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Archives for : December2017

India – Hoax, Thy Name Is …. Prime Minister Modi


by- Sukla Sen

Best Example Of ‘Make in India’, Says PM Modi As INS Kalvari Joins Navy

That’s the caption of a news item in a news bulletin, apparently, mass mailed by the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office<[email protected]>)

The news bulletin is online hosted here: <>.

This particular news item, in details including a video clip of the PM’s speech on the occasion of the ceremonial dedication of the submarine to the nation, is presented here: <>.

The detailed report, inter alia, informs: <<Congratulating the people of India on this occasion, the ***Prime Minister described INS Kalvari as a prime example of “Make in India.”*** [Emphasis added.]>><

The wikipedia (ref.: <>) informs that the ‘Make in India’ programme was launched by the incumbet Prime Minister on “25 September 2014”.

The wikipedia site (<>) pertaining to the subject submarine informs: <<The submarine was designated as Yard 11875 at Mazagon Dock Limited and ***construction began on 14 December 2006*** [emphasis added] with the first cutting of steel.>>
That was close to 8 years before the launch of the ‘Make in India’. Under the UPA I.

The order had been been placed in 2005, again, under the UPA I.

Yet, the Prime Minister claims it’s a prime example of “Make in India.”

Also relevant:

The first warship built by MDL was the 2,900-ton displacement, INS Nilgiri, the lead ship of her class. She was launched on 15 October 1966 and commissioned on 23 June 1972. Five more frigates of this class were built over the next nine years for the Indian Navy.>>

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India – How A Leaf Could Change The Fortunes Poorest Communities

Nandini Sundar, Delhi University, Professor, Murder case, Chattisgarh Police, Social Activist
  •  Manu Maudgil

One nippy November morning, Gopal Kumeti picked up a brown, rough fruit from the ground, resembling chickoo (sapodilla). “This is the fruit of the tendu tree. When dried, it remains good for 4-5 months. People who did not have enough grain, used to survive on this. It has become a rarity in the last 30-35 years because tendu is not allowed to grow like this,” said Kumeti, head of a federation of gram sabhas (village committees) in eastern Maharashtra, pointing to the tall tendu tree with a distinctively black bark. Then Kumeti pointed towards the younger plants, some reaching a height of 6 feet, and shorter grass that reach his shins. “We are bringing this change,” he said proudly.

We were in a patch of in Dhamadi Tola village in Gondia district of eastern Maharashtra, around 40 km from the national highway that connects Nagpur with Raipur in Chhattisgarh. Here 18 villages have proved their business acumen by creating a thriving trade in tendu leaves, while conserving the species which were once disappearing from this forest, all through the efficient management of natural resources. Along the way, they have earned enough money to appoint teachers, repair ponds, plant trees and take up cleanliness drives.

Local community ownership of the tendu leaf and other produce, otherwise controlled by the department, private contractors, state federations and, in some case, naxals, could help conserve natural resources, while also providing livelihood opportunities to mostly poor tribal villagers–45.3 per cent of whom live under the poverty line in 


Source: Ministry of Tribal Affairs; Data as of August 31, 2017

How the Rights Act could help tribals

The tendu leaf, mostly used to roll bidis (hand-rolled cigarettes popular in India), is a major income source, especially in central  Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and sold Rs 1,900 crore worth of in 2012, said a study by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, a research institution on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.

Control over is also a politically charged subject. For instance, the Chhattisgarh government recently announced a Rs 274 crore bonus to leaf collectors in Naxal-dominated areas of the state to win over local people, especially as Naxals often dictate terms to tendu leaf traders.

In all this, local inhabitants have little say in deciding collection wages and the bonus distributed after sale of leaves. States such as hold back part of the bonus, and promise to spend it on the development of the villages through welfare schemes. The process, however, has led to embezzlement of these funds in the past, with Madhya Pradesh’s Minor Produce Federation accused of siphoning off Rs 365 crore meant for development projects for 

In 2011-12, in India, 45.3 per cent of over 93.8 million tribals lived under the rural poverty line of Rs 27, while 24.1 per cent of 10.4 million tribals lived under the urban poverty line of Rs 33, according to information provided by in the Lok Sabha.

Community ownership of resources could change this, and benefit tribal villagers, many of whom are from the scheduled tribes, while conserving resources.

For instance, in Maharashtra, members of gram sabhas, empowered to manage forests under the Rights Act, have also changed the way are collected. They have banned pruning and cutting of bushes, and burning of the floor–methods used by traders to advance the fresh flush of leaves.

In 2012, the department had mandated that the auction of be cancelled if a fire was lit, provoking a boycott of the tendering process by traders. Now with people getting community rights, the traders have no say in how the leaves are extracted.

“Fire damages other plants, vines and medicinal herbs, which are commonly used by us. Cutting of bushes also reduced the availability (of tendu leaves) the following year. By letting them grow, we are not only getting more leaves per plant but also a healthier forest,” said Kumeti of Dhamadi Tola village, whom we met in the beginning of the story.

“Earlier, we never bothered when traders asked us to cut or prune trees and light a fire as we used to think is of the department. Now, with a legal document proving our rights, we feel responsible for the 

104 villages in earn Rs 9.8 crore through the tendu trade

About 9.4 per cent of the population in is tribal, and 42.4 per cent of these live below the poverty line, according to information provided by to the Lok Sabha, parliament’s lower house.

Around 440,000 families collected in in 2012, according torecords of the State Department.

By August 2017, had allotted over 4.43 million acres of land–290 times size of Mumbai, the state’s capital–largest among all states, under community rights that allow dwellers to not only use and sell minor produce on their own, but also manage and protect its natural resources. Around 104 villages earned Rs 9.8 crore by selling under community rights in 2017, according to this report in the Times of India.

Source: Maharashtra Forest Department

In predominantly tribal areas, gram sabhas are also allowed to sell minor produce, such as tendu leaves, under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA). Although the Act was enacted by Parliament in 1996, it was in 2014 that notified the rules under which a gram sabha can either ask the department to carry on the sale of tendu or can manage the sale on its own with support from various government departments. Many villages, especially those in Gadchiroli district, are using PESA to auction 

Tendu Production Area Under Community Rights In Maharashtra
Circle Villages Area (In hectare) Notified Yield (In standard bags)
Gadchiroli 58 8732.46 2438
Chandrapur 5 1378.546 475
Nagpur 472 44632.067 12825
Yavatmal 363 85317.75 11849.16
Amravati 4 990.354 80
Total State 902 141051.177 27667.16


Source: Maharashtra Forest Department

It was in 2013 that villagers in four villages in Deori taluka (block) of Gondia, including Dhamadi Tola, took over the collection and sale of the most lucrative minor produce in the village–the tendu leaf–after they gained community rights over the forest, under the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional forest Dwellers (Recognition of Right) Act, 2006 (FRA). Earlier, the department would engage the villagers as labourers, and sell the produce to traders.

The experiment was so popular that the number of villages in the federation rose from four in 2013 to 18 in 2017.

In 2017, the 18 gram sabhas earned Rs 5.07 crore by selling 5,458 standard bags–each bag has 70,000 leaves of tendu. The villagers earned Rs 3,000 as collection wage and Rs 5,000 bonus (given after the sale of produce) per bag. Around 5 per cent of the revenue was kept aside for a village development fund to be spent by the gram sabha.

Each gram sabha got about Rs 2-2.5 lakh in its development fund depending on the number of bags deposited. Dhamadi Tola used this money to appoint two teachers in its primary school, while other villages organised cleanliness drives or local festivals. In Gadchiroli’s Bhamragad and Dhanora taluka, villages repaired ponds and planted bamboo from the development fund.

“Until now, middlemen would buy and sell it in the market paying a meagre amount as labour cost to the villagers. Now villagers are the owners and get better returns from the produce,” said Dilip Gode of Vidarbha Nature Conservation Society (VNCS), a non-profit that guided the gram sabhas in attaining community rights and trade of 

The federation now has Rs 17 lakh in its bank account.

When the villagers first started selling tendu leaves, no buyers showed up

But this prosperity was hard won, especially as villagers had to learn about a market they knew little about.

In the first year of taking over the management of the tendu trade, the four gram sabhaswere joined by 12 villages of Gadchiroli and two villages of Amravati district. When the villages put out tenders for the sale of tendu leaves, no trader bid. The state government’s tribal development department stepped in, and agreed to buy the produce and extended an advance of Rs 1.20 crore for procuring the leaves.

This was the push the gram sabhas needed. They appointed a munshi (manager), a checker who oversees the quality and quantity of leaves, and helpers. They sent verbal and written notices about the phadis (leaf collection centres), trained people to collect leaves without affecting its quality, and sought technical inputs from retired officials.

