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Archives for : November2018

Amravati, A grave in making for farmers, dalits, adivasis

Multiple Power Project along the coastline, rapid urbanization, industrial pollution driving away fish population from the coasts in Andhra Pradesh; Sagarmala and Industrial Corridor responsible for the devastation

Amravati, Andhra Pradesh: On 25th day of Samvidhan Samman Yatra, activists reached Amravati, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh. On the way to first village, Kiran Kumar Vissa from Rythu Swaraj Vedika briefed the team about the issues.

The whole vision of making a Capital City by the CM Chandrababu Naidu has devastated the agriculture in more than 29 villages in the name of development. The Shivram Committee recommended to set up Capital either in decentralized manner or in Rayalseema. However, Chandrababu Naidu, rejected the report and decided to go ahead with Amaravati Plan with a promise to make the city like Singapore. This obsession with western model of development have threatened the indigeneity of the area.

Acquisition of more than 50 thousand acres of land for the Capital City through coercive “Voluntary Land Pooling” left little option with the cultivators of the region. The benefits of Consent and SIA provisions of central land acquisition act, 2013 remained distant for the people. From transparency to public hearing, everything was just bypassed to silence any voice raised against the acquisition. After Land pooling, no farmers are allowed to cultivate the land even when no work started on the land.

Not learning from the devastation of Chennai flood, Amravati also seems to be following the foot steps of Chennai and encroaching on water bodies. It is the irony in the country that Real Estate sector and businesses are being given priority on top of environment and people of the largest democracy.

Yatra reached Undavalli, the first village in the Yatra route. Activists taken out rally starting from the fields of Undavalli, where a large number of farmers joined them. This shows the discontent which is suppressed since long by the state government. According to representatives of Rythu Swaraj Vedika, there are 120 documented different crops being cultivated in the region. The area is famous for its rich fertile soil which supports 4 or more crops at the same time.

Nidamarru was the second village visited by the Yatra. “On one acre of land, fifty people are dependent on an average ranging from the families of cultivators to small scale traders. An agricultural worker can earn Rs 200 – 400 on a daily basis in the region. What will we do when dispossessed our land and livelihood. The Govt. gave us false promises like providing free education and health services in the name of development but we cannot see anything till now”, said Naji Reddy, a farmer from the village.

“We are farmers and we only know how to cultivate our land. No amount can compensate loss of our life long livelihood and basis of Right to Life. Money will be finished and we all will be left with no choice but to work as a worker in the factories where industries will rule our lives. If government and chief minister of Andhra Pradesh wants us to give up our land and livelihood, they should also be ready to give up their seats. They don’t deserve to represent us anymore.”, said Jayamma, a woman farmer from the village. Activists expressed strong solidarity to their struggles and moved towards third village, Lingyapalem.

Public meeting was organised in Lingyapalem village by local community leaders and villagers. They shared that the state government is hell bent on acquiring land and driving out everyone including original inhabitants of the land. It is nothing but an injustice with adivasi, dalits, and landless workers.

Bhupendra Rawat from Jan Sangharsh Vahini said that the NAPM rejects the Land Pooling Scheme which encourages land mafia to grab more and more land and transfer all to industries and rich. Government is aware about it and they are equally hand in gloves with them.

“Women need to be at the fore front of the struggle to push back the government and continue their struggles for protecting their land and livelihood”, said Kamla Yadav from Narmada Bachao Andolan.

“Monetizing such fertile land is a blunder by the government which is being done through Voluntary Land Pooling Scheme. It is an inter-generational resource and cannot be compensated by any means”, said Sudha from Sangatin Mazdoor Kisan Sangathan, Uttar Pradesh

Representatives from Dalit Community said that they have been living here for more than centuries. But the government have not been able to extend any benefits as they are providing to other farmers. The police continue to harass them and use coercion to part away from the land. Chandrababu Naidu pretend to stand against the Central Government on Dalits issues but fails people from the same community in his own state.

The rehabilitation policy framed cannot be more castiest and unconstitutional. People from dominant castes are receiving higher compensation while dalits are getting lower. Even among dalits, there is hierarchy. It stems more from the discrimation at policy level between the Assigned Land and Patta Land which is prohibited in the central land acquisition act of 2013.

After Amravati, Yatra reached to the public meeting in Ongole which was organized by Democratic Traditional Fishworkers Forum, APVVU, and State Yanadi Union.

Bhupendra Singh Rawat introduced the activists travelling with yatra to the people of the public meeting and said that now the ministers in the Government have come openly in public against the Constitution and we cannot let them destroy it. We resolved to fight against this and are travelling across the country making people aware about the intentions of BJP Government.

“The foremost problem of Andhra Pradesh is the proposed construction of 18 new ports and large number of power plants being commissioned around ports on the 760 kms long coastline of the state. All this is being done under Sagarmala and Industrial Corridor projects.”, said Pal from DTFF. The access to the coast is being systemically restricted for the fisherpeople. They are being forced to abandon their fishing practices and become migrant workers in their own state.

“We are unable to go for fishing as the rising urban population due to rapid urbanization around coasts and urban pollution are killing the fish population”, said A. Subharav, a fisherman.

Kati Padma and Vijayamma from Yana Community reflected on issues faced by their community due to social boycott and lack of basic housing facilities. They demanded one acre of land for each family under the land reform initiatives.

“The CRZ norms are being violated. The police officials brutally treat protesting fisher people. People are being killed and their bodies were taken away by the police forces.”, said K. Subharao, a teacher from the community.

Madhuresh Kumar from National Alliance of People’s Movements expressed solidarity with the protest against shipping corridor organised by National Fishworkers Forum along the coastline.

Parth from Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat described Sagaramala as an attack on fisher community across India and said that we need to stand together and fight against their attempt of selling off land, forests, rivers and coasts to industries and corporates.

Renowned social activists Prafulla Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan, Odisha; Sandeep Pandey, Socialist Party (India); Gabriele Dietrich, NAPM, Tamilnadu; Arundhati Dhuru, NAPM, Uttar Pradesh; Ashish Ranjan – Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan (Bihar); Meera Sanghamitra – NAPM (Andhra Pradesh – Telangana); Bhupendra Singh Rawat – Jan Sangharsh Vahini; Kiran Vissa, Rythu Swaraj Vedika, Telangana; Krishnakant – Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (Gujarat); Madhuresh Kumar – NAPM, Delhi; Suhas Kolhekar, Prasad Bagve – NAPM Maharashtra; Sanjay Nazre – Vidrohi Sanskritik Andolan; Kamla Yadav and Rohit – Narmada Bachao Andolan; Yogiraj, Mahendra Rathore, Jayesh Lal – MNREGA Mazdoor Union, Purvanchal Kisan Union, Uttar Pradesh; Subhadra tai, Parvati tai, Ghanekar kaka, Sonu, Jameela – Ghar Bachao Ghar banao Andolan, Mumbai; Tilola Haldar, Mrityunjay Haldar – Sundaravan Shramjivi Sangathan; Ramashish Yadav, Premshila Yadav, Manisha Patil; Kalai, Vishnu, Vinod – Organic farmers, Tamilnadu; Fauziya – Jammu & Kashmir Soochna Adhikar Abhiyan; Madhusudan – Odisha; Akshit – Guhaar; Aryaman Jain, Aryan – Delhi; Rimpy – Student, Dibrugarh University; Himshi, Uma – NAPM Delhi, are traveling in the second phase as a part of Samvidhan Samman Yatra.

