTE men.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah raised the BJP’s hackles by tweeting what would be the response if the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly similarly sought mercy for Afzal Guru. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, September 5, 2011.