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Archives for : September2017

AIPWA Condemns Dissolution of Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) in JNU

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AIPWA condemns the decision taken by today’s JNU Executive Meeting to dissolve the Gender Sensitisation Committee Against Sexual Harassment (GSCASH) and replace it with an ‘Internal Complaints Committee’ that does not meet the standards of autonomy and gender sensitivity required by the Vishakha Guidelines or the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

Through a decision taken in today’s JNU Executive Council meeting, the GSCASH has been summarily dissolved and replaced with an Internal Complaints Committee headed by the Chief Proctor. As a result, the institutional mechanism for dealing with sexual harassment complaints in JNU has been integrated with the command structure of the University Administration and is no longer autonomous and free from Administrative pressure.
Even more shockingly, the Administration has rushed to try and seal the GSCASH office and take control of its files – which have sensitive and confidential material relating to ongoing enquiries as well as past enquiries. The AIPWA demands that the handover of files take place only in keeping with legal opinion to ensure that confidentiality will be preserved and material in the files will not be misused.

This dissolution of the GSCASH is the latest blow by the JNU Administration on gender justice in JNU – already before this, deprivation points in JNU admissions including gender deprivation points have been wiped out along with slashing in seats and the resulting erosion of reservation for students from oppressed and deprived backgrounds.

The manner in which this dissolution was achieved is noteworthy. The pretext is a 2015 UGC Notification stating that existing GSCASH bodies constituted in keeping with the 1997 Vishakha Guidelines must be “reconstituted as ICCs” in line with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (SHW 2013). But in fact the JNU Executive Council on October 6, 2015 had already ratified that JNU’s GSCASH Rules And Procedures were compliant with this requirement. (see document attached)

In August 2017 the JNU Administration, ignoring the earlier ratification, set up the Garkoti Committee to look into the compliance of GSCASH with the UGC Notification and SHW 2013. The nine-member Garkoti Committee had only three women. Only one of its members – former GSCASH Chairperson Dr. K.B. Usha – was experienced in the field of gender. According to Dr KB Usha one member of the Committee even said he had never heard of the word or concept of ‘patriarchy’. Not only that – while the Aug 2017 Notification appointing the Garkoti Committee (attached) clearly has Dr KB Usha’s name as a member, the final minutes of the Garkoti Committee (attached) simply omits to include any mention of the fact that Dr KB Usha had been a member, had dissented with the majority opinion and had resigned!

The example of the Garkoti Committee is a curtain raiser for the fate of the Internal Complaints Committee that has replaced the GSCASH: members will have no experience of working in the field of gender or against sexual harassment; any opinion that differs from those of the VC’s handpicked members will be ignored or erased from records; and as a result the enquiries will be effectively controlled by the Administration.

AIPWA has witnessed the fate of Administration-controlled Internal Complaints Committees in many institutions, including several government and private workplaces as well as colleges and Universities. JNU’s GSCASH was among the rare model institutions where the institution was actually autonomous and free to carry out tasks of gender sensitization and enquiries into complaints free from any pressure, regardless of whether the accused was a student, a faculty member, a staff member or employee, or someone in the Administrative hierarchy. The Rules and Procedures of the GSCASH are among the best practices in the whole country, carefully designed to protect confidentiality, ensure in-built safeguards against bias in every enquiry; and ensure justice. In fact, the ICC model cited in the UGC Notification only sets a minimum standard – the JNU GSCASH not only meets but far exceeds and improves on that standard. This is recognized by the UGC’s SAKSHAM Report
( – the basis of the UGC 2015 Notification – which therefore cited the JNU GSCASH Rules and Procedures as a model which it encouraged other institutions to emulate by including it in full in the Appendix. Today, the JNU Administration has arbitrarily dissolved that evolved model – in the process jeopardizing the safety of sexual harassment complainants in the University.
The AIPWA stands by the JNU community in its struggle to restore the GSCASH to JNU

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India – Don’t misread Supreme Court order, #Aadhaar not a must

The DoT is wrongly asking subscribers to link their mobile numbers to Aadhaar in order to keep them active.
Under no situation can the ministry of communications establish that the two-judge bench’s order will prevail over the five-judge Constitution Bench’s order, says Gopal Krishna.

A recent newspaper report misrepresented an observation made by the Supreme Court in an order by a two-judge bench (external link) delivered on February 6.

The report appeared to be a part of the barrage of messages sent to mobile subscribers, asking them to mandatorily link their Aadhaar to their phone numbers to keep the latter active, as per the Government of India’s directions.

However, while referring to the government order, the reporter failed to examine the consistency of the letter (external link) from the department of telecommunications with the law and an October 15, 2015 order (external link) by the Supreme Court’s five-judge Constitution Bench.

The DoT issued the letter on March 23, 2017, with the subject ‘Implementation of Hon’ble Supreme Court orders regarding 100% E-KYC based re-verification of all existing subscribers’, wherein it partially refers to the observation made by the two-judge bench in the February order.

The observation of the two-judge bench which the DoT letter referred to is in para 5 of the order.

It reads: ‘In view of the factual position brought to our notice during the course of hearing, we are satisfied that the prayers made in the writ petition have been substantially dealt with, and an effective process has been evolved to ensure identity verification, as well as, the addresses of all mobile phone subscribers for new subscribers.’

‘In the near future, and more particularly, within one year from today, a similar verification will be completed, in the case of existing subscribers.’