For further details, contact 9971058735 / 9867348307 / [email protected]

Discussion on Samvidhan Samman Yatra

  1. On VNM News – https://www.facebook.com/VNMNEWS/videos/851565491900666/
  2. महाराष्ट्रात होणाऱ्या संविधान यात्रेत सामील होण्याचे आवाहन… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfOlQqNTgCw&feature=youtu.be
  3. संविधान सन्मान यात्रा, Satara 24 taas – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0aLMITeoKCI&feature=youtu.be

For details about Samvidhan Samman Yatra, check our website www.samvidhanyatra.wordpress.com

Call for Solidarity – https://samvidhanyatra.wordpress.com/call-for-solidarity/

Samvidhan Samman Yatra

We are standing at crossroads and passing through a critical juncture in India’s history and have a historical responsibility to save and salvage the ethos of this country, to fulfill the dreams of social, economic and political justice that Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar envisioned. There is an overwhelming urgency to come together, beyond diversity of perspectives, to safeguard the constitutional values and principles of humanity, based on social justice, liberty, equality, fraternity, scientific and rational thinking in the social psyche to deal with all these political, economic, social, cultural challenges. The need of the hour is to create understanding and tolerance in society, by peaceful, democratic and constitutional means. It is equally vital to aim for economic equity, social parity, environmental protection, sustainable development, establishment of people’s rights over access of resources and annihilation of caste and patriarchy.

It is with this urgency and spirit that National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) has, after numerous discussions, planned to embark on a Samvidhan Samman Yatra – a nationwide tour to restore and protect the core values of our Constitution and democracy, at a time when there is an all-out attack on the Constitution, people’s rights, livelihoods, environment and the spirit of diversity in the country, even as massive scams, resource loot and dilution of laws are taking place and farmers, workers, students, employees, women, dalits, adivasis, muslims all are on the streets asserting their rights, spaces and freedoms.

Yatra shall travel more than 25000 Kms through 26 states in 65 days holding meetings, discussions, public events, supporting struggles, sharing grief of victims of the violence and hate and spreading message of plurality, love, peace and social justice. The Yatra shall culminate in a Manvadhikar Rally and Jan Sansad in Delhi on 10th December, 2018, the International Human Rights Day.

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India – NGO heroes accused of sexual harassment #MeToo

Trigger Warning- Sexual Harassment

Issues and concerns have been raised by Sarita  who was working with Centre for Health and Social Justice ( CHSJ )   especially working on the issues of social justice  , it is also an example of how  performance issues are used as a shield against the woman complainant when there are layers of  sexual harassment at workplace .

by- Sarita Barpanda

It is sad that I have to remember something that I would not like to remember or think about. But  #MeTooMovement has brought with it a lot of memories which I had suppressed it. It would also have not played on my mind if I had not seen the perpetrators name as one of the signatories who has signed a undertaking to create a safe space and environment.

 

I was working in Centre for Health and Social Justice as a Programme Director, I joined in 2011. The first few months were good as all of us were in the best behavior. Slowly this changed, I could see other girl’s bullied, sexist remarks being made about their sexuality and even members from other organizations who visited CHSJ like Subhash Mendharpukar (who was also a governing body member) would make sexist remarks about looks, body which was unjustified and was unfair harassment. I think the atmosphere changed when the Boss or his side kick were present in the office. It would become dark and everyone would immerse themselves into their computer. One day Dr. Abhijit Das, Satish Singh, and Subash Mendharpukar during a meeting started talking about me and my two daughters. The discussion centered around how I dress, and how sexy my daughter was. Subash Mendharpukar even went to the extent of rating my daughter if there was any need for money. This conversation was loud and so disgusting that I could not keep my tears and started to cry helplessly. I went home crying and I was so ashamed that I could not tell the whole story to my husband, however my husband knew the conversation must have been nasty and immediately called Abhijit Das and was stern and said that the behavior was unexpected. Dr. Abhijit Das apologized and said it would never happen again. The next day it was almost normal, but majority of the team members reporting to me had either stopped reporting to me or would not give me the information that I was looking for.

 

For a few months I did not know how to take it, because when Dr. Das would call me to his room he would be very nice, sit with me closely, and congratulate me by hugging me. So it was exactly like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Personality, but both the personalities were eerily scary and I avoided going into his room. My appraisal was a farce with Dr. Abhijit Das, Satish Singh and Lavanya Mehra the HR Manager, so they had written a list of issues about me, the first was I did not talk with Mahendra, one of the activists from Madhya Pradesh; the second was I had given the donor report without completing a table, and the third was I give gifts to my colleague and try to buy their loyalty. For a moment I was stumped, because I was the one who had compiled Mahendra’s presentation and sat with him to prepare him for an international workshop. The donor report was complete and the table was supposed to be shared by another colleague who had not done it, I did not know how I was responsible. Wherever I go I get small gifts for all my colleague and it was mutual, they would also give me small token most of which I still have it. But then I heard for the first time that through gifts I was buying loyalty. I just looked at all the three faces and very politely said what I had to say. But my disappointment at the level of professionalism of this organization, and the pettiness of the seniors made me realize that I would not last for very long in this organization.

On 31st January I had returned back from Rajasthan and organized a meeting with the partners and Dr. Das and Satish Singh. We were having a discussion with the partners suddenly from behind Dr. Das yelled at me saying I did not know what I was doing, and I was not prepared. I quietly followed him into his room, where he threateningly started shouting saying my work was not up to mark. His face was close to mine, I could feel his spit on my face, and for a moment I was so scared that he would grab my shoulders that I ran out of the room on the verge of tears. I handed over my resignation on 31st of January, the same day and walked out. Dr. Das called me back again on 5th of February 2014 and personally apologized and said that he had not accepted my resignation and asked me to return back and join the organization. I said I needed time to think, and would get back once I recover from all the onslaught and attack. Dr. Das hugged me tightly, it was uncomfortable and I could feel him, which was uncomfortable and I was relieved and almost fell over when he let go. I left the office and ran home. On the 1st of March I got a call unexpectedly from Dr. Abhijit Das, Director and he asked me to resign and provide a handing over note especially when I was coming back from Mumbai after medical treatment; I was too tired to fight and felt humiliated and exploited despite my exemplary work and substantial contribution to the organisation. There was no fair hearing as there was no sexual harassment committee or any grievance redressal committee. I wrote to the Governing Body Members and asked them for justice and hoped that they would recognize my humiliation and rectify the situation so that other professionals would find a safer environment within the organization.
Some of my allegations were:

Allegation I: Shouting and making remarks which are sexist, rude, body shaming and openly gossiping about others loudly and creating a unhealthy environment.

Dr. Abhijit Das has a tendency to shout, and these verbal bouts of anger were sometimes personal and could strip a woman of her dignity.  He would assign work and then forget about it, and shout about it.  He has even in front of my team members torn of my work without seeing it, and in a fit of anger left the room, these bouts of anger were bewildering and confusing as after a month he would ask for the same work and shout why it had not been shown and shout again at me for it.  It was stressful, and he targeted a few not all; since he was my Supervisor, it was becoming extremely difficult as I have seen a few of his trusted old staff talk against me and he would believe them and would hold me responsible for the act, and would order me to apologise.  In order to please him I would apologize without having made any mistakes.  I never knew whether I was taken in the organisation to lead the team as a Programme Director or constantly harangued and shouted at as a mere worker.

Allegation II: Asking the staff whether they have received gifts from me to buy their loyalty

I was surprised when the Director made this allegation in front of the staff that I have been giving gifts to people to buy their trust or loyalty. This was even shared by the Research Director with others that I am unprofessional and giving gifts and money to team members to buy their loyalty. Yes I have gifted my colleagues during their birthday, when I go for field trips or vacations and similarly I have received gifts from my dear team members too. And I do not think I bought anybody’s loyalty with that. The above allegations were made after the Director met me on the 5th of February in his office in the afternoon requesting me not to resign and he even went on to state that he would restore my dignity and make amendments. I agreed to what he said, and shared that I would come and join after I return back from Mumbai where I was going for a checkup of me and my daughter. While returning back on 1st of March he asked me for my resignation and a handing over note, I was too tired to respond.

