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Legal expert speaks out against biometrics #UID

ALOYSIUS XAVIER LOPEZ

Usha Ramanathan, an expert on law and poverty with students at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai on Thursday. Photo: K. V. Srinivasan

The HinduUsha Ramanathan, an expert on law and poverty with students at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai on Thursday. Photo: K. V. Srinivasan

“In India, we have no idea if biometrics will work or not”

Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) should be wound up as biometrics has failed miserably in many parts of the country, said eminent legal expert Usha Ramanathan.

Delivering a lecture on ‘Interrogating the UID and the National Population Register,’ Ms. Ramanathan, who has been monitoring and engaging with the UID project, said: “In India, we have no idea if biometrics will work or not.”

“Two to five per cent of people do not have fingerprints that work,” she said, pointing to the study using biometric technology which was tested on 25,000 people by the Biometrics Standards Committee before commencement of the project in 2009.

“It is an anti-people project. I am not willing to have a technology god to oversee me. Companies handling biometric data also have close links with intelligence agencies,” said Ms. Ramanathan.

Following the memorandum of understanding between the Registrar General of India and UIDAI, the National Population Register is breaking the rule in collecting biometrics, she added.

“There is simply too much we do not know. The National Population Register is actually acting illegally. The executive has systematically ignored the order of the Supreme Court. Yet there is hardly any questioning and reporting in the media.”

She stressed the need for learning the principles of civil disobedience when the State sees itself above the law. “There has never been an audit of the system. We need to destroy the system.”

“It is not a unique identity project. It is a unique identification project. It is about helping agencies identify us,” she said.

Chairing the talk and moderating the discussion, eminent lawyer Geeta Ramaseshan, clarified why we need to be wary of the hidden agenda in official schemes for creating a citizens’ roster through invasive data harvesting.

Read mor ehere- http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/usha-ramanathan-speaks-out-against-biometrics/article6292695.ece

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About 700 listed firms vanish from regional exchanges #WTFnews

List of disappearing entities could see additions, for first time in 20 years

A few skeletons are likely to tumble out of the cupboard with the end of the country’s regional stock exchanges — among other things, in the form of what could be the largest-ever case of corporate disappearances in India.

Business Standard analysis of records and data from eleven regional exchanges reveals around 700 listed companies have likely vanished, without a trace of these entities at their registered addresses — many times more than the 87 currently identified as ‘vanishing companies’ in official records. The exchanges, too, have received no correspondence from these companies for a long time. According to investor association estimates, the total value of the ‘vanishing companies’ could be in excess of Rs 29,000 crore.

‘Vanishing companies’ are those listed entities that have raised money from investors through initial public offerings and then disappeared. The corporate affairs ministry’s coordination and monitoring committee (CMC), which has representatives from the government, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) and the Reserve Bank of India, has been monitoring the situation. In the past two decades, there were no new instances of in the country. But according to the minutes of the previous CMC meeting, the chairman of the committee noted the number of such companies was likely going up significantly, with a majority of new instances from regional stock exchanges.

The minutes said there were 2,397 companies that defaulted in filing their balance sheets appropriately. Of these, 1,012 were listed on or the National Stock Exchange (NSE), while the rest (1,385) were from regional bourses.

More than half the companies listed on either BSE or could be ‘vanishing’. “The chairman observed the 508 listed entities that had been delisted appeared to be dubious and most (if not all) of these would turn out to be ‘vanishing companies’,” said the minutes of the meeting, held in July last year.

Even if one assumes the proportion of similarly-affected companies among regional exchange-listed ones would not be higher than the proportion for firms listed on the two national bourses, the number of ‘vanishing companies’ on regional stock exchanges would come to around 700.

But the number could, in fact, be higher than that. Most regional exchanges have moved to shut shop since last year’s CMC meeting and were asked to provide information on companies listed on them before exiting. An analysis of data from 11 regional bourses shows 3,669 listed companies are not compliant with the listing agreement. The sample excludes eight existing regional exchanges for which data on non-compliant companies were not available.

Non-compliance indicates the firms did not adhere to requirements like filing financial statements with the exchanges concerned. How many of these would be classified as ‘vanishing’ would depend on whether or not these companies are traceable at their registered offices.

Virendra Jain, founder of Sebi-registered investor association believes a significant number of these non-compliant companies are likely to fall in the ‘vanishing’ category. “Around 50 per cent of the companies are likely to be vanishing,” he says, suggesting the number of vanishing companies could be more than 1,800.

Midas Touch had earlier written to on the issue of companies exclusively listed on regional exchanges and how their closure, effective from May this year, would affect investors in these companies. “By a conservative estimate, the market capitalisation of the 4,644 companies exclusively listed at regional stock exchanges would be above Rs 2,00,000 crore,” the association had said in its letter to Sebi.

Going by this figure, the combined value of ‘vanishing companies’ could be around Rs 30,000 crore, if these are 700-odd; and close to Rs 80,000 crore, if around 1,800 companies are ‘vanishing’.

In 2012, the regulator had asked all exchanges that did not meet the criteria of Rs 100 crore minimum net worth and Rs 1,000 crore volumes to close down by May 2014.

The move led to closure of many regional stock exchanges — 21 of those existed then. Four regional exchanges have already exited business since, while 10 others are in the process of winding down. Sebi has said it will ask the others to also exit compulsorily.

As for the 4,000-odd companies listed only on regional exchanges, Sebi had said these could migrate to the national exchanges; none has done that so far, according to spokespersons for exchanges. The regulator had asked companies to classify errant companies as ‘vanishing’, but, apart from the estimates mentioned, there is no official word on how many firms actually fall in this category. A spokesperson for the said a list of ‘vanishing companies’ had been sent to the registrar of companies for action. Emails on the issue sent to the other regional exchanges and the regulator did not elicit any response.

 

Read mor where – http://www.business-standard.com/article/markets/700-odd-listed-companies-may-have-disappeared-without-a-trace-114080400771_1.html

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Akshardham Judgment – The Law at Work

Vol – XLIX No. 25, June 21, 2014 | Ravi Nair 

 

The Supreme Court judgment in the Akshardham temple attack case has acquitted six innocent men who were tortured and then made to suffer imprisonment. The Supreme Court has come down hard on the investigating agencies of Gujarat and the way in which the lower judiciary has functioned in this case. The apex court must take this forward and revisit the existing prosecutions under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and examine the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act which incorporates many of the pota provisions.

Ravi Nair ([email protected]) is with the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre, New Delhi.

This article was earlier posted on EPW’s Web Exclusives Section.

Incredible India it certainly is. On the day that a majoritarian government led by luminaries who are no friends of democratic freedoms and civil liberties was voted in by one-third of the voters in the recent Lok Sabha elections, there was some cold comfort for those who would like to believe in the rule of law.

The Supreme Court in its order of 16 May struck half a blow for the rule of law when it ordered the acquittal of all the innocents framed in the Akshardham temple attack case.1 Four of the six acquitted were released after being in prison for 11 years. Three of them, Adambhai Ajmeri, Abdul Qaiyum Muftisaab Mohmed Bhai and Chand Khan were under sentence of death since July 2006. The fourth, Mohammad Salim Hanif Sheikh, was serving a life imprisonment. The fifth, Abdullamiya Yasinmiya, was on bail after having been in prison for seven years of the 10-year sentence imposed on him by the trial court. The sixth, Altaf Malek, was out after having served his five-year sentence.

The Supreme Court in its judgment expressed itself in no uncertain terms about how innocents are framed and the shoddy nature of investigations, conveying its

anguish about the incompetence with which the investigating agencies conducted the investigation of the case of such a grievous nature, involving the integrity and security of the Nation. Instead of booking the real culprits responsible for taking so many precious lives, the police caught innocent people and got imposed the grievous charges against them which resulted in their conviction and subsequent sentencing (p 280, para 136).

It further declared,

Here, we intend to take note of the perversity in conducting this case at various stages, right from the investigation level to the granting of sanction by the state government to prosecute the accused persons under POTA, the conviction and awarding of sentence to the accused persons by the Special Court (POTA) and confirmation of the same by the High Court. We, being the apex court cannot afford to sit with folded hands when such gross violation of fundamental rights and basic human rights of the citizens of this country were presented before us… (p 261, para 131).

Falling Short

And yet the reliefs it provided to the acquitted fell far short of what it loftily claimed. There was no court order granting monetary compensation or other restitution for those who had lost 11 years of their lives for a crime they did not commit. No orders were given for the prosecution of those who had held these men in illegal police custody, concealed evidence, fabricated evidence, and committed torture. Nor were there orders against elected and other public officials for dereliction of duty.

The Supreme Court saw the process adopted by the prosecution as flawed. It held the sanction granted as “void” and illustrative of, “clear non-application of mind by the Home Minister in granting sanction” (p 109, para 77). The home portfolio was held at that time by the then chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Damodardas Modi. His minister of state for home was a worthy by the name of Amit Shah.

The apex court even held the confessional statements obtained under torture and duress as “highly contradictory and improbable in nature” (p 255, para 125).

The Supreme Court is conscious that Parliament has placed the judiciary and the citizen in a situation that borders on the theatre of the absurd. It states,

POTA was repealed in 2004. Yet, the trials, its implementation has entailed, are continuing till date. POTA was repealed for the gross violation of human rights it caused to the accused persons due to abuse of power by the police. This is an important aspect to be kept in mind while deciding this case and hence, it was pertinent to mention this in the beginning to say that we are wary of the abuse the provisions of this Act might bring… (p 97, para 90).

The Dramatis Personae

The initial investigation was done by V R Tolia of the Crime Branch, Gandhinagar, and later by K K Patel of the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS). It was later taken over by G L Singhal, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Crime Branch on 28 August 2003 (p 17, para 8).On the same day Ashfaq Bhavnagri (PW-50) “was interrogated, and he revealed the entire conspiracy as well as the role of A-1 [Malek] and A-3 [Sheikh] in committing the dastardly offences” (p 58, para 41).

Singhal was accused of torture by all the defendants. All six accused

in their retraction statements, complained of having been beaten up by ACP Singhal, V D Vanar and R I Patel, because of which they could not stand up on their feet. On denying their complicity in the Akshardham attack, they were threatened of being encountered. Each accused persons said that every day they were called either by Singhal, V D Vanar or by R I Patel and were forced to admit their complicity in the Akshardham attack (p 45, para 32).

When the accused persons were produced before the Special Court (POTA) on 5 November 2003 all of them

made an oral complaint of police atrocities during the police custody and also complained of having been in police custody for long time. According to each accused person, he was made to sign the confessional statement prepared by the police under coercion and duress and had not made the same of his own free will (p 46, para 32).

The retraction statement of the accused Ajmeri Suleman Adam says it all.

