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Archives for : November2017

A letter to a hunted hero- Prof G. N.Saibaba

Dear Prof G.N. Saibaba

We read the two handwritten letters you wrote to your friend P.V. Vijay Kumar in September, on the 21st and 26th, letters he felt had to be shared with the world, even a world indifferent to the injustices done to you by the state and its justice system in their now habitual disregard of the law. In a prefatory note for those of us who forget easily and wilfully, Vijay Kumar explained the likely cause of your life sentence whose illegality, as you say, has hardly been an issue for the rest of us preoccupied with living and reading, writing and publishing books, running hashtagged campaigns, never able to keep up with the surfeit of bad news that comes to us every day, every hour, every minute. As you write: ‘Homo sapiens can never stop living gregariously. The life of production, agriculture, industry, or any other is the happiest one for [the] gregariousness of humans. Life in solitude is not human.’ Marx had written in The Grundrisse, ‘The human being is in the most literal sense a political animal not merely a gregarious animal…’ You’ve been denied gregariousness but did they think the anda cell would snuff out your politics?

The world has gone near-silent on you, but we believe you have been getting some news of the world, through newspapers that make their way to you bearing rectangular cells of emptiness where free speech was literally scissored. You speak of the silencing of Perumal MuruganHansda Sowvendra Shekhar (for depicting same-sex love among Santhali women) and how when Gauri Lankesh was murdered, silence started to speak eloquently. It fertilised our imagination and yielded a fresh crop of poems, songs, and a book as you will see. Did the tattered Nagpur papers they bring you have this bit of local Delhi news: we can no longer protest at the Jantar Mantar, that contained space where at least the charade of democracy was allowed. What needs to be dismantled is all prisons, as Angela Davistells us; the anda cell designed to reduce you (and many like you) to a zero, to nothing—‘designed to make inmates crack’, as Arun Ferreira writes—needs to go first. John Berger, in his 1983 essay “The Hour of Poetry”, says: ‘Torture smashes language: its purpose is to tear language from the voice, and words from the truth. The one being tortured knows: they are breaking me. His or her resistance consists in trying to limit the me being broken.’ Berger goes on to say how, ‘Normally silence means a lack of sound. Here silence is active and has been turned, once again systematically, into an instrument, this time for torturing the heart.’

Since the men and women who swept and cleared Jantar Mantar were most likely dalits, they seem to have left Dr Ambedkar’s picture pinned to a tree (Indian Express photo)


Yet you speak to us resoundingly and defiantly from a place of emptiness. Words have not deserted you even after the court in Gadchiroli, disregarding all evidence, found you, along with the JNU student Hem Mishra and four others, guilty of waging war against the nation-state. It is the nation-state waging war against you. Against the adivasis, against its many people who dissent, resist.

You use the word silence in such amplified and damning ways—twenty-three times in the first letter. When VK, as you call Vijay Kumar, wonders what your literary engagements are like in the anda cell, the zero cell, the prison within the prison, you say you are ‘reading silence’. ‘This has been my literary engagement. I count all the blank spaces between word and word, and between the lines… My friend, I am measuring silence because I am silenced.’ Your letters break through many walls between your world and ours to demand of us: Are you even listening to your own silence? Are you figuring out if my prison letters are literary enough to be eventually canonised? Will all this have to wait till I die? Will you wait till then to commission a reader of my writings?

Perhaps concerned that the first letter was too literary, too abstruse, or could be seen as the ramblings of an isolated mind, you spell things out more clearly in the second, without rancour, prosaically telling us what you expect: ‘Now it is you people in the outside world, who have to take the responsibility to prove the illegality of the judgement.’ You end with: ‘My freedom is in your hands… I mean all of you.’ If we read the silences between your words and lines, each perfectly aligned with the rules on the pages, pages that say at the bottom, without irony, ‘Cellpage’, what is implicit and implicated is this: Why did #IAmGauri not become #IAmSaibaba? When all causes are subsumed by easy hashtags in our times, why is the cause of my freedom not trending, so to speak?


A measure of our silence

At Navayana, as we draft this letter we realise it is the 5th of November. We complete fourteen years today. A life sentence of freedom to write and publish, to hear and speak up, to dissent and to love. We have been lax though in writing newsletters to our readers that we had promised to ourselves we would do every month. We have not even offered excuses for going silent for months. Your words, that speak of measuring silence, may well have a measure of ours too. With a mixture of shame and guilt, while remaining unashamedly pragmatic when presented an opportunity, we want to tell you that we have just published (in association with DC Books, Kottayam) The Way I See It: A Gauri Lankesh Reader edited by Chandan Gowda who studied in the same university as you and Rohith Vemula. Did you know that Gauri, in one of her columns, spoke up for you—wondering how, while Salman Khan secured bail within three hours of conviction, and Jayalalithaa even managed an acquittal after being sentenced to four years of imprisonment on charges of corruption, you and many like you languish in jail for no reason?

In her distinctive way, Gauri drew our attention to the lesser known story of Vittala Malekudiya, an adivasi from the Malnad region along the Western ghats. He had protested the displacement of his people by the Kudremukh National Park. Vittala, the only youth from the Malekudiya tribe to have entered college and trained in journalism at Mangalore University, joined the forces of the Resistance, ongoing since 1987 when his people were first asked to collect a ‘compensation package’ and vacate the forests, their home for centuries. A member of the Democratic Youth Federation of India—youth wing of CPI(M)—Vittala was branded a naxal and arrested in 2012. Owing to public protests, away from the hashtags, Vittala got bail in four months, completed his degree, and appeared for the Karnataka State Public Commission exam in 2015. Then, Gauri writes: ‘Siddaramaiah’s government gave permission [in May 2015] to the police to go ahead and file a charge-sheet against Vittala and his father’ for ‘waging war against the state’ under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. The Siddaramaiah government did not try to find the killers of Kalburgi; they let Gauri be killed. It was also a Congress government that abducted you, branded you a naxal, and put you in the anda cell. And here we are, so divided, struggling to find a shared vocabulary for the evils the Hindutva-driven state has unleashed.

Poetry’s hour of failure is now.

In March 2014, soon after we published the annotated edition of Dr B.R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste with an introduction by Arundhati Roy, you had ordered a hundred copies of it for your students at Delhi University. You were out on bail for a while when this happened, and we read about how all the students in the batch, save for the one who told usthe story, avoided your optional paper on Indian English writing. We never checked with you which of the students consented to receive that copy of AoC as a gift from you. A silent boycott from society was your welcome back. For the essay Arundhati Roy wrote on your incarceration, “Professor P.O.W.”, she was hauled up by the courts for ‘criminal contempt’.