After 2,076 bags were collected, the tribal development department refused to buy the produce at the agreed rate and the gram sabhas had to look for another buyer. The long wait to find a trader willing to pay Rs 3,600 per bag, affected the produce but the gram sabhas were still able to return the department’s money in the very first year.

By 2015, the gram sabhas were financially independent. “Over the last three years, the federation has also gained enough knowledge of the field and built a network of market contacts that helps fetch a good price,” Narayan Salame, general secretary of Dhamadi Tola gram sabha, told IndiaSpend. Similar federations have also been established in Gadchiroli and Amravati districts.

Earlier, traders used to dictate collection rates by moving collection centres from one village to another every three to four days. They would force us “to go for distress sale”, said Gangadhar Mishra, the president of federation of gram sabhas in Sadak Arjuni taluka. Now, because the community together is responsible for the produce, they’ve negotiated with the traders that a collection centre operate until the target of leaves the trader had agreed to is met, usually 10-15 days. “The fresh flush of leaves, which comes after 8-10 days of removal of the first leaf, also gets sold,” Mishra said. This benefits the trader too as villagers ensure quality of leaves unlike middlemen.

“People faced problems in the initial two years, but now many gram sabhas have gained knowledge and confidence in trade management which is a good sign,” said P K Khade, the divisional officer in Gadchiroli.

The trade has also become more transparent. “Earlier, the traders would often exploit people and hand over less than deserved money claiming poor quality of leaves,” said Purnima Upadhyay of non-profit Khoj, that guided 28 villages of Amravati district in selling  “Since gram sabhas pay the wages now, everyone gets equally paid and they are also able to access the account books.”

Not all traders are on board with the new process

Some local traders believe there is more corruption now. “The federations are dominated by people with vested interests and they are not following a transparent processes like tendering. In this process, common villagers get cheated,” said Jayesh Patel, the president of the Gondia Beedi Leaves Contractors’ Association, which had complained against two federations in Gondia district. The district collector ordered federations to re-auction the produce but gram sabhas refused to obey the order. Finally, the Mumbai-based secretary of Maharashtra’s tribal development department went through the details of the complaint, and concluded that there were no irregularities.

“When there’s no objection from the villagers, who are these outsiders (traders) to question our procedure? The traders boycotted our tenders for last three years and we had to bear losses. Since the decision making now lies with gram sabha, let us determine what’s good for us,” said Kumeti, the federation head of 18 gram sabhas in Deori taluka.

“We don’t intend to hinder the progress that has been made so far. We just want to ensure that the system is transparent and beneficial to villagers,” Manisha Verma, the secretary of the tribal development department told IndiaSpend.

Further, many gram sabhas still find it difficult to get the traders on board. Around 28 villages of Bhamragad taluka (block) of Gadchiroli district, which entered the trade this year, are yet to find a buyer. “The local traders refused to buy the produce even though they used to compete with each other until last year. We are now looking for a buyer from other areas,” said Lalsu Soma Nagoti, a resident of Bhamragad and member of the Gadchiroli Zila Parishad.

Different villages follow different models of tendu trade

According to department records, around 902 villages in have community rights over in over 141,000 hectares of land with the production potential of 27,667 standard bags. But not all of these villages have taken over the trade, and some still opt for the old arrangement by asking the department to manage the sale.

“We don’t have segregated data but around 90 per cent of the villages which have got community rights over must be managing on their own,” said Verma.

Gram sabhas also use different methods to sell the produce. “A few went for tendering, others called for open bids through newspaper advertisements, some also fixed a base price for such bids,” said Mahesh Raut, a social activist who guided villages in Gadchiroli in PESA, rights and the sale of minor produce. “These diverse models will help people learn and then adopt the best one that works for them.”

Rajagopal Devara, former secretary of the tribal development department, under whom the process started, is currently studying the difference in income generation of villages trading on their own and where the department is operating. “The shift in the power equation has done wonders. The new model seems to be doing far better than the traditional one,” he told IndiaSpend.

This has inspired other states, with Odisha allowing six gram sabhas to sell tendu leaves, in November 2017, albeit with conditions such as the department continue to run its collection centres, issue transit permit books for sale and transport and assess, and decide how many leaves can be plucked, according to this article in the Times of India.

(Manu Moudgil is an independent journalist. This story is published with support from the Trans Disciplinary University (TDU)-Nature Media Fellowship.)

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India – Let’s not use secularism as an excuse to shut out Christmas carols

by- Saba Nqvi

President Ram Nath Kovind will not hear carol singers on the eve of Christmas as has been the tradition with former presidents. Choirs and carol singers who had expected to perform for India’s first citizen have not been given time. The spokesperson of Rashtrapati Bhavan says a decision has been taken to have no religious ceremonies inside the building as India is a “secular state”.

One may ask if carols (or even qawwalis) can be boxed under religion or is there not a cultural dimension to them? Apparently, the President did not do anything special for Diwali inside his majestic home either, although ANI reported that Rashtrapati Bhavan was lit up this year with a special multi-coloured light display on the eve of Diwali. US president Donald Trump meanwhile celebrated Diwali inside the White House (although he cancelled the Eid dinner that predecessor Barack Obama would host besides lighting lamps inside the White House on Diwali).

The idea of genuine secularism should not be used as a cover for snubbing minorities, in this case, the tiny Christian community, just 2.3% of India’s population. At a time when a new “Hindu” identity is being forged, both politically and culturally, traditions linked to minorities apparently cannot be accommodated without discomfort and unease. The spectre of the Muslim may be used to create a particular national consciousness, but it is with Christians (who are seen as actively promoting conversions) that the cadre of the RSS and its frontal organisations really have a bone to pick at the ground level.

2017 has been one of the worst years for anti-Christian violence in India and apparently, there is to be no comfort or let-up. An influential global charity that monitors the treatment of Christians worldwide to produce a list of the 50 most difficult countries for them to live in (carried by all western media), writes that in the first six months of 2017 Indian Christians were harassed or attacked in as many incidents as in the whole of 2016.

Forget the year, just look at this December. On December 15, a mob-linked to extremist Hindu groups attacked Catholic carol singers in Madhya Pradesh’s Satna district and set a priest’s car ablaze. Instead of taking action against the attackers, the police detained the singers on suspicion that they were carrying out conversions. On December 17, Christian schools in Aligarh, UP, were issued a warning by right-wing groups not to celebrate Christmas in schools as it would “lure” students into the faith.

On December 19, bail was given to seven people in Mathura district, UP, after they too were picked up for “forced conversion” two weeks ago. In judicial custody, their ordeal was exacerbated as they were threatened by the local bar associations that demanded inquiries into their funding and intent.

Communalised and unruly lawyers’ associations have been characteristic of UP for some time now, pre-dating the ascension of Yogi Adityanath to the chief ministerial chair. But an organisation founded by him, the Hindu Yuva Vahini, has always been at the forefront of viewing Christian activity with suspicion and using tactics of intimidation. Still, it’s not as if the BJP cannot live with Christians. The regime in Goa manages to do so quite successfully and the BJP has been expanding its footprint in the northeastern states with substantial Christian populations, even making concessions to eating beef in such places.

Still, there’s no denying that there is a shift in the larger mindset over the years, culminating in draconian anti-conversion laws in several states that impinge on free choice. In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, I would have to take the state’s permission to convert. If I were a Christian (or a Muslim) seeking to become a Hindu, permission would be given; were it the other way round, the extremist cadre would work on me, socially boycott the family, (maybe burn down my home) and in the end, the permission is unlikely to be given.

In no part of India would state and police become active if any Muslim or Christian were to declare themselves Hindu. But a conversion out of Hinduism is currently viewed as a highly suspicious activity by innocents who were “lured” or “forced”. It cannot be free choice such as that exercised by Dr B R Ambedkar, who wilfully converted to Buddhism in 1956 with lakhs of followers. The founder of the Indian Constitution could be booked for promoting conversion today.

Some of us who have been educated at the many fine Christian institutions across India would know that a church sermon always stresses that the only way to heaven is through accepting Jesus Christ. We used to just say amen and move on. Now even a carol can apparently contaminate us with the desire to convert.

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Edward Snowden made an app to protect your laptop

Wait, Snowden built an app?

Earlier this year, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden met with Jacqueline Moudeina, the first female lawyer in Chad and a legendary human rights advocate who has worked tirelessly to bring former dictator Hissène Habré to justice. Habré was convicted of human rights abuses — ordering the killing of 40,000 people, sexual slavery, and rape — by a Senegalese jury in 2016.