Then Singhal Sahib abused me and told that should agree to what they say. I should agree that I am the criminal of Akshardham carnage. I told them that I have never gone to Akshardgam (sic) nor have I seen it. Kindly do not involve me. He immediately called five or six persons and told me to have handcuffs and fetters. Vanar Saheb beat me on soles. Shri Singhal Saheb told me that I agree with the crime of Askhardham (sic), they shall not beat me and have some benefits. Then they beat me in such a way that I became unconscious and fell down. ….When I became conscious I was near Vanar Saheb office. I suffered much difficulty. I was weeping. It was night. At that time one constable came and told me that superior sahib was calling. I had no strength to walk or stand. I was caught and taken to Vanzara Saheb office. All four officers were present there.
“They told me to agree the crime, otherwise I shall be encountered. But I did not believe.
Then they brutally beat me. There was bleeding in back portion….They gave me currents. Then I told them, sir, have mercy on me. I am not culprit. Pardon me. Please don’t make me criminal wrongly. I do not know anything in this regard. They threatened me to harass me and my family members. Even though I have not committed any crime, they wanted to agree Akshardham crime” (p 231, para 115).

Singhal, who was also an accused in the Ishrat Jehan case was reinstated in service in the last week of May. Earlier, he was enlarged on bail by the court after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) failed to charge sheet him within the mandatory 90-day period. Singhal also figured prominently in the Snoopgate controversy.  Clearly, both the governments of Gujarat and India had conveniently forgotten about Article 311 of the Constitution permitting them to effect summary dismissal of the official.

Second Lead: D G Vanzara

The defence brought out the role of D G Vanzara. It stated that there was

serious doubt about the manner in which the evidence was sought to be fabricated by police officer, D G Vanzara whose entrusting of the case to the Crime Branch on 28.08.2003 suddenly resulted in feverish activity, whereupon the accused persons were arrested and their confessional statements were recorded.

Vanzara was not produced as a prosecution witness. This was not surprising as he went public with his sense of hurt at being let down by his political gods. His cross-examination, had it taken place, would have proved most interesting. The apex court is scathing about the statements of the accomplices,

we fear that the story against the accused persons and its corroboration through the statements of accomplices is an act of concoction to make up a case against them. It was recorded in the statement of [ACP Singhal] that the information regarding PW-50 was given to him by D G Vanzara. However, D G Vanzara had not even been examined in this case and there is no information as to how he came to know about [Bhavnagari] after almost a year of the attack on Akshardham. This very important aspect of the lapse in investigation had been ignored by the courts below. The learned senior counsel for the accused persons have contended that there has been a delay of around a year from the time of the attack on Akshardham in recording the statements of the accomplices which shrouds the case of the prosecution.
We have to accept the contention of the learned senior counsel for the accused persons in this regard as there is an inordinate delay in recording of the statements of the accomplices and this casts a grave suspicion on the reliability of the testimony of the accomplices (pp 182-83, para 96).

Failure of Lower Courts

The role of the lower courts was not a happy one. They failed in not considering the deposition of some brave doctors who deposed in favour of the accused pointing out that they “had complained of severe beating by the police prior to recording of the confessional statements” (p 65, para 48). As is expected in such situations the medical records such as the X-ray plates were missing from the file (p 65, para 48). It is distressing that the lower court and the high court did not take umbrage at the suppression of both evidence and documents by the prosecution.

The defence counsel in the Supreme Court drew attention to the confessional statements of the accused which “were recorded without sufficient time being given for reflection” and was thus in gross violation of the principle laid down by the apex court in a plethora of cases (p 67, para 49).

The attention of the apex court was also drawn to the failure of the lower courts,

to take into consideration the element of fear of further torture by the police, in the minds of the accused persons which was bound to be present, especially when their confessional statements were recorded by PW-78 [Sanjay Gadhvi, Deputy Commissioner of Police] in his office without them being assured of being sent to judicial custody immediately after making their statements (p 67, para 49).

The defence also drew the attention of the apex court to the fact that the confessions were retracted at the earliest available opportunity and that there had to be independent evidence corroborating the confessional statements if they had been retracted (p 71, para 51). The Supreme Court held that the evidence of the accomplices could not be used to corroborate the confessional statements of the accused persons in the absence of independent evidence. Moreover, it stated, “the delay of more than one year in recording their statements causes us to disregard their evidence” (pp 188-89, para 97).

Two letters written in Urdu were allegedly found in the trouser pockets of the alleged militants who were killed during the Akshardham attack,

the post mortem report of the fidayeens stated that all their clothes were stained with blood and mud and all clothes bore multiple tears and holes due to perforation by bullets. In such a case, the fact that the letters remained clean, without any tear, soiling or stains of blood and soil is highly unnatural and improbable… (p 204, para 103).

The Supreme Court also chided the Gujarat High Court pointing out

we cannot accept the recording of the High Court that the secret behind the crease-free unsoiled and unstained letter lies in the divine philosophy of ‘Truth is stranger than fiction ‘for this renowned epithet by the author Mark Twain comes with a caveat that says, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction must make sense’ and rejected these letters as evidence (p 204, para 103).

It also discounted the prosecution’s contention that the car already in the possession of the Jammu and Kashmir police at the Special Operations Group camp was the car used to carry weapons from Jammu and Kashmir to Bareilly for carrying out the attack on Akshardham (p 222, para 111).

If the Akshardham judgment is to be taken forward the Supreme Court must be asked to revisit the tenability of all existing prosecutions under POTA. Moreover, its attention should be drawn to the fact that the amendments to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) in 2008 incorporate many of the POTA provisions. Justice was served in this particular case by the extraordinary fortitude of the accused and their families and credit goes to the exemplary work of the defence lawyers in the lower court and the Supreme Court. Clearly, we rejoice in the acquittals in the Akshardham judgment by the Supreme Court but the bench, the bar and citizens need to ask for more whilst also doing more. All of us should emulate Oliver Twist and ask the courts and Parliament to please do some more.

Note

Adambhai Sulemanbhai Ajmeri & Ors Appellants vs State of Gujarat …Respondent with criminal appeal No 45 of 2011,

http://www.supremecourtofindia.nic.in/outtoday/Crl.Appeal No 2295-2296of2010.pdf

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BJP wins Narmada battle #WTFnews

DC CORRESPONDENT | June 13, 2014, 05.06 am IST
  • Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben performs worship at Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River near Navagam on Thursday. After a wait of eight long years, the Gujarat government has got the final clearance to raise the height of the dam. 	— PTI
Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben performs worship at Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada River near Navagam on Thursday. After a wait of eight long years, the Gujarat government has got the final clearance to raise the height of the dam. — PTI

New Delhi: In a major victory for the Gujarat government within weeks of Narendra Modi taking over as Prime Minister, the Centre on Thursday granted it the much-awaited permission to raise the height of the Narmada Dam from the existing 121 metres to 138 metres, and allowed the installation of gates on the reservoir.

The Narmada Control Authority’s decision is politically significant as the demand to raise the level of the dam was pending before the Centre for the past nine years. A meeting of the NCA attended by secretaries of the water resources and social justice ministries, among others, decided to raise the dam level to 138.72 meters, saying the demanded was “justified”.

Soon after the decision was announced, the Narmada Bachao Andolan and its leader Medha Patkar alleged that the decision was taken in haste, and claimed that it would displace 2.5 lakh people.

But water resources minister Uma Bharti said at a press conference that the decision was taken after assessing all aspects. “According to the report of the social justice ministry, they (Narmada Control Authority) have done all the things they had to. The ministry has given a full satisfactory report at the meeting. That is why the decision was taken by the water resources secretary,” Ms Bharti told reporters.

“It was a collective decision,” she added.

Within minutes of its announcement, Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel welcomed it and conveyed her “heartfelt gratitude” to Mr Modi, her predecessor as CM.

“The decision has come so swiftly. Achchhe din aa gaye,” she tweeted. The CM also tweeted that she was at Junagadh right now for Shala Preveshotsav, and would leave for the Narmada dam site at Kevadia.

“Not a single day should be lost in resuming work,” she said.

Water resources ministry officials added that the Centre had also given permission to the Gujarat government to put up gates on the Sardar Sarovar Dam.

The issue of raising the dam level is very close to the Prime Minister as he had doggedly fought with the erstwhile UPA government on raising the dam level and installation of gates. He had even undertaken a fast in 2006 asking the UPA government to allow Gujarat to increase the height of the dam.

Ms Patkar said it was an “undemocratic” decision and that the ministry should assess then ground situation first. “The question is whether Modi will act like the chief minister of Gujarat or as Prime Minister of India — will he take steps to ensure no condition is flouted and no family that has not got rehabilitation gets affected?” she asked.

Read more here – http://www.deccanchronicle.com/140613/nation-current-affairs/article/bjp-wins-narmada-battle

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Mathura Rape Case- that changed India #Vaw #mustread

She was attacked at a rural police station, and her landmark case awakened India decades ago. But did she manage to love, have children, find happiness? New headlines about rape in my homeland set me on a journey to find her.

By Moni Basu
Photography by Vivek Singh for CNN • Video by Sanjiv Talreja and Brandon Ancil

Desaiganj, India (CNN) — She was 14, maybe 16, when they raped her. It was 1972, and I was 9. The India of her youth was the India of mine — except she lived in utter poverty.

She was an orphaned adivasi, a tribal girl, and she performed the most menial of jobs to put bread in her belly. She collected cow dung with her bare hands, shaped it into patties, slapped them on walls to dry and then sold them as fuel. It’s a sight and smell familiar to me. I used to watch women in my Kolkata neighborhood do the same thing, using the back wall of my grandfather’s house. I couldn’t imagine plunging my hand into piles of animal waste.

[+]Click to enlarge

Women march in New Delhi in 1980 to demand that the Indian Supreme Court reconsider the case of Mathura, who accused two policemen of raping her when she was a teenager. The high court overturned the convictions of the two constables.

Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images/File

 

But rape knows no boundaries of class or culture.

After it happened, she might as well have worn a scarlet letter on her chest. Such was the stigma of rape in India then. She was brave to speak out and did what few women back then did. She took her case to court.

But the highest court of the land did not believe she was telling the truth. The justices overturned the convictions of her attackers, two police constables who maintained their innocence, and set them free.

Her case was monumental, both from a social and legal perspective. It sparked public protest for the first time about rape in India and led to the reform of sexual assault laws. It gave rise to a women’s movement in India, sprouting a host of groups dedicated to empowering women. At last, people here began to see gender-based violence for what it really is: a brutal act of power.

I first read about the case after I began working as a journalist in the United States and developed a curiosity about women’s rights around the world. Though the courts ultimately refused to believe Mathura was raped, history has come down on her side. She is uniformly depicted as a rape victim — not a woman who cried rape.

For me, her case became a prism through which I could see my homeland and measure its progress over the past four decades. Then, in December, another rape galvanized India. Thousands marched on the streets after a young New Delhi woman was viciously gang-raped on a bus, an act so horrific that she later died.

