Archive for the ‘human rights’ Category

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.”

Orissa police in service of Hindutva (and POSCO)

December 11, 2008

The Orissa police has arrested writer Lenin Kumar and two of his associates, Ravi Jena and Dhananjay Lenka, for publishing his book Dharma Naanre Kandhamalare Raktanadee (Bloodshed in Kandhamal in the name of religion). They have been charged under Sections 153A, 295A and 34 of the Indian Penal Code.

Section 153A: Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony

Section 295A: Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.

Section 34: Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention [When a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each of such persons is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone]

For those who have been following recent events in Orissa, sections 153A and 295A read like a description of the Sangh Parivar’s activities. However, Lenin Kumar and his associates have been arrested for raising their voices against the Parivar. According to Pramodini Pradhan, Convenor of PUCL (Bhubaneswar Unit): The specific section of the book – pages 38 to 41 – (which has been cited by police) relates to a letter allegedly written by the RSS to its members for anti-dalit, anti-minority activities.

A report in the Indian Express has more details:

Quoted in these pages are parts from a piece written by CPI leader D Raja and first published in the June 18-24, 2000, issue of the party’s mouthpiece New Age. This piece, say the police, makes various allegations against the RSS, including that the Hindutva outfit asks followers to store firearms for use in riots, coerces Dalit Christians to chant ‘Shri Ram’ and ‘Om’ and forces Dalit, Muslim and Christian girls into prostitution.

Apparently, the same objectionable (for whom?) material has been published in various outlets in and outside Orissa. The Indian Express report also quotes a civil rights activist, Sudhir Patnaik, on violations of due process in the arrests:

The two sections under which Lenin was held warrant that police take permission from either the state Government or Centre before an arrest is made. How can Lenin be arrested for writing against communal violence while organisations like the RSS and VHP, which incited communal disharmony in Kandhamal through their writings and press statements, have not? (emphasis mine)

While the stated reason for the arrests is the printing and publishing of the said book, and the police also confiscated about 700 copies of the book and shut down the press, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Bhubaneswar) Himanshu Lal has claimed that some Maoist literature was also seized from the press and more charges will be pressed against Kumar. A confusing report in The Hindu also insinuates a Maoist connection, though the logic escapes me:

The police had swung into action and booked Mr. Kumar in the wake of the appearance of Maoist posters in different localities of the Capital city. The posters, which bore the name of Communist Party of India (Maoist), warned people against joining organisations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The police had seized some posters and registered a case, but no one has been arrested in this connection so far.

The Orissa police seem to have taken a leaf out of their Chhattisgarh colleagues in harrassing and imprisoning dissenters as Maoists and Maoist sympathizers. This August, advocate Protima Das, anti-displacement activist Pradeep and U.S.-based educator Dave  were detained while on a fact-finding trip. Upon his return to the U.S., Pugh wrote:

At approximately 8 pm, the car transporting us was pulled over by local police for a traffic-related reason.  My translator Pratima Das, my guide Pradeep, our driver, and I were taken to a police station for questioning.  For the next eight hours, all of us were interrogated, first by the local police, and then by the chief police official of the state of Orissa.  The latter was particularly hostile, accusing me of being an “anti-government agitator.”  When I insisted that I was a teacher researching the issue of forced displacement in India, he insisted that only “communists” would be interested in speaking with villagers. (emphasis added)

These arrests triggered a debate on whether the police was seeking to muzzle the voices of anti-displacement activists by dubbing them as Maoists.  Interestingly, the police seem to have attempted to concoct a Maoist link with Lenin Kumar at that time, by placing reports in the media that the arrested suspects (whose links with Maoists were not proven) had named Kumar’s magazine Nishan. Kumar’s observations then have now proven prescient:

[Kumar] alleged that of late voice of protest against government policy or system in Orissa has been branded as an act of treason or terrorism. He referred to the Dr Binayak Sen case and noted Orissa may soon witness many more Binayak Sens being put behind bars.

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Related articles (to be updated):

Response to Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn et al on Nandigram

November 24, 2007

[Note: Besides being a useful counter to the joint statement by Chomsky, Zinn, Ali et al, this statement further contextualizes the anti-Taslima protests and the Left Front’s pusillanimity]

We (the undersigned) read with growing dismay the statement signed by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and others advising those opposing the CPI(M)’s pro-capitalist policies in West Bengal not to “split the Left” in the face of American imperialism. We believe that for some of the signatories, their distance from events in India has resulted in their falling prey to a CPI(M) public relations coup and that they may have signed the statement without fully realising the import of it and what it means here in India, not just in Bengal.