However what bothered me was the fact that the Director even went to the extent of alleging that I engineered the recent resignation of other staffs; It surprised me no end as I had resigned because of his sexual abuses and humiliation. The other two young girls had been targeted and also did not feel safe in the office. Dr. Abhijit Das, Satish Singh and Lavanya Mehra in order to protect themselves organized a core meeting on 31st of January comprising of a few old staff (one of the staff was called from the field and I have never ever worked with him and surprisingly he also had something to say about my behavior, the meeting came to a conclusion that I needed to change my behavior as everybody in the office was scared of me. This was the last straw, I had an emotional breakdown. I have worked in state and international organisations and I still have absolutely good relations with my supervisor and my team members. In fact during my stay at CHSJ; my fundraising was successful as I managed to get two projects from NMEW and PACS through my own initiative, and I have supported in writing other proposals too which have been successful. It happened because of these friendships and my work ethics and professional rapport. So bringing this up and questioning my ethics and using terms like, ‘Gutbazi’ made me feel small and humiliated no end. As these are not some of the things that all my Supervisors from my previous organisations would ever say about me as I have always been a team player.

Allegation III: Personal sexist remarks made in a forum as well as individually by the Director and Deputy Director.

It is a shame as well as a shock that the language used during lunch hours in the office has been threatening as well as abusive and sexist. There have been sexually indecent comments made to me to sell my daughters (the Director specifically told the group of CHSJ team as well as Mr. Subash Mendharpukar, GB member about my older 17 year old daughter being sexy, which I overlooked) as well as the Deputy Director who took the conversation forward by saying that Sarita’s assets could be sold for the release of the Sahayog team if they were ever caught by the Naxalites in Odisha. Mr Mendharpukar also joined in and made dirty remarks trying to put me down. It was as if each of them were inciting the other. I was further shocked when he called the girls of our team standing in a group during our retreat as lesbians in my ears. For me it was a shock as this is an organisation which considers itself a flag bearer of gender sensitivity, whereas this is one organisation which has not understood that making personalized remarks, sexist remarks are sexual harassment.

Allegation IV: No external body to lodge our formal complaints.

.

CHSJ had no external committees or internal complaint mechanism to lodge   complaints of sexual harassment..  Since the day I  joined (October 2012) there were no mechanisms to establish or lodge sexual harassment complaint or our concerns, even if somebody goes through any harassment there is no scope for that to be addressed as one had to go directly to the Director. There was an HR Manager who was close to the Director and the Asst Director, and she was the ears and eyes of them.  There was a fear in general to speak about harassment.  One of the girls I remember had too many drinks to drink during her field work, she was accompanied by the Asst. Director, and suddenly the whole office was talking about her loose morals, and within two weeks she was asked to leave.  A few days before my issue reached a boiling point I saw the Assistant put up a notice on the notice board, and it had my name and Leena Uppal’s name as members of ICC.  This was surprising as there had been no discussion about it and none at CHSJ talked about it.  when the systematic harassment started, I realized that the Director wanted me to leave.  He did not have any excuses to kick me out, so I would hear a lot of rumors about me, which was sad.  My complaint also would not have been taken up seriously if Dr. A.R.Nanda had not forced the other members to take up and investigate the complaint.  In order to dilute the complaint,  Dr. Abhijit Das  and CHSJ formed a committee which was headed by Dr. Rajani Ved a family friend of Dr. Das and the second trustee of CHSJ.  After three months Dr. Ved came out with a report saying that Dr. Das had been flippant but had no intention of sexual harassment.

I was shocked the way the report was written, it was shoddy, many people had wanted to speak on behalf o me, but many of them were not invited, and from CHSJ the Director, Asst. Director, a field worker called Mahendra with whom I had never had any contact of spoken to and Dr. Das’s personal assistant.  I was angry and wanted to take legal recourse, but I was tired and had fallen seriously ill.  My depression was so bad that I could not get out of bed, and had to be hospitalized.  I had to let go for my sanity

CHSJ set up a hearing committee comprising of Ms. Rajani Ved (trustee and a very good family friend of Dr. Das) Gagan Sethi, Jayawati Shrivastava, and asked me to write down the events and share. I wrote in detail and also in my letter asked for unconditional apology from Abhijit Das, Satish Singh and three month salary.

The report of the committee was not shared in complete form, and witnesses from the organizations side were those whom I had never worked with, For example Mahendra one of the witnesses was a field worker and worked in Madhya Pradesh and I have spoken to him to him once for a brief few minutes, Anita Gulati was the personal assistant of Dr. Das, and I had very few opportunities to talk with her. The report came back admitting all that had happened and the fact that Dr. Abhijit Das did make those remarks, but they were non serious, humourous, flippant remarks and the anger and shouting by Dr. Abhijit Das was due to non-performance and that did not count as sexual harassment. It was a huge blow. I felt humiliated, but then was seriously ill to take it forward. Both Dr. Abhijit Das and Satish Singh gave me letters of apology, but the apology letter was vague and made no sense.

Dr. Abhijit Das is a pervert, vindictive, arrogant man, who belittles others and tries to control women through sexual innuendos, staring at the breasts of the women and also making personal remarks about a women and her sexuality. One of my colleagues was wearing a stiletto to the office, and I remember one of his core staff coming and telling her not to wear such shoes as it distracted the Director. I do believe that he got away too easily and action should have been taken against him. It took me four years to recover, I went into deep depression and was on medication and will probably be on medication for the rest of my life.

Her colleague Leena Uppal writes

 

Leena Uppal It took me sometime to comment. I remember you being sad and upset but holding strong because you wanted always to put professionalism first. I remember being sad myself about being bullied. I remember a few others being bullied. I don’t know why we were not a right fit Sarita, despite our passion and good results we brought in our work? Since I worked with you and learned through your experiences, all I can say you were too much above the benchmark than it was expected. I am fully in support of you and a bit emotional too reading your testimony

Sarita Barpanda is working with ( Human Rights Law Network) and is program director of Reproductive Health unit 

 

STATEMENT FROM CHSJ GOVERNING BOARD
This statement is with reference to the facebook post put out by Ms. Sarita Barpanda, a former employee of the Centre for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ), against the Director Dr. Abhijit Das and Deputy Director Mr. Satish Singh. Ms. Barpanda was employed as a Programme Director in CHSJ from 1/9/2012 to 31/1/2014. Acknowledging the facebook post, CHSJ regrets that Ms.Barpanda felt disrespected while she worked at the organization.
In her facebook post, Ms. Barpanda alleges instances of misconduct. CHSJ would like to state that Ms. Barpanda’s complaints were received by the CHSJ Governing Board in March 2014. However, some of the allegations raised in Ms.Barpanda’s facebook post were not part of her complaint in 2014. Upon receiving the complaint, the Governing Board appointed an independent inquiry committee which promptly investigated the allegations, after her complaint was received. The Governing Board accorded it priority and constituted a committee comprising of senior persons including one trustee (Dr. Rajni Ved) and two external members (Ms. Jaya Srivastava and Mr. Gagan Sethi).
The following must be clarified regarding the process that was followed and redress provided to Ms.Barpanda:
1) Ms. Barpanda alleges in her facebook post that the organization did not have an internal complaints committee. CHSJ would like to clarify that the organization has had an ICC since 30th November 2013, as per the law. Prior to this as well, the office policy has stipulated measures to address instances of sexual harassment. However, since allegations were being made against the director and because Ms..Barpanda had reached out to the Governing Board, keeping high standards of due diligence in mind, a three member high level independent inquiry committee was appointed.
2) Regarding the allegation that the full report of the inquiry was not shared with her, CHSJ would like to clarify that a full report was shared with Ms.Barpanda on 19th June 2014.
3) The committee conducted a detailed inquiry into the allegations included in Ms. Barpanda’s complaint and interviewed staff (including former staff). Based on the allegations made in the complaint, the committee recommended the following:
a) An apology from the Deputy Director for any hurt caused to Ms. Barpanda. An unequivocal apology was provided by the Deputy Director.
b) A letter of regret from the Director as a gesture of goodwill and compassion, as a former colleague had felt hurt and humiliated. This was also provided.
c) Ms. Barpanda had resigned from CHSJ on 31st January 2014 citing other reasons. The committee recommended that all formalities related to her resignation be processed, and that she be awarded two months’ salary on humanitarian grounds considering her ill health. This was implemented promptly.
d) The committee recommended certain additional measures for the organization, to ensure a healthy working environment for women staff. In keeping with these, an organizational climate and gender survey was conducted between May and August 2014, the report of which was shared with staff and Governing Board. Measures to ensure a safe and healthy workplace, including individual mentoring for women staff and gender sensitization trainings were instituted.
The committee’s recommendations and the institutional responses were consistent with the demands made by Ms. Barpanda in her complaint. The Governing Board commits itself to strengthening relevant and forward looking policies and strategies of the organisation.
– CHSJ Governing Board

 

 

 

 

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India – Calls for Ayodhya temple law mean it’s Ram bharose again in 2019

The growing clamour for a law to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya is reminiscent of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr’s 1849 satirical aphorism: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” The carefully constructed public symphony we have seen in recent days on the possibility of an overriding law to build a Ram temple means that as we head into election season in 2019, our politics is galloping back to the future in a deja-vu rerun of the halcyon days of the Ayodhya movement in the early 1990s.