A headline in The Hindustan Times newspaper caught my eye. The accompanying column lamented that the attitudes of men had changed little since the landmark 1972 case. Some said the outcry in Delhi could be traced to the rape 41 years ago. Numerous other stories, opinion pieces and timelines on rape legislation mentioned the case.

But no one seemed to know what had happened to the victim, the teenage girl whose court-given name now popped up everywhere: Mathura.

Was she still alive?

So began my quest to find the woman who had innocently walked to a village police station to settle a domestic dispute and returned home a rape victim.

I wanted to find her for many reasons. In profound ways, I related to her.

Sweeping generalizations about my country in news coverage on sexual assault both embarrassed and angered me. I wanted to learn for myself how India, as a society, dealt with rape. And how Mathura had fared.

In some ways, life has not changed much for women in rural India since Mathura’s rape in 1972. At this chili processing plant in the town of Bhiwapur, workers make 80 cents a day de-stemming fiery hot peppers.

I knew how devastating rape could be, and I wondered how she had coped given her hardscrabble life, the crush of poverty, illiteracy and patriarchy. Did she manage to love, have children, find happiness? Had she heard about the New Delhi gang rape that pulled her name back into the news?

The answers to these questions would not come easily. Myriad phone calls — mainly to lawyers, journalists and activists — led nowhere. It was 40 years ago, they told me. She was a poor, uneducated girl who lived in a remote village.

“You will never find her.”

CNN iReport: Are you a survivor? Share your thoughts around rape, sexual violence and moving on

Seeing outrage for the first time

My journey begins outside a district court in south Delhi’s Saket neighborhood, where hundreds have gathered on a sweltering September afternoon for what feels like judgment day for all of India. The four men convicted in December’s gang rape are about to be sentenced.

From the main road outside the courthouse complex, I can see Select Citywalk, the luxe shopping mall where the 23-year-old woman had gone to see “Life of Pi” with a male companion. This six-acre retail heaven stands as an emblem of the new India, bursting with American and European commercial ventures such as Forever 21, the Body Shop and T.G.I. Fridays.

But social attitudes here lag far behind material gains. Men and women mingle but rarely touch — and never kiss in public. More than 80% will agree to marriages arranged by theparents, according to a poll this year.

On the night of December 16, 2012, the young woman and her friend boarded a private bus near this mall to make their way home to the suburb of Dwarka. The driver and five other men were drunk that night and looking for a joy ride. They dragged the woman to the back of the bus and beat up her friend; then they took turns raping her, using an iron rod to violate her as the bus circled the city for almost an hour. When they finished, they dumped their victims on the side of the road.

The woman’s internal injuries were so severe that almost all her intestines had to be removed. She developed sepsis and two weeks later, in a hospital in Singapore, she died.

The chilling nature of the crime haunted people. It was like a bomb exploded inside the collective Indian psyche.

A 10-year-old girl goes to school in Desaiganj, the town where Mathura was raped. Many people here still hold traditional views about the roles of girls and women in society.

There was raw anger over the failure of the nation to check this sort of extreme violence. Indian law prohibits the identification of rape victims, and two of the pseudonyms the media gave the Delhi woman spoke both of her impact on the country and her courage: Damini, which means lightning, and Nirbhaya, without fear.

Outside the court, I see those names swirling about me on crudely crafted cardboard posters. The crowd is clamoring for death sentences for the rapists. Inside, people crowd the balconies overlooking a courtyard, all the way to the seventh floor. They stand on chairs, stretch their necks to get a glimpse of Courtroom 304, where Judge Yogesh Khanna is about to proclaim his sentence.

Never before have I witnessed outrage in my homeland over the assault and killing of a woman.

Could this be the same place where I am afraid to get on a public bus or the metro at rush hour because inevitably I will feel a man’s hands on my breasts?

I used to complain to my mother about the stares I got on the streets. She told me not to wear sleeveless blouses or show my legs. India, she said, was conservative that way. But it was more than that. No matter what I wore, some men felt they could look at me with abandon — as if I were an object, as if they could overpower me at any moment and no one would care.

It was visual rape.

Here is the sad truth about India: A woman is raped every 20 minutes.

This case, Nirbhaya’s, was exceptional. Most of the time, violence against women — in the form of rape, bride burnings, wife battering — occurs out of the public eye and remains that way. Often the victim is too frightened to report the crime. She may fault herself for what happened or fear bringing shame to herself and her family. Or she lacks faith that the police — notorious in India for poor treatment of rape survivors — will investigate, or that the courts will prosecute.

Rape is an act forgotten with silence.

That is not the case here at the sentencing of Nirbhaya’s rapists. Just five minutes after court convenes, the decision is read aloud: the gallows for all four men. The people chant, “Fansi! Fansi!” Hang them! There’s something medieval about their demand for death. Nothing less will satisfy. Nothing less is justice for Nirbhaya.

In the midst of this madding crowd, I think of Mathura.

Her case also was exceptional: She was just a girl, a minor attacked by two policemen at a police station. I wonder what the reaction would be if those events occurred today?

Is this public condemnation I am witnessing truly a culmination of the women’s movement spawned by Mathura’s case, as one women’s rights activist suggested to me? An entire generation of urban, educated Indians has grown to adulthood in the years since.

But would there be similar indignation over a poor girl in a village? About 75% of India’s 1.2 billion people live in rural areas such as the one where Mathura lived, hundreds of miles south of Delhi in the central state of Maharashtra. Has the mindset of men — including those in positions of authority — changed in those places? Or are people still blaming victims for their rapes?

I am about to find out.

Watch Moni Basu discuss her journey.

On the road to the scene of the crime

National Highway 9, known in these parts as Umred Road, snakes through verdant rice paddies and orange groves under unpolluted skies. This part of eastern Maharashtra is largely rural and so far unscathed by India’s monstrous rush to modernity.

[+]Click to enlarge

National Highway 9 leads from the city of Nagpur to Desaiganj, a town in central India where many people are sympathetic to the anti-government rebels known as Naxals.

The unmarked road is no different than any other in India, laden with potholes as big as bomb craters. Cars screech to a halt for meandering water buffaloes and women balancing aluminum vessels filled with laundry on their heads. In their rainbow shades of saris they trek to the banks of the Wainganga River to wash clothes.

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Prabha Ram Take, a worker at the chili processing plant, is from the same generation as Mathura.

Here, centuries-old traditions still rule, especially among tribal people known as the Gond, their troubles in life masked by the serenity of the landscape. More than half survive on 50 cents a day, and they are often caught in the lethal crossfire between police and Maoist anti-government insurgents known as the Naxals, who have long had a stronghold in this area. As recently as July, six Naxals were killed after they allegedly attacked a police station.

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Traffic stops for an express train in Desaiganj, a town in Maharashtra state not often visited by India’s city dwellers or foreign tourists.

I’ve never before seen this part of my homeland. Most Indian city dwellers — and certainly tourists — don’t visit here. It’s rural and there are few attractions to draw them.

My reason is Mathura. My goal is to reach Desaiganj, the town where she lived when she was raped.

It’s in out-of-the-way places like this where violence against women still often goes unpunished or unnoticed — at least that’s what feminist activists have told me. It’s also a place that gives me discomfort as a woman and as an outsider who has come to ask difficult questions.

I’ve learned Mathura still has a few relatives and friends in Desaiganj, but there are no guarantees I will find her. I don’t know her real name, nor am I sure she is even alive. She would be 55 or 57 now. In rural India, chances of a long, healthy life are slim.

I also don’t assume she will want to talk about what she suffered four decades ago. Rape, I know all too well, is terrible to have to relive.

I gaze out the window, my thoughts whirring faster than the Toyota Innova’s engine. What exactly happened that night to Mathura? How is it that two policemen thought they could get away with using brute force on a girl still years from adulthood? Did they shatter her spirit?

The SUV makes its way past a soybean factory, through a village famous for paan or betel nut, an addictive chew for millions of Indians. An hour to the west is Tadoba, a Royal Bengal tiger reserve I’ve just read about in an Air India in-flight magazine.

We stop in Bhiwapur, where hundreds of men and women and even a few children work for a company that exports fiery chili peppers to Western nations. All day long, they de-stem dried red chilies, making mountains of crimson behind them and sending capsaicin molecules flying through the air. I begin coughing the moment I step out of the car.

A woman who introduces herself as Prabha Ram Take has been coughing for the 20 years she has worked here. She tells me she is 60 and makes 7 rupees for every kilo of peppers she de-stems. That’s about 80 cents a day. I stare at her sun-worn face and the rivulets of sweat settling into the crevices of her skin. I have never seen a picture of Mathura, but I imagine her to look a lot like Prabha Ram Take.

She asks me why I am here. I don’t know how to answer except to say I am looking for someone very much like her, someone who lives under similar conditions.

She lets out a hint of a smile. “Why are you looking for her?”

“Because,” I tell her, “something very bad happened to her many years ago.”

I realize I don’t know how to say rape in Hindi. India is a country of many tongues, and I grew up speaking Bengali, not the national language of Hindi. I understand it well enough to get by, and I know there is a word for rape. But I have never heard it used. The term I know is izzat lootna, or stealing a woman’s dignity. It is a euphemism, and like so many other words society substitutes for rape, it conceals the crime’s true horror.

‘They were human beings, too’

Before I speak to people who knew Mathura in Desaiganj, I decide to learn more about her assailants. I am eager to know if they still live in the area and how they shaped their lives after being accused of rape.

I head to the police station in Desaiganj, a town of about 25,000 also known as Wadsa. The station is housed at a paramilitary post; security presence is heavy here because of the Maoist rebels. One wall is plastered with photos of “wanted” Naxals.

The inspector, Annasaheb Manjare, has not yet arrived. I wait in his office and can see folders of documents piled on a metal shelf. Everything is still logged by hand, on paper. Maybe one of those files contains Mathura’s story.

When Manjare finally arrives, I ask for a copy of the police records of the case. There are none, he says.

We talk for a few minutes about the events of that night. I know the two attackers only by the names contained in court documents, Ganpat and Tukaram. I ask the inspector: “Do you know what happened to the accused policemen?”

His answer is “no.” It was 40 years ago, he says. What does all this have to do with him or any of his staff?

Then, he blurts out a telling thought about Mathura’s attackers.

“They were human beings, too. They were a part of society.”

The seeds of rape are many in India — among them, poverty, institutional gender bias and lack of education. But another force is the traditions and cultural norms that allow boys to grow up believing they are superior to girls. I think about the inspector’s subtle defense of the two policemen.

Did he mean they were acting as they’d been taught; that, in a way, it was only natural?

A childhood friend

In Desaiganj, I learn the names of Mathura’s relatives and friends, including a man named Motiram Meshram. He has known Mathura since her childhood.

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Motiram Meshram has been a friend of Mathura’s since childhood. He testified against the two policemen she said raped her.

I meet him at his house in Shivaji Ward. It’s the same neighborhood where Mathura lived in 1972.