After citing this part of the court’s order, the letter would have us believe that ‘this amounts to a direction which is to be completed within a time frame of one year’.

Having reached this inference, the DoT has sought Unique Identification/Aadhaar-based verification of new mobile subscribers and re-verification of all existing subscribers.

The fact is that the DoT has drawn a flawed inference with regard to whether or not the Supreme Court observation ‘amounts to a direction’ or not because under no situation can the ministry of communications establish that the two-judge bench’s order will prevail over the five-judge Constitution Bench’s order.

After the June 9, 2017 verdict (external link) of the Supreme Court bench, headed by Justice A K Sikri, on the 12-digit biometric Aadhaar, DoT’s letter has become invalid on three grounds.

One, the letter is illegal as it is in violation of the five-judge bench order.

Two, the letter is inconsistent with the Aadhaar Act, 2016 (external link), and three, the Supreme Court’s order of June 9, 2017 will prevail over the DoT letter dated March 23.

Notably, nowhere does the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 provide for and authorise ‘seeding’ of UID/Aadhaar numbers in databases.

The Act provides for only two uses:

1. Authentication, which means that biometric or demographic data can be sent to the Unique Identification Authority of India’s Central Identities Data Repository to return a ‘yes/no’ reply to the question whether you are who you say you are; and,

2. eKYC, which does something they had said they would never do — give the data on their database (except core biometric data — although they have no means to stop any agency from collecting and keeping biometrics when it is given for authentication) to an authorised service agency.

It is germane to note that Section 8(2)(b) of the Act is categorical in stating that an agency requesting authentication ‘ensure(s) that the identity information of an individual is only used for submission’ to the CIDR of 12-digit biometric UID/Aadhaar numbers ‘for authentication’.

It does not authorise anyone to hold onto the number.

As per the order of the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court dated October 15, 2015, Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for the purposes of linking to mobile phones.

This has been reiterated by the court on June 9 and June 27, 2017 (external link).

The use of Aadhaar for linking to other databases, retention, storage or publishing is prohibited and is a punishable offence under the the Aadhaar Act 2016.

Apart from the foregoing, the following should be noted clearly:

1. Aadhaar cannot be made compulsory because of the orders of the Supreme Court.

2. The Aadhaar Act 2016 does not make it compulsory.

3. The CIDR of Aadhaar numbers is not a verified or audited database. Neither the UIDAI nor any other government authority certifies it as a proof of identity, address, resident status or even the existence of any person.

4. The linkage of Aadhaar to mobiles will encourage imposters to obtain SIMs.

5. In its counter-affidavit in the Supreme Court in the Lokniti Foundation v Union of Indiacase, the Centre, through the then attorney general, stated that ‘currently Aadhaar card or biometric authentication is not mandatory for obtaining a new telephone connection’.

The proper wording of the submission of the attorney general and the Supreme Court’s order are important in light of the misreporting of the case. (The headline of the above mentioned news report, for instance, was ‘SC asks Centre to link all mobile numbers to Aadhaar within one year’.)

In its petition, the Lokniti Foundation, had prayed that ‘the Aadhar card or such other biometric identification may be made compulsory for verification of the mobile phone subscribers that can ensure 100 per cent verification of mobile phones’, but pursuant to the attorney general’s submission, the two-judge bench of the court decided not to purposefully violate the orders of a three-judge bench and the five-judge Constitution Bench, which assert that getting a biometric Aadhaar number is voluntary.

But the DoT chose to misinterpret the order.

6. It is germane to note that the August 11, 2015, order of a three-judge bench of Justices Chelameswar, S A Bobde and Nagappan observed, ‘The Union of India shall give wide publicity in the electronic and print media including radio and television networks that it is not mandatory for a citizen to obtain an Aadhaar card; The production of an Aadhaar card will not be condition for obtaining any benefits otherwise due to a citizen’.

7. The order passed by the five-judge Constitution Bench in the ‘UID/Aadhaar’ matter, reads: ‘We impress upon the Union of India that it shall strictly follow all the earlier orders passed by this court commencing from September 23, 2013. We will also make it clear that the Aadhaar card scheme is purely voluntary and it cannot be made mandatory till the matter is finally decided by this court one way or the other’.

8. This ‘Aadhaar is voluntary’ position has been repeated by the high courts of Kerala, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

9. In a significant case, a Punjab and Haryana high court bench, headed by then Chief Justice A K Sikri (currently a Supreme Court judge), heard a matter challenging a circular making Aadhaar mandatory.

The moment the court raised questions of laws, the circular making Aadhaar mandatory was withdrawn by the central government.

10. It must be noted that in keeping with court’s order, the West Bengal assembly passed a unanimous resolution against Aadhaar number-related schemes in the public interest.

11. In a related case, the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) vs Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the apex court passed an order dated March 24, 2014, which reads as follows:

‘More so, no person shall be deprived of any service for want of Aadhaar number in case he/she is otherwise eligible/entitled.’

‘All the authorities are directed to modify their forms/circulars/likes so as to not compulsorily require the Aadhaar number.’

This order in the case is a part of the ‘all the earlier orders passed by this court’ which is required to be followed ‘strictly’.

It is quite evident that repeated orders issued by the Supreme Court till June 27, 2017, make it clear that Aadhaar remains voluntary.

Therefore, no one can be mandatorily asked to produce or link biometric Aadhaar for anything.

