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Bihar -NREGA Sangharsh Morcha Condemns arrest of Activist, Sanjay Sahni


NREGA Sangharsh Morcha strongly condemns the arrest of Sanjay Sahni in Muzaffarpur, Bihar on 21 August and the police lathi charge on other members on Samaj Parivartan Shakti Sanghathan (SPSS) who were protesting outside the office of the district’s Deputy Development Commissioner (DDC). Sudha Devi of the Sangathan was badly injured on the head. Other Sangathan members who were hit include Indu Devi, Yoshoda Devi, Gulab Devi and Girija Devi.

SPSS (also known as MGNREGA Watch) is a collective of about 10,000 rural workers of Muzaffarpur. The Sangathan has been facing continuous harassment at the hands of the local administration because of their fight against corruption in government programmes. The harassment has taken the form of threats, violence and false FIRs against members of the Sanghthan.

Seven false FIRs have been lodged against various members of the Sangathan. The charges include holding government officials captive, “maar-pitai”, confiscating government documents, creating obstacles in routine government work. In February 2017 an FIR was lodged against Sanjay Sahni, the founder of the Sangathan under The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The most ludicrous FIR is the one filed on 31 March 2017 in which Sanjay Sahni has been accused of attempting to murder Shambhunath Singh, the Panchayat Rozgar Sewak of Ratnauli Gram Panchayat in Kurhani block. Sanjay Sahni was actually in Ranchi that day.

An independent team had conducted a fact finding mission about the FIRs and presented incontrovertible evidence of the false nature of the 31 March FIR. The others stand on very weak ground, with the incongruent testimonies of a small set of government officials weighed against consistent accounts of a large number of SPSS workers and other local actors. The local bureaucracy routinely employs FIRs as a strategic tool to quash and silence people’s voices and struggles for justice and are unabashed about being involved in such acts. The fact finding report was handed in person to the DGP, Bihar, in Patna in July 2017 who had issued a written directive to the DIG Muzaffarpur to follow up.

NREGA Sangharsh Morcha stands in solidarity with SPSS and strongly condemns the harassment of its members. It demands the immediate release of Sanjay Sahni, compensation for SPSS members lathi charged by the police and legal action against persons responsible for the harassment.

For more information, please contact Indu Devi (9576114607) or Manjushree Devi (9708901940) or write at [email protected] Contact numbers of Muzaffarpur police: 94318 22336 and 9431277673.

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Bihar – NREGA activist Sanjay Sahni arrested and Cops Lathi Charge protesting workers #WTFnews

NREGA activist Sanjay Sahni’s arrest in Bihar: Cops lathi charge NREGA workers protesting against “false” FIRs

Sanjay Sahni leading NREGA workers’ march, Muzaffarnagar

The arrest of Sanjay Sahni, a young social worker who has established a Muzaffarnagar-wide movement in Bihar in order to empower people to access public services under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), public distribution system (PDS) and pension, is all set to snowball into a major controversy.


Sahni was arrested on August 21, the police lathi charged members of the Samaj Sangharsh Morcha (SPSS), a civil rights organization he has founded, for protesting against the police action outside the Muzaffarnagar district’s deputy development commissioner’s office.
In the melee, say eye-witnesses, Sudha Devi, an activist attached with the SPSS, was badly injured on the head, and other members who were hit include Indu Devi, Yoshoda Devi, Gulab Devi and Girija Devi.
Sahni, 36 leads SPSS, which is popularly known as NREGA Watch.

A collective of about 10,000 rural workers of Muzaffarpur who take up NREGA work for their livelihood, its office bearers say, the organization has been facing “continuous harassment” at the hands of the local administration because of their fight against corruption in government programmes.
An electrician in Janakpuri in Delhi and educated up to class seven, activists say, Sahni’s is a “a remarkable and rare story” of a person who “overcame a series of hurdles to fight corruption, mobilize -violent, non-partisan means.”

“The image of him firing workers and establish a Muzaffarpur-wide movement to empower people to access public services using non up a laptop in his mud-and-brick one-room hut by a cook-stove is both enduring and emblematic of a movement that has embraced technology like few others”, a civil society source insists.

“The harassment has taken the form of threats, violence and false FIRs against members of the NREGA Watch”, the organization insists in a statement following the arrest of Sahni and the lathi charge on its protesting workers.
So, far, seven FIRs, termed “false” by NREGA Watch, have been lodged against various members of the SPSS. The charges include holding government officials captive, “maar-pitai” (beating), confiscating government documents, creating obstacles in routine government work, and so on.

In February 2017 FIR was lodged against Sahni, under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. “The most ludicrous FIR is the one filed on March 31, 2017 in which Sanjay Sahni has been accused of attempting to murder Shambhunath Singh, Panchayat Rozgar Sewak of Ratnauli Gram Panchayat in Kurhani block.Sanjay Sahni was actually in Ranchi that day”, says NREGA Watch.

According to NREGA Watch, an independent team has already conducted a fact-finding mission about the FIRs, presenting “incontrovertible evidence of the false nature of March 31 FIR”, adding, “The others stand on very weak ground, with the incongruent testimonies of a small set of government officials weighed against consistent accounts of a large number of SPSS workers and other local actors.”

Claims NREGA Watch, “The local bureaucracy routinely employs FIRs as a strategic tool to quash and silence people’s voices and struggles for justice and is unabashed about being involved in such acts. The fact finding report was handed in person to the DGP, Bihar, in Patna in July 2017 who had issued a written directive to the DIG Muzaffarpur to follow up.”

