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This week, I was told to do an encounter

August 12, 2009

[Excepts from a HRW report on the Indian Police; emphases mine]

This week, I was told to do an ‘encounter,’” a police officer we will call Officer Singh told Human Rights Watch in January 2009. He was referring to the practice of taking into custody and extrajudicially executing an individual, then claiming that the victim died after initiating a shoot-out with police. “I am looking for my target,” he said. “I will eliminate him.”

Working in Uttar Pradesh, Officer Singh is the kind of police officer who should be in prison for misusing his authority. Instead he is protected by his superiors. It is in this way that impunity continues to thrive in India—and the reputation of the police continues to slide.

But as we spoke to Officer Singh, we heard about other aspects of the reality of policing in India. Officer Singh said he had hardly a day off since he began working as a sub-inspector, or investigating officer, for the Uttar Pradesh police ten years ago. “I’ve slept ten hours in the last three days. How is a person who hasn’t slept in three days supposed to behave properly?” he asked. “The pressure cooker will burst.”

Officer Singh described hours crammed with too many duties: patrolling events, escorting VIPs, investigating crime, and, he added without hesitation, fabricating police records. He said he was working on a murder case but had at best a few hours at night to devote to solving it. “I sent evidence to the forensic lab five months ago, but the case is still pending,” he said. Nonetheless, he said he was under tremendous pressure from superiors to solve the case, or face suspension. He admitted that in the past, in similar straits, he had beaten suspects to elicit confessions–that’s what his superiors expected of him. “It is presumed that I’m doing it,” he told Human Rights Watch. “It’s done before them. Sometimes they are doing it.”

Despite his willingness to beat people he determines are criminals—and he made it clear that he had beaten many—Officer Singh said he did not initially intend to be a dishonest and abusive crime fighter. “No one is born corrupt. It’s a tailor-made system: if you’re not corrupt, you won’t survive.”

December 6th in Nagapattinam

December 6, 2007

December 6th, a day that will live in infamy. Fifteen years after the Sangh Parivar demolished the 16th century Babri Masjid aided and abetted by those in power, and goaded on by those who went on to become deputy prime ministers and the like, the event remains a scar on the body politic. It marks the violent entry of the Sangh Parivar and its fascist project into the corridors of political power culminating in the rise of a BJP led government six years later. December 6th and the organized killings that followed in Bombay and other cities throughout North India, made the pogroms of Gujarat 2002 possible – from the relative margins of the political consciousness, an ethic that valorizes fascistic brutality, hate-filled visions of power, and an aggressive desire to dominate and crush those demonized as cultural others came to center stage where it continues to exist despite temporary setbacks. Three years into supposedly ‘secular’ UPA rule, and there is still no hope for justice for either the victims of 2002, nor those of 1992.

Yes, December 6th, 1992 is remembered all over India by Sangh Parivar supporters as a day when their repressed feelings of inadequacy got a small jolt of feigned manhood. But it is also remembered by Muslims and secular Indians, as a day that will live in infamy, and a day in which the quest for justice and equality should be energized.

A brief report on a demonstration led by TN Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam, in Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu.

Around mid-day, it began. A stream of autos, motorbikes, and scooters with large black and white flags brought about a hundred slogan-chanting people from Nagore, a largely Muslim town, to the bus stand area in Nagai’s town center, in front of the courthouse. Here the caravan joined a couple of hundred people already assembled in front of the courthouse, as minivans and cars also brought in more people from other places. There were a large number of women who assembled on one side. Slogans were chanted, and after the loudspeaker jeep managed to navigate its way to the front of the demonstration at the polite urging of the organizers, the proceedings began. Several speeches followed interspersed with slogans.

Speakers reminded the demonstrators that their anger was against the Sangh Parivar and not Hindus. One speaker said Muslims sacrificed so much to bring freedom for the country and were yet treated worse than second class citizens in today’s India. There were several chants denouncing Advani, MM Joshi and Modi. There were also calls for rebuilding the Babri Masjid, and bringing the Sangh Parivar leaders and their foot-soldiers to justice.