12. The then attorney general had admitted in an affidavit filed on behalf of the Centre that Aadhaar is not mandatory.

13. On June 9, 2017, the court observed that even the Aadhaar Act, 2016 does not make UID/Aadhaar mandatory. This was reiterated on June 27, 2017.

14. A three judge-bench headed by the then Chief Justice of India on January 5, 2017, expressed concern about the collection of biometric data by private and foreign agencies.

15. The UID/Aadhaar enrolment process continues to promise Indian residents that ‘Aadhaar enrolment is free and voluntary’.

It must be noted that the existing legal provisions as per the Supreme Court’s order and the Aadhaar Act, 2016 do not provide for seeding of Aadhaar with any scheme or project.

16. The views of the National Human Rights Commission reveal that the biometric authentication scheme has a number of dangerous ramifications.

The National Human Rights Commission’s view on the ‘need for protection of information’, ‘the possibility of tampering with stored biometric information’ and ‘disclosure of information in the interest of national security’ has been ignored.

It is evident that following the attorney general’s submission in the Supreme Court recorded in the February 6, 2017, order stating that UID/Aadhaar is not mandatory for telephone connections and keeping the orders of several high courts and apex court in mind, there is a logical legal obligation for the government and non-governmental agencies who are implementing UID/Aadhaar-related schemes and systems to revise their orders and circulars to comply with the court’s order in letter and spirit.

In the aftermath of the verdict of the nine-judge Constitution Bench declaring the Right to Privacy as a Fundamental Right, it is high time editors chastened their reporters to refrain from irresponsible and untruthful reporting.

Photograph: Mansi Thapliyal/Reuters

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India Gate ‘too clean’, volunteers ‘arrange’ garbage for minister Alphons to start Swachhta drive

The Union minister, who stoked controversy when he justified fuel price hike, and officials and volunteers began collecting litter at India Gate lawns in New Delhi, where he was supposed to start Swachhta Hi Sewa campaign.

Minister of state for tourism & information technology, Alphons Kannanthanam, participates in a cleanliness drive as part of Swachhta Hi Sewa campaign, in New Delhi on Sunday.
Minister of state for tourism & information technology, Alphons Kannanthanam, participates in a cleanliness drive as part of Swachhta Hi Sewa campaign, in New Delhi on Sunday. (PTI Photo)

Union minister Alphons Kannanthanam reached India Gate lawns in New Delhi on Sunday as part of the fortnight-long Swachhta Hi Sewa campaign only to find there was no garbage at the place where he was supposed to kick off the drive.

To the surprise of ministry officials and volunteers, mostly college students, who frantically went about “arranging” some garbage for Kannanthanam, the newly appointed tourism minister began collecting litter, including empty water bottles, pan masala sachets, ice-cream cups and dry leaves with his hands.

Many onlookers did not recognise the minister as he shook hands with them, patted some on the back, while asking people to keep the place clean.

He also chatted with those selling street food like ‘gol gappas’, asking them questions about how much they earned and advising them to ask their customers to throw the leftover food and plates into the dustbin.

“How much do you earn per day? Do you tell customers to throw the waste plates and tissues in the dustbin kept with you? Help us in making India clean.”

The minister said though a place like India Gate is cleaned every day, there was a need to improve cleanliness.

When asked whether he stands by what he said over fuel price hike on Saturday, the minister did not comment.

The India Gate is one of the 15 tourist sites selected by the ministry of tourism where the cleanliness campaign will be carried out and popularised by roping in celebrities during the 14-day period, the minister said.

“We are out here cleaning India Gate. Cleaning programmes are going on across the country. The message is we have to keep India clean. Everybody and not just government officials will have participate in this. And it has to be an everyday operation, not just once in a year and not just for the camera,” the minister said.

The other tourist destinations where cleanliness and awareness activities will be conducted by the ministry include Rishikesh Ghats in Uttarakhand, Juhu Beach in Mumbai, Dakshineshwar Temple and Belur Math in Kolkata, Kovalam Beach in Kerala and Kamakhaya temple in Guwahati.

Apart from this, 30 additional sites would also be covered during the campaign, said a senior ministry official.

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Here’s How Arjan Singh The ‘Flying Sikh’ Earned His Battle Scar And Led IAF From Raj To Swaraj

Back in 1940, the Indian Air Force, in its seventh year, was operating out of Miranshah Fort in what is today North Waziristan Agency of FATA, Pakistan. The IAF only had some obsolete Westland Wapiti and Hawker Audax biplanes. Its role there was to support Indian Army operations against Pashtun tribesmen. For a century, the British Empire had been at war with “unruly tribals” in those areas. Indian Air Force pilots had also been cutting their teeth at combat by bombing and strafing the “war-like desperados” in that part.

Arjan Singh


young pilot officer named Arjan Singh, all of 21, was also sent out for his baptism by fire. Singh was from Lyallpur (now Faisalabad in Pakistan) in undivided Punjab. And destiny had chosen him to be the second most famous Singh from that place, the first being Bhagat Singh. It was deja vu of sorts for the young flyboy in Waziristan: his great grandfather had died fighting Afghans in the Second Anglo-Afghan War as part of the Corps of Guides, and his grandfather too had served in the same areas as part of the same regiment. So yes, the tradition of fighting was pretty much there in his family.

But nobody could have possibly guessed that he would one day rise to become the only five-star general officer of the IAF. One day, while flying from Miranshah to Razmak, Singh’s Hawker Audax was hit by rifle fire from the ground. The plane had to be force-landed in a nullah, and Singh hurt his nose as his head bumped on the control panel.

