New on my other blogs

KERALA LETTER
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
Change of heart? Or stooping to conquer?
Some thoughts on the historic Battle of Colachel

വായന

31 July, 2012

Challenge of diversity

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The ethnic clashes that left more than 50 dead and displaced about 170,000 people in the eastern state of Assam last week are yet another reminder of the explosive nature of the growing discontent among various sections of the people, resulting from disparities in development.

No other nation has as much ethnic, religious and cultural diversity as India has. The backlog of social disparities and the limited economic opportunities and their skewed distribution pose grave challenges to the golden rule of Unity in Diversity. Attempts by short-sighted politicians to create vote banks using divisive strategies keep the pot boiling.

With only 31 million inhabitants, Assam is small in terms of population but holds within its borders much more diversity than more populous states. The groups involved in last week’s clashes were Bodos and Muslims. Neither group is homogenous. The Bodos have several sub-groups with different traditions, dialects, cultures and historical identities. The Muslims include Assamese and Bengalis.

The Muslims who constitute more than 30 per cent of the population include economic refugees from neighbouring Bangladesh, who have entered the state illegally. While some illegal immigrants have settled down there others have moved and found work in places as far apart as Delhi and Kerala. The refugee influx has increased pressure on land and aroused in the local people the fear that they may be reduced to a minority in course of time.

Following a militant movement demanding separate statehood, the Indian government set up in 2003 a Bodo Territorial Autonomous District under Schedule VI of the Constitution, which provides for creation of separate administrative units for tribal areas, and brought into being an elected Territorial Council with limited powers.

The small political favour came with a heavy price. Simultaneously with the creation of the autonomous district the government scrapped the pre-Independence law which vested ownership of tribal lands exclusively in tribal hands. This opened up the way for large-scale alienation of land to non-Bodos.

Observers attribute the current conflict to struggle for control of land. While most immigrants are farm workers and daily wage earners, some have bought Bodo land and acquired economic clout. Bodo leaders say the issue is one of deprivation, not of land ownership alone. Deprivation is a grievance of Muslims too. There is also a need to distinguish between indigenous Muslims and illegal immigrants.

The central and state governments cannot be absolved of blame for the present situation. Under the Constitution the Centre has special responsibility in respect of the tribal population. The state government, which is responsible for law and order, was slow in responding to the deteriorating situation. Anti-social elements had a free run for a few days before the army was called in to restore order.

The history of the neighbouring tribal states which have witnessed prolonged insurgencies holds a lesson which the central and state governments will do well to remember. It is that injudicious and excessive use of the army can be counterproductive.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is a Rajya Sabha member from Assam, took a week to reach the state and declare publicly that ethnic conflict was unacceptable and must stop. He made up for the late arrival by announcing a special package of Rs3 billion for rehabilitation of the displaced people accommodated in about 170 relief camps.    

Beyond the law and order situation, which is now under control, lies a political problem which has to be tackled with care. Clearly the Autonomous District experiment has not been a conspicuous success. The Bodo leaders, who feel that the Territorial Council is toothless, have revived the demand for statehood. The Muslim leaders want the Territorial Council to be scrapped. The Bodo leaders view this as a sign of their unwillingness to accept a set-up under tribal leadership.

The Assamese mainstream, displaying considerable maturity, refrained from stoking the fire when the Bodo areas were torn by violence. However, there were stray attempts by communal elements elsewhere in the country to work up frenzy. Luckily they did not cause much damage.

Absence of emotional bonding among the many ethnic groups makes the Bodo region highly volatile. This situation calls for immediate remedial action, especially since the rail and road routes that link northeastern states with the rest of the country pass through this region. Intervention by sectarian elements from outside can render the task difficult.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 31, 2012.

25 July, 2012

Decisive state action key to end torture and ill-treatment

Parliamentarians from eight Asian states and civil society representatives, who met at Hong Kong for the first Asian parliamentarians' meeting organized by the Asian Alliance against Torture and Illtreatment (AAATI), demanded firm actions from Asian states to end torture and ill-treatment in the region.

Along with civil society representatives, dignitaries that attended the historic meeting include, Honourable: Mr. Eran Wickramaratne (Sri Lanka), Mr. V. T. Balram (India), Mr. Mohammad Fazlul Azim (Bangladesh), Ms. Pushpa Bhusal (Nepal), Ms. Abbasi Nusrat Bano and Mr. Saeed Ghani (Pakistan), Mr. Sayed Muhammad Muliady (Indonesia), and Mr. Raymond Palatino (Philippines). Also in attendance were human rights activists from Burma, Thailand and Denmark.

