IAMC Weekly News Roundup – July 4, 2011

In this issue of IAMC News Roundup


News Headlines

Opinions & Editorials


IAMC Condemns Intimidation of Human Rights Organization ANHAD

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC – http://www.iamc.com), an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India’s pluralist and tolerant ethos, has strongly condemned the harassment and intimidation of Human Rights Organization ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy) by the Gujarat Police.

ANHAD was established in 2003 in response to the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, in which over 2000 people were killed, over 150,000 rendered homeless, and hundreds of women raped and molested. ANHAD is a grassroots based organization, that advocates on behalf of some of the most vulnerable sections of society, including Dalits, Adivasis and minorities.

On June 28, 2011, police visited the ANHAD office and accused, without any basis, the organization of engaging in “anti-state and anti-government” activities. They also threatened the organization’s State Co-ordinator Manisha Trivedi with pressurizing the landlord and forcing ANHAD to vacate their office space.

“This kind of attack on civil society is a characteristic of totalitarian regimes in other parts of the world. It has no place in the world’s largest democracy, which has always prided itself on its robust public institutions”, said Shaheen Khateeb, President, IAMC. “This intimidation is unfortunately part of an alarming trend of harrassment of human rights defenders such as Teesta Setalvad, Binayak Sen and Fr. Cedric Prakash”, added Mr. Khateeb.

IPS Officer Sanjeev Bhatt, in his affidavit filed with the Supreme Court alleged Mr. Narendra Modi’s active connivance in the horrific violence against Muslims in 2002. The fact that the policemen who harrassed ANHAD staff, accused the organization of being “supporters of Sanjeev Bhatt who is against Modi”, clearly indicates the forces behind such intimidation.

IAMC calls upon the Gujarat state police to desist from such intimidation tactics, and calls upon the Home Ministry to investigate this incident in particular and prosecute such transgressions in general to the full extent of the law.

Indian American Muslim Council (formerly Indian Muslim Council-USA) is the largest advocacy organization of Indian Muslims in the United States with 10 chapters across the nation. For more information please visit our new website at www.iamc.com

Police Comes Knocking To Intimidate Anhad

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Intel records of 2002 riots destroyed in ’07, says govt lawyer (Jun 30, 2011, Times of India)

The state intelligence bureau records on the 2002 riots were destroyed in 2007. Gujarat government’s counsel, SB Vakil said this on the sidelines of the proceedings at the Nanavati-Mehta commission on Wednesday. Vakil alleged before mediapersons that IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt filed his affidavit in the Supreme Court only after he came to know that the records of 2002, including IB control room phone records and logbooks of official vehicles, were destroyed.

The advocate said that he kept questioning Bhatt about the records because if the data existed, it would have been very easy to establish whether the cop being the deputy commissioner (intelligence ) was called to attend the meeting with the chief minister on February 27, 2002. Bhatt has said in his affidavit in the SC that chief minister Narendra Modi had in that meeting asked the officials to allow Hindus to express their anger against the Muslims after the Godhra carnage.

In the Godhra commission, Vakil asked Bhatt whether the intelligence records existed or were destroyed in 2007. Bhatt said the 2002 riots were not an ordinary event and with setting up an inquiry commission, it was the state government’s bounden and constitutional duty to preserve all data, the plethora of then on-going police investigation and trials in order to assist the inquiry.

On the first day of his deposition last month, Bhatt asserted that all the data existed in the state headquarters in Gandhinagar, but a false impression is given to people that most of the call records and other documents are missing. The cop has sought voluminous data in connection with the 2002 riots from the state IB office and from the DGP. He also requested the probe panel to direct the authorities to furnish the data so that truth about riots is revealed.

Meanwhile, the government continued throwing questions to Bhatt, who refused to answer the government counsel directly and insisted that the commission should not allow the State to ask him frivolous, vexatious and irrelevant questions. He insisted that the commission protect him because he was not a witness. Bhatt and government counsel often entered into heated arguments. At one point, Bhatt told the lawyer that he was crossing his limit. To this, the advocate said, “You already crossed your limit on the day you filed the affidavit in the SC.”



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Riot victims want Bhatt to be witness in Gulburg case (Jun 30, 2011, IBN)

The state government has further said that investigation in the matter was still on by the SIT and the Apex Court has asked the amicus curie in the case to examine the SIT report and talk to witnesses. Also, since the matter is presently seized with the SC, the application cannot be entertained at this stage.

The accused in the case have also opposed the application seeking to call Bhatt as witness. Mitesh Amin, lawyer of some of the accused said the application was premature at this stage as it was still not clear if the affidavit filed by Bhatt has been admitted by the Supreme Court. Amin further submitted that over 350 witnesses have been examined by the court during the trial and entertaining this application would only delay the process. Amin would make further submission in the matter on July 5.

Bhatt in his affidavit in the Supreme Court has alleged that Chief Minister Narendra Modi had instructed officers to allow Hindus “to vent out their anger” during the clashes and he wanted Muslims to be “taught a lesson”. There are 66 accused in the case including VHP leader Atul Vaidya, BJP leaders Pradeep Parmar, ex-municipal councilor Chunilal Prajapati and sitting councillor Bipin Patel, who are presently out on bail. Sixty nine persons including ex-MP Ehsan Jaffery were killed in the Gulburg society riots on February 28, 2002.



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Probe police action in Bihar: Indian American Muslims Council (Jul 1, 2011, Indian Express)

Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) has demanded Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to seek a CBI probe into the Forbesganj police firing incident in which four people were killed on June 3.

In a letter to the chief minister, released to the press on Friday, IAMC also sought action against those involved in the incident. “With the sectarian background behind this incident, only an impartial inquiry conducted by a central body would have the credibility required to probe a crime of this magnitude,” it said.

“That your administration provides full support to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which recently announced its own investigation into the Forbesganj firing,” the letter said.



