New on my other blogs

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


30 January, 2012

Unique identity number game

BRP Bhaskar

The Indian government has decided to expand the scope of its ambitious programme to give each citizen a unique identity number, ignoring concerns voiced by civil society groups who fear misuse of the data gathered by the authorities.

The 12-digit number is generated using a code, named Aadhar, and the individual’s identity is established by a combination of biometric data such as fingerprint and retina scan. The person will be given a letter with the number on it. Verification of identity will be done online.

So far more than 120 million people have been given UID numbers under the programme launched in 2010. By March end, 200 million are expected to be covered.

The programme is being implemented by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDIA), headed by Nandan Nilekani, one of the founders of the IT services major Infosys.

At a high level meeting, the government last week sorted out the differences between UIDIA and the Home Ministry which had cast a shadow over the programme.

The Home Ministry had felt that UIDIA was covering the same ground as the Census department which was preparing the National Population Register.

Under the formula agreed upon at the high level meeting, UIDIA will gather data in respect of 600 million people. To avoid duplication, UIDIA and the Census department will share the biometric data they collect.

As happens so often with government schemes in the country, the UID project is fast outstripping the cost estimates. Expenses for five years, originally estimated at Rs 32 billion, are now set to exceed Rs 88 billion. Officials are, however, unperturbed. They assert that the programme will yield substantial savings to the government by plugging the loopholes in the delivery of various services.

The government spends about Rs 3,000 billion a year on food and other subsidies and payment of wages under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. A big chunk of the money goes into the pockets of middlemen. Once the beneficiaries of the schemes get UID numbers, all payments will be made directly to them, eliminating the middlemen.

A pilot project for direct distribution of NREG wages through an Aadhar enabled payment system has already been introduced in some parts of Jharkhand state.

While UID does not provide for profiling, critics say it will be possible for the authorities to create profiles by accessing the information stored at different locations. They argue that even if there is no invasion of privacy the project is unacceptable as it vests the state with awesome power over the citizens. They believe the UID project is a national security programme camouflaged as one meant for efficient delivery of service.

The government is proceeding with the UID programme without a legal framework. The National Identification Authority of India Bill it brought forward in 2010 was rejected by Parliament’s Standing Committee, which found it defective. The committee asked the government to come up with a new draft after reviewing the working of the Aadhar project but this has not been done.

Supporters of the project allege that politicians ganged up against the measure as it will minimise their role in the distribution of benefits under various government schemes.

In the absence of statutory backing, UIDIA is going ahead with the number game on the strength of an executive order issued by the Planning Ministry.

The law which governs the decennial census operations enjoins upon the state to protect the privacy of the people. It is, therefore, not possible to use census data for other purposes. To overcome this limitation, the government assumed the power to gather information for preparing a population register by getting Parliament to amend the Citizenship Act.

The National Population Register is an expanded version of a scheme prepared by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government, which was in power from 1998 to 2004, to issue multipurpose national identity cards to residents of border areas with a view to checking infiltration.

UID numbers are allotted on the basis of information provided by applicants at designated data collection centres.

Doubts raised by critics about the reliability of the data gathered in this manner remain uncleared. A sting operation conducted by a Hindi television channel showed that it is easy to establish false identities as there is no mechanism for proper verification of information provided by the applicants. - Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 30, 2012

27 January, 2012

Persons under Kerala police surveillance demand apology from government

Eighty-three of the 268 persons and institutions who were placed under surveillance by the Kerala police for alleged connections with the banned Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) have in an open letter expressed shock at the intrusion into their privacy and demanded an apology from the government..

The following is the text of the open letter:

We, the following citizens of India are shocked to understand our e-mail IDs have been included in an official letter (dated November 3, 2011), sent by the Special Branch Superintendent of Police, K..K. Jaya Mohan, on behalf of the Additional Director General of Police, A. Hemacahndran, to the Assistant Commander of High -tech Crime Enquiry Cell. The letter says `Please find enclosed a copy of the e-mail IDs of individuals who have connection with SIMI activities. You are directed to identify the individuals behind the e-mail IDs contained in the list by verifying the registration and log in details with concerned email Service providers and forward the names and addresses of the individuals who own the email IDs, and furnish the report to this office urgently.'

We also came to know from the various newspapers that the authorities have demanded the service providers of these IDs to provide the login details of the IDs which we have been using. We express our deep horror and dissent to note that the State Government is keeping a sceptical eye on us.

The Government elected by people like us has a duty to protect the privacy of the citizens of this country. We are shocked to see that the same Government is in reality infringing upon our privacy through such a move. We consider this as an open violation of one of our basic human rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
This official action violates a number of basic rights of the citizens guaranteed under Part III of the Constitution of India including Articles 14, 15, 17, 19 and 21 viz., the Rights to equality, dignity, privacy, expression and the right not to be discriminated against.

The Chief Minister of Kerala has openly admitted that the SIMI connection in the above letter issued by K.K. Jaya Mohan, was a `mistake'. However, no action on this police officer has yet been taken. We demand immediate action against the police officials involved in this encroachment on the privacy of citizens.

This unfortunate incident has affected many of our lives in many ways for being targeted by the Government. We are not yet ready to reshape our own lives for such surveillance by the police for leading `suspicious' identities. We are also threatened in our day-to-day social, cultural and economic spaces for being included in the `watch list' of the intelligence department. We demand an open apology from the Chief Minister of Kerala and the Police Department for having played with the lives of innocent citizens. We request the media, social activist organizations and human rights groups to create adequate pressure on the Government for a just intervention in this matter.