The four-day meeting concluded on 24 July. Parliamentarians and civil society representatives called for similar initiatives and consultations in every country in the region to tackle the prevailing widespread practice of torture.

The human right against torture and illtreatment is absolute and non-derogable, affirmed the participants. In states where laws criminalising torture exist, these laws must be effectively put to use, and in states where such laws are yet to be legislated, or remain under consideration, initiatives must be fast-tracked, demanded participants.

The parliamentarians affirmed that they would take-up this issue with their respective governments as a priority concern. Participants urged Asian governments to ensure the creation of effective criminal justice framework in all jurisdictions, realised through adequate institutional reforms, without which combating entrenched torture and illtreatment would be impossible in the region.

The participants unequivocally affirmed that key to this is the allocation of adequate monetary, infrastructural, and human resources to local policing. This is essential so that policing can evolve into a service-oriented and modern agency, able to meet the needs of the time, rather than an institution forced to be just a uniformed organ of the state that enforces legitimate and illegitimate state writs. Essential, radical, reforms in policing would contribute substantially to end the culture of corruption and impunity opined the participants.

The participants visited Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and also spent time speaking with senior members of the Hong Kong Bar Association. Out of the numerous insights gained from these visits, the necessity of an independent and corruption free judiciary, as it exists in Hong Kong, was iterated by participants.

Threats to state security are real in the region, just as they are in the rest of the world. However, dehumanising and demonising political opponents, and reducing spaces for public discourse on concerns of personal liberties, augmented by arbitrary and state-sponsored violence, is not the way ahead affirmed the participants. This tendency – to disregard the absolute nature of human rights in the ruse of national security – is not only dangerous but could reduce the notion of democracy, stated participants in the course of the four-day discussion. The rule of law, and uncompromising adherence to democratic practices and norms, is the best instrument to fight security threats, was the all-round affirmation.

Fundamental to open public consultations is the guarantee of freedom of expression and opinion. Parliamentarians and civil society representatives urged governments in the region to promote media freedoms and end circumscribing the same by law and practice.

The legislators in Asia, together with the civil society, can generate enough momentum to give rise to requisite popular debate against torture, was another consensus from the historic meeting. Participants agreed that similar gatherings should be organised again and that they would hold such sessions in their constituencies and countries to end torture and illtreatment.

In the mean-time, similar discussion forums in the countries and constituencies, in consultation with the AHRC, the RCT, and most importantly local human rights organisations, would be organised, stated the participants.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Hong Kong, and the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT), Denmark constituted the AAATI in July 2011. This four-day historic meeting of Parliamentarians, marking the one-year anniversary of the AAATI initiative, is another step towards the final goal of ending torture and illtreatment in Asia.

For further information please contact:
In Hong Kong
Mr. Basil Fernando, Director - Policies & Programmes (AHRC)
Telephone + 852 26986339
Email: basil.fernando@ahrc.asia

24 July, 2012

Two Bangalore initatives

The Bangalore-based Environment Support Group says in a communication:

BATPIC Network launched
As you are aware, we have been working with communities affected by a variety of transportation projects in and around Bangalore for a very long time. In recent years, we have assisted communities impacted by two mega transportation projects in Bangalore:  widening of 216 inner city roads and the expansion of the Bangalore Metro project.

Thousands of families and businesses directly threatened by dislocation and displacement have found the administration largely insensitive to  their situation.  Besides these projects would destroy Bangalore's unique living heritage - its tree lined avenues, wipe out street vending spaces and making cycling and walking in the city a high risk activity.

The Bangalore Transportation Projects Impacted Community Network (BATPIC Network) is an effort in bringing together various communities differently impacted by transportation projects and help them to collectively advocate their concerns and also push for durable, climate friendly, low social impact and economically viable solutions to the city's traffic and transport problems. 

We are happy to share that this network was launched recently and various constituent groups came together to address a Press Conference on 17 July 2012.  The Statement of this network may be accessed at: http://esgindia.org/education/community-outreach/press/bangalore-road-widening-and-other-urban-.html  This network will play a critical role in shaping the debates and outcomes on various transportation issues in Bangalore.  

Mavallipura wakes up wasteful Bangalore from its slumber


For close to a decade now, the residents of Mavallipura, a village 30 kms north of Bangalore, have borne the serious environmental and health consequences of Bangalore's waste being dumped in their village commons.  Ramky, a private corporation, has been paid by the city to operate the landfill on scientific grounds.  However, it has resorted to digging massive pits and filling municipal waste into it creating little mountains of wastes without any environmental safeguards.  The resulting pollution has been unbearable and devastated many lives and livelihoods in Mavallipura and other villages.