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A large police presence did not deter the demonstrators, and some of the police were also polite to demonstrators; one cop chatting with a man holding a TN-MMK flag smiled and asked him to raise the flag higher! After several speeches, the demonstration ended. From the intense passions visible in this demonstration, it is clear that December 6th will continue to be remembered as a symbol of the marginalization and oppression of Muslims throughout India.

Conspicuously absent was any contingent of leftist and liberal voices in solidarity. Nagai has a CPIM MLA, and the CPI has a strong, historical presence in this region and Thanjavur. Neither did the powerful DMK have any presence at the demonstration. Why did these parties not think it necessary to stand in solidarity with a significant part of their own constituency on an issue that they all theoretically agree on – the defense of secularism? It is this indifference that strengthens the view among Muslims that nobody but Muslims give a hoot about what is happening to them in this country.

Sewa Bharati and its Tsunami fraud

November 26, 2007

Back in early 2005, just as the world was reeling under the mind-numbing realization that close to a quarter million people perished as a result of the devastating Tsunami, the Sangh Parivar mobilized its mouthpieces and claimed under various guises to be conducting a massive effort to provide succor to thousands in southern India. One place where they gained notoriety immediately was Nagapattinam district’s Keechankuppam village, which lies right next to the harbor. Here, Sewa Bharati threatened NGOs that sought to respond to the community’s requests for assistance. The saffron goons believed the village to be their personal fiefdom, and only after facing the wrath of local villagers did they relent.

Two years after the tsunami the saffron sevaks and their various sangh parivar outfits each claimed to have built 248 units for the village’s inhabitants. As has become common for NGO constructed housing, the completion was marked by a ceremonial handing-over of keys to the houses (see article from The Hindu). Now the residents who live in these units are angry. The two storey houses painted in cheerful pink and accessible through a garish arch that memorializes the Sangh Parivar more than it represents the village and its peoples’ culture, are emblems of horrid construction practices.

Not that this is unique to the Sangh’s work: scores of NGO constructed houses have problems that can only be termed disastrous, pun very soberly intended. In a sense Sewa Bharati succeeded in behaving just like all the other NGOs – it hastily built the houses without giving a hoot about the fact that the site was more than a kilometer away from the coast. But it went further than most other NGOs by warning its beneficiaries that they shouldn’t allow Muslims and Christians into their new village. The residents report that such admonitions were listened to silently, and promptly ignored since they (and the coastal population in these parts) have a long tradition of inter-communal harmony.

As of late November, 2007, the residents of Keechankuppam’s original village and the 248 families living more than a kilometer away have not seen the Sangh Parivar sevaks: Sewa Bharati has practically disappeared from view. All that remains are two storeyed houses where toilets have been built with no septic tanks, walls cracked with rain water leaking in, drain pipes leaking water into houses below, ceilings with holes, dangerous slush filled banks of the backwaters which people are forced to use as toilets, diseases due to standing water and sewage, and most importantly, the feeling that the saffron charlatans skipped town. As for other “seva” activities neither residents of the original village nor those of the new colony could remember anything worthwhile done by the saffron sevaks. Local community organizations run schools and provide other necessary services to the people, but the Sangh’s “selfless warriors” are missing in action from Keechankuppam. And good riddance one might add.

Currently many of the residents of the second storeys have returned back to the sites of their original homes, with some having rebuilt small homes themselves. The economic costs of being away from the coast are too heavy for a community that derives its livelihood from fishing. People who took the permanent houses are adamant about retaining their original spaces despite the government’s demand that they give up rights to those spaces once they receive new houses. Now the horrid realities of living in dangerously constructed houses adds to the desire of these people to head back to the coast and defend their right to the coast with renewed vigor. Sewa Bharati’s chicanery has unwittingly aided this return, but before we laud them for it, lets not forget that even here the Saffron sevaks should share (dis)honors with the herd of NGOs who came blaring trumpets, built castles of sand and ran away.