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Archives for : July2017

Review of Kandhamal: Introspection of Initiative For Justice

The first major work on the subject of anti-Christian violence in the country, this book on Kandhamal 2008 focusses on how the criminal justice system in India fails over and over again

BOOKS Updated: Jul 15, 2017 08:44 IST

Hari Chand Digal, a resident of Minia in Kandhamal District, holding up a burned Odia Bible in October 2008.
Hari Chand Digal, a resident of Minia in Kandhamal District, holding up a burned Odia Bible in October 2008.(Vipin Kumar/HT)

In this era of lynchings, how much can we learn from research into earlier cases of communal violence? A lot. On the surface, they may appear quite different from each other but they are deeply connected, and past experiences of violence against religious minorities have emboldened mobs to carry out their agenda with greater ease.

In the Indian case, research on communal violence has largely been limited to the Hindu-Muslim conflict. This is the first major book on the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal, Odisha in 2008. One of the poorest districts of the state, Kandhamal was founded by prominent Christian barrister, Madhusudan Das, on 1 April, 1936. Written by two eminent lawyers, the book focusses on the challenges victims and their defenders often confront, and how the criminal justice system repeatedly fails in India. Considerable research has been done on the subject of communal violence by historians, sociologists, political scientists, and legal scholars, among others. But the bulk of their research seeks to explain the role of ideology, state and political parties and barely addresses the issue of the legal apparatus and its shortcomings. This book, however, primarily looks at the legal organs of the state, courts, and Commissions of inquiry, and provides insights on how institutional failures determine the contours of injustice. It also points out how the political space in which these processes are allowed to operate remains vulnerable to threat, co-option, and manipulation.

The incidents in 2008 weren’t the first in Kandhamal. Another – smaller in scale – took place in 2007. The violence, on both occasions, led to the setting up of Commissions of inquiry headed by former justices. On 14 July, 2008, the Justice Basudev Panigrahi Commission of Inquiry was set up to look into the violence in 2007; and in September 2008, Justice SC Mohapatra took over to head the Commission of Inquiry into the 2008 violence. Since Justice Mohapatra passed away in 2012, Justice Naidu took over and the Commission resumed its work in March 2013. At the time o f the publication of this book, neither of the Commissions had submitted their reports. Subsequently, the final reports were submitted. One major dispute about the violence in 2008 was whether it was indeed an anti- Christian outburst. The Odisha government was hesitant to recognize its communal nature and instead, argued that it was the result of lingering land issues between two dominant ethnic groups, the Panas and Kandhas. The report of the National Commission for Minorities(NCM) and several independent reports by globally recognized civil society groups, however, challenged the state government’s explanation. The authors of this book endorse the communal dimension of the conflict, and recognize the role of various political and quasi-political Hindutva groups in perpetuating the violence and also preventing justice being done to the victims.

Hari Chand Digal and his family in front of their burnt home in Minia village in Kandhamal District on October 9, 2008. (Vipin Kumar/HT)

According to the authors, the 2008 violence was pre-planned as various preparatory meetings were organized by the perpetrators and their patrons. The availability of weapons, and the systematic manner in which properties were looted and transferred also indicates planning. Efforts were made to destroy evidence and obstruct justice, and also to prevent civil society workers from assisting victim-survivors. The state’s conduct appears to have been deeply compromised, and in fact, more favourable to the perpetrators than to the victims. At the time of violence, the Biju Janata Dal( BJD), led by Naveen Patnaik, was in coalition with the Bhartiya Janata Party( BJP). The coalition broke after a few months and by 2009, Patnaik led his party to victory alone. However, the state still appeared compromised when it came to assisting victims, showing how casual so-called secular parties have been in addressing minority rights.

Vandalised idol of Jesus Christ at a church in Phulbani in Kandhamal District in October 2008. (Vipin Kumar/HT)

The research presents details about the functioning of the fast track courts set up after the violence continued till March 2013. There were 3,300 complaints but only 820 complaints were registered, and 518 cases charge sheeted. When the fast track courts were terminated, there were still 200 pending cases. These were transferred to regular courts, another example of the state’s non-serious approach to justice delivery.

A relief camp for riot victims at Tikabali in Kandhamal. (HT PHOTO)

The chapter on witness protection presents a vivid account of the intimidation of witnesses, and calls for serious reform in the judicial system. The authors analyse court verdicts, interview victims and other stake holders, and examine court proceedings to build their narrative. Scholars interested in how justice eludes victims of communal and ethnic violence would profit enormously by reading this important piece of research.

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“They Wanted Us Dead, And Now I Wish We Were Dead”: Train Attack Survivor Asiya Begum

Image result for "They Wanted Us Dead, And Now I Wish We Were Dead": Train Attack Survivor Asiya Begum



NEW DELHI: It was the first time that the family from Karimganj in Uttar Pradesh had gone out in two years, and were returning on the train on that fateful day from a wedding in the family. The 2 year hiatus was because they had lost a young son in an accident, with the second paralysed since. And this boy was attacked by the goons who found the Muslim family of ten an easy target in the train, as they beat the men unconscious, molested the women, and thrashed the physically challenged son who has no use of his right arm and cannot walk without assistance.

Asiya Begum is beside herself with fear and grief. She cannot stop crying, and feels now totally helpless and alone. “Not a single responsible person has come to us, to stand by us, to help us. We are so scared, the police is asking us questions we have no answers to, those men who attacked us are still free, we fear another attack, we have nothing nothing left, I just don’t know what we will do,” she cries. The ageing mother who was also groped and assaulted by the mob says she had not recovered from the accident that killed her one son, and paralysed another, and only went because her family insisted.

The sequence of events that she narrated to The Citizen is a nightmare that as she says, “should happen to no one, but it will, because just as they beat us and you kept quiet, they will beat you too, why don’t people realise that? Why? They have left us alone, but they are alone too, don’t they know that? I wish now they had killed us, as no one cares, no one is there for people like us who have nothing to begin with, and now even that little has gone.”

The family of ten boarded the train, with others from the wedding as well. Shortly after they had taken their seats, 3 or 4 boys came and pounced upon their paralysed son, snatched a mobile, and started hitting him. It seemed to be a case of robbery at the first instance, that turned communal shortly after with the men calling in for reinforcements and beating the family senseless. There were three rounds of attacks, as Asiya Begum remembers, the first by the small group, then again by a larger group armed with knives, and then by the mob that had increased to 40 persons.

“My son does not look paralysed when he is sitting but he is, and first they must have thought they need to beat him to rob us, as the rest of us were elderly or women. We women got up, and knowing the days are very bad, started pleading with them to let him go. Don’t hit him beta, please understand, was the tone and tenor I used. Then they turned on me, snatched my jewellery and started assaulting me. At this the men intervened, and with the help of others who were in the compartment and had been at the same wedding, got them out, and locked the doors,” she recalls amidst tears, her voice quivering with fear.