We cannot believe that many of the signatories whom we know personally, and whose work we respect, share the values of the CPI(M) – to “share similar values” with the party today is to stand for unbridled capitalist development, nuclear energy at the cost of both ecological concerns and mass displacement of people (the planned nuclear plant at Haripur, West Bengal), and the Stalinist arrogance that the party knows what “the people” need better than the people themselves. Moreover, the violence that has been perpetrated by CPI(M) cadres to browbeat the peasants into submission, including time-tested weapons like rape, demonstrate that this “Left” shares little with the Left ideals that we cherish.

Over the last decade, the policies of the Left Front government in West Bengal have become virtually indistinguishable from those of other parties committed to the neoliberal agenda. Indeed, “the important experiments undertaken in the State” – the land reforms referred to in the statement – are being rapidly reversed. According to figures provided by the West Bengal state secretary for land reforms, over the past five years there has been a massive increase of landless peasants in the state due to government acquisition of land cheaply for handing over to corporations and developing posh upper class neighbourhoods.

We urge our friends to take very seriously the fact that all over the country, democratic rights groups, activists and intellectuals of impeccable democratic credentials have come out in full support of the Nandigram struggle.

The statement reiterates the CPI(M)’s claim that “there will be no chemical hub” in Nandigram, but this assurance is itself deliberately misleading. This is the explanation repeatedly offered by CPI(M) for the first round of resistance in Nandigram – that people reacted to a baseless rumour that there would be land acquisitions in the area. In fact, as the Chief Minister himself conceded in the State Assembly, it was no rumour but a notification issued by the Haldia Development Authority on January 2, 2007 indicating the approximate size and location of the projected SEZ, which triggered the turmoil.

The major factor shaping popular reaction to the notification was Singur.

Singur was the chronicle of the fate foretold for Nandigram. There, land was acquired in most cases without the consent of peasant-owners and at gun-point (terrorizing people is one way of obtaining their consent), under the colonial Land Acquisition Act (1894). That land is now under the control of the industrial house of the Tatas, cordoned off and policed by the state police of West Bengal. The dispossessed villagers are lost to history. A fortunate few among them will become wage slaves of the Tatas on the land on which they were once owners.

While the CPM-led West Bengal government has announced that it will not go ahead with the chemical hub without the consent of the people of Nandigram, it has not announced any plans of withdrawing its commitment to the neo-liberal development model. It has not announced the shelving of plans to create Special Economic Zones. It has not withdrawn its invitation to Dow Chemicals (formerly known as Union Carbide, the corporation responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in Bhopal) to invest in West Bengal. In other words, there are many more Nandigrams waiting to happen.

In any case, the reason for the recently renewed violence in Nandigram has been widely established to have nothing to do with the rumour or otherwise of a chemical hub. Print and visual media, independent reports, the governor of West Bengal (Gopal Gandhi) and the State Home Secretary’s police intelligence all establish that this round of violence was initiated by the CPI(M) to re-establish its control in the area. We all have seen TV coverage of unarmed villagers barricaded behind walls of rubble, while policemen train their guns on them.

With the plans it has for the future, regaining control over Nandigram is vital for the CPI(M) to reassure its corporate partners that it is in complete control of the situation and that any kind of resistance will be comprehensively crushed. The euphemism for this in the free marketplace is ‘creating a good investment climate’.

The anti-Taslima Nasreen angle that has recently been linked to the Nandigram struggle against land acquisition is disturbing to all of us. However, we should remember that it is largely Muslim peasants who are being dispossessed by land acquisitions all over the state. There is a general crisis of confidence of the Muslim community vis-à-vis the Left Front government, inaugurated by the current Chief Minister’s aggressive campaign to “clean up” madarsas, followed by the revelation of the Sachar Committee that Muslim employment in government jobs in West Bengal is among the lowest in the country. While we condemn the attempts to utilize this discontent and channelize it in sectarian ways, we feel very strongly that it would be unfortunate if the entire anger of the community were to be mobilized by communal and sectarian tendencies within it. Such a situation would be inevitable if all Left forces were seen to be backing the CPI(M).

This is why at this critical juncture it is crucial to articulate a Left position that is simultaneously against forcible land acquisition in Nandigram and for the right of Tasleema Nasreen to live, write and speak freely in India.

History has shown us that internal dissent is invariably silenced by dominant forces claiming that a bigger enemy is at the gate. Iraq and Iran are not the only targets of that bigger enemy. The struggle against SEZ’s and corporate globalization is an intrinsic part of the struggle against US imperialism.

We urge our fellow travellers among the signatories to that statement, not to treat the “Left” as homogeneous, for there are many different tendencies which claim that mantle, as indeed you will recognize if you look at the names on your own statement.