1. Adv. Shanavas (Activist)
2. V.M.Ebrahim (Journalist)
3. C.Dawood. (Columnist)
4. N.P.Jishar (Journalist)
5. Fasal Kathikod (Writer)
6. S.Kamarudheen (Academician)
6. A.Sakker Hussain (Journalist)
8. Riyas .P.A. (Marketing executive)
9. Navas.K.A (Activist)
10. Abdul Rasheed kadampott (Retd Teacher)
11. Solidarity Youth Movement, Kerala
12. Minority Watch (Human Rights organization)
13. ISA KERALAM (Student organization)
14. Prabhodhanam Weekly
15. MIT.Hospital Kodungallor
16. Cresecnt Hospital, Aalathoor
17. Camal bags (Small scale industry)
18. Cochin Orchids. ( Designing Centre)
19. Classy digital ( Designing Centre)
20. Badaru (P.K.Seal) (Business)
21. K.M.Muhammed Mukthar
22. Sajeer
23. Haris.K.K. (Abroad)
24. Shabeer (Abroad)
25. Sameer (Abroad)
26. Jalauddin Pullisseeri (Abroad)
27. Shakeer Kathiyalam (Activist)
28. Aliyar .K.M. (Abroad)
29. Althaf.M.S.
30. Haris Eriyad
31. Fasalurahman Melattur (Abroad)
32. Fayiz Cmr (Abroad)
33. Fazil Fareed
34. Hanif K.T.
35. Ahammad Salih Anwar
36. Mahion Abdul Rahman (Graphic Designer)
37. Majeed. M.T. (Business)
38. Rasheed.N.M. (Activist)
39. Kayyoom Kolliyil
40. Mukthar K.M. (Abroad)
41. Noor.K.V.MElattoor (Volunteer, Pain & Palliative)
42. Roshan F.S (Student)
43. Shafeeq Chennara (Abroad)
44. Abdul Khadar Kodinji (Abroad)
45. Abboobakkar Vadakkangara (Academic Scholar)
46. Anvar Vadakkangara (Abroad)
47. Atheeq Rahman (Abroad)
48. Iktiyar Pang (Abroad)
49. C.S. Ibrahim Kutty ( Retired Teacher)
50. Abdul Salam.N.M. (Abroad)
51. Noufal Velam (Activist)
52. Am Nadwi
53. HAseena Sajid
54. Firoz Thirurkad
55. Hakeem (Business)
56. FAissal Mimmi
57. Dhabin 2008
58. Cmarti2
59. Aachies (Business)
60. Nisam
61. Abdul Rasheed Kadambot
62. Sajid Rahman
63. Shabeer Kareem (Abroad)
64. Sabu Bin Habeeb (Abroad)
65. Haris (Abroad)
66. Rashid. (Abroad)
67. Riyas Kodungalloor
68. Riyas Kodungalor
69. Niyas
70. Muhammed Seethi
71. Muhammed rasheed (Abroad)
72. Humayun Kabeer (Abroad)
73. Fasalurahman
74. Aliyar KM (Abroad)
75. Mujeebulla k.v.
76. TC Mahboob ( Teacher)
77. Mohammed Ishaque Madari (Abroad)
78. Moidu Chalikkal (Abroad)
79. Abdul Ahad
80. Ali Modern
81. Haris Kannipoyil
82. Mohammed Rafeeque Thangal
83. P.A Mohammed

26 January, 2012

Injustice remains an impediment to the Indian republic, says AHRC

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

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) congratulates India on its 63rd Republic Day. From a nation that suffered the brutal consequences of colonisation and the lasting wounds of separation, for the past 63 years, the country and its people have brilliantly shown the resilience to hold close to heart the promise they made more than six decades ago, to remain a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic. The Indian experience of democracy is of immense value in Asia, since for the most of the continent; the concept has only made cameo appearances.

Despite this, the concept of democracy and republic is incomplete, as reiterated in the Constitution, unless justice, liberty and equality are ensured to the people, without exceptions. The integrity of the nation and the dignity of its people depend on this. It is in that the country has to shed its colonial hangovers, and if required reinvent itself, as a nation where these fundamental notions implied in the term 'democratic republic' remain not just as mere words mentioned in the basic law, but realisable guarantees, for which the state should not spare any of its resources.

A recent video that was mentioned in the country's media, of the officers from the Border Security Force (BSF) brutally assaulting a suspected cross-border cattle smuggler is to the point. The nationality of the victims apart, such an incident should not have happened on the first place. That it happened shows that the country's elite border guards have no respect to the country's basic law or to their operative mandate. The video is an exception only to the extent that it was probably for the first time that such an act by the BSF stationed along the Indo-Bangladesh border has been video documented. The AHRC and its partner organization based in West Bengal, MASUM, on more than some 800 separate occasions, reported similar incidents to the authorities, urging them to take action against the BSF officers, and suggesting that the incessant practice of manifest forms of custodial violence - ranging from torture to extra-judicial execution and rape - shows the moral wilt in the force which in itself is a threat to the security of the nation. The incident is ample proof to the fact that the agency today operates in an environment of impunity. Impunity has no place in a democratic republic.

Despicable forms of impunity are enjoyed not just by the BSF. Widespread practice of torture by the state police officers casts a dark shadow upon the very notion of the republic. The country is yet to wake up to the reality that the practice of torture, in its entire manifest forms, is incompatible with what has been guaranteed in the Constitution. While a considerable number of people in the country, including some respectable officers within the Indian Police Service, reiterate that the present state of affairs within the law enforcement agencies cannot coexist with the demands of a modern democratic republic, there is hardly any debate within the country as to what should be done to bring about a change to this unacceptable status quo. Even the country's civil society has ignored to engage with the subject, but for a few exceptional human rights organizations, which is a minority, in relation to the large number of human rights groups that operate in India, enjoying the relatively free space that the country guarantees for human rights work. Fair trial guarantees and the basic presumption of innocence cannot coexist with the practice of torture.

When the law enforcement agencies become incompatible to undertake their responsibility according to the demands of a democratic state, it challenges not only the very concept of democracy, but also encourages inequality and therefore injustice. The recent incident reported from Balangir district, Orissa state of the torching of 40 Dalit houses by the members of a militant dominant caste is an alarming reminder to the fact that prejudices based on inequality still haunts the realization of the true republic. The fact that an alarmingly high percentage of children from the marginalized and minority communities living in the impoverished rural backdrops of at least five states in the country do not have, nor do they expect, any hope to be saved from the certain death due to starvation and malnutrition reiterates that injustice is the practice though justice is the guarantee. A country with its law enforcement agencies enjoying impunity cannot be of any use to check this injustice.

So is the situation of the country's judiciary. That the judiciary too, and with that the country's justice framework has failed, is today no more the 'hyperbole' of human rights organizations. The country's law minister himself has reiterated this reality. In a country where its judiciary cannot expect the prosecution to be capable of assisting the court in its quest to find the truth, or a court where the trial can take anywhere between two to ten years to conclude, or worse, where the judiciary itself can guarantee that only seventy percent of its judges are honest, justice has no life. There cannot be percentages awarded to justice. There can only be either justice or injustice.

The annual remembrance of the day in which the country and its people declared for themselves a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic should not remain a day on which parades are held and speeches made. It must be also a day of introspection. Of what it implies by the sovereignty of the people, and by it, to what extent is India truly a democratic republic.

So far injustice has remained an impediment to the complete realization of the republic. Failing to address it is as bad as undermining the republic.