She says that she just remembers the broadstrokes, and cannot even really recall now who got on where, and what they all looked like. “I can’t even remember your name so please write it down for us,” she says, dissolving into tears. The youth started pelting stones at their compartment, broke the emergency window, a couple of them crawled in, opened the doors and they came back in to continue the assault. By now their numbers had increased. “They had called some people who came on motorccyles. They attacked us with knives, iron rods, they started kicking and beating us. My husband is a heart patient, his bones are broken, he has internal injuries now. The men fell unconscious, we started crying, please don’t hit them any more, they are dying but they didn’t listen.” Again other passengers got them out somehow.

They got back in. By this time the mob had increased to 40 men. They started groping the women at this stage. Asiya Begum’s young daughter and other women had been taken out by the other passengers, they hit in the toilets and somehow escaped. Her details are now a little confused as per the sequence of events, as clearly the trauma has taken over her memory, but she cannot forget the assault, the beating, the kicking, the terror.

The train had moved again, and they begged other passengers not to deboard without asking their villagers to send persons to help. One passenger did that, and some of the villagers she says, came and the men then ran away.

What about the guards and the engine driver, when the train was stopped by the mob by pulling the emergency chain? The guard came, but left as the mob threatened to kill him, Asiya Begum says. And the engine driver was a woman who was also intimidated by the mob.

Her husband Shakir who is in severe pain, earns some money from embroidery. This is their only income.The family is very poor, and made even more so after the death of their young son and the treatment of the other. She has another son and a daughter who were saved the attack as they were hidden by the other passengers.

It was not at all an ordinary robbery as some seem to suggest, as the slurs were hate inspired, and as Asiya Begum herself pointed out, the family was willing for them to take the little they had and had offered no resistance to the robbery. It was only when the abuse became unbearable and the men became physical with the women, that the others intervened

“We are so scared, those men are all out there, they might attack us again. The police is asking so many questions we don’t even know the answers to. They came with three men and asked us to recognise them, they kept asking us to identify the person who they said was the ringleader. We could not really place him, but we also said we were too terrified at the time. If the daroga knows he is the main man then they should investigate and find out more. We just want the men to be arrested. We are alone, no one cares, and I wish we were dead,” she cries in helpless fear.

This family lives in the erstwhile constituency of former Congress Minister Salman Khursheed. But there has not been even a move from his side, with the family being left alone to handle their trauma.

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Ramdev to Raise Army of Private Guards Who’ll be ‘Prepared to Die’ For India #WTFnews

“Our security guards will be different from others because they will be trained in arms and scriptures and will be mentally, physically and spiritually stronger than others,” says S K Tijarawala.

Updated:July 14, 2017, 6:47 PM IST

Ramdev to Raise Army of Private Guards Who'll be 'Prepared to Die' For India
Tijarawala throws around numbers in the latest sector that Ramdev has decided to disrupt, very modestly. (Image: PTI)
New Delhi: When the news of Baba Ramdev getting into private security business was announced, one became naturally curious about how different his security guards would look and behave from the others.

One wasn’t surprised when Ramdev’s office told News18 that guards provided by ‘Parakram Suraksha’ would be fully trained in using arms and scriptures — ‘Shastra and Shstra’. And in yoga, of course.

“Our security guards will be different from others because they will be trained in arms and scriptures [shastra and shstra] and will be mentally, physically and spiritually stronger than others,” Patanjali Ayurved Ltd and Patanjali Yogpeeth spokesman S K Tijarawala told News18.

Ramdev’s Patanjali was considered to be the ‘worst disruptive force for consumer goods industry’ last year.

Tijarawala throws around numbers in the latest sector that Ramdev has decided to disrupt, very modestly.

“This business, so I have heard, is worth around Rs 40,000 crore to Rs 50,000 crore. And is potentially going to employ around 50 lakh people. So we wanted to move in this direction. Provide employment to all these people,” Tijarawala says.

The reason for having entered this business segment was not just to provide employment but also some sense of security to people, Ramdev’s spokesperson adds.

“We can look around and see how fearful the situation is. And the people entrusted with this job lack the necessary conviction, loyalty, character and patriotism. Any guard in this business should be prepared to die for his country.”

To lend this ‘character’ to their security staff, Parakram Suraksha will employ only ex-servicemen. “A fauji even after he retires commands respects from those living around him. This is the reason why we will employ only faujis.”

The day of a recruit – Patanjali has been receiving thousands of job applications daily – will start from yoga. And then they will be put through rigorous training by senior ex-servicemen.

Apne aas paas dekhiye kitna dar ka mahaul hai [Look around you, how fearful seems the world],” Tijarawala says.

Which is why Parakram Suraksha is looking to secure schools, colleges, cinema halls, hospitals and other important installations. And VVIPs also? “Everything, yes,” says Tijarawala.

He presents an interesting theory about why Ramdev decided to get into the business of private security.

“Since the devolution of joint families into nuclear families a sense of security has been lost generally in societies. People are more scared than ever and this is why a lot of attacks are also happening. A lot of important people used to come to meet Babaji [Ramdev] with their own security guards but they bemoaned the lack of sense of security in the society. That’s when he decided to serve the nation in this capacity also.”

Patanjali already has a batch of 1000 security guards at its Haridwar facility, who are adept in ‘Shaastra and Shstra’ and who are a model of what private security business, started by Ramdev will look like. Ramdev intends to give a sense of security to the society, but with his new business battle-plans, the existing private security firms, given Patanjali’s legendry ‘disruptor’ tag, are bound to feel slightly insecure now.

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13 years after Mothers of Manipur protested naked against Indian Army, where is justice?

The immediate provocation was the brutal rape, torture, mutilation and murder of 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama by the 17th Assam Rifles.


Thirteen years ago, on July 15, the world woke up to some shocking images from Manipur. The images were of 12 naked middle-aged women carrying a white banner with “Indian Army Rape Us” painted red on it.

The immediate provocation was the brutal rape, torture, mutilation and murder of 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama by the 17th Assam Rifles, the oldest paramilitary force of India.

Manorama was picked up from her home in Imphal, on July 10, on the pretext of an interrogation and under the assumption of being a militant, with no incriminating evidence whatsoever. Her body was found the next day in a field four kilometres from her house.

There were 16 bullets lodged into her genitals, gash marks (presumed to be from a knife) on her thighs, and several deep wounds and bullets throughout her body. The autopsy confirmed Manorama as being raped multiple times and then being shot in her genitals.