When your daughter Manjeera recently sent you a letter accompanied by a Faiz poem, the prison authorities tore up the poem thinking it must be a coded message. For once they were right. Faiz, incarcerated several times, is indeed a code for revolution, for love, for justice, for the gregarious pleasures of poetry and music. Here’s a Faiz ghazal for you. Wish you could hear this sung by Farida Khanum as the smoke from your cigarette slices through Delhi’s air toxified by power and pollution—yet free, an air toxic and intoxicating. The writer Ali Sethi, a disciple of Farida, says this haunting ghazal was ‘written from the perspective of a hunted hero. Faiz wrote this in the 1960s for his leftist friends who were being harassed, arrested, tortured and even killed by the dictatorial former Pakistan president Ayub Khan’s military government.’ Faiz, as always, speaks to his political detractors and tormentors in the language of love and poetry—a language, he complains, they barely understand. You wrote to VK, ‘I still have feelings, emotions and thoughts along with a language to express my heart’s beats to my beloved. But they are banished by the gods.’

We hope this song—that says there can be no justice without love, no love without justice—reaches you somehow.

Poetry’s hour of redemption is now.

with love



Stay your blade


na ganwao nawak-e-neem kash dil-e-reza reza ganwa diya
jo bache hain sang samet lo, tan-e-dagh dagh luta diya

Save your half-drawn arrows, these shreds of my heart are no target anyway
Hold back the stones you didn’t cast, this broken body is dying anyway

mere charahgar ko naved ho saf-e-dushmanan ko khabar karo
wo jo qarz rakhte the jaan par, wo hisaab aaj chuka diya

Herald this news to the one who heals, and to those behind enemy lines
That this life now bears no burden of debt, I’ve squared all my dues today

karo kaj jabeen pe sar kafan mere qatilon ko gumaan na ho
keh ghuroor-e-ishq ka baankpan, pas-e-marg hum ne bhula diya

Shroud my forehead in such a way, my killers have no clue
That my rakish pride in love—in death I have cast away

udhar ek harf ke kushtani yahaan laakh uzr tha guftani
jo kaha to sun kar ura diya jo likha to parh kar mita diya

Death was decreed in a single word, my pleadings were beyond prolific
The hearing I received was unheeding, my writings were read and struck away

jo ruke to koh-e-giran the hum jo chaley to jaan se guzar gaye
reh-e-yaar hum ne qadam qadam, tujhe yaadgar bana diya

Planted there with the resolve of a mountain, budging only to die
Every step I’d traced to the beloved’s place left it memorable all the way

A letter to a hunted hero

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Historic Protest By Workers Starts In Delhi

Thousands of workers assemble at Delhi to reject Modi’s all round failure to raise wages, control price rise and protect jobs, even while giving concessions to big industrialists and cronies.

As over 70,000 workers from across the country gathered at Parliament Street facing down police and paramilitary barricades, the historic 3-day mahapadav (mass sit-in) got off to a rousing start in New Delhi today. Under the banners of ten central trade unions and several federations of workers and employees, which represent the bulk of India’s vast non-agricultural workforce, they are demanding immediate attention to wage increase, price control, end to labour contracting system, strengthening of public distribution system, curbing job losses, and a stop to govt. policies of privatization, inviting of foreign capital, destroying protective labour laws and welfare cuts.

This mahapadav is not just another of those ‘routine’ protests by workers, that are as routinely ignored by the govt., the mass media and the urban middle class. What sets it apart and makes it historic and important?

  1. It is the first big protest by workers in Delhi after Modi came to power in Delhi in 2014. There have been two country-wide strikes in 2015 and 2016. In terms of numbers and impact they were surely bigger events, with an estimated 1.5 crore workers participating. But in India’s new dispensation with Delhi and Modi as the centre of the universe, especially for the media, there was need for a show of anger and strength in the Capital. Also, it weaves together and unifies diverse strands of protests that have been going on for the past few years, including those by scheme workers, govt. employees, banks and insurance employees, public sector employees, etc. It goes beyond the usual dharnas and even single day mass rallies because the 3-day long event is designed specifically to give the stage to diverse sections of workers and show the resilience of their resolve.
  2. The mahapadav is backed by 10 central trade unions with only the RSS-affiliated BMS out of it. This unity of trade unions, evident and strengthening since the advent of BJP at the Centre, is of crucial importance in the otherwise fragmented trade union movement in India. Several independent unions and federations have been drawn in to this struggle because of this unity. This means that the reach of the message of this movement is perhaps one of the widest ever.
  3. The mahapadav comes as a culmination of a three-month long intensive campaign that saw a mass contact programme and public actions in practically every district of the country. Trade unions, especially the CITU, had published extensive material in all major languages of the country well in advance to equip its activists who campaigned in industrial and commercial areas, workers’ colonies, slums and other places of work or residence. Reports from different parts of the country indicate that the call for going to Delhi to protest against the Modi govt. was met with enthusiastic response from workers and their families. This is what became the launching pad for the ongoing mahapadav.
  4. The Modi govts.’ performance in the past three and a half years is primarily responsible for the wave of unrest and discontent sweeping India’s industrial areas. Ever increasing joblessness has become aggravated by job losses in the past year fuelled by an economic slowdown, demonetization and then the GST rollout. This is happening in the context of tight-fisted policies of successive govt. who subscribe to the neo-liberal mantras of curbing govt. expenditure. Modi’s government has also wanted to push ahead with emasculating labour laws to rein in workers discontent and give more freedom to employers to hire and fire. It is in this backdrop that the call of trade unions for a strong rebuff was given and has received the huge response witnessed today in Delhi.
  5. The mahapadav brings back to centre stage the struggle of oppressed and exploited people of India for a better life under a more just socio-economic system. It demarcates from the discourse of religious and casteist identities, actively being promoted by the Modi govt. and its mentor, the RSS. The campaign for the mahapadav specifically focused on the unity of all working people rising above divisive lines of identity politics and religious fundamentalism and in defence of religious minorities and, dalits and adivasis, which have faced increased attacks and marginalization under the current regime.
  6. The mahapadav will also announce a next phase of action by the trade unions. In all probability this will be a general strike early next year. Workers around the country are eagerly awaiting the escalation of this struggle after waiting for three years and listening to Modi’s endless litany of false promises. This also has given the mahapadav a sense of purpose and expectancy among its participants.