Persistent efforts  to force closure of this landfill by the villagers paid off when on 11 July 2012 the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board ordered Ramky to stop receiving waste and clean up the mess immediately, a decision that has found support from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (Details at: http://esgindia.org/campaigns/press/kspcb-shuts-down-ramkys-swm-landfill-mav.html). Bangalore's civic agency BBMP's immediate response has been to find new locations to dump and also threaten to not to remove waste accumulating in the city; reactions that are unsustainable and wrong.

There is, however, growing consciousness that segregating waste at source, composting organic waste locally, recovering recyclables and only disposing hazardous waste safely, should become a practice and policy for the city and is the only way out of this situation.  To assist in this transition, ESG has developed a variety of community education material, including the critically acclaimed docu-films Nagara Nyrmalya and Nammura Chandadooru (both involving leading film and theatre personalities).  We are keen that communities  and the city government would use this material which provides pathways to reduce waste, recycle, and make unsustainable landfills or running toxic incinerators unnecessary and a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, we have continued to monitor various environmental factors at Mavallipura. In water analysis that we conducted recently, we have found very heavy contamination of all drinking water sources.  Read more about this at: http://www.esgindia.org.  To know why Mavallipura landifills must be permanently shut down, read reports at: http://esgindia.org/campaigns/mavallipura/resources/index.html.

Warm regards

ESG Team


About ESG: Environment Support Group is a small group committed researchers,lawyers and activists responding to various issues of environmental, social justice and governance concern. More details about the group may be accessed at: http://esgindia.org/about-us/esg-team.html

Waiting for sonrise

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

As heir apparent of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Rahul Gandhi could have claimed a place in the government any time since the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance returned to power in 2004. However, he was content to remain a low-key general secretary of the party and turned down suggestions from partymen to enter the government.

Last week, dropping the reluctant bridegroom posture, he expressed readiness to play a proactive role in both party and government. A decision had been taken, and it was for his mother and party president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to decide when to give effect to it, he said.

He is now expected to be inducted into the Council of Ministers at the earliest, possibly before Parliament reassembles next month. That will give him the opportunity to gain governmental experience before being projected as the party’s prime ministerial candidate in the Lok Sabha elections due in 2014.

Barring a couple of short interludes, the Congress party’s leadership since Independence has been in the hands of the Nehru-Gandhi family. Sonia Gandhi was not inclined to enter politics after her husband Rajiv’s assassination but eventually gave in to pressure from Congressmen who needed a Gandhi at the helm to hold them together.

She was the party’s choice for the prime minister’s post when it was in a position to stake a claim to form the government but she stood down, realising her Italian origin was a political liability. It was widely believed even at that stage that Manmohan Singh, whom she nominated for the post, will be replaced in due course by her son.

Rahul Gandhi has been a member of parliament for eight years and a general secretary of the party for four years but he is yet to emerge as a leader in his own right. Few believe that he has used the time at his disposal well and equipped himself to shoulder the onerous responsibilities that await him.

It is difficult to identify an occasion when he made a mark in parliament or played a significant role in backstage political negotiations. The party has been beset with serious problems but it is difficult to pinpoint any contribution he made to their resolution.

This is not to suggest that he was remiss in making use of opportunities. He has curbed factionalism in the state units of the party’s youth and student affiliates by evolving a formula under which the larger faction’s nominee becomes the president and the smaller faction’s nominee the vice-president. The formula has a fatal weakness: it perpetuates factionalism instead of eliminating it.

His efforts to rebuild the party in Uttar Pradesh, the family’s original base, have met with only limited success. It still ranks fourth, after the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, in the state which sends the largest contingent of 80 members to the 574-member Lok Sabha.

However, the responsibility for the failures on the organisational front rests mainly with Sonia Gandhi, who has done nothing to end factionalism in the 16 years since she assumed stewardship of the party. She has also not taken any steps to revive the dysfunctional party apparatus. Valuing personal loyalty more than leadership qualities, she has chosen to work with a bunch of colourless men incapable of infusing dynamism in the party.

While Rahul Gandhi has evinced a keen interest in the problems of the common man, who figures prominently in the party’s electoral calculations, he is yet to demonstrate a capacity to formulate concrete steps to address their problems and push them into the government’s agenda. 