This was a boiling point for the Mothers of Manipur – the Meira Paibi.

Meira Paibi, which means women torchbearers in Manipuri, is a women’s civil rights group that was started way back in 1977 as a coalition of normal middle-class women in a spirit of solidarity and protection. The name derives from a practice that the Meira Paibi do, which is to carry torches throughout the night in groups as a way of protection and as a symbol of protest against the repeated rapes committed by the Indian Army on unsuspected, innocent women.

Soon after word spread about the horrific fate of Manorama, on July 15, 12 women of Meira Paibi did something remarkable. They all assembled outside the Assam Rifles headquarters in Kangla Fort, Imphal, and stripped all their clothes and screamed slogans of “Indian Army rape us… we all are Manorama’s mothers” and “Kill us. Rape us. Flesh us.”

The anger and rage was palpable in the environment. Everybody was stunned, including the officers of the Assam Rifles.

By using their bodies from a site of sustained vulnerability to an entirely different kind of strengthened vulnerability, they challenged years of sexual violence by the Indian Army. They used their own body as a powerful tool of protest and resistance against years of sustained violation and humiliation.

“They had their weapons, we only had our body… Together the mothers gave a war cry,” recalls Soibom Momon Leima in an interview.

The mothers had not told anyone in their family before actually protesting outside the Kangla Fort. They were working class middle-aged women who we all can relate to (but for the sustained sexual violence they and their family face).

army-embed_071517044744.jpgThe perpetrators are the same people who are valourised and celebrated every day without critique or question. Photo: Reuters

Gyaneswari, recalls touching her husband’s feet before leaving home that day as she had not confided in him what she was going to do. “We could easily be molested or raped. Why then should we not walk in the streets naked?” she asserts.

Soon after the protest, the 12 mothers were arrested and jailed for three months, but it was just the beginning of an unprecedented line of protests in Manipur. The Assam Rifles were forced to vacate the Kangla Fort soon after, and the AFSPA removed from seven Assembly segments in the Imphal Valley, though it remained in the rest of Manipur.

The perpetrators are the same people who are valourised and celebrated every day without critique or question. Of course, no doubt, the sacrifice of many members of the Indian Army is venerable, but does that necessarily mean the crimes committed by them, brutally so, must be excused or condoned? Is that what a democracy entails? Then what is the difference between a constitutional democracy and a land that is governed by martial law?

Manipur is one those territories which is under the rule of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Under the AFSPA, no member of the Armed Forced may be prosecuted without sanction from the Union home ministry or Union defence ministry.

In July 2016, in an interim judgment based on a petition filed by the Extrajudicial Execution Victim Families’ Association Manipur (EEFVAM), the Supreme Court hauled up the Indian Army heavily for a great amount of excesses and extra-judicial killings committed by the force.

The petition demanded that investigations be conducted into 1,528 cases of extra-judicial and unwarranted killings committed by the Army. The same court had, in 2014, awarded a Rs 10 lakh compensation to the family of Manorama.

The Supreme Court also condemned the use of extra-force by the Indian Army and stated that they will not be permitted henceforth to use extra-force unless and until they do so for their defence. Whilst such a position of the court is welcome, it is far from being cathartic.

Sanctions to prosecute is still abysmally low, as has always been since Independence. If that be the case, what would be the benefit of tokenistic guidelines? The central government, outraged with even this position of the Supreme Court, has filed a curative petition to allow the armed forces to use force as they deem fit.

Sexual violence is a tool used by the Indian Army and one must reckon that the Army, which is so valourised, eulogised and patronised, is also prone to killing innocent people, raping and mutilating the bodies of innocent women and torturing in the name of interrogation. It is but sheer hypocrisy and unbridled nationalist, megalomaniac ego to not critique where critique is necessary.

Till date, the killers of Manorama have not been apprehended. The blood is on our hands who turn a blind eye to these instances, just as much as it is on theirs – for we are the reason, the perpetrators in green enjoy immunity.

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Joyita Mondal: The Transgender Activist Who Made It from the Streets to the Courthouse

Joyita Mondal once slept on the streets of Islampur, in Uttar Dinajpur, and begged at the traffic signal; today she has been chosen to be on the bench for a National Lok Adalat, a few minutes away from the signal she used to beg at. Born transgender, by fighting against the odds, she is spreading hope within the transgender community in India.

Joyita is the founder of the Dinajpur Notun Aalo Society (DNAS), which works primarily for the LGBTQ community in the Dinajpur area, and envisions a society where everyone, regardless of their gender or sexuality, is able to access all social and economic opportunities necessary for their well being.

According to a report by The Optimist Citizen, Joyita Mondal ceaselessly worked with her DNAS team to integrate all the government bodies in the area, from lowest to top-most, in her fight to get recognition for transgenders, and to get them their social and economic entitlements like Aadhaar, ration cards, and government jobs. She also started a dialogue on the issue of homosexuality amongst the youth there. Currently, they have 93 support groups who work on the issues of hijras, transgender, and homosexual individuals.

Recognising her social work and dedication to the cause, the office of the sub-divisional legal services committee of Islampur for the July 8 Lok Adalat, described her as a social worker and put her in the category of “learned judges.”

“This is the first time that a person from the community has got this opportunity. It is not just about empowerment. This is about getting into the system and getting the authority to make a difference,” said Abheena Aher, founder of Trans Welfare Equity and Empowerment Trust.

Apart from working for the LGBTQ communities, Joyita and her team have also set up an old age home that takes in those sex workers who have been struck by the ravages of senility and have no place to go. The DNAS has also initiated projects like Project Pehchan and others which included a large number of stakeholders; awareness programs have been carried out in schools, colleges, and elsewhere to reach out to the masses.

Our organization run a project Pehchan last 4 yeras for MSM transgender Hijra community……….

Joyita’s work has been rewarded by many organisations. In October 2016, she was declared a Changelooms Fellow, conferred upon by the Delhi-based organisation Pravah. She was also declared a national youth leader by National AIDS Control Organisation.

It’s time we start looking at people as human beings and stop judging them by their sexual orientation or gender. Joyita’s achievements have proved that everyone is capable of greatness.


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India – Framing Innocents: Bias, Suspicion, Incarceration

KOLKATA: Though there is no known data on those behind bars specifically on terror charges, hundreds of youths are believed to be incarcerated as under-trials in connection with alleged terror attacks or terror plots.

Muslims anyways have disproportionately high representation in jails. To be fair, it’s not just Muslims who appear to be at the receiving end of the biased system, about 65% of total jail inmates are Dalits, tribals or other backward community members according to the National Crime Bureau.