Snowden told Moudeina that he was working on an app that could turn a mobile device into a kind of motion sensor in order to notify you when your devices are being tampered with. The app could also tell you when someone had entered a room without you knowing, if someone had moved your things, or if someone had stormed into your friend’s house in the middle of the night. Snowden recounted that pivotal conversation in an interview with the Verge. “She got very serious and told me, ‘I need this. I need this now. There’s so many people around us who need this.’”

Haven, announced today, is an app that does just that. Installed on a cheap burner Android device, Haven sends notifications to your personal, main phone in the event that your laptop has been tampered with. If you leave your laptop at home or at an office or in a hotel room, you can place your Haven phone on top of the laptop, and when Haven detects motion, light, or movement — essentially, anything that might be someone messing with your stuff — it logs what happened. It takes photos, records sound, even takes down changes in light or acceleration, and then sends notifications to your main phone. None of this logging is stored in the cloud, and the notifications you receive on your main phone are end-to-end encrypted over Signal.

Snowden hasn’t carried a mobile device since 2013, but in the last couple of years, much of his time has been taken up by prying apart smartphones and poking away at their circuit boards with the aid of fine tweezers and a microscope. In 2016, he collaborated with hardware hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang on Introspection Engine, a phone case that monitors iPhone outputs, alerting you to when your device is sending signals through its antenna.

Snowden is notoriously careful about the technology around him. In the documentary Citizenfour, Snowden is shown taking increasingly extravagant precautions against surveillance, going as far as to drape a pillowcase (his “Magic Mantle of Power,” he says, deadpan) over himself and his computer when he types in a password. Famously, he also asked journalists to place their phones in the hotel fridge, to prevent transmission of any surreptitious recording through their microphones or cameras.

Snowden at least has a pretty understandable reason to be paranoid — and while he doesn’t expect the rest of the world to adopt his somewhat inconvenient lifestyle, he’s been trying to use his uniquely heightened threat model to improve other people’s lives. “I haven’t carried a phone but I can increasingly use phones,” he said. Tinkering with technology to make it acceptable to his own standards gives him insight into how to provide privacy to others.

Edward Snowden holds a smartphone microphone with tweezers next to a USB drive for scale
 Photo by Edward Snowden

“Did you know most mobile phones these days have three microphones?” he asked me. Later he rattled off a list of different kinds of sensors. It wasn’t just audio, motion, and light, an iPhone can also detect acceleration and barometric pressure. He had become intimately familiar with the insides of smartphones while working with Bunnie Huang, and the experience had left him wondering if the powerful capabilities of these increasingly ubiquitous devices could be used to protect, rather than invade, people’s privacy — sousveillance, rather than surveillance.

It was Micah Lee, a security engineer who also writes at the Intercept, who had the first spark of insight. For years, developers with access to signing keys — particularly developers who deal with incredibly sensitive work like the Tor Project — have become fairly paranoid about keeping their laptops in sight at all times. This has much to do with what security researcher Joanna Rutkowska dubbed “the evil maid attack”. Even if you encrypt your hard drive, a malicious actor with physical access to your computer (say, a hotel housekeeper of dubious morals) can compromise your machine. Afterwards, it’s nearly impossible to tell that you’ve been hacked.

Screenshot courtesy of the Guardian Project

Snowden and Lee, who both sit on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, partnered with the Guardian Project, a collective of app developers who focus on privacy and encrypted communications, to create Haven over the last year. Snowden credited Nathan Freitas, the director of the Guardian Project, for writing the bulk of the code.

Though “evil maid” attacks are not a widespread concern — “we’re talking about people who can’t go into the pool without their laptops,” said Snowden, “that’s like nine people in the whole world” — Haven was conceptualized to benefit as many people as possible. Micah Lee points out in his article for The Intercept that victims of domestic abuse can also use Haven to see if their abuser is tampering with their devices. Snowden told me that they had thought very deliberately about intimate partner violence early on.

“You shouldn’t have to be saving the world to benefit from Haven,” said Snowden, but acknowledged that the people most likely to be using Haven were paranoid developers and human rights activists in the global south. Andy Greenberg describes in WIRED how the Guardian Project worked with the Colombian activist group Movilizatario to run a trial of the software earlier this year. Sixty testers from Movilizatario used Haven to safeguard their devices and to provide some kind of record if they should be kidnapped in the middle of the night.

Screenshot courtesy of the Guardian Project

It was this case scenario that sprung to the mind of Jacqueline Moudeina when she spoke with Snowden earlier this year. “In many places around the world, people are disappearing in the night,” he said. For those dissidents, Haven was reassurance that if government agents break into their home and take them away, at least someone would know they were taken. In those cases, Haven can be installed on primary phones, and the app is set to send notifications to a friend.

I asked Snowden what it was like to collaborate on a software project while in exile in Russia. It wasn’t that bad, he said. Since he became stranded in Russia in 2013, technology has progressed to the point where it’s much easier to talk to people all over the world in secure ways. The creators of Haven were scattered all over the globe. “Exile is losing its teeth,” he told me.

More than anything, Snowden is hoping that Haven — an open source project that anyone can examine, contribute to, or adapt for their own purposes — spins out into many different directions, addressing threat models of all kinds. There are so many different kinds of sensors in mobile phones that the possibilities were boundless. He wondered, for instance, if a barometer in a smartphone could possibly detect a door opening in a room.

Threat models don’t have to involve authoritarian governments kidnapping and torturing activists. Lex Gill posted on Twitter that her partner had been testing Haven with a spare phone for a month, and she had begun to use it to send “helpful reminders.”

My partner has been testing Haven for a few months with a spare phone. Every time you open the closet, it sends a picture by Signal. In addition to impressive intrusion detection capabilities, you can also use it to send helpful reminders! ✨ 

And when Nathan Freitas explained his most recent project to his young children, he discovered yet another use case. “We’re going to use it to catch Santa!” they told him excitedly.

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#SundayReading – Bezwada Wilson in conversation with Perumal Murugan

Ramon Magsaysay award winner Bezwada Wilson.   | Photo Credit: C.V. Subrahmanyam

When writer Perumal Murugan met Magsaysay awardee Bezwada Wilson, they spoke about work, dignity and being human

Bezwada Wilson has been fighting for the eradication of manual scavenging for three decades now. Born in Kolar, Karnataka, to a family of manual scavengers, he founded the Safai Karmachari Andolan in 1994 with retired IAS officer S.R. Sankaran and Dalit activist Paul Diwakar. On August 15 this year, around 1 in the morning, Wilson had just returned to his home in Delhi after looking into the deaths of two manual scavengers. I was staying with him, and we fell into a long conversation. Even at that hour, he did not sound tired. Excerpts:

I believe two manual scavengers died today…

Yes, two. Last week, three died. Not just in Delhi, they are dying everywhere. This is not new to me. But only now have we begun attaching significance to their lives. On March 27, 2017, the Supreme Court delivered a verdict in the 12-year-long case filed by Safai Karmachari Andolan against the Central and State governments.

The verdict said no person should be involved in manual scavenging. It said technology should be used and, if the involvement of humans is inevitable, safety measures should be put in place. Till date, neither safety measures nor equipment has been implemented.

In 1993, manual scavenging was officially banned. In 2014, the court ruled that families of all victims should be awarded a compensation of ₹10 lakh. We documented the deaths of 1,470 manual scavengers, but several of them don’t have valid documents.

There’s an issue with death certificates too, with several not stating the exact reason of death. When a person dies in manual scavenging, an FIR must be filed but often it doesn’t happen. We haven’t been able to get compensation for some families because of all this.

Then we realised something. What are we really doing now? We wait till someone dies, and try to get ₹10 lakh for the family. We have begun counting deaths. How can this be right? Something should be done to stop the deaths. So we raised slogans saying stop killing us! Today, we struggle to stop anyone from becoming a scavenger.

Some argue that manual scavengers choose to do this job. Nobody — absolutely nobody — can be happy cleaning human faeces with their bare hands. Political morbidity is stopping technology from being introduced in this field. Only political will can make it happen. That is why we call this a murder by the government. Our aim is to stop it.

You mentioned that nine persons died in a month. Were they all manual scavengers?

Yes, in both underground sewers and septic tanks. Everything has now been handed over to contractors. When a problem arises, the contractors say they engage workers only on contract basis. They wash their hands off the deaths. But it is not that easy. The responsibility of the preliminary works lies with Delhi Jal Board or the Municipality.

When did you begin thinking about doing something for them, standing with them?

It is difficult to recollect the exact day. It took me some time to realise that I was born in the same caste. My parents and brother were doing the same work. There were 118 houses in our locality, all doing the same job. Wherever they went — corporation, municipality or gold fields — no other jobs were available to them. There were different sections, like latrines, sewers, drains, but they were doing the same work.