The clarion call was first sounded by RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat in his Vijay Dashami speech on October 18 when he asked the Modi government to “expedite the decision regarding the ownership of Ram Janmabhoomi” and to clear the path for the construction of a temple “through appropriate and requisite law”. Bhagwat was drawing a line in the sand, as if almost anticipating the Supreme Court’s decision on October 29 to defer a call on hearing dates on the matter to an “appropriate bench” in the first week of January 2019.

The BJP’s Rajya Sabha MP Rakesh Sinha then raised the pitch, announcing a “private member’s bill” in Parliament for a Ram temple, along with an emotive political dare to Rahul Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury, Lalu Yadav and Mayawati to oppose the idea. Then came the carefully calibrated statement by RSS sarkaryavah Bhaiyyaji Joshi, asking the Supreme Court to “rethink the matter” of the Ram temple as Hindus were feeling “insulted” that it was not on its “priority list”. As he put it: “Society should respect the court and the court should also respect society and its sentiments.” The RSS has put the ball firmly in the Modi government’s court, making it clear that it favours a Ram temple ordinance “if all other options run out”.

So, what does all this amount to? First, on legislation: BJP has a brute majority in the Lok Sabha but simply doesn’t have the numbers in Rajya Sabha to push such a law through. That is why a private member’s bill (legislation introduced in Parliament by any individual MP who is officially not acting on behalf of the government) has been mooted. Of course, the last time a private member’s bill became a law was in 1970.

The beauty of this stratagem is that it allows for a great deal of posturing. It raises the emotional pitch and political temperature on the Ram temple as we head into 2019, allowing BJP to ask the simple reductionist question: who is for Ram, and who is against?

For a party that has sworn by the Ram temple as an article of faith for almost three decades now — including in its 2014 manifesto where it promised to “explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution” to facilitate its construction — the inability to move on it despite the majority it has enjoyed in Parliament since 2014 is politically problematic when faced with its core ideological constituency.

While BJP spokespersons have been careful in their responses to the private member’s bill, reiterating their commitment to building the Ram temple within the constitutional framework, they have also made pointed allusions to the 1989 Palampur resolution when the BJP first formally committed itself to the Ayodhya project.

The relevant text of the Palampur resolution, passed by BJP’s national executive in June 1989, bears repeating: “The BJP holds that the nature of the (Ayodhya) controversy is such that it just cannot be sorted out by a court of law…. The BJP calls upon the Rajiv Gandhi government to adopt the same positive approach in respect of Ayodhya that the Nehru government did with respect to Somnath. The sentiments of the people must be respected, and Ram Janmasthan handed over to the Hindus — if possible through a negotiated settlement, or else by legislation. Litigation certainly is no answer.”

It is in this context that we must see BJP president Amit Shah’s clear line on Sabarimala that his party “stands like a rock” with devotees opposing Supreme Court’s verdict on the entry of women and that government and courts should “issue orders that can be implemented”, not those that “break the faith of people.”

Let us be clear: Sabarimala is also a cipher for Ayodhya. The same logic on the primacy of faith as a fundamental right that works for the south Indian shrine, works for Ayodhya too.

If legislation fails, the temptation may be for a Ram temple ordinance — in a variation of what Rajiv Gandhi did to overturn SC’s verdict in the Shah Bano case — even if that route would be legally challenged.

Either way, the debate would firmly resurrect religiosity in politics, resetting the political chessboard. At a time when the government is facing questions on multiple fronts, it’s back to Ram as the dominant narrative for 2019.

TOI

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Threatened, young Bangladeshi blogger forced to flee to Kolkata #FOE

Kolkata:

At 21, Md Sazzadul Hoque seems to have been abandoned by everybody he ever cared for. His family, in Bangladesh’s Chittagong, has stopped supporting him and Hoque has been expelled from his college in Dhaka. For the last one-and-a-half years, he is living near Kolkata on a tourist visa. His fault: Hoque dared to write on issues such as secularism, atheism, gender equality, sexual and human rights and protested the killings and persecution of bloggers in Bangladesh.

“I now fear for my life. I could also be killed in India by fundamentalists who support the goings on in Bangladesh. I protested the atrocities being committed on the minority Hindu population in my country and the obstruction of free speech. I also write on the systematic political corruption and superstition that obstructs reasonable and critical thinking. I also campaign for ‘Be Humane First’, which aims to establish civil liberty. Now, I have nowhere to go,” Hoque says.

He belongs to a very conservative family and received religious lessons since childhood. However, as he grew up, Hoque started questioning certain beliefs and rituals.

“ People who were my best friends are my worst enemies now and would turn me over to the fundamentalists any time. Before coming to India, I ran from one shelter to another with imams baying for my blood. I was branded an atheistwho deserves death under Islamic laws,” he added.

Hoque claims that his ordeals began on May 25, 2017 after he posted on Facebook that: “I want to live like a human, not a Muslim – things I was taught and made to believe are wrong.” The post went viral and his Facebook account was suspended. “The threats started thereafter. I fled,” Hoque said.

https://epaper.timesgroup.com/Olive/ODN/TimesOfIndia/#

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Sohrab told me Vanzara ordered hit on ex-Guj minister: Gangster

Tells Court He Felt Sad That They Killed Haren Pandya

Mumbai:

Udaipur-based gangster Azam Khan, deposing as a witness in the alleged fake encounter cases of Sohrabuddin Shaikh and his associate Tulsiram Prajapati on Saturday, said Sohrabuddin told him that he and two others had got the contract to kill former Gujarat home minister Haren Pandya and they killed him.

Deposing before the special CBI court, Khan, brought to the city from Udaipur Central Jail, said, “I felt sad and told Sohrabuddin they have killed a good person. Sohrabuddin told me this contract of killing was given by Vanzara.” D G Vanzara, former deputy inspector general of Gujarat, is now discharged in the encounter case.

Later, during cross-examination, when asked by the defence why this portion was not mentioned in his statement to the CBI, Khan said he was told by an officer that “Bakheda ho jayega (a mess would be created).” The court did not take this on record. “I said before the CBI officer that the killing of Haren Pandya (was) by Tulsiram Prajapati and another boy at the instance of Sohrabuddin. There is no reason for this omission in my statement recorded by CBI,” Khan said.

On March 26, 2003, Pandya was found shot dead in his car near Law Garden in Ahmedabad. The CBI’s case was that Muslim youths killed the former minister to avenge the 2002 riots. In August 2011, the Gujarat high court acquitted all 12 accused. In December 2011, an appeal was filed in Supreme Court challenging the HC order. It is pending. During the hearing, Khan said he met Sohrabuddin in 2002. He said he was introduced to him through one Zubair, a contract killer. Khan said that, over time, he grew close to Sohrabuddin and helped in the arrangements of his wedding to Kausar Bi.

He further said that once, when he asked Sohrabuddin why he had gone to Hyderabad, the latter told him he had gone to meet gangster Naeem Khan, who wanted to speak to Dawood Ibrahim. “He told Naeem Dawood is out of the country and is not talking to anyone, but he would arrange a call with Chhota Shakeel. Naeem consented and Sohrabuddin arranged it,” Khan said.