Mahashweta Devi
Arundhati Roy
Sumit Sarkar
Uma Chakravarty
Tanika Sarkar
Moinak Biswas
Kaushik Ghosh
Saroj Giri
Sourin Bhattacharya
Nirmalangshu Mukherji
Sibaji Bandyopadhyay
Swapan Chakravorty
Rajarshi Dasgupta
Anand Chakravarty
Apoorvanand
Shuddhabrata Sengupta
Nivedita Menon
Aditya Nigam

I left my heart in Kolkata — Taslima

November 23, 2007

Taslima has once again been forced to go into hiding! However, the latest furor against her has a larger context as Diptosh Majumdar explains:

The burning issue of Nandigram was stoking the fires in Kolkata. The Muslims have been viewing explicit footage of how their community members had been at the receiving end in secular West Bengal’s Nandigram. Television channels and newspapers have been discussing gang-rape and other inhuman tales of atrocities perpetrated by the omnipotent CPI(M) cadre.

Nasreen may have been the trigger, the catalyst; but the fury has been building up after Nandigram. The Muslim sub-conscious has also not forgiven Kolkata Police for its alleged involvement in the mysterious death of Rizwanur Rahman, a young graphics designer with a bright future. The senior IPS officers had no business to intercede on behalf of an affluent Marwari family and get the couple separated.

As if to recompense for the Nandigram violence and buttress his secular credentials, Biman Bose suggested that Taslima should leave Kolkota if her stay creates a problem for peace. He also sought to blame Taslima’s presence in Kolkota on the Center. “I don’t want to speak elaborately on the role played by the Centre on Taslima Nasreen’s stay in West Bengal”, he added cryptically.

Hindustan Times quotes an unnamed Left Front leader admitting the role played by electoral concerns:

“Taslima’s presence has endangered not just common citizens. After Nandigram, Left parties run the risk of losing minority votes. Most Left Front leaders have realised that fundamentalist thoughts have made inroads into Muslim society, which had followed the Left’s secular ideology for decades,” said a senior Front leader. “But we cannot admit that in public.”

All India Forward Bloc leader Hafiz Ali Sairani also pinned the blame on Taslima!

“Our secular image is intact. But people should remember that while expressing personal views, one can’t hurt the feelings of millions. Two pages from Taslima’s novel Dwikhondito led to this crisis. It’s sad the anger of the people was directed at the state and not the Centre, who issued the visa to Taslima.”

Fellow FB leader Devrajan also suggested that Taslima should leave the country for the time being if her presence was creating a problem, but party general secretary Debabrata Biswas restored sanity albeit with a rider that Taslima understand that “her use of pen and tongue should not hurt sentiments of a section of people in the country”! The RSP came out strongly in support of Taslima, calling her forcible removal from Kolkota another black spot (an unfortunate, though common usage of black as a negative color) on the face of Left Front after Nandigram. Meanwhile, CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta strongly disagreed with Bose, apologise[d] for what has happened, offerred her protection in Kolkota and called for granting her Indian citizenship if she so desired.

Perhaps stung by the flak from the Left, Bimen Bose has since retracted his comments, and sought to put the onus on the Center:

The state government does not have the authority to grant or cancel visa and only the Centre can do this and let the Union government take an appropriate decision on the issue.

The highly opinionated Sitaram Yechury also resorted to the Center-knows-best mantra:

The visa to a foreign citizen is given by the Central government, which also decides where one can stay in the country….No state government has any role in such matters.

To the best of my knowledge, foreign affairs is also the prerogative of the Central Government though the CPI(M) has never been shy (and rightly so) about asserting its opinions here. Having antagonized large segments of the Left, looks like the comrades from CPI(M) don’t have the stomach for another fight (even if this would mean succumbing to the dictates of Islamic fundamentalists)!

Meanwhile, Idris Ali, president of All India Minority Forum and one of the hoodlums protesting Taslima, has clarified (archive):

We have not mixed up issues as has been reported. We were not agitating against the violence in Nandigram, we were only protesting against the visa extension of Ms Taslima Nasreen as we strongly believe that she has no right to stay in this state.

Syed Md Murur Rahman Barkati, one of his co-conspirators and Imam of the Tippu Sultan mosque seemed unrepentant and asserted: What has happened is because she is being able to stay on in the city. Much like in Hyderabad earlier this year, when those in power are reluctant to take on the fundamentalists, the latter naturally take on a more strident tone. Idris Ali and Barkati are most likely beyond reason, but pressure must be brought to bear on the Left Front to not give in to fundamentalists. Now would also be a good time to demand the un-banning of Taslima’s books in West Bengal.

Meanwhile, Taslima, who has never made secret of her love for Kolkota, has said she has left my heart behind in Kolkata. The Bengali intelligentsia has come to her support, with Mahasweta Devi (among others) strongly criticizing the Left Front:

I saw on television that she was taken away from her residence to the airport by the police. It clearly hints at state government’s influence behind the move. Actually, it is the follow-up of the comment made by Left Front chairman Biman Bose.