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Bihar floods, August 2017: Support victims #mustshare


Bihar Floods 2017: give basic supplies:food, medicines, tarpaulins to flood affected families of Araria, Katihar

 (This campaign does not receive foreign money, and all donations in dollars will be refunded to donors)

Victims need your help in getting basic supplies (food, medicines, clothing)

This is an urgent appeal to help the victims of sudden floods in North Bihar. In the floods over the last two weeks, Araria, Kishanganj and Purnia have been worst affected by floods. Twenty people have died in Araria alone. About 65 lakhs people in Bihar have been affected as per the government reports across twelve districts. Three towns of Araria district namely, Forbesganj, Jogbani and Araria are witnessing unprecedented levels of water. Our own home was inundated and we can say that what we are going through is much less than what people residing in villages are facing. Flood is a regular feature of North Bihar but this year seems exceptional in its intensity. This reminds one of the catastrophe of 2008 floods.

Rail connection has been disrupted. Jogbani station is flooded. Many villages have lost road connections. Army and IAF teams have joined the NDRF team to rescue people and help with the crisis. Lakhs of people are stranded and have taken shelter on canals, school buildings and places of higher altitude. People were not forewarned and that has made the situation worse. The cause of the floods is heavy rains in the catchment area of several rivers that flow in this region (catchment area is in Nepal) and that causing breach in embankments of rivers and canals.

Relief will have to be a phased effort. Immediate Relief Items that people have asked for:

Round 1. Torch , Candles, Match Boxes, Dry Ration (Sattu, Chuda, Gud) and Basic Medicines

Round 2. (after water recedes a little): Plastic sheets, clothing ( sari, lungi, vest, sanitary napkins and such items), Basic Medicines

Relief also to include health camps, warm blankets for winter as people have lost most of their belongings.

We are planning to do relief operations. We plan to reach at least 10 thousand people through your support.

JJSS is actively in the flood affected districts, trying to provide dry ration packets. (photo above)

Safai karmi families have lost their dwellings to the floods. They were living near the canal which broke and waters flooded Araria. So far, we have been able to reach out to them with as ack of clothes and footwear from Goonj. JJSS has been distributing dry rations in villagers were road connectivity is broken, like Hans Ganj, Dand Khora blocks of Katihar, Raniganj, Sikti, Palasi, Kursakata, Araria blocks of Araria.
We have received support from many quarters. Your contributions at this hour are invaluable

Bihar Flood Relief update – Want to donate in kind?

Many friends are offering ways to collect and distribute essentials One can drop essentials here.:Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) Address: Ashiana Chamber, 7th Floor , Exhibition Road, Patna (Bihar), (Time: 3 PM to 7 PM)

Contact persons of those organizing such collections in Patna:

Nivedita- 9835029152

Mona- 9835486721

Tanwir Akhtar – 9308745797

Nasiruddin- 9450931764

About us:

We are a collective of poor labourers and peasants in rural Bihar. Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan (JJSS) is a registered trade union of unorganised sector workers, and works on the philosophy of sangharsh (Struggle) and Nirmaan (Creation).

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Maharashtra – PIL to speed up the law to regulate medical sector


PIL to speed up clinical legislation
The petition states that private hospitals within the same area charge variable amounts for the same treatment, which needs to be regulated
Lawyer petitions HC to finalise Maharashtra Clinical Establishments Bill with regulation of hospital rates

A Mumbai-based lawyer has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court (HC), urging for a provision to be added to the draft Maharashtra Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Bill, 2014, so that there is transparency and uniformity in the rates charged by different hospitals. The lawyer also sought for the bill to be finalised into an Act at the earliest in order to benefit the society at large. The draft had been submitted in December 2014 by an expert committee, but has not been tabled in the Assembly for discussion yet.

The PIL, filed by advocate Jyoti Tiwari last Thursday (August 10), states that the draft bill has lacunae including the absence of regulation of rates charged by different hospitals and clinics. The petition states that private hospitals within the same area charge variable amounts for the same treatment. “This PIL relates to the Act that was enacted and adopted by the central government in 2010. The same Act has been adopted by many states in the country, but has been pending in Maharashtra for long. Even an expert committee was appointed by the state government to make the draft of the Act. But, it still has not been tabled in the legislature,” rued Tiwari.

However, some of the regulations in the PIL have been opposed by the Indian Medical Association (IMA). Dr Prakash Marathe, president of IMA’s Pune chapter, said, “After the Bombay Nursing Homes Registration Act, the Centre has now passed the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act on a national level. West Bengal has implemented the Act in a shoddy manner, including penalties like imprisonment for minor mistakes by the medical community. The Karnataka government is following the same Act blindly, which is why it was opposed by the IMA. The Act will be welcomed by us if there are no stringent actions against the doctors, like heavy penalty, imprisonment and so on.”

Dr Ananth Phadke, health activist and one of the members of the expert committee which drafted the bill for Maharashtra, shared, “We had raised our concerns over the draft as there were no rate regulations. But it was voted out by a majority of the expert members. We had asked the rates to be regulated for the indoor patients and exempted for the outdoor patients. The expenses of the outdoor patient don’t matter, but the indoor patient might incur huge expenses by way of bills. We had even asked them to exempt the rates for patients who are admitted to the deluxe and super deluxe rooms as they can afford the costs. It’s the rates of patients admitted in general wards that should be regulated, but they didn’t include that in the draft.”

█ The Centre has now passed the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act on a national level. The Act will be welcomed by us if there are no stringent actions against doctors, like heavy penalty, imprisonment and so on

— Dr Prakash Marathe, President, IMA Pune chapter

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Chhattisgarh: 3 Infants Die in Raipur Hospital After Drunk Staff Cuts off Oxygen Supply #WTFnews

The hospital suspended the operator who is in-charge of the oxygen supply, after he was found in an inebriated condition while on duty.

Chhattisgarh, Chhattigarh government hospital, Chhattigarh hospital deaths, children deaths, The hospital suspended the operator who is in-charge of the oxygen supply, after he was found in an inebriated condition while on duty. (Source: Express photo)


Meanwhile, Chief Minister Raman Singh has ordered a probe and expressed regret over the deaths.