Since the national political spectrum is extremely fragmented, coalition governments will be the order of the day for a long time to come. The situation calls for a set of leaders who can deal with the small parties tactfully as well as firmly. Manmohan Singh has been a failure in this regard. Rahul Gandhi will do well to develop the skills needed to manage troublesome partners.

The fight against corruption is an area where the Congress party and the government have been found wanting. Rahul Gandhi’s speech in the Lok Sabha during the debate on the Lok Pal Bill showed he is aware of the gravity of the issue. It may be the issue which ultimately determines his political future.

The rising great-grandson can learn a lesson from Jawaharlal Nehru’s eloquent words: “Success often goes to those who dare and act. It seldom goes to the coward.” -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 24, 2012.

23 July, 2012

India needs a comprehensive food security legislation

The Right to Campaign is alarmed by today’s mediareports that indicate that the Government continues to have a minimalist vision for the National Food Security Bill.  The Right to Food Campaign has been demanding a comprehensive food security legislation that takes in account the production, procurement, storage and distributional aspects of food security along with making special provisions for vulnerable groups such as children, migrants, the aged and disabled. We have repeatedly stated that the current draft of the Bill is minimalist and unacceptable as it seeks to legislate inequity by imposing a Targeted Public Distribution System instead of creating universal entitlements.

In this context, the proposal to do away with the multiple categories (priority, general, etc.) and move towards a uniform entitlement for everyone, except for the rich who will be excluded, is a step forward.  However, if as reported in the press, the category to be excluded is as large as 33% of the population across the country, then this would remain a form of targeting, with many of the needy actually being left out. This still falls far short from the principle of universalisation. Exclusion should rather be based on a few, easily identifiable criteria such as permanent government employees, income tax payers and so on.

Further, we do not see the logic in common entitlement being as low as 25kgs per month per household under this new proposal. The Government cannot continue to argue that there is not enough grain when the FCI godowns are overflowing, with the current foodgrain stocks being around 80 million tonnes. The last three years of UPA rule have seen food inflation spiralling to highest levels in three decades. The Food Ministry has been at the centre of the most scandalous mismanagement of food grains, with huge food stocks rotting in the godowns and set to be exported for consumption by cattle in industrialised countries.

India's poor track record on food and nutrition, and indeed all the social sector indicators along with its patently over-stated ambitions of being a global leader, has made the Government a laughing stock internationally. It cannot be accepted that the Indian Government can afford to contribute $10 billion to the International Monetary Fund to bail out irresponsible European bankers, while it hides behind the excuse of fiscal constraints to explain its inability to guarantee food security to its citizens. In a situation where 46\% of the country’s children remain malnourished such an attitude of the Government is indeed shameful.

We have consistently demanded the strengthening of the NFSB by expanding its scope. The PDS entitlements must be universal and quantities must be linked to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) recommended daily allowances (14kgs per adult). In addition, the PDS must also provide pulses and cooking oil. We believe that introducing such an expanded PDS would be the most appropriate way of dealing with the current contradiction of excess stocks and widespread hunger.
We once again reiterate the core demands of the RTF campaign for the National Food Security Act, and hope that the revised NFSB will include all of these:
• A Universal PDS, which includes cereals, millets, pulses and oil so that all especially the food insecure, the vulnerable, and the deprived get included. The quantity should be decided on the basis of ICMR norms per adult consumption.
• Appropriate MSPs and decentralized procurement of rice, wheat and millets.
• Universalisation with quality of ICDS including the provision of nutritious locally prepared food for all children.
• Entitlements including social security pensions for vulnerable persons – the aged, single women, and persons with disabilities, school mid-day meals, maternity entitlements, and community kitchens in urban areas must be ensured.
With Regards,
Kavita Srivastava
(National Convenor, Steering Committee on behalf of the Right to Food Campaign)

Members of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign:

Annie Raja (National Federation for Indian Women), Anuradha Talwar and Gautam Modi (New Trade Union Initiative), Arun Gupta and Radha Holla (Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India), Arundhati Dhuru and Ulka Mahajan (National Alliance of People’s Movements), Asha Mishra and Vinod Raina (Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti), Aruna Roy, Anjali Bharadwaj and Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People's Right to Information), Ashok Bharti (National Conference of Dalit Organizations), Colin Gonsalves (Human Rights Law Network), G V Ramanjaneyulu (Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture), Kavita Srivastava and Binayak Sen (People’s Union for Civil Liberties), Lali Dhakar, Sarawasti Singh, Shilpa Dey and Radha Raghwal (National Forum for Single Women’s Rights), Mira Shiva and Vandana Prasad (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan), Paul Divakar and Asha Kowtal (National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights), Prahlad Ray and Anand Malakar (Rashtriya Viklang Manch), Subhash Bhatnagar (National Campaign Committee for Unorganized Sector workers), Jean Drèze and V.B Rawat (Former Support group to the Campaign),  Ritu Priya (JNU)