It is expected that the coming two days will see an increased participation from workers already on their way to Delhi. The mahapadav is indeed turning into one of the biggest expressions of workers’ solidarity and striking strength in recent times. The Modi govt. would do well to heed the voice of the people – otherwise he and his govt. face a rough ride in the remaining days of their misrule.

courtesy- newsclick

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A Proposed Legislation Violating the Rights of the Workers- Code on Wage Bill, 2017


People’s Union for Democratic Rights has long been drawing attention to egregious violation of rights of workers governed under various labour laws. Most important of these rights is the fundamental right to form trade union, so as to engage in collective wage negotiations and to ensure that conditions on shop floor do not become tyrannical.


Ever since the economic reforms began in India in 1991, attempts have been afoot to whittle down the rights of the workers. These efforts received a boost when the Second National Commission on Labour (SNCL) chaired by a socialist and veteran trade unionist Ravindra Verma submitted its report in June 2002. It is significant to note that majority of central trade unions had boycotted the SNCL because of its truncated terms of reference which spoke of the context as the need for “international competitiveness” where globalization, liberalization of trade and industry and changes in technology had taken place. One of the trade unions Hind Mazdoor Sabha that participated in the SNCL because of their respect for Ravindra Varma, expressed its opposition to the terms of reference. The first National Commission of Labour (1969) chaired by Justice Gajendragadkar was assigned the task to “advise how far these provisions (labour laws) serve to implement the Directive Principles of State Policy…”. In contrast by the time SNCL was constituted the context had completely reversed and not even lip service was paid to the Directive Principles especially Article 41, 42, 43 and 43A of the Constitution.


While speaking at the 46th session of the Indian Labour Conference in 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi talked about the need to ensure “ease of doing business”, making it clear that the thrust would now be on making changes which would help and benefit employers. The NDA government is making amendments in labour laws in order to push their programs like ‘Make-in-India’, ‘Skill India’, ‘Digital India’ and ‘Ease of doing Business’ thereby enabling companies to work in India and squeeze labour. Among other steps, the Central Ministry for Labour and Employment is consolidating 43 labour laws into 4 major laws. These are Labour Code on Wages, Labour Code on Industrial Relations, Labour Code on Social Security and Welfare, Labour Code on Safety and Working Conditions.

On 10th August 2017, a bill called the Code on Wages Bill 2017 was introduced in the Lok Sabha. The proposed legislation Code on Wages, 2017 intends to “subsume, amalgamate, simplify and rationalize” the relevant provisions of the following four Central Labour enactments relating to wages, namely, (a) Payment of Wages Act, 1936; (b) Minimum Wages Act, 1948; (c) Payment of Bonus Act, 1965; and (d) Equal Remuneration Act, 1976. This bill claims to be inspired by the recommendations of SNCL. However, it even goes beyond these. It outrightly favours the management instead of workers. Given below are some of the problematic provisions of the proposed bill.

Schedules of Employment: In the proposed bill, the Schedules of Employment categorizing skilled, semiskilled and unskilled labour have been removed and wages have been defined with universal applicability. This might be useful for those workers who are not listed in the Schedule like domestic workers (except in 13 states, they do not appear in the Schedule, hence the rule of minimum wages is not applicable them). But this will have a negative impact on the semi-skilled and skilled workers who are entitled for higher wages as per the Schedule as their base line of wages is reduced.

Criteria for fixing wages: As per Section 6 of the proposed Code, the minimum wage rates shall be fixed for timework and piecework and the wage period can be by the hour, by the day or by the month. As per Section 6(6) “the appropriate Government shall take into account the skill required, the arduousness of the work assigned to the worker, geographical location of the place of work and other factors which the appropriate Government considers necessary”.

 The Supreme Court has repeatedly stated that minimum wages should be determined by need-based criteria that extend beyond basic physical needs. It is also not defined as a factor of the quantum of production. The need-based criteria for fixing minimum wages should include specific nutrition requirements (defined in calories), clothing and housing needs, medical expenses, family expenses, education, fuel, lighting, festival expenses, provisions for old age and other miscellaneous expenditure. In a specific case of 1992 Workmen Represented by Secretary v. Management of Reptakos Brett, the Supreme Court laid down the following six criteria for minimum wage determination: (1) 3 consumption units for one earner; (2) Minimum food requirements of 2700 calories per average Indian adult; (3) Clothing requirements of 72 yards per annum per family; (4) Rent corresponding to the minimum area provided for under the Government Industrial Housing Scheme; (5) Fuel, lighting and other miscellaneous items of expenditure to constitute 20 percent of the total Minimum Wages; (6) Children, education, medical requirements, minimum recreation including festivals/ceremonies and provision for old age, marriage, etc. to constitute 25 percent of the total minimum wage).


The Code on Wages, 2017 has done away with all of this. Even though the states are required to take into account, cost of living calculated from ‘time to time’ under Section 7(2), this provision is very ambiguous and not mandatory. This clearly violates the criteria for fixing minimum wage standards established by the Supreme Court.

Working Hours and Overtime: Under Section 13 of the proposed Code, the government can fix the number of hours of work, which shall constitute a normal working day. But the following category of workers can be excluded: (a) Employees engaged on urgent work or in any emergency, which could not have been foreseen or prevented; (b) Employees engaged in work of the nature of preparatory or complementary work which must necessarily be carried on outside the limits laid down for the general working in the employment concerned; (c) Employees whose employment is essentially intermittent; (d) Employees engaged in any work which for technical reasons has to be completed before the duty is over; and (e) Employees engaged in a work, which could not be carried on except at times dependent on the irregular action of natural forces.


This means that the existing definition of overtime of work beyond 9 hours per day and 48 hours per week is being sought to be done away with. By removing a clear definition of overtime and allowing complimentary and intermittent work to exceed normal hours, the proposed bill opens the door to compulsory overtime without extra payment.

Concessions to Employers with respect to Payment of Bonus: The provision of exemption of new establishments in the Payment of Bonus Act, 1965, from paying bonus has been further expanded in the Code on Wages, 2017 using an ambiguous language for defining new establishments. Now the definition includes “trial running of any factory” and “prospecting stage of any mine.” Accordingly under the bill, not only are new establishments exempt from providing bonuses, but existing establishments can also escape liability by being on “trials runs” or at “prospective stages” in order to gain exemption from paying bonuses to their employees. There is no time limit for these “trial runs” or “prospective stages.”