I mentally size Meshram up as a socially conservative man who probably did not make much of Mathura’s rape, maybe even blamed her in some way or justified it like the police inspector did. Instead I sit down with a man who surprises me.

At 65, Meshram has done better than many. He raised two sons and a daughter and makes a living farming rice. He owns a tractor and a two-room house that even has an air cooler inside, although it’s of no use on sultry days like this when the air is thick with dampness. Still, it’s a relief to talk out of the sun’s punishing glare.

I speak to him in Hindi. When I’m uncertain of his words, I ask a CNN producer, a native speaker, to translate.

Right away, I am struck by something he tells me. All this time, I’ve believed Mathura to be the victim’s court-given name. It isn’t. It is her real name. There was no attempt to shield her identity.

I strain to hear Meshram over the voices of first-graders at the Manavta Primary School next door. They are learning how to say numbers in English. “S-E-V-E-N!” they spell out in a lyrical chant. Behind the school are thatched-roof huts. This is where open drains exude the stench of human waste, where families survive every day on daal, or lentils, and flatbread known as rotis.

But many of the huts in the Shivaji Ward have been replaced by brick and mortar homes like Meshram’s. He takes me to see where Mathura lived. Her hut is long gone, and a new home is going up. People look at us suspiciously. Who are these people filming the construction? There is a high level of distrust of officials and law enforcement here. The crowd that has gathered thinks the members of the CNN crew are government surveyors, spying on the people. We are forced to leave when taunts and screams become outright threats.

Back at Meshram’s house, we sit on plastic chairs in his front yard. The three goats tied up to posts and the roaming roosters bristle at the afternoon interruption. I imagine life was not very different when Mathura lived here, except now everyone has mobile phones and television sets. But Meshram’s wife tells me that one, far more important thing has changed in Desaiganj.

Four decades ago, says Shantibai, men were good for nothing. They sat at home with their hooch, got drunk and then abused their girlfriends and wives, the sole wage earners in the family. She suspects Mathura may have suffered so.

“What was she like as a girl?” I ask Shantibai.

Women from Nawargaon, the village where Mathura now lives, wash clothes in an irrigation channel.

“She was pretty. Fair-skinned,” she says. “She was simple-natured.”

Her parents died when she was young and she, not surprisingly, learned to fend for herself. She lived with one of her two brothers, Gama, who herded cattle and did various other menial jobs. Mathura made money as a maid.

Sometimes, she found work with a woman named Nushi and spent time at her house. There, she met Nushi’s nephew. Ashok Kodape was tall and slender and an orphan like Mathura.

Ashok is no longer alive. But Meshram has asked Ashok’s cousin, Ganesh Kodape, to come over and speak with me. Ganesh is 54 now, has skin the color of coffee beans and large eyes that are fierce and gentle all at once. He dropped out of school after the second grade. He says everyone in his family — including Ashok — was poor, so poor that Ganesh didn’t wear any clothes as a boy.

He was only 13 or 14 when Mathura was attacked, and he doesn’t remember it well. But he tells me Ashok worked as a manual laborer.

Mathura and Ashok fell in love. They developed an intimate relationship and decided they would one day marry. Ganesh remembers Nushi treated Mathura as a daughter-in-law. In tribal communities, Mathura’s relationship with Ashok was not unheard of. But in the larger Indian society, she was a tainted woman for being single and sexually active.

Mathura’s brother did not approve.

Gama, according to court documents, lodged a complaint with the police that his sister had been abducted by Ashok and his family; that she was forced into prostitution. Either he didn’t believe Mathura was in love or he was embarrassed by the relationship and wanted to break it up.

Meshram continues his story. He remembers the night when police summoned Mathura to the station. She was required to make a statement regarding her brother’s complaint.

Then Meshram tells me something I didn’t know from reading accounts of the case. He tells me that he accompanied Mathura to the police station.

“You were there the night she was raped?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “I can take you there.”

An eyewitness account

Meshram and I stand before the old police station. It’s nothing more than a crumbling building. Moss and weeds devour the stairs to the second and third floors where there were once apartments. The concrete walls are bleak with mold and water stains. They look sad, like they have been crying for years.

There is only one burst of color here: the door and windows, painted a vivid United Nations blue. The building is padlocked, as if it holds something worth taking — secrets better kept hidden inside.

Meshram can’t remember the last time he was here. Maybe it was on that wretched day, March 26, 1972.

I ask him to take me back to that evening when police summoned Mathura. Ashok and Nushi planned to accompany her to the station. Ashok asked Meshram to join them on the mile walk from their homes.

Meshram pauses. I begin to think I will have to prod him for details, but then his narrative flows like a torrent.

He waited while the three made their statements to the head constable, Baburao. Ashok was asked to return later with some proof of age for Mathura. By then, it was almost 10:30 at night, and Baburao left because dinner was waiting for him at home. Mathura and her escorts also started to leave, but two constables, Ganpat and Tukaram, asked Mathura to wait inside the police station. Meshram waited for her outside, with Ashok and Nushi.

A shepherd makes his way to Mathura’s village with his animals.

Meshram points to the blue front door. It was 41 years ago, but he can clearly see Mathura even now, standing in the front room with the two policemen. It’s almost as though a movie of that night is playing in front of us.

She is wearing a cotton printed sari. And chappals, or sandals, on her feet. He can see Ganpat standing next to Mathura and placing a hand on her shoulder. And then, everything goes dark. The police officers switch off the lights.

“Ganpat, Tukaram!” Meshram shouts. “What are you doing in there?”

There is no answer. Meshram grows worried and bolts up the stairs to the second floor and asks the man who lives there for help.

“The girl,” he says, “is alone inside with the police. The lights are off.”

Meshram convinces the man and his friend to help them. They run back downstairs, enter the front room of the police station and plead for Mathura to make noise so they can find her.

But Mathura is silent.

That fact will later haunt her. Officials will view her silence as consent, though that night she told Meshram the police threatened to throw her, Ashok and his aunt behind bars without bail if she so much as made a whimper.

Then, she later said, Ganpat took her into a latrine behind the police station, loosened her underwear and — using a flashlight — stared at her private parts. He then dragged her to a veranda, shoved her to the ground, beat and raped her. After he was done, Tukaram took his turn. He fondled Mathura’s body but could not penetrate her because he was too intoxicated.

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Motiram Meshram’s wife, Shantibai, says 40 years ago, men in Desaiganj were good for nothing. They drank hooch and abused their wives and girlfriends.

When it was over, Mathura came running out. Her hair was disheveled, her sari torn. Tears streamed down her face.

“What happened?” Meshram asked. “Did they misbehave?”

“They raped me,” she said.

Anger surged within Meshram. How could two men who were protectors of the law, supposed guardians of powerless people, do this?

“You are demons,” he told them. “You deserve to be punished, and we’ll ensure that. That’s our promise to you.”

I am taken aback by the tone of Meshram’s speech as he recounts history. I sense his anger even now.

Meshram and Nushi took Mathura to the local government dispensary. Dr. Sambhrao Khule said he was not authorized to conduct rape tests but gave them a reference letter for a larger hospital in Chandrapur, the city that was then the county seat.

Meshram remembers boarding a 10 a.m. bus the next day with Mathura. At the Chandrapur hospital, Dr. Kamal Shastrakar examined her.

“The girl had no injury on her person,” his report said, according to court documents. “Her hymen revealed old ruptures. The vagina admitted two fingers easily. There was no matting of the pubic hair.”

He found no traces of semen inside her but detected it on her clothes and underwear.

By then, almost 24 hours had passed since the attack.

Marked twice

Mathura withdrew. She cried a lot, Meshram remembers. She couldn’t concentrate.

“First, poverty made her vulnerable,” Meshram says. “Then this incident broke her from within. Completely. She lost everyone who was in her life.”

“Do dag,” Meshram says, raising two fingers. In Hindi, it means two marks.

Mathura was marked twice: She’d had premarital sex, and she had been raped.

What kind of future would she have?

Some people in Desaiganj grew suspicious of the police. But there wasn’t much outrage.

“We were poor and uneducated,” Meshram tells me. “How could we go up against the police? We were scared.

“Nobody gave importance to what was happening within the society. Nor would they stand up against injustice done to others. That’s why cases of rape were buried by people in those days. Rape, murder. … They went unreported.”

But Mathura wanted the perpetrators punished. She pressed charges, knowing how difficult it would be for her in court. It would be her word against that of two policemen.

The trial was held a few months later at the district court in Chandrapur. She and others who testified, including Meshram, were given 5 rupees (8 cents) a day to travel by bus from Desaiganj.

I was not able to find a transcript of the trial so I can’t be certain who testified on Mathura’s behalf besides Meshram. He says some of what Mathura told the court was used against her.

The defense lawyer asked why she didn’t scream. Did Ganpat or Tukaram cover her mouth with their hands? Did they gag her?

“No,” she replied.

In June 1974, the district court judge acquitted her assailants. He called her a “shocking liar” whose testimony was “riddled with falsehood and improbabilities.” She was used to having sex and must have consented to the police, the judge said. She claimed rape so that she would appear virtuous to her lover.

The case went to the Bombay High Court in Nagpur, a city about three hours’ drive from Desaiganj. On October 12, 1976, that court reversed the acquittals of the two police constables. Ganpat was sentenced to five years for rape; Tukaram got a year for the “assault or criminal force to a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.”

Whatever sense of justice Mathura felt was short-lived. In a 1978 appeal, the Indian Supreme Court overturned the convictions. It said Mathura must have consented because she didn’t scream, and there were no visible bruises on her body.

India’s rape laws at that time favored the accused. The courts did not presume a lack of consent in cases of custodial rape — when the victim is in the custody of authorities — as they do today. Instead the burden of proof fell on the victim, who had to convince the court she had not consented.

“No marks of injury were found on the person of the girl after the incident and their absence goes a long way to indicate that the alleged intercourse was a peaceful affair, and that the story of a stiff resistance having been put up by the girl is all false,” wrote Justice A.D. Koshal, who retired four years after the ruling and died in 2011.

I think about the restless crowds I’d seen at the courthouse in New Delhi. Would they stand up for Mathura as they had for Nirbhaya?

I pose this question to Meshram.

He tells me attitudes have changed a lot since the 1970s, not just among ordinary people but among people in power. “Had it happened today,” he says, “I am confident they would have at least gotten 10 years in jail.”

Again, I am surprised by Meshram’s words. Perhaps they are borne out of the hope that poor people in India can also get justice. Perhaps he feels that he, too, failed Mathura and cannot bear to believe that four decades later, it could happen again.

As I listen, I am struck by Meshram’s courage and compassion. I hope that he in no way blames himself. In helping Mathura, he went against the norms in those days. He is not the man I’d imagined. Quite the opposite. He’s somewhat of a hero in Mathura’s tale.

In my mind, Meshram stands as a symbol of the progress my homeland has made. Perhaps today, there are more men who think like him in places such as Desaiganj.