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IAMC condemns intimidation of ANHAD (Jun 30, 2011, Twocircles.net)

The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) has strongly condemned the harassment and intimidation of Human Rights Organization ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy) by the Gujarat Police. IAMC has called upon the Home Ministry to investigate the incident and prosecute such transgressions to the full extent of the law. ANHAD was established in 2003 in response to the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, in which over 2000 people were killed, over 150,000 rendered homeless, and hundreds of women raped and molested. ANHAD is a grassroots based organization, that advocates on behalf of some of the most vulnerable sections of society, including Dalits, Adivasis and minorities.

On June 28, 2011, police visited the ANHAD office in Ahmedabad and accused, without any basis, the organization of engaging in “anti-state and anti-government” activities. They also threatened the organization’s State Co-ordinator Manisha Trivedi with pressurizing the landlord and forcing ANHAD to vacate their office space. “This kind of attack on civil society is a characteristic of totalitarian regimes in other parts of the world. It has no place in the world’s largest democracy, which has always prided itself on its robust public institutions”, said Shaheen Khateeb, President, IAMC. “This intimidation is unfortunately part of an alarming trend of harrassment of human rights defenders such as Teesta Setalvad, Binayak Sen and Fr. Cedric Prakash”, added Mr. Khateeb.

IPS Officer Sanjeev Bhatt, in his affidavit filed with the Supreme Court alleged Mr. Narendra Modi’s active connivance in the horrific violence against Muslims in 2002. The fact that the policemen who harrassed ANHAD staff, accused the organization of being “supporters of Sanjeev Bhatt who is against Modi”, clearly indicates the forces behind such intimidation. IAMC has called upon the Gujarat state police to desist from such intimidation tactics, and urged the Home Ministry to investigate this incident in particular and prosecute such transgressions in general to the full extent of the law.



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Assets worth Rs77L seized at Sai ashram (Jul 3, 2011, Times of India)

Skeletons continued to tumble out of Prashanti Nilayam with the Anantapur district authorities on Saturday seizing gold, silver, diamond ornaments worth Rs 76.89 lakh from Yajur Mandir, the abode of Satya Sai Baba who passed away on April 24 this year. Anantapur joint collector Anita Ramachandran told TOI that the precious metals and other items were seized during an inspection carried out by a team of district officials headed by her on Saturday. The inspection began in the morning and continued till the evening. “I inspected four rooms in Yajur Mandir except the Babas room from which the inventory of the items and cash lying there has already been made. In these four rooms, I found large number of silverware, gold ornaments, a diamond ring, costly watches, silk robes of the Baba, silk sarees and pens,” Ramachandran said.

In all, the seizure of the precious metals included 116 kg of silver in the form of ornaments, utensils, etc, worth Rs 56 lakh, 906 grams of gold, mostly in the form of mangalsutras, worth Rs 15 lakh, and a diamond ring worth Rs 3 lakh. “We have not valued the other items,” the joint collector said and added that all the items were in the safe custody of the district authorities. The total value of the precious metals was estimated at Rs 76.89 lakh.

Saturday’s seizure heightens the controversy already surrounding the working of the Sri Satya Sai Central Trust that has come to the limelight after Sai Baba was taken ill in the last week of March and his demise on April 24 this year. “If the working of the trust is above board, as its members are repeatedly claiming, why did not the gold and silver items surface in the inventory of Yajur Mandir that the trust members carried out recently,” questioned district officials. Locals are now wondering whether this is the last of the hidden items inside Prashanti Nilayam or whether there is more to come. “The stuff that is being unearthed from Prashanti Nilayam and Yajur Mandir makes one wonder whether the rumours of tonnes of gold and silver being stashed inside are true,” said Shivdas, a local trader.

It was only last week that the trust members including V Srinivasan had announced at a press conference that everything was hunky dory in the working of the trust. This, a few days after the Anantapur police seized a vehicle carrying Rs 35.5 lakh cash that was on its way from Puttaparthi to Bangalore. After denying that the trust was in no way connected with the cash, Srinivasan later admitted that the cash was given to trust member J R Rathnakar by some devotees who wanted to build a ‘mahasamadhi’ for Sai Baba and that the same was on its way to Bangalore to be given to a company that undertakes such work for the trust on a honorary basis. Anantapur district authorities said they would hold talks with the trust members on Sunday and seek an explanation as to how these items seized on Saturday did not figure in the last inventory of the Yajur Mandir undertaken a few days ago.



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Prophet sketch: PM asks Kapil Sibal to take action (Jul 4, 2011, Hindustan Times)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked the human resource development ministry to urgently intervene after a textbook allegedly depicting Prophet Mohammed provoked protests in Uttar Pradesh, triggering concerns over its impact on national security. National security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon has written a letter to HRD minister Kapil Sibal, informing him that the PM has sought urgent “remedial” action after meeting key Muslim leaders, top government sources told HT.

The concerns surround a Class 4 moral science textbook that was recommended as reading material by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE) for schools affiliated to it. A chapter titled Being Good and Gentle depicts the Prophet, violating a fundamental tenet of Islam which is against all forms of idol worship, local Muslim groups in Lucknow alleged 10 days ago while launching protests and burning Sibal’s effigies.

The HRD ministry has asked the CISCE – an autonomous, central board – for a status report. CISCE chief executive officer Gerry Arathoon could not be reached for comments. A series of senior Muslim leaders like Jamiat-i-Ulema-e-Hind leader Mahmood Madani have communicated concerns to the PM and NSA. Veteran Muslim leaders are concerned that the incident, fuelled by protests, could escalate into a controversy similar to the Danish cartoons of the Prophet in 2005 – unless the government acts promptly.

A Danish newspaper published 50 cartoons of the Prophet and then argued that its freedom of speech and expression entitled it to publish the images while apologising for hurting any sentiments. But the cartoons and the newspaper’s defence of the publication provoked protests by Muslims across the world.



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Don’t treat Team Anna draft as dissent note: Shanti Bhushan (Jun 29, 2011, The Hindu)

The co-chairperson of the Joint Drafting Committee on the Lokpal Bill, Shanti Bhushan, has urged Union Finance Minister and chairman of the Lokpal panel Pranab Mukherjee to treat the two drafts as the outcome of the joint committee and not to treat the Team Anna draft as a “dissent note.” In a letter to Mr. Mukherjee, Mr. Bhushan took exception to Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily’s statement calling the government draft the “real” one and Team Anna’s draft “at best a dissent note” and opposed his suggestion presenting a section-wise comparative chart of the government’s draft and the Jan Lokpal Bill to the Cabinet and to all political parties.