Khan also said that in 2004, Prajapati and one other person killed gangster Hamid Lala at the instance of Sohrabuddin. Khan said he too was arrested in the case in April 2005 but was acquitted in 2009. He said in December 2005, he had read in the papers that Sohrabuddin was killed in a police encounter. He said that when Prajapati, also arrested in the Hamid Lala murder case, met him at Udaipur Central Jail, he cried and said Sohrabuddin and Kausar Bi were killed because of his mistake. Khan said Prajapati also told him he had agreed to pass on information about their whereabouts (on the bus from Hyderabad to Sangli in December 2005) as Gujarat police and Vanzara told him there was political pressure to arrest him due to the Hamid Lala murder case and firing at the office of Popular Builder. Prajapati allegedly further stated that he was assured that after four to six months, Sohrabuddin would be out on bail and they would be settled in Ahmedabad to occupy the place of a big gangster.

The gangster said Prajapati told him that after being apprehended from the bus by Vanzara and two others, Sohrabuddin, Kausar Bi and he were taken to an Ahmedabad farmhouse. Khan said Prajapati further told him that when Kausar Bi had intervened during an assault on her husband, she was taken to another place where he heard firing but could no longer hear her.

“He also heard firing in which Sohrabuddin was also killed,” Khan said. Khan further said Prajapati had allegedly told another inmate about wanting to kill Vanzara and Chudasama (Abhay Chudasama, an IPS officer, was discharged in the case).

https://epaper.timesgroup.com/Olive/ODN/TimesOfIndia/#

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Farmers ask Who stole our loan waiver certificates?

Two tiny villages in Hingoli district in rain-starved Marathwada bring into sharp focus the inadequacies of the state’s ambitious loan waiver programme
The case of the conned villagers (below) may be an isolated one, but experts tell Mirror the ‘karj mafi’ scheme has ignored ground realities, leaving thousands of farmers out in the cold

IN HINGOLI

For Shriram Sakhaji Ghyar, 65, a resident of Satambha, a village of 1500 in Hingoli district in rain-starved Marathwada, last year’s Diwali seemed easily the best of his life. The flickering light from the diyas in the winter night felt suffused with a new promise – the promise of a long, cruel spell of darkness ending.

Two days before Lakshmi Poojan, he was told the state government was going to waive off his farm loan of Rs 60,000. An invitation to attend a felicitation for the same was delivered to his brick-and-mud house. This was his chance to break out of the debt trap that years of poor rains and irrigation projects killed by corruption have condemned hundreds of thousands of farmers in the state to. With the bank loan off his back, he could now focus on repaying the Rs 30,000 borrowed from a private money lender at three per cent a month – that is 36 per cent a year. Suddenly, it seemed possible for him to provide a better future to his two sons and also meet the obligations a father has to his married daughter.

On October 18, a day before Lakshmi Poojan, he and his wife (she died of snake bite a couple of months ago), along with other couples from Satambha and neighbouring Bhandegaon, were taken to Hingoli where they were felicitated by District Guardian Minister Dilip Kamble. The men were presented white cotton cloth for a pyjama and shirt and each woman got a blouse piece and a saree. They were also given a certificate of loan waiver, which, however, was taken away as soon the couples returned to their seats. They were told the certificates were yet to be signed by some important officials. Nobody thought too much of it at that point. They should have – no other signature was required. The certificates were signed by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. They had been conned.

A year later, as another Diwali approaches, Shriram Ghyar, and eight others from Satambha and Bhandegaon, whose certificates too were taken away, have heard nothing of the loan waiver and nobody is telling them where their certificates have gone.

The cruel joke played on Satambha and Bhandegaon is symptomatic of all that has gone wrong with the state government’s loan waiver scheme. Plagued with systemic glitches and some poor planning, the loan waiver, instead of becoming a campaign star-boast in an election year, could end up as an embarrassment for Fadnavis. The government, however, believes the ‘karj maafi’ has been a success. According to the chief minister, 36.36 lakh farmers have benefited from loan waivers and Rs 15,415 crore has been disbursed already. The government also claims that by linking the waiver to the Aadhar card, it was able to weed out 25 lakh farmers who were not eligible for one reason or the other.

But trade unionist and convener, United Forum of Bank Unions, Devidas Tuljapurkar, says thousands of farmers have been left out of the loan waiver scheme because of its flawed structure which did not take into account the ground realities. The first problem, according to him, has been the capping of the loan waiver at a maximum of Rs 1.5 lakh and the insistence that if a farmer’s dues are in excess of this amount then he must pay the difference upfront to become eligible for the waiver. “If a farmer has dues of Rs 2 lakh, he is being asked to pay Rs 50,000 to have Rs 1.5 lakh waived off. How will a farmer facing acute distress, raise this kind of money?” asks Tuljapurkar. He believes that thousands of farmers have not participated in the loan waiver scheme because of this.

The government data supports this in a way. According to the CM’s own statement, the state has accounted for over 60 lakh farmers – 36 lakh covered by loan waivers and 25 lakh found to be ineligible. But the government’s figures put the number of farmers in the state at 80 lakh. So, over 20 lakh farmers have not benefitted from the loan waiver. Add to this the 25 lakh filtered out by the government and you have 45 lakh farmers left out.

Tuljapurkar points to another worrying figure. Disbursal of fresh crop loans this year stands at a poor 40 per cent. “This is possibly because of farmers waiting to see if their loans will be waived off. These farmers will eventually fall into moneylenders’ hands, which will only deepen the farm distress,” he says.

And then there are banks playing games. Over the years, a lot of banks have turned crop loans into term loans to clean up their balance sheets. A crop loan has to be paid back by a farmer within a crop cycle. For instance, if a farmer takes a loan for kharif crop then he has to pay the principal amount back at the time of harvest. If he does that, he does not pay a single paisa in interest. However, when a farmer fails to pay back in time and the account becomes a non-performing asset, banks, to make their books look good, convert the crop loan into a term loan and collect at least one instalment. The account now becomes a performing asset. But the catch is that the loan waiver applies only to non-performing assets. So, all the farmers whose loans were restructured in this manner have been left out of the waiver scheme.

Farm activist Rajan Kshirsagar says that all one has to do is look at the figures of farmer suicides between October 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018. He claims that 117 farmers have ended their lives in this period in Parbhani district, and an equal number in Beed district.

In Satambha and Bhandegaon, everybody not only knows everybody else, they are all related to each other as well. In fact, everybody in Satambha carries the last name Ghyar, except three Shindes. In Bhandegaon everybody is a Jagtap, barring two Jadhavs and two Keles. Also, everyone, without exception, is a Vithoba devotee and has been to Pandharpur multiple times. They all get together at around 6.30 every evening at the village temple for ram jaap. This is when they drown their misfortunes in chants of Jai Jai Ram Krishna Hari.

In this close-knit community, it came as a shock that two of their own cheated them – former head of village Uttam Dhanaji Jagtap and his underling, irony of ironies, a person named Jai Jai Ram. The two were at the forefront of organising the loan waiver felicitation ceremony. And they were the ones who took away the loan waiver certificates on the pretext of getting them signed.

Dhanaji Lakshman Ghyar, 60, calls Jagtap his brother-in-law. “He married a Satambha girl, a cousin’s daughter. He knows what all of us have been through. Yet, he trapped us,” says Dhanaji. In his five-acre farm, Dhanaji and his wife (they don’t have children) grow toor (the yellow daal we order in restaurants) and soybean. Toor needs water and cooler climes and it last rained here in the first week of August. Soybean, a hardier crop, survived but the yield was poor. The loan certificate promised that his Bank of Baroda loan of Rs 60,000 was being waived off. However, when he visited the bank’s branch a couple of months after the felicitation ceremony to apply for a fresh loan, he was told he was ineligible because he had not cleared his previous loan. “I had in my hand a document signed by the chief minister. Yet, it has not been honoured,” he says. Dhanaji Ghyar has since paid the bank Rs 72,000, part of it raised through a private money lender at an outrageous “Rs 3 for every Rs 100 a month.” It’s a debt trap he knows he will never be able escape.