This detail was brought forth by Mohammed Reyaz who, besides being a researcher and a columnist, teaches at the Aliah University in Kolkata.

Framing Innocents–Bias, Suspicion, Incarceration & the Muslim youth was a screening-cum-lecture programme hosted by People’s Film Collective. PFC is an independent, autonomous, people-funded cultural-political collective based in West Bengal. Formed in 2013, it believes in the power of films as a weapon of pedagogy as well as alternative media for people.

Reyaz began his presentation through his unfolding of one of the most tragic stories of wrongful imprisonment. Gulzar Ahmed Wani was a 28-year-old PhD student when he was arrested on trumped-up terror charges in 2001. After 16 years of imprisonment, he was finally acquitted of all terror charges by a local court in Uttar Pradesh in May this year.

“What made Wani an easy scapegoat was that he was not only a Muslim but also a Kashmiri. Wani is still lucky to have survived as there are several reported cases of fake encounters. In several other cases, like Akshardham terror attack, the lower court had given death sentences to several accused and life to others (upheld by the HC), but the apex court not only acquitted them of all terror charges but also criticized the law enforcement agencies of wrongly incarcerating them and planting evidence,” Reyaz said.

He added that not that all terror cases are false. But in several recent cases accused incarcerated in jail sometimes for as long as 22 years and such instances are not exceptions but several have been well documented.

This was underscored by the three films screened, specially the two documentary films as they were shot live right through the filming without fictional interspersions. Farooq versus the State’ deals with the controversial case of Farooq Mhapkar, one of the key persons who was wrongly accused in the Hari Masjid case, one of the most serious episodes of the Mumbai riots of 1992-93.

Hari Masjid, Wadala, Mumbai, was the scene of a brutal police attack on January 10, 1993. Though Farooq Mhapkar was one of the casualties of indiscriminate police firing, he was charged as a rioter. Farooq versus The State is the story of Farooq’s protracted legal battle against an unyielding State in pursuit of justice. Through this case, the film seeks to explore how justice was delayed and denied to the victims and survivors of the 1992-93 communal violence. The film made in 2013, is narrated mainly from the first-person perspective of Farooq who is still fighting his case and is unwilling to give up.

The film takes a neutral stance and allows the visuals and dialogues to spell out the tragic story not only of Farooq Mhapkar but also of many innocent Muslims living in Wadala which used to be a pocket in a busy area of the city with Muslims and Hindus living in complete harmony as the people interviewed repeatedly said.

Abdul Haleem Khan, a resident of Wadala said, “Every other area in Mumbai was affected by the Babri Masjid incident and the city, in 1992, post Babri Masjid was spilling over with police attacks on Muslims. But Kidwai Nagar Colony was completely safe. So, we are puzzled about why and how this outburst by the local police happened suddenly on January 10, 1993.”

The name that comes up again and again right through the film, from some of the surviving victims who were injured but survived and even by former Supreme Court Justice B.N. Srikrishna was that of Inspector Nikhil Kapse. During an interview in the film, he says, “All evidence suggests, prima facie, that the police had opened fire on an innocent, unsuspecting group of namaazis by blocking all the entries and Nikhil Kapse, inspector of the local police station was prima facie guilty of this attack and for leading his team of policemen.”

But Nikhil Kapse went off scot free even after the Shiv Sena-led state government was replaced by the Congress which had promised the victims that justice would be done to them. Since the film was made in 2013, 20 years after the incident, it offers a retrospective and in-depth view of the incident that, placed against the backdrop of the current atrocities against the minorities and wrongful incarceration in new ligh.

Nitin Neera Chandra’s short film The Suspect is about a Muslim man who lands in trouble just because he happens to be a Muslim. Chandra said that the film \was inspired by a real life incident. 26 year old Abdul Rahim Ansari, arrives in Mumbai from Darbhanga (Bihar) to work as Production Assistant trainee a film unit in Mumbai.

Sanjay, his Darbhanga friend has done well and gets a job for Abdul and asks him to come to Mumbai. On the very day of his arrival, Ansari finds himself right in the middle of a terrorist attack.  Out of the blue, every news channel is flashing Abdul as the main culprit. His only source of identity is that he has a beard and wears a taveez on his neck. He hurriedly snips off his beard, takes off his cap and the taveez but cannot escape being captured because he happens to escape to the same lodge where the terrorists are planning their next attack.

Said Nikhil, “Nisar ud din Ahmad’s story shook me from within. I saw a photograph in which he was hugging his mother. He was in prison for 23 years. As a suspect he could not prove his innocence for years. There are times when a judicial system based on witnesses and facts fail too. My story is about such breakdowns.”

What struck me the most about the film is that the victimisation forces the innocent victim to strip, step by step, physical factors that go to build his entire persona such as the beard and the taveez.Can you imagine a man in a democratic republic being forced to strip himself of his faith and even then, trapped in a maze of injustice from which there is no exit?

Every year when this country celebrates freedom, thousands of innocent prisoners in Indian jails, waiting for justice without even a trial. Abdul Nasar Maudany is one such victim. The story of his tragedy forms the crux of K.P. Sasi’s 90-minute film Fabricated.

As a Muslim spiritual leader, he reacted strongly against the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. His house was attacked and he spent nine and a half years in jail. All the charges against him were proven false and even the judgement makes it clear that the case was fabricated. He was released without any compensation. No trial on those who were responsible for such fabrication was conducted.

But soon, Maudany was framed for another series of charges and he is still waiting for justice in Bangalore Parappana Agrahara jail. Maudany became a very popular leader among the Muslims. He founded the People’s Democratic Party and his fiery oratory attracted a massive audience. Several attempts were made on his life and in one bomb blast, he lost a leg. His wife was also imprisoned for no fault of hers and was later let off on bail.

The film clearly spells out that Maudany’s is not an isolated case, but several Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis and activists from people’s movements go through similar experiences. The question raised by the film is “why is a person spending so many years in jail in without being proven guilty?” The film portrays the inner dynamics of the manner in which present institutions of the democratic system functions, so that a large number of innocent people can be framed and fabricated with false cases and dumped in jails for long periods, without the provision of basic human rights as per the requirements of Indian Constitution.

K.P. Sasi has directed 25 documentaries, three feature films and two music videos. They stand together in one direction: to implement justice, peace and democracy. “There are thousands of people out there crying loud for justice. All you have to do is to place a video camera in front of them and facilitate them to express themselves. When you record the voices of the voiceless, you become a finer human being.” says Sasi.

Abdul Nasar Maudany spent nine-and-half years in Coimbatore jail and then the judge said “you are innocent”. The question is – why did Maudany have to spend nine-and-half years in jail only to hear these words? If this had happened in the United States, Canada, England or Australia, he would have received crores of rupees as compensation. But instead, he was targeted again with fabricated charges and sent back to prison. So far, no judge has ruled that he is guilty.