Representatives of Right to Food (State campaigns):

Veena Shatrugna, M Kodandram and Rama Melkote (Andhra Pradesh), Saito Basumaatary and Sunil Kaul (Assam), Rupesh (Bihar), Gangabhai and Sameer Garg (Chhattisgarh), Pushpa, Dharmender, Ramendra, Yogesh, Vimla and Sarita (Delhi), Sejal Dand and Sumitra Thakkar (Gujarat), Abhay Kumar and Clifton (Karnataka), Balram, Gurjeet Singh and James Herenj (Jharkhand), Sachin Jain (Madhya Pradesh), Mukta Srivastava and Suresh Sawant (Maharashtra), Tarun Bharatiya (Meghalaya), Chingmak Chang (Nagaland) Bidyut Mohanty and Raj Kishore Mishra, Vidhya Das, Manas Ranjan (Orissa), Ashok Khandelwal, Bhanwar Singh and Vijay Lakshmi (Rajasthan), V Suresh (Tamil Nadu), Bindu Singh (Uttar Pradesh),  Fr. Jothi SJ and Mr. Saradindu Biswas (West Bengal)
# # #
This statement has been distributed by the Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, a regional non-governmental organization that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights.

17 July, 2012

There is a time to tell

To Time magazine, the good Indians are the ones who are dead or have migrated to the West

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

More than six decades after the yoke of colonialism was lifted, many educated Indians yearn for Western approbation and are disturbed by foreign criticism.

Last week US newsmagazine Time upset many Indians by carrying in its Asian edition a cover story which described Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an ‘underachiever’ and a ‘man in shadow’. It listed the many challenges the United Progressive Alliance government faces under his leadership such as economic slowdown, fiscal deficit and falling rupee, and asked whether he was up to the job.

The magazine said inflation and corruption had diminished voter confidence in Manmohan Singh. The crux of its criticism, however, lay elsewhere: Singh, it said, was unwilling to stick his neck out on economic reforms.

The report reflected the sentiments of the United States administration which is seeking new opportunities in India for American businessmen since conditions at home continue to be gloomy. It is unhappy over the Manmohan Singh government’s inability to deliver on the promise to let Wal-Mart in by throwing open the retail sector to foreign investors.

If there was any doubt in anyone’s mind on the source of the magazine’s concerns, President Barack Obama removed it soon afterwards by voicing his administration’s feelings directly in an interview given to an Indian news agency. He specifically mentioned the issue of foreign direct investment in retail business.

The UPA government had put the issue of FDI in retail business on hold because of stiff opposition from the Trinamool Congress, a coalition partner.

The Time report drew the ire of the Congress party, which heads the UPA. Its official spokesman said that in the last eight years, under Manmohan Singh’s leadership, the government had provided political stability, social harmony, internal cohesion and economic growth and assumed a greater role in global affairs. “This by no stretch of imagination is underachievement,” he added.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the opposition National Democratic Alliance, which is hoping to ride back to power on an anti-incumbency wave, was pleased with the Time story which berated Manmohan Singh. Doubly so, since it had earlier featured one of its leaders, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, a prime ministerial hopeful, on the cover, depicting him as a man who means business.

Endorsing the magazine’s criticism, the BJP spokesman said Manmohan Singh had only sent a message of disillusionment, corruption and leaderless economy. However, the party’s top leaders in Madhya Pradesh rejected the partisan approach and took a patriotic line. “The Prime Minister of India does not need a certificate from Time magazine,” said Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. State BJP president Prabhat Jha added, “No foreign magazine has the right to look down upon the Prime Minister of India.”

Several Indian commentators agreed with the magazine that Manmohan Singh had failed to tackle issues like corruption. However, they generally threw the blame for his failures on Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who holds the political strings. Some of them envisaged the possibility of Manmohan Singh getting more elbow room with the exit of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who was seen as holding back reform measures for political reasons.

Time, which pioneered a journalistic school whose strength lies not in unearthing new information but repackaging old ones, had started taking interest in Indian affairs long before the era of globalisation dawned. Freedom fighters Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhash Chandra Bose and Vallabhbhai Patel had figured on its cover in the pre-Independence days.