Each of the heartbroken Satambha and Bhandegaon farmers has a story of shattered dreams, of innumerable representations made to officials and politicians to get his certificate back and the painful memories of a life shared with the two persons who were in on the plot to rob them of a chance to better their lives. Narayan Tukaram Jagtap, father of a 14-year-old son and a 17-year-old daughter, says he was promised that his entire Rs 1.2 lakh loan would be waived. “I saw MLA Tanaji Mutkule [who was present] instructing his men to take the certificates away. We were told the guardian minister [Dilip Kamble, who was present at the felicitation] would sign the certificates and we will get them back,” he says. Just ten days ago, Bank of Baroda officials were at Narayan Jagtap’s house asking him to pay his loan instalments. “I have two children to educate. I also need to save for my daughter’s wedding. Nobody has come forward to help and it has been a year now,” he says.

Manikarna Kailash Tapase, 56, does not even remember what amount was mentioned on the certificate. “It was taken away from me as soon as I got it,” she says. Her family owns a two- acre farm and there is loan of Rs 1.18 lakh. Her husband is paralysed. Her daughter’s husband turned out to be an alcoholic. Her son is a college student. “To take care of the farm, an ailing husband, grand-children and a college-going son was hard enough. And now, for the last year, I have been trying to locate my loan waiver certificate,” she said.

At Hingoli’s dusty, chaotic Indira Gandhi Chowk, where the local Bank of Baroda branch is located, a group of selfie-seeking young men is quickly replaced by a goat, happy to reclaim its lounging spot. At the bank, manager Durgadas Kotgirkar says he had no idea about the October 2017 felicitation. The bank, he says, only went by the list received from the headquarters. As his son plays with his mobile phone seated in a chair next to him, he asks his assistant to look for the records. The names of cheated Satambha and Bhandegoan villagers are not there. Both villages have been adopted by his bank so there is no question of any other bank being involved.

‘I don’t know. I don’t remember. Will look into it’ – are the answers that one gets from all those linked directly or indirectly to the missing certificates. Starting with the two men at the centre of it all – Uttam Dhanaji Jagtap and Jai Jai Ram, who took the certificates away – and ending with Guardian Minister Dilip Kamble, who was the chief guest when the certificates were presented.

Jagtap and Jai Jai Ram, of course, refused to speak on the issue and eventually switched off their phones. MLA Tanaji Mutkule, a guest of honour at the felicitation, could not believe we expected him to remember what happened around this time a year ago. Hingoli mayor Babanrao Bangar said he did not remember anybody’s certificates being taken away. Former Member of Parliament Shivajirao Mane said he remembered some confusion about loan waiver certificates but had assumed it was all sorted out. Former MLA Gajanan Ghughe said the certificates were not taken away in his presence. So, there you are – it’s been a year, but nobody knows who fooled eight farmers out of their loan waiver certificates. For whatever it counts, they join thousands of other farmers telling Chief Minister Fadnavis – no, this loan waiver scheme has not been such a success.

It feels criminal to give the scarred villagers new hope. But when Mumbai Mirror contacted Cooperation Minister Subhash Deshmukh, he said this: “If the farmers lodge an official complaint with my office, I will order an inquiry which will be completed within one week and action will be taken against concerned officials and the crop loan waiver will be made available to these farmers.”

Residents of Satambha and Bhandegaon were presented their loan waiver certificates at a ceremony in Hingoli in October last year. But minutes later, the certificates were taken away from them. Here, they pose with their invitation cards for the ceremony – that is all they have been left with now

Dhanaji Lakshman Ghyar and his wife, at their home. As his Rs 60,000 loan has not been waived, he borrowed money from a private money lender at 36 per cent interest to pay off the bank. He is now caught in a debt trap that he will never be able to break free from

Narayan Jagtap works as a labourer in another farm because the yield from his own field has been poor. He mostly works night shifts because that is when farms get power supply. He makes Rs 200 a night. His wife earns Rs 100 for the same work

Manikarna Tapase’s husband suffered a paralytic attack five years ago. Her daughter’s husband turned out to be an alcoholic. The family has a bank loan of Rs 1.18 lakh which she is not able to repay because of poor yield from her two-acre farm

Narayan Vikram Jagtap, 60, and his son, 30. Behind them are sacks of soybean. Two sacks make a quintal that earns them Rs 3,000. Apart from the bank loan of Rs 1.20 lakh, the family has borrowed Rs 30,000 from a private money lender to meet expenses

Dhanaji Lakshman Ghyar at the Bank of Baroda’s Hingoli branch. Satambha and Bhandegaon have been adopted by BoB. But as far as the villagers’ missing loan waiver certificates are concerned, bank officials say they can do little

Mumbai Mirror

 

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India – Assaults and Killings of RTI activists Continue; 17 Recorded So Far in 2018

While the government is going ahead with amendments to the Right to Information (RTI) Act aimed at seriously and adversely affecting the power and dignity of information commissions, which will effectively kill the Act, no less serious is the government’s lack of will to prosecute alleged killers and assaulters on RTI users, thereby emboldening nefarious elements to threaten and kill whistleblowers. Nine murders and eight assaults on RTI activists have been reported so far from all over the country in 2018 alone!

Satish Shetty was the first ever RTI activist to be killed in 2009.  The now tainted Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had carried out thorough investigations and had named 13 accused that include a well-known businessman close to senior political leaders. Ironically, the CBI now wants a closure of the case which is dragging on.
While Sandeep, brother of the late Satish, continues to fight tirelessly, he rues that his brother’s life has gone in vain, fighting against corruption, as his murder investigation has turned into a bonanza for the corrupt. “When an agency like the CBI relentlessly lies in a court of law, it is very obvious that an invisible hand is forcing it to act in this manner.”
On 7 September 2018, Kedar Singh Jindan, a Himachal Pradesh activist was ruthlessly killed.  As per the press release issued by the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) (which has appealed to the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh for a thorough investigation),  he was first brutally assaulted and then crushed under an SUV in broad daylight near his house in Shillai, Sirmaur district.
“He had filed numerous applications under the RTI Act to expose fraud and irregularities in the identification of families living below the poverty line (BPL). He had presented these findings at a conference in Shimla on 29 June 2018. He had also put forth proof that he had obtained from six families relating to members of the panchayat that had used fake BPL certificates to secure government jobs. As per media reports, he had also registered a complaint with the Anti-Corruption Bureau. According to information available in the public domain, Jindan had previously been attacked multiple times and had sought police protection, which was denied.’’
Last week, a citizens’ committee, which investigated into the Jindan murder matter, published a 13-page report which provided an insight into the brutality, modus operandi and motive of the murder. His family has appealed for a CBI inquiry.
Should the issues raised and information sought by slain RTI activists get buried after they have passed away? No, says a central information commission (CIC) order. Once again, in June this year, the CIC issued an order that late activists’ appeals/complaints be pursued posthumously. The CIC order states: “Section 24 of the central information commission (management) Regulations, 2007, states that  the matter was discussed at the Commission’s meeting held on 13 September 2011 and Commission made the following declaration:
“The Commission, therefore resolves that if it receives a complaint regarding assault or murder of the information seeker, it will examine the pending RTI applications of the victim and order the concerned department(s) to publish the requested information suo motu on their website as per the provision of the law.
“The matter was discussed in the Commission’s meeting held on 5 June 2018. The Commission has decided that in case of death of the appellant/complainant the case would be heard as usual as a second appeal/complaint and the decision would be put up on the website.”
Sadly, the order has remained on paper. The culprits are growing  more and more brazen in silencing whistleblowers of RTI, which reflects the failure of the public authorities and the CICs to ensure that the former adhere to the suo motu disclosures under Section 4 of the RTI Act.
And therein lies the most serious complacency!
Killings and Assaults on RTI activists in 2018
(Source: Commonwealth Human Rights CHRI Initiative (CHRI)’s compilation of reports of attacks and killings of RTI activists, in the Hall of Shame map on the CHRI website here:  http://attacksonrtiusers.org/)
  
  
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan.)
https://www.moneylife.in/article/assaults-and-killings-of-rti-users-continue-17-recorded-so-far-in-2018/55649.html

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AIR #MeToo: Women survivors speak up for the first time

Women allege sexual harassment at All India Radio’s Dharamshala, Obra, Kurukshetra stations

by- Rituparna Chatterjee

 

Jyoti Pathania, 45, was in the All India Radio’s dubbing room in Dharamsala on 20 August 2016. She was on day duty, waiting for a message regarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Mann Ki Baat to come in from Delhi, when the lights suddenly went off. The control switch for the lights was outside the room, but by the dim glow of the computer screens, Pathania says she saw her boss and programme head Suresh Kumar, had entered the room.