My journey is starting to answer some of the troubling questions I asked myself after the Delhi gang rape, after the media began reporting on sexual assault much more than before. The headlines gave the impression that the problem had suddenly worsened here when, really, India has been on an ebb-and-flow path of progress ever since the watershed moment sparked by Mathura. But I am not so sure attitudes have shifted as much as Meshram would like to believe.

I am reminded of a statement made by the lawyer who represented three of the men accused of raping Nirbhaya in Delhi. He suggested she would not have been raped if she were more virtuous. “Even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl without respect,” he said.

Is that not how Mathura’s judges saw her? They said she was “habituated to sex.” Therefore, she must not have been raped.

Meshram tells me that by the time of the Supreme Court ruling, Ashok had died from liver disease. Mathura tried to move back in with her brother. But Meshram says Gama shunned her.

Determined not to be abandoned, Mathura agreed to marry a man named Bhagwan Attaram and moved with him to another village. There she hoped to put the past behind her. It is the choice of many rape victims: to go silent.

Mathura wanted to start again among people who may not have heard her story. She had no idea of the national storm that was brewing. And that she was smack in the middle of it.

‘Millions of Mathuras’

In Delhi, Upendra Baxi read the Supreme Court’s 1978 decision with utter shock. The dean of the University of Delhi law school felt compelled to speak his mind on what he believed was a travesty of justice and, more importantly, a disgrace to human rights in India. But what could he do?

Women wait at a rural help center in Desaiganj. Mathura’s rape spawned a movement to fight violence against women in India.

He endured 10 sleepless nights before an idea sprouted: He would write an open letter to the chief justice. Rape was not a matter of national conscience in 1978. Baxi intended to make it one, for the sake of the “millions of Mathuras” who didn’t even get as far as filing the first police report.

He intended to change Indian rape laws so that the burden of proof would shift away from the victim. He intended to escalate punishment for rape, to make sure the real name of a rape victim never appeared in public, to get rid of absurd metrics such as the two-finger test performed on Mathura.

His letter to the chief justice would outline all the reasons why the decision was wrong:

“What matters is a search for liberation from the colonial and male-dominated notions of what may constitute the element of consent, and the burden of proof, for rape which affect many Mathuras on the Indian countryside.

“Nothing short of the protection of human rights and constitutionalism is at stake.”

The letter was co-signed on September 16, 1979, by three other prominent Indian lawyers.

In those days, the Supreme Court was inaccessible to most Indians. Ordinary citizens did not have the right to petition the court. Nor was it customary to pen public letters to one of the most powerful institutions in the land. No media outlet thought it newsworthy or appropriate to publish the letter.

It was only after The Dawn newspaper in Pakistan printed the letter a few months later that it appeared in the Indian media, Baxi told me. The Supreme Court did not respond, but the letter had the same kind of effect that news of the Delhi gang rape did last year, though on a smaller scale. Indians, mainly women, were shocked by the plight of Mathura.

On March 8, 1980, on International Women’s Day, thousands of women marched on the streets of Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Nagpur. They included Seema Sakhare, who went on to form one of the first organizations in India to take on the issue of violence against women.

Now 80, Sakhare told me she was so taken with Mathura’s case that she visited Desaiganj to see if she could help her. She even stood on a stage with Mathura at an early anti-rape rally. Then, like everyone else in India, Sakhare, too, lost touch with the woman who’d become a rallying cry for the country.

This is the legal and social history I know as I speak with the people of Desaiganj, many of them unaware of the importance of events that took place here in 1972. But Meshram knows. He knows that Mathura’s name became synonymous with the changes that Baxi proposed, and the reforms that followed.

A man in Mathura’s village carries branches and twigs on his head, a common way to transport goods by foot.

In 1983, a new category was added to criminal laws dealing with rape. When a victim is in the custody of the state, as was Mathura, the law mandates that a court presume a woman who says she did not consent is telling the truth. Mathura’s case also led to rape trials being conducted as closed proceedings and to a ban on identifying victims by their real names.

Had Mathura’s name not been everywhere, would she have stayed in Desaiganj? Perhaps. But as it were, she left. And only a few people from her previous life stayed in touch. One was Meshram. He has seen Mathura now and then over the years.

But he never spoke publicly again of what happened — until last December, when news of the Delhi gang rape reached Desaiganj.

“It happened here, too,” he told people in the Shivaji Ward neighborhood. “Forty years ago, it happened.”

No one listened. Some even thought he was getting senile, making things up.

“When is the last time you saw Mathura?” I ask him as the sun sets and darkness descends on the old police station.

He pauses to think. “It must have been four years ago. I went to Nawargaon (her village) and she saw me on the street. She was selling bamboo baskets. She recognized me and asked me to come over for a cup of tea. She seemed happy.”

Four years. I wonder what has become of her since? For the first time, I dare to hope that I will find her.

I ask Meshram to take me to Nawargaon. Maybe Mathura will be open to speaking with me if she sees a familiar face.

The end of my quest

We push westward for two hours. Any semblance of modern life vanishes as the car heads deeper into forested lands swarming with Naxals. The far-left Maoist movement finds a great deal of support here among tribal and indigenous people who feel displaced by encroaching corporations or mistreated by politicians and police.

Meshram has forgotten the exact location of Mathura’s house. We drive to the central market in the village and ask, mentioning her husband’s name.

A 1980 story I read in The Times of India said Mathura had married Attaram in 1975; that he only learned of his wife’s rape after the Supreme Court judgment. But Meshram tells me Attaram knew the sad facts of Mathura’s life before the wedding. “He is a good man.”

I feel my heart racing as we approach the three-room government-sanctioned house where Mathura lives. She steps out when she sees Meshram and invites us inside.

She is not too different than I imagined — small, maybe about 5 feet tall and light-skinned for an adivasi woman. Her hair is oiled back in a bun, and a maroon stick-onbindi adorns her forehead. She drapes her sari around her shoulder. It’s cotton and printed, like the one she was wearing the night she was raped.

I want to say so many things. That I am sorry for everything she’s endured. That I understand. But I tell myself to wait, to gauge her reaction.

Newly hatched chicks and a barking stray dog scurry out as we enter. It’s dark and hot inside. Electricity has not yet found its way to Mathura’s house.

The front room is filled by two wood and jute cots carefully balanced on the undulating dirt floor. The walls are empty except for four pictures, including a recent portrait of Mathura with her husband.

He is not here today. She says he is out collecting bamboo; the family makes a living selling baskets.

The pictures seize my attention momentarily. When all you have is so little, they seem to speak volumes. One is of Mahatma Gandhi. Another is of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Both led India to independence from British rule. The third is a small poster of Durga, the Hindu goddess of strength.

I stare at Durga, fierce with her 10 arms, each carrying a weapon that could instantly kill a man. How ironic, I think, that Indians choose to celebrate the force of good triumphing over evil in the form of a woman.

‘I had no choice’

I explain to Mathura who I am, why I am here, that I have been trying to find her for some time and journeyed almost 9,000 miles to see her.

Mathura tells me she has lived in this village ever since she married Attaram. She has two sons, she says. A third died when he was only 5 months old.

“Why have you come to see me?” she asks. “No one has come to see me in all these years. No one came to help me.”

I ask if she’s heard of Nirbhaya, the young woman who was gang-raped in Delhi.

Mathura nods her head. Yes.

“Do you know your name was in the newspapers after that gang rape?” I ask.

“No,” she says. “What did they say?”

I explain to her the significance of her case. I ask if she will speak about what happened.

She begins to answer. But then her oldest son, Papu Attaram, 25, comes between us. He looks nothing like Mathura. He is tall and dark and wears tight jeans and a polo shirt. In his left hand, he clutches a mobile phone. With his right hand, he gestures to me.

“We are not interested in anything you have to say,” he says, speaking for his mother.

The sons know their mother’s cruel history, but not everyone around them does. I wonder if they might have been more open to speaking to me had her identity not been revealed all those years ago.

“I tried very hard to forget,” Mathura tells me. “I tried very hard to start my life all over again. I had no choice.”

I want to tell her that I know what she means. Mathura was 14 when she was raped, maybe 16.

I was 18.

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Activist Seema Sakhare went to visit Mathura after India’s Supreme Court overturned the convictions of the two policemen. Sakhare believes women who are raped in India are then raped again by the courts and society.

It happened on a college campus in the United States more than three decades ago and yet, sometimes, every detail of the violence feels fresh — his smell, his strength, his force and most of all, his eyes. This is one of those moments. I wonder if Mathura feels the same way about her attackers.

I want to tell her that this is another reason I wanted to find her. But I can’t break the silence I’ve kept for so long. The words won’t come out.

I look at her and think that in the most callous of ways, poverty and a lack of education helped save her. She was not like Nirbhaya in Delhi. Nirbhaya was a college student, studying physiotherapy. Had she survived, she might have had to deal with the stigma of rape in circles that mattered to her career and family. But Mathura did not have time to dwell on her trauma. It didn’t matter what people thought or said. She was forced to go back to the daily routine of her life in order to eat.

My thoughts are interrupted by her sons. “The government and police are useless,” Papu Attaram says. “I have a good mind to join the Naxals.”

Sakhare stands with Mathura, left, at an anti-rape rally after the Indian Supreme Court ruling. This photo appeared in a booklet about Sakhare’s career as a women’s activist.

Photograph: Courtesy Stree Atyachar Virodhi Parishad, Nagpur

 

His sentiments strike me as the norm in this part of India. I understand now that he equates me with the establishment, one that failed his mother 40 years ago. I also understand that he will not allow his mother to speak freely, that Mathura has no say in the matter. They have nothing but their reputations. They will not risk the black mark of rape again.

I don’t want to put the family in jeopardy. But I cannot help but feel disappointed. I had so many questions to ask her.

Attaram hands me a glass of sugary chai. At the same time, he suggests it’s time for me to leave. He expresses anger at Meshram for having brought me to see his mother. And he laces his words with threats. He tells us he has friends in this village. Naxal friends.

If her sons were not here, I think, Mathura might have burst open like a levee over a swollen river. But that will not happen today.

She tells me the only other outsider who ever came to visit her was Seema Sakhare, the feminist from Nagpur, who believes Indian women who are raped are then raped again by police, by courts and by society. That Mathura stands as proof.

I swallow the last few drops of tea and get up to leave. She agrees to a quick iPhone snap of the two of us if I promise not to publish it. Then she takes her place again behind her sons.

They come to the door as I step outside. “Are you happy, Mathura?” I ask.

“Happiness. Sadness. What does it matter?” she replies. I look down, unsure of how to respond.

She finishes her thought. “What’s important is that I’ve survived.”

CNN’s Harmeet Shah Singh contributed to this story.