For information and comments contact:
Bijo Francis
Telephone: +852 - 26986339,

Gallantry award for sexual abuse? R-day honour for Chhattisgarh cop

Soni Sori in hospital. Photo by Sunil Singh

The following is a statement issued by Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), a national network of women’s organizations, other democratic rights organizations, and individuals, on behalf of groups all across the country which have been participated in the campaign to bring justice to Soni Sori:

We are deeply shocked and outraged by the conferring of the President’s Police Medal for Gallantry on Ankit Garg, Superintendent of Police, Dantewada, Chhattisgarh. Ankit Garg has been named by the Adivasi school teacher, Ms. Soni Sori, in several letters to the Supreme Court, of ordering and supervising her torture and sexual violence against her, on the night of October 8, 2011 when she was in his custody at the Dantewada police station.

In a case which is now before the Honourable Supreme Court, Ms. Soni Sori has written that while she was in police custody in Dantewada police station, she was stripped before the Superintendent of Police, Ankit Garg, and given electric shocks under his directions. Furthermore, not only did he use abusive language against her, he ordered three police personnel to “punish her” by sexually torturing her for disobeying his commands to name well-known social activists, such as Swami Agnivesh and Medha Patkar, as Naxal supporters. An independent medical examination carried out by the NRS government hospital in Kolkata under the direction of the Supreme Court has confirmed her sexual torture by recovering stones embedded in her private parts. This flagrant violation of Ms. Soni Sori’s person is what prompted the Honourable Supreme Court to reach the conclusion that she is clearly unsafe within the reach of Dantewada police, and needs to be transferred to the Raipur Central prison.

Is this, then, the “gallant” behaviour of our Dantewada police under the able guidance of SP Ankit Garg, which the government is now felicitating? Is this an award for ruthlessly torturing people? Does the government approve of these methods? Is this an accepted way of carrying out war against their own people in the name of anti-naxal operations?

It is shocking to note that in spite of wide publicity and protests over SP Ankit Garg’s inhuman conduct by a large number of women’s and civil liberties groups, nationally and internationally, the government has deemed it fit to confer him with a gallantry award. It is even more baffling to note that this has occurred at a time when the Honourable Supreme Court itself has expressed anguish at the happenings and is still looking into these violations. Compounding the very serious charges of a heinous crime of sexual violence against Ms. Soni Sori that SP Ankit Garg faces, is that fact that this crime happened when she had been entrusted into his custody as a senior police officer. After the report from the Kolkata NRS Medical College and Hospital, this is no longer a case of mere allegations against the police, but there is also solid evidence by a government medical team to support her charges. However, none of this appears to have placed even a shadow of doubt on the gallantry of this Officer as far as the government is concerned. By giving an award in the face of these complaints which have not even received a cursory investigation, both the Central and State governments are condoning this sexual violence which is being perpetrated in the name of anti-Naxal operations.

It is a dark day for Indian democracy today. While Ms. Soni Sori, the victim of this heinous torture languishes in the Raipur Central Jail, with a deteriorating health condition, and waits for her case to be listed in the Supreme Court, women’s teams who have been taking up the case of her torture have been refused permission to meet her. She is still under the custody of the same state police has that inflicted this torture on her.

We are also appalled to note that a majority of “gallantry” awards this year have been given out for anti-Naxal and counter-insurgency operations. Civil liberties organisations have been pointing out the widespread human rights violations that are taking place in these areas in the cover of counter-insurgency operations. This raises grave concerns and points to a movement in the direction of a military state, which can have no place in a democratic republic such as ours.

We condemn this action in the strongest words. There can be no excuse for torture and sexual violence in the name of anti-Naxal or counter-insurgency operations. To confer awards on a person accused of such heinous acts diminishes the respect and honour usually associated with a gallantry award.

24 January, 2012

Jamia teachers challenge Maharashtra ATS version of blast case investigation

The following is a statement issued by the Jamia Teachers’ Solidarity Association:

The Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) claims to have cracked the 13/7 blasts case. Its chief has revealed in a press conference that Indian Mujahideen was behind the Mumbai blasts. And yet, the Ministry of Home Affairs remains far from impressed—indeed, it appears rather irritated. And the press, also unusually, has been circumspect about his revelations. The ATS chief says that he did not want to call a press conference. But the rumours about Naquee’s IB links were threatening the credibility of the ATS. Such were his compulsions when he launched into a monologue about the ‘breakthrough’ his team—under his guidance of course—had achieved. Despite his loud proclamations however, there are few who are willing to buy the ATS' arguments.

Here are some issues for the ATS chief to mull over:

Cracking the Case

The case was cracked within a day of Naquee being brought to Mumbai by the Special Cell. Did the Maharashtra ATS ever visit Delhi to pick up/question Naquee? It simply pounced upon him within moments of the Special Cell 'abandoning' Naquee in Mumbai after completing their own investigation work.

The Arrest of Naquee Ahmed

The ATS chief in his press conference clearly said that the arrest was made on 12th January 2012. His family alleges that he was picked up on the night of 9th January. Not only this, his brothers Rafi and Razi were also detained by the ATS. Nadeem was also arrested the same night.

Did Naquee just walk into the ATS office and offer himself up, or was the ATS tailing him? If they had him on surveillance, surely they knew how closely he was working with the Special Cell; his numerous trips to the Special Cell and their regular phone calls to him?

Naquee’s Mumbai Trips

The ATS boss says that Naquee had been visiting Mumbai’s Madanpura area since September-October 2010. Would he explain why the last two of those trips were made in the company of Delhi Police Special Cell? And may it be said that Naquee was not brought to Mumbai under detention or arrest.

Evidence Galore

Clothes of Naquee and Nadeem have been recovered from the house where the main suspects lived, claimed the chief. Is the chief familiar with their wardrobe and sartorial preferences—in the absence of any forensics tests—to claim that clothes belonging to Naquee and Nadeem have been recovered?

Stolen Bikes: The ATS says that these bikes would have been used in future terror acts. Implicating people in future conspiracies, where evidence need not be produced because the act hasn’t taken place at all is the oldest trick in the police armour. If indeed those bikes are stolen (the family disputes it), then book Naquee and Nadeem for theft, chief, not under UAPA.

Money Trail: The chief was emphatic that Rs 1.5 lakhs had passed through Naquee’s hands but could not explain when asked where the monies had come from. “Hawala”, he mumbled, and insisted that the investigations were still on. So, if the investigations were still on and nothing conclusive had been arrived at, why make grandiose claims in a press conference?

Harassment of Naquee’s family

While the ATS chief grandly declared that over 12,000 witnesses were questioned, we have no way of knowing how many of them were questioned in illegal detention. Will the ATS chief kindly explain why Naquee Ahmed’s elder brothers were detained? Why has his brother’s workshop of trolley bags been turned into a fortress, and reporters and outsiders denied access to them?