Kumar asked her if the power was off. She said yes. Pathania said she wasn’t prepared for what happened next: As she continued to wait for instructions from Delhi, her body turned away from Kumar, he tilted her head back from behind, and kissed her. Before Pathania could respond, Kumar left the room.

“I was stunned, I couldn’t understand what was happening. I had to keep doing my work. When he left, the lights came on. I continued sitting in the room. I recorded the (incoming) message as it was my duty,” Pathania told Firstpost over the phone. She said she couldn’t even go to the washroom for fear of running into Kumar. When her replacement came in at 4 PM, a woman colleague, Pathania said she broke down in tears and told her about the incident.

“Kumar asked me what happened as if he had no knowledge of what he had done. I couldn’t tell him anything at that point,” she said. Pathania said there was a reason for her reticence: in 2014, she had lodged a police complaint against a former boss, accusing him of misbehaving with her. On pushing him away in self defence, Pathania said her boss called the police and accused her of assault. The police took down the complaints of both parties, following which she approached the Himachal Pradesh State Commission for Women. Pathania said she faced intense emotional trauma at that time and after advice from both the commission and her family — and especially an apology from the accused — she decided to close the case. The man, meanwhile, was transferred as AD programming of AIR Shimla.

Representational image. Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

Representational image. Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

That experience, Pathania said, made her wary in Kumar’s case — she “wanted to first get safely home” before she confronted him. She also said she feared a previous record would not only prejudice the company against her but also result in a repeat of the intimidation she felt during the process of her complaint.

Pathania filed a complaint with the Internal Complaints Committee (now known as the IC). She also filed an FIR against Kumar on 29 August 2016. She said an IC enquiry report in February 2017 — a copy of which Firstpost has reviewed — found no merit in her case due to lack of evidence. It has been over two years since the incident and the casual announcer said she has not found work with Dharamshala AIR again. She runs a small boutique in the town and said it has been an uphill battle to get work.

As the Indian #MeToo movement gathers steam, and influential names are outed by women fed up with sluggish due process, the sexist work culture at offices that has enabled predators to operate with impunity, has continuously come up for review.

The Times of India reported that nine women employees of AIR from Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh have lost their jobs after complaining of sexual harassment against the station’s assistant director (programming) Ratnakar Bharti. However, similar stories from women in other centres — Kurukshetra, Dharamshala and Obra — prove that the problem is far more widespread. Firstpost spoke to three women who narrated accounts of sexual misconduct and lack of reparation — even after going through the process of filing complaints with the IC, and in some cases, despite registering police complaints.

In Pathania’s case, the ICC, in its final report, reprimanded both Kumar and Pathania for calls made at odd hours and asked why she did not raise an alarm when the incident inside the dubbing room happened. On being contacted, Kumar said the allegations against him were “completely false”.

“She has lodged a court case under Section 354 (assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty) against me. It’s completely false. She has a problematic nature and had lodged a similar case against a programme head but later she compromised. She was upset because she was not being allotted duty. After the incident she claims happened, I myself approached the IC telling them that she had said she’ll commit suicide if she wasn’t given work. She wanted to call a meeting of all casual announcers and wanted a public apology. Why should I say sorry? I had done nothing wrong. I did go into the room, but I have not touched her,” he said. Pathania denied that she had ever threatened suicide, though a mention of it is in the ICC report.

On being contacted, Santosh Rishi, who was a member of the ICC at that time said that she would not be able to comment on the case. “Our job was to maintain confidentiality, go through all the evidence, ensure that no injustice was done and pass it on to the directorate,” she said.

Ruma Guleria, an advocate and an AIR casual announcer of Dharamsala at that time, was tasked to appear on behalf of the AIR National Union of Casual Announcers/Comperer to look at the evidence. “I wasn’t there when the incident happened. I heard of it the next day and when I asked for the CCTV footage, they refused. Video footage of around 20 to 25 minutes was found deleted. As far as I remember there were no cameras in the dubbing room. But there was one at the entrance,” she said. She said she found footage between approximately 3:15 and 3:35 pm — the time during which Pathania claimed the incident occurred — was missing.

A senior radio jockey with AIR’s FM Gold channel in Delhi said, “Prasar Bharti had given an submission before the Delhi HC that they have installed CCTV cameras in AIR Delhi studios in 2013. Why did they not install these in AIR’s different stations across the country? Instances of sexual harassment can take place in any station.”

On being asked why the CCTV footage was missing, Garinder Thakur, who is the programme head of AIR Dharamshala, said: “There was a reason given at that time by the station head, an authentic, technical reason. Also, the officer named was transferred… he isn’t working here anymore. The committee took a decision and closed the case. We have nothing to do with any court cases going on. Whosoever is responsible will not be spared and government machinery will decide that.”

***

At AIR Obra in Uttar Pradesh, casual announcer Shanti Verma, 43, said she faced sexual harassment repeatedly during her tenure.

Verma said in 2010, the duty officer during evening transmission, one Sri Krishna, asked her for a kiss. When she avoided responding, he later entered the room and put on a CD. “I didn’t know what the CD was about. He fast forwarded to a portion and I was stunned to see that it was a blue film. He even tried to place his hand on my thigh,” Verma told Firstpost over the phone. She lodged an internal complaint, following which Sri Krishna was transferred. “He would message me constantly; say ‘I miss you’.”

As per Verma’s account, the Obra station seemed to have had severe lapses in the basic protocols that keep women safe. She said during the same year, a librarian, Suresh Chandra  Nirala, showed her a nude magazine following which she stopped going to the library. She had mentioned this too in her complaint to AIR, a copy of which Firstpost has seen.

#MeToo on Scribd" href="https://www.scribd.com/document/392210212/MeToo#from_embed" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener"> #MeToo by

Earlier, she said her husband was witness to the fact that officials of the station were watching a blue film in the control room. When he protested, he was thrown out by the guard, Verma said.

In March 2016, she was on duty during the 9.30-10.30 hour programme when a guard standing nearby made Verma acutely uncomfortable by staring at her. When she expressed her discomfort, Verma said the official present at that time, a Subhash Mishra, dismissed her concerns and told her the guard had “every right to be there”.

Following a heated exchange of words, Verma said the guard assaulted her. She also says Mishra pulled her arm, leading to her dress being torn. She dialed the 1090 women’s helpline number from the office itself. The next day she lodged a formal complaint with AIR, following which she filed an FIR. She also accused the current station head GP Nirala of making an obscene comment about her. “He commented that my breasts have started to bloom,” Verma said.

On being contacted, GP Nirala, the current station head of Obra AIR, acknowledged the 2016 incident and said Mishra was transferred to Jammu and Kashmir following it.

“I was away on leave when the incident took place. Had I been there, I assure you it would not have happened. I tried several times so that an amicable compromise is reached,” Nirala told Firstpost over the phone. He said he had no knowledge of any incident involving Sri Krishna or Suresh Chandra Nirala since it was before his tenure.

“She’s (Verma) is a very good announcer. Ask her how much I favoured her. I have gone to her house also a few times to persuade her to settle the matter amicably. I have never made any obscene comment towards her,” he said.

When asked if he was aware that officials have been accused of watching pornographic films and drinking at the station, Nirala said he wasn’t aware of any such thing. “I haven’t seen this, and I don’t drink,” he said.