Read m ore here –  http://edition.cnn.com/interactive/2013/11/world/india-rape/?iid=article_sidebar

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Prakash SINGH/AFP A manual scavenger carries human waste after cleaning dry toilets in Nekpur village, Muradnagar, Uttar Pradesh. The court noted with dismay that dry latrines continued to exist notwithstanding the presence of the 1993 Act.

The Supreme Court’s intervention has brought significant results in the Safai Karamchari Andolan case, but its final judgment belies expectations of a time-bound end to manual scavenging. By V. VENKATESAN

JUSTICE H.K. Sema, who retired from the Supreme Court on June 1, 2008, once observed that the court would not dispose of the Safai Karamchari Andolan’s (SKA) writ petition seeking justice for manual scavengers until the last manual scavenger in the country was rehabilitated. On March 27, a Supreme Court Bench comprising Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justices Ranjan Gogoi and N.V. Ramana, however, thought it fit to dispose of the petition, in the light of a few directions it issued, even though it admitted that the eradication of the inhuman practice was far from over.

The SKA’s writ petition (W.P. (C) 583 of 2003) has a chequered history. Filed as a public interest litigation petition, it prayed for issuance of a writ of mandamus to the respondents—the Union of India and the governments of States and Union Territories—to strictly implement the Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, enacted by Parliament, seeking enforcement of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 14, 17, 21 and 47 of the Constitution.

While bringing to an end this 10-year-old case which it has been monitoring, the court admitted that the practice of manually removing human excrement from dry toilets with bare hands, brooms or metal scrappers and carrying it to dumping sites for disposal was still prevalent in many parts of the country. The court further brought on record the fact that while there were over 12 lakh manual scavengers (unofficial estimates) cleaning 96 lakh dry toilets, 95 per cent of them were Dalits, who were compelled to undertake this denigrating task under the garb of “traditional occupation”. The court further found that the manual scavengers were considered untouchables by the mainstream castes and were thrown into a vortex of severe social and economic exploitation.

The court’s continuous monitoring of the case since 2003 has brought significant results. The 1993 Act was ratified by various States as a result of the court’s intervention. The Delhi Assembly ratified it as late as 2010. The State governments were also directed by the court to appoint Executive Authorities under the Act and to collect data and monitor its implementation.

The court noted with dismay that dry latrines continued to exist notwithstanding the presence of the 1993 Act and that States had acted in denial of the Act and the constitutional mandate to abolish untouchability.

Meanwhile, Parliament enacted “The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013”, and it received the President’s assent on September 18, 2013. The court observed that this new Act in no way diluted the constitutional mandate of Article 17 (abolishing untouchability), or condoned the inaction on the part of the Union and State governments under the 1993 Act. What the 2013 Act does in addition is to expressly acknowledge the rights under Article 17 and Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of persons engaged in sewage cleaning and cleaning tanks as well as of persons cleaning human excreta on railway tracks.

The court directed that persons included in the list of manual scavengers be rehabilitated as per the provisions of Part IV of the 2013 Act. These provisions require that initial, one-time, cash assistance be prescribed for them; their children shall be entitled to scholarship; they be allotted a residential plot and financial assistance for house construction, or a ready-built house with financial assistance, subject to their eligibility and willingness; at least one member of their family be given training in livelihood skills and be paid a monthly stipend during such period; and at least one adult member of their family be given a subsidy and concessional loan to take up an alternative occupation on a sustainable basis. While these directions will reinforce the legislative provisions, and therefore will be hailed by those seeking an early end to this undignified occupation, activists have expressed doubts about the judgment being misinterpreted by the authorities.

Use of safety gearAccording to the court, making somebody enter sewer lines without safety gear should be made a crime even in emergency situations. The court has held this while dealing with the issue of deaths resulting from entering sewer lines. The court was clearly incorrect in suggesting that use of safety gear by a manual scavenger could render the act of making somebody enter sewer lines legal and not a crime. The court clearly intended to bring to a close the practice of manual scavenging and prevent future generations from continuing with this. Therefore, how the court could justify manual scavenging with the use of safety gear is beyond one’s comprehension.

Bezwada Wilson of the SKA has brought to light the fact that the issue of use of safety gear by manual scavengers was not argued by either side during the hearing of the case. When the SKA raised the issue during the arguments, the court told the petitioner to confine the focus of the petition to the rehabilitation of the petitioner and challenge the requirement of safety gear separately, if required. Therefore, Wilson has expressed surprise that the court has mandated the use of safety gear by the manual scavengers entering sewer lines, without hearing the arguments against it.

The court’s award of Rs.10 lakh to the family of a manual scavenger who loses his life while entering sewer lines is a substantial enhancement of compensation from the previous award of Rs.5 lakh. But it unfortunately conveys the impression that the court considers manual scavenging inevitable, and that each death has to be compensated. Considered along with its suggestion to use “safety gear”, such an interpretation of the judgment is not misconceived. The court’s insistence that such award of compensation must be retrospective from 1993 and that the authorities must identify the families of those who died during sewerage work (manholes, septic tanks) to extend this benefit is praiseworthy.

Wilson said the SKA expected the court to continue monitoring the case, fix deadlines for violators like the Indian Railways to end the practice on the tracks, and even impose punishment on those found guilty. The court, however, justified the disposal of the petition, on the grounds that the 2013 Act occupied the entire field and that no further monitoring was required by it. Henceforth, it advised the aggrieved persons to approach the authorities concerned at the first instance and thereafter the High Court having jurisdiction.

Considering the history of the case, when the petitioners have had to approach the Supreme Court after exhausting the remedies available with the executive and the High Courts, Wilson is of the view that the Supreme Court’s judgment has only led to a new battleground for justice.

The journalist Bhasha Singh, in her book Unseen, whose English translation was published (Penguin) recently, has sought to expose how the authorities, including the Indian Railways, have been in denial mode about the practice of manual scavenging before the judiciary. The fact that the Railways do not directly employ most of its sanitary workers —they work on a contract basis and therefore their presence is not registered in any records—is used by them as an efficient smokescreen, she says in her book.

Out of 59,279 passenger coaches (of 12,000 passenger trains), only 504 are fitted with bio-toilets, and the Railways have no blueprint regarding their plan for upgrade, the book says.

It appears as though the Supreme Court has missed an opportunity to ensure the accountability of the Railways by fixing time-bound schedules for having bio-toilets in all passenger trains, as the latter is the biggest violator of the law against manual scavenging.

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An Unreal Development: How new Maharashtra real estate law legalises malpractices

Pic Courtesy- Nik Wheeler

Pic Courtesy- Nik Wheeler

25 Apr, 2014, 0452 hrs IST

 

Curious Case: Rewind Button The central Bill allowed registration of real estate projects only after all clearances have been obtained. Maharashtra removed this requirement.

By Bibek Debroy

In August 2013, the Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha. The idea is to set up a real estate regulatory authority (Rera) in every state, to pin down functions and duties of promoters, list rights and duties of allottees, provide for registration of realty projects and list out offences and penalties.

The standing committee submitted a report in February 2014. This is about extending the Rera mandate rather than diluting it. In addition to residential real estate, why not cover industrial and commercial real estate? Why not include smaller projects? The Bill covered projects of more than 1,000 sq m and more than 12 apartments.

The standing committee wanted the threshold reduced to 100 sq m and three apartments. Why not insist on registration of all real estate agents, and not just those linked to projects under the ambit of the Bill? The only “dilution” in favour of promoters was for structural defects. In the Bill, promoters had to rectify structural defects within two years; the standing committee recommended five years. If one lists the sectors that require regulation, real estate will be right at the top.

There used to be a Maharashtra Ownership Flats (Regulation of the Promotion of Construction, Sale, Management and Transfer) Act, 1963. An old piece of legislation needs repeal and change. Indeed, under the proposed central legislation, states can have their own laws. Hence, the state government offered the Maharashtra Housing (Regulation and Development) Bill of 2012.

Logically, this should be an improvement on the 1963 Act and on what the Centre proposed in its Bill. However, if you read what the state proposes, it dilutes rights of allottees and errs on the side of promoters. Here are some instances.

Curious Case: Rewind Button

The central Bill allowed registration of real estate projects only after all clearances have been obtained. Maharashtra removed this requirement

Without written agreements, the central Bill allowed promoters to collect 10% from buyers. Maharashtra changed this to 20%. The central Bill imposed the responsibility of providing utilities (electricity, water supply) on the promoters. Maharashtra exempted them.

If a promoter defaults, he returns the money to the buyer, with an interest cap of 15%. However, if a buyer defaults, the penalty is equal to the amount defaulted. Compared to both the proposed central legislation and the earlier 1963 Maharashtra statute, this new law is relatively lenient towards promoters and harsher towards buyers and consumers.

This Maharashtra Bill was sent to the ministry of housing and urban poverty alleviation (Hupa). In May 2013, the Hupa ministry disagreed with what Maharashtra had proposed, labelling it anti-consumer. It then becomes stranger. In December 2013, the same Hupa ministry disagreed with its earlier opinion and told the home ministry that it was fine with what Maharashtra had proposed. Now, look at Article 254 of the Constitution, on “inconsistency between laws made by Parliament and laws made by the Legislatures of States”.

Under 254(1), if there is a conflict, laws made by Parliament will override those made by states.

But there is a catch, and it’s 254(2), “Where a law made by the Legislature of a State with respect to one of the matters enumerated in the Concurrent List contains any provision repugnant to the provisions of an earlier law made by Parliament or an existing law with respect to that matter, then, the law so made by the Legislature of such State shall, if it has been reserved for the consideration of the President and has received his assent, prevail in that State.”

Shelter for Promoters

Therefore, it boils down to presidential assent, at least for Maharashtra. Despite objections from consumer organisations, the President gave his assent in February 2014. So, from June-July 2014, this becomes law in Maharashtra, irrespective of what happens in other states. Let’s state this a trifle less politely.

The real estate sector is rife with malpractices and regulation is meant to curb these. Instead, this legislation has legitimised some of these malpractices, often those that courts disapproved of.

Agreement the New Bible

For instance, should developers be allowed to charge for free car parking or common areas? Under the new law, as long as the developer mentions this in the agreement, he can charge for these.

The Maharashtra legislature did what it thought was best and it has the right to do so. But I am puzzled at the attitude of Delhi, in particular the volte-face by the Hupa ministry. In this climate of real estate scams, several of which have been in Maharashtra, surely some explanation should have been forthcoming.

Only what changed in June 2013 — at least all that one knows of — was the minister. Surely, that cannot have been the reason for the volte-face. And if a central Bill is pending, what was the need for the desperate hurry? But despite all the talk of transparency, there are some questions that can never be answered.