The bill further undermines transparency by prohibiting authorities from disclosing balance sheets without the express permission of the employer. Here the presumption is that statements and particulars submitted by corporations and companies are accurate without requiring proof of accuracy from the corporation or company. Unions/ Workers will have to approach the Tribunal/Arbitrator for any clarification who must be satisfied that such clarification is necessary.

Arbitrary Wage deductions: Section 18 of the Code permits employers to deduct wages based upon the performance of an employee which may deem to be unsatisfactory; and to “recover losses”. In the absence of any due process to be followed before making such deductions, this provision will be misused by the employers for making arbitrary, punitive and vindictive deductions from the workers.

Gender Based Discrimination: Even though Section 3 talks about prohibition of discrimination on grounds of gender, the Code on Wages, functionally dismantles the mechanisms available within the Equal Remuneration Act, 1976 for promoting women’s employment and seeking accountability for gender based discrimination.

Labour Inspectors are replaced by Facilitators: The Code on Wages, 2017 replaces commissioners and inspectors with “facilitators” appointed to “supply information and advice to employers and workers concerning the most effective means of complying with the provisions of the code”. Facilitators will also be responsible for undertaking inspection consistent with inspection regimes set forth by state governments. However, the bill requires state inspection schemes to provide for web-based inspection schedules (s.51(2)). The surprise inspections are going to be missing. Further, there is also a provision of web-based self-certification scheme within the IT-enabled service.

Putting Limitations on Trade Union Activities: Workers’ contribution to trade union shall be limited to membership fee. The bill explicitly prohibits them from contributing for promoting common social or political activities.

Dilution of Penal Provisions to Employers: Under the Minimum Wages Act, 1948, payment of less than minimum wage is punishable with imprisonment upon the first offence. In the case of Sanjit Roy v. State of Rajasthan (1983), the Supreme Court has observed that non-payment of minimum wages amounts to constitutionally prohibited forced labour.

In contrast, in the proposed bill, there is a shift from criminal liability to civil liability in matters pertaining to wages, payment of wages and payment of bonuses. Employers violating the Code will be given the opportunity to comply with provisions of the Code or give reasons for violation prior to receiving any penalty. Those who commit offences can be acquitted if the offences are compounded.

No Fixed Time Line for Revision of Wages: In the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 there is a provision for the revision of minimum wages as and when required, which must not exceed five years. It is a major bargaining point for trade unions. This provision has been modified in the Code on Wages, 2017. Section 8 of the Code on Wages, 2017 states “The appropriate Government shall review or revise minimum rates of wages at an interval of five years.”  It virtually removes the time line for revision by introducing the words review or revise and make it optional.


In the light of the above, PUDR views these proposed changes with alarm. For one, these go against Articles 41 (Right to Work), 42 (Just and Humane Condition of work and maternity relief), 43 (Living Wage), in so far as employers are encouraged/allowed to introduce short term employment, increase the number of overtime hours, reduce outgo on wages, overtime, bonus and reduces the collective rights of workers to demand and receive company’s audited accounts. Workers were at a disadvantage to begin with. What the Code on Wages, 2017 does is to accentuate the blockades and make it more difficult for them to organise and struggle collectively against employers.

A hindi translation of the proposed changes given above is available here:

and an edited English Parcha here:

Cijo Joy, Anushka Singh

Secretaries, People’s Union for Democratic Rights

8 November 2017

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India – Right to privacy as right to life


It is important for the courts to examine disability as a ground for the grant of bail

In the Supreme Court’s right to privacy judgment (Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India), Justice D.Y. Chandrachud held: “Life and personal liberty are inalienable to human existence… The human element in the life of the individual is integrally founded on the sanctity of life… A constitutional democracy can survive when citizens have an undiluted assurance that the rule of law will protect their rights and liberties against any invasion by the state and that judicial remedies would be available to ask searching questions and expect answers when a citizen has been deprived of these most precious rights.”

Violation of right to life

In 2014, Delhi University professor G.N. Saibaba was arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and held in Nagpur Central Jail till the Supreme Court granted him bail in 2016. In March 2017, he was convicted by the Gadchiroli sessions court to life imprisonment for alleged offences under the same Act, and returned to custody in the Anda cell of Nagpur Central Jail. His appeal against the conviction is pending before the High Court in Nagpur. While the grounds of his conviction are debatable, the immediate concern is regarding the question of miscarriage of justice on other grounds. Mr. Saibaba has severe disabilities and multiple related health conditions and has high support needs. Placing him in solitary confinement with no support violates his right to life, bodily integrity and autonomy under Article 21, although his conviction only imposes restraints on personal liberty. This inhuman treatment is punishment far in excess of the sentence awarded by the court.

It is now time to ask searching questions about the sentence, and appeal to the court for the application of constitutional due process so as to not endanger his right to life.

The deplorable conditions in Indian prisons are well known. It is settled law now that prisoners may be deprived of personal liberty according to procedure established by law, but that does not include a derogation of their right to dignity. The privacy Bench reiterated the words of Justice Krishna Iyer in the Prem Shankar Shukla case: “The guarantee of human dignity, which forms part of our constitutional culture, and the positive provisions of Articles 14, 19 and 21 spring into action when we realise that to manacle man is more than to mortify him; it is to dehumanise him and, therefore, to violate his very personhood, too often using the mask of ‘dangerousness’ and security…” and that the right to life cannot be restricted to mere “animal existence”. How do we begin to understand the sanctity of life, dignity and bodily integrity for a person with disabilities? If handcuffing is an extraordinary and excessive restraint on an ordinary prisoner, what constitutes excessive restraint beyond the writ of law for a person with disabilities?

Respect for diversity

The Supreme Court holds unequivocally that in adopting the Constitution, the people of India do not surrender the most precious aspects of the human persona — namely life, liberty and freedom — to the state on whose mercy these rights would depend. Each of these aspects — life, liberty and freedom — must be considered together and/or severally as the case may be. Where there is a sentence on personal liberty, the citizen does not surrender his life to the mercy of the state.