In the Cold War years, as a media partner of the US establishment, it was a strong critic of India’s non-alignment policy, and VK Krishna Menon, who was its chief exponent at the United Nations, was its bête noir. Angered by its writings, Menon’s ardent admirers once tricked it into publishing a letter under false names expressing appreciation of its stand. Only after the issue hit the stands did the magazine learn that the names it printed were obscenities in the Hindi language.

To Time, the good Indians are the ones who are dead or have migrated to the West. Its obituaries on Nehru and Indira Gandhi were among the best carried by any publication, Indian or foreign. They extolled the many virtues of the departed leaders which had not found a place in its coverage when they were alive. Manmohan Singh can seek comfort in the thought that Time has not found nice things to tell because the time has not come: after all he is still around in flesh and blood.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 16, 2012.

10 July, 2012

Lag in education

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

If India fails to realise the dream of becoming a global power by the middle of the century it may be due to educational shortfall, not to economic slowdown. Formulating schemes to improve the standards of education and pushing them through the complex political system are proving to be difficult tasks.

Education is on the Concurrent List of the Constitution, which means it is an area where both the central and state governments have authority. The states are under different political parties, and national interests suffer as each of them cynically pursues its narrow and selfish interests. Intervention by the courts has sometimes complicated matters.

Improvement of higher education, in both qualitative and quantitative terms, is high on the centre’s agenda. At present only 16 out of 100 students reach university level. The centre wants to raise the number to 40, which is the prevailing rate in the developed world, by 2020. This calls for raising college enrolment, which is now about 16 million, to 45 million.

To achieve this target, the higher education sector, which comprises a little over 600 universities and 30,000 colleges, has to be expanded considerably. The centre has drawn up schemes to set up some new institutions of higher learning, modelled after the acclaimed Indian Institutes of Technology. Lacking resources to do more, it is looking up to the private sector to fill the breach.

The results of early efforts at swift expansion have been uneven. While a few private universities and colleges have done well, the performance of many has been less than satisfactory and of some downright dismal.

Many rushed into the field lured by the prospect of quick money through illegal practices like levy of capitation fees. Political patronage protects the evildoers from the law’s arms. It also helps them to expand their activities even when the institutions’ record is poor.

A few years ago, with a view to improving the quality of education, the government permitted universities to run joint degree programmes with foreign institutions. Here, too, the record has not been uniformly good. Last month the University Grants Commission stipulated that only an institution given A grade by a national accreditation agency can enter into collaboration and that the foreign partner must be one of 500 institutions figuring in the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings or Shanghai Rankings.

Phil Baty, Editor of THE Rankings, has cautioned India against relying too much on the rather crude global ranking tables which reduce universities and their diverse missions and strengths to a single composite score in view of its need for institutions of higher education with different missions and social roles.

At a bilateral meet on higher education, held recently, India sought US investment in this sector. Given current economic realities, a practical proposition may be to envision trilateral projects with a cash-rich third country joining as both financier and beneficiary.

Baty’s comment underscores the need for India to pay special attention to the needs of the people who bear the burden of centuries of social exclusion. A National Sample Survey conducted three years ago showed that while 27.7 per cent of those in the age group of 18-22 years attended institutions of higher education, some categories like villagers (18.7%), the Scheduled Castes (17.3%), Muslims (16.1%) and the Scheduled Tribes (14.1%) did not have equal access to them.

Analysts have pointed out that students belonging to the backward classes, who constitute 45 per cent of the population, would not have received more than 17 per cent of the seats if there were no reservation for them.

The judiciary’s narrow interpretation of the statute has blocked some measures taken by the government to help the socially and economically backward classes. Recently a high court struck down a government decision fixing a sub-quota for Muslims in the quota reserved for the backward classes. As the Supreme Court declined to stay the order the decision could not be implemented this year.

Social analyst Yogendra Yadav has pointed out that the national media’s biased coverage masks the harsh reality of inherited group inequalities.

Human resources remain grossly underdeveloped as large sections of people lack access to education and receive only poor quality of education when they manage to get to school. Determined efforts are needed to overcome this limitation and realise the nation’s full potential.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 10, 2012.

09 July, 2012

Campaign against Politics of Terror and Targeting of Muslim Youth

A public meeting on POLITICS OF TERROR: TARGETING THE MUSLIM YOUTH was scheduled for 3 p.m. today, July 9, at the Constitution Club, Rafi Marg, New Delhi . 
 
Below is a statement issued by the organizers of the meeting:
 
Steps to prevent misuse of Criminal Justice System
Over the last 11 years, hundreds of Muslims arrested on charges of terrorism across India have been declared by courts to be innocent of the allegations. In many cases, judges have openly castigated the police for framing the accused and fabricating evidence against them. 
 