He said the chart did not accurately present the Jan Lokpal Bill and pointed to inaccuracies at several places, besides not quoting in full various sections. The chart completely kept in the dark the provisions of the Jan Lokpal Bill. Reminding Mr. Mukherjee of the decision taken at the last meeting of the committee, Mr. Bhushan hoped the government would take both drafts to the Cabinet and the all-party meeting. He said it would be wrong to treat Team Anna’s draft as a dissent note given that out of the 10 members on the committee, five had endorsed one draft, while the other five had consented to second one.

In such a situation, he argued, both the drafts enjoyed equal weightage as far as the outcome of the committee was concerned. He expressed his willingness to combine the two drafts in the form of a chart, provided Team Anna was allowed to correctly present its views. He hoped Mr. Mukherjee would not release the chart without the concurrence of all the members.



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BJP- MP govt schools to include lessons from ‘Gita’ despite protest (Jul 1, 2011, Indian Express)

Schools run by the Madhya Pradesh government will teach lessons from the ‘Bhagvad Gita’, sacred religious text of the Hindus, from this academic year despite protests from members of other religious communities. The study material on teachings from the Gita is ready and would be dispatched to every government-run school soon, Rajnish Vaish, principal secretary (School Education department) said on Friday.

The lessons on Gita will not be a part of the curriculum but would supplement regular subjects in the same way as moral science, physical education and some other disciplines, officials said. A part of the Gita teachings may get into the Hindi literature syllabus, they said.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had mooted the idea of including teachings from the Gita for school students. The decision to introduce teachings from the Gita for students from class one to ten had been taken despite protests from leaders of other religious communities in the state.



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War of words over 2G report at PAC again (Jun 29, 2011, The Hindu)

A war of words broke out at the first meeting of the newly constituted Public Accounts Committee (PAC) here on Tuesday. While some members were vociferous in their view that the committee’s contentious draft report on the 2G spectrum allocation scam was “dead” as it was “returned” and “rejected” by the Lok Sabha Speaker for lack of proper procedure in its adoption, others felt the new committee could again take it up for consideration.

At the end of a couple of hours of heated exchanges, committee chairman Murli Manohar Joshi said he would consult “legal and constitutional experts” as well as those familiar with parliamentary procedures and look at the past precedence, if any, to arrive at a conclusion on the “status of the report.” It was also pointed out that the “unfinished” work of the previous committee was routinely carried forward by the new committee, and this was the standard practice.

At the outset, Dr. Joshi placed before the committee Speaker Meira Kumar’s letter, informing him of her decision to return the report he submitted two months earlier. She had noted that proper procedure for adopting the report was not followed and it was an “unfinished work.” At that time, 11 of the 21 members of the committee had given it in writing to the Speaker that the chairman tried to rush through the report and they, the majority, opposed and “rejected” it. Dr. Joshi, nevertheless, submitted the report to the Speaker.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Congress members Jayanti Natarajan, Sanjay Nirupam, K.S. Rao and Girija Vyas said the report was now dead and could not be taken up afresh. Furthermore, the issue was before the Joint Parliamentary Committee, they noted. Some others, mostly from the BJP, said that as the Speaker had faulted the adoption procedure, the report could be properly adopted by the new committee submitted to her again. Interestingly, DMK MP Adhi Sankar felt the report could be taken up again, but A. Raja and some other key players in the case were not called as witnesses by the last committee. This was a major flaw that must be rectified.

It was reported that the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party MPs, who earlier joined hands with the Congress, distanced themselves from the party this time. But they were not in tune with the BJP either. The DMK and the BSP wanted the report circulated, but the Congress opposed it. The PAC’s last meeting on April 28 witnessed chaotic scenes, with members accusing each other of violating the procedures and indulging in politics instead of working without bias to arrive at the truth. Dr. Joshi abruptly ended the meeting when the Congress members and their supporters demanded a vote on the report.



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Crisis in Andhra Pradesh as Telangana MLAs, MPs quit (Jul 4, 2011, Times of India)

The stage was set for a constitutional crisis in Andhra Pradesh with almost 87 of the legislators in the 294-strong state assembly belonging to the Telangana region submitting their resignations to deputy speaker Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka in support of their demand for a separate state on Monday afternoon. Those who submitted their resignations comprised 49 Congress MLAs including 11 ministers in the Kiran Kumar Reddy government, 37 TDP MLAs and one PRP MLA. Of the 119 MLAs that belong to the Telangana region, the Congress accounts for 53. The only four Telangana legislators from the ruling party who did not resign were city ministers Danam Nagender and Mukesh Goud and MLAs M Shashidhar Reddy and deputy chief minister Damodar Raja Narasimha.

Eleven out of 15 ministers of Andhra Pradesh cabinet hailing from Telangana region on Monday resigned from their posts as well as membership of the legislative assembly on separate statehood issue but maintained that it was “not to defy” Congress high command. The Kiran Kumar government has a strength of 154 MLAs in the 295 assembly and has the support of 18 PRP MLAs, 7 belonging to the MIM and a few independents. Interestingly, among the first to resign on Monday from the ruling party were Konda Surekha, an ardent supporter of YSR Congress chief YS Jaganmohan Reddy, and P Vishnuvardhan Reddy, city MLA who has stayed away from either the CM or Jagan group.

Soon after submitting their resignations, the panchayat raj minister K Jana Reddy said that their sole aim was to achieve Telangana and they would continue to remain in the party and fight for a separate state. He expressed happiness that they had chosen to submit resignations on July 4 which happens to be the United States’ independence day and hoped that Telangana region would get independence soon. Another minister, Komatireddy Venkat Reddy said that the move made by the Congress leaders should not be viewed with any doubt. “We are very serious and there is no question of going to Delhi for talks unless the central leadership announces that they will carve a separate state. But soon after, the panchayat raj minister K Jana Reddy said that he was going to Delhi in the afternoon as he had been called by the party high command.