The secretary of health and director of health services reached the hospital and are monitoring the situation. Raipur North MLA Shrichand Sundarani also rushed to the spot after hearing the news.

Among the victims was a five-day-old baby who was suffering from a heart condition. The boy’s father,  Prakash Vishwakarma, a resident of Balaghat, said his child had a hole in his heart.

Earlier this month, over 70 children died in Gorakhpur’s Baba Raghav Das Medical College allegedly due to lack of oxygen supply, a claim denied by authorities. A probe was initiated by the state government and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said those responsible for the deaths will be strictly dealt with.  The BRD college principal Dr Rajeev Mishra was suspended and removed Dr Kafeel Khan as the nodal officer for the Department of Pediatrics.

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End Bullying and Shaming Tactics in ‘Sawachh Bharat ‘ campaign


Salute The Memory Of Comrade Zafar


Comrade Zafar gave his life defending the dignity of the poor and of women – in the process exposing the ugly face of Prime Minister Modi’s Swachh Bharat campaign.

Universally liked and respected by everyone in the Bagwasa Kachchi Basti, Comrade Zafar had for a couple of decades been spearheading efforts to get the basti regularized, to achieve basic sanitation and water facilities for the basti, and to prevent eviction from the basti.

The Swachh Bharat campaign claims to encourage people in rural and urban India to give up the widespread practice of open defecation (which has serious public health consequences) and switch to toilet use.

But the Pratapgarh episode culminating in the lynching of Comrade Zafar highlights the Government-led campaign’s callousness, cruelty and contempt towards the poor.

Comrade Zafar and the people of the Bagwasa basti were not among those resisting toilet use – on the contrary Comrade Zafar and the colony’s women had submitted memorandums and led delegations seeking funds from the Government to build individual and community toilets and ensure proper water and cleaning facilities for such toilets. Instead of welcoming their demand and acceding to it, the elected Chairman of the municipality – a BJP leader Kamlesh Dosi – tore up their memorandum and mockingly told them to get rid of eviction of the entire colony instead of trying to provide toilets for it.

Meanwhile, every morning, in the absence of proper toilets, the colony’s residents had no option but to defecate in the open: and the municipality personnel would harass, bully, and shame them for so doing! Comrade Zafar and the colony’s women had specifically demanded in their memorandum (submitted to the offices of the municipality and the Collector days before Comrade Zafar was killed) that the coercive tactics be suspended at least until funds be provided so that toilets can be built and functional. But funds were denied, the colony lacked both toilets and water, and yet the poor were shamed and bullied and the women sexually harassed for being ‘dirty’ and uncouth enough to defecate in the open! Not only are the poor condemned to live in the most appalling and inhuman conditions – they are mocked, bullied and shamed for those conditions.

A story in (‘Dirty Backstory to ‘Swachh Bharat’ Lynching: No Toilets, No Water and the Threat of Eviction’ by Shruti Jain, 22/06/2017) tells how there is one single community toilet with ten commodes in the Bagwasa basti which houses 3000 residents – and that toilet has no water, the flushes do not work and consequently the toilets are clogged and unusable. (Whenever these toilets are ever cleaned, it will be a job of manual scavenging which is supposed to be illegal but which continues to widespread. The Swachh Bharat campaign claims eradication of manual scavenging as one of its goals: but makes zero effort in this direction.)

The Rajasthan Chief Minister, police and Government are trying to claim, based on the post mortem report, that Zafar just happened to die of a heart attack and that he was not attacked by government personnel at all. But it is clear from eyewitness accounts and even from the selective, short video clips released by the government personnel themselves, that Zafar did not just happen to drop dead and suffer a ‘demise’ on a morning walk. He had no history of heart problems or hypertension. He was undoubtedly in an altercation and scuffle with Government personnel minutes before his death in an attempt to prevent the personnel from photographing and videographing women of the basti while they were defecating. Multiple eyewitnesses from amongst the women bear witness to the fact that he was beaten to death by the personnel for offering resistance to their bullying and sexual harassment of women.

The killing of Comrade Zafar by Government personnel in the name of the Swacch Bharat campaign has brought a host of issues about the draconian and undemocratic character of the campaign to a head. Liberation takes a closer look at the stated aims and goals of the campaign, its methods and its performance.


Zafar’s lynching should come as no surprise, given the tactics adopted by the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (henceforth SBA) as well as by government campaigns against open defecation predating SBA. Under the SBA, police are government personnel instructed to form vigilante mobs to patrol villages at dawn and dusk to harass and bully people defecating in the open, with a view to shaming them. These vigilante mobs are instructed to whistle, cat-call, clap; groups of women follow men and groups of men follow women and photograph/videograph them when they are defecating. These mobs grab the lotas (mugs of water) and shout slogans. These are the tactics to which Zafar objected.

Such tactics have resulted in dehumanising violence and have sparked social conflict and sharpened social divisions all over the country. One elderly man in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh in December 2016, for example, was beaten and forced to clean his feces with his hands by civic body authorities – and a video of the whole degrading scene was uploaded by Ujjain Municipal Corporation (UMC) deputy commissioner Sunil Shah in a WhatsApp group. (‘Villager forced to clean his feces with hands in Ujjain as part of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’, Salil Mekaad, Times News Network, December 29, 2016)

In Maharajpur village in Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh in October 2016, Vipin Sahu was dragged out of his home, beaten and stabbed to death by a mob in front of the whole village because he had delayed construction of a toilet in his home and has sought more time till Diwali to do so. (‘Man killed for buying time to build toilet’, Rashmi Drolia, TNN, October 8, 2016)

Such tactics predate the SBA of the Modi Government. A report by Liz Chatterjee in the Guardian (‘Time to acknowledge the dirty truth behind community-led sanitation’, The Guardian, 9 June 2011) details the coercive tactics adopted by government officials in Karnataka to deter open defecation: “A local official proudly testified to the extremes of the coercion. He had personally locked up houses when people were out defecating, forcing them to come to his office and sign a contract to build a toilet before he would give them the keys. Another time, he had collected a woman’s faeces and dumped them on her kitchen table.”