My parents did not want me doing the same job. They sent me to school. I grew up feeling ashamed of mentioning caste. Whenever we played, the other kids called me thotti (manual scavenger). I asked my mother why and she said it was because there was a thotti or bin near our home.

Later, when I started teaching children and women, I realised there were constant fights in their homes. I realised it was the men’s drinking that was behind the fights. They begin drinking at 9 in the morning. I decided to talk to them. I began to engage them in games like cricket and football.

Then one day they told me I would never understand their real issue. They had to drink to forget the ignominy of their job. I argued. I told them women did the work without drinking. “We drink in daylight, they drink at night,” they said. I realised they were speaking the truth. Only then I asked: “You are drinking to do this work. Will you stop drinking if you get another job?”

Finally, one day, I accompanied one of them to work. At one place, the man I had accompanied put a bucket inside the tank to collect the waste. The bucket fell down. So he put his hand inside to get the bucket. I couldn’t understand what was happening. The bucket could still not be found. So he got inside to look for it. I was looking at him — he was inside the excreta like a kid playing in mud.

I walked up and shouted, ‘What kind of job is this? What are you doing? Come up.’ He refused. “We will talk later. Stay away,” he said. I went up to the others, held their hands and said they shouldn’t be doing this. They told me their hands were ‘dirty’ and I should stay away.

I was only 18 or 19 at that time. They pushed me away. I stood there, confused. I cried and begged. I told them they were human beings and this was not fair. I fell to the ground and began crying loudly.

An old woman came close and asked me why I was creating a scene. I told her I would get up only if they promised not to do this job. The woman’s name was Pichamma. I begged Pichamma to ask them to stop working. “This boy is crying, he says it is wrong. Isn’t that true? Come out,” she said. “Even if I come out now, I have to do the job tomorrow,” the man said. But they did stop and they came out.

Pichamma, by now in tears, told me, “Look at my hands, look at my life.” She was the first person to say I was right. I held her tight and started crying. “Stop crying” she said. “You are doing the right thing. No one is brave enough to do this. They are after food. What food? After doing this work, we cannot even eat properly. We chew betel leaves and sit around. What kind of life is this?”

When I reached home, I asked my parents whether they are aware of all this. They asked me what was new.

How had they managed to hide the existence of this practice from you?

I did know a bit of it, of course, but I had never seen it. My father had retired in 1976, my mother doesn’t work. My brother lied that he was a tractor driver; that’s how he got married. Once my sister-in-law said a bad smell was emanating from him. He told her it could be because he was driving a tractor used in manual scavenging. My brother would always iron his pants, he can’t write but he would scribble a ‘signature’. There was a huge difference between the work he was doing and the way he projected himself.

I had never had direct experience of the work. That day, I left home at six and roamed through the night. I wondered what I could possibly do.

I thought of dying. Dying was easy, living wasn’t, I thought. I was standing in front of a water tank. It had a tap that would go shhh when the water flowed. I thought I should ask this flowing water about my decision. It continued to say shhh, shhh. I thought it was telling me not to die.

I rose. It was now dawn. The light spread in less than a minute. I was excited to see the dark sky break into light for the first time in my life. The sky was completely transformed. “Sky!” I said. “I am in deep distress. There are so many people under you, tell each of them that this is terrible. No human being should suffer this shame. Will you?”

What did you do after that?

I followed the people doing this work, talked to them, asked about their lives. After some time, people began to recognise me. A person called Basavalingappa spoke about it. He told me about Kuvempu, the Kannada poet. Kuvempu wrote a story, ‘Jalagaararu’, where Shiva offers sermons and a thotti is sitting at a distance listening. Thottis should not hear it, right, but Kuvempu wrote in his story that Shiva went and spoke to the thotti. We told this to our people.

As days passed, I started getting calls. People believed I was talking real issues. I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, telling him it was dangerous to involve human beings in manual scavenging. I filled the remaining page with the word ‘Stop’. Then I wrote to the director of Kolar Gold Fields. There was no response. After a week, we wrote another letter warning him of legal consequences if no action was taken against manual scavenging. This time, we got a response, saying they had reduced the number of manual scavengers.

I showed the letter to everyone in the village. The letter said ₹18 lakh was allotted for building toilets. I counted the toilets in the town; they did not match the amount allotted for.

I wrote another letter. I found someone to take pictures. The director was worried now. P.S. Rao of St. Johns Medical College in Bengaluru wrote a column on me in The New Indian Express. Then a big article was published in a Bangalore newspaper titled ‘Shame’.

At an event attended by Ramakrishna Hegde and Deve Gowda, we handed out copies of this article along with a letter. Karnataka was then ruled by the Janata Party and the Centre by the Congress. Since Kolar came under the Centre, the State accused the Centre of supporting untouchability. They made me a hero overnight.

In the next few days, officials demolished the dry toilets and built new ones. Autos and cows were provided as alternative employment.

I was a bit overwhelmed. What else did I need now? I had wanted toilets to stop manual scavenging, and that had happened. So I left. And began my journey on a cycle.

I went around Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. I met an IAS officer called S.R. Shankar. He taught me about movements and how to work. Slowly, some others and I began to engage with the government. We worked without a name for over a decade. In 1992, we called it Safai Karamchari Andolan. We took out rallies. Till date, we have about 6,000 volunteers. Of them, 200 are full-time. After I got the Magsaysay award, more people are volunteering. Doctors, engineers, scientists are keen to work with us.

We have no identities. Yesterday, a Muslim passed away. We went to the qabar, where someone wanted to know if we were Muslims. “You said you were related to him,” he said. I told him every human being killed by cleaning a septic tank in this country is my relative.

Even today, 1.6 lakh human beings do this work in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa. The government simply doesn’t admit it.

A majority of us still thinks manual scavenging only existed when dry latrines were used; not anymore.

Dry latrines still exist. In places in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Kashmir and Uttaranchal, dry latrines still exist. The system of scavengers carrying human waste on their heads also exists. Of course, not everywhere. Sometimes, they use buckets or Dalda or paint tins. According to our statistics, 1.6 lakh people are still doing this job. Our statistics are close to the truth.

After the flush system was introduced, every house has a septic tank. The municipality is not equipped with proper equipment to clean these. There should be at least 50 machines in a place where five lakh people live. But they have one or two machines. At least 80% of municipalities don’t have even one. In these places, human beings manually clean the septic tanks.

Deaths occur when men are sent into underground sewers to clean them when something gets stuck or blocks the drains. It happens over and over again.

Indian Railways has 1.74 lakh coaches with toilets that open on to the tracks. Human beings are employed to remove the waste from the tracks.

By 2019, they have planned to construct 21,000 toilets. If there is no suction technology, who will go down the septic tanks to clean them? These issues must be thought through.

What do you think is stopping the government from using machines?

The people who do the work are from Scheduled Castes and marginalised communities. Their voices are never strong. They don’t have political representation. Using machines requires money. For politicians, departments that fetch commissions and vote banks are more important.

They say issues like manual scavenging are not national issues. Love for nation and language is considered a national feeling.

The second issue is that society sees nothing wrong in a thotti doing scavenging work. People think that is their job and what is wrong with that.

Like farming, like women’s housework, thottis are doing their job. Such an outlook is deep-rooted. We would understand these issues if we could get rid of caste affinity and jingoism. But we are besieged by these two emotions.

After the 90s, there has been a reawakening of Dalit movements. Are they focussing on these issues? What exactly is their contribution?

That Arundhathiyars should speak of their problems, Paraiyars should speak of theirs, Pallars of theirs… People said Dalit movements should go beyond their issues and talk about general issues too. That happened.

Ambedkar said these issues could be resolved if we follow his path. We too have his portrait in our office. The Constitution drafted by him speaks of liberty, equality and fraternity. We have not even started on liberty. Equality and fraternity come much later. How can everyone be equal here? How can a maid sit with us and have dinner? Our sense of equality is so poor.

For us, fraternity is possible only within the caste. India is a fraternal society.There is a Brahmin society, a Reddy society and a Dalit society. Within each society, there is a sense of fraternity, but they don’t want to come out of that circle.

India has 6,40,000 villages. There is no single village without caste. Each caste lives in a different area. We still don’t allow everyone to live together. We don’t feel fraternal. If we did, systems like manual scavenging would disappear on their own.

Why is there no technology for sanitation?

Sanitation is reserved for Dalits. So there is no development in that field. We have apps to deliver food home without involving human beings but they can’t discover a technology to clear human waste. Caste is the reason behind this discrimination.

Deification of this work is another major crime. By calling them ‘amma’, you actually want them to keep cleaning. Gandhi said the same thing. He said he wanted to be reborn in the family of a manual scavenger. But we think nobody should be a manual scavenger. Even Narendra Modi says manual scavenging is spiritual. If it is so exhilarating an experience, why don’t you do it?