Admitting that they could be staring at a crisis, aides of the chief minister said they are assessing the situation. “Vikramarka, the deputy speaker who accepted the resignations, is likely to wait for speaker Nadendla Manohar to return to Hyderabad from his trip abroad for a decision to be taken on the resignations. In the meantime, the Congress high command too will swing into action. We are confident that the Kiran government will survive,” said a CM aide. But New Delhi is already feeling the heat. Six Congress Lok Sabha MPs and one from the Rajya Sabha arrived in the national capital on Monday morning and were scheduled to submit their resignations to Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar and Rajya Sabha deputy chairman M Hamid Ansari later in the afternoon. AICC general secretary in-charge of AP Ghulam Nabi Azad again urged restrain on the part of the Telangana elected representatives and claimed he has summoned a team of MLAs to New Delhi for urgent talks.

In the meantime, the Telangana Political JAC went into an emergency meeting and is likely to urge the 11 TRS MLAs also to follow suit with their resignations so that the entire region acts in one voice in order to achieve their goal of a separate state. On the other hand, keenly monitoring the developments, the MPS, MLAs and MLCs of all the major political parties belonging to the Seema-Andhra region were huddled in closed door meetings and planning their move to counter the Telangana leaders. Earlier, they were scheduled to meet the Congress central leaders in New Delhi on Tuesday.



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Opinions and Editorials

Shock from Gujarat – Editorial (Jul 2, 2011, Economic Times)

The disclosure that the Gujarat government has destroyed certain records related to the communal carnage in 2002 is shocking. The state government’s explanation is that this was done as part of a procedure to destroy ‘irrelevant police documents’ after five years. Yet, the reported list of what was destroyed – telephone records of the police control room, registers of attendance and movement of senior police officers and vehicles as well as intelligence reports et al – suggests it was crucial evidence about the riots and how the state machinery conducted itself.

If this elimination of evidence was deliberate, it would mean a criminal attempt to shield officials who might be guilty of inaction or, worse, complicity in a veritable slaughter. The larger question is whether directions to conduct themselves thus were issued to police officers from the top levels of the state machinery. Finding answers to those questions should be the primary aim of investigations into the riots. Not only should the Nanavati Commission probing the riots order an inquiry into this reported destruction of evidence, but the Supreme Court too, since it is directly supervising the investigations through its appointed Special Investigation Team ( SIT), must act forthwith to probe and punish the culprits.

The immediate worry is how on earth documents and records pertaining to an ongoing investigation, under the supervision of the highest court in the land, can be thus destroyed. But that also posits the larger question the nation faced after the 2002 riots: how to deal with a situation where the entire machinery of a state can be seen to be potentially complicit in acts of communal violence? If existing laws aren’t being implemented, or are just being plainly subverted, what course can justice take? Part of the answer would lie in enacting laws as proposed in the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill, 2011. Justice and compensation for victims of all forms of communal violence, and actually aiming at eliminating the latter altogether, are critical to preserve the very idea of a democratic and pluralistic India.



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Silence on Killings in Bihar – Editorial (Jun 25, 2011, Economic & Political Weekl)

On the afternoon of 3 June, the police in Forbesganj block of Araria district of Bihar shot, stomped on and beat to death four unarmed villagers and injured at least nine others, in what is, by all accounts, a wanton act of state violence. The dead include a pregnant Shazmeena who received six bullet wounds in her hand, spine and stomach, six-year-old Naushad who was shot twice in his spine, 22-year-old Mukhtar Ansari who was shot in his head, chest, stomach and spine and 18-year-old Mohammad Mustafa, who was shot six times and then when not yet dead, had a policeman repeatedly jump and stomp on his injured body and kick it mercilessly to make sure he died. All the bullet wounds of the dead and injured are in the head, chest, stomach, hands and spine. Not only do these indicate a clear intent to kill in the firing, it also shows that those who were running away or had fallen down were shot by a trigger-happy police. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar appears to have decided to brazen out the incident, alleging that some activists were making a mountain out of a molehill. Police officials have said that they only fired in “self-defence” when villagers supposedly threw stones and brandished firearms. However, testimonies of the victims, video footage and photos show that the Bihar police shot unarmed villagers who were not even protesting at the time. Given the manner in which the state machinery already appears to have absolved the killers of Forbesganj and is busy building alibis for them, there can be little hope that the victims will receive any justice from the judicial inquiry that Nitish Kumar has reluctantly ordered.

The villagers of Bhajanpura village, on the outskirts of Forbesganj town, have been protesting against construction of a boundary wall for a proposed factory which is linked to an important leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ashok Agarwal, who is a lieutenant of Bihar Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi. The boundary wall would block Bhajanpura’s only access road. On 1 June, representatives of the administration and the factory assured the villagers that the wall would only be built once an alternative road had been provided to them. However, on the morning of 3 June, the residents of the village found that their road had been blocked overnight by a newly constructed factory wall. They gathered in large numbers, broke down the wall and started accessing the road as they had been doing for at least the past six decades. The police arrived a few hours later and, it appears from witnesses, fired randomly at those using this road. Thus the dead include a pregnant woman on her way to the hospital and a young man going to buy vegetables.

While the entire incident is shocking, the conduct of the political leadership of Bihar has been outrageous. What has added an edge to the police violence is that the victims are all Muslims while the instigators of the violence appear to be among the state leadership of the BJP with links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Some activists have charged the latter organisation with creating the conditions for a re-enactment of Gujarat. This incident is now being used by political opponents of Nitish Kumar to hit at his support among the Muslims of the state. Nitish Kumar has foregrounded the demands of the Pasmanda (dalit and backward class) Muslims and has thus managed to fracture the Muslim electoral base which had traditionally been led by the elites of the community. His electoral success has depended crucially on bringing the Pasmanda Muslims into an alliance with upper caste Hindu groups, the latter forming the core support groups of the BJP and the JD(U). However, the killing of Pasmanda Muslims in Forbesganj to help an upper caste factory owner close to the BJP leadership can unravel the alliance and it appears that the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress are using this incident precisely for this purpose. Unfortunately, such cynical political games may further deny the victims of Forbesganj the chance of getting justice.