Government campaigns against open defecation, including SBA, openly instigate and encourage violence against women. The Madhya Pradesh Government in 2013 titled its campaign to end open defecation, ‘Maryada Abhiyan’. The word ‘Maryada’ in Hindi signifies women’s sense of dignity and/or womanly shame, and a campaign booklet issued by the MP Government harps on the theme of how open defecation threatens women’s dignity and puts women in danger of sexual harassment. In the process, however, the booklet itself openly instigates sexual harassment of women!

The booklet (found at this link asks people to imagine a young woman defecating in the open and being watched by voyeuristic men. It even carries a voyeuristic drawing to this effect. It does not ask why any men watching should not be punished for voyeurism – a crime under Section 354 C of the Indian Penal Code!

Instead the booklet itself prescribes such voyeurism and sexual harassment, by asking ‘Sanitation monitoring committees’ (basically vigilante mobs) to patrol villages, whistle at people defecating in the open, and take photographs and videos of open defecators ‘with the threat and possibility that the photos might be displayed or the videos shown.’ The district administration of Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje’s own constituency of Jhalawar in June 2016 asked teachers to conduct similar patrols and take photos and videos of open defecators (‘Rajasthan Wants Teachers To Make Early Morning Rounds, Click Pics To Check Open Defecation’, Huffington Post, 06/06/2016).

Do PM Modi and the various State Governments not know that taking or showing photos or videos, or even ordering such photos or videos to be taken, is a crime of voyeurism under Section 354 C of the IPC (see box)? Chief Ministers, Sanitation Ministers, as well as local administrators could and should be booked under Section 354 C for ordering and approving voyeurism in the name of SBA. The SBA tries to create fear in women that open defecation will expose them to voyeurism and sexual violence – and then unleashes government-sponsored voyeurism and violence on them!

The booklet harps on patriarchal notions of ‘maryada’ as meaning the enforced imprisonment of women behind veils and inside four walls of the home. It suggests that in meetings of groups of villagers, mothers-in-law be asked why their daughter-in-law covers her head while sending her out to bare her bottom. An advertisement by one of the celebrity ambassadors of SBA, actress Vidya Balan, also raises the same question. One of the most common SBA slogans is Bahu-betiyan door na jayen, ghar par hi shauchalay banvayen “Daughters-in-law, daughters should not go far, construct a toilet in your house.” In the process, the campaign endorses, invokes and reinforces the notion that young women and daughters-in-law should be made to wear the veil and prevented from going outdoors to maintain ‘maryada.’ Instead of emphasizing that open defecation harms health of people, especially children, it is more obsessed with suggesting that open defecation harms patriarchy!

The SBA’s assumption that women do not like to go outside the house to defecate is misplaced anyway. The Sanitation Quality Use Access and Trends (or SQUAT) survey 2014 found that many women in fact cherished open defecation because it offered an opportunity to go out of the house: “A young daughter-in-law in Haryana, whose household owns a latrine, explained that: The reason that [I and my sisters-in-law] go outside [to defecate] is that we get to wander a bit…you know, we live cooped up inside.”

Moreover the survey found that it was a myth that open defecation increases the danger of sexual violence, noting that: “Of 1,046 women interviewed by the SQUAT survey, 4.3% told us that while going to defecate, they had been the victim of someone attempting to molest them. Of the same group, 7.6% reported that this had happened to them while going to the market. …The point is that it is not a serious policy response to these facts to suggest that women should stop going to markets.”

Instead of appealing to patriarchy and using patriarchal violence and shaming to deter open defecation, campaigns should aim to raise consciousness about the dangers of open defecation to public health. As the SQUAT survey notes, patriarchal messages “give villagers the impression that latrine use is for women, but the message that the government should be sending is that latrine use is for everyone. Men’s faeces as well as women’s faeces spread germs that make other people sick.”


The public shaming tactics of the SBA and of other government campaigns too reek of contempt for the poor and expose the attitude of governments towards the poor. The latest example is the Rajasthan Government order instructing local administrations to paint a bright yellow sign on their homes stating “I am poor and I receive food from National Food Security Act” on the homes of BPL families. Like the SBA tactics, such tactics too amount to shaming the poor for their poverty.

In many states, rations are withheld until families construct toilets. Madhya Pradesh enacted a law barring those not having a flush toilet in their homes from contesting in Panchayat elections. Such coercive tactics withholding basic facilities and rights amount to grave human rights violations.

The SBA has neither succeeded in ending open defecation nor has it achieved its other stated goals such as ending manual scavenging. It has not even made any serious effort to ensure the rights and dignity of sanitation workers – instead practices amounting to manual scavenging continue to thrive all over India, tacitly endorsed and enforced by governments.

Bezwada Wilson of the Safai Karmachari Andolan asks, “Why does this government and Modi not make investments in cleaning technology?” and fears that the SBA’s focus on toilet construction minus structural changes to tackle and end manual scavenging will “simply create more unsanitary latrines that will require more manual scavengers to clean them.” (‘Down the Drain: How the Swachh Bharat Mission is heading for failure’, Sagar, 1 May 2017, The Caravan)


Understanding the answer to this question is essential if we want to persuade people to make any lasting change in this practice.