Mani is from Coimbatore. He was a driver. He drove a tractor used for manual scavenging work. He retired this July. When I spoke to him, he said: “Look, this is a terrible job. I could have died anytime. I am surprised how I worked so long and came out of this. I think nobody should do this job. If there is rebirth, I should never be born a manual scavenger again.”

Every field has extensive research, but in sanitation, no research is ever done. We are over 130 crore people, we defecate every day. We have a caste to clean it up. We don’t even think about it.

You were honoured with the Ramon Magsaysay award. Tell us about it.

It was hard. I found it very disturbing. I didn’t know what to do. Of course, many people have been awarded before me. I have refused many awards including those given by the government. Those times, I have left Delhi without carrying my cell phone. I am merely a representative. I won’t go anywhere without my people who work in the field.

One lakh sanitation workers in North India said they would quit their job and demanded compensation and rehabilitation. In Rajasthan, people left this job. I went to them and said they were brave. I told them I cannot speak their language but I am happy they have taken this decision. If someone has to be awarded, it is them. The people who have left their jobs. I can perhaps stand as the last person in that line. But they deserve this award.

Translated by Kavitha Muralidharan from the Tamil interview published in Kalachuvadu this month.

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India- Jadoo ki Jhappi- Hugs can have multiple meanings #moralpolicing


 by- Promita Vora

A young woman tried to explain to me the other day why she had broken up with her ex-boyfriend. As she outlined some of their problems, I asked her (my absolute test) – “Did he give good hugs?” “No!” she exclaimed, “very bad hugs! And I need hugs.” There is a lot to be said for hugs, for they suggest a certain ease with the body and human affection.

It reminded me of a poem titled ‘Militant Hugger’ that we published on Agents of Ishq, a site about love, sex, and desire that I run. A woman complains to her husband, they don’t hug anymore (though all other amorousness is ongoing). “We’ve hugged in trains, planes, musty rooms and river banks. In temple towns and mountain tops, in tents and under the star-spangled sky. In secrecy, in mirth, in sadness and in love. And now, there’s no more left?”

Hugs can have multiple meanings. They are a celebration of the magic of human touch and a rendition of many different kinds of love, friendly, familial, collegial, amorous. But there is also something fundamentally affectionate about a hug. Even in a sexual relationship, a hug signals something besides the sexual – something friendly, human, and fundamentally loving.

And yet so many people find it difficult to hug. Another young woman wrote on our site about being hesitant to hug. “It started after a few conversations where I heard friends discuss hugs from friends as over-familiar and predatory,” she wrote. “I became a little self-conscious and aware of how simple gestures could be misconstrued.”

Many people feel this way, among them, the principal of St Thomas Central School in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. On seeing a male and female student hug for five minutes, he seems to have combusted because “I had never seen such a shocking public display of affection.” The boy’s parents were called to the school over the alleged indecency. A board member told them their son was like a“bull in heat”. The boy was expelled. The parents went to court – which ruled in favour of the school (what do you expect? It’s 2017, that’s the kind of year it’s been).

Where should one begin about the number of messages this kind of event spits out? One, that a girl could never invite a hug. A young man hugging her must be a predatory “bull in heat” and must be punished. Two that “ek ladka aur ladki kabhi friends nahin ho sakte”. Three, that ek ladki aur ladki or a boy and a boy can be only friends. Lastly, that bull-in-heat hug. How much the principal would benefit from sex education, you know?

Such incidents are too common in schools and colleges. They shame young people for affection, flirtation, romance, crushes, scarring them for life. They make us awkward about our bodies, and all the feelings inside them. They make us separate affection from sex and friendship from romance in unnatural ways. They make us say “just” friendship as if friendship is innocent and sex-ship is guilty, and this is the tone it sets for far too many relationships in adulthood, not to mention making it impossible to have a healthy context for consent.

The indecency is in the gaze, not the hug. There is no point in saying that those with this gaze should be ashamed of themselves. The sad things is, they probably already are. It is their deep sense of shame, about love and sex, given to them when they were young, that makes them turn so violently on young people; to be so incapable of acting with love.

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India – The Angry Kisan and the Future of Politics

The BJP may have won the Gujarat assembly election with a simple majority, bagging 99 of the total 182 seats, but it was the party’s lowest tally in the state in nearly two decades. A key reason for that was farmers’ discontent in the Saurashtra region and it will be a critical issue in the four major states going to the polls in 2018, three of which — Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — are ruled by the BJP. Agrarian distress will also be one of the party’s major election planks in Karnataka, which will be the first of the four to vote, in March-April, and where the BJP is looking to dethrone the Congress. The BJP’s performance in the assembly polls will be crucial to its prospects in the 2019 general election. ET Magazine travels to these states to understand why the farmers are unhappy

Maximum Wish Minimum Support

If CM Siddaramaiah thought his crop loan waiver is enough, drought-hit farmers disagree

Lingappa is unsure of what the future holds for his family. The 53-year-old coconut farmer in Mandya in southern Karnataka couldn’t sow anything on his one-acre field this year because there was not enough water. The trees that should have been bearing fruit are stripped bare by disease. In the midst of all this, he has to find money for his younger daughter’s wedding in March. “It will be a simple wedding but I still need ₹4 lakh,” he says, worried. He has already taken loans of close to ₹2 lakh from banks and local lenders, to meet daily expenses and for his elder daughter’s wedding that cost him about ₹6 lakh.

In June, when the Siddaramaiah government announced a crop loan waiver of ₹8,165 crore — ₹50,000 per farmer — it was considered a political trump card that would help the Congress return to power when the state goes to polls next year. But that is not enough, say farmers. “Yes, ₹50,000 has been waived. But what about the rest?” asks Lingappa.

Mandya, over 150 km from Bengaluru, is part of the “old Mysuru” region and is known for growing sugarcane and paddy (both water-intensive crops) as well as ragi, coconut and maize, but the last three years of drought have hit the region hard, like the rest of the state. This has also been a stronghold of former PM Deve Gowda’s party, the Janata Dal (Secular), now helmed by his son HD Kumaraswamy.

Bitter Sugarcane

Mandya presents a paradox in that it is considered more fertile and prosperous than the northern districts and yet has been witness to a spate of farmer suicides over the past few years, reporting 118 deaths between July 2015 and June 2016, according to the state agriculture department. Nalli Krishna, a farmer who grows sugarcane and paddy and does sericulture, says they are reeling from drought. Even the rain this year came too late for the first round of sowing. “There are no other opportunities to work here. Landholding is also very fragmented so the income is limited,” says Krishna, a member of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, a farmers’ organisation. According to the agricultural census in 2011, 49% of farmers in the state are marginal farmers, with an average holding of an acre or less. “People want to send their children to private schools, so they take loans from private financiers. When farmers are unable to repay, banks will send notices and shame them, so they feel they have no option but to commit suicide. The government has to tell us how we can continue to have a livelihood,” he says.

“If the government is serious, there should be a one-time settlement of all farmers’ loans,” says Lingappa. Another farmer in Mandya, Boraiah, who cultivates coconut, paddy and sugarcane in 14 acres, says it is the Centre that needs to pitch in and help with the loan waiver. “That’s what was done in Uttar Pradesh. Otherwise, even farmers know that this ₹50,000 waiver is an election gimmick,” says Boraiah.

They bristle at the suggestion that one reason for distress is the continuous dependence on a water-intensive crop like sugarcane, instead of diversifying into crops like ragi and other millets, something Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda has been trying to promote. “Politicians can sit in AC cabins and say all these. But this is the sugarcane and paddy belt. Our land is waterlogged and we cannot grow many other crops here,” says H Chandrashekhar who, along with his son Aditya Gowda, an ayurvedic doctor, grows plantation crops on their seven acres.

“We need a farmer politician”

What they really want, says farmer after farmer, is a support price in line with the MS Swaminathan Committee’s recommendation that it must be 50% more than the weighted average cost of production. “It costs ₹4,200 to grow a tonne of sugarcane while the government has fixed a procurement price of ₹2,300. Instead, if a proper price is set scientifically, there would be no need for other subsidies,” says Boraiah. Even giving compensation when farmers commit suicides is no solution, says Nalli Krishna. “The CM is taking out fullpage advertisements because of elections. But there is no mention of farmer suicides. No party is talking about it,” he says, suggesting that a helpline be set up for farmers.

Though demonetisation threw the cash-dependent region into turmoil at the time, it may not have a significant impact on the polls, say residents. “We had a tough time but I don’t think people will remember,” says Sunanda Jayaram, a farmer and activist in Mandya.