Arjan Singh


What happened after that is told differently by different people. Some say his gunner Ghulam Ali leapt out and ran, not realising that he was running straight towards the enemy, and was brought back by the pilot with great difficulty; others say that the pilot remained with his gunner, who was more badly wounded, until a Gurkha detachment came for their rescue. Whatever the version, a legend was born that day of a ‘flying Sikh’ with nerves of steel. And the battle scar stayed with him till the very end.

Four years later, Singh was a Squadron Leader and CO of No. 1 Squadron of IAF that was posted to the Imphal sector in February 1944. It was here that he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. The Times of India had in its edition dated June 2, 1944, broken the news of Singh winning a DFC and carried a profile of him. The report had also quoted from the award citation: “Squadron Leader Arjan Singh is a fearless and exceptional pilot with a profound knowledge of his specialised branch of tactical reconnaissance, and he has imbued those under him with the same spirit.”

Arjan Singh


The DFC was presented to Singh in the field by Lord Mountbatten, then the Supreme Commander of SEAC. He was 25 then and only the fourth Indian to win the prestigious medal. When India became free in 1947, Singh was chosen to lead free India’s first flypast over the Red Fort, which was jointly put together by the Royal Indian Air Force and Royal Air Force. That was a historic moment and a rare honour for the future Marshal of the IAF— he was literally leading his country from Raj to Swaraj. At 45, he became the youngest chief of air staff, leading IAF in the 1965 War. His role there is quite legendary to be repeated here.


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India – Are we preparing the future citizens who can afford Bullet Train ?

By Mousumi Roy

There is lot of talk about launching of new projects – small like making toilets in each village and big like bullet train, making of new highways, metro in all major cities, smart cities etc.

The PM announced that ‘ Bullet Train‘ virtually a free gift from Japan. Loan is in Yen, Not Rupee. Hence, Cost of hedging applies, Which May be 5-6% …Machinery has to be sourced from Japan, Costs there maybe inflated. We might have got the Technology  from Japan and Cheaper Machinery from other country too…Interest rate in Japan is Negative, -0.1 reason for such low interest rate.

I wish Japan now also partners with India to upgrade our education and health by giving even bigger loans on similarly friendly terms. Such partnership will have far bigger impact. Of course ours infrastructure growth have always been aspiration driven and was never the other way round ( aspiration driven by growth in infrastructure) and therefore the bullet train is a classic example of that only. New technology should always be welcomed. Only point is that improvement and up gradation of technology and operations is the crying need of the hour for Railways as a whole.


My take is that the amount of money proposed to be spent on Ahmedabad Mumbai sector is too large vis a vis the distance covered and the expected tangible and intangible benefits. Wondering if that is the reason as to why Railway budget has been merged with the main budget so that the huge expediture does not look too glaring. Anyway, A 10 lakh crore loan for 50 years almost at no interest, to be used only for education and health will have a huge impact. Far more jobs, far more innovation, far more business growth are guaranteed, if such a project is taken up.

Let’s see how much our governments spend on education. In 2017, the union budget kept a total of less than Rs. 80, 000 crore for school as well as higher education. Shockingly, the UP government kept only around Rs. 700 crore of the both. Are we preparing the future citizens who can afford bullet trains? But we don’t even care. While the lack of spending and reforms in the education sector is definitely one of the biggest failures of the present government. The education and health are usually very poorly funded sectors by union and state governments in India, possibly with one exception of Delhi that has recently seen major increase in the state budgets for these. social sectors.

In the modern world, the intellectual capital is indeed the most important capital for a country. Only by building the intellectual capital, can we emerge as an economic power. Are our policies really focussed on building this capital in all its dimensions? 0.1% interest on 88 thousand Crore = 88 Crore per annum. Many manufacturers attract customers by facilitating purches of their equipment through very low interest or zero interest EMIs. Obviously their profits are already built in their price. I am sure that as smart businessmen the Gujaratis will understand it easily.

Railway needs to modernise itself big time including replacement reconditioning of bogies, quality of service. We need to come to international standards on railway as a whole. Not everyone in the developed world runs bullet trains but the quality of service. Superfast services yes but supersonic trains well. India since long is a country where technology spans from cow dung technology to advanced space and nuclear technology; and I expect the same to continue in times to come, but the mind does question sometimes about the priority of this vis-a-vis condition of government schools -particularly in villages- and pot holed roads and hospital facilities in villages. Prabhuji has made a royal mess of Railways. Finances are in disarray and to conceal this, Railway budget has been discontinued. Passenger fares have gone up by 30%, while punctuality is at a 30 year low. Coaches are filthy, stink, passengers had to open an umbrella inside the Amritsar Shatabdi coach when it rained outside. Food is unfit for human consumption. Linen is not washed,  and they stink.

Derailments and accidents have become fortnightly affairs. India has the dubious distinction of being leader is rail accidents with worst rail accident happening in 2016 in which more than 150 people lost their lives. India doesn’t need any foreign aid to purchase rail safety equipment to avert head on collision of trains etc. But precious little is done in this regard. Bullet train will run on around 500 kms but what about 66000 kms of rail line which is crying for some treatment.

The Government has started asking senior citizens to give up their rail fare concessions. Some citizens may not want concession. There are millions of senior citizens who need it, want it. This is just society’s way of saying “thank you” to senior citizens. The first thing to be withdrawn should be these concessions to MPs. By the way, they still get Rs.15,000 a month as “telephone allowance”, when…can get unlimited calls and data for less than Rs.1,000. Funds constraints are always a reflection of priorities.