The writer is consulting editor, ET

 

Read more here — http://m.economictimes.com/opinion/comments-analysis/an-unreal-development-how-new-maharashtra-real-estate-law-legalises-malpractices/articleshow/34173566.cms

 

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How ‘Unlawful’ I Was! – An Experiential Lesson on the UAPA #mustread

An Experiential Lesson on the UAPA

Vol – XLIX No. 15, April 12, 2014 | B Anuradha

Despite the claim that the Act came into force to prevent unlawful activities that challenge sovereignty and integrity of the country, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is mostly used to incarcerate people with different and alternative viewpoints on state and society. Here is a first person account that raises questions on who the real perpetrators of the unlawful behaviour are, in the context of multiple acts of unlawfulness in the process of illegal detention, legal implication in different cases, charge framing, trial and even judicial procedure.

B Anuradha ([email protected]) worked as a women’s rights activist for two decades, spent almost four years in Hazaribag Central Prison, before getting released on 13 August 2013.

It sounds silly to ask, “Whose activities attract the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA)?”, since the name of the Act is self-explanatory. But, as a person charged under the Act, my own experience is something different and has quite often compelled me to wonder, “After all, who should be arrested under this Act?” Let me explain.

Hailing from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh (AP), I am a women’s rights activist and have spent over 20 years fighting not only for the implementation of existing laws, but also for formulation of gender-sensitive and egalitarian laws towards a socialist transformation of society, which I believe can be brought about by a political transformation of society. I stayed briefly in Patna (Bihar) during 2009, and I was “picked up” from Patna on 11 October 2009.

The Arrests

On that fateful day, I woke up with a start when I heard unusual banging on my door in the wee hours. I had hardly opened the door when three men barged into the room and surrounded me. One of them held my hand so tightly that my bangles broke. And, quite unconsciously, I let out a scream, which brought the houseowner’s family running to my room, located on the first floor. Two women had also entered the room and pushed me into a chair. Nobody was wearing uniforms. So, my houseowner came and demanded to know what was going on in her house. They replied that they were the police. She was quite surprised, but did not leave it at that and asked a very natural question that any citizen would ask: “But then why are you not in uniform?”

“We are from Special Police. She is a Maoist”, pat came their reply, as if arresting a Maoist does not require any obedience to law!

“Okay, then where are your ID cards? How can I believe you?” I could not help but appreciate her bravery. No wonder. She is not an educated woman. She used to work as a sweeper in a government hospital and had retired. My experience has always proved that working-class women face the police more courageously than middle-class women. But, the police has an altogether different language to speak with citizens. One person, who claimed to be from the Jharkhand police force, responded to her queries in his characteristic style: “Come with me. I’ll tell you who we are”, he said in a sarcastic tone and took her away. The men turned my room upside down. After half an hour I was taken outside. I found more men in plain clothes spread all over the street. I was pushed into a waiting Bolero. There was another vehicle and more men at the end of the street.

There was no arrest warrant, no search warrant, no uniforms, and, more significantly, there was not a single police personnel from Bihar, the jurisdiction under which this so-called arrest took place. As soon as I was pushed into the vehicle, the men started talking to me in Telugu and I realised they were from AP. Can anyone call this a lawful apprehension? If not, what was it? Obviously, this would be called “unlawful activity”.

I was taken to the Hazaribag SP (superintendent of police) Kothi, straight from Patna. After 24 hours of rigorous interrogation in illegal custody, I was blindfolded, chained, and taken to another place on the evening of 12 October 2009. I was left alone in a room the whole night, tied to a cot with heavy chains, blindfolded. I was shivering with the biting cold and nothing was given to me to shield myself from it. There was no trace of the women constables who had accompanied me. Suddenly, a male voice said, “You can lie down on that cot.” A strange tremor ran through my spine when I felt a male presence in the vicinity. That night was hell for me. The next day, I was allowed to remove the blindfolds only in the toilet. When I refused to take my breakfast with my blindfold on, it was removed for five minutes. Then, I saw the carving on the steel plate and realised I was in a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Camp in Ranchi. I was kept there for one day, and spent another two days in a small cell-like room in the Hazaribag SP’s bungalow.

Altogether, I was kept in illegal custody for almost four days (86 hours, to be precise) before I was produced in front of a magistrate. According to the story cooked up by the police, I was getting down from a private bus at Ichak, a village in Hazaribag district, and my husband, Ravi Sharma, who had already been arrested a few hours earlier, was present there with the police and identified me as Anuradha, his wife, and, with the help of women constables, they apprehended me.

A case was filed under sections of the Arms Act, Section 17 of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, Sections 420 and 120B of the Indian Penal Code, and several others. A false case, a false date, and false allegations! And, the funniest part of this was that the case was booked under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act!

Here, let me explain the facts of my husband’s arrest, which took place exactly a day before mine. We had been in Patna for a week, and he left around 4:30 am on 10 October 2009 to catch a train to Kolkata. As soon as he got down from the auto near Patna railway station, he was nabbed by the AP Special Intelligence Branch (APSIB) police and whisked away in a Bolero. He was blindfolded while they were passing through Jharkhand, when activists of the Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) (JVM(P)) stopped the vehicle, as the party was observing a bandh on that day. Ravi realised the presence of a large number of people and raised an alarm for help. The people, assuming the police to be kidnappers, pulled them out of the vehicle and started beating them up. Finally, the police had to admit that they were the police, but claimed that Ravi was a thief. So, Ravi asked the people to call the local police to establish whether their claim was true. That is how the Jharkhand police came into the picture, and they took him to the Hazaribag SP. The next day, i e, 11 October, they came to pick me up in Patna. Finally, the Jharkhand police connived with the AP Police and cooked up a story: Ravi was travelling in a four wheeler along with some other leaders of the Communist Party of India (Maoist). When the JVM(P) activists tried to stop the vehicle, Ravi got down to argue with them. Meanwhile, the rest of them fled and Ravi was caught, but he ran away and disappeared in a nearby forest. When the CRPF troops did a combing operation, he was caught on the afternoon of 13 October.

Ravi was tortured for 18 hours continuously. I was threatened for two days that Ravi would be killed. On the morning of 13 October, I was told that he had been killed. Finally, at night I was taken to the SP’s room at around 11:30 pm for interrogation. After half an hour, Ravi was brought there and he was in very bad shape. He was hardly able to walk. It took a lot of effort for me to stay composed.

The Telegraph (Ranchi edition) published a news item on 11 October itself about Ravi’s arrest. Different newspapers published news about our arrest as having taken place on 12 October. Many television channels reported the news on the evening of 11 October in AP. My parents-in-law filed a habeas corpus petition on 12 October. Even then, our arrest was shown as having happened on the evening of 13 October.

Initially I was implicated in three other cases. Not even in a single case had I been accused earlier. There was no mention of any woman participating in the first information reports (FIRs) of the alleged crimes. The description given by the petitioners did not have even a remote resemblance to me.

However, after more than one year, I was granted bail in three cases by the high court. Bail was rejected in the Ichak case, where they have shown my arrest. But, while rejecting my bail the high court gave an order on 5 December 2010 to complete the case within four months. So, it should have been closed by 5 April 2011. But it did not happen!

The Trial

The trial began immediately and four witnesses were produced on the first day. Before entering the court hall, I was kept in the female custody cell in the court premises. I was reading a newspaper and heard somebody enquiring about Ravi Sharma. By the time I could find out, they all left and the other prisoners told me that four persons came asking about Ravi Sharma. After 15 minutes, two persons came again, and this time I saw a young man enquiring with the constable who was sitting just outside the custody in the verandah. So, immediately, I went to the grilled door and asked him why he was enquiring about Ravi Sharma. At that time, Ravi was in the Hyderabad jail. In fact, nobody else other than the security personnel is allowed in the premises. So, I was wondering who he was! I politely asked him: “Are you enquiring about Ravi Sharma? What’s the matter?” He shot back in anger, “Are you questioning me?” It was as if he was saying, “How dare you question me!”

I replied with a puzzled “Yes!” He lost his temper and shouted at me, “I am a police officer! Do you know? I am a police officer investigating Ravi Sharma’s case. Do you have any problem?”

I was surprised at his behaviour. The constable told him that Ravi Sharma had not come as he was in AP. Then, he left. When I was taken to the court, I saw the same person seated along with the sub-inspector (SI) of Ichak. He was the witness and also the investigating officer. As soon as he saw me, he covered his face and whispered something into the SI’s ear. The SI told him something and I clearly saw this fellow biting his tongue, a gesture indicative of having made a mistake, and quickly left the courtroom. But, he had to come back as he was the second witness. He deposed in front of the magistrate and introduced himself as Munna Singh, a private bus booking agent. He claimed that he was at the bus stand on 13 October 2009 and saw me getting down the bus near Ichak, followed by the rest of the concocted story. I gestured to my lawyer to come near me and whispered in his ear of what had happened in the custody cell. My lawyer tried to present the matter to the magistrate, but the public prosecutor (PP) objected saying that he should only cross-examine him and nothing else should be asked. The magistrate too agreed and, hence, it was dropped. However, this same Munna Singh came again after two years to depose in the same case against Ravi, this time not as the bus booking agent, but as constable Munna Singh, whose real profession seems to have been deposing in the courts only, for which he was rewarded with a permanent job with the police. Keeping dummy witnesses! Sending them to the custody cell beforehand to identify the accused! What is this called anyway? “Lawful activity?”

With several halts and breaks the case went on till September 2011. Whoever heard the arguments of my lawyer felt it was a clear case of acquittal. There were many technical lapses too, and one of them was that there was no sanction order from the government for the UAPA. Finally, the date for the judgment was fixed for 26 September 2011. My family members came from Hyderabad and stayed on around Hazaribag court to furnish the sureties, etc, with the hope of taking me home along with them after two years of incarceration. Then, the PP came with the sanction orders from the government on the judgment day. The law says that the sanction orders should be obtained within seven days of filing the charge sheet. So, the magistrate could have refused to entertain him. But, he did not. He allowed it and said the PP can argue with that. He placed his arguments and my lawyer gave his counterarguments immediately and the case was closed. But, the judgment was postponed further for a future date.

No Respect for the Law

By the time we came back to the jail, warrants were waiting for me in a fresh murder case. While my family members were trying to furnish sureties, the judge insisted that the two sureties should be locals. So, two local bailers agreed to stand as sureties. Accompanied by a friend, they were on their way, when all three of them were kidnapped and tortured for eight days by the SP. The two guarantors were let off and the person who was accompanying them was sent to jail for “cooperating with the Maoists”, of course, with another fabricated case of arms recovery. Is there any law that says no person should stand as a guarantor to a “Maoist” who is yet to be proven as one? I am afraid not! What lawful activity is this kidnapping and torture?

Ravi, who is a co-accused in all my cases, had filed a Right to Information (RTI) application with the deputy inspector general (DIG) of Jharkhand police in May 2011 to know how many cases were pending against him. An order was issued in the month of June 2011 by the director general of police (DGP) to all the SPs to furnish the information within seven days to the applicant. Nobody responded except the SPs of two districts. After three months of the order, a fresh case was filed against us in Mandu Police Station of Ramgarh district. The very people who are supposed to be protecting the law show no respect in implementing it.