In Maharashtra and Gujarat, several policemen face trials for killing innocent Muslim men and falsely claiming that they were terrorists.
 
VICIOUS CYCLE
Once an accused is arrested on charges of terrorism, he/she is typically booked under laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Section 124(a) of the Indian Penal Code, which makes it an offense to spread disaffection. Thereafter, nearly every case takes the following route. The accused is --
• Never allowed bail even if the trial doesn't start for years
• Implicated in many other cases, including past and even future cases
• Implicated in cases across various states
• Acquitted of the charges that are never proved
• Continues to be in jail in other cases
• Is finally acquitted in all cases only after many years
 
Despite the grave miscarriage of justice evident from the above, the criminal jurisprudence process initiates no criminal suit against the guilty policemen even in cases where the judges clearly rule that the police framed the accused. Moreover, no compensation is ever offered to the accused compounding their utter humiliation on top of the suffering and the misery of years.
 
BRINGING JUSTICE
It is demanded that the Government of India and Parliament bring the following changes in the criminal jurisprudence pertaining to cases of terrorism in order to ensure that Muslims are not illegally and criminally trapped in false cases on fabricated evidence:
 
1. Fast-Track Courts be set up to exclusively hear terrorism/sedition cases of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and Section 124(a) of the Indian Penal Code
 
2. Daily hearings must be held in every case
 
3. Prosecution must file charge-sheets within 60 days against the present 180 days
 
4. The accused will have automatic bail if the trial is not concluded and judgement delivered within one year from the date of arrest
 
5. A High Court judge would evaluate intelligence reports on the basis of which arrests are made and/or charge-sheets filed must be presented, before the start of the trial. All such rulings would be classified for a period of ten years.
 
6. An accused acquitted in one case would have the right to automatic bail in any and every other case of terrorism/sedition
 
7. Once an accused has earned bail in one case, he/she would be allowed bail in other cases if he/she is able to post sureties as deemed by the court
 
8. Irrespective of the number of cases against an accused, he/she cannot be denied bail for more than one year
 
9. If an accused is implicated in more than two cases, an automatic review of the charges would be be brought before a judicial officer of no lower than a District Judge's rank who must rule on their prima facie genuineness within six weeks
 
10. An acquittal would automatically trigger the process for determining the quantum of compensation that Government of India would pay the former accused
 
11. An acquittal would automatically trigger the process of inquiry by a judicial officer of a rank no lower than a District Judge leading to prosecution of the police officials who had been instrumental in the arrests and investigations
 
12. Promotions, awards and rewards for policemen for any work would remain suspended from implementation until inquiry against them is over
 
13. The telephone call records of the policemen involved in making arrests of terror accused as well as in encounter killings would be made case property
 
14. Police raids to arrest the terror accused, if based on previously received intelligence inputs, would mandatorily be video recorded
 
15. All police officers involved in the arrest of the terror accused would have to mandatorily undergo lie detector tests before the trial of the accused begins
 
JUDICIAL INQUIRY
It is demanded the the Government of India file a petition before the Supreme Court of India following a detailed investigation of the terrorist cases brought against Muslims since 2001. Such a petition would argue before the honourable Supreme Court that the Indian police has deliberately, maliciously and criminally targeted the Indian Muslim community implicating its youths in false cases of terrorism by way of an organised campaign.

Dear Friends,
 
There is rising concern across the country about the large-scale arrests and harassment of Muslim youth by the security forces of the state. Young men are being picked up without explanation, taken into police custody, beaten and tortured and eventually thrown into jail awaiting trial for years on end. Several have died in custody, the latest case being of Qateel Siddiqui who died in mysterious circumstances in the Yerwada Jail, Pune. He was arrested last November and killed in a high security prison for a case in which his complicity had still not been established.
 
There has been silence about the disappearance of Fasih Mahmood, the engineer picked up in Saudi Arabia. Except for denying any knowledge of his whereabouts, there has been no response from the UPA government about efforts to trace an Indian citizen whose family is now running from pillar to post in search of Justice.
 
Urdu journalist Syed Kazmi remains in jail on charges of terrorism, with the police still to file a chargesheet against him.
 
These are just a few cases of hundreds, with official reports now admitting that a majority of prisoners in Indian jails are Muslims. Citizens concerned about the increasing intolerance and authoritarianism of the Indian state where the minorities no longer feel safe in their own homes have decided to come together to organize a public meeting to raise a voice against injustice and what amounts to state terror.
 