As in other years, the fight is largely expected to be between the Congress and the JD (S) in this area, dominated by the Vokkaliga caste which Kumaraswamy belongs to. Voting, too, is mostly along caste lines. “But it is not that we look only at caste, we also look at performance. Otherwise, (minister) Ambareesh would still be popular here,” says Nalli Krishna, referring to the actor-turned-politician, who, locals say, neglected the area once he got elected. Actor Ramya, currently in charge of the Congress’s social media cell, had also unsuccessfully contested from Mandya. “She said she would build a house and stay here but we haven’t seen her here after the elections either,” he says.

“There is not much to choose from among the parties, but Kumaraswamy is considered to be relatively more concerned about farmers in this area,” says Aditya Gowda, the ayurvedic doctor who farms along with his father, adding that when there is an issue, Kumaraswamy usually intervenes for farmers. “What we actually need is a politician who understands farmers and who can voice our concerns. We need a Hardik Patel.”

Farmer K Boraiah says a scientific minimum support price would be more helpful than other subsidies

Loan waivers are electoral gimmicks, says farmer H Chandrashekhar, who grows maize and sugarcane


Key Farmers’ Issues

Lack of satisfactory support price for crops

Not enough water for irrigating crops

Lack of immediate access to market for crops and storage facility

Possible Solutions

Implement the Swaminathan panel recommendation on minimum support price

Give more support and information to farmers while they are planting crops

Improve access to market, crack down on middlemen

Not in Farmers’ Debt

Madhya Pradesh, unlike its neighbours Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, is not keen on a loan waiver

Madhusudan Patidar at Barkheda Panth village sold his last crops, urad (black gram) and soybean, at below the minimum support price (MSP) and he ended 2017 with a loss. The year has been bad for the family — in June, Patidar lost his 19-year-old brother Abhishek to a police bullet after farmers’ protests broke out in Mandsaur.

The agitation, which led to the death of six farmers, made Mandsaur the epicentre of the agrarian distress in the state.

However, among the big states reporting a high number of farmer suicides, Madhya Pradesh is the only one which has said a complete no to a farm loan waiver. In the state where the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Shivraj Singh Chauhan has been at the helm for the last 12 years and will face his big test in next year’s assembly election, the trick lies in giving record interest-free loans to farmers and introducing a scheme that covers their losses if their crop ends up being procured for less than the MSP.

“Loan waiver is neither an issue nor a demand in MP,” says Sudhir Gupta, BJP’s member of Parliament from Mandsaur. “We are the state giving out interest-free loans. In other states, the farmer is charged interest. Even on fertiliser, we give a 10% interest subsidy. This is far more beneficial to the farmer and the farmer knows that.” Madhya Pradesh’s Agriculture Minister Gaurishankar Bisen, who was not available for comment, stirred the hornet’s nest last June when he said a loan waiver “was impossible” in MP, since no interest is charged from farmers in the state.

Patidar’s family begs to disagree. Alka Patidar, Abhishek’s mother, shows a patch of six bigha land (1 bigha equals 0.28 acre), next to her existing stretch of 28 bighas, that the family had to sell last year to pay back a ₹3 lakh loan. “We had no other way to wriggle out of the loan,” she says. Shiv Kumar Sharma, president of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, says the state is not willing to listen to the loan waiver demand. “The loans are rising over the years. Why (else) are so many suicides happening?”

Chauhan promised ₹1 crore and a government job to each of the six families whose kin died in the police firing. Sandeep, another brother of Abhishek Patidar’s, says he no longer wants to work in the fields as it is not profitable. He wants the job promised by the CM but says the district collector has informed him that the proposal is still to be cleared by the cabinet.

“The ₹1 crore we got is lying in the bank as we wish to build a house rather than buy more land. There is nothing left in agriculture. I sowed soybean this year which got sold for ₹3,050 per quintal, (which is) below the MSP. Given the inputs I put in, including fertiliser, I needed at least ₹5,000 per quintal to make a profit,” Sandeep says. A quintal equals 100 kilograms.

To get around the MSP issue, the state government has started a first-of-its-kind Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana (price-deficit financing scheme) to make good the farmer’s loss if his crop is sold for less than the MSP. However, Shiv Kumar Sharma of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh says the scheme only covers up the fraud being committed at farmers’ markets to not adhere to the MSP.

The recent protests in those markets in Bhopal, Narsinghpur, Harda and Shahdol have only exposed farmers’ anger on the MSP issue. A blanket farm loan waiver could cost the state government ₹83,000 crore, though no official estimates are available. This could wreak havoc on the state’s economy, given that neighbouring Uttar Pradesh is fiscally stressed after a ₹36,500 crore loan waiver.

With Maharashtra, another neighbour, also waiving farm loans, the demand for the same is escalating in the border areas in MP. Recent incidents like the one in Mandsaur, protesting farmers’ stripping in Tikamgarh and farmers’ being lathi-charged in Badrawas have been raised by the Congress to put the MP government in the dock. Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia has been addressing kisan akrosh (farmers’ anger) rallies across MP.

A recent pointer to the tough electoral road ahead for the BJP was evident in a bypoll in Chitrakoot, in which the BJP lost to the Congress despite Chauhan camping there for days. Chauhan, however, has consistently claimed that the state’s agrarian model is the best and cited MP winning the Krishi Karman awards five times in the last six years, the highest award given by the Central government for agriculture. “In helping the state win the Krishi Karman award, year after year, by using the best inputs of fertilisers and seeds but not getting returns or profits on their crops, farmers have suffered,” says Sandeep Patidar.

Madhusudan (left) and Sandeep Patidar lost their brother, Abhishek, in the police firing at the farmers’ protest in Mandsaur

Alka Patidar, Abhishek’s mother, says her family had to sell a part of their land to pay back a ₹3 lakh loan


Government Response

Farmers being given interest-free loans

Farmers are compensated when they sell below MSP

Families of five farmers who died in police firing at the Mandsaur protest given ₹ 1 crore each by the state government

Key Farmers’ Issues

Loan waiver demand has gathered momentum after MP’s neighbours, Maharashtra and UP, announced it

Repeated incidents of violence against protesting farmers

Crops like oil seeds and pulses not procured on MSP

Hinterland Headache

The BJP government can ill-afford to ignore the problems faced by farmers in Chhattisgarh, a predominantly rural and tribal state

After several failed attempts to get a government job, Roman Lal Sahu is now convinced that spending quality time on his eight-acre paddy field gives him at least a sense of satisfaction if not a good income. His village, Chatoud, falls in Dhamtari district, called the rice bowl of Chhattisgarh as it produces 930 tonnes of rice every year apart from housing 192 large rice mills and exporting 2.5 tonnes of parboiled rice.

Sahu, like most Dhamtari farmers, faces a bigger challenge this year, as his tehsil is among the 96 (of the total 150) the state government has declared drought-hit. “Drought or no drought, the bottom line is you can’t make any profit in paddy cultivation though the government buys your rice and occasionally pays bonuses. I somehow supplement my income with some computer work and driving our tractor for transporting goods,” says the 28-year-old graduate and a trained computer operator.

ET Magazine travelled through the district, covering all the three sub-divisions Dhamtari, Kurud and Nagri-Sihawa, and sensed a simmering discontent among farmers, who complain of an inadequate MSP (under which the government pays ₹1,550 or ₹1,590 per quintal of rice, depending on the quality, up to 15 quintals in an acre), irregular payment of bonuses (₹300 per quintal above the MSP, given twice in the last four years) and the difficulty in insurance claims when the crop fails. They have in the past hit the streets to protest against the state government, but unlike in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, farmers’ agitations here lack vigour and remain sporadic.

Lala Ram Chandrakar, district secretary of RSSaffiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, says Chhattisgarh has seen 27 farmers’ protests since 2014. “Unless the government gives a guarantee to buy the entire paddy stock and that too at a reasonably high MSP, how will the farmers survive? The BJP has recently faced a defeat in rural Gujarat because people no longer buy Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pro-poor chaiwallah image.”

He adds that the Kisan Sangh’s links to the RSS, the ideological parent of the BJP, do not necessarily mean it will support the BJP. “If the BJP does not mend its ways, we are going to oppose the party in the next year’s election,” says Chandrakar, who owns 20 acres of rice fields and a cycle shop in Kurud town.

Had there been an election now, the ruling BJP in the state would have perhaps faced a major jolt, mainly from the farmers. And that is not something the ruling party can afford to ignore, considering the state’s demography — unlike highly urbanised Gujarat, threefourths of Chhattisgarh’s population are rural and they elect 74 of the state’s 90 legislators.