Priority number one, two and three are cows. Followed by research on cow dung and urine. Followed by establishing astrology as a unique Bharatiya Vigyan. India ranks number 1 in the world in cow spend. We are creating a separate ministry for this. If cows are healthy, all Indians will automatically become healthy. There will be no need for so many hospitals. One of the ministers has already clarified that scientific research has shown that cows exhale oxygen. That will be the source of oxygen supplies in the future – no more Gorakhpurs.

Is the govt. investing well on education? Further, while it may be very practical to do so, for a country that believes in Vasudhaiv kutumbukam, is it moral to reject all helpless refugees including old people, children, women, sick people?  If not, will we be able to create and retain our intellectual capital in the modern world by loosing a high moral ground, once a hallmark of our foreign policy?

Mousumi Roy  is based in Muscat and is an author and Visiting Professor (International Relations). She can be reached at [email protected]

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Holy cow! Premchand’s Godaan thrown out of curriculum

A book cover of Munshi Premchand’s classic Hindi novel <i>Godaan</i>

At the centre of the novel’s plot is the cow, which is considered a holy animal in Hindu religion

Munshi Premchand’s Godaan, which is considered as a classic in Indian literature, has been removed from the curriculum by Kendriya Hindi Sansthan (KHS), an educational arm of the HRD Ministry which promotes Hindi globally.

Set in rural milieu, Godaan—which was first published in 1936—reflects issues such as farm distress, caste segregation, feudalism and challenges of capitalism, which remain relevant in the country till date. Premchand, in his incisive account, portrays poor peasants trapped in debt trap, hopelessly suffering at the hands of greedy landlords and money lenders.

But at the centre of the novel’s plot is the cow, which is considered a holy animal in Hindu religion. As the title of the novel suggests, the act of a cow’s donation supposedly absolves one of all sins and begets divine blessings. But Premchand’s portrayal of cow in his epic novel is quite contrary to the worldview of the present regime, critics feel.

Talking to National Herald, registrar of the institute Prof Veena Sharma said that Godaan would no longer be a part of the syllabus in Hindi Bhasha Sanatakottar course (a postgraduate diploma)—which has 100 seats each at its Agra and Delhi centres for foreign students and researchers. “There were persistent complaints from the students and teachers that Godaan is too long and it becomes a challenge to complete it within one year. The novel is also replete with colloquial language, Awadhi, which is difficult for foreign students to comprehend. Now, the students will have a choice to read either Panchavati, a poem by Maithili Sharan Gupt or Premchand’s another novel Nirmala along with five short-stories,” she stated, adding that the decision was taken by a committee comprising five members.

Several Hindi writers and critics, however, view the KHS decision as an attempt at Sanskritisation of Hindi. “Going by the logic that Godaan has Awadhi words, it means you won’t teach the work of Phanishwar Nath Renu and several other classical poets who wrote in Khariboli (that includes Braj bhasa, Bhojpuri, and Awadhi),” wondered noted Hindi writer and poet Mangalesh Dabral. “Godaan is a guiding light in Indian literature. A film was made on the novel (in 1963) and later a serial too was made in 2004. So the novel can be taught through creative and innovative ways,” he added.

Classified as eastern Hindi, Awadhi is spoken primarily in the Awadh region of Uttar Pradesh and the Terai belt of Nepal.

“When Panchavati was written, Hindi poetry was still in its embryonic stage. And it doesn’t represent the socio-economic realities of those times. The narrative poem is just rhyming of mythical recreation but Godaan talks about existential problems of the poor and marginalised people. It makes a powerful political statement,” argued another critic who did not wish to be named.

Godaan was a part of the 26-episode TV series, Tehreer…. Munshi Premchand Ki, which was directed by Gulzar and broadcast by Doordarshan. It can be viewed here:

Established in 1960, the KHS conducts training programmes for teachers and researchers at the national and international levels. It claims to have trained over 5,000 students from over 30 countries in the last four decades.

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Protesters set to rally against Adani’s coal mine in Australia

Environmental activists are starting a week of protests against Adani’s coal-mine project in Australia.

Protesters set to rally against Adani's coal mine in Australia

Protesters set to rally against Australia’s biggest coal project

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Environmental activists are due to start a week of protests on Sunday against a major coal mining project they say will damage Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and contribute to global warming.

The A$16.5 billion ($13.20 billion) project has been delayed for more than five years by court challenges from environmentalists and indigenous groups concerned about reef damage, climate change, and the impact on native land and water supply.

The challenges failed and a workers’ camp opened in August to begin building the project’s $3.2 billion first stage.

The “Frontline Action on Coal” and the “Reef Defenders” groups are to start their protests at Bowen, in the Whitsunday region of Queensland where the reef is situated.

Paul Jukes, a Whitsunday farmer and tourism operator, told Reuters by telephone that the demonstrations would start with a march but could extend to direct action such as activists locking themselves to equipment to prevent it from being moved.

“It will be completely peaceful,” he said.

The project is located in the remote Galilee Basin, a 247,000 square-kilometer (95,000 square mile) expanse in the central outback that some believe has the potential to become Australia’s largest coal-producing region.

Adani has said the project would create 10,000 direct and indirect jobs. Coal from the mine would be exported to India.

