Monday, November 30, 2009

A true defender of the oppressed

The Tata Institute of Social Sciences [TISS], Mumbai recently witnessed a strange conference.

The delegates were mainly tribals coming all the way from Madhya Pradesh.

About 300 of them came to Mumbai to attend a discussion held in TISS on November 27. The topic was not how to defend against terrorists coming from across the border.

They were there to discuss 'Who will defend the defenders of tribal rights?'
The meeting was convened by Ms Shamim Modi, an Assistant Professor of TISS.

Why such a conference of tribals and academicians in TISS about defending tribal rights? Let me give you some background.

The S A S Movement

Ms Shamim Modi was working in the tribal hinterland of Madhya Pradesh for the last 13 years with her husband Anurag Modi.The Shramik Adivasi Sangathan [SAS] in which they worked was trying to enable the tribal people to fight for their land rights and to protest against their exploitation by Forest Department officials and local landlords.

Last year SAS helped sawmill workers and porters of Harda unionise against exploitation. The tribals who formed the majority of work force were a source for cheap labour. The SAS made it possible for sawmill workers to organise and protest against the denial of basic rights such as minimum wages and mishap costs.

Staus quo of exploitation threatened

The Modi couple, who were also among the leaders of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, faced stiff opposition from forest contractors and industrialists and also the district administration and the Forest Department. Shamim contested the elections (twice to the Assembly and once to the Lok Sabha) on the Samajwadi Jan Parishad ticket from Harda. That made her an enemy of many local elite and Political bigwigs.

One such political heavy weight was Kamal Patel, the local legislator belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party. Kamal Patel, a powerful Jat leader was four-time MLA from Harda and was also once the Revenue Minister in the State. He is known to secure the interests of Jats and Gujjars, who form the bulk of the landlords.

Matters worsened between Kamal Patel and the SAS during the Assembly elections in 2008 when Natwar Patel, a close aide of his and president of the sawmill owners’ association, was detained by an order of the Election Commission for threatening Shamim and preventing her supporters in the sawmills from campaigning for her. A few months later, when the mill workers, under the SAS, called a strike for their basic rights, the mill owners’ association told the District Collector that the mills would be closed down unless Shamim was arrested in 48 hours. The very next day Shamim was arrested and was detained for more than a month on charges as old as two years – instigating the tribal people and organising a dharna at the collectorate. She was shifted to the Hoshangabad jail, in the neighbouring district, and was allegedly tortured mentally and physically.

Physical attacks

The SAS movement jolted the local political mafia led by Kamal Patel as it not only was a threat to the exploitative status quo but also encouraged the tribal people not to exchange votes for cash. Shamim received several death threats. A few attempts were also made to physically harm her.

In a tactical move Ms Shamim decided to shift to Mumbai and joined the TISS as a faculty. But the most horrific attack on her life was on the afternoon of July 23 at her Vasai residence in Mumbai.

The watchman of her apartment barged into her house in an alleged attempt to kill her. Her throat was slit, her hands were broken and her head was smashed. Shamim had to have 118 stitches all over her body.

The Mumbai Police refused to register a case of attempted murder and allowed the assailant to flee out of the Country. Only when the High Court was approached that the case was handed over to CB CID and was asked to complete the probe in 3 months.

It was against this background that this discussion was organised by Ms Shamim Modi.

In the conference Modi said

“I had filed a PIL against the nexus of the BJP’s mining mafia and the forest department, The court ordered an inquiry, which proved that illegal excavation was going on in many areas. I made enemies in the BJP’s mining mafia who tried to harm me.”....

We are strictly Gandhian in our approach and do not believe in violence at all. If the government is genuine about its desire to curb naxalism, the only way is to reward the people who have remained non-violent in their fight against the oppression that tribals are subjected to. It can then exert moral pressure on the naxals to give up arms. Instead, it is the State machinery that is trying to crush such peaceful movements.