What about the media? According to Reyaz, “The media plays a diabolical role as it suffers from deeply engrained prejudices and Islamophobia. So while they do report sympathetically when some of them are acquitted, they continue to parrot the version of the police when next time police arrests them the next time and fail to question them. The latter makes “breaking news” and gets over the top coverage, while acquittal becomes an anchor or inside page story.”

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Faridabad-Man carries 9-year-old granddaughter’s body on shoulder after hospital denied ambulance #WTFnews

Having no money, the man could not hire a private ambulance and started walking towards his home carrying his granddaughter’s body on his shoulder.
Having no money, the man could not hire a private ambulance and started walking towards his home carrying his granddaughter’s body on his shoulder.(Video grab from Eenadu India YouTube)

A man was forced to carry the body of his nine-year-old granddaughter who died allegedly after being denied treatment at the Civil hospital here and no ambulance was provided to them by the hospital administration.

According to a police spokesperson, the grandfather of Lakshmi, who had fever for the last two days, on Saturday morning brought her to Badshah Khan hospital here but doctors allegedly refused to treat her and later she died.

After her death, the doctors asked the man to take the body home but no ambulance was provided by the hospital authorities, he said.

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Religion of humanity rises above politics of religion

Highlighting the religion of the driver who saved the Amaranth pilgrims, is doing a disservice to him as well as secularism


Jyoti  Punwani


Should the religion of the driver whose presence of mind and courage saved over 50 Amarnath yatris be highlighted by the press? Whatsapp messages received by this writer had headlines saying: “Muslim driver ne bachayi Amarnath yatriyon ki jaan” (Muslim driver saved the lives of Amarnath yatris).

Similar headlines were used in Muslim news websites such as twocircles.netand Caravan Daily.  (‘Muslim driver’s courage saved lives in Amarnath attack’, July 11).

However, none of the mainstream print media gave such headlines. Some did, however, name the driver in the headline, making his religious identity clear, and leaving readers to draw their own conclusions. One can understand the pride some Muslims must feel on knowing that the driver was from their community. At a time when the community is the target of mob attacks that can occur anywhere, so-called “Muslim appeasement” is being railed about everyday on some leading news channels on prime time, and social media is full of anti-Muslim fake news, this one act disproves all the propaganda.

Here was an ordinary Muslim who cared neither for his own safety nor for the fact that his passengers belonged to the “other” community that was tormenting his own. By driving a bus full of Hindus through a hail of bullets straight to the army camp in Kashmir, a place where day and night, Muslims are attacking the army (thats the general impression among TV viewers), this Muslim gave the ultimate proof of his patriotism.

“We can’t have double standards on this, say that only positive deeds are linked to a person’s faith, but negative ones aren’t.”


Can this narrative stand rational scrutiny? In interviews to the media (where, incidentally, his name takes  myriad forms, Salim Shaikh, Salim Gafoor, Salim Mirza), the driver says he had no option but to keep driving, or be shot dead.

He also attributes his brave deed to the advice given by the man who sat next to him. Harsh Desai, the bus owner’s son, told him to keep going, he says. Hiral Dave’s report in Hindustan Times (July 11) quotes him as saying: “out of the blue, it started raining bullets… for a fraction of a second, my mind went blank. But I heard Harsh yelling – Java do, java do (keep moving, keep moving). I ducked and kept driving.”

Going by the logic of the above narrative, the interviews should highlight the fact that the “brave Muslim driver” was guided by the quick-thinking “Hindu bus owner’s son”.

That’s the road one has to take when one starts inserting religion into acts where it’s irrelevant.

Some journalists argue that today, the ruling BJP and its followers are anyway portraying everything in religious terms. Secondly, such highlighting of the “Muslim brave heart” would in some small way dispel the Islamophobia so prevalent in the media worldwide.

What are the implication of saying “Muslim driver saves Amarnath yatris”?

Let’s consider for a moment that the driver had been a Hindu. Would anyone have given the headline: “Hindu driver saves Amarnath yatris”?  Obviously not. It would’ve just been “driver braves bullets” etc.

So emphasising his religion while lauding the driver’s bravery, implies that as a Muslim, he did something extraordinary, or at least different from what a Hindu driver would have done.

Taken to its logical end, what does this imply? That for a Hindu driver, it’s just routine to be brave in the face of bullets from terrorists. Or, a Hindu driver would naturally do all he can to save his own community which is being attacked by Muslim terrorists. But for a Muslim driver to be brave, or, for a Muslim to save members of the other community, specially when the attackers belong to his community, is something uncommon, newsworthy.

That implies that the driver first thought about the faith of his passengers and then decided to drive through the firing. Are we praising Salim or damning him?

“Driving Hindu pilgrims on a life threatening journey has been part of their routine work. They could’ve refused such work, but they didn’t.”


What if Salim had decided to abandon the bus and flee? He says himself that that would have meant sure death, he would have been gunned down.

But suppose he had lost his nerve, or, decided to make a bid for an impossible escape, would his religion have been highlighted?  If some newspaper had said: “Muslim driver abandons busful of Amarnath pilgrims”, would that have been OK?

Once we start highlighting religion while reporting brave or generous acts which have little to do with the person’s faith, we should be ready to accept the same highlighting in reports about unsavoury acts too. We can’t have double standards on this, say that only positive deeds are linked to a person’s faith, but negative ones aren’t.

Reports about Salim’s bravery have brought out that this was his ninth trip to Amarnath, that his brothers are drivers too, and one of them has been driving Amarnath yatris for the last 11 years. Driving Hindu pilgrims on a life threatening journey has been part of their routine work. They could’ve refused such work, but they didn’t.

The bus company who hired Salim is called Om Travels.  A Hindu company in Gujarat, named after a quintessentially Hindu religious symbol, hires a Muslim driver to take Hindus on a pilgrimage. The owner’s son put his own life and that of his customers in the hands of a Muslim.

These facts are rich in themselves, indicating how deep are the workaday links between Hindus and Muslims, and how they’ve remained untouched even in a state known as the first successful laboratory of Hindutva, and even in the face of the current poisonous atmosphere of lynchings and hateful propaganda.

The help given by the locals to the hospitalised pilgrims and the spontaneous outburst of condemnation in the Valley is another testimony to this.

That’s our secularism in action. The websites saying “Muslim driver saved Hindu pilgrims”, and those wishing that had been the headline, are doing a disservice both to the driver and to secularism.