If, as the right to privacy judgment asserts, privacy “as an integral part of the right to human dignity is comprehended within the protection of life as well”, it is necessary for every court to develop a sensibility towards and understanding of what constitutes human dignity and protection of life for persons located differently in the social order. For, an important aspect of this judgment, which is now law in India, is respect for human diversity and pluralism.

Albeit with reference to a different case, the court observed that neither the fact that very few persons bear certain attributes nor the test of “popular acceptance… furnish a valid basis to disregard rights which are conferred with the sanctity of constitutional protection”. Mr. Saibaba may well be the only person in his situation. That in itself is reason for the courts to intervene actively in his favour and remove him immediately from this precarious situation of precarity and irreversible harm.

Entitled to bail

In the light of the decision of the Supreme Court on the right to privacy, particularly its comments on the Suresh Kumar Koushal judgment on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code and the habeas corpus case, one cannot help but hope that the Nagpur High Court, in considering Mr. Saibaba’s appeal against his conviction, similarly examines the judgment and deliberates on the relationship between fact, law, popular rhetoric and proportionality therein.

Most importantly, however, it is hoped that the court examines disability as a ground for the grant of bail, as distinct from (but related to) “medical grounds”. This entails, according to the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013, “respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy… and independence of persons” and “accessibility”. Section 2(s) of the Act defines a person with disability as “a person with long term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairment which, in interaction with barriers, hinders his full and effective participation in society equally with others.” In conditions of custody, such persons must be protected from any hindrance to the exercise of bodily integrity and autonomy with dignity — this lies at the core of his right to privacy. Unavailability of such a guarantee within custodial facilities entitles the prisoner with disabilities to bail.

Mr. Saibaba’s predicament is best described in his own words: “I am frightened to think of the coming winter… As temperature goes down excruciating pain continuously in my legs and left hand increases. It is impossible for me to survive here during the winter that starts from November… I am living here like an animal taking its last breaths. Somehow eight months I managed to survive. But I am not going to survive in the coming winter. I am sure. It is of no use to write about my health any longer…

“No one understands 90% disabled person is behind bars struggling with one hand in condition and suffering with multiple ailments. And no one cares for my life. This is simply criminal negligence, a callous attitude.” (Extract from his letter to his wife dated October 17, 2017.)

At the time of his conviction and the proceedings so far, we did not have the constitutional wisdom of the privacy Bench before us. In weighing the question of restraint on personal liberty against the risk to life, bodily integrity and dignity, the court scene in The Merchant of Venice spins into view: “Therefore prepare thee to cut off the flesh/Shed thou no blood, nor cut thou less nor more/But just a pound of flesh.” A Daniel, come to judgment.

Kalpana Kannabiran is Professor and Director, Council for Social Development, Hyderabad

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An appeal to Karnataka doctors – Rethink your Opposition to Medical Bill


By- Sylvia Karpagam

The proposed amendments to the Karnataka Private Medical Establishments Act – including regulating fee and service charges at private hospitals – are not against doctors. Rather, they will facilitate a better doctor-patient relationship.


Leading up to the Assembly meeting in Karnataka on the 13th of November, 2017, the Indian Medical Association of Karnataka has planned a protest “chalo Belgaum to oppose the Amendments of the Karnataka  Private Medical Establishments Acts being passed and with ‘unconditional support from corporate hospitals’. A relay hunger strike is being planned with the president of IMA, Karnataka, going on a fast ‘unto death’. In case the draft Amendments go through, the members of the Association are planning to ‘quit the profession’ as they will be ‘unable to practice under the rules and regulations of the KPMEA

This article is an appeal to fellow doctors. In the back and forth between the government and the private hospital associations, the voices of patients, citizens and many doctors are being drowned. It is important for us to understand a few things before we make informed decisions about whether to support this protest or not.

Firstly, there is a distinction between private hospitals and medical professionals. Many doctors and nurses employed in private hospitals have been under pressure to do procedures and tests that violate patient rights and their own professional ethics. This could range from unnecessary investigations, compulsorily putting patients into the ICU, prolonged and unnecessary use of the ventilator, irrational repetition of tests and also unnecessary procedures, including surgeries. The doctors and other professionals currently do not have any functional recourse to a system that protects their professional ethics. The KPME offers a process to keep these medical establishments in check. It is only if a doctor has wilfully contributed to a violation, for instance by also being the owner of the establishment, that he or she will be held accountable.  So the KPMEA actually offers a protective system for private health professsionals who want to practice in an ethical way.

Secondly, in the final draft, the district grievance committee will perform the role of a civil court and will not have the Chief Executive Officer of the Zilla Panchayat as its member (as has been widely quoted by PHANA). It will have the Additional Deputy Commissioner or Special Deputy Commissioner as chairperson, with the District Surgeon, District Superintendent of Police, one IMA member and one woman, with the last being decided by the state. Non formal members and IMA will not constitute more than 1/3 of this body. The role of this body is to register a private medical establishment and also to respond to complaints at the district level. This decentralisation of registration will increase the convenience for those looking to set up establishments at the level of the district. The complaints received will be reviewed and a recommendation sent to the manager of the establishment with a copy to the Karnataka Medical Council or the Ayush Medical Council.

The third point, which is important, is that there will be an expert group who will, with inputs from private medical establishments, decide on uniform rates for same procedures across the state. So if a cataract extraction and lens implant is planned then the procedure itself will not exceed a certain limit. For eg. For a cataract extraction and lens implant, if the cost to the establishment for just the procedure is Rs. 20,000/- the procedure across the state will not cost more than 30 or 35, 000 as decided by the expert committee. However, based on the facilities offered by the hospital, and this would include the quality of the lens implanted, the rates can vary based on the tier of hospital. So a charity hospital may charge an additional of Rs. 10,000 for consultant fees or room rates while a corporate hospital may charge around Rs.1,00,000 lakh for the same. These also have an upper limit but are flexible based on the facility offered. Patients have some amount of choice in that they can opt for the same procedure with lower room rates or more high end facilities at higher rates. The rates, since they are fixed, can be informed to the patient in advance so that suitable preparations are made. It is fair to say that patients would be better prepared if they know what the costs involved are for any procedure and also to know that they have not been ‘cheated’ as there is a larger system in place which can be explained to them. Doctors are often at the interface of having to break news of exorbitant bills to patients, even by unscrupulous medical establishments. It is only fair for both professionals and patients, that these systems of billing are transparent and rational.