***

In Kurukshetra, an internal committee found no merit in the complaint of one Tammana Mahendra, 29, a Baalsabha casual compere of AIR, who said remarks made by a former programme executive of that station made her uncomfortable.

In her complaint dated 25 August 2015, Mahendra referred to an incident from 2014; her younger brother had been hospitalised, he was in a coma, and Mahendra says she was under severe mental stress. She met senior AIR official Shivendra Srivastava at the Kurukshetra station, to see if she could get regular assignments. Srivastava asked her to do OB duty; specifically, a story on eve-teasing.

“Srivastava asked me if I knew what eve-teasing was. I told him that every woman knew what the term meant, having experienced some form of it in their lifetime. He then asked if I knew what rape was. He went on to explain in great detail why rapes happen, the mindset of parents who register boys and girls in separate schools. I told him the subject was making me uncomfortable, and my topic was ‘eve-teasing’ anyway,” Mahendra told Firstpost.

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She said Srivastava went to also state that rapes occur with less frequency as compared to India “since men and women were accustomed to seeing each other’s private parts”. Mahendra reiterated how uncomfortable she was in the course of this exchange. She explained that she was in no state of mind to lodge a complaint, due to her brother’s ill-health. “Also since he (Srivastava) was the main official, who would I complain to? So when he was transferred, I complained to the station head,” she said. Firstpost has seen a copy of the complaint.

On being contacted, Srivastava said he was saddened by the allegation and paying the price for trying to raise awareness about a subject at the heart of women’s safety. “She is just like my daughter, I have led a spotless life and career. Her friend was also there when this happened. All I wanted was to do a show since at that time a lot of cases of molestations were happening in Kurukshetra and I wanted to raise awareness in public interest,” he said. Srivastava said he was the programme head at that time. “She is a very good girl, and I am a conscientious, sensitive and sensible man. My life has been spotless and this will haunt me forever. I’m not ashamed of anything. She didn’t even tell me if she was uncomfortable, she should have told me. Many months later she filed the complaint.”

The committee that looked into the matter, observed that there “are some small issues in the office due to that ideologies do not match among the casual announcers and officials which affects the proper functioning of the office [sic]. The ICC advised the complainant to report such incidents within three months of an incident or immediately after an incident and observed that she had reported this issue after eight months.”

Mahendra said another incident of workplace harassment left her shaken. She accused programme head Ajit Gill, named in her complaint, of stopping her duty allotment. She said one of her programmes was deleted. When she asked Gill about it, Mahendra says he shouted at her and threatened to stop her duty. Gill — Mahendra says — threw a duty register at her after scratching her name off it, and told her: “Aise hi main tumhare pet pe laat maar sakta hoon (I can take away your livelihood just like this),” she said.

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Srivastava said both Gill and he were transferred in 2015; Gill to Hamirpur and Srivastava to Kathua.

In a letter to the CEO of Prasar Bharti, Shabnam Khanam, the general secretary of the AIR National Union of Casual Announcers/Comperer, said she wanted to highlight the plight of her “female colleagues working in different stations of All India Radio across the country”.

Khanum told Firstpost at least 15 women casual announcers and presenters from different stations of AIR, have lost their jobs after complaining of sexual harassment by officials.

“They (AIR) protect their officers and transfer them,” Khanam said. “Even in the Shahdol case, why was he transferred, and not sacked or suspended?”

Firstpost has also reached out to F Sheheryar, DG, AIR, ex-officio member, Prasar Bharati Board, for a comment. This report will be updated when he responds.

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Network 18, of which Firstpost is a part, has received complaints of sexual harassment as well. The complaints which are within the purview of the workplace have been forwarded to our PoSH committee for appropriate action.

https://www.firstpost.com/india/metoo-women-allege-sexual-harassment-at-all-india-radios-dharamshala-obra-kurukshetra-stations-5495121.html

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MJ Akbar is accused of rape. Can we stop talking about his ‘legacy’?

Rape is a criminal offence and one of which the State can take suo motu cognisance

#MeToo,MJ Akbar
MJ Akbar or Tarun Tejpal — and whoever comes next — cannot and must not be mythologised as brooding men of intensity with great achievements and a few minor chinks in their armour.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)

Now that MJ Akbar, former external affairs minister (and bizarrely still a Member of Parliament), has been charged with rape by US-based journalist, Pallavi Gogoi, will the apologists in our fraternity finally zip up? I have spent the last few weeks dismayed by the responses of several senior colleagues. I have argued publicly with the women among them — Tavleen Singh, Manjeet Kriplani, Seema Mustafa — because I looked up to them as trailblazers of their generation. To see them mock the #MeToo movement, and worse, attack the women speaking up has been surreal. Their tweets reflected a medieval misogyny with comments that blamed the women instead of the perpetrators of harassment and abuse. Will they now be embarrassed into retracting these remarks? Will they apologise?

As for the men, too many senior male colleagues, who are contemporaries of Akbar, have been mealy-mouthed in their condemnation. It was only when the momentum of #MeToo became inescapable and woman after woman came forward that you saw more male editors ready to take a stand. In other words, they spoke only when it was risk-free to do so and after the women had done their work for them. At least a dozen women who have either levelled charges or other women who have said they are ready to testify to back the accounts of these women, have provided fence sitters with enough parachutes for a safe landing just in case there was turbulence. The fact is that even one woman’s account of credible allegations should have been enough. Women should not need the safety of numbers to find support and empathy. Yet you see a similar reluctance and diffidence in taking a stand with the other men named by women in the #MeToo revelations: Suhel Seth, Vinod Dua, Jatin Das, Kiran Nagarkar, Vikas Bahl and many more. The message this sends to women is: Find yourself multiple co-complainants if you want to be taken seriously. While this may be inevitable, it also patently unjust.

But while blatant sexism can be confronted and argued with, the most disturbing dimension of the #MeToo debate in India has been the instinct of so many commentators to cast these men in the role of damaged and ‘’flawed’’ individuals who simultaneously represent both brilliance and baseness. Sorry, but this is a load of self-serving nonsense. I can’t bear to read one more tweet or op-ed on Akbar’s epigrammatic turn of phrase or blazing talent as an editor. We saw exactly the same conflicted social and peer group response when Tarun Tejpal was accused of rape.

Akbar or Tejpal — and whoever comes next — cannot and must not be mythologised as brooding men of intensity with great achievements and a few minor chinks in their armour. This is not Fountainhead and they are not Howard Roark. This is real life where the starkness of the violations they are alleged to have committed must be met without ifs, buts, alsos and maybes. The constant demand for a “fuller narrative’’; the drawing room laments at the end of great careers — it is almost as if no matter what men do, there is an institutional indulgence when it comes to sexual violation. In an otherwise unsparing age of instant judgment and polarised opinions, can you explain why there are so many calls to separate the art from the artist? Why is there such a concerted effort at legacy building for the Akbars and Tejpals of the news media? Look no further than America where the massive body of work by Charlie Rose or Kevin Spacey or Harvey Weinstein collapsed into instant oblivion after rape and abuse stories surfaced in the media.

In India, too, this clumsy and shameful romanticisation of men named in the #MeToo movement must stop. Sure, it can be tough when you personally know the people concerned — many of them have been in our social and professional circles of interaction — and an initial awkwardness is natural. But to keep dwelling on Nagarkar’s writing, Dua’s television prowess, Seth’s networking or Das’s painting is to deflect from the main issue. And to remain silent is to be complicit.

Rape is a criminal offence and one that the state can take suo motu cognisance of. Nor must it be bound by the statute of limitations. The Goa police acted on its own in the Tejpal rape case well before the complainant came forward. The National Commission For Women wrote to the Goa police based on media reports. Pallavi Gogoi’s chronicle underlines that Akbar’s resignation as minister is hardly enough. Not just is his criminal defamation case against Priya Ramani (who first named him) a cruel joke; he must be expelled from the BJP and from Parliament. And then investigators must take over. For all those who say due process — yes, that is the due process we expect. Meanwhile, spare us anecdotes of his glory days as an editor. We don’t care.

HT

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