The mine is located 400 km (250 miles) from a Pacific Ocean shipping terminal. Adani is seeking a A$900 million ($720 million) concessional government loan to help build a rail line linked to a port.

The Australian government is assessing whether to grant Adani the loan through its Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility intended to promote economic development in rural regions.

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When fear rules: How journalists are at receiving end for speaking out against the State

Journalists, writers and cartoonists have been at the receiving end of trolls and violence for speaking out against the State, in an age where reasoned discourse is virtually non-existent. This isn’t a battle that will end soon.

On May 17, 2011, Tarakant Dwivedi, a crime reporter working for the city tabloid Mid-Day, was arrested by the Government Railway Police under the Official Secrets Act. It was for a story he wrote for his previous newspaper in which he exposed how arms and ammunition acquired after the 26/11 terror attack were lying in a leaky storage area at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, and how that could have compromised the weapons, making them unusable in an emergency.

The Official Secrets Act is a draconian piece of legislation meant to be invoked for an act of treason, including spying for an enemy country. It was clear that Mr. Dwivedi was merely doing his duty as a journalist to highlight the rot in the system, and how, even after 164 deaths in a terror siege that lasted three days, the State had not taken the matter of security seriously. But instead of the state thanking him for writing an important story that impacted millions of lives, he was charged with criminal trespass and sent to prison. It took a fierce legal battle involving some of the city’s senior lawyers to get him out of jail, where his company for the night were cockroaches and vermin.

Journalists marched in peace to the then home minister R.R. Patil’s office to impress upon him how the case was manufactured to keep a free press under control. The minister did not withdraw the case; instead, he asked the newspaper and the journalists to take the legal route. The lower court, rightfully, quashed the case, and the government, realising it was a lost battle, did not pursue the matter in a higher court.

The question then, as it is now, is not just why a police inspector invoked an anti-treason Act to imprison a journalist, but also why the entire State government machinery, led by the home minister, sat mute in what was a clear case of overreach. After all, some of the State’s most senior police officers were present at the meeting between journalists and the home minister, and could have easily advised him to exercise restraint to uphold the fundamental principles of democracy.

Though Mumbai has prided itself on being a welcoming place for free spirits of all persuasions, it has historically been a battleground for free speech. There was a time when journalists, artists, filmmakers, writers, and cartoonists won in the skirmishes, and were looked up to for their victories. Blitz, a fiery weekly tabloid owned and edited by R.K. Karanjia, frequently took on the high and mighty, and won. His favourite targets of ire were the Congress party, corporations, a corrupt bureaucracy, and the underworld. Mr. Karanjia, who established the newspaper with two other journalists in 1941, ran the enterprise for four decades, and was applauded for his courage and resilience in the face of danger.


‘Art succeeds because it is non-confrontational’

That was not the case with another journalist, Nikhil Wagle, whose newsrooms have been ransacked on several occasions by leading political parties such as Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party.

In 2012, in September, Aseem Trivedi was arrested under the sedition law in Mumbai. Best known for his ‘Cartoons Against Corruption’ campaign, Mr. Trivedi was arrested and jailed for the cartoons he displayed at the MMRDA Ground during the India Against Corruption movement led by activist Anna Hazare. A nationwide agitation followed, leading to a debate in Parliament. Soon, the Maharashtra government withdrew the sedition circular under which Mr Trivedi was arrested.

It seems hard to believe that this is the same country where Jawaharlal Nehru once told a cartoonist who regularly lampooned him, “Don’t spare me, Shankar.” (It is another matter that it is under the same Mr. Nehru that ‘reasonable restrictions’ were placed on free speech in the first amendment to the Consitution.)

The trouble with the phrase ‘free speech’ or ‘freedom of expression’ is that, on almost every occasion its definition is restricted to what we speak or write. In a manner of speaking this is correct, but the larger more significant impact is on our way of life.

In the simplest terms, free expression is the liberty to express your thoughts in a public or private forum without fearing for your safety or the safety of your loved ones. (It does not mean that anyone must agree with you. After all ideas can be countered with other ideas, with debate to convince one another or reach a middle ground.) It is the duty of the State to protect its citizens at all costs; indeed, it is the first duty of any democratic government. It is in this duty that governments have consistently failed. Not just that, governments have either remained mute spectators to — in effect abetting — violent expressions of dissent by self-righteous rampaging ‘activists’ or worse, governments themselves have targeted dissenters.

For example, in 2005, Mid-Day’s offices were ransacked by workers of the Congress party for a story that called the then chief minister ‘silly’ for redirecting relief material to areas not affected by the July 26 cloudburst. The State did not do much to protect the journalists who had questioned the CM for his administration’s bungling.

More recently, in 2012, Shaheen Dhada and Renu Srinivasan, two young women from Palghar district on the outskirts of Mumbai, were arrested for writing a Facebook post following the death of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray. Their crime? Asking why the entire State should be shut down following the death of one person. Once again, it took a nationwide agitation and international ridicule for the State to withdraw the case against them.

In recent years, artists have had shows vandalised or cancelled, filmmakers have had to bow to communities vociferously ‘offended’ by movie scripts or to a Central Board of Film Certification’s readiness to be offended on their behalf, writers’ books have been burned or banned; so much so that an environment of self-censorship gets created. As a consequence, there is no public discourse without threats, there is no argument without the fear of being physically assaulted or mentally broken on social media, and the State continues in its ways without an active watchdog.