However, Chief Minister Raman Singh, who has held the post since December 2003, finds no reason to worry. “Yes, every election is a challenge, but there’s no anti-incumbency in Chhattisgarh because every day we neutralise the factors that crop up against our government. In a way, we neutralise antiincumbency on a regular basis. We hold public meetings and resolve people’s problems then and there,” Raman Singh told ET Magazine in Raipur (See “Rural Chhattisgarh is Main Support Base of Our Party…”).

It appears that the government will address some of the farmers’ concerns closer to the assembly polls scheduled in late 2018, the most likely being a substantial hike in the bonuses and their timely release. But the party will also try to stem the widening urban-rural divide and attempt to position itself as a pro-tribal party, thereby offsetting some losses that may arise out of the agrarian crisis. As high as 40% people in the state are tribals, with 29 of 90 seats being reserved for Scheduled Tribes.

Whether it is bringing road and internet connectivity to the remote and tribal Bastar or doling out a special bonus for tendu leaf collectors, or even issuing land rights to indigenous communities, tribal welfare will likely emerge as the key thrust area. Some tribals have of late taken up double-cropping to enhance their income.

Preetam Markam of Nagri block’s Bandha village explains how his income increased by ₹25,000 per acre when he started growing maize after rice since last year, with the help of an irrigation pump and discounted electricity. Presently, the state has 24 lakh acres of double-cropped area out of a total net cropped area of 1.14 crore acres.

Chhattisgarh Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel argues that his party has an upper hand in the next election owing to the growing discontent in rural Chhattisgarh and the fact that there was only a 0.7 percentage point difference in vote share between the two main parties in 2013, when the Congress came within a whisker of wresting the state. “And don’t discount us in urban areas. Five of 13 nagar nigams in the state are with us; two others are held by independents,” Baghel adds. Yet, next year’s real poll battles in the state may not be fought in urban pockets. As the election nears, the Congress is likely to weave its campaign around farm distress whereas the BJP will aggressively play a pro-tribal card.

Preetam Markam says doublecropping has increased his income by ₹25,000 per acre

Farmers like Phul Singh Sahu don’t find paddy cultivation profitable

“Rural Chhattisgarh is suffering because the BJP as a party does not care much about rural India. The Centre is only curtailing benefits that the UPA had given, MNREGA being the classic example.”

Bhupesh Baghel,

Congress chief, Chhattisgarh


Possible Solutions

A significant jump in the MSP and a raise in bonus

Incentivising farmers to practise double-cropping

Devising a mechanism to supplement farmers’ income through allied activities

Key Farmers’ Issues

Minimum support prices of ₹1,550 and ₹1,590 for rice are considered inadequate

Bonus at the rate of300 per quintal of rice is paid irregularly

Problems in insurance claims after this year’s drought

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Coca-Cola: Red-and-whitewashing the empire

Coca-Cola was created in 1886 [Reuters]
Coca-Cola was created in 1886 [Reuters]

This month, the New York Times reported that US President Donald Trump consumes a “dozen Diet Cokes” daily – often delivered by “household staff he summons via a button.”

Who knows? Maybe overdosing on all-powerful US corporate brands will help the president “Make America Great Again”.

In the meantime, a Washington Post article has taken Trump’s Diet Coke habit and run with it, citing a recent study according to which “people who drank diet soda daily were three times more likely to develop stroke and dementia than those who consumed it weekly or less.”

Also mentioned in the article is the possibility of weight gain owing to “artificial sweeteners [that] can confuse the brain and the body”.

Suggestions of a correlation between soda consumption and deleterious health effects, including diabetes and heart disease, are, of course, nothing new – although Coca-Cola has in the past sought to distract public attention from the bad news by funding more industry-favourable narratives.

To be sure, Coca-Cola is hardly the only culprit in a world so saturated with soft drinks, fast food and other counter-nutritional items that one often wonders how humans are even still alive.

But as the Coca-Cola Company website boasts, Coke is the “most popular and biggest-selling soft drink in history”, with an estimated 1.9 billion beverages served globally every day.

In other words, it’s a gigantic part of the problem.

Imperial buttress

This is not to imply that Coca-Cola serves no useful functions. An acquaintance of mine, for example, once used the soft drink to remove rust from a metal chair, while my former dentist in Texas used to joke that Coke was a godsend in terms of ensuring job security.

Created in 1886, Coca-Cola is an almost universally recognised brand – with its red and white logo – and operates in more than 200 countries. Besides constituting an empire in its own right, Coke is thus able to serve another useful function: that of buttressing US imperialism.

In a 1993 dispatch for the New York Times on the phenomenon of “Coca-Colonisation”, Mark Pendergrast – author of the book For God, Country and Coca-Cola – provides some historical context for the imperial partnership.

Describing Coca-Cola as “capitalism’s flagship” and World War II as “a market blessing” of sorts, Pendergrast notes that the soft drink company “convinced the American military that Coca-Cola was an essential morale booster”.

This resulted in an arrangement whereby “[company] men, decked out in military drab, flew overseas to install bottling plants behind the lines.”

Indeed, in one of its many tributes to the US army, the Coca-Cola website celebrates the fact that “over 5 billion bottles of Coca-Cola” were distributed to US troops during that particular conflict.

Who said war wasn’t good for business?

‘What the world wants’

At other times in Coke’s history of seducing the world with fizzy brown liquid, the soda company effectively served to whitewash – or red-and-whitewash, if you will – the more overtly destructive facets of empire by disseminating messages of peace, joy, harmony, and other good stuff.

The astronomically and incomprehensibly popular 1971 commercial “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke,” for instance, features a multinational, multiracial hilltop crowd singing with moving and upbeat earnestness about how Coca-Cola is “what the world wants today”.

Yet it goes without saying that many global inhabitants at the time – such as the ones under devastating US bombardment in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam – might have preferred something other than a Coke.

As for correcting other, misguided global preferences, Pendergrast writes in the Times that “when the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, the Coca-Cola people were there. They were passing out free six-packs.”

Nowadays, it seems the former victims of socialism have been fully integrated into the realm of capitalist happiness. Driving through the post-Soviet republic of Georgia earlier this month, I was greeted by roadside shop-front banners celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the Coca-Cola bottle.

Not so rosy

Meanwhile, despite the existence of a Coca-Cola PR machine that relentlessly churns out portrayals of the company as the most fabulously benevolent human-and-environment-loving company on the face of the planet, complications to the rosy picture continue to crop up from time to time.

Consider the 2016 BBC News report titled “The Mexicans dying for a fizzy drink”, which emphasises the ubiquity of Coca-Cola, other sugary drinks, and junk food in a country where “[t]ype 2 diabetes… kills 70,000 per year.”

Judging by my own, extensive stays in Mexico, it’s not uncommon to see poor families and individuals rely on Coca-Cola or similar products instead of water for ostensible hydration.

Also illustrative is a September 2017 article in the British Independent, headlined “Coca-Cola sucking wells dry in indigenous Mexican town – forcing residents to buy bottled water”.

Similar complaints have recurred in India – a nation that Indian environmental activist Vandana Shiva has described as suffering from “colonisation … by Coca-Cola and McDonald’s”.

The real thing?

In 2006, certain Indian states enacted bans against Coke and Pepsi, following allegations of high pesticide levels in soft drinks. More recently, a Coca-Cola bottling plant in northern India came under fire for allegedly depleting groundwater supplies and generating unacceptable levels of pollution.

Anyway, it appears such international quibbles are nothing a little intensified red-and-whitewashing can’t take care of.

And there’s no better time than the holiday season for Coca-Cola to work its advertising magic. After all, as the Coke website itself reminds us, “Coca-Cola helped shape the image of Santa” into the “big, jolly man in the red suit”, the one Americans “all know and love”.

To be sure, Christmas is a capitalist goldmine in terms of opportunities to manipulate emotions and exploit feelings of love, generosity, nostalgia, and anything else that might translate into profit.

And what do you know: Coca-Cola’s current slogan is “Taste the Feeling” – a global marketing strategy the company promised would “bring to life the idea that drinking a Coca-Cola – any Coca-Cola – is a simple pleasure that makes everyday moments more special”.

The reality, however, is more like that of Trump’s daily dozen: the only feeling you’re going to get is totally artificial.