ATS-Special Cell: Healthy Competition!

Yes, there is competition, but no rivalry. The chief of ATS made a brave attempt at presenting a picture of blissful bonhomie between the ATS and Special Cell (“The head of Special Cell is my batch mate!”). But we saw the ATS team in Delhi grilling Naquee’s brother about what the Special Cell knew—about what he heard Naquee telling the Special Cell. If the two agencies are so friendly, should not they be sharing information rather than harassing and hounding family members? Why has the ATS been after Naquee's brother?

Too often we have seen these agencies turning into predators, consuming those very men it seeks out for help and cooperation. The Special Cell may be crying buckets now, but they have implicated IB informers as dreaded terrorists (remember Qamar and Irshad) earlier. The cut-throat grey world of unaccounted powers and funds ‘to tackle terror’ has veered out of control.

One last thing, does the Commissioner of Delhi Police feel no moral and ethical compulsion to officially and formally state the simple truth that Naquee was helping his department in their investigation?

Al Jazeera report on Monsanto's biopiracy in India

Leo Saldanha of Environment Support Group writes:

If you missed watching Al Jazeera's The Stream special on Monsanto's biopiracy in India while advancing Bt Brinjal, and its implications, you can catch it on You Tube: (It is about 45 mins long). The programme covers many diverse issues, in addition to biopiracy.

The programme was hosted by Derrick Ashong, musician and social entrepreneur (@ashong,; and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, Al Jazeera journalist and producer (@ASE,

Leo Saldanha of Environment Support Group and Glen Stone, Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Washington University in St. Louis participated as discussants.

More details about ESG's expose of Monsanto's biopiracy in India can be accessed at

23 January, 2012

Army chief’s final battle

BRP Bhaskar

India’s army chief, General VK Singh, who was a young paratroop commando in the 1971 war with Pakistan, is preparing for a battle on a different front at the fag end of his long and distinguished career. The battleground is the courtroom and the adversary his own government.

Singh has gone to court against the government’s decision that hr was born on May 10, 1950, the date mentioned in his application form for admission to the National Defence Academy, and not May 10, 1951, the date entered in the records of the army hospital where he was born and his school leaving certificate.

Singh, who was a teenaged schoolboy when he applied for the NDA course, says a member of the school staff who filled the form entered the wrong year. But some suspect the year was fudged to ensure eligibility.

The conflict in the records in the office of the Adjutant General, the army’s official records keeper, showing the year of birth as 1951, and those in the office of the Military Secretary, which handles postings and promotions, mentioning 1950, remained unresolved until last July, when the Defence Ministry, after consulting the Attorney General and the Law Ministry, decided to treat May 10, 1950 as Singh’s date of birth.

Aggrieved by the decision, he filed a statutory complaint with Defence Minister AK Antony, becoming the first service chief to invoke the Army Act provision in this regard. Antony upheld the ministry’s decision. Singh filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the decision, making him the first army chief to fight a legal battle against the state.

“It is an unhealthy precedent,” Minister of State for Defence MM Pallam Raju said last week. “It does not augur well either for the ministry or the forces.”

In the petition, Singh says the ministry’s decision is illegal and arbitrary and violates his fundamental rights. The court has to adjudicate the matter early as he is approaching the date of retirement. If it confirms the 1950 date, he has to hang his boots on May 31 this year. If it accepts the 1951 date, he can stay on for one more year.

Singh says the government’s refusal to accept his contention regarding date of birth affects his image before the public and the armed forces, and he is fighting for honour, not for tenure. He concedes that, regardless of the court’s finding, the government has the right to decide his tenure.

Going by the facts on record, Singh appears to have a good case but the honour plea is somewhat weak as he accepted the ministry’s determination of his birth date in 2008. He claims he did so on the orders of the then army chief.

There is more to the dispute than meets the eye. If Singh retires in May this year, Gen Bikram Singh, who heads the Eastern Command, will become the next army chief. If his tenure runs till 2013, Gen KT Parnaik of the Northern Command will be the successor as Bikram Singh would have retired by then. Should he leave without completing his tenure, Gen Shankar Ghosh of the Western Command, who is due to retire on the same day as him, will be in the reckoning.

The controversy has already damaged the Establishment’s image with interested parties floating stories alleging the succession issue and Singh’s principled stand on some scams involving civilian and military personnel influenced the government’s decision on the age issue.

Worse still, it has split the community of former defence personnel and possibly serving personnel too. Before Singh moved the apex court, an exservicemen’s association had filed a public interest petition pleading his case. The court dismissed it, saying it was not maintainable.

Four former Chief Justices of India have inflicted damage upon themselves by allowing the exservicemen’s association to drag them into the controversy. Infuriated by the association’s action in appending their opinion to its petition, Chief Justice SH Kapadia has asked the court’s registry not to accept any writ petitions in future if the opinions of former chief justices are annexed.

There are reports that the government is seeking an out-of-court settlement on the basis of its accepting Singh’s contention on age and his agreeing to forgo the additional year of service it will give him.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 23, 2012.

22 January, 2012

Nominations for Human Rights award invited

Nominations for the 2012 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk are currently being accepted.

The annual Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk was established in 2005 to honour the work of a human rights defender or group of human rights defenders who, through non-violent work, are courageously making an outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of the human rights of others, often at great personal risk to themselves.

The Award seeks to focus international attention on the human rights defender's work, thus contributing to the recipient’s personal security, and a cash prize of €15,000 is awarded to the Award recipient and his/her organisation in an effort to support the continuation of this important work.

Front Line is currently accepting nominations for the Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk 2012, and will continue to do so until the 30th January 2012.

Please click on the link below to access the secure nomination form:

Please note:

Incomplete nominations will not be considered.
Individual nominees may not play a prominent role in a political party and must be currently active in human rights work (the Front Line Defenders Award is not intended to recognise a historical or posthumous contribution).
Self-nomination is not permitted.
All nominations must be accompanied by two referees

18 January, 2012

Plans to mark 10th anniversary of Gujarat carnage with Live Memorial

Civil society groups have drawn up plans to mark the 10th anniversary of the Gujarat carnage, falling next month, in a suitable manner. The following is a communication from Rupa Modi, Tanvir Jafri, Salim and Saira Sandhi, Teesta Setalvad, Javed Anand, Shiv Vishwanathan, Binita Desai , Ram Rahman and Rajendra Prasad in this connection:

Gulberg Society, Ahmedabad
February 28, 2012 2 p.m. onwards

How do we commemorate such a cataclysmic series of violence, lives torn asunder, narratives of depth and despair, callousness and courage, struggle and hope?
Together we hope. As we near the Ten year mark of the genocidal carnage in Gujarat we appeal and call to all of you to join us on February 28, 2012 in the Live Memorial at Gulberg Society, Ahmedabad, physically or through countrywide protests and memorials all over India. From 2 p.m. onwards that day we shall be observing the Memorial. through reminiscences and recordings, panels and exhibits, music and words, acknowledgements and tears.