The SQUAT survey found that while poverty and resulting lack of land or money for constructing toilets, as well as lack of water for maintenance of toilets are no doubt factors, they are still not the main factors responsible for open defecation in India. Its researchers observe that 70% of rural households in India do not have a toilet or latrine, while “in rural sub-Saharan Africa, where people are, on average, poorer, less educated, and less likely to have access to an improved water source than people in rural India, only about 35% of people defecate in the open without a toilet or latrine. In rural Bangladesh, only 5% of people defecate in the open.” (‘Understanding open defecation in rural India: Untouchability, pollution, and latrine pits,’ EPW January 7, 2017, by Diane Coffey, Aashish Gupta, Payal Hathi, Dean Spears, Nikhil Srivastav, and Sangita Vyas)


The survey found that Indians across social sections do not prefer to use the small twin-pit latrines (for which Governments give a Rs 12000 subsidy to rural Indians), even if these are constructed. The reason is that these latrines require periodic manual pit emptying – a practice associated with manual scavenging, associated with Dalits and consequently considered degrading and polluting. Non-Dalits will not empty the pits, and Dalits no longer want to be employed to do such labour. If affordable twin pit latrines are constructed, one of the pits can be allowed to decompose into compost while the other is in use – emptying decomposed waste is not manual scavenging. But it still carries the social stigma associated with degrading labour, and is thus shunned.

People are willing to use the larger and more expensive latrines with septic tanks – or the ones that use bio-digester gas technology to ensure that no residue is left in the pits. Since the Government does not fund such latrines which are relatively more expensive than small-pit latrines, people much prefer open defecation – even considering it to be healthier and more dignified than using small-pit latrines.

To this, add the fact that most poor people have experienced public latrines at bus stops – where they tend to be overflowing with faeces, stinking and lacking in water. Naturally, they tend to associate latrines with dirt and open defecation with fresh air and health – all the more so if their homes or colonies lack proper water, sewage and sanitation facilities.

We must remember here that caste prejudices relating to sanitation are by no means limited to Indians of the underprivileged classes. People who are privileged enough to have flush toilets in their homes also share those prejudices, as displayed in the fact that most of them would not allow workers from oppressed castes who clean their toilets to eat or drink out of their utensils. (‘Survey finds practice of untouchability’, Rukmini S, The Hindu, November 13, 2014).

So, we have to remember that the poor prefer open defecation over small-pit latrines – they would probably not prefer open defecation over fully functional, modern flush latrines. Similarly in urban areas people defecate in the open when the community toilets provided are clogged with faeces and ill-maintained. The big, unspoken question with regard to community toilets and individual pit-latrines alike is – who will clean the toilets. Campaigns like SBA do not address this question because the answer would require them to confront the reality of manual scavenging done by Dalits.

Moreover, we must remember that those who can afford large-pit latrines with septic tanks in villages and flush latrines in towns and cities are those from more privileged classes and dominant castes. It is these relatively more privileged people who tend to be tasked with shaming the poorer and more underprivileged people for defecating in the open.


Internationally, Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is recognized as having achieved results in ending open defecation. CLTS involves educating communities to recognize the health hazards of open defecation, through campaigns that teach people to recognize that through open defecation “we are eating each other’s shit.” People from the communities are then mobilized to persuade others in the community to adopt toilet use. In its spirit CLTS is meant to be persuasive rather than coercive.

In India, CLTS practices have never seriously been adopted except in small pockets. However, it is a fact that even in other countries, CLTS campaigns too have been criticized for using tactics of public shaming and coercion.

It is high time that Indian people rose up against the tactics of vigilantism, public shaming, bullying and sexual harassment unleashed in the name of SBA. We have to recognize that a campaign to end open defecation can succeed only if it is able to convince and persuade people to voluntarily use toilets and shun open defecation. This calls for a multi-pronged approach in which shaming and coercion can have no part.

    • 1) Governments must educate about the health consequences of open defecation. Campaigns must focus on health rather than on notions of social shame, status, or patriarchal culture.

2) Government officials, elected representatives, and so on must lead by example in having, using and popularizing the kind of toilets they expect people to use. Using Amitabh Bachchan who has palatial toilets to shame the poor for open defecation must stop. Let the government officials, MLAs, MPs, etc use twin-pit latrines in their own homes and regularly clean these out themselves to show people that no stigma should be associated with the use and cleaning of such latrines. Such practices would truly be in the spirit of Gandhi who emphasized the need for people to clean their own toilets. And adopting and popularising such practices would be far more meaningful and effective than the photo-ops of politicians posing with brooms as part of SBA.

3) Governments must provide toilets that people are willing to use. This means that the campaigns must engage with people. If Governments find that people are simply not ready to use twin-pit latrines, they must then fund either bio-digester toilets (which are also quite cheap and cost-effective) or latrines with larger pits and septic tanks.

4) Governments must also ensure the availability of water in individual and community toilets alike. They must provide proper facilities for cleaning community toilets in both rural and urban India – facilities that provide the best and safest hygienic equipment for sanitation workers and do not in any way allow manual scavenging.

5) Governments must immediately declare a no-tolerance policy for any kind of naming-and-shaming, public humiliation, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment or coercion in the name of deterring open defecation. Defecation must be recognised as a human need – and people’s right to defecate with dignity, without fear or shame must be recognized as a human right. Any person or public official violating this right must face punishment.
Zafar’s lynching must serve as a wake-up call. No more bullying and coercion in the name of Swacch Bharat Abhiyan! Persuasion not coercion must be the rule for any campaign against open defecation.



The India Today channel conducted a sting operation

in which BJP leader and municipality Chairman Kamlesh Dosi boasted of releasing selective video clips to suggest that Zafar was the aggressor. The sting also showed doctors in the government hospital giving evasive responses to questions.

Kamlesh Dosi said in the sting operation that he was informed by his municipality officials at 7 am on 16 June that one of the municipality workers was bleeding due to an attack on the workers by Zafar. He said that he immediately instructed the officials to file an FIR against Zafar. He said that it was only after this that he heard that Zafar had fallen ill and needed to be taken to hospital.

But the FIRs filed by Zafar’s family and by the Government against Zafar tell a different story and belie Dosi’s version. The FIR filed by Zafar’s family shows that it was filed at 11.30 am on 16 June 2017, while the one filed by the Government against Zafar is clearly an afterthought, filed at 22.51 pm late at night on 16 June! It is quite obvious that the Government decided to file an FIR against Zafar only when they realized that national media was picking up the story of Zafar’s lynching and they needed to try and protect the accused Municipality Commissioner Ashok Jain and others by painting the victim, Zafar, as the aggressor!