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बाँध नहीं चाहिए : पिंडर गंगा बहती चाहिए

देवसारी बांध की पुनर्वास जनसुनवाईयां विरोध के कारण रद्द

उत्तराखंड के चमोली जिला में पिंडरगंगा नदी पर प्रस्तावित 252 मेगावाट के देवसारी बांध, के लिए बिना किसी तरह की पूर्व व सही सूचना दिए देवसारी बांध से प्रभावित होने वाली निजी भूमि की जनसुनवाई 20 दिसंबर, 2017 से चालू की गई. थराली में चेपड़ो, सुनला, गड्कोट, चिडिंगा तल्ला गाँवो के लोग जब जनसुनवाई के लिए पहुंचे और अधिकारी नदारत थे. घंटो बाद आकर मात्र 10 मिनट में उन्होंने सुनवाई निपटाई. लोगों ने जमकर विरोध किया लोगों का कहना था कि कंपनी में कब सर्वे किया, कब आए, प्रभावितों की सूची क्या है? यह सब कुछ भी नहीं बताया गया?

ए० डी० एम० ने कहा की गांव स्तर पर जनसुनवाई करेंगे. जिसके बाद सब अधिकारी चेपड़ो और साहू गांव पहुचे. जंहा मात्र 10 मिनट में जनसुनवाई निपटा दी गई. 22 दिसंबर को पदमल्लातलौर गांव में जनसुनवाई करने ए० डी० एम०, तहसीलदार, कंपनी के अधिकारियों के साथ पहुंचे. लोगों ने उनका घेराव किया और बिना सहमति के बांध थोपने का आरोप लगाते हुए बांध निर्माण को तुरंत निरस्त करने की मांग की गई. “सतलुज कंपनी वापस जाओ के नारों के  साथ आधे घंटे से ज्यादा अधिकारियों का घेराव किया गया. ग्रामीणों ने कहा कि यह क्षेत्र भूकंप, दैविक आपदा, जैव विविधता और धार्मिक दृष्टि से अतिसंवेदनशील है परियोजना से विकास नहीं विनाश होगा.

ज्ञातव्य है की 2009 से पर्यावरण जनसुनवाईयों में लोगो का जबरदस्त विरोध रहा. देवसारी बांध संबंधी पर्यावरण आकलन रिपोर्ट व पर्यावरण प्रबंधन योजना लोगो को ना तो दी गई ना समझाई गई। दो जनसुनवाई रद्द होने के बाद 20 जनवरी 2011 को पिंडरगंगा के तट पर चेपडो गांव में हुई तीसरी जनसुनवाई ग्रामीणों की आवाज को दबा कर पूरी की गई। लोगो को बात रखने का मौका नहीं दिया गया। कंपनी के अधिकारियों ने लोगों को रोका। पुलिस लगा कर लोगों को मंच पर अकेले तक नहीं जाने दिया गया। मंच से बांध के समर्थन और विरोध में हाथ खड़े करने की आवाज दी गई। यह पूरी तरह एक सफल नाटक था जिसमे लोगों को धोखा देकर प्रदूषण नियंत्रण बोर्ड के अधिकारी जिला प्रशासन के अधिकारी भाग गए। जिसके बाद भेजे गए किसी पत्र का जवाब नहीं दिया गया। 3 अप्रैल को हमने लोक जन सुनवाई का आयोजन किया जिसमे हजारो लोगो ने आकर पिंडरगंगा को अविरल बहने देने की घोषणा की. देश के माननीय लोग इसके गवाह रहे. सरकार को समय समय पर पिंडर की जनता ने बता दिया है की हमें बांध नहीं चाहिए. 2009 से 2017 तक बांध रुका ही हुआ है. सन 2013 की आपदा में यहां की परिस्थिति पूरी तरह बदल गई है. गांवो में भूस्खलन की घटनाएं बढ़ी है. पिंडर नदी का रुख बदल गया है.

13 अगस्त को माननीय सर्वोच्च न्यायलय ने उत्तराखंड के सभी बांधो की किसी भी तरह की स्वीकृत पर रोक लगा दी थी. पर्यावरण मंत्रालय की विशेषज्ञ समिति ने धोखे से हुई जनसुनवाई को मानते हुए मात्र उसमें उठाए कुछ मुद्दों पर ध्यान दिया और अपनी ओर से पर्यावरण  स्वीकृति के लिए बांध को अनुमोदित किया किंतु साथ में यह शर्त लगाई थी पर्यावरण स्वीकृति वन स्वीकृति के बाद ही ली जाए. वन आकलन समिति की बैठकों में देवसारी बांध के पीछे कैल नदी पर स्थित मेगावाट की देवाल  परियोजना का मुद्दा सामने आया. 5 मेगावाट की देवाल परियोजना, देवसारी बांध के जलाशय में डूब रही है. देवसारी बांध के परियोजना प्रयोक्ता सतलुज जल विद्युत निगम ने वन आकलन  समिति के सामने कहा है कि वह एक दीवार बना कर देवाल परियोजना को सुरक्षित कर देगी. यह समझ से परे है कि एक नदी को दीवार बनाकर कैसे रोका जा सकेगा? इसी तरह की तमाम ग़लतियों के साथ इस बांध को आगे धकेला जा रहा है.

नवम्बर, 2017 में पिंडर घाटी के हिमनी गाँव में राज्य के मुख्यमंत्री ने भी घोषणा की कि 5 नहीं 252 मेगावाट का बांध चाहिए. जिसका पूरी घाटी में जबरदस्त विरोध हुआ.

महत्वपूर्ण बात है कि गांव को अभी तक वन अधिकार कानून 2006 के अंतर्गत अधिकार भी नहीं दिए गए हैं। ऐसे में अचानक से पुनर्वास संबंधी बैठकों कालोगों को पुनर्वास नीति उपलब्ध कराए बिना किये जाना गलत है। हम पूरी तरह से इस असंवैधानिक प्रक्रिया का व बांध का विरोध करते हैं.

हम मांग करते हैं कि:-

बांध संबंधी सभी कागजातोंपर्यावरणीय प्रभाव आकलन रिपोर्ट पर्यावरण प्रबंधन योजना को हिंदी में लोगों को दे कर समझाई जाए।

उसके बाद ही जनसुनवाई का आयोजन किया जाए. किन्तु सरकार अपनी कमियों को छुपाकर किसी भी तारा से बांध को बनाना चाहती है. जिसे घाटी की जनता नहीं होने देगी.

दिनेश मिश्र, महिपत सिंह, जीवनचन्द्र, कपूरचन्द्र, मुन्नी देवी, केदार दत्त, देवकी देवी, हेम मिश्र, विमलभाई

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Victory for The Wire as Court Lifts Injunction Granted to Jay Amit Shah #Goodnews

Decision a vindication of The Wire’s stand that its article ‘The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah’ was a legitimate exercise of the freedom of expression in the public interest.

Jay Shah, Amit Shah

Jay Shah, Amit Shah.


The civil court, Mirzapur, Ahmedabad on December 23, 2017, vacated the ex parte ad interim injunction imposed on The Wire in the wake of its recent story on the the meteoric rise in the business activities of BJP president Amit Shah’s son, Jay Shah, following the Bharatiya Janata Party’s ascension to power in 2014.

The court had originally granted Jay Shah an  all encompassing injunction on October 12, 2017, barring The Wire, its editors and the author of the story, ‘The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah’ from

“using and publishing or printing in any electronic, print, digital or any other media, or broadcast, telecast, print and publish in any manner including by way of interview, holding Tv talks, debate and debates, news items, programs in any language on the basis of the article published in ‘THE WIRE ‘ (dated 8/10/2010) (sic) either directly or indirectly on the subject matter with respect to the plaintiff in any manner whatsoever.”

The Wire had challenged the injunction on the grounds that it represented an unconstitutional restriction on the freedom of the press, and that there was nothing defamatory about the original article which was based entirely on public records and information provided by Jay Shah.

In his order, the judge noted:

“The plaintiff in the suit has neither denied or questioned the facts contained in the reports obtained through the Registrar of Companies and has also not objected to the data that has been published in the said article. It is also not the case of the plaintiff that the data obtained is a misleading one or the same is misrepresented by the defendants thereby depicting a false picture of defendant’s company”.

In a significant, near-total dilution of its previous all encompassing order, the court ruled on December 23 that its injunction is now restricted only to the line “Narendra Modi becoming Prime Minister/elected as Prime Minister”.  Simply put,  barring the use of these words in relation to any discussion of its original story, The Wire is free to report and write on any and every aspect of Jay Shah’s business and public activities including the original story.

Earlier, Jay Shah’s lawyers had in court said that they were not asking for the original story to be taken down at this stage but only wanted no further discussion on the subject matter. However the civil court has not granted any such future injunction on the subject matter either.

Jay Shah’s lawyers sought a month’s extension of the original injunction granted (but now vacated) until they move the high court. The civil court said it would give them 15 days. The Wire opposed an extension of even one day.

Today’s decision by the civil court is a vindication of The Wire’s fundamental stand that its article ‘The Golden Touch of Jay Amit Shah’ was a legitimate exercise of the freedom of expression in the public interest.

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