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#Aadhaar The Greatest Trick Yet, By The Greatest Magician #UID


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The Italian Kautalya, Niccolo Machiavelli, is supposed to have said that ‘Politics is the art of deception’ (or maybe it was the Indian Machiavelli, Kautilya, himself). Whoever it was, he has an able student in the Indian prime minister (PM) – a prestidigitator par excellence. Now, a good prestidigitator is one who will distract you with some dazzling spectacle performed by one hand, while the real trickery happens quietly with the other, which you don’t see. But a great prestidigitator is one who will hide the trickery in the spectacle itself – so you can see it happening, and still not see how thoroughly you are being fooled – or even that you are being fooled at all.

We are today witnessing one of the greatest political prestidigitations in the history of India – perhaps of the world. Over the last few months, the country has been rocked by a series of politico-economic earthquakes, starting with the infamous demonetization move. This was followed up with the dramatic acceleration in the enforcement of the Aadhar-UID scheme, culminating in the directive to link Aadhar to subsidies on the one hand, and to the filing of income tax on the other. And then, even before we could blink the spots out of our eyes from that spectacle, along came GST, and the furore over it. As the dust from these earthquakes slowly settles, when we look back at the destruction, certain patterns are slowly becoming discernible. They are as ominous as the shadow of a mushroom cloud.

In this piece, I aim to trace out those patterns. It is a somewhat lengthy piece, because sometimes, in order to see what lies beneath, or behind, or beyond that which is obvious, it is necessary to look elsewhere – to trace the signs of that which is hidden through its reflection in a series of metaphorical mirrors placed around it – rather like Medusa’s head, and in this instance, far more deadly. I ask the reader’s patience and indulgence; read through to the end, and hopefully, the patterns I trace will become fully, and awfully, comprehensible.

The first of these is evidence of the calibrated sequentiality with which each of these events unfolded. At first smell, they appear unrelated; but the stench of something rotting in the state of saffron grows strong soon enough, when we look at them closely, especially in terms of their effects and consequences. Let’s take demonetization, where it all started: it was unrolled with much trumpet-blowing as the mother of all surgical strikes on black-money and corruption. Within a month the tune had changed completely: all references to black money vanished, and the entire exercise was being referred to solely as a drive towards a cashless economy.[1] To this end, a new set of directives were issued, that tightened the flow of cash transactions – e.g., limiting the number of free cash withdrawals and deposits, placing a ceiling of Rs 2 lakhs on cash transactions, etc. Meanwhile, the baffling appearance of the Rs 2000 note, at a time when the claim was that high-denomination notes were being pulled out of circulation because they facilitated black money, was repeatedly brushed aside with non-sequiturs – till it came to light that the new notes had been selectively and secretly released in large quantities well before their official release. As of December 2016, a total of Rs 242 crores in new currency had been seized from various parts of the country[2] – and since this is only the amount that has actually come to light, one can safely say that it is no more than the tip of a very large iceberg of new currency that was pre-released, to facilitate the conversion from old to new, for those bhakts who had stashed away more than they should have. And finally, when it became clear that only about Rs 75,000 crores would not return – as opposed to the government’s anticipated figure of Rs 3 lakh crores[3] – it cast an even longer shadow of doubt on the efficacy of demonetization to meet its (first) touted objective, of explosing black money.

So what was achieved? A large step towards the cashless economy – in fact, the single biggest and most coercive move towards a cashless economy – disguised as an attack on black-money, but no less coercive for that. At the time, Mukesh Ambani – a main character in our narrative, as we will see – set a very large cat among the pigeons when he praised demonetization on the grounds that, with demonetization, ‘India has taken a big leap forward from a predominantly cash economy to a digitally enabled optimal cash economy. It has brought unproductive money into productive use.’[4] This provoked much speculation – that this was a move to bring cash into the cash-strapped banks, immiserated by bad loans to big corporate players, so that those very corporate players (perhaps like Ambani himself) could avail of it ‘productively’; or that it was mooted by foreign financial interests, seeking to enter the financial sector in India, and make a killing in the massive market for retail banking and electronic payments. Disgruntled sections of the middle class complained, through various Whatsapp messages, that this was a way for the financial corporations to either steal their money (yet again), or make money off the hapless customer by charging a commission on every single transaction – and all this may well have been true, perhaps remains so. But this was still not the real trick, although it too – like all good prestidigitation – was hidden in plain sight, and was revealed only after the whole ‘I shall uncover black-money’ spectacle was revealed to be a no-show. No, like a Chinese puzzle box, with layer within layer, this layer too was still part of the distraction. The real trick, in fact, was not out yet.

At the same time that demonetization happened, in an apparently unrelated way, our hero Mukesh Ambani’s own Reliance Infocomm Ltd (RIL) had brought out its Aadhar-linked Jio connection plan, again with much fanfare. It caused a minor ‘earthquake’ by offering free calls and data, albeit for a limited period, leading to a frenzied rush to get the connection – after all, who can say ‘no’ to freebies? In the space of 6 short months, by March 2017, Jio had registered more than 100 million users – a little less than a tenth of the population of the country. More significantly, since the Jio plan’s USP is free data, this figure accounts for almost a quarter of all internet users – approximately 450 million[5] – and about one third of all smartphone users – approximately 300 million[6] – in the country. The freebies raised few questions, and even competitors like Bharti Airtel only raised complaints about ‘predatory’ marketing and unfair pricing practices. No one wondered why Reliance would invest a whopping Rs 150,000 crores – and that is just the initial investment[7] – for this scheme, just to give it away free. Nobody, not even shareholders, raised questions when the company officially reported a net loss of Rs 22.5 crores for the half-year till March 2017[8], nor with the news that it will report a further loss of a massive Rs 19,600 crores in 2017-18, or in fact that it will begin to record profits only five years from now.[9] Even accounting for ‘predatory’ marketing tactics, in anticipation of future returns, this is a monumental gamble – unless there is a hidden card, a dead certitude that the investment will pay off. So, what gives?