The fourth point is that private medical establishments cannot withhold emergency treatment pending payment of advance and cannot refuse handing over a deceased patient body to the relatives unless bills are settled. Again this is not an issue between the health professional and the patient, as much as between a medical establishment and patient. It reflects establishment policies rather than the decision making of the doctor who may be inclined to treat a patient in an emergency and waive off costs for a genuinely poor patient. The question health professionals would need to ask here is whether a patient in an emergency should or should not be stabilised with basic emergency care and then referred to an institution that he or she can afford. This is an ethical question that private establishment professionals would need to ask themselves. As the first point of contact with a seriously ill patient, it is the healthcare professional who is faced with the difficult task of shutting the door on patients who cannot afford an advance. The state government has brought out a scheme of reimbursement to hospitals upto 25,000/- for all patients who access health care in an emergency. As far as handing over a deceased patient is concerned, the state has made mention that it will pitch in to settle bills of deceased patients whose bills have not been settled. Both these schemes have to be well in place, to avoid undue burden and loss for the private establishments.

These are the major amendments to the Bill. It brings health care professionals working in private medical establishments to a cross roads of sorts where they have to decide if they want to be viewed as independent professionals or part of a medical establishment.

It should also be noted that many of the schemes and benefits accrued by private hospitals goes predominantly to three or four large corporates within Bangalore. In terms of the pre-authorisation amount approved by the Suvarna Arogya Suraksha Trust, over 77 per cent was accounted by the hospitals located in Bangalore. The districts such as Bellary, Bidar, Gulbarga and Raichur have accounted for almost insignificant proportion of the amount, while Koppal and Yadgir do not even figure in this. In Bangalore, super specialty hospitals such as Narayana Hrudayalaya, Sagar Hospitals, Vydehi Hospital and BGS Global Hospital located in Bangalore city have been the top four hospitals in terms of the number of pre-authorisation approved cases and amount. In fact these top four hospitals accounted for 40 per cent of the treated cases and almost 43 per cent of the approved amount. It is also not a big stretch of imagination to understand that these corporates are at the fore of this resistance against Amendments to the KPME. It is crucial to understand that the Amendments  are not anti-health professionals as articulated by vested interests. They facilitate a better doctor-patient relationship as they factor in the needs of patients who access services in a critical situations and is a step forward for ethical and compassionate healthcare.

The writer is a public health doctor and researcher based in Karnataka

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Emboldened by Modi’s ascent, India’s cow vigilantes deny Muslims their livelihood  

ON PATROL: A group of cow vigilantes prepare to set up a roadblock, accompanied by police, near the northern Indian city of Chandigarh in early July. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Hindu nationalists are beating up Muslim farmers and seizing their cows on the grounds that the animals are headed for the slaughterhouse. But there’s another side to the religiously tinged violence: The stolen cows are being given to Hindu farmers.

BEHROR, India – The beating that ended Pehlu Khan’s life was televised nationwide. Cell phone video captured a group of men punching and slinging Khan around the middle of a road in north India, stomping on him and then slamming the 55-year-old farmer down on concrete as he begged for mercy.

Khan had been stopped by the lynch mob of right-wing Hindus as he rode home from a market in April with two cows and two calves in the back of a truck. The crowd was furious at the sight of a Muslim transporting animals held sacred by Hindus, according to the accounts of his sons and two fellow villagers who were also attacked. Before the men beat Khan so badly that he later died, breaking his ribs in multiple places, they screamed that he was planning to slaughter the cattle for beef.

Outside the frame of the video, something else was happening: Pehlu Khan’s cows were seized. They were hauled off to a nearby Hindu-run shelter that takes in cattle snatched from Muslims and sells them.

Assaults meted out in broad daylight against India’s Muslim population, some 14 percent of the country’s 1.3 billion people, have sparked concern about the direction the country is taking under Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There has been another, less noted dimension to the violence: The theft from Muslims and redistribution to Hindus of cows that provide crucial income in the Indian countryside.Such scenes

clash with India’s image as an investor darling in Asia and the pro-business message Modi broadcasts to foreign investors. But three and a half years after his electoral victory, the cow seizures illustrate how the nation’s right-wing Hindu factions that propelled Modi to power are now shaping India and stirring religious upheaval.Having stoked Hindu nationalist passions in his bid for the highest office, it’s unclear to what extent Modi can now control them. The bands of right-wing Hindus who seize the cows are operating essentially as private militias. They are undeterred by the prime minister’s public calls on them to end the violence. States governed by Modi’s party have seen a marked increase in cow theft from Muslims as well as funding for cow shelters that in many cases take in the stolen cattle.

Interviews with nationalist Hindu leaders and militia members across the country reveal an impatience for Muslims to demonstrate obeisance to the Hindu majority.

There are no official statistics for how many cows have been stolen from Muslims in incidents involving such groups since Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to national power in 2014. Reuters’ reporting across India, though, puts actual numbers on the extent of the cow theft. It also provides the first in-depth look at how the actions of cow vigilantes are leading to further economic marginalization of the country’s Muslim minority.

In northern India, the leadership of just two of the main organizations of “gau rakshaks” – right-wing Hindu cow vigilantes, or literally “cow protectors” – said they have taken about 190,000 cows since the year of Modi’s election, some in the presence of police and almost every single one of them from Muslims, the reporting shows.

“Everyone in this world is born Hindu. They are turned into Muslims when they are circumcised and Christians when they are baptized.”

Dinesh Patil, district head of the Bajrang Dal group in Maharashtra state

Separately, Reuters surveyed 110 cow shelters or farms, known as “gaushalas,” across six Indian states that were led by BJP chief ministers from before or just after Modi’s 2014 election win. The survey found an increase of 50 percent in their cattle holdings – from about 84,000 head before Modi came to power in 2014 to more than 126,000 today.

The survey, conducted by phone and in person, covered a fraction of the thousands of cow sheds nationwide.

It was not possible to determine how much of the 50 percent increase was due to cow vigilantes, because record-keeping in many cases is non-existent. But of the 110 cattle facilities surveyed, all but 14 said they receive cows from the Hindu vigilante groups. About a third said they sell or give cows away, nearly all to Hindu farmers and households.

In a separate survey, Reuters found that only three of 24 cow facilities in four states not ruled by a BJP chief minister said they sold or gave away cattle – mainly to Hindus – after receiving them. While cattle stock has risen about 40 percent in these gaushalas since Modi took office, only a small part of the increase was due to vigilantes. In many of the cases, cows were donated to the shelters for religious reasons or purchased from cattle markets for fear they would be slaughtered.