That is why we want to raise the question: Who will defend the defenders of tribal rights?”

A Committee for Justice to Shamim Modi has been formed which includes faculty and students of the TISS, the Samajwadi Jan Parishad, the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the Committee for the Release of Binayak Sen, Justice Rajendra Sachchar, Kuldip Naiyar and others.

It is always risky to raise voice for the oppressed, to fight against injustice:

But such risks have to be taken if we want to see India shining for all its citizens.

Adapted from;
Stifling a revolt
Tribals pour in to support TISS professor
Murderous assault on TISS professor: HC transfers probe to CID

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A year after 26/11 Mumbai terror strike

A year has passed after the cowardly attack by terrorists on  innocent civilians of Mumbai last November.

What is the situation now? Did the terrorists attain their aims? Have the terrorists strengthened or weakened as a result of the Mumbai attack? Are we capable of preventing such terrorist strike in future? Let me try to find some answers.

Did the terrorists attain their aims?

What were their aims?

1.To attain maximum publicity for themselves and their cause.

They got good publicity for themselves but I feel most people are unsure about their cause.

2. To increase the Hindu-Muslim divide in India, there by destabilising it.

They failed in that aim. The terror strike actually reduced the Hindu-Muslim divide in most part of the country. Those who died were of all religion, caste and class and this fact helped in rallying the country together against terrorism All most all Muslim organisations condemned the attacks in unison. Even most [not all] Political leaders behaved maturely, not attempting to fish in troubled waters. A.R.Antulay, the Congress
Minister was one of the regretful exceptions..

3.Induce a Hindu backlash in India which will help them to get more supporters in Kashmir and in Pakistan.

Here again they failed. The secular fabric of India remained more or less intact. The fact that BJP failed to win elections to the Parliament and Maharashtra Assembly is an indicator that the public at large is fed up with hate politics. The good participation of electorate in Kashmir elections is also a pointer in this direction.

The gruesome attack discredited the terrorists through out the World. The Pakistani public also was shocked at the incident. After the attack the support framework for the Islamist terrorists in Pakistan actually weakened.

4. Induce a military response from India against Pakistan, which will help in uniting whole of Pakistan and most Muslim countries against India.

Even though warmongers with vested interests tried their best, the Indian Government behaved maturely. Using diplomatic channels and with help of USA and other countries India was able to make Pakistan start a process of prosecution of the main accused. India might not have had everything the way it wanted, but a war would have meant disaster for the sub-continent.

Have the terrorists strengthened or weakened as a result of the Mumbai attack?

I feel the terror outfits have weakened considerably after the Mumbai attacks. After few months of self-denial Pakistan was forced to admit the role of Pakistani jihadi outfits. Many were arrested and court cases have started. May be the turning point was the attack on Sri Lankan Cricketers in Lahore. The fact that these terrorists are more dangerous to Pakistan than any other country was revealed to the Pakistani public. The Pakistani army started a crack down on terrorists and Taliban. Now many are on the run or killed.

This does not mean the terrorists are completely defeated. They are sure to re-group and try to mount an attack again as they did in Dhaka recently. An India friendly and democratically elected Government in Bangladesh was able to thwart the attack.

Are we capable of preventing such terrorist strike in future?

We have a much stronger security apparatus now to defend our Country. Will that be sufficient to prevent such terrorist strikes? I do not know. A different style of attack may still find us napping. So eternal vigilance is a must.

Prevention of growth of homegrown Islamist terror outfits is also very important.
Measures like

a. Clamping down on all types of communal propaganda both by Sangh Parivar and Islamists

b. Speedy and just handling of all cases of atrocities against minorities

c. Speedy and just trials for all terrorists, whether of Saffron or Islamist variety.

are all important for this.
Government should be able to win the heart and minds all minorities of India including Kashmiris by a just and secular administration.

The present Government has to go a long way to achieve these aims.