Nationwide Resonance: A Call and Appeal

When we do so in Ahmedabad we hope that each and all of you in different parts of India will share the experience and in turn interact with us through a technologically linked endeavour. We shall be linking the Memorial through live webcam links and internet connections so that it can be viewed and shared at a few minutes’ gap in faraway Kerala, Kashmir, Manipur, Lucknow, Delhi, Mhow, Faizabad, Ayodhya, Malegaon, Mumbai.


All we ask is that you arrange Protest and Commemorations to mark this date. To enable an interactive sharing of the Live Memorial on February 28, 2012 at Gulberg Society, Communalism Combat and Citizens for Justice and Peace are, in collective action with individuals and groups, organizing a live relay of the Memorial by Internet link. We request that each and all of you groups organize a Live Screening of this Memorial in different cities/locations all over the country on large projector screens. Participating in this memorial you organize your own special protest commemorations in every location. We shall also make arrangements so that over 3,000 survivors and activists at Gulberg will also view over the evening the protests and commemorations that you are observing in different locales. Such an Interactive Live Memorial will be unique. It will ensure that there is a nationwide resonance to the Ten Year Commemoration of the Genocide.

The Ten Year Live Memorial will be uplinked for permanent viewing on the Internet after February 28, 2012. The Memorial is part of week-long observance by Insaf ke Dagar Pe. The Citizens for Justice and Peace will also be organizing a Seminar Workshop on Lessons from Gujarat (Criminal Justice System and Accountability) at the Gujarat Vidyapeeth on February 27, 2012.

Memorial to a Genocide: Gujarat 2002 – 2012

Manifesto of the Gulberg Society, Ahmedabad

Over the past ten years, as protests, testimonials and meets have observed the traumatic events in Gujarat in 2002, a travelling memorial to all the carnage sites was also attempted by us in 2008. Instead of peacefully allowing victim survivors to pay respects at the Coach S-6 in Godhra we were, one hundred of us, arrested and forced to bide time at the police station. The site of the burnt remains of the S-6 Sabarmati Express Coach has sadly become the sole mourning preserve of the government and organizations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Reconciliation and Reparation appear a faraway dream when collective memorials are thus forbidden. It took time and energy to get ourselves released from the police station before we could reach the sites of brute violence at Pandharwada village, Panchmahals and then Ode, Anand before traversing Sardarpura. At each site, locales of the violence and sites where dear and near ones were unceremoniously dumped, were remembered. The next day when we walked in silence towards Teesra Kuan in the Maidan at Naroda Patiya, where Missing Persons Bodies had been dumped in 2002 and have not been recovered to date. A hostile neighbourhood and an edgy police barely allowed us to light candles there.

Given this painful past, we have decided to collectively commemorate the 300 traumatic bouts of violence over 19 districts in a Live Memorial at Gulberg Society Ahmedabad. We earnestly appeal to each and all of you to participate in this endeavour.

Digital Installations and Exhibits in English, Gujarati and Hindustani

TIMELINE in content and chronology tracking the rehabilitation and justice process with a PHOTO RETRO of the lives of internally displaced persons in various transit camps

STATISTICS of a human tragedy, an installation

MISSING PERSONS remembered through a ritualistic Wailing Wall

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS to Saviours of Lives, Activists, Jurists, Photographers and Media
People in wall panels

HIDDEN NARRATIVES: brute targeting of women and children

DIGITALISED MEMORIALS: News Coverage and Parzaania on large side screens

MUSIC IN MEMORIUM: Shubha Mudgal (vocal), Aneesh Pradhan (tabla), Sudhir Nayak (harmonium)

We shall be digitalizing the exhibit installations with text and photos and sending it out on CD to enable you to reproduce these in different cities. Do revert back to us on the nature of the protests and commemorations that you plan. Already, you can view Survivor lines link on YouTube.

16 January, 2012

Lessons in social progress

BRP Bhaskar

The seamy side of India’s development story is forcing itself into public view demanding a review of the nation’s priorities.

A report on hunger and malnutrition, based on a survey conducted in 112 districts across the country, which was released last week, said 40 per cent of the children in 100 focus districts were underweight and the growth of nearly 60 per cent was stunted. It termed the level of child malnutrition as “unacceptably high”.

Another study, undertaken in Andhra Pradesh as part of an international project, showed that while the economy was growing and poverty levels were falling, one-third of the children were stunted.

Since 1975, the Indian government has been implementing an integrated child development scheme (ICDS), which is said to be one of the largest of its kind in the world. Its primary objective is improvement of nutritional status of children in the 0-6 age group.

The budget allocation for the scheme, which is raised year after year, touched Rs 160.56 billion this financial year. This was 19 per cent higher than the previous year’s figure, but groups working among children found it grossly insufficient as 42 per cent of the world’s underweight children are in India.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who released the hunger and malnutrition report, said it was a shame that after several decades of operation of ICDS the rate of malnutrition was still high.

However, the facts the report brought out could not have been a surprise for him. The National Family Health Survey of 2005-06 had found that 58 per cent of the expectant mothers were anaemic and 47 per cent of the children were malnourished.

Low budgetary allocation is not the only reason for the poor impact of ICDS and other health sector programmes. A good part of the allotted money goes towards payment of remuneration to the personnel involved in delivery of services. Also, the government does not act with a sense of urgency.

In 2008, a high-powered body, styled as the Prime Minister’s National Council on Nutrition, was set up to advise the government on steps to address the malnutrition problem. It held its first and so far only meeting two years after its constitution. According to insiders, the decisions taken at that meeting are yet to be implemented although the prime minister wanted it done in three months.

Amartya Sen, the economist, recently drew attention to India’s poor record in social development. He said China had established a big lead in social indicators, and even the smaller neighbours were overtaking India. From being the second best performer in this area in South Asia India had become the second worst.

Part of the problem lies in the government’s pathetic faith in the market economy as the cure-all. Its basic approach was spelt out last week by the Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, C. Rangarajan, who said the country could generate the surplus needed to launch social development programmes if it maintained the economic growth rate of the last decade.

The experience of the other South Asian countries to which Amartya Sen referred shows that the link between economic growth and social development is exaggerated. They are able to forge ahead of India because they are according higher priority to health and education, not because their economies are growing faster than its.