In May 2016, well before the Jio plan was launched, ‘Reliance Infocomm Ltd’s…digital wallet app JioMoney made a quiet debut on Google Play Store’, with the specific intention of enabling ‘cashless payments through smartphones’.[10] In March 2017, it was reported that ‘with its Lyf brand [of smartphones] Reliance Digital was the fifth-biggest smartphone vendor of India in Q3 2016’ – i.e., a little before the demonetization move was being initiated – and that Reliance Jio was ‘collaborating with Google to develop an affordable Android-based 4G VoLTE smartphone that will work exclusively on the Jio network.’[11] This ‘affordable smartphone’ – estimated to be anywhere between Rs 999 and Rs 2000 – is expected to be out by the end of this year. I’ll come back to the significance of that date in a bit (for that is in fact the key to the final revelation from the master prestidigitator). For now, let’s just draw out the patterns that are emerging: RIL brings out its cashless payment app just months before the single biggest and most coercive drive towards cashless payment happens, in the garb of demonetization, and follows it up with free data – not just free voice calls, but free data, which is essential for cashless payment to happen – in its Jio plan, at monumental costs; and then backs it up still further with massive sales of its smartphones at the exact same time – a program it seeks to intensify, in its collaboration with Google. Coincidence? Even if we didn’t know that the head of RIL enjoys a very close personal relationship with the prime minister, it would be difficult to dismiss this as coincidence. The fact that he does; and that his first response – that ‘unproductive’ money was now available for ‘productive’ use – was made in the context of the fact that, because of Jio, RIL is in debt to the tune of Rs 47,000 crores; indicate that these developments were far from coincidental. Add to that the little detail that the RBI governor, Urjit Patel, the PM’s demolition man for the entire demonetization process, was once President, Business Development, in Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries (and what a way to develop his business!) and any remaining doubts will vanish.

But this is not yet our “Aha!” moment. If we now believe that this entire process was therefore undertaken simply to benefit Mukesh Ambani and RIL, we would again be guilty of being taken in by the spectacle: the real trick still remains concealed. It is certainly true that RIL was a central player in this game, but we must recall the enormous gamble it apparently took; and even with demonetization coercing its clients into using its cashless transaction app, JioMoney, and even with its subscriber base constituting a third of all smartphone users in the country, it was, and remains, a long shot to gamble on, given that, by its own estimates, it would break into profit only after five years. That is a long period of uncertainty in the life of a business. Furthermore, even if, hypothetically, it stands to benefit enormously after five years, the fact is that, so do all the other telecom corporates playing the cashless transaction market – and that too, probably much earlier, since they don’t have the burden of the massive investments made by RIL. So – as we noted earlier – unless some other unknown factor is at play here, that has erased the uncertainties for RIL, and guaranteed its stakes, the role of RIL remains somewhat baffling.

Another, equally pertinent question arises in this context: if this exercise was undertaken to benefit RIL, and the telecom sector at large, what was the quid pro quo? How did this current regime gain from all this? Money in the bank? Perhaps, to some extent; but since all this money is now ‘white’, it has very specific and limited utility, and could hardly have been the driving motive behind demonetization. A reputation for transparency and honesty? Possibly – although, again, this would seem a somewhat excessive way to achieve that – and in light of all that we have noted above, rather contradictory too. It’s time to look at the third ‘earthquake’ that happened, to answer these questions.

This one came a few months later, although it too, like the others above, had been carefully orchestrated for several months before, its base built even over several years before. In April 2016, the UIDAI announced that it had generated more than a billion Aadhar numbers, covering 93% of all adults, 67% of children in the age 5-18 age group, and 20% of children less than 5 years old. By March 2017, about one year later, this figure was up to 1.12 billion – an addition of approximately 120 million, in the course of one year – perhaps the biggest jump in Aadhar registrations ever. Then, through two directives – one, a circular issued on the 2nd of November 2016, bang in the middle of demonetization, and the second, the passage of the Finance Bill on the 22nd of March 2017 – the government effectively made Aadhar mandatory for any and every financial transaction in the country, for filing of all tax returns, as well as for availing various services, including pensions, the largesse of the Public Distribution System, employment under the various employment schemes, etc. Among these latter, of particular significance for us is the fact that banks and the telecom corporations have rushed to make Aadhar mandatory. In all of these, Aadhar was and is being encouraged to be treated as ‘the primary identifier’ of the citizen. This key phrase has been the cause of some confusion, because, on the one hand the government has strenuously sought to maintain that Aadhar will not replace any other identification and citizenship documents, such as the passport, ration card, voter ID, etc; on the other, when the Finance Bill was passed in March, the Finance Minister indicated the possibility that Aadhar could, in fact, replace other documents like the voter ID, Pan card, etc.[12]

Almost at the same time, the GST was declared as the new transformative event in the economy of the country. For a tax-reform that the PM repeatedly spins as the ‘Good and Simple Tax’, the GST seems to have baffled even the best financial and accounting minds, but that is not what I am concerned with – it is, to my mind, just more spectacle and distraction. What is pertinent for me is that the GST, like other financial transactions, will have to be complied with electronically, preferably using software designed specifically for that purpose. Further, the government plans to link GST with the Pan card[13] – and since that has to be linked to the Aadhar, the GST is effectively linked to Aadhar too. So now, through linking income tax and the GST to the Aadhar, every individual in every sector of production and income, and his/her earnings and wages, will be directly tracked by the government.

What does all this mean? If we step back from the dots we have been connecting, the picture that emerges is not a happy one. In order to explicate it, let’s start with first principles – because, clearly, this master prestidigitator has, with frightening thoroughness:

  • Every individual is a seller and a buyer. That is, every individual who earns an income sells his/her labour, either indirectly, through the production of goods that are then sold, or directly, in the form of services. The same individual also has to buy goods and services sold by others, for his/her needs (and that of their families).
  • The productions and consumptions of this individual, recorded through every transaction they make, are now open to scrutiny, with the records themselves now the property of the state – which is why it was so easy for the Attorney General, Mukul Rohtagi, to argue boldly that “The arguments on so-called privacy and bodily intrusion is bogus,” he said, adding, “one cannot have an absolute right over his or her body”.[14]
  • Further, in the present scenario, banks and other financial institutions will mediate all transactions, since all (or at least, the vast majority of) transactions have to be electronic. And since free withdrawals and deposits of cash are restricted, access to one’s own money in the form of cash is also controlled by the same institutions (no doubt Mukul Rohtagi will argue that one cannot have an absolute right over his or her money – which in any case is the logical corollary: after all, if you don’t have full rights over your body, how can you claim full rights over the earnings and spendings of your body?). Earlier you owned your money, and you had control of it; now, even if you have some claim to owning it, you have little or no control over how to use it.
  • In other words, the simple individual-to-individual transactions that were common till now, will not only be difficult, they will be illegal: the state, or its financial representative in the form of the financial institution that mediates your transactions, must be a necessary third party that will mediate and record all transactions, and charge a fee for doing so.
  • Every individual is also a social being – meaning that s/he is always already in a series of individual-to-individual relations. In today’s world, much of this social interaction happens online, usually through the very same instrument by which the said individual conducts cashless transactions, and often with those very other individuals. In other words, in this format of the digital economy, a payment made between a husband and wife, or a girl and her boyfriend, or a parent and child – or even in relation to them – is monitored by the telecom agent, as well as subject to the all-seeing gaze of Aadhar.