In the social media era, the looming threat of physical assault is supplemented with what is nothing less than mental torture. Armies of ‘trolls,’ both affiliated and unaffiliated to political parties, have made it their mission to break down people who have views that oppose theirs. Women face rape threats, journalists face death threats, film personalities are routinely targeted and stand-up comics have imposed a sort of self-censorship on making jokes about the government. It is not just about fear, but the fear of fear itself.

It need not even be fear. In a with-us-or-against-us world where being critical of, say, the Prime Minister’s choice of pocket square is seen as being anti-national, anti-Hindu, anti-sanskar, and automatically pro his political opponents — never mind that you have been scornful of the opponents’ sartorial choices too — there is no room for nuance, for reasoned argument, for thoughtful debate. It is a toxic, hate-filled world which some of us have chosen to leave, or to at least engage in far less because it is depressing. (Disclosure: this writer is one of them.) Perhaps that is the point then, to shut down discourse. The late great Behram Contractor, writing about the Emergency, said that the only safe topics left were cricket and mangoes. On Twitter today, only mangoes can be discussed with good humour. Maybe.

In both the new-age battlefield and the traditional, Mumbai seems to be losing. But, to be honest, Mumbai is not alone. Journalists across the country, especially those in the regional language media operating from small towns where rule of law is a misnomer, have been targeted for exposing politicians, self-styled godmen, oil pilferage scams, road scams, just about anything you can think of. In the most recent news cycle, we have heard of how the editor who first exposed the rape convict Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, was killed. Not surprisingly, in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, India ranks an alarming 136th, down three places from 2016 and back to the same rank it was in 2015.

Those of us who are journalists in the traditional sense know that our job is to report facts. C.P. Scott, the former editor of the UK newspaper The Guardian, once wrote, “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” To be targeted for bringing facts to light erodes the strength of free press.

There is no way to win this battle but to fight back without fear. Freedom of expression is one of the pillars upon which the edifice of democracy stands. Demolish this pillar, and the edifice crumbles along with other institutions. And no authoritarian government would want this pillar to be a strong one. Naturally, this conflict is a continuous one and it won’t end anytime soon.

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India – There is a Rohingya in all of us

By contemplating deportation of the hapless refugees, India undermines itself

The timing could not have been more immaculately disastrous. At a time when Rohingya are being forced to flee the violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, in the Supreme Court this week the Centre refused to revise its stand on deporting Rohinya immigrants in India. It was in effect adhering to its position taken on August 9, when the Minister of State for Home Affairs informed Parliament that 40,000 Rohingya were to be deported. With that, the idea of India, the India of democracy and hospitality disappeared in a single stroke. A dream of India disappeared in a single moment. The marginal life of the Rohingya became a greater nightmare. The Government of India has returned to an idea of hard state, dropping its dreams of compassion, care and civility. Behind the tragedy of the decision will be a nit-picking bureaucracy and the security think tanks, convinced that an aspirational India does not need a defeated people like the Rohingya.

Most persecuted minority

In many ways, the Rohingya represent “the last man” of international society that Gandhi talked about. They are the world’s most persecuted minority. They are Muslims, belonging to the Sunni sect, scattered mainly over the Rakhine state of Myanmar. Harassed by the Myanmar Army and forced to serve as slave labour, they have also been systematically persecuted by the Buddhist majority. The persecution of the Rohingya also highlights the silence of Aung San Suu Kyi, destroying another myth of ethics and human rights. A woman whose campaign for human rights won her the Peace Nobel now stands embarrassingly silent in case her broader political strategies are affected. The dispensability of the Rohingya is clear and so is the callousness of the nation state. India can no longer criticise the West for being hostile to Syrian and Sudanese refugees.

One thing is clear. No Nehruvian state, or even regime of Indira Gandhi, would have made such a decision. Both upheld the principle of hospitality, of the openness of borders. Jawaharlal Nehru was open to Tibet and courageously invited the Dalai Lama to make a home here, and Indira Gandhi played host to refugees from the then East Pakistan, ignoring the threats of tough people such as Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon.

The Rohingya situation has been bleak for years. The turning point was the attitude of the Burmese military junta which cracked down on them in 1982, contending that Rohingya as late comers were not part of the original ancestors of Burmese society. Denied an autonomous cultural status, they lost all claims to the entitlements of citizenship. They were denied not only access to health, education but also any claim to the idea of citizenship.

A slow exodus

Persecuted by the army and the Buddhist majority, they began a slow exodus over India, Bangladesh, spreading to States such as Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir, moving as far as Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Their exodus has once again a cynical side to it as agents arranged for their travel. These touts of international suffering arranged for their travel at exorbitant rates. The Rohingya became temporary boat people as Bangladesh shut its borders on them piously condemning them as drug peddlers. The Rohingya then attempted to cross into Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia only to realise that fellow Islamic nations had little sympathy for them. The no-welcome sign was clear and categorical. Each state would react piously, claiming to have fulfilled its humanitarian quota. It was also realistically clear that unlike the Syrians, the Rohingya, as a tiny speck of the refugee population would hardly be front page news for a sufficient length of time. At the most their memories would survive in a few PhD theses in international relations. The refugee has always been an enticing topic for PhDs.

In fact, Pope Francis’s statement that the “campaign of terror” against the Rohingya must cease fell on deaf ears. Sadly, India missed the leadership and compassion of a Mother Teresa. She would have stepped out and offered some care and relief to them, stirring the Indian middle class into some acts of caring.