Now is the time for a strong push toward pressuring the Indian government to grant citizenship to Taslima and ensure protection to her (and other apostates) who often end up incurring the wrath of thin-skinned fundamentalists. For now, I’ll end with a gem from Taslima:

I [described] the Quran, the Vedas, and the Bible and all such religious texts determining the lives of their followers as out of place and out of time. We crossed that social historical context in which these were written and therefore we should not be guided by their precepts; the question of revising [these texts] thoroughly or otherwise is irrelevant. We have to move beyond these ancient texts if we want to progress. In order to respond to our spiritual needs let humanism be our new faith.

Victims of 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms seek justice

October 31, 2007

[India has been called a land of a million mutinies, million pogroms would have been more apt. Here are some updates on the 23rd anniversary of the anti-Sikh pogroms in New Delhi]

Hindustan Times: Victims of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 staged a demonstration in the capital on Wednesday seeking the arrest of those still at large despite committing heinous acts of crime against their community.

A large number of victims and their family members, including women and children, assembled at the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat and marched towards the Supreme Court to air their grievances.

They shouted slogans against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Congress leaders Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar.

According to the protestors, around 10,000 of those accused in various cases of rioting and worse are still roaming freely in Delhi and no action has been taken against them.

The spokesperson of the All India Sikh Conference, Gurcharan Singh Babbar, said: We want the Supreme Court to answer for its failure in taking any action in the case of the perpetrators of the violence of 1984.

“If the Supreme Court can take cognisance of issues like the spread of dengue in Delhi, sealing of commercial enterprises being run from residential premises, the fodder scam of Bihar and pollution in the Yamuna, isn’t the matter of Sikhs important enough for it to take action?”

Babbar said that 5,327 members of the Sikh community were killed in Delhi in the violence that followed the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi on Oct 31, 1984.

The protestors carried placards with slogans like “Is sealing more important than 10,000 killers”, “How will Indian judiciary prove its credibility about 1984 carnage” and “We have lost faith in the judicial system”.

The protestors demanded that all the accused in the 1984 riots cases who are still roaming free be booked and action taken against them. They wanted the government to be made a party in the case in order to ensure its accountability.

Babbar said: “We want that all the affidavits filed before various commissions set up to look into the matter and the reports of these commissions be put before the Supreme Court so that it may take up the matter in a proper manner.”

When asked about the Rs 75 billion package announced by the government last year for the victims of the 1984 violence, Babbar said: “The question today is not of relief. We are not talking of relief. We are talking of justice. We want it soon.”

He claimed that the victims are facing lots of problems in claiming economic relief on account of bureaucratic procedures.

A delegation of the protestors submitted a petition enlisting their problems to the registrar of the Supreme Court.

—–

Times of India: A new book on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in the Capital claims that the Ranganath Misra Commission which probed the carnage presented a diluted version of events and also blames the police for the mass killings.

When a Tree Shook Delhi, written by senior editor Manoj Mitta and advocate for many of the victims’ families, H S Phoolka, claims to give an uncensored insight into the events.

It details incidents, particularly in East Delhi, which show complicity of the police in the rioting that broke out after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984.

Beginning with the attack on the then President Giani Zail Singh’s cavalcade in front of AIIMS, the book traces the genesis of the violence through eyewitness accounts and the investigations by Phoolka as counsel for the victims.

“Far from booking aggressors, the police cracked down on the victims — the Sikhs who had been exercising the right of self defence at home,” it says.

The essence of all the findings on the Block 11 events in Kalyanpuri is unmistakable: that the police colluded with a mob to kill members of a minority community,” says the book.

On the Ranganath Misra Commission constituted to probe the violence, it says “given the circumstances in which it was appointed, the Misra Commission faced a credibility crisis from its very birth. For almost six months, the government had blatantly stone-walled all demands for an inquiry into the carnage”.

When a big tree falls, the ground shakes

October 31, 2007

October 31, 1984 is a shameful day in Indian history. On this day in the national capital of Delhi, then Prime Minister and one-time dictator Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards. The carnage that followed took 2,733 lives, almost all of them Sikhs. Given that the perpetrators have still not been brought to justice, some shameful details deserve mention.

Two respected civil rights organizations — People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Peoples Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) — investigated the circumstances surrounding the carnage in detail and came up with very disturbing findings. Their report, Who are the Guilty? traces the public’s acquiescence in the carnage to two insidious rumors.

First, that train-loads of hundreds of Hindu dead bodies had arrived at Delhi from Punjab, a Sikh majority province. Second, that Sikhs had poisoned drinking water in Delhi. While both the rumors were absolutely false, PUCL and PUDR researchers report that during the carnage they came across policemen spreading these rumors.