(Here is what Section 354 C of IPC states about voyeurism)

Section 354C IPC: Any man who watches, or captures the image of a woman engaging in a private act in circumstances where she would usually have the expectation of not being observed either by the perpetrator or by any other person at the behest of the perpetrator or disseminates such image shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than one year, but which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine, and be punished on a second or subsequent conviction, with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years, but which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation I.— For the purpose of this section, “private act” includes an act of watching carried out in a place which, in the circumstances, would reasonably be expected to provide privacy and where the victim’s genitals, posterior or breasts are exposed or covered only in underwear; or the victim is using a lavatory; or the victim is doing a sexual act that is not of a kind ordinarily done in public.

Explanation 2.— Where the victim consents to the capture of the images or any act, but not to their dissemination to third persons and where such image or act is disseminated, such dissemination shall be considered an offence under this section.



As you know, CPI(ML) and AICCTU activist Comrade Zafar (55) was lynched to death on 16 June 2017 for defending poor women from attempts by Rajasthan government officials to take photos and videos of them in a state of undress. The women were forced to defecate in the open because the government had refused funds to construct toilets in their colony.

Comrade Zafar is survived by his wife Comrade Rashida, and daughters Rukhsar (who is married) and Sabaz (who is in Class X in high school). Comrade Rashida and even his young daughters are boldly fighting for justice. Comrade Rashida has refused a cheque of Rs 2 lakh as ‘compensation’ from the government officials who are covering up Zafar’s lynching and are using various threats to get Rashida to withdraw her police complaint. She is determined not to be silenced by such offers, and is demanding justice instead.

We appeal to you to contribute generously to Comrade Rashida to help her support herself and her family. Contributions can be sent directly to Comrade Rashida’s bank account:

Name- Rasida Bee w/o Zafar Khan

A/c No- 42310100020101

Name of Bank- Baroda Rajasthan Kshetriya Grameen Bank

Branch- Pratapgarh


The article orginally appeared

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 Jaitapur says a Resounding ‘Nako’ (No!) to French Nuclear Project

Thousands of men, women, and children from the farming, agro-trading, and fishing communities of Jaitapur in India’s picturesque Ratnagiri District in Maharashtra, today courted arrest en-masse, after a march from Sakhri Nate to Madban village – the site of the upcoming Jaitapur Nuclear Power Park (slated to be the world’s largest such nuclear power facility) – in the presence of heavily-armed state police personnel.

Sunday’s massive and entirely peaceful protest against the setting up of the Nuclear Power Plant in this ecologically-rich but fragile zone, is of a piece with several such protests and jail-bharo campaigns which have been organized by these local communities in previous years.

Speaking to, Satyajit Chavan, young leader of the local community’s protest group Jan Hakka Seva Samiti said – “it is shocking that the police used drones, hovering over the entire route of the demonstration and over our protest meeting, for the first time in our thoroughly peaceful protest that has been ongoing for years now. It is clearly a way for the state to project its power and intimidate people’s struggles. It is unfortunate that the right of collective and democratic movement enshrined in our constitution is being undermined so brazenly.” Satyajit also emphatically added that the protest in Jaitapur has been organised spontaneously by local people, and is not funded or co-ordinated by any political party.


“The banner of Jan Hakka Seva Samiti under which people assembled and registered their protest today is totally non-political. However, the media that had come to cover the protests interviewed only some leaders of political parties who just came their to show solidarity. In the past the media has used such occasions to portray the entire protest being anchored by Shiv Sena and other political groups, which is completely far from the reality”, Satyajit Chavan said. He is also a key leader of the National Alliance of Anti-Nuclear Movements(NAAM), a country-wide network of grassroots anti-nuke movements in India.

A solidarity letter sent by activists from France was read out at the protest in Jaitapur today, which highlighted the common struggle against nuclear lobbies dangerous profiteering:

“Far and close friends of the international anti-nuclear family !

You are not alone ! From various countries we watch carefully what is happening in Jaitapur, India.

Here from France we are impressed by your courageous actions that we totally support.
Here from France we spread the news on what you do (in French and in English for other international networks).

Here too, the central government is acting against the will of its own people and violating their basic right for a sane life at home.

Here too, there are many people wishing and working actively for the final death of the devil Areva.

Here too, this devil Areva is surviving until today only because the central government, without the agreement of the people, is giving to it non-stop billions of Euros coming directly from the tax-payers pockets.

Like yourself, as world citizens, we reclaim respect and justice for people and Nature as a first condition for a livable and even better world.

With full and renewable solidarity!”

More details about the protest and objections by the local community can be read here.

Photos courtesy: Fakir Mohammad Solkar

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Zika, birth defects, and government lies



In Puerto Rico, women and children caught in the middle of a crisis
Margaret Viggiani
August 2017

A mother cradles her infant who was born with a microcephaly, as noted by the abnormally small and creased skull. Photo credit: Ricardo Moraes / Reuters

In April 2017, Puerto Rican officials declared the Zika epidemic over. Furthermore, they claim of the 3,678 pregnant women infected with the virus, only 35 babies have been reported with Zika-related birth defects, or about 1 percent. It appears, at first blush, quite good news.

But probe a bit deeper and things just don’t add up. These reported figures are far below the average of other countries. They have Zika-related health issues in newborns at a rate of 5 percent.

What’s clear is that the Puerto Rican government initially underreported the problem. Possibly to help kick start the tourist industry, which accounts for 6-7 percent of the national economy.

Unfortunately, the one-two punch of economic recession and Zika epidemic has had devastating consequences. As with all crises, economic or medical, it’s the women and children who are in the crosshairs.