A resolution calling upon the state for remedial action at different levels will also be adopted at the meeting that will be addressed by Sri Mulayam Singh Yadav, Sri AB Bardhan,Sri HD Deve Gowda,Sri Sharad Yadav, Sri Prakash Karat, Sri D.Raja, Sri Gurudas Das Gupta, Sri Mani Shankar Iyer, Sri Hanumant Rao, Sri Ram Vilas Paswan and senior representatives of civil society.
 
We call upon you to join the program and support the initiative

With Thanks and Regards,
Mohammed Adeeb, MP, Rajya Sabha.
Seema Mustafa, Senior Journalist.
Prof.Anuradha Chenoy,JNU.
Ajeet Sahi, Journalist.
Iqbal Ahmad, Journalist
Ameeque Jamei, Activist

03 July, 2012

Uncertainty in politics

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

India’s major national parties are in the throes of crisis. Their internal problems may have their impact on developments at the national and state levels in the months ahead.

The Congress, which heads the ruling United Progressive Alliance government, has lost its second most important Cabinet minister, Pranab Mukherjee, having picked him as its candidate in the presidential election to be held this month.

An astute politician, Mukherjee was perhaps the one most qualified to be the prime minister. Congress President Sonia Gandhi having chosen Manmohan Singh, a non-politician, for the post, it fell to him to handle sensitive negotiations. Apart from being finance minister, he was chairman of most of the Cabinet committees.

The prime minister’s decision to keep the finance portfolio with himself and to distribute the chairmanship of Cabinet committees among several senior ministers testifies to the paucity of talent in the party’s higher echelons.

Mukherjee has the support of several parties outside the UPA, including the Janata Dal (United) and the Shiv Sena, which are constituents of the rival National Democratic Alliance. The Congress party’s largest partner, the Trinamool Congress, has set its face against his candidature, but he is set to win, thanks to the wide measure of support from outside the UPA.

So far there is nothing to indicate that the switch of loyalties by some partners of UPA and NDA in the presidential election signals the beginning of a realignment of forces at the national level.

Most Congressmen regard Sonia Gandhi’s son, Rahul Gandhi, who is general secretary of the party, as a future prime minister. His attempts to rejuvenate the party in Uttar Pradesh, the original home of the Nehru Gandhi dynasty, have not been a success. However, no one in the party sees it as a reason to delay his induction as a minister and eventual elevation as prime minister.

While Sonia Gandhi can easily bring about changes at the national level, she finds the going tough at the state level. In Andhra Pradesh, the largest state where the Congress still has primacy, the revolt by family members and followers of former Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy has administered the party a rude shock.

The party’s top leaders in Maharashtra are under the shadow of scams. In Kerala, the caste and religious forces on which the party has relied for sustenance have become an acute source of embarrassment.        

The Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the NDA, too, is facing serious troubles. Since its long-time prime minister-in-waiting Lal Kishen Advani is too old to be in the reckoning, a frantic search is on for a new candidate.

The Hindu rightwing Rashtreeya Swayamsevak Sangh, the power behind the party, wants Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to be projected as the presidential candidate. Nitin Gadkari, whom the RSS pitch forked into the party chairmanship some time ago, has started preparing the ground to bring Modi to the national stage. Young parliamentarians like Sushama Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, who lead the party in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively, resent the move.

The RSS can smother all opposition to Modi from within the BJP but it will have a hard time selling his candidature to the NDA constituents as he bears the odium of having presided over the 2002 pogromme against Muslims in Gujarat. The Janata Dal (U) has made it known its opposition to Modi in no uncertain terms.

Like the Congress, the BJP, too, faces internal problems in its strongholds. In Karnataka, BS Yeddyurappa, who was forced out of chief ministership in the wake of grave corruption charges, is seeking the ouster of his successor, DV Sadananda Gowda. Former Rajasthan Chief Minister Vajayaraje Scindia, who is hoping to stage a comeback riding the anti-incumbency wave against the Congress government, is encountering opposition from a dissident faction.

The Left parties, which once played a role far in excess of their natural strength in times of political uncertainty, are no longer significant actors on the national stage. The largest of them, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, is in deep trouble in its traditional strongholds. The Trinamool Congress, which put an end to its unbroken stewardship of the West Bengal government for 33 years, is making it difficult for the party to rebuild its shattered base. In Kerala, several CPI-M leaders are in custody in connection with murder cases being investigated by the state police and the Central Bureau of Investigation.-- Gulf Today, Sharjah, July 3, 2012.