It is hard to put a value on the seized cattle because the price of cows ranges from zero for animals near death to 25,000 rupees (about $385), if not more, at cattle markets for healthy milk cows. But taking the average of those two points, just the 190,000 cows captured by the two vigilante groups in northern India would be worth more than $36 million. That is a significant amount of money in India, where some 270 million people live on less than $1.90 a day. In rural areas, home to about 70 percent of the nation’s population, a family’s milk cow is often its most valuable possession.

Cow slaughter is illegal in most of India, while committing cruelty to cattle by transporting them crammed into small spaces is outlawed across the country. Slaughtering buffalo, an animal not considered holy, is allowed, fueling a multi-billion dollar meat export industry that is dominated by Muslims. Penalties for killing a cow differ from state to state, with most ranging from six months to five years in prison.

The fatal assault on Pehlu Khan unfolded among the rolling hills of India’s northwestern Rajasthan state. Travelling with his two adult sons in a rented truck, Khan was headed home to the village of Jaisinghpur in the neighboring state of Haryana. He’d borrowed 40,000 rupees (about $620) to add to cash he’d cobbled together to buy the cows.

His four animals were among 32 other cattle seized on April 1 at makeshift roadblocks near the town of Behror. A day after the attack on Khan and his two sons, police began an investigation against them under a state law barring cow slaughter. On April 3, Khan died.

“If the sentiments of the majority community are respected, there would be no such incidents. Can we demand pork in any Gulf country?”

Surendra Jain, joint general secretary for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad

In its April 18 order following a bail hearing for the sons, a local court noted that the Khan family, found lying injured on the ground, was unable to produce a waybill showing they’d legally purchased the animals. Also, the cows were bound together at the mouth and, the judge noted, “our society does not allow animals to be treated in an inhumane way.”

Khan’s elder son, Irshad, told Reuters that the cows had not been tied together. The receipt they got at the cattle fair where they bought the animals, he said, was snatched by the mob at the start of the violence. The family handed Reuters a copy of the bill that they later retrieved.

A Reuters reporter showed the receipt to clerks and a local official from the office that issues the documents near the fair, in the city of Jaipur. They said the document was authentic and should have ensured safe passage.

The men who delivered the cattle to the local cow shed, with the help of police who rounded up the cows at the scene of the attack, were members of right-wing Hindu organizations, according to the manager of the facility. Survivors said the lynch mob let the driver of the truck, a Hindu, escape.

The shed often receives cattle “taken from Muslims” by Hindu vigilante groups who suspect they’ll use the animals for meat, according to Vijay Singh, its manager. Singh said he sells the best cows to local Hindu farmers and landowners.

Speaking of the men who took the animals from Khan, Singh said they had performed “an act of devotion.”

The cattle shelters range from tiny pastures to large complexes. They have traditionally operated as religiously-motivated charities, taking in cows abandoned by farmers because they no longer produce milk or those dropped off by local government workers who found them wandering the streets.

People involved in snatching cattle from Muslims speak with a triumphant sense that their moment in history has arrived. “Everyone in this world is born Hindu. They are turned into Muslims when they are circumcised and Christians when they are baptized,” said Dinesh Patil, a district head of the Bajrang Dal group in the southwestern state of Maharashtra.

The Bajrang Dal organization is closely linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the nation’s umbrella right-wing Hindu organization. The RSS argues the purity of India was soiled by the foreign intervention of Muslims and then Christians beginning in the 8th century. The RSS helped create Modi’s political party, and the prime minister himself first attended the group’s meetings as a child.

At the complex he manages, Patil said that almost every one of the 1,700 cows grazing outside was “rescued by the Bajrang Dal” from “these Muslim slaughterers.” Patil described how a degree of law enforcement sanction is conferred on the cattle seizures: His group takes the cows and hands them over to the police, who then deliver the cattle to his facility. “The entire investigation and catching of the culprits is done by us,” Patil said.

The police, he added, “have to listen to us because the BJP is in power.”

Told of Patil’s comments, Bipin Bihari, second-in-command of police for Maharashtra, said: “In a way their work supports the police. It eases our work. If they have some information on some illegal activities, they can share it with us, and we act on it. But they are not allowed to take the law into their hands.”

A national spokesman for the ruling BJP, Sudhanshu Trivedi, said
his party expects anyone with knowledge of illegal acts, such as cow slaughter, to inform the police. In cases where cows were taken, he added, it was because their owners had broken laws: “It is not redistribution of wealth. It is just stopping of illegal activities,” he said.

Modi’s office referred Reuters’ request for comment to the Home Ministry. The ministry said it is “not correct” that cow vigilantism has risen on Modi’s watch and “preposterous” to conclude that Hindus are organizing to confiscate and redistribute cattle. Some people have taken the law into their own hands “in the name of protecting the cows,” the ministry noted in a written statement, but “the Government is committed to protect the legal rights of all citizens, including minorities in India.” State governments, it said, have been directed to take “prompt action” against such people.

Reuters found no evidence of a formal plan by the BJP to use cow vigilante groups to engineer the seizure and transfer of cows from Muslims to Hindus.

But in states where the BJP has taken power, cow seizures have ramped up. In the absence of official data on the number of cows taken, Reuters reporting and a review of past incidents show that the largest vigilante groups and the cattle seizures are concentrated in BJP-led states.

One organization of cow vigilantes in the northern state of Haryana has a golden cow with crossed swords and two AK-47s beneath it as its logo. The leaders of the Gau Raksha Dal, or cow protection group, say they have captured up to 120,000 across the country since beginning their campaign in 2013. Most of that activity was carried out after Modi’s victory in 2014, which was followed by a BJP chief minister taking office in Haryana later in the year.

GUNS, SWORDS AND COWS: The logo on a website of the Gau Raksha Dal, a cow protection group.

Dinesh Arya, state head of the Gau Raksha Dal, acknowledged his group is breaking the law. Arya produced a list of 27 criminal complaints lodged by cattle traders against his members that he said were still pending. “Seizing cattle is not legal and we know that well. We are not authorized to do this, it’s the police department’s work,” Arya said.

But he claims a higher calling: “Our religion has given us the right to stop our mother being butchered,” he said, referring to “gau mata,” or mother cow. “We have forcefully taken that right.”