The odd thing is that the genocide, the vulnerability of such a people is often lost in bureaucratic issues of legal and political status. It is not clear whether Rohingya are refugees or illegal migrants. As refugees they are entitled to some care; as illegal migrants they become subject to harassment and exploitation. Refugees become a target for an informal economy of bonded labour.

Union Home Minister Kiren Rijiju already sounded the warning signals in response to a question in the Rajya Sabha. He was clear that the Rohingya were illegal migrants. He was cited as claiming in an interview that the Rohingya “have no basis to live here. Anybody who is an illegal migrant will be deported.” Yet one wonders whether in terms of humanitarian law and the conventions of the UN, Mr. Rijiju is right. This is a group that is threatened with continuous persecution, whose homes are unsafe, whose livelihoods have been destroyed. To be forced to return to Myanmar would only subject them to harassment, ethnic persecution and a genocidal future.

Being human

One is grateful that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which often plays the Rip Van Winkle of human rights, responded quickly. On August 18, it issued a notice to the government over its plan to deport Rohingya staying illegally in India, asking the government to report in four weeks.

The Commission added hopefully that the Supreme Court had declared that fundamental rights are applicable to all regardless of whether they are citizens of India. Yet such appeals to rights and humanitarianism cut little ice in today’s bureaucracy which is obsessed with security issues and content to raise the bogey of terrorism and law and order when it comes to such a helpless people. The NHRC came up with a memorable line that Rohingya refugees “are no doubt foreign nationals but they are human beings.”

It is clear that the everydayness of Rohingya life must be miserable. They face the challenge of survival and the prospect of persecution if they return to Myanmar. One need not hide under legal excuses. What India confronts is a case of ethics, a challenge to its understanding of citizenship and freedom. If we abandon the Rohingya, we abandon the idea of India as a home of refugees and hospitality. A country which offered a home to the Parsis, the Tibetans, the Afghans and the Jews cannot turn a little minority of helpless people back. One hopes civil society protests, challenging the indifference of the state. It is not just a question of saving a beleaguered people, it is question of saving the soul of India. The idea of India is being threatened today. Should civil society remain mute and indifferent? There is a Rohingya in all of us.

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First demonetisation and now GST: Govt likely to face thousands of litigations


Litigations, litigations and more litigations. The government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and guided by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, is all set to get caught in a number of litigations in the coming days, as a whopping Rs 65,000 crore of the Rs 95,000 crore collected as Goods & Services Tax (GST) in July has been claimed back as transitional credit by taxpayers.

Under the GST regime, which came into effect on 1 July, traders are allowed tax credit on stock purchased during the previous tax regime.

According to media reports, “The tax authorities are now scrutinising all such cases where the sum exceeds Rs 1 crore.”

The current situation is not only embarrassing, it also puts a big question mark over the government’s preparation before undertaking such a big overhaul of India’s tax regime. Especially in the backdrop of the collapse of the GST network infrastructure, which is unlikely to be fixed anytime soon.

The government is trying to find solace in the hope that a lot of credit claims may have been made by mistake. But to conclude that people have made mistakes to the tune of Rs 65,000 crore would be living in a fool’s paradise.

What it suggests is that the government is unwilling to accept that it was completely unprepared for the implementation of GST. Many of its calculations with regards to future tax receipts, transitional credit claims and the capacity of GST to take the load of the whole country’s taxpayers were absolutely off the mark.


In November 2016, the government announced demonetisation of 86% of the currency in circulation in the hope of hurting black money hoarders. What panned out over the next two months was harassment of crores of Indians, including, daily wagers, farmers, SME workers, small traders as well as big industry. There was a cash crunch in the economy and it brought down GDP growth in two consecutive quarters.

But much against the government’s hopes of extinguishing the black money by the way of non-return of the unaccounted for cash, the RBI received 99% of the cash back from the people. In order to defend the decision to demonetise the economy, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had to give contradictory arguments.

First among the arguments was that demonetisation was not about identifying black money, but to make the economy go digital by forcing people to use digital payment methods, which was achieved post demonetisation.

The second argument, a dangerous one and contradictory to the first, was that not all money that has been deposited in the banks is white.

What Jaitley inferred from the second argument was that lakhs of people will be facing government notices in the coming days to explain the source of their deposits.

On similar lines, those who have made transitional credit claims now face the threat of the harassment by tax officials in the coming weeks. In short, if you made a claim of over Rs 1 crore on your pre-GST stock, the tax official is likely to tell you that “revise your claim downward or face litigation.”


Even as lakhs of small traders have been opposing the government’s move to implement GST at a short notice and without proper arrangement, their patience is reaching its zenith after facing problems even two months of the one-nation-one-tax regime.

According to Asian Age, Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has convened a two-day national meeting on 18-19 September in Surat that will be attended by over 100 trade leaders.

“While chalking out the future course of action, the possibility of a national agitation on GST can not be ruled out as it is the core agenda of the meeting,” reported the newspaper.

CAIT boasts of representing over 40,000 trade associations representing over 6 crore small businesses.


Demonetisation has already given a big blow to the Indian economy. Instead of growing at above 8%, India’s GDP is now growing at less then 6%.

Unless the government fixes all that has been set wrong in the GST implementation, there is going to be a serious dent in the economic activity in the country which may lead to fall in government’s indirect tax receipts. The traders and those associated with them must keep their fingers crossed, as Modi and Jaitley figure a way out of the mess created by them.

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