ABCs of Zika. The virus initially showed up in Uganda and Tanzania 50 years ago and has since moved across parts of Africa, Asia and Indonesia. The disease recently jumped the ocean to Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States.

It is carried by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and has the unique characteristic that it is also transmitted sexually. Until a vaccine or cure is approved, the only way to stop the spread of the disease is to eliminate the carrier insects and promote safe-sex practices such as male and female condoms. Religious objections, particularly from the Catholic Church, to family planning and abortion has helped spread the infection in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In Puerto Rico, El Salvador, and parts of Brazil, women have been diagnosed at a much higher rate than men. It’s possible that more females get tested for fear of the virus’ effects on pregnancy. Regardless, women make up the majority of known victims.

About 80 percent of those infected with Zika have mild, if any, symptoms — a rash, slight fever, joint aches and not much else. A few have profound illness, including paralysis. The biggest threat is to pregnant women who contract the virus. They have a 5 percent chance of miscarrying or brain-related birth defects. Many of the afflicted babies suffer from microcephaly which causes small heads and calcium deposits on the brain that affect hearing, eyesight and overall development.

In Puerto Rico there is a legitimate question whether the children born with microcephaly and other problems are acknowledged, but not officially reported, or if the mothers are not told of the diagnosis. Either scenario is a gross abuse of public trust.

Women and children last. Early detection and intervention is key. Babies with microcephaly should be evaluated by a pediatric neurologist and followed by a medical management team. Early intervention programs that involve physical, speech, and occupational therapists will help maximize abilities and minimize dysfunction. And medications can help control seizures and neuromuscular symptoms.

But let’s be real. The public healthcare system in Puerto Rico was gutted and privatized in the early ’90s, making quality medical care unavailable to the nearly half of the island’s populace that lives in poverty. Added to lack of access is the exorbitant cost of caring for children with brain damage. Estimates indicate it will average $4 million over the life of the child. Where is that money to come from? How are families supposed to cope?

As can be expected under capitalism, which always places profit over people, women bear the brunt of the burden. A lack of accessible and affordable medical care, including birth control and condoms, means unplanned pregnancies and poor pre-natal care. While abortion is legal in Puerto Rico the high cost can be prohibitive. And the lack of medical specialists — many leave the island for the United States to make a living — means there are fewer doctors available who can treat these children with special needs.

As one mom of a baby girl born with microcephaly said, “I just want her to be okay.” If only wishes could make the damage of a ravaged brain disappear. Unfortunately, they won’t. What is needed are services to assist these parents to provide for their families.

But it’s not coming from the tied-to-Uncle-Sam purse strings of this tiny island territory. The local politicians will cut just about anything to keep U.S. financial interests appeased (for more info, see FS article online, “In Puerto Rico, colonialism is alive and well”). Would they also falsify Zika numbers? It seems entirely plausible.

As a colony of the USA, Puerto Rico has been for decades an all-you-can-take buffet for Wall Street. Thanks to austerity measures forced on the island, since 2006, over 7 percent of workers have lost their jobs and 8.6 percent have left their homeland.

This is the human cost of over a decade of depression and debt crisis which was caused by U.S. policies, and fully endorsed by island politicos.

The women of Puerto Rico have long been treated like a disposable commodity. In the 20th century they were forcibly sterilized, often without knowledge or permission. At one point they were 10 times more likely to be sterilized than women on the mainland USA. Today it appears Puerto Rican women are being kept ill-informed about potential pregnancy complications, and are certainly economically unable to deal with the ravages of Zika birth defects.

It’s an old and unforgivable story. Women on the island, and everywhere, have the right to self-determination, including deciding when and if to have children.

• Tax the rich and large corporations to fully fund healthcare in Puerto Rico and the U.S.

• Guarantee early screening and all needed services for families dealing with Zika birth defects.

• Self-determination for Puerto Rico; cancel the debt.

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#SundayReading- Remembering Fathema Ismail’s Battle against Polio

Remembering Fathema Ismail’s battle against polio
Fathema Ismail and Jawaharlal Nehru at the opening of her clinic in the military barrack at Marine Drive in 1947

Usha Cunningham, who was diagnosed with poliomyelitis as a two-year-old in the 1940s, recounts the tale of how her mother led the charge against the disease.

IN 1942, a daughter was born to Fathema Ismail, the sister of cotton king and Congress financier Umar Sobhani, and Mohammad Hasham Ismail, a government of India trade commissioner posted in Mombasa. She was fondly named Usha — after the Goddess of dawn — in the expectation of a new dawn as the city and the country was immersed in the Quit India movement. Fathema Ismail was closely involved with Kulsum Sayani (the mother of Ameen Sayani) in women’s education and the establishment of All India Village Industries Association. When Usha turned three, the family discovered that she had polio.

“Amma was dejected with the news, but at the same time, she was determined to get the best treatment for me,” recalls Usha Cunningham, who is now based in New York. She recalls the turbulent years where India fought and finally achieved freedom from the British, which ran parallel to her own fight with polio. Patel Manzil at Nepean Sea Road, where Usha grew up, was a safe haven for underground activists. “Aruna khaala (Aruna Asaf Ali) and other leaders would live under assumed names in our house. My mother’s nationalist leanings were wellknown but as my father was a trade commissioner, we escaped scrutiny.”

In her search for a doctor, Fathema was referred to Dr M G Kini, an orthopaedic surgeon based in Madras. “Dr Kini was a crusty, old man who first declined to accept my case. Amma would sit outside his residence and accost him in the morning, afternoon and evening when he would travel between his house and clinic. He ultimately agreed and we stayed in Madras for eight months,” recalls Cunningham. Under Dr Kini’s guidance, Usha showed tremendous improvement. The Madras visit also marked the beginning of Fathema’s discovery about the lack of facilities for children afflicted with polio. Soon, her husband, Mohammad, was transferred to Iran from Mombasa, but she stayed in India.