Actually, the government does not have to look beyond India’s borders to realise that the conventional wisdom that social advance follows economic advance is questionable. There is before it the example of the southern state of Kerala, which has registered social indicators comparable to those of China and the Western countries.

In 1969 a United Nations agency noted that Kerala, though a poor state, had achieved vast social progress. Thanks to remittances from expatriates and growth of the service sector, especially tourism, Kerala’s economy is now growing at a slightly higher rate than the national economy. However, it is facing severe challenges as the cash-strapped government is not able to sustain the high levels of investment in health and education which had pushed up its social indicators.

The lesson to learn from Kerala’s experience is that the critical factor in social development is not the rate of growth of the economy but the importance the government attaches to investment in areas such as health and education. The market has not played a significant part in the growth of these sectors anywhere. -- Gulf Today, January 16, 2012.

13 January, 2012

AHRC links low nutrition level to poor state of policing in India

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

The Prime Minister of India referring to the 42 per cent malnutrition among children under-five in the country as a 'national shame' has created a flurry of reports and debates, most of them accusing the United Progressive Alliance government. It has been widely held, as a whitewashing exercise by the ruling coalition, before the elections. Some have blamed the state governments for the dismal state of affairs. None, however, views the issue as one that directly reflects the situation of the rule of law, particularly concerning the state of policing in the country.

It does not require much imagination to identify the direct link between the dismal state of policing and despicable malnutrition in the country. Malnutrition, particularly of such alarming levels as it is in India, cannot be addressed effectively without an effective rule of law framework. For instance, one of the most serious causes that result in acute forms of malnutrition is the leakage in the public food distribution system.

Leakage due to corruption in the public food distribution system could constitute a crime under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. It is for the state police to investigate complaints and initiate prosecutions in cases of crimes committed under the Act. The number of cases registered and/or prosecuted in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh for offenses punishable under the Act is a direct indicator as to what extent the police is responsible to the state of malnutrition in these states. The fact is, the number of such cases is alarmingly low in these states, which means that the police are either colluding with the criminals involved or have been inefficient, which has led to the despicable condition of food security in these states.

To argue that the police might not have received complaints to act is not tenable. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has informed the state authorities on many occasions about instances of black-marketing of commodities that are intended for distribution through the public food distribution system. In most of such occasions the state government or the police have failed to initiate actions. The AHRC is aware that its partner organisations working in these states, have on countless occasions, reported to the local police about the black-marketing of rationed articles. Instead of taking actions to investigate the complaints, the police often have colluded with the suspects and have taken actions against the complainants. In some states like Orissa, the police have registered false cases against the complainants, portraying them as suspected Naxalite activists.

The AHRC has noted that the role played by the District Collector/Magistrates in cases of acute malnutrition reported from a particular jurisdiction have been mostly disheartening so far. The AHRC has reported globally, that it is a common practice for the District Magistrates/Collectors to accuse those who are reporting cases of acute malnutrition from India as those who would want to tarnish the image of the country, for money. The AHRC is of the opinion that every single case of death from starvation and malnutrition is the direct responsibility of the District Collector/Magistrate having jurisdiction over the place where the victim lived before death. However so far the practice have been, that when a case is reported the attempt by the respective state government is to deny that there is malnutrition in the village from which the case is reported, and if at all an action follows, to suspend the Angawady helper or the Auxiliary Nurse-Midwife working in the village from which the case is reported.

It is just not the leakage in the public food distribution system that has led to the situation of food insecurity in these states. Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are also states from where a relatively high number of cases of caste-based and other forms of discrimination are reported. These are also states from where thousands of persons are forced to migrate to other parts of the country due to the depletion of livelihood options, not just when there is a drought, but also when they are forcefully evicted without adequate compensation on the excuse of development. States of Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh are notorious for this phenomenon.

Land grabbing by the dominant communities from the Dalit, tribal and other minority communities and the practice of bonded labour is rampant in at least Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa. The dominant caste preventing access of the Dalits, tribal and other minority communities to government welfare schemes is a common practice in these states. Rajasthan is a state where the dominant communities treat Dalits miserably.

A substantial number of malnourished children in the country are from the underprivileged communities, often Dalits and tribal. By contrast, the number of cases registered and prosecuted based on complaints of caste-based atrocities, land grabbing and bonded labour practiced against these communities is substantially low. The AHRC has noted that the police do not entertain complaints of such nature and often behaves prejudicially against the underprivileged communities. The AHRC has also observed that often complaints to the police against any of these issues in fact enhance the threat to the complainants. The AHRC has reported cases where the police are accused of having trashed the complaint and threatened the complainants after accepting bribes or other illegal favours from the accused. When the police discourage complaint making by force, what preventive action could render result to deal with denial of livelihood options that results in malnutrition?

The Prime Minister and the Union Minister for Women and Child Development have said that what is required to address the "national shame" is to create awareness among the victims. Some experts said that rural women often do not even know what is meant by malnutrition. To make such opinions is a farce. There is no need of a college degree for a mother to realise that her child is starving to death. It is the government that requires education on this count. What use is awareness without possibilities? Mere 'awareness building' without having means to realise rights is nothing but playing fraud.

42 per cent of the country's children under-five mean that much of the country's future is lost. A child's fate regarding its ability to develop its intellectual faculties as a grownup individual is pretty much decided during the first two to three years of its life, of which nutrition and balanced diet is vital. In that 42 percent children under the age of five facing malnutrition also indicates the stunted fate of the country. The role the law enforcement agencies in the country have played in securing this despicable fate to the nation, as argued above, is substantial. Yet, none has the honesty to admit it.
For information and comments contact:
Bijo Francis
Telephone: +852 - 26986339

09 January, 2012

Where does India figure in global scenario?

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Where does India figure in the emerging global scenario marked by a gradual shift in economic equilibrium from the West to the East? There is no serious discussion on the subject within the country but it is being raised elsewhere.

According to World Bank data for 2010, India was the ninth largest economy – after the United States, China, Japan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Italy. Its position must be one rung lower since Russia was dropped from the list due to absence of precise figures.

Everyone knows the picture is changing. The London-based Centre for Economic and Business Research says by 2020 India will become the fifth largest economy, after the US, China, Japan and Russia, and will be followed by Brazil, Germany, the UK, France and Italy in that order.

Last week conflicting signals emerged from Washington on India’s role in the emerging world.

In a document released after the Obama administration outlined a new defence strategy, the Pentagon said the US was investing in a long-term strategic partnership to support India’s ability to serve as a regional economic anchor and provider of security in the Indian Ocean region. In plain terms, this means the US looks upon India as an ally in its effort to contain China.

However, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta in a television interview spoke of the challenges of dealing with Russia and “rising countries like India and others”. It was the second time that he had referred to India as a 21st-century challenge.

The new US strategy, which envisages a leaner but more agile force, focuses on East Asia. While noting that the US and China had a strong stake in peace and stability in the region and an interest in building a co-operative bilateral relationship, the Pentagon document said the growth of China’s military power must be accompanied by greater clarity of its strategic intentions so as to avoid friction in the region.

In a quick response, Xinhua news agency, which is controlled by the Communist Party and the government, said the US was welcome to make increased contribution to peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region but should not flex its muscles.

Xinhua made no comment on Washington’s concept of India as a regional economic anchor and security provider but this is a topic on which the Chinese authorities have spoken through the media repeatedly in recent months.

When Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda flew into India after visiting Beijing last month, party, government and military newspapers linked his visit with that country’s ‘arc of freedom and prosperity’ strategy aimed at containing China. Earlier, the party paper, the People’s Daily, had said the US was shoring up its ties with old allies like Japan and South Korea and ‘new giants like India’.

The bottom lines are clear. The US, while conceding China’s economic clout, wants to block its vaulting from the status of regional power to that of global power. China, while aspiring to be a global power, wants to hold India down at the regional level.

Xinhua and the China Daily recently reproduced a foreign commentary which said “there has been growing respect for, rather fear of, China because it is growing so fast and has become so big and powerful as to swallow the Western world in a decade or two.”

A Xinhua commentary at the same time said, “Today’s India is far from potent and prosperous to act of its own accord” and dismissed Indian “jitters” over China’s growing might as the result of “inferiority complex” and “loud jealousy”. The People’s Daily translated into English and posted on its website an article in the Shanghai party daily which described India as a “big regional power” whose “political influence and military strength are limited.”

While talks to resolve the long pending India-China border dispute, which precipitated a short war 50 years ago, are moving at a snail’s pace, new irritants are coming up.

China has frowned upon an Indian public sector firm’s agreement with Vietnam for oil prospecting in the disputed South China Sea. India has to worry about an unstable Pakistan becoming increasingly reliant on China in the wake of growing estrangement with the US.

Chinese Indologist Tan Chung’s suggestion that as cultural twins the two countries must explore the affinity between their ancient civilisations may appear to be a cry in the wilderness but the restrained handling of irritants by the two governments holds out hope of peaceful transition to a new order. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 9, 2012.

08 January, 2012

All-India Campaign against Sedition and other Repressive Laws

A civil society initiative styled as All-India Campaign against Sedition and Other Repressive Laws will be launched in New Delhi on January 31, 2012.

This was decided upon at a meeting convened by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties on December 16, 2011.

Members from various branches of PUCL and representatives of several other democratic rights organizations like the PUDR, APDR, CPDR, CDRO, APCLC, Masum, Human Rights Alert, Manipur and NAPM had met on May 7 and 8 to consider the situation arising from the widespread use of sedition and other repressive laws by the authorities. The meeting decided to collect a million signatures on a petition demanding repeal of Sec. 124A IPC and Sec. 2(o) (iii) of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967 and other anti-sedition laws and submit it to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

Over 40 persons including members of PUCL and other democratic, human rights and people’s organizations attended the December 16 meeting.

The decisions taken are as follows:

1. To launch the `All India Campaign against Sedition and other repressive Laws’ as a collective campaign of all democratic rights and human rights organisations, mass movements, rights bodies, professionals and concerned citizens. This campaign should be launched on the 31st of January, 2011 at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi (originally we had planned 30th January Martyr’s day, but due to the non availability of the hall, the launch has been shifted to the 31st with a press conference in Delhi on the 30th of January, 2011).

2. A Steering group would be formed with representatives of different organizations which had participated in the May and Dec, 2011 meetings, with state level coordination to be undertaken in different states. Even organizations that were unable to attend the 16th December, 2011 meetings would be invited to be part of the Steering Committee. Gautam Navalakha of PUDR and Asish Gupta of CDRO undertook to contact other human rights organisations with the invitation to participate.

3. On behalf of the PUCL, the 4 national Secretaries Kavita, Mahipal Singh, Chittaranjan Singh and Suresh would coordinate with PUCL state units to participate in this effort. Similarly other concerned individuals would also be invited to be part of the campaign.

4. Pushkar Raj, PUCL National Secretary would continue with the coordination of the All India campaign along with the support of the PUCL national secretaries and representatives other member organization till the steering committee is formally launched.

5. The planning meeting for the All India convention will take place at Gandhi Peace Foundation at 4 pm on the 9th of January, 2012 to chart out the strategy and plan for the January 31st, 2012 All India launch. (Pushkar Raj, Kavita Srivastava, Mahipal Singh, Parmajit to coordinate among others)

6. It was felt that the campaign must work in different groups:

(a) A group which works on the documentation and research side of the law. On the basis of the format given below, information and case studies should be provided to this committee so that a report could be consolidated and released on the 31st of January, 2011. ( Proposed names Pushkar Raj, V. Suresh and Gautam Navlakha, Venkatesh to coordinate with others)

(b) A group will coordinate the public education campaign on the subject with students, farmers, workers, tribals, dalits, minority groups and other human rights workers and members of other organizations, through public meetings and signature campaigns. (Proposed names Chittranjan Singh, Anil Chaudhary, Subhash Gatade among others)

(c) Outreach work, especially with the legal fraternity. (Justice Sachar, Usha Ramanthan, Ravi Kiran Jain and others)

(d) A group would simultaneously also begin addressing legal support needs with the local organisation which would have identified victims along with it working on the social support and rehabilitation side of the victims. ( Colin Gonsalves, Himanshu, N D Pancholi and others)

(e) A media group which through alternative and main stream media, web based and otherwise, would aggressively highlight this issue. ( Ajit Sahi, Anand Panini and others)

7. The All India documentation study of the use and abuse of sedition laws should be on the following parameters:

(i) State wise / District wide / Police Station specific list of Cases (FIRs) in which sedition charges u/s 124A IPC and Sec. 2(o)(iii) Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), 1967 were invoked along with other criminal law sections in the last 10 years;

(ii) Description of status of each of the cases listed above in terms of (a) still pending investigation; (b) whether a charge sheet has been filed, if so what are the charges; (c) status of trial, and number of years pending; (iv) if trial concluded, whether the accused is/are convicted for offence u/s 124A IPC and UAPA, and other charges with details of sentence; (v) whether appeal filed and pending or decided.

(iii) Even if it is not possible to get details of all cases described in (ii) above, attempt should be made to collect details in as many cases as possible.