Apart from such self-serving support, few have stood up for the victims of Forbesganj. It has only been the National Commission for Minorities (NCM), led by its chairman, Wajahat Habibullah, and member Syeda Bilgrami Imam, which visited Bhajanpura and heard the testimonies of the victims. Nitish Kumar refused to meet the NCM team and has so far not even announced compensation for those killed in the police firing or suspended those policemen who have been shown to be prima facie guilty. The silence of the mainstream media about the Forbesganj killings, even when photos and videos of police brutality were available is not only disturbing but a pointer to the very nature of Indian media today. Nitish Kumar is the anointed “best” chief minister of India and nothing, it appears, can pierce his Teflon coating. While the poor, unarmed villagers of Forbesganj were being shot dead to facilitate the operation of the factory of a ruling party leader, the mainstream media was busy hyperventilating on the theatrics of a yoga guru and sundry “civil society”. A dispassionate analysis of the media’s role in this entire affair will suggest a deliberate attempt to protect Nitish Kumar and his government. This exposes the politics and prejudices which underlie our “free press”. Is it still possible for India’s civil society, properly defined, and its democracy to find justice for the victims of Forbesganj? Can we hope that the perpetrators of the murders – not just the policemen involved, but also those who gave the orders for such action – are brought to stand trial?



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A toothless Lokpal? – By R.K. Raghavan (Jul 2, 2011, Frontline)

I am not surprised at the turn of events in the national capital after all the fretting and fuming over the Lokpal. The talks between the government and Team Anna have broken down. “We agreed to disagree,” is the official stand. Such an ‘agreement’ in the present context of acrimony is nothing but an admission of failure. The loaded statement of Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal gives the false impression that despite huge differences of opinion, there is a lot of bonhomie between the contending parties. But in reality, there seems to be no love lost. My guess is that there is only a small measure of politeness between the two. And nothing beyond it. The bitterness underlying the statement about ‘agreement’ is, however, hard to keep under wraps for too long. I concede this is not the time for either side to indulge in a blame game. This is because both are at fault for taking extreme positions.

History will not forgive either if ultimately the much-touted anti-corruption body does not take off. My hunch is that even if the Lokpal does ultimately take a legal shape, it will be a toothless wonder. That is, if the government draft is adopted and the one produced by Team Anna is largely ignored. This is likely to be the most probable outcome. The obvious lack of enthusiasm for a powerful Lokpal even among the opposition, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, confirms the absence of a strong political will to create a strong anti-corruption machinery. The average citizen knows that no politician is excited about countering corruption. This is why we have a phenomenon like Anna Hazare, whose indomitable spirit is worthy of emulation by many of us. Let us forget his frailties because, after all, he is a human being.

Talks on the issue have reportedly failed because of disagreement over at least 10 points. The main point of disagreement is whether the Prime Minister and the judiciary should come within the ambit of the proposed Lokpal. I can understand why the judiciary, which has to interpret the fundamental law of the land and also impose penalties prescribed by the criminal law, should not be brought under the new mechanism. But there is no earthly reason why the Prime Minister should enjoy the same immunity. An incumbent Prime Minister, who may happen to be investigated for misdemeanour by the Lokpal, can always be replaced by the ruling party or alliance through a simple resolution that goes before the President. Heavens will not fall in such an eventuality. The alternative to protecting a Prime Minister against a Lokpal probe is forbidding. Imagine A. Raja or Kanimozhi being elected leader of the majority group in the Lok Sabha and the havoc either of them can cause to the already low credibility of the nation. I do not rule out such a calamity, given the compulsions (read ‘coalition dharma’ as Manmohan Singh once put it) of our politics. What happens to us in such a scenario? It is precisely because of this fear that we need to bring the Prime Minister under the Lokpal’s purview. It is as simple as that. I cannot think of any country that accords such a blanket cover to a serving Prime Minister.

The apprehension of political instability likely to be caused by a Lokpal investigation against a Prime Minister is not convincing. It is said on behalf of the government that it has no objection to the Prime Minister being probed after his laying down office. This is comical. Imagine a scenario where a Prime Minister, who has come to adverse attention and is under investigation, continues in office. If he or she is an individual with no sense of propriety, he or she would be nonchalant and brazenly continue to indulge in malpractices with absolute impunity. How do you prevent the country from reaching such a ridiculous situation? On the other hand, if you have a clinically chosen Lokpal, do you believe he would ever initiate a frivolous inquiry against a democratically elected Prime Minister, unless he is a political animal with a dubious agenda? There is then a severe contradiction in the stand of the government. A tightly conceived selection process would ensure that the Lokpal is a person of unimpeachable integrity and honesty. He or she will not needlessly meddle with political stability. One safeguard against misuse of office by a Lokpal is to make him or her ineligible for any government position after he or she lays down office. The Anna draft also provides for a citizen moving the Supreme Court for a probe of misconduct by the Lokpal or his deputies. What more guarantee can you give against Lokpal arbitrariness?

All this controversy about who should be in and who should be out is mere rhetoric. The national debate ignores the fact that the institution of the Lokpal will be a big zero unless it has an investigating agency of its own and the latter is not fettered by irritants such as the ‘single directive’, which requires government permission for the Central Bureau of Investigation even to initiate a preliminary inquiry against someone of the rank of Joint Secretary and above. In my view, this should be the focus, and we need to galvanise opinion in favour of a powerful investigating wing, which will not suffer from the infirmities that at present weigh down the CBI. It is also necessary that such a wing is not defined as a police organisation, as the announcement by the Union Law Minister suggests. It should be on a par with the investigating arms of the Income Tax and Customs Departments, which are competent to record signed statements. The Criminal Procedure Code, which regulates police (including CBI) investigation, prohibits signed statements. The next question is whether the CBI should report directly to the Lokpal. One must remember that the CBI does more than anti-corruption work. It will not be inappropriate to bring the anti-corruption wing of the CBI alone under the control of the Lokpal. We need professional investigation of corruption in high places. This, only the CBI can give. The movement in favour of a strong anti-corruption agency that will not have to kow-tow to the executive has just been grounded. This is sad, considering the valorous fight put up by the team that Anna Hazare has led. It is for ordinary citizens like us to ensure that no one sabotages the commendable and much needed mission.