To understand how anyone could believe such malicious rumors, one needs to look back at the prevailing unrest in Punjab. Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister was an unmitigated disaster, nowhere more so than in Punjab. Concerned primarily with the electoral performance of the Congress party (which she headed), she often ignored the Sikhs’ legitimate demands and rescinded on her promises to them. Furthermore, to counter political opposition from the Sikhs, she played them against each other and propped up fanatics who later proved to be her nemesis.

In June 1984, Ms. Gandhi ordered a disastrous military assault on a Sikh holy site that left hundreds of civilians and militants dead. Reporting on the army action was prohibited, but later reconstructions of the events and testimonies of survivors revealed large scale human rights violations by the army. Despite this, the lasting imagery was that of violence unleashed by the Sikh militants. In such a scenario, it is not surprising that the anti-Sikh cabal used Ms. Gandhi’s assassination to stereotype and victimize the Sikh community.

Even as rumors were being spread, armed thugs were transported to Sikh localities in Delhi. Young Sikhs were the primary victims of the pogrom. They were dragged out, beaten up and burnt alive. Old men, women and children were usually (but not always) allowed to escape, their houses cleaned of valuables and then set on fire. Some women were also gang raped.

Despite the mayhem, some courageous Hindus and Muslims risked their lives to shelter their Sikh neighbors. In stark contrast, the state’s response ranged from apathy to collusion and active participation. PUCL and PUDR concluded that in the areas most affected, the mobs were led by local Congress party politicians and hoodlums of that locality. Prominent among the Congress thugs were three members of the Indian Parliament — Sajjan Kumar, HKL Bhagat, Jagdish Tytler — and Lalit Makan, a local bigwig who was killed for his crimes a year later. While Makan’s killer has been punished, only six people are serving sentence for the massacre of Sikhs. The Congress bigwigs continue to plead innocence and stay free.

Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi tried to dismiss the pogrom saying, When a big tree falls, the ground shakes. P V Narasimha Rao, then Home Minister who later became Prime Minister, was equally inhuman. On August 15 (Indian independence day) this year, some survivors of the pogrom who had testified against the criminals at great personal risk displayed black flags in protest. “Independence Day is not for us … It is for the killers of our husbands who are roaming free on the streets,” said Darshan Kaur, whose husband had been killed at the instigation of HKL Bhagat.

In a democracy, who can the people turn to if the state turns killer?

[Written for the Daily Illini in November 2003]

Lajja

August 11, 2007

The Islamic fundamentalists are at it again! Taslima Nasreen, in Hyderabad to release the Telugu version of her work, Shodh (Revenge), was attacked by legislators of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) and a mob led by them. According to The Hindu:

[Taslima] looked in disbelief as they hurled abuses against her. Demanding to know who had mustered the guts to invite her to Hyderabad, they wanted Ms. Nasrin to be handed over to them.

Without further warning, they began throwing books, bouquets, chairs, and whatever they could lay their hands on at her. Some persons in the mob almost got hold of her but Narisetti Innaiah, rationalist and chairman of the Center for Inquiry, who was her host, shielded her. He was injured in his face. A couple of journalists who went to their rescue also sustained injuries in the scuffle.

The Hindu reports Akbaruddin Owaisi, MIM leader in the Andhra Pradesh assembly, as saying:

There is a fatwa against her and the fatwa is one and all for the entire Muslim world, whether it is Salman Rushdie or Taslima Nasrin … If Taslima makes another visit to Hyderabad, yes we will try to implement the fatwa on her.

The Deccan Herald quotes him as saying:

Muslims are proud of what our legislators and workers have done, because we can never tolerate any insult to Prophet Mohammed.

The Indian Express quotes MIM president Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi as saying:

When the Bangladesh government has shunted Taslima out of the country, why is the Indian government protecting her? She brought disrespect to Islam and we taught her a lesson.

This guy seems to be aflicted with a rather severe case of foot in mouth, for the Deccan Herald quotes him as saying:

Our partymen deserved a pat on their back for what they have done. I feel we should have done more.

As the Times of India has noted, MIM’s thuggery is punishable under several sections of the Indian Penal Code. Ironically, while the MIM MLAs — Syed Ahmed Pasha Qadri, Afsar Khan and Moazzam Khan — were let out on bail, Taslima now faces a case of promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.

NDTV suggests that the attack on Taslima was intended to unite the Muslim community behind MIM.

The attack on Taslima serves twin purposes, one to mobilise the muslim vote in its favour in the municipal elections next year and two, to neutralize the CPM’s efforts to make inroads into its bastion, the old city area.

If the MIM wants to defend the Muslim community, how about taking on the Sangh Parivar? No, that would require courage. Besides, as Javed Akhtar has noted:

These (the attackers) are the same people who criticise Bajrang Dal and VHP. What is the difference between them and the Hindu fundamentalist organisations.