As we bow our heads in memory of the dead of 26/11 Mumbai terror strike let us hope that such an attack will never happen again in India or for that matter anywhere else in the World. Let us work together for  attaining such an aim.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Should Pakistan and Afghanistan be part of Indian Union?

Do you feel good if Pakistan and Afghanistan became part of Indian Union?

I do not think any peace loving person will be excited about a union of Afghanistan and Pakistan with India. But there are people who carry such dreams of Akand Bharath even now. If he is just a dreamer we could ignore him.But he is one of the most politically powerful person of India who is now deciding who will be our Opposition Leader in Indian Parliament and may even decide our next Prime Minisiter. He is none other than the Rashtriya Swayam sevak Sangh Chief Mohan Bhagwat.

Read the following excerpts from an interview Mohan Bhagwat gave to Prabhu Chawla in Aaj Tak channel.

Q. If I understand correctly, you still believe in Akhand Bharat and not in the two-nation theory.
A. It is all part of India. Pakistan is transitory and will become part of India sooner or later.

Q. What about Afghanistan?
A. Pakistan and Afghanistan are a part of us and will return one day.

Now I am sure the RSS Chief is dreaming of an Akand Bharath under a Hindutva [Saffron] flag.

Islamists in Pakistan also has similar dreams of uniting India and Afghanistan with Pakistan under an Islamist flag. Their agents in India,the now banned SIMI propagated the slogan 'India's liberation through Islam'.

Let us hope all these nightmares will remain as such, as far from reality as possible.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Newspaper columns for sale

'Attention election candidates!

"Four News items of your choice and your profile costs only between Rs 5 to 20 lakh depending on the page of our newspaper.
If you are rich enough we will publish for you a special supplement about your achievements for only Rs 1.5 crore."

These rates are not for advertisements.These were the rates for sale of newspaper columns to affordable candidates in the recently held Maharashtra Assembly elections.

See what the noted Magsaysay award winning journalist P.Sainath wrote:

"In the financial orgy that marked the Maharashtra elections, the media were never far behind the moneybags. Not all sections of the media were in this mode, but quite a few. Not just small local outlets, but powerful newspapers and television channels, too. Many candidates complained of “extortion” but were not willing to make an issue of it for fear of drawing media fire. Some senior journalists and editors found themselves profoundly embarrassed by their managements. “The media have been the biggest winners in these polls,” says one ruefully. “In this period alone,” says another, “they’ve more than bounced back from the blows of the ‘slowdown’ and done so in style.” Their poll-period take is estimated to be in hundreds of millions of rupees. Quite a bit of this did not come as direct advertising but in packaging a candidate’s propaganda as “news.”

The Assembly elections saw the culture of “coverage packages” explode across the State. In many cases, a candidate just had to pay for almost any coverage at all. Issues didn’t come into it. No money, no news. This effectively shut out smaller parties and independent voices with low assets and resources. It also misled viewers and readers by denying them any mention of the real issues some of these smaller forces raised.
None of this, as some editors point out, is new. However, the scale is new and stunning. The brazenness of it (both ways) quite alarming. And the game has moved from the petty personal corruption of a handful of journalists to the structured extraction of huge sums of money by media outfits.

Only, the falsehoods often disguised as “news” affect an exercise central to India’s electoral democracy. And are outrageously unfair to candidates with less or no money. They also amount to exerting undue influence on the electorate.

All of this goes hand in hand with the stunning rise of money power among candidates. More so among those who made it the last time and have amassed huge amounts of wealth since 2004. With the media and money power wrapped like two peas in a pod, this completely shuts out smaller, or less expensive, voices. It just prices the aam aadmi out of the polls. Never mind they are contested in his name."