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Who Is Making Them Cry? – By Gladson Dungdung (Jun 28, 2011, Countercurrents)

On June 24th, 2011, there was no ‘good’ in the ‘morning’ for me. As soon as I opened the Newspaper, a photograph of two old men appeared in front of me, which seems that they were crying endlessly. I was shocked to see their ugly faces. They are resident of Dhinkiya village situated in Jagadshingpur district of Odisha. Perhaps, they have been living in the vicinity before existence of the Indian state. Indeed, both of them had witnessed the formation of Indian State, which had promised them for the land reforms, elimination of poverty, illiteracy and inequality. Apart from that there was a promise to address the issues of food, clothing and shelter. However, the tide turned; the 64 years of Indian independence has added more pains, sufferings and sorrows in the lives of majority of its people. The Indian state instead of healing the pains, sufferings and sorrows of the old-men, it turned their lives into a hell. Their cultivable lands were taken away from them by the ‘mighty state’ with the barrel of guns in the name of growth and development. The state claims that they were given compensation for their lands and betel vines. However, in these circumstances, the compensation is not an issue for them at all, but what matters is; they have lost the only heritage they had. They have lost their livelihood resources, which would have sustained their generations and cannot be exchanged with the money as they are not much habituated to work with the market economy. They cry because their lands were taken away forcefully from them and handed over to a Korean company POSCO. However, the Odisha government claims that it has acquired the land without use of force, which is entirely false.

I recall that when I was studying, we were taught in the schools that ‘India is a country of villages’, ‘agriculture is backbone of the country’ and ‘the soul of India lives in the villages’. The Indian state has been going against those beautiful phrases. In the case of Odisha, the farmers of POSCO project area rely on betel, fish and paddy for their food security and social security. However, the state government deployed the police and paramilitary forces for destroying the betel vines. According to the Odisha government, there were about 1800 betel vines and about 650 betel vines were already destroyed by the forces and villages are about to be vacated. “We plan to remove the rest in the coming weeks,” claims Paradeep’s additional district magistrate Sarojkanta Chaoudhury. The billion dollar question is can any country destroy its backbone, heritage and abode of its soul? Needless to say that the Odisha government has been attempting to acquire 3719 acres of land for the Korean company POSCO, which had signed a MoU with the Odisha government for establishing 12 Mt steel plant near Paradeep in Jagadsinghpur district. It is the biggest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country with the proposed investment of Rs. 51,000 crore. Therefore, one can understand about the madness of the Odisha government for the project, who did not even hesitate to declare the Adivasis and other forest dwellers as none existing in the project area though these people have been living in the vicinity for generations. The most interesting thing is the MoU of the POSCO has expired a year back and the government didn’t renewal it yet but the land acquisition process has been in rampant. The Orissa government is ready to go to any extend for the POSCO project. It has already acquired 1800 acres of land of the total requirement of 3719 acres. The work for rehabilitation colony has already started and the government is confident of acquiring the required land without use of force.

The villagers have been protesting against the land acquisition for the POSCO since 2005. However, the resistance intensified recently, when the whole state machinery was engaged in land acquisition process. There is some unique in the mass movement. These villagers are not only protesting but also building up some betel vine, which were destroyed by the police forces. “We have started rebuilding betel Vines that the administration pulled down,” says Abhay Sahu of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS). The men, women and children are protesting endlessly against the land acquisition against the mighty state and corporate house. Consequently, the prohibitory order under IPC section 144 was also imposed in the project area so that the agitators can be stopped to enter into the vicinity and land acquisition process can be done after destroying the betel vines. Another interesting factor is when the rights are to be recognized under the Forest Rights Act 2006, the Adivasis and local settlers were made non-existence and some of them were also brought under the purview of ‘encroachers’. However, when the lands and forest have to be given to the corporate shark POSCO, neither the environment nor the livelihood and social security makes sense for the state. What a lovely democratic system of governance we have in our country. Interestingly, when the government failed to acquire land even after use of the police and paramilitary forces, it started threatening to the activists and villagers, using the tool of child rights. Since, more than 600 children from different villages had taken part in the agitation; the Odisha government suddenly woke up to see the violation of child rights in the protest. The Women and Child Development Minister, Anjali Behera sought a report from the district social welfare officer about the children. She said, “The DSWO will verify whether the children came to the agitation on their own or were forced into it”. “We will take action against the persons responsible for misusing children. Civil society will never tolerate use of children below 18 years of age in any agitation,” she added.

Ironically, the same government does not see any violation of the child rights by the corporate sharks or the state law enforcement agencies, who are constantly attempting to snatch away the land and livelihood resources of the villagers, which will have direct impact on children. When the parents lose their land and livelihood resources, how can children be sent to schools? Why should not the Odisha government respond it and so the centre? What kind of civil society is this? The agitation got political support from the CPI, CPM, Samajwadi Party and Forward Block. However, the most stunning factor is the support of the BJP and the Congress Party to the agitation. The BJP is a party of the business men and its track record in the BJP rule states is obvious and the Congress is playing a double standards. The Union minister gives environment clearance on the one hand and also opposes the project on the other? The Environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, who gave the environment clearance to POSCO in January this year said, “However, I hope that the state government will not use this clearance as a license for forcible acquisition of land.” What does it mean? And of course, one should ask that why the soldier of Adivasis, Rahul Gandhi is silent on the issue of POSCO? In fact, both the center and state governments want the land for POSCO at any cost therefore one should not be overwhelmed after seeing halt to land acquisition for the time being. The Chief Secretary of Orissa BK Patnaik said, “Temporary suspension of land acquisition for POSCO project in the proposed plant site area near Paradip should not be considered as a ‘deadlock over the POSCO Project.” Obviously, the whole state machinery is working in the support of the POSCO Company. Has the POSCO bought the Odisha government? The state of Odisha has established itself as an emerging industrialized state and it has signed 90 MoUs with the corporate houses including POSCO, Vedanta and Tata Steel. The most important question is whether the industrialization process is addressing the issues of malnutrition, poverty, illiteracy, ill-health and inequality of Odisha as the father of the modern India Nehru had envisages the outcome of industrialization? If the answer is “no” then we must stop the industrialization process immediately because we cannot allow the state to grab the land and livelihood resources of the villagers and hand over those to the corporate sharks in the name of growth and development.