To sum up this miserable picture: between the telecom companies, especially RIL (which is not only aiming for a monopoly, but, through its alliance with Google, will become a formidable instrument of mass espionage on the unwary citizenry), the financial institutions and the state in the form of the UIDAI, the citizen – every citizen – can be subjected to simple pressures, starting with disconnection of the data connection; escalating to summons to explain various transactions, with possibly even threats to reveal his/her private transactions; and culminating the erasure of his/her Aadhar, and all that that entails.

Suddenly, the corporatized state and its statutorily empowered corporate agents are not out there anymore, they are here, between us, deep in our lives, intimate as our shadows. This is not an invasion of privacy. It is an erasure of privacy.

But the story doesn’t end here, the trick is still not complete. In fact, the worst is probably yet to come. Once we realize the full implications of this pattern, the question that must arise is, Why? At first glance, the answer seems obvious – it is about control. But control to what end? Here, we must recall a very innocuous-seeming statement, made almost in passing, by the Finance Minister: that Aadhar can replace the Voter ID. Now imagine an election in which every voter’s vote is individually knowable. Imagine this being justified in the name of transparency – for after all, if the voter’s body is not his/hers, why should his/her vote be sacrosanct? Then imagine the susceptibility of dissenters and even fence-sitters to pressure to vote a particular way, through this enormous, totalitarian apparatus of control that is being put in place in the name of fighting corruption, and that old stinking chestnut, national security. And now imagine the India that will emerge from that election.

It is the shadow of this imagination that is now discernible in the patterns we have drawn here. This is what we are all being fooled for: for the creation of an India that is unrecognizable, through the most devious and insidious of means possible. This is the final trick that the master prestidigitator is leading up to – hidden in plain sight, in all this dust and noise, discernible as no more than a shadow. And it is the shadow of a mushroom cloud rising up out of the ashes of this nation, in the not too distant future.

Prem Kumar Vijayan, Assistant Professor, Dept of English, Hindu College, Delhi

[1]     See, for data on these.

[2]     See

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[4]     See

[5]     See

[6]     See

[7]     See

[8]     See

[9]     See

[10]   See

[11]   See

[12]   See

[13]   See

[14]   See

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India Fourth Deadliest Country For Environmental Activists

As local communities are ignored, the need for environmental activism is on the rise. Credit: Ravi Mishra/Global Witness

As local communities are ignored, the need for environmental activism is on the rise. Credit: Ravi Mishra/Global Witness

New Delhi: According to ‘Defenders of the Earth‘, a new report released by international NGO Global Witness, being an environmental activist is as dangerous as it is important – including in India.

The group has documented the murder of 200 people who were fighting to protect the environment in 2016 alone; that’s about four people every week. That, the group says, is a 10% increase from 2015. These deaths were spread across 24 countries, according to the report, as opposed to 16 in 2015. And this, the report says, is the bare minimum, given the number of incidents that may be going unreported.

An even larger number of activists have subject to threats and intimidation. While 90% of those killed were men, women are facing other kinds of threats and risks, including of sexual violence and violence against their family. A majority of those killed belong to indigenous communities.

Credit: Global Witness

Credit: Global Witness

Worsening situation in India

India has got a special mention in this year’s report as one of the country’s where the situation is getting progressively worse, along with Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sixteen activists and Adivasis fighting for their rights were killed in 2016 (a list of names is provided), the report says, up from six in 2015. Most of those killed were a part of mining and logging industries, and the police are the suspected perpetrators in ten of the 16 cases. One such case, the murder of Manda Katraka of the Dondria Kondh tribe (who have been raising their voice against mining in the Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha) in February 2016 allegedly by police offices, has been highlighted in the report. When others tried to register a complaint against the police, they were termed Maoists.

Why this change? The worsening situation is due to the representation of environmental activists, including Adivasi groups, as ‘anti-development’ criminals, increasing police brutality and a clampdown on civil society using the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, according to the report. “In India, they say we are Maoists and extreme leftists. But we are democratic, we are non-violent. […] I am branded as anti-development by the corporates, by the ruling class and by the police who say we are a threat to law and order,” Goldman Prize-winning environmental activist Prafulla Samantara told Global Witness.

“The [Narendra] Modi administration’s shrinking of civil society space is particularly disturbing when viewed in parallel to the government’s aggressive pursuing of foreign investment for large-scale infrastructure, power and mining projects, and apparent disregard of local, particularly indigenous, voices. Under Indian law, these communities must be consulted before any development project takes place. In practice, these rights are often cast aside,” the report says.

In Chhattisgarh too, police brutality is a major player in the threats faced environmental activists, the NGO says. Writer and activist Rinchin, who works with the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, said a combination of land grabs, intimidation and criminalisation is making life very precarious for the local Adivasi populations. People’s demands are being ignored by both corporations and the government, she added, citing the example of the protests in the Tanmurh block, Raigarh district. Jindal Power Ltd, who used to own a power plant there, has been accused of duping villagers out of their land for the project. But the new owners, Southern Eastern Coalfields Limited, is refusing to take responsibility. Adivasi groups created a blockade outside the plant in protest. “When people stood their ground and would not leave, the SDM [sub-divisional magistrate] came and started shouting that he would penalise anyone he found on that spot and every outsider who was there… would be dug into the ground. Under massive pressure we had to take back our coal blockade with the promise that next day most of the demands would be met,” Rinchin told Global Witness. But not a single demand has been met till date.

Explaining the changing situation

This global shift towards a more dangerous situation for environmental activists, the Global Witness report says, can be traced back to one important factor – a diminishing space for the voices of local communities who are most effected by large industrial projects. What this boils down to is “denying local communities the right to take informed decisions about the use of their land and resources”.

While people are left with no choice but to stand up and raise their voices against injustices, the report says, the stance of governments and businesses is hardening. The stakes for them are high – they’ve made investments, they want profits. “Time and again, this dynamic and its deadly consequences are played out globally. When communities are excluded from the beginning, they are more vulnerable to attacks later.”

What’s the solution? It already exists, though the world doesn’t seem to keen to take it seriously. International law – as well as domestic law in several countries, including India – details the rights communities have when it comes to the use of their land and natural resources. According to Global Witness:

“Projects should never begin or evolve without the free, prior and informed consent of affected communities. Local residents have the right to say no. They should be able to participate in critical processes such as human rights, environmental and social impact assessments for projects like mines, dams or highways. When governments fail to guarantee these rights, companies and investors have a duty to uphold them before pushing ahead.”

Though these rights exist, they are frequently ignored and violated. What is needed, then, is for investors and governments for realise that this to everyone’s benefit – and a much better response than violence and intimidation.

200 land and environmental activists killed globally in 2016; India fourth most dangerous country

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