(iv) To sub-categorize the list of cases in (i), (ii) and (iii) above in terms of the following categories of cases where sedition charges were invoked: (a) workers’ strikes, (b) farmers’ agitations, (c) dalit struggles, (iv) tribal rights groups, (v) minority rights issues, (vi) students’ agitations (vii) rights defenders, (viii) women’s movements, (ix) protests against development projects / displacement (x) others.

(v) List out the background of the accused in all cases involving sedition charges.

(vi) Prepare case studies of major cases invo sedition charges highlighting the details of (a) glaring absurdity of the case, (b) human interest,
(c) political vendetta, (d) impact on families, (e) length of arrest and difficulties in bail.

A planning meeting of the All-India Campaign will take place at the Gandhi Peace Foundation, New Delhi, tomorrow (January 9) at 4 p.m.

All queries and emails should be sent to: with copies to and, with 'sedition' as the subject.

Postal communications may be sent to: Pushkar Raj, General Secretary, PUCL,
270-A, Patparganj, Opp. Anandlok Apartments, Mayur Vihar-I, Delhi-110 091.

Soni Sori on hunger-strike in hospital

Soni Sori, the tribal teacher arrested on charges of being a Maoist conduit, is on hunger strike to protest against harassment by Chhattisgarh police and being treated like a criminal.

The 36-year-old teacher in a government school in Dantewada, an area affected by Maoist insurgency, is in a Raipur hospital with head and back injuries suffered while in custody.

She was arrested in Delhi and taken to Chhattisgarh on transit remand. (Picture alongside,taken shortly after her arrest, shows her being escorted by police).

Sori began hunger strike on Tuesday, according to an IANS report from Raipur.

Soni Sori has said police kept her chained violating her rights. "They (police) are treating me like a hardcore criminal. They put a chain on my legs... I oppose such moves by police," Sori told mediapersons at the hospital.

She was shifted to the Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar Government Medical College and Hospital on Tuesday night after doctors who examined her at Jagdalpur, headquarters of the Bastar region, said she needed advanced treatment.

"Why are they treating me like a criminal? What did I do, why did they put a 'janjir' (chain) on my legs," she was heard asking in footage aired by local TV channels.

Sori, who allegedly received money on behalf of Maoists from the Essar Group as "protection money", sustained injuries while in police custody in Dantewada on Monday.

Human right activists termed her injury a case of "custodial violence" and sought an independent probe to expose police atrocities. Chhattisgarh police denied the accusations and said she slipped and fell in the bathroom while in custody.

Last week Sori had requested the Delhi High Court not to allow the Chhattisgarh police to take her back to the state as she faced a threat to her life.

An online petition seeking justice for Soni Sori can be accessed here:

04 January, 2012

Anand Patwardhan's new film

Anand Patwardhan writes:

My new film "Jai Bhim Comrade" (3hrs and 20 mins duration) will be screened one day prior to the Bhagwat Jadhav memorial meet held every year at Lovelane, Mazgaon.

Date: 9 January 2012

Time: 6 pm

Venue: 3-23 BIT Chawl, Love Lane, Mazgaon, Mumbai 10

PS. There will be other screenings in the next few weeks so come to this one only if u can commit 4 hrs of yr time.

This film had won the Ram Bahadur Trophy for Best Film at the Film South Asia 2011 festival of documentaries, held in Kathmandu last October. Report here.

02 January, 2012

A year everyone wants to forget

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Political chicanery touched a new low in the closing days of 2011, and as the New Year dawned India’s ruling alliance and the opposition were blaming each other for the sad state of affairs.

The economy was not doing well. The annual growth rate slipped to 6.9 per cent. The government, forced to backtrack on opening up of retail trade to foreign direct investment, was clueless on how to move forward.

Inflation, rising interest rates and the continuing global economic crisis hit the stock exchange, causing investors a loss of Rs 20,000 billion during the year. Foreign investors, who had pumped more than $29 billion into the Indian economy, began pulling out. By year-end, they had withdrawn about $ 320 million, damaging the rupee in the process.

The news from the agriculture sector, which plays an important if declining role, too, was depressing with farmers’ deteriorating condition giving rise to fresh worries.

All across the country the marginalised people were battling with gnawing poverty on the one side and domestic and international conglomerates, intruding into their homelands to set up mining or manufacturing projects, on the other.

Little wonder that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in his New Year’s Day exhortation to the people to work together, avoided dwelling on the year gone by and tried instead to put the focus on the challenges ahead. But how can one work out a reliable strategy to face the future without looking back on the past and drawing appropriate lessons?

Corruption in high places was laid bare during the year as investigating agencies, pursuing cases under judicial prodding, arrested a few politicians, bureaucrats and business personnel in connection with Central and state scams. Thanks to the pressure built up by social activist Anna Hazare’s campaign the political establishment was compelled to think of a new anti-corruption dispensation.

No one expected the bill the government brought forward on this connection to have a smooth passage through Parliament since the polity was deeply divided. As it happened, the parties got together and made sure, in their own disparate ways, that the measure fell through.

The government had extended the session of Parliament by three days to discuss and adopt the bill. The lower house, sitting till midnight, adopted it on the first day itself but rejected the move to give the proposed ombudsmen constitutional status. The upper house took up the bill on the third day, discussed it till midnight and then adjourned without voting on it. Had there been a vote, the house, in which the ruling coalition is in a minority, would have rejected the bill or mauled it beyond recognition.

Anna Hazare and his chief lieutenants, who began a three-day fast, coinciding with the session of Parliament, gave up the protest midway, disillusioned by the poor response their campaign evoked this time despite continuous live coverage by the private television channels.

While the government can take comfort from the fact that the opposition and the Hazare movement, too, did not cover themselves with glory, it cannot afford to go easy on anti-graft measures. Its credibility is low, and it has to redeem itself to play its part in facing the challenges on the economic and social fronts.

The current difficulties notwithstanding, the economy is inherently strong, and the West is looking up to the 350-million strong Indian middle class as a force that can help in the global recovery. However, the government has to be mindful of the presence of an even bigger mass of people waiting to be lifted up.

The inclusive development the government keeps talking about is yet to translate itself into reality. The Prime Minister, in his New Year’s Day message, spoke of the need to focus on banishment of poverty in the 12th five-year plan, which begins in April 2012.

A big test awaits the political class in Uttar Pradesh, which goes to the polls in February along with four smaller states.

The Congress, which heads the central government, and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main opposition, were in the fourth and third position respectively in the last Assembly elections in the state, which the Bahujan Samaj Party won with a thin majority. How well they do in this sprawling state will have a bearing on their prospects in the parliamentary elections, due in 2014.--Gulf Today, Sharjah, January 2, 2012.