After Madras, the next stop was Pune, where, Fathema had gathered, there were some facilities for rehabilitating injured soldiers at the British Army Hospital. “There were three British physiotherapists who would treat the injured soldiers with the help of a few trained Indian assistants. Amma requested similar training and after some reluctance, was allowed access,” remembers Cunningham. What worked in her favour was the fact that Fathema had gone to Vienna to study medicine in 1920 after finishing schooling, but had to return due to a financial crisis in the family. For three years, she had stayed alone in Vienna absorbed in her studies. Decades later, those three years of study helped facilitate a better understanding of the process of rehabilitation.

More than two years of treatment and therapy changed Cunningham’s life. From “totally paralysed”, she regained remarkable mobility in her right leg. Little did she know that she would soon become an exemplar of how patients with polio need not be confined within the walls of their house — ignored and neglected.

Fathema was now determined to start a facility for the countless polio-stricken children and their parents. Her experience and observation in Madras and Pune gave her the confidence to start a clinic in Bombay (as it was known then). But finding a suitable space amidst a financial crunch plus low awareness of the disease were formidable hurdles. She also had to ensure she had enough medical equipment. The war had ended and the imminent departure of the British meant that the Army hospital in Pune faced an uncertain future. In 1946, she had established the Society for the Rehabilitation of Crippled Children (SRCC) but despite her pleadings, the hospital was not willing to share or sell the equipment. She then convinced two of the Indian assistants to get the various equipment and kits transferred to Bombay while the hospital was winding up. “She promised them jobs and convinced them of the immense good this would do for the poor patients,” recalls Cunningham, the excitement in her voice palpable as she recounted her mother’s exploits.” Not many people know that six truckloads of machinery were taken out from Pune,” she says.

These surreptitiously transported kits formed the base for a polio clinic that was opened in May 1947 in the empty Chowpatti premises offered by Dr A V Baliga, who was going to the United States on a study tour. After few months the Bombay government gave space in the empty barracks at Marine Drive as the clinic’s immense popularity led to a waiting list. In the wake of Independence, Bombay and India, had woken up to the need of rehabilitating the differentlyabled. Medical journals and international aid organisations took note of Fathema Ismail’s enterprise. In 1951, she visited the United States on the state department’s invitation for a fourmonth tour of various hospitals, and the same year went to Europe to attend international conferences.

She was now determined to open a full-fledged hospital. “She caused quite a headache to Prime Minister Nehru as she demanded a plot near the race course at Haji Ali. It was a prime location and Nehru would say ‘Fati, why only that plot? I can request the Bombay government to give some other place’. But Amma was insistent. The racecourse was frequented by the rich and the famous and one of the reasons for the request was that she wanted larger society to be fully aware and responsive to the problem of polio.” The result was a children’s orthopaedic hospital, which opened in 1952 and was inaugurated by Nehru, which continues to operate to this day.

After roughly 30 surgeries and years of therapy, Cunningham who is now 75 years old, has no regrets. “I have climbed mountains, ran a business in Delhi, shifted to America, got married, have a caring husband and daughter. This is what Amma wanted. Similarly, she convinced several industrialists to offer training for the handicapped at her centres so that they could get employment.”

In 2011, India announced that it had eradicated polio, but the foundation stone for this incredible campaign was laid by a lady who had the grit and determination to envision a polio-free society over 70 years ago.

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India – Massive Protest This Weekend Against World’s Largest Nuclear Plant Under Construction in Jaitapur

Poster in Marathi for the upcoming protest on August 20, 2017: Jail Bharo (voluntary arrest)

In Jaitapur, 6 EPR-design nuclear reactors imported from France, are being set up in brazen violation of safety, environmental and seismic regulatory norms besides being undemocratically imposed on the local communities whose lives and livelihoods depend on the fragile ecology that is threatened to be destroyed. The local communities, including farmers, fisherfolk, agro-traders, women and children have been opposing what would be world’s biggest nuclear power park – with a total capacity of 9,900MWs – if it comes through. Apart from grassroots opposition, negotiations on the cost of the reactors, liability in case of potential accidents and terminal crisis of French nuclear industry itself has slowed down the project which has been in offing since 2008.

This Sunday, people in the area are going to stage massive ‘jail bharo’ protest against the nuclear project in their area. Speaking to, local activist Fakir Mohammad Solkar said that between 1500 to 2000 people are expected to participate in the protest and their primary demand is that the nuclear project must be entirely scrapped. Sachin Chavan, another key activist, added that this project threatens the entire Konkan region which is demarcated as ecologically fragile and a biodiversity hotspot. While France itself is scaling back its nuclear production and its nuclear industry is facing bankruptcy, the lives of common Indian people are put at stake for this dangerous reactor as if they are guinea pigs.

Answering to why did the farmers gave away their land for the project, Sachin Chavan quipped – “see, the land was forcibly acquired from the farmers they did not give it willingly. They put up a strong fight for years but eventually the govt’s stick and carrot policy worked. One young person from Sakhri Nate was even killed during protests in 2011 by indiscriminate police firing. The farmers continue to protest and last year 13 village panchayats – elected local governance bodies – passed unanimous statements against the project.” The reports of National Oceanography of India says that the project would irreversibly harm the entire coast from Maharashtra until Goa, he added.

Satyajit Chavan, leader of the Janhit Seva Samiti which is the key local organisation, asserts – “Modi govt has canceled Westinghouse project in Gujarat and recognised the environmental and safety risks it posed. Now our demand is that it must cancel the Jaitapur project as well, at the earliest. Until that happens, we will keep protesting and our agitation will only grow stronger. This week, the French regulator ASN made fresh revelations about the vulnerabilities of components used in EDF. A detailed report on the unacceptable risks of this project can be read here.

Here are some pictures from a similar Jail Bharo(court voluntary arrest) movement in Jaitapur in 2015.

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