Of course, today, it’s not the issue whether the land owners were given compensation in local or the market rate of their land but the issue is the corporate development model is converting the landowners into the landless in the country which had promised to give land to the tillers and landless. If it continues, the Adivasis and local land owners will become landless and the corporate will become the landlords. We should not allow the state to handover the ‘land to the corporate’ against the promise of ‘land to the tillers’. Do we want to make India as a corporate state? Then the questions come into one’s mind are what should we do with the mineral resources? Should we let it lie beneath the land and also leave those in the mountains? If we want to address the issues of conflict on the issues of land, territory and resource, we must rethink on the present model of development. Our model of development should not be based on minerals only but it should be based on agro-forest, supported by horticulture and animal husbandry. And wherever there is a requirement of minerals, the community mining should be encouraged. Have you seen any farmer in the country who sells the orchards instead of mangos, guavas and Litchis? If the farmers sell the fruits not the trees then why the Adivasis and other land owners are asked to sell their lands to the mining companies instead of minerals? Why don’t we ask them to sell the minerals to the companies and let the land be with them forever? The tears of two old-men of Odisha is enough to remind the Indian state about its broken promises and alarms it against the forcefully acquisition of the resources from the tillers and handing over to the corporate sharks. If it continues, the inequality, discontent and extremism will grow. And of course, there would be results as a ‘civil war’ and one should only blame for it to the Indian state that made its people cry.



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Midday murder – By Lyla Bavadam (Jul 2, 2011, Frontline)

The headline has become all too familiar: “Unidentified assailants attack journalist”. And the follow-up to the news – “Investigations on, but police fail to find assailants” – is equally familiar and depressing. In the past six months, three journalists from across the country have lost their lives in the line of duty. None of them was in a situation of strife such as a war or a riot. They were reporting on day-to-day issues such as sand mining, oil pilferage and adulteration, environmental crimes, political chauvinism, caste-related issues, and so on. They were specifically targeted for the stories they wrote or the beat they covered. In December last year, Sushil Pathak, a reporter with Dainik Bhaskar in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, was shot dead while returning home from a night shift. The case was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) after unrelenting protests by journalists’ organisations. In January this year, Umesh Rajput, a reporter with Nai Duniya, was shot dead by two masked men on motorbikes. A clue to his murder was a note that threatened him with death if he did not stop his investigations. On June 11, Jyotirmoy Dey, Special Investigations Editor at the tabloid Mid Day, was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle in the Mumbai suburb of Powai. Angered at this trend of shooting the messenger and the sloth of the authorities in taking action against the killers of Dey, journalists across the country came together to stage rallies, protests, hunger strikes and meetings with the authorities. On June 21, editors of national and regional newspapers and television channels met Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Mumbai Police Commissioner Arup Patnaik to demand a status report on the investigation, ask for the case to be transferred to the CBI, and to deal with the larger issue of threats to journalists. Members of the delegation included Shekhar Gupta of Indian Express, N. Ram of The Hindu, Arnab Goswami of Times Now and Nikhil Wagle of IBN Lokmat. State Home Minister R.R. Patil did not attend the meeting. The Chief Minister did not concede much though he appointed a Cabinet Sub-Committee to frame guidelines for journalists and modify the draft law called the Maharashtra Journalists (Prevention of Violence and Damage to Property) Ordinance, 2010.

The first attempts to protect journalists were made a couple of years ago after an attack on the home of Kumar Ketkar, Editor of the Marathi daily Loksatta. A committee called the Patrakar Halla Virodhi Samiti (committee against attacks on journalists) was then appointed by the State government. Last year several media and media-related organisations came together to form the Committee Against Attacks on Journalists (CAAJ). The CAAJ’s main demand is to press the government for a protective piece of legislation. In 2009, the State had proposed a special Bill making attacks against doctors and journalists a non-bailable offence. But journalists were excluded from the final Bill. Following protests by journalists, a redrafting was promised, in which two features were to be incorporated: violent attacks on the person of journalists or on their workplaces would be a non-bailable offence and their perpetrators would be liable to pay heavy fines for loss of professional equipment. In September last year, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan called a meeting of legislative party leaders to elicit their opinions on the matter. Shockingly, all of them, with the exception of Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, were against it. Even more appalling was the revelation that Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar actively lobbied against the proposed legislation. The Press Club of Mumbai and the Marathi Patrakar Parishad moved an intervention application along with two criminal public interest litigation (PIL) petitions pleading for the transfer of the J. Dey case to the CBI. The petitions were heard by a two-judge Bench on June 11. The Mumbai Police argued that they had made considerable investigations into the case. In fact, Arup Patnaik told the delegation of editors that he was confident of solving the case because the Mumbai Police had never failed to solve a case involving the underworld. The court granted the Mumbai Police’s plea and gave it 15 more days to produce substantial evidence.

There is as yet no evidence of the motive or identity of the perpetrators of the crime. Speculation is rife and hinges on the various stories that the crime reporter was working on. Given his beat, any story could have been the reason for his killing, including a supposedly negative report on a Mumbai Police officer that Dey had submitted to the Home Minister. This is one of the reasons why the PIL petitions ask for the case to be handed over to the CBI. While condemning the murder, Nikhil Wagle said that there was a larger issue at hand – the nexus between the underworld, the mafia, the police and the political support that allowed all these to thrive. “J. Dey may have been killed by the oil mafia but some politician is protecting the oil mafia,” he said. Wagle said Maharashtra had the worst record among the larger States of the country as far as the safety of journalists was concerned. “From 1991 to the present, there have been 879 attacks on journalists, mainly in the rural areas. There has been no progress in the investigations into these cases; in many of them, there has been no investigation at all,” he said. Orissa seems to have a long history of attacks against journalists, and now Maharashtra is coming a close second. In the past two years, there have been 185 attacks on mediapersons in Maharashtra. In July 2010, a journalist in Ambejogai, Beed, had both his legs broken for reporting on bootleggers. In mid-July, Shiv Sainiks vandalised the Zee 24 Taas television office in Kolhapur and assaulted the staff. In August the same year, a Times of India journalist on an assignment in the Konkan was attacked by illegal sand miners. The same month, a Zee 24 Taas reporter was beaten up by a gang at Dadar while working on a story.