[While the Hindu fundamentalists and their Islamic counterparts might be equally repugnant, their ability and propensity to violence can hardly be compared. See, for instance, The Asymmetries of Communalism]

As Akhtar further notes: Fundamentalists are getting bolder and bolder as they can get away with almost anything. That is the problem. This is indeed a problem, for the state often colludes with the local religious elite to silence iconoclastic opinions. But that’s for later.


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More Shivaji-mania in Maharashtra

July 28, 2007

This from The Hindu:

A group of students blackened the face of an English professor at the J S M College here for allegedly insulting Maratha warrior Shivaji and his mother Jijabai during a lecture, police said today.

The professor has apologised for the remarks, they said.

One of the students had protested against the remarks immediately and was not allowed to sit in the class for three days, police added.

Perhaps other factors were at work here, and the punished student simply played up the alleged insult of Shivaji as an excuse to get back at his professor — the feudal mindset of most teachers in India forecloses rational and legitimate expressions of disagreements by students — but nothing justifies such an act. This incident reminds one of the Shambaji Brigade’s vandalisation of the Bhandarkar Institute in Pune. As Frontline reported:

A 150-strong mob protesting against the institute’s alleged involvement in maligning the name of the Maratha king Shivaji barged into its premises, ransacked the library, destroyed thousands of rare books, ancient manuscripts, old photographs and priceless artefacts, and took away some invaluable historical texts … The attackers were reacting to a derogatory remark on Shivaji’s parentage, made by the American author James Laine in his book Shivaji: A Hindu King in an Islamic Kingdom. In a biographical account on the Maratha warrior, Laine writes that the repressed awareness that Shivaji had an absentee father is also revealed by the fact that Maharashtrians tell jokes naughtily suggesting that his guardian Dadoji Konddev was his biological father…

Shiv Sena activists, quick to react to any disparaging remark on Shivaji, stormed into the BORI building and blackened the face of Bahulkar.

However, as noted by Asghar Ali Engineer:

It is quite significant to note that the alleged remarks against Shivaji and his mother were made by James Laine, not by anyone associated with the Bhandarkar Oriental Institute and yet this Institute was ransacked. If the leaders of the Sambhaji Brigade really wanted to show their love for Shivaji they should have demanded ban on the books instead of ransacking of the famous Institute. But they chose to vandalise Bhandarkar Institute instead.

Thus the purpose was not so much as to protest against Bhandarkar Institute but to attack the institute considered to be the storehouse of Brahminical knowledge and controlled by the Brahmins. And that is why they raised the slogan yeh to ek jhanki hai, abhi Shaniwarwada baqi hai i.e. it is just the beginning and Shaniwarwada is yet to be attacked. The attack was not so much on the books as on the Brahminism and Brahminical culture.



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MSU redux (on the continued targeting of Professor Shivji Panikkar)

July 28, 2007

We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the continued targeting of Professor Shivji Panikkar of Maharaja Sayajirao University, and his allies. The Sangh Parivar’s actions constitute an attack on civil liberties and academic freedom, and violate the right to freedom of movement and the right to freedom of information.

The Sangh Parivar attacked and disrupted the National Student’s Festival for Peace Communal Harmony and Justice on July 6, 2007. The organizers at Anhad, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, had invited Professor Shivji Panikkar to inaugurate an exhibition of student artworks. On his arrival, a Hindutva (Hindu nationalist/extremist) mob surrounded Professor Panikkar’s car, shouting slogans. When Professor Panikkar stepped out of the car, he was physically assaulted. The mob proceeded to throw bricks and an iron drum at the car, injuring the driver and smashing the windshield. Police intelligence, it has been made known, was involved and informed the crowd of the arrival of uniformed police, which allowed the mob to disperse.

On July 8, Deepak Kanna, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Maharaja Sayajirao University resigned in protest of the attack on Professor Panikkar. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has called for Professor Panikkar’s exile from Gujarat, and the Akhil Bharthiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) began a signature campaign on the Maharaja Sayajirao University campus on July 11 in protest of Professor Panikkar’s alleged comments on Hindu bhajans (devotional songs).

Earlier this year, on May 11, 2007, Shivji Panikkar, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at Maharaja Sayajirao University, was suspended by the university administration from his appointment, for upholding a student’s academic right to freedom of expression. Sangh Parivar groups had attacked student Chandra Mohan’s works, displayed as part of an examination procedure, and had the artist arrested on May 9, 2007. Other students protested Chandra Mohan’s arrest by exhibiting erotic works from the school’s archives on the faculty porch, which the administration ordered to be shut down, which Professor Panikkar refused. The attacks against them had forced both Professor Panikkar and Chandra Mohan into seclusion out of fear for their lives.