Outside his office, a truck converted into a “mobile cow ambulance” used to transport seized cattle bore a bullet hole – the aftermath of a recent gun battle with Muslim “cattle smugglers,” Arya said.

Modi has at least twice publicly criticized cow vigilantism. “Do we get the right to kill a human being in the name of cow? Is this ‘gau bhakti’? Is this ‘gau raksha’?” he declared in a speech in June, using the Hindi phrases for cow devotion and cow protection. “Violence is not the solution to any problem,” he added.

The Supreme Court has also addressed the issue. In September, the court ruled that central and state governments must deploy police officers to prevent cow vigilante violence.

On the ground, some Hindu activists aren’t heeding Modi’s calls. The leader of a group of cow vigilantes, which claims 10,000 members concentrated mostly in western and northern Indian states, said they were unmoved by the prime minister’s condemnation of what he called the vigilantes’ “anti-social activities.”

“The cow protection movement totally belonged to the BJP before 2014,” said the group’s leader, Pawan Pandit, a part-time software engineer. “Now groups like ours have the momentum.”

Pandit said networks of vigilantes operating under his Bhartiya Gau Raksha Dal – or Indian cow protection group – captured as many as 60,000 cows in the three years before Modi came to office. Since 2014, Pandit said, the group has grabbed more than 100,000 cows, often working with police.

A similar scenario has unfolded in Assam, where the BJP won power last year. Located in the farthest reaches of India’s northeast, the state is in a region where cow vigilante activity was all but unheard of.

The leader of a right-wing Hindu youth organization said he waited a year for the BJP-led government in Assam to crack down on what his group views as illegal cattle trading. Then, said Balen Baishya, head of the Hindu Youth-Students Council of Assam, he decided that local party leadership was not made up of “hardcore believers.”

On July 2, Baishya said, he and his men seized three vehicles carrying cows. Video of the incident posted to the Internet shows a mob surrounding one of the drivers as a man beat him with a baton while he writhed on the ground and tried to shield himself.

This lawlessness extends beyond the 18 states Modi’s BJP now controls directly or with coalition partners. In the southern state of Telangana, one of 11 states where the BJP is not in power, a man named Purushottam Gupta was arrested shortly after Modi gave a speech in August last year condemning cow vigilantes. Gupta had refused a court order to hand back 20 cattle seized by cow vigilantes and kept them with some 5,000 other cows at a facility next to the ashram where he is the de facto deputy head. Gupta said he was released the same day he was arrested and that the cows have yet to be returned to their Muslim owners.

India’s laws against cow slaughter predate Modi’s administration, and cow vigilantes were operating in India before Modi came to power. At the federal level, the BJP’s predecessor, the relatively liberal Congress party, funded the cow sheds via a federal animal welfare association at higher levels than Modi. Spending from the association’s four main gaushala grants, the primary source of federal funding for the facilities, was about 150 million rupees for the 2010-11 fiscal year, compared with some 58 million for 2015-16, the most recent period available.

CATTLE ROUNDUP: Cows are packed into a gaushala, or cattle shelter, in the town of Barsana that takes in cattle seized from Muslims by vigilantes in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

But at the state level, BJP politicians have in many cases sharply increased funding for the cattle shed facilities through government bodies. In Haryana, the state where Pehlu Khan lived, the Gau Seva Aayog, or cow protection commission, went from allotting 18.5 million rupees to cow sheds in the 2014-15 fiscal year, when a BJP chief minister took over, to more than 37 million for 2016-17. In Rajasthan, the state where Khan was killed, funding doubled from about one billion rupees in 2013-14, as the BJP captured the state, to more than 2.3 billion rupees in 2016-17, according to a state official.

Officials in two of the states surveyed by Reuters that are not governed by a BJP chief minister, said the government provides no funding for gaushala facilities. A third state does not make payments annually and a fourth, Karnataka in the south, began increasing its grants because of droughts that caused farmers to abandon their cows, increasing the burden on gaushalas, according to the state’s animal husbandry department.

Police completed their formal court charge sheet in May for Pehlu Khan’s death, naming 15 alleged attackers as taking part in the killing. The charge sheet included a statement Khan gave from the intensive care unit at 11:50 p.m. on the night of the April 1 assault. He said of the men who assaulted him: “They were calling themselves workers of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal” – both founded by members of the RSS, the nationalist organization that Modi joined as a youngster.

Surendra Jain, joint general secretary for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, parent organization of the Bajrang Dal, said that “not a single person from VHP was involved” in the attack on Pehlu Khan. Asked whether he was certain, Jain said: “I can’t say. We have not looked in detail into these cases.”

“If the sentiments of the majority community are respected, there would be no such incidents,” said Jain. “Can we demand pork in any Gulf country?”

Manmohan Vaidya, national spokesman for the RSS, said his group doesn’t “support any act of violence or people taking the law into their hands.”

Another senior RSS official, speaking on condition he not be named, was more pointed: “Hindus never had the courage to stand up for their religion and now they are standing up,” he said. “The cow issue has led to an awakening.”

In Jaisinghpur, the small, poor village that Pehlu Khan called home, his name is still in a fat, red notebook listing loans given out to villagers by a local dairy operation. Entries on the front and back of a faded page for Khan reaching back to 2006 show that he borrowed money and paid back the loans in milk.

Mohammed Yunus, the 58-year-old patriarch of the Muslim family that runs the dairy, shook his head. He said he had suggested to Pehlu Khan that he make the trip that ended his life, the one to the city of Jaipur to buy cows with his two adult sons. The cattle fair there has better milk cows than the local markets, Yunus explained.

At the district police station, the head constable took out his book of criminal records for the village and searched for the names of Pehlu Khan, the Yunus family, and others interviewed in the area. None of them had been arrested for anything related to cow smuggling or slaughter, according to the records. There were two notations for one of Pehlu Khan’s sons when he was a teenager, one for being found with a dead cow and the other for travelling with animals stuffed in a vehicle.

The son, Irshad, said one case involved a buffalo that was later returned by police, and the other was rooted in a dispute with a distant relative.

In the weeks after the murder of Pehlu Khan, a leader of a small opposition party visited the family home to pay his respects. He gave the Khans something to help pay back the 40,000 rupees they still owed the Yunus family from the loan Pehlu Khan took – something to give Khan’s widow and children hope.

It was a cow.

Additional reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj, Mohi Narayan and Rupam Jain in New Delhi.

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