This year too, journalists have faced numerous attacks and threats. In January, Sudhir Dhawale, Dalit activist and editor of Vidrohi, a Marathi publication, was arrested and charged with sedition and for harbouring Maoist links. In Orissa, a journalist with the Sambad newspaper sustained a head injury and fractures in an attack by supporters of a Biju Janata Dal leader. Again in Orissa, in January, reporters of two different television channels were manhandled by BJD supporters and, in another instance, journalists were roughed up by Indian Oil Corporation security staff while covering a protest rally. In February, at a public rally in Nanded, Maharashtra, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said the media should be stifled and journalists thrashed. After protests by journalists, an apology of sorts was tendered on his behalf by his uncle Sharad Pawar. In the same month, a crew of the television channel NDTV was detained and harassed in Mundra, Gujarat, by the Adani port authorities for filming the destruction of mangroves. In April, the publisher of the Oriya daily Suryaprava was intimidated by the police for a series of articles he had published. Last September, he had been arrested by the police.

In May, reporter Tarakant Dwivedi, better known by his pen name Akela, was arrested in Mumbai by the Government Railway Police under the Official Secrets Act for an article he wrote in Mumbai Mirror on arms and ammunition procured after the 26/11 attacks lying exposed to the elements and rusting away. In Goa, a reporter of Goan Observer was beaten up and illegally detained by the security agency of a mining company. In the same month in Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, a gang with apparent connections to a local Congress leader attacked the offices of several media organisations protesting against what it said were negative reports about him. Again, in May, a reporter of Mathrubhumi in Kollam, Kerala, was battered with iron rods. Journalists themselves are now taking a more systematic approach. Documentation reveals that reporters are considered easy targets – a one-stop killing solution to stop illegalities from being made public and to deter other reporters from investigative work. An online report titled “Free Speech Issues in India 2010: Selections from the Free Speech Hub” on TheHoot.org provides extensive documentation on attacks on scholars, artists, film-makers and others all over the country. Summing up the situation, an editorial in the report says: “The attacks on journalists are inextricably linked to the changing equation between the state and civil society, brought about by the triumvirate of aggressive industrialisation, political interests and competitive media houses. The State government’s failure to take swift and punitive action in these cases has sent a clear message: the messenger can be shot.”



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Maya’s police has blood on its hands – By Jaiprakash Tripathi (Jun 25, 2011, Tehelka)

Tarannum, 40, sits forlornly in her hut. She intones: “A mother knows her child’s body best. My daughter’s toes and soles had bloodstains, her neck was bruised by nail marks. Before killing her, the police definitely violated her.” When TEHELKA reached the Nighasan Police Station, Sonam’s second post-mortem report had just come in. After a dodgy claim earlier that she died of asphyxia, the second report admits she was murdered but is silent on rape. The alleged sexual assault and murder of Sonam, 13, on 10 June at the police station in Lakhimpur district created a huge political furore despite UP Police pulling out all stops to suppress the truth. First, they got three doctors from the district hospital to fudge the autopsy report. The report claimed Sonam had committed suicide. Why would a 13-year-old go to a police station to kill herself? This illogical story forced the BSP government to order a second post-mortem by a team of doctors from Lucknow. This revealed that Sonam was strangled.

The girl’s parents, Tarannum and Intezar Ali, a dailywager, were offered 5 lakh to buy their silence. The cops also intimidated the villagers, with the result that nobody was willing to testify. After much prodding, however, a village woman who had been grazing her goats near the police station at the time of the incident managed to reveal a little. Her version seconded Tarannum’s story that the “girl was molested and her private parts bruised”. While the villagers maintained a stony silence, a PAC jawan stationed in Nighasan after the tense situation told TEHELKA on condition of anonymity, “Every murder has a motive, and Sonam’s is no exception. Even if we believe that she wasn’t sexually molested, why have the authorities been silent about the motive?” The jawan believes it is a strategic move by the authorities to ensure the culprits are exonerated. “This is just the way the police functions. If the motive of the murder cannot be established in the court, how will anyone be deemed guilty?” he asks.

Lakhimpur Kheri MP Zafar Ali Naqvi is equally sceptical, saying, “If the first post-mortem conducted by the health department was fudged, how can we trust the second one?” Naqvi alleges that the Mayawati government is trying to shield the police officials even against its wishes because now the matter has acquired political proportions. In that case, if it is proven that the girl was raped and murdered in the police station, the government will be left shamefaced. Sonam’s elder sister narrates narrates the sequence of events that led Sonam to the police station. “Sonam and her fiveyear-old brother Armaan were grazing their cattle near the station. One buffalo from the herd strayed into the station and Sonam and Armaan went inside to get it out. There, the police personnel chased Armaan away and detained Sonam.” When she didn’t return even after an hour, her elder sister and Armaan went to look for her. “When we reached the boundary of the station, I saw Sonam’s body dangling from the branch of a tree,” she says.

After the incident, the administration suspended the Superintendent of Police, the three doctors who conducted the first post-mortem, and the entire staff of the police station. A police attendant working at the Nighasan station, Ram Chander, was arrested while two other accused constables are absconding. Now, the Allahabad High Court has admitted a PIL seeking a CBI probe even as the government has ordered an investigation by the CB-CID. Meanwhile, political vultures have swooped down on the tragedy. The Peace Party camping outside Nighasan station with tents and banners is reminiscent of a poll campaign. On 14 June, when the party leader went to offer condolences and financial aid to Sonam’s family, his supporters were shouting slogans about their leader. As if Sonam’s death wasn’t tragic enough, even her soul has been deprived of peace.



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