We also condemn that such targeting has become indicative of the culture of fear and repression that is allowed to continue in Gujarat, where, following the genocide against Muslims in February-March of 2002, insufficient and negligent action has been taken to bring restorative justice to the survivors of the brutal, gendered and sexualized, violence. Failure to apprehend and bring to trial the perpetrators of criminal acts on the part of the Gujarat state administration has continued to subject minority and disenfranchised communities to a reign of terror. These acts of violence and repression are produced in particular by the complicity of state and national governments. The Government of India has failed to restore democracy by holding accountable the perpetrators, including the Chief Minister Narendra Modi and other government and law enforcement officials for the state’s proven complicity in aiding and abetting the violence of 2002. The Government of India has also failed to hold accountable the perpetrators among the cadre of Sangh Parivar groups for inflicting the violence, and, as applicable, refused to revoke their charitable status.

OUR DEMANDS

  • We call for an immediate inquiry into the events that targeted Professor Shivji Panikkar.
  • We demand that the as yet outstanding case against Chandra Mohan be dismissed.
  • We ask that suitable action be taken against the perpetrators.
  • We demand that the police take official cognizance of the documentation produced by ANHAD, Act Now for Democracy and Harmony, regarding the identity of the perpetrators, rather than restricting its actions to filing a First Information Report (FIR) against unknown assailants.
  • We call for the restoration of Professor Panikkar’s appointment.
  • We call for the restoration of law and order, and academic freedom, on the Maharaja Sayajirao University campus. In this regard, we demand accountability from the Vice-Chancellor of Maharaja Sayajirao University, Manoj Saini, who has direct responsibility for maintaining academic freedom on campus.
  • We call for an independent inquiry into the activities of Sangh Parivar organizations that are involved in this case, such as the Akhil Bharthiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Bajrang Dal, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
  • We call for an independent and impartial judicial enquiry into the government’s repeated inability or refusal to maintain law and order.

SIGNATORIES

Organizations

1. GMAA, Gujarati Muslim Association of America
2. AIM, Association of Indian Muslims of America
3. CSDI, Coalition for a Secular and Democratic India
4. CSFH, Campaign To Stop Funding Hate
5. Dharma Megha
6. Educational Subscription Service
7. FIACONA, Federation of Indian American Organizations of North America
8. Friends of South Asia
9. India Development Society
10. India Foundation
11. IACP, Indian American Coalition for Pluralism
12. ICF, Indian Christian Forum
13. Indian Muslim Council-USA
14. IMEFNA, Indian Muslim Education Foundation of North America International Service Society
15. INSAF, International South Asia Forum Bulletin
16. Non-Resident Indians Coalition for Justice
17. Non-Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India
18. SANSAD, South Asian Network for Secularism and Democracy
19. Seva International
20. Supporters of Human Rights in India
21. Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment
22. Vedanata Society of East Lansing
23. Washington Watch

Individuals
(Note: Organizational affiliations for individuals are listed for identification purposes only)

1. George Abraham
2. Rasheed Ahmed
3. Dr. Angana Chatterji, Associate Professor, Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies
4. Rebecca Kurian
5. Dr. Khursheed Mallick
6. Saeed Patel, Non-Resident Indians for a Secular and Harmonious India
7. Devesh Poddar, Director, Washington Watch Incorporated, East Lansing, Michigan
8. Mayurika Poddar, Director, India Foundation of Michigan
9. Shrikumar Poddar, President, Vaishnava Center for Enlightenment, Okemos, Michigan
10. Raju Rajagopal
11. Dr. K. S. Sripada Raju, Director, International Service Society, East Lansing, Michigan
12. Dr. Hari Sharma, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Simon Fraser University
13. Amin Tejani, President, Shanti International, East Lansing, Michigan
14. Dr. Shaik Ubaid, Indian American Coalition for Pluralism
15. Sandeep Vaidya


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Moral policing in Vadodara (Gujarat)

May 16, 2007

[A letter from Pantul Kothari, with minor edits]

Dear Friends,

We write this letter to request you to sign a petition to the Governor of Gujarat condemning the recent events at the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. A group of people with affiliations to Hindu supremacist groups barged into the Fine Arts campus, disrupted the examination and abused and threatened students and faculty members. A student was arrested for offending religious sentiments, and the Dean of the Faculty was suspended. Such attempts to stifle by force the rights to free speech and expression of individuals, and to impose on society in general the narrow perceptions of certain sections regarding what is permissible and what is not, constitute a serious threat to political, intellectual, and artistic freedoms in India. These attacks are especially worrisome since it points to a nexus between members of the Hindu nationalist BJP, who carried out the attack, the police, and the top levels of the University administration including its Vice Chancellor Manoj Soni.

The petition is available at www.petitiononline.com/MSUAUTO/

The details of the incident are as follows. On 9th May 2007, students of the Fine Arts Faculty had put up their installations around the Faculty campus as part of their annual internal examination/display. The Fine Arts Faculty is one of the best-known institutions within the M. S. University. The Faculty has also nurtured many renowned artists and it is here that the famous Baroda School of Art developed.