Loksabha elections also saw this phenomenon of 'journalism for sale'. The Andhra Pradesh Union of Working Journalists [APUWJ] has, on the basis of a sample survey conducted in West Godavari district, estimated that newspapers across the State netted Rs. 350 crore to Rs. 400 crore through editorial coverage sold to candidates during the 2009 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
In a seminar organised by APUWJ on May 13,2009 all the speakers unanimously expressed concern over the role played by large section of media during the General Elections – 2009. They said:
"Not only did the media indulged in unprofessional, immoral and unethical practices but also cheated the readers. Pointing out that the practice of publishing of propaganda material of the contesting candidates or political parties as “news” in the news columns with dateline and credit line under the guise of packages, schemes and contracts and collecting money is an unethical practice. While it is legitimate business practice for the media houses to accept advertisements, it is improper to use the news space/time slots for pecuniary gain. We believe that such practices lower the credibility of the media.

In a democracy the media exercises the right of the people for freedom of expression. It is the voice of the people. It is to inform, to educate and rouse their conscience for betterment of democracy and common good. It is time for the media houses, professional journalists, political parties and regulatory bodies to self introspect on the perilous practices that have crept into the media in recent times and apply corrective measures to remedy the situation before it is too late."

The Press Council of India did appoint a 2 men commission to enquire into these complaints in June 2009,but this did not prevent the Maharashtra media outfits from selling their newspaper columns to the highest bidder in last month's elections.

What was the all powerful election commission doing? Almost nothing.
Let me conclude with the last paragraph of Sainath's article.

"Each time a giant poll exercise is gone through in this most complex of electoral democracies, we congratulate the Election Commission on a fine job. Rightly so, in most cases. For, many times, its interventions and activism have curbed rigging, booth capturing and ballot stuffing. On the money power front, though — and the media’s packaging of big money interests as “news” — it is hard to find a single significant instance of rigorous or deterrent action. These too, after all, are serious threats. More structured, much more insidious than crude ballot stuffing. Far more threatening to the basics of not just elections, but democracy itself."

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A.K.Antony's new explanation for Emergency rule in India

It has been 25 years since the death of India Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India. On October 31 1984. she was brutally gunned down by her own body guards. Many newspapers brought out commemorative articles about Indira Gandhi and her legacy. Many leaders also paid their tributes to her. The most interesting tribute came from our Defense Minister A.K.Antony. In his tribute published in Congress daily Malayala Manorama, A.K.Antony has an interesting explanation for the infamous imposition of Emergency rule in India in 1975 by Indira Gandhi. As it is in Malayalam let me translate it.

A.K.Antony wrote

"Indira Gandhi was not in favor of emergency. Proclamation of Emergency rule was only her response to Jayaprakash Narayan asking the Army to lead a revolt against the political leadership."

So Jayaprakash Narayan is responsible for the Emergency rule in India, according to A.K.Antony.Not Indira Gandhi or Sanjay Gandhi.

This is the typical victim blaming ideology of the oppressor.

What was the real reason for Emergency?

On June 12, 1975, Justice Jagmohanlal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court found the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi guilty on the charge of misuse of government machinery for her election campaign. The court declared her election null and void and unseated her from her seat in the Lok Sabha. The court also banned her from contesting any election for an additional six years.

Instead of resigning and appealing against the verdict in the Supreme Court, Indira Gandhi declared a State of Emergency citing threat to National Security and brought Indian Democracy to a grinding halt.

What did Lok Nayak Jayaprakash Narayan did?

JP was in effect the main opposition to Indira Gandhi's despotic rule. When it became clear that Indira Gandhi was not going to obey the Constitutional provisions and laws by resigning as Prime Minister and was contemplating Emergency, he called for mass agitation to force her to resign. In that famous rally in Ramlila Grounds in Delhi he asked Government servants, Police and the Army to disobey Indira Gandhi as she has no legal right to remain in the seat of Prime Minister.

A.K.Antony do not find fault in Indira clinging on to power for almost 2 weeks after the Court order but blames JP for raising voice against her attempt to undermine democracy.

The irony is that the same A.K.Antony has resigned in protest against Indira Gandhi being given ticket to contest in a by election by the Congress in 1978.He was also supposed to be a strong opponent of Emergency.