However, this was not all. After a week or so, I got a copy of the order from the deputy commissioner-cum-district magistrate imposing one year’s detention on me under the Crime Control Act (CC Act), which is equivalent of the Preventive Detention Act, the Goonda Act, etc. Again, all false allegations were made. One of the allegations was that I prepared a map of the jail and passed it on to the Maoist organisation secretly. This supposedly secret information was noted down in the diary of an Ichak inspector. How did he know that I had sent it? First of all, nobody was arrested in this regard and, hence, there was no confession statement. No map was recovered from anyone. Except the entry in the SI’s diary, there was no evidence whatsoever to prove the charge. All the allegations were similarly baseless. Yet, the district commissioner approved the SP’s allegations and issued the detention order. I gave a reply. Before my reply reached the home department, it too confirmed the orders. Again, I filed my reply. It was rejected and I was asked to present myself before the advisory board in Ranchi. I gave my arguments of defence in front of the board chaired by a high court judge.

Meanwhile, the Ichak case, in which the judgment was to be delivered, was transferred to another magistrate’s court, as there was an order from the high court to reallocate the cases on the basis of police stations. There is a general direction of the Supreme Court that transfers should be avoided in the cases in which the arguments have been heard. But, bypassing this, my case was transferred. Now, the arguments are to be heard afresh from the beginning. We gave a petition to avoid such a situation and requested a transfer back to the previous magistrate, but the district judge pressured the lawyer to take back the petition! Our lawyer succumbed to the pressure and we lost the chance to challenge it in the high court. So, even judges can indulge in unlawful activities!

The Judgment

This went on and on for years, and I spent almost four years in jail. In the course of time, new cases were framed. Though I obtained bail in all the cases, I had to be in jail awaiting judgment in my arrest case. Meanwhile, that arrest case moved from magistrate to magistrate. Finally, a magistrate, who was the sixth person to hear the case afresh, delivered the judgment. He gave me six months’ conviction. By that time I had already spent three and half years in jail.

Let me cite a few lines from the judgment to show on what basis the judgment was delivered:1

When the accused was examined u/s 313 CrPC she has denied of having in possession of Maoist literature. Other material which was found from the possession of this accused do not contain any incriminating material.

From the material exhibits placed before the court, particularly literature concerning CPI (Maoist) organisation which are in English and Hindi language indicate that the accused is associated with Maoist Organisation, however, except this there is no other evidence for any assistance or promotion of the organisation by the accused. Several terminology used in EXT.18 clearly indicate that it were related to outfit organisation. The prosecution submitted that words Comred, Buorjuwa and other words used by outfit organisation particularly by left wing. … The material evidence shows association of the accused with Maoist Organisation and same is punishable u/s 17 (1).

Here, I would like to mention that the Hindi and English books shown as evidence were Dafna Hua Betian, a book published by Mahila Jagrithi of Karnataka on the discrimination suffered by girl child, and a political economy textbook.

Now, I leave it to the wisdom of the readers to define what constitutes lawful or unlawful activity, and who should be arrested and punished under the UAPA!

Note

1 In the court of the chief judicial magistrate, Hazaribag, Rajendra Bahadur Pal, Judgment dated the 26th day of February 2013, Case No GR 4296/2009 TR 592/13 (Arising out of Ichak PS Case no 164/09).

 

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#India – Silence of Government on ‘Honour’ Killing Law is Killing #Vaw

Kamayani Bali Mahabal aka Kractivist honor   Pic courtesy — http://50watts.com/I-Am-a-Bird-of-the-Heavenly-Garden

The naked brutality of honour crimes against women is in contravention of the spirit of the ’United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)’ which has been duly signed and ratified by India. The prevalence and entrenchment of the caste system and rabid patriarchal ethos in the society at large are the root cause of this social evil. The Supreme Court of India, in its observation in the case of Lata Singh versus State of Uttar Pradesh and others in 2006, termed the caste system as a curse on the nation and acknowledged that inter-caste marriages are in the national interest as they will result in destroying the caste system. Referring to ’honour’ killings the Apex Court stated: “There is nothing honourable in such killings, and in fact they are nothing but barbaric and shameful acts of murder committed by brutal, feudal minded persons who deserve harsh punishment.”

In June 2010 Supreme Court issued a notice to the Central Government and nine State governments to know about the steps taken to curb such violence. The Union Government constituted a group of nine Ministers to look into the possibility of framing a separate law to deal with the menace of ’honour’ killings under former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in 2010. But it eluded consensus till it was disbanded quietly with the exit of Mukherjee from the cabinet to become president.After criticism from women groups, the Prime Minister revived the group in 2012, But it is being suggested that ’honour’ killing is not the outcome of the gender bias attitude of the Khap Panchayats because in most cases the family members of the girl, including women, are the perpetrators of the crime. But the fact of the matter is that the ideology of the so-called family or clan honour is derived from the gender role assigned by patriarchy. The women who do not follow the socially acceptable behaviour or preserve their chastity have to bear the brunt in the form of violence, coercion and killings to restore the family ’honour’.

And it is an open secret that Khap Panchayats are the functional forums of patriarchy in the State and surrounding areas. There are numerous examples in Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh where these medieval institutions have directly or indirectly precipitated situations leading to cold-blooded murders of young women and men defying the age-old established value system.

The debate on enactment of the law is also being trivialised on the ground that ’honour’ killing is, after all, a murder and the perpetrators of this crime can be tried under the existing provisions of the IPC. But it is not a case of simple murder.The resistance was more because of doubts that the objective could be best served by amending Section 300 of IPC to include participation in khap’s calls for “honour killings” as an additional criterion of what constitutes murder.

It is a social evil no less in enormity than sati, dowry deaths and atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It is difficult to quantify, but India is counted among the countries (Pakistan, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iran being others) having very high per capita incidents of ’honour’ killings in the world. We have the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987; Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (amended in 1983 and 1986); and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to deal with the social evils listed earlier. Then why not a stand-alone law to deal with ’honour’ killing which shames the civil society and silences forever the women and youth who dare to dream differently?

The Khap Panchayats and their supporters have raised dissenting voices against the enactment of a comprehensive law on ’honour’ killings. This is understandable as these extra-constitutional and mob-gathering forums have always considered themselves above the law of the land. The proposed Act for the abatement of ’honour killings’ has to be quite stringent whereby the perpetrators of the crime shall get life imprisonment  and the institutions and individuals aiding and abetting such killings shall also get deterrent punishment.

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Manual Scavenging – Deaths in the drains

S. ANAND

THE WORLD BENEATH: At least two to three workers must be dying every day inside manholes across India. Picture shows a worker entering a manhole in Chennai. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam
The HinduTHE WORLD BENEATH: At least two to three workers must be dying every day inside manholes across India. Picture shows a worker entering a manhole in Chennai. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

What is the point of laws, and judgements to back these laws, when the situation on the ground has not changed?

“We pervert reason when we humiliate life … man stopped respecting himself when he lost the respect due to his fellow-creatures.”— José Saramago

Sewage travels across Delhi’s 5,600- kilometre sewer lines at the speed of one metre per second. That is a rather leisurely pace of 3.6 km per hour — the time an obese person may take to complete one round of Lodi Gardens. Along this river of filth — the Ganga is just half this length — there are 1.5 lakh manholes servicing the effluents released by the capital’s 15 million people. Much of this ‘infrastructure’ was designed more than a 100 years ago. According to an estimate I made in 2007, at least 22,327 men and women die in India every year doing various kinds of sanitation work. Figures are hard to come by since this concerns the deaths of a section of population that most of India refuses to see. Santosh Choudhary, then chairperson of the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis, had told me in 2007 that at least “two to three workers must be dying every day inside manholes across India.”

On the morning of March 27, Bezwada Wilson of the Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) sent a message to his well-wishers about the impending ruling of the Supreme Court in a Public Interest Litigation that had dragged on for 12 years. All that SKA had been seeking was the enforcement of fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution under Articles 14 (Right to Equality), 17 (Abolition of untouchability), 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty) and 47 (Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health).

Judgment with a caveatLater in the day, the three-judge Supreme Court Bench headed by the Chief Justice, P. Sathasivam, issued directions to the state, the railways, and several organisations to implement the provisions of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 — itself a result of SKA’s relentless efforts. While everyone congratulated Mr. Wilson and the SKA team, a part of me froze at the sight of a certain clause in the judgment.

After ruling that “entering sewer lines without safety gears should be made a crime even in emergency situations,” the Bench added a caveat: “For each such death, compensation of Rs. 10 lakhs should be given to the family of the deceased.”

This, in effect, is like saying these deaths — rather murders — will continue to happen. They are inevitable. They are murders, for we know that each time a person enters these oxygen-deficient dungeons that spew a mixture of hydrogen sulphide, methane, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, there’s a good possibility he will die. Yet, the highest court of the land condoned these murders by merely offering compensation. Given that sewer workers anyway are considered socially dead because of their occupation, their legal death is just a matter of record. What kind of ‘safety gear’ can ensure that a person socially survives such an ordeal? Can there be a just way of being unjust? We reason with ourselves to accept the perversion of reason.

Law apparently has an answer for such a conundrum, derived from the Latin maxim: quod feri non debuit factum valet, also known as factum valet. “What ought not have been done is valid once it is done.” Dayabhaga, the 12th century brahmanic law that was prevalent in the eastern parts of the subcontinent, echoes this maxim when its says, “A fact cannot be altered by a hundred texts.” Ideally, don’t send a man into a sewer, but if you have to send him, make sure he wears safety gear. And if he dies after that, give his family 10 lakh rupees. If he refuses to wear safety gear that weighs 18 kilos and gum boots that gnaw at his toes, that’s his problem. Ideally, sati or child marriage should not be committed, but when it happens, we can always have eminent social scientists tell us why we need to understand the difference between pratha (custom) and ghatana (event).

No change on the ground 

What is the point of laws, and judgements to back these laws, when the situation on the ground or rather beneath the ground has not changed? Urban India is serviced by four-inch house drains that empty into nine-inch trunk sewers that carry the slush to bigger lines of 2-metres to 3-metres in diameter. These make it necessary for a human being to be lowered into a drain. A clog demands at least three entries into a manhole: to fix the cleansing rod, to make it work, and to detach it.

In 2002, the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission envisaged spending Rs. 1,20,536 crore over seven years on urban local bodies. Of this, 40 per cent was allotted for drainage and sewerage work. Thousands of crores have been likely spent on laying or relaying pipes and drains designed to kill. Phases 1 and 2 of Delhi’s metro cost Rs. 30,000 crore. While the metro works, the sewage system continues to foul the air all around us.

Meanwhile, each sewer worker’s death will cause something to die in us. A million rupees is a very small price we are agreeing to pay to stop respecting ourselves.

(S. Anand is a publisher with Navayana.)

Read mor ehere —  http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/deaths-in-the-drains/article5868090.ece

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