That afternoon, Vadodara-based BJP leader Niraj Jain (accused for the 2002 Gujarat carnage by the Concerned Citizens Tribunal – Gujarat), stormed into the Faculty premises, accompanied by local police and some accomplices. They manhandled Chandramohan, a final year MA student (and recipient of the Gujarat Lalit Kala Academy Award, 2005-06) who had put up some graphic prints. They accused him of offending their religious sentiments, saying that he had portrayed the goddess Durga in an obscene way. Dr. Shivji Panikkar, the Dean in charge, was also threatened with dire consequences by Niraj Jain and his cohorts.

Subsequently, Chandramohan was arrested and charged under sections 153A, 114, and 295 of the Indian Penal Code for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race etc, committing acts prejudicial to the harmony of the public. His examination works, which had been put up only for the sole purpose of the final examination, were apparently offensive to public religious sentiments. Since no citizen can be charged with Section 153 without the sanction of the State or Central government, and since in this case no sanction was sought, this was in effect an illegal detention. The police also refused to register a complaint against Niraj Jain when students, teachers and other organizations like PUCL approached them. On May 10, at Chandramohan’s bail hearing, alongwith the VHP and BJP crowds, at least 40 priests from the Methodist Church had also joined the cacophony of voices against Chandra Mohan.

In the meantime, the University authorities not only refused to support the students and the staff but insisted that Professor Shivaji Panikkar, Dean in charge of the Faculty (as well as author and editor of Saptamatrka Worship and Sculptures, 1997; Twentieth-Century Indian Sculpture, 2002; Towards a New Art History: Studies in Indian Art, 2003 among others), apologize to the BJP.

On the next day, May 11, the students and staff, denied any other form of protest, put up an exhibition focusing on the long history of erotic imagery in both Indian and Western art. In response, the Deputy Registrar issued a verbal request, followed by a written order, that the exhibition be closed down. Dr. Panikkar refused to comply as it was a decision by the students and this was their way of lodging a peaceful protest. Later in the day, the Pro Vice Chancellor, along with some members of the Syndicate arrived at the Faculty and locked up the exhibition. The same night, at 10 p.m. a suspension order was pasted on the door of Dr. Panikkar’s residence. He has been suspended for three months, not only from Deanship, but also as the Head of the Art History Department. No reasons were given for the suspension.

Chandra Mohan was released on 14th May 2007. The suspension order against Dr. Panikkar continues, and fearing attacks and arrest, he has been forced to go underground.

Over the last few days, art historians, critics, activists, artists and art lovers have launched a nation-wide protest against the Gujarat government’s latest act of fascism. On 14th May 2007, over 1000 artists from all over the country gathered at the Faculty to protest against the suspension of the Dean, the role of the University authorities, the police, Niraj Jain and the political forces he represents. Despite intimidation and abuse from some Hindu supremacist activists, the meeting conducted its protest successfully. That apart, artists in other cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Guwahati also held protest meetings. The battle is being fought on many levels — emails, blogs, protest meetings, legal proceedings, petitions, press releases, and signature campaigns.

We urge you to go through this petition, sign it, and also forward this email widely. In addition, you could also send letters of protest to some of the officials whose names and addresses are provided at the end of this letter.

In protest,
Pantul Kothari
For Association of Academics and Citizens for University Autonomy

Officials to whom letters of protest could be sent:

  • The President of India
    Abdul Kalam
    Office of the President
    152 South Block Delhi
    New Delhi, India
    Email: presidentofindia@rb.nic.in
    Website: http://presidentofindia.nic.in/
  • Prime Minister
    Dr. Manmoham Singh
    South Block, Raisina Hill
    New Delhi, India 110011
    Tel: 011 91 11 2301 2312
    Fax: 011 91 11 2301 9545
    Write to PM at http://pmindia.nic.in/write.htm
  • Manoj Soni
    Vice Chancellor, M. S. University
    Phone: +91-265-2795600
    Fax: +91-265-2793693
    Email: manojsoni@msubaroda.ac.in

Copy to:

  • People’s Union for Civil Liberties
    C/o, Shishu Milap, 1, Shrihari Apartments,
    Behind Express Hotel, Vadodara 390 007, Gujarat
    Phone: Chinu Srinivasan 91-265-2342539, Rohit Prajapati +91-265-2320399
    Email: sahajbrc@yahoo.com, rt_manav@sancharnet.in
  • Rohit Prajapati & Trupti Shah
    37, Patrakar Colony, Tandalja Road,
    Post-Akota, Vadodara – 390 020
    GUJARAT, INDIA
    Phone No. + 91-265-2320399
    Email: rt_manav@sancharnet.in, rohit.prajapati@gmail.com